Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Did Blago put Burris on a gondola?

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH'S defiant summary choice of Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's seat in Illinois was a strange political twist in a political year in which there seemed to be scant room for still another loony surprise.  Excuse me, but when you anoint a replacement who was a former opponent, who is 71 with only two years left in an unexpired term and you are faced with unanimous opposition from your  own  party in the Senate, I  have to ask:  What  the hell did you really have in mind, Guv?   

In this instance, no one need question Burris' credentials to be a senator.  God knows,  one need only cite Saxby Chambliss or Robert Byrd (in his latest years) to know credentials are whatever you want them to be to serve your purpose.  Burris could very well be a genius in contrast  to some others in Congress.    But politically speaking, he doesn't serve the interests of his party with only two years left to the term and, at his age,  has  little chance as a freshman senator to rise at the committee level for the benefit of his constituents.  A practical rule in sustaining a political party's  power is to appoint a younger freshman who can hold the seat for at least an eternity. 

So, did Blago really choose Burris as a transitional senator ` who is all dressed up with no place to go?  Was Blago really playing  a nasty trick on his fellow-Democrats?  Was he merely trying to assert his own menacing ego at the expense of traditional party politics simply because he thought he could? Was he spitefully playing a race card, daring Democrats to reject an African American?

There is, to me, something  quite Venetian  in all of this.  When the power brokers of early Venice chose a doge - the top banana in presiding over their  Most Serene Republic, he was usually someone in his golden  years with only limited, almost ceremonial,  powers. The Venetians, deeply suspicious of power concentrated in one individual, devised complex ways to get the doge into and out of the office with as little discomfort as possible.  They didn't have Prudential Life actuaries to tell them that the older the new doge,   the less chance of his building his own power base at the expense of the state. 

I don't know whether Blago spent a lot time thinking about doges. But the parallel is a bit too morbid to seriously consider.  Sorry to have mentioned it as we celebrate a new year.    

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

All talk from the Back 40

ARE YOU  ready to ring in a new year with the thought of a four-year presidential campaign? .  The first bloody signs of it happening is the reemergence from the back 40  of at least three Republican losing candidates as radio talk-show hosts in 2009.  It used to be that the losers shared little political wealth after their quests for the Oval Office were denied by the voters.  Al Gore settled for a Nobel Prize for his environmental efforts; Jimmy Carter spent a lot of time building houses for the poor; Gerald Ford was happy to play golf.  But talk-show opportunities today offer boundless ways to convince the voters that the hosts are keenly aware of the Republic's deficiencies and would nicely fill out the top of their party's presidential ticket. Sean Hannity, the right-wing icon who talks a lot on  Fox News,  calls it  "conservatism in exile."

So as George Bush is being repatriated to his native ranch in Texas,  here is the old lineup of falling stars that will be soaring into the ether in 2009:

Fred Thompson will succeed Bill O'Reilly's radio show in March.  He will cover a lot of distance in the four-year run-up to 2012.  Confounding the media that sized him up as a formidable presidential candidate in 2008,  Thompson emerged more as a sleep-deprived politician  and netted an ever-so-silent o.5 pct. of the Republican vote.  

Mike Huckabee will be back, too.  Already visible with a Fox TV show(sufficiently after church,  at 11 p.m. Sundays)  Huckabee will begin a a radio talk show on ABC in January.  He has given every indication that he is an unannounced candadate for the presidency in 2012. Wanna predict what he'll be talking about?

Rudy Giuliani, who had been in the loop as a replacement for O'Reilly's radio show, was shut out, but is still shopping around for a radio spot.  Rudy never knows when to stop talking and was off the reservation a number of times during the campaign.  No one conceived of a worse campaign strategy  as he idled in Florida and elsewhere waiting for lightning to ignite his chances.  

Get out your delegate counters. And leave some space for other winner-take-all talkers.  Or you can simply turn off the radio and wait for the movie.   It couldn't hurt.  

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Blackwell sings in minor key...

ODDLY ASSEMBLING his  campaign to become the Republican National Committee chairman, Ken Blackwell has inexplicably come to the defense of a rival for the job, Chip Saltsman.   In case the holidays have clouded your memory, please note that the very same Blackwell is the former Ohio Secretary of State whose quirky maneuvers in the 2004 Ohio presidential race still resound with questions about the validity of the balloting that put the state in George Bush's column. He then followed up with a failed campaign for governor in 2006. 

 Now, what about Saltsman?  Well,  he's the former Tennessee Republican Chairman who managed Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign. Lately, he  caused a stir in the party  hierarchy  by sending members of the Republican National Committee a CD bearing  a song spoofing Barack Obama.  It's titled "Barack the Magic Negro."  Sounds like a role that Blackwell, an African-American, wanted to fill during his stay in Ohio politics.  Blackwell says he doesn't see anything wrong with Saltsman's tactics,  opining that press reports were due to "hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race."   Blackwell generously added that all of his competitors for the RNC post are "fine people." Right. 

