Saturday, January 31, 2009

Of Chicken Dances and bully pulpits

Well, the Republicans have finally found something to cheer about so who can blame them for doing the Chicken Dance through the weekend?  I probably should explain right here that the Chicken Dance is a fun-filled maneuver that I discovered 30 years ago in Rudesheim, Germany, in which the participants flap their elbows, wing-like, against their bodies to the loud cries of an oompah band.  The song-and-dance thing  borders on a joyful patriotic commitment to ethnic expression in some quarters to this day. 

Back to the celebrating  Republicans.  Their national committee chose a new leader, Michael Steele, a very conservative African-American that in an instant expanded its exploratory reach  for party diversity by a grand total of one. For a party that boasts of no blacks in the House or Senate and a single Jew in the House of Representatives, Steele faces a daunting task.  After all, the party has been talking about expanding its base for as long as anyone can remember but  has always  ended up with a bunch of oil men, corporate executives and Wall Streeters to underwrite the political class for tax  favors granted.    

But things will be different from now on, says Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland whose first fighting words on his Olympian tablet were a threat to "knock over" anyone who would obstruct his agenda.  Among the huzzahs were the lofty promise of former Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett, who has been talking about expanding the base since Lincoln's famous address.  Bennett  impressed upon me in an interview years ago that the party was turning the corner to be more inclusive.   In response to Steele, Bennett told a Plain Dealer reporter: "You have a great spokesman for the party.  You have an outstanding leader.  I think that it will certainly benefit the party as we move forward."   Kevin DeWine, the new Ohio GOP chairman, suggested Steele's job would certainly complement the party's grassroots  "hunger  for change."  (But after all these years of  dormant diversity, might we not wonder as John McCain loved to ask,  is it really "change we can believe in"?  

From what I have read, Steele is quite capable of adapting to whatever challenges that confront the national chairman when the  Oval Office incumbent, who also happens to be an African- American, is running quite high in popular opinion.  Call it situation ethics, but I've read that Steele has even campaigned  for the U.S Senate with an ad hoc title:  His literature referred to him as a Democrat (in Democratic precincts, of course) , even though he was listed as a Republican on the Maryland ballot.  Nice try, but he lost anyway.

And although he has told black audiences of his pride that Obama was elected, on other less diverse public occasions he referred to Obama as nothing more than a "media creation."  Somehow, he seems right for the job.  

So now , should we not pause to share a moment of silence in respect to Ohio's very own Ken Blackwell who all but claimed victory with the support of so many Conservative Christian groups (as he did when he ran for governor in Ohio).  They obviously were ignored in the balloting for the RNC chair. He finished dead last on the first ballot. 

But a warning to everybody else:  unless you flap your elbows to the beat of the oompah band, look out for the new bully on the block.  He won't  hesitate to knock you over.  

UPDATE: Steele told Fox News today that the Republican future lies in returning to Newt Gingrich's Contract for/on/with America of 1994. Honest.  I'm not clever enough to make something like this up.  But it does mean that Steele has found a tailor-made rostrum at Fox.  

Friday, January 30, 2009

A diverting go at Don Robart?

 SHOULD YOU be looking for some political diversion in 2009 now that it seems highly unlikely that the anti-Obama crowd will seek a recount, I'd suggest that you get your tickets early for the mayoral campaign in Cuyahoga Falls. I know.  After a two-year presidential race, a suburban mayor's contest would seem to be no more than a  glass of warm milk at bedtime.  Well, maybe not.

The town has been the private domain of  Republican Mayor Don Robart's Administration since 1984.  It is the second largest entity in Summit County (after Akron) and the first largest dissenter in warring words with the Democratic mayor of Akron, Don Plusquellic.  The two administrators simply don't like each other.  Never have.  Never will. As such, Robart has pretty much had his own way within the confines  of his City Hall.  But that's another story.

His  long tenure in the Falls has received a helping hand from the Democrats, who have been known to  run some inept campaigns to oust him, a sort of concession that permits the Kurds to play by their own rules in northern Iraq without interference from Baghdad.  (Full disclosure:  I lived in the Falls for many years, so I know what I am talking about!)  

The landscape might change  because some Democratic operatives are saying they won't take "no" for an answer this year and will mount a strong offensive against the 63-year-old Robart.  The picture blurs, but excitingly so, because there is another  bounty hunter from Robart's own party who would like to retire him.  That, of course, is State Sen. Kevin Coughlin, an indefatigable tormentor of  the county Republican establishment who has already said he wants to run for governor and would like to somehow claim Robart's scalp along the way. With the Democrats and the endowed conservative Coughlin sharing designs on the mayor, it won't be a marriage made in bipartisan heaven, but it will have to do until somebody  has a better idea. 

At this non-climactic moment in the Falls' mayoral history, the Democrats still face the problem of putting up a willing candidate to defeat Robart.  Some whom I've talked to say Don Walters, the Falls'  Sixth Ward councilman, would fit their bill.  But Walters tells me that he  is quite happy as a councilman and fears that if he lost the mayor's race it would also cost him his council seat.  "That's something to think about,"  Walters says. "So I'm not committed to anything yet. I don't know that now is the time for me to do that."

So although we're talking here about a suburban mayor's race, it is shaping up more as a test of wills with old grievances writing the text.   Will the Democrats, all-powerful in most of the county, finally  find a way to  end their frustrations over the Robart fiefdom in the Falls?  Will Kevin Coughlin enhance his  chances  as a king-making mayor-maker by recruiting a candidate to challenge Robart in the Republican Primary?   And will the gathering storm be frightful enough for Robart to give up some days set aside for his regular rounds of jogging? 

