Friday, November 28, 2008

The running of the bulls

WELL, I didn't go shopping on Black Friday.  I know.  President Bush's quick-fix nostrum for the dark days after 9/11 was to go shopping.   Americans shopped themselves silly before  that solemn hour, and many never stopped until the economic meltdown.  Still, the sight of busting  down doors with the Big Dipper still in view and charging the discount  shelves with the grace of the running of the bulls - that was asking too much of me.  You are looking at the counterculture in me.  I don't consider myself to be an impact player and I can't help you with an economic fix.  Besides,  I still haven't figured out how an iPod works.  

The reports from around the nation suggested the crowds were big, if not entirely profitably satisfying for our retail merchants.  Still worse,  the predawn rush in a Nassau Co. New York Wal-Mart was so violent that a worker inside the store was trampled to death.  Such savagery is not the wholesome side of the  fa-la-la  season.  

As a small-town product, I don't recall a single pre-Christmas season sale (nor, for that matter,  a post-season sale.  The owner of one of two men's stores in town simply packed up the surplus holiday inventory of shirts, ties, etc., and stashed it in boxes to reappear the following year.  And that was during the Great Depression!    Still we are asked to believe that America travels on its retail excesses and patriotism requires us to cripple our credit cards with debt.  

Don't take my word for it.  In one of the most perceptive books that I've read this year, the Boston University historian Andrew J.  Bacevich (a conservative who can be as grumpy as I am)
is critical of America's dependency on spending to colonize  the world.  His thesis in his The Limits of Power  is simply that Americans are conditioned to spend their earnings with unchallenged conscience because, as the first President Bush asserted: "The American way of life is not negotiable."  Even before  that imperious thought, Bacevich leads us to previous free-spenders, citing  Ronald Reagan as the "modern prophet of profligacy.  The politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption."

So now we are asked to buy Christmas cards with Biblical verses made in China (honest!) as the dollar discount stores knock a dime or two from the stuff they have been selling all year for a cool buck.   It's for the cause.  If you think so, too, then you ought to do the patriotic  thing, as they say, and "shop 'til you drop."   I won't, and it's not negotiable.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Boning the turkeys

NEWS FROM the front: Ken Blackwell, the guy who ran so poorly against Ted  Strickland for governor in 2006, is reported to be interested in chairing the Republican National Committee.  Wow!  A friendly word to moderate Republicans, Democrats and Palin's Pro-American Party:  Get out of his way and let him have it!  With him around, your workload in electing your own candidates in 2010 will be reduced by at least half.....Speaking of turkeys, Glenn Beck, the newly arrived right-wing ding-a-ling at Fox  (from CNN) says states that object to government bailouts have an absolute right to secede  from the Union.   With some Alaskans of a similar mind,  they should all be reminded that the U.S. is a country (not a continent) where secession has been tried without success.  Nice try, Glenn, if not original!...And speaking of bailouts,  Miriam-Webster's online report has declared "bailout" to be the "word of the year." However, over the course of the current economic remedies,  " flailout"  might have been more appropriate some days.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Newspapers: The shrinking 'word force'

THE CURRENT issue of Columbia Journalism Review casts more gloom on the newspaper business with the kind of grim figures that won't go away.  Since January 2007, CJR reports, some 2,700 journalists have left their jobs with buyouts.   The figure is doubtless on the low side inasmuch as new rounds of buyouts are being announced these days as often as corporate bailouts.  

The buyout packages vary from newspaper to newspaper regarding the weeks of paid severance and medical benefits.  The Buffalo News, for example, offers no post-employment medical benefits while the New York Times grants eight  months of coverage with 11 years service. 

The picture is much the same for the Beacon Journal and Plain Dealer, which  have already gone through their first stages of buyouts, leaving newsroom employes wondering when layoff notices might appear in their mailboxes to make up for staff reduction quotas not met with buyouts.  The BJ is down to 14 reporters, I'm told, a rip from the days when 40 to 50 reporters arrived daily on the third floor.  The paper, respected for decades for its  pinpoint coverage of classical music, has an awesome  vacuum in the wake of Elaine Guregian's departure for a post with the Cleveland Orchestra.  A source at the paper tells me it's not likely to be filled, leaving a city with a progressive century-old tradition in the performance arts  to grope for  public visibility.  The local enablers  who are trying to uphold that  tradition are dejectedly at a loss to know where to turn.  

Meanwhile, up the road at the Plain Dealer, the staff tension grows as it awaits another axe to fall, perhaps as early as next week.   The paper had presented the newsroom regulars an either/or situation several weeks ago as it set its stage to eliminate 50 jobs.  Twenty five or so staffers accepted buyouts, leaving it up to the front office  to  sever about that many more with layoffs. I'm told it could include some of the ablest bylines, all of whom are members of the American Newspaper Guild ( of which I was a longtime member). In other industries,  laid-off workers might be called back when the business improved.  That's not likely to happen with the victims of newsroom shrinkage.   The owners are quite adept at downsizing, even when their papers are profitable.  So what would encourage them to start  rebuilding their staffs some day if and when the clouds part?  

