Tuesday, March 31, 2009

She was against it before she was for it

THE CLEAR WINNER in mountainous competition for another Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) award is Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who rose before her Alaskan state legislature to warn of the dangers of volcanos, particular the one that is quite active in her backyard. She declared:
"And I can assure you, Mr. President, that monitoring volcanos is critically important to the nation, to the world, and particularly to Alaska right now where we are being held hostage to a volcano. " 
Right. Except Murkowski, like Gov.  Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who criticized spending money on volcano monitoring,  voted AGAINST the stimulus package that contained money for that very purpose.       What am I missing here?  

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wagoner's $20 million pain pill

SHALL WE SHED no tears for Rick Wagoner,  GM's hitherto chairman and chief White House.  For a man who presided over a thudding crash of the giant auto company, he will live out his years in private life with a $20 million  "allowance" from the company.  The transition might be a little  bumpy in the short term; sky-high CEO royalty doesn't  adjust easily, I'd guess, after living  cloistered lives surrounded by servile enablers whose own jobs are on the line every moment of the day.  There may be exceptions, of course, but I don't know of any.  

That fact of corporate life, of course, will not discourage the usual chorus of Cassandras who are already counting down the minutes to doomsday with the arrival of  Barack Obama in the White House.  His most secure refuge, however, is the silliness of the Republican responses to his every move.  

Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell continues to belabor the notion that his party has been shut out of any discussion of the stimulus package, although there are plenty of videos around that can be shown of the President reaching out to the GOP,  whose leaders didn't even bother to respond to some of  Obama's invitations.    I don't know what House minority leader John Boehner wants except to haul out his tax cut litanies as well as a shallow budget plan that must have embarrassed a lot of folks in his own party.  And Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas no-man and chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, has now threatened to delay a resolution of the Minnesota senate contest  forever, if not longer. It is further evidence of what  desperate Republicans are thinking these day.  And it  has even annoyed Minnesota's Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, who objects to a state with only one senator. 

Until the GOP starts acting like a party of grown-ups, with a leader who can begin to capture the imagination of the voters,  it seems unlikely that it will be anything more than it is today, a bunch of trapped whiners that has not yet found a way to unlock the barn door.  

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Anyone who has followed this  blog knows that I have been critical of  Summit County Chairman Alex Arshinkoff on occasion for some of his inexplicable antics.  But having just been introduced to his Republican opponents' blog, I have to wonder what wannabe comedian is  trying out, badly at that, for Comedy Central. The anti-Arshinkoff post on - get this, Fat Al is Not My Pal -  is juvenile cutesy pie stuff with references to blonde bimbos, Bryan "Fredo Corleone" Williams (the guy at the Board of Elections). an unnamed  "bumbling former retired executive" and "Boy wonder Jon 'Teddy Bear'  Husted. There is also an incoherent reference to Arshinkoff's dancing style. Do they do these things because they can?  Or is it that they just don't know any better?  Unless the level of opposition  rises to adulthood, I pass.                                        


Saturday, March 28, 2009

On recalls, Italian festivals and Voinovich non-stimulus

WEEK END WITH WARNER:  Warner Mendenhall's mad dash to recall Mayor Plusquellic hit a few bumps Friday with the report in the Beacon Journal that two guys who figured to aid and abet the assault are now declaring their opposition to the whole idea.  That's  the word from Joe Finley, the former Democratic councilman who opposed Plusquellic in a primary; and Ward 2 Councilman Bruce Kilby.  Based on their past opposition to the mayor, neither would likely send him a Christmas card.  But Finley told the BJ that  a recall movement is a much too extravagant reprisal:  "While I oppose Plusquellic, I believe that recalls should be reserved for gross malfeasance, not for resolving simple policy differences or personality conflicts." 

Mendenhall seems to be taking the bad news in stride, forever trying to rise above the madding crowd to describe the whole spectacle as an exercise in democracy, thereby rudely disrupting City Hall and the city's business with his door-to-door cavalry.  I can't deny that democracy makes allowances for recalls, although people with a mind to remove a pol from office usually wait until the election season to advance their grievances.  Having said that,  might Mr. Mendenhall should be reminded that democracy also allows people to make foolish nuisances of themselves in public. 

 To cite the cautionary words of the late Hubert H Humphrey: The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously. 
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Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart's crowing that he salvaged part of the Italian summer festival, the bulk of which is moving to downtown Akron from his city, leads me to wonder whether Republican Robart will claim this as part of his own stimulus program.   The festival split is a continuation of the rivalry of Italian clubs in the Falls, but a long-time observer, whose company had a major role in the festivals in the Falls,   expressed doubts to me that the spin-off will be a success for the smaller group that remains on the Riverfront Mall.  "They're having some problems lining up vendors so soon after the Akron festival," he said.   Aside from the rivalry, the economic realities were clearly in Akron's favor.  The city won't charge the festival.  On the other hand,  the sponsors' bills from the Robart administration  have  continued to rise .  So you pays your money and takes your choice.  Buona fortuna!

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Speaking of crows, the Plain Dealer caught Sen. George Voinovich in his own stimulus-puffing trap when he reminded voters that he was out front in 2005 to get some money for an Inner Belt Bridge project  and is now citing the importance of  the new outlay of $200 million in the stimulus package to cover the bridge construction project.  As columnist Michael McIntyre alertly pointed out:  Voinovich voted against the Obama stimulus package, calling it a Washington "slush fund."    

Friday, March 27, 2009

Plain Dealer: Praise for corruption probe

TALES OF TWO NEWSPAPERS:  Thursday's Plain Dealer gave  readers further evidence of the critical need for  sustaining the hometown press.  The PD's cascading Page One story told of the resignation of Cuyahoga County Sheriff Gerald McFaul, one of many targets of a corruption probe in which the paper has played a relentless role.  As the forceful print next to McFaul's picture noted: Longtime sheriff received envelopes stuffed with  cash from employes. And beneath that: More than a dozen Plain Dealer reports in 2009 revealed McFaul's pattern of misconduct.   (It ain't bragging when you can produce such results!)  

