Friday, January 29, 2010

Brown and Palin: Two may be a crowd

JUST WHEN I WAS beginning to resign myself to President Sarah Palin it now happens that I have to come to terms with President Scott Brown. As everyone knows - at least that half of America that pays a little attention to politics while the other half tweets and texts - Brown has become a cult sensation among Republicans since he dared to put an inept woman candidate in her place up in Massachusetts. His name has already been smartly encoded on Capitol Hill as "No. 41" by admiring senators on his side of the aisle because he is empirical evidence that the Democrats are no longer filibuster-proof. Some of us, however, have known that for some time with guys like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson always hanging around with a suspicious rash.

So No. 41 is the party's Wave of the Future, which will surely embolden some of his ossified colleagues to unapologetically meet with their constituents who might have preferred waves of health care or cleaner air. Americans have long enjoyed waves, particularly at athletic events where fans have leaped to their feet without really knowing why.

Some of No. 41's nitpickers have sneered that he posed as a nude model for a magazine, a blip of moral exposure that no one could find in the GOP's book of family values. But that should be on his plus side. Despite the headiness of the moment, no one can possibly imagine the likes of Chuck Grassley or Jim Inhofe duplicating No. 41's immodest behavior.

Speaking of posing, the question now is how President Palin, who had been No. 1, will respond to No. 41. Having two presidents would not be out of the question. There was a time when there were three popes. I doubt that she would thrust herself onto a magazine centerfold. But politicians do strange things when they are running scared. In pre-No. 41, President Palin was doing fabulously. The Harper's Index noted that 65 pct. of Republicans would support her candidacy although only 58 pct. thought she was qualified for the job. But it is only fair to report that no more than 27 pct of these Republicans believe Barack Obama was "legitimately" elected.

In any case, the GOP presidential wannabes have shrunk to two people who are already president, No. 41 and No. 1. Rudy Giuliani disqualified himself by forgetting things like 9/11 or whether the President mentioned terrorism in his speech. Mitt Romney lost much of his luster of being elected as a Republican governor in Democratic Massachusetts. Mike Huckaby would never pose nude. And a few others were sleeping around with girlfriends.

I imagine the alchemists at Fox News who have been spending so much time with Palin to turn base metal into gold will now have to take a second look at their investment, if not a centerfold.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's back to stalemate on Capitol Hill :

ON THE DAY AFTER President Obama's State of the Union speech, I decided not to watch the Project Runway politicians step up to the TV cameras for their 3 minutes of spin. But having seen some of the comments on the Internet, I've concluded that the Republicans are not seriously opposed to some of the recovery programs, but they are deliberately out to destroy Obama, no matter what he proposes. It's personal, and ugly. The vote today on Obama's call for pay-as-you-go programs passed the Senate by, yep, a straight 60-40 party line vote. Some Republicans who had supported PAYGO voted against it. Among them , Ohio's Sen. George Voinovich. "Moderate" George, who will be retiring from the Senate this year, once defended PAYGO as the necessary defense against deficit spending, saying: "I don't understand how we can continue to go this way. We're living in a dream world. This deficit continues to grow." (As quoted from Think Progress.) That was then. This is now. Dream world be damned.

And how about John McCain's chest-pounding dismissal of Obama's proposals? McCain, who is in a primary fight as his popularity among Arizonans is ambling in the low 40s, boasted to his constituents that he would fearlessly "stand up and speak out against Democratic leadership". As McCain was passing the responsibility to the other side, the city manager of Phoenix, David Cavazos, announced plans to cut 500 police and fire positions , six library branches and five senior centers to balance the budget. The city council will act on it March 2. Meantime, the state's unemployment rate rose above 9.1 pct. According to the Arizona Republic, the city will be eliminating 1,385 jobs. A friend who covers Capitol Hill says seasoned reporters are astonished by the changes that have taken place in McCain since his loss to Obama. He remains a bitter man these days with no desire to follow his one pledge to reach across the aisle. Some courage, I'd say.

Other Republican senators immediately had meltdowns, with Oklahoma's James Inhofe, who seldom lends confidence of his mental agility, suggesting that Obama was nothing more than a liar. During the speech, he and the other GOPers with fixed stares resembled the figures in Madame Toussoud's wax museum.

What all of this says is that there will be no truce in the months leading to this year's election. None. In the meantime, the nation watches and waits as its economy drifts into oblivion. As for health reform, shouldn't we ask the pols to give up a half-year of their own health coverage for every month that they delay passage? Of course it's fair.