It's sad, not only for journalists with no future as well as readers who are finding less and less to read in newsprint. Of course, there's the computerized on-line stuff that will lure the modern readers and maybe even the non-readers.  But if there is no one writing a concert review or about the latest exhibit at the museum in the first place, it won't be on your computer either. I would assume that potential on-line writers would like to be paid, too - in cash and health insurance. Yeah,  it's sad. 

Historic rescue plan?

THE TAG on the half-page pictorial ad in this morning's Plain Dealer  is:


It's a start.   

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A day with music

I SPENT  much of Saturday  isolating myself from post-election politics and the annual hysteria surrounding yet another Ohio State-Michigan football game.  First stop for our musical odyssey with Nancy was the Regal Theater in Montrose for a wide-screen live telecast from the Met of Berlioz's "Damnation de Faust ".  The work was originally written for a concert performance, morphed into an opera  and has now been staged with overwhelming special effects in mind.  Even those modernists who may hold that opera is intolerably dumb would have sat transfixed for nearly three hours for the montage of artificial images that accompanied the three principal  singers on the  mood-stricken Faust's descent into to hell.  It doubtless is a harbinger of what we may expect in opera as time goes on in the hands of those who take great joy in renovating  the works that have done pretty well for themselves for more than  a century without silhouetted  figures projected on screens, motion-activated birds in flight and human torsos swirling in  turbulent sea water.  

By now, you may have guessed that I didn't leave the theatre in a pleasant mood - as I have on the previous occasions of Met telecasts. The past offerings placed me in the audience at Lincoln  Center  and backstage during the intermissions for  the interviews with the leading singers amid the commotion of stage crews arranging new sets.  In Faust, the sci-fi elements were staged on a laddered five-tier grid in which surrealistic action was projected with computers, infrared cameras and shadowy motion-activated figures as the  singers  pressed forward (thankfully, with great voices) in what is largely a static text.  (All three - Marcello Giordani, Susan Graham and John Relyea - confessed during the intermission interviews that as they faced the audience in their roles they had no idea what was going on behind them.)  Nor did I.

The advance notices (warnings?) of  the production in the New York Times said it offered an "unprecedented  level of technological stagecraft to the house."  Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager responsible for bringing a series of the Met productions  to theaters everywhere,  said the latest  entry was a "kind of hallucination."

I'm sure I will be out of step with those scientific progressives who will change grand opera into something else.  Science over art?  Artful science?  I'm ready for it with my DVDs of the traditional versions.  

Non-traditionalists can stop reading here.  A happier experience was in store at the Akron Symphony Saturday night. Mozart arrived on a cold flurried night with a nimble performance of the composer's "Concerto for Two Pianos"  by two young collaborators, Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky.  Weiss, a Lyndhurst, Oh., native, has been enjoying a lot of positive attention from critics for his inspired playing. Likewise,   Polonsky, who came to America in  1990 from Moscow, has a long list of  accomplishments. Together they made a strong impression  in the cheerful and melodic Mozart piece.  OK, Mozart!  I happen to be one of his big fans.  If that is treason against the modernists, make the most of it.  


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Marathon masochism

IS THERE anywhere to hide from the 24-hour speculation on whether Barack will name Hillary as secretary of state, or vice versa?  The tele-talkers have interviewed virtually everyone with shoes on the ground in Washington to discuss the pros and cons of such an arrangement.  Among the few who are still missing are Brad Pitt , LeBron James and Sarah Palin, the latter being fully  consumed by a sunrise seance with Ronald Reagan.  I did not stay tuned and have no opinion.    

Friday, November 21, 2008

Back home in Indiana

TO FOLLOW UP on my earlier post about how the Republican Party persists in backing into the future, more evidence from the Bloomberg News  page:  Indiana's  Rep. Mike Pence, the former talk-show host and aspirant to Rush Limbaugh's "great chain of being," has been placed in the critical No. 3 position of House Conference Committee chairman.  Pence, one of the most conservative Republicans in  Congress, will play an influential role in shaping GOP's policy agenda in the new congress and has already indicated his desire to purify his colleagues with the ideology of Ronald Reagan.  Again, may I remind Mr. Pence that McCain and Palin sang the same song with historical elegance and where are they now?  Back in Plato's cave?  

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Calculated procrastination?

OHIO AUDITOR Mary Taylor, the lone Republican to survive the Democratic sweep of state offices in 2006, has the look of higher public office in her eyes these days.  Governor?  U.S. Senate? in 2010?   Other than mentioning that she's asked about her political future wherever she goes, she didn't quite respond in her appearance at the Akron Press Club luncheon Thursday.  And when smiling politicians don't discount "rumors,"  as she described them,  you can bet that they are more than rumors and that she will receive countless invitations to speak at high-powered Republican get-togethers in 2009.  Who else, after all,  is available to the state organization in the wake of the GOP slumber parties in Ohio in 2006 and 2008.  She will only say  that she can't predict  where she'll be "One, two, three years from now." Her county enabler and party chairman, Alex Arshinkoff, who attended the luncheon, resorted to the words of his former boss,  the late Ray Bliss,  when asked to define her coy words:  "Ray called it calculated procrastination."  Thank you.

