Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 Election Endorsements

For president: Barack Obama. No president since Franklin Roosevelt has faced a greater mess than Barack Obama confronted when he took office. Unlike FDR, Obama didn’t have three years to come up with solutions - the financial crisis emerged after he’d gotten the nomination. FDR used to compare the nation’s business people to an injured patient: “Some of these people really forget how sick they were. But I know how sick they were. I have their fever charts. I know how the knees of all of our rugged individualists were trembling four years ago and how their hearts fluttered. They came to Washington in great numbers. Washington did not look like a dangerous bureaucracy to them then. Oh, no! It looked like an emergency hospital. All of the distinguished patients wanted two things—a quick hypodermic to end the pain and a course of treatment to cure the disease. They wanted them in a hurry; we gave them both. And now most of the patients seem to be doing very nicely. Some of them are even well enough to throw their crutches at the doctor.” President Obama acted quickly to staunch the bleeding by passing both the stimulus and auto rescue packages. Then he achieved something which presidents since Teddy Roosevelt have tried and failed to do: push through comprehensive health care reform. Ironically, if the recession had been sharper and deeper, Obama might have an easier time of reelection. Too many Americans have forgotten the state of our nation four short years ago - not just economically, but how we were despised by much of the world for our misadventure in Iraq and embrace of torture. Many Americans have also forgotten how health insurers routinely denied important medical procedures, denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and tossed 18 year olds off their parents’ insurance. Many also have forgotten how credit card companies raised interest rates on a whim, without providing adequate notice. We have a long way to go to gain complete economic prosperity and international security - but anyone who thinks America is worse off today than in 2008 has their head in the sand. Joe Biden put it succinctly: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive [as is Chrysler].” Hopefully, a healthy majority of the American people will have longer memories and vote to reelect President Obama. But those with short memories need only look as far back as this week, and the President’s calm, resourceful leadership in responding to Hurricane Sandy. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, does not meet the character qualifications required to be President. With everything he's done, from bullying a student he perceived to be gay, his treatment of his dog, to his conduct as Governor of Massachusetts and his dishonest Presidential campaign, Romney has proved that, at best, he is a sociopath.

For United States Senate: Sherrod Brown. On the basis of the auto rescue package alone, Sherrod Brown deserves the gratitude of Ohioans - both in and out of the auto industry. Consider this: It’s not just those who work in the auto plants who benefited from the bailout, it’s those who work in the dealerships - the sales people, mechanics, and support staff; it’s the parts suppliers; it’s the vendors - who provide everything from food to toilet paper; it’s the local stores and restaurants; and it’s those who receive the money spent by all of the above. The auto rescue is a large part of why Ohio is ahead of the curve on the recovery. Brown has stuck to his principles, which - like them or not - are resoundingly liberal. Ohioans knew this from Brown’s many years in the House when they elected them to the Senate in 2006. He has never sold his vote to the highest bidder or the richest lobbyist or SuperPAC. Brown’s opponent, Josh Mandel - backed by Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS - has run the most mendacious campaign in recent memory, easily enough to disqualify him from public office.

State Issues

Issue 1 - Constitutional Convention: This issue pops up every twenty years. In the words of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Constitutional Convention would be a “grand waste of time“. No good would come of this convention, and the potential for mischief is great. It would take little effort for Bible-thumping gun lovers to flood the convention and enact amendments outlawing firearm registration, abortion, and public schooling. The proper way to amend the state constitution is via the established process of bringing the issue directly to the voters. Vote NO on Issue 1.

Issue 2 - Redistricting reform: Despite the scare tactics bandied about by Republican Super PACs, this initiative is a good thing. It would take the process of redistricting necessitated by the Census out of the hands of the legislature and make it the responsibility of an appointed, bi-partisan panel. Republicans would be in favor of this issue if Democrats were running the show. In a swing state ardently courted by Federal politicians, a more equitably balanced Congressional map will only enhance Ohio’s importance. The Gerrymandering done to Ohio’s districts this year is particularly egregious, and passage of Issue 2 ensures future redistricting would be more equitable. I strongly urge a YES vote on Issue 2.

Cuyahoga County Issue

Issue 108 - Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority Levy: YES. Angry suburbanites have been voicing opposition to this levy on the basis of poor management in the past and, after all, the port is Cleveland’s problem. But if we’re going to embrace regionalism, we need to embrace regional solutions and abandon the specious notion that Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are unrelated entities. Fact is, people from all over our county and beyond enjoy the river and benefit from the port. Greatly needed work, such as the repair of Riverbed Road, needs to be done, and in a time of declining state and federal assistance, this is the only way to pay for it. This levy would only cost $1.65/month per $100,000 in home value and its’ passage is a no-brainer.