It's early.  The filing deadline is not until June 25.  Still, just want you to have a head start before we all get too preoccupied with a new baseball season.  

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CEO Limbaugh's party of lemmings

AFTER BARRY GOLDWATER'S  crushing defeat in 1964, some respected national pundits, including Walter Lippmann, argued that it might take 25 years for the Republican Party to return to the White House.  But the party turned to the steady hand of Ray Bliss for its leadership, whose wisdom and taciturn manner reversed the GOP fortunes in four years.  But even his success was not enough to convince Richard Nixon to retain him as the chairman. He was summarily forced out by the moody president.  Still, the Bliss record - high on winning strategy and low on hard-core ideology - after Goldwater's dismal showing  speaks for itself.

So what do we have today? An angstfest!   As the Republican National Committee meets this week to choose a chairman, the buzz from the experts is that the RNC will  choose a man with the strongest conservative credentials.   They say the odds favor Ken Blackwell, a conservative's conservative who is preaching the same thing that led him to landslide  defeat in Ohio's gubernatorial race in 20o6. But his  peculiar ways have  won him endorsements from many right-wing groups for the RNC job.  These days, it figures.  

Still,  even the RNC might be confined to the wings by  the party's new CEO:   You guessed, Rush, the supreme  leader.    MSNBC's David Shuster and analyst Larry O'Donnell now are referring to him as the party's "de facto leader". ( I'll stick with CEO.)  Although it would be nice if we could stop inflating Rush's ego and isolate him in his broadcast bunker,  he can't be ignored for his grip on the Republican Party.   Consider this:  In the past few days a Republican congressman from Georgia, Phil Gingrey, slavishly apologized to Limbaugh for having asked the CEO to cool down a bit about Obama.   "I regret and apologize that my comments offended and upset my fellow conservatives," Gingrey said in a phone call to Limbaugh that sounded more like a plea for mercy  to the Inquisition.  That must be a first in congressional humility at the throne of a broadcaster!  And shameful!

Not to be outdone, Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 man in the Republican ranks,  proudly appeared on  Limbaugh's program to wish him well and thank him , gushing:  "Thank goodness,  You're there to help get this (anti-stimulus) message out."  Cantor has even sent out pleas to his own constituents in his Richmond, Va., upscale district, to support Limbaugh and refused to criticize Limbaugh's hopes that Obama will fail.  There will be more of this toxic  nonsense in the days  ahead as the GOP reduces itself to Limbaugh's party of lemmings - and worse.  It will have the opposite effect of the Bliss influence that succeeded without fanfare.    Is there a Republican on Capitol Hill who would openly disagree?  

SOS - Stay home!

HAVING GRUMPILY survived still another snowy blitz yesterday, I am left with a question:  Why do TV and radio stations devote so much time and energy to tell us what schools are closed and events cancelled? The list is endless, as expected on a day like yesterday.  Would it not be simpler to mention the one or two that defy the weather and remain open?  But that would eliminate the dramatic  urgency of civic-minded  broadcasting, right?  

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wastebasket for a bottom-feeder

AS I SIT  in my office reading the various reports of the epidemic Ponzi schemes and other forms of high-level  executive excesses inspired by Louis XIV,  I fixate on John Thain's $1,400 parchment wastebasket. You doubtless have read the horrifying "office enhancement"  list of  the former Merrill Lynch  CEO  John Thain, a free-market man who took George Bush's urging to heart  and shopped in behalf of the economy -  but, really, mostly for himself.   Thain's wastebasket led me to my own:  a scuffed black metal cylinder that is at least 40 years old that sits under my desk and is often mistreated. My perfectly functional basket, which is about 18" tall,  has a faded poster on it of Benjamin Franklin's "The Art of Making Money Plenty".   It is written in script with various symbolic figures of bumblebees, birds, human eyes and whatever else Franklin, a frugal and witty man,  chose to enhance  the flow of the writing. I've tried at times to decode the little illustrations without success.  I have even tried Google, but have turned up little more than countless printmakers  who want to sell me another one.  

Still , for all of my basket's abject appearance, I have never considered replacing it with a parchment wastebasket.  Mine, worth no more now than a few pennies at a garage sale, has been the generous recipient of countless false starts on columns and articles, pistachio  shells, candy wrappers and copies of nasty letters to the editor I never sent.  What a story the basket could tell!  In many ways it would be the inside story of my professional life.  

I think the Feds who are tracking down the Ponzis and free spenders (of our money) ought to send some of Ben Franklin's essays to these disreputable  people.  charging them, oh, $10 million a copy until they run out of public money, and then $20 million per copy until they run out of their own money.   While they sat at the top of their trade and were too often honored for for their successes,  they were actually bottom-feeders  sucking the blood out of our economy. It probably will do no good to ask, but I will anyway:  Why did it take so long to flush them out?

Monday, January 26, 2009

P.S. Tax cuts? John we've tried that

TO FOLLOW up on previous post:  McCain and others in the GOP family are  saying the solution lies in making the Bush tax cuts permanent.  But it is fair to ask:  Haven't we  been living under those Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest  for a long time, with less evidence today that they worked. Jeez!!!  

.   s 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Boehner: Playing the sex card?

