Thursday, December 27, 2012

Possible Factors as to Why Romney Lost

On so many levels Mitt Romney should have won the popular vote for the presidency by at least a six point spread. Also, the Republicans should have picked up seats in the Senate and House. As noted in another posting, changes in House districts helped the Republicans retain control of the House. The election results were not encouraging for the Party.

This should have been a poor year for the Democrats. The economy was not strong. Seniors were concerned about the future of Social Security and Medicare. From a multitude of deep pocket donors giving tens of millions of dollars to the GOP PACs, the PACs were flush with cash to be used on television and radio ads, mailings, get out the vote initiatives. Combined, they could outspend the Democrats by at least 2 to 1. Also, on the campaign trail Obama was stiff and disengaged until the last five weeks. Obama’s overwhelmingly poor performance during the first debate should have sealed Obama’s defeat. So, why did not the Republicans gain seats and the presidency? Political pundits are pointing fingers and spinning their rationale, some insider pundits doing so more as a way to deflect blame from them or their allies.

With the cool passage of time with its dispassionate sifting process historians will be able to give a reasoned picture. Until then there will be a mixture of biased and balanced perspectivies. With no axe to grind, and only from my perspective as an independent, below I note factors that impacted me and several other independents I know in their decision making process:

· Voting for the Republican party is increasingly more difficult for independents. The Party's hard dogmatic uncompromising stances on an array of social and financial issues is moving them away from many independent voters. Contrary to the view that independants are right of center on social issues, poll after poll on social issues are more left of center while more right of center on the budget.  

 · The Republican campaigns, presidential and congressional races, were too focused upon the economy claiming Obama's handling of the economy was poor. That rationale lost traction as most voters recognized that Obama inherited an economy from Bush that was crashing. While was not stellar it was much better than the one he inherited. The Republican strategy did not take into account the perspective of the general public. Even more importantly, the economy improved and that unemployment fell in the year prior to the election. As the numbers improved, spinning that “we could have done better” did not gain traction as the Republican Party was saddled with the “obstructionist” baggage of hindering efforts to help improve the economy. 

· Romney has postured himself too far to the right on fiscal and social issues. In order to win the Republican nomination Romney had to posture himself well to the right and away from his earlier positions that were more moderate. Selecting Ryan as his running mate solidified his well right of center posture. Hence, efforts to be more a centrist in the general election was difficult. By pointing to earlier moderate positions made it seem like he was pandering...saying and doing whatever was needed to win the necessary votes. Thereby Romney come across as a man who lacked principals.

· The Democrats defined Romney in May and June as an elitist multimillionaire who is out of touch with the common citizens and lacks understanding of their concerns. The Republicans never adequately countered this definition process. Instead they saved their money for overwhelming the market with media buys in September and October...more is not better for after a certain saturation point people tune-out the ads (I tuned out).

· Along with the economic plank, Romney running a campaign as a referendum on Obama’s leadership did not provide adequate ground for proposing a policy-backed argument for credible change. Let's not unduly fault Romney for other primary candidates were doing the same. Romney and his primary running mates remained vague on too many policies. Policies that they fleshed out came across either as too thin and not well reasoned out or too extreme for the middle of the moderate voter. Romney in his campaign missed the opportunity to break from the past, to emphatically state that a host of Bush and Obama policies were failures, state why they failed and then give well a reasoned alternative.

· Romney’s 47 percent statement reinforced the image that Romney was a wealthy elitist disconnected from the common citizen. His statement reinforced May and June ads defining Romney as an out of touch person of wealth. The candidate’s initial response, that his point was “inelegantly stated” was not only feeble but suggested he believed what he stated to be true. As the campaign progressed voters still wondered if he understood them. In the last month of the campaign Obama played into this perspective by repeatedly stating that he stood squarely and firmly for the middle class. 

· For four years the Republican Party was overly focused upon “defeat” Obama. Blocking and criticizing initiatives as mnay of his efforts dominated the Party. When he pushed forward ideas that originated from Republican sources over the prior two to five years left informed independents with the impression that the Party was more interested in winning power than about improving the lot of the Country. Obstruction for the sake of obstruction came across at times as the “divine right to rule” attitude.

· The Republicans increasingly appear as a party of and for the financial elite. It appears to many Independant and moderate Democrat voters that the Republicans nominated a wealthy guy who looked and talked like a rich white male who was being funded by other rich white males to advance and protect their interests.

