July 2008

Republicans & The Tooth Fairy.

“Goodbye, from the world’s biggest polluter.”   President George W. Bush, in his closing remarks to fellow leaders at the final G8 summit.  Bush reportedly punched the air and grinned widely after making the joke.  This excerpt was taken verbatim from the July 21, 2008 edition of Newsweek Magazine.

I still see the occasional SUV with the, once upon a time ubiquitous W-04 political bumper sticker. It meant re-elect George W. Bush for President in 2004.  I still involuntarily gag a bit at the thought of W. as President.  What was America thinking? Oh, I’m sorry.  We weren’t thinking were we?

Did you personally check your brains at the door after 9-11?   I think that is what happened to America. Many of us just decided not to think. Then the war came. Who’d a thought? Golleee Gomer!  Who’d a thunk that ol’peckerwood Bush would take us into Iraq, into a war in the heart of Musleeeem land?

And, well, why start thinking now became the popular position.  I mean that’s what you have a president for, huh?  Besides, he knows more.  Why think? Un-huh.

“Goodbye, from the world’s biggest polluter.”  George W. Bush sticks it in the eye one more time of our European allies with that bon mot. Except it isn’t clever. With a fist jab no less! What a man.  What a leader.  There was never anything particularly smart or clever about President Bush.  We elected him, it was reported, because he was someone we’d like to have a beer with.  Wow! We sat down for a drink and woke up with a hangover. Record deficits and a mindless, tragic war. Thank you, Mr. President!

And now Republicans are all over Barack Obama for acting too presidential.  Shame on Obama for appearing presidential.  Shame on Obama for giving coherent, inspiring speeches.  Shame on Obama for speaking before 200,000 American flag-waving Germans!  Shame on Obama for clearly contrasting himself with the fool we elected.  Shame on Obama for having the audacity of acumen, ability, and ambition.  And vision.   Shame.  Shame.  Shame.

I say shame on America for electing mediocrity. Yet, maybe that is the best we can do.

Kathleen Parker, a conservative syndicated columnist regularly found on the Orlando Sentinel editorial pages wrote July 24, 2008 about a rising Republican star, Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisianna.

Parker rhapsodizes over Jindal’s youth, brains and energy.  She’s nearly poetic in her praise of Jindal as a possible VP choice for McCain. In a passing paragraph Parker describes how Jindal converted as a young man from Hinduism to Catholicism.   According to Parker, “He was smitten in high school by a young lady who stole his heart and led him to the cross. In college, he witnessed and wrote about an exorcism.”

He witnessed an exorcism!?!  Holy shades of the Exorcist!  Was there vomiting pea soup and 360 degree neck turning and body levitation and meat locker temperatures and hissing epithets from the devil?  Was there, Bobby? Was there?

Please tell me Republicans will not nominate the likes of Bobby Jindal.  Please.  I can see the ticket now: Elect The Old Man and the Exorcist!

Devil possession!?!  We’re going to elect a man who believes in demonic possession?  When will this ever end?  When will Republicans finally give up the ghost of religion?  Ha! Too funny.

Let’s see.  If you believe that the devil made me do it, well, won’t that be a convenient justification for any number of policy decisions?  We’re fightin’ the Devil don’t-cha see!!  The devil’s in the details.  Takes on a whole new light, huh?

I ask Republicans if the Devil is now on the table as a viable entity and a legitimate political consideration, what about fairies?  If there is a Devil, why not fairies?  Seriously, let’s have fairies in government, let’s just bring’um out of the closet, so to speak and giv’um titles.  No, not our Gay or Lesbian citizens.  Fairies, real genuine exorcist type fairies. Ask Bobby, he’s the go-to guy on America’s supernatural forces!

Hey Now! We could have the Tooth Fairy run America’s Medicare Program.  What with his experience, he’s a natural for any modern Republican administration. He comes cheap, too.  Just slip a quarter under his pillow.


The Murder Of The Orlando Sentinel

Death By A Thousand Cuts!

I was driving down Orange Avenue one recent Saturday and there was Jane Healy, former Orlando Sentinel vice president and editorial page editor loading her car with what I took to be knicky-knacks, framed pictures and memorabilia. Healy was, I believe, the only Pulitzer prize winning writer at the Sentinel.  She probably had numerous plaques from the Sentinel stating what an outstanding employee she was. Yet, there she was putting her stuff in her car, a solitary figure closing out her career at The Orlando Sentinel.  It was a sad sight to me.