Taylor was co-chairman, along with former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine,  of McCain's losing campaign  in Ohio.  But with that grim experience behind her, I remain puzzled by her remedy for the party's return to parity with the Democrats.   The party, she says, must return to its basic values of "tax relief and job opportunities."  Return?  It seems to me such  party insistence on its core values was cascading from the Republican  megaphones in 2006 and again in 2008 and no more effective than gossip.   Maybe it's  time to look for more imaginative ways to lure voters as the 21st Century races forward.  Except for the never- discouraged  GOP hard-liners, it couldn't hurt. .  

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Leave the driving to others

PUT THIS  in the category of, "You can lead some  corporate CEOs to Washington to beg for bailouts of their companies, but you can't make them give up their costly personal entitlements fit for royalty."  That's the ugly moral of an ABC News report that all three princely CEOs of the Detroit automakers flew to Washington in their  companies' luxurious corporate jets.  

Why is that a big deal?  As the ABC report notes, GM's Rick Wagoner, who is seeking $10 to $12 billion to prop up his company, burned up $20,000 of  GM money as the cost of a round trip with his tin cup.  On the other hand, he could have flown forth and back to Detroit, first class, for $837.   Better yet, coach fair on Northwest Airlines, which you and I suffer,  would have been $288. 

Ford's Alan Mulally, paid $28 million,  and his wife have corporate jet perks.  They live in Seattle and Mulally flies home each week end aboard his Ford jet, to spend, I presume, more time with his family.  It's amazing how indifferent they are to spending other people's money, particularly when it is earmarked for their personal comfort and convenience.    

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A chameleon returns

I HOPE THE Democrats in Congress knew what they were doing when they agreed to reward Joe Lieberman for his chameleon-like behavior in  this year's presidential campaign.  Whatever deal he made with the Democrats to hold on to his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee  will last only until he finds it convenient to break it.    Lieberman, in turns, has been a peacenik who became a hawk , a Democrat who became an Independent who supported Republican John McCain , and a senatorial candidate in Connecticut who enlisted Barack Obama's support only to betray  Obama as  McCain's slippery-tongued ally with an eye on a big job in a Republican administration that was only a failed dream. 

When it served his purpose Lieberman praised radical Muslim Louis Farrakhan , saying,  "I have respect for him...I admire what Minister Farrakhan is doing."  On the other hand, he found the Rev. Wright to be a political handicap for Obama, one of many ways he went after the eventual  president-elect.   Lieberman's dance mode has been watched over the years by many who find it repugnantly shameful.  Hear what Colin McEnroe, a home-state columnist for the Hartford Courant and radio personality had to say about his senator:  

"The way you always knew that Joe Lieberman was the kind of guy who 'rises above'  politics was that he always told you so.  The way you knew he wasn't was to watch him the rest of the time."

With his characteristic rise to the occasion, Lieberman said  the Senate's action was "fair and forward behavior".  Right, Joe.   On the other hand he had said that any attempt to strip him of his Homeland Security chair would have been "unacceptable".  To whom?  To him.  See what I mean?  

Akron: Here we go again

IN A WORLD of uncertainty, there is one matter that remains rigidly in place:  Warner Mendenhall, the Akron lawyer and former city councilman,  thinks Mayor Don Plusquellic is insufferable.So he is launching another crusade against him.    This time, he is leading an effort to have the mayor recalled. He says it will take him several months to organize the challenge to the mayor.  If Mendenhall and his allies persist in hating Plusquellic,  it's a free  country.  What isn't free is the projected cost to taxpayers by a fellow who has fiercely opposed taxes.  Elections officials  estimate the tab to be $160,000 at a time when every penny counts.   My guess is that it would cost more, both in money and distraction from the grave economic matters that will confront all cities in the months ahead.   And to be spent to oust a six-term mayor who has won awards for his leadership, the most recent from  the International  Economic Development Council?    

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fast times at Cuyahoga High

THE WAR-LIKE can't-miss headline in  Sunday's Plain Dealer declared: CORRUPTION PROBE REACHES CITY HALL.   It drew  the reader into a commendably exhaustive report on how some city and Cuyahoga County  officials manage to get by on public  salaries while serving their personal needs for luxurious lifestyles.  According to the PD, the Federal investigation has involved 175  probers and produced about 200 subpoenas that target  County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and Auditor Frank Russo, both top bananas in the county Democratic Party,  as well as contractors who are practiced in dealing with the county's front offices because, well, that's where the money is. As reporter John Caniglia so aptly summed up the alleged ignoble doings of the major players:

"The unstated subtext of the subpoenas is clear:  how did public officials earning less than a successful plumber afford the high life, complete with gambling trips, $100 dinners at expensive steakhouses, jewelry, elaborate swimming pools and  $900,000 vacation homes?"

How indeed!  If there is a reasonably honest explanation for all of this, I and a lot of others would like to know about it to upgrade our own lifestyles.   

