Ohio 2014 Election

David Pepper

David Pepper for Attorney General

This year my I find myself voting for candidates from all of the parties in the state wide races, so I guess I qualify as an independent.  Here is a summary, followed by more substantial explanations of my choices.

Governor
  • John Kasich(R, incumbant)
  • Ed Fitzgerald (D)
  • Anita Rios (Grn)              none of the above.
Lieutenant Governor
  • Bob Fitrakis  (Grn)
  • Sharen Neuhardt (D)        responded to League of Women Voters.
  • Mary Taylor (R, i)
Attorney General
  • Mike Dewine (R, i)
  • David Pepper (D)            has good ideas. my most enthusiastic endorsement.
Auditor
  • Bob Bridges (L)
  • John Patrick (D)
  • Dave Yost (R,  i)              currently doing a good job.
Secretary of State
  • Jon Husted (R, i)
  • Kevin Knedler (L)            the best candidate, the least partisan
  • Nina Turner (D)
Treasurer
  • Josh Mandel (R, i)
  • Connie Pillich (D)            highly qualified, honest.
Supreme Court
  • Sharon L. Kennedy (R, i)
  • Tom Letson (D)               not quite as bad as opponent
  • Judi French (R, i)
  • John P. O’Donnell  (D)    highly qualified, preferred

Anita-Rios      Governor: Anita Rios (Green Party)

Kasich, the incumbent Republican, has been competent.  He has not followed the idiotic wing of the Republicans, who spitefully refused to expand Medicaid just because it was part of Obamacare, or try to defeat the Common Core only because it was endorsed by the Federal government.  Like all governors, he has claimed credit for the improving economy that resulted from Obama’s policies.

However, when it comes to protecting the privileges of the rich, Kasich is a typical Republican.  After all, he is a former Lehman Brothers executive.  He lowers taxes, undermines collective bargaining for public employees, and undercuts the safety net.  He has also established JobsOhio, a program whose primary purpose might be dole out favors to his political supporters, but we will never know because they exempted it from any transparency or normal oversight.

Unfortunately, his Democratic challenger, Fitzgerald, has proven to be a poor choice.   His initial candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Eric Kearney had to withdraw because the business he owned had unpaid taxes. It also emerged that Fitzgerald drove for ten years without a drivers license.  This is something that you might expect from an absent minded professor, but not from a government administrator.  Much of his campaign staff soon resigned in the wake of more scandal. I cannot vote for a man who does not think that the rules apply to him.

That leaves the Green Party candidate, Anita Rios.  She has virtually no chance to win.  Like many third party choices, her candidacy effectively splits the vote, making both challengers less likely to win.  Nevertheless, she has my vote.

Sharon Neuhardt

Lieutenant Governor: Sharen Neuhardt (Democrat)

I have always relied on the Voter’s Guide from the League of Women Voters as an important source of unbiased information.  This year, only one of the candidates, the Democrat Sharen Neuhardt, responded to the questionnaire, so she gets my vote.

Attorney General: David Pepper (Democrat)

David Pepper has ideas about how to respond to the heroin epidemic and how to end “pay to play” in the attorney general’s office.  To find out more, look at my earlier post.

yost   Auditor: Dave Yost (Republican)

What you want from an auditor is good government, and a willingness to step away from the party line when it is called for.  Republican Dave Yost has done that.  When Kasich set up JobsOhio, Yost declared it “deserves a full audit,” but the party ignored his  advice and passed a law exempting this program from any oversight.  Yost has also had a good record holding charter schools accountable.  He deserves to keep the job.

Knedler

Secretary of State:  Kevin Knedler (Libertarian)

The Fraternal Order of Police endorses Husted because he “bucked his party and insured that we got the NO side of the vote during SB 5 and established a strong protocol to insure our military gets the opportunity to vote.”   However, the national Republican Party has a concerted effort to depress the minority vote, and Jon Husted has been a part of this effort.  The Republicans reduced the hours of early voting, but the changes did not all pass muster in the courts.  What has resulted after the court ruling is a one-size-fits-all approach, which, though legal, ignores the very real differences between the needs of rural and urban voters.  Republicans have also been raising the specter of voter fraud to justify some efforts which have the effect of disenfranchising the poor.   In response, Jon Husted compiled a careful report in 2012, concluding that voter fraud exists, and that it is rare. In sum, Husted seems more reasonable than many in his party, but he is a partisan.

