Sunday, December 16, 2012

WHY...


Part of the wall-to-wall national coverage of the shooting in Connecticut was fact gathering.  Who, what, where, and when dominated the commentary.  However, all of the media scrutiny was carried forward by a rip current caused by the fifth "W"...why?   Why did a 20 year old apparently kill his mother and then go to her school to kill what she loved most, her students?  Why did he snap?  Why was he angry or depressed or both?  Why did his mother own three powerful weapons, one of which would have been illegal if we still had an assault weapons ban?  Why was there a shooting in an Oregon shopping mall?  Why did an NFL player riddle his girlfriend, and mother of his child, with bullets and shoot himself?  Why a mosque in Wisconsin or a theater in Aurora?  It's a tsunami of whys.

     At the time of the attack in Connecticut, another was happening at a school in China.  A man stormed the school and attacked the children.  20 children were wounded, but none killed, according to CNN.  20 children were also targeted in Newtown and all of them died.  Is it as simple as acknowledging a man with a knife, bat, club, spear, sword, bow and arrow cannot do as much damage as one with modern weapons of destruction?  Which would the parents and residents of Newtown have preferred...the 20 year old having a gun or a knife?

     Why are we so afraid to engage in a discussion about guns?  Our nation resembles a group of people standing waist-deep in gasoline and someone has the brilliant idea of giving everyone a book of matches under the premise this will make everyone safer.  Why do we accept this state of affairs?

     One week ago, USA Today had a cover story about professional athletes and guns.  It seems almost all own one or many guns and see nothing to be alarmed about athletes who earn their living being angry and violent wanting these weapons around their home and in their cars.  What is scarier is to read their comments supporting this position.  The gist is now that they are making a lot of money, and acquiring valuables, they need guns to protect their stuff.  The inclination was not to install sophisticated security in their homes, or hire professionals to protect them...not to build safes or use safe deposit boxes...but instead to strap on and accept that the best way to preserve their property and selves was to obtain multiple guns.  They are so scared of the culture they come from, in this country, as soon as they achieve some success, they fear someone will try to take it from them and they are ready to defend all of this to the death.  There are rich athletes in Canada, Britain, throughout Europe, why don't they feel the same fear and resort to the same solution and why don't they have similar tragedies as occur here?

     We are an angry nation.  You don't have to look any further than the recent presidential election to prove this fact.  We are angry about everything.  Perhaps the anger is a product of the reality we are a terrified nation.  Everyday we are told there is more and more for us to be scared of.  Economically, we are all to be terrified of going over the fiscal cliff...of the lack of jobs and what will happen to us without enough of a pension and medical care.  Workers fear declining wages and a political class which wishes to make it more difficult for them to organize and fight for a share in the enormous profits being generated.  We have to be afraid of terrorism.  We have to be so afraid we watch the government eliminate the 4th amendment and create invasive databases in order to spy on us and we don't raise a finger in protest.  We are told to be afraid of China and terrified of what is going on in the Middle East.  In America's cities, we are bombarded by stories about violence and mayhem and the need for more police and more guns resulting in more tension.  In California, we spend more on the prison system than on the entire U.C. system.  Why?  We are so afraid of each other we think locking people up will save us.  How else do you explain wrecking the premier education system in the world in favor of guards and bars?

     We are afraid of growing old and getting sick and wonder who will take care of us.  We have to defend a social safety net from "them".  "They" will kill it or tear it to shreds leaving us sick and impoverished and operating in a social Darwinism based on survival of the fittest.  We have to be afraid of our own bodies which attack us with various cancers and other diseases.  We have to be afraid of what we eat.  The Wall Street Journal reported on pork producers who fill their pigs with antibiotics creating "super" bugs which resist medicine and infect us.  Refined sugar, and who knows what else, is making us obese and diabetic and this will bankrupt the nation, kill a lot of us, if something isn't done.

     When you are scared, and on edge, and under pressure, the slightest event or provocation can set off a chain reaction which ends in a shopping mall in Oregon, or a school in Connecticut or a village in Afghanistan, (where a soldier walked from house to house killing those inside), to Columbine, Aurora or a schoolyard in Stockton.

     So, the first question is do you agree we are a frightened and tense nation?  (why do we spend billions on anti-depressants and treat mental health problems, as something akin to Astrology, which we don’t believe, is real?)  What is the source of this fear?  Are we an angry nation?  Why and who are we angry with?  If we are tense and angry and scared on a daily basis, does it make sense to flood the country with easily obtainable weapons, kept on our night tables within easy reach when we lose control?  (There are those who also want these triggers in churches and on college campuses and in bars, to make us safer)

     One Connecticut parent told CBS the shootings in Newtown were a parent's worst nightmare.  The reality is parents today are harangued with a thousand similar nightmares every day.  It's a wonder they can sleep at all.  What do we do?  Do we become "preppers" and hoard stuff waiting for Armageddon while hiding behind our deadbolts armed to the teeth?

     I'm not smart enough to offer a comprehensive solution.  I do know when you combine a scared, tense, on-edge population...angry and stampeded by a corporate media which seizes on every opportunity to frighten...with an easy ignition source like guns...we should stop being surprised when something explodes.  20 children are alive in China because their attacker had a knife instead of a gun.  This cannot be ignored.  However, we have to address and confront the origins of our fears and anger and distrust.  If we don't, what happened in Connecticut will continue to occur with increasing frequency.

     Is it too clich├ęd to remind us all this tragedy too place during a season of Peace on Earth, Good will to all people?  I'm tired of being afraid and tired of being scared of my neighbors and angry with them too.  Are you?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A GIFT OF HOPE...


Here are three new blogs from the Lion of the Left:

It is that time of year to write a Christmas message.  Despite a campaign of commercialism and crass merchandizing, which has turned the smart phone and the flat screen TV into holiday symbols, this is still, at it's core, a celebration of the birth of a Jewish baby who replaced a dark world filled with despair and angst with one filled with hope and light.