 THE REPUBLICAN Party, crushed in the past two elections, has turned to a new leader  in its panic:  Rush Limbaugh, the party's unelected CEO and family size B-flat Tuba,  is now fully in charge.  His words are now bounding across the desks of GOP senators and reps, and through the halls of Congress. As a super-rich recovering druggy who escaped prison (we're told he's recovered)  with Svengali-like control over his private gathering of Dittoheads, he has clearly enunciated the agenda of the disloyal opposition to the extent that he can broadcast to the world that he hopes President Obama will FAIL.  And no sooner did he conclude that Obama's economic rescue plan is a ruse to elect Democrats forever that you began to hear the same words reported from Capitol Hill.  Think of it:  the battered party of Lincoln now in the hands of a swollen egotist operating out of a microphone-equipped  bunker.  Even Obama appealed to the other party to stop listening to Rush and think for itself. 

One of Limbaugh's lieutenants is Rep. John Boehner, whose arched left eyebrow  made some points on the TV screen this week with complaints that Obama's plan would spend millions  on condoms.  If ever there were a word to remind the troops of proper moral behavior,  it would have to be condoms, a word that you're beginning to hear more often, even in polite society.  Although his rush to sexual justice was overstated to alert the GOP religious base, the Obama economic proposal would still cost less than what we will spend on a corrupt Iraq for Bush's war on terror, which Republicans with too much help from Democrats fully supported.  But a plan that might spare America - nobody is sure about this - to stave off a total economic collapse - that's too costly?

Even John McCain, who spent several days being nice to Obama, has returned to his campaign persona. He says he will vote against the plan, noting that it contains money to extend internet service to rural areas.  But wasn't McCain in the lead to provide that very  same service before he decided to oppose it?

Check me, but I think it was a former Pennsylvania senator, Joe Clark, who once said that Republicans were for "a lot of things, but not very much." Seems about right today

Finally, I was happy to note Obama's mild scolding of Rep. Eric Cantor, a cranky Virginia neoconservative, at a recent meeting.  "I won," the president said. "I can trump you."




Thursday, January 22, 2009

Top 10 loser list of an era

IT ISN'T at all surprising that in the brief moments following the inauguration the  Obama naysayers are manning the parapets to repudiate the legitimacy of his  9.5 million vote victory.  Fine.  If the 300 Spartans who decided to take on the Persians at Thermopylae could express their dissent with such  heavy odds against them, why not the minority unraveled dissidents who want the new president to fail?   My favorite appeared in a letter to the editor of the Plain Dealer who strongly suggested that as president, Obama, who had not yet warmed up his chair in the Oval Office,  had failed to fulfill his campaign promises!  Even the Romans displayed more patience in the building of their wonderful city. 

The transition was a learning experience for me.  In the midst of this mammoth event, with upward of 2 million people gleefully on hand on a frigid day, this TV viewer had to confess that I didn't know there were that many happy people left in America.   But who could dispute the evidence? It's a start. 

I  don't question the value of a loyal opposition in a free society. But it should offer thoughtful alternatives  rather than churlish disagreement and invective.  Unless I've missed something, it is one thing to be opposed to, say, government bailouts, but another to walk away from the  scene of this presumed crime without offering an alternative to ease the threat of a depression.  For too long we were reassured by George Bush, Dick Cheney and their economic gurus  that the fundamentals of our economy were "strong".  Such nonsense only served to delay a much earlier response to a grave problem.

                                                         * * * * * * * * * *
In the season of the Super Bowl, it is easy enough to think about the political losers whose season ended last November. My choices (you will have others) are as follows:

1. Sen. Joe Lieberman: A pathetic man of no credibility who sold out Barack Obama (who once supported Joe) and appeared stuck to John McCain with Crazy Glue throughout the campaign.  His political ambitions were never clearly expressed, but no doubt Joe, the Democrat-Republican-Independent,  fancied himself to  be the secretary of state in a McCain administration. Keep him in mind for the new version of Trivial Pursuits.  

2. Karl Rove: You could start numbering his days as a "political genius" in 2006 when the GOP fell as loudly as Jericho's walls.   It only got worse in 2008 when he reappeared in a number of roles in a failed attempt to lead his party out of the woods.  Didn't happen, even though he merited a seat on the plane that took Bush & Co., back to Texas.  His best hope now is to get appointed water commissioner in Crawford.  

3. Alan Greenspan:  The Ancient Wizard of Oz  for the Bushies  who continued to reassure everybody (with only the mildest of warnings to the contrary) that the financial system was doing just fine.  How could anybody be paid so much to be so  wrong?  No further comment necessary.  I would, however, caution you against hiring him to do your taxes. 

4. Donald Rumsfeld: He didn't even manage to finish the game.  But he did manage to leave Bartlett with some extraordinary quotations.  Most notable:  "Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war."  

5. Scooter Libbey: Even though his sentence was commuted, for all of his servility as  Cheney's chief of staff, he stood out as the Bush administration's singular fall guy. 

6. Rudy Giuliani: More than any of his fellow GOP candidates his concept of a national campaign was deranged.  Once he had  exhausted his rise from 9/11, he sounded like he was a candidate for a seat in the Bronx.  He won't be back. Who would have him?

7. Richard Perle:  He continued to insist as a hawkish Bush insider that the Iraqis would be so enamored of Dubya that they would dedicate a big plaza in Baghdad to the president within 6 months of the U.S. invasion.  (He later became less specific about the date, but not about the sea of Iraqi loyalists, all polls notwithstanding. ) 

8. Sarah Palin: We can't forget her because to this day she won't let us forget her.  She was the female equivalent of Dan Quayle, who happened to be a bit luckier because George the First managed to win in spite of Dan.  Palin won't go away because she thinks she has something to prove, to the delight of her Republican  supporters.  No matter, she's a loser and will eventually find out the hard way that Alaska is not...oh...Saskatchewan? 

