Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Grateful Memory

Staff Sgt. Ahmed Kousay Altaie (U.S. Army), Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Captured in Bagdad, Iraq, October 2006, and later killed. This month, his were the last remains recovered of those missing from Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn mission.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Afghanistan Again

Oh, puhleeze. Let’s give Karzai six replacement Qurans and get the hell out of there.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A "Flyover Bureaucrat" Lands

It may be hard to believe, but some of the earliest politicians in the U.S. were known to be even more devious than those whose cunning we marvel at today. 

The lack of communications technology made that possible.  A candidate could deliver a speech in one town, take a horse and buggy trip to the next place, and give another speech contradicting his previous words. Without news media, he was unlikely to be caught.  News traveled so slowly that often elections were over before blocs of voters learned they had been duped.

That form of political dishonesty stopped around the end of the nineteenth century, or so we thought.  Telegraph, then telephone, networks made communication swift and reached eventually into every corner of the country.  Large news organizations, such as the Associated Press, linked media.  What a national candidate said in California could be filed by a newspaper reporter and broadcast by a radio station in Massachusetts within minutes.

Today’s politicians may fudge their statements and artfully dodge questions, but they know an outrageous statement made anywhere along the campaign trail will be exposed. They must be more careful than their predecessors about what they say. Or, so we thought.

The Geezer learned of recent campaign rhetoric in Idaho by the Republican candidates that certainly would concern many Americans.  One part of it might have been good for a laugh, something major media like to use to break up dismal news cycles. I’m pretty well tuned into various news sources, yet I heard of the Idaho statements only through a Facebook message from a former fellow employee of the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service manages 20 million acres of National Forest land in Idaho.  Several million of those acres are Congressionally designated Wilderness, priceless wildlands where motorized vehicles are banned and resource extraction largely is prohibited.

Recently, according to the Idaho Statesman, Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Ron Paul proposed selling or transferring the federal lands to private interests or to the state. Mitt Romney got a little more specific. He advocated transferring management of the national forests to states to increase the revenues the lands generate.

There are only a few ways to increase revenues from National Forests.  One is to build roads into what now are roadless Wilderness areas, allow timber cutting there, and encourage mining and grazing, now limited to uses that were grandfathered when the lands were withdrawn from commodity production years ago.  Another is to abandon or seriously relax grazing permit systems and timber harvesting controls on all the lands. These regulations keep yields from the lands sustainable.

Wouldn’t you think millions of Americans would want to know that candidates for president advocated drastic changes in the protection and management of large chunks of our public lands?  Where were our media?  Perhaps they have been so decimated by economic problems that they have no space for such news.  You can bet the Statesman put the story on the wire.

Santorum provided the fodder for comedians.  Speaking to some 3,000 people in Boise, he said: “The federal government doesn’t care about it (Idaho), they don’t care about this land.  They don’t live here, they don’t care about it; we don’t care about it in Washington.  It’s just fly-over country for most of the bureaucrats in Washington, DC.”

Shortly thereafter, Tom Tidwell, Chief of the Forest Service, landed in Boise to discuss cooperative planning in Idaho after a flight from his office in Washington, DC. Santorum gave his speech at a rally held at Capital High School in Boise.  Tidwell is a graduate of Capital High School.

Tidwell began his Forest Service career as a fire management specialist for the Boise National Forest.  Later, he served as Regional Forester, the top administrator, for the service's Northern Region, which includes northern Idaho.  We could hardly expect him to know or care much about Idaho, could we?

Monday, February 20, 2012

As Michigan Goes . . .

Actually, all that usually can be said about how Michigan goes politically is that’s how Michigan went.  The state has a long history of flopping back and forth between selecting Democrats and Republicans in major elections.

Now Mitt Romney, a major flip flopper according to his opponents, has come back to town.  The Republican primary is happening Feb. 28.  Television ads and political commentaries are cluttering up the landscape.

The mud slinging and misrepresentations are not unexpected, but there is one big surprise.  Romney’s father served as a Michigan governor and also head of now-defunct American Motors.  Mitt Romney was born and raised in Michigan.  Mitt Romney could lose the primary election in Michigan.