Oregonians respond to the gravity of their problems

WE ALL KNOW that Republicans look at tax cuts the way that schoolboys are fascinated by the prettiest girl in their class. In Ohio, eliminating the state income tax has become the centerpiece of gubernatorial candidate John Kasich's tax-cutting projects. But in Oregon, the voters made a kind of progressive history this week by easily passing two measures that would increase taxes on upper income residents ($250,000 and up) as well as the minimum tax levels on corporations. (The current corporate minimum of $10 has been around since 1931). Like most states, Oregon has been hit hard by the recession that has resulted in 11 pct. unemployment. Sound familiar?

The first indication of raw political courage arose in the state legislature that was confronted with plugging an estimated $727 million deficit as education and other state services continued to suffer. But the legislative action was quickly challenged by tax opponents in a referendum pursued by an outfit called Oregonians against Job-Killing Taxes.

Although you will be hearing a lot of talk this year about how cutting taxes increases jobs, there is a consensus of economic studies that the Bush tax cuts will rip upwards of $2.4 trillion from the treasury through 2010 without providing a groundswell of jobs. These cuts were covered by borrowed money, which will add another $379 billion in interest.

Well, here's to oregon, whose voters may know something about the cost of a healthier society. So much for an across-the-board tax revolt!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not quite the battle of Bunker Hill

IT'S BEEN A disquieting day for the Tea Partiers seduced by the Nashville Sound. Just when they were walking on the waters of Boston Harbor, they started to hear troubling words from their off-year Tennessee Waltz to Nashville next week. The first national convention sponsored by the Tea Party Nation has developed growing pains. Some of the life support groups have pulled out with angry words that the TPN sponsor has found a convenient money-making scheme to capture the mood of its constituents. Well, that's understandable, considering that the very same folks who have been complaining of thievery in high places like Capitol Hill are being charged $549 to attend the convention, hotels and travel expenses excluded. For that price you'd think the planners would have at least included a choice seat at Grand Ole Opry.

There have even been questions raised about the big fee that will be paid to Sarah Palin as the keynote speaker. It's been reported to range between $100,000 and $125,000 and if TPN won't confirm it, we think we know why. So times have changed a tiny bit. It wasn't too long
ago that anybody doubting Palin's worth to the movement would have been branded as socialist trash.

Describing the event as a non-profit initiative, TPN founder Sherry Phillips insisted that she is working with a tight budget. Even so, it could a rousing pep rally. That would be especially true if they invited to the podium Richard Behney, the Republican Tea Partier who is running for the U.S. Senate in Indiana. Behney has been telling his audiences that he is praying for new faces in Washington. And if they don't get them? "I'm cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show," he says. "And I'm serious about that, and I bet you are, too. But I know none of us want to go that far yet. And we can do it with our votes."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Corporate $$: pay your money and take your choice

TWO YALE LAW PROFESSORS have stepped up with a relatively simple proposal to curb a flood of corporate political dollars that was certain to be driven by the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision that opened the gates on current restrictions. In an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres said Congress could easily weaken the court's action by denying corporations with federal contracts from endorsing political candidates. They noted that it could be quite effective inasmuch as nearly 75 pct of the largest publicly-traded firms are federal contractors. (No mention of organized labor, but unions are so depleted these days they can hardly play in the same ring with the big guys.)

"If Congress endorsed our proposal," they said, "these companies - and tens of thousands of others - would face a stark choice: They could endorse candidates or do business with the government, but they couldn't do both. When push came to shove, it's likely that very few would be willing to pay such a high price for their 'free speech'."

The court's decision also laid bare the silly arguments by conservatives that justices should merely interpret the law and not engage in judicial activism. The Scalia court first decided the outcome of a presidential election and is back to give a huge opening for corporate support of candidates (read: Republicans).

So I'll leave you with this thought from dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens:
"While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included the dearth of corporate money in politics."

Monday, January 25, 2010

UnitedHealthCare's blitzkrieg on hospitals

SHOULD YOU have any doubts about the blitzkrieg that the health insurance has assembled to destroy any semblance of reforms, check out the withering reports about UnitedHealthCare's threat to a major hospital chain in New York. As reported by the New York Times, the insurance giant has demanded that hospitals notify it of an incoming patient within 24 hours or face the loss of half of the patient's coverage. The hospitals, which include Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Luke's -Roosevelt Hospital Center, are fighting to stave off UnitedHealthCare's poison pills. The teaching hospitals would have to absorb whatever loss that arose from the insurer's reduced coverage. The insurer said it merely wants to cut costs and prove the quality of health care. Fat chance.