Having spent more than day or two covering the dingy Cleveland political scene over the years, I have been conditioned to find the PD's report quite necessary, but, alas, less shocking.  The elaborate political network that has creatively shaped the steady decline of the city itself has largely involved Democrats, mostly because there are more of them in the county. But it didn't mean the Republican cadre in the same neighborhood would be totally excluded from the largesse. Nor did the pols meet with much resistance  from the corporate board rooms.  The titled managers felt secure enough to exit the city each night and return to their leafy enclaves on the fringes out east.  

It was the sort of collegiality that once  led the moneyed class to rush to the defense of City Council President George Forbes, who was indicted for bagging money from churches and others in need that wanted official permission to hold street fairs.   A nun was among the character witnesses.  George, as shrewd a politician as the city has ever produced,  was cleared of the charges.  And at another point, a chairman of the county Democratic Party shared law offices with the vice-chairman of the county Republican Party.  Not that anybody really saw anything suspicious about the arrangement.  

And wasn't it that same vice-chairman, Robert Bennett, recently retired as the GOP state chairman, who saw to it that $17 million in new electronic voting machines were installed by the county Board of Elections only to find that the entire system was dysfunctional with long lines, screwed up ballots and rigged counting methods by a couple of folks who were convicted of criminality,  even by the county's standards. Bennett, who was appointed the county election board chairman by then-Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate  Ken Blackwell,  and the other three members resigned under fire in 2006  when  Blackwell's Democratic successor, Jennifer Brunner, took over administrative control of the board.  In a   press release the Ohio GOP complained that  Bennett was the victim of  a "left-wing" plot.  

Only one politican challenged the way things were done in the political arena over the years, Dennis Kucinich, a brash fellow and quite confrontational.  He narrowly escaped a recall as mayor after the establishment, including his political enemies and the media, attempted to slam-dunk him into Lake Erie.  You may have heard of Dennis, now a congressman.  I know of no evidence that connects him with the local deep money pool.    

There's more about the political environment that is creatively  fashioned from ethnic, political, racial and mercantile conflicts, but I'll stop for now and let the PD continue its hard work.  

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Economics for Dummies

JUST BOUGHT  my first copy of Economics for Dummies and I'm all the way back to the glossary.  But I still don't see my fail-safe mutual funds showing any signs of good health.  I do, however,  have some advice for George  Bush as he meets with the global trade partners to update my new economics study guide.  The idea is not original with me, but it seemed to work when it was tried out by an old boss:  Plan the meeting with no chairs in the room so that everyone has to stand many  hours to resolve the problems and cut eons from the process.  It forces everyone to think harder than is normal for people in black suits, white shirts and wingtip shoes.  Sounds drastic, I know.  But what do they have to lose that hasn't already been lost?

                                                                  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

SO LONG as we're on the doleful  subject of the economy, why do the experts insist on telling us the things that we already know?   The script arrives every day from Washington via the media and I keep hoping that sometime soon somebody will flub his or her lines and invents a new way to teach old economists new tricks that doesn't include reducing interest rates to subatomic levels.  It is nothing more than psychological warfare with a very brief shelf life.  Even to an amateur like me, it doesn't seem to be working.  All of this came to mind when I noted this lift-out quote in the Beacon Journal from Sandra Pianalto, president and chief executive of the Federal Reserve in Cleveland.   Speaking to the Cleveland City Club, Ms Pianalto observed:

"The financial stress is raising the cost of credit, restricting the availability of  credit and inducing  cautious behavior by borrowers and lenders.  All of this is reducing spending by both businesses and  consumers."   


 She also said she has changed her earlier forecast of an "economic slowdown" to, from all appearances,  a recession.   I have felt for some time that we were dealing with semantics with the r-word here and the many people who are hurting today couldn't care less about the textbook terms offered by people who aren't hurting .  

Meantime,  although it won't help retail sales, I'm returning my copy of Economics for Dummies for a bailout.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

Shouldn't JTP leave the nest?

  HOPE IS is fading that Sarah Palin will give up on Joe the Plumber as her runningmate for the presidency in 2012.  She continued to invoke his name at the Republican Governors Conference as the other Republican governors, dark-suited and grim, appeared to react as though Mrs. O'Leary and her cow had just entered the room.   OK, Sarah, we've all had our fun and accept your notion that JTP (as he is now known) is the perfect positive symbol of pro-American, hardworking, small town achievement.  But Americans do have a short interest span, particularly during the football season,  and you might want to consider somebody else to talk about in widening your grasp of domestic and  foreign policy.   On the negative side, instead of regularly mentioning William Ayers in the same breath with Barack Obama these days, have you thought about adding Hermann Goering,  Savanarola or even Guy Fawkes, for starters?  It works for me

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Kudos and grumps

KUDOS:  Here's a vote for Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner as the  star of Election Day in Ohio this year.  Even with Cleveland still in the Ohio mix, the balloting was a relatively smooth exercise despite repeated attacks on Brunner by Republicans who wouldn't take NO for an answer.  She was vindicated by separate refusals by the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Justice Department - hardly the most liberal renegades  these days - to  uphold the legal challenges to her in the moments  leading up to Election Day.    It was  a remarkably cool contrast to the confusion and sloppy decisions by Brunner's predecessor, Ken Blackwell, in 2006 as he futilely sought the governor's office.  Nice going, Ms. Brunner!  Democracy needed that.  After  Mr. Blackwell, did it ever!  

