Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Feeding The Habit

The litany of "thanks to me" releases are making their way into the newsroom as anyone who's anyone in Congress (the House, at least) trumpets their support of the economic stimulus package. Maybe this should also be called the "feeding the crack addict more crack" bill.

I know it's probably un-American to say this but this rush to give taxpayers $600 of their own money -- borrowed from their own tax refunds next year -- is exactly one of the reasons why the perception of the economy is trouble, trouble, and more trouble.

Just why are we tanking? The subprime mortgage crisis is a big reason, say the experts, with a half-million Americans losing their homes to foreclosure and more to come in 2008. What we're paying lip service to is that banks didn't do their jobs making sure the loans were repayable and the borrowers (that'd be us, folks) didn't quite grasp the American Dream actually had to be paid back. The lenders were the crack dealers and the consumers were the crack addicts.

Whatever happened to "if it sounds too good to be true it probably is?" or is that just the postscript on Better Business Bureau news releases?

The answer from Washington doesn't really ding the lenders and the scores of high-paid subprime geniuses who likely cashed in on huge bonuses during the greed-glory years, although the sinking stock prices are a nice reminder that stockholders still hold the bag. The answer isn't a call for a financial come-to-Jesus for consumers to wake up and realize adults do have to pay attention to the fine print and you really shouldn't expect to get something for nothing. The solution marked bipartisan: borrow from next year's taxes so people think they're getting a gift this year. You are likely excited at the prospect of hundreds of dollars by summer but as that check lands in the mailbox remember it's your money, so a couple of ideas ahead of the splurge:

YES, America is now a consumer and service economy but the health and welfare of Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Sears and Macy's really isn't more important than your own economic health. Instead of making the plasma screen your top priority (thereby increasing the trade deficit) how about making your personal deficit a higher priority and paying down some debt? Not sexy, not as much fun but a better way to improve your personal finances in the long run.

SURE, consumer spending is important to jump start the economy but consider for a moment going to the grocery store, paying utility bills, making needed home improvements to improve the value of your home and maybe even taking those college classes you've thought of but couldn't afford are also "consumer spending", but a far better investment in you than in Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba.

SPENDING isn't a bad thing as long as you use smart think; would you buy that big-ticket item if you didn't get the $600 bucks and more importantly is it a question of want or is it a question of need? We've gotten to the point where American society is being defined by what we're buying instead of what we're doing and that's a step toward the Pax Americana signaling the beginning of the demise of the U.S. era.

It won't be a sudden overnight event; it'll take time, and the slide will be in cents rather than dollars until we wake up and find the banks all run by someone else overseas. Buy into the dealer's argument that we need the drug to keep the neighborhood alive and the only one who prospers is the dealer, and even then without the customers in the long run he won't have much of a future. Blowing our own money in a gigantic consumer spending orgasm this summer is a down payment not on a stronger economy but just a momentary fix until the next pangs of hunger strike.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Do Bloggers Get A First Too?

Here it is Monday and we still can't get "The Point" -- at least today, but it IS coming back, so what's the point? It's the First Amendment.

The editors down on Exchange and South Main now say they will restore The Point, the political blog on Ohio.com's new politics website that's been on hiatus since it was yanked off the web after Summit County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff launched complaints that blogger Ben Keeler shouldn't be able to make his point since he (Keeler) is a candidate for the county GOP Central Committee on the slate that wants to give Arshinkoff the heave-ho. Thanks for getting open debate opened up again.

This may sound very confusing but in reality it's pretty simple: just how willing is the media to extend the First Amendment to those who contribute political content online, and what unique power to stifle debate should politicians have?

Arshinkoff's argument (we can only surmise since Alex isn't talking for himself, as usual) is that Keeler is biased since he's openly running on the New Summit Republicans platform to make a change in the county GOP. That bias is no surprise since Keeler made the point openly and honestly in his own blog from Day One. Apparently no good deed goes unpunished because Keeler was shut down, according to management's original posting, after Arshinkoff complained.

Their point is that someone might argue paying the bloggers might constitute support from the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com despite the frequent disclaimers posted all over the blog posts and site on how neither the ABJ nor Ohio.com are responsible.

What is interesting is how this hasn't really surfaced beyond a couple dozen blog notes, this one included, in questioning why a media organization (in this case the Beacon Journal, owner of Ohio.com) didn't use the occasion to respectfully remind Alex of Keeler's right to his own opinion and political views as not only a blogger but also as a candidate, and encourage Arshinkoff to use the occasion to respond or challenge Keeler directly.

In their own terms of use the new political feature on Ohio.com notes it doesn't "...control, and is not responsible for, any Content made available through the Site by members." Doesn't Keeler's opinion and the thoughts of fellow bloggers and responses fall into that category? The Point's very own disclaimer also makes it clear Keeler and opposing view blogger Kyle Kutuchief have their own opinions and neither the ABJ nor Ohio.com are tied to any opinions or endorsements.

