Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obsessing the Recession

I'M NOT sure when I first learned that two plus two equaled four,  but it has somehow stuck with me for many years.  But not being a disciple of  Pythagoras, I continue to have problems with simple numbers as well as explanations of why numbers are  so important in defining an economic recession.  It seems ages ago when the gurus who  inspect such events began to wonder when, if ever, the U.S would finally sink into a recession, as if everyone who had lost a job along the way didn't already know.  Forever in denial, the experts cautiously inched backward with such descriptions as downturn, economic  stagnation, slowdown, contraction   and  slump.  But recession?  Well the GDP and the real GDP, it says here,  have declined .3 and .8 pct.  respectively.   And real personal consumption is down .04 pct.  You could have fooled me.  

Alas, the euphemistic days are over.  Now the talk is about when did the recession actually begin! Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Robert Hall, Stanford professor and chairman of the National Bureau of Economic Research Committee,  says there is a chance we can finally know the answer. He says:  "...the severity of the credit crunch could be enough for some committee members to make a recession conclusion as early s next month."   

Good.  I hope that such clarity  comes in time for Christmas shopping.   With the semantics of the country's recessive economic ills out of the way, it's time to head back to the shopping malls, just as George Bush once urged all Americans to do as his earlier remedy for a, um, downturn. Meantime,  the Fed has cut prime interest rates another .5 pct. to jump start the economy.  With the rate now shaved to a mere 1 pct., without any discernible help for the economy in the wake of all previous cuts, I wouldn't be surprised if the future cuts will be in eighths to give the Fed experts more room to convince the public that it is indeed trying to help us out of this mess.    Don't know that even that will work.  In fact until we know when the recession began, I'm not even sure that two and two are still four.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A hit man for breakfast!

AS I WAS reaching for my morning Plain Dealer to enjoy the latest rerun of "Peanuts",  a thin 5x7" packet  fell from it to my breakfast table.  It was a packaged DVD titled HYPE the Obama Effect. Oh, oh.  Midnight in America,  from the same torpedoes  who have earned a longstanding reputation  for political smear-bombs.  I'd rather ignore this sort of wingnut crap, but when it is transported inside the PD's pages to thousands of readers,  ya gotta at least offer an alert about the crowd that is behind the so-called documentary.

The first hint comes from a  sound bite (which you can find on your computer) featuring Ken Blackwell.  You all remember how he led the Ohio Republican Party down to sorry defeat as a gubernatorial candidate in 2006.  To quote  Blackwell's assault  on Obama:  "It's only when you begin to peel back layers that you begin to see a disturbing pattern."   At this point I had to wonder how smart the movie's producers were to include a fast-talking loser in its pantheon and then have it circulated so widely in a state that has already passed judgment on his pathetic credentials. 

But the of real villain is David Bossie,  the head of Citizens' United, the rightwing group that has had a lot of foul things to say about past Democratic candidates.   Bossie is the same fellow who was behind the film Hillary: The Movie.  It didn't  quite fulfill his designs as a diatribe against Hillary because she didn' get the nomination.    You should also know that Bossie had a role in the awful Willie Horton commercial that helped sink Michael Dukakis in 1988.  Oh, and he was fired as an investigator for the U.S. House Government and Oversight Committee for leaking information that he edited to damage Hillary. He has also asserted that Chinese espionage is "a most serious scandal" in the highest levels of the government.  

Apart from all of this, no one has accused Bossie of littering expressways with his trash. 

And now, back to "Peanuts".      

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Multiple @%#&%*@?! choice

I'VE DONE my  best to keep up with the McCain campaign's nasty name-calling and it's wearying, unlike anything I've covered since the days of LBJ, whose opponents were kind enough to unify on one word: Communist. Earlier, with Eisenhower, it was slightly more respectful:  They simply accused Ike of being a  comsymp, if you know what I mean.  Jack Kennedy had to defend himself against being called a Catholic, for heaven's sake.   And Nixon, was Tricky Dick, but firmly denied that he also was a crook.    Al Gore was described as an "alpha" man, but few people outside of   Maureen Dowd's inner circle quite knew what that meant.    I had better stop this little political history lesson before I  get to Bill Clinton and George Bush. The Internet, after all, has a mixed audience and kids.

Still, I have all of these terrible terms aimed at Barack Obama by the McCain School of Lesser Invective Politics, and I can't think of anything else to do with them but to dump them on anyone who has read this far.  So, here goes:

Lucifer admirer; traitor; terrorist; Muslim alien; socialist; uppity;  elitist; street man ; closet socialist; communist; dirtiest campaigner; redistributionist-in-chief; drug addict; most liberal member of congress; baby murderer; black power threat; unprepared; stylist without substance; Ivy-league egghead; tax-and-spend 
Democrat; and finally, a Democrat.  

You'd think that by now that a presidential campaign with a specific message would have settled on one.  You could think that, but you would be wrong.  

Monday, October 27, 2008

Condi: Out of the Frying Pan?

THERE ARE reports that Condi Rice, who will become a free agent when George Bush leaves office, is interested in joining the front office, possibly as president,  of the San Francisco Forty Niners.  She had been at Stanford U. before becoming a passenger on Bush's train wreck and is said to be "passionate" about football.  I would be shocked if it happened.  The Niners are dismally in last place with a 2-6 record. Why would she want to move from one loser to another one?    

Palin's home-front downer

IT USED to be a clever talking point for the partisans on both sides to note that even the hometown newspaper - the folks who knew the most about one's opponent - found reason not to endorse that opponent.  Well, now.  The largest paper in Alaska has endorsed Barack Obama!  Although the Anchorage Daily News insisted that both McCain and Sarah Palin were too "risky" to endorse in a troubled nation and world, here is the paper's conclusion about Alaska's governor:

        "Yet despite her formidable gifts, few who  have worked closely with the governor would argue she is truly ready to assume command of the most important, powerful nation on earth.  To step in and juggle the demands of an economic meltdown, two deadly wars and a deteriorating climate crises would stretch the governor  beyond her  range." 