Is UnitedHealthCare kidding? As one who has bounced through that outfit and then moved on to Aetna before it became a burdensome nuisance, I can report from personal experience that I often wondered whether the Aetna enforcers ever read their mail. A full eight or nine months after we switched to our current insurer, I and my wife were still getting notices from it despite a number of phone calls and letters to it with reminders to Aetna that we were no longer under its so-called tent.

In the New York case, the hospitals might be pleasantly surprised if they ignored the threat. It's possible that UnitedHealthCare would not catch up with such defiance for many months. What would you lose that you might lose anyway?

Boehner, the common-sense (?) guy

ASIDE TO REP. JOHN BOEHNER: When you insist that President Obama must turn to "common-sense solutions" for Ohio's economic problems in a Plain Dealer op-ed piece, may I humbly ask you to define "common sense"? Is that what your Republican candidate for governor, John Kasich, is talking about when he calls for the elimination of the state income tax? Please help me to understand where you, as the head of the GOP House, a Cincinnatian and Deliverer from Evil, are going with this? An operator is standing by.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Texting Lieberman: Your role has been eliminated

AS WE SAT through the timely film, "Up in the Air,", with its wrenching cold-blooded scenes in which George Clooney and Anna Kendrick matter-of-factly informed employes at various companies that their jobs have been eliminated, I kept waiting for Sen. Joe Lieberman to turn up. He, as you've probably heard, was one of the big losers in that blast in Massachusetts. As one of the leading purveyors of the Hobson's Choice that eventually shredded the health reform bill - Joe's version or no version - he was able to blackmail the Democratic caucus by holding it hostage to his vote to deny a filibuster. Now that the score is 59-41 or less, Joe's bargaining power on the street is worthless. His role as a smarmy Independent go-between has been eliminated, leaving in its wake a lot of wounded Democrats who bowed to his demands to salvage the bill. Let's hope that the Democrats can muster what little courage they still have to kick him out of the caucus and strip him of his committee chairmanship.... So long, Joe. It wasn't good to know you.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To the G0P: Don't crack open the champagne yet

WHILE REPUBLICANS are celebrating their newly-found glory in Massachusetts as Democrats fall on their swords, may I add two cautionary words for the GOP? Tea Party. Throughout the land the adrenalin is flowing for the political upheaval that has taken over the dialogue, for which the traditional Republican soldiers might pause. The Tea Partyers are up and running, like unleashed pit bulls, against the Republican officeholders in the primaries. A brief recap:
In Texas, where its governor, Rick Perry, has talked of secession when it has suited his audience, eleven Republican congressmen are being challenged in the state primary by the TP's. That's not a misprint. E-L-E-V-E-N! As in football.

In Ohio, a TP candidate, State Rep. Seth Morgan, from rural Huber Heights, has declared his candidacy for Ohio Auditor with strong backing from the TPs who refer to him as a "man of principle". Should the folks at the State GOP Headquarters in Columbus risk the enmity of the hard-right conservatives by giving full support to a party-backed candidate? In Ohio's Second congressional district, a seat already held by U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (a birther and hardly a lib) now comes Libertarian-TP activist, Marc Johnston, who has entered the race that includes Schmidt and several others. The Ohio U.S. Senate race has at least one TP-friendly candidate, Tom Ganley on the Republican side, and at the top of the ticket, gubernatorial candidate John Kasich has appeared at a TP rally or two to assure them that he is one of their brethren.

In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist has a challenge in his bid for the U.S. Senate from a TP. In New York's 23rd District, the Republican congressional candidate withdrew from a challenge by a TP who was supported by Sarah Palin (in this instance the TP came up empty as the Democrat won.)

In Massachusetts, Illinois and other states, we may see more TP candidates in the mix. ( I was going to mention Michael Steele, the RNC chairman, too, who is fond of the TP's. But nobody takes Steele seriously these days.)

I wouldn't think that GOP regulars (read: the ones back at the club) could comfortably sniff away these challenges. The TP's are now operating on web sites named Patriotic Resistance, Tea Party Nation and FreedomWorks and they don't speak that highly of either party up on Capitol Hill.

Win or lose, any serious primary challenge will only serve to drain money that could be spent against the Democrats in November. And after all, isn't money what politics is all about these days? Well, that and, eh...socialists.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Limbaugh has a special place for tampons

I ALWAYS TELL myself to ignore Rush Limbaugh. But I am weak. For me it is those times when I try to avoid stepping on the seams in a sidewalk but step on them anyway. But with Rush, there are so many more opportunities for me to weaken. Of late it's his bombastic attempts to ridicule President Obama and others who are engaged in helping the victims of Haiti. No surprise there. With the day approaching when he will find a way to link Obama to selling steroids to Mark McGwire, Rushbo has now been bleating about former President Clinton's work on aid to Haiti, reminding all who care to listen that, "You can't even pick up a prostitute down there without genuine fear of AIDS." This from a fearless big-spending addict who returned from Venezuela with Viagra.

