Saturday, March 30, 2013

A weasel is a weasel is a weasel

There seems to be a rash of never-minds from politicians who, as Mitt Romney once described his own linguistic detours, didn't express something as "elegantly" as it might have been stated.  Now we have word from Rep. Don Young, the long-serving  Alaska Republican, that he was sorry he referred to workers on his father's California ranch as "wetbacks".  Even speaker John Boehner recoiled from that remark.

All of which leads me to the Spring issue of Lapham's Quarterly (from Lewis Lapham, the civilized former editor of Harper's Magazine).  There you will find the following insight attributed to The Simpsons:

"Weaseling out of things is important to learn.  It's what separates us from the animals - except the weasel."   

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cornyn revives the hostile French connection

To hear Sen John Cornyn, the Texas Republican,  tell  it, the French are back to haunt America's way of life, both in war and peace. He says he has informed by a "guy" that French-speaking people were among the illegal immigrants crossing the border into Texas.  (Some  of the others were heard "speaking Chinese or basically all of the languages in the world...") But specific mention of the French  took us back to a decade ago when the  offended patriots in the U.S.House of Representatives boldly changed the name of French fries to "Freedom fries" in  the House cafeterias in a blunt reprisal for France's  refusal to join us in invading Iraq. Not one of democracy's finer hours.

Two Republicans who led  the demolition of Gallic fries were Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Bob Ney of Ohio , the latter moving on to still greater heights by pleading guilty to corruption charges and spending some time in prison for his inexcusable  bad judgment.

Sacre bleu! (Update: French fries have regained their original name and are again being served  in the cafeteria.)

P.S. For all of his partisan concern about lax border security, surely the senator must know that border crossings  are now down to where they were under President Nixon.

* * * * *

Rush Limbaugh, the conservative Great White Whale, has conducted his own probe of the same-sex marriage issue and identified the homosexual perps as the "Gay Mafia".  We're not sure where he would cast the blame for his own four marriages.

* * * * *

Proving once against that even crackpots can earn fortunes in America, Glenn Beck is now "reporting" that Rep. Michele Bachmann is being investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics because it has been infiltrated by radical Muslims.   "We have been sold to radical Islam", he warned.  "It has been infiltrated and we have documented it."
Bachmann supposedly provoked the blowback last year by asserting that important aides in the Obama Administration were connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.  

I can't make this up, but Beck can - and often does.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Get ready for the invasion of Republican circuit riders

A million years ago, maybe a little longer, Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett (then in his earlier  term) and Summit County Republican Chairman Alex Arshinkoff  insisted to me that their party would expand its base to include you-know-whos. It would be a magisterial commitment by two GOP draft horses to make the party whole for generations to come.

Didn't happen quite that way.  Not even close.  So after its  Comeback Team Romney/Ryan debacle in November -  a presidential election that even Karl Rove and Peggy Noonan decided was in their party's victory column for the asking -  the Republican brass are at it again.  They will spend $10 million, it says here, to send an army of circuit riders into the boonies to preach  the party's brand.  Suddenly minorities have become the party's search for the Holy Grail.

If there is a true opposite to Knute Rockne's famous half-time dressing room oration to his wilting team before sending it back onto the field, Reince Priebus,  the less-than-inspiring  national Republican Party chairman will have to do. He says the voter roundup  will  include "hundreds of people - paid - across the country, from coast to coast, in Hispanic, African-American, Asian communities, talking about our party, talking about our brand,  talking about what we believe in---"

Hold it right there, fella!  Ohioans already know what the party believes in. Let me remind you:

Begin with the belabored effort to limit the voter turnout last November. None other than John Boehner, the funereal Speaker,  told a luncheon group  hosted by the Christian Science Monitor last August: "This election is about economics...These groups [minority and poor voters] have been hit the hardest.  They may not show up and vote for our candidate but I'd suggest to  you they won't show up and vote for the president either."

Now the Ohio Republican pols want to cut back the time to gather signatures  for  referendums, a bill that Kasich signed a few days ago. It impedes any effort to challenge a law.

From Planned Parenthood, to abortion, to same-sex marriage (Sen. Portman gets an ad hoc  pass on this one), to gun control,  the governor and the Republican controlled legislature keep doing awful things that are running in the opposite direction of the public mood.

And I haven't even mentioned Republicans' failed attack on unions in SB5, which was mauled at the polls.