· Romney’s initial Benghazi statements were a huge mistake. They lacked the balance expected of a presidential candidate seeking to portray himself as ready for the office. He made judgements while most of the details remained unclear. Over the subsequent days efforts by surrogates to defend and justify his comments came across poorly as they were trying to defend a mistake.

· The Republican polling matrix and number crunching processes were so seriously faulty it left their  strategy flawed and their expectations surprisingly inflated.  

· The Republican ground game was poorly developed and managed. It lacked organization which did not reflect well on a candidate who postured himself as a great business manager who would bring his honed management skills to Washington. His "well experienced and skilled manager" argument sounded shallow as the campaign progressed and people started to sense his campaign was not well managed.

· Romney did not connect well with women. This is more of an issue influenced by the Party than the candidate. His past moderate views were lost in all that he had to say and embrace on the right to win the nomination.

· Lack of appeal to minority voters. He rarely campaigned in ethnic minority territory. His 47 per cent comment played into this issue as well. As noted in an earlier blog, this is not just a candidate issue as it is a wider Party issue.

· Republican efforts in various states to curtail early voting, hamper voter registration processes, ads and robo calls designed to depress minority turn-out as well as the implementation of voter identification laws appeared to be efforts to suppress the minority vote. Such efforts left the impression that the Party was mainly focused upon being a Party of and for whites. Rather than suppress the minority votes all these efforts energized the minority community to turn out at a higher rate than expected. The minority community stood in lines for long hours to speak clearlty that their voice will not be suppressed. The Republicans in heavy minority areas suffered.

· The Party's general stance against the bail-outs of the auto industry. Romney's op ed. arguing for the government to let the big three go into bankruptcy court, made him the face of the Party's common posture. He suffered because of such a stance, particularly when for the last two years GM, Ford and Chrysler were back to financial solvency, and with the federal budgeting gaining profits earned off that support.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Guns Rights, NRA, and Democracy

For what it’s worth, I’m adding my voice to the gun control debate. From when I first shot a rifle at the gun range in the basement of Mississauga’s Thomas Kennedy High School I’ve enjoyed shooting rifles. I affirm the right of hunters and recreational target shooters to own guns. I also seek to understand the Second Amendment within its original context rather than the twisted recasting that has current sway.    

After yesterday’s drivel from NRA’s Wayne Lapierre, I cannot remain silent. He has drawn me into expressing my views to my elected officials. Some gun advocates say that this is not the time to discuss such issues. When would be the time? Two months later following another shooting? Six months later? There is bound to be another shooting that would be used to justify the “now is not the time” posture. The “now is not the time” statement is commonly made after shootings. Yet I remain perplexed why many of the same people don’t refrain from speaking out and taking action doing similar when people are killed by drunk drivers, or underage drinking parties, or major accidents with loss of life occur at poorly designed intersections, or when mass transit safety is a concern following an accident, or with regard to abortion, in rare cases of voter fraud, etc. They would never accept, “now is not the time” argument on these type of issues. Many of those who advocate “respectful silence during a time of grief” after a shooting are the first to call for action and push for redress to limit its recurrence. I don’t see any reason to treat Second Amendment rights under different rules than other issues.

The NRA’s reasoning is flawed, and we would never accept such flawed reasoning on any other issue. Nonetheless, it is accepted widely and embraced because it taps into our own fears and paranoia, both national and individual. Therefore, we want to accept such reasons to justify gun ownership. If I understand LaPierre’s reasoning, it runs this way…gun ownership provides the foundation to keep America free. Furthermore, America is a dangerous country, so much so that all its citizens must be armed to protect themselves from each other; if more citizens were armed, gun crime would decrease as people would be afraid to use guns illicitly; and as gun free zones schools are particularly vulnerable because they invite people to take guns there and to use them against helpless victims.

The NRA argues that government legislation should not prevent law-abiding citizens from buying whatever guns they want. I have two problems with this argument. First, it opens the door wide open to enabling criminals and the emotional unstable to buy guns too. Just as we do by locking our doors and by having keys to start our cars limit theft, having some gun purchase barriers/qualifications helps limit the opportunity and the frequency of criminals and the unstable securing guns. Second, it also overlooks that a good number of those who have used a gun in suicide, to commit homicide and even many of these mass shootings that catch our attention, were law-abiding citizens up until the moment they pulled the trigger.

What Lapierre is proposing for arming schools with armed officers is exactly what Columbine High School had when the shootings occurred there. In fact, that school had two armed police officers on duty at the moment of the shooting. The shooters knew their school had armed officers, but that knowledge did not instill any fear in them. The shootings still took place. The mall in Washington state had armed security, yet the shootings still occurred. The shooter in the Sandy Hook had guns in his home, which were owned by his mother. Instead of her guns protecting her, as the NRA argues should have been the case, they were used against her.