Don't go. There's more. To a woman listener who criticized him, he retorted that such woman callers "have tampons in their ears."Ha. Ha. Athough our supply was nearly exhausted in 2009, we still have a Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) award on hand to post one for him. That might help a little in alerting folks to where he has turned and lowered his neck to place his head.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A southern hoops league sans blacks and foreigners

THANKS TO THE anonymous commenter who alerted me to the latest proposal to illustrate the growing Southern Strategy. Seems that a fellow named Don "Moose" Lewis , a former pro wrestling promoter, told the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle that he is forming an "All-American Basketball Alliance" down among the sheltering palms that will be composed of an all-white, all-American-born league. Let's see. That would take sports back to the days when Notre Dame was refused an invitation to the Sugar Bowl because it had a black player. But Lewis assured us that he doesn't hate anybody of color nor of non-American origin. Just wants the white guys to be able to play the game the way it should be played. I would go for the idea on one condition: The winner of his league would have to play the winner of the NBA championship to the last man standing. Hmmm.... No, not a pretty thought. Sorry I mentioned it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Masschusetts and the words of Robert Frost

YEARS AGO, IN an interview with the poet Robert Frost, he mentioned the resiliency of Americans in the wake of a nuclear disaster. "They'll be up in heaven dusting themselves off," he airily predicted, "and saying, 'Boy, that was something, wasn't it?'"

There are a lot of living Democrats dusting themselves off today, desperately trying to find the appropriate words to describe that historicastoundingepicbombshell event in Massachusetts. The pendulum in the Bay State not only swung, but also crashed through the firewall that has long protected the most liberal state in the Union.

I haven't heard anything that has made much sense from either side in the haze of the moment. Democrats say they have to do better; Republicans credit themselves with already having done better. You can expect a lot of this in the days ahead, depending how long it will take the congressional Henny-pennies to retreat from Foxy-woxy's lair to get back to work in behalf of the American people. It won't be enough for the conservatives, the immovable rock in the Senate and House, to gloat that "We told you so." Nor for the Democrats, a skittish group that takes cover against the slightest suggestion that the other side is lying in wait, to have shaky knees..

You can take your choice of what happened in Massachusetts:. A lackluster Democratic candidate, voter frustrations, a state that already had government framed health insurance,
a helping hand from the Tea Parties, a Republican candidate who pledged his first order of business in the senate would be the 41st vote against health care reform. All the while, the Democrats simply took the state for granted. After all, this was the seat held by the late Ted Kennedy, who dedicated much of his time to such reforms.

Meanwhile, back on Capitol Hill, it remains a mystery of how the Democrats forfeited their 60-40 numerical lead over the other party other than to notice that they have often appeared gutless and duplicitous - particularly those who shared the booty from the health care industry and the pharmaceuticals. The Republicans are now operating as the majority party on all major issues. Climate change will be next.

The election couldn't come at a worse time for President Obama, with Afghanistan, Haiti, sober unemployment figures, Wall Street excesses and such Blue Dogs as Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson on his plate with Joe Lieberman in reserve. His hospitality to the other side hasn't worked, and won't work, which leads me to believe that his only option is to say: This is where I stand, take it or leave it. Put up or shut up. (Nelson, who is not above political bribery to get his way, even managed to plug into the haggard Senate plan a special benefit for his red state of Nebraska, which will later vote for him but not Obama.

What a mess! It might be a good time for rest of us to spend more time at the movies.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blankfein engaged in "God's work"

I HAVE THE FEELING that God has never been busier than He is today in taking care of the nation's business. His schedule was further burdened by Lloyd C. Blankfein, the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs who defended his company's modus operandi by insisting that Goldman Sachs was doing "God's work." Such heavenly labors included selling off securities with the thought that they would depreciate in value. Which they did. Boom.

According to the New York Times, Blankfein did concede that as a "market maker" Goldman Sachs was engaged in improper business and has reason to "regret and apologize..." Some, on the other hand, would simply call it plundering.

Blankfein's reference to his company's divine guidance followed closely upon Sarah Palin's gratefulness that God had led her to a great job at Fox News. Right. God and Roger
Ailes, whoever comes first over at the studio.


his company was that

Monday, January 18, 2010

NBC: The price of dumb decisions?

