Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Those who would be president fail to impress the next generation

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

One of the great things about the holidays is that I get to spend some time with the younger representatives of family and friends – the twentysomethings who are about to become thirtysomethings – who are living in Chicago, or Los Angeles, or Washington or seemingly light years from their hometowns of Dover or New Philadelphia.

Call it a landslide: They are not happy with Mitt or Newt or any of the other Republican choices for president.
Do they like President Barack Obama? Well, not really, but no one has shown them anything better.

The Republicans, they say, seem to miss the point, which is all about the economy and the future and nothing about gay marriage or whether the candidates might have engaged in indiscretions in their youth.

“Who’d want to run for president?” one of the young ones asked during a kitchen table discussion. “Would Jack Kennedy have run for president today? Or Franklin Roosevelt?”

It’s an interesting question.

Franklin Roosevelt with the help of the media did a pretty good job of hiding his handicap from the American people. In the 24 hours after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt tended to the task of writing a speech while getting treated – with cocaine – for a nasal infection and strategizing that long walk to the podium in the capitol, according to producer/writer/director Anthony Giacchino, whose special “Pearl Harbor” aired on the History Channel earlier this month. Giacchino’s documentary provides an hour-by-hour look at the 24 hours following the attack.

Roosevelt couldn’t walk. But with the help of braces, a cane and his son James he was able to provide to the American people the illusion of walking. Certainly Americans would demand their leader to be strong. And crippled wasn’t strong.

Kennedy’s indiscretions became well-documented in the aftermath of his death, as did his health problems and subsequent issues with the drugs used to treat him (not to mention his ties to the Mafia). While the media didn’t turn a blind eye in the 1950s and 1960s, it was arguably easier to hide such matters in a world not strewn with today’s technological resources.

So, one could argue that both of these leaders might have decided against a presidential run given the same set of circumstances and if their lives were somehow catapulted well into the future.

And despite their shortcomings and/or misgivings, the American people still consider Roosevelt and Kennedy to possess the trait that seems so lacking in Mitt, Newt and even Barack – the ability to lead us as a country and not as members of one political party or another, or of one ideology or another.

The young people are OK. They’re just looking for a leader. And by the way, it’s the economy, stupid.

One of my resolutions for 2012 is to quit making fun of all things Ohio. All of us do that, you know, especially those of us who root for those pro sports teams that hail from Cleveland. But beyond sports, we can be pretty downright mean about what we say about the Buckeye State especially during our wonderful winter months. (They’re coming and I’m trying.)

Former Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz alerted her Facebook friends to a piece entitled “The Geography of Stuck” in the online version of Atlantic Cities magazine.

Author Richard Florida said there is a percentage of the population that believes it is stuck in a less than desirable part of the country, which is everywhere except the East and West coasts and the Rocky Mountain region.

Bah humbug to writer-researcher Florida, says Julie Irwin Zimmerman of Cincinnati.

“When I moved to Ohio, which Florida cites as the third most ‘stuck’ state in America, I, like Florida, assumed many people lived here because they lacked the chance to move somewhere better,” wrote Zimmerman in the magazine.

“I thought at the time I’d be here two years, maybe three, before moving onto the next opportunity.
“Fifteen years later I’m still in Cincinnati, which has one of the highest rates of native-born residents in any urban area of the U.S. So many Cincinnatians were born here that when people ask you where you went to school, they’re referring to high school, not college. And in my years here, I’ve begun to understand why so many natives stay put, or leave the area for just a few years and then return.

“They’re not stuck. They're content.”

Zimmerman cites the reasonable cost of housing, relatively short commutes and “the social capital built up by living among the people you’ve grown up with…

“The ties people have to their families and neighbors here are worth forgoing many of the economic opportunities other cities may offer.”

The negative? Zimmerman says change is “maddeningly slow,” which nails my biggest complaint about our little corner of the world. The visionaries seem to be held in low esteem, a problem that hinders our cultural and institutional growth.

