Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stop the presses, Kellen gone

THE PLAIN DEALER that landed on my breakfast table Saturday morning  carried a story and photograph on the front page that were big enough to be reserved for notions  that the economy had rebounded, the temperature in Northern Ohio would rise  to the 80s by mid-day and our involvement in far-flung wars would end within 24 hours.   Unfortunately, it was none of those magical events.  Instead, we were asked to read at great length that a mere football player who had contributed so little to the Cleveland Browns had been traded.  Side by side with a long text by sportswriter Terry Pluto,  who laboriously reassured us the team had to make the deal,  was an enormous photo of the underachieving outcast, Kellen Winslow.  Even to the sports fan that I've been known to be, it was a much larger epic than I needed to restore my confidence in the front-page "news" part of newspapers.  Kellen Winslow. after all, was no Jim Brown or Otto Graham.  

Skipping to the sports page to find some traditional news - even a lost-dog story, always a best-seller - I encountered another  oversized photo of Kellen separating two full length columns by usually perceptive sportswriters dissecting the philosophical and pragmatic  overtones of the trade.  (In return the Browns got a couple of lower inconsequential draft picks - I don't remember offhand the rounds .)  

What's going on here?  It's a good thing this didn't happen on the day of President Obama's inauguration or the PD would have been challenged by a critical decision:  Obama arriving,  or Winslow departing?  You know as well as I do how it would have been finally resolved.  Jeez. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

Bachmann: Minnesota Splats...

HERE WE MUST GO for another GALL (Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy) Award to...the envelope,  please...Rep. Michele Bachmann, , Minnesota Republican, already a multiple winner after complaining that America is "running out of rich people."    Her latest contribution to the GALL archive occurred at the Conservative Political Action Conference under way in Washington.  After Michael Steele, the new African American chairman of the Republican National Committee, ended his speech to the conferees, Bachmann, who is oh- so-white,  couldn't control her enthusiasm, nor what little thought processes that trouble her brain, exclaiming to Steele:
                                  "You be da man!  You be da man!"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The nasty politics of blame


     A couple of friends attended one of Warner Mendenhall's neighborhood attack-fests this week  to learn more about the Akron lawyer's historically ceaseless effort to unhinge Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic,  the city's longest serving chief executive  - summarily kick him out of City Hall - to cap a personal vendetta that may have started long before a teenage Plusquellic became known as a high school football star.  Who knows, as the Shadow often asked, what evil lurks in the hearts  of men?  My friends were not impressed with what they heard, largely warmed over charges from earlier assaults by Mendenhall and his pestiferous crony, Robert Smith.  But folks, this is no longer a parlor game.  With a requirement of no more than 3,000 signatures on the recall petitions, this gang of political  outriders shouldn't be taken lightly.  Whether one is a  Plusquellic loyalist or has been offended by him for one thing or another,  be aware that this is no time to be uprooting an administration that has far more pluses than minuses - including Plusquellic's own national standing with the White House and other urban mayors.  (Most recently he was honored by Tufts University for his leadership qualities, a citation that apparently fell through a huge crack in the recallers' facade.)  For any foe to attempt this disruption at a time   when urban  survival should be on everybody's minds these days tells me that the perps are more interested in settling their own grievances rather than serving the welfare of their city.  The actual economic costs in paying for an election as well as the distractions to an administration otherwise committed to improving the city should be more than anyone would be willing to pay.   Fair warning. 

      Considering all of the yelping from the churlish Republican losers about President Obama's stimulus plan, including the drone from Bobby Jindal, it seems to me that the  GOP is shouting FIRE in an empty theatre. 

      As long as I'v e  turned up Jindal, I should mention that the good Rush Limbaugh, the rotund one-man emergency squad,  has salvaged Bobby  god-like from oblivion as the GOP crashed more deeply into Sarah Palin's  Alaskan permafrost.  Rush blamed the media for Sarah's demise.  But now he is hysterically blaming liberals and conservatives for Jindal's bad opening night reviews.  The Louisiana governor, Limbaugh argued, is saying all the right things to lead the conservatives' core values back into the first tier of positive thinking.  Let's all hope that Katrina 2 doesn't occur.  But if it does, they'll need more than Jindal's core values to sustain the dikes.  

       Thanks to the Columbus Dispatch,  I learned Thursday  (in an E-mail from a former Columbus journalist)  that the Democratic field for George Voinovich's senate seat has expanded to three, which, of course,  now qualifies as a valid crowd. The latest entry is State Rep. Tyrone Yates, former vice-mayor of Cincinnati, and ex-Ohio Asst.  Attorney General.  A four-termer in the Ohio House, Yates joins Secretary of State Jennifer  Brunner and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher in the rush to head to Washington.  But wait:  the Dispatch also noted that a possible fourth candidate, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune,  may also join the group.   When the number grows to nine or 10 in the Democratic primary, the race may have to be outsourced  to the Indy 500.   The only Republican to announce so far is Rob Portman, also of Cincinnati.  