     We all too familiar with darkness, despair and fear.  We encounter these on a daily basis as we struggle to cope with all life throws our way.  Some of us are alone while others fight with the family they have.  Some of us are separated from family due to our own stupidity and choices.  Each day carries with it fears of what tomorrow will hold.  Will we still have a job?  Will our children be healthy and happy?  Can our marriage last or can we find someone to share our future with?  Only those with their heads buried deep in the sand can avoid the implications of climate change and how it will affect our weather and environment.  (think of Sandy or the drought which plagues huge regions of this nation)  It is so easy to give in and give up...to embrace the culture which says whoever dies with the most stuff wins...to be overwhelmed with sadness at this time of year because reality does not match the ideal which has been laid out for us over the years.  My message this year is don't give up...the birth of the child is the answer...hope is alive and well.

     Ask any parent their wish for their children and you will consistently hear about how we want them to be happy and to have a full life.  Parents aren't naive enough to believe their children won't face sadness and disappointment and fear, but they hope their children will know how loved they are, how lovingly they were created and how we are there if they need us.  We try to be role models and to show them how to make good choices and to persevere when things don't go their way.  (then there are some of us who make poor choices and don't love them enough and who disappoint them and go away....yet they continue to love us)  Why would God be any different?

     God created us out of love and a desire to know us and feel that love returned.  This is not the classic image of God pushed by fundamentalists.  This is not the all-powerful, all knowing, all present God of traditional orthodoxy.  (that God doesn't need anything, including creation)  God created us to be in relation with us...to talk with us and to listen to us...to have us talk to Her in return and listen to Her.  In the gospel of John, the Jesus born on Christmas gives us His ultimate insight into God.  We were created to have life and life to its fullest.  Christmas is the celebration of the hope we will all discover and the experience of a full life.

     Celebrating Christmas is a faith statement.  We can't prove this is the purpose of life, but we have faith that it's true.  The birth of Jesus is a celebration of the person who finally understood the reason for creation.  He proclaimed the good news that life is full of hope and joy and those living in the darkness will see great light.  He lived a life so intimate with God He saw what God wanted for us...to be filled with joy...not be afraid...treat others like we wish to be treated...forgive even our enemies and be forgiven in return and the result would be the gift of a full life.  Because of the birth of this carpenter's son in Bethlehem, God was finally able to share all Her love and thoughts and dreams with Her creation and because of this experience, She offers the same thing to everyone of us because of the humanity we share with Her Son.

     MERRY CHRISTMAS!!  It is a celebration of a holy night when Christ was born.  Even the name proclaimed on this day tells us what this is all about...Emmanuel...God with us.  We are not alone.  We don't go through this by ourselves.  This is the fifth Christmas I celebrate separated from you and my family.  It would be easy to slip into a funk and let the darkness surround me.  How can I celebrate in a place like this?  What about all the pain and embarrassment I have caused?  Yet, on Christmas, I will celebrate how loved I am and how many people care for me and the gift of life I was given.  I will fight being afraid of the future depending on the promise if I live the best life I can my life will be full.

     Perhaps you could spend a few minutes on Christmas imagining what a full life would look like.  (hint: it doesn't involve a flat screen TV)  If you have lost someone, or are separated from those you love, this is a day to know you are not alone.  The birth of Jesus brought light to an otherwise dark world and brought hope to all of us.

     I miss you all and hope for the day when I can join you and my family in celebration of the hope and joy this day represents.

     To paraphrase St. Francis.....

          God, on this Christmas day bring light to those in darkness and help those in despair to have hope.  Help us to appreciate family and friends who love and care for us.  Thank you for the gift of your Son, and for the good news His life proclaimed.  On this day, we join with the angels and shepherds to sing of your glory and revel in the knowledge we never have to be afraid.  May we understand and experience life, and life to its fullest, knowing the world is alive with the grandeur of God.

CLIFF DIVING...


At the moment, I'm willing to speculate the powers-that-be in Washington will not come to an agreement in time to avoid a swan dive over the fiscal cliff.  Good!!  As I have written before, it would be to the long-term benefit of the nation if no deal is made and the unthinkable happens.  Top tax rates would go back to what they were under Bill Clinton.  (when 27 million jobs were created)  The payroll tax would rise.  (it's not good for Social Security to keep it at its present rate)  Military, and other government spending, would automatically be cut.  (the military can easily absorb these cuts.  They have seen their budgets grow for years to a point where we spend more on the military than all other nations on earth combined.  They have experienced deeper cuts in the past and handled them.  These cuts will barely slow growth.)  The end result would be significant progress in getting our fiscal house in order, reining in out-of-control military spending, increasing the progressivity of the tax code and leaving America in better condition than it is now.

     At the bottom of the fiscal cliff is supposed to be death and destruction.  Many Americans, and small businesses, will be hurt by the re-emergence of the Alternative Minimum Tax.  (This tax was intended for the 1%, but because of the craven cowards in Congress, it wasn't indexed for inflation so it engulfed larger and larger numbers of American taxpayers raising money for government without Congress having to do a thing)  This would force Congress to finally solve this problem and return the AMT to its original purpose.

     The military would no longer get a blank check.  We spend more money on the War Department and get less for it and threaten our fiscal health.  It is not sustainable.  Priorities have to be set.  What kind of wars do we predict in the future?  Where will they occur?  Do we expect traditional conflict or an increase in asymmetrical encounters?  As we shift our emphasis to the Pacific, what are the implications for our commitments to NATO etc.?  (Is Libya the new model where we insisted on other nations carrying a much larger load?)

     American families will see their taxes increase.  Going over the fiscal cliff changes the entire nature of the debate about taxes.  Now we will have the Republicans and Obama arguing over tax cuts not increases.  The increased revenue coming into the government coffers will mean the President can propose finally rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and electrical grid. (resulting in tens of thousands of jobs)  Grover Norquist would crawl back under the rock he emerged from and the "tax pledge" will be a thing of the past.  Republicans would be complicit in raising taxes eliminating one of their favorite attack lines against Democrats.  The entire tenor of the discussion in Washington would dramatically change if we go over the cliff.

     Going over the cliff would make it easier to address Medicare and how to return it to fiscal solvency.  Right now, the Republicans can hold Medicare hostage.  They can use it as a bargaining chip to force Obama to agree to deep cuts in the social safety net in return for their support of some kind of deal to avoid the cliff.  If we go over it, then their leverage is gone.  Repairing Medicare can be debated on the merits and the fixes can actually fix it.  (remember, the Republicans don't want to fix Medicare, they want to end it...privatize it...just like Social Security)

     The point to remember is this cliff is the product of an agreement between Republicans and Democrats.  Everyone signed off on this deal.  There is no one to blame if we go over because that's how this was designed by the two parties last year.  Going over the cliff will result in some fiscal discipline as well as force everyone to compromise.  It is exactly what the rating's agencies and European bankers say must happen.  It may be the only way this happens.  It may be the only way to get some control over military spending and open the door to real entitlement reform.