Alex Arshinkoff is absolutely right to note Keeler's bias (just as Keeler did himself) as a matter of his personal opinion, but using the complaint to pull the blog is the absolute wrong decision by the folks at Ohio.com, which should be commended for encouraging open debate and discussion on public issues and setting up a site devoted to politics.

Critics of the way things are done in Summit County often talk about how we in the media fail to illuminate the shortcomings of the elected and powerful, relegating the real decision making to power lunches at the Portage Country Club or downtown restaurants known as political watering holes. Anyone taking in a tasty bite at Bricco can attest to the movers and shakers who meet over a plate (full disclosure: me included) to talk strategy. This decision only reinforces and gives credence to that criticism.

I'm glad the posting will start up, sometime next week according to the update. In the meantime how about not losing sight of the fact that the real point is to generate enough heat to shed light on the way the people's business is decided?

(First Amendment image from www.reedexpo.com; it's a t-shirt from booksellers promoting the First Amendment and you can buy it for $25 bucks through this link.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Political Math 101

We've become so desperate to bend over backwards on what's "fair" that we've forgotten the central issue in politics is the exchange of ideas -- and to let the chips fall where they may.

The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com went through this exercise recently when it took down it's political blog exchange when it was revealed one of the bloggers supported candidates with their wallet; now the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com are in the middle of it.

The ABJ's efforts should be commended; building a website to encourage political debate is a good thing. Providing commentary from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints is exactly the point, and those who opine shouldn't be disqualified from doing so because they take their politics personally, even to the point of working as candidates.

If Ben Keeler feels strongly enough to take not only an editorial stand on the web but also to put his time, money and effort into that passion -- and is honest and transparent to his readers -- isn't that the greater good of the political debate?

There's a big irony here in that Keeler and the Ohio.com blog are placed on hiatus because Alex complained to the editors behind the scene while the blogger in question was open about his stand.

The political debate in Akron isn't helped by shutting down the conversation between opposing parties. The editors at the Beacon Journal should realize the chairman of the county party, his supporters and his opponents should (and can) speak up for themselves, just as Keeler does.

Consider this political free speech math: you can't add to the debate by subtracting voices.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ohio's Worst Case Political News

Geez, this took it's own sweet time.

The Plain Dealer reports that Dennis Kucinich has ended the months of white-hot speculation (OK, so I admit to a teeny bit of sarcasm) and confirmed he's dropping out of the race, considering his next steps and desires to remain in Congress. The breaking news on cleveland.com's entry by Mark Naymik includes audio of Kucinich.

Which of these things did we NOT think was coming?

So far the race for the district house seat has been dominated by Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman's funny jabs at the Kucinich travel record, namely he's off talking about the rest of America far more than he's at home working on behalf of Cleveland and the western suburbs. Dennis faces multiple challengers in the primary and the next six weeks are likely to be highly entertaining as he strives to re-establish his roots with his core, which given the politics of the district isn't likely to be too much of a stretch.

As a former West Park resident who used to engage in spirited discussion with my neighbors on the merits of Dennis (they've long since passed away, thank God, and don't have to witness this spectacle), it has always fascinated me how much loyalty the Boy Mayor continued to generate; the most-often reason to support him didn't have a thing to do with his political stand but had everything to do with his reputation as a guy who didn't swallow the party line from anyone.

I guess tilting at windmills still works in some neighborhoods.

Welcome back, Dennis. Sorry to say this ends northeast Ohio's position as a presidential punk'd tag line but at least we have another political car wreck to watch closer to home.

Monday, January 21, 2008

We've All Been There

There's been plenty said today on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day but by far the funniest clip on such a somber occasion is the New York Post piece catching former President Bill Clinton snoozing away during a chuch service in the Big Apple.

Headline: "Bill Has A Dream".

You've GOT to watch this one...even though it takes awhile to settle down and properly buffer.

To be fair Bill's not the young man he used to be -- but the shot of him waking up to check his watch is worth an extra snicker. Just how these candidates (and former candidates) manage to NOT do this more often is a constant wonder to me; at the very least it should be considered cruel and unusual punishment to put anyone who's had to sit through a State of the Union from these guys to endure a speech from anyone without a proper nap.

Thanks to the NY Post for the photo, too.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sorry Dan, You're Off-Base

This is very inside media baseball but does anyone besides me wonder why this kind of stuff is news?

From Romenesko, a widely-read media columnist at the Poynter Institute comes word of this interview published in the Sacramento Bee with NPR's Daniel Schorr:

"I'm glad I'm not 20 years younger," says NPR's Schorr
Sacramento Bee
"In my day, as a newspaper man, radio man and television man, I had the feeling I was telling people something they wouldn't otherwise know," says 91-year-old Daniel Schorr. "That's no longer true. I'm glad I'm not 20 years younger, because I'd be very discouraged. ...At my age, I look at [the media landscape] and say, 'Boy, I'm glad that's for other people.' I couldn't stand what's going on today."
Posted at 9:09:51 AM

Now I don't have any quibble with Daniel Schorr's ability to express his opinions; he's had a wonderful career of doing so extending beyond broadcast and print, but this is exactly the type of "when I was your age I walked 20 miles barefoot to school -- uphills both ways!" stuff that drives anybody younger than the speaker crazy.

