Monthly Archives: July 2009

Health Care and Clunkers

Went back to physical rehab for my dead foot this morning. Good to see everyone again. And I had a pleasant visit — ending with a new shoe insert and the diagnosis that we are now entering into the “trial and error” stage.  Woot.

Wonder if we are experiencing public policy by trial and error these days as well?

While watching TV and enjoying my daily glide on the elliptical trainer I learned that the brakes were being placed on the so-called cash for clunkers program. That fact, by the way, didn’t deter Toyota from running the same annoying ad every few minutes hyping the program and benefits. I digress.

But apparently the cash for clunkers program is so popular and has created so much demand for new cars and trucks that it is out of money already — burning through a billion or so in just a few days. Oh well. I can’t imagine that this ruse to take gas-guzzling cars and trucks off the streets to improve the environment would matter one bit in terms of global warming and so on. But it does look like one of the few economy stimulus ideas that is, ugh, stimulating sales, the economy and I expect production of cars and trucks.

Here’s the point. These policy initiatives deal in mind-boggling numbers, forecasts and projections — that, let’s be honest, are almost always wrong. For instance, send an e-mail to the White House and ask about how many jobs have been created or saved (the stimulus test, remember) in the last six months. Nah. Time used more productively by taking a nap. I digress again.

So if the cars for clunkers is out of gas — and money — how sure are we that the trillion or so price tag that is being tossed around for the administration’s health-care plan is realistic? Oh well.

And finally, as we approach the weekend, my brother Mark informs me that the Pittsburgh Pirates are still the model for ineptitude and fan frustration that the Cleveland Indians are trying to emulate.

True. But Mark — give us time.

If, as rumored, Victor Martinez is heading to the Boston Red Sox or elsewhere before the trading deadline, will Slider be next?

And I have tickets for the game next Tuesday.

Cash for clunkers, indeed.

Beer Summits and Baseball

I know. I should be writing about important things today: Sonya Sotomayor, health care, the continuing unemployment crisis in Ohio and elsewhere, my chronically sore foot and leg. Instead, I’ll opine on this afternoon’s White House kegger. And the Cleveland Indians, now defunct for 2009, 2010 and so on.

First the beer summit. I kinda like the idea that Prez O is going to sit around a picnic table this afternoon and quaff a few beers with police officer Jim Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In many ways this is a textbook example of how the theory of public relations can be applied in the real world: two-way communication, establish relationships, mediate disputes and resolve a crisis, create mutual understanding and so on.

Will the beer blast lead to a national dialogue on race relations? Nah. It’s a worthy goal and good thought but unlikely given the nation’s and media’s attention span.

More likely it will lead to a debate on the choice of beers: American made versus foreign. Here’s the lineup: Obama — Bud Light; Gates — Red Stripe; Crowley (Blue Moon). Yet as the Wall Street Journal online edition reports this morning (“White House ‘Beer Summit’ Becomes Something of a Brouhaha“), those selections are not sitting well with some American firms, particularly among the growing list of micro-brewers. And is there a marketing guy or gal alive who wouldn’t spend the afternoon staked out naked over an ant hill to get the White House to serve up a brew made by his/her client or employer? I digress.

And then there is baseball. The Cleveland Indians yesterday traded Cliff Lee, last year’s Cy Young Award winner, to Philadelphia — and received just less than a handful of minor league players with apparently major league potential in return. Sigh. I know. This is baseball and this kind of trade happens all the time. And realistically, the only way that a small-market franchise like Cleveland can compete is to pull together a gaggle of young players — hope they all mature and become stars at the same time while under contract — and then watch them go to the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and so on.

Hey. As Jimmy Carter said, life isn’t fair.

But it irks me when teams basically give up in mid-season. If nothing else, it cheats the fans. Full disclosure: I have tickets to a game with the Twins next week. And I’ll have a good time regardless. Still — WTF.

Also, it’s amazing that the Indians have slipped from near-champions two years ago to a team that has resigned itself to another long uphill climb.