To the right of the McFaul story was another headline:  Building inspector to admit to bribery, courtesy of the Feds' multifaceted corruption probe.  In this instance, the PD said, Richard Huberty  "is accused of taking  bribes and shaking down business owners..."  His lawyer said Huberty will plead guilty. 

Had enough?  Not quite.  On the Metro page of Thursday's paper, there was a piece about a Parma schools real estate consultant who was fired from his $1,500 a month job after the paper started asking questions about his contract for which he "did little".  Parma school superintendent Sarah Zatik told the PD:  "I'm furious, I don't believe he is performing any service right now..."  Added Bruce Basalla, the school treasurer when the PD inquired: "I can't tell you what he's done.  I feel stupid for not being able to do that."

Well, it is Cuyahoga County and a lot of stupid things have been done under its zip codes.  But it is fair to ask:  How much would we know about this if there were no papers?  The broadcasters would hardly spend a tiny fraction taking up the slack.  TV is largely a hit-and-run exercise and commercial radio spends most of its time yakking without substance. Without aggressive newspapers, the political deer and antelope will range freely - and play to their hearts content.   Count on it.

Oh, I did mention two newspapers at the start of this post.  A Page One story in Friday's Beacon  Journal reported how the stimulus money will be spent in the Akron area.  The headline said the city's Y-bridge will be fenced.  And the subhead noted, Some call plan wasteful. Fair enough, so far.  But reading the entire report (quite long) to learn who objected  enough to merit recognition in the headline,  I found  the only reference to wasteful spending was near the end of the story which said: 
"Some would argue Akron's Y-Bridge project would be a waste.   One person, responding to a request for stimulus comments on Akron's Web Site, wrote, 'Please do not build a fence on the Y-Bridge.'"
 One anonymous person snags the headline?  You lost me.  

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pence crunches the numbers

BY THE time that Rep. Mike Pence,  the hard-right guy from Indiana, arrives in Akron Friday evening to speak at the Summit County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner, he may have had enough time to answer a question by MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell that he couldn't answer on her show: Will the GOP's counter-budget cut or increase the deficit?  The inquiry was quite appropriate for a severe critic of  President Obama's budget.  But Pence couldn't answer it, saying the GOP plan is a "broad outline" short on numbers.  But I'm sure it won't deter 
chairman Alex Arshinkoff from giving his guest a rousing welcome. No questions asked, of course.      

Arlen Specter: The fading old soldier

LIKE THE old soldier, Sen. Arlen Specter is fading away.  At 79, the Pennsylvania Republican is a textbook example  of how his pre-Whig party is hellbent on erasing any vestige of moderation. Faced with anticipated insurmountable odds in winning the GOP primary against probable hard-right icon Pat Toomey next year (Specter's favorability rating among Pennsylvania Republicans: 30 pct.) the five-term senator  sought  to appease the conservatives by announcing his opposition to the labor-supported card-check organizing bill, a measure similar to one he had earlier supported.  Specter has been pawing around in this trough before, trying  to establish his credentials with left and right, only to make matters worse.   

Clearly, the GOP "thought police" have  little patience with Republicans who don't meet their severe standards of ideological purity.  Their  comfort zone is represented instead with the Palins, Jindals and Cantors, each of whom has sounded quite foolish when the occasion called for it.   Well, it's their party and they can do as they please, I suppose.  But one less Specter won't do a thing for their plans for rising from the dead.   

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eric Cantor: swimming up mainstream

AND ANOTHER Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) award goes to Rep. Eric Cantor, of Virginia, the ubiquitous right-wing Republican who tried to explain why he is so frustrated that President Obama is not paying more attention to advice from the GOP.  Appearing on C-SPAN, Cantor opined:
"Look, we want to work with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle.  We want to try to bring this president into the mainstream."
Mainstream?  Eric, Eric!  The latest CBS poll gave Obama a 64 pct. public approval rating against  20 pct. disapproval! ( For his studied research on the Obama Administration, Cantor attended a Britney Spears concert during the president's news conference.) 

Will somebody please hold a mirror up to Cantor's nostrils to see if he is still breathing?   

The Beltway media finessed

MORE ON THE news conference:    As one who labored through too many Q&A's with public figures, I now find myself more engaged in the tone of the  show than the substance.   And with Barack Obama, the inquisitors are going to have to be prepared  with a well insulated gotcha question if they want to stay in the ring with him.  On a couple of occasions he made simple basket catches on intended hard balls from his audience.  ("I  like to know what I am talking about before I speak,"  he told a reporter who wondered why the president tardily took a day or two to respond to the AIG bonuses.  The media folks have not experienced such finesse in, oh...8 years? ) 

Presidential  news conferences are not the same as a one-on-one drill of  a VIP in the privacy of his or her own office.  The event flies around the world in seconds and reporters are quite aware that they can be an instantaneous VIP, too, with a hot-wire encounter, for better or worse, with the speaker at the lectern.  Television has created  much of the posturing that might occur when one reporter is acknowledged and another ignored.  (Immediately after Obama's conference, it was reported that he had snubbed the major print media. How do you like that?) 

But given the fact that Obama has been in office no more than a couple of months, the Washington media seemed more aggressive than it chose to be with George Bush and the weeks and months  (and even years)  that followed 9/11. The mighty Washington Post gave precedence to pro-invasion stories over those that suggested we were headed into a quagmire. War critic Phil Donahue's TV show was canceled  by his network, which decided his voice was inappropriate for the times.  In short, the Beltway media, including assistance from liberals, failed to serve their calling,  and the presidential news conferences  - the few that occurred - and the talking heads that supinely gave Bush the benefit of the doubt,  aptly demonstrated that. 