South Euclid Issues

South Euclid City Confirmation Deadline Amendment: Yes. This issue provides for an important check and balance that is de-riguer in most cities but not in South Euclid: it merely requires that the city council must confirm or reject the mayor’s appointment of the law director.

South Euclid City Garbage Tax Amendment: No. This is merely another attempt by the same group of individuals who ran - and lost - in last year’s mayoral/council elections to enact the Tea Party’s stated goal: Starve the Beast. Constitutionally, we elect governments to, among other things, pass laws and levy taxes. If we feel the laws or taxes they have levied are unreasonable, we tell them so and they act accordingly (such as when the council reversed its decision to repeal the tax credit for residents who work outside the city in 2010), or we un-elect them.

School Levy:

Issue 115: The South Euclid-Lyndhurst school district has weathered some tough times over the last few decades. Declining population and enrollment have led to the demolition of several schools, while declining property values and the loss of state revenue have necessitated belt tightening. The previous operating levy was supposed to carry the district through another two years, but the district was able the make those funds last twice that long. After a brief drop into Continuous Improvement status last year, the district overall has returned to the Effective rating it has held for eleven of the last twelve years. The district’s previous superintendent, who was double-dipping while the district was sinking, has been replaced with a young a motivated superintendent: Linda Reid. She has stated that, while she welcomes a return to an Effective rating, she is not satisfied and wants to work to get the district into Excellent status. Some critics would contend that further improvements should take place before any such levy is granted. But the fact is, with the aforementioned cuts, the budget has already been cut to the bone, which makes further progress impossible. The additional cost would be $15/month per $100,000 in property value – the cost of two fast food “value” meals. I believe it’s time for our property owners – even those, like myself, who do not have children in the district schools – to step up to the plate and give superintendent Reid a chance. I urge a YES vote on Issue 115.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Plain Dealer endorses Barack Obama

Cleveland’s sole newspaper, The Plain Dealer, has endorsed President Barack Obama’s reelection, thus proving the axiom that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

The Plain Dealer tends to tailor its editorials to meet the opinions of its readership, which skews to an older, and thus more conservative, demographic for its print edition - so this editorial is something of a surprise.

The PD’s editorial board has a short collective memory, as evidenced by their description of President Obama’s successful efforts to bring about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. First, they describe it as a “decades old dream of Democrats”. In fact, every President since Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican) has tried to grapple with America’s health care system. Truman went so far as to advocate for what he called National Health Insurance - today known as Single-Payer. Then there is the PD’s accusation that Obama “ceded too much freedom to doctrinaire Democrats”, a statement that would raise the eyebrows of those who were advocating for Single-Payer or at least a government option. In fact, the template for what the Republicans call Obamacare was drawn by The Heritage Foundation - a right-wing think tank - in the early 1990s as an alternative to Hillarycare. It’s no coincidence that Romneycare as it was enacted in Massachusetts and Obamacare are essentially the same thing.

But this is nothing new.

Skim through the PD’s presidential endorsements from 1936 onward, and anyone with knowledge of history is in for a chuckle.

In 1936, the PD reluctantly endorsed Franklin Roosevelt’s re-election - which was virtually a certainty anyway - despite their complaint that Roosevelt “pays too little heed to what these programs cost and who must pay the cost”. Poor FDR must have been reading the PD’s editorial, because when he took their advice and cut back spending in 1937, the economy contracted, the stock market crashed again, and a two year recession ensued.

Four years later, the editors endorsed Wendel Willkie because, as a businessman, Willkie knew that “insolvency and disaster lie down the road of continuous deficit spending”. There is no mention of the war in Europe in the editorial snippet - although there might have been as originally printed. A side note, Willkie died in October 1944, and his running mate, Charles McNary, died in February of that year, which means if he Willkie had been elected, his Secretary of State would have become President (this was before the order of succession was changed by the 25th Amendment).

1944 - “Communists and other left-wingers who want to revolutionize the American form of government by establishing some form of state-socialism are becoming more and more entrenched in the government.” Well, we can certainly see where Joseph McCarthy got his inspiration when the Plain Dealer endorsed Thomas Dewey for President, which they did again four years later.

1960 - The PD endorsed Nixon in his run against Kennedy - indeed, Ohio went Republican in 1960, bucking the national trend. Nixon’s disastrous presidency a decade later serves as testament to the PD’s lack of insight into his character. But can anyone imagine how a Nixon presidency in the early 60’s would have fared? How would Nixon, not known for grace under pressure or cool-headedness, have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis? None of us might have been left to cluck at the Plain Dealer’s editorial board’s idiotic statement that “Mr. Nixon is more mature and stable in his thinking and attitudes” than John F. Kennedy.

