Saturday, February 27, 2010

Believe it: Somebody got a stimulus job!

SO MY CONSERVATIVE friends are sitting there at lunch and insisting that the economic stimulus program - I will take this slowly in hopes of getting it right - "has not created a single job." That's the line that John Boehner and others have passed down from Mt. Olympus to be repeated without challenge - or thought, for that matter. It's probably tucked down on line No. 3 or 4 on the ways that President Obama will be defeated in 2012.

Well, with all due respect to these friends who will not take "no" for an answer, I'd say, "Nice try for your side, but you have nothing to back you up".

That's where we are today in America's great debate on the economy. One friend even argues that a laid-off worker who is called back and returned to the payroll doesn't count. Oh? I' ll leave that to the family of the reemployed worker to figure out. A job is a job is a job. I have also been advised that money should be going to infrastructure rather than hiring a few cops or firefighters or teachers. Or adding to entitlements.

A few tidbits: In Akron alone, about $20 million of the Federal money from the stimulus will be spent on roads and bridges and such. By last fall 17,000 jobs had been created in Ohio. It is far from boom times, but there have been some improvements.

Infrastructure and energy? A friend who drove from Columbus to Denver said she was impressed by the number of wind turbines that had sprung up along the route. Since then, the New York Times reported that the "American wind power industry grew at a blistering pace in 2009, adding 39 pct. more capacity. The American Wind Energy Assn. noted in its annual report that the growth of wind power was "helped by the federal stimulus package that passed a year ago, which extended tax credit and provided other investment incentives for the industry. It's only a guess, but might I assume that one or two more jobs were added?

It doesn't take much time or effort to find this information, folks. For whatever it's worth. The mess left by the last guy in the Oval Office is far from cleaned up. But there are signs here and there that you can't ignore, that we may have pulled back a little from the brink. On the other hand, if we had played the Republican card and benignly neglected the illness, what might we have expected? Well, what?


Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart's tantrum that government workers shouldn't be represented by unions will hardly make life easier for him. One doesn't have to support nor deny the validity of such unions to know that they are here to stay, so you might as well try to make the most of it instead of calling for their abolition. Problem-solving comes with the mayor's territory. Can you imagine the howl from City Hall if the unions called for the abolition of the mayor's office? See what I mean? Back into the sandbox, mayor.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a fellow named Daniel Stout was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives recently to replace a guy who resigned after it was disclosed that he had an affair with a lobbyist. Stout, a family values Republican, is the same pol who earlier admitted to having an extra-marital affair with his first wife's mother-in-law. Some Georgia peaches are obviously sweeter than others. So much for mother-in-law jokes!

Recommended reading: Frank Rich's column in today's New York Times that delivers the goods on the off-the-page right-wing movement that is a raggedly loose confederation of anti-government Tea Partiers, white supremacists, armed militia and the resurgent John Birch Society. Anarchy is in the wind.

Finally, I happened to see a TV commercial promoting something called "Meaningful Beauty." Am I suffering from generational lag or what? Is there something about beauty that I don't understand and wouldn't regard as meaningful?

What's with the halo, Mitch?

Holy cow!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tom Strauss lays it on the line

TOO BAD THE stone-faced Republican opposition at yesterday's "summit" with President Obama didn't have the cautionary words of Tom Strauss to consider before they demanded that the health-reform bill be wiped clean (Read: delayed forever) before any further action.

Strauss is the chief executive officer of Summa Health System in Akron whose urgent appeal for prompt governmental action appears in Newsweek and the Huffington Post. Coming from a realist who is in the trenches daily to keep the health system afloat, it effectively undercuts the GOP's manifesto that reform should take more time - for reasons that are more or less genetic with that side of the aisle on Capitol Hill.

"As health professionals," Strauss writes, "every day we see more people who need care, but cannot afford to pay. Ohio's free clinics have seen a 30 pct. jump in patients the past year. At one local clinic, it typically takes three months to fill the slots open each quarter for new appointments. Last January, it took three days. This January, it took three hours, as people who used to work as volunteers sign up to receive care themselves."

The figures reported by Strauss for the Summa System offer a somber picture of the enormous challenges that are not uncommon for non-profit hospitals today.

"The vast majority of the uninsured we see are working families. They either have employers who cannot afford rising premium costs, are self-employed and cannot afford the cost of health care themselves, or they cannot find coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The economic cost is staggering, but the human cost is beyond any dollar figure; just ask any nurse, who has looked into the eyes of a parent, ashamed that he or she cannot provide for family members until they are so sick that the emergency room is the only answer.

"We're all trying to do our part to help. At the system level, our hospital continues to treat everyone, regardless of ability to pay. At a community level, our health professionals volunteer in free clinics - more than 150,000 hours of personal time last year. At the county level, public health officials are working with local hospitals to address the root causes of chronic illness. At the state level, legislators are working to stretch depleted tax coffers to keep up with burgeoning Medicaid demand. Unsung heroes at non-profit, faith-based, and community organizations continue to fill the gap."

Strauss notes that the Summa System provided $57.6 million in net uncompensated care in 2008, including nearly $23 million in direct charity care.

And the costs continue to rise dramatically..
"What we really need is for the federal government to do its part, too - finish the job it started a year ago, and pass some form of health care reform. Is the compromise bill proposed by the Obama Administration this week perfect? No. Will everybody be able to find fault with parts of it? Yes. But we are far beyond the point at which our elected officials can allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good."
Strauss is an enlightened executive at a time when there are too many others who prefer to serve by only standing and waiting, athough equally confronted by the critical mission of health care. Unfortunately, those Republicans who showed up at the summit yesterday regard their only critical mission as the next election.

Nevada Governor: No sex in 15 years!

SHOULD WE FEEL a tad sorry for Jim Gibbons, the 65-year-old Republican governor of Nevada who is relying on his preexisting condition as a defense against alleged sexual assault involving a Las Vegas cocktail waitress? Gibbons insisted in a deposition that he hasn't had sex for 15 years. He apparently assumes that medical science and health insurance companies will take note of his self-imposed abstinence as "living proof that you can survive without sex for that long." Gibbons. who is going through a divorce while running for reelection , is accused of groping a lady friend after hours of drinking at a restaurant . He said he was merely trying to help her get into the car. But nothing seems to be working for him these days. The poor guy has a 10 pct. approval rating by Nevada voters.

Nevada? Isn't that the state represented by Republican Sen. John Ensign, who has confessed to an affair with a campaign staffer? And we might as well add: both of these guys are preachy family values pols. But Gibbons is a remarkable quick-study. After he was accused of sexual assault, he asserted: "...I learned an important lesson, never to offer a helping hand to anybody ever again." From now on, Jim, just open the car door, and get out of the way.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Thursday, February 25, 2010

May she now rest in peace...