Come to think of it, when Priebus talks of a $10 million outlay to  woo new voters with the Republican brand, he does sound like  a cheapskate. It won't be that easy. Tea Partyers are talking about starting their own party in Ohio.  Nobody except the governor and his A-Team seems happy about his proposed tax plan.

 Politically, the Buckeye State for national Republicans has become Brand X. The only question now:  What has taken them so long to figure that out - if indeed they have?  

Thank Steve Gunderson for an incisive memory

One of the most illuminating comments in the archives of the same-sex marriage controversy  was recorded in 1996 when a Republican congressman was outed by a colleague during a floor debate in the House.

Rep.  Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin, then the only gay lawmaker in the GOP caucus and the only member of his party to vote against a Defense of Marriage Act, was openly criticized by a notoriously  ultra-right congressman from California, Bob Dornan, who hissed: "I didn't believe when I came here  that we'd  be discussing giving homosexuals the same rights as holy matrimony!"

To which Gunderson (now retired from the House) tartly replied:
"In all due respect to my colleagues, lesbians have no interest in your wives,  and gay men have no interest in your husbands.  Should not my partner of 13 years have the same rights as the partners of my colleagues around here on their second and  third marriages?"
That one soared out of the park!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sarah Palin's new acting career in works

Ever since Sarah Palin's stunning Big Gulp comedy act at CPAC, rumors have raised  the possibility of a new acting career to replace a waning political role.  Some insiders are suggesting  that she would be a perfect Annie Oakley in  a Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun inasmuch as she could provide her own arsenal of guns. And a grizzly or two.

Other ideas would have her playing Eleanor
Roosevelt,  Mother Teresa (Sarah's not getting any younger!)  or Kate Smith reprising God Bless America in a TV series scripted just for her.  (Kate Smith would be a perfect fit for Sarah  if the former Alaska governor insists on gulping  sugary soda for her comedy routines.)

My choice is the  gossip that she is already in rehearsal to play Tina Fey on Broadway.  Go ahead and gulp, if you like. Just one won't hurt you.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

No need for the dog warden when Bachmann barks

With FDR, there was his "little dog Fala". With Richard Nixon, we learned of his dog Checkers.  With Michele Bachmann, there is her fantasy that President Obama spends taxpayers' dollars on dog-walkers for his family pet.  Even Bill O'Reilly is aghast at her fictions, declaring her latest one is not true. But the more things change, they more they stay the same for Michele, who has been walking around on her knuckles ever since she arrived on Capitol Hill as a Minnesota congresswoman.

You may recall that a couple of years ago she accused Obama of running  up a bill of $200 million a day for his official visit to India. That's eight zeroes after the two, folks.

FDR handled folks like Michele with cool panache.  When FDR's critics accused him of wasting $20 million by sending a destroyer to the Aleutian Islands to get his dog, the president wryly complained that Fala, who was Scotch, resented the spurious tale of loose spending.   "I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself,"  FDR  declared with staged indignation.  "But I have  a right to object to libelous statements about my dog."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Can county GOP April Lincoln Day dinner bring May flowers?

If you need further evidence that Republican politicians are running behind the times, you might check the date on this announcement by the Summit County Republican Party for its annual Day Dinner.  Yep, it says April 27.  The last time I looked, that  would make it two and half months after - Lincoln's birthday!  Nor did the notice promise to compensate for the delay by staging an Independence Day event in May.

This year's  celebrated Republican speakers will be Ohio Reps. Dave Joyce and Jim Renacci, both of whom just voted for Paul Ryan's mystical budget, a dead-end document whose theme and slight variations have included the repeal of ObamaCare - a stunt that has been defeated more than 30 times.  Obviously, for the GOP, it's the thought that continues to count.    

Happy anniversary, Dick

Jeff Darcy's cartoon in Plain Dealer struck home!!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The big White Hat bulging with taxpayers' money

For the past 15 years Akron mega-businessman David Brennan  has been been passing the hat - the  familiar white one big enough to bleed the state education treasury of enormous sums.   It began in 1998 when Brennan, as savvy an entrepreneur as you'll find on Planet Romney - founded White Hat management to establish a series of charter schools in Ohio and elsewhere.

According to Plunderbund, the flow from the state treasury to White Hat's account has reached nearly $1 billion and is continuing with a friend like alleged budget hawk Gov. Kasich and a Republican legislature.  Such success was not based on results and the offhand chance that his presence as a big GOP contributor would be ignored.  And if the pols didn't already know, he told them so. It didn't fail.