I would prefer the Secretary of State be one who wants to increase voter turn out.  Democrat Nina Turner would be such a person.  However, just like Husted, she is a partisan, and, though she is on my side, her efforts are likely to be seen as attempts to advance the cause of the Democrats, whether or not she is even handed.

Libertarian Kevin Knedler is the best choice.  Of course, he will be much more encouraging to third party candidates, but with ties to neither major party, he seems to be in a position to govern fairly.  In response to a question on voter fraud, he was the one who pointed to a much more real danger: the integrity of the voting machines and tabulating software.  He is the best chance to accomplish a goal that you would hope for from a Secretary of State:  “Let’s reduce the drama and increase the participation in the election process in Ohio.

Connie Pillich  Treasurer: Connie Pillich (Democrat)

Connie Pillich is the only Democrat on the to be endorsed by the Cincinnati Enquirer on the state ticket, and, in this case, they are quite convincing.  Pillich is well qualified, and they don’t trust Mandel:

 “Mandel’s tenure as treasurer has raised troubling questions about his ethics and ambitions. Just months after being elected treasurer, he launched a campaign for U.S. Senate … [raising] millions of dollars in what turned out to be one of the most expensive races ever for a Senate seat.”

In that Senate campaign, Mandel rose to national prominence in the brazenness of his disregard for the truth.

Thus, it is a low bar to clear.  Fortunately, Pillich has a solid background and a good reputation.

 Tom Letson John ODonnell

State Supreme Court:  Tom Letson (Democrat);  John P. O’Donnell  (Democrat)

I don’t like voting for justices of the court.  What you want is knowledge of the law, and fairness.  I am usually not in a position to judge, so I rely on sources that I trust. Judge4Yourself, which is directed at Cuyahoga county voters, seems to be such a source.

In this regard, the race between Sharon Kennedy and Tom Letson is discouraging.  Of the four bar associations evaluating the candidates at JudgerYourself, only one, the Ohio Women’s Bar Association, rated Kennedy as Good.  The others think she “lacks the minimal qualifications for judicial office”.  However, Letson only managed a “refused to participate” in most cases, and the only time he did participate, he was rated Not Qualified.  The Plain Dealer endorsed Kennedy.  I was ready to just go along with that until I looked into the detail: “Kennedy uncomfortably pushes the envelope of judicial canons”, disagreeing with Roe v. Wade on abortion, and on the recent direction of most courts concerning same sex marriage.  For the League of Women Voters,  Kennedy did not answer the questions.  Thus, reluctantly, I will vote for Letson.

Both Jude French and John P. O’Donnell fair much better at Judge4Yourself, receiving consistently high ratings.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsed O’Donnell, in particular, citing a ruling that the Ohio Supreme Court made, with French voting with the majority, in favor of American Electric Power, who had made a substantial donation to French’s reelection campaign just before the ruling.  In this case, I find the Plain Dealer convincing.

vote   Whether you find my Democratic leaning reasoning convincing or not, vote.

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David Pepper for Attorney General

David Pepper  In the middle of the president’s second term in office, the opposition usually wins the election. This year appears to be no different.  The constant drumbeat of attacks by so-called conservatives, though many of them were clearly absurd, has succeeded in the pulling down Obama’s approval rating despite the relatively healthy economy and the success of the heath insurance overhaul. Thus, the Republicans might win, even with inferior candidates.