One the other hand, the current RNC chairman, Mike Duncan, seems to be a tad hypersensitive himself.   He said he was "shocked  and appalled" that a  candidate for the party's top job would participate in such a stunt.    

I had a hard time figuring out some of Blackswell's antics when he was the top gun for the state's balloting in 2004 as secretary of state.   I have even a harder time figuring out his strategy to claim the RNC job by shucking off tongue-in-cheek songs about a "Magic Negro".

The logic is so opaque.  Maybe not.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Honors for a bell cow

ONE OF the perks of retirement from a  highly visible role as a TV news anchor is that you get to share with the world the praise from profound thinkers who thought that you were swell.  There's no clearer evidence of that than in the VIP accolades for Brit Hume, the baritone bell cow of Fox/Bush News, who is collecting his tidy retirement pay these days.  But first, a word from his sponsors, broadcast to Hume's loving  fans around the world  as aired  in his self serving final encomium:

   "After decades of hard work you've become one of the most respected journalists in the business.  You're a role model for young reporters, and while you leave big shoes to fill, we hope many are inspired to follow in your footsteps."  ...George Bush.

It gets better. Hume got this salute from Dick Cheney: 

    " I've always known you to be  a skilled and fair-minded reporter.  You've lived up to that standard every day of your career, and you've made 'Special Report' one of the finest news programs in the world."

Enjoy it while you can, Brit.  Twenty-seven more days and the George-and-Dick dark comedy hour will be officially  off the air  for good.   I report.  You decide. 


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Recalling the recall

AKRON MAYOR Don Plusquellic  has not been in a giving mood to his political opponents during the holidays and you may expect to see the consequences in the weeks and months ahead.   The mayor's team is girding for battle.  It has had several high level  meetings to counter a recall campaign against him by former councilman and Plusquellic thorn, Walter Mendenhall. Around City Hall, the mere mention of Mendenhall's name is always accompanied by the soundtrack from "Jaws".   Neither side expects the latest clash to be gentle: recall campaigns are never pretty.  And this one would be at a desperate time in the economy when the minds of public officials should be on something more productive.  .

The mayor's strategy, I have been told,  will be an across-the-board appeal to civic and business leaders to defend the mayor's work during his six terms in office by sending the message down through the ranks of their companies and institutions.  If this strategy is effective  - and I think it probably will be - it will stave off a recall in a special election.  But that isn't certain.  As Plusquellic learned in his last campaign against Mendenhall ally Joe Finley,  nothing in politics can ever be taken for granted.  City Hall has set out to make sure that there will be no more close calls.

It will be costly for the city. Plusquellic advisors are talking about a six-figure outlay with some forecasts of upward of $500,000.    And the internal advice that will be given to the often outspoken mayor:  For this to be a success, you have to hold your tongue.  

The danger, of course, is that Mendenhall  may be able to get the 3,200 or so valid signatures on the recall petitions to force a disruptive special election. That's why there will be an intense effort to amass support from the top rung of the city's movers and shakers - many of whom have been supportive of his leadership in the past.  There is more than enough evidence of Plusquellic's productive initiatives for Akron to offset his setbacks over the years.  

So let the spitefully silly season of his opponents begin.  With so many other things on our collective minds to worry about, why do I feel that we are instead heading off to Wally World?  

They should have asked Mike

YEARS AGO I knew a barrel of a courthouse bailiff who sat outside the judge's chambers, chewed on a cigar and observed closely the ways of his world.   Much of what Mike  told me in one and two-syllable words made some sense, the kind of sense you would  expect from courthouse philosophers with time on their hands.  So I asked him about the great Akron-based $11 million Ponzi scheme that I had been assigned to cover for my paper.  Schooled by his deep  interest in the win-place-and-show odds at a nearby racetrack, he squinted knowingly when I mentioned the unraveled scheme by Don Lowers, the Akron lawyer, to build a financial pyramid that was destined to collapse on a lot of sorry investors.

"I went up to his office when I heard about it, went over a lot crap with him and left, " Mike said with a cough and bit of gravel in his voice.  "Naw.  It didn't make no sense to me at all about how you can make so much money in such a short time.  There had to be a catch.  Not with my  money because I didn't give him none. I figured you'd have a better chance laying up two bucks on a three-legged horse.  Naw. I ain't no dummy."

