Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I Learned From the Election

Now that the dust has nearly settled (we still don't know about that filibuster-proof Senate yet, do we?) I've realized I've gotten a lot of lessons from the election of 2008. And I'm a big believer in taking note of lessons learned, since if you ignore them they tend to come up over and over.

1. People are easily scared: Hillary's three ayem phone ad was, according to polls, actually effective. Obama was seen as the less-steady hand, the shaking newby who would crack under pressure. Seems pretty silly now, doesn't it? The man's proving to be a rock - and a confident one.

2. Scared people get angry: Once the fear of Obama was spread around thickly enough, people reacted with anger. Who can forget the Republican crowds screaming "terrorist!" "Kill him!" And that anger turned against John McCain when he tried to reassure them they had nothing to fear from an Obama presidency. And these were his supporters!

3. Scared people will latch onto things that make them feel safer. Conservatives clutched Just Sarah From Wausilla to their hearts. She was young, she was pretty and she was absolutely certain everything was going to be okay. Progressives held Obama equally tight. Ditto. Luckily for Just Sarah, she's not going to be held accountable for this poop soup that used to be our economy. Our president-elect, you must admit, is a brave soul. I wouldn't want to take this job on.

4. Even scared people can be won over. I have some very conservative relatives. One of them will also freely admit to being a racist. So imagine my surprise when, in a recent conversation, he told me he "didn't think too badly of Obama" anymore. "He's certainly smart," he told me, "and he seems to be sincerely trying to fix things. I wish him well and hope he can do it." Score one for the Obama Team.

5. The people in charge don't necessarily know more than I do. It's a holdover from childhood - this assumption that if you're in charge, you must know more than me. You'd think that eight years of George W. Bush would have beaten that out of me. But it took Hank Paulson to do it once and for all. The poor man is clearly in way over his head - he's trying to come up with a rescue plan without a firm handle on what might work and a mandate to take care of old pals....but don't forget to not totally alienate public opinion! Remember that old Star Trek episode where Kirk used logic to short out the bad robot? "You say you are lying, but you tell the truth..." Paulson's conflicting imperatives are forcing a series of epic flip flops and I am expecting to soon see steam coming from his ears as his circuits overheat. I believe this problem is going to take a committee - a bunch of smart people bouncing it around until they come up with a plan...not a unilateral fix that is politically expedient. Score another for the Obama Transition - the team's gelling.

6. The media is ridiculous. Yes, I know. I'm one of them. But really. It's downright embarrassing. Because cable and satellite have created a 24 hour news cycle, the news shows most resemble a bunch of old people sitting around a table hashing and rehashing the same topic as they play canasta. "Is this change or just more of the same?" "Should Obama be keeping a lower profile?" "Is Obama taking charge too soon?" "Which dog will the Obama's get?"
It's the same stuff over and over and over and there's rarely anything new. When there is, everyone pounces on it like a pack of dogs in an alley. Pretty soon it's so mangled there's nothing left but a little bone.

7. Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart rock. Jon Stewart is my favorite media watchdog. He's smart, he's willing to take on the people he likes as well as the ones he disagrees with, and he's essentially good hearted. This man brought on the tightly wound Bill O'Reilly and offered him not a tongue lashing, but a cup of cocoa and a teddy bear. It was a dig, but there was an element of sincerity. Stewart's essential warmth (remember him after 9-11) and obvious idealism make him the critic with a heart. And man, does the media need to be watched. Opinion masquerades as news everywhere now.
Maddow has a similar warmth. She may be progressive, she may be snarky, but she's human. When she says she's been waiting years for infrastructure to get sexy, you know she means it - and she's thrilled that it's happening. She's not standing on the sidelines jeering, she's emotionally in the middle of things and talking about things that she believes matter. I can't watch the news much now - it makes me twitch. But Stewart and Maddow still tell me what they're thinking most nights.