Now I'm not going to speak for Schorr but I can imagine that when he was in his 20s, during the heyday of network radio and the rise of Edward R. Murrow and broadcast journalism's real birth during World War II, there were many grizzled newspaper veterans who scoffed at the media landscape then and noted how glad that funky thing in the box with wires was "for other people."

Hey, we're those other people!

Journalism's still important and the fact the "media" is accessed by more people, at more times, in more places than ever before in history is exciting. We're seeing the demise of the top-down editor driven brand of The Front Page make way for democracy in the truest sense of the word: voters and non-voters alike search for and find the stories they are interested in, and communicate with each other using social networks and other means the architects of big-media business models could hardly imagine a decade ago.

Musical link: this is like Frank Sinatra in the 40s (just look at those girls!); Elvis in the 50s(those hips are the sign of the devil!); The Beatles in the 60s(that hair!); The Bee Gees in the 70s (disco? You're kidding, right?); The Clash (those damn kids again); Run DMC (hip-hop?) and every other style trendsetter that set teeth chattering in any head with a touch of gray.

Get over it. It's the natural progression; how about less whining about how horrible things are now compared to the way things were and more faith in the generation next in line?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Magic of Get Go

Nature Girl and I went hunting for cheap gas today (she's not a big football fan) and hit upon a true miracle of marketing: Giant Eagle's "Get-Go" convenience stores and the possibility of huge growth for the Pittsburgh-based grocery store chain.

Besides getting cash off based on grocery purchases they also have car washes called "Wet Go"; what a concept! Just imagine the potential for expansion!

- add an Internet cafe called "Net Go";
- why not slots and wagering for "Bet Go";
- looking for loans? There's always "Debt Go";
- let's not forget a travel agency: "Jet Go";
- opera fans can get their tickets through "Met Go";
- dog grooming has a home with "Pet Go";
- once Fido's trimmed a doctor's visit is a quick stop at "Vet Go";
- check out the guitar shrink at "Fret Go".

Of course, if none of these ideas ever work out there's always: "Let Go", which may be the final word but I'm sure you have some I've missed...feel free to add.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Elephant Wars Heat Up

We're set new lows in the battle for control of Summit County's GOP; now we may see more hardball as both sides ramp up for the March central committee elections.

When's the last time you saw THAT in a lead?

I spoke with State Senator Kevin Coughlin, who called to ask me about a conversation with long-time county chairman Alex Arshinkoff. I reported last August on a Saturday morning call when I asked about some of the charges Coughlin and the New Summit Republicans leveled at the current GOP leadership. Of particular interest was Alex's comment on why he didn't field a candidate to challenge Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, then-running against fellow Democrat Joe Finley with clear sailing ahead in the general election.

I thought Alex's point was well-taken, that he didn't push a Republican challenge because Akron would benefit with Plusquellic in a position of influence with Columbus statehouse executive offices under Democrat control and a strong likelihood the White House would see a change in power as well. That bit of honesty may cost Arshinkoff, however.

Coughlin wanted to let me know the report -- in addition to similar comments made to others -- could form a basis of a challenge to remove Arshinkoff from the county executive committee.

Here's how it would work: the anti-Alex camp believes he violated the county party's by-laws, as filed with the Secretary of State's office, over language that calls for members to get the boot for supporting candidates who don't have the party's official stamp. That would certainly be Plusquellic, and in an ironic twist they say it's exactly the same strategy used by Alex years ago to have former Fairlawn Mayor Pete Kostoff removed (for supporting Wayne Jones' bid to unseat Republican incumbent Don Robart in the hotly-contested Cuyahoga Falls Mayor's race) from the GOP Executive Committee.

Following along? In a nutshell the charge is that by giving Plusquellic a free pass -- and even telling me the reason shows support -- should be enough to remove Arshinkoff from office.

The New Summit Republicans lawyers will huddle over the weekend to decide strategy; they may ask Arshinkoff to step down for violating his own rules, something Alex would certainly reject. The next step would be to take the case in front of a judge (after all, the by-laws are mandated by state law) or even ask Ohio's top elections official, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, to order Arshinkoff removed.

- - -

All of this hasn't even risen to boil level yet; the undercurrent of story commenting on the Akron Beacon Journal (through Topix) has been particularly personal and vile, aided no doubt by the ability to log-in and post anonymously or even using someone else's name. Eric Mansfield reports on a particularly graphic and nasty YouTube video making the rounds that drags up sexual orientation, martial fidelity and other mud (I agree with one commenter on YouTube: this one looks like it came out of Democrat quarters...) and both sides are already flying with charges and counter-charges of dirty tricks, fake mailings, vicious personal email attacks under false names and far worse.