          You betcha.  As Palin has become more of McCain's  chattering nuisance in the final days of the campaign, she has quickly reminded me of the disruptive student in a grade school class  who was constantly waving an  arm for permission to go to the bathroom.  

Sunday, October 26, 2008

McCain: It's a question of answers

AS A college freshman,  I was terribly challenged by my first essay exam in a history course.  The professor, a tall distinguished man who wrote the book for the course, passed out blank 16-page  booklets for our responses to his questions.  I filled up the pages, turned it in and walked out of the room confident that I had nailed the test.  Several days later it came back to me with a big "F" on the cover.   I was shocked and met the professor at his desk.  "I clearly wrote 16 pages and you gave me an F!  How could you do that to me?"    With obvious experience in such student complaints, he raised his long arm and replied:  "Indeed, you did write 16 pages.  But I think you wrote that much in hopes that the right answer would be in there somewhere.  And I'm not confident that you still know what the correct answer is."

It might explain my reaction to Tom Brokaw's interview with John McCain on Meet the Press this morning.  To each question, McCain went on and on, zigging and zagging,  hoping to convince his  doubters that he knew the answer even if  it spun off from the original question.  
Fully conditioned by my old history professor, I had no choice but to give McCain an F.  

Saturday, October 25, 2008

She said it wasn't so

FOOTNOTE TO the sad story of a confused young McCain worker who fabricated a report of being assaulted by a tall black man in Pittsburgh: Ashley Todd needs professional help rather than condemnation. But that's not the end of the story.  The condemnation should be directed at Matt Drudge, a modern carnival barker who gave the phony story national visibility, and McCain's communication director in Pennsylvania who reportedly called TV stations instantly to report a brutal attack on Todd.  How quickly the word spread to McCain,  Palin and Obama, too, all of whom are said to have called her with their concern before her tale collapsed.    It would be hard not to see a Willie Horton type racial subplot by the McCain people in a crucial battleground state in the closing days of the campaign.  They may or may not have orchestrated the hoax.  But they didn't hesitate to dive in to exploit the earliest narrative  before she confessed to police.   It's hard for me to believe otherwise.    

Thursday, October 23, 2008

To David Black, Beacon Journal

OPEN LETTER to David Black, owner of the Akron Beacon Journal, Victoria, British Columbia:

Dear David, 

The exodus of many of the Akron Beacon Journal's most experienced news room staffers in recent weeks has created a sieve in the institutional memory of the once-proud Knight newspaper.  We need to talk about its consequences.

        The paper's former reputation as a leader in the state's governmental, political and hometown coverage was the proud creation of John S. Knight, a widely respected publisher, editor and, most of all, journalist whose determination to provide quality on its daily pages worked its way down to the exacting placement of commas in the most routine stories.  He had a love affair with Akron while building a newspaper empire. 

        The city that he  loved thrived with a strong industrial base,   an important university campus in its midst and a cultural heritage reaching back nearly a century or so  to Gertrude Seiberling's music salons at the Seiberlings' Stan Hywet  residence.  Even today, when many cities are losing their orchestras, The Akron Symphony Orchestra  remains strong and vital.  So does the more than century-old Tuesday Musical Club.  And in the visual arts, it recently opened its door to an impressive addition to its art museum. 

        I make a special point of the city's  cultural commitments  only because  the Beacon Journal's longtime music critic, Elaine Guregian, turned off her BJ computer and joined the Cleveland Orchestra's front office, with no indication as yet that the BJ will replace her with someone of equal professional value.

         But there's more:  popular sports and general columnists have vanished through the front door, unwilling  to commit their future to a paper that you have been decimating since you entered the scene as a reclusive publisher largely concerned with weekly newspaper ownership (roughly 150, many that are said  to be easily circulated free of charge to the readers' doorsteps.)

        Lest you accuse me of being ignorant of the great pressures on newspaper publishing in the modern world, I am not.  As a  veteran newspaperman myself, I regret the threatened demise of my profession.  However, I remain confused by an apparent game plan that a  half a loaf is better than none, and then a half of a half, etc.   I must ask: What do you have mind as a publisher?  At what point because of the shrinkage do we stop referring to your paper as a newsaper?  What is your obligation to treat not only the paper but the city with professional concern so that you would still merit with pride your name on the paper?
       Many people in this town would like to know.  Unless you can explain how the loss of your best reporters and editors can improve the ailing look of the Beacon Journal these days,  you will only make matters worse for yourself  with the paper's readers.  Perhaps you might consider a visit to Akron someday to offer some answers to these questions.  Otherwise, why should anyone care about the bottom  line for a newspaper that has already lost its soul?

Respectfully, Abe Zaidan 



Just in time for Christmas

JOHN AND SARAH are now off on what they are calling their Joe the Plumber campaign tour to lure blue-collar workers in the final days of their  war hoop.  I have to salute them:  Never has an obscure human being meant  so much to the rhetoric of a presidential campaign as Joe the Plumber.  His name will be added to the pantheon of  American pop culture alongside Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman as inspirational reminders of how pro-America goes about its seasonal business.  Obviously blindsided by the introduction of a free agent into the McCain playbook, it appears anti-America Obama has nothing to match it, proving once again that he doesn't have the imagination and experience to run the country.    So much for the October surprise.

As long as we are in the business of naming names, Palin, who is failing as McCain's first-round draft choice,  says that when somebody called her a "redneck", she said "Thank you."  There's obviously a tough woman under that $150,000 designer wardrobe.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin's window dressing

THE LATEST dollop of yeast to be injected into the public's rising disaffection with Sarah Palin is the news that the Republican National Committee spent $150,000 on her and her family for the sort of wardrobe enhancement that would not be stylish for moose-hunting. Most of her clothes were purchased at Sak's Fifth Avenue and Nieman Marcus, the sort of tony emporia that you wouldn't expect to find  sharing a shopping strip with Sam's Club.   Although the honorable intent  of the shopping spree was to spruce up Sarah's image  (along with daringly letting her hair fall  fetchingly as a pro-American woman)  it's doubtful it will do much for her other image down in Smalltown, USA, where people are only interested in bargains at 75 pct. off. .   Even though some Republican contributors are showing signs of dismay by such profligacy,  Pish-posh, responds the RNC.  So let's hear what Tracey Schmidt, the RNC's spokesperson has to say:

          "With all of the important issues facing the country right now it's remarkable that we're                talking about pantsuits and blouses." 