So now we'll watch to see how the Obama years are played out vis-a-vis the media herd.  But, please, no more questions about why he hasn't called upon Americans to make sacrifices - certainly not from a well-paid TV newsman who currently has a job.   

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Todd, the sacrificial lamb

DURING PRESIDENT O'BAMA's press conference, NBC's Chuck Todd neatly framed the fallen level of awareness of the Washington media by asking why Obama had not called upon Americans to make sacrifices during the current recession.  Obama fielded the astonishing challenge cleanly, noting that Americans are sacrificing in numerous ways, including job furloughs and pay cuts.  Sit down, Chuck.

The question did, however, recall a similar question to George Bush by NBC's Brian Williams in the days following 9/11.  To which Dubya staggeringly replied:
"Americans are sacrificing.  I mean, we are, we are...You know, we pay a lot of taxes. Um, the uh...Americans sacrificed when they, um...You know when the economy went into the tank.  Americans sacrificed when...you know, air travel was disrupted." 


Monday, March 23, 2009

Jindal silent until the dust clears

I'M BEGINNING to feel a tinge of sympathy for the GOP's would-be Stupor Star, Bobby Jindal. After flubbing his TV audition in response to the Obama's address to the Congress, he is now having to again explain his aversion to volcano monitoring, an odd  thought that he slipped into his maiden national address.  You may recall that he was critical of $160 million in the stimulus package  for scientific monitoring of things that can go bang at any time, like volcanos. 

Enter Mount Redoubt, a restless volcano 100 miles south of Anchorage , Alaska, that is currently rocketing ash and dust 12 miles into the atmosphere and forcing some of Sarah Palin's constituents to wear dust masks while creating a health hazard to anything else exposed to its eruptive menace.    

The Louisiana governor must be fretting about  the timing of nature these days.  His office isn't returning phone calls from the national media.      

Friday, March 20, 2009

The trend toward being noisily wrong

BACK IN the 1960s, a rather perceptive radio news analyst, Edward P. Morgan, began his nightly broadcast by confiding to his audience that he knew absolutely nothing at all about agriculture.   "Therefore," he continued, "I believe I am eminently   qualified to talk about agriculture on tonight's program." It was his sardonic way of emphasizing that to be a national pundit, one does not need to know what he or she is talking about.

Boy, would Morgan have had scads of material for his programs today!  Spend five minutes (that should be enough) viewing the  scrums of rowdy political analysts shouting their conflicting views and you must surely conclude that no one has a clue, either about the issue on the table, or whether the panelists wouldn't be better off analyzing old Disney cartoons. 
With their counter-spins whirled into the camera on, say, the remedy for our economic woes,  it should soon be obvious that they can't all be wrong - or right? -  despite whatever claims to expertise the panelists accord  themselves.  In the end, it is only a  charade and a  show-biz line of work that pays well.  What else can you be forced to conclude when two such "experts" (economists, politicians, analysts from each network's private stock) arrive on the scene quite  prepared to disagree?  Fact is, there is much less expertise than there are experts today.  And that's not saying a helluva lot. 

I recently came across a piece on a blog named Bryan Appleyard.com (an Englishman, I believe) that was titled Pundits Are Wrong About Everything.  That sounded about right to me (else, why would I be referring to it?)   Appleyard drew his inspiration from a study by Philip Tetlock, a professor at UCal Berkeley.  Tetlock   asked 284 pundits about their forecasts for the future, and recorded the findings:  The experts were right less than 33 pct. of the time!

Appleyard happily notes:
"A monkey chucking darts would have done better.  This is consoling.  More consoling still is Tetlock's further finding that the more certain a pundit was, the more likely he was to be wrong.   The problem being that they couldn't self-correct, presumably because they'd invested so much of their personality and self-esteem in a specific view." 
Some salient examples come to mind:  Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle et al saying the war  would be brief with Perle going so far as to say that within six months, the Iraqis would honor liberator George Bush with a big plaza in downtown Baghdad;  Alan Greenspan vigorously supporting the hollow mortgages that got us into so much trouble; George Bush's Mission Accomplished caper. 

And of late, the economic experts on CNBC, the cable channel of choice for hyenas, are gravely endangering their lungs defending the  millionaire executives  on Wall Street with their  own versions  of Economics 101.  I was left to wonder, for instance, when CNBC host Mark Haines insisted that Wall Street companies "can't be run well by a bunch of people who don't make more than $250,000."    Oh?  In light of today's Wall Street Meltdown, let's give the $250,00o entry level applicants a try. How much worse would they be?  Trust me. Despite what Prof. Tetlock might tell you, I am never wrong.  Well, almost never.     


Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Pence for your thoughts

THE SUMMIT COUNTY Republican Party apparently has not taken  seriously the voters' rejection of hard-core conservative "values" in the past presidential election.  How else can one explain the word from chairman Alex Arshinkoff that the headliner for this year's Lincoln Day Dinner (March 27) will be a red-meat right-wing Limbaugh-Rove-Gingrich-Palin conservative  Republican congressman from Indiana, Mike Pence?  It makes no sense for a crippled party to retreat farther into the depths of its own isolation from any semblance of mainstream moderation.  What could this political garrison have in mind, particularly in a county top-heavy with Democrats who have  shown little regard for the welfare of cliff-hanging conservatives?  

And who is Mike Pence?  Well, he describes himself as an evangelical Christian , or expanding on that, a Christian first, and a Republican afterward.  He will bring to the rostrum Friday night his well-pronounced  values of antis - anti-abortion, anti-stem cell and anti-stiff tax on Wall Street bonuses, having added the last one Thursday in his futile vote against the bill.  (Rushbo loved that one.)   But in all fairness, Pence is not entirely wedded to negatives.  He is , and was, pro-Iraq war and pro-Bush tax cuts.  There are guys like Pence running around today that you don't even have to ask their names.  Reconstruct the "values" model and a Mike Pence figure automatically pops up.  

