Friday, September 23, 2011

Reader won't vote for Dems, GOP or me

This first appeared in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.
Last week’s commentary offered 11 observations in the form of questions, which were rhetorical in nature and not meant to be anything other than conversation starters.
They were the kind of questions that one might have while driving the car through town, or dining alone in a crowded restaurant, or quickly surfing the Web for news updates. They pop into your head, occupying your brain for just a little while. Quick hitters, I call them.

A couple of folks thought that I really wanted answers. One person, Jim, offered his devil’s-advocate “answers” underneath my commentary on the Bargain Hunter’s website.
I couldn’t figure out what would prompt him to take me on point by point until I got to his “answer” to my final question: “Have Republican Ron Paul’s supporters actually read his platform?”

“Again, whatever point you’re trying to make here is lost on me,” Jim wrote. “I’m a staunch Independent; refusing to vote for anyone who is a registered Democratic OR Republican. I believe the two-party system is what allowed corporate interests to hijack our political system. I feel MULTIPLE political parties are our only hope of restoring the country by making it too expensive to buy influence.

“I am also not a single-issue voter. I am wise enough to realize that no single candidate is likely to embody ALL my beliefs.

“That said, of the very disappointing group of Republicans currently in the race, I find Ron Paul the most interesting. I also tend to be pro-choice, neutral on unions, think the TSA is a reactionary, bureaucratic, waste of money that is NOT making our airports any safer, believe there needs to be environmental oversight that is somehow above influence, think home schooling is a pretty BAD idea and feel the Federal Reserve is being run by insiders and amateurs.”

I think Jim is angry. The only point I was trying to make was that Ron Paul, who is considered to be the godfather of the Tea Party movement, articulated a platform that dooms any chance of a successful candidacy.

We are, in fact, a nation of one-issue voters whether that issue is hope, or change, or guns, or abortion. And when half the country considers itself to be pro-choice, well, any candidate who is strongly pro-life has a tough road to the White House. (Paul wants to effectively repeal Roe vs. Wade and establish that life begins at conception.)

The successful candidate has to be in line with the majority on most issues. I’m not sure Paul with his contrarian views on any number of issues meets that test.

I’m also not sure the country needs more political parties. We do need responsible politicians who won’t get us in a pre-emptive war without a plan to pay for it, who will stop hurling rhetoric at opponents, and who worry more about us than their next bid for re-election.


A few weeks ago, a reader posted this comment:

“Farrell’s writing has always been on the mark. But his picture is either too small or the wrong pose; it make him look mean.”

Since then, several other readers commented about the picture that accompanies this commentary.

“It makes you look old,” said one woman. “You’re better looking than that. And you really don’t look that old in person.”

There’s unfortunate truism here. I am not photogenic. In fact, my senior pictures were so bad that even my mother didn’t want any. I destroyed the proofs.

The only evidence that I had any senior photos taken appears in the yearbook. That photo should have gone in the dictionary next to the word “dork.”

A photographer once told me that I look a lot better when the camera has a wide lens. So, I will look for someone who has a camera with a wide lens. I don’t want to look mean. Or like a dork.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

If I only had some answers

This is one of those weeks when I have more questions than answers…

–How do young couples with children – just starting out on life’s long and winding road – afford relatively new homes in very nice neighborhoods, two late-model upscale imported vehicles (one is a sedan and the other is an SUV) and extravagant vacations and/or club memberships? What kind of jobs do they have? I want one.

–On the other hand, how does someone earning $350 a week (that’s about net for someone being paid $10 an hour) afford to buy a car and the gasoline to run it, let alone feed his family? The car dealer on TV says he’ll loan money for a car if you make at least that much. I’m not sure that’s good news.

–Do people really think it’s a wise idea to rent a flat screen HDTV for $29.95 a week from one of those merchandise rental companies that are conspicuously absent from affluent neighborhoods? That’s right $29.95 per week for a 60-inch TV. Note to folks: This is not a good investment.

–If kids are going to borrow most of the cost of their college educations, why on earth would they choose to go to a private college, paying its relatively costly tuition and room and board? Who’s advising these kids?

–Has anyone figured out what effect on the economy out-of-work government workers will have? That’s the next wave in the recession, you know. As the state shifts the tax burden to local government, cities, villages, townships and school districts will have to cut jobs and that means more unemployed people who can’t afford to buy anything of substance.

–What would members of the Tea Party think? That’s what I thought while I was attending a rather nice wedding at a yacht-laden private club on Lake Erie. Amid elegance and amenities, men in matching blue blazers dined in the club’s grillroom, no doubt serving up stories of their exploits on the lake, or on the club’s manicured golf course. Ladies and gentlemen … “The Haves.”