8. I Don't Know Much. I never thought I knew much...lots of people had more information and lots more opinions. I've come to realize I know very little - and any opinions I hold are subject to change as more information becomes available. I think the good thing is once you know you don't know much, you're willing to listen and learn. I'm listening.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vegan Values Explored

Overall, I think vegans have the right idea. That should be understood up front. It just seems wrong that we should consider ourselves an advanced society and still be killing animals for our food. Worse, killing them under appallingly cruel factory conditions.

But I've got my gripes with vegans, too. And I just spent a lot of time with a lot of them. So I'm venting.

It was a holiday event that will raise funds for a sanctuary for farm animals. It's an ambitious facility, with clearly well cared for animals and devoted caregivers. The event was upscale, designed to satisfy the urban need for style, as many of the sanctuary's supporters only live in the country part time.

There was an enormous tent, dozens of round tables with white linens and pedestal heaters to take the chill off a very cold November day. There were heaping plates of delicious vegan food that could satisfy any gourmet. And there were speakers. There's my first beef, if you'll pardon the expression.

I know these speakers - they're the vanguard of the new veganism. Picture vegan valley girls. Beautiful, bouncy, sassy and hip, they stood at the microphone and extolled the healthy virtues of veganism. I found myself missing the earnest, intellectual appeals from scientists, the emotional rawness of the devoted vegan hippies. Veganism is cool now. I guess it's a good thing for the animals and for the planet, all of which will benefit if more people jump on the vegan bus...but now that the bus is a hybrid, I find myself missing the old VW microbus.

Then there was music. HSO was playing bass and guitar, and he rarely gigs so I was really looking forward to it. Joy Askew was the performer. She's a talented songwriter who really should be far more famous than she is. HSO spent three weeks preparing - learning the songs, fine tuning the sounds, making sure he had it down by heart. I have no doubt the other performers put in similar time, and some of them had to travel quite a way to get there.

They rehearsed at 9 AM that morning, then drove to the tent, where the heat was just being set up. They waited to go on at 2...and waited almost two extra hours because raffles and speakers took far longer than expected. The diners finished their meals. They ate their dessert. And then the band was announced.

As they began to play, everyone headed for the exit.

No, they weren't awful. In fact, they were terrific. But these people had been outside all afternoon, had eaten, had won whatever prizes they were going to win, had listened to too many speeches and they'd had enough. They were leaving. So a few of us stood and gaped as the tent nearly cleared out while musicians who had donated their time and talents played to peoples' backs.

The event's organizer belatedly realized what she'd done and ran to the microphone twice to encourage people to stay, sit down and enjoy the music. But it was too late. So the band played, a bunch of pros who are used to people treating musicians like wallpaper. And a handful of people enjoyed a terrific show despite the band's frozen fingers and steamy breath. Another musician who wasn't playing that day was appalled....he watched the entire scene in disbelief as people who stayed displayed manners that would have gotten them thrown out of a corner bar.

I was angry. Joy Askew is a headliner. She's played with Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel. Any event that gets her is lucky. The musicians were treated like an afterthought.

And therein lies my complaint with many vegans. They have boundless compassion for the animals. But far too often, their compassion stops there.
They can be strident, they can be rude, they can be thoughtless - but if they're helping the animals, they are confident of their virtue.

Compassion doesn't stop with four legged creatures. Or it shouldn't. And good manners may be old fashioned, but I think they're what makes living in society possible.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thanks for Your Efforts to Create a Bipartisan Coalition in This Time of Crisis

This is what I found in my email inbox today. No comment.

An urgent message from our Townhall Sponsor, The National Republican Trust PAC

Dear Townhall Reader:

D-Day has begun.

With your help and the help of almost 50,000 other Americans, we at the National Republican Trust PAC - also known as - have begun our TV assault in Georgia against Barack Obama and the left-wing Democrats who want total control over Congress.

Our new TV ad has begun to run across Georgia exposing Obama's plans.

As you know, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss is fighting to keep his Georgia seat in GOP hands.

It is critical he does so. Chambliss will be the key Senate vote in stopping Obama's radical agenda.