When the shooter of President Ronald Regan drew out his weapon, he knew there would be a multitude of Secret Service agents and local police officers with weapons ready to be used. The shooter who attempted to shoot President Ford faced the same and she knew it. Robert Kennedy had similar protection. Yet in all three cases, did all that well armed protection deter the shooters? Evidently, the armed protection was not a deterrent, which argues against LaPierre’s reasoning. Also arguing against Lapierre’s reasoning is the Fort Hood shooting, a place where thousands of people were well armed, and still unable to prevent a tragedy.

More Americans have guns in their homes than at any other time than in over a hundred years. According to LaPierre’s reasoning, gun crime should be decreasing. We should be at our lowest point. Have the number of gun crimes decreased? No, they have not; in fact, they have increased. The severity of the shootings higher than it was in the 70s and 80s when large gun clips were not available to the general public.

Switzerland and Israel are two countries with trained civilian military who, until recent years, took their military arms home. Both countries were experiencing unaccepted levels of accidental shootings, domestic homicides and suicide. After they changed their policies regarding military guns in home, the rates of such instances in all three types of gun activity dramatically decreased.

Israel discovered that when a soldier had a gun in the home and became depressed, that the gun was too available to be used in a moment of depression and heightened emotions. Removing the gun allowed time for the heightened emotions to diminish and moments of depression to work themselves out. Is gun availability in the home a factor behind law enforcement being the highest profession for suicide by gun? It’s a question that needs attention.

Part of me pities Lapierre for having such a negative feeling about the society in which he lives and works. Imagine living in such fear, believing that your society is so dangerous that you must be heavily armed at work, as you drive around your community, as you shop, as you travel, as you go out to restaurants and entertainment venues and as you live in your home. I cannot imagine living with such fear. I could not work in an office where I felt I needed to have a weapon at hand, because I did not think highly about my workmates and had a gun just in case they started shooting and I had to be willing to kill some of them. The same applies to how I view my neighbors or who will be with me tomorrow morning in church. I live and work in the neighborhood in which he works, travels and lives. The NRA headquarters is just two hundred yards from my home and I have never had a fear walking and driving in the community. But alas he has such fear. Then I remind myself that LaPierre is a paid mouthpiece, albeit a highly paid one, for the gun manufacturers and dealers who underwrite the bulk of the NRA budget and much of LaPierre’s salary. He is paid by gun manufacturers and dealers to spin a story to help protect their business and pump gun sales.

I think it is a sad commentary that an organization is advocating that every school become an armed camp. In a time when schools are cutting teaching positions due to budgetary constraints, it is being argued, implicitly, that more teaching positions should be eliminated so armed police officers can patrol school hallways and guard school doors. I do not want my children, or future grandchildren, stepping off school buses and having to walk past guards carrying military grade rifles; I don’t want students to be compelled to pass through metal detectors as they enter their school, nor do I want them to see their teachers standing before them with guns on their hips. What a horrible message to send to them day after day, year after year. What a horrible message to send about a free democratic society, that they are no safer in the community than children in conflict torn countries.

As an aside, the NRA boasts about its membership numbers, which have, sadly, increased since the Newtown massacre. I look at such boasting with askance. If you own a gun and wish to go to a gun range, you are likely going to have to join the NRA as a condition of using the range. Like the closed union shops with union membership required to work at the plant, NRA membership is required to practice with your gun at gun ranges, and though the majority of NRA members hold that registration, background checks and clip limits are reasonable protections, the NRA uses their dues to advance views that many of their members do not support. Yet, while conservatives decree the unions for having closed shops, no one word of protest is heard about the NRA requirement to use a gun range…a most interesting inconsistency that suggests that when it comes to the gun industry in America, it is allowed operate by a different set of laws.

To hold that the gun is the foundation is our democracy is a most unfortunate commentary on the nature and fragility of American democracy. History continues to teach us that armed, biased local militias and thugs stifle democracy, not enhance it. Further, does this not imply that countries that have gun control laws are not true democracies? The Canadians, Japanese, British, French, Germans, Swiss, Italians, Austrians, Dutch, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Fins, Australians, all vigorous democracies with gun control, would disagree with such a position. The ballot and free speech, not guns, are the true foundations of democracy. American democracy is well and strong, it is no so fragile that it needs a gun to protect it!