Nonetheless, I think we have something to build on in 2012. Perhaps we can get rid of some of that negativity and figure out how to get the important things done.

Don’t ask why. Ask why not.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

No politics, no coupons, no touchdowns

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

This being Christmas weekend, I will refrain from discussing whether Mitt Romney would make a better president than Newt Gingrich or vice versa.

The last thing, I suspect, that you want to do during this hectic season is to settle down in front of your nice toasty fireplace – a cup of eggnog nearby – and read about politics.

We could discuss fracking, or the failings of our socio-economic system, or the Occupy Wall Street movement, or North Korea, or even those crazy folks who visit Walmart on a daily basis.

In other words, we could get very serious and just ignore the fact that this is Christmas. But sometimes we should take some time and consider stuff that’s not really important.

“Oh, boy, Farrell’s going to discuss the value of newspaper coupons,” you’re probably thinking.

No, I’m not.

I want to talk about the Browns.

This weekend, on Christmas Eve, the Browns travel to Baltimore to face the old Browns, which are now called the Ravens.

I hate the Ravens.

Next weekend, on New Year’s Day, the Browns host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cleveland Browns Stadium.

I hate the Steelers.

Now, if the Browns were any good this year, these would have been games to savor. Let’s say the Browns were in contention for a playoff spot and had to win the final two games to get in. Wouldn’t that have been terrific? We’d be getting and giving Browns jerseys and all sorts of Browns paraphernalia for Christmas.

Alas, it is not to be, Santa Claus.

Conventional wisdom has it that it’s probably better for the Browns if they lose both games, thus ensuring a better position in the NFL draft next spring. That’s when Cleveland fans pray that the Browns take that franchise linebacker from USC only to be disappointed when the team announces it has traded down, thus guaranteeing a playmaker like Brian Robiskie.

In the end, I’ll be OK with whatever happens, because I’ll be there next year no matter what – unlike a lot of other Ohioans who have jumped on the Steelers’ bandwagon. I believe they’re called frontrunners.

I’ll cut some slack to the Ohioans who live near the Pennsylvania border or who happen to hail from the Keystone State, which has given the world, among other things, Yuengling beer, which is really good, and a turnpike, which is not.

I have noticed some things about Steelers’ fans over the years. They are a different breed, to wit:

–Steelers fans wear their logo-emblazoned hoodies in the spring and summer. This is probably because the Pirates baseball team is so bad that Steelers fans are too embarrassed to admit that football season actually ends in Pittsburgh.

–In a bar, Steelers fans always seem to infiltrate a Browns crowd and will stay mostly silent until the Browns are on the wrong side of the score. Then Steelers fans become really loud and obnoxious.

–Steelers fans refer to the Cleveland Browns as “the Brownies,” indicating to the faithful that our team actually is comprised of girls. (Browns fans, on the other hand, respond: “Stillers fans are idiots.” And it goes downhill from there.)

–Some Steelers fans are so enamored with their football team that they actually will buy ugly yellow and black pickup trucks and stick the Steelers logo on both doors. (OK, Browns fans paint old milk trucks orange and brown. That’s a draw.)

This year, the Browns added an official comedian, Mike Polk, who earlier this fall coined the term “Factory of Sadness” in a video made in the aftermath of yet another disappointing loss. I hope someday he can revisit that thought and replace it with something a little more positive.

In the meantime, I will keep the faith and hope for a Browns win this holiday season.

Here’s hoping you have a terrific Christmas – no matter what (and even if you are a Steelers fan) ­– and that your favorite team brings a little cheer to your life. It’s good for us, you know.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Penn State grad supports JoePa no matter what

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

Following up on a couple of things this week…

A few weeks ago, I asked and then answered: “Is Joe Paterno (longtime head coach of the Penn State football team) a father figure? Hardly.”

Psu4ster took me to task with his/her online comment posted under my commentary on the Bargain Hunter’s Web site.