9. Alberto Gonzalez: He easily made the list on the first ballot. Other than his determined loyalty to George Bush, he proved to be totally out of his league as attorney general - and paid dearly for it. And could pay even more.  

10. John Ashcroft: As attorney general he may have ordered the most controversial coverup in his department's history - the draping of two partially nude statues in the Great Hall of  the Department of Justice. There was no recovering from that idiotic stunt.  (P.S. The Florentines didn't take the hint.  The glorious sculpture of Michaelangelo's David remains stark naked to this day.  Even the children of countless tourists who gaze up at the towering marble get to look at it as long as they want to.  

Ed. Note:  I purposely left George Bush and Dick Cheney off the list.  Although they forfeited any claim to honorable service, they were a term limited  team and quietly left town with 22 pct. and 13 pct. approval ratings , respectively, and  their bags packed.  For good, we can hope! 

Ed. Note:  I reserved a special honorable mention and lifetime achievement award for the classy exit of John McCain, who cast off his nasty campaign image to repeatedly extend all courtesies to Barack Obama.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Unclassical response to classical music

 ON JAN. 13 E.J. Thomas Hall on the University of Akron campus was the host of an historic visit by the Guarneri String Quartet for a performance on the Tuesday Musical series.  It was historic because the world-famous quartet, created in 1964,  was  making its valedictory  tour of concert halls before retiring at the end of the 2008-2009 season. Its program of Janacek, Mozart and Dvorak did not disappoint the audience who had come to expect extraordinarily played music by a  group that had been critically acclaimed across the globe.  For the privilege of hearing it in our backyard, we could thank Tuesday Musical, which across generations has striven to produce the highest level of classical music programming.  If you need more evidence to convince you, the series has scheduled Renee Fleming, perhaps the most revered operatic soprano on the Met stage today, for a solo program on April 7.  .  

How nice.  The Akron area's long-standing reputation as a committed supporter of the finest in classical programming deserves nothing less for keeping the concert halls active through good economic times and bad.  Well, only partly nice.  There is one critical missing part these days that has the folks at Tuesday Musical, the Akron Symphony and E.J. Thomas Hall scampering about for a solution.  Since the departure of Elaine Guregian as the Beacon Journal's classical music critic, she hasn't been replaced.  No reviews nor advance feature stories on the Guarneri, which might as well have performed in Kansas that night.  The same is true of the Akron Symphony's concert the past weekend. 

In both instances, it may have been the first time either group was snubbed by the local "metropolitan" newspaper.  Based on what their representatives have been told by the paper's editors so far, it's not likely to change.   They went away with nothing more than a rite of passage into the economics of  today's newspapers, at least as the editors and their Canadian owner might describe it. That means the BJ will continue to pretend to be a full-service newspaper while ignoring an important segment of the city's cultural spectrum.  It means that  the paper can find ways  to devote five pages to sports news (and - trust me -  I'm a big sports fan) daily and not come up with the equivalent of a couple of pages a month to concert fare.  Unless, of course, one of the entertainment venues happens to shut down, as was the recent case of the published  hysterics over the sudden demise of Carousel Dinner Theatre. Good Lord, there goes another potential advertiser!

Regarding Carousel, Dan Dahl, executive director of Thomas Hall , has moved to lure the Carousel series subscribers who will not get refunds for their subscriptions to Carousel shows. He is offering a free ticket to one of Thomas Hall's three remaining Broadway shows that come to town through April.   "This will cost us money," sighs Dahl, who faces the same economic demands as everyone else in the business and is searching  for ways introduce his stage to newcomers. 

The outlook is grim.  "It's unconscionable," says Barbara Feld,  Tuesday Musical's veteran executive director.  "It's terrible for a paper not to have a reviewer.  There wasn't  a word about the Guarneri. It just diminishes the cultural legitimacy of the community." She says she is embarrassed to tell a performing artist that if they come to Akron "there won't be anything in the paper."  It creates a prairie town atmosphere all around.  That would appear to be of no consquence to its absentee owner, David Black, in his faraway office in Victoria, British Columbia.  

There isn't much joy in other organizations, either.  Both Jessie Raynor, executive director of the Akron Area Arts Alliance, and Margot Snider, exectutive director of the Akron Symphony, share Feld's pessimism that the Beacon Journal  will respond to their concerns. "We were told," Raynor says, "that Elaine will not be replaced."     Snider laments that the symphony "obviously is being hurt" and predicts  the situation will only get worse.

I asked Bruce Winges, the BJ's editor via e-mail about these concerns.  His  reply was not reassuring. He said:

"We do not have anyone on our staff with Elaine's expertise, and we are not in a position to hire.  We will, however, continue to cover the arts community (we recently did a look at the state of funding for the arts in Akron and there is the closing of the dinner theater."

Is he in a bind between the owner's Scrooge-like attitude and the cultural needs of the Akron area.  Doubtless.   No one who has spent much time reading about the current travail of newspapers can ignore the economic pressure on the industry.  But is it only economic pressure, or is it also  the lack of will and imagination by local editors and the big guy who owns the place that are cheating a special group of readers?   For one thing, has there been any  consideration of alternatives that would help?   If there is absolute resistence to adding a music critic to the staff, there are other ways to solve the problem.  There are competent freelancers in the music schools at the University of Akron and Kent State who might be willing for a few bucks and a free ticket to write an advance story about a concert and then a review.  So I don't step aside when editors wring their handkershiefs and say that I ought to understand their predicament.  