Far right-wing darling Rick Santorum rose to the top of the polls recently, gaining a virtual tie with Romney. Six months ago no one would have predicted that.  Santorum won support in Michigan, as elsewhere, because of his strong appeal to the tea partiers who are playing major roles in Republican candidate selection.

Western Michigan is full of social conservatives.  Even in eastern areas of the state where most voters normally are progressives, many consider themselves fiscal conservatives, and they are worried about the national debt.  In addition to claiming “favorite son” status, Romney loudly proclaims himself to be a lifelong conservative who would apply business principles to correcting the federal balance sheet.  So why isn’t he running far ahead in his “home” state?

For one thing, Romney’s attempts to portray himself as a local boy who in his words, “always loved Michigan,” are pretty lame.  He did spend his early years at the family home in a suburb of Detroit, where he attended an exclusive prep school.  But after that he hasn’t been seen often in these parts during the past 40 years.

Romney went off to college at Brigham Young University, as many good Mormon boys and girls do.  Bachelor’s degree in hand, he enrolled at Harvard for degrees in law and business.  He founded a financial company in Boston in 1984, entered politics in 1994 by losing a senatorial contest in Massachusetts, and later served as governor of the Bay State. He never has lived in Michigan as an adult.

Santorum and friends are attacking Romney’s conservative credentials at every opportunity.  A major charge is that the “Romneycare” health care plan adopted in Massachusetts while Romney was governor was the model for “Obamacare” enacted at the federal level. 

Romney ran into a problem even when he consistently and steadfastly maintained a conservative position.  He said months ago, and recently repeated to Michigan media, that he opposed federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler sponsored by both the Bush and Obama administrations.  It is generally acknowledged that the bailout loans saved both auto manufacturers. 

General Motors recently announced from its world headquarters in Detroit a record breaking profit for 2011.  Chrysler sales have improved mightily.  Both companies are once again hiring in Michigan, and GM is planning plant expansions here and in nearby states. Big chunks of the bailout funds have been repaid.

Continuing to say that the proper course of action was to let GM and Chrysler fail while the federal government stood by doing nothing might draw applause in a tea party caucus, but it doesn’t play well in Detroit. Most Michiganders are ardent supporters of the American auto industry, even those who are anti-union and thus could fall into either the Romney or Santorum camps.

Like Romney, Santorum says he does not believe in government help for corporations, except for tax breaks. However, on any other issue you can name, he leans farther right than Romney, or at least he has convinced many tea partiers that he does. 

Another factor probably will help Santorum.  The Republican-controlled legislature and GOP governor changed primary election rules after they got a firm grip on political power in Michigan.  Until this go-around, voters received a unified ballot and could make choices across party lines at will.  This year, voters in the primaries can use only a Republican or Democratic ballot. It could be that the change won’t have as much effect on cross-over voting as the Republicans apparently hoped for.

There’s much talk on the political grapevine, and some out in the open, about the intention of many dedicated Democrats to ask for a Republican ballot and vote for Santorum.  They believe Obama will have a much easier time in November running against the radical ex-senator than the more moderate Romney.

There could be a little bonus here for Romney. Should he lose the Michigan primary it may not be a mortal blow. He could blame a defeat on those tricky Democrats as he once again exits the state.

We’ll soon see what happens.  As Michigan goes, so might the nation.  But don’t count on it. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Real(ty) Misteak

Go to www.realtor.com and navigate to the web page listing 200 Golfview Drive, Plainwell, MI 49080.  The main feature at the site is an excellent aerial view of our driveway, complete with turnaround.

It’s an attractive summer scene, but there are a couple of problems. We don’t live at 200 Golfview.  And our driveway is not for sale.

The driveway down the street at 200 Golfview was for sale until just recently for a hefty sum, but the price included a four-bedroom house.  We are relieved that the present status line on the web page picturing our driveway says, “Not for Sale.” 

