Monday, October 29, 2012

Back When I was a Youngster...

Wow. The World Series started last Wednesday and it's already over. I'd better use these little items before people forget it happened at all. Did you notice that the Giants had a guy whose name describes what all hitters want to do (Belt)? How about the Tigers, with a guy named for what all good teams need (Fielder)? Both of them happen to play 1st base. Then there was the moment in game three when a pitcher faced a batter with the same last name - Sanchez. Such a thing hadn't happened, we were told, since the 1990's. The common name then? Ah, Rivera. What a country! USA! USA!....

The election campaign last just another week, and the candidates are receiving endorsements, some, of course, more important than others. Colin Powell stuck to his endorsement of Obama, first made (and, of course, derided by the GOP) four years ago. But Romney didn't come up empty. Besides a surprise nod from the usually left-leaning Des Moines Register, Mitt got the support of that star of pretty much everything, Meat Loaf. I wonder how he's listed on the voting rolls?

I was too young to register back in 1969 before leaving for Taiwan to serve a church mission. And there was no election of any consequence on tap when I returned in the fall of 1971. So, my first vote was cast in 1972, when I was twenty three, and about to be married. 
As campaigns go, this one was pretty forgettable. The Democrats had nominated George McGovern to run against the incumbent Richard Nixon, but they had to reset everything when it turned out that McGovern's first running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, had years before undergone electroshock therapy to treat a mental condition. Oops. A quick post-convention huddle led to a switch in running mate to Sargent Shriver, a Kennedy son-in-law and the first director of the Peace Corps.
The only issue of consequence in the campaign seemed to be the War in Vietnam. McGovern cast his lot with the antiwar forces of the day, many still characterized simply as "hippies". Nixon stalked the middle of the electorate by holding out for something vaguely called "Peace With Honor", and the public bought it so completely that McGovern could only carry one state - Massachusetts. He returned to the Senate, his status oddly raised by his quixotic campaign quest.
Of course, McGovern had a past even then. He had served as a bomber pilot during WW II, defying death when brave men dropped from the skies all around him. He introduced something new (which they have since forgotten) to citizens of his native South Dakota - The Democratic Party. You can't fall off a mountain there, but people can and do freeze to death when trapped in snowbanks far from the nearest town, and so campaigning there involved certain risks. He never complained about the whipping he took from Nixon, but history took a bit of revenge itself when illegal hijinks in  the Nixon campaign acquired their own name - "Watergate".
McGovern, you may know, passed away last week at age ninety. We'll never know if he would have been an effective president, and it's useless to even try to figure out that kind of question. But I'm sure there were plenty of widows and orphans who wish he had been given the chance. By the way, my first vote, done absentee in Iowa, was for McGovern. I'm equally proud of stating that I didn't vote for Nixon when I had the chance.     

Monday, October 22, 2012

No Big Surprise

I've said before that when people are running for president, everything, down to necktie colors, is done to serve a political purpose. In watching the 11/22 debate, I noticed something. Romney sported a red and silver striped tie, which happen to be the colors of ...The Ohio State University. Whether it was enough to swing some votes in the Buckeye State is another question. 

The battle between people and animals in our neighborhood for (very) local dominance continues. Last week the animals scored one by turning a cooling birthday cake into an evening raccoon snack. But it wasn't a total loss. We managed to keep the frosting.

Now, as to what's not a big surprise. It's time for an official left-handed election endorsement, and mine is for President Obama. No big surprise, but, given the emphasis this blog has on political matters, readers deserve to know why. Here are ten reasons, and anything that touches on humor here is purely, ah, accidental.:
   1. Instead of groowing every year, the annual budget deficit will continue to get smaller, as it has each year under the Obama administration. As for balancing the budget, so far Obama and Reagan are tied - it hasn't happened for either one.
   2. Since Republicans won't be in charge, there will be little machismo-driven push for yet another war.
   3. John "The Stash" Bolton will be kept from becoming the Secretary of State and thus having the opportunity to push the interests of defense contractors (see #2) every day.
   4. There will be a greater chance that the top marginal income tax rate will return to the Golden Age - of the Clinton Administration.
   5. The chance of complete domination of the three branches of government by Wall Street and banks will be reduced.
   6. Donald Trump will not be the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Neither will he be in charge of diplomacy in any capacity.
   7. Medicare will not turn into the latest place for private industry to shoot fish in a barrel.
   8. Social Security also remains in the public arena, and needed adjustments can be more easily made.
   9. The Affordable Care Act will come into full force on schedule since the Supreme Court declined to put it under the ripsaw.
   10. No thousand dollar "Re-elect Mitt" pony rides at the White House.