“I am a graduate of ‘thee’ Pennsylvania State University and I'd like to first make it completely clear that my thoughts, prayers and biggest concerns lie with the victims and their families,” he/she wrote.

“With that being said, I do not agree with your comment about Paterno not being a father figure. I grew up in Pennsylvania and know the unbelievable amount of good Joe Paterno has done for the state, Penn State students, faculty, staff as well as student athletes he has coached and molded into productive citizens.

“He has donated millions of dollars to the university and the last time I checked, the university figures that Coach Paterno and his wife have helped raise $3.5 billion for the university. You, as well as the rest of the media, have condemned Coach Paterno before any official facts have been brought to light…”

Well, Psu4ster, I didn’t condemn Paterno. I said he was hardly a father figure and I based that on available information – some of it official (i.e. grand jury indictment of alleged abuser Jerry Sandusky) – and some of which came to light in the aftermath.

And last Monday, a team of Associated Press reporters posted a story that concluded the culture of Penn State was to protect its football program above everything else, including, apparently, the rogue ex-coach who was abusing children over at least a 12-year period.

“And while the official allegations, so far, target only three people – Sandusky, along with the school’s athletic director and a since-retired senior vice president, who are both charged with perjury and failure to report a 2002 sexual abuse complaint – an investigation by the Associated Press suggests that blame also rests on Penn State as an institution and the entrenched traditions of now-fired head football coach Joe Paterno,” the AP said.

“In addition, the AP investigation, which included scores of interviews and a review of the limited number of available documents, also reveals new details in the Sandusky case: the special handling of a 1998 sexual abuse complaint by child welfare workers; a clash between investigators over what the evidence showed at that time; extraordinary retirement perks that gave Sandusky access to places on campus where he is accused of abusing children; a determination by a nearby county child-welfare agency that Sandusky sexually abused a boy in 2008 in a case that sparked the state criminal case; and a passionate defense of Paterno's role by his wife and her vigorous assertion that his university superiors are responsible for any mistakes in the handling of the 2002 abuse complaint.”

So, despite Psu4ster’s impassioned defense of Paterno, I remain convinced that JoePa is a rather lousy father figure.

It’s in vogue these days to blame the public schools for all the ills in the education system. I have maintained that the anger is misdirected and that by far the biggest problem lies not with teachers or their schools, but with students’ parents and homes.

Or lack thereof.

In other words, all the talk about “No Child Left Behind,” charter schools, district report cards and all those hot button issues politicians are prone to talk about are actually a lot of hooey.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times recently, Helen F. Ladd a professor of public policy and economics at Duke, and Edward B. Fiske, a former education editor of the New York Times and author of the “Fiske Guide to Colleges,” argue that policy makers have missed the point.

“No one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds,” they wrote.

“But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.”

In fact, Ladd and Fiske point out that poor children do worse academically in all countries than their counterparts who are members of well-to-do families.

“Results of the 2009 reading tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment show that, among 15-year-olds in the United States and the 13 countries whose students outperformed ours, students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts within every country,” Ladd and Fisk reported.

“Can anyone credibly believe that the mediocre overall performance of American students on international tests is unrelated to the fact that one-fifth of American children live in poverty?”

And not known to the general public, your typical public school educator in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties is donating hard cash at this time of the year so the most disadvantaged of their students can return to their respective schools in January in shoes that don’t leak, dresses that aren’t torn and a coat that actually zips up.
By the way, those are far more important issues to those children than a good grade on a test. We’re talking about survival here.

And yet the public demands accountability on test scores by those same youngsters who come from homes best described as organized squalor where no one ever read to them before bedtime, or took them to the zoo, or told them they are loved.

No child left behind?

We don’t have an education problem in this country. We have a poverty problem. Why can’t we get that?

 Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eminent domain is taking a bad rap

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

One of the complaints I heard more than a few times about the Dover Board of Education’s bid for passage of a bond issue for a new high school was that it was considering eminent domain to acquire a suitable property on the city’s north end.