Trouble today is that there aren't enough savvy courthouse horse players  around to know that Bernard Madoff was shuffling all of his money from the bottom of  his private deck.  Interestingly, although it has been in vogue to blame the people being forced from their homes for not reading the fine print  in their mortgages, there is almost no concern about the careless way so many huge money bags were offered up by  people and institutions who might have been more careful about their treasures.  

Corruption has become so widespread in the carpeted offices of the investment industry that the FBI in New York says it is diverting some of its agents from a terrorism watch to the fraud on Wall Street.    "We have to work with those cases we think pose the greatest threat," the FBI's David Cardona told  "In this case it's the threat to the financial system and Wall Street."  How comforting!

But how would the big losers  know?  It's true that the SEC would have been the last people to ask inasmuch as they (as well Alan Greenspan) were fully committed to George Bush's "ownership society" as well as ignoring  lot of other signs of mischief on Wall Street.   That now translates into easy come, easy go, particularly for millions of homeowners. As for the record-breaking  Ponzi,  there are scattered reports of some big companies that rejected Madoff's  preposterous robust investment options.   For all the others, it was too bad that Mike  the bailiff wasn't around to advise the well-paid  company financial advisors.   

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Solidarity? Let's hope forever

WEEKEND WRAPPERS:  In a bouncy review of the past year in classical music, New York Times writer Daniel J. Wakin awarded  the Solidarity Gold Medal to the Plain Dealer's  Donald Rosenberg for the widespread professional support he received from the nation's other classical music critics after his demotion by the PD.  The paper, displeased by his criticism of the Cleveland Orchestra's conductor, Franz Welser-Most, restricted  him to lesser arts reporting  that denied him  his longtime beat of covering the Cleveland Orchestra....Speaking of the puzzling ways of newspaper front offices, I'm still trying to sort out the wisdom of the Detroit News and Free Press to limit the  home delivery of their   papers to Thursday, Friday and Sunday, beginning in March.  The plan is the latest effort by newspapers to cut their losses.  In this instance, it appears to be a bridge to nowhere.   I don't see how it can possibly work to either the papers' or the readers' advantage.  Absence on the doorstep four days a week will not make the the reader's heart grow fonder.  

Clearing some debris from my desk, I chanced upon this stunning observation  by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:

             "Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war." 

Good gracious! Who would have guessed?

Boo!   Once again, sports announcer Al Michaels' neocon handshakes were in evidence as he 
and his wife flew to a pro football game in the company of Rush Limbaugh and significant other.  Michaels, who has been heard on the air to make light of waterboarding, obviously is in sync with a guy like Limbaugh, who has made light of Parkinson's Disease and the recent mugging of TV talk show co-host Nika Brzinzski.  Guilt by association?  Naw.  Guilt by guilt. 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bolt down the kitchen sink, too...

RUMMAGING through the gory reports on the $50 billion con man, Bernard Madoff,  I could only conclude  that his Hun-like assault on Wall Street investors was more evidence of the regulatory laxity of the Bush Administration.  In this instance, the Securities and Exchange 
Commission.  The Culture was easy to define: government's role in the finance industry (as well as all other Federal enterprises) should be minimal at best, a conservative mantra whose morning exercise routine is to turn one's eyes the other way while the culprits ransack the goodies with the speed of the Wabash Cannonball.     

The mea culpas to that effect are already part of the SEC's confessions as the titled managers apologize for not  being more alert to warnings that Madoff's Ponzi company was an inside job that might not withstand intense questioning.  It was laissez faire at its  worst that now has sunk individual investors,  foundations, pension funds and God knows what else in its wake.  

But the legacy of the Bush Administration  will show numerous instances of meddling to  cut away interference with  the official Culture, in some bizarre versions as recent as Secretary of State Condi Rice's absurd insistence that not a single American dollar was lost to corruption in Iraq.  Not one!  

Culture?  Dr. Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general, complained that his speeches on stem cell research and teen pregnancy were heavilly edited to conform, not with science, but with the Bushies' philosophy.   Carmona said he had been "marginalized".  

And what about the NASA scientists who reported that they were warned to tone down their warnings about global warming?  And EPA technicians who were kept under wraps about emission controls at power plants?   The muffling of science by the Culture could not go on forever.  That will change the day Bush heads back to the ranch to think about another day job.  

I'm sure somebody is already  putting together the book on the abuses of this administration by an army of fractals, those tiny images that are exact replicas of the larger image that they band  together  to create.  I wonder where the values folks will go for their next jobs.  And not a moment too soon.  Such is the ugly moral of Bernard Madoff, the Securities and Exchange Commission et al.  Keep it away from the kids in your house.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A flipped house divided?

