Friday, October 31, 2008

Decided

In March, I looked forward to "a national conversation between Sen. Obama and Sen. John McCain." I knew that these two very different candidates would present the American electorate with a clear choice, and I was optimistic that they'd conduct their campaigns with more decency than we've seen in recent years.

I got the matchup I wanted, but my optimism appears to have been a bit cockeyed.

While I favored Sen. Barack Obama's nomination, I was never destined to cast a general-election vote for him. Still, his campaign has been superior to his opponent's in every way that matters: tactics and strategy, messages and media, principle and leadership. The judgment and steady temperament he's demonstrated are far better suited to high office than the GOP nominee's long legislative résumé and erratic behavior.

None of that allays my very real concerns about an Obama presidency, but the Democratic nominee has earned my respect. His policies and political philosophy simply prevent him from earning my vote.

Sen. McCain has been, to put it mildly, a disappointment, throwing his honor and the last of his dignity on the pyre of his candidacy. After vowing to run a respectful campaign and to quash irrelevant attacks on his opponent, he's allowed a disturbing and dangerous tone to run wild for months. Sure, he tried to stuff the genie back into the bottle a few weeks ago, but he turned it loose again when his campaign started hemorrhaging support from the noisy right.


He's revealed gross cynicism, displayed questionable temperament, exercised shockingly poor judgment and generally has shown me that he's not fit to lead. Worst of all, he chose a running mate who herself is neither fit nor qualified.

Along the way, Sen. McCain lost his voice, along with my trust, my respect and my vote.

Incidentally, I'm not the least bit swayed by arm-twisters demanding that I vote for McCain-Palin, else I be in-league with gun grabbers and entitlement addicts. Bullshit -- that sort of "you're with the terrorists" fear mongering is a sheepish endorsement of the status quo.

Obama-Biden surely would take us farther away from what's best for our country, but it'd be naive of me to view McCain-Palin as some sort of inoculant against assaults on our Second Amendment rights, exploding entitlements and socialized capitalism. Whichever wins, we'll be fighting the same battles with our bloated government.

The end of preventing an Obama-Biden victory doesn't justify my voting for a politically, ethically and intellectually corrupt ticket -- but just as I won't cast that token defensive vote, I won't cast a vote out of protest, either. This isn't about indignation.

It's about my country. It's about my kids.

Come Wednesday morning, I'll look my spawns in the eye and tell them that my vote stood for the same things I stand for. The values that I drum into their teenage heads will ring true. The next time they hear me say that power belongs to The People and that the Constitution still means something, they'll know that there's honor in backing up their words with actions, even when those actions are unpopular.

The two-party monopoly has failed our nation. I've know that for years and, for once, I'm not going to blink on Election Day. This time I won't make a reflexive choice, another cowardly capitulation to a lesser evil that takes America farther down the same self-destructive road.

That's why on Tuesday I'll cast one independent citizen's vote for Libertarian Party candidate
Bob Barr.

To do otherwise not only would blaspheme my sacred American privilege -- it'd be an insult to the country I'll leave to my children.

And the hits...

"I don't think at the moment she is prepared to take over the reins of the presidency. ... Give her some time in the office and I think the answer would be, she will be...adequate. I can't say that she would be a genius in the job. But I think she would be enough to get us through a four year...well, I hope not...get us through whatever period of time was necessary. And I devoutly hope that [she] would never be tested." (Lawrence Eagleburger, Secretary of State under Pres. George H.W. Bush and a supporter of Sen. John McCain, on Gov. Sarah Palin's readiness to assume the presidency in a time of national crisis)

"I have not been convicted. I have a case pending against me, and probably the worse case of prosecutorial...misconduct by the prosecutors that is known. ... I've not been convicted yet." (Sen. Ted Stevens, who was convicted Monday in federal court jury on seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts, in a debate yesterday)

"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media." (Gov. Sarah Palin, in a radio interview this morning, trying to explain how criticism is a violation of the First Amendment...or maybe she was advocating that the First Amendment be amended to outlaw the free press...or limit free speech, but then...oh, never mind -- just read the excellent salon.com article and weep)

"Wanna talk qualifications? The difference between Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Sarah Palin is that he's qualified to teach Constitutional Law at the college level and she seems barely qualified to serve as an usher at freshman orientation." (KintlaLake)

A pair of 'toons & a goon






As ordinary Americans hold garage sales to pay their mortgages, it appears that vulnerable Republicans are liquidating their dignity to sustain their desperate campaigns. To call Sen. Elizabeth Dole's ad misleading is neither harsh enough nor satisfactorily accurate -- considering its intent, the ad is an outright, willful lie.

At the end of the spot, the viewer is left with the distinct impression that that the woman's voice proclaiming, "There is no God!" is that of Dole's opponent, Kay Hagan -- and it's not. Ms. Hagan is now
suing Sen. Dole for defamation and libel, and while I'm no fan of lawsuits, I hope Ms. Hagan gets whatever she's asking for.

A former colleague of mine worked as a senior adviser to Ms. Dole during her unsuccessful bid for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, and she once told me that the sputtering Dole campaign "put the fun in dysfunctional."

Clearly, the fun is gone. The dysfunction, judging by Sen. Dole's shameful tactics, is alive and well.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Boo!

We have our October Surprise, such as it is.

Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin are bashing the Los Angeles Times for "withholding" a videotape of Sen. Barack Obama attending a 2003 party for Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American professor and critic of Israel.