- - -

The circus-like atmosphere of this challenge to Arshinkoff's authority -- coming from Coughlin -- is just scratching the surface. What may be lost in this is an honest discussion the party should be having: what's the definition of success for the GOP in Summit County, at what cost and with what face? Arshinkoff is a powerful force in local and state politics aided by his longevity, his amazing fundraising ability and his take-no-prisoners strategy in past races. But he's had some episodes of Nero-like excess, such as threatening those who dare question his leadership; that includes blasting local judge, the United Way (was Mother Theresa busy that weekend?), this week's public shouting match with fellow Board of Elections member Jones and other bizarre personal incidents that lead even his supporters to shake their heads. Coughlin has been one of the region's more consistent GOP names and performers despite the tag he's a little too ambitious; he's managed to put together his own faction within the local GOP that can ignore the bluster from the Arshinkoff wing and win without their help.

A dangerous thing, such independence from the county machine. Sheriff Drew Alexander is unusual in that he stands above that fray, seemingly immune to the entreaties and barbs from either side, the truly non-partisan public official. Coughlin could have taken that route, let Alex play in his own sandbox, but he tells me he can't stand what's happened to the local party and it needs to change to grow, prosper, and win.

- - -

The New Summit Republicans appear, on paper at least, to fall short of their goal but expect them to go head-to-head with Arshinkoff loyalists on filings for the central committee. A real key to this fight will be whether Alex is confident enough in his own game to allow the committee members an honest shot at deciding this contest, without manipulating meetings and the process, with a secret ballot in voting for the executive committee (and, by proxy, the chairman's job). Not surprisingly, his critics say that's the one thing he should be most afraid of because without the power to identify and punish he won't survive an honest accounting. That power play will come after the March primary vote with those hundreds of committee positions on the line.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ted's Death Row Test

I was struck by the depth of consideration Governor Ted Strickland gave John Spirko, the Death Row inmate who has big-city help in trying to overturn his execution sentence for the murder of western Ohio postmaster Betty Jane Mottinger in 1982.

I think it's important to make sure her name is included in the first paragraph of this story rather than as an afterthought.

Rather than rubber-stamping an expected politically correct call to give Spirko a pass the Governor fully explains just why it'll be life in prison for a killer rather than the needle.

“John Spirko was convicted, by a jury, of a heinous murder. At times, when he wasn’t denying having committed the murder, he appears to have admitted doing so. Ohio and federal trial, appellate and supreme courts reviewed his conviction and upheld it. Alibi claims and claims regarding evidentiary weaknesses, including more recently developed theories and interpretations of evidence, were considered by those courts and rejected. In addition, Governor Taft and I granted Mr. Spirko, collectively, seven reprieves to allow for the analysis of DNA related to the case. Once completed, these DNA tests neither exonerated Mr. Spirko nor implicated him or anyone else.

The Ohio Parole Board twice unanimously recommended against clemency for Mr. Spirko. Most recently, in 2005, six members of the Board recommended against clemency and three recommended that Mr. Spirko be allowed time to exhaust newly developed legal theories in the courts. Mr. Spirko was ultimately allowed that opportunity and his claims were rejected. Mr. Spirko’s claims that his own lies led to his conviction for an offense that he did not commit are unpersuasive in the face of the judicial scrutiny this case has received. Nonetheless, I have concluded that the lack of physical evidence linking him to the murder, as well as the slim residual doubt about his responsibility for the murder that arises from careful scrutiny of the case record and revelations about the case over the past 20 years, makes the imposition of the death penalty inappropriate in this case.

In making this determination, my staff and I conducted a thorough review of the judicial decisions associated with this matter, the Adult Parole Authority’s reports and recommendations, letters received in the Office of the Governor and by the parole board, the arguments and exhibits presented at the Parole Board hearing, the arguments presented by Mr. Spirko’s counsel in favor of clemency, recordings of various interviews, relevant photographs, newspaper analyses of this matter and Mr. Spirko’s institutional mental health records.

Based on this review, I have decided to commute Mr. Spirko’s sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.”

Here's the Governor's official order in the Spirko case:

Warrant of Commutation of Sentence

John Spirko, Jr., #A171-433 was convicted of the crime of Aggravated Murder with a Death Penalty Specification and sentenced by the Van Wert County Common Pleas Court to death.

Mr. Spirko is currently incarcerated in the custody of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and is scheduled to be executed on January 24, 2008.

I find that Mr. Spirko’s claim that his own lies led to his conviction for an offense that he did not commit is unpersuasive in the face of the judicial scrutiny this case has received.

I also find that the lack of physical evidence linking Mr. Spirko to the above-mentioned murder, combined with the slim residual doubt about his responsibility for the murder arising from a careful scrutiny of the case record and revelations about the case over the past 20 years, makes the imposition of the death penalty in this case inappropriate.

Accordingly, I direct that the sentence of death of John Spirko be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

I signed this Warrant of Commutation on January 9, 2008, in Columbus, Ohio.