AND A MERRY CHRISTMAS to the University of Akron , which could use a little extra cheer these days in the wake of  the indictment on ethics charges  of a member of UA's Board of Trustees.  We're talking, of course, about Atty. Jack Morrison. a political powerhouse in the realm of the Summit County Republican Party who now faces seven counts, all misdemeanors, of  trespassing on the state's ethics laws.  Since the Summit Count Grand Jury returned the indictment, the University has been officially silent in what UA spokesman Ken Torisky described to me as "a kind of waiting game" until the case plays out. But it can't be all that pleased with this kind of attention.

In short, Morrison  is accused of profiting from the sale of a  house to the University in the neighborhood where a new athletic stadium is being built,  a transaction involving his lawyer son that netted about $33,000, or 40 pct. profit during the short flipping  period that it was in the family.    Ethical or unethical, I'll let the court decide.  But if you want to raise suspicion of a conflict of interest, there's no easier way to do it than to sit on a university board while the family is turning a dollar.  Morrison, you should know, denies that any of this was off the books.  But the indictment says he engaged in "an unlawful interest in a public contract" and filed a "false" financial statement with the Ohio Ethics Commission.

 Morrison is the lawyer for the County GOP and sits on the State Republican Committee.  You can be sure that the two sides will have a lot more to say about this when it goes to trial.  The arraignment was set for 8 a.m. Dec. 31. in the courthouse annex at which time a trial date will be set.

Meantime,  there may be a subtext on another sticky  matter involving Morrison, who is the law director of Munroe Falls.  A former Munroe Falls Councilman, Bentley Hudson, will take up the question before the council on how Morrison managed to import tons of landscaping granite rocks and sandstone from city property to the lawyer's new home that was under construction on Silver Lake last summer.  "I'm going to be asking a lot of questions about that at the council meeting Monday,  Hudson says.  You'd have to assume that with Jack Morrison, life must never be dull. 



Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rating the corruptibles

IMAGINE MY surprise in reading the other day in the New York Times that Illinois is not the most corrupt state in the Union.  It ranks no worse than sixth, according to The Corporate Crime Reporter, which bases its rankings on the number of  federal public corruption convictions per 100,000 residents.  Illinois, its governors and Chicago aldermen notwithstanding, is more respectable on the chart than Louisiana, Mississippi  Kentucky, Alabama and...I'll whisper it...Ohio.  This is hardly the season of the year to bring this up with all of the state's other bad tidings, including the fact that the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are groping around in the darkness of their NFL division.  

Now that I have dared to bring you up to date on the relative evil that lurks in the land, let's just forget that I mentioned it and make the most of the holidays. .  

Monday, December 15, 2008

When the other shoes fly...

DO YOU find at least a little strange that after all of the bullets,  bombs and billions in U.S. dollars we have recklessly dispensed to pacify Iraq, the simple act of hurling shoes at President Bush has again told us that we are nowhere near creating the promised land that has been so fictionalized  by the Bush Administration?   Quite the opposite, despite the exaggerated claims of growing success in Iraq that Colin Powell is talking about so critically  these days.  You have seen the same reports of the nasty incident that I have.  And, based on the wide approval of Iraqis and throughout the Arab world of the culturally significant airborne shoes,  the disgust with U.S. presence in the Middle East has created a hero of Muntazer al-Zaidi, the journalist who staged the event.  (Contrary to some of my recent e-mails from curious readers, Zaidi is not a relative of mine.)  

We can say rather clearly that Iraq is not the world that neocon Richard Perle envisioned years ago when he confidently predicted that a big plaza in the center of Baghdad would be named for George Bush within months of the invasion.  At that moment there was plenty of Kool-Aid to go around.  But not enough these days to mollify the Iraqis whose lives in many cases are worse today than before. Look out.  If  Zaidi  is severely prosecuted it will only inflame the Arab world more.  At this late date, what in the world was Bush doing playing president  over there anyway? 

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Regula guy

RETIRING CONGRESSMAN Ralph Regula, among the last of the vanishing breed of moderate Republicans on Capitol Hill, spoke at an Akron Press Club luncheon Friday with some words of advice to his political colleagues:   Constituents first.  The words appear on lapel pins worn by him and his staff.  The motto expressed his sentiments about the state of the GOP these days, which he said needed to be "a little bit more sensitive about the things that are important to the people."

That's asking a lot.  With Regula  leaving office after 36 years of represesenting the 16th District just south of Akron, those prescribed  sensitivities are even less likely to characterize the Republican Party today, Joe the Plumber notwithstanding.  The cruel action of those fat-and-happy southern Republicans who are quite pleased with their foreign auto factories stepped far over the line by blocking the bailout of the northern Big 3 American producers without kicking a tire.  Indeed, there seems to be something "anti-American" by pitting region against region when the entire economy is driving over a cliff.  With few available options, the GOP senators stood firmly against the lesser of two evils and challenged workers to eat cake instead.   
So there was Sen. Mitch McConnell, the owlish  union-hating Senate minority leader who led the assault on the proposal, offering the sort of condolence-light  that Tony 
Soprano might extend to the wife of a wiseguy that his own henchmen had just whacked.  "None of us want to see them go down," McConnell said sadly of the  Detroit crowd.  "But very few of us had anything to do with the dilemma they created for themselves." Well, sniffles!