Mr. Khalidi and Sen. Obama were colleagues at the University of Chicago and reportedly are longtime friends, but both publicly have acknowledged their stark disagreement about Israel. The Los Angeles Times, as is its right, is protecting the source of the tape.

Countless independent analyses have reached the same conclusion: At best, McCain-Palin is trying to make something of nothing; at worst, the GOP campaign is engaging in gross misrepresentation of the facts.

No one doubts that McCain-Palin is making a play for skittish Jewish-American voters in battleground Florida -- it's a transparent, Ayers-esque move, born of desperation and consistent with the campaign's dedication to fear mongering over the last week.


Hard to believe, isn't it, that an event that happened five years ago and that the Los Angeles Times wrote about seven months ago suddenly is a big deal?

Oh, the guilt-by-association tactic will work on a handful of shallow-minded voters -- it already has -- but that's just sad commentary on an impressionable electorate. Sadder still, however, is seeing how low Sen. McCain is willing to stoop to scratch out a few votes.

It seems he has nothing else to offer.


In related news, as they say, at a rally today in Defiance, Ohio, Sen. McCain made a point to recognize the presence of Samuel Joseph "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher.
"Joe's with us today. Joe where are you? Where is Joe? Is Joe here with us today?"
Joe wasn't there.

That moment might well be the hollowest echo of a wretchedly mismanaged campaign.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It goes to motive

Sen. John McCain's cringe reflex must be in a full-on cramp.

Gov. Sarah Palin sat down today for an interview with Elizabeth Vargas of ABC News. Ms. Vargas suggested that Gov. Palin might, in light of all of the attacks leveled at her, react to an Election Day loss with, "I've had it. I'm going back to Alaska." Gov. Palin's response:
"Absolutely not. I think that, if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we've taken, that...that would...bring this whole...I'm not doin' this for naught."
At least the undisciplined Gov. Palin revealed publicly why she agreed to accompany Sen. McCain on his Marginal Misery Tour in the first place -- not that we didn't know her motives already.

If only Sen. McCain would let his guard down long enough to tell us what the hell he was thinking when he chose her.

Understatement

"I thought last night...we had reached the limits of absurdity, in talking yet one more time about Sarah Palin's wardrobe. But tonight I think we even went higher. With 'Joe the Plumber' out there. They have him with John McCain out on the trail -- offering views about Israel. Come on, give us a break." (David Gergen, adviser to four U.S. Presidents, appearing yesterday on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360)

Wednesday bits

Joe for John
Stop the presses -- Toledo's own Samuel Joseph "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher has formally "endorsed" Sen. John McCain for President.

Since his accidental encounter with Sen. Barack Obama, Mr. Wurzelbacher hasn't yet met a microphone he doesn't love. He's got the conservative GOP talking points down pat, and he's said that he's considering his own run for public office. His world-view seems to be informed exclusively by the voices emanating from the dashboard of his plumbing truck, so naturally he's become a populist darling.

I love the fact that Mr. Wurzelbacher is seizing his moment in the national spotlight, really I do. He's no smarter than me, or my neighbor, or my spawns' school-bus driver -- but he's smart enough to have realized that if he's going to be a tool, he might as well take full advantage of the moment.

Hughes uses hues
Here on the north side of Columbus, Republican state Rep. Jim Hughes is facing attorney Danielle Blue in the race for the 16th District's vacant State Senate seat. Ms. Blue has the endorsement of popular Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, and she'd seem to have the perfect surname for a Democrat.

The GOP candidate is running a television ad questioning Ms. Blue's lack of experience -- no surprise there, but the spot uses his opponent's name in a rather creative way. "Blue" is displayed in large, gold block letters and outlined in dark blue -- to citizens of Buckeye Nation, that's a clear reference to the maize-and-blue of hated Michigan.

Rep. Hughes appears later in the commercial clad in a red -- er, scarlet -- sweater, chatting up four young people dressed conspicuously in Ohio State garb.

It's hilarious -- and it just might work, because in this neck of the woods, accusing a political opponent of official corruption isn't nearly as lethal as linking them to the University of Michigan.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Local color

Barbara West, an anchor with ABC affiliate WFTV in Orlando, asked Sen. Joe Biden this question during an interview last Thursday:
"You may recognize this famous quote: 'From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs.' That's from Karl Marx. How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?"
Sen. Biden, smiling broadly, responded:
"Are you joking? Is this is a joke? Or is that a real question?"
The rest of the five-minute interview was, let's say, contentious.

She said later that she was simply asking "tough questions," and she's won praise from the far right for her performance. There's only one problem with that: Ms. West didn't ask tough questions -- she asked laughable questions. She must've quaffed an entire keg of high-test right-wing Kool-Aid before regurgitating it in front of the cameras.


A critical viewing of her subsequent interview with Sen. John McCain, conducted today, leaves no doubt about what Ms. West has been drinking.

Voters, by and large, don't care about the whole Marxism thing. If they cared enough to actually learn about it, they'd know that what Sen. Barack Obama is proposing isn't Marxism. They'd understand that Ms. West, disguised as a news anchor, was trafficking in extremist buzz-words and GOP talking points, nothing more.

Did I mention that Ms. West is married to a Republican spin doctor?

I'm no fan of Sen. Biden and I won't be voting for the Obama-Biden ticket, but I know partisan idiocy when I see it. I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that Ms. West, typical of a "personality" languishing in middle age and stuck doing the 5:30am newscast in a local market, probably doesn't know Karl from Harpo.