I favor reasonable registration of all firearms, background checks, limits on the type of guns and clip sizes available to civilians, and mandatory firearms safety certifications. Would such laws eliminate all gun violence? No, and to think otherwise would be delusional. Do car registrations, required annual safety inspections and safety standards, driver licenses and licensing standards eliminate all accidents? No, but accidents rate would be much higher with poorly trained (or untrained) drivers. And vehicle safety standards help remove unsafe cars from the road, thereby make driving our roads a much safer experience for all. The same things apply for gun use and regulation.

At the top I noted that I enjoyed target shooting. It is a sport I would like to enjoy again, but, unfortunately, to do so functionally requires that I be a member of the NRA. THAT I will not do, for I repudiate that organization’s irresponsible policies, as well as its warped views of my neighbors, workmates, and society in general. Unlike Wayne LaPierre, I choose to respect rather than fear my fellow humans.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Research Project Underway

I’ve decided to research the measure the facts behind various statements that I’ve heard again and again uttered by politicians. I’m curious to determine if these statements are true or not. Some of these statements are:

a) That the majority of American voters are right of center. I’ve also heard some on the political left state that the majority of American voters are left of center.

b) That China holds the majority of the public debt of the United States.

c) That the majority of Americans are against abortion in every situation.

d) That the majority of American voters are against equal rights for same-sex couples and are against gay marriage.

e) That the violent crime is worse today than it has ever been.

f) That Democrats are reckless spendthrifts who waste taxpayer money, create deficits while Republican administrations have been fiscally responsible and have more often had balanced the budgets than Democrat Presidents.

g) Roughly 47% of Americans pay no taxes while benefiting from entitlement programs for which the rest of America supports.

h) Social Security is about to go broke and drastic cuts are necessary to keep it in the black. 

i) Earmarks contribute significantly to the deficit.

j) Voter fraud is not a major problem and that recent efforts to scrutinize voter registrations is unnecessary.
The above list is not all inclusive. I'm curious to discover what happens. I will post some of my discoveries.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

America's Religious Changes Impacting Elections

It is evident that the ethic profile of the United States is changing, but so is America’s religious profile.  In the 1950s church attendance across all denominations was strong, with three out of four Americans attending church services at least three times a year. In this same decade over 85% of Americans considered themselves to be “religious”. In the mid 60’s dramatic shift that lasted for a little over two decades commenced with the growth in the conservative Baptist and evangelical churches as people left mainline churches for conservative congregations.  

In August 2012 the Washington Post reported the number of Americans claiming to be “religious” had decreased from around 73% in 2005 to around 60%. That same article noted that atheists make up about 5% of the American public, up from around the 1% level of the late 80s.  

As noted in a past post, the evangelical church is in decline, a decline that will become starkly evident over the coming decade. Many evangelicals argue the decline is a result of a lack of religious fervor and conviction in their churches and society as a whole. They argue that the church and nation is decline because prayer has been taken out of the schools, gay marriage and rampant disregard for biblical teachings.

While lack of broad fervor may be a factor in the decline of the evangelical church, it is a minor factor. The two primary causes for the decline are entangled somewhat. First, the group that flooded into the evangelic churches between 1965 and 1985 as a reaction to social changes occurring in that era are aging rapidly. Their children and grandchildren are not attending evangelical churches at the same rate. While not the only cause, significant declines in attendance, particularly amongst those below the age of 30 follow on the heels of periods of strident political activity within the evangelical church.

My intent here is not to judge one way or the other the appropriateness of such action on a particular issue or set of issues. My intent is to note that there is a correlation between the evangelical church’s manifest fervor on particular issues and the younger generation remaining within or being attracted to the evangelical teachings. What is evident is that there was a cost to the evangelical churches the more they became politically engaged on a host of social, cultural and financial issues. It increasingly appears that their political activity has left those who came into adulthood since the early 1990s feeling that the evangelical church has no answers for them. While some of the younger generation are returning to mainline churches, for a more balanced approach, more often than not the younger generation are not looking to any organized faith for sucker and guidance.

Hence, the evangelical finds itself with an aging membership. In many congregations the largest age block are those over the age of 60. Attendance is slowly declining, and will become more rapid as their largest block of members start to enter nursing homes and pass away.     

This shift was evidenced in this past election, an election which on so many levels Romney should have won by a spread of at least 7. With this economy, if the values and the demographics of the late 80s and early 90s were in place Romney would have won easily. Then the evangelical church, the heart of the Republican base, was strong and the younger generation was still somewhat religiously connected.