It's noteworthy the Governor's commutation order so strongly considers the DNA evidence as neither clearing nor implicating Spirko, something missing from most of the media coverage (notably the Plain Dealer) which centers on the evidence not linking Spirko to the murder of Mottinger, whose body was found in a Findlay area soybean field six weeks after she was kidnapped, without noting it doesn't really clear him, either.

It is interesting to note Spirko escapes the death chamber because we think he did the deed but we're not sure enough to allow the sentence to be carried out.

The Governor's reasoning is plainly and clearly expressed and while it may not be a full endorsement of withholding lethal injection for any prisoner (it is important to note there have been a pair of executions in Ohio under Strickland's term: James Filiaggi and James Newton) it comes at the time when the U.S. Supreme Court weighs arguments on whether lethal injection poses "cruel and unusual punishment" enough to order different methods or procedures to be used.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Does Ohio Matter?

Sitting here watching the New Hampshire results:

- listening to the McCain supporters chant "Michigan, Michigan" will anyone be chanting for Ohio in March? We're two months away and in just a month "Super Duper Tuesday" may very well signal this whole thing is over with California and New York's rich plums still to be plundered;

- I'm struck by just how much everybody loves New Hampshire and I'm wondering just how many return as President (or otherwise) for a vacation? Do any of these professional-class politicians spend a day or two on a color tour in the fall without asking someone for a vote?

- With all the discussion on experience v change this popped in my mind: if you buy the argument the Clinton camp is making then shouldn't you be supportive of the son of a two-term Vice President and one-term President, the guy who was elected Governor of one of the nation's most populous and growing states, the fellow with degrees not only from Harvard but also Yale? If being the spouse with a ringside seat means you're more experienced than the candidate with more time spent actually serving in elected office then what's the weight of the second generation who actually served as a state's executive?

- with just about half of the precincts reporting from the Granite State it's a close race between Hillary and Obama...so did the softer, choking-back-tears work? Polls showed she was ten points down before "the moment" and voters may well decide she's human, too and the exit polling has women coming out for Clinton as they were supposed to in Iowa but the voting is still being tallied without big counts coming in from college-age voters;

- on CNN the pundits are really couching their conventional wisdom by saying even if she wins she loses because she had a big lead...but also she should be seen as a winner because she was ten points down 36 hours ago.

On to Michigan! On to South Carolina! Will there be a reason to vote in a presidential primary here in March?

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Worst Scum I Can Think Of

Have you gotten one of these in your email lately?

We've all gotten used to the "bankers" or "government officials" in this old web scam but this latest wrinkle show just how low these people go. I'm including header information...nice to note the path comes from an anonymous server supposedly using Hungarian language (Inupiak, according to ISO listings)...weird grammar and spelling left intact:

Content-Type: text/plainContent-Transfer-Encoding: 8bitReturn-Path: anonymous@server.ik.nlX-OriginalArrivalTime: 06 Jan 2008 13:49:55.0359 (UTC) FILETIME=[04E04AF0:01C8506B]

Attention Please!!! Greetings to you! I am Lieutenant Colonel William Adams...a US MARINE in Iraq.

As you may Know,there are several cases of insurgents attacks and suicide bombing going on here.However We managed to move funds belonging to some deceased persons who were attacked and killed through insurgent attacks.The total amount is US$25 Million dollars in cash.We want to move this money to you so that you may keep our share for us untill when we shall come over to meet You. We will take 70%, my partner and I while you take 30%.No strings attached.Just help us move it out of Iraq as Iraq we all know is a war zone.Note that We plan to use the British Diplomatic courier in shipping the money out in two large metallic Boxes,using diplomatic immunity.If you are interested I will send you the full details.My job is to find a good partner that we can trust and that will assist us. Can I trust you? When you receive this letter, kindly send me an e-mail signifying your interest including your most confidential telephone/fax numbers for quick communication and also your contact details. This business is risk free. Get back to me immediately for more directives.

Respectfully,Lieutenant Colonel Williams Adams

Like there's really a Lt. Colonel Adams in the USMC?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Winning The Widget War

If the race for the White House was measured in widgets there's little doubt who pushes the envelope for change: it's Obama.

I've been playing around a bit with my blogspot blog and came across Widgetbox, a site with thousands and thousands of free tools to use in adding content to websites. Those of you with more blog experience can roll your eyes and note I'm a couple years late to the party; that's OK.
I was interested in the presidential candidates; not a real surprise but Barack Obama seems particularly in front of the pack when it comes to making it easy for his supporters to syndicate the campaign's message with a simple widget:

Now I don't know how well the other candidates are doing with this...Obama's had over 600 subscriptions and a quick search for Hillary pulled up a dancing Hillary widget that likely doesn't have the official campaign stamp of approval (but it's funny as hell) and her official gadget only had 42 subscriptions...John Edwards has a widget but it only had about 38 subs. Among the GOP candidates nobody comes even close to breaking 30.