     If you feel so inclined, write to the President, or email, or tweet or just shout and tell him we are willing to lock arms and jump together.  We are all ready to change our names to Thelma and Louise.

RETIRE AT YOUR OWN RISK...


 I.B.M. recently announced it is only going to contribute to employee 401K plans once a year on December 31.  If you leave the company on December 30th, you lose a year's worth of benefit.  Once at the forefront of offering generous employee benefits, I.B.M. is now going down the same road of most of corporate America and cutting or limiting retirement contributions.  Being an I.B. Memer isn't what it used to be.

     We need a new retirement model.  The old one is dying the death of a thousand cuts.  Defined benefit plans are gone.  (where earnings and years of employment produced a fixed sum each month)  401K plans are inadequate to meet the needs of most Americans.  Social Security cannot support retirement by itself and most Americans have little in savings accounts.

     401K plans were sold as equal to defined benefit plans.  They were going to provide for a comfortable retirement.  It was always a lie.  Americans are not financially sophisticated.  Fees, and other charges, quickly eat up much of the money being put into 401k's.  Employers never ponied up as much in contributions as promised.  Many Americans treated these plans like savings accounts leaving them sitting, not monitoring them annually and unaware of whether or not they were producing the necessary revenue for retirement.  This is true for Americans who have such plans, however most do not have anything, or started so late in life there won't be enough to support them.

     The single most important aspect of 401K plans is the mix of stocks, bonds etc. in the package.  Most Americans have no idea how to navigate Wall Street and how to re-balance the mix to produce the maximum return.  Even more troubling is the recent experience of a Wall Street collapse which wiped out most of the gains accumulated over years of contributions.  If you were 55 years old in 2007, and watched 50% of your 401K savings disappear, you don't have enough years left to rebuild what you had.  While those who sunk Wall Street have returned to record profits, most Americans sit up at night wondering how they will make ends meet and can they continue to work into their 70's.

     All of the above is the reason unions have fought so hard to protect pension benefits.  Unions are one of the few places where this issue is still on the front burner.  Ironically, despite contracts spelling out pensions and benefits...despite years of agreements about company obligations...despite promises in writing...the American courts have allowed companies to cut and run from these obligations.  Courts have allowed companies like United Airlines to go into bankruptcy and end all of their pension obligations.  People who worked 30 plus years playing by the rules find themselves out in the cold with their pensions cut by 90%.  Putting icing on the cake is the fact whatever obligations were left were dumped on a government agency and became a taxpayer liability.  Justice for all is an illusion in this country if the "all" is working, middle class Americans.

     No one is talking about this.  This is the real fiscal cliff.  This is the real economic time bomb.  No one in Washington is addressing this issue at all.  It's as if they believe there will be a pension fairy leaving checks under pillows of Americans when they retire.  Instead, we debate whether the rich should see their tax rates rise.  We hear proposals to end the inheritance tax and we watch as the Mitt Romney's of the world pay virtually nothing in income taxes because their wealth comes from investments which produce "carried interest" taxed at maybe 15%.

     My children face a future of trying to put aside enough resources for retirement.  They are left at the mercy of a bet placed at the world's biggest casino, Wall Street.  They face a future so insecure as to create an anxiety which will permeate all of our society.  It doesn't have to be like this.

     We need a new model.  I am not smart enough to offer a concise framework of what that model should look like, but I know the current system is broken and can't be fixed.  This new model could take advantage of some things already in place.  We already have the mechanism to withhold wages for income tax purposes.  Why can't we do the same for retirement savings?  Why can't we have a vehicle in which we determine what percentage of our "pre-tax" income we want withheld for retirement?  The funds could be invested in a conservative strategy aimed at long-term growth.  An agency could be created to manage the funds.  Everyone would know the formula.  You put away X amount for Y years and this is how much you will get at 65 or 70 or whatever the retirement age is at the time.  Americans could vary the contribution levels once a year. (maybe 2% when you are young, but 5% as you make more money)  Annual statements would-be issued.  Your employer would have to contribute to this fund as well.  (I would like employer contributions to be at least twice the rate an individual has chosen to be withheld.)

     Corporate America should love this idea.  They no longer would have pension obligations to worry about.  This would also cut down on the need for government, and private charities, to provide for those who don't have retirement accounts.  Americans would be able to feel secure about their future.  Between Social Security, Medicare and this new system, Americans wouldn't fear aging and all that comes with it and wouldn't be nearly as much a burden on their families.

     I am not smart enough to have covered all the holes and problems with my suggestion.  There are people who are smart enough, but they aren't talking or even focusing on this coming disaster.  The model is broken.  It's every man and woman for themselves as it stands now.  The gap between the 1% and everyone else will continue to widen as this financial nightmare increases in scope and infects our dreams.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Communicating With the Lion of the Left...

Dear Lion of the Left fans,
     Many of you have requested to communicate with the Lion either by email or snail mail.  The Lion has very limited direct email access; so no email address can be given out.  I would be glad to give you the Lion's snail mail address so that you can write to him:

                  Mr. Bernard Ward
                  #90569-111
                  FCI Low
                  3600 Guard Rd.
                  Lompoc, CA 93436

Please feel free to write to the Lion; he would love to hear from you!  Sincerely, Girl Friday


         

Monday, November 19, 2012

THANKSGIVING PRAYER 2012


 We give you thanks because all creation is blessed with your gifts, oh God.

     Too often, we lose sight of all you have given; mistaken in the belief and pride so much we earned is through our own efforts and will.  It's a pride which puffs us up, but separates us from You and each other and causes our egos to overtake our hearts.  On this Thanksgiving Day, may we be filled with the humility to acknowledge our weakness and recognize with gratitude all we have received from You.

     Thank you for the richness of our land, and the generosity we extend to each other.  This year we endured national calamities of unprecedented scope.  Yet, even at the darkest time, we experience acts of kindness and care, all undeserved, which ennoble none the less.