Besides, Schmidt reminds us, the clothes will go to "charitable purposes" after the election. Palin, after all, knows a lot about charity inasmuch she was charging the state of Alaska per diem for the days she stayed at home from the governor's office. 

Youbetcha she does.    

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


WATCHING A replay of Rush Limbaugh's explosive rants against Colin Powell I had to remind myself that he has made millions with the behavior of a harpooned walrus.  So I ask:

If Limbuagh fell from from a tree in the woods and there was nobody around to hear it, would there still be a sound?

If there are any audio engineers in the crowd, let me know.  Thanks.

Monday, October 20, 2008

(Right to) life of the party

I SEE THAT the father and daughter act of John and Sarah will appear at a hastily scheduled rally in Green Memorial Stadium Wednesday afternoon.  The place can seat about 6,000 but people who won't mind standing for a couple of hours will probably find a spot on the field.  McCain will doubtless skip serious talk on the economy and offer us instead further insights into the life and times of Joe the Plumber.  Sarah will settle for tweeting that Obama is a socialist who hates America.   In an instant, Green will become a pro-American town, as opposed to, say, nearby Akron, which has locked on to Democrats and unionists for many decades and, well, you know.   

The GOP has announced that everyone must have a ticket to enter the arena.  And just to make sure that the Republican base turns out,  Right to Life of Summit County, which qualifies as a pro-American group,  has set out to distribute 5,000 tickets.  The pro-lifers, the essence of the pro-American GOP base, have been quite active politically this year again, whipping up their supporters with the usual angry assaults on the anti-Amercan Pro-Choicers.   Who can forget the shouts from a line of surly loyalists waiting to get into a Palin rally in Johnstown, Pa. (Sadly, my birthplace!) as they faced a smaller group of Obama supporters across the street? You can look for this particular quote from a boiling  Palinite in Bartlett's someday: "Kill the babies, you bastards."

Which brings me to Mike Gonidakis, the executive director of Ohio Right to Life.  When I spoke to him recently, he dismissed thoughts that his group was driven by religious or political motives.  "Not so,"said Mike, a lawyer who once worked for former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro and did quite well for himself before moving along in stages  to assume his present job. 

Mike was quick to remind me that Ohio Right to Life had, among other initiatives,  endorsed a Democrat in Parma and that it had no connection to any religion in particular, "Catholics, Protestants, Muslims" and so on.  I couldn't get much beyond that point even though I fidgeted with the knowledge that the group's PAC was  planning  thousands  of anti-Obama   radio and TV ads in Ohio and mailing a half-million ballot cards across the state. 

Gonidakis will tell you in his own words how  Ohio Right of Life, while non-political,  is deeply into the campaign mix:  "The PAC is going to pull out every effort it can to see McCain wins Ohio, certainly he needs to be president."

Needs to be?  Frankly, In all of  my years of chasing down politicians, I've never heard burning political ambition described quite that way.  As for Wednesday's rally, I'll wait for the movie.  

So who's the racist?

HEY, STOP trying to confuse me!   I began the week reading comments from such conservative Olympians as Limbaugh, Will and Buchanan (Pat, not James!)  that the reason Colin Powell endorsed Obama was that - need I say more? - well, it was racially motivated.  Both, in case you didn't know,  are African-Americans who have doubtless shared  a lot of time after hours in billiard parlors touting their bookies' latest odds on NBA games.  Still, I must ask whether the same conclusion would apply to a retired white general who would endorse THAT WHITE ONE for president because he wanted the election to be in his own colorless comfort zone? 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Loopy Michele

MICHELE BACHMANN, an intense Christian conservative, knows things.  She knows that Barack Obama is anti-American.  She knows that if he is elected  we will have "tax increases, socialized medicine and climate change taxes."   She knows that kids who go to charter schools will get a better education than those who go to public schools.   She knows that if the American media thoroughly investigates congress it will doubtless find other duly elected anti-Americans in the House and Senate. She knows that as a pro-life activist who has picketed abortion agencies  she will contribute to overturning  Roe vs. Wade.

Michelle Bachmann is not a garden-variety activist.   She is a first-term Republican congresswoman from a district on the edge of Minneapolis-St. Paul.  I watched her rant on the  Chris Matthews show.  You get the idea that only Christian conservatives are  patriots.  In one way or another, such vacuous logic is being pedaled every day by the McCain campaign.  It's 
McCarthyism at best.  Worse,  it has the seeds of fascism.  Earlier today, I saw an image on TV that should worry all of us.  A guy in southwest Ohio hung an Obama effigy in his front yard.  Not content to be a one on one racist, there was a Star of David  drawn on the head.  The guy told a TV reporter that we must remain a white Christian nation. 
 Meantime, McCain was blind-sided in one of his regular visits to Fox Television today when Chris Wallace asked him if he approved the content of his campaign's  robocalls  inasmuch as he was destroyed by such tactics that  the Bush campaign used against him in 2000. McCain soberly responded that the ones used by his campaign this time were, eh..."legitimate"..."truthful"... "accurate." But he didn't seem all  that happy the question came up.  

That brings me up to date on the current state of this wearying campaign.  


Guregian departing the Beacon Journal


Elaine Guregian, the Beacon Journal's longtime music critic, is departing for a job as the Cleveland Orchestra's communications manager.   She  is the latest to join the mass exodus from the paper, and one who will be missed by  the area's music community, leaving the locals to wonder who - if anybody - will take up the slack in coverage.  The list doubtless will grow larger as  Canadian owner David Black  continues to run the staff through his wringer.   With some of the most experienced people pulling out it is fair to ask at what point does his newspaper still deserve to be  called  a newspaper.  I have asked before: What would be the public reaction if the Cleveland Indians dressed only seven players to take the field because the owners could not afford nine?  

