Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Banks and Wall St: Reach for your piggy banks

THE CLOSING DAYS of the year have prompted financial advisors to call me for a "review" of our inertial investments. They, of course, wanted to lead me in a positive direction with cheery "maybe-we-can-upgrade" them . To what? I asked with a snarl, as if I hadn't heard it all before. Besides, how is one to react after all of the things that have gone into the tank for people like you and me with the experts in charge of our accounts.

I've also been getting written notices advising me of all of the changes taking place in the accounts in the new year. One of them from my bank folds out to nearly 19 inches of tiny print, which should immediately prepare you for the worst. To assist the confused reader, it should have at least been bundled with CliffsNotes. In bold face it declares:
Their odd insertion of a lower case "notice" was fair warning that it was written by the same kind of person who once sent me impenetrable Air Force orders with jargon that I never fully understood other than I had to report to such- and-such base at such-and-such time.

I did notice that the term "Credit Card" appeared more often than "savings account", which was comforting in that they weren't looking to me to help pay for Wall Street bonuses under their concept of the blessed free enterprise system. But I did take a stab at one of the paragraphs:
Finance Charges: If not already the case, your APR will be a variable rate calculated by adding 21.74% to the value of an index and will have a minimum and maximum of 24.99% . As of October 1, 2009 the APR is 24.99%. As of July 1, 2010, the maximum amount (cap) will be removed.
You could stop trying to decode the bank's 19" directive right there. What they want you to know in layman's terms is that the interest rate on your credit card is going up. And up. And up.
At the same time, the interest paid to me on my savings account and CDs is virtually invisible.

I also have been hearing from the folks who handle a portion of my securities . They sent me a flier that was reassuring. It said things like:
The team of financial advisors...strives to maintain current records of your investment experience and objectives. To this end please provide your...advisory team with any information that might assist them in determining your risk tolerance, financial circumstances and investment objectives.
Investment objectives?

When an advisor called me I told him explicitly what my investment objective was for my last remaining fail-safe mutual fund that has been mired in red ink for more than two years.

"SELL IT!" I barked.


"As we speak".


"As we speak!"
I had been telling my experts for more than two years that Wall Street couldn't care less about the little guys in the market. The big guys have proved it time and again that your money and mine was strictly a way for them to pocket the profits.

As Arianna Huffington wrote the other day:
The big banks on Wall Street, propped up by taxpayer money and government guarantees, had a record year, making record profits while returning to the highly leverage activities that brought our ecoomy to the brink of disaster. In a slap in the face of taxpayers, they have also cut back on the money they are lending....But since April, the Big Four banks - JP Morgan/Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and ells Fargo - all of which took billions in taxpayer money, have cut lending to buinesses by $100 billion."
The check for the sale of the my mutual fund arrived a couple of days ago. Against the advice of any financial advisor, I stuck it into the purgatory of a savings account. At least I know it will be safe there. How's that for a financial objective?


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Bush's brain", is so troubled

KARL ROVE, the so-called "Bush's brain," went back up to Fox's robotic news spinner, to say that he was "troubled" by the Obama administration's response to the terrorist who wanted to blow up the plane from Europe. You sort of expect his repeated tongue-stomping to get attention. But if he took a single breath, he might recall who was president when they were crashing jets into buildings on 9/11, now that it has been established that his team from the Oval office ignored all warnings.

Steele and Kasich: A lucrative sideline

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL Committee chairman Michael Steele and Ohio GOP gubernatorial candidate John Kasich have found that their political roles can pay off in more ways than one. In less polite society it's known as gaming the system. The word has now gotten out, like those 22 million missing e-mails, that they are frequently invited to share their beliefs in lofty Republican values with audiences across the land. In return, they are personally being paid thousands of dollars by their hosts. And their money-making sideline appears to be more than crass with former RNC chairmen.

Hissed the conservative Washington Times: "Michael S. Steele, Republican National Committee chairman , is using his title to market himself for paid appearances nationwide, personally profiting from speeches with fees of up to $20,000 at colleges, trade associations and other groups - an unusual practice criticized by a string of previous chairmen."

I should say so. However, if you're one to keep score, it does seem that the University of Akron snared a bargain when it paid Steele only $12,000 for his public speech in E.J. Thomas Hall on Oct. 15. Having sat through his schtick at the time, I would have have moved his fee four or five decimal points to the left.

If Kasich was paying attention to the Steele System of rhetorical punishment and rewards, he must have been a quick study. Indeed, he prefers the Cadillac version of fees, doubling what Steele feels is an honorable charge for a service call to corporate business groups and friendly associations, regardless of the oddity of speaking in states like Nevada, Illinois and Minnesota where there aren't likely to be any Buckeye voters. But a Wall Streeter to the core, he's finding it's not that difficult to charge whatever the traffic will bear.

