Monday, September 29, 2008

Why No Isn't The End

Wall Street is taking another tumble this afternoon, down more than seven hundred points (still figuring it at the closing bell) after the big vote. It isn't the largest percentage drop but it is the biggest single number dump, almost as bad as post 9-11. The bailout pushed by the Bush Administration, Senate and House Democrat leaders led by Reid, Pelosi, Frank and Dodd, GOP leaders on the flip side including Boehner isn't even close to a yes from the House. Why, then, is this actually a sign Congress is working?

This is going to hurt. Hurt bad. Anyone trying to get credit now will find bankers saying no, and it isn't just us little people, it's companies like Goodyear told they can't access their own credit lines. The pain is unavoidable and the push to get something moving to free up the flow of money is undeniable, but Wall Street still hasn't convinced Main Street yet the fix from the boys and girls in suits in D.C. is the right answer.

We made a big mistake the past ten days, assuming just because the Secretary of the Treasury and Federal Reserve Chairman worked past midnight, joined by respective House and Senate leaders trading behind closed doors, that this was work on the people's behalf. Please forgive Americans from thinking ill of something called a "deal" since it was the "dealing" that got us into the mess to start with.

After watching the bulk of speeches from the U.S. House this morning and afternoon it's clear the work shouldn't have included behind-the-scenes deal or no deal to begin with. The Democrats say it's the Republicans fault for not getting 12 more votes to fall in line, the Republicans will note the Democrats had 94 members voting no, too, and the commentary will reflect the spin that none of the key players did what they had to.

The finger pointing is already underway with Democrats scrapping the GOP for not delivering; the GOP says they might have had a better chance if Nancy Pelosi hadn't made it a partisan fight during her comments on the floor blaming the whole mess on the Bush Administration. Did she really have to do that? Was this opportunity to play mechanic blown by what seems to be the inability for either side to just fix something without trying to inflict political harm? Listening to her speech (thanks to C-SPAN where you can still catch the entire address) I don't understand why she decided to make a Jefferson-Jackson day talk on the floor of Congress instead of showing the leadership to make the point for her bill rather than lecturing. Nice way to move forward -- by wallowing in the same old arguments of the past.

I'm just curious as to how things work in your neighborhood; how willing are you to lend a hand to the neighborhood watch folks when they start our saying you're a jerk? This just seems to be personal politics 101: what was the point of her speech, trying to convince people to vote for this bailout or setting the table for the finger-pointing we're going to watch next?

The usual suspects will come in for the usual ripping on the 15-second interview clips on CNN, FOX, CNBC, MSNBC and the networks.

This credit collapse mess our economy is in didn't happen overnight and while it's important to find a fix the wrong fix without the support of the real bankers who have to pay for it was the wrong policy. We're the bankers now, and when the systems (financial and government) who sold us a flim-flam bill of goods our Depression-area grandparents wouldn't have touched with a ten-foot pole wanted to do it again political labels meant nothing.

It was liberal Democrat and conservative Republican united to force the dealers to return to work and make something happen that makes sense for the very people who stand to suffer most. The unfortunate side of an economic collapse is that those who made the most during the boom years of easy credit and giveaway mortgage plans haven't felt the pain yet because they're still living off the billions they reaped while shooing a compliant public eager for have-it-all into foreclosure and bankruptcy. We rubes back on Main Street understand that; there are enough folks in Washington who hear what the real bosses back home were saying about all of this to go along after less than two weeks of talk.

Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, summed it up in the post-vote comments noting it was important for the greatest deliberative body in the world to give more thought to the actions of government. That's the real job of both the Senate and the House; to deliberate, to weigh and consider alternatives. Washington operates too easily these days on the assumption of must-act without oversight as shown by a budget that has ballooned to put our children's future in jeopardy, put ownership of our country in the pockets of our rivals and enemies, and put our sons and daughters in harm's way overseas.

We find ourselves with an unusual situation after watching today's debate: the very same folks ripping this President for his rush to war (a rush many joined him in with a quick vote) now seem hell-bent on a rush to fix an economy that teeters on the big freeze without asking questions. The same Reid-Pelosi crowd that surged to power two years ago in Washington by riding a wave of disbelief of direction from the White House now seem only too willing to go along with the Administration they don't trust. The GOP crowd that marched in lockstep with the White House now sparks condemnation by doing something we expect our Representative to do: finally listen to their constituents.