         Does anybody wonder  about the whereabouts of John Widowfield, the unfortunate Republican state representative  who lost his job when he tried to cash in on the sale of Ohio State football tickets on eBay?  Probably not, but I'll tell you anyway.  He is working the overnight shift (midnight to something or other) at the Akron Municipal  Clerk of Courts office for about $28,0o0 a year.   At least he has a job, which is not what you can say about more and more people these days.  

UPDATE: Joe Hallett, of the Columbus Dispatch, which is nicely keeping busy taking attendance these days, now reports that the Democratic gold rush for George Voinovich's  U.S. Senate seat could expand again with the possible addition of two wannabes  from the Cleveland area:  Cuyahoga County commissioner Peter Lawson Jones and Chris Celeste, son of former Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste.  Both are said to be thinking about it.   That would make it six on the Democratic side and -Yikes! - it's only February, 2009.  Rob Portman, the lone Republican to announce for the job, must be feeling quite lonely these days.   

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Great programming, no media

IF YOU WERE in the large audience at E.J. Thomas Hall Tuesday night to witness the  program of violinist Hilary Hahn, you might agree with me that it was a remarkable performance by the soloist as well as her powerful piano accompanist, Valentina Lisitsa.   Hahn offered works by Ysaye, Ives, Brahms and Bartok with such firm command of  her instrument - such brilliance and virtuosity! - that it immediately became clear that it would be a very special evening.

It was her second appearance with Tuesday Musical  after a 10-year hiatus.  The first time, as a teenager, she was the  Clara Knight (mother of John S. Knight) artist of Tuesday Musical, an organization that has been offering the very best in classical music programming since its founding more than a century ago.     Since her first visit to  Akron,  Hahn  has risen to the world stage of the great orchestras.  Her  musicianship was honored with the Gramophone Artist of the Year Grammy of 2008. 

Such credentials should have been  enough to draw the attention of  a curious local newspaper. It didn't.  Unfortunately, the playing field for the arts in the Akron area was again shortened. Hard times in the newspaper world or not, it is an  unconscionable lack of respect for a significant quality of the city's  cultural life.  

GOP: A party in need of a party

ALTHOUGH THE national polls told us that President Obama's first address to the joint session of congress  was a grand slam, one needed only to look last night at the Republican faces on the cadaverous side of the aisle to see how those who now represent the  other 30 pct. were living these days. The party's leaders, Sen. Mitch  McConnell and Rep. John Boehner, were gloweringly  stone-faced. And Sen. McCain, who wants to be the GOP's pater familias,  offered us nothing more than a fleeting simpering smile.  On windy days, there is more action on the sculpted  faces of Mt. Rushmore.  

As Mike Maslansky, the CEO of a conservative research group, said:  "The Democrats loved almost everything Obama had to say.  The Republicans hated almost everything that Obama had to say." Sorry, guys and gals on the Hill:  Obama may be around longer than some of you who face reelection in 2010.  So get on the bus and lend a new idea, if possible.

To make matters worse, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Republicans' latest heart throb to fill the vacuum left by Sarah Palin, laid a dinosaur egg in his response to Obama.  Democrats probably didn't regard it important enough to seriously evaluate it,  but conservative analysts were clearly troubled by the emptiness of Jindal's message. David Brooks grumbled, "I thought it (Jindal's speech) was poorly drafted  - but to come up at this point in history with a stale 'government is the problem...we can't trust government'...It's just a disaster for the Republican Party.  The country is in a  panic now."  Brooks said Jindal laid out a plan that was "a form of nihilism" and added that the current direction of the Republican Party toward a deeper ideological trench was "insane."  

There's more:  Brit Hume, the Fox News guru-emeritus, lamented that it was not "Jindal's greatest oratorical moment."    Others referred to Jindal's remarks as "simplistic"...."almost childish." Who is in charge of the GOP's central casting office anyway?  

Meanwhile, back on the Hill, McCain has accused the Republican National Committee of choosing a song for a presidential campaign ad, without his knowledge,  that is now in court for copyright infringement. And there are reprisals being mentioned by a  prominent member of the Bush family  against Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist for aupporting the stimulus. And Sen. Jim Bunning, the Kentucky Republican who has been in trouble before, is threatening to sue the Republican National Committee, accusing it of trying to recruit another candidate to oppose Bunning in the primary.  Sen. John Cornyn , Texas Republican and chairman of the RNC's Senatorial Committee, denies it.  But listen to Bunning: "I don't believe anything that Cornyn says." 

Might it be time for the Republican Party to declare bankruptcy and start all over again with a whole new cast of characters?  

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sean Penn and Milk crashed the party

IN THE WAKE  of all of the approving exclamation points accorded Sean Penn and the blockbuster movie Milk, I rummaged through some earlier reviews.  Given the subject matter of gay rights, the dramatic fuse was relentlessly in sight. The fateful challenge of  Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco supervisor, to Anita Bryant and her cadre of gay-bashers churned waves of  mixed reaction in conservative quarters and the religious right, the morals police for homosexuality.