CHANGE THE MEDS:  This provocative  post-election headline appeared in SF Gate, the online San Francisco Chronicle:   The country is still a disaster.  Why is is everyone smiling?  

NAMING NAMES:   I found this gem in my email from a reader:

"How bad must the GOP feel right about now?  It portrayed Obama as a socialist, communist, a Muslim and a friend of terrorists, and a majority of Americans said, 'Y'know, we're OK with that, as long as he's not a Republican.'"

SOUND ADVICE:  I hope that when the Bidens met with the Cheneys today,  Joe resisted the urge to accept an invitation from Dick to go duck hunting.  Dick may be vengeful these days. 

RADIO SLAP-HAPPY TALK:   Surfing my FM in the car, I happened to hear the Akron-Kent  area falsetto-voiced talk-show whiner cheerily dismiss the current  economic trainwreck as "mind over matter"  and insisted that if the media stopped using the word "recession"  consumers would feel much better and start spending money again.  So, what do you suggest that we call it?  A receding boom?   

DIEHARD ECONOMICS:   The trickle-nowhere economics theorists are still insisting that the new administration will guarantee a socialist America.  Limbaugh, for one, in an early senior moment, has already blamed Obama for the economic crises weeks before he is even seated in the Oval Office.  And minor analysts in the print media continue to lament government "intrusion" into our lives on the day that the Wall Street Journal is reporting more than a half-million new jobless claims and General Motors is pleading for government(welfare)  help.  Hey, diehards,  back off. It's  time to find out whether  compassionate conservatism, the untested Bush model, really works. 

AFTERSHOCK:   Sarah Palin continues to invoke the name of William Ayers while at the same time saying she would be "honored"  to assist Barack Obama in his new administration.  That's the consistent thing about Palin.   Neither she nor anybody else else ever knows what she is talking about.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Boogie Man

ANYONE WHO watched the documentary, Boogie Man,  about the late Lee Atwater last night on Frontline could not have escaped the creepy feeling that Atwaterism attempted to take another bow  in Republican presidential politics this year.   Atwater was a ruthless South Carolinian guitar picker bred under the wing of Strom Thurmond who went on to being a Rasputin-like advisor to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. ( So far, more than acceptable career choices if you are a Republican on the way up.)   On the other hand he will also be remembered as a hyperactive dirty-tricks hit man who lowered the bar below sea level to destroy political opponents. Not that it set him back in his party.  He went on to be promoted to GOP national chairman.

Atwater was one of the guys who made convicted murderer  Willie Horton a household word in the Bush campaign, assailing Dukakis for allowing a weekend pass from prison for Horton that led to more unspeakable crimes. That one finished the Democratic candidate - a TV commercial that  looked awfully racially tuned.  He also spread the lies that Dukakis was  treated for mental health problems and that his wife  had burned an Amercan flag.   There was more wretched political behavior that has earned Atwater a deserved reference when political con jobs are on the table.  But you get the point.

The  avalanche of mud aimed at Barack Obama in this year's campaign would have to challenge Atwater's firm hold on his party's Gold Medal.  But it didn't work this time.  The media - you know, the liberal  media that slept through three Bush campaigns - wasn't suckered this time, no matter what was said about the Democratic candidate.  The Internet and cable, the biggest gorillas in the room , became the voice-over for exposing political fakery.  In today's media environment, it's quite likely that Atwater would never have had a chance.  All-pro conniver Karl Rove, an admirer of Atwater, couldn't even  claim a bronze medal.    

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Movement Class

AT THE  1976 Republican convention, Bill Batchelder, the Republican state representative from Medina, Oh,  fashioned his signature wide grin as he snake-danced through the hotel corridor with a number of his conservative delegates. 

 "What are you doing?" I recall asking him. 

"It's the Movement," he exclaimed, joyously.   "The Movement!"

That was my first encounter with the word as a battle cry for conservative conservative Republicans.  And although Ronald Reagan was narrowly defeated by a sitting Republican president, Gerald Ford, he would be triumphantly back in 1980 as the godly icon of the Movement Class - a phenomenon that has again revealed itself from the ashes of last Tuesday's GOP disaster.  Op-Ed pages, talk show gurus and eager Movement politicians are now ganging up for their born-again opportunities to lead the party to righteous victory in 2012.  They'll all be at the Republican Governors Association in Miami beginning tomorrow to seek out the nearest TV camera to offer a Good Housekeeping remedy for the party's ills.  