AM I THE ONLY person in the world who isn't seriously caught up in the celebrity shuffle at NBC featuring Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien? I mean, here are two well-paid, well-fed comedians (I'm told) whose bosses have tried to turn them on a splashy new axis to gain viewers. And the national media haven't got enough of it. Apparently, the front office at NBC should have left well-enough alone, which is often the case these days as dumb decisions are passed down from the top by folks who ought to know better - but don't. Leno will be back to his old spot; and O'Brien will end up somewhere else. Blah. Blah. Blah.

However, the vein that is being tapped, whether on Wall Street, sports and television is generating great wealth for the losers. Bonuses at the big banks, payoffs for departing coaches and, in this instance, O'Brien. When Charlie Weis was fired at Notre Dame, he is said to have received upward of $30 million for coaching another mediocre performance by the Fighting Irish. O'Brien will match that out the door. Obviously, recessions aren't for everybody.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Kasich-Taylor prepare to turn out Ohio's lights

THERE WAS A LOT of recycled ear candy passed out at yesterday's announcement by Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich that State Auditor Mary Taylor would join him on the ticket. Such events for both parties are always euphoric moments before the candidates take to the stump and are forced to explain exactly what they meant. Among Kasich's promises were his commitment to eliminate the state income tax, repeal the estate tax, deregulate industry and commerce and shrink government. So who could argue?

Trouble is, the system doesn't work that way, never has and never will. As we have so often learned the hard way, when the state shrinks its share, local governments must pick up the pieces; that is, if you want to keep the schools and a lot of other public services and projects moving along. When it comes to cash flow, Kasich, a former managing director of Lehman Brothers before it crashed into bankruptcy, knows that as well as anybody. He just won't say so in the delirium of sweet talk to the voters, not the least of whom are his Tea Party friends. Several news reports that I read noted that he was much less specific about how he would pay the bills if revenue vanished under his proposals. Fact is, he couldn't.

Maybe a report by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission will be of help to the voters: the first year of a phased-out income tax would cost the state treasury $768 million. The commission said that would translate into $79 million in cuts to local governments and libraries in fiscal year 2011. Over 10 years, it would drain $12 billion from the state revenue. In terms that might be easier to understand , the Plain Dealer pointed out that 40 pct. of the state's general revenue comes from the income tax.

I'm surprised Kasich didn't blame former Democratic governor, Jack Gilligan, of saddling Ohio with the income tax in the first place. When Gilligan ran for governor in 1970 he frequently called for the new tax to, among other things, rescue cash-starved school districts. With uncommon, if risky, honesty about the state of the universe, Gilligan told the voters that if they didn't want an income tax, they should vote for the other guy. He won anyway. And when the tax was tested with a referendum two years later to repeal it, the voters again sustained the tax. (When Rhodes later entered the job, the joke around Columbus was that although the new governor was monstrously opposed to taxes, he never lifted a finger to rid the state of the "Gilligan tax." And we knew why.

So for the next 10 or 11 months, I suspect there will be marathon of headachy harangues against Gov. Strickland, taxes and state budgets, with nothing new added to the inertial Republican agenda.

Ear candy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Rev. Pat crazily falls from a cliff

WHEN PAT ROBERTSON asserts that Haiti's tragedy is God's punishment for the stricken country's "pact to the devil," it is not only brutally insensitive but a clear sign that the Rev. Pat is undeniably unbalanced. Sadly, he has a support group that will agree with his gibberish.

UPDATE: THIS MADMAN PREACHER IS NOW SAYING ON THE 700 CLUB THAT THE EARTHQUAKE COULD BE A "BLESSING IN DISGUISE." How's that? Well, he says, it destroyed all of the shanties so that new buildings will now be able to replace them. Why do I stress all of this about this so-called Christian creature? Robertson needs to suffer the wrath and ridicule, not of his Maker, but of the civilized world that must condemn him and his kind. Either that, or send him off to an asylum.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sherlock Holmes: Identity theft

AS A COMMITTED Sherlock Holmes buff, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to check the latest version of the super sleuth and his companion, Dr. Watson. My time would have been better spent re-reading the Hound of the Baskervilles. The current release is a clear case of identity theft. The title character could easily have been Mike Hammer or even James Bond. Played by Robert Downey Jr., through no fault of his own, Sherlock was often a kooky private eye frequently engaged in bare-fisted encounters with guys who should have taken him out with one punch, but being a movie, lost every time to their smaller combatant. The stunts, special effects and fiery explosions played heavily to rising audience expectations of today's crop of films; that is, if you are looking for a way sell Armageddon and Mt. Vesuvius in one sitting that shatters ears and credibility. Gone were Sherlock's (I'm thinking, Basil Rathbone) stylish exchanges with an admiring Watson (Jude Law), and Conan Doyle's genius in connecting all of the dots that lead to Holmes' success as a superb crime solver through his ability to find meaning in a blank scrap of paper. I know. The picture is running second to Avatar in popularity. But it owes the original character an apology for stomping all over the hero's soul.