And she'll probably have her own FOX News show before Christmas.

Between seasons

Next weekend will bring the first of November, a sort of boundary for me -- October is autumn, November is winter. To herald the change, today the first flakes of snow, mixed with some spitting rain, fell outside my window.

Looking around me, I notice that I'm running behind on my seasonal chores. I still have to stow the grill and the lawn furniture. For the first time in five years I won't be winterizing a car, but the motorcycles will need to be prepared for storage. Eventually I'll pull the mower deck from the lawn tractor, lube the chassis and swap the engine oil for winter-weight, and then mount chains, wheel weights and a plow blade -- but not 'til I've finished dealing with autumn cleanup.

I haven't even started on that yet. Our trees are still hanging on to most of their leaves.

Incidentally, this year I've made a conscious effort to burn no more gasoline on lawn care than absolutely necessary. If the grass grows a bit long and a few leaves blow out of our yard, that's fine with me. Let the neighbors grumble.

Snow, on the other hand, doesn't defer to frugality and can't be ignored. With any luck, we won't have another record-setting snowfall like the one we saw last March.

I haven't been a total slave to procrastination. The furnace has had its annual checkup. Yesterday I gave Mrs. KintlaLake's car a good once-over and changed the oil. My truck (that's what I'm calling it now) had a thorough mechanical inspection and a complete transfusion before delivery, so it should be ready. This weekend I'll shut off the water supply to the outside faucets.

Anyway, my chores will get done, the seasons will change and I won't resist the inevitable slide into winter. In fact, if our fireplace was in better shape and I had a decent heater out in the workshop, I might actually look forward to it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sarah Palin, under the bus

"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone. She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom." (an adviser to Sen. John McCain, to CNN)

"I think she'd like to go more rogue." (a GOP official, to Politico)

"She's lost faith with the staff. She knows the $150,000 wardrobe story damaged her. (But) she's an adult. She didn't ask questions about where the clothes came from?" (a McCain-Palin aide, to the New York Post)

"She's now positioning herself for her own future. Of course, this is bad for John. It looks like no one is in charge." (a senior McCain-Palin adviser, to the New York Post)

"She's no longer playing for 2008; she's playing 2012. And the difficulty is, when she went on 'Saturday Night Live,' she became a reinforcement of her caricature. She never allowed herself to be vetted, and at the end of the day, voters turned against her both in terms of qualifications and personally." (Peter Hart, Democratic pollster, to CNN)

"It’s a sign of undisciplined people who do not have loyalty that they ought to have to the candidate." (Karl Rove, former advisor to Pres. George W. Bush, to Politico, on finger-pointing within McCain-Palin)

Pitched battle

I'm glad that I waited until this morning to write about #9 Ohio State's 13-6 loss to #3 Penn State -- what I might've said in that disappointing moment wouldn't have reflected the truth. Painful as the result is for Buckeye Nation, it truly was a great, great game.

Offensive players, have a seat -- this game belonged to the defensive units. JoePa must've loved it. Somewhere, Woody was punching something.

As time wound excruciatingly down, it looked like the kind of hard-fought, field-position contest that Jim Tressel's teams usually win. Of course, as any student of big-time college football will tell you, it also was tailor-made for a Joe Paterno-coached team.

In the end, young Terelle Pryor's fumble was the fulcrum on which the game tipped toward the Nittany Lions. Penn State seized the moment and the Buckeyes' offense didn't answer.
Game over, drive home safely.

Ohio State began the season with the prospect of reaching its third-straight national-title game. Now 7-2, it has a bye week and two road games before returning to The 'Shoe for The Game. It'll be interesting to see how this team, apparently without even a conference championship to play for, responds.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I feel like Obama at a McCain rally." (Desmond Howard, former Heisman Trophy winner for the University of Michigan, today during ESPN College Gameday, which was being broadcast from just outside Ohio Stadium)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Heartland footnote

I'm feeling good about that mid-size SUV now sitting in my garage. Because of the way the deal came together, my choice wasn't the result of exhaustive research -- my options were limited by the selection of used vehicles that the dealer had on the lot at the time.

So I've been doing my research after the fact -- not ideal, certainly, but helpful in the long run. In the process, I've learned that my specific vehicle was built just 80 miles west of here at the GM assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio.

Considering my penchant for keeping commerce close to home, doing business at a dealer four miles away was an easy decision -- buying a product assembled in Ohio was an unexpected bonus.

That's the good news. The bad news is that GM will close Moraine Assembly for good on December 23, 2008. Back in June, GM had said that the plant would cease operation in 2010, but four months later moved up the shutdown to the end of this year, ending 57 years of production and idling 1,400 American workers.

I'm not going to launch into a long-winded commentary about why such things are happening all over the old Rust Belt, and I won't wax furious about how American workers are grinding under capitalist whimsy.

I'll simply say that it gives me pride to know that the hands that built my vehicle were those of my fellow Buckeyes. I'm saddened that these men and women soon will join countless other Heartlanders who are picking up the pieces of their American dreams.

I say again, we need to reclaim the Heartland for our own.

Now would be a good time

It's hard to ignore all the chaff in the air these days.

We can argue over whether or not this presidential campaign sets a new mark for irrelevant venom, but looking past the candidates to voters themselves, I can't recall ever seeing my country so angrily divided. Spiking that toxic climate is an economy that's circling the bowl -- markets tanking, credit freezing, prices rising and jobs vanishing.