Convinced yet? No? Need a few more reasons to sneak a (D) vote into the box in your neighborhood? OK. Here are some more:
   11. Some hope remains for the 47% of the country Romney has no use for.
   12. No conflict of interest in passing and enforcing reasonable regulations on businesses involved in things like food, gas drilling and banking.
   13. If the #1 goal of the Republican House members (defeat of Obama) is removed, they night just discover that their constituents like it when their problems receive attention.
  14. Fewer boots. More (if needed) drones.
  15. No Social Security funds invested in pork bellies or credit default swaps.
  16. No goofy amendments proposed to the Constitution involving a national language or desecration of the US flag.
  17. Attention more likely to be given to the GOP semi-secret plan to restrict voting on a state-by-state basis.      
  18. More jobs and minds dedicated to alternate energy options.
  19. Let's keep a president who we can depend on not changing his mind every few weeks.
  20. Neither Grover Norquist nor Rush Limbaugh becomes de-facto president. The real Grover stays on PBS with his pals from Sesame Street.
If that's not enough, then I'm sorry for having wasted anyone's time. If it is enough, here's hoping your plan to avoid a long, long line to the polls works. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Autocrats Flexing Their Electoral Muscle

I was thinking about reviewing the Cuban Missile Crisis, which happened now fifty years ago. It's an interesting story - how close we came to World War Three and what happened to avert the disaster. Then I realized something. I had already written on this subject a few years back. If the whole thing has you scratching your head, just say so in the comment space below and I'll refer you to some things - maybe even the Kevin Costner movie they made about it.

My assignment in the church these days involves lots of small things, including asking people to speak in weekly meetings. Of course, some people do this better than others, and some are terrified of the prospect. Others are scared, but will do it if asked. Such was the case last month with one of the sisters, a good-hearted woman in her early seventies, known for her generosity and kindness, but a bit self conscious about her own perceived lack of a complete education. She was nervous, but showed up as asked three weeks ago. Her talk, about fifteen minutes long, was well-received, and a good number of people took the opportunity to thank her for it. I suspect it had been several years since anyone had asked her to speak at all.  
A week later she entered the hospital to receive a new knee, something that's become fairly common in our aging congregation. The surgery went fine, but sometime between four and five A.M., a blood clot, it is felt, blocked her circulation and caused her death, just nine days after her talk.
It was a surprise and a shock. Family members gathered here from all over the Western US. A memorial service was held last Saturday, in which I had almost no role. I guess you could say that, as deaths go, this one was as good a way to go as any, and better than most. And I'm glad she had the chance to deliver a compassionate message in a church meeting before her passing. For myself, I just  hope that the members don't start associating my phone calls with, you know, the end.

Nobody honors rich people as a class more than the United States, and I suppose that's understandable since the whole society is set up to promote commercial success. Sure, the jealous journalists used to call them "robber barons", but those reporters would have traded places with them in a second. Think about it. If someone is described as "successful", we can be pretty sure that it's not because they are good at playing catch, combing their hair or playing Monopoly.
Some rich people are refreshingly humble about it, but there's always the chance that their status will be misused in some way. Naturally, the richer people are, the greater the chance of massive bad decisions or bad taste. After all, who's going to be honest with them unless it's someone even richer?
Within the past week I've read about three no doubt fabulously wealthy people bringing back a kind of ugly practice - telling their employees how to vote, and threatening them with professional extermination if their man (yes, Mitt Romney, though I'm fairly sure this wasn't his idea) does NOT  take the Oath of Office next January.
It's hard to know if the threats are really serious, but they are put in very serious terms to get the message over to the bums (almost everybody) who have somehow scammed their way onto the payroll. There could be layoffs! We might have to shut down part or ALL of this organization! YOU (not me) could find yourself on the streets looking for work as an organ grinder without a monkey! Want to take that chance? I didn't think so. We're counting on you to vote Romney in, pal. Capice?
These guys, of course, aren't stupid. They know that controlling someone's secret ballot is something not even they can do. Still, with bosses like that, who's going to want to bring up the subject at work at all? No one will want to be heard talking about the success of the Obama stimulus or the high level of planning that must have gone into getting bin Laden. No. Lunch room conversation will be no broader than picking the next week's NFL games. Obama followers will have to do so in secret, or at least until they have another job offer in hand. If they do leave, the bosses might care for thirty seconds, but probably not that long. 
And that's the way they want it. Just because the employees outnumber the bosses a thousand or more to one, that doesn't mean that their silly opinions count for anything in OUR, which is to say, autocratic, America. We're the job creators, and if we aren't happy we can be the job destroyers as well. Meanwhile, somewhere in a secret room at Koch Brothers Industries headquarters is a well-locked room with a man inside trying to work out a plan to get his bosses' faces on Mt. Rushmore. Why not? Everyone already knows what Washington and Lincoln looked like, and those other two guys (Roosevelt and Jefferson?) were socialists. Sure, we'd have to own the mountain, but...we're working on that, too.         


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

My Brother's Election Year

The baseball playoffs, where pressure is at its highest and media coverage puts teams under a microscope, have begun. Among the contenders is a team from Washington, D.C. called The Nationals. It's the same franchise once known as the Montreal Expos, a team so completely ignored by local fans (most of them hockey fanatics) that they simply stopped coming to games.
Getting the team in Washington wasn't easy, mostly because of strong opposition by the owner of the nearby Baltimore Orioles. But it finally happened, and the Nats fill the spot once taken by the Washington Senators, who are now the Minnesota Twins. The Nats have had a terrific season, as have the Orioles. This year marks the first time a D.C. team has advanced past the regular season in a long time. How long? Since the president's initials were FDR.