There was, for example, conservative movie critic Michael Medved, who has found his own niche audience among the Hollywood-haters.  Medved seemed to struggle with his admiration for the movie.    On one hand, he said it had a "heavy-handed political agenda" but tempered this criticism by conceding that Milk  is a "lovingly crafted film."  

On the other hand, film reviewer Ethan Samuel Rodgers, for a Web  posting called Christian Spotlight on the Movies,  followed the old Falwell line that one can love the sinner but hate the  sin. But  Rodgers opined that  the picture  failed as  a biopic "because  it is biased, overly offensive, and simply untrue to the story of a man's life we may never truly know."  Oh?  I doubt  that many who left the theatre after viewing Milk were not amply aware of the bias and offensive behavior of those who set out to destroy him - and did.  

Such behavior and horrific notions still exist in some quarters today, but let's give the late Harvey Milk (and a   heroic   performance by Sean Penn!)  huge credit for crashing the gay-bashers party and making life a little more civilized for everyone concerned today.  God knows, we need it.  

Monday, February 23, 2009

D Light is not a beer label.

AHEM.   THE ANGER on the daffy side of the Republican spectrum is leading me through a maze of newly-coined terms to refer to those Republicans deemed to be soft-headed about political moderation.  It wasn't that long ago that Michelle Malkin, an entry-level political theorist on the right, was hyperventilating with a special label for Republicans who might  agree with President Obama on such squishy matters about whether the earth orbits the sun, or whether a week was actually divided into seven days.  Ms. Malkin  referred to such impure conservatives as Bend Over Republicans.  One should not rush into the obvious  connotations.   

Now comes a fellow named George T. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush  - get used to it, folks, there's no end to the Bush family's domestic livestock  - who is threatening Florida's popular Republican  Gov. Charlie Crist for supporting Obama's stimulus package.   George T. hisses that Crist is D Light.   Although it hints at the code name for some  CIA operation, it means nothing more sinister than Democrat Light.  Such playful  trivia  might be useful for a contestant on Jeopardy,  but for a political faction still in the dark backwash of the November election it will have to be far more creative to salvage what little remains of their ideological boomerangs. 

There are an increasing number of apologies shaking out of the GOP's dirges these days.  Sen. Jim Bunning, of Kentucky, recanted his prediction that Justice Ruth Bader Ginzberg would be dead of pancreatic cancer in nine months.  How gross!   Earlier Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama joined the small chorus of Obama detractors by saying that Obama was an alien and serving illegally.     One of Shelby's aides later said, gosh, the senator was only jesting.  Right.  

Unfortunately, the loyal opposition, usually welcome in the two-party system, has troubled itself into a silly cadre of playground bullies with little to show for their huffs and puffs.  They have become more tiresome than terrifying.    

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fun and charismatic games?

IT MAY BE too soon to put up another GALL award (Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy) but I really must get to this one while it is at least still warm.  It goes to  Alex Boone,  the 328-pound 6-8 former Ohio State U. grid lineman who hopes to win a pro football contract.   Boone was the giant who was arrested in an  Alisio Viejo, Calif., parking lot after stomping on the hoods of cars and  causing other havoc before police finally were able to control him with a taser.   He reportedly clocked an alcohol content three times the legal limit, a problem that has beset him before.   Anyway, here's how Boone, a Lakewood, Oh.,  native, described his behavior to the Plain Dealer's Tony Grossi:
"...I think the biggest  thing is my personality off the field, maybe being more serious, not being so funny and charismatic about things."

Friday, February 20, 2009

And the unemployed aren't doing much better!

TODAY I have no choice but to humbly recognize Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican,  for my occasional GALL ( Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy) Award with full  knowledge that based on her track record she is quite capable of winning another - and still another - by midnight tomorrow.  During an interview with a conservative talk show host, she said she strongly  opposed the stimulus package because...    
   "We're running out of rich people in this country." 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

E.J. Dionne: Good news and bad news

E.J. DIONNE JR., the first-tier Washington Post columnist  with markedly  progressive tendencies,  brought good news and bad news to the lectern at the Akron Roundtable luncheon Thursday.  He was quick to remind one of the larger turnouts in the airy ballroom of the Tangier the economy is as bad as most of us know it is, but the happier side of great crises is that they often bring out the best in all of us.  In his opening remarks, he reflected on something that former  Defense Secretary William Cohen, a Republican who served in the Clinton cabinet during the span of the second term, once said about the unshakable  critics of government: "Government is your enemy until you need a friend."   