Meantime, Columbus Dispatch columnist Joe Hallett pointed out, Kasich "hid in the weeds" during the attempts to resolve the state's budget crises, except to "deplore the tax increase." Way back in June, Kasich bobbed at the Cleveland City Club when asked for his views on fixing the budget, insisting: "I'm not messing with that...It isn't my job now to be micromanaging the process." He's lucky. Gov. Strickland, with help from legislative Republicans, fixed it without him.

Is Kasich serious about being a governor? Or are all of those out-of-state fees too generous for him to change his mind?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A nod to the cast of 2009

WELL, THE GOOD NEWS is that we've managed to get through 2009 without South Carolina, Texas and Alaska seceding. The bad news is that 2010 will give them another whole year to think about it. So may we assume that Ft. Sumter and Myrtle Beach vacations are safe for another year? The outlook for these states, particularly Texas, is hazy at best. As George Bush proved not long ago, we are never that safe from Lone Star politicians. Sorry, but I never know what to think of Alaska.

There are other matters working in behalf of national sanity. The political scene in South Carolina is in such disarray that its leaders won't have much time to think about checking out. Sen. Lindsey Graham has his hands full with the Republicans in his county who censured him after accusing him of being too "relevant". Gov. Sanford will be too busy trying to figure how many of his shadowy trips to Argentina can be converted into tax write-offs as official therapeutic business. And Rep. Joe Wilson must be so self-satisfied that he has already seceded on his own. By adding "You lie!" to Bartlett's Quotations he has at least matched Socrates' "Know thyself" for profound brevity.

Meantime, secession-leaning Gov. Rick Perry of Texas may have to revive the spirit of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston to head off a serious challenge to his day job by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican primary. Both candidates are tightly identified with prayerful guidance, so Perry may have to depend on troops on the ground for this one.

The year nearly succeeded in ending without Sen. Joe Lieberman charging up to Fox News to declare his impatience with Yemen. But on the last Sunday of the year - what perfect timing! - he virtually declared war on Yemen without consulting President Obama or Congress. The befuddled Connecticut senator, who never served a day in military service, is one of Capitol Hill's super-chickenhawks with a sliding-scale identity depending on the moment.

The year produced something new in political slang - tea parties, which had little to do with tea nor partying. Polls told us that a majority of Republicans believed (1)Palin should be president (2)climate change was a liberal red herring and (3) that Obama could very well have been born in an African tree. They wanted the rest of us to believe that socialism was at our front door when in fact, if they had been paying any attention, they would have known that there have been many "socialistic" programs around for nearly a century. It has been with certain irony that one of the biggest but not brightest congresswomen, Michele Bachmann, has received more than $250,000 in farm subsidy handouts while she has been bad-mouthing socialism and various federal excesses.

Fortunately we saw less and less of the losers: Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, (who has declared that he isn't running for anything this year) and Mike Huckabee, who still manages to front for Sheriff Andy Griffith. On the other hand, Newt Gingrich continues to rise from the ashes and has even threatened us with running for president in 2012. It was a good year for Rush Limbaugh, who became familiarly known as the head of the Republican Party, and Glenn Beck, who is so wacky that he is more to be pitied than censured.

And the Republicans in Congress continued to play the role of the Petrified Forest, anchored to their waist in their opposition to health care reform whle supporting death panels, death taxes and death notices for their opponents, as did Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Curiously, they scored an approval rating of 23 pct. in the latest public survey. They, more than anything else, could save the Democratic Party in 2010 from self-destructing.

It was a tough year for Obama, who spent too much time trying to be neighborly to the R's, and an enomously profitable year for Wall Street, which spent the entire year being generous to its bonus-enriched self.

On the more diversionary side there was the emergence of new terms and words such as the Balloon Boy, Octomom and Twitter, which I still haven't figured out and probably won't.

Lastly, our "Persons of the Year" award goes to the upbeat hard-working Washington lobbyists whose numbers represented a growth industry despite lousy national employment figures for the year. According to the Harper's Index, drug company lobbyists outnumbered congressmen, 2-1. Health-care companies spent an average of $1.5 million daily to influence congressmen. What other group so generously contributed more to the economy?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Health care reform: halfway home

WELL, THE SENATE finally passed the damn thing. It wasn't easy, nor perfect, given the opposition from a handful of Democrats and all of those politically correct core-value Republicans ambling around the halls of congress on their knuckles, snorting that the end of the world was near.

This was the disloyal opposition at its worst, from the racket of "death panels" to Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn's unspeakable appeal to Americans to pray that someone would not show up for a vote to block a Republican filibuster. It didn't take a second or two to realize that he was tallking about Sen. Robert Byrd, the ancient and infirm Democrat, to either lapse into a deep coma or pass 0n to wherever Democrats go when they die. (As the talks now move to the House, the Coburn Prayer will still be on the table if and when an accord is reached to pass the bill.) I wonder when a U.S. senator last prayerfully called for a colleague's absence. Fortunately his avenging angels decided to sit this one out.