I've written before that this year has a challenge you usually just don't face. A co-religionist of mine isn't just running for president, but is the Republican nominee. I don't want the guy to do a public face plant, but the truth is that I back his opponent, President Obama. It's a bit like watching BYU play against Iowa, when I cannot fully back either team and am therefore doomed to some discomfort no matter what happens.
But to be completely truthful, it could be much worse. California is not a "swing" state, and so the level of campaign ads is modest. My fellow worshipers know me pretty well, and so as long as I don't say anything too hostile, they probably won't either. I get kidded, but not too viciously. Everyone seems to keep in mind that whoever the president is, we are stuck with one another. No sense in making enemies out of people who had been friends.     
But my brother doesn't have it as easy. He lives in Colorado, one of those "swing states" mentioned above. My brother is not as opinionated as I am, but he has also abandoned our father's moderate "business first" Republicanism to be a Democrat. He's quite aware that the GOP is far right of where it was in the 1970's and "80's when he grew up a few years after me.
And he's no slouch as a Latter-Day Saint, either. He put in a few years as a local Bishop, a volunteer assignment that would buckle the knees of most men.
Thus, through no fault of his own, he lives in a time and place that forces him to make tough choices. He can continue his lifelong attendance at meetings where, he says, the Mitt promoting is "open, blatant and disgusting" or find a new faith which welcomes liberals. He can try to point out that GOP daily barbs are often less than truthful, and probably catch a faceful of vitriol for his trouble, or he can wait for when it all blows over, whenever that will be, and with near perfect knowledge that no one will remember their bad behavior. He can remind people that official Church policy is supposed to prohibit partisan politics, and be sneered at in response. He can keep silent, hoping that the good people around him don't reveal themselves as bigoted know-nothings. He can understand that people often blur the line between opinion and conviction, or insist that he hasn't confused the two.
Matt's been a very capable guy over a long time. He was the family's best athlete, best business person and highest-serving in the church, as these things are measured. I honestly hope that there is plenty of forgiveness come November, because it would be a shame if, after all these years, he found it necessary to unexpectedly show up at the local Unitarian meeting place.     

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Out There For All To See

The Minnesota Twins sunk a fair amount of money into the career of Tsuyoshi Nishioka over the past two years. Mr. N. is only 28, a multiple time all-star Japanese baseball player with a seemingly bright future. But for some reason, it just didn't work out here. His hitting was modest on his good days, and his fielding at 2nd base left much to be desired. An injury hurt his progress as well.
This kind of situation isn't new to baseball. For over a hundred years, teams have signed new talent, only to be disappointed. What's worse, there doesn't seem to be any other way to get young players to the point where they will contribute at the Major League level. The cost to the team is, of course, made up for in ticket sales and other sources of revenue, but to be competitive in the future, the recruit, sign, pay, train cycle continues as a kind of  hidden cost.
When players have to be cut from the roster it's common to make it all pretty low key. The players collect what's owed to them and quietly leave. Management will be talking up the next group of newcomers in about four months. Mr. N's story, though, has a surprising twist. He graciously thanked the Twins for giving him the chance to play in the Big Leagues, but then surprised the team by saying they could keep the $3.2 million he was owed. I guess even if you're a bust it's still nice to be remembered for something, though I suppose the Twins" financial guys might have the fondest memory of this particular player disappointment. The lesson here is this: even a washout can find a way to show some class heading out the door. Good luck to Mr. N., who will presumably try to regain his star status in his native country.

It's hard, I think, to realize that being a highly paid athlete in a major market has a downside, and I'm not just talking about people asking for your autograph in public when you're out having dinner with the family. The thing is, just about everyone will know about it when you have a bad day, and a few will be nasty about it.
What if, for example, you were a member of the 2012 USA Ryder Cup team, which held a large lead last Sunday vs, Europe in their biannual match play (This is GOLF) showdown. But it all went away when the Americans seemed to catch the same virus, which caused well-paid tournament veterans to choke and lose. If I were a member of that team I would be tempted to spend the next month behind a Nixon mask rather than endure the insults spewing forth from people I don't even know. I didn't see it, but I read that the losing Yanks could barely choke back the tears in the televised post Cup postmortem.
In fact, about the only consolation is that someone else will foul up next week as surely as the sun rising and setting. Field goal attempts bouncing crazily off the upright, an infield throw that turns a double play into an unearned run and a missed chance to make the playoffs, a handful of intercepted passes, some of them for opposing touchdowns.
Perhaps one of the ultimate pressure spots, though it isn't athletic, comes up tomorrow night when the first presidential debate takes place. Given President Obama's well-developed sense of "cool" as compared to Mr. Romney's scattershot attacks that never quite seem coordinated or sometimes even coherent, I would pick Obama as the favorite. On the other hand, surprising things sometimes happen in these mano-a-mano duels.Then again, running the White House isn't like being an everyday debate judge who bases administration policy on whose arguments seem cleaner. The contest, though it's there for all to see, doesn't end in inaugurating a Debater in Chief.