Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Only Thing Left Is the Voting

It's over; the only thing left to do is vote. Last night, Governor Romney and President Obama engaged in their final debate.

The general tide supports that Obama edged out Romney by a small margin. My favorite guru, Nate Silver over at the 538 Blog says that the debate is unlikely to provide Obama with a large bump but that a small bump will still be significant. I can't read the rest of the article because the blog is on the New York Times site and I've used up my 10 free articles for this month. If I want to read more articles, I have to be a paid subscriber or just wait to November for my next 10 free reads. 

The debates were about as substantive as the "reality" shows that abound on the major networks. The moderators fail to ask substantive questions about matters such as climate change, the impact of the European economy on America, alternatives to fossil fuels and so on and so forth, and the candidates don't care if they answer the questions that are asked, only that they make points that their supporters will applaud.  

The public plays a major role in this pretense of doing something meaningful. Far too many people have the attention span of a toddler and only wake up and focus when there is a zinger offered by one of the participants. The media actually writes reviews of the debates analyzing who gave the best zingers of the night. The President appears to have won the zinger contest in last night's debate with his reminder to Romney that the modern Navy is not just a bunch of ships but consists of aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. Of course the memorable part of the chastisement was, "Governor,...we also have fewer horses and bayonets..."

The Huffington Post thinks that the President's zingers were "sharp but snarky." (Hunter Stuart and Oliver Noble) Various critics declared the President the loser of the first debate, chastising him for not offering any zingers. The talking heads on Good Morning America offered that the attack mode of the President in the last two debates may have upset women voters. Didn't bother me, but then I've watched Liam Neeson kick butt in Taken three times.

It would be nice if candidates could have real debates where they talked about the issues. Imagine scoring points with viewers by actually saying something substantive that required you to listen and follow the intricacies of the discussion. Everyone glued to the screen and not a single soul texting or playing Words with Friends on their electronic gadget of the moment.

I also hope for world peace. I'm a patron of impossible causes. 

I support President Obama. I believe that he does think about matters of substance but realized that his initial efforts to engage in civil and substantive discourse wasn't playing well with Mr. and Ms. Average American. I enjoyed his zingers, but that's not why I am voting for him.

I'm casting my vote for Obama because I believe that this country needs a leader who thinks about what matters. A leader who is focused on our interaction with the rest of the world, who understands that foreign policy is not about threats and waving a big stick. I want a leader who believes that we are all in this together and supports domestic policies that address  wealth distribution. You see, I don't believe that poverty is inevitable, that people are homeless because they are too lazy to do better, or that any child should go to bed hungry. I also believe that we can do better as a country, that we can work to build a society based on equity and fairness for all. I'm voting for Obama because in spite of the absence of any discussion of environmental issues in the debates, the President has demonstrated in practice and policies that environmental protection issues are high on his agenda.

Maybe next election cycle, we'll hear candidates engage in substantive discussions of the issues that should concern us all and maybe Denzel Washington will call me to chat. I work at being an optimist.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Romney, Iran, and Nukes

A Survivor of Hiroshima
Note: Only two nuclear weapons have been used in the course of warfare, both by the United States near the end of World War II. These two bombings resulted in the deaths of approximately 200,000 Japanese people—mostly civilians—from acute injuries sustained from the explosions. (Radiations Effects Research Foundation)

Foreign policy is the focus of the last presidential debate prior to election day. No doubt, one of the topics will be Iran's nuclear program. 

The Iranian government declares that its nuclear program is for peaceful, energy producing purposes. However, in spite of Tehran's protestations that the goals of its nuclear program is to provide fuel for medical reactors and a non-oil based energy source, the U.S., Europe, and Israel are skeptical and believe that the goal is to create nuclear weapons. 

A recent New York Times headline proclaimed that the White House has been in secret negotiations with Iran resulting in an agreement between the U.S. and Iran to engage in one-on-one negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. (NYT, 10/20/12) Before we all get excited that reason has prevailed, both the White House and Tehran are denying that any such agreement has been reached. (The Telegraph-UK, 10/21/12) The White House does assert that it is open to such negotiations. 