Today's deadlock is especially brutal in a town with no television station and a couple of bargain-basement radio stations incapable of taking take up the slack. The one exception is the heroic effort by WKSU to inform its listeners of the best that the  area  music organizations have to offer.  As I have asked in the past, "When can  a newspaper stop calling itself a newspaper?"


The fat lady finally sang!

AT 12:06 today, as Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th  president,  the long tragicomic opera of George Bush & Co. ended.   Credit Gerald Ford's memorable words as he took the oath of office on Aug. 9,  1974 to succeed the disgraced Richard Nixon:
                                 "Our long national nightmare is over."

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Return of Frank Skeffington

AS THE hours are counted off to George Bush's official retirement and his legacy revisionists rise to his defense,   I recall the waning moments of Frank Skeffington in The Last Hurrah as one of his loyal gofers bends over the  old ex-mayor's sickbed. 

"Ah, Frank," he said  softly. "You've done grand things.  Grand, grand things." 
 "Among others," Skeffington said.  "But no regrets. No regrets at all..."  

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The rejection of a mythical universe

AS I WATCHED the TV coverage of the  arrival of Barack Obama's gleaming train in the dark frigid  climate of  Union Station,  it finally convinced me that the November election was not a mirage after all,  and that America had turned the corner  from what had long been our shame.  Even though the Deep South states continued to cling to the remnants of the Confederacy, entrapping the Republican Party in its illusions about modern democracy, an African-American, with some 9.5. million votes to spare, would now sit in the Oval Office as president -and nothing less.

 The miracle, as it has been widely declared by the media for lack of anything more profoundly descriptive, is something that not only today's generation but generations to come can savor when young students sit in their American history classes to trace the twists and turns of the presidency.  In some ways it was the Jackie Robinson story on a much wider societal field. It should be a proud conceit of every American now to know that we have made an enormous stride in confirming that we are what we say we are. It wasn't that long ago, after all, that I, as a young uniformed Air Force officer was denied a seat in a St. Louis hotel bar because I was accompanied by another officer who happened to be black.  (The host apologized to me, sort of, but said I would understand as a  military officer that rules are rules.) 

But Obama's victory told us another story that mythologized (for me, as well) the potency of coast to coast rants by right wing flim-flam talkers who decided to raise the ante on a black presidential nominee.  Fox News, the megaphone and safe house for the Bush Adminstration, referred to Michelle  Obama as "Obama's baby mama"), a day did not pass when some radio host didn't connect Obama to a monkey (which, it can be argued, all of us evolved from ), and there were warnings making the rounds that Obama would lead us into a race war.  He was at times compared to Hitler, and other times linked to Ahmadinejad.   Communist, socialist,terrorist, traitor, classless jerk.  The perps included the grandmaster himself, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly and countless talk-show galley slaves across the land who doubtless believe that their dutiful rowing of  Limbaugh's flagship would someday make them sinfully rich, too.  

The moral of their  tasteless rapture with lies and more lies is that they failed miserably.  Even to this day they continue to flail at imaginary objects with endless  deception from the shared security  of their own disgusting universe, where honest debate is not a prerequisite for honorary membership. These thugs can't be too smart.  If they were, they would look for ways to make their hysterical charges hold up under even the most casual scrutiny.

So now the Bushes and their ilk will soon be on  their way out the door.  There will be no more utterances (by Richard Perle) that within six months of the invasion the grateful Iraqis would name a central plaza in Baghdad after George Bush; there would be no more aircraft carriers idling off the West Coast for the landing of a macho Bush in flight gear to declare the end of the war;  there would be no more uplifting statements by Bush and his echoers that the fundamentals of America's economy are  strong;  no more denials by Condi Rice that the White House had no forewarning of 9/11;  and a lot of other nonsensical behavior that amounted to a giant pyramid of Plato's noble lie as Bush's  approval rating in a Gallup survey was mired at 22 pct.    

As for the broadcast carnival barkers' persistence in recklessly  spinning the facts, I must reluctantly  defer to Donald Rumsfeld's oratorical sensitivities in describing the continued conflict in Iraq after we had declared the battle  won.  Of it, he explained:

"The dead-enders are still with us, those remnants of defeated regimes who'll go on fighting long  after their cause is lost." (Aug. 25, 2003)   

Clip and mail to that other universe.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A president talking to himself

I'LL GIVE the Bushies this much credit:  They sure know how to orchestrate a 13-minute Farewell  Address.  Unrepentant for the havoc that his administration created around the world and at home,  George Walker Bush merely told the nation that if folks are patient, even those whose belongings are out on the lawn of their foreclosed homes,  America will do fine.  And that's because, except for a few blips here and there, he did fine during his 8 years in office  (it seemed twice as long).  This was not the old soldier Gen. MacArthur who said he would just fade away.  This was a president with ground-level ratings  who was blind to his many shortcomings and will leave office unapologetically believing that he was right - courageously right, at that  - on all counts.  I  thought it was clever, too,  how the  people he praised in the audience were all African-Americans.  So there.  Obama didn't  capture all blacks on Election Day, I guess.  It was another conceit on his part that will be forgotten tomorrow.  It was not one of Bush's better days - and nights.  A plane crash into a river dominated the network news before and after the speech, and - signs of the times - NBC's Brian Williams,  late into his news program,  said, "By the way" NBC would be carrying Bush's speech at 8.  By the way?  That's no way to dismiss  a presidential epilogue. Unless, of course, it's George Bush's. 

