Friday, October 31, 2008

The morning after

So it's the day after Election Day. Obama has won. The long campaigns are over. The healing is underway. The partisan rhetoric has been muted, all in the name of national unit.

Fat chance.

You think Bill Clinton had it bad for eight years. Wait until talk radio gets a hold of Barack Obama.

Consider this piece in today's New York Daily News.

"American Dad" alert!

OK, everyone. Microwave your popcorn, grab your favorite beverage and gather around the TV. (If that's inconvenient, fire up the DVR and watch at your leisure.)

9:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox. It's the latest episode of the animated sit-com "American Dad", the popular series from the people who bring you "Family Guy".

"American Dad" (9:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox) is about the adventures of CIA agent Stan Smith (a 21st century Archie Bunker), his wife, two kids, a talking fish and an alien. (I said it was a cartoon.)

What makes this episode (9:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox) special?

(Warning: Shameless plug to follow.)

Why, it was scripted by the crack writing team of Matt Fusfeld (that would be the younger of my two sons) and Alex Cuthbertson.

"American Dad" (9:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox) consistently ranks in the top third of the Nielsen ratings (higher in the coveted young male demographic).

The World Series is over. (Nobody watched it anyway.)

Sunday night NFL? Fugeddabout it.

"Cold Case" and "Desperate Housewives"? Enough.

"American Dad" at 9:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox? What better way to spend a quiet evening?

Why, there might even be a character named after me.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Free advice

It's presumptuous of me to give big-time politicians any advice. First, they could care less what I think. Second, they've spent millions on campaign aides and advisers who have studied the art of politicking every which way until Sunday. What can I tell them that they've already considered and discarded?

But if they'll allow me just one suggestion, I'll feel better for getting it off my chest. Thanks. Here it is:

You know those campaign stump speeches, the ones in gymnasiums and larger arenas? Yes, those.

Get rid of the people behind the candidates.

This isn't theater in the round. The faces and signs get in the way. The candidates' messages aren't coming through.

Yes, I'm sure the people who have the honor of being carefully placed by the campaigns so that they're in plain sight of the press photographers and television cameras are not there by accident. Depending on the location of the campaign stop, they represent key demographics that the political operatives want subliminally associated with their man or woman. Maybe it's blue collar workers for Biden or young people for McCain or females for Palin or a cross-section of genders and colors for Obama. They're supposed to "say" something about the candidates.

To me, they're distractions, waving their signs, nodding on cue, sometimes even mugging, as one Palin look-alike did at a McCain event, no doubt to the chagrin of the campaign audience coordinator who was probably demoted after the event.

And who could forget the kid who yawned and nearly nodded off at a Bush rally four years ago? David Letterman replayed that one until the videotape wore out.

If it's supposed to be all about the candidates, let the candidates take center stage. Give us a chance to watch and listen without zeroing in on an enthusiastic (or dour) face to the rear.

I'm Ira Fusfeld and I approved this free advice.

No incumbents in Middletown

Our friends at the Times Herald Record in Middletown have hopped aboard the "no incumbents in Albany" bandwagon, joining us and the Rochester daily.

Here's today's Record editorial.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The state of the industry

I'm often asked what's going to happen to newspapers. The question typically is uttered in hushed tones. I choose to offer a cautiously optimistic reply. But that doesn't mean those of us who publish newspapers are whistling in the dark.

For an excellent analysis of my world, consider David Carr's column in this morning's New York Times.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pick 'em

Four years ago, our newspaper made a much ballyhooed stand and opted not to make any editorial page endorsements in the 2004 elections.

In short, we said that since newspapers had been widely criticized by those who incorrectly thought endorsements translated into favorable news coverage for our chosen candidates, and others thought it presumptuous for newspapers to "tell you" what to do in the voting booth, we'd sit it out.

We invited reader feedback and it was split. Roughly half missed the endorsements and the other half said, "Good riddance."

We got back into the endorsement game the next year and have been making recommendations each election season since then. And each year, I'm reminded why we wanted to stay on the sidelines.

Here are some of the off-the-wall comments that have been circulating:

1. "You picked the candidates who spent the most money on political advertising with you."

2. "Your reporter has a job lined up in the administration of one of the candidates you endorsed."