In the meantime, the Israelis continue to advocate that the U.S. set "clear red lines" on Iran's nuclear program that if crossed would trigger military action by the U.S. against Iran. (NYT, 9/11/12) Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel has publicly criticized what he considers to be President Obama's soft policy towards Iran, and avers that if the U.S. won't draw a line in the sand regarding Iran's nuclear program that the U.S. "...has no 'moral right' to restrain Israel from taking military action of its own." (NYT, 9/11/12)

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has made it clear that he feels that the President should stop Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons and specifically rejects the notion of using diplomatic channels to address this issue. Already, Republicans are rejecting the notion of any negotiations with Iran, asserting that even if Iran makes an offer to parlay, it is only a ploy to distract from its real goal of making a nuclear bomb. South Carolina's Senator Lindsey Graham (R), a Romney ally, offered his views on Sunday, "The time for talking is over,...we should be demanding transparency and access to the (Iranian) nuclear program." (USA Today, 10/21/12

What is this red line that we need to draw? No one has made that perfectly clear. The Israeli government has indicated that it wants the U.S, to set a limit on the amount of enriched uranium (essential bomb making material) Iran may stockpile and enforce Iran's adherence to the limit with the threat of military force for a transgression. The Obama administration has rejected placing military action by the U.S. on the table as a possibility. Apparently, Romney doesn't share the President's views, as he has declared Obama to be soft on Iran and lacking in commitment to our ally, Israel.

The one question that I want Mr. Romney to answer tonight is what is his recommended course of action in dealing with Iran's nuclear program. I want specifics. Does he favor the red line spoken of by Netanyahu? If so, what will that line consist of? If elected, is Romney willing to take us into another war? Will he use military action if Iran crosses that red line? 

I admit that I don't need an answer; I think Romney has already made it perfectly clear that his image is of America the macho, the world enforcer. I just want to hear him say it and just maybe more of my fellow Americans will hear his words and reject an ideology predicated on the belief that might makes right.

Mitt Romney as commander-in-chief is a very scary proposition. It's like putting a ten-year-old behind the wheel of a race car. There was a folk song popular in the 1960s that had the line: When will we ever learn? It became an anthem for the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s. Unfortunately, we appear to be a nation of slow-learners.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Presidential Election: Time to Turn the Debate to Substance

My friend Leslie over at Parsley's Pics posted an article, "God Forbid Should Biden Not Perform Perfectly," in which she chides "fickle liberals" for continuing to focus on bemoaning their disappointment in President Obama's debate performance last week.

Another friend commented that liberals finding Obama's debate performance to be lackluster are not responsible for Obama's slipping in the polls.

I agree that in spite of the incessant fixation on Obama's "poor" performance from some liberals, there is no direct correlation of the criticism from some of the President's base and current polls that show him with fewer Electoral College votes than last week. 

However, the chronic complaining hasn't accomplished anything positive either. Liberals and conservatives have for the most part already decided who gets their vote. The target group in these last few weeks are the Undecided. As the candidates rev up their appearances and their ads, each hopes to grab those who are undecided and tip the scales in their favor in the hallowed swing states.

The problem that I have with liberals and the noisy critique from some quarters lamenting Obama's debate style is that it aides the opposition in keeping the focus on trivialities rather than substance. The other problem that I have is that the undecided are important and the way to snag them isn't with expressions of disappointment in the president's performance. He has a staff to evaluate the weaknesses of his debate performance and how to liven it up so that he too can present fluff over substance and thereby compete with Romney.  

I just don't think that continued expressions of disappointment about the first debate communicates any reasons to the undecided why they should support the president. No one is going to be drawn to support a candidate whose own base keeps declaring him to be a loser.

It's similar to a business that's floundering. If you want to attract investors to shore up the business and make it profitable again, you don't do so by publicly focusing on the company's failings.

The media keeps rehashing the debate as if Obama's IQ suddenly dropped by 30 points. It was a misstep and instead of wailing and gnashing of teeth, my view is that we, meaning liberals, need to do everything that we can to shift the focus back to the issues and meet the fixation on style over content with solid facts. Facts are unchanging, unlike Romney's version of reality.