More from the media:  The Columbus Dispatch has informed  the Associated Press  that it will cancel its contract with the big wire service in January 2011.  The reason: economics.  Ben Morrison, the Dispatch's editor, wrote in his column:  :

"The changes to AP's rate structure were not as substantial as we were led to believe or that we need to maintain our service.  Given the choice of maintaining our staff or AP's service, it's in the best interests of our operation to maintain our local reporting staff."

That's pretty alarming stuff for the industry, considering that the Dispatch was the overwhelming conservative Republican editorial voice in a broad area of Central Ohio.  One prerogative, however, hasn't been affected by current economics:  It played by its age-old rules and endorsed John McCain.  

Saturday, October 18, 2008

What's that, Sen. Voinovich?

I'VE READ  that Sen. George Voinovich arrived in the tiny town of Pomeroy, Oh. in Meigs county Friday  with his carefully articulated Republican talking points  that the party hopes the voters will love. Speaking to a partisan audience across the river from West Virginia, Voinovich called Barack Obama a "socialist" and argued that the Democratic nominee was to the left of Ted Kennedy.   On the other hand,  he praised John McCain for "maturity and experience and a proven record of reaching across the aisle."  Case in point, he said, was - good Lord! - Joe Lieberman, who has been crossing the aisle for McCain  since he was the pathetic choice of Al Gore to be his veep running mate. The worst kept secret in political circles is that Joe  is quite hopeful of being a higher-up in a McCain Administration now that Sarah Palin cost him an opportunity to be on the ticket with McCain. . 

Voinovich's reference to Obama's mythical  place as an outriding socialist in an otherwise centrist government (bailouts and all)  is  the least toxic of what the McCain campaign has been saying about him.  But it does confirm for potential  voters their fear of "socialism" even though some of the less thoughtful ones might have a dickens of a time defining it. You mean, Medicare and Social Security, too, Sir? 

There is one element of  Voinovich's warm  support of McCain  that revived some old memories about Voinovich's own rising career.  At one point in the upcoming return of Jim Rhodes to challenge Dick Celeste in the 1978 Ohio governor's race, George didn't mind telling me (although he did mind later when I reported it ) that Rhodes was "too old" to be governor and that the Republican party ought to be looking for younger,  fresher faces.  Let's see.  At the time Rhodes was not quite 69, a mere child.  McCain is 72.  But who's counting?  

P.S.  In another ironic twist of fate, Voinovich ended up on the ballot in 1978  as the lieutenant governor candidate, running in tandem with...yep, Rhodes.   You never know.  

Friday, October 17, 2008

TGIF stuff

TGIF Musings:

Once again,  President Bush started our day with a step-by-step diary of how the nation ended up in an "extraordinary crises"  that paralyzed the economy.  His old daring, defying voice was absent as he addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and much of what he said everybody already knew anyway.  It was almost the old excuse that the culprit didn't know the gun was loaded.  I am a terrible economist but I do suspect that the perfect storm that shut down our wallets didn't just happen in a few weeks but began to gather with rising force more than a few years ago while the Bush administration sat inattentively on the sidelines to avoid intruding on the wild spree of the free marketplace.  And thank you, too, Alan Greenspan.  Obviously none of the Bush economic circle  chose to heed Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman's warnings when a lot of people were euphorically cashing in on the housing market.  It was Teddy Roosevelt, I believe, who referred to the tycoons of his day who by hook or crook made fortunes as "the wealthy criminal class."  Sounds about right. 

'Todd Purdum's bouncy address to the Akron Roundtable the  Tangier caromed nicely between serious reflection on the current presidential campaign and light humor that helped one a bit  to digest the salty pork chops on the luncheon plates. Purdum, the national editor of Vanity Fair,  described the current campaign as a race between an "egghead and an egg breaker," asserted that race is "the question of the year," lamented the ugly tone of the combat and  observed that the official lineup on both sides of the ballot suggested that "any boy or girl can grow up to be president.  It's just one of the risks we take."  He also expressed his uneasiness with  Sarah Palin's presence on the GOP ticket - a "skin cell" from the presidency. 

It does seem, well, awkward to me that the Justice Department, as well as John McCain, have fogged up the past few weeks of the  presidential campaign with investigations and accusations of mischief and  alleged misdeeds of ACORN.  There won't be enough time to prove the validity of any of this.  But that's not the point,  The goal now is to confuse the public even more than it is already confused to create doubt and suspicion about THAT ONE.   Add this to the quadrennial GOP complaints of voter fraud,  such as the current challenge to tossed-up Ohio,  and it soon dovetails nicely with what Republican officials  have long told me what they wish for on Election Day:  rain, snow, anything that discourages the turnout.   Do their lobbyists hang out with the meteorologists, too,  on K Street?  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

McCain's October surprise?

DEVELOPING UPDATE:    The New York Times and some other news outlets are now questioning the authenticity of  John McCain's October surprise at last night's debate: Joe the Plumber, aka Joe Wurselbacher,  aka a would-be small  businessman supposedly threatened by Barack Obama's tax proposals, aka the opening chapter in what someone near to me has already labeled Plungergate.    Here's the follow-up to  JTP's hardluck story, which McCain referenced 15 times by name:

JTP is a confirmed Republican and McCain supporter,  works for a  plumbing  business in Toledo, does not earn enough to be higher-taxed by the Obama plan (which actually would cut his tax since he is under the $250,000 cap) is unlicensed as a plumber himself and doesn't belong to the plumber's union, and has a $1,000 lien pending against him. It does raise questions about the man who said Obama tap-danced around a question  "almost as good as Sammy Davis Jr."  It's not the kind of report that the McCain people need back at their dimly-lit headquarters.  

If only some of this is true, you have to feel sorry for JTP.  Either he was recruited for a voluntary  hit job, or the McCain campaign vetted him with no more skill than it applied to Sarah Palin.  

Why not the Maytag repairman?

THE QUESTION du jour as I started my day was whether Joe the Plumber was skilled enough to plug the growing  number of holes in John McCain's foundering Ship of State.  The debate offered a classic example of how one can become an instant celebrity simply by having one's name mentioned 15 times by a presidential candidate (Mc Cain)  in the span of 90 minutes (plus five  times by McCain's opponent, Barack Obama).  JTP was quickly recruited for the morning talk shows to reassure the viewing public that national television does, indeed, report the critical news  that shapes our daily lives.  So now JTP will join other famous pop celebrities in the history books, including the Pizza Deliveryman, Mack the Knife and the Maytag Repairman, none of whom appeared on the TV  chat-arounds  as bona fide news sources.   Are you still with me?