Frankly,   I shouldn't care less if the party faithful gathered over their salads and entrees to  watch old films of the army-McCarthy hearings.   But they shouldn't do it in the name of America's greatest president.  No, not Reagan.  Abraham Lincoln. The  gulf between the celebratory  fiction of the event and the historical truth of Lincoln's unique stature in the presidency is shameful.  Guys like Mike Pence, who boasts of his 100 pct. approval rating from the American Conservative Union,  only make it a mockery.

Eat well, folks, as I know you will. 

A spiritual voice in recall campaign?

WARNER MENDENHALL'S spring offensive is prompting speculation around town that the Summit County Republican Party is playing some role in the recall campaign against Mayor Don Plusquellic.  The fuse was lit by the appearance of Bryan C. Williams, the Summit County Board of Elections deputy director and a former GOP candidate against the Democratic Akron mayor, at Mendenhall's recent public meeting  to launch his campaign.  To put it politely, Williams has nothing but scorn for Plusquellic to this day. However, he rejects  the notion that he might be a back-channel operative for Mendenhall. 

  "I went to the meeting to give my spiritual support (to a recall election) but I' not actually giving my active support," Williams says.  "But I wish Mendenhall all of the success in the world." So mark that down in the category of  political spirituality.  Sort of Platonic.    

Likewise, GOP County Chairman Alex Arshinkoff sharply responds to talk that he might be aiding and abetting the current effort to overthrow the mayor.  "I'm not in it!  I kind of look at it with amusement.  We're thrilled that two Democratic factions (Mendenhall is a Democrat) are tearing each other apart."  Alex did confirm that the Mendenhall forces asked the GOP  to contribute campaign cash. But he said he denied their request.  

All of this will go on for awhile. Let's hope there will be some time left for other pressing matters in the city working through a serious recession.  Maybe a word or two about jobs, foreclosures,  and the growing pressure on the Akron food bank.  I doubt that you will hear a word about any of this from the recall forces until the issue is finally settled.    

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

State Senate race: Still thinnish broth

THEY'RE BEGINNING to stir up the thinnish  broth for the race to fill the 27th District Ohio Senate seat that's opening up with the forthcoming departure of term-limited Republican Kevin Coughlin.  So far, only Democratic County Councilman Frank Comunale has declared (unofficially to me)  his candidacy.  And despite what you may have read in comments to this blog, the GOP field is wide open.  The only name mentioned as a possible candidate is Frank LaRose, Jr., a scion of the House of LaRose family, owner of the  big  wine & beer distributorship in Northern Ohio

Although Summit County Republican chairman Alex Arshinkoff  believes LaRose would have some ballot appeal as a young Marine back from Middle East conflicts, he also cautions that the book is still wide open with several other "potential candidates" still in the mix.  That would include a Hudson industrialist who might run in the Republican District.

Although Arshinkoff doesn't precisely say so, the biggest determining factor will be, who can put up the cash for his or  her own race. Some of the  big Republican business and corporate contributors  are retreating from heavy commitments to any candidate.   "It's all the  bigger challenge to our party," he says, "because we're not in power anymore.    The other guys are running things at the state and national level. Today we have people who used to have $90 million, but only have $9 million now  because of the market and they don't think they're rich."  

Arshinkoff used to have the reputation as one of the state's most successful fund-raisers   but that's ancient history in today's economy.  Apparently the state Republican hierarchy is feeling the pressure on its treasury, too, during the Obama Era and is pressing the party's county chairmen to find new  mother lodes  to help its state and legislative candidates.  

That's not likely to happen unless the GOP starts minting it own cash to bail out its candidates. Or maybe arranging a loan from Limbaugh. .    

AIG: No Rush(bo) to judgment

MY LATEST  Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL)  award goes to Rush Limbaugh,  who is arguing in favor of AIG bonuses.  Let him speak: 
"Let me tell you something, folks.  I am all for the AIG bailouts, and I am all for the AIG bonuses.  Well, I'm  not for the bailouts, well, in a way I'm for the bailouts because I'm for the bonuses."

(P.S:  Rush says most of his extraordinary insurance policies are with AIG and it would be a"hassle" for him personally if AIG went bankrupt.)     

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cedar Lee South? We can hope

THERE'S A MOVE afoot to possibly revive  the vacated AMC theatre on West Market Street  with a new Cedar Lee Theatre - the popular art movie house  up north - but it's still a glimmer for the owners of the Bath Twp. shopping strip, site of the AMC.   "We've been considering it," says Herb Newman, a co-owner with Bob Stark.   "And we haven't ruled it out.  It would  be great if it happens."

You bet.  For years Akron area art movie buffs have been hoping for a place to see the movies that don't play the mainstream theatres.  Other ventures in the busy AMC West Side neighborhood have proven successful.  The live transmissions of the Metropolitan Opera at the Regal Theatre down the road from the AMC have drawn quite well.  (I know,  as I watch some of the latecomers hunt for seats before the program begins.)

Cedar Lee South?  I like the sound of it.  Let's hope that it happens.              

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A convenient delete button...

NOW THAT  I've been at this blog for more than six months, I've been reminded that there are some critics around - not all critics - who  are so incoherently  incapable of expressing their dissent that they roll out every vulgarity that they learned in some alley.  So from time to time I have deleted their comments to prevent them from further libeling their own childish behavior.

Not that I am thin-skinned.  Anyone who has written several thousand newspaper and magazine articles can expect to be criticized.  I have no problem with that.  I do, however, reject "cute" assaults on race and gender regarding others, as well as the limited vocabulary of fools who attack with X-rated comments about something I've written.    For them, I suggest  that they get their kicks instead by reading bathroom walls.  So here's the deal:  If your comments are covered with slime, find another venue.  On this blog, such messages will be recorded with one perfectly useful word:  DELETED.     

