Friday, February 27, 2009

Bobcast: Train the ethics watchdog

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Too often, Alabama’s rules governing officeholder conduct resemble a Caribbean island bank where U.S. companies park their money away from the prying eyes of the feds.

State campaign finance laws are so dodgy that politicians can legally conceal tons of tainted dollars from well-heeled contributors wishing to remain in the shadows.

Of course, once in office politicians find the going just as smooth. Lobbyists can spend up to $250 a day on an elected official before having to report it. Over a full year that comes to more than $90,000 a legislator could legally take from his good friends the Allied Widgetmakers Association and never have to report a dime.

That sum, while impressive, is less than recently convicted state Rep. Sue Schmitz earned in a sham job strung together through the two-year college system and her fellow lawmakers. The Democrat from north Alabama earned a $177,000 salary for doing essentially nothing, nothing but being a state representative with influence over how much money the two-year system gets.

Several lawmakers are trying to clean up this mess. Bills would cut down on the under-the-table lobbying giveaways, increase reporting requirements and hand more power the state’s ethics watchdogs. Attempts like this have been tried in the past only to fail.

We’ll be watching to see how these measures proceed. So should the rest of the state.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bobcast: Bob, Bob, Bo-Bob...

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Some of us are “Bobbys.” Some of us are “Roberts.” And some of us are “Bobs.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the man tapped to offer the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s congressional address Tuesday, is quite clearly a “Bobby.”
Gov. Jindal’s’s sing-songy cadence has been almost universally panned, by both the left and the right. Many are saying the address sounded like wonky Mister Rogers.
Would you be mine? Could by mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? Unless you lost your house.
Bobby is not Jindal’s given name. The inspiration for his adopted first name is said to be the youngest brother on “The Brady Bunch.”
On this point, I must acknowledge my clear pro-Bob bias.
Though it’s a cute name for a kid on a TV show, I believe “Bobby” is a high hurdle for a politician.
Bob Dole? Yes. Robert Kennedy? Yes. Bobby Jindal? Uh, maybe not, though these things are subject to change. Who would have believed last year we’d have a president named Barack?
When I was 4 my imaginary friend was named “Bobby.” (Hey, just because you have an imaginary friend, doesn’t mean you have much imagination, at least in the name department.)
Forty years on, no word on my where my imaginary Bobby landed, but it’s a safe bet he’s stayed clear of politics.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bobcast: A call for patience to an impatient nation

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.
Speaking of his plan to revive the ailing U.S. economy, President Obama on Tuesday sent out a caution. The recovery plans will work over time. Step by step, he predicted, a domino effect will spread from lenders to borrowers to sellers to buyers.
And thus, Obama said, “Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.”
“Slowly, but surely?”
In this culture?
Our people, our politics, our elected leaders and our economy are not equipped for “slowly, but surely.”
We are, after all, a nation that taps its collective foot standing in front of the microwave. “When will the baked potato be ready?” we whine. “It’s already been a full 60 seconds!”
And now the president pledges his corrections will work … over time.
Our shot-clock mentality owns a large slice of responsibility for our current financial crisis. Profits had to be maximized now. This quarter. Even top-flight U.S. corporations went for the short-end money.
“Slowly, but surely” seems the right way to rebuild the economy on a firm foundation. If an impatient nation can wait is another question.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bobcast: Unity through roundball

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.
Given the muted civic response so far to the news that Anniston High’s boys and girls basketball teams are two games away from state titles, the proper question for the time is not, "Who let the Dawgs out?"
It should be the less lyrical but more poignant, "Who’s muzzling potential boosters of the Dawgs?"
Of course, we’re not thinking of the students, parents, faculty and boosters of the Bulldogs. They are thrilled by the prospect, and not hiding their excitement under a bushel.
We’re thinking instead of those not releasing their inner Bulldog. In other words the larger community with or without any ties to the school except that they live or work here.
The ball teams will carry the name of our town on their uniforms this week. They are, in ways large and small, representing our town. This is cause for celebration and support.
A cruise down the city’s main retail arteries reveals hardly a trace of excitement. Anniston could take a lesson from its neighbors. No visitor to Clay County during football title game time could miss that the community is supportive, if not rapid over the Panthers. The same could be said for other cities in our region and state.
To Anniston’s shame none of that local school boosterism was present on the eve of Wednesday’s game. Thus it appears a chance at creating unity over good news is slipping away.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The common journey

In Sunday Insight section of The Anniston Star, San Francisco photographer Nancy Farese presented images from her recent travels in Africa. Hat tip to Star presentation editor Tosha Jupiter for the page design.
She wrote:
As I have photographed organizations delivering humanitarian and relief aid, I can't believe the access that I get with my camera into circumstances of severe need — an AIDS patient in Malawi, the refugee situation in Kenya, the impoverished but determined woman entrepreneur in rural Uganda. I not only find so many people in need, I find so many people willing to use their talents to meet those needs in ways that are creative and compassionate. In the face of overwhelming challenges such as famine, poverty and disease, the support I see being given by the organizations I cover is being delivered with dignity and respect.