A THOUGHT passed along to me from an obit in a Chicago weekly newspaper as the writer thanked the deceased's friends:
"The immediate family of Dolores would like to express its sincere gratitude to all the dear friends and extended family members who sent cards, visited Dolores and/or offered words of encouragement to the immediate family. Thank you! And finally, to all those people who vowed to 'Keep in Touch' and failed to's too late now."

John Kasich: After...and before

THERE'S AN unwritten rule in politics that the public tends to remember what the pol says first - no matter what he or she says later. It's a noose that has been slipped around John Kasich's neck, no matter how he tends to soften his original statement as the Republican gubernatorial candidate. I refer to his bombastic promise that he would eliminate the state income tax - even now that he and his allies are hurriedly saying that he didn't mean to do it by the next day's sunrise. Indeed, I'm not sure when he intends to eliminate the tax if he wins. Campaign promises often arrive in a haze.

The Columbus Dispatch reported today that opposition to Kasich's idea is quickly rising among school officials who fear that the absence of an income tax would further cripple their efforts to make ends meet. They have reason to worry. According to the Legislative Service Commission, seized as a convenient authoritative source by Democrats, the schools would lose $200 million in 2011 alone and God-knows how much over a 10-year period.

Not that Kasich doesn't have his supporters. For example, there is freshman Rep. Seth Morgan, the young (31) GOP candidate for state auditor, who accused the D's of turning the tax proposal into a heartstring issue and "using children as political pawns."

Something about Morgan, now that he has chosen to enter the fray from the political far right with Tea Party blessings. He represents the Dayton suburb of Huber Heights, and has posted his qualifications on his campaign home page: He says he would use his "passion for public policy, philosophy for a responsible government and love for Ohio" to make a difference. Here we go again: He has earned his spurs by once managing a Christian bookstore and attended Liberty Academy Satellite Schools. He got an online undergraduate degree but did manage to get an MBA summa cum laude from Dayton University. Forgive me: I recite all of this now because his name will be popping up regularly during the campaign season.

As for the income tax, the Dispatch reported today: "Ohio's income tax brings in a little more than $7 billion to Ohio's general revenue fund, about 44 pct. of all tax revenue. Kasich has said he favors its elimination but he has not set a timetable."

The election is many months away, but don't bet that the fuss over the state income tax - Kasich's original version - will go away. With political rhetoric, it is usually first things first.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

RNC in the "Census" business

CLEVER BUNCH, THOSE operators at the Republican National Committee. They've sent out a notice described as "2010 Congressional District Census" that was handed to me by a friend who was not fooled by its official bearing even though it was dressed up with a Census tracking code of #A10PD302 and looked quite authentic. . Fully profiled by now by the RNC, I didn't get one. Some of the questions were as you might expect from the non-partisan RNC.

Here's No. 7: Do you worry that the Obama Administration is committed to greatly expanding the government's role in your Life? Or No. 11: Do you think that all Americans should be required to have some form of health insurance even if it requires the federal government to underwrite the costs? Or how about this one on national defense: Do you believe the Obama administration is right in dramatically scaling back our nation's military?
There are others suggesting, in a questioning sort of way, whether Obama is a weakling on international policy.

I now own the document and plan to respond with my friend's copy with one answer. It will be for the one asking me whether I am a Conservative Republican, Moderate Republican, etc.etc. etc. I will answer BONOBO. I hope I'm not too late for today's mail.


Colin Powell gave President Obama passing marks in his talk to a capacity audience (2,955) in E.J. Thomas Auditorium, while suggesting that Obama should have been less ambitious in his major goals the first year. However, Powell, who said he meets with the President regularly, said there was no time to delay the economic ballouts and stimulus plans when Obama arrived in office because the economy was heading into a Depression. The former Secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also again expressed his own resiliency in his support of ending the military's "don't ask, don't change" policy for gays and lesbians, which became law in 1993. "Attitudes change," he said. His appearance was sponsored by the Dorothy Garrett Martin Memorial Delta Gamma Lectureship on Values and Ethics and the Honors College at the University of Akron. It also reflected the rising cost of attracting speakers with star- power: $125,000, a ceiling-crashing six-figure fee that was set by Rudy Giuliani ($100,000) when he spoke to a full house in Thomas Hall shortly after 9/11. Earlier in the week, Newt Gingrich was much less successful in drawing a crowd of fewer than 300 in the same hall. His speech was sponsored by the Northeastern Ohio Health Underwriters Assn., which simply translates into health insurers.


Have you heard about the latest fringe group? They're called "The Oath Keepers" and their founder, Stewart Rhodes, says the military need not obey the president if he is engaged in unconstitutional (illegal and immoral)acts. Rhodes even put off Bill O"Reilly by his defense of military rebellion in the U.S. Rhodes believes that the use of the military to enforce stability after Katrina was unconstitutional.


Shouldn't one of John McCain's close friends quietly taken him aside and tell him, "John you've had a hard life. Why don't you take a year off from politics and smell the roses?" That seems so necessary as he continues to invent the history of his presidential campaign, only to be corrected immediately. It's happening quite often these days. Not funny any more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ol' McDonnell's charm in Ohio, too?

IF YOU ARE LOOKING for a hint or two about the nature of life under a governor like John Kasich, you might want to check out his newly-arrived fellow Republican conservative Bob McDonnell of Virginia. It would be too extreme, perhaps, to mention McDonnell's instant executive order as governor that stripped gays and lesbians from protection against discrimination in their jobs. In so doing, he erased an order by his predecessor, Tim Kaine (now the Democratic National Committee chairman) that guaranteed such protection. (McDonnell's anti-gay stance should come as no surprise: He's of the same mind as his close friend, TV-preacher Pat Robertson, and is an alum of Robertson's Regent University.)

But on the economic front, McDonnell immediately went after the state's $4 billion deficit with a series of proposed cuts that, as they usually do, fell heavily on the lower end of the economic pyramid: Medicaid, dental services, home care for invalids. free medical services. Schools and local governments all took hits, as well as state parks, five of which would be closed.

His proposals are being thrashed out in the legislature and it isn't clear what will survive or be modified. As for McDonnell, he says he understands the pain but his program will be accomplished without raising taxes (which says nothing of the local governments that will somehow have to find relief from taxes). In a consoling mood, the guv said:
"There is no doubt in my mind that it will cause hardship for our citizens, that real Virginians with real difficulties, whether it be medical or education or others, will be adversely affected by the decisions of the legislature and my decisions over the course of the next two years." Real Virginians with real difficulties? Can an unreal governor know the difference?
By the way, in case you missed it, McDonnell, now considered to be another rising star in the GOP's right-wing firmament after the pratfall of Bobby Jindal , was chosen by the party's leadership to respond to President Obama's State of the Union speech. Yeah, I watched him for a minute or two until he told a wildly approving Virginia House of Delegates that he favors "jobs with dignity" for everyone. Cool. But it wasn't until a few days ago that we learned he didn't mean to include gays, who may not be real Virginians these days.