An accurate sign of things to come? Maybe worth considering the next time you read about the demographic breakdown as younger voters swarm to Obama the way they were supposedly swinging four years ago for Kerry?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Open Letter to Kevin & Alex

The confusion of the past couple days as both sides worked furiously to get their slates -- and alliances -- in order ahead of the filing deadline for the March primary election should be resolved by midweek when most of the head-counting is officially over. In the meantime can both of you agree on one thing: keeping the partisan yapping to a minimum should be a goal of some of the publicly paid-for political appointees?

My gripe in particular is the way Summit County Board of Elections Director Bryan Williams comes off in Stephanie Warsmith's coverage of the ongoing Coughlin-v-Arshinkoff saga. Stephanie's usually dead on with her quotes, so I think it's unlikely Williams was misrepresented in her Akron Beacon Journal story this morning.

I'm not so naive to think that political appointees don't have strong opinions about their masters (good and bad); I'm actually a fan of the spoils system since having to answer to a political boss may sometimes be a better deal in the long run for citizens since it's easier to bring pressure on an errant bureaucrat who can't hide behind Civil Service protections when unwarranted.

The particular quote that really got my goat this morning was this one: ''The guy can't produce what he says he's going to produce,'' Williams told the ABJ in reference to Coughlin. Funny how those observations weren't made in public while both were serving down in Columbus in elected positions a few years ago. Maybe it's payback for thinking Coughlin didn't help Williams enough in that 2003 mess of a Akron Mayor's race...

Now I don't have a problem with Alex letting fly with the dig to Coughlin; both of the Dons (Plusquellic and Robart) do it with ease, as well as my blue pals on NewsNight and that's OK; they're either elected as political animals or express their opinion thanks to the journalist hats they wear. But Williams is a different animal: he's supposed to be the administrator in charge of the Board of Elections and while he has his post because of politics he should be wise enough to avoid sounding like a candidate while holding down that job. His predecessors knew the difference, as do most officials (appointed or elected) to oversee the people's business of making good on democracy's promise of a fairly-run and rightly-counted election process.

It's when they step over the line and become obvious toadies for their political masters that they get in trouble. Any doubts ought to be erased with the memory of Ken Blackwell's wearing of the handling of the 2004* election around his neck when he ran for Governor in 2006*. The tag of a too-partisan election official helped mobilize opposition to people and groups around the country who probably couldn't even point to Columbus on a map, but the tag stuck and was a great opportunity for partisans to step in and helped sink Blackwell's aspirations.

It wasn't just because of that one reason, but it didn't help.

Alex could fight this fight for himself or even let surrogates such as popularly-elected supporters such as Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart play the front man in this battle. What should be clear is the role of workers, including management, at the Elections should at least provide the appearance everyone will get a fair shake, even if the bosses can't wait to sink in the knife.

*dates corrected 1/6; thanks to John Dziurlaj at the University of Akron for catching my error.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Political Junkie Update

I've posted the Summit County filings from today's deadline for the March 2008 primary on AkronNewsNow but among the things to watch for:

  • Sheriff Drew Alexander gets another free pass; so does Council's Cazzell Smith. Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh isn't so lucky;
  • as noted elsewhere Russ Pry has primary opposition from Joe Finley, with Jim Laria waiting in November;
  • John Widowfield lost his bid for Municipal Court Clerk last fall; now he's looking to boot Louise Heydorn from her County District 3 post;
  • the big fight will be among judges again, with the GOP contested nomination for a Common Pleas seat between David Drew and Tom Parker; also Democrat Elinore Marsh Stormer will face Probate veteran Judge Bill Spicer in November;
  • still to be tallied: the onrush of candidates for the highly-coveted Republican Central Committee positions (sarcasm here for my friends in northern Summit County...) and the likelihood Senator Kevin Coughlin's New Summit Republicans rounded up enough horses to make it a hot race to unseat longtime GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff.

UPDATE Red Stamp Justice

The City of Akron does the right thing and reinstates Jesse Jones, the 22-year veteran of the Akron Fire Department originally placed on indefinite unpaid suspension when he was facing sex charges. You may remember this case: Jones was given a pass when a grand jury ruled "no bill", but the prosecutor's office slapped the wrong stamp on the paperwork and the case moved ahead as if he'd been indicted (that would be a true bill) by mistake.

The error was caught and the correct paperwork entered, with apologies (how would you have liked to get that call from your lawyer!) and case dismissed, with prejudice meaning it won't come up again.

The City tells AkronNewsNow's Larry States they will put Jones back on duty, with back pay. But should there be more coming? After all, the neighbors and co-workers and total strangers will remember the case when it broke -- and we all reported it. We're reporting now that the case was dismissed but is that really fair to a man's reputation built on a lifetime and sent up in flames in a matter of hours? What price does Jones think is fair for the months he spent with no job, no money, and likely no support? A hard lesson to play out to find out who your friends are -- and how justice works.