The hope for the Democrats is that people will get out and vote.  Wanting to help, I looked for a Democrat to work for.  I chose David Pepper, candidate for Attorney General for the state of Ohio.  He has actual substantive proposals, the ads he runs on TV are mostly true, and he has the endorsement of the the Fraternal Order of Police.

david-pepper-and-mike-dewine-face-off-in-endorsement-meeting-5a8103722b20cc69  Like many Americans, I am tired of the food fight that breaks out whenever a campaign is close.  Part of the problem with the dueling attack ads is that it becomes difficult for an ordinary citizen to wade through the muck to find anything that resembles truth.  Mike Dewine’s major attack is that Pepper is “Unqualified”, to which he adds a number of other misrepresentations.  Though the Pepper campaign had to respond, this ad is best ignored.  Most of Pepper’s attacks are directed at what he calls “Pay to Play”.  As far as I can tell, he has a pretty clear case that Dewine rewards campaign contributors with lucrative contracts.  Pepper has pledged to bring more integrity into the process of awarding contracts, in particular, by creating an “independent review board to screen bids.”  Unfortunately, one of Pepper’s ads implies that the money from the donors ended up in Dewine’s pockets.  Although there is a grain of truth in this, the reality is the the Dewine lent his campaign a lot of money, which has been repaid as the coffers filled.  There does not seem to be anything illegal going on.  As a result, Pepper’s legitimate issue gets muddied by his own overreach, and newspapers, trying to be impartial, end up saying that each side is smearing his opponent with unsubstantiated innuendo.

Though barely mentioned in the television ads, the two candidates have stark differences in how to address the heroin epidemic.  David Pepper proposes a four pronged approach:  1) treat it as a public health crisis, 2) reduce demand, 3) prevent overdose deaths, and 4) crack down on dealers.  Note that he lists the traditional law enforcement response last.  In contrast to the wishful thinking and pep talks that Republicans typically fall back on, Pepper lists concrete actions to reduce demand: increase treatment programs both inside and outside the justice system, fund school resource officers, and litigate against drug companies responsible for oversupplying and over-marketing opioids.  To prevent deaths from overdoses, he wants to get Narcan into the hands of first responders.  None of the proposals are radical: he points to programs that have shown success in other states.

Typical of a clueless politician, the incumbent Mike Dewine, responded to this crisis, long after it was clear that heroin had become a significant problem, by appointing a task force.  We know that he spent a million dollars setting this up, but we don’t yet know what it has accomplished after being in operation for almost a year, “because of security reasons”.  Dewine followed up on this bold dithering by traveling around the state, holding town meetings and law enforcement round tables.  It seems that he was wandering around aimlessly, hoping to be told what to do.

FOP Endorsed  I usually think of police as law and order types who would lean Republican, so when the Fraternal Order of Police endorses a Democrat, especially for Attorney General, I thought it was worth finding out why.  The reason is simple: the FOP is a union, and the Republicans have been trying to gut the power of unions.  The FOP was particularly galled by Senate Bill 5, which would have limited the bargaining rights of public sector unions.  The bill was passed by the Republican legislature in 2011 and was promptly repealed by voter referendum that same year. In their endorsement of David Pepper for Attorney General, the first thing they mention was how he stood by them in opposing SB 5.  Only secondarily do they mention his plan to confront the heroine epidemic.  So, the FOP endorsement of Pepper is more a union endorsement of a Democrat than a policeman’s endorsement of a man with a plan.

However, David Pepper is the man with a plan. He is running a strong campaign and has a good chance to buck the Republican trend.  If you care about what government does in response to the upsurge in heroin abuse, if you want state contracts to go to competent suppliers rather than political supporters, or if you simply want to avoid giving the union busting Republicans full reign in the state of Ohio, then vote to replace Dewine with Pepper.

Tolstoy’s Spiritual Journey: Varieties of Religious Experience #3

tolstoy6

Leo Tolstoy:  “Faith is a knowledge of the meaning of human life, in consequence of which man does not destroy himself but lives. Faith is the strength of life.”

Tolstoy, at the height of his powers and fame, underwent a profound spiritual crisis.  He chronicled his journey down to the suicidal depths and back to spiritual health in My Confession.  Such experiences are the grist of William James’s book, and he quotes Tolstoy at length.  Here, I have attempted to capture the essence of both Tolstoy’s journey and James’s observations.  Tolstoy’s crisis, and his ultimate resolution of it, speaks to my condition, today.

[pg 151 – 156]

In Tolstoy’s case the sense that life had any meaning whatever was for a time wholly withdrawn. The result was a transformation in the whole expression of reality.