The crap-shoot of Wall Street will continue to yo-yo while the politicians go back to work, maybe with even more urgency since they're up for a vote in five weeks. Enough of the partisan sound bites after tonight: listen to each other, listen to the economic experts who were blown off in a rush to vote, and above all listen to the people in fly-over land outside the Beltway who have to pay for this in the long run.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Political Sewage

There's been lots of behind the scene stuff going on this week around Issue 8 -- the proposal by Mayor Plusquellic to lease Akron's sewer system to generate a ton of money to fund college scholarships. It isn't making headlines in part because there's plenty of bigger news going on (economic bailout, debate woes, etc.) but some of the goings-on are worth a look and listen.
To start: the convoluted background political-media mix.

Eric Mansfield and I were chatting after last week's NewsNight Akron program about how we haven't really seen much of a public push in the campaign for Issue 8. It was Eric's observation, actually, about the apparent low profile of the Mayor and how the issue is important enough not to fall through the cracks.


I raised the issue in our newsroom, along with an exchange I'd had with the Mayor's office where I was told by the Mayor (via an intermediate) "...we've been to Ellet, Firestone Park, North, Kenmore, West Akron, PTA's, senior groups, Board of Trades, Urban League, block watch clubs, etc. Those are more legitimate than some orchestrated media event."

Coincidentally, Eric had pretty much the exact same conversation with Mayoral aide Dave Lieberth over the weekend at Lock 3.

Same question, same answer.

Fast forward to our coverage of a public forum on Wednesday by critics of Issue 8, where our reporter Craig Simpson had feet-on-the-ground reporting. Part of his observation was that more than 100 people were in attendance. Others tell the Mayor it was more like 40...which touched off a Plusquellic-as-usual reply when asked about the campaign for Issue 8 by our reporter Lindsay McCoy Friday morning. It's in the player on this post...unlike other diatribes this one is clean enough for the kids.

Frankly, I'm glad the Mayor is getting out to push his proposal...just as it's a good thing his opponents are doing the same. Leasing out an asset such as Akron's sewer system is too important to leave to 30-second commercials, lawn signs and direct mail. It's a key reason why, since the Mayor made the idea public in his State of the City address last year, we've devoted dozens of stories and plenty of air time on WAKR to bring to light.

We think it's important enough to warrant even more discussion, so we propose an informational forum with all sides and stakeholders welcome to join in an open discussion of the issue and all of the nuances. I've asked Eric to serve as moderator if we can work out the schedule, since (as you can hear) the Mayor clearly has a major problem with anyone named Ed asking questions. We'll open it up to phone lines and questions from a live studio audience, and will clear out commercials for an hour's long live broadcast on WAKR, with the program available online after broadcast.

We're looking at dates now, with a 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. airing either October 21,22,27 or 28 our best hope. We've already verbally extended the invitation to the main players (the Mayor's office and the Citizens to Save Our Sewers group) and will expand that list in the coming weeks.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lead, Don't Act

No more talk about whether it'll be a one-man show or the two needed to tango in Mississippi tonight. Why was the fate of America's free market credit system now being held hostage by a television show in the first place?

McCain now says he's OK to go to the University of Mississippi even thought there isn't something to vote on back in Washington; he and Obama both went to the White House yesterday and the spin started the minute they walked out of the conference room.

Why not join the club?

Today's Politico entry has Obama hitting the gym before heading down to the office and then, we presume, to Mississippi for the debate. McCain is getting blasted for stopping the bailout that, polls show, most Americans aren't buying into but late this morning he announced he would be Ole Miss bound.

The debate is on.

What a bizarre situation: pretty much the same gaggle of politicians that didn't probe harder in the decision leading up to war are now being assailed for standing fast and not swallowing the bailout from the President just about everyone has little confidence in?

I found McCain's original argument -- that the job of a U.S. Senator was to be in the Senate during a time of crisis, doing his or her job -- right on the mark. My gut reaction was that a debate could be held anywhere; if necessary they could even stick the two of 'em in a Capitol Hill studio (the Senate has 'em) and let them talk and bloviate without an audience.

Unfortunately, that isn't good enough for the complicated patchwork of special interests really driving the debate.

The TV networks were having a cow; after all, pushing the debate into next week might interfere with the broadcast schedules of the baseball playoffs. Geez, can't have baseball interrupted by an election campaign that's already gone 18 months, can we?

The networks already had their big stars either sitting in Mississippi or booked to travel there, and we wouldn't want to inconvenience Brian, Katie, Charlie, Wolf and Shep if they had to turn around and try to get a hotel room in Washington instead.

After all, it's not really about the democracy, or Senators pretending to be Presidents still doing their jobs as lawmakers instead of candidates -- it's about the prime-time lineup schedule. You saw some of that from David Letterman last night when he capped McCain for daring to pick a trip to Washington over eight minutes in New York.

For my money (and yours, too) I think both sides blew the opportunity to actually BE Presidential rather than just TALK Presidential. Show me you've got the guts to act like you have to clean up this mess; show us the leadership in bringing the warring sides together to fix the credit crunch on Wall Street while still representing Main Street; the time to show you are worthy of the job is to actually do the job with sleeves rolled up, not lips flapping.

From both, we get failure. Both say they can unite yet neither showed any ability the past 48 hours to prove they can create bridges leading to solutions. What the taxpayers got was another bridge to nowhere.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Just Do The Job!

McCain wants to postpone Friday night's Presidential debate because there's this thing called the American Economy meltdown going on; Obama wants to press forward because we all want to hear what both have to say about it. What's missing in the back-and-forth spin is: why don't both of 'em do the jobs they're supposed to be doing right now?

If I were living in Arizona. Illinois or Delaware at this point I'd want a refund of the weekly salaries from both of 'em -- Biden, too -- over the past couple weeks for spending time looking for other work while still on my payroll.

Toss in Alaska, too...

We used to have an air personality here at WQMX with a salty way of expressing the one basic every workplace has: why can't some people just do their jobs? It is the dynamic of every office, factory, shop or field where people work together. Some work harder with their eyes on the ball, others don't -- and it's usually the "work harder" ones who help carry the day overall.

This past week we've been treated to the foursome seeking to become Masters of the American Universe doing whatever it takes to get a new job while ignoring the old job they're still getting paid for.

Obama's right -- Americans should hear what both sides say about the economy. But McCain is right, too -- does it really need to be in Oxford, Mississippi on Friday night?

They have their own private planes, for goodness sake...THEY can present their talking points, spin and viewpoints anytime. Air Obama and Mac Airlines just need a call from the good Senators to get off the ground and wing south. I'm sure the hotels where they'll spend the night after the exhausting process of talking with, at, and to each other will hold the rooms, unless there's a mid-week wedding that has all the rooms booked. Too early for Ole Miss Homecoming? What's the problem with changing the date: does the University of Mississippi have a tractor pull scheduled all next week in the debate hall? Is that a conflict for Jim Lehrer's bridge night?

The time for them to be in Washington, working out of their offices or on the Senate floor, is now. Setting up a debate takes a couple days; both sides already agreed to the format, moderator, etc. It really is as simple as noting the business of the people requires even U.S. Senators to show up for work, on occasion, especially when the health and welfare of the nation depend on it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Paucity of Leadership

UPDATE 5:08 p.m. Wow...the past couple hours show just how big the problem is with both campaigns now stepping up to the plate, actually talking with each other -- McCain wants to postpone Friday's debate, Obama wants joint statements.

The Presidential candidates and their campaigns must be apoplectic by now; the "most exciting election in generations" has been pushed to the back pages, supplanted by the credit meltdown, scramble to save America's economy and, in election-rich Ohio, just how to fix the Browns and the Bengals.

Maybe they should be asking themselves why Obama/McCain have been marginalized by the ery events calling for their leadership.

My pal Matt Agnesi in Orlando, Florida forwards the following bit of wisdom to chew on as Congress finally wakes up and remembers they have a role to play in the snafu called Wall Street's mortgage meltdown:

"The great Brazilian economist Celso Furtado said we must not allow speculators' profits always to be privatized, while their losses are invariably socialized. We must not allow the burden of the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all. The economy is too serious an undertaking to be left in the hands of speculators. Ethics must also apply to the economy."

What is sad is this quote isn't new; Furtado died in 2004.

Looking over events of the past week:

Obama/McCain won't commit to returning to Washington from the campaign trail to attend hearings on the crisis, and may not even make it back under the dome to vote on a bailout bill. But they have a plan.

Obama/McCain won't specifically address how they will vote or what they consider deal breakers in the bailout bill. But they have a plan.

Doesn't it strike anyone else as odd the two men vying to become the decision makers can't even be counted on to reveal the decision breakers or even if they will show up in person to do their jobs?

Here's a thought: both sides agree to suspend their personal campaigning for three days and return to Washington and earn their paychecks. Let the surrogates continue to spin bull with the public, who increasingly tune this all out anyway because the public is now worried on what is happening, not what the campaigns say is happening.

Start with the agreement that both sides have the stench of greed on them; the original kick to Wall Street's mismanagement of the American dream came in 1998 under both GOP and Democrat leadership; CEO pay skyrocketed the most under the Clinton years (see Economic Policy Insitute/NY Times graphic at left) but CEO corner-cutting skyrocketed the most under the Bush years; the defacto CEO of the world economy used to be Alan Greenspan but now his name is mud for creating this environment; Bernanke and Paulson are painted as the little dutch boys plugging the holes in the dike but it was on their watch this system imploded; the very congressional pontificates promising a fix now were the ones too willing to belly up to the Freddie/Fannie/Countrywide/AIG/Lehman buffet when the feedbag was on; the banks crying about bad debt now are the same who sold the debt to the investment banks in complicated economic schemes few even understood; we as voters allowed society to forget the basics of WHY it's important to own a home (self-investment, self-responsibility) and settle for the goal of EVERYBODY owning a home, even if they can't afford it; the easy money to be made by real estate speculation that allows people to own multiple homes in the hope of cashing in big.

The list is endless, but the real leadership to face up, take responsibility, and chart the course is limited. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown's exchange with Ben Bernanke asking if Wall Street should apologize was good to listen to from an emotional point but from the point of problem solving it's like asking the UN Secretary to apologize for all the pain in the world: Wall Street is an abstract of the hunger by CEO's, companies, pension investment funds, speculators, and every one of us looking to get more for less.

Padding our pockets is not a truly CEO experience, they just have more commas before the decimal point.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This ought to be an interesting picture; thousands of runners in the Marathon able to pack a piece while running through Sand Run Park.

Thanks to the Ohio Supreme Court the City of Clyde's ban on legal concealed carry permit holders to...well, legally carry has been tossed out. The NRA and other pro-gun folks are hailing this as the second coming of the Second Amendment:

"This is a significant win for gun owners in Ohio. The decision by the Ohio Supreme Court affirms that Clyde city's efforts to restrict the lawful possession of firearms was over-reaching and inconsistent with state laws," said Chris W. Cox, NRA's chief lobbyist. "The NRA is ready to assist in lawsuits across the state to maintain the integrity of Ohio gun laws. We remain concerned about the City of Cleveland's current campaign of prosecuting otherwise law-abiding Ohio gun owners for violation of Cleveland-only gun ordinances." - National Rifle Association release

"Anti-gun municipalities across the country have been cooking up ways to challenge state preemption statutes,' noted SAF founder Alan Gottlieb, 'as a means of harassing legally-armed, law-abiding citizens. Today's ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court struck a necessary blow in the Buckeye State for civil rights and the rule of law." - Second Amendment Foundation release

My personal favorite is this news release delivered by e-mail:

"In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that cities do not have the authority to deny individuals the right to carry guns in municipal parks. The Court ruled a Clyde city ban on possession of firearms unconstitutional, calling it an invalid use of the city's 'home rule' powers. As noted by Associated Press and local media, this is an important decision, defining the limits of local government. Ed, are you interested in speaking to a local legal expert about why the Court's decision is a right one and it how bears on the upcoming Supreme Court election this November?" - news release from CRC Public Relations firm, Alexandria, VA

Gee, I thought the Supreme Court was appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate? Hell, all this time I could have voted on Clarence Thomas?

Of course, this isn't really all about Clyde. With 46 days and counting until the election anything that gets the core riled up -- that would be pro or anti gun control, take your pick -- is heaven sent for the campaigns working hard to make sure their voter base remembers issues such as guns and gun control.

In the meantime, remember carrying anything larger than a .22 can add some serious time to your running performance.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Seven Million Reasons To Love Bush

After listening to months of the "...the past eight years..." mantra it is interesting to see how the business of serving the people quickly pushes the politics to the back burner.

Ever wonder what a $7 million dollar tab looks like?

It isn't like that dinner check at Bob Evans; in fact, it has much more detail built in, including just how vulnerable the emergency communications system in Ohio was when battered by 60 mile per hour winds and power outages; how the State wants Uncle Sam to pick up the tab for closing state parks over fears of fire; how U.S. taxpayers should pay for spoiled meat in powerless refrigerators at state meat inspection stations and how Ohio can't afford to pay for some damages because we've already cut our troubled budget. READ it here; .pdf file of request for federal assistance

All part of Governor "we need change" Strickland's request to President "eight is enough" Bush following the Ike storms that swept up the Ohio Valley and left over a million without power. There are still plenty of Ohioans without services as utility crews continue to fix the widespread damages. Imagine what it is like in Texas where the nation's fourth largest city is still reeling.

This is what we expect government to do: work together to make us whole again after disaster, regardless of the sniping from one side to the other. It does point out, though, the odd situation Ted Strickland must find himself in. On one hand he's banging the drum loudly that McCain is Bush but he's asking Bush to clear the way for a seven million dollar bailout. The White House, of course, will pretend politics never matters in a case such as this and besides they would be idiots to not work quickly to help Ohioans, especially in areas that helped send and keep Bush in office.

What an odd animal politics is; working so hard to demonize the same guy you are now begging for help from.

Thankfully there are enough bureaucrats in both Columbus and Washington who understand the true power of government in America: the names and faces of the suits up top come and go but the system remains.

OK, Blame Us

I've come around to embrace the thinking both sides in this election actually share in common: the media has much to reflect on in the coverage of the most competitive election in generations.

My colleague Eric Mansfield takes McCain/Palin to task in his latest blog, upset that Palin's "visit" to Canton (note to Eric: she was there, so I think the use of quotes for visit is a bit overblown...she either visited Canton or she didn't) manipulated the media because the newspapers and TV stations showed her welcome by the mother of slain Pvt. Heath Warner.

Gee, I'm having a tough time remembering the outrage when Cindy Sheehan was still bankable and welcome by Bush critics...

Now I think Eric does a nice job of pointing out the absurdities of the process (especially when it's aimed at Republicans -- Eric does wear his stripes openly) but it strikes me the media rushed to Akron-Canton Airport so they could grab a couple seconds of lady-steps-off-the-plane video and photos to perpetuate and encourage the very manipulation Eric laments. It's a wonderful case of crying for help or we'll do it again!

Folks, if the cameras weren't there to chronicle the photo ops the candidates might actually have to refocus their campaigns on stuff that matters. Maybe it would help if we exercised a tad bit more editorial judgment when deciding what we present as news?

Is Palin's scripted appearance at CAK, with the mother of a slain warrior to welcome her, much different than the staged appearance of Obama pressing the flesh with troops during his most excellent trip overseas? How about that shooting-hoops-in-Baghdad, how'd that work for you?

Instead of holding the oversight we expected from a Democrat-in-control Congress since 2006 we've been graced by photo op, conference call and scripted outrage again and again and again. Let's be brutally honest: instead of the visionary leadership slightly more than half of the nation figured they would get out of the Bush White House we've been treated to the same story from 1600 Pennsylvania. None of this should be surprising; anyone who's ever covered or participated in politics at those levels knows the dirty secret is there really are few real differences between most of the Brahmin's of the ruling class, regardless of political label. The only difference in the election is the way the ad agencies posing as political consultants market the message.

This is what passes for news because the political class has figured out what media consultants figured out after the Nixon-Kennedy race eight presidents ago: packaged properly we'll treat the candidates and the issues exactly the same as we do our other consumer goods. Most Americans, I am convinced, already recognize this basic truth which is why we are following the race in much the same fashion as we watch Derby Week at Churchill Downs. The only difference is mint juleps aren't in season.

The local media will flock to Joe Biden's appearance in Wooster Wednesday; maybe they'll also hang on every word in Canton, Akron and Youngstown, too by the time the Delaware Senator heads off to his next stage mark. My friend Eric already tells me he has an "interview" with Joe; fact is he and the other local TV types will stand in line, get three or four minutes, get the predictable sound byte and dual shot to warrant an "exclusive one-on-one." That's not manipulation? That's what passes for an interview?

Last Sunday Karl Rove noted on Fox News Sunday that both sides were overwrought in their outrage and commercials, but watching the spin from the Obama side the day after missed the point: Rove correctly painted both with the same brush. Today there's a flap that McCain supporter Carly Fiorina (who ran Hewlett Packard as a CEO until dumped in an ugly corporate brawl) openly admitted that she didn't think either Palin or McCain -- OR Obama or Biden -- could run a major corporation. The McCain camp goes ballistic, the Obama camp makes hay of it without noting the full quote, and damn few in the media actually hold both sides to the absurdity of their limited and edited positions. Here's the fact: none of the candidates has ever run a major corporation. None of 'em. How can they charge what Fiorina said favors either side?

It is not surprising to see how politics has sunk to such levels, because we're more interested in portraying spin as substance, a substitute for real and challenging reporting. Regardless of which unlucky soul actually wins this race we've set the standard we complain about as if we can't change it. P.J. O'Rourke had it right when he described Washington and our political system as a Parliament of Whores.

This week we've let empty name calling masquerading as political debate sweep aside coverage of losing entire communities zapped by Hurricane Ike -- what our fellow citizens are dealing with in Texas and Arizona stretched to the point where we felt it a thousand miles away, entire neighborhoods wiped off the coast, thousands still in shelters in Ike's aftermath and all the way up here to the Ohio Valley millions without power. This week we've seen financial giants fall only to have the pieces picked up at bargain rates by other giants, an economy showing the power of greed, and both candidates saying pretty much the same thing about how to fix a system both had a hand in perpetuating for political financial gain.

Yet again this week the Hillary-Mac-Sarah-Obama-Joe machine schedules more drive-by campaigning in northeast Ohio without a single, substantive Q&A with voters. Our reporting and that of the rest of important Ohio centers not on questioning the fundamentals of just how ugly capitalism can be, what kind of policies we need to bailout roll-the-dice corporate managers and boards or even what we should do to bail out people who won't heed warnings to leave ahead of a killer storm. Instead we want another chance to repeat the applause line, accomplices in a conspiracy of shallow.

Here's a thought: put the candidates in a room with a classroom full of high school seniors and have 'em answer questions -- ANY questions -- for 45 minutes. Sit in the same room with all the TV types lined up for those "exclusive one on ones" and engage in a real dialogue, with the first to launch spin banished to a corner until they actually provide an answer to the question on what they would do as opposed to what they say their opponent supposedly stands for.

Demand boring discussion and debate. Ask Hillary why Bill didn't try to change the anything-goes economic culture; ask Joe and John why they didn't work harder on the structure in their decades on Capitol Hill, ask Barack and Sarah how they will protect the economy from the quarterly-performance demanding pension funds that use our own money to treat the rest of us as pawns.

That's the job we in the media should do: keep the candidates on target to answer deep questions about the issues of the day, and not let up until they actually give an answer. As long as we settle for the easy surface story and photo op coverage it will be business as usual. Apply the BS test: if the answer sounds like bull, get a real answer or call it bull. Make them explain themselves.

Give the politicians credit: they do learn their lessons.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The View Out West

Back more than a week and one of the curses of the blogger -- so much to say but so little time. I did want to catch up on the photos from out west as Nature Girl and I hit the trails of Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. We flew into Reno and then drove south to the Tioga Pass entrance to the national park, stopping off for lunch in Carson City and getting a chance to see one of America's smallest state capitol complexes.