3. "You didn't pick the incumbent because he isn't talking to your newspaper."

4. "The publisher serves on a board with the congressman, and that's why he was endorsed."

5. "Your editor has a lawn sign for Obama."

Not one of the aforementioned claims is true.

The facts are:

1. As of this afternoon, most local candidates have not purchased any advertising from us. Newspapers long ago lost this advertising segment to the broadcasters and direct mail. But of the money that has been spent, a good deal of it has come from candidates we didn't endorse. Anyway, if you've been a reader of this paper for longer than a day-and-a-half, you must know by now that advertising dollars don't translate into favorable news and editorial page coverage here. I won't allow it.

2. The reporter with the alleged post-election job is livid that her reputation for integrity - well-earned, as far as I'm concerned, after nearly two decades with us - is being sullied. Fortunately for us, she has no intention of leaving to go to the "dark side" of political PR.

3. You can ask the incumbent why he hasn't spoken to us for a while. (He's not been shy in telling anyone who'll listen.) But we stopped endorsing him (and other majority party state legislators) long before he began giving our people the cold shoulder.

4. Yes, I have served on a board with a local congressman. It meets once a year and I believe he's missed the last two sessions. Oh, and he's also had a love-hate relationship with us. These days he's answering our reporters' questions. Sometimes he gets into a snit about our coverage and clams up. In fact, when he visited our editorial board a few weeks ago, it was the first time I'd seen or spoken to him in over a year, I'd guess. Come to think of it, I've also served on board with other politicians we've not endorsed or about whom we haven't always written favorably.

5. The neighbor of our managing editor has an Obama lawn sign. His wife has an Obama bumper sticker on her car. That's her business, not ours.

For the record, our editorial board has shrunk in recent months. For years it consisted of me, Managing Editor Sam Daleo, Assistant Managing Editor Tony Adamis and Political Editor Hugh Reynolds. But with the departure of Reynolds and Daleo this year, currently Adamis and I make the editorial page decisions. Nobody else. Not corporate. Not advertisers. Not friends and neighbors and community board mates. Just the two of us. Hopefully, when the economics of our business improve, I'll be able to add other voices to our team.

Meantime, we'll continue to call them as we see them. If our selections make sense to you, great. If not, that's OK, too. As we say every year when we summarize the endorsements in editorials that are published on Election Day and the day before, please vote. The final choices are yours.

Baseball blunder

It's not Major League Baseball's fault that it rained in Philadelphia last night. It is Major League Baseball's fault that it attempted to play Game 5 of the World Series in horrible weather, risking injuries to the players, guaranteeing uncomfortable conditions for fans in the stands, and compromising the quality of the game on the muddy field. The weather finally got so bad in the sixth inning that the game was suspended.

Maybe they'll finish it tonight - although the forecast isn't promising. Whenever they do pick it up, Major League Baseball still will be left with the spectacle of its biggest event reduced to a split game (perhaps the decisive game in the series, no less).

Veteran columnist Bill Conlon of the Philadelphia Daily News zeroed in on Major League Baseball's self-inflicted wound in his column this morning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Slogans, not ideas

I'm not generally going to share the same philosophic pew with Christopher Buckley. But like his old man, the late conservative icon William F. Buckley, the younger Buckley has a brain and a way with words and a sense of humor, which to me makes him worth hearing.

You may have read about Christopher Buckley's brush with the right (his right) a couple of weeks ago when he came out in support of Barack Obama. A Kathleen Parker column in Tuesday's Freeman will offer you more on this episode and its fallout. Among the boulders to roll on Buckley's shoulders was the wrath of Rush Limbaugh (or, as Keith Olbermann calls him, "comedian Rush Limbaugh").

Buckley describes it in his blog on Tina Brown's new Web-zine, The Daily Beast.

Pay special attention to the end of the piece, in which Buckley quotes noted columnist E.J. Dionne:

"The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity — and Sarah Palin. Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans, learned manifestoes by direct-mail hit pieces."


So, what's the good news?

A Phillies-Rays World Series didn't figure to generate good TV ratings under the best of conditions, but Saturday's late night into early morning affair posted a particularly low number (off 28 percent from last year's third game between Boston and Colorado).

