Can Biden’s Danville performance give Obama campaign a rebound?

October 7, 2012

Who could have guessed that President Barack Obama would suddenly be depending on Vice President Joe Biden’s communications skills to get his re-election campaign back on track? That’s right, the same Joe Biden who has an uncanny ability to say the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But that’s the way it is as Centre College in Danville plays host Thursday to Campaign 2012’s next big event: the only vice presidential debate between Biden and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Centre was already feeling good about having been chosen to host the veep debate for the second time in a dozen years. Now, thanks to Obama’s feeble performance last Wednesday in his first debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, even more attention will be focused on Danville.

“The interest and the contacts have really picked up in the past few days,” said Centre spokesman Michael Strysick.

More than 3,200 media credentials have been issued for the debate, including 600 to international journalists and broadcast technicians from 40 countries.

Credentialing closed a couple of weeks ago, but interest was already strong because of Ryan’s selection for the GOP ticket. It raised hopes that this would be more than the usual vice presidential debate — a sparring match between two people whose election is of no real consequence unless something happens to the president.

When Biden faced off four years ago in St. Louis against Sarah Palin, much of the anticipation focused on whether she would be able to convey a coherent thought.

But Ryan is the anti-Palin: smart and articulate, with a strong command of policy and data. He is one of conservatism’s rising intellectuals. Among many GOP faithful, especially Tea Party types, Ryan is more popular and respected than Romney.

During 14 years in the House, Ryan has become a leader in developing and proposing conservative fiscal policies. He is most famous for his draconian budget plan that would cut $5 trillion in government spending over a decade.

While Biden is an experienced legislator who campaigns with a man-of-the-people folksiness, he has never been considered a thought leader. House Speaker John Boehner predicted this summer that the Ryan-Biden debate could be “the greatest show on the planet.”

“With these two on the same stage,” Village Voice political blogger John Surico wrote last week, “we have a situation that is akin to a Thanksgiving Dinner where the dorky cousin is trying to outsmart the drunken uncle.”

But if Biden can avoid his gift of gaffe, he has a chance do well on Centre’s stage. That is because televised debates are more about performance than policy. They favor showmen over wonks, which is a big reason that Romney came off looking so much better than Obama did last Wednesday night.

Obama didn’t make mistakes; he just missed opportunities. He rambled while Romney was crisp. He was passive while Romney was assertive. Romney’s sudden shift from right-wing rhetoric to moderate reason seemed to throw Obama off balance. Romney looked straight into the camera when he spoke; Obama’s eyes were too often focused elsewhere.

The single vice presidential debate is particularly well-suited for sharp elbows. The debaters often can get away with saying meaner things than the top guys on the ticket. Both Ryan and Biden are likely to spend more time going after the presidential candidate who isn’t there than the guy across the stage.

Debates tend to favor challengers, because incumbents have a record to defend. But, in this case, Biden has an opportunity to make hay by attacking Ryan’s radical proposals for reshaping the federal budget and Medicare.

Ryan is coming to Danville to attack the Obama administration’s record, but also to try to sell his and Romney’s ideas.

Biden’s challenge will be to defend the administration’s record and explain why Romney and Ryan are wrong. He must show more passion and energy than Obama did last week. But here’s the question: Can Biden go on the offensive without being offensive?

Kentucky’s moment in the campaign spotlight should be a good show.


Danville company sees bright future in solar energy

October 10, 2011

DANVILLE — The sun shines bright on our Kentucky homes, and Alternative Energies Kentucky LLC thinks that could become a great business opportunity.

Last year, Alternative Energies became Kentucky’s only manufacturer of photovoltaic panels, which convert sunlight into electricity to power homes and businesses.

The company has rented office and manufacturing space in the old ATR Wire & Cable plant on Danville’s bypass, trained 10 employees and set up a side business in security systems to cushion its startup.

“It has been slow starting,” said Dan Tolson, one of three partners in the company. Solar power is a novelty in Kentucky, he said, “but we think the potential here is huge. It just makes sense.”

Photovoltaic-panel prices worldwide have fallen more than 30 percent in the past year, making solar power an increasingly viable supplement to conventional power supplies. “The more we use this technology, the cheaper it gets,” AEK partner Troy Lay said.

But on the industry side, the competition is fierce. Chinese companies now have two-thirds of the $39 billion global market for solar panels, thanks to huge subsidies from their government.

Also, Lay said, the industry has been hurt by the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a California company that made a different kind of solar panel that had received $528 million in federal loan guarantees. Solyndra’s failure gave politicians beholden to the fossil-fuel industries a convenient target for attacking the whole idea of investing in alternative energy.

“This is well-proven technology we’re using,” said Lay, adding that the kind of panels AEK makes have been used successfully in Europe for more than three decades. “But we’re still fighting a lot of the same questions.”

Lay said he also faces questions about whether Kentucky has enough sunshine for solar power to be viable. He said Kentucky has far more sunshine than Germany, which gets more of its energy from solar than any other country.

“The idea that we don’t have enough sunshine is crazy,” he said. “I don’t know why that keeps coming up.”

AEK buys silicon wafer cells from Taiwan, solders them together and uses an Italian machine to laminate them with tempered glass to form a tough but flexible and airtight panel that is framed in aluminum.

Completed panels are installed on a building’s roof. The power they produce can be stored in batteries, but most systems are tied into the normal utility grid to supplement and offset power that otherwise would be used.

AEK sells a complete 1.1 kilowatt system — which includes five 31/2-by-5-foot panels, installation and all of the equipment to use and monitor the system’s performance — for $6,999. However, federal and state incentives lower the final cost to $4,400 for homeowners or $3,900 for businesses.