The photo at left shows the entrance to the Nevada capitol building, my version of the Silver State's own "Abbey Road". Having also visited small city capitals in Juneau, Alaska; Helena, Montana and Concord, New Hampshire it is always fun to see how each state operates in a small town atmosphere. Still missing from the list: Pierre, South Dakota and Bismark, North Dakota. Nature Girl is very understanding of this odd obsession of mine. The silver in the dome is understandable from a state founded on the silver rush. We had lunch in a little pub right across the street but unlike other state capitals this one is different in that there are three major casinos within a few blocks. At least the political gambling is legal...

Yosemite and Tahoe are incredibly beautiful and serene in their own ways. Yosemite all-natural with wonderful quiet, sometimes the only sound the whisper of the wind and trees gently swaying back and forth with an occasional creak or groan. You are high enough in terms of altitude (ranging from 5000 to more than 9000 feet) to see big differences in vegetation from Aspen to pine forests to above the tree line. Nature Girl took a horse ride along the Pacific Rim Trail circling above the cabin where the Sierra Club has a shrine to John Muir; I opted for the meadow hike and twinkling my toes in the Tolumne River.

A definite highlight is taking a less-travelled road than most may consider when visiting Yosemite; the northwest corner of the park is little-visited Hetch Hetchy, where the valley that Muir once described as a "Little Yosemite" now lies beneath hundreds of feet below water. The reservoir -- created by an outright act of Congress in a controversial decision to dam a national park spurred by lack of water during the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire-- provides 85% of the drinking water for the San Francisco area. The water is so pure you can see dozens of feet down clearly and requires little treatment, but environmentalists are pushing to have the dam blown up so the valley can be restored.

It reminds me (on a grander scale) of the debate over the Falls Gorge Dam power project. I personally feel there needs to be balance between the needs of nature and the needs of those pesky humans, and so favored work on the already-existing Gorge dam to provide power. The environmentalists seem to be winning, leaving the monkshod plant protected but a valuable resource unused. Remember this when we have the next power outage, or we can't handle growth if that ever shows it's face in northeast Ohio again...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

GUEST BLOG: The Death Lesson

It is, I am sorry to say, a lesson I've had repeated to me more than a few times in this business. Been there too many times, most recently just about every media outlet under the sun (with the notable exception of our friends at WKYC Channel 3) slipped on the facts enroute to proclaiming Stephanie Tubbs Jones had passed away.

This latest lesson comes from Marcy Pappafava, our primary midday anchor and assignment editor for our stations and It is always a tough lesson and we agreed worth sharing with our readers and audience. She provides the following:

- - -

My beloved late father always pushed education. Though he more often than not sent me to the encyclopedia with an exasperated sigh, I know he was pleased with my curious nature. I credit support of my 'need to know' character as one of the reasons I got into the broadcast business. Of course, learning doesn't always come from books. If you are mindful, you will see that there are lessons everywhere like the one I learned today about grace from the man I, and our newsroom, reported had passed away.

A listener called us early this morning to say Ray Lurtz was alive and well and had not died earlier this year as we reported in our story about Sharon Township. Mr. Lurtz was kind enough to contact our news director personally, noting the news of his apparent demise came as a surprise to him and a shock to his wife.

It was an error. The correct information was in the audio interview but the written version had two names reversed. It was actually trustee Emil Bolas who died earlier in 2008.

Newsroom errors happen for a plethora of reasons: we're short staffed, tired, busy, under deadlines, in a hurry, late for an appointment, multi-tasking, working quickly...human.

Human is the word Mr Lurtz used when I called him this morning to apologize. He was gracious and kind and said we're all human and all make mistakes. His wife was just as warm when I reached her. She learned of the alleged death of her husband from a friend who heard it on WAKR.

Though I can't say my News Director was as cordial, we were on the same page. He teaches the staff that when you make a mistake you must correct it and own up to it. No hiding behind a correction on page xxx, no pretending it never happened in the first place. It's a practice that our newsroom aims to perfect.

The vital take away though is to remember that we are talking about people. It's not just a victim or a suspect or a dead person of any sort. It's someone as close as our brother, wife, mother, neighbor, even a pet. When it becomes just a story it could be time to take a break.