When you put it that way, it may be technically true.  But when it's said by the Col. Sanders of the Senate who proudly supported spending  up to a trillion dollars for a miscast war halfway around the world to protect our security, you have to wonder why he wouldn't give a little to protect the security of armies of  workers at home.  I know why.

The conspicuous irony of such dark behavior is that McConnell was doubtless  the cheerleader for his wife, Elaine Chao, to be appointed by George Bush in 2001 as labor secretary. Her short bio notes that she is committed to "promoting the health, safety, retirement security and competiveness of the nation's workforce."  The senator and the labor secretary  obviously never talk business with each other on their days off.

MORE ON REGULA:  With University of Akron president Luis Proenza seated at the front table, Regula took the opportunity to defend the use of earmarks for home state projects that work, specifically noting a UA facility in Medina as an example of a worthy earmark. He was probably on the side of the angels in his defense of these special Federal outlays.  McCain's attacks on earmarks during the campaign created very little uplift for his chances and in fact may have aggrieved the voters still more.  So I ask: Who in the world earmarked earmarks as a critical issue to be exploited by McCain and Palin?  

Regula did support the Big 3 bailout and demonstrated over the years that he could act calmly with his colleagues across the aisle.  He worked closely with the late Rep. John  Seiberling of Akron on creating the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with a critical assist from the late Ray Bliss.  He also played a hand in delivering the cash for several other major projects in northern Ohio.  

In retirement  as an octogenarian,  Regula will now be able to spend more time back on his farm in Stark County.  He may find that the livestock that might show up on his  acreage will be a tad more civilized than some of his colleagues on Capitol Hill. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Flying monkeys at Christmas

I'VE BEEN  waiting for the sun to force itself through the clouds to brighten my waning  interest in Christmas shopping.  At this time of the year Northern Ohio is an image of Ireland's overcast without the rainbows.  Nancy says the sun never shines here.  But "never" is a pretty strong word.  For whatever reason, you can still find suntan lotion in most of the stores.

From my vantage point, I can see the big shopping mall, if not Sardinia nor the Roman Forum. That alone should inspire me to get a move  on.   Yet, once inside the mall, it seems like the day after Christmas unless you came for a slice of pizza or a fast sandwich.  The price cuts are dizzying.  To be on the safe side, I recommend a pocket calculator to figure what 75 pct. off from 50 pct. off is.  It's doubtless the new spirit of  Double Discount Christmas.

The advertisers who clog my e-mail with "bargains" have been busy to pump up holiday sales.  At one point I counted 27 offers ranging from fail-safe auto sponges to Gevalia coffee (the "perfect holiday gift").  I could get an "amazing screaming Flying Monkey" at  $9.99 plus shipping, a gift said to have been voted the"stocking stuffer of the year."  There also were assorted come-ons for an "impact racing super sport helmet" with the the added benefit of a free helmet bag, plus more practical items like cartridge ink, a call box money bank and a promise for debt relief. 

There has also been an overabundance of "as-seen-on " merchandise.  Mostly weight-loss stuff that would shrink you to Twiggy by Christmas Eve and authenticated with exposure "as seen on Oprah, CNN, CBS, MSNBC"  and doubtless in your monthly utilities bill.  I was particularly struck by the Diet Wu-yi System, which was not recommended for folks who only want to "lose a few pounds." That sounded serious.  I won't even ask my doctor.  

For some, Christmas giving is hardly the  challenge that some  of us face today.  I once had an aunt who lived in Miami, Fla., who shipped us a big box of orange and grapefruit  each year without laying hands on it herself.  It was a kind of vanity thing to show us how fortunate it was to live where they grew citrus fruit  while we were frozen into popsicles in northern winters.  (It took awhile for me to convince my father, who moved to Florida with our entire tribe,  that despite all of that sunshine,  people died  in Miami Beach just as they did in Newfoundland). 
Alas,  my aunt didn't make it past her 95th year and the oranges have not arrived for several years  for Christmas.   In fact, in her final years, she moved in with some cousins in Phoenix and often remarked how wonderful it was to live in such heat.  I told her I could imagine.  

Meantime, I can't get those amazing flying monkeys out of mind.  But only at 50 pct. off!  

