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Dead Man Gawking 

It's got emotion. It's got conflict. It's the landmark event Ohioans have waited 36 years to see. Welcome to the gut-wrenching docu-drama . . . One Life To Give, starring Bob Taft as the studious governor, Betty Montgomery as the steely attorney general, and Wilford Berry as the sullen anti-hero known as "The Volunteer." Also featuring a large cast of whiny apologists, political opportunists, and a dazzling array of dutiful media!

All right, so we don't hang convicts anymore, a definite bummer for some fans. But we do let 'em twist in the wind a long time on Death Row. When it's time, one part of the protocol is having official witnesses to the execution. These days, it's only natural to include a few media reps. Locally, WJW-TV/Channel 8's Kristy Steeves and WTAM-FM/1100's Karen Kasler (who did double duty with WKYC-TV/Channel 3) were chosen to chronicle the ultimate overdose. We didn't bother to watch much post-OD coverage. But most of the pre-OD reports offered a rare TV nexus--the intersection of human melodrama and relevant societal issue.

And golly, our stations did a good job. In truth, the reporters usually do a nice job, but much of what they're forced to cover is entertainment and not news. Ohio's first execution since 1963 was definitely news. We even saw TV graphics with pertinent info we didn't know. WUAB-TV/Channel 43 had a chronology of Berry's nine-year legal process. WJW had a macabre scoreboard that read "Ohio Executions: Electrocution 315, Hanging 28, Injection 0." Admit it, those are "great stats" to use in future barroom bull sessions.

Most of the reports were pretty solid, too. WKYC's Tom Beres interviewed the two Kentucky cops who arrested Berry, intercut with file footage of the '90 trial and photos from the cops' files. Again, we learned a few things. Like this revelation--here was a big story that could be told without helicopter shots. Hey, a little less technology, a little more research time--what a budgetary concept!

Hopefully, we all learned a bit about the costs of our legal system. As for the death penalty, if you're gonna have one, you oughta use it. And Mouth's gotta agree with our anti-hero. Lethal injection's more humane than forty years of wondering when's the next time you'll get bludgeoned or gang-raped.

Biting and Gagging
Dang, another nice surprise. In the past month, The Plain Feeler's Michael Norman delivered three biting commentaries worth echoing. First up, the rumors of the Rock Hall and the downtown corporate elites staging an annual monster concert. Norman suggested a series of shows rather than one big Woodstock. If the goal is to showcase more venues and more of the city, that's the way to go. Unfortunately, the usual goal is to drop customers on the downtown elites' doorsteps.

In another column, he ripped Cleveland's "homogenized radio." Yep, it's a big target, but it deserves more arrows. The most deserving blast went to the growing police-state atmosphere at concerts. You know, body searches, agents in the trees with binoculars, random car searches so you miss the opening act. And of course, when you're innocent, you can't sue Big Brother for reimbursement of your wasted time.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's The PF gag job on Clevo City Council. With the need to promote the NFL's return (even with photo captions on the Metro page), there's no one left to cover council, which still meets on Monday nights. We hit the library to double-check papers and found The PF ran a total of one council story the last four Tuesdays (before this week). And that was about a committee meeting report. Seems something was floating at a Clevo water plant. A worker fished it out and readily discerned it was a turd, most likely human. Finance Committee Chair Ken Johnson vowed to find and prosecute the dung-dropper, no matter the cost. And it could cost a bundle, cuz Johnson's talking DNA tests for all fifty plant workers. Heh-heh, we can't wait for that trial.

Luxury Box Lunch
Another week, another made-for-TV stadium tour. Project manager Diane Downing was there, parceling out small doses of the current spin. And the "news hook"? It was the first tour for new Browns coach Chris Palmer, a guy who paid his dues for 27 years and seems to possess the basic courtesy and empathy his predecessor lacked.

Back to the corporate side of the sport, where the real power games are played. (And since we ain't an NFL "broadcast partner," we're allowed to cover it.) Wow, due to "brisk demand," the stadium's getting 35 more luxury boxes, which brings the total to 151. Cost? Who knows anymore. Certainly not city council's "stadium monitors," who ain't exactly showering the taxpayers with bottom-line details.

Let's examine this brisk demand. With the Dow and NASDAQ at record highs, corporate profits are soaring, but so are taxes. Ah, the much-abused 50 percent "business entertainment" deduction to the rescue! Say your luxury box costs a hundred grand a year? You can deduct fifty grand of it and half your food and drink tab, too. Hey, it's just part of the wacky IRS code, reimbursing the corporate elites for the very same activity (drinking) that the masses get "sin taxed" on. Any wonder why the NFL's broadcast partners never take thirty seconds to explain this "brisk demand" stimulant?

Check Mates
It ain't as intrusive as E-Check, but it still can be a pain. Just ask State Sen. Leigh Herington of Kent. He learned firsthand about the Bureau of Motor Vehicles' random insurance checks. He got his letter from the BMV and sent back a copy of his insurance. Then he got a BMV letter saying he had fifteen days to show proof or lose his driver's license. What a drag, when politicos get tangled up in a web of their own making.

Actually, Herington wasn't in office when Sen. Roy Ray of Bath sponsored the bill that empowered this program in '95. Apparently, the company in Ray's district that's doing these mailings for the BMV has a few kinks to work out. Some car owners got letters saying their licenses would be suspended in fifteen days, but they never got the first letter demanding proof! Now that constituent complaints are streaming in to legislators, they're looking for a safe "mend it, don't end it" solution. Well, at least these letters will keep a few more disgruntled postal workers occupied.

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