Come to think of it, if some driveway fancier shows up offering $60,000 or so, we’ll think seriously about making a deal.  Despite focusing from above the wrong property, the photographer produced a pretty picture.  It may entice buyers. If someone else owned our drive, we no longer would have to do all the snow relocation work that occupies a lot of time around here every winter.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Goodbye, My Friend

“Enjoy it while you can, because the Gazette, at least in the form you are holding, is doomed.  The end may be a few years off, but it is inevitable.”

I wrote those lines, the opening words in an opinion piece published by the Kalamazoo Gazette, in the summer of 2009.  Reading a daily newspaper has been part of my life for more than 60 years. Monday, my newspaper delivery tube was empty.  Gazette management had taken the first big step toward the demise of the newspaper.  It no longer will be delivered to homes seven days a week, as it has been for decades.

Like a tough, old bird diagnosed with terminal cancer, the Gazette is not dying without a struggle.  A top exec of the corporation, which also owns seven other papers in Michigan, has issued numerous glowing statements assuring subscribers that the “new order” of things is vastly superior to the familiar system that put a copy of the newspaper into my hands every day.

We now can have only Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday editions delivered to our homes—at a higher cost than we were paying to receive seven days of deliveries.  To compensate for the cost increase, we can view the Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday editions on the Internet.  Those “papers,” however, do not include special advertising sections.  You can buy daily papers that include the special sections at selected sales outlets. Why anyone would want to do that is mysterious.

Content changes have been made to lure subscribers into being happy about this bewildering new arrangement.  The comics section has been increased. Whoopee!  All editions have expanded in this area by about a third.  I’m a selective comics fan—I love some and ignore others.  All the new ones fall into my “ignore” category.  No longer to be found are those favorites of fully mature adults—Rex Morgan, MD and Mary Worth.  What is a Geezer to do? Fortunately, Prince Valiant has been retained in the Sunday edition, but this provides little solace.

The comics changes were made by management after they apparently ignored a fairly recent survey of readers.  The majority wanted to keep panels such as Rex and Mary.  The majority didn’t want those crappy extra panels now foisted upon us.  Is the new stuff cheaper?

Subscribers now get several pages of business news from the Wall Street Journal (I like). They also get more local sports news (I’m not interested).  They get a very strange opinion page (who cares?).  They can get, on the Internet, an improved “Mlive” that is supposed to cover regional news much better (Well, it’s a tad better, but still inadequate).

I’m a fan of Internet news.  As one, I’ve thoroughly checked out the web editions of the Gazette.  Readers can navigate around in them fairly easily, but they are harder to read than the familiar paper versions, and doing the crossword is well neigh impossible.  I also get a new “instant news” bulletin in my e-mailbox.  I’m trying to be charitable, but is seems to be closer to worthless than worthwhile.

All this strays from the bottom line.  Following a nationwide trend, the Gazette is disestablishing itself through a reversal of how it, and many daily papers, evolved.  The Gazette was established in 1834 as a weekly paper.  Weekly papers in growing markets most often took a first step upward by publishing two days a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday).  Later they went to Monday through Saturday editions.  Finally, they added Sunday to become full-service newspapers.

The only change in the backward spirals appears to be a retreat to a Sunday edition, with no weekday products.  Thus, major “paper papers” once again are becoming weeklies in many places.  The once-proud daily Christian Science Monitor devolved into a weekly months ago. Eventually, it and others traveling in the same direction will join the Gazette in extinction.

Who cares?  Well, all of us should.  The national and international news we get on television and the internet largely is generated by newspaper reporters.  Locally, except for a very few radio and television reports, all the news initially is reported by newspaper people. 

Democratic governments depend on the free-flow of information, and responsible analysis of what it means.  Dictatorships thrive by strangling the press. To me, the demise of “paper papers” is a serious matter.  My 2009 article summed it up this way:

“When newspapers are gone, who will cover the local school board meeting?  Who will cut through secrecy and give us the facts when a city council action smells funny?  Who will expose incompetence or extravagance in government? Who will write thoughtful analyses of the meaning of events?  Who will document the little things—the births, deaths, anniversaries, and business happenings—that collectively become the history of our Nation?