But Sen. Chambliss faces an incredibly stiff challenge from his opponent Jim Martin.

Just last week Obama, Chuck Schumer and Washington Democrats poured almost $1 million into the state to defeat him.

They are bussing in thousands of "organizers" to snatch this election from the GOP.

This is why our campaign is so vitally important.

Fox News analyst Dick Morris says this election is vitally important to all of us across the country.

Morris says if Obama wins the Georgia seat, he will ram through Congress a radical agenda on taxes, guns, abortion - he can even shut down talk radio!

Dick Morris says we at the National Republican Trust PAC "are leading the fight to save Chambliss and keep Obama from getting a filibuster-proof Senate."

Dick says this won't be easy for Chambliss because the Obama camp has more money and they are experts at voter turn-out - the key to winning this race.

But Dick says we can still defeat Martin and Obama.

We need your help today to do it!

Please donate to our cause by Going Here Now

See our new TV ad exposing Obama and Martin - Go Here Now

Thank you.

Scott Wheeler
Executive Director

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I never wanted to get a computer. I suspected it was not advancement at all, but a new "convenience" that would prove to be far more trouble than it was worth. But we wouldn't figure it out until we were so used to it that it was too late to get rid of it.

I was so right.

I have replaced sound cards, talked through geek sessions as some stranger across the country took control of my computer and tried to figure out why it hated me.
I've watched people link two computers together, switching back and forth as they transferred information from one to another.

I've watched my Handsome Significant Other, generally a sweet and gentle man, turn into a raving lunatic as the technology in his studio burps, rattles or wheezes and refuses to show him why.

And this week, I seriously considered tossing my computer out a second story window.

I woke and went to my office, prepared to go to work, and discovered that I couldn't get online. Not at all. I'm working at home temporarily, and my computer is on a network with HSO's downstairs. I don't like to mess with his stuff...he's a Mac guy and I've got a PC and I might get PC cooties on his cool computer. But he was fast asleep, having been working most of the night.
So I plowed ahead because without a computer and an online connection, I cannot work.

I don't get newspapers - I read them online. I type scripts, voice stories and do interviews all through my computer, then use the internet to feed them to the station's ftp site. It's all smoke, mirrors and remote magic. But there was no magic at my house and suddenly I was stopped cold.

First, I had to call my internet provider, Time Warner Cable. I have learned the secret of their automated operator....when she insists on calmly walking me through a repair instead of letting me talk to a human, I say "customer representative." Those two words are like "alakazam!"...they silence the recorded assistant and she meekly connects me. Or she used to.

Time Warner has caught on. Now when I said "customer representative!" her response was a placid, "Well, I realize you want to speak with a customer representative, but I think we should continue. I think we're on our way to solving your problem."

She THINKS? Really? Now THIS is innovation.

Well, I got past her with a second "CUSTOMER REPRESENTATIVE!" I don't know if it was what I said or how I said it. I know I wouldn't have wanted to talk to me anymore.

So I got a perfectly nice human, she told me to get on the floor, crawl behind the desk, pull out every plug I could find, run upstairs, turn off my computer, run back downstairs, turn the modem back on, then run around and cluck like a chicken until I ran out of breath. Okay. She didn't tell me to do that. But that's pretty much what I did.

And we determined, after 45 minutes, that the problem was the router.

That's the little box that enables us to both connect to the same internet cable. So I called work, explained what was going on, apologized profusely, and drove half an hour to the nearest store that carried such things.

Most of the ones they had were wireless. Apparently they don't want us to use wires anymore.
I'm not going for that one, thank you. You already roped me into this computer thing. That's enough for me.

I came home and had to wake up HSO. The new router had an installation CD and I couldn't figure out how to open up the CD disc tray on the Mac. I felt pretty awful waking him out of a sound sleep, but I was way late and I honestly didn't want to install a damned thing on his computer without him knowing about it.

He stumbled downstairs, looked at the wreckage that used to be his office, looked back at me and just said, "Really?" I apologized again.