Add Republican Bob Marshall to the GALL list

ALTHOUGH THE COMPETITION among the half-wits for the Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) award grows exponentially each day, there can be no more deserving honoree than Republican Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall who insisted that women who have had abortions are punished by God by giving birth to children with disabilities. Oh, let him say it in his own words, and be done with it:
"The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children. In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There's a special punishment Christians would suggest."
And where did folks like Marshall who were born without a brain go wrong with God?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Even Teddy Roosevelt wasn't spared at CPAC meeting

BY NOW, MOST of the hybrid conservative-Tea Partiers have gone back to wherever they went after their Dionysian festival in Washington the past couple of days. From all reports, nobody to the left of the Washington monument was spared a nasty slam or two. But as crowds go, we did learn a few things from their angry behavior, none of which is pleasant for the few hangers-on who still dream of a political process that begins with sanity and ends with social progress.

At least, we saw the wannabes who project their future in the Oval Office and their enablers who insist that America's only salvation is a tax-less society that will somehow encourage all of us to own un-mortgaged homes, assure that everyone is physically fit without health insurance and never have to step outside without a howitzer.

Among the things that I gathered from all of this:

Based on his comments, Massachusetts superman Scott Brown , the GOP's latest hood ornament, is just one more hack to enter the halls of Congress. I mean, would a sensible man mention public anger and frustration over taxes in the same breath with the pilot who flew his plane into the IRS building? It was chilling, too, to hear others find humor in the crash.

While we're in the Massachusetts mode, it seems that Mitt Romney still has some homework to do to win the hearts of right-wing voters who refused to name him their first choice in the CPAC straw vote polls. Such pulse-checking is meaningless, of course, but not to the few like
Romney who wanted to come away with bragging rights. He tried so hard to please the crowd that he added a new description to the Obama Administration: "liberal neo-monarchists." Can you imagine a bunch of people who hardly understand the meaning of socialism trying to digest this mouthful?

We also learned that homophobia is alive and well within the ranks of those conferees. There was a skirmish between a Republican gay rights leader and a sassy kid from the California Young Republicans, and boos on both sides.

The ideological victory parade to the podium included Newt Gingrich, the plodding old warrior who is still trying to work out an uphill slalom for himself. Teddy Roosevelt took his lumps, perhaps by people who mistook him for FDR. Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a presidential candidate on a mission from God (Get in line, Guv!), showed everybody that he was up to speed on current events by arguing that somebody should emulate Tiger Woods' wife and break some windows in big government with a 9-iron. Jeez.

Sarah Palin wasn't there. She may have had the audience's best interests at heart, particularly those older fellows whose tickers couldn't endure much more excitement.

As usual, the final act was reserved for Glenn Beck, who wanted everybody to know that he was a recovering alcoholic - which we already knew. He used a blackboard and no teleprompter
to demonstrate that anyone who is pure can be redeemed, as he was.

The only downer, it seems, was Dick Cheney's rejection of the chants that cried out: "Run, Dick Run." You'd think that somebody would tell them that he's already running, not for president, but from the pursuers that are calling for his hide for his primal role in the torture culture.

P:S: A few posts ago I mentioned how the Tea Party Movement is generically linked to the old Birchers of Robert Welch. Update: I now read that the Birch Society was one of the co-sponsors of the CPAC conference. Hmmm....

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ganley, the wealthy rookie, eyes the 13th

OHIO'S 13TH CONGRESSIONAL District is a bizarre example of gerrymandering that stretches like a jagged lightning bolt from Lorain County, across northern Medina County, snipping a narrow section of southern Cuyahoga County and then plummeting down across western Summit County. Its Republican creation in 2001 was supposed to help rid Summit of single-congressman control (read Democratic). It did. If fish could vote, the district would have sucked up part of Lake Erie. So if you threw a handful of pebbles down a flight of stairs you'd get some idea of the district's boundaries from where they all randomly landed.

It's here where auto dealer Tom Ganley, a Republican of great wealth but as yet a rookie with political zeal that remains to be spent, has decided to plant the ultra-conservative flag on the district's soul. He is challenging two-term Democratic Congresswoman Betty Sutton - a decision that he apparently made less than a day before he opted out of the Republican senatorial primary against Rob Portman. There will be no surprises in his platform. Cut taxes and create jobs. (His prepared text for his Akron Press Club speech in October mentioned nary a word about health care reform. In Ganley's stance, he wants to add a businessman's moment to the U.S. House. As he will tell you, he sells more cars with his 32 dealerships than any other dealer in Ohio, and that much I believe.

The subtext is a recent internal poll that shows him leading Sutton 10 months before the mast.
With Tea Party frustration on his side (he has addressed these angry placard-wavers) it appears to be an opportune moment to dive in - along with six others in the GOP primary. But the 13th is also a Democratic district that Sutton carried with two-thirds of the vote the last time. In a prepared statement, Sutton's forces brushed off the competition, saying: "Since her first day in office, she has been effectively fighting to foster jobs and economic opportunity" for her district. Among other things, she's been in the thick of promoting the Cash for Clunkers program.

Still, give the Republicans their moment. Summit County Republican Alex Arshinkoff could not contain his glee after the weak showing by his opponents in yesterday's filings for the party's central committee. Nor could he disguise his joy that so many Republicans have decided to run for office this year.

"I've never seen anything like it" he told me this morning. "These people are upset and want change. It's a legitimate concern."

Although Arshinkoff has been targeted by some Tea Partiers and garden variety Republicans who sought change in the chairmanship, he'll be active in this year's proceedings. He may now find himself on stage with Ganley, who is pressing all of the right buttons to attract the right-wingers. The chairman stops short of casting his support for Ganley, noting that the party will have to decide on whether to endorse. But there should be no doubt about his commitment to Ganley if the latter wins the primary against a lot of political unknowns whose names don't appear on the frames of license plates. Ganley would not only give the chairman hope of capturing western Summit County, but he would be counting on some fresh financial support from a multimillionaire car dealer for a local party that is in weak financial shape these days.