1984: In their slavish lauding of Ronald Reagan, they fail to mention the spiraling budget and trade deficits that would lead to the 1987 stock market crash and 1990 recession.

1996: The PD editors rightly endorsed Bill Clinton, but their condemnation of “an ill-advised $16 billion ‘economic stimulus’ package” (which touched off the greatest economic expansion in post-war American history and was to result in budget surpluses) is not one of their great crystal ball moments. Clintonomics worked - which is more than could be said for Bushomics.

2000: Again, the PD editors were right about one aspect of George W. Bush: his “authenticity”. He was a genuine idiot - and as Americans learned painfully over the next eight years: beware the power behind the throne.

2004: There is no denying that Senator John Kerry was a weak candidate, unable to explain his vote for the Iraq war, which he was for before he was against. But in the Plain Dealer’s refusal to endorse any candidate, they also failed to punish Bush for the worst intelligence failure in American history and two incompetently waged wars which costs thousands of American lives. No presidency since Richard Nixon’s (whom the PD endorsed thrice) had such a high body count. How interesting that the Plain Dealer makes no mention of the issue they harped on in 1936 and 1940: the budget deficit and federal debt - which skyrocketed during Bush’s term, obliterating the Clinton surplus. I suppose they followed Dick Cheney’s dictum that “deficits don’t matter”.

In this year’s endorsement, the Plain Dealer only hints at what I’ve been stating for months: If Barack Obama is turned out of office, it would be the single most egregious act of ingratitude in American political history.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Knights of Columbus wastes donor money

Considering making a donation to the Knights of Columbus? Check out this infographic:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Incumbent Presidents and Debates

Like many, hopefully most, Americans, I watched last night’s Presidential debate. As someone who took debate in high school, I must note these are not true debates. Classical debates focus on a single issue and often the debaters don’t even get to pick which side they’ll argue. What we saw last night was a joint press conference.

After the Kennedy/Nixon debates in 1960 (which TV viewers thought Kennedy won but radio listeners felt Nixon won) there no debates for the next three presidential elections. Televised presidential debates resumed in 1976 and have occurred with each election. Incumbent presidents have been involved in each of these with the exceptions of 1988, 2000, and 2008.

As I watched last night’s debate, it occurred to me that, with the exception of Clinton’s debates with Dole in 1996, each incumbent President has “lost” at least one debate with an opponent. Clinton, it must be noted, is a masterful extemporaneous speaker – perhaps the greatest since Martin Luther King. His ability to pull accurate data from his mind, form facts into a coherent argument, and wrap it all up into an statement that relates to ordinary people is uncanny. Judging from his speech at this year’s Democratic National Convention, which had lengthy improvised segments, his skills appear undiminished with age.

But enough waxing nostalgic about Clinton; let’s review some history:

1976 - Ford vs. Carter: At the second debate, devoted to foreign policy issues, Ford asserted with great conviction that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration”, a comment that wouldn’t pass muster with a sixth grade student.

1980 - Carter vs. Reagan: Carter, who was already fighting exhaustion because of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, gave the impression of being irritated and put upon during the single debate he had with Reagan that year. He blundered by recounting how he asked his daughter, Amy, what she felt was the most important issue facing the world – which she said was nuclear proliferation, leading some to comment that Carter was getting foreign policy advice from a pre-adolescent child. When Carter commented about Reagan’s opposition to Medicare in the 1960s, Reagan’s reply “There you go again” disarmed the President – although Carter was in fact correct on the substance of his statement. Reagan clinched the debate when he asked Americans if there were better off today than four years previously. With that appeal, American voters saw not a B-movie actor, but a President.

1984 - Reagan vs. Mondale: Reagan, then 73, was so out of sorts during the first debate that commentators openly speculated whether he was physically or mentally up to the job. He fumbled facts, lost his train of thought, and when Mondale called Reagan out for the substance behind his “There you go again” line in 1980, Reagan was so nonplussed the proceedings nearly ground to a halt. Expectations were so lowered for the second debate that reporter Sam Donaldson said Reagan would win by default “if he doesn’t drool”. Reagan did not drool, and pulled out a few one liners to disarm Mondale, particularly when Reagan was asked about his age: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience”. Mondale was so charmed that he never gave the obvious response: that he was 13 years older than Kennedy had been in 1960, and that with four years as an Attorney General, twelve years as a Senator, and four years as Vice President, Mondale was hardly “inexperienced”.