November’s exit polls showed that those who claim to have faith of some manner but with no specific religious affiliation, called “nones” in the data, made up 12 percent of the electorate in 2012. This is up by 3 points from 2000 and double the 1980 level. Further, the number of people who say that they do not attend church or house of worship stood at 17 percent. The Republican base is shrinking.


That this level the “nones” make up a voting block as large as the Hispanic. These “none” broke for the Democrats by over 40%. If one adds into the mix the atheists, the voting block becomes more significant. The block will only grow.  America is becoming more pluralistic. Hopefully the Republicans can make the adjustment.  

Saturday, December 08, 2012

My 2012 Bowl Season Picks

I'm once again going on the record with my Bowl Picks for 2012.  What are your picks?
As the bowl season progresses I will update in bold the winner. Will I be better than 60% as in past years?

Dec 15 – Gildan New Mexico Bowl                           Arizona (W) over Nevada – Arizona is a class above Nevada

Dec 15 – Famous Idaho Potato Bowl                        Utah (W) over Toledo – Toledo’s porous defense will not be able to stop Utah’s aggressive offense.  

Dec 20 – San Diego Co Credit Union Poinsettia     BYU (W) over San Diego State – this is a toss-up

Dec 21 – Beef ‘O’ Brad’s Bowl                                   Ball State over Central Florida (W) – Many tend to see CF as the victor but I’ll go with Ball State’s spunky style as a surprise win in my mix. 

Dec 22 – R and L Carriers New Orleans                     La Lafayette (W) over East Carolina – the La Lafayette QB will have to have a strong game.

Dec 22 – Maaco Bowl Las Vegas                                 Washington over Boise State (W) – Boise State does well in bowl games, but they are not as strong as in past years. Washington’s defense will be the key. If Washington defense must not surrender more than 18 or Boise will win. 

Dec 24 – Sheraton Hawaii Bowl                                  SMU (W) over Fresno State

Dec 26 – Little Caesars Bowl                                        Central Michigan (W) over Western Kentucky – the game is in their backyard

Dec 27 – Military Bowl                                                  San Jose State (W) over BGU

Dec 27 – Belk Bowl                                                        Cincinnati (W) over Duke – Duke’s storybook season will not carry them over Cincinnati

Dec 27 – Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl         UCLA over Baylor (W) – UCLA will be out to correct their let down in losing to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship.

Dec 28 – AdvoCare Bowl                                               UL-Monro over Ohio (W) 

Dec 28 – Russell Athletic Bowl                                    Rutgers over VA Tech (W) – I hope that this is a growing up game for VA Tech but I’m not confident that will take place.

Dec 28 – Meineke Car Care Bowl                              Texas Tech  (W) over Minnesota – Minnesota should not be in this game. Minnesota is only in this bowl because Ohio State and Penn State are not bowl eligible.

Dec 29 – Bell Helicopter Armed Forces                   Air Force over Rice (W) – Rice has overachieved this year and Air Force will be out to finish their year on a positive note rather than carry the baggage of losing four of its last five games.

Dec 29 – New Era Pinstripe                                          Syracuse (W) vs West Virginia– WV offense has been inconsistent, and its defense underperforms. WV defense will have its hands full. The Syracuse defense will be challenged but I'm giving the nod to Syracuse in a high scoring game.

Dec 29 – Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl                               Arizona St (W) over Navy – Arizona State is the stronger team. While Navy’s planning and discipline will serve them well, to win Navy's defense and offense will have to play far better than they did in the Army-Navy game. Navy does not have the power to win.

Dec 29 – Valero Alamo Bowl                                        Oregon State over Texas (W) – Texas has QB consistency issues, something that does not miraculously change in a bowl game. Oregon's running game will be a key factor. Oregon by 3.

Dec 29 – Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl                             Michigan State (W) over TCU – While TCU has been more consistent than Michigan State and they have a more diverse offense, I'm going with Michigan State as one of the few Big Ten wins.

Dec 31 – Franklin Am. Mortgage Music City             Vanderbilt (W) over NC State - Here we will see that SEC teams are much stronger than AC teams.

Dec 31 – Hyundia Sun Bowl                                          USC over Georgia Tech (W) – USC is too deep. GT’s offense will gain little traction and their defense will not be able to stop USC. Also GT has a history of underperforming in bowls. I can see USC winning by 17.

Dec 31 – AutoZone Liberty Bowl                                  Tulsa (W) over Iowa State – Iowa State will lose the rematch of their earlier game as Tulsa has matured over the season. I will still pull for Iowa State.

Dec 31 – Chick-Fil-A Bowl                                              LSU over Clemson (W) – LSU’s offensive depth and D Line will overmatch Clemson’s defense.