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The deadline just came and went in the election filing crush at the Board of Elections in Summit County. New Summit Republicans headmaster Sen. Kevin Coughlin was filing his paperwork this afternoon on South Grant Street; I've got to imagine the growling behind the scenes from the partisans backing incumbent GOP chairman Alex Arshinkoff as Coughlin claims he's got his slate ready to go to give the long-time party boss a run for the money. It would be educational to hear more from Alex but as usual he's not talking. This, I predict, will be THE race we're all watching over the next eight weeks. When is the last time anyone even mentioned "central committee" and eyes didn't glaze over? Nothing like a family feud to satisfy our lust for political bloodletting, and in a rare switch it isn't Democrats beating each other over the head. At this point the Summit County elections folks were laughing at our reporter's attempts to get a read on just how many people are filing for those central committee slots and tell us they may not have a full list until Monday.

I just want to know: is anyone running against Alex in his home precinct? How big a sign can Alex put up in his front yard this time, with or without the help of the ACLU?

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Speaking of races to watch: the early conventional wisdom says Joe Finley's challenge of Russ Pry in the Democrat primary for County Executive will be a snoozer. I tend to agree with the analysis that running against bossism isn't always the best idea because successful bosses keep their machines in power by doing what they promise; besides, as Pho points out in his Pho's Akron Pages blog it isn't as though people don't like Russ Pry...even political opponents tell me privately they like the guy off-ballot and he's won high marks for his first six months since being appointed to the job. But to rule out Finley at this point is like buying into the wisdom that had Hillary Clinton winning Iowa a month ago: let's not forget it's voters, not the pundits, who decide. Still, Finley's opening salvo today and in his interview earlier this week with ANN's Craig Simpson wasn't the best start...Pry showed a more steady campaign style in not reacting to the bluster when we spoke with him on Thursday.

Out-Of-This World Politics

We could talk about Iowa and New Hampshire but why bother? None of the candidates save Dennis Kucinich are coming close to the real big issue of our time.

I must share this with you -- being on the receiving end of the constant stream of spin mail (both snail and e-variety) can wear a person out. There are, however, notable exceptions such as this note from my friends at the "Paradigm Research Group" (PRG); the links are theirs:

Tomorrow night, January 5 at 7–11 pm EST, ABC News will hold back-to-back debates ahead of the New Hampshire primaries. News anchor Charles Gibson will moderate what may be an unprecedented double header debate at the same venue. Which political party debates first will be determined by a coin toss.

Once again more than a dozen candidates will stand before the American people seeking to be the leader of the most influential nation in the world. And once more there will be an opportunity to ask them not silly, but serious questions about their views on the most profound issue confronting all people and all nations – the presence of intelligent, non-humans engaging the human race and the 60-year truth embargo imposed on formal acknowledgement of this fact by elements within the government they wish to head.

The door was opened by the dean of Washington television journalists, Tim Russert, at the October 30 Democrat debate in Philadelphia with the now famous question to Dennis Kucinich. This led to questions to Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and scores of news articles.

Kucinich, who is quite knowledgeable on the subject and has been briefed extensively on the UFO/ET evidence by colleagues of PRG, essentially dodged the subject. It is up to the working journalists to keep the issue in play and insist on comprehensive answers from these candidates.

PRG executive director, Stephen Bassett, stated, “It is understandable but not acceptable that these candidates are scared silent after 60 years of institutional propaganda and disinformation regarding the extraterrestrial presence. However, it is neither understandable nor acceptable that top-tier news organizations refuse to challenge these aspiring presidents to state clearly their views on a matter 50% of the American people have stated in poll after poll they consider valid.

Does ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX and the top-tier print media think the presence of extraterrestrial beings engaging the human race is not a matter of national security? Is it their conclusion that the tens of thousands of detailed reports accumulating in the files of researchers around the world of contact, often coercive, between humans and these beings is not a serious societal concern?

ABC News has received reams of material on the UFO/ET issues from PRG and other organizations for the past 20 years. Meetings with producers have been held. ABC News attended the May 9, 2001 and November 12, 2007 press conferences at the National Press Club in which dozens of government witnesses of high rank and station presented extraordinary and compelling testimony.

On January 2 the Wall Street Journal, to its great credit, gave the Kucinich question serious, front page exposure. Can Charles Gibson in a debate just three days later simply ignore such a confirmation that the issue is finally in play and candidates need to be challenged?

Can there be anything but consensus that if there is an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race (and be assured there is), any candidate who refused to speak to that issue is not fit to lead?

And finally, when will the esteemed moderators of these debates ask Senator Hillary Clinton about the Rockefeller Initiative?

Where are Scully and Mulder when we need them most? God bless the true believers.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Sports Suckers

We are such chumps. For a shining Sunday moment we believed the Browns really had a shot.

We should know better.