     Thank you for the gift of family and friends and all who touch our lives.  In a society where loneliness and isolation increase...where we know fewer and fewer of our neighbors...where we long for significant others in our lives, we are grateful for anyone who reaches out to show us an ounce of care and compassion even as it should inspire us to do the same.

     Thank you for the kindness of strangers.  Many of us are separated from our family and loved ones, either because of choices we made or circumstance, and are grateful for the warmth of human contact and empathy.

     Thank you for all who produced the bounty we share today.  Too often we forget that the efforts of those who cultivate our food and sustenance are a gift to all of us.  Thank you for those who prepared the food we share and the fellowship, which emerges around our tables.  Many today will listen to stories repeated year after year...thank you this year for the gift of true listening and the realization of our common humanity and bonds which those stories communicate.

     Thank you for the food on our tables...the clothes on our backs...the roof over our heads...knowing there are so many who lack any and all of this in their lives.  We remember whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do for You.

     On this Thanksgiving Day, may we never forget how lucky we are THE WORLD IS ALIVE WITH THE GRANDEUR OF GOD!

Friday, November 9, 2012

TOO EASY...


Two new blogs from the Lion of the Left:

 Once Florida is declared for President Obama, he will have 332 electoral votes.  He will have won over 50% of the popular vote, and his party will have gained seats in the Senate.   It's too easy.

     Obama, and his team, predicted a close race.  Close races are won or lost by turnout.  In 2008, African American, Hispanic, women and young voters turned out in record numbers and Obama won.  Republicans claimed it was a fluke...a one time phenomenon which can't be replicated...they were wrong.  Election analysis shows African American voters turned out in higher numbers than 2008.  In Ohio, if African Americans had turned out at 2008 levels, Romney would have won the state.  In Pennsylvania and Florida, the same story occurred.  Hispanic voters represented 10% of the electorate.  (It's the first time they have broken into double digits)  They broke 71% for Obama, and once again the percentage of turnout increased from 2008.  60% of voters were women who went for Obama by 12 points and voters under 30, whose numbers were supposed to drop, increased.  The most often repeated political story was that Obama's base was unenthusiastic, dispirited, disappointed and there was no way they would turn out like they did in 2008.  As usual, conventional wisdom failed in the face of reality.  Obama bet they could hold this coalition together and could expand it and he was right.  Their model will be studied by political scientists and operatives for years to come.

     Before a vote was cast, Obama had about 220 electoral votes in his pocket. He knew he could lose Florida and Virginia so they focused all their time and effort on the battleground states of the upper Midwest, in particular Ohio.  If they won Ohio, they win the election.  Not only did they win Ohio, but like Grant through Richmond they steamrolled over Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, creating a firewall to keep Romney from reaching 270 electoral votes even if he won Florida and Virginia.  They saw Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire as another part of the firewall.  In the end, Obama won both Florida and Virginia and Romney was left wondering about what might have been.  Even if Romney had won Florida and Virginia, he still would have lost the race.

     If this election had been a referendum on the economy, Obama would have lost.  If it was portrayed as a choice between competing visions of the future and competing characters, Obama wins.  Once again it was easy.  All of the effort was put into getting voters to choose between Obama and Romney.  Starting in May, Obama's campaign began spending millions of dollars defining Romney.  A Democratic Super PAC flooded Ohio with ads about Romney and Bain Capital.  This continued throughout the summer.  Their efforts were successful and the election was about choice and not a referendum on the last four years.  Despite voters preferring Romney on the economy, they didn't like him...they didn't feel an affinity for him...they didn't trust him to be on their side...they thought he is out of touch with average Americans and this proved to be his undoing.  (the fly in the ointment was the first debate...had Obama performed well, the strategy of the summer would have turned this into a rout)

     Once they had their coalition in place, and had their ground game model up and running, (in Virginia a story is being reported about how Democratic voters were in a line near Richmond and were being checked off by an Obama volunteer with an iPad.  There was no Republican counterpart) all that was left to do was to get them to the polls.  Oh, one other thing, they seized on early voting and provided registration forms etc. to enable as many Democrats as possible to vote early.  Early voting totals broke to Obama in almost all the key battleground states.

     Republicans claimed they were pouring millions into voter turnout.  Regressive super PACs said they were going to replicate the Obama model and turn out voters in high numbers.  It turns out this was all smoke and mirrors.  There are rumors already spreading about Karl Rove, and his operatives, refusing to share voter information and any voter modeling with anyone else.  It was proprietary information which could not be shared.  The Republican coalition of white voters and senior citizens along with rural voters held together, but it's shrinking and cannot match up against the new voting power of what Obama assembled.

     Therefore what...?  Obama's re-election carries a number of messages.  Obama ran promising to let the Bush tax cuts expire and to have the 1% pay higher taxes.  The voters agree.  Obama ran on the benefits of health care reform.  Once and for all, Obama care is here to stay and will be the law of the land.  Millions of Americans will get health insurance who currently don't have it.  States will have to set up health care exchanges and the mandate requiring everyone to have insurance will be enforced.  Obama ran on Wall Street reform.  Regulations from the Dodd/Frank legislation will now be promulgated including the Volker Rule (a kind of slimmed-down version of Glass-Steagle) in an attempt to rein in risky activity.  It isn't as strong as it should be, but it’s so much stronger than under a Romney administration.  Obama got rid of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which Romney said he would reinstate.  Obama supported gay marriage.  Obama used executive orders to implement the Dream Act, which will serve as a basis for the immigration reform debate soon to start.  The war in Afghanistan ends in 2014. (it should be sooner)
 
     Elections have consequences.  Those regressives who say there is no mandate for Obama are whistling past the graveyard.  This was not a campaign full of specifics, but where Obama was specific, the election gives him the justification to move on all of these various fronts.

     In the end, it was too easy.  As Obama's coalition grows, Romney's shrinks.  As the ground game for Obama becomes more sophisticated, Republican's efforts came up short.  As Obama courted women, minorities and the young, Romney courted the rich, richer and politically stilted.  As Obama reaped the rewards of an auto bailout, which created thousands of jobs, Romney talked about cars being made in China.  The 47% which Romney predicted would never vote for him, turned out to be an underestimate.  (more like 51% at least in the popular vote) and it is the reason there isn't a Mormon heading for the White House today.