Jan 1 – Taxslayer Gator Bowl                                       Northwestern (W) over Mississippi State - This could be one of the few Big Ten games if it is close. Mississippi State while bigger I’ll give the nod to the pesky Northwestern.

Jan 1 – Heart of Dallas Bowl                                         Oklahoma State (W) over Purdue – With Ohio State and Penn State not eligible, this is one of those games where a Big Ten team is matched up against a far superior team. As Purdue is overmatched at nearly every position, OSU should win this by 14 or more.

Jan 1 – Capital One Bowl                                               Georgia (W) over Nebraska – Georgia is too strong and their pass game will challenge Nebraska’s secondary.

Jan 1 – Outback Bowl                                                     South Carolina (W) over Michigan – Michigan’s consistency this season was questionable. Steve Spurrier will have his team well prepped with a great game plan.   

Jan 1 – Rose Bowl                                                            Wisconsin over Stanford (W) – If the Wisconsin team from the Big Ten Championship shows up, they will win over Wisconsin. Wisconsin will be want to have a different result from their prior two trips to Pasadena.

Jan 1 – Discover Orange Bowl                                     Florida State (W) over Northern Illinois – Northern Illinois will put up a spirited valiant effort but by the second half FS’s strength will overwhelms them.

Jan 2 – Allstate Sugar Bowl                                           Florida over Louisville (W) – Florida’s high quality defense will stagger Louisville’s O Line and QB

 Jan 3 – Tostitos Fiesta Bowl                                         Oregon (W) over Kansas State – Oregon’s speed will be the deciding factor for an upset.

Jan 4 – ATT Cotton Bowl                                         Texas AM (W) over Oklahoma – Texas AandM has a BSC quality team, a team that with a few breaks could have put them in the top five in the polls whereas Oklahoma is not a top ten team.

Jan 5 – BBVA Compass Bowl                                        Ole Miss (W) over Pittsburg – Pittsburg will have issues handling Ole Miss’ speed.

Jan 6 – Bowl                                         Kent State over Arkansas State (W) – I see this as an upset.                

Jan 7 – BSC Championship Bowl                                 Alabama (W) -  though I will be pulling for Notre Dame, Bama has more balance and depth, and should win by at least 10.           

I ended up 23 and 12 this year.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Bob Costas Attacked For Being Balanced

The recent murder-suicide committed by Jovan Belcher, a NFL football player, has drawn a light upon American gun laws, or the lack thereof. Calling his Sunday night’s commentary an unjustified “rant” Bob Costas has come under voracious attacks for speaking to the matter and for reading on air part of published commentary by Fox Sports commentator Jason Whitlock. Rather than ignore the issue that was upon everyone’s mind Costas rightly addressed it.

Let’s be clear, Costas edited out Whitlock’s statements calling for gun control laws, a fact his detractors conveniently overlook to their detriment. After speaking to the mindless cliché that this type of tragedy puts life in perspective, Costas reminded his audience that we live in a society where these ugly events will occur again and again and again. Regardless of where one stands on gun-control policy, other than making us feel uncomfortable what is wrong with being reminded about that reality. With the exception of countries in the midst of civil wars and societal disintegration, we live in a society where more people die from guns on a per capita basis than most other countries.  

Costas then finished with Whitlock’s all true statement of fact that again and again handguns are used far too often in the moment of heated domestic and interpersonal disputes to escalate arguments and as a means to settle matters. Instead of addressing matters in a non-violent manner the consequences of such escalation have most unfortunate consequences for the participants, their family and society at large.

Costas’ critics would rather ignore the issue, act as if the murder-suicide of a NFL player never occurred. Interestingly, when Costas spoke out about the Sandusky matter many of those same critics supported him for speaking to the matter in a forthright balanced manner. Now they call the same approach as unwarranted and a rant. That Costas is attacked for again being balanced on this issue is a sad commentary upon the nature of civil discourse on the ownership, registration, storage and training with regard to handguns.

His critics were quick to point out that guns do not kill, people kill. His assailants also excitedly argue that only criminals use guns to commit crimes, not law abiding citizens. They then rave on that civil authorities should be focused upon going after criminals rather than law abiding citizens. That obfuscating argument is a most interesting framing of the issue. The argument reminds me of a large church with thousands of members which proudly proclaims they have never had any of their members divorce. What goes unsaid is that the church conveniently expels married couples from their membership the moment they start divorce procedures. Hence, as the couple is no longer members when they are divorced, the church can maintain its proud claim. Let us not forget there are many law abiding citizens who only become a criminal the moment they pull the gun’s trigger.