But based on the early reviews, the reliance on an unknown plumber to rescue your campaign failed to impress  the focus groups, which overwhelmingly gave the debate to Obama.  In fairness, however, I  should caution you that McCain had a super observer in his corner. An enthusiastic Mitt Romney went so far to say that "it was a great night for John MccCain." Inasmuch as a Romney was swamped in the primaries I suspect he is still humbly serving out his time for saying some nasty things about Mac in the primaries.  

A final word on Joe the Plumber:  The plumbers union - the United Association - has already endorsed Obama.

McCain, who had earlier promised to give Obama a "whipping" in their final meeting, was tight-lipped tense with a locked sneer that outperformed Bush's smirk during Dubya's theatrical heyday.  Want to talk about the economy?  Great.  Let's do.  What about your friend Bill Ayers?  Oh, you mean the one who served on a board set  up by the super-rich Republican Annenberg Family.  Yeah, I was on the same board.  So what? Next.

Gergen, the political guru, described McCain's demeanor as "almost an exercise in anger management."

All of this occurred on the day that the stock market dropped more than 700 points at the same  time that the McCain campaign was shutting down its operations in  Maine and Wisconsin. 

At this late date in the campaign it would be fair to we ask whether the Maytag repairman,  so much more identifiable  in the public mind with a long history of service,  might not have been a better choice  to revive the angry  senator from Arizona?  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Zero gravity

TIME OUT from the presidential campaign for a simple question to you:   Are you having as much trouble understanding numbers today as I am?  I mean, numbers with zeros that run into the margins and down the page.   Deficits extending  from the bottom of one page to the top of the next.  Trillions, billions and pocket-change millions flowing to us daily as though they are nothing more than digits on a grocery bill.   Are we talking about the nation's bailout costs or the distances from the earth to the outer limits of the universe measured in light-years?  When the cost of the Iraq war is projected into the trillions do we numb souls really know what anybody is talking about?  

Have we come full circle in understanding our counting systems?  The ancients had no zeros in their calculations, so they figured things out as best as they could, regarding multiple objects as "heaps", which is how Aristotle referred to them, too.  Heaps.  It wasn't until they created zeroes to fill in the empty spaces in their primitive math systems that everyone started to take the liberties that have now reached bailout proportions.  Another zero here and another zero there, to paraphrase the late Everett Dirksen, and pretty soon we are talking about a heap of money.  Only on paper, they say.  Right.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ohio: Half-full, or half-empty?

AN EMAIL from a former Ohioan now living in Virginia as an official of Virginia Tech:

  "You know, I love Ohio and I love my fellow Ohioans, but sometimes not so much.  This is embarrassing, just embarrassing."

   She had just witnessed a filmed account of some of the snarling attacks on Obama at a recent McCain rally in Strongsville.  I, too, cringed when I saw one young woman in particular tipping the balance to insanity (not the idiotic one who complained to McCain that his opponent was an "Arab"!) Well, as the cleaned-up saying goes, Life happens. 

    As a so-called swing state, Ohio has  made the difference in presidential campaigns to such an extent that Republicans insist that if they lose Ohio, they lose the presidency. But its political character rests so much on a deeply divided electorate that it isn't likely to resolve itself in the November election.  This was confirmed by a  newly published statewide poll by a  consortium of state newspapers that gave Obama a comfortable lead in the northern northern tier of the state but but a double-digit advantage for McCain in southwest Ohio.   The split, which I encountered for years as a political writer venturing down to the Ohio River with candidates,  is best viewed as one of social identities:  The lower half of the state continues to share the Appalachian culture of its  neighbors, Kentucky and  West Virginia.  They are inseparable. Include in the mix a thriving Christian conservative  Southern-style ol' time religion and, well, you can ask what chance does a middle-of-the-road to liberal politician have? Not much.  So do not ask for whom Ohio votes, ask instead where it votes and hope that at the end of the day  your side outnumbers theirs.  
      If Ohio goes for McCain, it will again stupefy the experts on how a state with a marooned economy and silent factories can't turn the page in the voting booth to look for new possibilities.  I'm not an expert, but I will be stupefied, too.       

Monday, October 13, 2008

Husking corn in Omaha

HEY!  WHAT's wrong with this picture:  McCain is reassuring his rabid audiences that they need not be "scared" if Obama would become our  next president because Barack was a decent guy.   But there was Sarah Palin's profile of Obama at a campaign rally Sunday night  in, of all places, Nebraska, a state where the only way any Democratic presidential candidate  could win is if all of the Republicans took early retirement and moved to Florida.  Asserted Sarah:  You must question Obama's patriotism since he used to hang out with terrorists.  Time out again from McCain's sweet talk to hear from the surrogate assailants. .

If you think you know who McCain really is you might take a look at the McCain profile in the Oct. 16 issue of Rolling Stone.  Written by Tim Dickinson, a Republican who voted for McCain in the California primary in 2000.  In the lengthy piece ranging  from clumsy Navy pilot to erratic presidential candidate with a couple of marriages in between, McCain loses on all counts.   All.   

Yea, team! Krugman wins...

AS AN economics-challenged  regular reader of Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times,  let  me offer my enthusiastic congratulations to him for his Nobel Prize.  For the years of the Bush presidency,  he has been the Paul Revere of impending economic meltdowns in subprime mortgages,  warning  often of the dark fate of housing bubbles.  One of his major targets was Alan Greenspan, the self-accommodating former Federal Reserve chief who flattered Bush economics  by supporting the unchecked mortgage industry's  reckless policies that brought down the market to disastrous depths.  (To this day, Greenspan has yet to concede that he made any judgmental errors as the Bush administration's go-to guru and continues to live quite well, thank you. ) During those same years Krugman, a Princeton economics professor, was considered by many trickle-down conservatives to be nothing more  than an Ivy League nuisance, a liberal campus type navigating blindly in matters best left to the deep thinkers on Wall Street and at Greenspan's personal fiefdom at the Federal Reserve.  These days I have begun to wonder whether we would have ever reached this crises if Krugman had been the head of the Federal Reserve or the Treasury Secretary.  Well, what if...?  