So not only does it turn out that the Mac didn't need the CD...there's a key to open that tray right on the keyboard, though it's not marked in any way that I might recognize. Golly, those Macs are so darned intuitive.

So HSO got the new router up and running, we both were miraculously back on the internet, I thanked him profusely and ran upstairs to go back to work.

And then the printer went on the fritz.

That second story window is looking really good right now. Just don't know if it'll be the computer or me flying out of it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oh, Never Mind.

At the end of September Chicken Little announced the sky was falling. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson wanted money - a lot of money - to prevent catastrophe on Wall Street. Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies, Paulson suggested. No strings, no questions, no oversight.

Congress, in one of the few times it managed to overcome its lack of a spine, said no.
No way.

But as Wall Street continued its free fall, it was clear Washington couldn't stand by and do nothing. So they passed the Troubled Asses Regulation Pogrom. TARP was given 700 billion dollars to buy up "illiquid assets"...junk, in other words, that no one wanted to get stuck with. But nothing was going to be done for homeowners across the country who were losing their homes. It would, they hoped, trickle down.

That never did work, but the country is still so enamored of Ronald Reagan that they won't admit it.

So now it's November. Wall Street is still crashing, we have a new president-elect, our outgoing president wants to stay the course, and Paulson has already spent much of the money. AIG's got to be happy - they've gotten a healthy infusion of cash. Of course they're frittering it away and giving the 24 hour news cycle fuel for another turn.

Paulson says the original strategy isn't working. We noticed. And he's already got a whole lot less money to spend than he did. Now he's going to give it to banks. Our president-elect wants an auto bailout. The guy sitting in the Oval Office until January doesn't.

I'm no fan of Detroit, but it doesn't seem like we can afford to let an industry that employs three million people go broke. They've got us over a barrel.

Have you looked at real estate ads in California lately? Look at houses for rent. Look at houses for sale. See what this really looks like. "Live in the style you're used to - for less!" promises one ad. "$200/month off NOW!" says another. "Good credit required...income of 100K verified before approval." It's an economy sliding out of control. It's worse in some places than others, but it's going to spread.

And Hank Paulson's the guy holding the money. Unfortunately, not only does he not know what he can do to help, he seems to be one of those people who won't listen to anyone else. So we'll just keep sliding until January, then hope the Obama transition team has come up with a brilliant plan to help us dig in. And if he has an idea and Congress fights him, there's going to have to be an outcry so loud that they don't dare fight us.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tales From the Trenches

Time out for a reality check. Yes, I'm optimistic about this president. Yes, I believe he will do all he can in tough times. And yes, I have my doubts that things are going to get better for most of us anytime soon.

I am anxiously watching every bit of news pertaining to banks' willingness to renegotiate mortgages with people who are hanging on to their homes by their teeth. I am one of them. So far, my bank can't do anything for me - I haven't missed a payment, I have a decent interest rate. No one could predict that the economy would tank and money we budgeted for has not materialized.

I am sorely tempted to stop paying. My daily stress would drop instantly, I'd have money for other bills (and no, I don't have tremendous debt besides the mortgage - that's the one that's killing me), and my bank would perhaps be willing to work with me if I was in default. Of course, I could also lose my home and everything I've invested in it. Catch 22.

I know a retired person who has lost his life savings - a substantial sum. He paid off his home, and now is looking at a reverse mortgage so he could have money for necessary expenses. He doesn't want to do it - he wanted to leave his family a home when he is gone.

I know a man who would sell a car to get some ready cash - no one will buy it. No one CAN buy it.

I know a man whose finances are in good order - but he's scared to death that his many years of service at one company makes him a target for a cost-cutting layoff. He makes more than others with less experience.

I know a family that's quietly paid the taxes on a less fortunate relative's home for years. And now they're wondering how long they'll continue to do it. What happens when those relatives have to move? Where will they go?

These are troubling times. There are thousands of other stories - millions of them. And there are going to be more. It's not an American depression - it's a global depression. And it's hard to see how long it will last and what will start to pull us out of it.