Oh, and the holiday season is right around the corner.

All that adds up to unprecedented pressure on ordinary Americans. Anyone who claims to be unaffected is either out of touch or out of circulation.

The product of pressure is fear. Fear begets irrational behavior, and irrationality makes bad situations worse. History shows that people don't need a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or other calamity to act out their fear, and I'm here to suggest that at this moment in history our domestic society is ripe for sudden and widespread ugliness.

There will come a tipping point. Maybe it'll be the results of the election (no matter who wins), maybe it'll be a sudden market crash or a rash of bank failures, even a serial sniper or a school shooting. Something -- or a series of somethings, related or not -- will happen that breaches the dam holding back Americans' pent-up fear.

I believe it's inevitable, and I expect to see it before the end of January.

As I've said before, the population comprises those who are prepared and those who aren't. We can't, for the most part, control outside events or the actions of others, but we can choose to prepare. At the risk of sounding alarmist -- and I acknowledge that ship sailed in this blog long ago -- now is the time to make sure that we, as individuals, are ready.

Have a plan. Assemble the materials and information required to execute the plan. Prepare to exist in an America temporarily without conveniences like credit cards, ATMs and corner gas stations. Plot community resources and know how to make use of them. Understand potential threats and prepare to defend against them.

In a society dominated by dependence, we must prepare to be independent -- now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Replacement for displacement

It's been a long day. More about that in a bit.

I love cars, and I'm especially fond of fast, powerful cars. Over my driving life I've owned six-cylinders and fours, turbocharged and normally aspirated, but by far my favorite motor is the venerable V8. The last five years' labor brought two wonderful small-block rides into my garage: one the quintessential American sports car, the other a neo-retro muscle car masquerading as a family wagon.

Beyond the sheer joy of driving them, my wife and I shared our first kiss in the former and I proposed to her in the latter. I'm not ashamed to say that I have an emotional attachment to both cars -- I may burn in hell for saying so, but they're more than mere transportation.

That proud impracticality ran smack into reality 18 months ago when my employer downsized. I haven't been alone in the job market since then, of course, and I've had little success either raising my own business or finding an employer who's willing to pay for 25 years of success in my field.

The simultaneous economic squeezes on our nation and on the KintlaLake household have become increasingly difficult and my options have become fewer. I was stunned at the ill-tempered phone calls I kept getting from one particular creditor -- I'm talking about five calls a day for a week. Apparently, three decades of never making a payment later than the due date earned me no slack when, for the first time in my life, I was 14 days tardy.

I went out to the garage this morning, gazed at my beloved sports car and knew what I had to do.

I chose a local dealer that specializes in that model, giving myself what I judged to be the best odds of a no-cash, no-payments deal -- getting out from under my car and into another of lesser value and greater practicality. My salesman, as it turned out, had been in precisely my financial fix a year ago, and he eventually suggested that I consider making my muscle-wagon part of the deal as well.

I was floored that he even proposed such a thing -- trading two cars for one, canceling two notes and two payments, and returning to me a modest check. As we talked during the four hours it took to patch together the odd transaction, he displayed undeniable and genuine empathy.

Empathy? In the car business? In this economy?

At one point the conversation turned to Ohio State football and longtime coach Woody Hayes, and that's when it dawned on me: He gets it. He knows. He's paying forward.

Where last night there were two cars parked in my garage, tonight there's just one -- a three-year-old mid-size SUV in remarkably pristine condition, comfortable but not fancy. While its I-6 will do absolutely nothing for my testosterone level, it'll be an able grocery-getter and spawn-hauler. Its four-wheel drive will be welcome in the winter. Hell, it might even be a worthy BOV -- we'll see.

And gawd, it's white.

Mrs. KintlaLake and the spawns understand what I did today and why. They're good with it. As I close this post, I'm looking above my desk at a painting of Coach Hayes. These words appear below the image:
"There is a force that makes us all brothers. None goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own."
The old coach, himself inspired by the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was right -- we can never pay back, but we can always pay forward.

For the first time in weeks, I'll sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fair hearing

This afternoon I learned that CNN would air, unedited, an interview that correspondent Drew Griffin did today with Gov. Sarah Palin.

I've been pretty harsh on Gov. Palin, so in the interest of fairness, I decided to watch the interview and give her a chance to show me something I hadn't seen before, anything that might persuade me to reconsider my contention that Sen. John McCain exercised poor judgment in naming her as his running mate.

Throughout the CNN interview, this was the self-assured Gov. Palin who acquitted herself quite respectably in the vice-presidential debate. The babbling candidate who suffered through disastrous encounters with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric was gone; but then again, CNN's Griffin was neither tough nor particularly probing.

Weeks on the campaign trail clearly have reinforced what Gov. Palin needs to say and her confidence in saying it, while allowing her to retain her irrepressible folksiness. Today she delivered campaign talking points with familiar ease, even handling segues and deflections with an adroitness that surprised me.

Taken on its own, then, and in all fairness, Gov. Palin's performance merits praise -- as in the debate, she did what she had to do. To be fair to the rest of us, however, her CNN interview must be viewed critically and in the context of everything else we've seen from the candidate.

Gov. Palin had to show me that she's more than just an appealing parrot. Specifically, I needed to see that has more than a rehearsed understanding of what she says -- and I'm sorry to say that I didn't catch so much as a glimmer, much less the deep understanding and intellectual curiosity I expect of a candidate for Vice President.