A few months ago I encountered Kathleen Waltz at the Winter Park Cinemas and we briefly talked about her exiting the Sentinel.  I told her I lamented her leaving the paper. Ms. Waltz had been the paper’s publisher since the year 2000 and had been with Tribune Newspapers since 1973.  I didn’t always agree with Waltz and Healy on what news should be covered (emphasized) and I found the editorial page too conservative for my tastes but I believed both women practiced sound journalistic principles and were interested in producing an engaging, readable and balanced newspaper.

And should I mention a profitable newspaper.  Back in the early 1990s, I worked with a key vice president of the Sentinel.  We were both involved in the same non-profit organization—he as volunteer, I as staff.  This guy was a lot of fun, had a delightful, self-effacing sense of humor yet had a reputation as a driven, make-your-number administrator.  He said on a couple of different occasions that the Tribune Company was making 25% of their net profit off the Sentinel.  The Tribune Company includes the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times among a number of papers. I found that number a staggering figure when you compared the markets. That was then.

By now, anyone with half a brain knows newspapers are in trouble.  Advertising revenue is down (lost to the web) and readership is aging as younger Americans either 1.) Do not read a newspaper (for any number of reasons) or 2.) They get their news off the internet or from other sources.  American newspapers are a graying industry in decline.  Unless they reinvent themselves (more on that in a second) they will be history. Toast.  What’s black & white & dead  all over?

How profoundly sad.  How tragic for Orlando, for our nation.  Reflect on what a daily newspaper does.  A reputable newspaper gathers a trained staff (trained in sound journalistic practices and all that that implies) and assigns those reporters to cover our (any) local community or city.  It is, historically speaking, America’s newspapers that have kept a community’s conscience by looking under the rocks that politicians, corporations and special interests would sooner not have exposed to the illuminating lens of public scrutiny. It has been our newspapers that uncovered corruption, greed and special favors.  Who is going to fulfill that function in the future?  Seriously, this is a critical, critical national issue.

Enter Sam Zell who took the Tribune Company private in 2007 in a $8.2 billon deal.  Sam Zell is not a journalist.  He is not a publisher.  Sam Zell is a successful businessman, a glorified realtor.  He has no apparent love of words or sense of what a newspaper is all about.  I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why someone with Sam Zell’s obvious ability and acumen would buy the Tribune Company only to turn around and institute massive job cuts and employee buyouts.  Go buy a steel plant, Sam, and chop jobs there to attain profitability.  Zell is gutting his newspapers all in the name of profitability, to finance the debt he has taken on. And, Oh woe is Orlando.

What do you think of the changes you see in the Sentinel?  I’ve started asking friends and acquaintances (strangers even if I think they actually read), “What do you think of the Orlando Sentinel these days?”  Invariably, I hear their disgust with what is happening to our paper.

The paper recently went through a “touted” revamping that made it less of a credible read in nearly every sense of what constitutes a paper.  Big pictures of nothing, if it bleeds it leads pabulum, dewy-eyed dog stories, more tabloid syndicated crapola, mindless graphs and charts, endless wire service banality about movie or sports stars and advertisements on the editorial page (Yes, opinions are for sale.). It now has more the feel of a shopper than a credible source of news.  Even the sports section is diminished.

I like that they’ve unleashed Scott Maxwell and Mike Thomas but that is about it as far as changes I applaud.

I talked with a major central Florida “institution” spokesperson, a VP of communication who initially cancelled the paper down to the Sunday edition and has now dropped that, too. This individual was even more scathing in their assessment of the paper than I.  Folks, the Sentinel “ain’t" gonna make it.  Thank you, Sam Zell.  May Martin Andersen turn in his grave.

There are alternatives.  The St. Petersburg Times (Poynter Institute) has an increasing readership but it is an anomaly. It is also a non-profit corporation.  Perhaps Orlando’s “enlightened” leadership could put a team together, form a nonprofit, raise the capital and give the St. Pete model a try.

Four years ago I started taking home delivery of the New York Times seven days a week. It is, bar none, the best thing I have done for myself in years. Unless a miracle happens, it will soon be the only daily tossed in my driveway.  What a community tragedy.  What a loss.  A pox upon your house Zell.