YOU WIN SOME, YOU LOSE SOME...


It is impossible to hold a national election, like the one just concluded, without looking at who won and who lost.  Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and it is intended to remind you of some people and issues and it’s the beginning of an analysis which will be going on for quite some time.  The long knives are already out among Republicans, so we will sit back and watch as they pick their own winners and losers.

     WINNERS:

                   1) Jim Axelrod, David Pluffe, Jim Messina and the rest of Obama's re-election team.  They are huge winners.  They held their 2008 coalition together.  They built a sophisticated turnout machine.  They expanded the size of their base and they built an electoral firewall in the industrial Midwest which crushed the Republicans.

                   2) Joe Biden- you might not think this is obvious since he will still be vice president, but Biden spent a year crisscrossing the country and building support among key coalition constituents.  He is ridiculed and mocked by Republicans, and many in the corporate media, but his blue-collar story, down-to-earth conversations and command of issues served the campaign very well.

                    3)Unions- it is conventional wisdom to declare unions dead and their influence waning. However they were a key component in turning out voters.  The Service Employees Union, the United Auto Workers and other trade unions played a key role in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. (Obama's Electoral College firewall)  Union members and  households, white working males, went for Obama in these states and enabled him to carry the states which Republicans thought would be in play.

                     4)Nate Silver-  The New York Times poll analyst came under withering criticism late in the campaign for consistently calling this contest for Obama.  His models did not see the election as a toss-up or too close to call or a tie which could go either way.  He concluded Obama had a 75% chance of being re-elected.  Even after the first debate, Silver still said Obama’s chances were over 60%.  He never gave Romney more than a 40% chance of winning and most of the campaign said it was closer to a 30% chance.  He predicted President Obama would win at least 300 electoral votes.  (He is currently at 303 and when Florida is decided, he will have 332)  He was excoriated by the punditocracy and political journalists because he wouldn't accept their "guts" vs. his numbers.  Silver was absolutely spot-on and his stock couldn't be higher.

                       5)Women-there will be more women in Congress.  Obama's re-election guarantees the provisions in his health care reform legislation expanding access to contraception will remain.  Equal pay laws will be enforced by the Labor Department as well as other discrimination protections for employees.  Funding for food stamps, affordable housing, head start and other programs which women use in large numbers will be in better shape under Obama than under Romney and Ryan.  Obama's health care reform will be a huge benefit for women and children.

     LOSERS:

                       1)Super PACS- Karl Rove alone raised over $300 million and what did he get for it?  The Democrats picked up two seats in the Senate, Obama won, and turnout was not better for Republicans.  Gay marriage laws passed in two states as well as two states which legalized possession of marijuana.  There is no issue Rove supported which was successful.  Rove is not alone.  (Rove also is a loser as a political pundit and columnist for the Wall Street Journal.  His predictions and projections and analysis of the campaign supported a Romney rout and consistently missed the same mark Nate Silver hit out of the park.)  B.T.W. of that $300 million which Rove raised, what was his cut?  10%?  He made millions bilking billionaires out of their money with nothing to show for it except his own enrichment.  What do you think happens the next time he comes with his hat in his hand?

                        2)Senator Mitch McConnell-  the Kentucky senator famously proclaimed his goal in the Senate was to deny President Obama a second term.  How'd that turn out senator?  McConnell presided over a Republican filibuster machine which blocked and stopped every Obama initiative, prevented federal judiciary posts and regulatory agency posts from being filled and derailed Obama's jobs bill and other attempts to turn the economy around and get people back to work.  What is his new goal?  Deny Obama a pleasant retirement?

                         3)Paul Ryan-Ryan was supposed to energize regressives who might not trust Romney.  He was supposed to put Wisconsin in play.  He was supposed to imbue youth and vigor into the race in contrast to Joe Biden.  He was going to add intellectual heft to the ticket.  In the end, he turned out to be ineffective and his choice further alienated women and seniors as well as working class white males.

                          4)Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers et.al.- Adelson gave Romney $52 million and gave more to Rove and his buddies.  The Koch brothers gave a similar amount including $11 million secretly given to defeat Proposition 30 in California.   (which passed)  All that money got them four more years of Obama, a democratic Senate to confirm Obama Supreme Court nominees, a stronger EPA and Consumer Protection Bureau, full implementation of Dodd/Frank and Obamacare and more.  If this is an example of their fiscal judgment, how did they get so rich and who would listen to them again?  (Honorable mention to Linda McMann in Connecticut who spent $100 million in two elections and lost both.)

                           5)Gallup/Rasmussen-  for months Gallup had Romney ahead by as much as 10 points over Obama.  Rasmussen has similar findings.  They are now totally discredited.  (Nate Silver declared Gallup polls to be outliers which were not accurate or consistent)  While regressives continuously sighted Gallup and Rasmussen to prove they were winning and Obama was toast, in the end both polling organizations were totally out of the mainstream and their information almost looked like they made it up.  Whenever you hear about, or read a Gallup or Rasmussen poll in the future, carry a very large saltshaker.

                            6)New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan-  Dolan, and the Catholic bishops, came up big losers in this election.  They screamed bloody murder about having to offer contraception as a part of health plans given to employees of hospitals, schools, and social service agencies they run.  They framed it as a first amendment issue.  They publically attacked Obama, preached against him and called on Catholics to flood the White House with complaints.  The result?  Over 50% of Catholics voted for Obama and those provisions will permanently be a part of the health care landscape.  Even worse for Dolan et.al.  They were virtually silent on Ryan's budget which shredded the social safety net for poor and working poor families in this country.  They allowed Ryan to claim his budget was well within Catholic teachings.  It took 5 nuns on a bus tour to call attention to how Ryan's plan violated Catholic social teaching.  (the same nuns attacked by the Vatican for being too progressive.  The Vatican had nothing to say about cutting food programs and shelter in the name of balancing budgets.)