I also expected Gov. Palin to assert herself in such a way that might "right the wrongs" she'd committed in other big interviews, something to demonstrate that she can navigate the tough stuff. Again, for whatever reason, she didn't deliver.

The substance of her answers is another matter, one that I won't discuss except to say that there wasn't any. (Substance, that is.)

I gave Gov. Palin a fair hearing and came away still unconvinced -- and maybe that says as much about me as it does her. I'll keep thinking critically about the choices before me, and no doubt Gov. Palin will continue to shower her appeal on voters who place a higher value on affinity than I do.

As she showed me again today, affinity is really the only gift she brings to the party.

Laugh tracks

It's time to bow to the absurd.

There's a television ad running statewide here, promoting the re-election of an Ohio Supreme Court Justice, and I can't help laughing every time I see it. The ad begins,
"Evelyn Stratton, daughter of missionaries..."
Really, now, is that the first thing I need to know about a jurist? I get that politics is all about pandering, but I reserve the right to chuckle when it's that obvious.

At the national level, of course, there's no shortage of material that strains gravitas, let alone credibility -- take, for example, a new McCain-Palin television
commercial that opens with Sen. McCain asking the viewer,
"The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they?"
Aside from the obvious "Well, duh," it tickles me that the GOP nominee didn't start fleeing Pres. Bush until last Wednesday's debate. At this late date it's hard for me to keep a straight face while watching Sen. McCain suddenly try to feel our national pain.

And with most polls showing McCain-Palin running behind, it's been amusing to see the campaign and its supporters thrash about like the de-limbed Black Knight of Monty Python fame -- "'Tis but a scratch! Only a flesh wound!"

In particular, this whole "socialism" thing is a hoot. Never mind that the sources of this neoconservative epithet know about as much about socialism as Gov. Sarah Palin knows about foreign affairs. I mean, when they find out that Michelle Obama signed a $447 room-service receipt for lobster, caviar and champagne, they don't know if they're supposed to be angry or not. Talk about being in a round room.

No, the punch line of the socialism joke is that Sen. McCain -- along with the Bush administration, Sen. Barack Obama and 335 other members of the 110th Congress -- just engineered the greatest act of socialism in American history: the trillion-dollar corporate bailout.

Funny, isn't it, how neither campaign brings that up?

Ultimately, humor yields to reality, and I have to face the fact that most of these laughable stunts will actually work. Considering what's at stake in this election, that's not the least but funny -- it's downright scary.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Local roundup

Gasoline, 35% off
Most of the country saw their record-high gas prices around mid-July, but central Ohio's spike came about a month ago in the wake of the "
Ike Lite" windstorm. The unexpected regional squeeze briefly had us paying more than $4.00 for a gallon of regular unleaded.

At least we avoided a Nashvillian panic, and prices have fallen steadily since.

Just 30 days later, local stations are charging in the $2.60 range, the least we've paid in 18 months -- still no bargain, but we'll take it. No telling how long our "fortune" will last.


Top-ten Buckeyes
When the first quarter of Saturday's game ended with Ohio State up 21-0 on the Spartans, I couldn't help wondering, "Who are these guys in the silver helmets, and what have they done with my Buckeyes?"

That beat-down of Michigan State, along with a last-minute win over Wisconsin two weeks earlier, went a long way toward helping Buckeye Nation forget the humiliating
loss to USC. And yesterday brought a pleasant surprise -- when the first BCS rankings came out, the 7-1 Buckeyes were ranked #9.

Hope springs, Saturday beckons...bring on Penn State!

Life on the battleground
I used to live in an irrevocably blue state, a place where presidential candidates spent little money and seldom came a-calling.
Eight years later and 700 miles west, I feel like I ought to be on a first-name basis with the McCain-Palin and Obama-Biden advance teams.

I can't escape the barrage of ads filling my mailbox, ringing my phone and blanketing the airwaves. If I weren't a political junkie, I'd probably pay a three-month visit to Vermont, or maybe some other minor Electoral College prize. Even so, all this attention is getting to be a bit much.

On the bright side, living in a so-called "battleground state" means that I get to see the candidates' true colors -- that is, they're revealing the lengths to which they'll go (or the depths to which they'll dive) to win 20 electoral votes.

I think it was a former head of IBM who often said, "The higher a monkey climbs, the more he shows his ass." As Election Day draws closer, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joe Biden are keeping their political pants pulled up, while Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin, without apparent shame, are desperately mooning Ohio voters.

Blog blotter
We were visited by the season's first freeze last night, with temps dropping into the high 20s, bringing an end to this year's homegrown bounty. It was our best garden yet, yielding flavor for our table and lessons for next year. I'm not resisting the change-of-season, though -- the crisp air feels great.

On Wednesday morning, our older spawn will make an appearance in traffic court. I remember getting my first speeding ticket -- and the suspended license, and the traffic school, and having to be chauffeured around by my parents. It made enough of an impression on me that I haven't been pinched since. (knock wood) Time will tell if the experience "takes" on this particular 16-year-old.

I'm not ready to say that an Obama-Biden administration is a certainty, but the odds against it grow longer by the day and the alternative brings me little comfort. Given the implications for my Second Amendment rights, I did a quick inventory and, just as I thought, the KintlaLake household is prepared for the prospect. If the worst happens, we'll consider packing up and moving to Montana -- seriously.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another opportunity lost

Today, just up the road from the KintlaLake household, Sen. John McCain will rally his supporters. Local media are abuzz with rumors that the GOP nominee will be joined on the platform by...(drum roll)...Joe the Plumber.