The Salubrious Effects of
A Necessary Hanging.

“The business of government is to keep the government out of business—that is, unless business needs government aid.”  Will Rogers.

I’ll drink to that.  This Buds for you, America!  Bud’s now Belgian.  One by one, our American corporations go on the world market and are acquired for so much chump change, walk-around-money with our funny money devalued dollar.  Sigh.  What’s a patriot to do?  Wait until we start paying for our petroleum in Euros.

You know, of course, the demise of the American automobile industry is being blamed on Americans. That’s you and me, kid.  Yes, we wanted big gas guzzling monster vehicles and by gawd, Detroit delivered.  I particularly like this argument.  It’s similar to the joke of the crying businessman who is dejectedly wailing over the loss of his company.  When questioned of what went wrong, of why he sold his love, his business he exclaims, “They met my price.”

Detroit (Ford, GM & Chrysler) will probably not survive intact.  Why you might reasonably ask?  What happened in 50 years since Detroit ruled the manufacturing world?  How could an industry so dominant, so the wonder and envy of the world find itself on the brink of bankruptcy, not even fit for acquisition?  GM now has less stock value than Starbucks.  And Starbucks is contracting.

I was recently listening to NPR “explain” the problem and they laid the problem at the doorstep of unions and an acquiescent business management, that in lieu of large pay increases back in the flusher 1950s both parties agreed to health insurance coverage and generous retirement programs. The car companies then had a young workforce that required neither health insurance nor retirement income. Fiddledy-dee, I’ll think about that tomorrow!

Arguably, both programs could be a government function or a private matter depending on your point of view and what your personal circumstances are at any given moment. Know what I mean?

Regardless, I suggest an additional target of culpability.  Upper management.  If we, as consumers are going to be blamed for the demise of America’s car industry because you, dear reader, are dumber than a box of rocks for demanding and purchasing vehicular behemoths, I recommend sharing the blame (and consequences) with management for not presciently planning for a future of high gas prices.  And planning accordingly!

What, pray tell, do we want of corporate management if not profitability?  Is planning not a characteristic of profits.  Is not anticipating a “volatile” future not a responsibility of management?  And adjusting?

Remember Enron?  When thousands upon thousands of Enron employees lost their jobs and retirements due to “bad” management, I thought Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling should have been publicly hung from the front of corporate headquarters.  An employee trial would have sufficed.  Due process, don’t-cha know.

I thought at the time what a salubrious effect that would have on American corporate business practices.  Seriously. Why not?

You murder someone and the American ethic these days is, you die.  I get it.  Totally.   “They” even want to now execute for rape.  Again, I get it. I do.

Yet, if you murder “a” corporation, as did Lay & Skilling to the point that the employees are raped of their jobs and their retirements, in many instances the responsible corporate management team is/are long gone having floated away to the Caribbean on the their “Golden Parachutes.”

Where is the justice in that?  America’s corporate automotive management teams are murdering America’s car industry. Oh, they’ll blame it on you (me) and the unions but time and time again there have been warnings, forecasts and events that foreshadowed today’s economic environment, yet our corporations continually lose market share (profitability) and the only way it seems to correct “the” problem is to cut jobs and renegotiate benefits.

How about planning?  How about anticipating the automotive market and adjusting so that you do not lose market share to Japanese and Korean manufacturers?  Huh?

Banks are failing in California. Based on bad sub-prime loans.  Hmmm?  Why don’t we just let the “market” work this out on its own?  Why the talk of bailing out Freddie Mac and Fanne Mae?  Let’s simply separate the wheat from the chaff.  Let the market work.  Whatta ya think?  Sounds like capitalism to me. (You can genuflect now.)

A public hanging or two might work, too. They would be a shot across the bow.  A heads-up. A wake-up call. A knock to the head.  Hello! Is anyone home?

In Japan, there is the occasional instance of seppuku (suicide through a knife in the stomach) for gross failure as a corporate leader.  They perform this rite as a matter of honor.  If that were a common practice in America, our corporate boardrooms would be awash in blood.   But it “ain’t” gonna happen.

Let me end with a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “I do not dislike but I certainly have no especial respect or admiration for and no trust in, the typical big moneyed men of my country. I do not regard them as furnishing sound opinion as respects either foreign or domestic business.”