The cozy enterprise ran into problems three years ago when the governing boards of 10 charter schools sued White Hat to learn what happened to 96 pct. of the money that the for-profit company received.  And as you might suspect, White Hat stonewalled that since it is a private company its ledgers are not open to public scrutiny.  The suits have passed through court after court, finally landing in the 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus, which supported the charter boards' claims.  Kasich just went through the same challenge - and lost - to Jobs/Ohio.

But as the Beacon Journal editorially noted, the charter schools' case could  now head to the Ohio Supreme Court, with a 6-1 Republican majority. That, said the BJ, means White Hat "could evade transparency for a long while yet."  Did I tell you that Brennan was a savvy entrepreneur?

For now, may I ask about the costs of the long legal battle which, I'm sure, are  coming from White Hat's taxpayers' gifts?

Did I tell you that Brennan was a savvy entrepreneur? 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Plusquellic: A mayor doing things right

The recognition of Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic for the prestigious H. Peter Burg Award dashes the notion that familiarity breeds contempt.  He's been the city's chief executive for 27 years, the longest serving mayor in the city's history, having survived various attempts by his opponents to throttle his career at City Hall.  They've tried a recall, whispering campaigns,  junk psychology about his occasional temperamental outbursts, hostile (but ineffective) factions within his Democratic Party, and silly charges of political corruption.  None of it came close to kicking him out because all of it was politics as usual about a most unusual political leader.

Meanwhile, we learned from the 63-year-old Democratic mayor  that his only agenda is to manage a city in a way to advance it each day.

Chosen by the Greater Akron Chamber,  Plusquellic will be honored Tuesday night for his efforts in promoting economic development in the Akron area, a job that has not been the easiest through the darkest days of the recession  and the conversion of the city from an industrial town to white-collar enterprises.

Much of that story will be told again Tuesday night when he is honored at the John S.Knight Center with the award bearing the name of the former major domo of First-Energy.  Still, my best memory of his leadership is in somewthing that he didn't do.  After his determined bid to field a minor league baseball team in downtown Akron in a new stadium, he refused to show up on opening night in April 1997. The new owners owed the city a lot of money, he said.

Some political gurus and townspeople thought he was foolishly wasting an opportunity to shine, but the mayor figured that could await the receipt of the cash to the city's coffers. And it did.

As with a lot of other things in his role at City Hall, he must have done something right to dash around this long.  Congratulations,  Mr.Mayor!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Portman in the (gay- marriage) storm

Sen. Rob Portman, a dutifully faithful inhabitant of the Party of No, said "yes" this week and you would have thought that he had just endorsed universal medicaid even for the one percenters.  Instead,  he ended his long opposition to gay marriage, thus becoming the first Republican senator to do so.  Do we need further evidence that Republicans on Capitol Hill have all arrived from the same hatchery?

Portman, an Ohioan,  was clearly influenced to change his mind by the fact that his 21-year-old son Will is gay - a revelation that young Portman advanced to his family a couple of years ago.  But it wasn't until lately that Rob  finally decided that maybe gay marriage isn't such a ghoulish idea after all now that one's sexual preference is shown to be non-partisan and even all in the family.

The response, as you might expect,  has ranged from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Doug Preisse, the gay chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party, told the Columbus Dispatch that he is "pleased and proud" of Portman.  On the other hand,  Speaker John Boehner, who has been in a snit about a lot of things, disagreed with the senator's about-face.

One of the papers that arrives on my breakfast table every morning did see something positive in Portman, declaring in a front-age headline that his new position could mean that  he's a Republican "open to change".  The analysis by Henry Gomez, the Plain Dealer's politics writer, was largely friendly and even noted that Portman was once the reputed trusted economic advisor to George Bush the Second.

As we rummage through the ruins of Bush's economic catastrophy, I doubt that Portman is eager to be reminded of his role.

It is now fair to ask that if the senator's son weren't gay - as are  many sons and daughters  across the land - would he be so willing  to  change his mind?   Let me stretch  my neck way out and say that in this instance, his new form followed function for Portman as a caring father.

And I doubt he will be left  without scars by the social conservatives who control the party at its aorta.  Before his announcement, the senator tweeted back on March 8:  "Today is the last day of National Invasive Species Awareness Week.  It's a great way to focus attention on an important issue for Ohio."