The nearly year-long debate was a made-for-TV (and cable) extravaganza in which fiction far overwhelmed fact. It was often played out by role-players who saw little reason to speak in behalf of rational differences. If you are looking for an explanation of how so much of this got out of hand, remember there is no better way to secure your 15 minutes of fame than to to sit in front of a TV camera arguing that health care reform doesn't necessarily turn on its axis and could easily knock the whole planet out of whack.

I couldn't resist thinking of Dick Cheney, recently applauded by the ultra right-wing Human Events, as the conservative of the year. The guy has been on the prowl for most of this decade with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator(ICD) that regulates the heartbeat - a device that the doctors figured might extend his life after his four heart attacks and a quadruple bypass. The total cost of his medical bill was reported to be nearly $3 million. But even pampered penny pinching vice presidents have a right to stay alive. One of his aides said his Blue Cross/Blue shield policy would likely cover all of it. Cool.

On the other hand, folks without health insurance are not vice presidents or senators.
As they say, rank has it privilege.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Christmas story on the Hill...

'TWAS THE DAY before Christmas and up on the Hill
Some creatures were stirring, still alert for a kill.

Their wallets were hung in their offices with care
In hopes that the lobbyists would soon be there.

The uninsured had frantically leaped from their beds
Wondering how they would pay for their critical meds.

They had visions of McConnell, with DeMint in his lap
And Boehner and Bachmann busily setting a trap.

But out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
That Brownback arose to pray for McConnell's great matter.

Away from the caucus they flew like a flash
Tore open some bags and looked for the cash.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow
gave the luster of K Street to those in the know.

When what to their wondering eyes should appear
But a gleaming Mercedes with eight powerful gears.

The driver was Palin , who was so lively and quick
I knew in a moment she was up to her old tricks.

More rapid than eagles her idolators they came
She shouted and winked and called them by name:

"Now, Bunning! now, Inhofe! now, Coburn! now, Steele!
it's time for all of us to seriously get real."

"To the top of the of the rostrum, to the top of wall
Now dash away, dash way, dash away all!.....

(Well, folks, it's getting late and you know how the thing ends. But if you want to add a line or two, be my guest. Besides, I don't get paid for this. GA)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

RNC's Steele flips out on flipping a bird

ALTHOUGH IT didn't seem possible that RNC Chairman Michael Steele could lower his rants to the depths of the gutter, he did exactly that with a blast at Democrats on the health care front. In a conference call with former Texas Rep. Dick Armey, who has resurrected himself as a leader of the Tea Bagger movement, Steele frothed:
"I'm tired of this congress thumbing their nose and flipping the bird at the people of this country!"
Flipping the bird? If the term eludes you, think of a middle finger raised in anger. Some Democrats as well as Republican Sen. Judd Gregg found his outburst quite distasteful. As for me, I have no choice but to award him the Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) award. For Steele, that's not the first time he walked off with a GALL - and I'm sure not the last.

Yule shopping: Blue shirts vs. Winston diamonds

THE FULL PAGE AD from a diamond merchant in today's New York Times reminded us that there were only "three days till Christmas." As if we didn't know. Despite the ugly war of attrition on Capitol Hill (Please. When will the cavalry arrive?), I am trying to be merry. I am even making allowances for all of the gushing these days over Mike Holmgren, the former football coach who now will be the BMOC of the Cleveland Browns. His pensive profile, surely inspired by Rodin's Thinker, arrived massively on the front page of the Plain Dealer today as the paper's sports columnists and editors worked hard to convince the reader of the historic significance of the moment.

Meantime, there are still those three days till Christmas to reckon with and the Times , in its snooty fashion, paraded a number of last-minute luxury gift ads from dealers with names like Ulysse Nardin, Everlon and Rolex. I was particularly taken by Harry Winston's $12,800 four-row diamond ring with the ground-level trade name of "Traffic." Honest.

I recall another time with no more than a hometown weekly that dwelled on births and deaths right up to its pre-Christmas edition. My mother made her annual shopping visit to George Saloom's little "department store" facing the World War I monument on the town square. She defined her need for a shirt for my father, deeply into the details. Only a few shirts were ever exhibited at Saloom's. So the proprietor would listen attentively, turn to the shelves behind the counter and pull out a couple of boxes that would meet her need. "We have a nice blue one and a white one in the right size," he assured my Mom with a degree a satisfaction as he removed the quarry from the boxes for closer inspection.

"I think I'll take the blue one," she said finally, aware that further shopping was not an option. "It won't show the dirt so fast. He spills things."

It was an annual transaction, to the point, with not a lot of deep thinking. Afterwards she would take me to Sam Samer's Candyland for a banana split. That makes me more cheerful already.