Only one senator at a time, please

I TOLD YOU THAT it would be fun to watch!  I mean, within a day of  Republican Sen. Kevin Coughlin's unofficial announcement that he would run for governor,  the curtain went up on Act 2.  Mark Naymik, the Plain Dealer's politics writer, reported Thursday night that the scene would be played by two Coughlins: Kevin and his wife Anne.  Naymik says Anne, a physical therapist in real life, took out papers at the Secretary of State's office that would permit her to raise money for a campaign to succeed her husband in the 27th Ohio Senate District while he casts his sights on a statewide job.  (Coughlin,  of Cuyahoga Falls, will be term-limited into civilian life  in 2010.)

The only certainty with the Coughlin tandem is that Summit County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff, whom Coughlin tried to kick out, will be working with his cavalry 24/7  to retire the conservative senator, once and for all.  And if you're one to paddle into political speculation, how about this scenario:  Coughlin resigns his seat early enough to have his wife fill it for some legislative experience.  All of this is not an original ploy, but Republicans really don't have much else going for them these days.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

When politics become fun to watch

WELL, THE word  that has been whispered about for months or more is now a matter of public record.  State Sen. Kevin Coughlin is running for governor.  How do we know?   He passed the word to the Beacon Journal, which chose to publish it as the day's top story if you overlook the steady  diet of LeBron stories boldly commanding the upper right corner of the front page.  

In some ways, Coughlin's ambitious attention grabber isn't surprising.  It's the political version of Project Runway.   The Cuyahoga Falls arch-conservative Republican will be term-limited out of his seat in  2010 and faces severe  unemployment unless he finds another way to succeed in the political world.  You may recall the fuss he stirred up last year when he led the failed effort to unseat Summit County Republican Chairman Alex Arshinkoff.  That was the subtext - there's always one in politics, as I've mentioned before - to establish his credentials with the significant number of  Arshinkoff-haters in the party. 

But he faces a much greater challenge at the state level.  Although the Republican Party gives a lot of evidence of drifting still farther into Coughlin's comfort zone on the right, the Browns may score their first touchdown before he sets foot into the governor's office. But the Coughlin Saga doesn't end there.  What better way to signal to the state GOP brass that you believe you are perfectly competent to hold a statewide job than to announce plans to seek the top job?  

So now he will be in the mix when the governor's field is mentioned, as it will be this year. Plenty of free exposure that will earn him media interviews and invitations to chicken dinners.  
Later, as all of the other state races are sorted out this year, might not he be wedged in somewhere down the ticket?  For anyone inclined to dis this logic,  I would offer this caution:

There is no perfect time to look for a python in the tall grass.  


Strange sign language

WITH MOST OF 2009 still ahead of us, may we still resolve to make a few adjustments of current cliches to express  our daily discourse?   Here are my suggestions of terms  to consider abolishing for 90 days  to learn whether civilization can survive without them:

(1)No brainer   (2)at the end of the day (3) 50 pct. off sale  (4) ask your doctor  (5) amazing new discovery (6) push back. 

I also have plenty of trouble with "30 pct. less fat" on food labels.  Less than what?  They never say.  Finally my loony obsession  with words directed me to this sale sign at a store at Summit Mall:  PANTY CLEARANCE.   That may tell me more than I want to know.   

Monday, January 12, 2009

Voinovich no longer the gate-keeper

SCANNING Sen . George Voinovich's 40 year-history as an active politician recalls what they used to say about an old Major League southpaw named Dick Littlefield.  The guy pitched for more teams than  he could quickly  remember, so many, in fact, that the familiar reference to his work in a baseball uniform was "Much-traveled Dick Littlefield."   Voinovich, 72,  matched the Littlefield  sojourns  to fill his resume with at least seven different offices (I may have missed one or two) that began as a state representative  in 1967 and ended with his announcement that he would retire after two terms in the U.S. Senate.  In between he was the Cuyahoga County auditor, county commissioner, lieutenant governor, Cleveland mayor and governor.

His lack of political flamboyance    - occasionally interrupted by bursts against something that rose up to annoy him - earned him the reputation of being a Republican moderate, an outmoded condition for anyone who wanted a front-row seat  from the party's dominant hard-core right wing.  But Voinovich's record also at least placed him on the edge of some social issues, including his pro-life positions that earned him 100 pct. approval from the National Right to Life Society.  He also was in  the right place at the right time to advance his career in politics, as it happened in `1979 when he was elected mayor of Cleveland.  His opponent that year was Dennis Kucinich, the incumbent who took such a pounding from the business community and the media that Voinovich could have lazed on a Riviera beach for the entire campaign - and still won. 

As is often the case, his decision to return to private life stressed his hankering to return to family and long deferred recreational interests.  But in politics, there is always a subtext.  In Voinovich's case, in today's anti-Bush, anti-Republican climate, he would be cast as the underdog if he sought a third term.   Polls have shown him to be faltering.   He also carries some baggage from his administration as governor.  If the voters have forgotten the details, they would have been hastily reminded by Democrats in every which way of his possible liability in the scandalous avalanche that swept Republican operative Tom Noe into prison.  Tom Noe, the college dropout  Voinovich appointed to the Ohio Board  of Regents to look after the state's educational priorities?