It promises to be a hellish political year, but one that won't be particularly bursting with fresh ideas on how to get us out of the lingering mess that Republicans helped create for eight years.
It would also give Ganley a second chance to prove that he is a better candidate than a prognosticator. It was last July, after all, that he announced his candidacy for the Senate and thrilled his hometown Brecksville audience by predicting that he would win the Senate primary and "be the surprise of the nation." It remained that way, of course, until a relatively few hours before he decided to surprise everybody by winning the House seat.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Evan Bayh: Slinking back home to Indiana

CAN WE ALL be a little sympathetic to Evan Bayh for his torturous days in the U.S. Senate that have prompted him to retire to a safer haven back home in Indiana? I mean, here is a fellow now being held up as a symbol of a tragic hero who insists that he was ambushed in the crossfire of liberals and conservatives. He hasn't had a kind word for anybody in describing his well-perked pain from having to show up in the hostile environment of the Senate chambers every day and couldn't take it any longer. How's that for the high-minded principles of political centrism? Eh, Blue Dogism.

Trouble is, in damning the intolerable system, he has yet to concede that he was part of the problem. In his waffling on whether he would support the administration's major initiatives, Bayh continued to appear to be looking for a way to leave the scene of a crime with an undistinguished record of his own. He also showed little concern for summarily leaving the Indiana Democratic Party unprepared to fill his vacated spot on the ballot on such short notice for the November election.

Even for politics, it was clearly brattish behavior by a guy who always looked a bit better than he sounded. Maybe he preferred the unchallenged security of wealth that will provide him and his wife Susan a well-provided comfort zone in his post-Senate days, even to the point of allowing time to consider running for president in 2012.

Frankly, I never trusted his Periclesan sincerity in soldiering for the best that America can provide its citizens. His wife has served on so many corporate boards, many of them pharmaceuticals and insurers, that Bayh could hardly ignore the revenue flow to his family in his own work on Capitol Hill. (A common moonlighting practice for many other so-called lawmakers working for the people!). A few examples: she was a lawyer for five years for Eli Lilly & Co. and is on the governing board of Wellpoint, a giant in the health insurance field whose subsidiary in California, Anthem Blue Cross, recently jacked up its premiums 39 pct!

When someone like Evan Bayh wants you to believe that he is acting above the fray you have to always ask about the quality of the acting.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Filing deadline: The anti-Alex prelude

I'VE PAINFULLY learned over the years that any attempt to ferret out information within the Summit County Republican wars usually ends up with a he-said, she said, kind of debate between the two or more sides with very little definitive info. So it is as the deadline for filing candidates for central committeemen approaches tomorrow. Both sides are sounding terribly cautious in predicting the final numbers of their efforts to fill all of the county's 475 (or so) precincts with their loyalists. County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff, who is thought to be a member of the Taliban or a Demsymp, will only say that he is hoping to fill all of them but is running scared. At the same time, his opponents are reticent about boasting of any success in their second effort to throw out the chairman.

All of this political stalking is merely the prelude to electing enough of their own loyalists to serve their cause when the county GOP Central Committee meets later to vote on the chairmanship.

I must say, however, that I was put off by the announcement by the New Summit County Republicans - the anti-Arshinkoff group -that it had solicited the support of the National Precinct Alliance as its "partner" to help out in filling Corinne Hoover Six, who has mentioned that Tea Partyers would be sought for the cause. I left phone and email messages for her a week ago to fill in some blanks but she has yet to respond.

But Atty. Don Varian, one of the leaders of the anti-Arshinkoff movement, did return a phone call to say that the dissenters have been around long before the Tea Parties and are not physically attached to the current national phenomenon. "We expect to have more precinct committeemen on our side this time because we learned more from our first effort," Varian said. . (The New Summit County Republicans failed by a 2-1 margin a couple of years ago to remove Arshinkoff from the party throne occupied by Arshinkoff for more than three decades.)

There are some Republicans who think it will be a closer contest this time, if not decisive. "One vote at a time," one of the chairman's Republican opponents told me. "One vote at a time."

Boehner's failures in his attacks on the stimulus

WHAT'S THAT? John Boehner, that forever-dour House Minority Leader, is telling us that the stimulus bill is a whopping "failure"? You'd think that with new evidence of its success being reported these days , he would suspend his own whining opposition that seems to have begun on the day after George Bush left office.

You need only to look at some of the reports on the internet to realize that Boehner isn't a one-day wonder in leading the opposition to its lowly position in the public surveys.(Even below the befuddled congressonal Democrats.) If nothing else, he is icily consistent, having once called the stimulus plan "the worst idea ever." Here is what we should consider from the reports referring to Boehner's own words:

Sept. 29, 2008: The stimulus failed "because of Pelosi's partisan speech".

Jan. 27, 2009: "Boehner to GOP: Vote against stimulus".

July 9, 2009: "GOP declares stimulus a failure".

Aug. 31, 2009: Gingrich and Boehner declare the stimulus a "failure".

Feb. 17, 2010: The American people want Obama to "pivot to stopping the j0b-killing agenda."

Now here's a couple of paragraphs in David Leonhardt's Economic Scene in the New York Times (Ok, so we're quoting from a socialist newspaper, right?):
"Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative."
Oh? So who are you going to believe? Some impersonal research companies with strange names, or a politically inspired sidewalk economist with a household name like Boehner who simply wants to do what's best for his day job?

As the gurus often tell us: I report. You decide.

(P.S. The only job it appears to have killed is Evan Bayh's. And that was voluntary, for God's

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cheney: Where are the redeeming virtues?

BACK WHEN I was a young police reporter (Way back!) who was dispatched to cover horrific traffic accidents and train wrecks, there were always knots of early-arriving onlookers staring at the mess with a certain fascination in the twisted rubble before their eyes. Not a pretty sight. It is the sort of dark curiosity that is doubtless leading the TV news hustlers to haul up Dick Cheney to the cameras every day as a Quasimodo figure without the loving heart. A spellbinding sight, if you like that sort of thing, of a pathetically bitter man who should be spending more time tending to his meds.

Since he left office more than a year ago, Cheney simply hasn't shut up, twisting and turning fact into fiction to anyone with the grit to listen. (Contrast that to Al Gore, who won the popular vote but was denied the Oval Office by the heavily partisan Supreme Court! Instead of acrimony, Gore turned with grace to his work on the environment. )

If you were unfortunate enough to bump into the ex-veep at a party, Cheney's first words would be that Obama is a weak-kneed screw-up who will be responsible for the next terrorist attack on America. He says it so often that you have to wonder whether he wants it to happen sooner than later to prove his transcendent knowledge of the unknown while he is still alive to claim bloody credit. But while his attacks on Obama appear to be less about the welfare of the nation than his personal enmity toward the president, there may be something else festering in what's left of his soul. It may be his overwhelming fear that his legacy will continue to be sullied as it already has been in Jane Mayer's best-seller, The Dark Side, a remarkable account of how he personally and vengefully took control of the Bush Administration's War on Terror. In so doing he became a white-collar terrorist himself, inventing the rules as his schemes grew well out of sight of the public.

There are ongoing attempts to bring Cheney to account, but so far he remains standing, or at least hunched in front of a TV camera with no redeeming virtues.