Monday, December 21, 2009

PolitiFact: Here's the lie of the year

PolitiFact.Com the fact-checking watchdog of the St. Petersburg Times, has reported its first "lie of the year" award in a survey of 5,000 voters: It is....death panels. The wacko term drew 61 pct. of the vote in a field of eight finalists. PolitiFact, which won a Pulitzer Prize this year for its work in exposing slippery tongues, traced the term to Sarah Palin, who stuck it in her Facebook psychobabbling. Here is how it was born:
"The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have go and stand in front of Obama's death panel so his bureaucrats can decide..."
Sarah can now claim she won something in 2009. And that's no lie.

Walter Hixson: A critical look at UA's priorities

WALTER HIXSON'S op-ed piece in Sunday's' Beacon Journal was more than a shot across the bow of the University of Akron administration. It hit the bow.

Hixson is a distinguished history professor who serves as president of the UA American Association of University Professors that is in overextended contract negotiations with the
school's front office. Some might argue that in his union role he would be expected to attack the administration for its alleged financial shortcomings. But that would merely summarily deny the validity of his criticism without giving it a wide- screen analysis.

Here are a few points in the Hixson column that should remain on the table:
The university's priorities have shifted from its self-proclaimed "landscape for learning" to a "landscape for earning". In the meantime, Hixson asserts, the new landscape "benefits a bloated administration and local contractors but no longer serves the best interests of the university to teach them."
Money budgeted for teaching and research has declined from 37 pct. in 2004 to 34 pct. in 2009. At the same time, student tuition as part of the university's income has risen from 32 pct. in 2002 to 43 pct. today. UA is also ranked near the bottom of salaries of associate and full professors - 10th and 11th among Ohio's state-supported schools.
So what do we make of this? Is UA failing as an attractive campus for educational talent that is heading somewhere else? Is it losing its competitive edge as it further engages in a massive building program on the campus rather than human talent?

As a rule, university administrations think corporately and resist responding openly to public criticism other than, at best, a canned statement from a beleaguered media information department.

Don't the points made by Hixson and other critics (yes, there are others) call for a forthcoming response from President Proenza and certainly from the Board of Trustees that has ratified the administration's initiatives ? Has the UA become top-heavy with management with vice presidents reporting to vice presidents?

Is there anyone on the board willing to take a serious look at the financial as well as image problems? Hixson's Sunday column should serve as the road map for anyone still in doubt about UA's need for accountability. After all, it is a public university.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

At this rate, the future was yesterday

HOW OPTIMISTIC can we be about the future of a nation that refuses to act decisively on its most critical domestic issues? Ho, Ho, Ho. Not very. The issues are plain to see: the raging costs of health care, global warming, the environment, education, the widening gulf between rich and poor, Wall Street - all of these and others have have created a caustic political divide that won't be bridged in this generation, nor maybe the next.

The problem is, sound doesn't travel in a vacuum. Any reasonable attempt to invite the Party of No into the mainstream of rational discussion is futile, as President Obama has finally learned the hard way. When you have a phalanx of racial, religious and broadcast crackpots barging in at every progressive idea on the table, what will change the landscape? I can't think of anything. The old concept of nation-building is now a concept of nation-razing. Is that over-the-top logic? Well, how about this: A recent poll reported that 66 pct. of Republicans say they would vote for Sarah Palin for president. That's the vacuum where sound dies.

Palin and many of her righteous rightists scoff at global warming as evidence mounts that some South Pacific islands live under the constant threat of flooding from rising sea waters. As the Arctic icecap melts, polar bears are slimmer these days as they amble about for food and safer havens. You don't have to be a friend of polar bears to realize that something quite serious is happening. The anti-warming gang sniffs that it is "junk science" when a great majority of scientists insists that an oncoming catastrophe is probable. On the other hand, even the Bible suggests the planet will not be around forever. Should we be planning for that day?

For too many politicians, the future of the planet and your grandchildren doesn't matter beyond the next election as the ascendent cash-flow lobbyists do the thinking for their political recipients. It has been shown that a fair number of senators and congressmen who oppose health-care reform are doing the bidding for their caregivers on K Street. The powerful lobbies will be the last groups standing as the planet disappears.

With few exceptions the national media that once boasted of James Reston, Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite have not only been political patsies within the prescribed ideological guidelines of their corporate owners, but also have fashioned an entirely new world of scatterbrained stars like Palin, Michele Bachmann and Joe Lieberman whose virulent mediocrity has carried them a long way on the national media dole. Bachmann, you may recall, asked her cheering throngs to cut their wrists if that's what it took to stop health care reform. This week she shouted at a D.C. rally that the anti-reform crowd had formed the charge of the light brigade. It became necessary to remind her later that the charge of the British cavalry into the Russian lines was one of the dumbest and most disastrous military decisions on record.

If there is faint hope that the we will survive all of this, maybe it will come from what Conan Doyle dismissively said of the new art of his day: "One should put one's shoulder to the door and keep out insanity all we can."