                             7)Hanbaugh/Fox News-despite over 600 radio stations...despite millions of listeners and ditto heads...despite an entire news network devoted to defeating anything progressive...despite no progressive competition and despite four years of constant attacks on Obama, the regressive echo machine come up empty once again.  Thousands of hours of programming filled with lies, attacks, hate and distortions, Obama is re-elected and some of their favorite candidates, who reflected their misogyny the best, were defeated.  Nothing they predicted came true.  No issue they supported actually won.  Issues they claim are opposed by a majority of Americans...abortion, contraception, gay marriage, gays in the military, Iran, Afghanistan, Benghazi...on every one of these they are and were on the wrong side of the electorate.  The growing Obama coalition wants nothing to do with them and is not influenced by them.  Now, Obama just has to require the FCC to mandate, as a part of obtaining a radio license or renewal, a certain percentage of all programming must contain local content and local origination and the competition, which these free marketers all say they desire, will put most of them out of business.

                              8)Tea Party- In the last two elections, the Tea Party has cost Republicans at least five seats in the Senate.  The defeat of the two troglodytes in Indiana and Missouri, Mourdock and Akins, are just the latest examples of how the Tea Party and its adherents are foisting unacceptable and unelectable candidates on their party.  We can only wish them continued success.

                               9)Mitt Romney-Romney tried to invent a new style of politics where facts are unnecessary.  He ran from every political position and was a political windsock.  Romney opposed the auto bailout and demonized illegal immigrants.  He wrote off 47% of the electorate as irresponsible.  He tried to etch-a-sketch himself into the White House.  In the end, his auto bailout position cost him the industrial Midwest.  His immigrant bashing resulted in 7 in 10 Hispanic voters voting for Obama.  His cynicism, that he could say anything, take any position even if they contradicted each other, and voters would still vote for him, was crushed by Obama.  At the end of the day, Romney was an empty suit who failed to connect to average Americans.  He owned the number one issue in the campaign, the economy, and yet couldn't close the deal because of his inability to convince Americans who he was.  His loss is our gain if it results in campaigns where integrity and honesty truly matter.  (Ok, ok, I'm too naive and idealistic, but one can hope!)

Monday, November 5, 2012

AMAZING GRACE...


  This is a non-political observation.  It will not contain poll information or weigh the relative strengths and weaknesses of Romney and Obama.  Instead, it's an opportunity to write about and remind us all of the power of simple kindness.

     Those who know me, know music has always been a large part of my life.  It is especially powerful when associated with church and worship and liturgy.  All the years of doing Godtalk, there were pieces and artists who played a prominent role setting themes on Sunday mornings.  The opening, Amazing Grace, no matter how tired or unfocused I might be, never failed to center me and open me to whatever would occur that day.  Artists like Jesse Manibusan and Annabelle would add their music to a Sunday when we could share and touch each other.  However, no artist has ever touched and moved and inspired me over the years as much as Sandi Patti.

     I first became aware of Sandi while listening to Jim Eason.  He played a cut of her singing the national anthem and it was the best I had ever heard.  In 1982, my wife and I were away from home in Washington D.C. and at Christmas time we watched a program called "Christmas in Washington" which featured Sandi.  I was knocked out again.  I never forgot her, and when I started on Sunday mornings, I bought her album Let There Be Praise, and I played cuts from it for years.  (I probably overdid it I'm sure.)  Eventually, I saved her for Christmas and Easter.  Her version of O Holy Night sends chills up my spine and her offering, "Was It A Morning Like This?" is perfect for Easter Sunday.  In the four plus years I have been a guest of the federal government, I have had no contact with Sandi or her music.  Until today.  (a Sunday morning ironically)

     Recently, our gracious hosts have allowed their guests to purchase MP3 players.  We can download songs to them.  The player and the downloads are too expensive for me.  I could not justify spending that much money on a luxury like this as I depend on the kindness of friends and family for any money I have.  I use most of it for the phone, emails and mail to friends and family.  I was talking to a friend who is in my Sunday night Godtalk/catechism class.  (it's a very cool group and you would love the talk)  He has an MP3 player and I asked him if he had ever heard of Sandi Patti?  He said no, so I had him look her up in the song lists and listen to some snippets of her work.  One of my favorite songs is called The Name of the Lord.  He listened, and then I left without giving the encounter a second thought.

     This place is a place of extremes.  There is extreme noise which can be mind numbing.  There are extreme personalities, which, if not handled wisely, can explode into confrontation and oppressive tension.  Extreme loneliness is always present even as you live in a barracks with 200 other people with about 3 feet of personal space.  You learn how to navigate among the extremes and the peace or quiet of you daily life depends on excellent navigation.  This is also a place where there is extreme cruelty as well as unexpected and shocking acts of kindness.

     On this Sunday morning, about the time I would have been on the air, with a beautiful sunrise and gorgeous azure sky overhead, I was going out to do my job sweeping the compound.  (or as the re-entry skills program calls it...learning skills to prepare me to work at Disneyland)  My friend called me over and handed me his headphones and MP3 player.  He said,"...don't touch anything...Here is the volume button and I put it on repeat so you can listen to it over and over again as you sweep."  He then turned it on adjusted the earpieces and I heard a live version of Sandi Patti singing In The Name of the Lord.  I walked into the compound with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  (I was taught very early in here you never, ever let anyone see you cry...it labels you as weak and as prey)  I walked faster, by myself, and started sweeping and listening, as I was flooded with memories and images of shows and callers and events which this music was a part of and trigger.

     It cost between $1.25 and $1.50 for him to download this song.  In your world that might get you something off the dollar menu or an extra shot in your half-calf, soy latte with non fat milk, but in here it is 3 letters home...phone time with voices who keep you sane...an email to your wife or children...part of a meal to supplement the meager offerings given here at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  To spend $1.50 on someone else...use limited download space for a song for someone else...take the time to sit and select the song all so it could provide me with a moment of pleasure, and then, out of the blue, offer it to me to listen to on a gorgeous Sunday morning, is an act of kindness and a glimpse of the grace of God visible in this world.

     This is not the first random act of kindness I've experienced in a system which is by design inhumane, soulless and devoid of the most simple rudiments of compassion, and each time I am struck and stopped by the power and effect they have on me.

     Each night, before sleep, I recall 5 reasons to be thankful for my day.  (By the way, if I can come up with 5 examples from my day in here for which I am grateful, how many can you come up with?)  Giving thanks is one key to persevering and overcoming adversity, and it is also humbling...something I needed badly.  Tonight, I will give thanks to one man and his decision to show me a kindness and be humbled by his graciousness and total lack of expecting anything in return.  To quote a famous French archbishop, "...the miracle is not that God occasionally touches our world.  God is constantly in the world.  The miracle is when we see it."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

LAY OF THE LAND...