What a specimen of public service gone awry! When Darwin spent all of his time with the finches on Galapagos, he failed to isolate another species that eventually morphed into Richard Cheney.

Maybe it would alert the TV crowd to the downside of the menacing spectacle they are offering to the viewers every day.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What did you learn in fourth grade?

HAVE YOU HEARD about the controversy in cash-strapped Utah over a proposal to shrink the number of grades in the school year? Faced with solving a $700 million budget gap, a Republican state senator, Chris Buttars, wants to eliminate 12th grade. He says it could save the state about $60 million. Although that would still leave a deficit of $640 million, there would be 11 other grades that would be available if the lawmakers can't come up with the money elsewhere.

Although I seldom agree with dippy proposals from the Republican Right, I think Buttars, in his own strange way, may be on to something by making education the scapegoat of budgetary problems. But I wouldn't begin with cutting out the 12th grade. By that time high school athletes are well on their way to considering a letter of intent for Ohio State or Texas, and
the parents of others have already taken out a second mortgage on their house to pay for their kids' college education. No, the absence of 12th grade would be too disruptive in so many ways.

I will probably get an argument over this, but I would eliminate fourth grade instead. By then, a student would have been introduced to the rudiments of the 3 R's that could be repeated with a refresher course in 5th grade. Fourth graders are too young to engage in blood sports and too small to lug around a tuba in the school band. There is, in fact, very little for any student to do except to wait around for 5th grade. In my case, it gave my father more time to talk me out of going to college as the alternative to selling used cars.

You may have other ideas, but let me ask you this: How many of you remember a damn thing that you learned in fourth grade? See, what did I tell you?

Will you at least give my suggestion some thought and get back to me? UTAH IS WAITING.


Grumpy Abe's FIRST photo post

Too good to pass up:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chuck Norris: Would Mary have aborted Jesus?

THE FEBRUARY issue of The Progressive magazine has a couple of slapstick quotes that fit nicely into my last post. One is by D-movie actor Chuck Norris, who has been flitting around on the right as a preacher of sorts. His latest mini-sermon concludes that Mary, acting from shame, would have aborted Jesus had there been government health care during her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Unable to shake off his trance-like thoughts, Norris asks: "Will Obamacare morph into Herodcare for the unborn?"

A second sidesplitter comes from a viper - an addled one at that - from North Carolina otherwise known as Rep. Virginia Foxx (R), who has fearfully locked her doors at night from the threat of an Obama health care reform bill. Warns a jittery Foxx: "I believe we have more to fear from that bill passing than we do from any terrorists right now in any country." But she temporarily forgot that risk when she got his autograph after Obama spoke to the Republican caucus. Yes, Virginia. There is a threat, and it is you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Life on the slow-witted track...

WITH THE SNOW and cold at our front door, I've been spending a little more time trying to enlighten myself with the latest insights of our friends who are flapping their right(eous) wings. Below you will find some of their carefully considered thoughts:

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: "A million dollars is not a lot of money."

Former vice president Dan Quayle: A 51-49 vote in the Senate is "unconstitutional".

Rush Limbaugh: We should be "thankful we don't have Obamacare or the death panel might not have approved of Clinton's surgery."

Glenn Beck: "It is evil for Obama to turn our kids against their parents to get elected."

H.G. Wells (a timely golden oldie): 'Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. "

Friday, February 12, 2010

Seriously, Broder touts Palin

I SEE BY TODAY'S Beacon Journal that Fox News is going to have to share its Palin Megaphone with David Broder. In his op-ed column that commands the page with text and Palin photo, Broder tells us that we had better take the Alaskan Avalanche seriously because "the lady is good." Hmmm....

Noting that she is at the "top of her game," Broder goes on and on about her iron-clad populist grasp on Americans that is quite in tune with the "mood of a significant slice of the broader electorate."

At the risk of challenging the octogenarian "dean" of American punditry, I might sneak in the latest national polls that despite her flood of media attention show her topping out in the lowest third of the public's fond embrace. Broder, in his own dull way, has been sliding to the right in recent years. He has even been outed for paid appearances before corporate groups - some in the free-spending health-care field - the sort of thing that he once criticized as a conflict of interest with others.

His longtime reputation as a neutral observer should at least carry an asterisk that he has now swung over to lucrative corporate-style journalism. You'd think that small admission would at least slide him down to the lower half of op-ed pages.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A strike vote authorized by BJ Guild

THE BEACON JOURNAL Retirees Blog reports that the paper's guild has approved a strike authorization vote - with a lone dissenter - over stalemated negotiations on a contract that expired in July 2008. The paper's demands call for Draconian cutbacks, although the BJ Retirees Blog quotes the company's lead negotiator as saying the paper is not pleading poverty but doesn't want to pay guildsmen at current levels.

Here are the issues:
A 25 to 30 pct. decrease in wages and benefits with a 16.75 pct. pay cut, a pension freeze, a larger share of health care costs and a change to sick pay that the BJ Blog reports "would be worse than what WalMart offers."
The Guild is said to have shrunk to 85 members, which includes not only reporters but also everyone else in the news operation below the management level. Sadly, that number has fallen by more than half over the past decade. If , as claimed, it isn't poverty, who's kidding who in the front office?

Jarvis' California: Here you go...and go

REMEMBER HAROLD JARVIS? Hmmm...let's see. Harold Jarvis. Harold Jarvis. Was he one of the special effects in "Avatar"? Or maybe in the movie "Finding Shangri-La"? OK, that's awfully close. For those of you who loathe guessing games, I will tell you that Harold Jarvis was the brilliant conservative anti-tax guy who got the California voters in 1978 to pass a constitutional amendment to put a heavy lid on property taxes. It became widely famous as Proposition 13 and California hasn't been the same ever since.

Indeed, its financial misery, which is wiping out great chunks of the educational system as well as other tax- supported state services, has reached beyond a crises. Carly Fiorina (nee Cara Carlton Sneed), a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, has now gone so far as to conclude that the state should declare bankruptcy. Her understanding of the law reveals still one more flaw in her judgment, an ailment that got her booted out as Hewlett-Packard's top executive in 2005. Lest we forget: she was an economic advisor to John McCain in the last campaign.

The reality is that California is prohibited by federal law from declaring bankruptcy, which Fiorina describes as a mere technicality. At the same time, the state would find it quite difficult to change the picture. It would take a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature. A family source in California told me yesterday that, even the mere whisper that the system ought to change would mean sudden death - with no overtime - to the heretical politician.

Time magazine once observed that Prop 13 was so beloved that it "ignited the Reagan Revolution and the conservative era" - an unconditional stranglehold that is a fixture in the Republican delegation on Capitol Hill as well as with their ideological brethren in legislatures across the country. (In this context, Ohio gubernatorial candidate John Kasich's pledge to eliminate the state income tax is, to put it kindly, reckless political rhetoric.)