Well, it's worth a try.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The 'Joe' complex is getting to me

FOLKS, I'M getting a "Joe" complex. Mention Joe to me during this Christmas season and I cringe. I know you're not talking about Mary's husband. My complex began during the 2008 presidential campaign when John McCain used Joe the Plumber to fill in the wide gaps of his uninspired campaign. After the election, I figured that was the end of that nonsense. But now we have Joe the Zelig Lieberman. And it tells you something about the awful state of American politics today.

The current Joe is a pathetic human being who has moled way into the Democratic caucus and held it captive while he does the minority Republicans' dirty work. However, as he has continued to pull aces from his sleeve, the word has finally sunk in to the spent Good Samaritans among the Democrats that you wouldn't dare hand him a pin in the midst of gas filled birthday balloons. How can you trust a guy who spent this week condemning a Medicare expansion that he was championing 3 months ago? With his talent for bait-and-switch, he could have taken on the entire Medici family.

But now, finally, he is getting a taste of his own foul medicine. There are calls that he be recalled from office, although that is more symbolic than realistic. Connecticut does not provide for recalls. Rabbis have beseeched him to get out of the way of the health care reform bill. The Connecticut on-line news papers have riddled him with invective. Protestors have shown up to picket his home. Unkind things are being said about his wife, Hadassah. His rubbery smile has become a whimper.

His response is not surprising. He's being victimized by his enemies, he says. He's only serving his conscience. That's the Pat Robertson gambit: the evil people are victimizing Christians.

Joe doubtless knows more about what's in the Bible than I do. But I do know that somewhere it says, "As ye sow, so shall ye reap." Right, Joe? But not soon enough.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ohio Senate: Life on the lifeless track

I SELDOM WRITE about the Ohio legislature. I have found the place to be a bore. I know. Those senators and house members in Columbus shape our daily lives, from taxes to such diversions as slot machines. For their part-time labors they are well paid and receive other benefits that those of us back home seldom see. On many days they predictably sit around doing nothing at all.

As Plain Dealer columnist Tom Suddes rudely pointed out on Sunday, ignoring the minor courtesies you might expect for the near-unemployed, of the 219 bills introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate, only three made their way to the governor. And as Suddes, a veteran of seizing indolent politicians by the neck, also pointed out, they did give a hint of exhalation by forwarding to Gov. Strickland a measure to create an 18-member War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, an event still three years away. Bless 'em! It was bipartisan. That will give them a little something to write home about when the next check arrives in their $60,584 a year payday.

Meantime, the sedentary senators don't seem to be in a hurry in plugging up a desperately current $850 million hole in the state budget, creating an aching impasse that is stalled on the issue of whether to delay a tax cut for Ohioans. You'd think they are trying to resolve the issues in Cornelius Vanderbilt's will. A foolish Ohio tax cut should be a no-brainer for the GOPers to go along with Democrats who insist it would further deepen the state's budgetary woes. But Republicans are genetically wedded to such dumb considerations. And who knows? Since they are term-limited, some may even move on to Congress to advance their troubled concepts of tax math.

All of this led Beacon Journal Statehouse columnist Dennis Willard to report that there is still a lot of gravy in doing next to nothing down in Columbus. In addition to the lawmakers' base salary for a few days a week, they are entitled to huge tax deductions by various self-serving devices amounting to the efforts of living ghosts. Legislators not only get tax breaks for days they are in session but also for those in-between idle days if the legislature adjourns for four or fewer days. They also qualify for deductions on holidays and weekends.

Willard figures it's possible for a state senator to reap $55,144 in tax deductions if he or she lives outside of Columbus. That would make the tax burden akin to that of the underemployed. Depreciation will likely come next.

None of this accounting might have surfaced if the Senate had been doing what it's paid to do.
It seldom does.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Joe lit up the health-care industry's cigars Sunday

WELL, Sen . Joe Lieberman must have gone to bed quite pleased with himself Sunday night. He succeeded, as is his wont, in making headlines all over the Internet as well as the New York Times as the potential destroyer of the health care reform bill. It reaffirmed his image as the Zelig-in-Chief in the wearying months-long congressional debate, telling Senate Majority leader Harry Reid eyeball-to eyeball that the bill hasn't made enough concessions to Republicans so he will join a filibuster to stop it in his tracks. Concessions to Republicans? And Joe considers himself a deeply religious man!

The Connecticut Independent (Huh!) has become an expert at blackmailing the Democratic leadership while retaining a committee chairmanship in the Democratic caucus. My hunch is that he will continue to play this ugly role until the November 2010 election, counting on a Republican senate majority that will swab him with political gravy. Inasmuch as he's already forfeited his honor, he's got nothing worthwhile to lose.