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Are you nuts, Blago?

is being  said  about Gov. Rod Blagojevich is true, we can safely conclude that he is a fool, or deranged or no more than a street corner crook - or all of the above.  Even the dumbest mobsters use pay phones or aliases for their shakedowns.    With the shuddering allegations pouring out of the district attorney's office against the Democratic Illinois governor's office, the stench took  me back to the pages of Upton Sinclair's  expose of the early days of Chicago's sordid meatpacking industry, The Jungle,  in which operators and their agents cut more bloody deals than cattle carcasses under the filthiest of circumstances.

I don't know.  Maybe the governor had been reading up on the successful modus operandi  of the Iraqi politicians who became millionaires at our expense simply by  exchanging vows with the American government.  Whatever the case, Blagojevich is history, except for whatever tidy things  the D.A. and the justice system have in mind for him.  

As an Illini graduate who spent more than a little time in and around Chicago, I confess that I have a soft spot for the Windy City  and cannot bring myself to condemn it for the slipping and sliding of some of its politicians.  Maybe I am still taking a cue from my late father-in-law, who lived in a suburb on the edge of the city.   A businessman, he was a dedicated Republican.  But he did insist that although he never voted for a Democrat, he lamented that as a suburbanite he couldn't cast a ballot for the first  Mayor Richard Daley.  "He's the one Democrat I would vote for,"  my-father-in-law said unapologetically.  "He runs  a great city."  

I agree that Chicago is a great neighborly  town today, too, with much to appeal to the residents and visitors. Even the Cubs came close to a championship this year.  (It would have been the first since, let me think, the great Chicago fire?)    In Chicago, loyalties run deeply to the point of making exceptions for the sort of political mischief that would hardly win any style points.  And  that made for some bartering, whenever necessary.  The story is told of a visit to Daley's office by a physician who was having trouble getting an easement for some improvements at his office.  The mayor offered him, um, a deal. He would see to it that the easement was granted by City Council on one condition:  The doctor had to promise free medical care for the Mayor's political operative in the neighborhood.  It worked.  Not the same as shaking down people to buy a Senate seat, not by a long shot.  But it's how things get started to the satisfaction of everyone involved.     

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Bush "haters"

TAKE COVER!   Karl Rove has put on his game face to herald his forthcoming book.   In a preemptive strike to  expose those who have been naughty and those who have been nice during the Bush years,  Rove told Cox News that he knows who the "Bush haters"   are and, in a threatening mood,  will "name names" in his book.  Although his whodunnit  sounds a lot like a reincarnation  of Nixon's enemies list,   Rove's book-length accounting of political villainy could bestir even  the Georgetown Cocktail Party Conservatives (in McCain's memorable words) to don their dogtags and come out fighting against a sea of socialism that is washing up on the Potomac's shores.  Some of those named, of course, will do nothing more than to ask for a refill of their martinis.  Nice sales pitch for your book,  Karl.  But we already know who those haters are.     

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lost weekenders

PEGGY NOONAN,  author and conservative columnist for the Wall Street Journal,  has this  defense mechanism to ease her idol George Bush through history.  Bush, she writes, protected America against terrorists.  Eh, sorry, Peggy.  I think you missed one....

WITH soaring unemployment, public debt,  and ugly international conflicts,  President-elect Obama may have to crash through a number of   brick walls to turn the country around.  His situation  reminds me of something that President Kennedy said when he described  his biggest surprise after he entered the Oval Office:   "When we got into office the thing that surprised me the most was that things were as bad as we'd been saying they were."  

HEY, TAKE a breath!    A little more than a month since the presidential election, the pollsters are working overtime to give us a glimpse of where the next campaign will take us.  CNN says its poll of Republicans and Independents show Mike Huckabee leading the GOP  field with 34 pct. followed by Sarah Palin at 32 pct.  Since this is all gross  nonsense at this point, it would be interesting to see where these two "frontrunners" would wind up in the next poll if Warren Harding were added to the list. 

HOLIDAY SHOPPING, 2008.   I came across a plastic medalli0n that read "American Hero, U.S. Air Force."...Yep.  Made in China.  

BROWN(ie)S POINTS: The Sunday Plain Dealer excessively devoted most of its front page and acres of space inside the paper to the question: "What's Wrong with the Browns?" Obviously it was an attempt to lighten up the reader with some bright hometown news amid the really serious stuff eating at all of us these days.  I don't claim to be a deep thinker about that team by the lake, which qualifies  me as much as anybody else to analyze the Browns' annual sickly status.  It's called the Modell Curse.  Trust me.  Since Art moved the franchise from Cleveland, his Baltimore Ravens have won one Super Bowl, which  puts him one-up over the Browns.  By the way, the Browns lost against today.    