I found that reason for a “no” vote to be rather curious because, in this particular case, eminent domain would protect taxpayers’ dollars.

As I understand it – and I will welcome clarity from those involved – here’s how the eminent domain issue came about.

When Dover first inquired about the parcel, it asked the owners if it could conduct the necessary tests to determine whether the land would be suitable on which to build a high school. The owners agreed. After the land passed the tests, the school board then sought an independent appraisal of the property and subsequently offered $1 million as a result of that appraisal.

The owners of the land turned down that offer. Dover, in turn, asked if the owners recently had sought out their own appraisal, indicating that the board was willing to meet somewhere in the middle. The owners indicated there was no appraisal on their behalf and that Dover should just continue to make offers until it made the right one.

So, the board in its discussions about the ballot initiative said it would employ eminent domain to acquire the land which would guarantee a fair price for not only the property owners but for Dover taxpayers as well. Certainly, Dover taxpayers would protest a blank check handed to the property owners.

The blanket condemnation of eminent domain is not deserved. Certainly, it has been misused in efforts to rid communities of urban blight, but without it, we might not have the interstate highway system or airports that can handle jet aircraft.

And that new north Dover I-77 interchange? Ever read anything about property owners protesting the amounts awarded for their land so the state could construct it? Nope. Most folks are well-compensated in such situations (although there’s some obvious hate for the process along the new Rt. 161 east of New Albany, judging from the messages to the Ohio Department of Transportation that are scrawled on some structures and that apparently were caught in construction crossfire).

So, the Dover Board of Education has decided not to put the new school issue on the March ballot, a move that’s understandable given the degree of the issue’s defeat in the November election. But what are the ballot options now?

That’s not real clear, given that Ohio currently has scheduled two primary elections, the other being in June for federal candidates, including president, U.S. senator and U.S. representative. It is not certain whether the two primaries ultimately will kill a date in August for a special election, which might leave the November election as the last possible opportunity for Dover to still qualify for a $9.5 million grant from the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission.

If there is no special election date and you’re a strategist of sorts, which election would you prefer your bond issue on the ballot – June or November?

I suspect both elections will draw plenty of angry voters with or without the Dover bond issue on the ballot and angry voters don’t vote “yes” on much of anything.

I still believe that the front of Dover City Park offers the best site for a new high school, but there’s still nary a word from anyone connected to the city about that possibility.

I think it’s because Doverites think the City Park is sacred ground and it should stay just the way it is forever. But if you take a detached view of things, you’ll notice the entrance to the park is underwhelming – where’s the arch? – and that chain link fence around the tennis court seems to play a vital role in the aesthetics.

By the way, we’ve heard of a couple high-level executives recently hired by a Dover company who opted to buy homes in Jackson Township and North Canton because of the inadequacies of Dover educational facilities, especially the high school. Who needs them, right?

(Someone now is preparing to fire off an angry e-mail, telling me that if I don’t like it I should move.)

Well, hand it to the Cleveland firefighters for throwing away any good will Ohio public employees received in the wake of the repeal of Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining law.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, an audit of firefighters’ timesheets and pay records “shows the fire department doesn’t pay close attention to rules that allow firefighters to easily trade work shifts, take time off for funerals and call in sick. The result is a system that is being abused by at least a handful of firefighters.”
One firefighter, the paper said, was “commuting” from his home in California to his job in Cleveland. Another apparently didn’t work in the winter, scheduling all of his vacation days during cold weather, presumably so he could spend time in a warmer climate.

The paper said sick time was inaccurately paid and paperwork screwed up. The list of administrative issues goes on and on. The Cleveland Fire Department has a $38 million payroll and no one, it seems, is watching the firehouse.

And that’s a truism, too.

Apparently, a couple of Cleveland firehouses had to be closed over the Thanksgiving holiday because too many firefighters called off sick. That’s right, even in the wake of news about widespread payroll abuses, the Cleveland firefighters still seemed to be working the system.

Why am I not surprised?

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).