Guns do not commit acts of good or evil. They are inanimate objects with no moral quality or the exercise of the same. They are a means to an end. While Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron hit all those home runs, their carefully chosen bats made those home runs possible. I doubt they would have hit more than half their home runs if instead of using the heavy weight bats they used the light weight ones pitchers tend to use.

It is a shame that Bob Costas speaking in a balanced manner is attacked as if he had called to the legalization of crack. It’s a sad commentary for a nation that prides itself on the value of civil discourse.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Why Does This Country Allow Such Loans

The Old Testament is replete with references condemning taking advantage of the widowed, the orphaned, and the downtrodden. We can readily understanding why ancient Israel that usury was more than an ethical, it was viewed as a criminal activity. Those who are the most vulnerable, the least educated, the least capable of understanding business matters, and those in the most desperate straits financially, are prime prey for wily people.

Payday loans are a form of usury. I am aghast how those who posture themselves as running for office on “biblical values” look the other way on these loans. Payday and title loans are enticingly packaged as a service, but they are anything but a service for anyone but the lender as the loan terms are designed to keep as many people as possible “paying off the loan” as long as possible. Annual interest rates in excess of 40% are not uncommon, sometimes even greater than 50%. That these firms tend not to freely publish their rates on the net speaks further volumes as to the predatory nature of their loans.  

There is an ad running that targets those who are caught in the payday loan trap by enticing the victims to take out a loan with them so as help them retire their payday loan. The firm is offering to rescue usury victims with another usury loan with an annual interest rate that is excess of 89%.

The ad offers quick loans of $10,000 with payment plan over 84 months at a rate of 89%. The victim would be paying $751 a month. The principle would be recovered by the lender in 14 months, the remaining months are all profit. Comparing this to the common new car loan rate of 6.9%, a $10,000 loan would have payments over 84 months of $150.43. A rate of 26.9% (a high side credit rate) would have payments of $265.38 over 84 months.
That these outragious predatory loans all permitted speaks volumes about the nation's values. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giving Tuesday

We have Black Friday looming when retailers offer great bargains to draw in shoppers and to launch the holiday gift buying season. On Monday Nov 26 we have Cyber Monday where the emphasis turns to the online shopping experience with retailers offering specials online to attract customers.

To help bring some balance, for the first time we have Giving Tuesday, a day to think about our civic responsibility to help charitable causes.  I would encourage you to take contemplate how you and your family are upholding your civic responsibilities to give to others through charitable causes. I have it on my calendar to do just that this Tuesday. I cut a few gifts that day, and review my charitable involvement. I hope you too will put the day on the calendar.

Besides making a few charitable gifts that day, here are just a few ideas for how you could participate in other ways on Giving Tuesday.  

·         CEOs sending to their employees an email encouraging them to make charitable gifts and volunteer in some way this holiday season.

·         A company announcing that it will match gifts their employees are making to charities this season.

·         Calling a charity to offer to volunteer in some way this holiday season and winter.

·         As a family deciding to send a gift to a charity in honor of someone the family wishes to honor.

·         As a family deciding to set aside a day each quarter to volunteer.

·         Set a day to go visit a charity or two to learn about what they are doing in your community.

·         As a family, count the money that is in your wallets and pockets at that moment and send 10% to a charity that the family selects.

·         A family meeting to discuss two or three causes that are important each member of the family and why they are important to that member.

·         Go on a treasure hunt, looking in your cupboards and closets, and on your shelves for items that you can box-up for delivery that week to a charity.

·         Go grocery shopping, not to buy food for your family, but to buy several days of groceries that you would buy for your family and then take those groceries to a charity.

·         Mark on the family calendar one day every quarter on which the family will plan a charitable gift and activity of some nature. And then keep the appointment to yourselves to follow-up.

·         Start an “empty the change” campaign for the family during which family members place into a charity jar at the end of each day all loose change they have in their wallets, purses and pockets, and once every two or three months send what is in the jar to a charity.

·         Skip a treat a week event in which each member of the family skips a treat/snack once a week and puts what they would have spent in to a jar with the proceeds going every few months to charity the family selects.

·         Taking the personal initiative to arrange for your place of business to do a collecting of food, or coats, or clothing. Most places do not do such activities because someone has not taken the initiative to organize the event.
These ideas may help trigger ideas of your own as to how you can participate in Giving Tuesday.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Drum Corps 2013 Season

The 2013 audition season is well underway. This is the first time since 2007 that we will not have monthly trips to the airports. I will not miss Josh's monthly trips to San Antonio. Though we will not be following the season on a daily basis and as deeply as in the past, we will continue to follow the activity, take in shows when we can, and cheer for the Crossmen.