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mike Duncan's new math

  I HAD promised myself that I would break from the  herd and not write about Saxby Chambliss. But I could not resist the temptation that finally overcame my better judgment.  So to repeat the obvious, the Hollywood-looking snowy-haired Republican senator won the Georgia run-off  this week - as expected in a very conservative southern state where a very talented professional football player was sent to jail for engaging in dog-fighting and a former Democratic governor and U.S. Senator, Zell Miller,   turned up at the Republican convention to praise Bush and damn Kerry while noisily wishing that he lived in a day when he could challenge Chris Matthews to a dual. Georgia is not Vermont. 

I'm still trying to figure out how the proud voters of the Peach State first went for Chambliss - who had eagerly  avoided military service - in  2002  against the Democratic incumbent senator, Max Cleland,  a triple amputee  from his service in Vietnam.  Chambliss got away with describing his opponent as a wimp on fighting terrorism.  Georgia Republicans are an easy sell.

So now here was Mike Duncan, the incidental chairman of the Republican National Committee, crowing that Saxby's win was so profound that it serves as  irrefutable evidence that Barack Obama doesn't have a mandate to lead the country.  Let him explain:

"Georgians clearly sent a message that any rhetoric about a liberal mandate is nothing but hot air." 

Message to whom?  He didn't say.  But he did say that Saxby gave the GOP conservatives  the "momentum" that the party had been seeking since Obama' triumph on Nov. 4. 

All of this high-level consideration of mandates led me to put it in some kind of historical context to define the word.  

Back in 2004, moments after the fateful numbers that sent him to the Oval Office a second time, George Bush clearly exercised his thoughts about his next four years  with a boastful threat to anyone who might stand in his way.  "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital," Dubya sounded off, "and now I intend to spend it.  It is my style."  Cool.

This is where I went off the track with Chairman Duncan.  Using his logic, Bush won with a 3 million vote margin, a hefty 50.7 pct. vs. Kerry's skimpy  48.3 pct.    Obama edged McCain by more than 9 million votes  - 52.7 pct. to 45.8 pct.   Hardly enough to convince  Duncan that Obama had earned enough "political capital" to claim a mandate.  

So I ask: How dumb do you have to be these days  to serve as the Republican National Committee's chairman?    Just asking.  Obviously, math is not a prerequisite.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Going to press with the reporters you have

THE AXE FELL again at the Plain Dealer this week.  Hardly surprising since  it had  been anticipated for many days.  Of the 27 Guildsmen sent out the door with "layoffs"   (added to some 23 buyouts earlier) at least one is a veteran who once worked at the Beacon Journal: Terry Oblander.  Here's how it was explained to me:   On Monday all were told to sit by their phones at home from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. If you received a call from the paper,  you made the cut and was expected to return to work.  If the phone remained silent during that period, you were history.  The losers are to receive two weeks pay plus a week's pay for each six months on the job, up to one year.  But why do companies call these cuts  "layoffs" when there will be no effort to restore the jobs.  Not these days.  Or ever.  

Rove :Bush's brain drain?

ISN'T THERE  anything we can - or should - do about Karl Rove? In the final drab days of the Bush administration, Rove continues to show up here and there much like a maniacal Robert De Niro in "Cape Fear" just when you think he's been dispatched forever.  There are now reports that Rove is busily engaged in the Bush Legacy Project, a diehard mission to reveal Bush as a regular good  guy for the historians and public.  The other day Rove dismissed the critics, which now include about 80 pct. of Americans, as being the natural consequence of hanging out in the Oval Office for eight years.  As he explained it to Matt Lauer, "Look at the end of eight years...Republicans or Democrats...people tire of it." Right. 

Karl's been around longer than that himself, and now appears to be on a roll to humiliate his own once little-challenged reputation  as the political genius at the end of the yellow brick road.    But unlike many Americans who are more tired of being economically splattered and out of work, Karl is gainfully employed in some conservative quarters to be the yeast in a post-presidential rise of George Walker Bush.  His latest task of rehabbing Bush could be the most daunting, somewhat like reclaiming the hulk of the Titanic.  

 Does anybody remember  his pollyanna view in  2006 of how Republicans would retain control of the Senate and House, a notion revealed to him by his own mysterious polls?  Or that he was a sort-of silent partner in McCain's campaign apparatus with a lot of cheery talk on Fox?  