1992 - Bush vs. Clinton vs. Perot: All the candidates were well briefed and in command of the facts for the three debates this year. Bush, an already unpopular incumbent, reinforced the impression of being detached from the concerns of the American people when he was seen looking at his watch, seemingly impatient for the debate to be over. When he irritably responded to a question about the recession by saying “Message: I care”, it reinforced the impression that he didn’t care about the hardships many Americans were facing.

2004 - Bush vs. Kerry: The first debate was most notable for a mysterious bulge in Bush’s jacket and non-sequitur comments, leading some to believe he was receiving live-coaching; Bush’s scowling demeanor during that debate didn’t help; nor did his irrelevant comment about the Dred Scott decision or his pleading that the presidency was “hard work” – a comment that was lampooned on Saturday Night Live.

2012 - Obama vs. Romney: It may be a bit early to dissect this one, but it’s clear that Obama’s professorial style was no contest for Romney’s jabbing – something finely honed after five consecutive years running for President. Obama is, at heart, a thinker – not an improviser like Bill Clinton. Obama’s style is not well served by the “gotcha” atmosphere that pervades today’s debates. Also, I believe Obama is very wary of appearing to be an “angry black man”, a demeanor that could potentially turn off independents. On the other hand, we’ve seen this from Obama before, where he at first appears weak, only to draw his opponent in and land a haymaker – in boxing this is called the Rope-a-Dope. Whatever the case, Obama he needs to step up his game for the next two debates. The fact is, the audience is more persuaded by the style exhibited in these debates - and that's been the case since 1960. It remains to be seen whether the mainstream media will call out Romney for the the frequent and egregious falsehoods he told - and how that will pan out in the election.

Finally, I must comment on last night’s moderator, Jim Lehrer. I’ve long respected him as a news anchor and debate moderator, but he was out of sorts last night and completely snowed under by Governor Romney. If Mr. Lehrer is unable or unwilling to enforce the rules, it’s time to put him out to pasture and find someone with the backbone to do so.

Steward Goodyear's Stunning Beethoven

It's worth remembering that when the young Ludwig van Beethoven initially conquered Vienna, it was as a pianist, not a composer. The brilliance, dynamism, and expressivity of Beethoven's playing came as a shock to audiences more accustomed to the neat and smooth playing of Mozart and politely brilliant playing of Clementi. Beethoven was a true virtuoso - at a time before it became a dirty word.

Click here to read my review...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A False Argument Against Marriage Equality

I’ve lived in several major metropolitan areas in my life, including San Francisco and Boston – but the bulk of my life has been in the Cleveland area. San Francisco and Boston each have two daily newspapers. During my Boston years I preferred The Boston Globe over The Boston Herald, which is nothing more than a right-wing tabloid. Cleveland used to be a two newspaper town: The Cleveland Plain Dealer competed with the Cleveland Press until the latter closed in 1982. I don’t have memories of reading the Press, but I don’t think it could have been any worse than the very PD.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s letters section is my early morning read. There’s always something there to jolt me from my sleepiness. It’s surprising that in a metropolitan area of some 2,881,937 people, the Plain Dealer can’t find more letters demonstrating a degree of probity and intellectual rigor. That is, it’s surprising unless you’ve written such a letter to the Plain Dealer or its suburban subsidiary, the Sun – only to wait in vain for your letter to be published. The almost relentless barrage of stupidity and offensiveness on display there is surpassed only by that which is displayed on cleveland.com’s comment stream. Mostly, the letters section is dominated by either the usual Tea Party talking points or Muslim bashing, but this letter from Ziggy Rein of Lakewood took me by surprise.

There are so many flaws in the logic of this letter, but let’s start with the obvious: People are going to have sex whether they are married or not. The AIDS epidemic in the United States began back in the 1970s, when the thought of same-sex marriage hadn’t even occurred to most gay people – indeed, many gay activists revolted against monogamous relationships as “heterosexist” and “patriarchal”. Faithful relationships didn’t drive the spread of AIDS. Promiscuity and unsafe sexual activity did. From a medical standpoint, encouraging gay men to get into stable relationships is beneficial to slowing the spread of HIV. True, not all same-sex marriages are 100% monogamous – but neither are all heterosexual marriages. (I refrain from mentioning the lesbian community here since HIV is extremely rare among that group, but of course I support marriage equality for them too.) As for the religious argument against homosexuality, which is the crutch of choice when one doesn’t have a real argument: religion has been used to justify banning everything from slavery to interracial marriage the eating of shellfish – the argument against same-sex marriage isn’t any more valid than the other ones were.

I can’t say it any better than Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron – a Conservative – did a few months ago:

Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else—commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us. Society is stronger when we make vows to each other and we support each other. I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative.