Friday, March 31, 2006

Almost Forgot Your Random Ten

Thanks to the Internet Edition

1. "Friction," Television
2. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," Otis Redding
3. "Damn," Lewis Taylor
4. "Village Ghetto Land," Stevie Wonder
5. "In Her Family," Pat Metheny Group
6. "Country Sad Ballad Man," Blur
7. "Let Me Love You Baby," Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble
8. "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?" Nirvana
9. "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1," The Flaming Lips
10. "The Offer," The Del Fuegos

Lewis Taylor was my first internet music find. Back when it was free I posted on Salon.com's forum. I wandered into one thread titled something like What Happened to R&B. You may have guessed by frequent appearances by the likes of Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder and Solomon Burke that I'm and old school soul/R&B fan. You may have inferred by the absence of, say, Usher or Ginuwine, not so much the new stuff. So on this thread, someone recommends this guy Lewis Taylor. Purely on the strength of the word of virtual mouth I ordered the disc and found, yes, the guy is killin' it. That was something like eight years ago. It wasn't too surprising when a skinny white Brit singing retro R&B failed to set the American charts on fire, but I still listen.

I loves the internets.

Bill Grace Meets the Bloggers

I went into the Bill Grace interview as cold as I ever had. I knew only that he is the Mayor of Elyria and that he is running for the Democratic nomination in Ohio 13. And I suppose I knew that his candidacy hasn’t gotten much traction down here.

In attendance were Scott Bakalar, George Nemeth, Tim and Gloria Ferris, Tim Russo and Karen Kilroy. (I neglected to take notes of who was there, so apologies if anyone was omitted.) Special thanks to Scott for making it happen.

I’ve been pretty open about my connections to the Betty Sutton camp. I went into the interview trying to keep an open mind about Bill Grace. I feel that I did. In the end, I declare Grace a strong second behind Sutton. I leave it to you the reader to decide how well I curbed my biases.

I evaluate candidates on three variables: Ability to analyze and discuss policy, harmony with Pho’s views and the various factors that make up candidate appeal.

Taking the last first, Grace has the goods to get elected. He is youngish – 42 years old – and makes a decent appearance. He doesn’t have over-the-top charisma, but he has the basic ability to work a room and a pleasant speaking manner. As the interview progressed, it was clear that he had done some blogreading homework to prepare. He does well making the case for his accomplishments.

Generally speaking, his positions work for me, with some reservations I’ll discuss below. Where he fell short in my mind was demonstrating policy chops. Now to be fair, he probably would have needed to blow me away a la Subodh Chandra to win my endorsement, so let’s say policy ability was where he failed to blow me away.

In my mind, over the course of the interview he spoke eloquently about The Problem but had nothing to say about The Solution. On education, the problem is excessively onerous requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. On health care, the problem is high costs to citizens and employers. On trade, the problem is an uneven playing field because our trading partners don’t have worker safety laws or environmental protections.

I got a little frustrated and asked if 1) he had ideas about reforming NCLB or 2) if he had a legislative proposal about anything. Answer to the second question, basically no. To be fair, he has only been in the race a couple of months and is trying to run a city at the same time. Fine, but that leaves his policymaking ability something of a mystery to the observer.

It also raises questions about what he actually believes in. After all, Democrats and Republicans can agree on at least some problems; it’s how those problems are addressed that often defines political differences. I’m reminded of the story that at one point during the ’92 election a focus group participant complained of Bill Clinton, “It’s like if you asked him his favorite color, he would say plaid.” Bill Grace has a tendency toward plaid. This is most apparent in an exchange toward the end about abortion.

It starts with his answer to my horserace question in which he notes that not many “national groups” have endorsed candidates in this race and those that have were prompted by the candidate’s extreme position on the group’s issues. I said that I had run this cryptic statement through my Political Decoder Ring and it led me to ask him his position on abortion.

Based on the confusion in the room, the meaning of the joke wasn’t self evident. I was thinking of EMILY’S List endorsing Sutton. The Cafaro camp alleges that the reason is that Cafaro is more moderate on abortion – she favors parental notification and is against federal funding – and Sutton is more on all fours with the pro-choice platform.

I didn’t explain all that at the time, but merely asked his position. This is where the fun begins. His first response is that ten percent of the population is against abortion, ten percent is for legalized abortion and the other eighty percent would rather not talk about it.

Nice try .

Time was short, but I was able to get in one last question – if Roe v. Wade is overturned and an abortion ban is before you as a Representative, how do you vote. His response is a win-on-errors promise to vote against it because in that circumstance it should be left to the states. And what does he think the states should do? Oops, times up.

I absolutely loath what the abortion issue has done to political discourse, so I’m not going to argue against Grace because he is insufficiently fervent in his belief in a woman’s right to choose. But his responses reinforced a sense of wishy-washiness that would give me pause even if I didn’t have a favorite candidate.

Now all this could be spun as an ability to talk about troublesome issues in a way that generates a minimum of trouble. We’re deep in eye of the beholder territory here. Certainly I could defend the practice if he was my guy. Similarly, he claims he got into the race because he didn’t have a candidate. His problem with Betty Sutton is that she moved out of the district. Again, eye of the beholder. I don’t have a problem with her making a decision that worked best for her marriage. I’ve done the same thing in my life.

I wouldn’t have a problem with Bill Grace as my representative – in contrast with some of the other candidates. I just think Betty Sutton is better, for reasons I’ve recounted before.

Unfortunately, Grace is more likely to be a spoiler than a backstop. He admits not raising much money and puts brave face on it, noting that he’s been outspent in every election. Maybe, but this is a much different election. In a large, diverse area like Ohio 13, a candidate needs to at least participate in the air war. What’s more, he has essentially no presence in Summit, so he’s not going to counter the air war by winning the ground war. He’s counting on earned print media. That’s wouldn't be enough even if he swept the paper endorsements -- unlikely in a field of eight.

He will probably win some sort of Lorain County split with Cafaro, maybe enough to keep her from winning. Summit, as the most populous county in the district, is too important to ignore. Even with Wolfe, Sutton and Sawyer fighting over Summit, I don’t believe winning Lorain with no real presence in Summit will be enough. But mark it well, if he keeps Cafaro off the November ballot, I will consider myself in his debt.

MTB Reminder

If you haven't heard yet, Capri Cafaro will Meet the Bloggers Saturday morning at Cafe Momus. The event is open to anyone with a blog. Again I emphasize, you needn't be a political blogger to participate. If you have a commitment to citizen journalism of any sort and are willing to be respectful and professional, come on down. It's just a fantastic time.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Weekly Reader -- Charter Catch-Up Edition

Normally, I'd be tempted to blow off the education news that happened while I was laid up with the flu, content to just write up a Weekly Reader for the week I got better (more or less). But fact is a hell of a lot of ed. news hit the Ohio papers while I was out, particularly about charter schools. So you get this catchup post now and the normal week-in-review thing over the weekend.

To start off, the PD ran a three-day series on charter schoolsstarting a week ago Sunday. The first day includes a pretty good summary of how the charter school system is supposed to work in theory, plus some articles about the inherent conflicts of interest built into the system, i.e. how White Hat works. Elsewhere they look at Ohio charters that work, some that don't and contrast Ohio's system with that in Massachusettes.

The series is suffiicently powerful that the Fordham Foundation felt compelled to post a whiny nonresponse response. And yes, as Fordham notes, some reforms are on the way, no thanks to Brennan and company. But to overuse the play on words, charter proponents wanted charters in Ohio in the worst possible way and that's what we got. They emphasized propagation over quality, creating a population of schools that looks more like an intractable infestation than anything. Maybe we can get hold of it and reform the charter system, but if those with a vested interest in high profit and inferior education win the day, charter proponents will have only themselves to blame.

Who am I talking about. Well I can't resist this quote from the end of one story on Cleveland's Hope Academy:

"White Hat's objective," the company said in a statement, "is to maintain financial sustainability for all of its schools."
Gee, shouldn't the objective be to provide an excellent education? Oh, that's right. It's not. The CD also ran a story on The magnitude of White Hat profits.


Meanwhile, plenty of other charters are having problems. A Toledo charter's books show a broad pool of red ink. Another Toledo charter is under fire from local teachers for poor academic performance.

Virtual school Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT)is closing three sites, and may have played fast and loose setting up a brick-and-mortar classroom in Newarkcontrary to state law. And ohbytheway, a high-ranking J. Ken Blackwell aide is in bed with ECOT.

One potential bit of good news, a Cleveland entrepreneur is opening an entrepreneurship-based charter school. One of the key ingredients for successful charters is a desire to actually teach kids as opposed to make a pile of jack.

There was another story here or there, but that should be enough to keep you all busy.

Summit in Summit, Pt. 5

I'll finish up my recap of Sunday's grassroots summit with ODP Chair Chris Redfern's speech. PDA Tim Carpenter also talked, but I'm not sufficiently interested in what he said to post it. You can catch up with him on the PDA blog.

Redfern is following Cindy Sheehan:

I've never been so honored as sitting on the same panel as Cindy Sheehan. We don’t need the likes of Jean Schmidt and Rush Limbaugh to define patriotism.

In 2004 we worked harder than ever before. Then progressives were told there was no room at the table for you.

Democratic party in Ohio pushed you away. Told you there was no room at the table for the Progressive community. That changed when I became party chair.

Excited about Sherrod Brown as next Senator. Next gov will be a guy named Ted Strickland.

We're making significant progress. Central Ohio coalition adopting a night to phone bank. Need to push back.

Stonewall D's welcomed back.

Progressive community is always the first to help. But the party has said after the election there's no place for you.

Howard Dean ended speeches with "You have the power.” This is your party. Party used to be soft. No more.

Standing O.

Analysis. When Redhorse saw Redfern, he was talking about the 88 county strategy. This speech underscores the difficulty of that strategy. One of the supreme ironies of modern politics is that conservatives, many of whom hold beliefs they believe are absolute and God-given, are better able to compromise and work for piecemeal progress. If conservatives acted like liberals do, they would do nothing but flog the Human Life Amendment year after year. Instead, they pursue strategies that slowly build support in the soft middle, while liberals overreach on issues like gay marriage.

So Redfern's challenge is to build a party capable of making a difference in 88 counties, while at the same time keeping liberal absolutists in the fold.

He certainly hit some sweet notes. He's right that progressives -- for that matter, grassroots activists generally -- feel shut out between the elections.

He also did about as well as he could have following Sheehan. He certainly couldn't have openly questioned the wisdom of comparing GWB and OBL if he wanted to get out of the auditorium alive. The point he makes -- that Sheehan's defense is a form of patriotism -- keeps the crowd happy but gives him an out if he's asked if he's pressed on whether he actually agrees with her.

I don't envy Redfern the task ahead of him, but the evidence so far indicates he at least appreciates the magnitude of the challenge.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Summit in Summit, Pt. 4: Cindy Sheehan Annotated

Mimi's up again Introducing Cindy Sheehan.

Whatever else people say about her, Sheehan is never accused of being a concise, disciplined speaker. On this date, she apparently was additionally hampered by an ear infection. How much of her topical meandering can be attributed to that and how much is Sheehan being Sheehan, I'll leave to you.

She is introduced as a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
Standing ovation

So here's what I took down, along with my comments in italics.

This is my first talk in Ohio.
Everyone feels connected to Ohio because of what happened in 2004.
Ken Blackwell should be run out of the state.
He and Kathrine Harris have done more harm to this country than any other two people.

Paul Bremer responsible for my son’s death and he got a Medal of Freedom.
Colin Powell went to UN and lied through his teeth and knew he was lying and gets $75,000 per speaking engagement. Here's the first sign we're in trouble. Powell certainly wears his share of brown applesauce, but he was also the most honorable of the administration officials. By all accounts, his was a voice of reason, so naturally he was nudged out the door as soon as the ink was dry on the election results. Picking him out of Bush's rogues gallery for special mention is a sign of extremism.

Two things I can say to get applause.
-Impeach
-Dennis Kucinich. On the right track because he wants a Department of Peace.

Neocons plan on endless war in middle east. 14 permanent bases. Have to shut down the war machine.

I’m almost as disgusted with the Democrats as I am with the Republicans. Need more than rubber stamp. We’ve lost the Supreme Court. Haven’t lost Congress. What bothers me about lines like this is the utter refusal to acknowledge that good people can differ about an issue as fraught and complex as whether to go to war.

Can’t wait for 2006. I’m a pacifist. Casey was a pacifist too. These people are going down. They would kick us when we are down. So we have to kick them and kick them. But use our words, not violence. So to answer one of the questions from comments yesterday, Cindy Sheehan is someone who is talking about not fighting terrorists. At another point she mentions families of 9/11 victims who did not want their loss to be an excuse for the intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. When someone argues against taking out the extant terrorist network in Afghanistan, my eyes glaze over.

Dennis Kucinich gave a good talk yesterday about our brothers and sisters in Iraq.

Need to move from a paradigm of patriotism to matriotism. Yes, she really said that.

Bush didn’t win. They cheated in Ohio. They used wedge issues like gay marriage. Voting irregularities. If Bush was president of any other country he wouldn’t be president anymore. It's not clear whether she's talking about differences in the electorate or differences between our system and a parliamentary system. Or if she is clear on what she means by this.

We have the power to change things.

I believe Bush can be impeached and removed from office.

Standing O

Q&A

Q: Do you believe the number dead is closer to 6000? It’s higher. If a soldier gets on plane out of country, not counted as KIA. This time of the Bush regime will be known as the time America lost its mind.

Q: Do you see signs that people are clued in?

A: Low poll ratings. Poll against war. Before last summer, there was no honest debate about the war. I told media I had to come down here because you wouldn’t ask the questions. Media grilling McClelland. Media almost grilling Bush the other day he almost had a meltdown.

Q: Sen. Pat Roberts and blocking phase 2 of investigation.

A: Not up on this. Know that it happened.

Q: What do you think about Murtha's plan?

A: Don’t like his plan. He wants strategic redeployment, only means war somewhere else. Want troops home. The PDA plan is bring all the troops home. Again, her position is one of ethical pacifism. I flirted with ethical pacifism in college. It's a noble philosophical position. It just doesn't work in a world where evil exists.

Q: Running for office? Will you stay in politics. Diane Feinstein’s husband is a war profiteer. Why not run against her?

Yes, Feinstein's husband is a war profiteer. I thought it was more important to support more pro-peace candidates. It’s not about right and left its about right and wrong. Have to get these homicidal maniacs out of our government.

Cindy’s website:
http://www.gsfp.org/

Won’t fight terrorism by killing the terrorists. Root causes of terrorism and changing our policies. What happened on 9/11 was horrible. 3000 innocent people died. GWB a terrorist on a scale beyond OBL. She saves the best for the last. I understand the problem with conflating Iraq and fighting terrorism, but it goes both ways. Just as progressives can't let the right treat the Iraq occupation and combatting terrorism as one, we can't let the far left channel fatigue for a bad war into support for untenable defense policies.

I assume that when Cindy Sheehan talks about "root causes," she's talking at least in part about economic disparities in the Islamic world. She should know that's not a sufficient policy. After all, she acknowledges that there are bad people in the world who do evil for reasons independent of life circumstances. She just believes they all live in America and work in DC.

The reference to "policies" is similarly troubling. We should amend our policies if our policies are unjust or ineffectual. We shouldn't change them just because people who don't like them fly planes into buildings.

The fact is, a vein of fanatical anti-modernist religious fascism exists in the Islamic world and must be confronted. Bush's policies for confronting radical Islam have been almost uniformly disasterous, but fact is confront it we must, and with military force. These are times that really press a committed pacifist. The root causes shibboleth feels like a cop-out to me.

Then there's the comparison between Bush and Bin Laden. And yes, friends on the Right, the BJ didn't pick up the quote, and yes, they were wrong on that score. Comparing regretable civilian casualties to terroristic intentional targeting of civilians is unacceptable rhetorical hyperbole and should be spotlighted when it happens. Certainly, examples of overreaching with terrorism metaphors abound on the Right -- here's today's example -- but I can't very well criticize that and give Cindy a pass, now can I?

Aside from the skinny guy with the Toshiba on his lap, most of the room give Sheehan her third standing o.

Even if I agreed with everything Sheehan says, I wouldn't agree with her rhetoric because I read polls. As it is, Sheehan's speech is consistent with a policy of extreme pacifism; a policy I cannot applaud. I'd like to know that I can call myself a progressive without being called a sellout or militarist, but when people around me so fervently embrace a radical like Sheehan I wonder.

The Summit in Summit, Pt. 3: Keynote John Green.

By far the most interesting speaker of the day to me was John Green from the Bliss Institute. He gave a fifteen minutes talk on grassroots organizing generally:

Two reasons he's here. 1) His friend Todd Schneider brought him in. 2) strong commitment to political organizing. Talking about the hard work of organizing. In his study of the 2004 election, he finds something old and something new.

The Old: power of face-to-face contact. Most powerful form of mobilization. No substitute.

Some innovations. America Votes. Coalition building for all the groups.

Some groups haven’t forgotten power of f2f contact. Including 90,000 progressive activists who made 11 million contacts.

The other side does this too. Techniques apply to everyone. 85,000 conservative activists.

The New: Power of the internet. Lots in commong with f2f contact. Form of contact that transmits information inexpensively. Email trees, blogs, websites.

Not yet convinced its effective for mobilizing voters. But it is invaluable for organizing.

The old and the new fit together comprehensively.

No substitute for organization.

Someday we need to get Green to sit down for a Meet The Bloggers newsmakers session.

The Summit in Summit, Pt. 2: A Smattering of Speakers.

So the program starts. Undeniably, the atmosphere is energized and energizing. The attendance eventually gets announced as somewhere north of 400 and it looks it in the Auditorium. The crowd runs the gamut of liberal stereotypes, from unreconstructed tie-dyed hippies to punky lesbians in coarse anti-Bush gear to tweedy professorial types. In the middle of it all in a skinny guy in a goatee is tapping on his laptop. Someone actually askes if I'm blogging. As I'm waiting for things to begin, I write the following:

What I’m am most interested in is making the Democratic tent big enough to win. I’m all about the winning. Second I’m interested in seeing progressives adopt messages and postures that allow them to have influence, even with moderate lawmakers, after the election.
Note to self -- do not hold breath.

As often happens at these things, we hear from a bunch of folks before the real fun begins. SCPD President Ingrid Kunstel introduces organizer Patrick Carano who introduces John Wagner from the AFL-CIO. Then a couple of VIPs had about five minutes apiece.

Now. There's this guy running for this office who I sometimes supported and sometimes criticized. Then I got tired of a certain cross-state pissing contest and vowed not to blog about his race again until I saw some very public rapproachment. The silence from his camp has been deafening.

Well I can outstubborn anyone on the block, so I'll just mention that this guy got an utterly unsurprising award from AFL-CIO Tri-County labor council and said some utterly unsurprising things about health care, then he was done.

Next to the podium is Mimi Kennedy, Chair of Progressive Democrats of America and mistress of ceremonies for the afternoon. And yes, she played Dhama’s hippie mom, Abby.

She mentions Cindy Sheehan is in da house. Deafening applause

Then she brings Dennis Kucinich to the front. I haven't heard Kucinich speak live before. I don't know if he usually comes out of the gate doing the loud speedfreak auctioneer or if he builds to a crescendo. In this format, he was all crescendo. If you ever saw the WHEREARETHEWEAPONSOFMASSDESTRUCTION??!!! snippet Jon Stewart looped during the '04 primary, it was all like that.

WEMUSTSTANDFORPEACE!!! POLICYOFNONINTERVENTIONNOMOREPREEMPTIVEWAR!!! SIGNTHEBIOLOGICALWEAPONSCONVENTIONTHECHEMICALWEAPONSCONVENTION!!! ANEWCONVENTIONTOABOLISHNUCLEARWEAPONS!!!
SINGLEPAYERHEALTHCARE!!!
ENDOFNAFTACAFTAWTO!!!

Throttles back for a bit and works back up to BUILDINGANEWDEMOCRATICPARTY!!!

With that, Kucinich is out.

Up next, Keynote speaker John Green.

NOTE: Kevin Spidel from PDA liveblogged the event for the PDA blog. He's unmitigatingly positive about everything. If you want a counterpoint to my jaded reservations, you can start at the first of his dozen or so posts and work your way around, or go to the front page of the blog if you do it in the next couple days or so.

Giffels on Blogs

BJ columnist David Giffels reprises our blog panel of a couple weeks ago in today's paper to springboard a broader discussion of the form. Generally I don't link to a column just to say "What he said," but I don't have much to add. I especially like his use of a hypothetical DEVO blog to illustrate what it is. It's as good a Blogging 101 summary as I've seen, coupled with a clear-eyed assessment of the trend line from the MSM point of view. And he gives me a shout-out, though no link. Welcome to everyone who has Googled your way here after seeing the column.

And by the way, since David didn't include Devo links in the online version of the column, here's the official website, and here's Devo 2.o. As a special bonus, I give you Devo's entries in Wikipedia and Trouser Press and a Rolling Stone capsule review of the 2.o disc. We're all about customer service here at the pages.


Some Programming Notes

Unsurprisingly, my intro essay on Iraq has generated a fair amount of discussion. I'm working on the posts on the summit which will hopefully give some of the specifics people are challenging me on. Everything should be up tonight. Meanwhile, I'm also working on a Weekly Reader posts since I backslid over the weekend and was too sick to finish it. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Grassroots Summit in Summit. Pt. 1: A Navel-Gazing Introduction.

I've spent the better part of a day and a half hand-wringing over how to deal with yesterday's Grassroots Summit at Akron-Summit Library. The problem for me is that, while I sit on the Executive Committee of Summit County Progressive Democrats an (under-credited) organizer of the event, I had problems with much of what was said from the podium.

The point of departure for me is the Iraq war. Because this is a state/local politics blog, I've managed for the most part to avoid talking about Iraq up to now. I'm generally not averse to taking on a contentious issue, but I'm hestitant to rain on SCPD's parade.

In the end I've decided: Screw it. After all, part of why I started this blog was to speak truth to my friends as well as my foes. In particular, I started in frustration at finding a political home as a progressive on domestic policy who is not a pacifist on foreign policy. I wrote up the event as it happened, so I have probably three or four posts worth of information. I'll break it up over the next couple of nights so as not to drop one mammoth post.

To kick it all off, indulge me in a brief essay on Iraq. Iraq obviously is a terribly complex situation, but one whose current status can be summarized simply: We're fucked. Currently, the two policy options on the table -- staying the course vs. withdrawal -- share the common attribute of each being worse than the other. Staying the course will fuel the insurgency, destabilize the country and eventually lead to a full-blown civil war. Leaving will embolden the insurgency, destabilize the country and eventually lead to a full-blown civil war.

To rewind the tape, I've always been far more appalled by the hash made of the invasion than the invasion itself. During the run-up to the war, I was ambivalent. On the one hand, I was encouraged by the renewed commitment to the sanctions regime. On the other, I was concerned about Hussein's intransigence and by the corrosive effect of the sanctions on Iraqi society. I thought eventually we would need to invade. On the other hand, I hoped that the administration would be able to forge a true international concensus. I had faith in Saddam's megalomania that, if we kept the heat on him, he would eventually defy the international community so blatantly that France and China would have no choice but let a Security Council resolution go through without a veto.

But that wasn't the point, was it? I don't believe that the Reason All Along was to establish permanent bases in Iraq or to enrich Halliburon. But I do think the Bush administration had some ideas about how to use the Iraq invasion to "prove" their theories of foreign policy, among them, their disdain for international institutions. The invasion, when it happened, felt like a race to get in before an international concensus formed. This is but one example of administration missteps, based on their preconceived notions, that have led to the clusterfuck that now afflicts us all.

I don't pretend to have an answer for Iraq and am deeply suspicious of anyone who does. But I have a real problem with people on the anti-war left who not only criticize the Iraq war, but appear to pretend that radical jihadists can be disarmed with love. To foreshadow the last chapter, that was the main problem I had yesterday.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Blackwell: Stealth Campaign?

The news in today's PD that Blackwell won't debate Petro is now supplemented by a RAB report that Blackwell is shunning joint appearances with Petro generally. This all comes amidst observations on Lincoln Logs that Blackwell's campaign generally has dropped out of sight. When we last heard from J. Ken he was pitching woo to Black clergy in Cleveland. Now this.

I wonder if Blackwell is shifting the lion's share of his campaign energy into the church network. Recall that the Ohio Restoration/Reformation effort is about networking conservative churches to affect elections. The effectiveness of the effort is hard to call because the shop is closed. They opposed the RON effort within the network, but RON lost so handily, they needn't have.

Meanwhile, news of the latest skirmish over gay adoption reminds me of the some odd timing around that issue. The proposed gay adoption ban in the General Assembly was filed on a Friday afternoon. In politics, timing something for Friday afternoon means you want no attention. This suggests a segmented strategy -- running the issue under the mainstream radar while using it as a stalking horse to mobilize the faithful. And of course, the under-the-radar venue of choice is the church network.

Listening to Kevin Phillips promoting his American Theocracy on Diane Rehm today underscored the the tricky balancing act Blackwell is contemplating. To appeal to the true believers, a candidate has to speak the language of armageddon theology, but mainstream voters find such beliefs frankly nutty. Based on the limited sample of mainstream Republicans calling into the show, the strategy for reconciling the two sides of the dilemma appears to be denial. Query what happens if a Republican politician is forced to publicly answer the question.

Bush gave us a glimpse of that difficulty in his City Club appearance when a questioner, citing Phillps' book, asked if Bush believes terrorism is a sign of the coming apocalypse. While I disagree with Alterman's take on the incident, he summarizes the question well and points the way to the White House transcript of the event. Bush in fact ultimately answers the question in the negative, but the Daily Show via Crooks and Liars video shows it as a tense moment. In this case, the questioner gave Bush an out by specifically asking about terrorism as a sign of Armageddon. As a longtime reader of Fred's work, I haven't seen much tying the two. Certainly terrorism is not the touchstone issue that a unified Isreal is.

I digess. Let's wander back to Blackwell. In an open forum, a smart Petro campaign will force J. Ken to answer discomforting questions about issues like end times theology and gay adoption. If the questions don't have convenient trapdoors, Blackwell is forced to choose between alienating his core supporters or freaking out the moderates and independents he needs to win in November.

Time will tell how all this plays out. Certainly the Republican primary vote will take on additional interest as a test of how effective the Christian strategy really is.

Random Ten

1. "Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)," Neil Young and Crazy Horse
2. "Acadian Driftwood," The Band
3. "Bittersweet," Lewis Taylor
4. "My Lover's Prayer," Otis Redding
5. "Wrong 'Em Boyo," The Clash
6. "Big Me," Foo Fighters
7. "Sticks and Stones," Tracy Lawrence
8. "Don't Make Me Pay for His Mistakes," B.B. King
9. "12XU," Wire
10. "Fa Ce La," The Feelies

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Safe Kids; Safer Lawmakers

In all of public policy, few sights are as craven and pathetic as a legislature in a self-righteous lather over child molesters. Lawmakers desperate to appear relevant propose critic-proof measures to get tough against the most reviled population of humans on the planet and pretend the effort shows courage and vision.

In the Columbus Dispatch, the latest spectacle is on display. Yesterday lawmakers heard the genuinely tragic story of a nine-year-old girl who was kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed by a neighbor with a prior sex offense. The proposal – mandatory minimum of 15 years for gross sexual imposition on a child twelve or under.

The CD article quotes prosecutors who make a very real case against the draconian mandatory minimum proposal – you guarantee more defendants going to trial, more children required to testify and more defendants being acquitted. As a makeweight I would also point out that not every GSI defendant is sufficiently dangerous to justify the state paying his room and board for fifteen years. After all, this is being justified base on one singularly disturbing case from another state. The rate for recidivism for child sex criminals is particularly high, but the number that commits that sort of horror is exceedingly small.

I suppose someone could make an appeal to justice on that same basis, though I have difficulty caring about the fortunes of someone who fondles children.

What’s really sad about all this is how simple – and simpleminded – it all is. The legislature could do things that really help kids. They could finally fully fund Betty Montgomery’s network of crime labs – the wait time for DNA analysis is pushing a year thanks to understaffing in the labs. They could fund multidisciplinary child advocacy centers. They could guarantee counseling to every child victim. They don’t because such programs would require spending money, and therefore making hard choices.

Instead, they propose to radically lengthen prison terms, which will cost more, but the effect will be to pressure the parole board to cut prisoners loose even more than is now the case. And you know the lawmakers who vote for this will tout their toughness this fall. Times like this I have to ask myself why I’m a policy junkie.

When Bloggers Meet Normal People

Most of the bloggers I read have two favorite subjects: A) [favorite subject] and B) Blogging. I’m no exception. This medium fascinates me, in no small part because I’m watching it grow and change in real time.

So last Wednesday should have been a candidate for Best Day Ever as a blogger. I was invited to participate on a panel about blogging along with George Nemeth, Ben McConnell and David Giffels from the ABJ. Al Bartholet from WKSU – who also blogs at Folk Alley, moderated.

Unfortunately I was in the early stages of what turned out to be a pretty spectacular flu. I had every intention of taking down a Q and A to post, but in my fevered state simply spaced and stopped writing early in the session. I then went home and crashed for five hours and spent pretty much the next week on my ass.

Still, it was a good time. My memories are a bit hazy and I verged into incoherence a couple of times, but it was worth the pain.

So with the caveat that I was out of it at the time, a few impressions of the day.

The big surprise was the null set of blog knowledge in the room. Leadership Akron is a sampling of the movers, shakers and up-and-comers in the area, but the basic show-of-hands questions at the beginning – “do you read blogs,” “do you know what a blog is?” –drew almost no responses. I’ve long thought bloggers get tunnel-visioned about the ubiquity of blogs, like a frog in a pond assuming the whole world is wet. But I still thought that people were at least sufficiently dialed-in to know what the medium is.

So challenge number one was to bring people from zero to blog-savvy in sixty minutes. We probably spent fifteen minutes on “what is a blog?” Which, given a population of 30 million and counting isn’t an easy question to answer.

The other challenge was balancing between Ben’s business-centered blogging and the more netroots approach of George and me. Answers to the basic questions varied depending on who Bartholet directed the question to.

Ben McConnell’s approach to business blogging can be better read on his Church of the Customer than summarized here.

As for the netroots angle, two things stand out. First is the unexpected blog-friendliness of the Beacon Journal. David Giffels reads the Pages, as does Editorial Page Editor Michael Douglas. At one point Giffels discussed his relationship with Joe at RubberBuzz. If you’ve never been, Joe’s usual blog post consists of a summary of an item he finds interesting in the paper, a pull quote, a link and maybe a quick opinion. Giffels wrote to him at one point early on urging him to be harder on Beacon Journal.

This attitude contrasts with that apparently evinced by the PD’s Doug Clifton earlier in the day. Michael Douglas used a Clifton statement earlier in the day to frame a question – Clifton apparently said that bloggers will never replace the mainstream media and that bloggers are more dangerous because they don’t have the standards journalists do.

I agree that blogs won’t replace the mainstream media, it would be foolish to say otherwise – so foolish in fact that it smacks of strawman argument to bother making the point. What bothers me is the dismissiveness of the comment. So I’m left with the irony that people running my hometown paper like and value blogs, but won’t give us a link, but while the big paper to the north is run by people who view the whole enterprise with suspicion or worse, but have me on three different blogrolls.

As for standards for bloggers, it’s a fair point, one that requires at least a full post to unpack.

So how did all this go over? I got the comments today. They ran from positive – “We didn’t know about all this; how cool” – to not so much – “We didn’t know about all this and were really confused.” No one knows what the future holds for the blog, but one thing is for sure – the potential market is no where close to saturated.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Back Among the Living

Sorry about that. I thought I knew what sick was until this past week. The flu that's going around utterly knocked me out for a week solid. For sheer fatigue and misery it rivaled recovering from sinus surgery. I actually tried to write a couple of times and the addled results are hilarious.

I have lots of catching up in the offline parts of my life, so how quickly I'll be able to catch up on the blog remains to be seen. In the meantime, here's a Random Ten since we missed Friday:

1. "Gone," Miles Davis
2. "Nobody Gets a Smooth Ride," The Choir
3. "Birthday," The Sugarcubes
4. "Lookin' Up," Shelby Lynne
5. "Are You Hung Up?" Mothers of Invention
6. "Pastime Paradise," Stevie Wonder
7. "Rock Lobster," B-52's
8. "Heebie Jeebies," Louis Armstrong
9. "When the Ship Comes In," Bob Dylan
10. "Eyesight to the Blind," B.B. King

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Farewell Gallant Knight

The news that Knight Ridder sold itself to a much smaller newspaper chain has saddened me to a surprising degree. Sure, I'm supposed to be all New Media Guy, crowing about another signpost on Old Media's road to the hinterlands. First off, I think new media triumphalism is a bunch of hooey. The hard times of what Jeff calls Dead Tree Media are not brought on by the rise of computer-based media, they are brought on in the main by the prolonged death throes of reading in America. People aren't eschewing newspapers in favor of blogs, they are in the main ignoring both in favor of American Idol and PlayStation. No one whose vocation or avocation is wedded to the written word can feel good about that.

Second, I'm saddened because the sale is an artifact of the further commodification of the news. In a way this is probably a case of things aren't the same, but they never were. But the old school journalists writing rememberances in the BJ harken back to the days when newspapers were about the news qua the news, as opposed to the news as a lure for eyes on advertisements. Whatever media arises triumphant, it likely will have a lot less concern for informing the public and more for it's bottom line. That's a world I feel less good about.

Third, it bothers me that Knight-Ridder, homegrown institution that it is, will be no more. Since learning the history of John S. Knight in high school journalism class, it's been a point of civic pride to see a Knight-Ridder byline. During the seven or so years I lived out of state, seeing the byline was a connection to home. It feels like a part of Akron history is being extinguished

Finally, I worry about the furture of our paper. McClatchey has declared its intention to sell off the BJ and a slew of other papers whose balance sheets are insufficiently gaudy. So who will buy it? I am most worried, of course, about a purchase by NewsCorp or Sinclair or some simlarly right-wing media group. I accept neither the pat liberal criticism that the BJ is hopelessly conservative , nor the pat conservative criticism that it is hopelessly liberal. On balance the reportage is on balance. The fact that the editorial stance pisses me off as often as it inspires me is probably a healthy sign.

The response, gauged in part by the comments in this BFD post, has been pretty much a yawn. Don't mistake me, ABJ is far from a perfect newspaper. As K-R has been on the current austerity tear, its local reporting has visibly suffered. While some stars like Willard and Oplinger still do good work, increasingly local coverage has looked more like civic boosterism than journalism. Editorially, they tend to dig into positions driven by certain agendas -- most notably hating Arshinkoff. I hate the courthouse coverage because, well, be grateful I haven't subjected you to one of my Phil Trexler tirades.

Most of all, I hate paragraphs that look like this.

Or this.

But for all its faults, this is my newspaper. Growing up in Wadsworth, the BJ was the reason I identified as being from greater Akron. It's a big part of the reason I feel like I'm home living here. When it was a Knight paper, the Beacon Journal was unmistakably the Akron paper. What will the future hold. Will the new owners further slash local reporting to contain costs? Will they turn it into an outlet for a narrow political viewpoint? I'll be carefully scrying the internet tea leaves for answers.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Thoughts on Blackwell's Payola Problem

As reported in the Dispatch yesterday and blogged by Buckeye State last night, J.Ken has indeed received donations from outfits that have received no-bid contract work from his office. His fall back is basically the NABA position -- he's Not As Bad As Petro. He makes some mealy-mouthed statements about not aggressively seeking the donation that he until recently denied getting; he argues about the magnitude of jack received.

Fact is, this looks like in at least some cases like quid pro quo. I will at listen to the argument that the sorts of businesses that do business with the state also have an interest in good government in the state. But when I see items like:

For example, Blackwell has awarded no-bid personal-services contracts to
Boston-based Keane Inc. for computer-related work and has taken $6,300 from
company officials and their spouses in Ohio since 1999,
I gotta roll my eyes. The company is from Boston and the services look an awful lot like something that could be bid.

A few disparate takes on all this . . .

Privatization for Private Gain

Privatization is one of the big movements on the Right, and if done correctly it can yield real benefits for taxpayers. Privatization can be done a few different ways -- the government can simply sell off an enterprise (usually things like zoos or public transportation lines), the government can create an artificial market (e.g. school privatization), or the government can contract with private entities as opposed to doing the work itself.

The third flavor of privatization is particularly prone to corruption -- legal or otherwise. After all, much of the progressive reforms aimed at bringing down the city political machines were aimed at the vast sums that could be channeled to political supporters. Of course, the other part of the equation was establishing civil service so that machines couldn't simply supply supporters with jobs instead.

All of which is to say, as we embark on various privatization experiments, we need to be mindful of the potential for abuse and structure the rules accordingly.

Public Finance for Clean Privatization.

One way to prevent privatized services from becoming a pig trough is to break the link between vendors and elected officials. You can do that with long, cumbersome, technical rules about who can donate when. Or we could move to public election financing and dispense with all of this. Remember, if he didn't explicitly link donations to work, Blackwell did nothing illegal. The system is one of decriminalized graft. Rules don't work. Public finance might.

The Winner Is . . .

The clear winner in this is Petro. Blackwell's NABA defense will keep his supporters from wandering off the reservation, but Average Voter isn't interested in such fine distinctions. You are dirty or you are clean; A.V. has no truck with degrees of dirt.

The other potential winner is Subodh Chandra. His track record says he is able to bring work in-house, limiting overall costs. He is the only candidate in any race who can legitimately claim that he can clean up the special counsel system.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Weekly Reader

One of my great blogging frustrations is not being able to devote more space and time to education issues. I attempted to do education every Monday, but that fell victim to breaking news and my generally frontloaded week. Beyond that, so much flies at me in various e-newsletters, it’s hard to pick.

So I’ve decided to try and post a weekly roundup over the weekend. As you can see, I’ve named it after the school-based kids’ newsweekly from my childhood. (My daughter’s school doesn’t do Weekly Reader, but apparently it’s still around.) Though Friday was Weekly Reader day when I was a boy, here it will best serve as an interest piece to bridge the weekends. I’ll try to get it up Saturday night or earlier, though this one going up late Sunday isn’t a promising start.

In addition to being an outlet for the myriad developments of the week, this format allows minimal commenting by me. As such it works well with my new gig as a community organizer for education advocacy. I keep saying that the opinions expressed here are mine and not those of the Ohio Fair Schools Campaign, but some of you may forget.

We start this week in Cleveland where community leaders are collaborating on an effort toward fully funded universal pre-school. Few people on either side of the education debate argue with the research on high-quality pre-school. One longitudinal study found each dollar invested in quality pre-school coupled with services to at-risk families saves seven over the life of the child. Ted Strickland has universal pre-school on his platform. At a time when liberals supposedly have no ideas, this is one we should be rallying around.

Tom Mooney, the President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers gave what could go down as a ground-shifting speech ($$) this week about how traditional public schools should respond to charter schools. He advocates that traditional schools become, well, less traditional, at least in terms of organization and administration. Most impressively, he argues that teachers and their unions need to be flexible in allowing schools to reorganize and reform.

A stance like that lends Mooney credibility when he attacks failing charter schools as OFT did this week with a blistering report on White Hat Management. I haven’t read more than the summary yet. No real surprises, though WHM’s profitability is pretty impressive: One Life Skills center made $1.2 million in profit on $4.6 million in fees. Brennan’s response?

"I’d ask the other question: Why do we keep giving money to (public) schools
that can’t turn a profit? Why do we keep giving money to schools that are
running at a loss? Why don’t we fund more schools that are operating at a
profit?"
I try to keep things here high-tone and all, but that’s just a dickheaded statement. If a privately operated public works company was making crumbling road and failing bridges, I don’t think the defense would be “But just look at our balance sheet!” Yet somehow that’s an actual argument in education policy.

A survey sponsored by Superintendents in Butler County offers a fascinating window into the mind of the average voter considering school funding reform. The survey specifically considered the state laws that restrict growth of local property tax, leading ultimately to the phantom revenue problem. How many people are willing to change the law to allow growth in revenue? Survey says: 57%. A hopeful sign. Read the Cincy Enquirer story or the complete survey results.

The big national news this week was the release of a survey of high schools dropouts as part of a report on dropouts sponsored by the Gates Foundation. The bullet points:

-6 of 10 students dropped out earning a C+ or better.
-8 of 10 wish they had gotten their diploma.
-Dropouts most frequently cite boredom with classes as the reason for dropping out.

The most successful dropout prevention/remediation programs combine challenging academics with intense instruction in small classes. Though the pro-charter Fordham Foundation lauds the approach, they ignore the fact that it’s pretty much the dead opposite of Life Skills’ DIY pedagogy.

That'll do for an inagural issue. I'll try to work on things through the week from here on and hopefully give a broader survey.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Diversion

On edit: Forgot to mention that Grandpaboy tagged me for this.

1. Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18 and find line 4.

Don't Think of an Elephant (have to read it for work) p. 18 ln. 4: "It is not useless or harmful for us to know when they are lying."

2. Stretch your left arm out as far as you can, what do you find?

The back of the sectional I'm sitting on.

3. What is the last thing you watched on TV?

Right now I'm watching the Zips blow a 13 point lead as I write this on my laptop.

4. Without looking, guess what time it is.

12:10 a.m.

5. Now look at the clock, what is the actual time?

11:50 p.m.

6. With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?

The aforementioned MAC tourney debacle. The collapse is complete. Fuck.

7. When did you last step outside? What were you doing?

Retrieving a letter from my car.

8. Before you started this survey, what did you look at?

My Random Ten post and the Wikipedia article on Allan Sherman I linked to.

9. What are you wearing?

Levi's, gray sweatshirt.

10. Did you dream last night?

Yes, but I don't remember what.

11. When did you last laugh?

Tonight at something Kid T does that always makes me laugh but defies explanation.

12. What is on the walls of the room you are in?

A couple of Amish made shelves groaning with family pictures and a couple of small wood block prints.

13. Seen anything weird lately?

Not unless you count a couple of friends who are weird in a good way.

14. What do you think of this quiz?

Standard issue.

15. What is the last film you saw?

Sideways on DVD. Last movie in a theatre, don't ask. Definitely something for the kids.

16. If you turned into a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy?

Vacation property in Chincoteague; lots of land around Hocking Hills to donate to Nature Conservancy.

17. Tell me something about you that I don't know.

I'm a pretty good cook.

18. If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt and politics, what would you do?

Pump a gazillion dollars into international family planning programs.

19. Do you like to Dance?

I used to love to dance. I find it difficult to cut loose nowadays.

20. George Bush.

Really is that bad.

21. Imagine your first child is a girl, what do you call her?

My kids are anonymous on the blog. She's Kid Z to you.

22. Imagine your first child is a boy, what would you call him?

Hypothetical children aren't anonymous. If Z had been afflicted with an X chromosome, he would have been Reilly Edward.

23. Would you ever consider living abroad?

Yes.

24. What would you want God to say to you when you reach the pearly gates?

"Any questions?"

25. 4 people who must also do this theme in their journal.

Keng, 54Cermak, HHL wherever her damn blog is, Cindy.

Random Ten

1. "Dream Some," Shelby Lynne
2. "Birthday," The Sugarcubes
3. "Don't Explain," Billie Holiday
4. "Freedom," Charles Mingus
5. "Tryin' to Get to Heaven," Bob Dylan
6. "Sedan Delivery," Neil Young
7. "Our Love Is Here to Stay," Ella Fitzgerald
8. "Free Money," Patti Smith
9. "Cruel and Gentle Things," Charlie Sexton
10. "Walking by Myself," Jimmy Rogers

My first real experience with standards was listening to my parents’ Allan Sherman records. In the early-to-mid Sixties Sherman was the “Weird Al” Yankovich of his day, writing farcical lyrics to well-known tunes. Somewhere around eight or nine I found the albums and was fascinated.

Unlike Yankovich, Sherman’s source material ranged beyond the hits of the day. He used folk songs, nursery rhymes, showtunes and, for his most enduring hit, classical music (Ponchielli goes to summer camp in “Hello Mudda, Hello Faddah). He paid attention to rock only long enough to lampoon it in "Pop Hates the Beatles."

In addition to serving as my introduction to standards, the records were my first exposure to Borsht Belt Jewish humor in songs like “God Rest Ye Jerry Mendlebuff” and “Shake Hands with your Uncle Max.”

For some reason, one of my favorites was “Your Mother’s Here to Stay” to the tune of Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Why? Partly the word play was particularly brilliant: “Her evening snack/Would feed a herd of elk/Then she sits back/And watches Lawrence Welk.” Partly because I had some familiarity with the mother-in-law joke.

But I like to think partly it was that I could hear a great tune despite my general lack of musicality. Hearing Diana Ross perform it as Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings the Blues” was a revelation. A couple jazz fan roommates whetted my taste for the genre, but it was discovering the standards and how the jazz greats constantly reinterpret them that was my real window in.

And it started with a stack of brilliant novelty records.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Shopping for a Candidate

You may have noticed some factlets about Cafaro showing up in Open. This one about her family supporting Republicans in the past, and this one disclosing the fact that Capri apparently was christened Janet (pronounced jan NAY) before choosing to name herself after pants.

Open’s trickle of Cafaro trivia may or may not be related to this article in yesterday’s Hill about the DC Dems pulling out the long knives for her. And may be related to commenter ExAkron posting identical attack comments here and on Ohio 13. The received wisdom in DC is that – this may sound familiar to regular readers – Cafaro can lose in November. Beyond that, Dems worry that Cafaro’s past immunity deal sullies the Dems’ attempts to run against Republican corruption.

So if Capri is so radioactive, why did she get recruited into the race? Why does she have a number of establishment Dems on her endorsement list? Steve Hoffman gave a clue this past weekend when he wrote up Tom Sawyer’s internal poll showing, well if an internal poll is released, you know what it says.

The point is, I suspect that much of Cafaro’s support is antiSawyer. Conventional wisdom said that Sawyer was damaged goods post-NAFTA, but he still does well among grassroots liberals and has almost Clintonesque popularity among Blacks. Meanwhile, my background sources say that he is not liked by the more dialed-in Dem activists and (more saliently) funders. Reasons vary and go beyond NAFTA. The specifics go beyond anything I would blog based on background sources, but suffice it to say today’s Tom Sawyer is not a popular guy in the party

A couple of observations about those less-than-shocking disclosures. Each contained a buried background fact I found more interesting. In the midst of the story about her family’s past flirtation with Republicans was a passing mention that Cafaro attended a private high school in Virginia. So she has even less experience in Ohio than we previously thought.

The story about the name change noted that eight years after her stated birthday she was telling people she was ten. Given the past questions about her child prodigy bio, has anyone looked up her birth certificate?

Perspective

The Meet the Bloggers donnybrook has netted, by my count, two posts on Law Dork, plus one each on Buckeye State, Heightsmom, Word of Mouth, and here, plus a largely unique Russo post on BFD, and at least three other posts on BFD highlighting the above and double-digit comments everywhere.

After reading the B-State post I scrolled down and learned from an earlier post that Republicans have proposed limiting workers comp eligibility and are cynically using the bill to dilute support for the minimum wage ballot issue. That post got all of one comment and, as far as I can tell through Technorati, no links.

We have a tendency on the left to fight for ideological purity first and good politics last. Its what Todd Gitlin famously called “Marching on the English Department while the Right took the White House." All of which has led to a three decades on the receiving end of an escalating series of ass-kickings.

Chris Geidner lobbing Animal Farm accusations at Meet the Bloggers runs along the same lines. It’s all about calling out perceived violations of some perfect ideal of internet populism while our real adversaries seek to rob working people again. Maybe someday we will learn.

Note: This and the post below have been edited to correct the spelling of Chris's last name.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Teapot: Meet the Tempest

Because I've been trying to catch up on sleep and that which wasn't done while I was sick, I missed the hubbub over Meet the Bloggers. It started when Jill mentioned a prolonged off-the-record conversation between Republican Senate candidate Bill Pierce and a couple MTB participants. Chris Geidner at the usually high quality Law Dork blog fretted that MTB was becoming too clubby, what with the off-the-record and all.

At this point a simple comment should have extinguished the psuedocontroversy. As is made clear on any number of MTB pods and transcripts, George tries to limit the interviews to an hour or so to make them listenable and to keep transcript costs from getting out of hand. Yes, people hang out and talk afterwards. I've blogged about post-MTB conversations with Paul Hackett and Subodh Chandra before without being accused of cabal membership.

Given that MTB is open to anyone with a blog, that bloggers publicize the hell out of the events, that everyone gets a chance to ask at least one question, that readers are encouraged to submit questions, questioning the grassroots authenticity of the enterprise is a stretch. So much moreso given that pretty much no one involved -- least of all George, Tim and Bill -- is making money from this. For everyone involved, their dog in the fight is getting information out.

George posted a plea for responses. Unfortunately, the first responder was Tim Russo whose screaming, stomping comment didn't put out the fire so much as kick it into the brush. Russo attacked Geidner personally, Geidner responded in kind and it was on. Now Henry Gomez and Cindy Zawadzki have weighed in, Tim's friends have lined up behind him, his enemies have lined up on the other side and we have a full-scale blogosphere dustup.

And so it goes in NEO blogland. Too many times legitimate discussions have morphed into referenda on the Love Tim/Hate Tim question. A couple of weeks ago this got truly ugly on all sides, including some offline ugliness that made me seriously contemplate giving up the Pages. If you didn't see it, you're lucky.

Here's the bottom line. Tim is one guy. A flawed guy, but a guy whose talents and passions can't be ignored. Bloggers and their readers should try to evaluate an issue based on something other than 1) whether Tim is for or agin' it and 2) whether they are for or agin' Tim. Looking at the present issue from altitude, the amount of virtual ink spilled looks downright silly.

Meanwhile, MTB marches on. I sincerely hope at some point cooler heads will prevail and people will see the value -- check out this pitch-perfect paean by Scott Bakalar if you need help.

And remember, all bloggers, not just political bloggers, are invited. A law professor of mine once described arguing before the Supreme Court as the most fun you can have for fifteen minutes in public with your clothes on. Stretch it to an hour and MTB is like that.

Excused Absense

The Pages have been quiet for the past week. After a relatively healthy winter, I got socked by one of the bugs going around. Not bad sick, but bad enough to pretty much knock me on my ass for those patches where I didn't have something non-negotiable to do. So blogposting had to take a hit.

I'm pretty well on the mend now, and have a couple things in the works. I hope to have something fun up this evening.

Thanks for your patience.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Capri Cafaro Wants to Make You This Fabulous Offer!!!

The first of what threatens to be a series of Capri Cafaro infomercials aired this morning. I DVR'd it, watched it and, surprise, was underwhelmed.

While my feelings about Cafaro are well documented, my feelings about infomercials have not yet made a blog post. I just don’t get them. I don’t understand how producing a thirty minute segment and buying time for it makes economic sense. I don’t know why anyone watches.

As an insomniac, I’m presumably part of the target audience for these things, yet I’ve not sat through more than maybe five minutes of one. And that was just to try and figure out Don LaPre’s scam.

I really don’t understand how anyone can tolerate the artifice of the enterprise. An infomercial generally isn’t merely a half-hour documentary about the virtues of a product. It is instead a faux program, often in the Donahue/Oprah audience input mold, about whatever it is.

Cafaro’s infomercial fits the profile. While it is framed with the McCain/Feingold “I endorsed this message” disclaimer (or is it claimer), the majority of airtime is devoted to Cafaro speaking before a suspiciously compliant audience at a town hall meeting a UAW Local 200. All that's missing is an announcer cutting in with the obligatory infomercial buzzphrases.

Over the next thirty minutes you will learn . . .

The script has Cafaro answering questions like (and this is a quote) “Are you in favor of raising the minimum wage to put real money back into working people’s hands?” While the questions are painfully scripted, the answers are not. Cafaro is responding more or less extemporaneously – something she is not particularly good at.

Indeed, the most fascinating thing about the spot is how uninspiring she is as a speaker. She is choppy and verbally peripatetic. You can see the fingerprints of image consultants on every clever aside and self-deprecating remark. After all the anonymice posting about how good she is on the stump, I expected to see that here. Not so.

The audience for this thing is hilarious. The producers actually edit in audience shots, all of which show people wearing unmistakable I’ve-been-at-this-taping-for-five-hours-now expressions. But every time Cafaro answers a question, they burst into applause.

. . . About this revolutionary new product.

The centerpiece of this townish hallish info-thing is Cafaro’s SAW proposal – Save American Workers. The centerpiece of that is offering tax incentives to Americans buying American-made goods to make them price-competitive. To do that, Cafaro acknowledges we would have to back out of every trade treaty of the past fifteen years. She seems to think our trading partners would understand.

Meanwhile, I’m more than a little dubious about the efficacy of the proposal. Consider for a moment her audience – members of the UAW. American car manufacturers are getting shellacked by the Japanese. Have you car shopped lately? The Japanese makes are almost uniformly more expensive than American-made comparables. People buy them because they are better engineered, not because they are cheaper.

Meanwhile, the thought of people saving their receipts for more-expensive American-made household goods to take advantage of the tax rebate loses me. Unless the tax incentives make American goods significantly cheaper, the simple convenience factor will still make foreign-made goods significantly more attractive. And we haven’t even mentioned the Wal-Mart effect.

Listen to these testimonials!

Early on there’s a break in the action for endorsements. First off, some guy in a UAW T-shirt. Next, one Richard Romero, probably better known in Lorain. Google results suggest he’s a Steelworkers guy.