He just did. All the way to his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Add another to the GOP list of rising stars

As I continue to explore the bright Republican firmament for "rising stars",  I am happy to report still another one as identified by McClatchy newspapers  in its coverage of the big conservative shindig in Maryland,  a.k.a. Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) convention.  It is Sen.Tim Scott of South Carolina, who was appointed recently to fill the seat of Jim DeMint, who departed to head the Heritage Foundation.

Scott made it to the not-so-exclusive  Rising Star column as the party's first black senator since Reconstruction.  He thus joins other media-designated alleged upwardly mobile luminaries as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, John Kasich and Jeb Bush's son, George Prescott Bush. (I hope I got G.P.'s name right.  There are so many Bushes demanding our attention that I get mixed up at times.)

Missing from the list is  ex-Sen. Scott Brown, who lost in November and is now a lobbyist.  A senator with an ex in front his title is immediately banished from the GOP's distinguished wish list.  Also missing is Tim Tebow, whose stardom was rising until he was flattened a few times with the New York Jets.  Now, he is afforded the backup possibility of a "window of opportunity" by the sports media inasmuch as  the team's starting quarterback is also a falling star.

You can forget Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, too. They have both worked hard at being rising stars and neither ever really  got off the ground. I'll keep you posted,

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The GOP's love-hate relationship with Cordray

The Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee  are seeking a way to deny Richard Cordray a job by resorting to a variation of the tune sung by the late Jerry Falwell:  Love the sinner but hate the sin.  Where else except in  the loony political atmosphere of  GOP America would you find conservative senators praising the key witness for his competence while trying to strip him of the job he was hired to do?

Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, is the still-unconfirmed director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a self-explanatory title. Republicans have all but declared the agency to be a front for Shariah Law. They insist Cordray would have too much power to raise hell with anyone ripping off consumers.  They assured Cordray that they mightily admire his good work, but...

But really, folks, how are these stonewallers qualified to recognize good work?

* * * * *

More hilarity  from Capitol Hill:  The Paul Ryan Show,  one-man stand-up  comedy that has played before, is continuing to amuse observers who scored more than a c-minus in arithmetic.  In a revival that could reach Broadway for its impudent gag lines, Ryan has retrurned to his self-styled abacus to present a budget filled with what can only be described  as a mathematical non-sequitur. Undismayed, Ryan invites everyone to come back in 10 years, when he  will be able to show you that even if the numbers don't add up, they work.

* * * * *

As if John Boehner doesn't have enough on his plate, a former Ohio Republican congressman who is back in street clothes from a prison term, has some untidy things to say about the Speaker in a  new memoir.  Bob Ney,  who spent 11 months in a federal prison for political corruption from his illegal handiwork with Jack Abramoff,   charges in the book that Boehner is a  "chain-smoking, relentless wine drinker" who engages in the high life of "golf, women, cigarettes, fun and alcohol."

An alcoholic himself,  Ney admits that his own crash "whichever way I look at it, was wrong, illegal, unethical and immoral."  He says he has found peace  through meditation   inspired by the Dalai Lama.  Will he now play nice and share the path with Boehner?

* * * * *

Finally, another "rising star". As you may be aware, I'm keeping a list of the designated rising stars in politics while the supply lasts.  Today's comes from the Associated Press,  which described George Prescott Bush, Jeb's son, a "rising star among Hispanics."
G.P announced Tuesday that he's running for Texas land commissioner.  A Bush grandfather,  an uncle and a father, and now a land commissioner?  How many stars can the universe accommodate?  No problem, George Prescott Bush says on his website:  "Texans are exceptional."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Portman checking with Tea Party on matters of state

Joe Hallett, the Columbus Dispatch's  senior editor and political columnist, has picked up the scent of Sen.Rob Portman's tippy-toed retreat into the grasp of the Tea Party.  In his Sunday column, Hallett, a perceptive guy who isn't always in lockstep with the paper's right-wing brass, wrote that Portman has been checking out his moves  with Chris Littleton, who runs Ohio Rising, a Tea Party outfit.

"I don't  agree with  everything he does," Littleton told Hallett, "but  I'm pleased with his approach to every problem"  Read: When Tea Partyers say nice things about  somebody, he's their guy.

Portman, a Republican  once known as a harmless  right-leaning centrist,  has been drawing  renewed attention since his  bid to be Mitt Romney's  running mate came up empty. (Maybe the Mitties thought he was a tad too dull despite his credentials as a senator from a battleground state. Or maybe they were skittish about his work as George W. Bush's budget director and let's not go into that.)