Unfortunately, the ratings seem to be worth no more than a shrug of the shoulders to baseball and Fox TV executives, even though what apparently was an exciting game went virtually unnoticed by most baseball fans, especially young ones.

Game 3 was scheduled to begin at 8:35 p.m. Saturday, already a recipe for ratings disaster. Rain delayed the first pitch until 10:06, the latest start in World Series history. The winning cross crossed the plate at 1:47 a.m. Sunday.

Fox analyst Tim McCarver said it was "one of the most thrilling ninth-inning finishes since Game 7 of the 2001 World Series" between the Yankees and Arizona, according to USA Today.

"For a baseball fan, this is what a World Series is all about," a baseball executive told that newspaper.

Well, isn't that nice. Perhaps he meant "for a baseball fan in the Mountain and Pacific time zones." For the rest of us, it was just another in a long line of lost World Series memories.

I don't much care who wins the Series, but maybe it would be a good idea for the Phillies to wrap it up tonight. Let's put what used to be the national pastime out of its misery.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Christmas comes early

Hold out your hand long enough these days and you may land a big check from a politician.

Right before Election Day, the pork barrel handouts come in a wave: Sen. Bonacic at a train station in Port Jervis. Sen. Saland at a firehouse in Columbia County. On the federal level, Congressman Hinchey in Uptown Kingston and again on the Strand. They all do it. Those in the majority of their legislative houses have the most dough to spend. But even the minority party members get a taste.

I believe it's known as the Incumbent Protection Plan.

Of course, it works.

On the state level, despite widespread condemnation of the Legislature as a body, the individual members are re-elected at startlingly high rates.

"Oh, sure, Albany stinks, but not our guy," is what you'll hear.

As I've said in this space and elsewhere, the state Capitol cries out for a housecleaning. But those of us who share that belief harbor no illusions. It won't happen. Incumbents will keep on winning as long as local voters, many of whom feel obliged to thank politicians for being generous with your tax money, keep pulling the levers next to their names.

Merry Christmas!


Just catching up to an insightful piece in Sunday's New York Times by Clark Hoyt, the "public editor."

All of us, from the big Times to the tiny Freeman, face the issues he describes.

I particularly liked this paragraph:

"Bias is a tricky thing. None of us are objective. We like news the supports our views and dislike what may challenge them. We tend to pick apart each article, word by word, failing to remember that it is part of a river of information from which facts can be plucked to support many points of view. Perversely, we magnify what displeases us and minimize what we like."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Expensive duds

You have to dress for success, or so goes the old saying. Politicians, TV people and, yes, even publishers, have to be presentable and professional.

So why the big deal about Sarah Palin's expensive new wardrobe?

Because it's an expensive new wardrobe.

This is a vice presidential candidate who's been selling herself as a Hockey Mom from Alaska, a female Joe Six Pack.

A hundred and fifty grand for new clothes from high-end shops? Can't be.

Here's the way the Washington Post is reporting it.

No incumbents for Rochester paper

Our editorial board's recommendation that no majority party incumbents be re-elected to the state Legislature created the usual buzz, particularly among the political class. Last night I bumped into Kingston Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, one of those incumbents (and someone who has expressed in many venues in no uncertain terms his distaste for the paper). I believe he termed Sunday's editorial, "more mindless drivel from the Freeman." (I wasn't taking notes.)

We've been pretty much out on a limb among papers in New York, most of which have been equally as critical of the dysfunctional state Legislature, but not to the point where they've urged a housecleaning.

But this morning The Associated Press sent along Saturday's editorial from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, which has been a notable exception.

Read on:

"... In good conscience, we cannot support any of the incumbents because of their failure to consistently push for radical change in Albany. They are: Sens. Michael Nozzolio, R-Fayette, Jim Alesi, R-Perinton, Joe Robach, R-Greece, George Maziarz, R-Newfane, Assemblypersons Joe Errigo, R-Conesus, Susan John, D-Rochester, Joe Morelle, D-Irondequoit, David Gantt, D-Rochester, Bill Reilich, R-Greece, David Koon, D-Perinton, Stephen Hawley, R-Batavia.

"Two incumbents, Robach and Koon, at least moved our reform meter, but not far enough.