Meantime, we are told that poor women are being denied cancer screenings in a growing number of states whose health-care funds are shrinking. In Ohio, for example, the Cancer Society reported that a $2.5 million allocation in 2008-09 for such screening has been cut to$700,000 in 2009-10. It's a brutal thought, but as the opponents of health care reform might shrug and tell you, "You just can't keep everybody from dying."

And if you woke up Monday morning with a rotten odor in the air, that was from the cigars that the folks at the insurance companies and pharmaceuticals lit up to celebrate their guy Lieberman's careful attention to their requests.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

McCain:'nice guy' turned critic

CAN WE ALL recall the noble storyline of John McCain's failed campaign to win the presidency? He cast himself as the Great Emancipator who would free the Congress of its ugly bonds of partisanship. No issue would be so divisive that he couldn't find a way to work out a consensus for the good of the nation. He offered that pledge with benign assurances, a friendly smile and a full guarantee that it would happen if he were in the Oval Office. He was a Dr. Welby with political ambition.

To express his gratitude, Obama turned up at a dinner for McCain soon after the election and declared, "There are few Americans who understand this need for common purpose and common effort better than John McCain."

The president's math was flawed. There is one fewer today. A year into the Obama presidency, McCain has become a thuggish partisan critic of the Administration's policies. POLITICO`recounted the McCain record and it referred to the shifty Arizonan as "critic-in-chief."

POLITICO WRITERS Jonathan Martin and Manu Raju observed:
"For years, McCain relished being an outsider and a maverick, a style that often led to battles with his own party's leadership. Today, for reasons that friends and McCain observers say could range from unresolved anger to concern for his right flank as he seeks re-election to genuine dismay about Obama's agenda, he is helping lead a fiery crusade of GOP loyalists against Democratic priorities - and irked some of his Democratic colleagues in the process."
He has long been known to have an explosive temper, which was carefully suppressed during the campaign. Forced sincerity didn't come easily, beginning with his robotic opening TV speech to reach out to an audience wider than his home state's Grand Canyon. Whatever corrective action his handlers took, it didn't get much better in the following months.

The problem with McCain and his Republican colleagues remains: How could a war hero POW from the ruggedly correct Southwest lose to an upstart African American from Chicago? How, indeed?

The question doubtless continues to eat at McCain in the twilight of his political career - as well as lock-stepping a Republican Party that refuses by words and deeds to recognize that historical trends are becoming far more decisive against a party wedded to white politics.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Alas, Editor & Publisher is dead!

AS A YOUNG reporter for an Indiana newspaper I sold my first freelance story to Editor & Publisher magazine for $10. For the week that my check arrived, my income had increased 14 pct. I was ecstatic. I remembered that happy moment this week with the report that E&P , the industry publication that had made its way into every newspaper office in the country, died on Thursday after more than a century of serving its ever-shrinking newspaper base. When an important industry publication turns off the lights it is another sad reflection of the growing death toll of its clients.

UA-AAUP conract talks in home stretch

UPDATE: Negotiations between the University of Akron and the AAUP on a new three-year contract may not produce an agreement by next Tuesday, when the current contract expires. "We're in intensive negotiations with a mediator and I'm hopeful," says Walter Hixson, the AAUP president at UA. But a big issue remains - faculty pay. The AAUP is seeking $6.4 million economic package spread over three years; and the UA administration is locked in on "zero zero, zero," he said, noting the the university is much less competitive with other state universities in economic benefits. The AAUP has also called for the recognition of domestic partnerships by UA - an initiative rejected by the other side on "moral grounds," says Hixson,

Without an agreement by Tuesday, the issue will go into a fact-finding phase to determine the validity of the terms sought by either side. . If there is no agreement by mid-January, look for a strike vote , Hixon says, which could lead to a disruption that neither side wants.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Have you 'we-weed' up lately?

Sarah Palin, the Neo-Webster of Wasilla, claims critics of her Op-Ed piece in the Washington P0st (in which she declared global warming was junk science) got all "we-weed" up. What the hell is that supposed to mean? I couldn't find the term in any of my dictionaries, so Sarah has broken new ground on her insightful use of the English language. Does it mean wetting one's pants? And she's running for president? That, I'd say, is reason enough to wet one's pants.

Another new GOP face on elections board

CIRCLE YOUR calendar, folks: On the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 16, the Summit County Republican Party's Executive Committee will elect a successor to Jack Morrison Jr. on the Board of Elections. It won't rank among the gravest events under way in the world, but it should be a little interesting to those who keep track of the Republican comings and goings at the board, none of them free of contention. Chairman Alex Arshinkoff says it will be a public meeting at the party headquarters at 520 South Main Street. What he isn't saying is whether he has a new board member in mind.

"My responsibility," Alex says, "is that we have a credible candidate." And the qualifications?
"The person must have a strong management background, understand the law and be active in the party."

If you connect all of those dots, we will see a business- and corporate-oriented lawyer who has always returned the party envelope with the sort of contribution that would befit a person of means. That's just a guess, but can you translate the profile any other way? I doubt that the new member will express shock that he was elected on the spot. Political business isn't conducted that way.