Kasich-Taylor. McCain-Palin?

IS OHIO facing a redux of the McCain-Palin ticket? That could be one explanation of the arrival of State Auditor Mary Taylor, a Summit Countian, as John Kasich's running mate on the Republican side of the scrum with Gov. Ted Strickland. Surely there must have been some thought given along GOP Row to the prospects for a shopworn former Wall Streeter and Ohio congressman to make it all the way to the governor's office by himself this year. So Taylor, a photogenic politician who would represent relative youth and vitality to the ticket, would take up the slack. Besides both are the strongest advocates of the party's core values, not the least of which is the cut-taxes thing.

Among those on the GOP side who must be delighted by the tandem is Summit County Republican chairman Alex Arshinkoff, who has been among those nurturing Taylor's political career and is now positioned for a hometown role in a state election. (He has also been working for Kasich.) But a reasonable question persists in all of this: If the party down in Columbus is so high on Taylor, why didn't they persuade her to run at the top of the ticket, instead of seeking reelection as auditor before now?

* * * * * * *
I've been told that a certain ranter on WNIR has been damning the Akron-Summit County Public Library for seeking a 1.4 mill levy, arguing that his taxes shouldn't pay for another's use of computers at the place and that, after all, the library is little more than a hangout for the homeless. As one who just enjoyed the benefits of the bright new facility's special collections department, I would suggest that the schlock show host go down there some time, look around, ask some questions from an always helpful staff and even read a book - or have somebody read it to him.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sarah Palin: Fox signs a star-spangled diva

IT WAS NEVER "if" but "when". A natural.

I'm referring to Sarah Palin's new contract with Fox News as a political host, analyst and whatever else they find for her to do for all of her star-struck supporters across the land. Neither the network nor Palin could contain their hyperbole in their overripe glee over the hot merger. "I am thrilled to be joining the great talent and management team at Fox News," her prepared statement said. "It's wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news." That left little doubt among the Fox perps that they had made the fail-safe choice. While that disclosure refuting hitherto questions of fairness and balance was making its excited rounds, Bill Shine, a VIP at Fox, was equally ecstatic about adding "her dynamic voice" to Fox.

But even with Palin's celebrated star power, Roger Ailes, the guy who created the cash flowing megaphone at Fox Follies, had to step aside for a still higher deity. Palin , who has referred to her vice presidential candidacy as "God's plan," doubtless attributes her latest job as a continuation of that heavenly course. Humbly, of course.

That was the Pope Urban II's battle cry - "God wills it" - to the motley French knights on the first crusade, many of whom never made it back alive. But how can you deny Palin's attribution of good fortune to her God without engaging in a fruitless debate that has been around since 1095? I would suggest that it was in fact Palin's own plan that has been in the works for several years, one step at a time as beauty contestant, small town mayor, governor, author(?), and now the leading lady on Fox. She still has a way to go to the Oval Office, but for now, Fox News - fair and balanced speaking - will have to do until something better comes along. .

Universities: The death of the humanities?

BACK IN MY small-town high school English class, we were required to absorb long passages from Shakespeare. Hamlet. MacBeth. There was no possibility of escape. Mrs. Haberlin insisted that we leave her classroom each day with a strong taste of the classics. It wasn't pretty, but she was not a person to be denied.

Fast forward to college, where the professor assigned us a novel (Return of the Native) to read during the semester break. It would prepare us, she asserted, to hit the ground running when we returned for the second part of the course in English lit. By then, we were beginning to take it seriously.

Comes now, from an academic friend, an article that tells of life at the darker end of the spectrum. It appeared in the autumn issue of The American Scholar and reports the erosion of the humanities in today's college classrooms. It was written by William M. Chace, whose long academic career included the presidencies of Emory and Wesleyan Universities. Here are a few figures that disturb Chace as well as this writer:

From 1970 through 2004, the latest available figures, English majors dropped from 7.6 pct. to 3.9 pct. of total enrollment; foreign language and literature, 2.5 pct. to 1.3 pct.; history, 18.5 pct. to 10. 7 pct.; business majors, rising from 13.7 pct. to 21.9 pct. while the humanities as a whole dropped from 30 pct. to below 16 pct.