"Among the challengers, only two, Democrats Paloma Capanna and David Nachbar, both candidates for the state Senate, persuaded us that they'd bring the kind of fresh, critical thinking needed to remake Albany. The Democrat and Chronicle thusiastically endorses them.

"New York has too long struggled with the heaviest tax burden in the nation, significant loss of jobs and population. Now it's being hit with the worst economic crisis since the recession of the 1970s. The Empire State faces a $26 billion state budget deficit over the next several years, and a meltdown on Wall Street, from which 20 percent of the state's revenues are derived.

"And incredibly, leaders like Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver are hemming and hawing about whether deeper cuts in the state budget are really needed despite persuasive warnings from Gov. Paterson. Citizens can neither afford this kind of dawdling by legislative leaders nor rank-and-file lawmakers.

"Such lack of regard for the best interests of taxpayers was at the core of this page's decision four years ago in refusing to endorse any candidate for the New York Legislature for the first time in the newspaper's then 171-year history.

"Our unprecedented stand climaxed a yearlong 'Challenging Albany' campaign that included gathering more than 2,000 'Fed up' coupons from readers and shipping them to legislative leaders. This effort, combined with other public outcries from around the state such as a stinging report by the Brennan Center for Justice, which quantitatively concluded that New York had the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation, got lawmakers' attention. But obviously, it was only long enough to take off
the heat.

"After adopting a few changes that made the legislative process more responsive to citizens, lawmakers have been reverting to many of their old habits. Secrecy and sheer arrogance, for example. ...

"Given the power of incumbency in New York, where state lawmakers have a 98 percent re-election rate, the odds are high that all 11 of this region's incumbents will return to their Albany desks. They should know, though, that newcomers such as Capanna and Nachbar are at their heels. And so are growing legions of angry New Yorkers."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Did she say that?

Her name is Michele Bachmann. She's a congresswoman from Minnesota. And she's all over the place on cable TV espousing the conservative point of view.

Nothing wrong with that. Is there anyone on TV more than, say, our own Chuck Schumer, speaking from the left?

But this Bachmann woman is scary. Remember the late Sen. Joe McCarthy's anti-American witch hunt? Bachmann sounds dangerously close to him.

Read all about her here.

A lot of noise

An early evening meeting in Albany meant a late dinner last night in Woodstock. By the time I started looking for the remote control, Larry King's program was on. I stuck with it because Tom Brokaw and Bob Schieffer were guests.

It used to be common for Larry to go long-form with his guests. "For the full hour!" he'd declare. Not last night.

About 15 minutes into the program, it was on to another "panel," as he calls four guests in tic-tac-toe-like video boxes. Too many people, too many voices speaking at once. Choppy conversation interrupted by commercials. Terrible television. (Chris Matthews' program on MSNBC often is similarly uninformative, in part because the host won't allow the guests to get in a word while he repeats the same question three different ways and then answers them himself.)

Anyway, the by-play in the four boxes was cut short so Larry could go to yet another guest, Maria Shriver.

An hour with lots of people and little substance.

Maybe it has something to do with demographics and competition. On the other cable channels, Fox News has Hannity and Colmes and MSNBC has rising star Rachel Maddow. MTV quick cuts have come to cable news.

By 10 o'clock, I flipped over to MSG and the end of the hockey coverage. Larry King had given me a headache.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The silly season

I'm told that in national politics, they call it "the silly season." The way it's been explained to me, this refers to the last couple of weeks before an election, when often-baseless charges fly and the respective sides in a campaign not only jockey for position, but scurry around seeking brush fires where they don't exist and then try to stamp them out.

We have our version of that around here. It has all theelements of the aforementioned national model, and it also typically includes hyper-sensitive reactions to press coverage, or lack thereof. In short, if a candidate gets press coverage, it's not good and/or fair enough. And if a candidate doesn't get press coverage, the sky has fallen.

The final weekend of a local campaign is particularly bizarre, what with a barrage of print and broadcast ads, some of which try to paint opponents with mud-filled brushes.

I don't know about elsewhere, but around our shop, the advertising department is placed on amber alert so as not to allow incendiary ads to be purchased about issues being raised for the first time at the 11th hour, leaving the other side no time for rebuttal.