Since then,  Portman has emerged as anything but the middle-of-the roader that he promised to be when he ran for the Senate.  He has joined the GOP goon squad  filibustering President Obama's nomination of a highly qualified woman - Xenia native Caitlin Halligan - to the appellate court of the District of Columbia because, um...she's a "judicial activist".(When Republicans can't find anything scarier to say about a judicial nominee, they put their pennies  into the machine and out pops "judicial activist".)

Oh, Portman has also walked away from  fellow Ohioan Richard Cordray, opposing Cordray's recess appointment as director of the Consumer Financial Protection  Bureau because he doesn't like the Bureau's consumer mission.

I've written about Portman's developing taste for right-wing issues several times merely to call attention to his dual brand as a moderate and now a Teabagger.  Hallett mentions that  Portman could be shoring up his credits with the Republican wild side to run for president in 2016.   We can hope.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Another crises: The return of the split infinitive

When Smithsonian magazine ran a piece in its February issue by a couple of "language mavens" defending split infinitives and sentences that ended with prepositions, I'm sure the editors were well aware that there are some sacrosanct  matters in life that you shouldn't mess with.  (Whoops!  Sorry about that, Teach.)

Reporting in the March issue that the essay "sparked the most response''  from some cold-blooded grammarians,  the editors published a few pro-and-con letters and then went on to the workaday world of telling us about, oh... the lost tribes of the Amazon and expert observations of female elephants.

Re the split infinitive, I know the feeling. Both as a reporter and later an editor, seldom did another international crises pass without  one reader or another scolding me for an abused infinitive or stray comma in the paper.  Few complained about the mysterious who and whom, which,  as Mitt Romney once conceded of his own words, were "not elegantly stated."  I could only reply that having edited millions of words by reporters,"you should have seen the original". I suspect that there are fewer complaints about who and whom because most folks, including me, have been  baffled by their usage. There are some things mortals were never meant to understand.  I feel the same way about the Higgs Boson ( the so-called God Particle), semiconductors and Brunelleschi's dome.

The severe challenge of deadline journalism is that it has merciless demands that don't always work out to perfection.  On several occasions as a  theater critic, I was forced to dictate reviews from notes in a telephone booth with a swarm of people glaring at me. It wasn't until I read the paper the morning-after that I had a clue to what I had said.

Still deadlier to one's honor  is a rewrite person at the other end misunderstanding what you have just said. After a speech by Robert Kennedy in Columbus,  I dictated a story   to the Washington Post in which I quoted him as saying that nuclear weapons should be defused.   The Post reported it as diffused - which did make a difference, don't you think? In panic, I called when I learned of the snafu and mercifully got a correction.

Oh, we began with split infinitives, which are OK with me.  I swear that language evolves.  If it didn't  we would be be communicating like Spenser's "The Faerie Queen."  Want to start a hot argument, try spelling it that way today. I wouldn't dare want to. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The news inside Plain Dealer is painfully gloomy

(Now posted on Plunderbund)

In view of the Plain Dealer news room's mission to report the news, the absence of news about the people who are supposed to report the news of others has left the staff in a state of day-to-day  suspended animation.  And hardly feeling secure in their line of work.

The problem, of course, is the presumed impending doom of the state's biggest and often most puzzling newspaper (as we now know it), a deeply ensconced establishment journal that has tight-roped for years through local issues in a diverse city that has needed little encouragement to become unruly.

Ever since the word got out last year that the PD's absentee owners were serious about slicing another third of the paper's news staff (58 from about 165 is the operative number) and had a track record of  reducing publication to thrice-weekly in other cities, it was only natural for reporters and on-site editors to wonder about their own survival.    You still won't get an answer  to the fate of the yet-to-be named outcasts. The hit list won't be known, we were told by staff sources, until May.

Nobody is more frustrated by the current lull in the action than Harlan Spector, the Guild president who  has sat  through  meetings with the brass that recently ended with still more union concessions and few specifics about the layoffs. In a way, the Guild faced the option of death by hanging or firing squad.

 "I'd love to know what they're planning," Spector  said  when I called him a few days ago.  The "they" in this instance is Advance Publications owned by the Newhouse family.   The company has already revealed its  course with other papers in its grasp with  something called the Michigan model.  It started with the conversion in 2009 of the Ann Arbor News from print to digital.  Along the way, the owners squeezed such papers  as the New Orleans Times-Picayune into a three-day format. That seems to be where the PD is headed, if the speculation rules the reality. Some time in the spring, the PD's readers could be getting the paper on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday - if the current subscribers decide they want it at all.