By the way, it should be a free ride for the Arshinkoff forces on the election of a new board member. State Sen. Kevin Coughlin, who has tormented Arshinkoff in the past, tells me there will be no effort to impede the vote. "He has a handpicked executive committee," Coughlin said of the chairman, "and we're not involved in this one."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

With Lee Fisher, he's talking experience

Lee Fisher's appearance at the Akron Press Club this week concluded the club's program series of U.S. senatorial candidates that served more as preliminaries to next May's Ohio primary election. Fisher, the Democratic lieutenant governor and former Ohio attorney general, carefully crafted a talk that, much like an experienced chess player, moved confidently from an opening gambit to a solid endgame and one didn't have to listen that attentively to know that he is marketing his governmental experience to the fullest in his encounter with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

"I've been on the ground doing the things that we've been talking about," he said, noting that he has been working as the state' economic development chief during a period of deep economic stress nationally and in Ohio. On that score, one doesn't need a high priced political guru to point to the most effective option to win the voters hearts these days: J-O-B-S. Fisher spent a good portion of his talk on the topic., voicing a number of economic initiatives he supports. For example, some relief could come from giving tax credits to the businesses capable of spurring employment, he said. And no tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.

He also sent a strong signal that the Democrats will not let anybody forget that Rob Portman, the leading Republican candidate in the field, came out of the Bush administration as the president's trade and budget director - an administration that left a mountainous economic mess. He characterized Portman as a "nice guy" who was an architect of "policies that harmed millions of workers."

On this score, Brunner, his Democratic primary opponent, will have to play catch-up to Fisher in articulating the clear differences between Democrats and Republicans in fixing the economy. Although she is running well behind Fisher in fund-raising, she is nonetheless a popular figure in the state, particularly among women voters. In her talk to the Press Club, she spoke more as an efficient Secretary of State than as a senatorial candidate. That will gain little traction as the campaign wears on.

On the Republican side, although Portman is the Republican establishment's choice , there has to be unease in that camp over the fact that Ganley, a wealthy auto dealer, is committing millions of dollars to a campaign drawing the attention of the party's right-wingers. It could sap campaign funds from Portman that would be more productive against the Democrat in the November. As they have already demonstrated, the Tea Partyers will not go quietly. It promises to be a boisterous campaign. I may find myself watching it.

Look for the opening bell to ring clearly on both sides in January, offering fewer than four months for a made-for-TV campaign. Will Sarah Palin show up for a Ganley rally. Better chance of that happening than George Bush showing up for a Portman shindig.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Palin-Lieberman dream ticket?

SARAH PALIN'S book tour in Iowa over the week end prompted her to continue to drop hints that she will be a serious candidate for president in 2012. Indeed there seems to be no hesitancy by some of the pundits to suggest that she's already a candidate. She's hanging out with her loyal enthusiasts wherever she turns up as a literary novice, many of whom quite likely will never turn a page in her book. Just as well. Volumes have already been written itemizing the factual errors in her tome, which I gather is about rogues and stuff. Maybe she actually meant it to be a fantasy.

It appears the only question remaining as she reaps her own whirlwind around the country is who will be her running mate? (It's still 2009, but isn't this fun?) So allow me to speculate with the paid political analysts in the trade and suggest that the shortest list should be headed by Joe Lieberman, who would take no more than a few minutes to put on his game face if she looked in his direction.

Joe has been standing in the wings since he ran as Al Gore's sidekick in 2000. It was during his mock debate with Dick Cheney that Lieberman's talent as the deal-breaker with Gore became the vapid sideshow of the whole campaign. He spent so much time sucking up to Cheney that it was fair to consider whether George Bush had managed the preposterous tandem of two vice presidents on his ticket. It also added to the senator's luster as a chameleon ready to emerge in another campaign down the road. Republican, Democrat, it didn't matter. Still doesn't.

You may recall from the last episode that Joe is puffed up these days to block the health care reform bill because he cares so much about people. It gives him the kind of prominence that the the Palin crowd can't ignore. At the same time, Palin, who has not yet outgrown her tales of the Alaskan steppes, needs a guy with his experience and brand on a national ticket. It could be billed as Beauty and the Least, and the Tea Baggers would arrive with signs and epithets and all while Joe grinned from ear to ear, satisfied that somebody finally values him as much as he values himself.

Clip and save. Remember where you first heard of this confluence of two religiously devout candidates. It would be an historic ecumenical and gender moment in American politics spanning the nation from Juneau to Hartford, with maybe a moose or two in between.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Was Morrison's ouster a ground breaker?

IN THE WAKE of the Ohio Senate's dismissal of Jack Morrison from the University of Akron Board of Trustees, I don't know of another instance where a trustee has been removed from a campus board by political action. Was this the first time? Tell me if you know.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

He's the "dean," whether or not it is right.