In his personal life, Voinovich lived out his vengeance against government spending to the hilt. I visited him at his home in Cleveland before he packed off to Columbus to serve as governor.  It was hard to pick it out from the rows of plain  houses in the unpretentious far east side  neighborhood where the sick economy is said to have struck with sale signs and  foreclosures. His motto for government was that everyone had to "work harder and smarter."   It was ungrammatical as hell , but that has never been an obstacle to motto-making.  As I recall, I first heard it in my interview at his house  for a Sunday magazine profile.  

The lure of a vacant political seat has the power of lunar gravity.  Rob Portman,  the former congressman from Cincinnati, and Bush's director of the Office of Management and Budget as well as trade representative, is going for the seat.  His chumminess with huge GOP financiers  may be enough to scare off others with stars in their eyes. And there will be others, if not for the Senate, then for governor or all of the other statewide seats now held by Democrats.  John Kasich, another ex-congressman is said to be pawing the Statehouse lawn for a challenge to  Gov. Ted Strickland.   And somewhere in the mix is likely to be former Sen . Mike DeWine and Ohio auditor Mary Taylor.

 Among those  keeping a watchful eye on the GOP kaleidoscope  these days is Alex Arshinkoff, the industrious Summit County GOP chairman who is not yet ready to forecast the survivors.  Industrious?  He will instantly recite the number of days left to the filing deadline, give or take a couple of hours.   "The filing deadline is still 340 days away," he said with the kind of scarily snappish  recall that shows his neurons are tracking perfectly.    "It's still very fluid - for Republicans and Democrats."

Heavens!.  Barack Obama has yet to be inaugurated after the last two-year campaign. and the Ohio pols have been fully sprung from the gate with Voinovich's retirement two years hence. After all, who among them  doesn't aspire to being the life of the party?  

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Running cover for Bush

EVEN AS we await the few moments left until George Bush renditions himself back to Texas, his friends in the administration are doing their damnedest to give him cover while they think of odd things to say - lies, really - about his legacy.  I was particularly astonished that he was said to have read more books than a Doubleday editor, including in the past year the works of Albert Camus.  As one who once took a study course in, of all things, existentialism, I can tell you that Camus doesn't always come through that clearly on first reading, especially so when you are someone who is supposed to be preoccupied with workaday matters like... oh, rising unemployment and closed retail enterprises across the spectrum.  One wonders why his apologists didn't advance  such books as Treasure Island or Wizard of Oz as his night-table reading staples.   His entire cabinet could relate to them and grade the president accordingly.  Besides, being a defiant Frenchman, Camus never regarded himself as an existentialist, although most other literary people do.   But that's another story.

Meantime, regarding the legacy, we are told to be patient in a waiting  game until the truth is fully known about his historic  accomplishments. That tactic recalls the six-month leaps of faith "until we hear from General Petraeus" - now a shopworn quaint phrase no longer useful for the Bushies' political survival.  Karl Rove, Dana Perino, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are all huddling on their own two yard line to throw a 98-yard touchdown pass that would still leave the game well out of reach for them.  So what else is new?   This is a team that has been in denial for so long that they don't recognize the benefit of simply cutting and running  while leaving a toppling world to their successors.  Won't happen.  Not with this gang.  Not with the legacy thing.  It's their last remaining false hope.     

Thursday, January 8, 2009

AGMC cuts four veeps

AKRON GENERAL Medical Center has slashed its top executive staff with the dismissal of four vice-presidents,  with more staff cuts to come in February, I have learned from two sources familiar with the high-level shakeup.  "The vice presidents are out the door," one source told me. The move was said to have been prompted by a study of the huge hospital's administrative structure by a New England consulting firm specializing in "turnaround"  remedies for ailing companies.  The AGMC  indicated it was preparing a significant change in direction as early as last summer, when it reportedly offered to sell the hospital to Cleveland Clinic, a bid rejected by the clinic.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The benefits of the crab dribble

THE SAVING GRACE  of professional sports  is that it mindlessly thrusts you away from the burning issues of the day.  Today I learned of something called "crab dribble" which may or may not have cost the Cleveland Cavaliers a victory.  It is a kind of dance step executed regularly (it says here) by LeBron James as he bursts demon-like to the basket.  Whatever.  I have heard of crab cakes, crab casserole and crab bisque, as well as human crabs (take your pick).  But crab dribble?   Save your explanations.  I won't understand them anyway.  In what little intramural basketball that I played in my tiny high school,  I was merely told to aim the ball at a hoop and, maybe, once a week it would go  all the way through.  There, I've forgotten the economic crises already.  

The Panetta Chronicle

THE FUSS over whether Leon Panetta is qualified to be the next CIA director falls into two camps:  some Senate Democrats whose feelings have been bruised by being left out of Obama's loop in the president-elect's choice; Republicans who flat out say Panetta is unqualified. (for historic  reference of comparative experience, see  George H.W. Bush).   Egos are under fire all over the  sacred hill.    The complaining Democrats are doubtless striving to regain the power of the legislative branch that was virtually eliminated by Cheney-Bush. So be it.  But those Republicans who are sniffing about Panetta's lack of experience only serve to recall such "experienced" CIA stalwarts as Porter Goss, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo  and George Tenet from the Bush administration.  Goss hung around in the job long enough to be considered a disaster by some close observers; Foggo, Goss' major domo in charge of the CIA's daily operations, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison for wire fraud for accepting a bribe from a friendly defense contractor; last but not least, it was Tenet who assured Bush that an invasion of Iraq would be a "slam dunk".  Considering Panetta's widely respected  previous  service in D.C., he would be a hall-of-famer compared to these predecessors.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Was Darwin a Republican?

