A New Hope

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Russell (as Han Solo) and Vassar buddies in their Star Wars costumes

I had to post one last Halloween item, after we received this picture of Russell and fellow Vassar College scholars on their way to a costume party, dressed as characters from the Star Wars movies.

I like the Yoda, Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca costumes, and the Darth Vader costume looks decent, if incomplete.  But  have I forgotten a Star War character that looked like a wolf in sunglasses?  (Perhaps it was glimpsed at the Mos Eisley cantina where  Obi Wan Kenobi lopped off the arm of an aggressive bar patron who was troubling Luke.)  And what’s with the Johnny Depp lookalike in the background, dressed like Father Guido Sarducci from the early days of Saturday Night Live?

All in all, though, a darned good effort.

We Are Not Amused

Here’s a sure sign that people have been and are continuing to be tight with their money:  Cedar Fair, the company that operates the Cedar Point amusement park near Sandusky, Ohio and the King’s Island park near Cincinnati, has announced that it had 1.2 million fewer visitors at its 18 amusement and water parks this year than last year.  It will not pay a dividend to investors in 2010.

You would expect that, when families tighten their belts during tough economic times, trips to high-end amusement parks would be among the first luxuries to go.  Some people had theorized, however, that people would exercise the “step-down phenomenon” and, instead, of forsaking all travel and vacations, would take “staycations” to nearby locations within reasonable driving distances.  Cedar Point would seem to fit that bill — but any “staycations” did not compensate for the general decline in attendance by cost-conscious Americans.

We’ll know when we are out of this recession when the million people who elected not to go to Cedar Point this year return for days of coaster-riding, junk food, and sunburns.

From Craftsmen To Casino Workers

Obviously, I am disappointed in the fact that Ohio voters approved Issue 3, which will result in the construction of full-scale casinos in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo.  What is really sad about the passage of Issue 3, however, is what it says more generally about The Buckeye State in particular and The American Dream in general.

There is no doubt that that principal reason that Ohio voters backed Issue 3 — after having repeatedly rejected statewide casino gambling initiatives in the very recent past — is that it promised to create 34,000 jobs.  What does it say about our state that the promise of a few thousand jobs as casino workers is enough to cause voters to reverse their longstanding opposition to gambling and welcome casinos to some of our major cities?  I think it clearly speaks of reduced expectations, reduced hopes, and reduced dreams.

Ohio used to be a state that was chock full of good jobs for all.  In the Akron area where I grew up, thousands of citizens were successful blue collar workers in the rubber and auto industries.  They had union jobs that allowed them to buy nice homes, take nice vacations, grill out on weekends, and support the Browns and Indians.  They lived on the same streets as carpenters, shoe repairmen, dentists, lawyers, and car dealers.  Those American workers made tires, furniture, televisions, textile products, glass, and other actual tangible objects that were bought and sold.  They were proud of their jobs, proud of their state, and proud of their country.  All of them hoped and expected that their children would have even better jobs and better lives.

Most of the manufacturing jobs that I remember from my youth have long since left our state.  We can argue about why they are gone — whether it was overly greedy management or overly greedy unions, poor business planning or poor business practices, workers compensation awards that were too generous or tax schemes that were too aggressive, environmental regulation, or general business costs that simply were too high to compete with what businesses will pay in Mexico or China — but there is no dispute that they are gone.  And, as a result, we have in Ohio a population of people who are desperate for a job, any job — even if it is a job wearing a bow tie and a fake smile as you deal cards  to surly, drunken gamblers at a blackjack table at 2 a.m.

Does anyone believe that these desperate people dream The American Dream anymore?  That is what I find so deeply saddening about the passage of Issue 3.  Even sadder, I doubt that the Ohioans who sacrificed their principles and swallowed their misgivings and succumbed to the siren’s song of casino gambling are very much different from millions of desperate Americans in every other state in the union.

Rich And Running (Cont.)

I’ve written recently about wealthy individuals running for office.  The voters had their say on two of the fabulously rich candidates yesterday.  In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent more than $100 million of his fortune and eked out an unexpectedly narrow win over his Democratic challenger.  In New Jersey, where Governor Jon Corzine spent a measly $30 million on his re-election bid, voters turned thumbs down and he lost to the Republican candidate.

So, personal riches don’t guarantee success; indeed, there is every indication that some New York City voters rejected Bloomberg precisely because he spent such ridiculous sums of money on his campaign.  And, in a time of economic hardship when we are looking for every bit of “stimulus spending” we can find, shelling out $130 million on two election campaigns ain’t chicken feed.  Bloomberg’s and Corzine’s millions were injected into the struggling economy and no doubt helped “save” the jobs of printers, robo-call recorders, TV commercial writers, caterers, and other workers who performed campaign-related services.  Maybe the way out of the current recession is to force big-money Americans — say, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Warren Buffett, for starters — to run for office and spend their own fortunes as part of the process.

Issue 3 Passes

Ohio voters have spoken and (unfortunately) have approved Issue 3 with a 53 percent majority.  Interestingly, voters in two of the casino locations — Cleveland and Cincinnati — voted heavily in favor of the casinos, whereas voters in the Columbus area, where a third casino would be built, rejected the measure.

As seems always to be the case these days, however, the Issue 3 story is not over.  State leaders and other Ohio casino opponents now will consider whether to challenge the constitutional amendment in court, or try to regulate the process so that the casinos are put out to bid, the tax structure for the casinos are modified to be more advantageous to the state, or other changes get made.  If the linked article is any indication, there may we be another casino-related constitutional amendment on the ballot in the next state-wide election.  (In the meantime, we will, thankfully, finally get a break from Mary Ellen Withrow, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the other incessant pro-Issue 3 TV and radio commercials that have dominated the Ohio airwaves for weeks.)

I can understand why many Ohio voters have favored the casino issue.  The state is in the grips of a recession, and casino advocates sold the measure as one that would create thousands of jobs and raise hundreds of millions in tax revenue.  If the casinos do, in fact, get built, I hope that people pay very close attention to whether the casinos actually deliver everything they have promised and hold them to account.  Frankly, I am skeptical of the promises.