Later Cafaro fields a question from DeAndre in Akron. DeAndre? Hmmmm.

The most unintentionally funny moment in the entire spot is when she says that, thanks to her family’s fortune, she will be beholden to no one. Yeah, and she’s proposing giving manufacturing-segment labor unions the biggest, wettest, sloppiest kiss in the history of political panders just because she thinks it’s a good idea.

And if you act now . . .

All of this is about the primary. Cafaro is putting her faith in the received wisdom that the 13th is a lock for whoever wins the Democratic primary. She’d better be right. She is setting herself up to be portrayed as a creature of labor unions, probably the least popular Democratic interest group after trial lawyers. And her economically na├»ve proposal will give plenty of ammunition to whichever the Republican faces her in November. And that’s without even mentioning immunity deals or Central Park South prior addresses.

Available only through this TV offer!

An air-war expenditure so extravagant is curious. It leaves me wondering if she is putting any of her storied jack into building a grassroots organization of if she is simply counting on the unions to deliver. She may win the primary simply by playing the name-recognition game with oxygen-sucking media buys, but she will need boots on the ground in November.

But wait, there’s more!

At the end she promises another “town hall” next Sunday morning. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

ABJ Soft on Petro Pay-to-Play

While today's PD mines the recently release U. Akron emails for more nuggets of payola evidence, the Beacon Journal passes in the local section. But they do weigh in with an editorial saying basically "eh."

The BJ's arguments are weak in the extreme:

-The quality of work didn't suffer because Roetzel is a quality firm. True, but a quality firm with no Intellectual Property division until they cobbled one together because the UA work was coming down the pike.

-Petro was all about giving Arshinkoff the hand. Supposedly this is in the emails, though no one has reported it in print. Besides, it doesn't explain sending work to David Brennan. And it doens't explain sending the IP work to Roetzel instead of Hahn Loeser.

Two forces seem to be at work here. First, the enemy of ABJ's enemy. Or enemies. The Beacon has long feuded with Arshinkoff and loves any excuse to send hateburgers his way. In addition, the editorial stance toward Blackwell is one of palpable nervousness. They know, as do we all, that as much fun as it might be to watch Petro try to scrape ethics allegations off his shoe, we all could suffer is something equally stinky doesn't stick to J. Ken.

Second, the me-second factor. The PD scooped the story right out of ABJ's back yard. The Beacon has been pooh-poohing the allegations ever since. It's hard to get scooped; one defense mechanism is to treat the story like no big deal.

In any event, we clearly can't trust the Beacon to burn much shoe leather on this story. This will be one time I'll be happy to have the PD nearby.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Patent Work Pending [Updated]

Today's Jim Petro Maalox moment. The Beacon Journal reports today on a pile of emails concerning special counsel work for the University of Akron. The University Board of Trustees voted to release the memos which otherwise fall under exceptions to Ohio's public records laws. Here's a past post if you need a reset.

The story doesn't find much that adds to the discussion, but raises a few new questions. The intriguing aspect to the story is the relocation of intellectual property work from Renner Kenner to the then-nonexistent IP department in Roetzel and Andress. The BJ has a more detailed rundown of the "in" firms and "out" firms:

According to the documents, Petro's office informed UA in January 2003 that Renner Kenner, Amer Cunningham, and the Akron law firms of Brouse McDowell and Roderick Linton were no longer authorized for new assignments.

Petro's office authorized three other firms to perform the university work: Roetzel & Andress and Buckingham Doolittle & Burroughs, which have offices in Akron, and Baker & Hostetler of Cleveland. The firm of Brennan, Manna & Diamond would also get work.
So a few questions and fill-in-the-blanks points from me.

First off, the U trustees board is packed with Alex friends. Regardless of Jack Morrison recusing himself, the Board's actions is certainly consistent with his wishes.

Second, the list of firms is curious. First and foremost, the idea of finding major law firms in Akron with no ties to Arshinkoff is a fools errand. Big law firms contain ambitious Republicans. Ambitious Republicans make friends with powerful party chairs. As the day follows the night. Buckingham in particular is a heavily Republican firm. Roetzel is a little more evenly divided, but with tendrils sunk deep in each party. The "Brennan" in Brennan, Manna and Diamond is none other than uber-R benefactor and charter school entrepreneur David Brennan. This is the firm he started after splitting off from the now-unacceptable Amer Cunningham.

The story quote UA General Counsel Ted Mallo that the IP work for Akron didn't suffer for the changeover. It's not clear from the story how closely Mallo follows the work.
Presumably if Department heads weren't happy, they would have reported to him, but it would have been nice to get some clarity in the story.

The big mystery to me in all of this is the choice of Roetzel for IP work. Not only did Roetzel have no IP department at the time of the switch, there was another choice -- the Akron office of Hahn, Loeser and Parks, includes lawyers from the former IP boutique Oldham and Oldham. So why not hire Hahn, Loeser? I don't know the firm well enough to know for sure, but could it be related to the fact that Lee Fisher and Eric Fingerhut are both alumni?

The most salient question is how Roetzel and the other firms compare in donations to Petro's campaign.

Finally, if you are unconvinced about my recent jeremiad about public campaign finance, consider this. If Petro told law firms ahead of time there would be a quid pro quo, it's a bribe. If he just rewarded his benfactors, it's legal as far as anyone can tell.

UPDATE: My bad missing a paper today. The PD has a better story -- better in the sense that they apparently waded through more of the emails and printed more details. They found Mallo emails at the time saying the switch was a bad thing.

[See Post Below]

For some reason Blogger double-posted "Open Letter." Eric had posted his comment before I discovered it and, not wanting to delete it, hollowing out this version seems the best bet. So read
Eric's excellent comment and post your own on the intact version.

Carry on.

Open Letter

This is an open letter to Sherrod Brown, Paul Hackett, their staffs, and supporters.

For a time the Hackett/Brown tilt was fun political theatre for a while. Now I see a schism that is threatening my party and I'm done with it. I am getting background from each camp about how it's the other guy's fault. Here's my prescription: Get over it.

I feel like the teenage son in the middle of bitter divorce: I like mom, I like dad, and each is getting digs into the other through me.

Get over it.

I do not want to hear from either camp until I've heard that the two of you have gotten together to talk this out. Sit down, talk it out, shake hands and smile for the cameras. I don't want to hear about Hackett's involvment in a veterans PAC, I don't want to hear about Brown's view on the latest Bush Admininstration outrage, I'll blog on none of it because it's not what we need to hear.

Get over it.

Both of you have explaining to do. Both of you step over the line. Each of you currently resides several area code zones past the line. Don't go into the meeting thinking you will get an apology; go into it thinking you will apologize.

Get over it.

Yes, Hackett was a loudmouth upstart who didn't understand how politics works. Yes, Brown is a policy nerd who got surprisingly sharp-elbowed as the campaign wore down. Yes, Hackett said Brown should wear a dunce cap. Yes, Brown shopped really lame oppo research to righty blogs. Yes, Hackett is continuing to trash Brown. Yes, Brown is continuing to trash Hackett.

Get over it.

You can do this. If George H.W. and Clinton could get together to raise disaster relief money, If Yitzhak Rabin could shake hands with Yassir Arafat, if I can live peacefully with my Steelers fan sister-in-law, you two get reach accomidation.

Get over it.

The stakes dwarf whatever personal pride you have staked on maintaining the feud. We will know the truth about this Administration's secret programs and backroom deals only if we take at least one house of Congress this November. The Senate is our best bet and Ohio is a vulnerable seat. We need everyone pulling in the same direction if we are to win. Losing as a result of bruised egos is unacceptable.

Get over it.

I look forward to blogging about the peace conference. Otherwise, leave me out of the sniping. I no longer care who is more at fault. You shouldn't either.