The election is only a few days away and where do we stand?  The presidential race dominates everything else, but there are big Senate and House races as well as state contests with national impact.  No matter where you look, contests are tight and outcomes are within the margin of error.

     The best political analyst of polls, Nate Silver, gives Obama a 76% chance of being re-elected.  Silver, who called the 2008 election within one percentage point and accurately predicted 49 out of 50 Senate races, predicts Obama will capture 299 electoral votes.  (You win with 270)  The key to the election is Ohio.  If Obama wins Ohio, Romney can't find a way to get to 270.  Obama appears to be up 2 points in Ohio.  (well within the margin of error)  In every battleground state, the race is close and the outcome will be determined by who has the better ground game.  Obama's advisors have gone all in and spent tens of millions of dollars setting up field offices and putting boots on the ground in order to turn out his base.  Tuesday we will see if the bet paid off.  If Obama can turn out Latinos, African Americans, women and young voters in numbers anywhere near those in 2008 he will win.  If not, he loses.  Romney truly can only sit back and watch.  Obama's turnout will determine the next president no matter what Romney tries in the last few days.

     (There is concern in Ohio about voting machines owned by a company which counts as some of its investors, Romney's son Tagg among others.  Ohio was stolen from John Kerry in 2004.  Had he won Ohio, he would have beaten Bush.  If you want to follow one news story on Tuesday, follow Ohio and turnout and problems and who counts what and when they count them.)

     A step below the presidential contest is the race for control of Congress.  The House should stay Republican, but Republican hopes for taking back the Senate are less optimistic than a few months ago.  They need a net increase of 4 seats to take over the Senate.  They will probably pick up Nebraska and maybe Virginia.  They are close in Wisconsin and Montana.  However, what was thought to be a sure pick up in Missouri is no longer a sure thing.  Sen. Claire McCaskell is benefitting from her opponent's belief in "legitimate rape" and she could hold on to her seat.  In Indiana, the Republican, Mourdock, trails by as much as 10 points due to his belief that pregnancy which results from rape is a gift from God.  In Maine, former governor Angus King should win.  He is an independent but is expected to caucus with the Dems.  This would be another loss for the Republicans. (a seat formerly held by Republican Olympia Snowe)  Democrats should hold on to Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.  They still might pick off Arizona and will hold New Mexico.  The bottom line is it does not look likely the Republicans will get the 4 new seats they need.

     In California, there are initiatives to end the death penalty, re-formulate the three strikes law, and raise taxes to benefit schools (two different proposals) among statewide issues.  There is also an initiative to label genetically modified foods.  All of these could cause waves around the country.  Eliminating the death penalty could accelerate this trend nationwide.  A willingness for taxpayers to raise their taxes for schools could spawn similar attempts in other states.  Trends start in California, and if they vote to label genetically modified foods, it will create pressure to do so in various other states and localities.

     Beyond California, you have a number of states voting on legalizing medical marijuana.  This would be in direct defiance of the federal government and could add to pressure to change federal law to allow for medical marijuana and the creation of dispensaries in states all over the nation.

     The presidential race, and who emerges victorious, can affect so much of American life, but Americans seem to ignore or lack concern over an issue that can touch their lives for generations...appointments to the Supreme Court.  Court watchers say the next president could get 2 appointments over the next 4 years.  If Romney wins, he will appoint Scalia clones and Roe v Wade will be overturned and the 4th amendment will finally be eliminated.  If Obama wins, he would be able to maintain the court's ideological status quo as the two vacancies are expected to come from the progressive wing of the court.  Despite its ability to touch the lives of all Americans for 20 or 30 years into the future, the court is almost never in the top 10 issues Americans care about in a presidential election.  Some day someone will explain how that is possible in a nation almost divided down the middle, and where moral and ideological issues will find their way to the court for adjudication, Americans could care so little about who is president and who they would put on the court.

     This presidential race illuminates some serious racial fault lines in the U.S.  While white voters prefer Romney, Latinos and African Americans overwhelmingly want Obama.  Men prefer Romney, while women by a smaller percentage than 4 years ago want Obama.  The Republican Party has clearly become the party of the angry white voter.  It's a fact which South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham says cannot continue since there aren't enough white voters to sustain Republicans as a national party.

     Finally, Hurricane Sandy appears to be this election's October Surprise.  Obama has benefitted from looking above politics and being presidential.  The glowing praise from New Jersey governor Chris Christie boosts Obama's stock.  (if they have any brains and any money left, there is already an ad playing in all the battleground states highlighting Christie's remarks)  Romney and Ryan are on the record in favor of dismantling FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and turning the functions over to the states.  Can you imagine how New Jersey would cope if there was no federal disaster relief money?  Obama has argued government has a legitimate role in our lives while Romney argues for cutting everything from FEMA to the National Weather Service and even food stamps.  Sandy reminds Americans what government can do and Obama is taking advantage of the visuals.  It could be worth a point or two in a race which could be decided by a point or two.

     I'm terrible at predictions, and never bet on anything I say, but I think Obama will win.  I also think he will win the popular vote.  Maybe I'm whistling past the graveyard, but I cannot imagine a Romney Whitehouse and the Darwinian ethos it would bring with it.  I think the Dems will hold on to the Senate.  I hope Californians will end the death penalty, fix 3 strikes and pour funding into our schools.

     None of this happens if you don't vote.  Please do something I would love to do but cannot.....VOTE !!!

Friday, October 26, 2012

THE GOVERNMENT GIVETH, AND THE GOVERNMENT TAKETH AWAY...


Two new blogs from The Lion:

 It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why so many people hate government and the current political system in this country.  At times, government appears to deliberately act for the best needs of the wealthy and powerful and ignores, or even worse punishes, the average citizen.  At times like these, I find myself more often than not in agreement with this "pox on all of their houses" sentiment.

     The Wall Street Journal is reporting states that received part of a $25 billion settlement from 5 large banks that improperly processed foreclosures, have taken these billions and not used them to help distressed homeowners.  Rather, they took the money and used it to close state budget gaps.  More than $1 billion will go into state general funds and not to help people who lost their homes due to the illegal actions of these banks.