I'm not interested in in-house debates among liberals. We all want the same thing. What we have here is a difference in approach. I think that getting Obama re-elected is the priority and we need to do whatever it takes to make that happen, including cutting out all the in-house bickering among liberals about our candidate. As lousy as Romney is, and as much as some elements of the GOP are unhappy that he is the candidate, for the most part, they publicly stand behind him. Conservative bloggers don't as a rule express any serious displeasure with Romney's performance, even when he tells 27 lies in 38 minutes. (Fact Check: Romney Told 27 Myths in 38 Minutes During the Debate)

We've beaten the debate performance drum long enough; I think it's time for a new rhythm.

(I was feeling down after hearing on the evening news that Romney was polling higher after the first debate, until I checked out Nate Silver's blog, 538: "Mitt Romney gained further ground in the FiveThirtyEight forecast on Monday, with his chances of winning the Electoral College increasing to 25.2 percent from 21.6 percent on Sunday." All increases are not equal.)--Oct. 8: A Great Poll For Romney, In Perspective

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Presidential Debates: Round One

Romney: Full of sound and fury and saying nothing of substance. 

The first presidential debate (10/3/12) focused on policy, not zingers to provide fodder for tomorrow's headlines. There were big, significant topics--entitlements, taxes and spending, the deficit, and education.

I wasn't enthused about Obama's performance but I didn't find his answers rambling as some are proclaiming; he actually said what he would do and why. 

Romney spoke in negatives. He stated what he was not going to do but never said what he was going to do. For example he insisted that his proposed tax cut will not add to the deficit; however he never explained how a 20% reduction in each marginal tax rate, across the board, could be implemented without adding to the deficit  Such a tax cut would result in a significant reduction in revenues and Romney's proposed tax plan also includes a $3 trillion increase in military spending, an increase that the military has not requested  A decrease in revenues and an increase in expenditures don't add up to no increase in the deficit or as the President said, "It's math, It's arithmetic." 

By the way, the President directly challenged Romney's assertions in clear, concise language:
"The fact is that if you are lowering the rates the way you described, governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class," Obama said. "It's math. It's arithmetic."--Obama
I found it interesting that Romney's style was to claim agreement with Obama's policy on some key issues. Romney declares that he agrees that the financial industry needs regulation but wants to promote his own plan and wants to repeal the Dodd-Frank regulatory act. He alleges that he supports the version of Obamacare that he engineered as governor but finds fault with how Obama didn't obtain any consensus and shoved health care reform down our throats.  He insists that he agrees that public education must be a key focus.

The question, which the President did raise, is why is Romney keeping the details of his alternative plans on these major issues secret? Are they too good to be true?

I don't think that the President hit a homer but neither do I think that Romney won. I'd call it a tie. Romney essentially said nothing except to parrot vague generalities about the need to get the country back on track with no specifics as to how he plans to do that. 

President Obama didn't go for the jugular. It's not the man's style and frankly I think that his approach is more effective in the long run. Attack and confrontation provide temporary satisfaction but folks eventually stop listening to someone who shouts a lot.

It's one debate. I'm not ready to dismiss Obama as ineffective. In 2008, he didn't walk to the same drummer as most presidential candidates. The odds were against him getting the nomination. He didn't shout and confrontation was not his style. He was measured and detailed  in presenting his platform. Why would anyone expect this man to morph into the Godfather? I'm not certain as to why, but this president is often judged based more on who his followers want him to be rather than who he really is.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Day Sucked, And Yours?

There are days when you realize that you should have never left the house.

I had a routine doctor's appointment at 9:15 am. I arrived on time and proudly strolled into my doctor's office ready for praise. I'm not known for my prompt arrival at his office. I leave home with good intentions but his office is 23 miles away and necessitates travel on the inner or is it outer beltline? (I've only lived in Raleigh for 14 years; I know where the road is, just not what it's called.) Traffic is always congested in the early morning. (Yes, a 9:15 appointment is early.) I am not a morning person.

But this morning, I was on time! However, there was no praise as a staff member was out and the nurse was wearing dual hats as nurse and receptionist, so there was no one up front when I made my grand entrance.

Do not think me so shallow as to waste your time, dear reader, bemoaning my uncelebrated entrance. It was but a minor blight on my day compared to the horrors to come.