I doubt that they will come up with a workable solution  as each wiggles  to find a special place of prominence on Olympus when  the great mentioning game begins to identify a format for what is now generally regarded as a regional party. And a racially and ethnically barren party.  Not a single African American in the Republican House and Senate delegations.  Only one Republican Jew in the U.S House, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, who is somewhere to the right of  Rush Limbaugh and wants to be the minority leader.  At the same time, the president of the United States Conference  of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, has instructed  the bishops to confront Barack Obama on abortion, a conservative light switch.  

 The star attraction will be Gov. Sarah Palin, who hasn't convinced the Movement Class that controls the party that she is a political liability.  She'll be at the convention as a speaker and as a source of a number of national interviews.    But she isn't quite ready to announce her candidacy for president in 2012. In an interview with Fox News, she said she is awaiting word from God that He will open a door for her candidacy.  That should settle the commotion of where the party will go from here.  Conservatively speaking,  it's a start.   

Monday, November 10, 2008

Military service loses war for White House

AS POLITICAL scientists and pundits poke around in the remaining mulch  of last Tuesday's election for new insights,  is it a stretch to suggest that a candidate's military service has been sharply downgraded as a political asset? There are a growing number of instances in which the candidate with no military experience has advanced to the Oval office over a bona fide veteran.

Some evidence:  Ronald Reagan, whose "active duty" amounted to no more than strutting about in uniform in California and making war movies, defeated Jimmy Carter, who served commendably on submarine duty, and Walter Mondale, an Army vet.  In 1992 and again in 1996, Bill Clinton, who never put on a uniform,  knocked off two authentic military achievers: George H. W. Bush, a WWII Naval pilot, and Bob Dole, a decorated veteran with lasting scars. And didn't Dubya Bush manage to avoid the service and later slip by two war  veterans, Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry?  Yes, he did.  Finally, except for some aged veterans groups,  John McCain's widely  touted POW experience wasn't of much value against Barack Obama, with no military service.  There were other issues in these campaigns as well, and they prevailed.  And as the younger generation moves farther away from the old Selective Service System,  it will likely stay that way.     

Friday, November 7, 2008

Clothesgate, a bizarre finale

COULD YOU  have ever imagined last August, when the McCain camp rocketed Sarah Palin into the politicosphere, that it would have had such a bizarre ending as the current Clothesgate scandal?   I mean,  to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, not with an intended bang on election day but rather with a whimper?  While she was jetting back to friendlier turf in Alaska, her GOP detractors, obviously fussy about how some of their money was spent,  were said to be jetting a lawyer to Wasilla or wherever to retrieve the fashionable  wardrobe that Palin  laid out for herself and family for more than $15o,00o.  My guess is that they won't find  the kind of goods that would end up in a neighborhood rummage sale.  So far, Palin doesn't appear to be all that repentant about the buying spree.  Besides, she may need every last stitch if she runs for president in 2012.  Meantime, I await the photo ops of an eagle-eyed  Washington lawyer poking around in Sarah's closets with receipts from Saks amid her complaints that her privacy was being invaded by disgruntled McCain males.   On the day she was  assigned to the ticket with McCain, I  wrote that it was political insanity. ( Every now and then I get it right.)  And now Clothesgate.  Weird.  Folks, you can't make this stuff up.  

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My vote is for Pericles

IGNORING the worldwide jubilation over Barack Obama's victory, the hardcore conservative ideologues have already set their agenda to take back the country from the jowls of socialism and a lot of other nastiness  that Obama  - they claim  - will bring to  America's Judgment Day.  It's pretty much what I expected, right down to bravura calls for rearming their side before the nation vanishes from the globe.  But I at least hoped that the mourning cycle  would not begin  with such dark overtones for a few days to allow all of us to get some sleep.

Conservatives?  That is, eh, too liberal a description these days.  What this gang is talking about are truly conservative conservatives, which is probably how Attila vetted his volunteers before another battle.  The leader of the conscripts in this instance, as always, is Rush Limbaugh, who shamelessly borrowed Obama's battle call  of "Yes we can" for what he says is the "Reestablishment of Principled Conservatism".  I confess there are times when I wonder about the meaning of such overreaching language.  

Then there is, I noticed, the raised arm of Grover Norquist who has built  a fortune on being an anti-tax lobbyist.  To him, Obama  is nothing more than "John Kerry with a tan."  I was going to ignore these whiners until I popped open today's Plain Dealer to discover on the op-ed page another desperate (truculent, really) column by Kevin O'Brien, the paper's deputy editorial page director.  O'Brien has a long history of whining about liberals, Iraq war opponents and immorality who once opined that the reason that the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis as the result of neglect was that government had too much to do these days to pay close attention to bridge defects.  But in his super-hawkish wisdom he did try to comfort me when I complained about George Bush's reckless plunge into Iraq by suggesting that I should be thankful that the president was trying to protect me. Must be something to that.  Hey, I'm still on my feet, aren't I?

Today's sermon from the O'Brien  Pulpit was that conservatives should not waste a moment in regrouping  their  forces in nanoseconds after Obama's acceptance speech, using such inspirationat gems as "ACORN got its man, but its voters for hire will be disappointed...".  Or that Obama will now have to make decisions, "something he has never, ever done..."  Or that Obama is a "blank slate".  Could the slate be blank if it exposed Obama as a guy who "never, ever" made decisions?  Jeez.  