“I felt,” says Tolstoy, “that something had broken within me on which my life had always rested, that I had nothing left to hold on to, and that morally my life had stopped. An invincible force impelled me to get rid of my existence, in one way or another. It cannot be said exactly that I wished to kill myself, for the force which drew me away from life was fuller, more powerful, more general than any mere desire. It was a force like my old aspiration to live, only it impelled me in the opposite direction. It was an aspiration of my whole being to get out of life.

“Behold me then, a man happy and in good health, hiding the rope in order not to hang myself to the rafters of the room where every night I went to sleep alone; behold me no longer going shooting, lest I should yield to the too easy temptation of putting an end to myself with my gun.

“I did not know what I wanted. I was afraid of life; I was driven to leave it; and in spite of that I still hoped something from it.

… 

“All this took place at a time when so far as all my outer circumstances went, I ought to have been completely happy. I had a good wife who loved me and whom I loved; good children and a large property which was increasing with no pains taken on my part. I was more respected by my kinsfolk and acquaintance than I had ever been; I was loaded with praise by strangers; and without exaggeration I could believe my name already famous. Moreover I was neither insane nor ill. On the contrary, I possessed a physical and mental strength which I have rarely met in persons of my age. I could mow as well as the peasants, I could work with my brain eight hours uninterruptedly and feel no bad effects.

“And yet I could give no reasonable meaning to any actions of my life.  And I was surprised that I had not understood this from the very beginning. My state of mind was as if some wicked and stupid jest was being played upon me by some one. One can live only so long as one is intoxicated, drunk with life; but when one grows sober one cannot fail to see that it is all a stupid cheat. What is truest about it is that there is nothing even funny or silly in it; it is cruel and stupid, purely and simply.”

[pg 155]

“…What will be the outcome of what I do to-day? Of what I shall do to-morrow? What will be the outcome of all my life? Why should I live? Why should I do anything? Is there in life any purpose which the inevitable death which awaits me does not undo and destroy?

“These questions are the simplest in the world. From the stupid child to the wisest old man, they are in the soul of every human being. Without an answer to them, it is impossible, as I experienced, for life to go on.

“ ‘But perhaps,’ I often said to myself, ‘there may be something I have failed to notice or to comprehend. It is not possible that this condition of despair should be natural to mankind.’ And I sought for an explanation in all the branches of knowledge acquired by men. I questioned painfully and protractedly and with no idle curiosity. I sought, not with  indolence, but laboriously and obstinately for days and nights together.  I sought like a man who is lost and seeks to save himself, — and I found nothing. I became convinced, moreover, that all those who before me had sought for an answer in the sciences have also found nothing. And not only this, but that they have recognized that the very thing which was me to despair — the meaningless absurdity of life — is only incontestable knowledge accessible to man.”

To prove this point Tolstoy quotes the Buddha Solomon and Schopenhauer. And he finds only four ways in which men of his own class and society are accustomed to meet the situation. Either mere animal blindness, sucking the honey without seeing the dragon or the mice, — and from such a way,” he says, “I can learn nothing, after what I now know;” or reflective epicureanism, snatching what it can while the day lasts, — which is only a more deliberate sort of stupefaction than the first;  or manly suicide; or … weakly and plaintively clinging to … life.

Suicide was naturally the consistent course dictated by the logical intellect.

“Yet,” says Tolstoy, “whilst my intellect was working, something else in me was working too, and kept me from the deed — a consciousness of life, as I may call it, which was like a force that obliged my mind to fix itself in another direction and draw me out of my situation of despair. . . . During the whole course of this year, when I almost unceasingly kept asking myself how to end the business, whether by the rope or by the bullet, during all that time, alongside of all those movements of my ideas and observations, my heart kept languishing with another pining emotion. I can call this by no other name than that of a thirst for God. This craving for God had nothing to do with the movement of my ideas, — in fact, it was the direct contrary of that movement, — but it came from my heart. It was like a feeling of dread that made me seem like an orphan and isolated in the midst of all these things that were so foreign. And this feeling of dread was mitigated by the hope of finding the assistance of some one.”

[pg. 184-6]

... Tolstoy, pursuing his unending questioning, seemed to come to one insight after another. First he perceived that his conviction that life was meaningless took only this finite life into account. He was looking for the value of one finite term in that of another, and the whole result could only be one of those indeterminate equations in mathematics which end with 0 = 0. Yet this is as far as the reasoning intellect by itself can go, unless irrational sentiment or faith brings in the infinite. Believe in the infinite as common people do, and life grows possible again.