No matter that Jarvis' ill-conceived anti-tax curse on California has managed to haunt the state for 32 years, draining billions upon billions from that state's needs to serve its citizens. Even local governments were denied an opportunity to make up their losses, if possible. Want to know how inequitably drastic the effect? People who owned a home before Prop 13 were guaranteed a tax freeze forever. Pre-Prop tax on a ($700,000) home might be $600. A Post-Prop tax on a similar home next door that was purchased later without the amendment's protection: $10,000.

Fiorina: Meet Jarvis. Anybody else might want to take off for Hilton's Shangri-La . They say it's a peaceful paradise.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The tough GOP brand is under the bed

NOTE TO Reps. John Boehner and his sidekick Eric Cantor: You can come out from under the bed now. President Obama swears he won't hit you. Honest. He's simply asked you to do what you've said you've wanted to do for a year: Have a sitdown with him on the health care reform bill. He doesn't care whether you come with your cues scribbled on your palms. He just wants to hear you out on one of the most urgent issues facing Americans today, health care. Even mob rivals have sitdowns to resolve their differences. Instead of agreeing, you've sent him a number of questions to be answered before you accept the invitation. I especially liked the ones in which you wanted know what color necktie he would be wearing and whether you would have to sit through some film clips of Sarah Palin. You boys are supposed to represent the muscular Republican brand in the House of Representatives and here you are, cowering under the bed and hoping that he will go away. I mean, he wants both sides to put their cards on the table in a publicly televised session. This would be your chance to tell the public exactly what you are proposing instead of being the nasty party of NO. You may also want to explain why some of your House members are now proposing to dump Medicare and privatize Social Security. We've been buried in one snowstorm after another and could all use some laughs. You must be terribly worried that Obama, as he has demonstrated before, is more mentally agile than you are. Here's your chance to prove him wrong before the maid comes to change the sheets on your bed. Carpe diem!

Ganleys: Like father, like son?

AUTO DEALER ROBERT GANLEY, 38-year-old son of U.S. Senate candidate Tom Ganley, has taken out petitions at the Summit County Board of Elections for the 13th Congressional District now represented by Betty Sutton, a Democrat. But the younger Ganley tells me that he has not yet decided whether to enter the field for the May 4 primary. He says several factors are being weighed. But he affirms his conservatism. Father Tom Ganley, a multimillionaire rightwing auto dealer, is making his presence felt in the Republican senatorial race against Rob Portman with a barrage of TV ads and says he's prepared to spend $6 million of his own money to get to Washington. Having appeared at Tea Party rallies, he holds the same views as those of the fledgling movement. Son Bob says he has some "parallel" views. So far five potential candidates have taken out petitions for the job, but only two - James Hrubik and James Brihon -have filed.

Oops. The nightmare of technology

SOME OF you may have received an unedited column in progress that contained a lot of typos in the draft. Don't quite know what happened, but such glitches are a technological nightmare. Sorry about that. The corrected version appears below.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tea Baggers arrive to target Arshinkoff

SPEAKING OF PALIN, it was just a matter of time before the Tea Party movement landed in Summit County. The National Precinct Alliance, one of several cross-breeding groups that have sprung from the current assortment of political dissenters, has joined forces with the New Summit Republicans (NSR) in a single immediate mission: the ouster of Summit County Republican Chairman Alex Arshinkoff. The NSR declared in its web site that it is "proud to partner with the National Precinct Alliance. Together, we can take back the party, put the GOP back in touch with common sense values, and start winning elections again."

We'll leave the assumption of the GOP's "common sense values" for another time. But the merging of the efforts by the NSR, which failed once before to rid the party of Arshinkoff by a 2-1 vote, and an infant national group is of central concern at the county's Republicans' front office. Arshinkoff has gotten an earlier start than usual in filling the county's 474 precincts with his loyalists, and his opponents have been busy trying to match that number. For now, the chairman is withholding his judgment until the Feb. 18 filing deadline to compare the numbers."I won't have a clear picture of the situation until I see how those numbers turn out," he says. The winners of the May 4 election will form the party's central committee that will vote later on the chairmanship.

But the national precinct group has already moved to develop a strong base at the precinct level. It boasted to the New York Times that it now has a coordinator in "nearly every state to recruit Tea Party activists ..." Although the NPA withdrew it s support from the past weekend's first National Tea Party Convention in Nashville over a disagreement on how the gate receipts would be spent, it nevertheless considers itself a major player in tapping the pool of tea baggers while their frustration is at peak levels.

Grass roots politics aren't new. Seldom does a campaign appear on the scene that doesn't claim grass roots support. It is usually built on rhetoric that provides the prospective voter an ad hoc kinship with the candidate and clearly is in the realm of polite politics. Quite often, the result is all grass and no roots, particularly when the same voters fail to see any progress and grow more cynical.

Back in the early 60s , the John Birch Society, an outrageous rightwing outfit that cast President Eisenhower as a comsymp , insisted that its success must begin at the precinct level. Its founder, Robert Welch, a New England candy manufacturer, directed his charge at Communists (the Tea Baggers' socialists of today?) and declared in his manifesto called The Blue Book that the U.S surely is in the hands of the Reds, which scared the hell out of lot of people. "We are out to get a million members truly dedicated to the things in which we believe," he wrote. That would be a major effort, he said, "but there are a million good patriots, who are also men and women of good will and good character and humane conscience in America, who are just waiting to join in the John Birch Society as fast we can can carry the story to them."

The first step he demanded, was to organize at the precinct level and infiltrate local governments - school boards, councils, whatever - with true believers.

Is history repeating itself? Inevitable.

Palin's brain is in the palm of her hand

PRESIDENT PALIN'S incomplete education in the world of 21st Century American politics has denied her an understanding of how technology can both create you and destroy you. You may have seen her at the TV'ed Tea Party Convention roasting President Obama for using a teleprompter. But her hypocrisy became clear during the Q.& A. afterward when a camera caught her looking into the palm of her hand. There she had scribbled such words as "energy," "tax cuts," and "lift American spirits" to cue her response to questions. It even raised suspicions that she had been given the questions in advance. Well, it was their road show of magical acts so I guess they were were entitled to a bit of sleight-of-hand conning. But by now you'd think that she was capable of memorizing her answers out of the sight of cameras. You would think that, and you would be wrong. At least, we are all aware that Obama uses teleprompters. By the way, did she also have one of those lumpy Bush-style gadgets strapped to her back?

Helluva Job Brownie wrong again.