Systems can be expanded by adding panels, an option that will become more attractive if panel costs keep falling. Payback times vary widely, depending on how much electricity is used, a utility’s power rates and how fast those rates rise in the future. Lay estimates that most customers pay for their systems in about 10 years.

One of AEK’s first customers last year was The Animal House, a pet-grooming and boarding business in Versailles. Owner Sharon Hughes said she added six panels to the initial installation and figures she is saving about 30 percent on electricity costs.

“I like having the ability to save energy and use the natural energy out there,” she said.

AEK’s solar panels have an expected useful life of about 50 years, Lay said. They come with a 25-year guarantee, but that depends on the company surviving that long.

So far, AEK has received about $6,000 in state economic incentives for employee training, marketing director John Cotten said. However, state tax breaks could eventually total $1.125 million if the company creates the approximately 30 jobs it hopes to over 15 years.

AEK partner Mike Carpenter said the company would like to become big enough to focus on manufacturing and leave installation to other contractors, and that would create more Kentucky jobs.

“We’re not here to take over the coal business, but solar can be a great asset,” Lay said. “It may not be the complete answer, but it’s going to get better and cheaper.”

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo and caption:

Danville strikes up the brass bands

June 14, 2008

DANVILLE – In high school, I was a band geek.

Since then, I’ve mostly been a newspaper and bicycle geek.

But once you’re in a high school band, especially a marching band, you never seem to get it out of your system.

Just ask the dozens of musicians in the 18 bands performing at the Great American Brass Band Festival this weekend. Not to mention the several thousand people here to listen to them.

“For me, the great thing about this festival is seeing all the younger players coming out, having a great time and producing a great sound,” said Jim Drake of Frankfort, who started playing trombone in fifth grade, switched to tuba in ninth grade and is still playing in two brass bands.

Danville always seems to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, but never more so than each June when the brass bands come to town. People from all over the country set up lawn chairs around one of three stages and listen to bands like the ones most American small towns had a century ago.

“I’ve heard this is our 10th year, but I’ve lost count,” said Dan Shields, who plays tenor sax in the Circle City Sidewalk Stompers Clown Band of Indianapolis.

“All of the people are here for the music,” he said. “It’s a language that people should learn and not forget, even if they don’t keep playing. It makes them a more educated listener.”

In addition to free public performances, the festival included a Chautauqua Tea on Thursday, a Brass History Conference on Friday and a big parade down Main Street on Saturday.

You can still catch some of the action Sunday, when the main stage at Centre College will have performances from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The annual balloon race, postponed Friday because of bad weather, has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Stuart Powell Field outside Junction City.

The bands range from Ameriikan Poijat, a Midwestern band that plays Finnish-style, to the Walnut Street Ragtime Ramblers, a four-man combo from Lexington led by Dick Domek, a University of Kentucky music theory professor who plays a mean piano.

There are several military bands – the Hellcats from West Point, the U.S. Army Brass Quintet and the U.S. Air Force Reserve Band. Plus crowd favorites from an earlier era of military bands: the Excelsior Cornet Band from Syracuse, N.Y., and Saxton’s Cornet Band from Kentucky, which use antique instruments to recreate Civil War-era music.

In honor of the Abraham Lincoln bicentennial, the history conference this year focused on music from his time. It included a re-enactment by the Olde Towne Brass of Huntsville, Ala., of a concert Lincoln and his Lexington-born wife, Mary Todd, attended. Saxton and Excelsior both played a popular tune that they noted, ironically, was one of Lincoln’s favorites: Dixie.

As a bicycle geek, I was fascinated by the 18 riders from the Ohio Wheelmen, who led the parade on big-wheel “bone shakers” and other two-wheeled relics.

“This is a unique parade,” said Del Nichols of Findlay, Ohio, the group’s leader. “There’s a higher class of people who come here because of the music.”

Back when I was a band geek at Lexington’s Lafayette High School in the mid-1970s, there were two musicians we all looked up to: Trumpeter Vincent DiMartino, who was then at UK and now teaches at Centre, and euphonium virtuoso Earle Louder, then a professor at Morehead State. They each performed solos in concert with us, and we were awed by how they could make their instruments come alive.

Now, DiMartino and Louder moonlight as the directors of the festival’s host band, the Advocate Brass Band of Danville, which is sponsored by the local newspaper. The band played Saturday evening at the festival’s Great American Picnic, and will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday.

If that wasn’t enough to make me love the Advocate Brass Band, there was this: Former director George Foreman spent years having the band explore the great heritage of newspaper music. Yes, newspaper music.

The most famous example is John Philip Sousa’s Washington Post March, which was commissioned in 1889 for the U.S. Marine Band to play at an awards ceremony for the newspaper’s student essay contest. The march became one of Sousa’s most popular, and started a trend.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, newspapers across America commissioned marches. It was like the 19th century version of a TV marketing jingle. Foreman documented more than 300 newspaper marches, and under his direction the band recorded four CDs of them.

There’s even a Lexington Herald March, written in 1936 by Robert B. Griffith, a UK student who went on to direct the University of Louisville marching band. Click here to hear a short clip of the Lexington Herald March. Click here to find out how to buy the Advocate Brass Band’s CDs.

If you have time Sunday, drive over to Danville. It just might make a band geek out of you, even if you weren’t one in high school.

Photos, top to bottom: Mick Gould of the Ohio Wheelmen leads out the parade Saturday. Members of the Excelsior Cornet Band from Syracuse, N.Y., play on a wagon in the parade. Dick Domek of Lexington plays with the Walnut Street Ragtime Ramblers. Natalie Fieberg, 3, of Danville, watches Dan Shields of the Circle City Sidewalk Stompers Clown Band of Indianapolis run by during the parade. Photos/Tom Eblen