And this provides a cautionary tale for another Cleveland sports team, the Cavaliers. Many times teams have one shot at a championship — and it slips away for a variety of reasons never to return.

If that happens this winter, there will be a lot of people in Northeast Ohio crying in their beer. (C’mon. You know I had to write that.)

And for those attending the White House kegger this afternoon, I offer this wisdom from Dos Equis: Stay thirsty my friends.

Ohio U: Demand a Recount

Wow. These are tough days for those of us living in Ohio. Jobs disappearing, housing prices collapsing, state budget in ruin, Cleveland Indians only now starting to play baseball — four months after the season began, and so on. And now we discover that one of our top public universities is not getting the respect it deserves.

Here’s the story. The Princeton Review earlier this week released its annual report of “tops” among American universities and colleges. Top library: Harvard (hehe). Top classroom experience: Pomono College. (Any clue as to what classroom experience means?) Best career services: University of Florida. (Particularly if you can run with a football and chew gum at the same time. I digress.)

But here comes the big one: top party school. And the winner (drum roll please) is — Penn State.

And Ohio University places fifth. WTF

Anyone who has ever spent some quality bar time on Court Street in Athens, Ohio — or has supported a son/daughter during his/her tenure there — knows this fifth-place ranking is bogus.

Harvard on the Hocking it ain’t.

And OU can’t match up with the Nittany Lions on the football field.

And I don’t know for sure whether students at OU would have any trouble out-partying or out-beer-drinking those in Happy Valley. But OU certainly has a strong reputation here.

Wonder if that addendum to an OU degree helps or hurts those looking for jobs these days?

Of course, this presents the administrative suits at OU with its annual dilemma. How do you convince parents, employers and others that the university really does offer an excellent education — when its reputation as a party school dominates?

I expect that’s a dilemma that consumes plenty of time and money at OU and many other colleges and universities these days.

And it points to the fact that reputation matters — and it’s hard to change once established, justified or not.

Vacations and “Best Places to Live”

Well, I’m back from a week of vacation in Colorado. I hit the concrete yesterday for a painful five miles and returned to the elliptical trainer this morning. And it was great to catch up on the stories that I expect were dominating the news for the last several days. Sarah Palin is no longer the governor in Alaska. Obama is organizing a kegger at the White House.  Congress is waffling on health care. So it goes.

Wow. Not sure I missed much. But I did see a story in USA Today this morning that I actually spent a few minutes skimming from start to finish. It tooks at an AARP magazine story that lists the best cities for a “simplier life.” Tuscon heads the list.

I can’t argue with the selection of Tuscon — or any other city on the list. But with plenty of people like me — the first wave of the retiring baby boomer generation — at least thinking about the possibility of relocating at some point to “a best city to live” or a city that offers a “simplier life,” I wonder how much credibility these listings really have? And I wonder how important they are to the economic development of a city or region? Something tells me it means a lot these days to be on one of these lists — not unlike the “best colleges,” “best hospitals,” “best pizza joints” and so on.

DSCN0272Breckenridge, Colo.,  didn’t make the AARP list. Breckenridge is a small town about two hours west of Denver. For people who are active and who enjoy outdoor activities throughout the year it presents a pretty ideal situation: Scenic, nestled in the mountains at about 9,600 feet, access to great bike riding and fly fishing in the summer and excellent skiing in the winter. And we happened to be there to take advantage of an afternoon-long beer festival. Woot.

The problem: the price of housing. Don’t even think about it unless you have $500K — and most likely an army of friends and relatives who excel in the skilled trades.

Still it’s a nice thought. But for those of us mired in the housing debacle of Northeast Ohio, not a realistic one.

Maybe next summer I’ll tour the country and compile this list: Best places to live with housing prices lower than Akron/Cleveland.

DSCN0276Or better yet: Best places with beer festivals.

That should be an interesting vacation. Wonder if I can get a magazine to publish the list as the “best places to live”?