BIGGEST NON-STORY OF THE YOUNG YEAR: The many reports that Michael Brown, the deposed director of FEMA in the wake of Katrina, was calling for an Indianapolis victory over New Orleans in the Super Bowl. Who cared? Sorry, Brownie. No matter what Bush told you, you are a terrible prognosticator, too!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

President Palin: Doing a great Tina Fey at convention

WHEN I CHECKED IN to the Tea Party convention Saturday night it appeared that President Sarah Palin was doing her Tina Fey impersonation, which she does so well. There was no letup in her personal amusement from her zingers, her arm gestures, her chirps that sought out high C. The audience loved it and she walked away with $100,000 or more for an hour or so of friendly political advice. She has risen above the presidency, which she said she would be willing to seek, to being a celebrity of biblical proportions. When she was asked during the Q. & A. what she would do to fix America's most serious problems, she conceded nothing about her own ascendancy when she declaredwe would be wise to seek "divine intervention." As she has so often said, she is waiting for God to open another door for her.

Actually, the narrative was fairly mild rhetoric as convention speeches go. She spent a lot of time attacking Obama as a "professor of law" instead of a commander- in-chief leading the war against terrorism. I think that was quite intentional for her to dwell on international terrorism to demonstrate that she is now qualified to deal with the real world - a deficit that plagued her during the last presidential campaign. She is pressing all of the red-meat conservative buttons: patriotism, elitists who don't appreciate the pain of the oppressed, the heavy hand of government, the love of America, Ronald Reagan.

The Reagan gambit reminds me of the time in Sicily when I told my guide that although I understood Italian I didn't understand a word he was saying. "That's because," he explained in English, "I put an r in the middle of my words to make them sound prettier." So it is with those conservatives who never stop breaking up their sentences by inserting the iconic Reagan in the middle of them, as in: "We need to - Reagan - cut taxes and reduce the - Reagan - size of government. Quite conveniently subliminal, don't you think?

I don't have the slightest idea where all of this will go. There are so many moving parts. But it is now quite apparent that the first targets are Republicans who are being challenged in the primaries, thus draining the GOP of some of its resources. I'm sure that the realpolitik of the Tea Party Revolution is frightful for such guys as Mitt Romney and other presidential hopefuls who are reduced to whispering about the arrival of Lady Gaga in their party.

She will have a voice, whether as a falling dwarf star or a supernova. Fox is expediting her claim to national prominence by installing a TV studio in her Alaskan home. Imagine that! A national news network fashioning the candidacy of its own choice.

This much I can say: Palin was garden variety loyal opposition compared to Tom Tancredo, a mess of a person who gave the most outrageous racist speech at a political gathering since the days of George Wallace. Still, since the Tea Party delegates were 99.44 pct. Ivory Soap pure, his words must have resonated with more than a few of them. And therein lies a bigger problem ahead for not only the Tea Party but also for the nation when such forces again become players.

Friday, February 5, 2010

McCain can't - or won't - get it right

SHALL WE HAVE a moment of silence for John McCain, who is exhibiting troubling signs of erratic mental behavior in his frequent appearances on Fox News and in the Senate? McCain's latest lapse into the unknown occurred in an interview with Greta Van Susteren in which he again complained that the Christmas bomber had purchased a one-way ticket to Detroit without raising security concerns. He said the same thing at an earlier Senate committee hearing. When he was corrected on that point by a counterterrorism official who said it was a round-trip ticket, he berated the witness, questioning whether he was trying to defend the terrorist. Beset by bitterness and the wear and tear of a long political career and his captivity as a POW, McCain cannot rise to a minimum level of credibility these days. There is,however, a darkly humorous side to the story: A McCain aide explained away his lapses by saying he is focussed on "bigger things". That calls for TWO moments of silence.


A salute to the two University of Akron scientists whose research contributed to a study reporting that some dinosaurs had feathers and stripes. The credits go to assistant biology professor Dr. Matthew Shawkey and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Liliana D'Alba. Lamentably, some dinosaurs without stripes and feathers were left out of the evolutionary process and wound up in the U.S. Senate.

Speaking of dinosaurs, I must turn to Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby who has placed a "blanket hold" on more than 70 Obama Administration appointees until the Pentagon acts quickly on awarding his state a particular military contract. Some will say that Shelby is merely doing his job for his state; I would say he has again defined "political chutzpah." Welcome to the make-believe world of national unity.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The beauty of Fox's presidential politics

NOW THAT FOX NEWS has shifted the center of political gravity to Nashville, you might want to keep an eye on Chris Wallace, one of Fox's many crossbows. Wallace declared that he was so excited that he and Sarah Palin would cross paths at the Tea Party convention that he wanted to sit on her lap. Careful, Chris. Sarah is a married woman.

There are moments like these when you have to wonder whether the Fox mission to plant Sarah in the Oval Office has the added dimension of sexual tension for guys like Wallace and Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly's soft interview with Palin after she had been added to the Fox payroll had all of the makings of a fetching Valentine thought. But I have to keep reminding myself that these guys aren't in the news business and should never be confused with professional journalists.

Are you ready for some nightly Tea Partying?

IT HAS NOW COME down to this: the first national Tea Party Nation convention opens today down in Nashville, a volcanic event that will upstage the Super Bowl by three days. The world, it says here, will be watching. So will America's national media, looking for an opening here, a weathervane there, to define the nation's political future. Even the professional politicians on both sides of the aisle aren't quite sure what to make of the spectacle that would rival England's Peasant Rebellion. Probably more so, inasmuch as there were no TV cameras back in the 14th Century and Glenn Beck had yet to be even a gleam.
But you're not likely to find any doubt for the cause among the starry conservative cast that will parade before the 600 registered attendees in the Opryland Ballroom to prescribe fail-safe solutions for all of the nation's problems. Indeed the only doubts that have prevailed are whether the organizers of the convention were less interested in telling off liberals , socialists, the New York Times and President Obama than in the profit motive at $549/per/ticket.

Although a couple of headliners, Reps. Michele Bachmann and Marsha Blackburn decided it might be more politically correct to back out of the event, the reports from Opryland is that all other systems are go, and then some, to satisfy the frustrations, anger, outrage, disillusionment, isolation and cynicism of the masses. Even the keynote speaker (Saturday night), Sarah Palin, once seemed uncommonly friendly to secession talk in Alaska before she revved up her personal ambitions in the McCain campaign and denied everything - even those times when she declared she didn't know what she didn't know.

We caught some of the tone of the celebration - which it is - by scanning the credentials of the other marquee speakers. For example, former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, a homophobe trying to rise from the ashes by running for governor this year. You may remember that the other justices unanimously kicked him out in 2003 after he disobeyed a federal court order against a monument for the Ten Commandments in the courthouse.

Others who may be expected to supply windpower to the Lipton teabags wiggling from the delegates' hats will be Steve Milloy, a Fox news commentator who rants against junk science , and Tom Tancredo, who sort-of ran for president the last time on an anti-immigration platform. God knows who will be lurking in the shadows.