Again, Spector and others on the staff with  whom I spoke can do no more than rely on Advance's past actions.  Besides, they suspiciously noted that Editor Debra Simmons and Managing Editor Thom Fladung just visited New Orleans when the  Mardi Gras was only a memory.

"Everybody's on edge," a veteran reporter told me.  "There are no decisions being made here - it's all being handled by the (Advance) New York office where the guys are preparing to do it (expletives deleted)."

The talk now is that the paper will see the rise of "curators"  - a post -journalism term about the folks who will post news on the Internet.  I'm not at all familiar with the precise process and will leave it at that.  However, it has been evident for some time with the challenge of digital news that newspaper owners almost never inject the word "journalism" into their outlooks.  It's become a meaningless distraction to the business model and therefore undefinable in today's alternate communications universe.

Journalism as it was once known didn't disappear overnight as it was painfully debilitated by the space-time speed of electronic transmission in the palms of a new generation's hands.

Still, during the print media's slow trek to the graveyard, it would be nice to meet somebody high up in the business slip  in a nod to journalism just so we have a hint of what nobody on Wall Street seems to be talking about anymore.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

When an iconic hometown clock stops...

To follow up on my last post about the demolition of the old building that once housed Niam's Parkette,  I happened to read in a western Pennsylvania newspaper that the century-old town clock in my hometown has stopped. Another reminder that, as my art history professor once conceded of a flaking fresco, "things don't last forever."

Now that might not sound like big news for most folks who can consult their I-clocks, but the clock high up on the United Methodist Church tower along Main Street was the final arbiter in calibrating the precise movement of Mt. Pleasant's residents.  I passed it each day on my way to school and its silent arms told me whether I should walk faster to arrive on time. It was all part of a day's small-town existence.

At night,  eerily lit round faces that looked out in four directions signaled a sort of eternal guardianship over a town in repose.  The stores on Main Street had closed, but life was secure for another night so long as the clock was peering out over its people.

The problem now, according to church officers, is that the 40-year-old motor that had replaced an earlier one is broken and is irreplaceable because nobody makes them anymore.  So plan B will be  an attempt to fix the old one that runs all four faces.   That will be the challenge to the borough because for some reason it and not the church owns the iconic timepiece.

If I were to sit down for coffee with some of my old hometown acquaintances, I can assure you the fate of that clock would quickly enter the conversation.    Mayor Gerald Lucia  told the paper that it is already the talk of the town.

"The clock has been a monument  in Mt. Pleasant for years, and it is a symbol of the fact that from the time of being a child and growing up through the years you always looked to the clock to see the time,"  he said. "Believe me, since it hasn't worked, many people have asked 'When are you going to fix the clock?'"

Somehow it's good to know that there are some local concerns that can temporarily relieve us of  thinking about the zoo on Capitol Hill, where time also seems to have stopped.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Niam's Parkette: Now only a happy memory

The newspaper photos of the demolition of the old building on Locust Street was a melancholy epilogue to the colorful Niam Era in downtown Akron.  The imposing red brick structure that housed Niam's Parkette  - a Runyonesque daytime eatery that lured   characters from across political, social and class lines simply because the food was decently prepared even if one was not always prepared for the next intense encounter ignited by heart-felt disagreement over whether the coach or an official had contributed to a loss by the Notre Dame football team.

Ed Niam, pater familias of all things sports in his circle  of patrons, was not easily persuaded by those who questioned his authoritative version of the game since he had long  adopted the Fighting  Irish as one of its scouts after his childhood buddy
Ara Parseghian was named the coach. Soon afterward, an overhead glass  case stretching the length of the booths began displaying  the team's memorabilia. A Notre Dame headgear, suspended from the ceiling, wafted above the  cash register.  You get the picture. Ed Niam was not a man of modest loyalties.

As one of the diner's  regulars,  I met my dentist there.  I met my urologist there. I lunched with physicians, lawyers, bookies, politicians, coaches, cops and guys that I didn't dare ask their lines of work.