IT'S BEGINNING to look like Ken  Blackwell has taken Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection to his soul.  Blackwell, who could talk his way out of quicksand, has planted himself firmly in the realm of right-wing Christian activists to win the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee.  You may have heard of some of their names: James Dobson (Focus on the Family). Tony Perkins (Family Research Council),  Ed Meese (Former Reagan attorney general who is still gadflying around in heavenly politics). There are others, but you get the picture. We are told they all love Blackwell,  in a non-sexual way, of course, which is why he is confident that he will vault to the top of the party selection.   

 Blackwell revealed strong tendencies to mess up and around with the 2004 presidential election and in  his duel role as Ohio's  Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate in 2006.  That  will load him and the GOP with a lot of baggage.  But there seems to be infinite forgiveness among his religious boosters.  As the late Jerry Falwell once so forgivingly viewed homosexuals:  ""We hate the sin but love the sinner."

If he should succeed - and Democrats should not stand in his way - the simple moral of the Blackwell story is that the GOP is prepared cast its future on an ideological agenda that was rejected in 2006 and again  resoundingly in 2008.   Blackwell was thumped in the gubernatorial race by Democrat Ted Strickland even though Blackwell was among friends with big-time televangelists who promised an army of preachers in the hustings to escort him to the governor's office.  

Considering that there are four or five other candidates for the RNC chair, this one will be fun to watch as an exercise in demolition GOP politics.  

Sunday, January 4, 2009

De-pressed newspapers

I'VE BEEN  searching for a "happy" to attach to a New Year greeting to the newspaper business but I might as well have been hunting for a truffle at the summit of  Mt. Everest.  Except for some untested initiatives that are being advanced as stimulants to revive the heartbeat at a few papers, nothing else suggests that publishers have the slightest clue about what to do next to meet the challenges to their besieged newsrooms.  Instead they have chosen to compete with themselves in ways that defy basic  Journalism 101 rules that once echoed in college classrooms.

Indeed, we seldom even hear the word "journalism" mentioned anymore in the fixes that are being prescribed to stop the bloodshed.  A couple of nostrums that are being watched with anticipation in the industry  are being applied in Detroit and Cincinnati, so try to stay with me on these.  In Detroit, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press  proclaimed a "sweeping set of strategic and innovative  changes designed to better meet advertiser and reader needs"  that, among other elements of the sweeper, will restrict home delivery to three days a week - Thursday, Friday and Sunday.  On the other days it will be available at your local newstand.  Okay.   The papers said the cutback in home delivery was recommended by a "leading global design company"   to meet economic pressure.  But the question remains:  How do you improve readership, on which advertising revenue is based, by cutting doorstep delivery four days a week?   You don't, can't and won't.    Out of sight, out of...

And what about the Cincinnati Enquirer's plan to to limit the number of days that it will carry classified advertising? Oh?  And to shrink the popular TV grid to evening programs on major stations? 

I don't have to be reminded that all papers are experiencing circulation and advertising declines and all of the folks in the board rooms are twisting their handkerchiefs these days.  On the other hand, did  I see an industry figure the other day that said the average profit for newspapers is a lively 20 pct.?  

I don't know how long newspapers will be around, although my guess is that they might outlive their current projected actuarial tables.  But it is well within the comfort zone of mostly absentee  owners to blame their misery on the economic climate rather than an internal  systemic problem that has been slowly eroding the quality of their products for more than two decades. For every round of layoffs, cutbacks and hiring freezes, there was always someone with a title assuring the readers that none of this would affect the quality of the paper.  If you close a bureau, that affects the quality.  If you eliminate a beat, that affects the quality. If you replace experienced reporters with entry level journalism graduates,   that affects the quality.  It is with some relief that I no longer  see the word quality used to soften the blow of more layoffs.

Joe Strupp, a columnist for Editor & Publisher, put it this way: 

"Somehow newspaper owners continue to think that the way to handle economic downturns is to make their product worse by eliminating its most important asset, people.  But with fewer reporters to dig up news as newspapers transition to the Web their content is going look more and more like everything else on line, limited and poorly reported."

There has been  scarcity of professional imagination in recent years to retard the retreat from excellence in newspapers as most front offices are content to endorse  the cost-cutting decrees of the owners without a whimper.   But cutbacks are not imaginative.  Graphics changes are hardly imaginative although the editors love to talk about how many sections they have moved  to other places in the paper.   There are repeated appeals to readers to advise the papers on what should appear in their news columns each day, a decision once left to the professional judgment of editors.  Can you imagine a fire  chief arriving at the site of a burning home and asking the neighbors to advise him on how to put out out the blaze?

Editors have surrendered whatever are left of their options to the modern gorilla at the top of their chain of command:  Wall Street, a discredited gang that measures newsapaper quality with stock quotations.  If there is a longer range solution than simply cutting everything to the  bone - a point of no return - it should be fair to ask whether today's newspaper is really in the newspaper business or preparing the way or an indecent burial?

Shortly before his death in 1981, John S. Knight told me his great regret was that the Knight Newspapers board had agreed in 1974 to merge with Ridder newspapers, making it widely accountable to public stock.  He saw no way that the papers that bore his family's name with enormous success could escape the demands of Wall Street  on profit-and-loss statements in good times and bad.  He died a very rich - and highly respected - editor and publisher, the last by many degrees of his titled foresight that had placed quality at the top of his papers' pyramid. .