“Since mankind has existed, wherever life has been, there also has been the faith that gave the possibility of living. Faith is the sense of life, that sense by virtue of which man does not destroy himself, but continues to live on. It is the force whereby we live. If Man did not believe that he must live for something, he would not live at all. The idea of an infinite God, of the divinity of the soul, of the union of men’s actions with God — these are ideas elaborated in the infinite secret depths of human thought. They are ideas without which there would be no life, without which I myself,” said Tolstoy, “would not exist. I began to see that I had no right to rely on my individual reasoning and neglect these answers given by faith, for they are the only answers to the question.”

Yet how believe as the common people believe, steeped as they are in grossest superstition. It is impossible. — but yet their life! their life! It is normal. It is happy! It is an answer to the question!

Little by little, Tolstoy came to the settled conviction — he says it took him two years to arrive there — that his trouble had not been with life in general, not with the common life of common men, but with the life of the upper, intellectual, artistic classes, the life which he had  personally always led, the cerebral life, the life of conventionality, artificiality, and personal ambition. He had been living wrongly and must change. To work for animal needs, to abjure lies and vanities, to relieve common wants, to be simple, to believe in God, therein lay happiness again.

“I remember,” he says, “one day in early spring, I was alone in the forest, lending my ear to its mysterious noises. I listened, and my thought went back to what for these three years it always was busy with — the quest of God.  But the idea of him, I said, how did I ever come by the idea?

“And again there arose in me, with this thought, glad aspirations towards life. Everything in me awoke and received a meaning. … Why do I look farther? a voice within me asked. He is there: he, without whom one cannot live. To acknowledge God and to live are one and the same thing. God is what life is. Well then! live, seek God, and there will be no life without him. . . .

“ After this, things cleared up within me and about me better than ever, and the light has never wholly died away. I was saved from suicide. Just how or when the change took place I cannot tell. But as insensibly and gradually as the force of life had been annulled within me, and I had reached my moral death-bed, just as gradually and imperceptibly did the energy of life come back. And what was strange was that this energy that came back was nothing new. It was my ancient juvenile force of faith, the belief that the sole purpose of my life was to be better. I gave up the life of the conventional world, recognizing it to be no life, but a parody on life, which its superfluities simply keep us from comprehending,” — and Tolstoy thereupon embraced the life of the peasants, and has felt right and happy, or at least relatively so, ever since.

[footnote]: I have considerably abridged Tolstoy’s words in my translation.

As I interpret his melancholy, then, it was not merely an accidental vitiation of his humors, though it was doubtless also that. It was logically called for by the clash between his inner character and his outer activities and aims. Although a literary artist, Tolstoy was one of those primitive oaks of men to whom the superfluities and insincerities, the cupidities, complications, and cruelties of our polite civilization are profoundly unsatisfying, and for whom the eternal veracities lie with more natural and animal things. His crisis was the getting of his soul in order, the discovery of its genuine habitat and vocation, the escape from falsehoods into what for him were ways of truth. It was a case of heterogeneous personality tardily and slowly finding its unity and level. And though not many of us can imitate Tolstoy, not having enough perhaps of the aboriginal human marrow in our bones, most of us may at least feel as if it might be better for us if we could.

James has one further critical observation about Tolstoy’s experience, found in a footnote [page 247]:  There was almost no theology in his conversion. His faith-state was the sense … that life was infinite in its moral significance.

Today, most discussions about religion concern theology, and the struggle to reconcile  old dogmas with the discoveries of modern science.  However, such discussions are irrelevant to faith such as Tolstoy’s.  His faith is a response to the human condition, the condition of finite man in relation to the infinite, a condition unchanged by technological advances.

The Cincinnati Symphony Season Begins

CSO  What a magnificent orchestra!