Bobcast: Hate the stimulus. Love the stimulation

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Is it hypocritical for a politician to oppose an economic stimulus package, and then turn around and promise the folks back home he’ll claim their fair share?
Well, duh, of course it is.
Hypocrisy – doing one thing and saying the other while sitting upon a high horse of pontification – is deeply imbedded in politics. Heck, it’s deeply imbedded in humanity; few are immune. So much so that pointing it out is hardly worth pointing out.
Still, we’ll trudge on.
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, speaking late last week in Anniston, admitted he is no fan for the stimulus bill recently signed by President Obama.
The declaration was hardly necessary; he’s made his opposition clear during the lead up to the bill’s passage.
Despite his opposition, Shelby said Friday, “We need to do everything we can to make sure we get a proportionate amount of money.”
Make of that what you will. Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim. Politicians gotta deliver the bacon.
It could be worse. Several Southern governors are still riding up on their high horse, vowing to turn down stimulus dollars.
And yet, it could be better. Shelby and the rest of the Alabama congressional delegation who opposed the bill even though they knew it would to pass could have fought harder to include money for state’s neediest projects.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bobcast: A state Senate stalls

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Imagine this scene at the worksite. The loading dock foreman says to Ed, “Hey, we need those boxes to the warehouse.”
Ed responds by standing up and stiffly reciting a bunch of rhetorical nonsense. Never straying anywhere near relevance or the boxes he’s supposed to move, Ed prattles on throughout the morning.
Finally, the exasperated foreman shrugs, pays Ed for a full day’s work, sends him home and tells him he’ll see him tomorrow, when Ed might or might not do the whole thing all over again.
Doesn’t seem very likely in the real world. Of course, Goat Hill is frequently an unreal place.
Stalling is often standard in the Alabama Senate. The so-called legislative body in recent years has witnessed such blathering, known formally as a filibuster. In recent terms, the state Senate has spent nearly two-thirds of its annual 30 working days in filibuster-shortened sessions.
The sorry tradition has started again for the 2009 session. Over the course of seven days, Phil Poole, a Democratic senator from Tuscaloosa, twice halted proceedings in disputes that might best be described as highly local and highly personal.
And on the games go as if Alabama wasn’t facing a massive $560 million budget shortfall, rapidly declining employment and a collapsing economy that could hit the state’s working-class and the worksite extremely hard.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bobcast: An audit to nowhere

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.
Last year, the Anniston City Council agreed to pay a Uniontown woman $2,500 to review its human resources policies. The work was not competitively bid. The only person considered for the job was Yolanda Jackson of the west-central Alabama city of Uniontown. She was selected at the urging of one member of the council, Ben Little.
According to various sources, Jackson spent somewhere between two hours and two days working on the project. That works out to somewhere between $150 an hour and $1,200 an hour.
Oh, and the actual audit. None of Jackson’s HR suggestions have been implemented. Nor, according to Anniston’s ex-city manager, could they without a complete reworking of civil service guidelines. Councilman John Spain, who is calling for a probe into Jackson’s sweetheart deal, termed the audit "boilerplate information."
For her part, Jackson is clamming up, despite repeated attempts by a Star reporter seeking comment this week.
Apparently, it pays to speak softly and perform a useless audit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bobcast: A bigger threat than terrorism

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

A recent visitor to Congress delivered a warning.
The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” the man told a Senate panel.
The speaker said that in terms of global threats, terrorism comes in second behind the current economic turmoil that has seen 3.5 million Americans thrown out of work and that is expected to leave 50 million jobless by the end of the year.
Who said this?
A softie who has taken his eyes off the global war on terror?
A lefty think-tanker going theoretical on us?
No, it was Adm. Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence. In 34 years with the Navy, Blair served at top levels in the Pentagon hierarchy.
Point is Blair knows what he’s talking about.
He does not appear to be downplaying the threat posed by terrorists, merely putting it in perspective. That’s a change from the past eight years when it seemed terrorism was a nifty trump card to keep the people and the policymakers in line.
Blair’s economic warning last week came with a reminder.
“The crisis has been ongoing for over a year, and economists are divided over whether and when we could hit bottom. Some even fear that the recession could further deepen and reach the level of the Great Depression. Of course, all of us re-call the dramatic political consequences wrought by the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, the instability, and high levels of violent extremism.”
Indeed we do, admiral. And if we don’t, we should.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New Bobcast: Where there's smoke ...