Sunday, October 12, 2008


IT NOW APPEARS that Ohio will be among those states that might contribute to an increase in newly recruited  Democrats in the U.S. Congress.  National projections by analysts who are following the numbers closely are forecasting  Democratic gains of 20 to 30 members.   (You might want to check the experts' projections on election night.)  The current count in the House is 233 Democrats, 202 Republicans. In Ohio,  the first district seat, currently occupied by Republican Steve Chabot - and second district, represented by Republican Jean Schmidt,  are now said to be "tossups".  Tossups?  In the Cincinnati area where polls show McCain with a comfortable lead? And where Republicans have a hefty long-standing base camp to tilt the whole state to their column?  

Schmidt, you may recall, launched her career in the House in 2005 (filling an unexpired term)   when she stupidly  slammed Rep. John Murtha with an awfully personal  quote from a colonel that supposed, "Cowards cut and run. Marines never do."  Schmidt, known around town  as "Mean Jean", backed up a half-inch or so by saying she didn't know that  Murtha was a Marine who had served in Vietnam.   She does now. 

The 15th  district (Columbus) is also a 50-50 proposition to fill the seat held by Debra Pryce, who is not running this year.  And another cliffhanger could be the 16th District seat (Canton, Stark Co.) occupied by retiring 18-term  Rep. Ralph Regula, a Republican.   The combatants for the seat are State Sens. John Boccieri (D) and Kirk Schuring (R).  Both candidates are getting a lot of attention from the national parties.  If you want to know more about them, they'll be debating at the The University of Akron Medina County University Center at 8 Thursday evening  The prime  sponsor is the UA Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.  

Let the countdown begin

AS WE begin today the countdown for the last one hundred days of the failed Bush Presidency,  I have a bittersweet thought: Bitter, yes, for the mess he and his cronies created for us and the next generation.  It will take years, possibly decades, to restore our place on the globe as a nation of constitutional freedom , meritorious service to all Americans  and the world,  and leadership on the most important issues that count for civilization.  But the bitterness is tempered by the sweet thought that not even  Bush, Cheney and their awful disciples could deny us a tiny opening of survival to fix what they have broken.   That mission  can begin 101 days from now.  

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tucker Bounds meet Gabriel Oak

LATEST INSIGHT from Tucker Bounds, McCain's campaign  spokesman, who argues that the GOP ticket is not creating anger and explosive  rants from McCain's audience.  Rather, says Mr. Bounds, it is prompted by the public's frustration over Obama's certain plan to raise taxes. Glad he settled that one bit of confusion in the race.  But I like Tucker Bounds.  The name reminds me of some  character in a Thomas Hardy novel.  It will forever occupy an honored place in my library alongside Diggory Venn (Return of the Native)  and Gabriel Oak (Far from the Madding Crowd).  And to think that in my old college lit class I never would have allowed that either of those fellows would ever have much of a future in the modern world.  They now owe it all to Tucker Bounds, whoever he really is.    

The daily double-talk campaign

PARDON ME for being grumpier than usual about this, but I have been suffering from a touch of cognitive dissonance after hearing John McCain declare his affection for Barack Obama's decency and familial credibility at one of his campaign outings for in-season  hobgoblins.  I wanted to see a reformed politician who decided there was nothing to be gained from his campaign to nowhere but the gutter.  I really did.  He seemed to restore political sanity in his response to a nasty woman who could think of nothing  worse to say about Obama than to call him, ya know,  an "Arab" (which in today's context  could have two meanings).  

But now it seems that  if you turn to McCain's  surrogates who speak to the voters every day through Sarah Palin and those TV ads, you have the same wretched character attacks that contradict McCain's detente.  I have a hunch that the dueling messages were carefully orchestrated.   With the national media, including conservative columnists, boiling about McCain's   messages and body language to his rabid audiences, it was time to put him on the Good Ship Lollipop as a benign trouper while his agents executed the dirty work.  Now appearing, for instance, are questions about Michelle Obama's membership in the same law firm (that has 500 lawyers) that employed  William Ayers' wife.  Any evidence that they went out on double dates and called each other to find out what the other was wearing to the office the next day?  

It wasn't that long ago that McCain announced he was suspending his campaign to return to Washington to guide his colleagues to a solution  to the economic wreckage.  For a minute or two it seemed like smart politics.  But it was soon discovered that his attack ads remained on TV and his campaign offices remained open during the "suspension".  It's enough to make one suspicious of his latest  nice-guy gambit. . 

Friday, October 10, 2008

Probing the name game

LET'S PLAY the name game.  You know, the sort of thing that's going on somewhere in America every day as the McCain forces try to shore up their ticket.  The name we are playing in this game?  Hussein.  You've heard of him, I'm sure.  A household word, as in Saddam,  the cruel and corrupt dictator sans WMD's.   And surely by now you have heard that Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein.    Wow.  Reason enough to suspect Barack of being a dangerous Tigris 
 traitor.  And an ignorant one, at that, for urging  his parents to stick him with that name at birth.

To press farther into the darkness of name games, let's consider, say,  George Walker Bush, the current vanishing incumbent.  Walker,  for heaven's sake?  I don't blame you if you don't know where I'm going with a simple, non-threatening Anglo-Saxon  name like Walker.    But in this case, I am recalling Gen. Edwin Walker.   OK, it's no longer a household word.   But wasn't he the much-publicized segregationist who fiercely resisted President Eisenhower's orders to desegregate the schools in Little Rock, a racist John Bircher who later resigned from the army after he was accused of trying to indoctrinate his troops with Birch propaganda?  Oh, you mean that Edwin Walker!    But  why bring that up when it never came up during Dubya's two presidential campaigns?  Makes no sense.  To which I add:  You are right.  It makes no sense, but it does make my point.