Friday, March 13, 2009

Frank Comunale, Ohio Senate candidate

YOU CAN expect an an official announcement soon from Democrat Frank Comunale that he will be a candidate for the Ohio Senate seat  now held by Republican Kevin Coughlin, a term-limit victim.  Comunale is a Summit County Councilman and will be running in the 27th Senate District that gerrymandering has well-protected the Republican interests.  "It's a daunting task," Comunale told me, saying he is currently going about the business of raising money for  the campaign.  One look at the 27th reveals a district that looks much like a Rorschack Test defined by a bunch of tipsy legislators on New Year's Eve.  Although it is heavily centered in Summit county, it also has a gaping  jagged gulf  in the middle left to Portage County, thereby eliminating a lot of Akron Democratic voters.  The last word from Republican chairman Alex Arshinkoff is that the party is looking  at several potential candidates.  

Mendenhall's spring offensive begins

WARNER MENDENHALL has begun his spring offensive against Mayor Plusquellic  so I would alert you to be prepared for round-the-clock shelling from his recall regiment.  Recorded phone messages.  Neighborhood blitzes. Petitions circulating like the wind-blown leaflets dropped from World War II bombers. Ahhh...Democracy in action.  Or is it demagoguery in action by an overreaching politician who would have you believe that he isn't a politician at all but rather a savior of all that should be pure and good in his city of Akron. 

He has been planning this 15 minutes of narcissism for several years, I'd guess, and the moment has arrived to bring the Plusquellic administration to its knees.   Although the inquisition  boasts of many Plusquellic sins, the one that stands out  as pure sophistry is that the mayor has been recklessly sending taxpayers dollars on out-of-town trips hither and yon, the last being a visit to the White House with many other city mayors to engage the President's attention on the need for stimulus dollars.   Or his earlier travels  as the head of the national conference of mayors , a distinction not only for Plusquellic but for the city itself.

Excuse me.  Wasteful spending?    If Mendenhall's campaign  goes the full route with a special election and all that follows, it would be a fair guess that the taxpayers'  bill for wasteful spending will be greater than what Plusquellic has spent on his travels.  Besides, with apologies to the poet John Donne, "no city is an island".  Any mayor is not only in charge of filling potholes and snow clearance but also in representing his or her city at the state and national level.  That has been, for all the world to see, one of his strengths.  He does it well. 

As one who spent many days and weeks on round- the-clock reporting of the recall campaign against then Cleveland mayor Dennis Kucinich (which he narrowly survived ), I can assure there are never any winners in these spectacles. The pace of governing slowed  considerably as the Kucinich administration was distracted  by the expenditure of time, energy and treasury , not to mention the newspaper headlines.   And I would challenge anyone to point out any great strides the city has taken in progressive management since Kucinich left office.  

Unfortunately, when these rare spectacles arise they usually have less to do with improving the welfare of the entire community but are rather a scheme by relatively few people inciting enough voters to achieve the ends of those few.    At the core, Mendenhall for mayor.  Seems that way these days, doesn't it?  


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Maher vs. Coulter: Box-office ideologies

HAVE YOU been following the reports on the series of staged debates between two otherwise cordial drinking buddies: Ann Coulter and  Bill Maher?   They are pitted in forensic combat as the gingham dog and calico cat  of the nation's ideological wars.  But anyone interested in such political nonsense was asked to pay pre-recession prices of $38 to $200 per ticket for the three left-right encounters this week in the Wang Theatre in New York.  (The series was pretentiously named "The Minds That Moved the World" although at this distance I feel terribly stationary by an artificially inseminated "news" event.  What they don't think of these days!

It was only natural for some of us to immediately invoke the historical gravity  of the seven Lincoln-Douglas senatorial campaign debates that expressed their profound and nation-wrenching differences on slavery.   Fortunately, neither Coulter nor Maher, comedians on different pages, has announced any interest in running for the U.S.  Senate.  We can only hope they never will.

This latest venture into rhetorical survival is, of course, box-office puffery.  By now, anybody with a wisp of interest in politics already knows where Coulter and Maher come down on the issues without an expensive  front-row theatre seat.  Besides, Maher has often said that he likes Coulter and that (Heavens!) they are good friends. I'm sure the feeling is mutual and the beer was especially refreshing after  the show.

But this is only the beginning of the little side shows  by the sponsors, aptly Madison Square Garden Entertainment.   Next up is James Carville vs. Karl Rove, May 27,  with Charlie Rose as the ringmaster.    Or Arianna Huffington vs. Tucker Carlson,  April  1.   

I think we're being hustled, folks,  and will say no more unless we find out that Maher proposed to Coulter over a glass of Guinness.   But I'm jaded.  I get my kicks from pro football  and will leave the media wrestlers to their own transparent show-biz schemes.  Maybe an Australian tag-team match with Limbaugh,  O'Reilly or Matthews  pawing in  the corners?   

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cleveland's absence of dark matter

THERE WAS A picture in the Plain Dealer of the remarkable altar of  St. Casimir Church in Cleveland.  It is characteristic of the wonderfully ornate altars of churches, large and small, of Europe.  Although I am not a churchgoer, I have eagerly sought them out, from Notre Dame in Paris to the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, Italy,  to pay homage to the sweeping architectural and spiritual genius that created these Old World buildings.  

For whatever your interest, you should take a good long look at them in Cleveland.  They might not be around for many more years.   St. Casimir's prominence in the PD this week was the result of a Page One death-watch story  headlined: Nationality parishes fight for survival in Cleveland. 