–How can President Barack Obama ignore the housing crisis in his jobs bill proposal? I mean one in four houses in this country is in stress or distress as a result of the recession and few new homes are being built because, well, no one can afford them (except that young, upwardly mobile couple above) and as a result contractors and the rest of the labor chain connected to the housing industry are hurting badly. I don’t think we’ll have a robust recovery until housing recovers. This is not rocket science.

–Who’s right or wrong about fracking? I’m a risk-vs.-reward kind of guy, so I have mixed feelings about the drilling process called fracking. I’m all for using our natural resources to our benefit (reward), but I also don’t want to damage our water supply (risk). Several states – not Ohio – have established moratoriums on fracking until the question gets a definitive answer. Perhaps the Tea Party should weigh in on this issue. Just kidding.

–How does a 15-year-old boy drive a Dover school bus to Canton, stopping at a McDonald’s restaurant and a Wal-Mart store, without anyone noticing? He wasn’t caught until after he parked the bus at Wal-Mart in New Philadelphia. There’s a lot more I could say about this incident, but in deference to the good people who publish this paper, I won’t.

–Does Gov. John Kasich really want to alienate the state’s mayors by threatening to collect their income tax revenue? Mayors across the state, according to news reports, are against the idea. It was not clear how Toledo Mayor Mike Bell (a Democrat who ran as an independent) feels about the idea. The ex-firefighter was busy defending his support of Senate Bill 5 (Issue 2 on the November ballot) to all the Toledo firefighters who he’s alienated.

–Have Republican Ron Paul’s supporters actually read his platform? I’ll give Paul credit for laying it all out in plain English on his official website. Obviously he’s not trying to woo those voters who believe in pro-choice, or are union members, or who believe the TSA does a pretty good job keeping airports safe, or those who believe there ought to be a government-created environmental watchdog, or who think home schooling might not be a great idea, or those who believe the Fed is an important aspect of our economic system, or … well, you get the idea. The polls show he’s got 12 percent support among Republicans today. And that’s probably about right.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

This blog is rated 'Excellent with Distinction'

The Ohio Department of Education has been issuing report cards for the state’s 612 school districts for some time. And every time it does, your community daily newspaper rushes to print a long list of districts, their rankings and an accompanying story.

But the story really only focuses on one thing – the designation ODE gives each district each year: “Excellent with Distinction,” “Excellent,” “Effective,” “Continuous Improvement,” “Academic Watch” and “Academic Emergency.”

The “Excellent with Distinction” designation is relatively new and in my mind a bunch of baloney. Actually, the whole report card thing is malarkey, but I’ll concede that there ought to be some accountability to the taxpayers even if they’re the biggest problems.

(Parents are the key to the test scores – not the schools. See East Holmes below.)

A district gets awarded the “Excellent with Distinction” designation by achieving what ODE calls “value-added measure.”

On the report cards, ODE tells parents, “Your district’s value-added rating represents the progress your district has made with its students since last school year. In contrast, achievement scores represent students’ performance at a point in time.”

Well, that seems to be as clear as a foggy day in October. I think it means if your students did really badly in a subject last year but really good this year then you get value-added points.

“Excellent with Distinction” districts in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties are New Philadelphia, Tuscarawas Valley and East Holmes.

“Excellent” districts are Dover, Garaway and West Holmes.

“Effective” districts are Claymont, Indian Valley, Newcomerstown and Strasburg.

Anyway, one would think that “Excellent with Distinction” districts would have better numbers than “Excellent” districts, but that’s not necessarily the case. Garaway, for example, had a 100 percent graduation rate in 2010-11. No other district could claim that achievement.

To get a good accurate picture of your school district, retrieve the report card and read all of it. If you really feel the need to compare to another district, get that one, too. To write this commentary, I downloaded all of them for Tuscarawas and Holmes counties.

So, with apologies to editorial writers throughout Ohio, there are some truths when it comes to evaluating public education in Ohio and they can’t be found on the report cards.

Primarily among them is the per capita income of a particular district’s residents – the richer the district, the better the test numbers.

(East Holmes might be the exception to that rule. East Holmes parents clearly want their children to do well in school. Perhaps family values carry more weight than hefty paychecks.)

Here’s the ultimate truth: School districts in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties do a fine job educating children because of excellent teachers, competent administrators and caring parents.

In many cases, the districts are doing a terrific job in spite of a large number of dysfunctional homes within their borders.

OK, so here I go again.