The only thing I'm certain of is that we will have to all be pulling together.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Boo Hoo Detroit

Yet another American moneymaker wants a massive federal bailout. The American automakers have been behind the curve for years. And now they're in trouble.

We're supposed to feel sorry for them.

While Japan was making hybrids that were snapped up like hotcakes, Detroit was placidly cranking out gas guzzlers - giving the market what it liked right now instead of preparing for what it was going to want next.

Dodge trucks are Ram Tough. And they suck fuel down like drunks on a bender. Soccer moms need their minivans. Men with self esteem issues drove SUVs built for the Amazon down four lane highways. And then gas spiked toward five dollars a gallon and everyone stopped driving.

And Cadillac is still trying to convince us that what women want is a car that can go faster than anything else on the road. Zero to sixty in .8 seconds isn't sexy anymore folks. Not when you can't afford to fill the tank.

No one's buying cars. Either they can't afford to, or they can't get credit even if they're willing.

And because the auto industry employs so many people, we can't afford to let them sink.

But boy do they deserve to.

They've been late on everything. Late to address fuel economy. Late to address pollution. Late to see what everyone else saw - that the days of the boat on wheels is over.

So they're pleading for help and without that help (and watch them - I guarantee that even with a massive cash infusion this'll be next anyway) there will be massive layoffs. Because god forbid they should take pay cuts at the top, increase the efficiency of their operations or invest in vehicles that might suit the new market....they'll just close factories and lay off workers.

Chevy has the Volt, you say? Yes what - 2010? And the company admits that it won't make money. It's too expensive to build. Where was the investment in research and development? It should have been happening since the 70s when we saw the handwriting on the wall.

So little startups are showing Detroit how it can be done. That strange little vehicle pictured here is an Aptera. It's electric. It's already cruising the streets of California and company head Tony Kirton tells me he has an ambitious goal of small factories all over the country building Aptera's that run on electric or fuel cells.

It's not cheap. None of this is. But it will, just like any new technology, become cheaper as we learn more about it and find better ways to create it.

America's car makers, just like America's financial markets, have been gluttons. They've been greedily sweeping in all the dollars they could based on current demand and not preparing for the future.

We're the ants...and the grasshoppers are now demanding we keep them alive as winter comes on.

I say if you want to eat, work for it. Show us your books, show us how you're changing your business model and show us your plan for cars that meet the environmental standards that will be in place in thirty years.

No free rides, Detroit.

Friday, November 7, 2008

And Now the Analysis Begins

Our president-elect has chosen his chief of staff. Rahm Emannuel is a Washington insider. That's got the media tongue's wagging..."Is this the change he promised?"

No sooner had Obama been declared the winner than my inbox began to fill with letters from people with agendas, urging me to be sure and contact him to push for a list of changes that runs the gamut from universal health care to safer chew toys for puppies. Nancy Pelosi is already making up her to-do list and Senate Republicans are promising to stand firm and push back on anything the new president proposes.

The president of Iraq is filming an obnoxious little statement saying he's sure that our new president will be "flexible" on a timetable for withdrawal.

Give the man a little room!

I voted for Obama because I believe I can trust his judgement. His stated agenda - the economy, renewable energy, health care, foreign relations and the war in Iraq - fit with what I believe are our top issues. And the actions he proposed during his campaign sounded reasonable and appropriate.

Yes, we should pay attention. President Obama is an unknown quantity - we don't know what happens to a candidate once he's had all the security briefings and given the full picture of the reality of trying to get things done in Washington.

But I refuse to start picking apart every move he makes before he's had more than a couple of nights' sleep as the president-elect.

I intend to sit back, breathe, and watch. I am confident I will be satisfied with what I see. I have to - or the joy I felt at his victory means nothing.

It tickled me no end that the head of ICE quietly disappeared as soon as the election was over. The cockroaches are beginning to flee as the curtains are pulled back.