Then there's the matter of endorsements. No, not the kind issued by newspaper editorial boards, but by politicians themselves. Is it news, for instance, when a Democratic or Republican higher-up endorses a local candidate of the same party? Around here, we say no. But if a Democrat backs a Republican, or vice versa, then you have your proverberial "man bites dog" story and it's worthy of space in the paper.

So brace yourself for the silly season, which started long ago in the presidential campaign, but is really picking up steam in some of our local and regional contests.

Take a deep breath. It will be over soon.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Levi Stubbs

Stevie Wonder. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Diana Ross and the Supremes. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. In later years, the Jackson Five. All great.

But the Motown sound for me was crystalized by the Four Tops. And its lead singer didn't even get top billing. Only in the last few years of his career did the public become familiar with the name Levi Stubbs, mostly for long-overdue recognition of his vocals on a slew of Four Tops' hits, but also because he was the voice of a voracious plant in the movie "Little Shop of Horrors."

I was already into Four Tops music by the time I went to college. I'd seen the Supremes, the Temptations and the Tops on the same bill one Saturday night at the old Forest Hills tennis stadium. At SUNY New Paltz (New Paltz State in the late '60s), the Tops played Elting Gym one night. I was the editor of The Oracle, the student paper, and I tagged along as our entertainment writer to catch two shows - one in rehearsal, the other the main event.

What a wonderful group. And what an iconic sound Levi Stubbs provided as lead singer.

The Tops played UPAC a couple of years ago. Two surviving members performed - Duke Fakir and Obie Benson - along with two others from the Motown stable. Lawrence Payton, one of the other original Tops, already had passed. Levi Stubbs, who had been suffering from cancer and then a stroke, was nearly a decade removed from touring. (Benson died not long after the UPAC performance.) The Four Tops' performance that night was spirited and entertaining. The crowd was on its feet for the conclusion. But it wasn't the same Four Tops sound without Levi Stubbs out front.

Levi Stubbs died today at age 72. Fortunately for those who enjoyed the Four Tops, his voice will live on.

A little levity

Funny stuff last night at the Al Smith charity event in New York.

John McCain and Barack Obama exchanged pleasantries and playful insults, and even poked fun at themselves.

I particularly liked McCain's line about having some supporters in the Democratic audience and then nodding hello to Hillary Clinton.

I also enjoyed Obama's jab about being able to see the Russian Tea Room from the Waldorf (where the Smith dinner took place).

Check it all out on YouTube.

I didn't much care for seeing Brian Williams and Katie Couric all gussied up on the stage along with the political muckety mucks. (I'll have to catch a replay to see if any other media types were there, too.) Brian and Katie should have been in the back of the room, in the working press section.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hello, Joe

Try to catch this week's installment of The Media Project (WAMC, Sunday at 6 p.m., Monday at 3 p.m.), recorded this morning before an enthusiastic studio audience in Albany. As often is the case, Rex Smith, Alan Chartock and I ditched the list of proposed topics supplied by producer David Guistina and we riffed on other things, naturally the debate, the campaign and, yes, Joe the Plumber among them. If I do say so myself - and who else will? - it was a lively exchange.

As for the aforementioned debate, I called it a draw.

McCain was better prepared than in the past, did his best to unsettle Obama and came armed with specifics.

Obama was unflappable, as usual. He ducked and weaved well and landed a few shots.

In short, no fatal errors, no knockdowns, in my mind a tie. Indeed, I was surprised to learn that the instant polls heavily gave the nod to Obama, and even some of the more moderate to conservative commentators felt the same way.

With less than three weeks to go, the smart money says Obama has the campaign clinched. But the smart money has been wrong before, and lots can happen in a hurry.

One thing about which I think we can all agree: Thank goodness this seemingly endless race for the White House is, in fact, nearing the finish line.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Unlikely dream

I didn't think I'd pay much attention to the baseball playoffs this year with no New York team involved. But the prospect of a World Series between the Joe Torre/Manny Ramirez Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox was too enticing to root against.

Imagine the story lines, with Manny returning to Fenway and Torre having the ultimate last laugh at the expense of his old bosses in the Bronx.