That was this morning's big news, and then former Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and formally endorsed Sen. Barack Obama.

McCain-Palin was quick to respond that Sec. Powell's endorsement of Sen. Obama was "not unexpected" -- but taking the long view here, that statement doesn't pass the laugh test.

Both Sen. McCain and Sec. Powell are retired military men and moderate Republicans, each with a record of "reaching across the aisle" and exercising independent judgment. Reportedly, they're longtime friends as well.

Sen. McCain, who once had every reason to be optimistic about landing Sec. Powell's endorsement, proceeded to squander his advantages -- from abandoning his centrist nature and pandering to the right, to choosing the clearly unqualified Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, to his erratic campaign now spiraling down into desperate disinformation.

This morning's announcement was nothing less than the wages of Sen. McCain's self-sabotage. Here are a few excerpts from what Sec. Powell said.

"I think that Sen. Obama brings a fresh set of eyes, a fresh set of ideas to the table. I think we need a generational change, and I think Sen. Obama has captured the feelings of the young people of America, and is reaching out in a more diverse, inclusive way across our society."

"I strongly believe that at this point in America's history, we need a president that will not just continue basically the policies we have been following in recent years. I think we need a transformational figure. I think we need a president who is a generational change."

""I don't believe [Gov. Palin is] ready to be President of the United States, which is the job of Vice President."

"I think [Bill Ayers, robocalls, etc.] goes too far. I think it's made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me. The party has moved further to the right."

"Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who paid them, in roads and airports and hospitals and schools. And taxes are necessary for the common good. And there is nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is or who should be paying more, who should be paying less. And for us to say that that makes you a socialist, I think is an unfortunate characterization that isn't accurate."

"[Sen. Obama is] thinking that all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values."

I judge Sec. Powell to be smart, articulate, thoughtful and, despite his party affiliation, fundamentally independent -- above and beyond his ribbons and stars, that's why he has my admiration. He spoke this morning with characteristic honor and grace, reinforcing my respect.

On many of his points and observations, in fact, Sec. Powell and I are in complete agreement. We will, however, be voting for different candidates on November 4th.

A right to shame?

Rosetta Miller-Perry wants everyone to vote.

Ms. Miller-Perry publishes the Tennessee Tribune, a Nashville weekly with a largely African-American audience, and she's been using her newspaper to encourage her readers to vote -- specifically, to vote for Sen. Barack Obama. Now she's trying to embarrass them into voting.

In two recent editions, the Tribune has
published the names and addresses of registered voters who didn't cast ballots in the 2004 election. Most live in predominantly African-American Nashville precincts expected to go heavily for Sen. Obama in 2008.

The newspaper isn't violating anyone's privacy, because the information it's publishing is public record anyway, readily available through the local board of elections, and the Tribune is well within its rights under the First Amendment.

"We need to live up to the civil rights that have been given to us," Ms. Miller-Perry
said in justifying her unconventional approach to boosting turnout. "Sometimes when you embarrass people they do the right thing."

I won't dispute that Ms. Miller-Perry and her newspaper are free to do what they're doing. I also won't hesitate to call their crusade crude, ignorant and misguided.

Low turnout, a sad tradition in this country, usually can be attributed to widespread apathy. Maybe some of the people on Tribune's list will be shamed into voting, but probably not in great numbers. Nor does Ms. Miller-Perry seem to be bothered that she's "embarrassing" otherwise responsible citizens who truly were unable to get to the polls in 2004. Lame excuses notwithstanding, it happens.


Of greatest concern to me, however, is that the Tribune's editorial bludgeon may "expose" citizens who exercised their fundamental freedom not to cast a ballot.

In my view, the deliberate choice to not vote is perfectly acceptable. I'll even take it a step further, asserting that it's the responsibility of every citizen to become informed about candidates and issues, and then to consider not casting a ballot as a viable option.

Listening carefully, I can hear the reedy voice of Canadian rocker Geddy Lee:
"If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice."
An American citizen can raise his voice by voting or, as I myself have done in the past, by rejecting all of the choices presented -- whether by casting a blank ballot or by staying home on Election Day. Just so there's no misunderstanding here, I'm talking about conscious, informed abstention, not laying down a smoke-screen for laziness.

The mere suggestion of choosing not to vote will strike some, including perhaps Ms. Miller-Perry, as outright heresy. "If you don't vote," they'll say, "you have no right to complain!" -- which is bullshit, of course.

Voting may be a sacred ritual of freedom, but it's not compulsory. Our free-speech rights are assured regardless of whether or not we vote -- or serve in the military, fly the flag, support the policies of our government and the like.

The same First Amendment granting us "the freedom of speech" also guarantees "the freedom...of the press," which brings me back to the Tennessee Tribune.

Do I agree with the newspaper's decision to "out" citizens who don't vote? No. Do I support its right to do so? Absolutely.

Late yesterday, I became engaged in a rhetorical tussle over the perception that the media have been unfair in their treatment of Samuel Joseph "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher. Without drilling into irrelevant detail, suffice it to say that the prevailing opinion was that Citizen Wurzelbacher had both a (constitutional) right to free speech and an (extra-constitutional) expectation of privacy -- but that the media were wrong to seek more information about Citizen Wurzelbacher and wrong to report what they learned.