If I remember Thomas Aquinas'  first-cause argument for the existence of God, he said no event causes itself.  It was so pre-Rovian.   Karl seems to cause himself every moment of the day.
For him it has never been whether you win or lose but how you taint the game.  During the Bush years he was regularly described as "Bush's Brain."  For his own place in history, George could have chosen a brain more carefully.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The bored national media

DID YOU get a glimpse  of the heartwarming detente between Barack and Hillary when the president-elect announced his national security team?  It was pure family.  And, predictably, the reporters in the room were suspicious that they were witnessing stagecraft rather than statecraft.  They immediately asked Obama whether this was a moment of hallucination after all of the awful things the  two former rivals had said of each other during the campaign.  Obviously prepared for the media's negative spin, Obama smiled broadly  and responded:  "You're having fun" - which he found quite acceptable to relieve their dreary life after a presidential campaign .  It's the sort of downer that you sense on a gray day or two after Christmas when the bright holiday trimmings at the mall suddenly vanish as the stores prepare for Valentine's Day. 

Actually, the reporters weren't quite having fun. They were bored and uneasy.   After exhausting millions of questions and sharing speculative guesses on Meet the Press and National Press Club lunch breaks,  the media players must now find a a way to renew public interest in their work now that there are no polls telling us who was ahead in Montana. Not even Sarah Palin's vicarious wardrobe is of much of public interest these days.  

Speaking from experience, to break the monotony of  post-election blues,   political  reporters seek out each other  for clues to their next career challenges. It is generally agreed that not everyone at the news conference should ask the same question about Hillary.  The president quickly senses a trend and calls on a reporter who has the look of Hillary boredom and wants to ask about First Dog.  

The media's days on the campaign trails are so consuming it could take weeks for news of a great aunt's death to reach a reporter at a pueblo in Arizona where he or she is gauging the electoral power of  indigenous Indian chiefs.    

So now, during the interregnum between Dubya (50 days left and I'm not the only one who's counting) and Barack, the national media can do nothing more than  pretend that the intensity of the campaign has never waned and that Barack can call it "fun" but the "Hillary thing" will have to do until something more exciting comes along.  Maybe it will be a substitute for  all of the juicy campaign reports  that armies of Hillary supporters   would churlishly abandon Obama and vote for McCain.  Let's  hope not.  It would  a be a terrible reminder that in combatting boredom and empty hours you can go too far and be downright silly.      

Monday, December 1, 2008

All the news that's fit to outsource

IF, INDEED, bad news comes in threes, then I will offer these examples from the week end as supporting evidence: one is from the NY Times, one from the Plain Dealer, one from the Beacon Journal - which could only mean that I'm back to the sobering topic of the decline of America's newspapers. 

First, Maureen Dowd's Sunday column in the Times.  She  told of an enterprising lunatic  in California  with an outrageous plan to cover your latest church luncheon program or library booksale with an online surrogate "reporter"  based in India.   Yep, his name is James Macpherson and he boasts of creating "glocal" news from his home in Pasadena. That's a McNews word that fits his claim to pioneering  something he calls Internet-centric news from his Pasadena Now editorial (?) offices.  A former garment salesman who outsourced his stuff to Vietnam, Macpherson told Dowd  that he will outsource news with foreign-based stringers who are paid $7.50 per 1,000 words.  It will be a simple matter, he says, to provide those content providers with telephone numbers, email addresses and anything else they need  to report whatever is news in our city.  If newspapers claim they can't afford to pay yesterday's staff, then Macpherson says he will pay them the way shoes , made much more cheaply in China,  are imported into our shopping malls.  From where I sit, the only difference is that you can  try on the shoes before you buy them.  You never know what you might be getting from an unprofessional stringer halfway around a very troubled world.   Macpherson's goals sound like a hellish way to make a living.  But shrinkage is really what the traditional media are all about these days.  I can hear a lot of copycats already  bestirring themselves into gasping "Yeah, Yeah! I can do it, too!" You heard it here second.  

In another piece, PD columnist  Elizabeth Sullivan writes with intelligence and grace about the death of her journalist mother while lamenting the dismantling of today's newspapers.  Sullivan notes that the PD is in the process  of expanding projected layoffs in the newsroom from 38 to 50.  She writes:

"That's 50 of my friends. Fifty people who work hard every day to deliver something meaningful, contextual, important and unique to hundreds of thousands of readers who don't have the time, skills or inclination to do the digging themselves."  (The layoffs are expected to be announced this week and you can imagine the tension as the straws are drawn.)  Sullivan is hoping to delay the inevitable but newspaper ownership today will hear none of it.  It has been part of the problem, retreating meekly and greedily in the face of heavy competition from the Internet.  To what end?  Profit?  Survival?  So far, the front offices have yet to come up with an answer other than to lend a hand to their eventual demise with less quality, less competence and less commitment to the things that newspapers are supposed to do best. 

Finally, with the Cleveland Cavaliers showing championship  potential, Sunday's BJ reported the game just up the road from Akron with the Associated Press rather than its own beat reporter.  Nothing more to add about that. On the other hand, it may be a rung or two higher than game coverage from that person in India at $7.50 per.