As I returned to my car, the gathering rain clouds suddenly evaporated and the sky turned an incredible shade of cerulean blue and I smiled. Then I put my key in the ignition and as the motor came to life, I heard a distinct dinging sound or perhaps it was more like the chime of a doorbell. Seatbelt was on, door's were shut tight, so why the dinging chime?

I stole a look at the dashboard and there were strange icons brightly glowing. I gasped! (Okay, I wasn't really that dramatic; it was more of a sigh than a gasp.) I grabbed the manual for my 2006 Pontiac G6 from the glove compartment and frantically searched for matches for the glowing icons. Check engine light...okay. The other glowing image warned that the Fates had put some serious mojo on the electrical system and that driving could drain my battery.

I did the only thing that I could, pressed my forehead against the steering wheel and repeated that great litany three times, "Oh crap!" I followed up with a few references to copulation.

I decided to come home. I did as the manual advised and turned off anything that was a drain on the electrical system--the daytime running lights, the radio, and the a/c. I made it halfway home before deciding that I had to have a/c. I rolled up the windows and turned on the a/c and as a blast of hot air hit me in the face, I found myself disparaging the parentage of male dogs. The a/c didn't work!

Arriving at home, I called General Motors (I believe in starting at the top). I explained that my car was six years old and only had 42,319 miles on it and I couldn't fathom why it was falling apart. I also reminded the nice lady on the phone that they had to replace the catalytic converter earlier this year and that GM had picked up the bill, agreeing with me that a car with such low mileage should not have turned into a rotting piece of fecal material. She agreed to call a local  GM dealer, the same one that had done the previous repairs, and get them to agree to waive the diagnostic fees. I said that was a good start but that I would be very unhappy and unlikely to ever purchase another Pontiac if GM failed to cover all costs. We agreed that we would revisit costs once there was a diagnosis of the patient.

The service manager instructed me to have my car in their shop by 7:30 am tomorrow (Wednesday). I explained that I have a major interview tomorrow afternoon for my dream job combining my background in public education with my legal skills and need my car in working order by 12:30 pm.

Feeling bereft, I called my sister Rhonda and sobbed out my troubles. In full drama mode, I proclaimed, "I'm tired. It's always something; I just can't take it anymore," punctuated with barely suppressed sobs. I'm not a total wuss; this has not been a great year for me--I lost my job, spent my savings, went back to my old job, still looking for a more stable job and my personal life sucks. However, Rhonda always knows how to remind me that my theme song is "I Will Survive," the Gloria Gaynor version. She allowed me to be a drama queen, gave me sympathy and then she made me laugh with some silly story from the headlines that I can't recall.

Next I called Bob, Rhonda's husband. Bob is always far more rational that I am. His advice was so practical: "Take your car to the dealer now and you won't need to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Don't worry about the job interview; I can take you if necessary."

So I headed out to leave my car at the dealership. Halfway there, a flashing message read simply, "Power Steering." As I wrestled with the steering wheel, I realized that the car had decided to tell me that the power steering was gone, gone, gone. Steering a reasonably straight line is a bit difficult without power steering but it's making a right turn that scares the hell out of you and causes you to use a lot of expletives as the person behind you blows his horn  because you're not wrestling your steering wheel fast enough to suit him.

I made the turn and was all of a mile from the dealership when suddenly my car slowed to a crawl, chugging along at about 5 miles per hour. The guy behind me was riding my bumper as if he thought that I was inviting him to play bumper cars. As I exclaimed quite a few expletives, I heard a sound that I couldn't quite place at first, sort of like the popping sound of the final  few kernels of popcorn. Then it registered, the door locks were popping up and down as my electrical system went haywire and then died.

A very nice man stopped and pushed my car onto the shoulder. Another young man, who is a mechanic, stopped and took a look under my hood and pointed out that my problems likely stemmed from the alternator belt which looked as if it had been through a shredder. A friendly young woman stopped to ask if I needed help. Finally, the tow truck arrived and took me and the car to the dealership. The car is there now and I'm at home.

I'm stressed and a bit addled, but the day wasn't a total wash. I was touched by the strangers who stopped to offer assistance. Next to Scarlet O'Hara, my favorite lady of southern literature is Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire. This evening, I can truly recite Blanche's most well known line from the play, "Whoever you are, I've always depended on the kindness of strangers."