I attended the first three CSO concerts of the season.  Each featured a concerto: Lang Lang playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #1, Martin Frost playing Mozart’s clarinet concerto, and Emanuel Ax playing Chopin’s Piano Concerto #2.

langlang Emanuael Ax

The rock star of the bunch was clearly Lang Lang, who played to a packed house for this all Beethoven affair.  He was also the biggest showboat: for example, leaning back away from the keyboard to admire the elegance of his right hand as it beautifully executed an intricately ornamented passage.  Since he did indeed play it with charm and grace, I am willing to indulge him.  He deserves his notoriety, and the enthusiastic applause he received.

This was in contrast to the understated, charming performance of the Chopin by Emanuel Ax.  Being fully engaged in the music making, Ax had no time for grand, superfluous gestures.  Whenever the piano was by itself, we had the divine intimacy of Chopin, whose writing for piano is unsurpassed. Unfortunately, Chopin’s orchestration is not so masterful.  I like the description by Berlioz quoted in the program notes: “[when they] play tutti, they cannot be heard, and one is tempted to say to them ‘Why don’t you play, for heavens sake!’  And when they accompany the piano, they only interfere with it so that the listener wants to cry out to them: ‘Be quiet, you bunglers, you are in the way!’.” Regardless, Emanuel Ax gave a beautiful performance, faithful to the spirit of composer.

Both pianists played, for encores, pieces that I had learned at one time.  Lang Lang played the “Alla Turca” finale of Mozart’s A Major Sonata, at a blazing speed.  He transformed this delightful, innocent rondo it into a technical showpiece, which I suppose is appropriate for an encore after a concerto.  It struck me as incredibly fast. Emanuel Ax played a Chopin waltz in A minor (Op. 34 no 2).  It was very understated for an encore, not technically brilliant at all, merely intimate and sublime. It struck me as incredibly beautiful.

Martin_Frost_Photo_Mats_Backer_06The soloist that I enjoyed the most was Martin Frost. He played the Mozart concerto very elegantly, fully expressing the character of the music.  We could see the influence of his ballet training in his demeanor on stage, but he never drew attention to himself at expense of the music.  For an encore, he played a showpiece, “Let’s Be Happy”, written for him by his brother.  It featured an improvised introduction which included some quotations from Stravinsky, some extended techniques, some traditional Klezmer, and lots of really fast notes.  Though lightly scored, each section of the strings got to share the spotlight, with extended passages where they were the ones playing really fast. I usually don’t enjoy listening to people show off their dazzling technique, but this piece was pure fun.  What a delight!

Louis Langree All three concerts were directed by Louis Langrée.  The first included the Beethoven Seventh Symphony,  which I had heard him direct before he was named Music Director.  His tempi are consistently brisk,  but the orchestra is good enough to play with expression and elegance even at that speed.  He takes the second movement too fast for my taste, but it is marked Allegretto, so his tempo is certainly justified. Langrée’s Beethoven does not have the weighty, Germanic scowl of some the famous portraits; this Beethoven is lively, alternately graceful or thrilling, but never stodgy.

The second concert featured John Adams’s Harmonielehre (Harmony Lesson), a large, complex showcase for the orchestra.  I am a fan of Adams, and the orchestra played this difficult work magnificently.  The intricate masses of sound were beautifully balanced, and I was swept away by the large scale momentum of the piece.

Though this concert was not so well attended, the audience contained a number of people who were unfamiliar with the protocol: they clapped between movements.  This is a good thing: Langrée is succeeding in reaching out to a new audience.

The third concert ended with Debussy’s La Mer.  You might expect Langrée to be most at home with this French masterpiece, but  here, I was a little disappointed, especially with the first movement.  It just didn’t seem to flow.  The second movement, “Play of the Waves”, was better.  Langrée seems more comfortable with light and fast. However,  Debussy’s sea is sometimes menacing, and this sense of foreboding was missing.

I will not attend all the concerts in the season, and I certainly don’t expect to write about all the ones I manage to hear.  There are only so many ways that I can rhapsodize about the magnificent brass, the nimble winds, the precise percussion or the sumptuous strings.  Occasionally I will notice an imperfection, such as a clam from the horns, but when surrounded by so much spectacular beauty, it just reminds me that these are humans.  I enjoy being fully engaged in the live experience, listening to these masters of their craft.  It a privilege to be have such a fine orchestra in our town.