Republican John McCain has identified Teddy as his presidential role model.   Wanna bet?


Guns, God & Gays
Once More With Gusto!

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more"  Shakespeare's Henry V, Act III

Can you hear the last train leaving the station?  Does this presidential election present the last opportunity for America’s Republican Party to rally the Christian evangelical faithful around the flag of Guns, God & Gays?   Or is the train of modernity finally leaving them at the terminal, their tickets punched through to the 18th century? Have they finally become religious anachronisms in a secularized 21st century America?

Oh, what are the faithful to do when their children abandon the “good” and “Godly” fight for Gay intolerance?   Are not stem cells sacred?  Is not a woman’s womb public property subject to righteous (religious) control?  Is marriage not clearly scripted by God?  For only a man and a woman? No matter that God is not mentioned in the US Constitution, let us amend it with Biblical certainty.

Sssssssssssss.   Is that the gas of relevance and intensity seeping from the balloon of religious authority?  One can only hope.  I do.  I am so tired of “values” voters being played like out-of-tune banjos by the Republican Party.  With such unfortunate consequences for the nation.

Godly values?  You bet.  Hmmm?  Let’s see?  Cut taxes.  Outlaw abortion.  Eliminate regulatory oversight.  No stem cell research.  Eliminate unions and restrict plaintiff appeals.  Publicly stigmatize Gays.  Open public lands for private development. Save marriage amendments.  Deregulate whole industries.  Publicly finance churches. And on and on and on.  The real Republican agenda is helping those who have.  Achieved by manipulating the “value” voter into voting against his/her own economic interests—a modern day Three Card Monte that plays the faithful for the political saps they are.

You’d think if God were actually talking to the faithful, he’d clearly warn the pious to avoid association with the profane. My father actually counseled against associating with the pious (of a certain ilk).  Ha!  Talk about bass ackward.

But, the times they are a changin’.  Regardless of one’s beliefs, across the broad spectrum of American culture, younger evangelicals do not so much care about another human being’s sexuality.  What are you like as a person?  Are you kind?  Are you gentle?  Are you a good citizen?  Whether or not you are attracted to men or women is (has become) less an issue when compared to rising rates of poverty and pollution or issues of justice.

Younger Americans have grown tired of fighting battles over whose “values” are more sacrosanct while the nation slips economically, as our prospects diminish and national leadership and priorities are repeatedly compromised over fractious, idiotic and infantile disputes over science and faith (stem cell research, Darwinism, creationism, etc.).

The following four paragraphs are presented verbatim from the July 7, 2008 edition of “The Gazette” of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"Evangelicals of the older generation have become obsessed in almost a technical psychological sense in opposing gay rights," said David Weddle, professor of religion at Colorado College. The irony, Weddle said, is that "homosexuality is not a biblical theme." There are only six biblical passages that address same-sex relationships, he said.

Some polls show that young born-again Christians are more tolerant of gays and lesbians. According to a 2007 Barna (an evangelical organization that studies Christian trends) study, 28 percent of born-agains, of which evangelicals are a subset, under age 42 think it is morally acceptable to have sex with someone of the same gender, compared with 13 percent of older born-agains.

And nearly 33 percent of young Bible believers support abortion rights, compared with 27 percent of older believers—a surprisingly high percentage for both age groups, said David Kinnaman, Barna Group president and co-author of "UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity," published in 2007.

"There is a significant level of skepticism among young Christians, especially when compared with people of the same age a decade ago," said David Kinnaman, Barna Group president and co-author of "UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity," published in 2007.

Don’t you just love the West? Skepticism in the ranks of the evangelical youth!?!  Oh, happy, happy day.  The trajectory of western thought and philosophy from Greece on has been to empower the individual to think for herself.  How novel.  What a revolutionary concept.  As American philosopher Richard Rorty so succinctly put it: America is not about truth, America is about freedom.

As America’s Republican evangelicals age and, uh, move on, they will take their divisive un-American “truths” with them and the United States will be a different nation.  Less divisive.   Less dogmatic.  More tolerant.

This fall’s Republican presidential campaign of Guns, God & Gays may be their last “hurrah.”  (Shall we all pray for that? Ha!) Yet.  Once more into the Godless breach!

But methinks, William, that train has already left the station.