We don’t know, and that is frightening.”

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Look Out, Here Comes Tony!

The death of legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno produced a sports trivia story that brought back a memory of another gridiron hero and his relationship with Paterno.

The news story, in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, described a small chapter in Packers history new to me.  It seems Paterno almost was hired as the Packers head coach in 1970.  A dozen years earlier, I met one of the men who tried hard to make it happen.

A gentle man . . . most of the time.
Tony Canadeo was an outstanding halfback for the Packers, 1941-52, with a year off for military service. He was the first Packers runner to gain 1,000 yards in a season (1949), and is one of only five Green Bay players to have their jersey number retired.  Canadeo was voted into the pro football hall of fame in 1974. After his playing days ended, he was a popular TV announcer.  He also served on the Packers’ executive committee, which makes the big decisions for the team.

In 1958, because of my first professional job as editor of the weekly paper in De Pere, Wisconsin, I got an invitation to attend a banquet at St. Norbert College.  The college is in De Pere, which is only five miles from Green Bay. Although I didn’t have time to attend all the St. Norbert football games, I ran stories and photos provided by their public relations director.  That year, the Green Knights were undefeated, and my contact said the banquet was a special reward for the players, coaches, and media supporters.  The Press-Gazette sports editor also was invited in appreciation of the paper’s coverage of the team.  Tony Canadeo was to be the banquet speaker.

The PR man said I should come an hour early to a cocktail party hosted by the college president for Canadeo, the Press-Gazette man, and me.  Wow!  Every sports fan in the state knew who Tony Canadeo was, and as a 21-year-old novice small-time newsman I was awed at the prospect of conversing with the great man, a college president, and the leading sports journalist in the area.  It turned out to be an even more intimate gathering.  The Press-Gazette editor bowed out because of a last-minute emergency.

You never know what to expect from a sports star.  A good share of them can be pompous asses.  Others, including some of the most skilled athletes, are regular guys and gals. Tony Canadeo turned out to be one of the latter.  He quickly made me feel comfortable at the little party.  There didn’t seem to be a bit of super-ego in the man.  Far from the tough guy I half-expected, Canadeo was soft-spoken and polite. Ever since that meeting I’ve described him as a good-natured gentleman in discussions of the personalities of sports super stars.

In 1970, according to a story made public only after his death in 2003, Canadeo proved he could drop the calm demeanor and work up a rage with the best of them.

The Packers’ executive committee had fired the coach after a poor season.  When George Allen, their first choice as a replacement, declined the job, the committee interviewed several others and narrowed the choices to successful University of Missouri coach Dan Devine and Paterno, who was building an outstanding record at Penn State.

Paterno had turned down the coaching job with the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous year, but the Packers offered a combination coach-general manager situation.  Paterno apparently liked the idea of that kind of control.  Two reputable people later said Paterno would have taken the Packers job if it was offered, and one public statement he made indicated he was very interested.

The recent Press-Gazette story says Canadeo and another member of the executive committee strongly favored Paterno because the Penn State coach reminded them of Vince Lombardi, the iconic Packers coach.  Paterno and Lombardi both grew up in Brooklyn and were Catholics of Italian descent.  They knew each other dating to the 1940s when they were rival high school coaches.  In the 1960s, Lombardi often consulted Paterno about the abilities of college players.

Despite the Lombardi connection, Canadeo and his associate did not prevail.  The committee voted 5-2 to hire Devine.

When Canadeo heard the news, he became livid, the story goes.  As he left home for the next day’s executive committee meeting, he was so distraught he smashed through the garage door when he backed his car out into the driveway.  A daughter had used the car earlier and left the door up when she came home.  As Canadeo stormed out of the house, he didn’t notice and he hit the garage door opener button, closing the door just before he drove through it.

Devine compiled a dismal record at Green Bay.  Paterno became the top winning coach in college football history.  Perhaps the Packers’ executive board members should have listened to their old halfback who could destroy garage doors with a single mighty burst.