Latest Bobcast is on a relic of Anniston's industrial past. Listen here or read below.

Anniston City Hall politicians are debating whether a 129-year-old smokestack that recalls the city industrial roots should stay or go.
Last week, following a vote of the City Council, the smokestack, Anniston’s first, looked like a goner.
This week, not so much. The mayor told The Star he was reconsidering his vote to demolish the smokestack.
This is good. As one local preservationist remarked, anything that can stand for more than 100 years deserves a chance to remain standing.
So much for structures that have lasted 13 decades.
The crumbling, run-down and mostly empty storefronts that dot Anniston’s retail corridor are another story. Those buildings are one, two, three and four decades old. They stand as monuments to nothing but poor city planning, ugly design and the declining economic prospects of a city. They demand the city’s highest attention, energy and innovation.
Building something up is tougher that tearing something down, yet this is precisely where Anniston’s emphasis belongs.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bobcast: Radio silence on Knoxville killer

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

During a busy news week that included a tragic plane crash in Buffalo, N.Y., and the passage of a massive federal stimulus bill, Jim David Adkisson’s guilty plea last Monday was largely ignored.
Adkisson is the man who shot up a Knoxville, Tenn., church in July, killing two worshipers and injuring six. By his admission, Adkisson singled out the church because of its support of liberal causes.
Informing this hatred, authorities say, was a penchant for books authored by right-wing media figures, including Bernard Goldberg’s "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America."
On his shelf were Michael Savage’s "Liberalism is a Mental Disorder," Sean Hannity’s "Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism," and Bill O’Reilly’s "The O'Reilly Factor."
In a letter penned before what he termed a "symbolic" shooting, Adkisson wrote. "Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate and House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book. I'd like to kill everyone in the main-stream media. But I knew these people were inaccessible to me."
None of this received much play in conservative talk radio circles last week. Hosts had shifted to demonizing President Obama and the congressional Democrats’ stimulus package.
The First Amendment guarantees talk radio’s right to spew hate-filled nonsense. However, its silence on Jim David Adkisson says more than all the yelling done in the name defeating liberalism.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bobcast: Score-settling

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Abraham Lincoln is easily the most famous American user of the word “score,” as in a measure of 20 years. It was his famous Gettysburg Address that began, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
With the celebration this month of his 200th birthday, it’s clear some are still trying to settle the score, as in airing old grievances against the man who saved the Union and freed the slaves.
A few misguided souls across the Internet, including comment-posters at the Anniston Star’s little corner of the Web, have labeled Lincoln a “tyrant,” “murderer” and “terrorist.” With the exception of Alabama and Louisiana, the Confederate states are staying mostly quiet on the occasion of the great man’s birth.
Even 140 years after his death and the end of the Civil War, there’s no accounting for bitter words and actions (or non-actions in the case of most Southern states) of the irrational, the dead-enders, as Donald Rumsfeld might call them.
The rest of us can vow to make good on Lincoln’s challenge “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bobcast: On the rural sidelines

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

Alabama’s governor said Wednesday the federal economic stimulus package has a distinct anti-rural flavor. Gov. Bob Riley believes the bill’s winners are urban areas; he singles out California and Illinois as hitting the mother lode.
Hey, who can blame any governor for wanting more federal bailout money?
Riley may be correct, though it’s far more difficult to verify his claim that the imbalance is due to the Obama administration paying off political allies.
If Riley’s claim is accurate, Oregon, a reliably blue state, has a right to complain that it gets more than a billion dollars less than deep-red Alabama, according to one state-by-state estimate.
But beyond this, there’s another explanation.
The money goes where the people are. Urban areas – long neglected by conservative federal governments and by definition places with large populations – have significant needs. Perhaps the most recent example of anti-urban bias in the previous administration is its failures in post-Katrina New Orleans.
Maybe Riley’s best strategy is to press Alabama’s Republican senators to get off the sidelines next time, and to start claiming a greater share of stimulus money for significant needs of rural areas.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, Tuesday, Happy Days

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

In the 1970s - before our current president was even out of high school, amazing - Happy Days was a wildly popular sitcom on TV.
One running gag of the series was that the coolest character Fonzie could not apologize or admit fault. He would try to say, "I was wrong." But it came out, "I was wr...wr...wr..."
Last week, President Obama had no such trouble in discussing one of his Cabinet selections whose nomination was sunk by tax problems. The president told an interviewer, "I screwed up."
"Whoa!" as the Fonz might say.
This is made all the more stunning by the last eight years. Even as he was leaving office, George W. Bush was having problems taking responsibility. He told one TV interviewer inquiring about Bush administration missteps, "Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment. Not having weapons of mass de-struction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way."
Translated, Bush’s comments come out as, "I was wr...wr...wr...wr…"

Radio static

Latest Bobcast is up. Listen here or read below.