No city has been more possessive of its ethnic enclaves, all with their parish churches and their own native languages newspapers, that, at their peak, Balkanized the city into a mosaic of rivalries that arguably contributed to its rancorous political stress.  I recall how the late-Mayor Ralph Perk responded during his reelection campaign when I told him that his opponent, Dennis Kucinich, was casting himself as the city's "ethnic mayor".  Perk's expression darkened.  "He did, did he?  Well let me tell you:  There are ethnic mayors, and there are ethnic mayors."  Later, we whizzed along the expressway to a Lithuanian ball where Perk briskly entered the hall to be introduced to the throng as "Our ethnic mayor."  (C0me Election Day, the other ethnic mayor won.)

The demographics were further complicated by the Cuyahoga River that sliced through the city's midsection, separating whites and blacks. Communication between East Side and West Side, as well as the white nationality neighborhoods on the southeast side,  was never very good,  to say the least.  The city stumbled on many counts and nowhere were the rivalries more pronounced than within the  Democratic Party that  dominated the city. Even so,  the party became the touchstone of success - patronage , sly  deals, the glories of political favors that left just enough on the side for the minority Republicans to keep them in their place. The system rewarded the city across the state, providing Ohio over the past half-century with two governors (Celeste, Voinovich) and three U.S. senators (Metzenbaum, Lausche and Voinovich). It also elected the first African-American mayor (Carl Stokes) of a major American city.

So rich in political power was the city that Tom Vail, the top man at the Plain Dealer once thought it would be only proper if the Statehouse were moved to Cleveland.  Not to be outdone, Louis Seltzer, who headed a newspaper empire of Scripps-Howard papers in Ohio as well as a statewide news service for his and  other papers,  saw to it that Jim Rhodes would be elected governor.  Seltzer enjoyed his role of king-maker. 

But everything in Cleveland has come at a big price, often strangling any hope of progressive leadership, if only quasi-leadership.  There has even been a striking kinship between the front offices at city hall and the Cleveland Browns, each regularly trading in a mayor or coach without evidence of  benefits as the residents flee to higher ground beyond the city limits. .   The Plain Dealer has been whiplashing a couple of top Democrats and alleged beneficiaries of the political pot for corruption, but it may be a while, if ever, that anything comes of it. The city's bankrupt school system was handed off to state control in the 90s and later the mayor with recriminations against whatever school board was in place.   The county's Board of Elections had been put under administrative oversight by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner after a series of breakdowns.

Now, a proposal to build  a medical mart and convention center on the site of the old one has been kicked around by several interested parties, and may finally find daylight  in the hands of the county who would co-manage the $425 million project with Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.  Still, nothing is  ever certain in these squabbles.  

The city remains in distress, and what it doesn't need but is getting  - its share of recession-itus as population and jobs continue to shrink.   

Back to St. Casimir Church on the East side  - one of the city's 51 parishes of the Catholic diocese - and its vanishing numbers.  On the day the PD reporter visited the Polish mass, only 50 parishioners turned up in a church "that could hold a thousand." .  As I  noted earlier,  if you go there, take some good pictures to show to your grandchildren as an historical chapter on the city on the lake. 

In the same edition with the St. Casimir story,  John Mangels, the PD's science writer  offered a  first -rate  piece on the search for clues to something called "dark matter" in the universe in advance of  a workshop on the subject later this week.  Why should anybody care about this mysterious force that has yet to be visually detected by scientists?  The reason, Mangels explains, "is that dark matter is the glue that holds the  cosmos together."

Unfortunately, its binding effects have been of little help in pulling Cleveland together as a briskly functioning city.                                      


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Count 'em, John. Here are 25.

I'VE DECIDED to send Rep. John Boehner my old Mickey Mouse watch.  It doesn't keep good time anymore, but Boehner's timing is even worse.  Taking another shot, sinister-looking expression and all, at President Obama's stimulus plan, Boehner blurted that the plan will not provide a single job.  Not one.  Not half a one.  Trouble with his timing is that while he was advancing his no-jobs economic theory, Obama was standing with 25 new police recruits in Columbus, Oh. -  law enforcement  graduates who would have drawn an employment blank had they not been hired with stimulus money.  Sorry, congressman. Between what I heard from you, and what I saw with the new cops on TV, I'll go along with Obama.  Besides, I've never been any good at cognitive dissonance.  

Saturday, March 7, 2009

How to create the living dead

I WONDER HOW much better off we would all be today  if some people had been more concerned about the death toll in Iraq as they are in fussing over the death of a couple of living Americans.  First. Sen. Jim Bunning, the goofy Kentucky Republican who is the tormentor of his own party these days, predicted that  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg would be dead in 90 days; and now Rush Limbaugh has referred to President Obama's promise to reform America's health-care system as the "Kennedy memorial"  scheme for cancer-stricken Sen. Ted Kennedy, to which we would look to the U.S.  Army's special legal counsel during the McCarthy hearings for an appropriate response.  Sizzling with quiet indignation over Joe McCarthy's attacks on certain individuals As Commies, Joe Welch scorched the  Wisconsin red-baiting senator:
"Have you  no sense of decency, at long last?  Have you left no sense of decency?"

Keep those words in mind.  I'm sure there will be many more opportunities from the GOP's Great White Whale to recall them.)  

Friday, March 6, 2009

Wamp vs. Brown: No contest

AS PRESIDENT OBAMA'S  health-care initiative gets banged around in Congress , as you know it will, it was good  to hear Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown's put-down of Rep. Zack Wamp, the Tennessee Republican who got all tangled up in his own words on whether health care was a right or a privilege.

The blog Think Progress picked up  this exchange from MSNBC:
WAMP:  Listen, health care a privilege...

MSNBC: Well, it's a privilege? Health Care? I mean if you have cancer right now, do you see it as a privilege to get treatment?

WAMP: I was just about to say, for some people it's a right.  But for everyone, frankly it's not necessarily a right. .    