And I'm simply astounded by the GOP dogs turning on Sarah Palin. Do I doubt that there's truth in what they're saying? Not really. But I also think it's a perfect illustration of the dysfunctionality of the Republican machine. They can't accept that they ran a bad campaign, that they distorted their candidate until the country couldn't accept him, that they couldn't overcome the country's utter disgust with the state of the nation under the current administration. So they're going to try to blame Palin. And maybe try to be sure to torpedo any thoughts she's entertaining about running in the future.

Or wait - maybe you have to think in a more twisted fashion to understand the strategy. The leaks were made by Republican campaign workers to Fox News, their biggest apologist.

Maybe they're trying to make us feel sorry for her. "Give the woman a break - they were SO mean to her after the 2008 election!"

Governance by manipulation. A time honored Republican strategy. No thanks.

Get to work, President Obama. And let me know how I can help.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Really? I'm Not Dreaming?

I'm trying really hard to adjust here - I've been cynical about the resident of the White House for so very long that I think it's going to take me awhile to accept that I don't have to be anymore.

Barack Obama won. Those may well be the most incredible three words I've ever written.

I spent the night covering regional elections, so I was with political animals. Even they were overwhelmed as the map clearly showed Obama heading for a victory. I don't think I'm capable of full paragraphs today, so here are some impressions from an incredible night:

My 21 year old son, who often despairs of the world, gleefully tell me on the phone that it is just "un-bleeping-believable!!!"

My 19 year old daughter's voice on the phone cheering: "I was with a crowd of people and I just saw history being made! Way to make my first vote count, huh?"

John McCain's graciousness as he conceded.

Jesse Jackson's tear-stained face at the stadium in Chicago.

My own tears as Obama spoke to the crowd. I feel like I've woken from a nightmare. Maybe I belong in this country after all.

The spontaneous celebration at the gates of the White House. What must George Bush be thinking?

I spoke to one of my favorite local politicians who is a student of the system as well as a member of it: "Was this a revolution tonight?" "I don't know if it was a revolution," he said with a grin, "but it sure feels good!"

Amen, brother.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This is Democracy in Action?

Here's the latest from the polls in one liberal'll be interesting to see how this compares to the rest of the country:

Why do we even have to be concerned about voter fraud? Don't we live in a democracy? Doesn't one person, one vote form part of the foundation of our political system? What's going on here?

I'm hearing too many stories of people who aren't going to get to vote - and not because they're not eligible or didn't register. This New York Times article discusses the isn't about voting machine glitches, fraudulent registrations or lost absentee ballots...though all of that happens as's about keeping people away from the polls.

Here's a story from CNN's IReport on a guy who went to vote and discovered his registration had been lost in the mail:

And here's a book entirely devoted to the subject...

I'm not pointing fingers at one party - this garbage is going on all over the country. My cousin, who supports McCain, registered for an absentee ballot because he's disabled. The ballot never arrived. He checked with the election board in New Mexico and was told that because he'd been sent a ballot, even if he didn't get it, he couldn't go vote in person. Bottom line: he can't vote.
He's outraged.

There are stories out of West Virginia that show some machines automatically flipped votes for Obama to McCain. Their solution is to recalibrate the machines. There are other stories of machines that will cancel an Obama vote if you vote the straight ticket after casting your presidential vote. Not a rumor...confirmed on Snopes. You must vote each candidate individually to be sure your vote is counted correctly.

It amazes me that the country seems to accept that our president stole the election in 2000, stacked the deck in his favor in 2004, has mandated new voting machines, many of which eliminate backup paper ballots, and we're placidly sitting around, wondering if maybe the person who gets the most votes this year won't win yet again.

CNN has a place where you can make noise if you think your vote isn't being counted or recorded properly.

And Mother Jones (been keeping everyone honest for years, bless 'em) is watching and counting.

Obama's campaign isn't sitting on their hands. They've got a link and a phone number to report if you have trouble voting. And right now that's our only defense - making noise if we're not allowed to vote.

But it may be that this country has reached the point where we have to call in UN supervisors to guarantee a fair election. Wouldn't that just be ironic.