Vacations and Staying Connected

IMG00045I’ll admit it. I’m a news junkie. And it’s tough for me to be off the grid for even a few days. Not sure why that is — and not sure that I am missing all that much that won’t wait for a while. Saying that, it was interesting yesterday afternoon to be fly fishing in the mountain outside Breckenridge, Colo., with absolutely no ability to connect to the Internet, get phone or e-mail messages, or engage in the Twitter time-suck.

It was great.

Think I’ll try it for a few more days.

Walter Cronkite and Civility

I’m writing this post from a hotel room in Breckenridge, Colorado. And I first heard about Walter Cronkite’s death last night on Twitter. Those two unrelated happenings speak volumes about why there will never be another Walter Cronkite — the one journalist in America whom people trusted to tell them “the way it is.” Media are too fragmented these days. Too many communication platforms, blogs and Twitter and Facebook and so on.

But there will never be another Cronkite because I can’t imagine the American public ever trusting anyone like we trusted him. He was a journalist — displaying the highest ethical and professional qualities. You can read that in any of the thousands of articles available about him today in print and online.

Yet what impressed me about Cronkite was his civility. I had the opportnity to meet him in 1995. He narrated a video about the 125th anniversary of The BFGoodrich Company. And I went on the corporate plane (yeah, still had private planes in the days before the Wall Street and auto meltdowns) to escort him from New York to Cleveland where he did added his voice — and his credibility really — to the production.

What a great experience. The chance to sit and talk one-on-one with Walter Cronkite for several hours. We talked about his interest in the space program — about the negative reaction that many viewers had to his initial reports when President Kennedy was assassinated — about his disappointment in leaving CBS — and so on.

But you know what. He appeared to be every bit as interested in me and what I was doing. And I came away from that conversation with the sense that the reputation that Cronkite had was accurate and well-deserved.

He was a gentleman.

He was a working journalist — not someone who put himself above the story.

And he treated people with respect and civility. Can you imagine Walter Cronkite hosting one of the cable news shoutfests? Nah.

The personal qualities that he brought to the anchor desk may be the most important lesson from the life and career of Walter Cronkite.

Civility matters.

Unemployment and Treadmills

I survived 50 tough minutes on the treadmill this morning, even with my still-injured leg and foot. And I was working hard and trying my best — but when I was finished I hadn’t moved forward one inch. Wonder if that is where we are at now with the economy and jobs?

The economy appears to be improving modestly, at least if you measure that in terms of projected growth and Wall Street profits. Government Sachs has emerged from the economic meltdown — fueled if you remember at least in part by greed and corruption by the Wizards on Wall Street — with profits that should bring tears to a capitalist’s eyes. What happened to my pitchfork? I digess.

But when it comes to jobs, it’s right now that people are starting to ask “Where’s the Beef?” We may be seeing the early stages of a recovery on Wall Street but not on Main Street — and that has some big implications for the future of our nation’s economic prosperity and for the Obama administration.

Unemployment north of 10 percent for months years to come? Could be. Here’s from a Washington Post article this morning, “Fed Sees Heightened Joblessness Drawing Out Recession”:

A new forecast raised fresh doubts yesterday about how strong any economic recovery might be, as the Federal Reserve projected that the unemployment rate may surpass 10 percent by year’s end and warned that the economy may not return to full health for at least five years.

Obama this week announced a major initiative to support community colleges as a way to help train — or retrain — workers or those who are looking for work. At the same time, he was candid in saying that unemployment would most likely get worse before getting better. And in states like Michigan (and Ohio and others) many of the manufacturing jobs that provided the foundation for middle class lifestyles are gone — and they ain’t coming back.

So I hope we can get off this treadmill of a jobless economic recovery soon.

And while Main Street continues to run in place, I would encourage the Wizards on Wall Street not to be flagrant in rewarding themselves with what many in this nation still believe to be bailout money that rightly belongs to Mom and Pop Taxpayer.

Hey, people can always jump of the treadmill and begin running on the roads — maybe even carrying pitchforks.