(What is it about those folks from Maine -  which Cohen  once served as a U.S. Senator - to be ahead of the Republican curve, as are Sens. Collins and Snowe, who are already being branded by some of  their GOP colleagues as adulterers?)  Speaking to an audience made up mostly from  business people and professionals,   many of whom would not be expected to show up at a Democratic dogs 'n suds event, Dionne was gentle in his circumspect criticism of the Republican congressmen and their very conservative outlook in using President Obama as a king-size dart board in these days of horrible national stress.  "I hope,"he said, "we will have a little more partisan respect..." in dealing across the aisle.

That, of course, remains to forever  be seen.   The bombast from  the Republican pols on the stimulus package cast them as little more than foolish cranks guided by  the cantankerous eruptions of Rush Limbaugh, whose legacy to broadcast journalism  is laced with such x-rated notions that Parkinson's Disease can be a put-on, or Glenn Beck, who dismissed autism as  99 pct. fakery.  Yet few of their disciples on Capitol Hill have had the courage to denounce such nonsense. Instead, we can all remember the dreadful Georgia  congressman who abjectly begged forgiveness from Limbaugh.  At the same time, another congressman,  Republican House whip Eric Cantor,  doesn't hesitate to throw rose petals at Limbaugh's feet. 

On a more clinical level by a keen political scientist, Dionne did say he was puzzled  by something that occurred in John McCain's presidential campaign.  He said he didn't understand why McCain left the campaign to head back to Washington to work on the economic crises.  "In so doing,"  Dionne noted,  McCain simply put his campaign "in the hands of a congress controlled by Democrats."    For Dionne, it was a failed decision that probably cost the Republican senator any hope of winning.

But to witness McCain's caustic attacks on Obama now, you'd think he was still hoping for a recount.   It doesn't make any sense to me.  He's trying to lay down a bunt after the other side just enjoyed a grand slam.  


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fallout from an unhealthy economy

THE OFFICIAL announcement that Akron General Health System was laying off 20 managers, a cutback reported without specific numbers in this column several weeks ago,  is a perfect example of how the economic mess is not isolated to one institution or another.  And it also demonstrates how reliant everybody is on everybody else, the congressional Republican crybabies  notwithstanding.  

Akron General's President and Chief Executive Alan Bleyer attributed the staff reduction to  the hospital's financial losses that have risen because there are more patients seeking treatment without health insurance.   Keeping in mind that I am not an economist, although I'm not sure what benefit that would offer, if you roll back the tape, here's what you would find:

Joe has a family with two kids and a job that covers part  of his health insurance.  He arrives at work one day and learns that he has no job and no health insurance.  He cannot immediately apply for unemployment benefits.  A week later he is involved in an accident and suffers a broken ankle and head injuries.    But being without worker benefits would relieve an atom of pressure on the state, who would otherwise have to cover him eventually with such benefits even though the state treasury is running billions in the red.  

His emergency room treatment would lead him to spending three days in the hospital to observe  his head trauma, which turns out to be minor.  Total cost: $32,987.34.  Joe can't pay it.  The hospital absorbs it as bad debt.  Such  debts pile up.  Ultimately the hospital is deeply in the red and must start laying off people, scattering them among millions of others who are adrift in a devastated economy. Meantime, Joe falls behind on his mortgage payments, again one of millions, and is forced out of his modest  Cape Cod.  Now without his unaffordable car insurance, he cannot renew his license.  Many others in Joe's straits stop snacking at the small neighborhood restaurant.  It closes.  On and on, fast-forwarding to a decision to lay off hospital workers.  Or auto workers.  Or any kind of workers.

Smug panelists on Fox News all agree that people who lose their homes (implicitly, as well as their jobs) are  getting what they asked for in life and should not be anybody else's concern.

Just wait.    


Monday, February 16, 2009

Whose educated guess this time?

THE HANDWRINGING over education funding in Ohio has contributed little to an early solution to how a boastfully informed democratic society can educate its young people.  Gov. Strickland's budget proposal has been defended, shredded and kneaded from all sides without really guaranteeing that it will move, even flimsily,  beyond a stalemate that is at least a half-century old in the Buckeye State.  During that time, shortchanging public education has become rooted in a state of mind that may take another half-century to cure. It is Ohio's disgrace that has led to the state's long lamented brain drain, among other horrific fallouts.

A little history is in order.   Here's what a freshman governor, James A. Rhodes, proudly had to say upon his arrival at the statehouse in 1963  when times were good - the first of four such arrivals:
"The budget is in balance.  It does not call for new or additional taxes on the taxpayers of Ohio.  It sets strict standards of economy and efficiency.  Nevertheless it provides adequately for essential services." 
Adequately it did not provide. It was pure Rhodes-style rhetoric that he repeated  often during his four terms, terms that he made possible with a comfortable state of mind among Ohioans that failed to connect the dots between Ohio's highest college tuition among the Big 10 state schools (topped only by privately operated Northwestern) and taxes.  Only the shallowest thinkers, and there are plenty of them, do not equate soaring tuition and other rising costs with a deceptive  form of taxation. Only the shallowest thinkers do not equate a state's economic retreats over the years to its inattention to the priorities of secondary education.   You get no more than you pay for. 