But by the mid-1990s, after nearly a half-century  of serving as a highly informal  lunchtime  showplace  for people needing a boisterous break from the office, the diner began to constrict the pace, the humor, the old-time theatrics.  Ed Niam, 75 and stricken with a failing heart, died just before Christmas, 1996. His tireless wife, Gerrie,  who labored at the grill for ages to guarantee the customers a hot meal, hung on for awhile with the aid of a son  but the end came for her last July. (By then the diner had already  housed two other tenants,   Meeker's Kitchen and Wally Waffle.) The building's owner, Paul Salem,  Gerrie's brother, sold the building  to Children's Hospital,which will replace it with a Critical Care Tower.

But the memories will persist with the ghost of Ed Niam thumbing through his football "spot cards" to pick the winners of the week end football games  while people waited at his station at the cash register to pay their bills.   Somewhere in the hospital's new digs, there ought to be a tribute to what went on in an earlier life.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Is Boehner headed for giving up his kingdom?

In the wake of the November election, did you ever think for a moment that President Obama would be spending a lot of his time dealing with  the shop foreman  of the Tea Party, namely Speaker John Boehner?  Folks, that's where we are today on the sequester with the assembly line at a dead standstill.

Under threats from the the Teabaggers, Boehner seems to be lip-syncing the talking points from the gang on the rigid right, fearful of a blowback that will lead him to race through the halls of Congress shouting, "the House, the House, my kingdom for the House!"

* * * * *

We're still trying to figure out Ann Romney's comments to Chris Wallace on Fox news that Mitt's defeat was a "crushing disappointment not for us, but for the country".  She explained that his problem was that people didn't get to know the real Mitt who now has no "anger or depression" even if his GOP critics believed he was too big to fail. (We, in fact, knew the real Mitt.  He was the fellow with a car elevator attached to his luxurious home.)

* * * * *

Italy's politics have long been the inexhaustible  treasury of comedy, and now the latest chapter has featured the real thing, comedian Beppe Grillo, who got  25 pct of the vote in the latest electoral free-for-all.  Soon the Italian brand will rival the U.S. House for the most laughs.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Guru Mitt is back. We knew him when...

I know it's not on your short list of things to know, but I will say it anyway:  Want to know what chutzpah is? I think I've figured it out beyond dispute.  It's Mitt Romney, the fellow who just lost an election by 5 million votes, piggybacking on Fox News as the emerging guru of choice to advise President Obama on how to run the Ship of State.

He hasn't learned that the political class doesn't really care what losers think, particularly those losers who were expected to win.  Is it rehab time for Mitt?  Republicans should hope not.

Speaking of Republicans, they did display a hint of intelligence by not inviting Chris Christie to the CPAC conference. Can anyone imagine a governor with a near-perfect approval rating in his home state appearing on the same program with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who  has a 27 pct. approval rating in Virginia (apart from his very conservative congressional district just  outside Richmond.)

And speaking more of Cantor, the March 4 issue of  the New Yorker examines the turmoil within the GOP in great depth to reveal how Speaker Boehner and Cantor serve at the pleasure of the Tea Party - the "unrulies" who have taken over the  Republican majority in the House, writes Ryan Lizza.   It's a long piece, but well worth a reader's time.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Robertson or Scalia? A tough call

I haven't decided whether to recognize the Rev. Pat Robertson  or Justice Antonin Scalia as this week's winner of the coveted Grumpy Abe Linguistic Lunacy (GALL) award. Neither is a rising star in his class anymore but both are known to draw extensive  media attention when they speak.  It's sort of like the NFL referee announcing the crucial decision by the deciders in the booth on high for a disputed play down on the field.

First, Preacher Robertson told his TV audience that  people should be careful about wearing second-hand clothes without thoroughly laundering them because it was possible that they may possess "demonic spirits". Prayer, too, would help protect the new wearer, he said, to "rebuke any spirits that happened to have attached themselves to objects". (No, he's not talking about ancient tree spirits!)

Not that he's totally sure about this threat, but "it ain't going to hurt" to be careful.

That seemed to qualify as a winner until along came Scalia - a Supreme Court justice, for heaven's sake - who expressed his distaste for the Voting Rights Act in the case being argued before the court by describing it as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement".  The historians are sure to mention this somewhere in their accounts of Scalia, just as they have never let modern readers forget the day in 1857 when Chief Justice  Roger B. Taney ruled in  the  Dred Scott case that slaves should never-never become citizens, even if they were freed.

It had been a close call,  but now that I've revisited the details and the sweeping consequences,  the GALL award goes to Scalia.   (But I did throw some industrial strength cleanser into the washer!)