Wamp went on to claim that many Americans are uninsured by choice because they "rejected" the insurance plan offered by their employers.  Asked to respond to Wamp, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Oh) remarked "Well, my reaction is that it was said by somebody who has a really good health insurance plan as a member of the House of Representatives.  More importantly than that,  [health care] is a right in this country." 
A couple of problems here, the guy Tennessee should know:  The millions of people who have lost their jobs do not have the option to reject a health insurance plan from a non-existent employer.

And to those senators and congressmen who will be in the trenches to oppose a sweeping health care reform, Brown  again touched a nerve by referring to the relatively inexpensive benefits that congressmen enjoy  to keep them healthy  so that they, like Wamp, can fight another day.

Just a few  (rights or privileges? ):

They are covered by the Federal Employes Health Benefits Program.   I'll let you decide how the plan  made it through an always vigilant Congress:

THERE are no preconditions for senators or representatives  for immediate health insurance coverage.  Indeed, you can sign up for it  just before the death rattle.

The government will pay for up to 75 pct. of your premiums! 

You will have your own pharmacy on Capitol Hill, with your own doctors and other medical services.   

Etc.etc. etc.

I think of this when guys like Wamp and his brethren make  fools of themselves in broad daylight.  It's healthy that Sherrod Brown provided us with a second opinion.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Great White Whale: The movie


AHAB IRONS is seated in his new job as chairman of the National Reprisal Party full of charm and vigor.  He is the party's first high-ranking Reprisal minority leader since the days of Sen. Ed Brooke.  He is rightfully alarmed that the NRP was decisively beaten in the past presidential election and vows he will be in the vanguard of  leading lamentable Reprisers out of the wilderness with a firm commitment to returning it to the inalieanable truths from which the party has strayed. 

Overjoyed with his command post, Irons promises he will work to expand the party's base, lower taxes on such items as tea imports from China and, most of all, establish a safety net for falling moral values that have been sinfully neglected by the successful opposition party.  Can he accomplish this tall order?  "Yes, I can," he boasts with a cue from his opponents.  

He is invited to speak to the National Conference of Continental Conservatives - the fractional sector of the national electorate.  But he is virtually ignored by the national media as well as his own audience despite his avowed dedication to party ideals, ideas and incidental initiatives. He is further embarrassed  by the convention's rousing welcome to its keynote speaker, Rash Rouserbomb, the NRP's Great White Whale who is more familiarly known back on the plantation precincts as  "Big Moby D".  

Rouserbomb ambles to a shaky podium  and tidally lashes his inundated victims with a stunning oration orchestrated with much  bobbing and weaving on a custom-made titanium pogo stick that could support the launching of a battleship.  He flaps his arms fin-like in a way that energizes everyone in the hall with his unique profile as the party's powerful  Great White Whale even though he has recycled his words thousands of times in various venues. Throughout the hall, delirious disciples cry out, "Moby D.!  Moby D!!!" as he contains a satisfied smile.  He has made great waves for a party at sea.

Ahab returns to his office in a foul mood.  Facing a TV camera, he insists it is he, and not Rouserbomb, who is the party's chairman.  This whale,  he asserts acidly, is nothing more than a big fish in a small aquarium.   When the word gets to the Great White Whale he spouts as he never has before, demanding immediate satisfaction from Ahab.  Apologize, or else!  Realizing the massive political error of his ways, Ahab has no choice but to kneel abjectly before Moby D now that he has been reduced to party chairman emeritus. 

Exploiting his unprecedented  promotion as chairman without portfolio, his ego as high as his spout, the Great White Whale   decides to strike quickly with the most arrogent request in political history: He challenges a U.S. president to a one-on-one debate, a brash move that even Putin wouldn't dare suggest.   Other members of the NRP take a more discretionary course and blame the chairmanship controversy on the Democrats, who have been  keeping the popcorn industry in business as spectators to the show.  Some in Ahab Irons' party  take the spectacle a step further and warn Ahab to control his tongue or he will be out of work pronto. As one party official said: "Ahab Irons has been taught an important lesson.  If he wants to remain in the NRP, he'll never again be so uppity."   

And now, a message from history?

NOW THAT "SOCIALISM" has become the hottest buzzword of the masters on the political right,  it  seems we're not more than a step or two away from setting up a politburo on Pennsylvania Ave.  Granted the USSR was our post-war enemy as a tightly-controlled Communist enterprise while Nazi Germany was our enemy as the National Socialist party - powerful rivals in WWII - little distinction is mentioned today between the ideologies.  Indeed, right-wing Fox hosts like Glenn Beck are trying to engage a wider viewing audience with blurring  references to "comrade" and talk  of "revolution"- on the horizon.  He sees no difference between Democrats and Communists.  Or did he mean socialists?  Or whatever.

We are regressing to the nutty mean-spirited days of the  ,'5os,  '60s and early '7os  when Joe McCarthy, a dangerous Republican senator from Wisconsin, and the John Birch Society, among others, took wide liberties in destroying the reputations of individuals.  Fearful university professors defensively made references to Karl Marx in their philosophy classes.    Ohio State University barred suspected Communist speakers from the campus with a ridiculous Speakers Rule.   Americans were challenged on whether it would be better to be dead than red.  President Eisenhower was commonly called a "comsymp."  Books were stripped from libraries.  

A particularly glaring  example of how the Radical Right schemes worked drove  an all-American guy from his job at Miami Trace High School in Ohio.  A few details:  Dan O'Brien was an ex-Marine, Korean War veteran and football coach who sinned by defending the United Nations.  Anonymous hate-mail campaigns and various other pressures on the family prompted O'Brien to finally quit his job and spare his wife and children  of further despair. It is one of the ugliest stories in Buckeye history.

All the while, Sen. Frank Lausche was trying to salvage his primary campaign against John Gilligan in speeches to small-town audiences warning that unnamed Communists were freely  operating in the federal government.  (When I asked him to name one, he flared with nasty shouts and left the room, my question still unanswered.)  History will show that he lost the election anyway. 