I've heard that doctors are taught to keep a professional distance and to an extent the same thing is said around newsrooms. I, for one, want to be in the care of someone who missed that lesson. If I found myself on the other end of the news I'd want the same from my reporter.

Marcy Pappafava can be reached at

How Does Your Pork Taste?

Every wonder just how often the Akron area really hits the jackpot when it comes to our congressional delegation getting the job done? In this era of earmarks as a dirty word you might be surprised to see what passes for pork in the eyes of the beholders.

The Office of Management and Budget is the behemoth that tracks Uncle Sam's spending -- no small task. Part of that spending is "earmarks", and we've been getting an earful lately of these skillfully-added perks to laws about one issue but weighed down by stuff for local congressional reps in what can charitably be described as political extortion: Mr. President, sign the bill that has the greater good and ignore all the stuff we've added to it, or else.

In Washington this extortion usually has a nicer phrasing: "working hard for you," usually part of an incumbency's campaign marketing materials.

It is instructive to note OMB's listing for Ohio totalling $161,403,000.00 for 219 projects undertaken on our behalf. This web listing will take some time to bore into since it separates each earmark according to department, then program, but it is an instructive use of time to see that what we consider "getting our share" from Washington can easily be tagged "nothing but pork" by folks who don't live here.

Examples of earmarks that helped Akron: money flowing the Akron schools for a math and science learning center ($239,000 Sutton/Voinovich); the University of Akron for the STEM program ($143,000 Sutton/Ryan); Kent State getting money for "equipment and technology" for the Tuscarawas campus ($143,000 Space); Canton Symphony Orchestra for teacher training and an Art collaboration ($95,000 Regula).

That's just a glance at the Education category's 16 projects worth over $3 million dollars; we're just scraping the surface, not even plumbing the 44 projects worth over $11 million from Health and Human Services or the whopping $76.6 million for 37 projects from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, one of the grandest of agencies to order to work on our behalf. They rack up the construction projects in a big way because that's what the Corps does, and in 2008 it included maintenance we could see while driving over the Berlin Lake Reservoir as well as projects in Massillon (this $144,000 doesn't even have a sponsor listed nor an explanation of the project) and Mosquito Lake.

Let it be said every politician gives a damn when it comes to dams.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The WaPo Sense of Humor

It is refreshing to see the sense of humor often left behind the notepad -- Stewart and Colbert excepted -- and the Washington Post's Dana Milbank scores big in getting Post icon David Broder with a pretty funny take on living as the Elite.

In the event the player doesn't load (I've been seeing way too much embed-codes not working these days) Milbank actually has a nice selection overall of web-only video to enjoy at his video page on the website.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why Barack Again?

The short answer: because we didn't the first time. We arrived at an interesting program decision today on the radio station side, likely to provoke some discussion but there is a strong belief it's the right thing to do.

The issue surrounds broadcasting last Thursday's acceptance speech by Democrat presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama, followed by coverage of Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain's speech before his convention.

As much as we'd like to say it comes at the thought of presenting both in an "equal time" setting, it has more to do with poor timing on our part, in particular planning during vacation time and not paying enough attention to a calendar.

Many stations such as WAKR with complicated programming of sports find themselves trying to squeeze must-listen to coverage between must-carry sports obligations. The culture here at the stations has been one to encourage community debate and discussion, and carriage of the acceptance speeches by the candidates certainly fits that mission (even IF most people may be watching on television or ignoring altogether) of service.

Unfortunately our top news manager (me) was out of town last Thursday, and we didn't catch the fact that Thursday was in fact an open night: we should have been presenting the Obama speech live. Add to that oversight the discomfort of carrying one candidate (in this case McCain) while not carrying the other (Obama)...that simply is not an option, but we couldn't turn back the clock -- or can we?

Our decision: re-broadcast Senator Obama's Denver speech in its entirety, without the normal commentary from a broadcast team, then join ABC's coverage tonight minutes before Senator McCain does the same thing in St. Paul.

It isn't perfect but in some aspect is gives our listeners the opportunity to listen again and compare both in a shorter, more compact time frame. We're leaning toward posting both speeches, unedited and in full, on the website as a reference point for listeners and voters who may be on the electoral see-saw over the next two months.