My car radio has a problem. Most mornings when I turn it on I hear something familiar, namely portions of the stories published in the latest edition of The Anniston Star are read aloud word-for-word.
Credit to the newspaper doing the original reporting is rare, very rare.
What’s presented from these local Les Nessmans is their "news" from the studios of W-whatever-it-is. But the shoe-leather reporting applied to this broadcast amounts to dropping two quarters in the newspaper box. In the print world, lifting others work without credit is a serious no-no. Careers have been ruined for such.
To be fair we should now the list the local radio news stories cribbed by Star reporters.

Everybody get that?
Here’s the point. There’s lots of talk about how newspapers ought to charge for its original reporting online, as The Star does. A chorus is building in the newspaper industry that “free” is a losing business strategy.
Let’s not debate the merits or demerits of this point now. Instead, let’s consider it from the standpoint of original reporting. Lots of online readers say they get their news from Yahoo News or Google News. Problem is Yahoo and Google don’t send reporters to cover the Anniston City Council or the senior citizens Valentine’s party at the Oxford Civic Center.
In fact, those Web sites don’t cover anything, national or local. They merely link to the original reporting of others.
Seems to me if the original reporters go away, the online aggregators will produce nothing but static when it comes to news, and so will most of local radio.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Ice, ice, baby

Latest edition of the Bobcast is up.
Audio is here. Text is below.
Over the weekend, the local sheriff in Oak Harbor, Ohio, called it "idiotic," the tale of 134 fishermen whose makeshift bridge along a thin stretch of ice failed, leading to a breakway ice floe on Lake Erie that stranded the anglers for hours and left one dead
A more charitable view is that they successfully presented the nation with a perfect metaphor for the economy and the need for a spending plan.
Also over the weekend, official Washington wrangled over the stimulus package, watering down the spending and beefing up the tax cuts.
It’s all so familiar.
In order for the fishermen to get where they wanted to go, they needed to cross a crack in the ice. Their brilliant idea: Lay down some wooden pallets and cross over the bad stretch. It worked great until the ice gave way and stranded them 1,000 feet off shore.
Some very smart economists with Nobel Prizes are warning us of something similar.
Some in Congress want to patch over the economy’s vault lines with "fixes" that (a.) got us in this mess in the first place and/or (b.) with tax cuts that are about as reliable as these wooden pallets.
"We get people out here who don't know how to read the ice," Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said of the Lake Erie catastrophe.
With the economy slumping, the nation must now heed its reliable ice-readers.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Somebody in Montgomery is paying attention

Phillip Tutor's column this morning is a plea for Gov. Bob Riley to bring reason and sanity to local government's shenanigans.
Phillip asks nicely.
Oh, Governor?
Help, please.

Turns out the governor is paying attention. Riley (or someone from his staff) faxed Tutor the governor's handwritten message on a printout of the column this morning. It reads:
I'm on the way! Be there next Friday!

The governor will be in town next Friday for the Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet. Perhaps he can find time for an intervention between warring council members after the proceedings.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Just a minute

A new Bobcast is up. It's on ethics reform; text is below.

A watchdog is worthless if the beast is toothless, crippled and chained to the porch.
Such is the sad story of government ethics enforcement in Alabama for much of its history.
The state has treated a fully funded and well-staffed ethics department as a luxury, a wistful nirvana of protecting the public’s trust that we might reach some day if all the stars align.
Ah, so dreamy.
Hats off to Gov. Bob Riley for issuing a wake-up call this week as the 2009 session of the Legislature begins. Alabama can’t wait to strengthen its ethics laws and its ethics-laws enforcement.
The fetid cronyism connection between the two-year college system and the Leg-islature (and the scandal’s ongoing criminal prosecutions) is all the evidence we need that Alabama’s ethics laws are not doing the job.
Montgomery must put its ethics watchdog on a healthy diet, let him off the leash and send the canine out in search of those public officials whose actions muddy state government’s bond with the people.
That dog will hunt.