I won't even go into my late mother's middle name:  Sarah!   It might not be easy these days, but  RIP, Mom.  Alas, RIP.  

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mc Cain's madding crowd

I AM embarrassed. For my country. For the Republican Party (which doesn't deserve my concern).  For John McCain.  Here is a man who entered his presidential campaign fully deserving the honor of a war hero.  Here is a man who is now so desperate and befuddled that  he is literally standing around on street corners trying to hustle a vote.  In a pathetic performance in Wisconsin, he heard the rant of a guy who went on and on about how Barack Obama & Co. were "hooligans"  as the audience became hysterical, chanting and shouting threats and unpleasantries.    The ranter described the other party as socialists and demanded satisfaction in the manner that the Birch Society once demanded total satisfaction in putting down communists as well those it falsely accused of being reds.   When it was finally his turn to speak after the tirade, McCain said the "gentleman is right." Gentleman, John? Shame on you! What haven't you yet learned about the onset of fascism? On the assault on "the enemy"  with racial slurs,  shouts of "treason" and "kill him"?  

Each day, each moment, the McCain-Palin ticket turns uglier in whipping up mob scenes as the nation gropes for a solution to our economic Pearl Harbor.  And Palin is obviously enjoying the ride as McCain's radioactive partner.  Obama is daring his opponent to look him in the eye and repeat the slander that has become a severe  behavioral problem for the Republican senator in the final weeks of the campaign. .   McCain has spent whatever honor he brought into the race. I suspect historians will write memorable paragraphs about it. 


Unemployment, Perino-style

DANA PERINO, the White House's forever overwhelmed press secretary who will be out of work in January, offered for economics textbooks the following insight into  why the Bush administration opposes an extension of unemployment benefits.   Responding to a press conference question, Perino Merino explained: "We want people to be able to return to work as soon as possible...I hope that everybody who wants to find a job can find a job."   And if they can't?  Dana's hopes won't make it so.  

Meantime, greeting me this morning on the front page of the Plain Dealer   was a big photo of Brady Quinn speaking in behalf of McCain-Palin in Cleveland.  Bench-warmer Brady, as you may be aware, has been figuratively out of work for more than a year since he signed a stratospheric contract with the Browns.  It figures that he would have a better opportunity to protect the cash under McCain's non-tax increase policies for the wealthy.   He has a lot of company among some other cash-rich athletes (with the exception of the cash-richest of them all on the lake,  Cleveland icon and Obama supporter LeBron James).  

Bailout sing-along

I AM ALWAYS pleasantly surprised to discover a pearl among the heap of dreary emails hustling weight-loss programs (as seen on Oprah) skin-care and other non-essentials for a man of my age.  It was sent by a creative guitar-playing  relative in California who shares my views on this year's presidential campaign.  He wrote this verse in another moment of cynical despair, but it can be sung brightly to the tune of Sidewalks of New York.  

Wall street, main street

All around the town

The fed cut interest rates daily

The economy's falling down

Banks and Lehman's together

Me and my 401k

Trip the light fantastic

While John will cut taxes today.

The economy is on everybody's mind these days with the possible exception of the McCain campaign, which says its wants to change the subject.  Oh? 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Enough slander is enough

ONE OF the less profound observations to seep virtually unnoticed from the McCain-Palin campaign was Cindy McCain's dyspeptic complaint that Barack Obama was waging  the "dirtiest campaign in America's history."  Obviously Cindy has not  been paying that much attention to her husband's joyless visits to Mudville.  But no matter.  We'll let her mindless remark pass as  a slip of the brain that was DOA.  What does matter are the incendiary hoots at the McCain-Palin rallies that should not be repeated to children.  THAT ONE, to whom McCain referred at the debate - the one with a middle name of, eh... Hussein - is incurring such slander from the mob (and a new McCain ad)  as "dangerous" and "dishonorable."  The rallies are also  producing such assaults as  "kill him" and "treason".  It's the sort of ugly audience participation that I heard some 30  years ago when I slipped into a KKK rally near New Philadelphia as epithets exploded  from the robed ones on the back of  a flatbed truck.   McCain and Palin can do themselves  and the nation a great deed by pausing during their remarks, staring at the vicinity of the shouter, and declaring: " Sorry, but I don't want a vote from your kind." After all, McCain has said more than once that he would conduct a "respectful" campaign.   

you susing 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Score another for stagecraft!

SO, ANOTHER alleged "debate" that again was so tightly wound, shrink-wrapped and orchestrated that both candidates could have mailed in their comments without losing face.  How in the world can anybody reduce the seemingly immovable problems we all face in an unfriendly world to a two-minute answer and a one minute response like they are rings round the bathtub?   You can't.  So we were forced to settle for a carefully rehearsed beauty contest.  Frankly, I don't see the point of audience participation other than to allow each questioner  play a cameo role in what is, after all, political theatre.  It is a pretentious way to suggest that democracy is alive and well in America.   These cautious events seldom live up to the expectations of the pundits and TV talkers anyway. And, by the way, Tom Brokaw's metallic utterances as the moderator did little to heighten the viewer's interest.  I think we should all vote tomorrow and get it over with.  

Sickma melta chi

AS ONE who has spent some time in and around the Chicago area, may I offer my condolences to the fraternally correct Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox for their rapid transit out of this year's post-season playoffs.   It must have been  particularly galling for the Cubs' fans, whose  ancestors haven't been on hand to witness  a World Series title since Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern.  (I exaggerate, of course, but not by much in geological time.)  As for the ChiSox, little more should have been expected for a team that muddled through the final weeks of the season as though they were waiting for former minor leaguer Michael Jordan to arrive for one last  at-bat to enliven their play.   The only way to salvage the final curtain is to schedule a brief inter-league series between the Cubs and ChiSox.  If you do the math, you will conclude that at least one Chicago baseball team will be a winner. 

Monday, October 6, 2008

A soul-less John McCain?