The latest from MSNBC and WFAN, New York's sports talk station, with reports Titans backup QB Kerry Collins says Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy must have been talking because it was clear Indy wasn't going to contest losing Sunday's game. The Titans win knocked the Browns out of the NFL playoffs since Cleveland needed an Indy win to slip in.

Now the fact the Browns had to depend on another team to beat the roadblock standing between postseason and playing golf in January should be enough to throw some cold water on those playoff dreams for Cleveland fans; anytime you depend on the "other guys" to do your work for you it's a sure signal you put yourself in a crappy position. Having said that, however, doesn't get the Titans and Colts coaches off the hook for what looks, sounds and smells like collusion, especially given Dungy's postgame comments that three division teams made the playoffs.

So what's worse: the crooks on the sidelines or us suckers sidelined?

Keep telling yourself it's a game, just a game.

It isn't your kid making the honor roll at school -- that actually has a payoff later when they get accepted on a full scholarship to some pricey university and embark on a career that leaves you in retirement in Boca Raton.

It isn't whether your employer has a heart and vision as well as a constant eye on the bottom line -- that has more to do with your personal happiness and ability to pay your bills than whether a gang of millionaires owned by a group of billionaires claw their way up the ladder to play in-between :30 second ads as Big Sports hooks up with Big Media for the Big Game.

It sure as hell isn't as important as the time you spend helping your parents fix stuff around the house you grew up in or your neighbors dig out from the latest snowfall -- those are the "pay it forward" things most of us do without a second thought because it makes us feel better and besides they're the right things to do.

Is it possible the NFL had the fix in ahead of the Indy-Tennessee game? Is there a remote chance the Colts understood winning the game that meant nothing to them was a favor to a team they didn't really care about? Could the pitch we hear from professional sports on how "winning is the only thing" really be convenient sales babble anyone with a lick of intelligence would dismiss out of hand in a heartbeat?

Count me among the reformed sports suckers: believe the worst, watch for entertainment, but don't give 'em your heart. Leave the love for folks who deserve it.

A Question of Green

Sooo...is it just me or is there something missing from the latest worship at the house of Green?

Thanks to Lorna Barrett of NewsChannel 5 for her story of the Oberlin man who's building a 3,000 square foot home that'll cost less than $400 bucks a year to heat. In this day and age of seeing $400 bucks a month to heat a home that size the accomplishment is considerable, but with the double-banked walls deep enough to handle twice the insulation and the recycled wood/plastic composites used to build the house there's a big question left unanswered:

How much is this costing?

If (and when) going green goes mainstream it won't come because it's cool; it'll come because it's affordable and the "what does it cost" isn't a followup question but where the debate begins.

Call it midwest environmentalism: show me.

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On the subject of the weather: get ready for NE Ohio warming after frigid temps bring zeros down from Canada to the Great Lakes and snow flurries to Florida. By the end of next week we're supposed to be in the upper 60s...this from 19ActionNews meteorologist Jeff Tanchak last night. I don't know how confident I am on predicting any north coast weather 10 days out but I will say if it happens watch our crisis reporting go from snow to flooding.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year, Some New & Old

Greetings 2008; can't wait to see what kind of shenanigans we can look forward to this year but no matter what happens I don't think the local political scene can hold a candle to 2007's tight election race for Mayor Plusquellic, the rise of Russ Pry or Marco Summerville's travel travail.

Some new:
  • Thorn-in-the-side of City Hall Warner Mendenhall has a new blog about public records; The People's Records provides a nice rundown of FOI issue and also spiffs this blog; thanks for the blogroll, Warner;
  • Kevin Coughlin weighs in with some new rules for his New Summit Republicans (link downloads the .pdf file); it's a good rundown on what the "new" GOP has in mind for life after Alex if they're successful in dethroning Arshinkoff from the Summit County chair, led by getting a handle on the $600,000 critics say is spent to keep the party offices going;
  • Bruce Kilby is heading to court whether he likes it or not over the property he owns in the Dead Poets neighborhood. This AkronNewsNow story includes our interview with Kilby as he finds himself on a side of the law the law-makers rarely see; it isn't often a sitting councilman is being sued by his own city in an Eminent Domain taking but observers could see it coming when talks started breaking down and Kilby maintains he's getting low-balled because he's a vocal critic of the Administration.

As for the old, I'm still working to prove my existence to the third-party provider of my company's FSA health savings account. As noted earlier under the heading of "Why I Hate Insurance Companies" my simple attempt to access my money being held for my health spending was denied when the company reported I didn't exist -- despite holding their card, which I had used earlier this year, in my hand and complete with account number. No response yet from supervisors who promised to call (I'm not holding my breath) so I went ahead and paid for the stuff anyway. Now starts the battle of documenting my existence; included will be the letter I got from said third-party manager noting my balance on December 5, 2007 for the account that doesn't exist.

My friend Chuck Collins noted I called this experience "Why I Hate Health Insurance Companies" on our AkronNewsNow blog. I apologize to other insurance companies at this time but reserve judgment until I need to get some of my promised money back from them, too.