But in setting up a recruiting office for conservatives on the op-ed page of the Plain Dealer, O'Brien saved his best effort for the final paragraphs, to wit:

"Now, stand for what's right, in season and out of season, and have faith that no matter whether it is rewarded by victories in elections, that steadfastness  will be rewarded with the knowledge that we have done our best.

"Above all, be of good cheer.  We have a country to save, and until the last conservative draws his final breath, that will be our brief.  Surrender never saved a country and moping never won a convert."

It doesn't quite come up to Pericles' funeral oration, but I'll make allowances for his sense of despair as he awaits the dawn.  



Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lady, it's really over

TWENTY FOUR hours have passed since Barack Obama strode to the stage to address the massive crush of supporters in Grant Park as victor of a bruising campaign for the Oval Office.  It has taken the length of a day to absorb the enormity of the event.  Not only in America did Obama seize an historic  moment as the first African-American to win the presidency. Reports were gathered from around the world of his accomplishment, from Australia to South Africa and across Europe and the Far East.  America was jolted upward in the esteem of others who had grown cynical about our pretenses of leadership, human freedom and racial parity.  As a nation, we needed that lift badly.    

The anti-Obama diehards have already checked in, some fearing him as the antichrist, a radical socialist, an alien.  Their frustration was expressed to a London newspaper by a woman at the McCain post-election gathering in Phoenix.  "It's not over," she cried.  "It can't be over."

Well, lady,  it is.  At least the vote count that confirms him as the  first African-American to take up residence in the White House to deal with the challenges that may be greater than the tasks of Hercules.  At the same time, I found it amusing that Karl Rove, whose "genius" continues to decline with each new loss on his ledger,  spent  his time on Fox News  reciting vote counts for Obama, Kerry and Bush to illustrate - I'm guessing because he lost me with his numbers - that Obama didn't do all that well.  Rove and Sean Hannity are now in hopeless denial.  

Meantime, there was Joe Lieberman, one of McCain's servile courtiers and a minor nuisance, saying  that he was now fully prepared to set aside political  differences and work with Obama.  What gall!   Joe couldn't even help McCain in his home state of Connecticut, which Obama carried with 60 pct. of the vote.  You've had your fling, Joe.  Now get out of the way and go to the movies or something.     

Morning in America

THE MORNING AFTER:  Despite the rush of polls in the final days, nobody was more surprised by the size of Barack Obama's victory as I was. With vivid memories of the 2000 and 2004 elections, I winced when MSNBC political analyst Chuck Todd in mid-evening examined some voting figures and said,  "It's beginning to look like 2000 and 2004."  Shortly thereafter a funny thing happened to the equation:  Ohio turned over its 20 electoral votes to Obama and the 7 million vote rout of McCain was on in an election that was  widely viewed around the world.  The influential Italian newspaper, La Repubblica,   rushed into print with a  big quirky headline  that declared, "Obama presidente, l'America cambia pelle". (President Obama, America changes skin)   The editors probably  thought better of it and soon replaced it with "Obama presidente, E un altra America". (President Obama, it is another America." )

The point is, Europeans care deeply about what happens in our politics, which is a kind of flattery that we do not extend to them. I can't imagine any American newspaper running a big headline on front page recording a victory by Silvio Berlusconi.  

So, some bleary-eyed random thoughts:

As the New York Times noted this morning, the hard work now begins.  Considering the profoundly ingrained mess at home and around the world, it is fair to ask why anybody would work a couple years for a job that is fraught  with so many obstacles.  In Obama's case, it may be a major test of the irresistible force vs. the immovable object.  Let's hope not. 

For the Republican Party, when will it wise up to the fact that its "base" represents no more than 25 pct. of the electorate;  I thought it might have learned that much in 2006 when Ken Blackwell, a social conservative who claimed the support of a sea of ministers, was pummeled in Ohio's gubernatorial contest by Ted Strickland, who kept his own ministerial background out of view.  

More bad news for the aging GOP:  two-thirds of the voters under 30 years old cast ballots for Obama.  The Republicans' farm system is still mostly tied to senior citizens and rurals. Where, one might ask, would Obama have ended up in the party primaries if he had been a Republican? 
As for McCain, his finest moment came in the somber half-light of his concession speech; for once he seemed to be dictating his own conscience rather than the orchestrated cliches that misfired time and again.  His endless insistence during the campaign that he would curb lobbyists and veto earmarks was intellectually dishonest, to say the least, inasmuch as his campaign manager, Rick Davis, has been paid $2 million  as a lobbyist  to build a firewall around Fannie  Mae and Freddie Mac against regulation.    And what of Charlie Black, his senior advisor, who served well as a lobbyist for Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile  who led us into Iraq with his misinformation camapaign?  So now McCain will return to the Senate and his advisors will return for their big loaves of daily bread on K Street.  