IN THE WEEKS leading up to President Obama's high-risk decision for a surge in Afghanistan, we got a glimpse of the state of the national media from the "dean" of the Washington press corps, David Broder. Impatient for a decision by the president, the pater familias of pundits huffed:
"Given the reality, the urgent necessity is to make a decision - whether or not it is right."
That one should end up in Bartlett's - whether or not it is wrong.

After all, winning isn't everything

LET'S PUT this one in the Heaven-can-wait category:

The swirl of speculation about the possible successor to Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis is building a case for Cincinnati Bearcats coach Brian Kelly, whose team was undefeated during the regular season. But there's reportedly resistance to the idea in some quarters because Kelly and his wife Paqui are "pro-choice". If so, does it mean that the same litmus test would apply to the players? You'd have to think it would only be fair.

UPDATE: Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Hayes writes that the Kelly controversy is "lighting up the message boards of what might be the most plugged-in fan base in the nation." Observes Hayes, who says the issue could be a "deal breaker":
"When you talk about a football coach being pro-choice, it usually means he reserves the right to punt or go for it on fourth down. In Notre Dame's case, it takes on a different meaning, which tells you how impossible athletic director Jack Swarbrick's mission has become."
The flap recalls the time a former great ND coach, Frank Leahy, was advised by a priest about a coaching decision. Leahy calmly reminded the priest that the latter deals with spiritual matters, but it's the coach's sole mission to run the football team.

Moral: Re the pro-choice issue over Kelly, as ye sow so shall ye reap.

When you

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Another way to "take back the country"

THIS MAY SHOCK some of you, but there are moments when I find myself in partial accord with the teabaggers when they wave their signs and shout that they want their country back (from you-know-who). I, too, want my country back, not from you-know-who but rather from the congressmen who run their offices 24/7 as a federal depository for health care industry cash. It is running into the millions these days, and like that robber Willie Sutton, who found banks to be his most rewarding nest eggs of choice, the Hill people in Congress take the lobbyists' money because it is there.

So those Republicans (who are being served well in the Senate by some Democratic colleagues) who are in for the long haul to defeat reform have good reason to keep stalling. Can you imagine the hit their daily cash flow would take if they were no longer useful to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry? The K Street handouts have become so scandalously common that you have to wonder why the pols can't be a little less conspicuous about their consumption. Maybe a ham for Christmas and round-trip airfare to the world's most fashionable golf courses. They aren't the worst abuses on the planet and a little R&R for our hard-working public servants might do them and the country some good.

These guys even raised hell about mammograms , which they would never equate with prostate cancer exams! When Sen. Barbara Mikulski's amendment expanding preventive health care for women went to a vote, it passed easily with only 3 Rrepublicans crossing the aisle to support the measure. Two thirds of the Republican yeas were women, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Do you think the lords of their manor will try to explain that one at their next women's auxiliary speech ? It was left to Mikulski to set the whole issue into the working context. She said, ever so incisively: "For many insurance companies simply being a woman is a pre-existing condition." I wish I had said that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ohio Senate: Finally, enough is enough

NOW THAT THE Ohio Senate has persuasively (30-3!) stripped Akron Lawyer Jack Morrison of his seat on the University of Akron Board of Trustees, might he now conclude that there are times to fight and times to go quietly to your room? Ever since his convictions July 29 on two ethics charges that grew out of a real estate deal between his son and UA, his ouster seemed to be inevitable. The only question was how long would he remain on the board as he challenged the court's ruling and state officials, including Gov. Srickland, at every turn. We now know.

Not that he has quite returned to his room. He still is fighting Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's decision to remove him from the Summit County Board of Elections, where he sits as the chairman. Maybe Morrison is simply the tenacious bulldog as he has been described by others. Or maybe it was a case of political arrogance by an influential Republican activist and a generous contributor to the county party. He is, after all, GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff's lawyer.

Although the debacle began with a couple of misdemeanor ethics charges, it fleshed out in a nose count on the UA Board. Morrison's dismissal from the board would give the Democratic governor the windfall of an appointee, and a 5-4 Democratic majority when the next seat opens in 2010.

Political considerations? Elementary, my dear Watson. (Holmes never said that, but you get my point.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The only thing we have to fear is Tom Coburn

THE DEPTHS OF the Republican opposition to President Obama's health care reform plan was downgraded to the fallout shelter during the Senate floor debate on the issue. It was left to Sen. Tom Coburn, the arch conservative Republican obstetrician from Oklahoma to lay out the deadliest end of the spectrum when he rose to warn Americans' of their impending doom if the bill passes.

"I have a message for you," the doctor declared. "You're going to die sooner."

For his big dose of fear-mongering to unsuspecting Americans, Coburn easily wins the Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (Gall) award. And I was naive enough to think that things couldn't get worse in the war on health care reform. They have.