But the only platform worth assessing is Palin's, a cutting-edge candidate for the White House who will be down there with her enablers taking names, email addresses and places of birth while profiling potentially useful allies to guarantee her claim to fame will last more than 15 minutes. On Sunday, the day after the convention, the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints will meet in the Super Bowl in Miami to determine who is really No. 1.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Two of three Republicans: Obama's a Socialist

THE NEXT TIME THAT you have lunch with three Republicans, you should know that two of them believe President Obama is a Socialist. That's the finding of a poll by Research 2000, a well grounded independent pollster that ran the survey for the Daily Kos, a liberal Blog. The survey reported 66 pct. believe Obama is a lefty who dreams of owning General Motors and such.

Want more from the folks who support that other party that keeps talking about bipartisanship and human values? More than half of them don't believe that Obama was born in the U.S, or, like the Republican lieutenant governor of Tennessee, aren't sure. There were a lot of other things in the Republican profile from the survey that was anti-gay, and pro-Sarah Palin. It also reaffirmed what has been known in certain religious quarters many times before. Two thirds of the Republicans say the only way to get to Heaven is through Jesus Christ.

By the way, your luncheon partners may uneasily dismiss the results. But that's not how they will vote in the privacy of the booth. Fair warning.

Fr. Coughlin vs. Beck: A duet?

THE CURRENT ISSUE of Columbia Journalism Review (May its tribe increase!) turns the page back on the current Glenn Beck phenomenon to an earlier media star - a priest, no less. In his essay "A Distant Echo," CJR contributing editor Douglas McCollam reminds us of the remarkable grip that Charles E. Coughlin - Father Coughlin - had on millions of Americans with his Sunday radio broadcasts during the Great Depression, challenging not only FDR but all others who did not fit comfortably into his matrix of political activism.

Even by today's numbers, the so-called Radio Priest might well have been called the High Priest of Political Distemper who rose quickly from an obscure parish in Royal Oak, Mich., to the voice of of an avalanche of dissent in America. McCollam gives us some numbers to reflect Coughlin's awesome influence:
"Working from his home parish at the Shrine of the Little Flower in suburban Detroit, the 'Radio Priest' built an audience estimated as high as 40 million listeners for his Sunday broadcasts - at a time when America's population was less than half of what it is today. At the apex of his popularity, he received around 10,000 letters a day and employed a staff of more than a hundred clerks and four private secretaries just to answer his mail. His church eventually had to establish its own post office branch to cope with the deluge, along with its own motel and gas station to service thousands of tourists who visited his shrine every Sunday."
At his peak, Coughlin also spoke at public rallies that drew 20,000 to 30,000 in Chicago and New York. Just as today's preening celebrities offer up their special prescriptions for a nation on its knees , Coughlin authored a book that sold nearly a million copies, McClollam notes.

Dissecting Coughlin's charms. McCollam concedes it's not an easy task.
"Reading Coughlin's sermons at a remove of 80 years, it's difficult to see what all the fuss was about. His prose is stilted, repetitious, a bit leaden. But from the beginning Coughlin connected with his listeners in an electric way. Part of his appeal, of course, was pure novelty. He was among the first to offer regular religious services over the air....

"Coughlin was also the master of identifying with the concerns and anxieties of his audience. He was emotional, dramatic and evocative..." [Sound familiar?]
The priest's attack on Communism drew the fearful attention of his audiences. Possessed by success, Coughlin formed a group called the National Union for Social Justice in 1934 and two years later the Union's endorsed candidates won several primaries. He was now on his way to endorsing a congressman from North Dakota who was supported by several splinter groups. He attacked FDR as the "great betrayer" and a liar, adding: "When an upstart dictator in the United States succeeds in making this a one-party form of government, when the ballot is useless, I shall have the courage to stand up and advocate the use of bullets." In response, FDR, who enjoyed his own reservoir of political magic, condemned Coughlin's stupidity and demagoguery.

Not the least of Coughlin's sins was his anti-semitism (Coughlin denied it although there was plenty of evidence to the contrary in the newspaper he published.)

The onset of WWII intruded on the Coughlin phenomenon and he faded into becoming a simple parish priest again. But in exploiting new electronic media (radio, no less), Coughlin was the radical master of making it work for him. McCollam introduces a profound thought from the philosopher John Dewey that is clearly appropriate today for today's media in general and Fox News/Beck in particular.
"Writing in the 1920s at the dawn of electronic mass communication, Dewey foresaw that the new technology carried with it the power to divide and "atomize" society, with individual constituencies increasingly replacing the shared sense of community.
Dewey nailed it - then and now.

As for today, McCollam neatly suggests that Coughlin's greatest lesson for today "may actually be its limitations."
"His fiery broadcasts could generate huge ratings, fill cavernous stadiums and flood Washington with protestors and irate telegrams. At times, he was able to stop major pieces of New Deal legislation in their tracks. But when it came to swaying elections, his influence was practically nil. Perhaps that fact is the Fighting Priest's most enduring legacy."
We can hope.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Sibert moment on UA's Board of Trustees

WITH THE IMMINENT retirement of Russell Sibert over at the University of Akron Board of Trustees there has been an interesting shuffling of the deck to fill the vacancy. Sibert has been the $150,748-a-year fellow with a title that would stretch from one goal line to the other in UA's new stadium: Assistant secretary of the Board and vice president of Board operations. The veep designation was largely arranged in 2001 by a previous trustee to adorn Sibert's resume even though he would be reporting to another vice president, Ted Mallo, the Board's general counsel. I'm not sure what labors Sibert's new vice presidency added following his promotion. It recalled what a touring Mark Twain said when he was told that Heloise's uncle Fulbert was a canon of the cathedral of Paris:
"I do not know what a canon of a cathedral is, but that is what he was."
In a letter to the campus community, President Luis Proenza reported that Paul Herold, special assistant to the president and associate vice president of public affairs and development, "will relinquish his associate vice president role, continue to assist the president and serve as the assistant secretary to the board." That sort of takes the job back to the pre-Sibert days. But there's more. Proenza wrote: "Paula D. Neugebauer, administrative assistant senior in the office of the vice president of public affairs and development, will be transferred to the office of the Board of trustees and assume the duties of the retiring coordinator [Marcia Fletcher] in addition to other current duties." Proenza says the "restructuring" will save more than $157,000 in personnel costs annually. From this distance, that's a lot to ingest in one sitting, but that is what it is.

I've been told that Sibert had planned to retire and return at some point with state retirement payments on top of his U pay, commonly known as double dipping. But I also understand that at least one trustee rose up to block it. Right, Mr. Sibert? Say it isn't so.