The tenor of the McCain-Palin campaign is becoming more chilling by the hour.  Both want you to believe that Barack Obama  is, at best,  a fellow-traveling terrorist - the unholy word that George Bush played so inelegantly in leading us into a dismal five-year war.  Today, when McCain questioned the true identity of Obama to a partisan audience, someone shouted: "Terrorist."   That's dangerous stuff.  Instead of lowering the temperature of his shouter, McCain drew a blank expression and moved on,  obviously pleased that he had a like-minded audience.    It recalled a moment during the primaries when  a woman  asked him how best to dispose of  Hillary Clinton, whom she called a bitch. McCain smiled.  Fun-eee.  He made no attempt to scold her.   Is he serious about getting to the White House by courting the worst in uncivilized behavior?  

OK.  Since the GOP ticket has dragooned the the Biblically-pure family values guide for its personal use in the campaign, may I humbly add a Biblical passage that is becoming more appropriate in these horribly dissembling final weeks: "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?"   It's happening, folks.   

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Check out the dead cats

IF YOU have a few bucks left in your stock portfolio may I suggest a fertile investment scheme: Put the money into dead cats.   Fat ones.  Smelly ones.  The kind that give off foul odors when you splatter them against somebody.  There is nothing like a dead cat to soil and deface anybody you want to destroy.  Particularly if you think you ought to head to the vicinity of the White House, one way or another.  

On the basis of supply and demand, the market value on dead cats is rising these days as the maniacal mavericks sweep them up to hurl them forcefully at Barack Obama.  Like oil, when there are fewer dead cats for the rest of the world, the price will go up.  Bingo.  Good investment.

The thought arises not as an original idea from me.  The McCain-Palin campaign people are talking to anybody who will listen that they are planning a smelly attack-ad barrage against Barack Obama's character  to shift the voters' attention from the equally stinking economy and a lot of other things that have stalled McCain's bid for the Oval Office.  While McCain  is insisting that he is non-partisan (in Bush's favorite self-description,  a uniter, not a divider), Palin is doing her Project Runway schtick by questioning Obama's patriotism wherever she goes (but never on Sunday  to the networks), wondering without a blink whether he should even  be permitted to aspire to high office.  

The dead cats had been lying around in the dark streets and alleys of whisperers for several months before McCain & Co. whipped the reeking carcasses onto their tumbrels to dispose them widely in a more polite society.   To refer to Obama as a Muslim, for example, when it is verifiably clear that he is a Christian,   is a disgraceful lie for personal gain.   It also reaches  for the basest instincts of the voters.  If a candidate has nothing  less provable to lie about  in assailing an opponent, he or she should shut up and join the circus.   And for McCain to allow it to happen is a sign of his own abject desperation.

John, lay off the dead cats.  There can be more than one patriot in the crowd.   

Bailout, BJ style

The Beacon Journal retirees' blog has a list of newsroom staffers who have signed up  for buyouts. It notes that the paper must decide who among them will be offered a ticket out the door.   The BJ's target is a saving of $1.5 million.  The retirees blog estimates that those who have signed up represent 345 years of service.   Among them is music critic Elaine Guregian. If you want to know more, along with the names, you can access the blog with Google and BJ Retirees.  

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Going, going... gone!

DAVID GIFFELS,  the Beacon Journal's talented young columnist and author, has accepted a buyout and will join the English Department at the University of Akron, according to two  sources familiar with the imminent move.  Also leaving with a buyout is Keith McKnight,  longtime deputy metro editor and former top-of-the-line investigative reporter.  Two more daggers to the heart of the paper,  and the list grows.  None of us takes much pleasure in the erosion of the Fourth Estate.  Some of us who worked for newspapers when they were, eh,  newspapers are the lucky ones who looked forward to a day in the newsroom.  So this is not a time for schadenfreude. 

Friday, October 3, 2008

She qualified for the role!

Some debate, huh?  What  restraint Joe Biden must have called upon to remain a perfect gentleman against an opponent who appeared to be auditioning for a high school class play! Sarah Palin would have won the role easily.   She repeated her lines perfectly as they skidded from one Republican talking point to another.  As scripted for her, she went after Obama/Biden like the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:  Win the war without surrender...cut taxes for Joe Sixpack ... reform the government (without mentioning  George Bush's central role in the meltdown)... deliver all of us from evil.  Tax-cutting has been a GOP staple  in the GOP playbook as far back as I can remember.  And guess what?  Read-my-lips Bush  (the present incumbent's father) campaigned fiercely against taxes and then went on to support new taxes.  Of course he did. So have others. 

Paul Krugman pointed out that Palin's closing testament to freedom was lifted from Ronald Reagan's appeal to the the wives of physicians in the early 1960s (not yet president) to resist, um...  socialistic Medicare.  Is that what she really wants to tell Joe Sixpack?

She also told Fox News (where else?) that she was annoyed by some of Katie Couric's questions and that she wants to talk to Americans "without the filter."  Bush, the current one, used to refer to filters, too.  He preferred to read the unfiltered morning briefings from his staff rather than  newspapers.  My hunch is that he was peeking at other printed words, too, but it's always comforting  to attack the left-wing media,  which is largely owned by Republican businessmen.

I've been thinking about filters and decided there is no higher calling than to filter the filters, the latter being those politicians and others who command public attention.  So journalistic filters must figure out how to discard the nonsense and find the stuff that is often purposely left out by the newsmakers.   That may be confusing, I know,  but I can live with it.       

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Multiple choice

Was the Senate vote on the bailout bill last night prompted by attrition - or contrition?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Where does she go from here?

AS HER popularity numbers sink - but not as much as her muddled answers to simple questions and McCain's desperate defense of her - Sarah Palin is getting more advice from conservative pundits to either clean up her act or get out of the race.  Conservative Andrew Sullivan accused Palin of being a "liar"  who "cannot be taken on trust."  Sullivan didn't flat-out write that she should end her role as the life of the party.  He was simply downright nasty.  Still, I don't think calling her a liar many times over is strong enough to force her off the ticket at this late date.  That would suggest - can we say it?  - accepting  defeat without honor, in the oft-spoken words of the GOP nominee about another troubling  matter. Here's the problem: Who is available to step in as McCain's designated hitter?  The prettiest of the bunch, of course, is Mitt Romney.  But my problem with him is that he always seems to be posing for an altarpiece.