In short, for better and probably for worse, we are turning out a whole generation of business students. Chace concludes there are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the lure of richer economic returns and the failure of faculties to cry out for more attention to their disciplines (although I'm not sure how much of that would be useful these days).

"It's probably irreversible," Chace writes gloomily, observing that education should not be "all about getting a job. " He allows that the study of the humanities teaches us "how to read and think better." Considering how the national dialogue on critical public issues are being strung out these days with loony utterances from congressmen and their enablers, I see no reason to argue with that.

There is some validity to his concern that the rising cost of higher education is forcing people to rethink what's best for an investment in a student, whose campus days would not be wasted on subjects with less earning power. Purely pragmatic, of course, and it will have legions of defenders.

Speaking of his own experience in academia, Chace had some strong words about the drift of current public universities, where enrollment growth as well as tuition costs have soared in recent years:
"Off campus, the consumer's point of view about future earnings and economic security was a mirror image of on-campus thinking in the offices of deans, provosts and presidents. I was in those offices day in and day out for 20 years and can report that such officials are forever considering how to exploit available resources against ever-growing operating costs. As those costs grow, they create a paradox: the only way to bring in more money, over and above tuition income, is to employ more and more people to attract philanthropic donors and to assure the continuing flow of research dollars from governmental and other sources. Every administrator is complicit in the expanding number of non-faculty employees - development officers, technical support staff, research assistants, lawyers attuned to federal regulations - and human resources personnel to handle the every-growing numbers of just such new employes. "

The trajectory for that continues to rise quickly and it may someday consume itself with the law of diminishing returns. Until then, I have a strange feeling that term papers will be graded with dollar signs. Like Chace, I don't think you can change it. The odds are overwhelming. But with the dispatch of the humanities we will be losing a dimension that has long served to assure us of a civilized society. Mrs. Haberlin knew what she was talking about.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The more things change, the more they...


After a holiday respite, Jack Morrison made it back into the Beacon Journal with a report he will continue to be retained as Munroe Falls law director by his political buddy, Mayor Frank Larson. When we last left Morrison, the Republican lawyer had been dismissed from the University of Akron Board of Trustees and as a member of the Summit County Board of Elections after a couple of ethics convictions. So he's batting one for three and can't complain about that, particularly after his base pay plus legal fees for his Munroe Falls work in 2008 paid $94,422. Nice work if you can get it. And he did. (Full disclosure: Sour grapes on my part since I rejected my father's advice either to become a lawyer or sell cars for his agency. In desperation, I finally landed a post-Air Force job with a small newspaper in Indiana than $3,700 a year.)

By the close of 2009, the Republicans on Capitol Hill, their conservative Democratic friends and their noisy camp followers on the air waves had convinced me that they have evolved into the modern version of the commedia dell'arte. The likeness is all-too persuasive. The commedia was the theatrical outfit born in 16th century Italy to entertain with rather loose lips. The cast arrived on stage with the plot line well understood but went about their amusing business by improvising all of their lines. You get a sense of that from guys like Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican running for governor, with his brain-jerk comments that Obama's response to the near plane disaster was simply to "impress the Blame America First" crowd. In humorous fashion (although they didn't think so) the Hoekstra litany was repeated with improvised variations by others in a "Blame Obama First" crowd.

Who is editing Rush Limbaugh's stuff these days? Obviously euphoric after his brief stay in Queens Medical Center, Rushbo effused: "The treatment I received there was the best that the world has to offer!" Well, yes. As one who has been critical of every comma in the health care reform bill, Limbaugh may have been befuddled by his meds and didn't realize that Hawaii's health-care system is widely known as the nearest thing to socialized medicine in the 50 states. For more than three decades, employers there have been required to provide health-care benefits to part-time employes. And that state's nurses are unionized in the Hawaii Nurses Association. The best? Rush? The best?

Finally, should Glenn Beck really be ranting about alcoholics in the Democratic Party? Obviously he's never covered either party's presidential conventions. Glenn, my boy, I can assure you that excessive imbibing is non-partisan.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The birth of America's first Thee Party

WITH JANUARY weather so confining, I've been devoting some extra time indoors to creating a new (and exciting!!!) pop phenom to show the Tea Partiers a thing or two. It will be called the Thee Party to give it the sort of religious sheen so in vogue in certain quarters today. Actually the title was my second choice. I had decided to go secular with Tee Party but that was already appropriated by the national media that, in the post-Tiger world, never seem to leave bad enough alone.