But, alas, last night's turn of events makes the possibility seem slim, particularly from the Dodgers' standpoint, what with their staggering blown lead putting the Phillies within a game of the Fall Classic. Boston, down 2-1 to Tampa Bay, has a bit more wiggle room.

As for a Phillies-Rays Series, other than the Tampa Bay Cinderella story, let's just say I won't be staying up to midnight hanging on every pitch.

Meanwhile, Torre has been a hero in Hollywood this season. But things turn in a New York minute, even on the Left Coast. Don't believe it? Check out this column in today's Los Angeles Times.

Joe, what have you done for me lately?

Monday, October 13, 2008

The political climate

The depth with which irresponsible attacks on Barack Obama have succeeded really registered with me over the weekend when I saw the clip of the John McCain town hall meeting at which a women expressed her fear of Obama in part "because he's an Arab." To his credit, McCain shook his head to the contrary (the woman admitting her ignorance by sheepishly saying, "No?"), retrieved the microphone and explained otherwise.

Then came Frank Rich's column in Sunday's New York Times, which matter-of-factly zeroed in on the road the McCain campaign has traveled in this regard.

It's been speculated that McCain, sensing defeat on Election Day, now doesn't want his legacy to be a campaign based on hate, and thus his rhetoric has softened. Perhaps.

Meanwhile, similarly over the top was veteran civil rights activist Congressman John Lewis' comparison of McCain to the late racist Gov. George Wallace.

Again, the conversation in this election, the one that most Americans want to hear, is not race or Obama's alleged link to a former domestic terrorist or other personal distractions. We want ideas and proposals on the economy, energy, foreign policy. There's room for disagreement and sharp rhetoric on important matters such as these and others.

Politics ain't beanball. Play hard and fair. But when all the votes have been counted, the idea is for the nation to stand behind its new president.

Friday, October 10, 2008


These are the days that try a publisher's ulcers.

A story appeared twice on the front page of two of our three editions today. A mechanical problem in the mailroom meant some readers didn't get a chance to see that error until three or four hours later than usual. Earlier in the week, in the midst of the worst Wall Street crisis in eighty years, we published the same stock page two days in a row. Also this week, some stories that were supposed to be published on weren't. And one day a week or so ago, the wrong TV page was printed in the paper.

How can any and all of these things occur? Fact is, they can and do at all papers. But they shouldn't. And a series of unconnected errors in a short time span here only makes it worse, both from the readers' standpoint and mine.

It's always been my practice to deal with these matters in-house. No need for me to reveal here, "It was his (or her or their) fault." Our managers know who's to blame and we're addressing it.

For the purposes of this blog, however, the best I can assure you is that we apologize for the carelessness, and we're trying our hardest to prevent it from happening again.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The second debate

Last night's debate was boring. And that was just what the country needed.

Oh, there were a few political zingers thrown by each candidate. But they were tame and not inappropriate within the context of extremely important discussions about the economy and national security.

There was none of the attack dog nonsense John McCain has assigned to Sarah Palin and other operatives. Had he resorted to that, McCain would have turned off independents and damaged whatever chance he still has to win the election.

As in the first debate, there were no major gaffes. And there was no clear-cut winner.

McCain certainly performed better than in the first debate, repairing some of his wounded image in the process.

Barack Obama held his own, stood up to his veteran opponent's barbs, and continued to "look presidential."

The debate wasn't a game-changer.

Lloyd Thaxton


If you're a baby boomer, the name Lloyd Thaxton will ring a bell.

He was the host of a popular TV rock and roll dance show in the early '60s. What set Thaxton apart from the iconic Dick Clark was a whacky quality to his program, which was filled with costumes and sight gags.

Lloyd Thaxton died this week at age 81. If you still can't quite place him, this Los Angeles Times obit (with video) will refresh your memory.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Just a reminder

If you're new to this blog, you haven't read the ground rules.

Want to comment on something I said? Absolutely. Love to hear from you. Maybe we'll even get into a debate.

But if you don't sign your name, don't waste your time or mine. Anonymous comments are not welcome here and aren't even read.

Watching the ticker

The Dow was about even for the day, maybe down 10 or 20 points after yesterday's turmoil, until the chairman of the Federal Reserve started a televised speech earlier this afternoon.