Before you jump on an online forum to spew hate toward a neighboring school district, or pound your chest in ultimate small-town bravado, take a few minutes to actually read that report card, which is available online on the ODE’s website. (Google “ODE Ohio School District Report Cards.”)

And be skeptical of those high-brow editorials. Whoever is writing those isn’t reading the report cards either.


The events of Sept. 11, 2001, were so overwhelming that I have trouble putting the day in historical perspective. It seems like only yesterday.

I was kicking around the house that morning, due at work in a couple of hours. City editor Kathy Vaughan called with the news.

A plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, she said.

“What should we do?” she asked.

I was thinking Piper Cub. She was thinking airliner.

“Turn on the TV,” she said.

I did, of course. And then it was time to get to work.

There were calls to the kids, of course. One was at the University of Dayton and the other was at Ohio University. Jets were scrambling at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, causing sonic booms. Athens was eerily quiet. Both kids were shook.

The images we viewed that morning are etched in the brain.

Normalcy returned but with a nod to security. We take our shoes off now before we board airplanes. We ask a lot of “what if” questions when we’re at big events.

We are a resilient sort. Think of the weather this year – tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, wildfires.

We get through it, eventually. We have to, you know. We can’t live in fear. It’s not American.

Maybe that’s the historical perspective.

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State balanced the budget on backs of local government

Tuscarawas County commissioners confirmed recently what I’ve believed all along – that Gov. John Kasich’s anti-tax fervor doesn’t actually include local governments.

Kasich apparently is OK with shifting the tax burden from the state to local government, which seems to contradict the will of the people, who have complained for years – rightly or wrongly – about the uneven burden of funding for their local school districts.

(I say rightly because wealthy communities generally have better schools than their poorer counterparts, which doesn’t seem fair. I say wrongly because perhaps citizens deserve the kind of schools for which they are willing to pay. The kids, of course, deserve the best no matter where they happen to live, but since when did they count? Right, parents?)

The state through a confusing and complicated formula provides funding from income tax revenue to local school districts, which have been told that they’ll be getting less in the future. For New Philadelphia Schools, for example, that means the immediate loss of about $1 million, according to folks in the know.

Commissioner Jim Seldenright, according to a newspaper account, recalled a meeting the County Commissioners Assn. had with a Kasich administration representative.

Kasich’s rep told the commissioners that Senate Bill 5 was a source of financial relief for counties (how I’m not sure – SB 5 did not nullify contracts in force as far I as I know).

In addition, Commissioner Chris Abbuhl was quoted as saying that the local officials also were told to cut services or raise taxes.

Bingo. There’s the strategy. Cut services. Raise taxes.

One way government cuts services is by cutting people because government is people-driven, not product-driven. So, when Kasich says, “Cut services,” he’s really saying, “Cut people.”

When schools cut services, they are cutting teachers. When counties cut services, they are cutting sheriff’s deputies and bridge and road workers and so on.

So, to solve the state’s $8 billion projected deficit, Kasich is just handing it off to the local guys.

The commissioners explained the state of the county’s finances to some 60 business and community leaders.

In addition to the eventual elimination of Local Government Funds, which come from the state, the county’s investment income is in the tank, as is the sales tax, which is rebounding somewhat – but not enough – as a result of the fracking activity.

The recession that doesn’t want to die is now taking aim for our counties, our schools, our cities, villages and townships. Those who want less government should be happy, I guess, because raising taxes doesn’t seem to be a viable option on any level.


Cleveland area Republican State Rep. Marlene Anielski takes this week’s “Dumb Idea” award.

Anielski sent out a press release recently announcing a contest, “There Ought to be a Law,” which solicits constituents’ ideas for legislation. The winner would have lunch with her, presumably at a trendy Cleveland or Columbus restaurant. (I’m making an assumption that she won’t take the winner to lunch at Waffle House, although I don’t have anything personally against Waffle House, which I consider to be a great American experience, especially the decadent hash browns.)

So now our legislators are sponsoring contests to come up with more laws we probably don’t need. Are they putting something in the water down there? And what happened to Anielski’s Republican ideology which calls for less government? She should switch parties immediately.


A lot of people have offered to me that they have a better idea than the one officially proposed by Dover City Schools, which seeks voter approval for a new high school.

Ironically, not one of those people actually voiced their idea to anyone who stepped up in an effort to get the project done.

And incidentally, I will be looking for some sign that Dover City Council and the administration are behind the school district’s effort to build a new high school, which ultimately will make Dover a more valuable community. One would think the city would get behind the initiative soon.