Objecting to what the media report is one thing, suggesting that they somehow should be prevented from reporting it quite another. Fortunately, our Constitution allows the former and prohibits imposition of the latter.

I wouldn't have it any other way -- the prospect of an America without a free press is beyond my imagination.

Our Constitution, then, is the faithful lens through which I view the Tennessee Tribune's ill-conceived campaign to shame citizens into voting -- speaking out in opposition to the newspaper's actions, but respecting its right to act.

Embracing this simple, fundamental concept of freedom becomes difficult only in the absence of independent critical thought. Today, I’m sorry to say, that void runs wide and deep.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Palin's little pockets

At a closed fundraiser in North Carolina last night, Gov. Sarah Palin spoke of "wonderful little pockets of...the real America," and about being glad to visit these "pro-America areas of this great nation."

She seemed to be saying that small, red-state towns are the real America:
"This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans. Those who are running our factories and teaching our kids and growing our food and are fighting our wars for us."
The rest of the country, the urban areas, the states that might go for Obama-Biden...well, she didn't elaborate. We can all be thankful for that.

Look, I love small-town America -- hell, I live in a small town and, if I have my druthers, I'll be here the rest of my life -- but I take exception to any hint that patriotism and service somehow reside only in wonderful little pockets populated by citizens who espouse a particular political philosophy.

I long ago tired of Republicans acting as if they've cornered the market on love-of-country -- it lives in The People, dammit, not in one political party or only in certain precincts. Patriotism and service beat strong in the chests of liberals and conservatives, in Democrats, Republicans, independents, libertarians and yes, even socialists.

I’ve been surrounded by kind, good and courageous Americans everywhere I’ve lived, from small towns to cities to college campuses. I’ve known factory workers, dirt farmers, selfless educators and gold-star mothers in blue states as well as red.

I may disagree with many of my fellow citizens on how best to serve and preserve this nation, but I have neither the standing nor the right to assault (or attribute) patriotism on the basis of party, politics or postal code. Common sense tells me that different people will confront the same facts and distill different truth, common decency instructs me to respect those differences, and common purpose compels me to work alongside people with whom I differ.

I reject Gov. Palin's patriotically provincial America, her fractured nation of isolated pro-America communities, secured by the gates of political dogma and flanked on all sides by enemies-of-state.

No, that's not the America I know and love -- that's not my country.

Talking trash

Our community, which is a patchwork of city and county parcels, recently renegotiated its trash-hauling contract, switching from a national waste-and-recycling company to a big regional outfit.

Garbage is garbage -- as long as a big truck shows up once a week to take it away, I don't much care what color the truck is. I'll confess that bringing business a bit closer to home appeals to me, but other than that, the change is no big deal.

It shouldn't be, anyway.

The KintlaLake household, along with a number of our neighbors, is in the county-governed township, surrounded by hundreds of other homes that fall within the city-governed municipality. Our new trash hauler, in its corporate wisdom, serves township and city customers from two different depots, on two different days.


Trucks headed for city customers come from 15 miles away, while those serving township residents travel 33 miles. I roll my trash to the curb on Tuesday, and my neighbor across the street does the same three days later -- same company, same contract.

If serving a single contiguous community from two far-flung locations sounds like a head-scratcher, consider this advisory from the company:
"Recent increases in fuel prices have made it more difficult for us to manage costs. To offset the effects of higher fuel prices, you will be assessed a fuel surcharge, which will appear on your invoice and will vary from month to month."
I understand that a trash-hauling business has to account for higher diesel-fuel prices, but slapping customers with a surcharge without first tackling such obvious operational inefficiency is lazy and unacceptable.

Garbage is garbage.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Everything in moderation

Rich Rodriguez is suffering through his first season as head football coach at the University of Michigan -- and I do mean suffering. And for West Virginia fans, that's just fine.

After Coach Rodriguez announced last December that he was leaving Morgantown for Ann Arbor -- in what Mountaineers considered dishonorable fashion -- things got ugly. His lawn was trashed, his assistants' families harassed, and worse.

Many WVU fans remain bitter even now, almost a year later. Stewart Mandel of SI.com
said it best:
"Don't you see what you've become, West Virginia? You're the psychotic ex-girlfriend."
That metaphor doesn't sit well with my Morgantown missus, but it's apropos nonetheless. It's also a fair characterization of hard-core conservatives' attitude toward Sen. John McCain.

The American electorate is overwhelmingly moderate -- very few voters, even committed partisans, live at the extremes. According to
Pew, 36% of Americans identify themselves as Democrats and just 27% say they're Republicans. Extreme conservatives, a loud-but-small ideological minority, have failed to put forth a viable candidate because, to be blunt about it, a pure conservative isn't electable.

This time their booby prize was getting stuck with the moderate, aisle-spanning McCain -- and they're pissed. Sen. McCain never has been satisfactorily conservative. He collaborates with the liberal-evil enemy, even (gasp) Ted Kennedy. He doesn't walk around with a KJV under his arm.

In short, John McCain is just wrong -- but he's all they've got, so these humorless ideologues have spent the last ten months stalking him like they're some jilted lover who's run short of meds.

Whenever The Real McCain appears, right-wing enforcers come out of their burrows to slap him around. They parse every syllable, correcting him when he strays to the left of righteousness. They insist on rhetoric that caters to true believers but pulls him out of the electable mainstream. They give him support grudgingly, never letting him forget that he's their man only because he's not Barack Obama.