It's also true that Fox's Brit Hume's insistence that Woods must convert to Christianity for the rebirth of his all-American sportsman's image made the transition from tee to thee a natural. And when the Mega-Rev. Rick Warren can issue a fund-raising plea that immediately rakes in more than $2.5 million, you have to admit that pure secularism has its limits. So Thee Party it will be with a resigned acceptance that I'm hardly in the good preacher's league for a steady cash flow.

Where to begin? With so much fearful talk of socialism by the tea baggers and their enablers on Capitol Hill, I would begin by calling for the total rejection of Medicare by every last U.S. citizen. (Non-citizens don't count because, as we have been told, they are likely to lie about everything. Besides, immigrants don't die from American diseases.) There would be no paperwork to fill out, no arguing with your insurance companies that you do indeed qualify for drug benefits and no threats of filibusters by the Back 40 Republican senators who would insist on being exempt from even minor tinkering with their health coverage.

With Medicare abolished, where would the health insurers turn for their profits, and where would the Back 40 turn for their daily bread? Certainly not to socialistic unemployment benefits and government pensions. Trust me: these would be abolished, too. So would lobbies, girl friends and congressional payrollers who make life so much more livable for their bosses. The cable networks, which thrive on the latest sulking statements from losers like Dick Cheney and John McCain, would have to go, too. (Come to think of it, Grumpy Abe would have to shut down in a Thee Party world.)

Well, you can see there would never be a day off for Thee Partiers. It would begin a new era in which socialism would be replaced.... I'll have to get back to you for more details as they come to mind. Duly inspired by Brit Hume and Rick Warren, I can only humbly tell you that operators are standing by.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Holidays: It's back to a safer coffee break

(Note: This is a continuation of the column that somehow found its way onto the blog without notice. Such is technology and clueless users.)

WELL, THE holiday rush is finally over and the Christmas wrappings have found their way into the trash. With varying degrees of enthusiasm everybody said they really liked their presents. For all too brief moments we were able to escape into holiday fantasy from the outside workaday world of war, the economy and the incomprehensible sideshows of the U.S. Congress.

Now we must look ahead to another election in November that is likely to make 2009 appear as a harmless prologue. Oh, my!

Living near a big shopping mall, I was able to enjoy an afternoon coffee break or two and the pleasure of witnessing the revered American Shopper - the nation's' rescuer of first and last resort - in scary acts of desperation. On several occasions I was nearly maimed by mothers using their strollers as battering rams to part the human knots ahead of them. Nearly everyone has a cell phone these days and they are never unused. It has been a right of passage into a cult in which you really have nothing to say but it's socially correct to say it anyway. Some people can even chew gum and talk endlessly on their thumb-powered gadgets. (As primates, we owe our thanks to prehistoric apes for such benefits that didn't occur to us until we learned that small talk could be exchanged while nibbling on pizza.)

"I got a new wristband for my watch. The one I had was too tight. Does that ever happen to you?"

"The mall is really busy today."

"Do you think red is a better color than blue?"

"'I think my minutes are over the top, ya know. I'll call you when I get home."

"The pizza was good, but I asked them to put it back in the oven to warm it up>"

Etc. Etc. Etc.
There were sales posted everywhere. But one needed a calculator to figure out the price of a shirt that was reduced by 50 pct on top of the earlier discount of 3o pct. from an original price that was somewhere in a computer in another city.

My unofficial survey of the economy's seasonal recovery at the mall showed that the two best sellers were popcorn and stiff coffee. It will take a few months, however, for these numbers to show up on the next economic report. Meantime, I hope to enjoy continued success in evading the strollers.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dr. Hume to Tiger: Rise to Christianity!

THE HIGH PRIEST of Fox News, Brit Hume, has a word for Tiger Woods to rehab him from his marital troubles: Christianity. Hume, who is turning from news hawking to spiritual guidance in his lofty role as a Fox analyst, urged Woods on Sunday to find salvation by converting from Buddhism to the Christian faith. Of Buddhism, Hume opined:

"The extent to which he can recover seems to me depends on his faith. He is said to be a Buddhist. I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. My message to Tiger would be,'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.'"

I think Tiger should at least be guaranteed that he would rise to the heights of such faithful Christian pols as John Ensign, Mark Sanford, David Vitter, Rudy Giuliani and Karl Rove, the latter being an ardent preacher of family values who is trudging through a divorce. Still, we should forgive Hume. He knows not of what he speaks.

Friday, January 1, 2010

GOP's field announcer "in good hands"

NEW YEAR'S NOTE: Are those 40 Republican "No" senators now relieved that
Rush Limbaugh's Cadillac health care coverage provided him the best possible chance for full recovery? As Limbaugh's back-up, Walter Williams , told his audience: Rush is resting comfortably and "in good hands".