And further incidentally, New Philadelphians probably ought to be quietly paying attention to what’s going on in Dover because that community, according to sources, is only a year or two away from having to answer the same new high school question.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

HR guys writing those job descriptions

Originally published in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.

Every month I get via e-mail a list of media and marketing jobs available in northeast Ohio. The listing is aggregated and the various human relations departments of the companies and organizations looking for employees of a certain kind obviously played a role in the job descriptions and requirements.

Scanning through the most current list, it occurred to me that it ought to be required reading for entering or returning to college. You’ve got a lot to learn, folks.
A digital bookseller is looking for a public relations and social media specialist. Sounds straight-forward enough, doesn’t it?
Here’s a small part of the job description:

“The public relations and social media specialist is responsible for providing quality PR and social media communications and support for (the company’s) marketing initiatives. This position involves interaction with many of our important audiences, including our trade media, library partners, end users, national and community organizations, and industry professionals. This position will use discretion to make recommendations, develop innovative, actionable strategies and messages for (the company’s) PR and social media (e.g., blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) initiatives…”

Responsibilities of the job include “drafting high quality communications, including press releases and blog posts, while balancing the demands of brand management and cost/deadlines for PR and social media initiatives; manage target media list, relationships via email and phone, list database and wire service, also tracking media mentions and industry news; manage blog editorial calendar, and (the company) presence on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets; provide quantitative and qualitative analysis (ROI) of results across all media targeted; and provide support and input for other (company) marketing initiatives as assigned.”

Whew. I’m tired already.

USA Today reported recently that a lot of people are abandoning the stress-filled corporate world, opting for less pay but better job satisfaction. After reading hundreds of similar job descriptions, I understand why.

Back when I was hiring reporters, I focused on only a couple of requirements – a degree in journalism or communications; ability to get along with others; a natural curiosity and love of news; and a strong command of the English language, i.e. good writing.

I’m sure an HR stiff could have scared away a number of good candidates by rewriting the previous paragraph to include all the tasks and skills that a good reporter needs and which at one time newspapers were willing to teach.


I’m reading “Miracle at Philadelphia” written by Catherine Drinker Bowen in 1966. It is the story of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which was a contentious affair by any standard, but one from which our current elected leaders – across all spectrums – could take a lesson.

In her preface, Bowen wrote this:

“The Federal Convention, viewed from the records, is startlingly fresh and ‘new.’ The spirit behind it was the spirit of compromise, seemingly no very noble flag to rally round. Compromise can be an ugly word, signifying a pack with the devil, a chipping off of the best to suit the worst. Yet in the Constitutional Convention the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory; as Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove…

“Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood – South against North, East against West, merchant against planter. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride and when the moment comes, admit their error.

“If the story is old, the feelings behind it are as new as Monday morning.”

Perhaps “Miracle at Philadelphia,” which arguably saved the experiment and gave rise to our great nation, should be required reading for our congressmen, our state legislators, our governor and all the other politicos to whom we entrust our future.

Had Gov. John Kasich been willing to compromise earlier this year, he wouldn’t be facing what appears to be an impending landslide repeal of Senate Bill 5.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is but the latest example of a politician who doesn’t get it. Perry, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, called Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s policies “treasonous.” No, they’re not treasonous, Gov. Perry, for goodness sakes.

You may not agree with them and that’s OK. But statesmen and leaders don’t make dumb statements like that.

Perry’s already a disappointment two weeks into it. He’s another guy who ought to read the book.

Speaking of dumb statements, here’s the all-time dumbest call-in remark that seems to get reprinted on a regular basis (only the target changes):

“Listen up, Dover City Schools. What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” (Grammar corrected.)

Now, why would you print that? What does that statement add to the debate over whether Dover voters should or should not build a new high school?

And is there really someone out there who believes he/she speaks for everyone? Well, yes, obviously there is.

Here’s my take: Dover High is decrepit and outdated. It needs to be replaced. It is beyond renovation.

I understand that this is a tough time to ask voters for additional tax dollars to build a new high school. And some people really can’t afford another hit on their income. I’d prefer not to pay any additional taxes either. But right now I’m inclined to support the request because I think a new high school ultimately will benefit Dover and all of its residents by maintaining and even increasing property values.

I have no kids or grandkids, who will directly benefit from a new high school. So, there’s nothing personally in it for me except perhaps being able to live in a better and safer community.

It’s no secret that communities with great schools have weathered the recession better than the have-nots.

That’s my thought. And I’m not speaking on anyone’s behalf other than my own. If you want to vote against it for whatever reason, that’s fine, too. Have at it.

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