If Sen. McCain has been erratic over the course of the campaign (and that he has), it's a direct reflection of the tug-of-war between his inherently moderate political nature and the more conservative forces that keep yanking him to the right. He hasn't defined himself consistently to voters because a fractious faction has been busy remaking him in its image.

Should Sen. McCain win this election, it'll be no thanks to that faction. If he loses, however, he'd best embrace his own complicity -- after all, he's the candidate. He's the one who ignored his instincts and kept trying to make nice with the stalker.

See, even a moderate can have a spine. Sen. McCain simply lost his.

What's the opposite of pandering?

"There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area." (U.S. Rep. John Murtha, speaking about his own constituents, in an interview yesterday with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Fourth & goal

As I turned off the television after last night's final presidential debate, I couldn't help feeling bad for Sen. John McCain and everyone who was hoping that he'd finally have a breakthrough.

He didn't.

Both candidates came out of the gate nervous, visibly affected by the pressure. Ten minutes in, Sen. McCain looked much stronger than he had in the previous two debates, and after 20 minutes I thought he clearly was outperforming Sen. Barack Obama. About that time, Sen. McCain said,

"The whole premise behind Sen. Obama's plans are class warfare...."
Invoking that right-wing chestnut had almost no effect on Sen. Obama or the conversation. Just saying it seemed to embolden Sen. McCain, however, and a confident fighter pilot began to unravel into an irascible old man.

As Sen. McCain became more combative, Sen. Obama took the cue to become less so. The result was a McCain advantage in the first 30 minutes, perhaps a draw in the middle third of the debate, and Sen. Obama finishing stronger, clearer and noticeably cooler.

Although Sen. McCain's seething got in the way of his ability to connect with the audience, this was by far his best showing in the presidential debates, largely because he was more assertive throughout. The GOP nominee's strongest moment, without a doubt, was his dismissive response to Sen. Obama linking him to the Bush administration.


His downfall was in slipping from assertive to aggressive, as if he grasped neither his present disadvantage nor the reasons why his numbers have eroded steadily over the last few weeks.

He also seemed to be unaware that while Sen. Obama was speaking, his own reactions would be displayed on the other half of a split-screen image. Reminiscent of the angry Bob Dole of 1996 and the "sigh" that arguably cost Al Gore a 2000 presidential debate, Sen. McCain made no effort to mask his disdain, even contempt.

Derision may play well with partisans and hard-line conservatives, but it alienates undecided and independent voters. Among that group, few will be swayed by attempts to associate Sen. Obama with Bill Ayers or ACORN, or even parrying relentlessly over "Joe the plumber."


I'm not saying that Sen. McCain violated some code of propriety or political correctness. Winning is about being effective, not simply palatable, and once again Sen. McCain stubbornly refused to do what works.

Attacks don't win presidential debates. Clever "ah-HA!" barbs don't win debates. And for all of our table-pounding insistence that candidates be specific, details alone don't win debates, either.

Debates, especially this election year, are won with inspiration and aspiration -- sad commentary on an unthinking electorate and yet indisputable political reality. Sen. Obama has seized that reality, and Sen. McCain has sought to counter with fear and doubt. Historically, those tactics have been reliable, but they haven't worked well in 2008.

They certainly didn't work last night.

So what's Sen. McCain to do, now that he's 0-for-3 in the debates and faces an all-but-insurmountable deficit in the polls?


It's a simple choice, really. He can stick with his attack strategy, which will soil his legacy and damage other Republicans' chances on November 4th -- or he can take a deep breath and do the honorable thing for his party.

I know what "the old John McCain" would do. I'm just not sure he's still around.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Signs of the Apocalypse II

Rumors of a GM-Chrysler merger.

General Motors shares gaining more than 60% in just three days -- but still trading at a paltry $6.50, off 85% from a year ago.

A world that includes Al Gore, Ralph Nader and Sarah McCain Palin
Ciptak, and a world without Charlton Heston, George Carlin and Paul Newman.

Citizen slackers complaining about celebrity activists.

"The Original Mavericks."

Light beer, drive-thru flu shots, and
The Indoor.

Four U.S. Supreme Court justices who actually believe that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee an individual citizen's right to keep and bear arms.


The name of "Mickey Mouse" appearing on a voter-registration form submitted by ACORN.

ACORN, Swift Boat Vets, MoveOn, RightChange and every other §527, union and church that shields its politics with its tax status.

Citizens who object to Joe Biden saying that wealthier Americans paying higher taxes is the "patriotic" thing to do, but who evade paying their own taxes -- and yet reap benefits paid for by those of us who do.


John McCain being booed by at his own rally because he called for "a respectful campaign."

A
n American company closing a plant and moving its operations outside the U.S. -- and then requiring its lame-duck employees to train their overseas replacements.

American taxpayers funding the government's corporate bailout so that banks can afford to foreclose, at great loss, on homes owned by American taxpayers -- that is, a
bank foreclosing a mortgage and then auctioning the property for less than half the market value, a tactic made possible because the bank got a taxpayer-funded bailout and the taxpaying homeowner didn't.

"It will take time for our efforts to have their full impact, but the American people can have confidence about our long-term economic future."

The Electoral College.


"I call on my opponent to repudiate..."

Point of agreement

"What a beautiful part of the world you all live in." (Sen. Joe Biden, speaking today in Lancaster, Ohio)