As Ben Bernanke offered a gloomy portrait of the economy, the Dow ticker on the lower right of the screen zipped rapidly downward.

Twenty points, 50, a hundred and more. All I could think of was, "Give this guy the hook before we go under!"

By the time Bernanke was done, the Dow had fallen by more than 300 points.

So much for a reassuring presence.

Now, the president is speaking. He's giving a pep talk in what appears to be a warehouse of a private sector employer in Virginia. He's saying things are tough, but we're going to get out of the mess. The markets will be stabilized, etc., but it will take time.

Hold onto your hat, I'm thinking, a wary eye on that omnipresent Dow ticker.

It could be worse. No dramatic downturn in the Dow, no significant gain either, as W. tries to explain the crisis.

I wish I had confidence in him. But he used up his credibility card a few years ago.


And you wonder why people are fed up by politics.

This campaign was supposed to be different. This was going to be the one about issues, conducted by two decent men who would present their respective platforms to the American people.

Instead, this is where we are, as described in today's New York Times by veteran political reporter Adam Nagourney:

"Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama entered their general election contest this summer denouncing American politics as trivial and negative, and vowing to run campaigns that would address the concerns of voters during a difficult time.

"But Mr. McCain made clear on Monday that he wanted to make the final month of the race a referendum on Mr. Obama’s character, background and leadership — a polite way of saying he intends to attack him on all fronts and create or reinforce doubts about him among as many voters as possible. And Mr. Obama’s campaign signaled that it would respond in kind, setting up an end game dominated by an invocation of events and characters from the lives of both candidates."

So we await tonight's debate, with most Americans wondering and worrying about the economy, hoping the men who seek the presidency will have answers. And we also still seek a solution to our presence in Iraq. That's another significant matter to most Americans.

But what are they talking about on the McCain side: Who are Obama's friends? What's up with his association with 1960s radical Bill Ayers? Is Obama not patriotic?

(Interesting how the McCain people denounced the Times' supposed lack of credibility when they perceived it to be pro-Obama in its coverage. Guess which paper had Obama-Ayers on the front page the other day? Heck, even Sarah Palin read it and ran with it!)

There are plenty of honest-to-goodness differences between Obama and McCain on important issues. Both campaigns would be doing us a favor if they stuck to them. With apologies to McCain, in this election cycle, make it "country first."

With a month to go before any Election Day, it's always easy to see which side is desperate. And when desperation sets in, it gets ugly and nobody emerges smelling sweet. That's where we are heading into tonight's debate. This was the year it wasn't supposed to be like this.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Wish I'd thought of that

Here's comic Garry Shandling's take on the campaign (from HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher):

Joe Biden prepared for the debate with Sarah Palin by watching old tapes of Johnny Carson with Charo.

John McCain is such a maverick, he's going to vote for Obama.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A wink and a nod

Watch the debate last night. I betcha did!

Can there be any denying that the disciplined, experienced and eloquent Joe Biden was more competent and impressive than Sarah Palin?

Of course there can, because Palin survived 90 minutes, tossed out a few zingers, stuck to the few issues she wanted to repeat (even if they weren't in answer to the questions), looked straight into the camera, was folksy and pleasant, and had no "Katie Couric moments."

In other words, she didn't fall flat on her face, as some in her own party feared. Thus, she exceeded expectations, reassured the base and survived the last big glare in the spotlight before Election Day. Here's the baton back, Senator McCain; you run with it.

But I have to tell you, if she winked at us one more time, I was going to have her arrested for solicitation.

I mean, is "cute" what want we want from the first female GOP candidate for vice president?

Look, this has to be all about Barack Obama and John McCain. There are enough differences between the two to make for a clear-cut ideological decision at the polls. But to the extent Americans care about who's a heartbeat away from the presidency, the debate underscored what we already knew: Sarah Palin is not qualified.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Straight talk

Caught a Bill Clinton campaign appearance for Barack Obama on TV earlier today. Too bad he wasn't the front man for the Wall Street bailout package.

Clinton described the crisis - particularly its impact on the average citizen - much better than the president, the Treasury secretary or any House or Senate leaders.

For another compelling piece on the vital importance of advancing a bailout package, see Thomas Friedman's column in today's New York Times.