In  the decades since the Rhodes era,  Democratic governors have had to live with the Rhodes credo, and some have been kicked out.  Meantime, school buildings have deteriorated or closed, curricula shrunk, layoffs increased and various nostrums offered in the wake now bearing down on the longtime Rhodes theories (aided and abetted by a doting General Assembly)  about his Wonderful World of Ohio.

David James, Akron's new public schools superintendent, has bravely moved into the center ring surrounded by the even greater demands of  urban districts. In his recent curtain-raising speech hosted by the Akron Press Club in the Martin Center, James repeatedly called for a "collaborative" approach from all sectors of the community, including service groups, parents, teachers union, businessmen and professionals to address the problems.  He also called for reforms and new initiatives, a Herculean task in itself.   But with both the governor and the superintendent, the question remains:

Can they get there from here?  In a half-century of history, it would be unprecedented. 

Maher: There are steroids in all of us

THE STIR OVER superstar Alex Rodriquez's   bout with steroids has drawn the attention of Bill Maher, TV panel host, comedian and sideline medical expert.  Maher told Larry King that he wasn't all that concerned  about athletes who have built their biceps with hormones because all human beings are subjected to the same abuse.  "We're all on growth hormones," says Maher, who points out that domestic livestock, the stuff that shows up on our dinner plates, are loaded with them.   "If you've eaten're on growth hormones."  Unfortunately, they still don't help most people to understand the infield fly rule. '

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Too nice-guy for comfort

THE OPERA is over!  The fat lady has sung despite all of the  despairing Republican choristers who had memorized their ancient libretto with such perfection during their rehearsals of the themes  from the Bush Administration.  We now have an economic stimulus package and must  hope that it works, the  eternal  dissenters notwithstanding.

For the first weeks of the Obama Administration, it seemed that we were also  suffering from a deep recession of civil discourse from the political right.  Other than being bonded with Gorilla Glue to the Bush tax cuts that haven't worked since their arrival as a gaudy and costly artifiicial Christmas tree nearly eight years ago,   the congressional  conservatives had nothing of substance to offer as a substitute.  They grew  tiresome taking their turns wherever a TV camera materialized to glimpse their sullen faces and record a  perfect overlay of phrases to condemn the plan as "generational theft." If the "debate" had gone another week, this distraught gang might have fired on Ft. Sumter.  

It is something for which they have considerable experience.   Bush/Cheney's  misguided Iraq war has been projected by Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz and his partnering author Linda Bilmes (former chief financial officer of the Commerce Department)  to cost $3 trillion even though the invasion was initially sold by the neocons as costing little more than pocket change. 
(Is it reasonable to ask whether the "con" part has a more familiar negative meaning?)

So adding up those trillions plus the estimated cost of Bush's tax cut extension plans  at a couple trillion and my simple math comes to about $5 trillion.  Does that,  plus the financial industry's assault on the huddled masses,  suggest how we ended up in the  economic muck today?  Somehow, against those figures, the $787 billion plan doesn't seem quite so profligate.  Even the bank bailout, which exposed the high priests of the industry as self-indulgent royal spendthrifts, had its bizarre footnotes:  The wife of House Republican whip Eric Cantor is the managing director of a privately owned bank that received $267 million in bailout money. You may recall that Cantor had staged a resistance movement  against wild  pending in the bailout.  But let him explain:  neither he nor his wife knew about the money channeled to her bank.  Drum roll, please!

My head spins as I read what   Ohio Sen. George Voinovich tells the Plain Dealer:  While he is quite sympathetic with those people who are severely distressed today (see: the senator's hometown, Cleveland) the plan contains too much spending and not enough stimulus. The objection has made its rounds so insistently that it has become a bumper sticker abstraction because no one has explained how a stimulus would work without some spending.  It is a form of circular logic that leads us to those Bush tax cuts again.

The battle also provided Obama with a lesson that money can't buy:  He's stuck with a Republican caucus that will refuse to compromise on anything that doesn't have something good to say about Ronald Reagan.   As I've noted before, it continues to live in a gated community that is America's version of the Green Zone. He would have been better off going eyeball to eyeball with Iran to prepare him for his encounters with Boehner, McConnell et al.   The president wasted far  too much time and energy trying to penetrate their walls.  (As he was looking for friendly openings, four Tennessee congressmen decided to outflank him by joining the effort to disqualify his presidency with the idiotic  charge that he isn't an American citizen! Congressmen! ) Unfortunately, Obama had the political capital that Bush once boasted of,  but unlike Bush, he chose not to use it and came away bruised, but perhaps wiser. 

 He needed to be prodded by the words of one of America's most profound in-your-face philosophers, Leo "The Lip" Durocher, who was fond of reminding everybody:
"Nice guys finish last."

a a said 

Arshinkoff, the recall spectator

IF WARNER MENDENHALL and his assemblage of political outriders press on with their notion of recalling Mayor Don Plusquellic, they will have to do it without the support of another Plusquellic thorn:  Alex Arshinkoff, the Summit County Republican chairman.  Arshinkoff  has uncharacteristically  kept a low profile  during a political melee, maintaining that it is nothing more than a spectator sport for Republicans as Democrat Mendenhall assails Democrat Plusquellic.  But let him explain:
"I"m watching the Democrats fighting each other with great interest.  It's not my fight.  But they're going to have to have one helluva smoking gun to take Plusquellic out." 
Having tried on more than one occasion himself to dislodge the mayor ,  Alex speaks with the profound  experience of the ages.  

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hail to!

TODAY I AM starting an occasional posting in a series with the acronym GALL:  Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy, awarded to a dump on incoherence by people you'd think would know better. It will be a steep uphill climb from George Bush's historic non sequiturs (which we kinda sadistically miss) but, as they say,  you have to start somewhere.  So today's groundbreaking award goes to Sen . Lindsey Graham, one of the noisiest opponents of the President's stimulus bill.  Asked by Wolf Blitzer whether he would continue to attack the spending in the bill and not accept  money for his impoverished state of South Carolina,   Graham pearlized this response: 
"I think that, yes, from my point of view, I ---you don't want to be crazy here.  I mean, there's going to be money on the table that will help my state,  but I've got a job to do up here, and that is to try to help people and not damn the next generation."  

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stump: Inspiration for senior citizens

IT WAS WITH a little more than passing interest that I  witnessed the bestowal of the Best of Show award to a shaggy recovering retiree at this week's Westminster Kennel Club dog show in Madison Square Garden.  The against-all-odds winner was a 10-year-old Sussex Spaniel who survived retirement and a near fatal illness to be paraded to the winner's circle for the trophy.  The victor's name was Stump, which was inspired at some time past by the fact that he was thought to look like a tree stump.  In normal moments, that alone would have cost him points.  

Aside from the fact that I am fully charmed by dogs, mostly the mutt variety that can torment you for attention as they did to me  for more than three decades,   I am also aware that in dog years Stump has got to be around 70 years old.  That may not mean much to a passerby but those of us who have joined the septuagenarian crowd have reason to celebrate that a senior citizen like Stump could still compete - and succeed - in a world that is now pretty much in the hands of early teenagers.  

Stump's managers promise to return him to peaceful retirement, which for me has been  a non sequitur as a writer who has resisted   the peaceful languor  of an easy chair.    As for Stump's legacy, some observers are already wondering whether Michael Jordan or Hank Aaron could be inspired to return to their games.  I don't think so.  For some of us, Stump is all of the inspiration we need for a day or two.           

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A hunger strike on Capitol Hill?

I'VE BEEN LIGHTLY  distracted from the he-said, she-said, marathon  in videoland over the Obama administration's  economic package that may yet produce a hunger strike by the protesting House and Senate Republicans.   Over in another  unavoidable universe was the A-Rod thing, the Major League superstar  whose salary from the NY Yankees could bail out several banks before breakfast. His real name  is Alex Rodriguez, and like some others in his line of work, he has openly confessed to slipping steroids into his body six or seven years ago.  Unlike some of my sports-minded friends, I haven't spent much time worrying about what this might  do to the purity of the game.  Trying to get professional athletes  in all sports to own up to their off-hours misdeeds is unappealingly time-consuming with little prospect of success.  

So it was with some relief that I happened to see a column by Bud Shaw, the always readable Plain Dealer sportswriter, who seemed to be a tad  blase about the  apocalyptic  rumbling in the sports world over Rodriguez's mea culpa.  "I wonder," Shaw wondered, "why so many Hall of Fame voters see Cooperstown as a shrine and dismiss the fact that generations of players used amphetamines to get themselves ready to play." 

Way back when,   one of the manager's primary responsibilities was to sober up his star pitcher before sending him to the mound.  The late Doc Ellis of the Pittsburgh Pirates revealed that he threw a no-hitter against San Diego in 1970  while sky- high on  LSD.   Ellis Kinder, the gifted Red Sox righthander, shacked up in a drunken hoot the night before he pitched a stunning game against the Yankees, later admitting that he was a better pitcher when he had loaded up on booze.

That was then.  This is now. Our national sports heroes are having to explain their steroidal silliness in order to succeed in their chosen profession.  Among millionaires it is the sort of sinful excess that can be cross-cultural.  Wall Streeters bulk up not on steroids  but, as we all know, with fat bonuses and other bloated perks of the aristocracy.  The flawed outcome is the same, I suppose.

Oh, while I'm in the other universe, there are other things to amuse us.  At the supermarket checkout the other day, I noticed that the magazine cover stories all were slurped from the same trough: A national obsession with flat stomachs,  and Jessica Simpson's angry response to critics who insist she's too chubby.   Time for a hunger strike, Jessie,  we thought,  as we sheepishly handed the clerk our credit card.  


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When is a job not a job?

IS MICHAEL STEELE NUTS?   The recently ordained Republican chairman had me running to volumes of dictionaries with his insistence that a government job is not a job but  "work".   I had long believed - and still do - that anybody on a payroll at public expense may be considered  one who is employed by the government, i.e. a job.   That would include safety forces in my town, school teachers, college professors,  the important guys who plow and salt the streets in my neighborhood after a snowstorm - even school crossing guards and cafeteria cooks.  Steele blitzed the language in the presence of ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who seemed as confused as I am about the isolation of a job from "work". It's a curious way of saying things  because one of Steele's first jobs (work?) as chairman will be to clear up charges that his political campaign in 2006 paid his sister $37,000 for catering services that her company never performed.  

Here's to remembering Maine

WITH MAINE'S two Republican senators, Olympic Snowe and Susan Collins, providing just enough  lift against a possible Republican filibuster by supporting President Obama's economic recovery plan,  may we now update an old proverb  to read, "As Maine's two senators go, so goes Barack Obama's hopes for a strong national economy"?  I'll raise a glass to that! 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gallup trumps stimulus naysayers

FOR THE PAST couple of weeks - maybe as far back as the moment that President Obama stepped into his morning shower for his first day in office - the Washington media have resorted to their Chicken Little act:  the sky was falling on the president's stimulus plan because his Republican opponents had cleverly stolen the story line.  Imagine that.   However,  the only thing that fell menacingly  in my neighborhood was day after miserable day of snow.  That,  plus the  credibility of the Beltway media that apparently believe everything they hear from the Republican side of the aisle.  

The moment of truth arrived in the latest Gallup poll.  It told us that 67 pct. of  Americans supported Obama's handling of the economy, but only 31 pct. favored the Republicans. Not even close.  The marquee media,  John McCain, Lindsey Graham and the other stumbling  downfield blockers should now use their last timeout to talk things over.  Robert Gibbs, the president's press secretary, pointed out a phenomenon that overtook the media long before Obama became a household name.  He said there's the "conventional  wisdom" of the Capital press corps,  and there's the reality of America outside the beltway.

 Fair warning to those who rush to judgment as their faces are being powdered for the cameras. Even the expensive cosmetics won't disguise your foolish ways.  

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The joy of miserable statecraft

WHEN PRESIDENT Obama offered to extend his hand to America's enemies if they unclenched their fists, he may also have been preparing to encounter an army of Republican clenched fists in Congress. And that's exactly what he has faced in trying sell the stimulus bill to the minority Republicans still locked in a failed pre-election mode.  The most militant  voices emerging from their gated community is Obama's old nemesis, John McCain, who was fond of saying in measured avuncular tones how he could accommodate Democrats on Capitol Hill.  But without the aid of a full moon, he has since morphed as  a textbook example of bipolarity in assuming his party's leadership role in his frenetic attempt to scuttle the bill. 

McCain's idea of a progressive, economically sound America is hardly a newly assembled work-in-progress.  In fact, it's not even original with him but is lifted in its entirety from George Bush's playbook.  He wants an extension of Bush's tax cuts plus a lot more added on.  To a fellow like me, who still has penny wrappers in my office cabinet,  I don't know how it would help much to extend the tax cuts that only made matters worse under Bush.  If you think otherwise, just one figure should discourage you: 598,000 jobs lost in January alone.  

Still, there was Maverick McCain rising to the Senate rostrum to declare: "This bill has become nothing more than a massive spending bill. To portray it as  stimulus flies in the face of reality."   If he had said he was sore because the president had endorsed the Steelers against McCain's home state Cardinals, I could understand that.  In professional football, there are never any hands to extend across the aisle.  Trash talk is socially acceptable.  Now that's the face of reality.

But McCain was denying the obvious in the stimulus bill, and Obama felt it  necessary to correct the senator about the goal of the bill.  Of course, the president said, it was a spending bill.  Always has been  and always will be. 

McCain hasn't fought the battle alone. South Carolina  Sen. Lindsey Graham, who tagged along with McCain throughout the campaign and was probably responsible  for making  sure that the shirts got to the laundry on time, was ungentlemanly graphic. "This bill stinks," he barked.   He also accused Obama of being "AWOL on this bill,"  which must have deep roots in a southern dialect because nobody's sure what the senator meant.  

Asked why he plays so many grim operatic roles, Placido Domingo said, "I like being miserable on stage."

That may also  explain where we are with McCain-Graham these days.  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Sunday morning e-mails...

MAX ROTHAL'S morning routine has taken a significant turn since some people foolishly decided that  Akron's only salvation lay in recalling Mayor Don Plusquellic from office.  Each morning or so, Rothal - the usually unflappable city attorney - finds one or more e-mails demanding satisfaction from a long-time nemesis, Hudson real estate man Robert Smith.   The fellow has apparently thrown in with Atty. Warner Mendenhall to create costly havoc to the Plusquellic Administration with their recall movement.  "I even see some e-mails that were sent on Sunday morning,"  Rothal said.  "The guy never stops."

So what does Mr. Smith want in what appears to be a non-stop search-and-destroy mission? "Oh, public records of this and that, documents and other things,"  Rothal says, unhappily.  And of course, because they are public records, Rothal won't refuse Smith's requests.  "But it goes on and on," he says, "as we have our  staff at City Hall try to locate the records that Smith wants.  It's time consuming and it's costly.  It takes people away from the jobs they normally do." 

 Largely, it's a fishing expedition that leads to nothing other than more requests in an effort to find something that might embarrass the mayor in a recall ad. Another word for it is "pestering" at public expense, both the records' searches and the cost of a special election if  Mendenhall and his cronies follow through on their threat.  

Frankly, it's hard to know the motives behind the notion other than Mendenhall has a vendetta against Plusquellic, regardless of  how it might harm to stability of the city at a time  when economic survival is on everybody's mind.    Plusquellic,  after all, was one of  a group  of mayors who have been meeting with President Obama and congressional leaders to get a share of the stimulus money for their cities and has repeated his proposals on national TV  this week.  It's hardly a time to be bombarding  the mayor's administration with ludicrous requests and political threats.  That says a lot about the ones who recklessly remain unconvinced of the gravity of  the current economic crises, don't you think?   

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Basketball for dummies

HAVING NOW personally guided the Steelers to another breathtaking Super Bowl triumph, I've turned to a little R&R  by checking in briefly on pro basketball games. To be sure, I know little about how the game is played and am satisfied to be an occasional witness at the entry level. I'm not even sure where the back court or front court is, and the rabid announcers never explain their technical references.   But I must ask:   Why must a pro basketball game be interrupted every 120 seconds for a three-minute  timeout in which all of the players stand in a tight circle at the bench and nod  in agreement about something?  As a livelier supplement to the game, I've come up with an idea called Roundball Roulette.  Turn off the game, walk to the kitchen for a glass of water  (or whatever)  and return to resume watching the game.  You may be surprised to discover how often you see a commercial instead of players running up and down the floor.  If you get three commercial breaks out of five, you win the leftover popcorn from the football season. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Three was a little crowded

'TWAS QUITE a trifecta at the White House Tuesday. Tom Daschle got waylaid in heavy Capitol Hill traffic (Good riddance!) President Obama nominated a Republican senator, Judd Gregg, as his commerce secretary (We can hope!) and the president conceded in an NBC TV interview that "I screwed up" in the Daschle choice. (Wow! Never heard that kind of talk from the previous administration. That's change that I can believe in.)

With nannies, unpaid taxes, unreported limos etc., you begin to understand that the Washington scene is as perilous as the road to the Baghdad airport. Simply too much soft-earned money lying around as a growth industry. Even the IRS can't catch up with all of the double bookkeeping and off-the-books income that can make a rather straightforward-looking guy or gal an overnight millionaire. Tempting, huh?

So what did Daschle, a veteran of Capitol Hill politics, expect to gain before he had to flush himself out from the crossfire of Democrats and Republicans? You have to wonder why he was trying to fill in an inside straight while staring at a full house. And how many others on both sides of the aisle murmured, "There but for the grace of God..." and tip-toed home to their wives, or whomever. All of this while the economic news worsens grotesquely every day. California, the eighth largest economy in the world, is broke, gridlocked between the governor and the legislature with a $42 billion deficit and the nation's worst credit rating.

Is the gridlock an anomaly of a formerly wealthy state. Or does it foreshadow something much worse for the whole country from the nastiness that's occurring daily in D.C.? Time for somebody to pause and lead the Pledge of Allegiance.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Malkin's "Bend Over" Republicans

IN OUR continuing effort to keep you posted on the imaginative mutterings of right-wing commentators,  you should be aware that they have created a new designation for Republicans who might, from time to time, vote with Democrats on Capitol Hill.  In the words of Michelle Malkin, a columnist of sorts who reports menacingly from her native residence  in Jurassic Park, these turncoats are "Bend Over Republicans," or "B.O. Republicans" for short.  I needn't go beyond that in disclosing the horrifying connotation for people over, whether in a congressional cloak room or a shower stall.  So that is the current way at looking at things from the far right when 19 or so Republican senators supported the nomination of Eric Holder for attorney general.  I think the term was added to the lexicon by Rush Limbaugh, who has taken the time to accuse President Obama of lying by exaggerating the depths of our economic troubles. 

I think we can expect a lot more of these internecine assaults by Limbaugh, Malkin and others on Republicans who just might find something on which to agree (Good grief!) with Democrats.  It's their way of mindlessly doing what comes naturally for the visitors who stop around your family business to  collect their monthly protection dues.   With these ideological dinosaurs on the loose, it is now certain that there won't be much work for the GOP's new chairman, Michael Steele, to perform  as the party's ideological placebo.