     This settlement was trumpeted as a huge victory for homeowners who had been victimized by the banking system.  State attorneys general, like Kamala Harris in California, portrayed themselves as modern day David's going up against and defeating financial Goliaths.  They were fighting the good fight.  Someone had to stand up for homeowners who had been abused and crushed.  Families who had lost their homes unnecessarily would be made whole.  This was publicized as a huge victory for Main Street at the expense of Wall Street.  Now we discover, those who were most directly affected will get little if any help.

     California governor Jerry Brown decided to take the $410 million the state received and put it into existing state obligations instead of using it to help those taken advantage of by greedy and immoral banks.  Attorney General Harris allegedly objected saying the funds should go to counseling and legal aid for distressed homeowners.  However, there is no evidence Harris fought very hard and she appears to have given Brown a pass.

     This outrage comes as CNN highlights a man in Michigan who lost his home to illegal foreclosure, and whose state was a part of this wonderful victory for the little folks, and who received a check for $840 as his portion of the settlement.  As he said, it isn't even enough to pay his rent for one month.

     How do Brown et.al. justify this thievery, this shell game, and this betrayal?  They don't.  For them this is business as usual.  They pushed for a quick settlement.  They wanted to avoid a long investigation into the mortgage practices of these banks and they didn't want to pursue criminal charges against anyone.  The banks coughed up a small amount with the guarantee no one goes to jail and no one can be sued.  It is the definition of a sweetheart deal and unfortunately homeowners will not be belles at the ball.

     Years ago I opposed a state lottery because I knew almost none of the money would reach schools.  The California legislature cut back education funding the same amount as the lottery might produce thus cancelling out any benefit.  This is the same government who wants voters to raise their own taxes to fund schools, but refuses to modify Proposition 13 to exclude commercial properties from its provisions which would raise billions of dollars in new revenue (corporations lobby much better than distressed homeowners).

     I believe government has a role to play in leveling the playing field in a capitalist economy.  However, when the capitalists buy access and purchase accommodations and influence politicians so they turn their backs on their constituents, government has been usurped and needs to be changed.

     The banks pay a little money...no one goes to jail...politicians claim a heroic victory...everyday, gum-chewing homeowners and their families get screwed.  It isn't hard to see why so many hate the government and anyone associated with it.  When does Harris run for re-election?

A GIFT FROM GOD...


God wanted you to have a baby, but you weren't cooperating, so God had you raped so you could accept this glorious gift.  As cruel, callous and crazy as that sounds, Indiana senate candidate Richard Mourdock suggests it is true and wonders what all the fuss is about.  Mourdock is the poster child for regressive politics.  He is so extreme, what should be an easy win in a very red state, is being rated too close to call.  Mitt Romney has appeared in ads with him and he is the darling of religious fundamentalists and teaparty activists.  However, his remarks may cause some head winds for Romney.

     Mourdock was told by John McCain to apologize or lose his endorsement.  Mourdock apologized.  However, an apology makes no sense.  What exactly is he apologizing for?  Is her sorry he said it because of the political firestorm it caused?  Is he sorry for saying it, but still believes it to be true?  Maybe he is sorry if anyone was offended by his remarks, which would make him maybe sorry.  Since he said it, he must believe it, so what is the substance of his apology?  He claims the remarks were distorted out of context.  If so, what is he apologizing for?

     Romney used the last debate to throw on Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility to hide everything he really believes.  He wants peace, love and sunshine for everyone.  In the hope of appealing to women, Romney was talking about all of us getting along while Obama was promising to get our enemies.  Romney desperately needs women to like him and yet he has aligned himself with some of the most extreme actors in his party.  Romney has not denounced Mourdock.  He simply says he disagrees with him.

     Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, is much more extreme than Mourdock.  Ryan sponsored a bill which would deny a woman an abortion unless she was "forcibly" raped.  (another way to say that is unless the rape is "legitimate")  Ryan supported a human life amendment which would affectively outlaw most forms of contraception along with all abortions.  Both Ryan and Romney support legislation to create a "religious exception" so any employer can refuse to provide health benefits which include contraception simply by claiming it offends his or her morals or religion.  (Obama called Romney on this in the second debate and Romney denied his open support for such a measure)

     According to polls, women don't find Romney as onerous as they once did.  The man who wants to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v Wade...the man who didn't know any qualified women to include in his cabinet in Massachusetts and opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Act...the man who endorsed Mourdock and picked Ryan as his vice president...is today more attractive to women voters despite them saying in polls abortion is the top issue for them.  Huh?  Romney is trying to double down on this momentum by repudiating everything he said in the last 18 months about putting more soldiers in Iraq, not leaving Afghanistan in 2014, going to war with Iran and appointing Supreme Court justices who would mirror the likes of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, all with the hope women won't find him to be so off-putting and will embrace the kinder, gentler Mormon.  Yet, each time he cloaks himself, he faces colleagues who persist in claiming to speak for God and who appear to shop at Misogynists 'R Us.

     Mourdock has apologized.  Akins in Missouri has apologized.  Romney and Ryan are on an apology tour, begging women not to pay any attention to that man behind the curtain who has been running for president for 8 years.  Whatever he may have said, pay it no heed now.

     My guess is God finds this all quite amusing.  She must get a chuckle out of those who want to portray Her as a rapist or terrorist.  (remember Oral Roberts who God was going to kill if he didn't raise enough money?)  Jerry Falwell claimed Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment because of the sins of New Orleans or who see Her as a serial murderer (the list is too long of Republicans who claimed AIDS was God's wrath imposed on people for being gay)  Maybe amused is the wrong word.  Perhaps God's more saddened and perplexed and disappointed.  Through Jesus She revealed the way to Her was through loving your enemy, turning the other cheek, caring for the least among you, and yet the religious Imams of the Republican party choose to ignore all of these epiphanies in favor of a God who uses rape and bombs and national disasters to kill or hunt anyone who doesn't agree with the Lord of Lords, who sent the Prince of Peace.

     I understand women need jobs, and this economy has taken purchasing power away from them. Obama has been president during this economic meltdown, but the folks occupying Romney Street would force women to bare children, refuse to pay equal wages with men and treat them like second class citizens who need flex-time in the workplace so they can get home and put dinner on the table for their family.

     Richard Mourdock fits in perfectly with a Romney administration.