That is the upside of today's Radical Right attempts to scare us with  rants about socialism and the ogre of a totalitarian Barack Obama, a mere couple of months into a four-year term.  The Rush Limbaughs and  Glenn Becks  of an earlier generation lost decisively.  Is there anything to be learned from history for the current crop of air-wave comedians?     

Monday, March 2, 2009

As the Columbus Dispatch goes, so goes...

THE ANNOUNCEMENT by the Columbus Dispatch, once the powerful lord of the manor in Central Ohio, that it is eliminating 45 more news room jobs is further evidence of the burrowing decline of America's newspapers. But as one with fond memories of my own fortunate days in the business, I find nothing to cheer about in the pools of blood forming under the print media's computers.  

Like most other eulogizers for departing staffers, the Dispatch's publisher and CEO,  John F. Wolfe, said the cutbacks were unavoidable but that the smaller staff would remain committed to serving its readers with "compelling" articles that were "relevant" and "accurate."  Though I don't doubt his sincerity, the fact remains that it will be a much smaller newspaper that cannot do what it could do with 45 more news room staffers.  Or the many more who had earlier accepted buyouts.  The math will support nothing more than a less inclusive mini-version of the old  Dispatch.   You imagine it being like the  the new box of cereal that has a  big empty space between the box top and the actual cereal.  

There was a time that the Wolfe family dominated the Buckeye capital with its presses running across the street from the Statehouse, and with  its bank ownership and reach for influence wherever it could enhance the value of its many lucrative enterprises.  Conservative to the bone, the paper showed little patience with  those who might think otherwise.  As the editor of a small liberal magazine just down the street from the "Big D" I felt its sting from time to time - and stung back.  But in recent years, for whatever reason, it became a less ideological and more journalistically respected newspaper. And now this.  I can't believe that it's happened to one of Ohio's biggest news institutions (owned TV, too) and that I don't feel very good about  seeing  a wounded giant in my old profession. .

But the thinning of the ranks, as well as advertising revenues, is claiming so many victims that it really isn't fresh news anymore, except maybe to people like me who went from typewriters through several generations of computers, to the one that I'm writing on at this moment.

The industry is, at best, on one leg. The Rocky Mountain News, which had been around for about 150 years, just folded.  The Detroit News is preparing to home-deliver just 3 days a week.  The Chicago Sun-Times  is trading at a nickel a share.  

The Age of the Internet and bloggers, of which I contribute what I can, is said to be the culprit in league with a rotten national economy (and some awful corporate decisions within the industry).  But as daily newspapers shrink, so will the attention given to the mischief  in their towns, states and nation - political, corporate, institutional etc. - that would require weeks and months of digging.  Unfortunately it will be a free pass for anyone who would no longer be  stalked by a nosy reporter or two.  I'm sure some of that may be  true today as reporters are pulled back from the suburbs or the Statehouses   and Capitol Hill. But how do we really know?

As reporters  become more engrossed in the permanence of their own jobs, and watch their stories published in once- competitive papers through mutual agreements, the vital  sense of competition  vanishes.  What will it matter if, say,  the Plain Dealer beats you on a lively story inasmuch you can either print their account word for word, with full attribution, or wait an extra day and publish your own?  To homogenize milk is one thing. To apply it to newspapers will have no more than temporary  benefits. 

A staggering industry is losing its edge.  Readers will get less for their money, and as they do, they will be less inclined to put up the money.  The familiar reader complaint in the past was that newspapers don't print enough good news.  Sorry, folks.  There isn't any in this business.    


When mediocrity makes lawyers rich

 MANY YEARS AGO I clipped a quotation from some publication and pasted it in my telephone/address book.  Rereading it today, I've  decided to share it in light of the worsening economy:
       "There are more pompous, arrogant, self-centered, mediocre-type people running corporate America who should be sent on some postal route delivering mail.  I know - their judgments and misjudgments have made me rich."
        ---------Joseph D. Jamail Jr.., lawyer representing Pennzoil Company, who won a $10.5 billion judgment against Texaco Inc., which a jury found had improperly persuaded Getty Oil Company to renege on a Pennzoil merger.  

Sunday, March 1, 2009

CPAC ordains Limbaugh as GOP leader

NOW THAT THE CPAC revelers have scattered from their gleeful Maypole dance around the living shrine of Rush Limbaugh, can we now all agree that Rush is standing taller (and ever wider) as the soul of the  Republican Party as well as its loudest voice?   It is the commanding role  that he has won by default in the absence of any other GOP captive with the slightest presence as a leader.  Limbaugh is unchallenged. To those who say the crowd who populated the Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C. doesn't truly represent the Republican Party, anyone taking attendance would  soon conclude that the speakers included the party's First Team,  such as it is.  There was even an effort to make it look like a legitimate party by releasing a CPAC straw poll of the potential 2012 presidential candidates (The four-year campaign is well underway!)  that was meaningless, although Mitt Romney, who led the pack with 20 pct., is doubtless stowing it for further political benefit.  

Still the tone was set with the slashing hard-right posters.  I saw a few on the conference slide show. Two examples:        
   I love animals.  They're delicious.
   Evolution is science fiction. 
Standard weird stuff from the wingnuts.

What isn't standard is the adoration of  a carnival hustler as glibly tasteless as R.L. to speak for a national (?) political party fumbling around in the South.  To repeat, who in good conscience could salute a person who has ridiculed Parkinson's Diesase,  who has called upon the troops back in his armory to wish for President Obama's failure, who escaped serious drug charges that might  have sent others to prison, who escaped military service because of a cyst on his tailbone (full disclosure:  I had a bad one, but the military doctors told me, shucks, they'd take care of it after  I was in uniform.)  

He has lived a shameful life.  And now what's left of the Republican Party shamefully  looks to him for supreme guidance.