As for Sarah Palin, one of McCain's horrendous campaign decisions (with plenty of nudging from his advisors) she can go back to Alaska to prepare for her 2012 presidential campaign.  No one up there will blame her for McCain's defeat.  Alaska is a numb  politically isolated state that even sent a convicted felon back to the U.S. Senate yesterday.     

Oh, George Bush and Dick Cheney?   I'm sure there are some back doors at the White House where both could slip out in the middle of the night with all of their cronies and not be seen again.  I never thought Bush's two terms would ever end. But we're getting close.  As of today, 76 more days, and as Gerald Ford declared upon succeeding Richard Nixon:  "Our national nightmare is over."    

Organizationally, there might have been a strong hint of the outcome when McCain called to Joe the Plumber in the crowd and Joe wasn't there.   I have a hunch that would not have happened with Obama's ground troops.

As for me, I'm going for a long walk.  My Steelers have a tough game on Sunday with Indianapolis and I want to figure out a game plan.  Maybe I can call on Obama''s textbook-perfect organization to offer me some hints.   On the other hand, we may all be too weary to do anything for... oh...three or four hours.    

Monday, November 3, 2008

Browns Brew: Bad to the last drop

WATCHING Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards drop another pass yesterday - he's the NFL leader in aborted receptions - I had to wonder whether the Browns had ever considered enrolling him in one of State Farm's "good hands" insurance policies. Either that, or give him a pair of catcher's mitts , one for each hand, and throw the ball to somebody else.  

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The shame of McCain's refrain

SHAMELESS. How else can you describe the torrent of political pornography gushing from the McCain-Palin camp in the final days of the campaign?  John "Country First" McCain, desperate to put himself first, has left no rumor, whisper or slander unturned in leading his mob of Republican lemmings to the living rooms of American voters.  

Unable to clearly articulate his plan for America other than resorting to  such cliches as  being "pro growth and pro jobs" - whatever the hell those rhetorical placebos mean - McCain's only other non-radioactive bid to stroke the voters is that he is, um... tested.  Surely no one would discredit his POW experience, but he is in fact saying that any POW- and there were many -  is prepared to be president.  I think not. No more so than Sarah Palin is prepared to be president.  Since she was summarily added to the ticket she has proved to be no more than an anatomical expression for leering guys and a vacant substitute for Hillary Clinton as a not so subliminal walk-on role for the benefit of the ladies in her audience. 

In the final days, the McCain camp's rap sheet on Obama has included outrageous charges that he threatens to bring on a Holocaust (courtesy of a rightwing Republican Jewish organization), that he would be a threat to the peace and tranquillity - with maybe even bodily harm - to your family and mine  (you must know the origins of those fears with an African-American challenging McCain);  that Obama favored criminals over cops; that he was not an American citizen (don't kid yourself, folks; this is as racist as it gets without mentioning the n-word. )

The GOP has fallen so low into the muck that the Rep. John Boehner, the Republican minority leader from Hamilton, Oh.,  didn't hesitate to refer to Obama as "chicken shit".  Boehner? Wasn't he the guy who was seen passing out lobbyists' money on the House floor? 

However Tuesday's election turns out, neither McCain nor his party deserve to win.  The antagonists in this race would need more than $150,000 for clothes to freshen up their images after giving their brand of moral values a bad name, not only in America but to a watchful world whose support the U.S. will desperately need in the months and years ahead. The only   good news landing in the Democratic camp from their adversaries is that some guy named Cheney heartily endorsed his friend, John McCain.  With friends like that, you don't need many  enemies. 

Hemingway once described courage as "grace under pressure."  I didn't see any of that in McCain's frantic appeals to our worst instincts as we headed  to the polls. No honor.  No decency.  Even for the hysteria of ugly politics, it was despicably out of bounds.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

And error in progress

Oops.  If you see a deletion on the past post I can assure you that I was not trying to deny Sarah Palin her First Amendment rights. Actually I erred on the post from FARGOZ on the Night Before Christmas and somehow it was credited to me.  Because I am not Blog Smart, I was unable to remove my name from the top of the FARGOZ post and as you will note, despite my hunt-and-peck efforts to remove Grumpy Abe from the credit line, it's still there.  However, I did manage to credit Fargoz this time.  Phew!   There are days when I long for my old Smith-Corona.    

He ain't finished yet!

PRESIDENT BUSH,  the self-proclaimed decider  who has been exiled by his own party since the GOP convention, is still trying to recapture a few moments of past glory in the closing days of his residency in the Oval Office.  Apparently hopeful that he will be best remembered by the people who sustained him for 8 dark years in the White House, Bush is calling for new  rules to relax federal regulations  on several environmental  fronts:  disposal of radioactive waste, mining exploration, commercial fishing, auto emissions, etc.  I would place this in the category of a reverse Hail Mary pass.  But for those of us who found little cheer in the Bush presidency, I would offer this consolation prize:  As of today, there are only 80 days left to his nightmarish run since the fateful day when the U.S Supreme Court, by a single vote, granted him the job.  You can celebrate, if you wish, by going shopping.