The amount of work that these young people give to preparing the shows, drilling all day from early morning until they pack to go to a show is demanding to say the least. For three months sleeping on buses and on floors, eating most meals sitting on the grass or at a curb, sweating bucks every day in the glare of the hot sun, and getting oneself psyched up each night for a show is something that only the most disciplined and lover of the activity can endure yearly. While most participants march only for one or two years, the number who march for four, five and six years is greater than I would have imagined.

If you ever get an opportunity to take in a DCI show, do so. Do not only take in the show, but also before or after wonder through the lot containing their equipment trucks and buses. Doing so will help remind you of what these young people give on a daily basis to entertain their audiences.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

President Obama - Short Reflection on Election Day

I am pleased that the current presidential election cycle is coming to a close. This election has been three years too long creating posturing bring about years of stagnation in which the great American founding principal of compromise been replaced by dogmatic stubborn firmness demanding that the other side capitulate all along the board.

Will Obama be re-elected? While the coming hours will tell, I suspect that history will view the last four years as a period of missed opportunities, for the President as well as Congress to work together for the greater good.

Obama’s presidency has lacked consistent clarity and passion. Yes, there has been been moments of clarity, but for the most part his overall plan and direction has not been evidenced. Some of the lack of clarity has been due to him trying to find ways to work with an obstructionist Congress and the Republican's primary agenda of ensuring Obama is a one term President...not a posture of governing for the good of the nation but a posture of doing whatever is necessary to win at all costs. A good part is that the President's lack of passion makes him appear to be detached. I suspect that he understands the anxieties and feels the pains of the common citizen and their plight, but it does not come across as frequently as it should. He has not been selling his ideas with passion and from the framework of addressing the issues felt on Main Street.

Obama was handled a horrible economic situation created by crass and unchecked greed in so many sectors of the economy. Bush, shares the blame, but so does Congress, the mega banks, those realtors who pushed subprime loans and homes they knew people could not afford, the citizens who knowingly bought homes they could not afford, and local as well as state politicians who rather than encouraging the building of modest housing stock facilitated the building of upscale large homes. 

The crass greed and off-loading of risky derivatives around the world continue to be felt by nations around the world. The impact of the economic collapse that was underway four years ago continues to linger in the United States, Europe and Far East.  Obama is commended for calmly guiding the country through an economic minefield and helped prevent the collapse of our major banks, he has not led with a passion and vision a President should project, particularly in troubled times, in terms that the average family can appreciate.    

What drives Obama? We have not evidenced what drives him, his grand vision or ideas. Health-care expansion was not a driving vision or passion. He was not highly engaged in driving the shape of the reform as expanding health insurance and improving health-care was Hillary Clinton’s issue. Healthcare was Hillary passion, a platform he co-opted to secure the nomination. He never argued strongly in favor for it, guide and drive the shape of the reform. Instead he left it to various parties to shape reform apart from his ongoing involvement which resulted in a healthcare reform that is more flawed than necessary.

He rightly extracted the nation from the ongoing morass of Iraq. He is commended for doing so. Other than giving a deadline to withdrawing from Afghanistan he has not given a clear definition of what needs to be done and how it would be done. The withdraw from both countries will help stop the spiraling deficit. His posture on Libya was reasonable, but Egypt was muddier and Syria still merkier. Presenting a cogent vision for the world or how America will be involved in the world has only been articulated in broad terms.  The current strength of international relations more a result of Hillary Clinton, not the President. 

While Obama is an eloquent man who can move hearts on the campaign trail, but we have rarely evidenced the same in the White House. Too often Obama comes across a pleaser who sticks his finger into the wind. We have not evidenced what angers and disappoints him, what are his burning issues that are at the center of his presidency. The lack of ongoing eloquence and burning passions has left him exposed to the attack that he has no plans.

I fear that regardless who wins next week, a presidency lacking passion, burning conviction and clarity will continue for the next four years. Romney is not any better. The earlier months of his campaign lacked passion and miandered due to Romney's lack of passion. He did not define himself well. Further, various positions Romney has held over the years have been all over the map. The ad claiming Chrysler was moving its plants to China was so blantantly false that Chrysler had to refudiate it again and again, so much so that the ad left people questioning his honesty and character. 

Romney's ever shifting positions on various issues is not evidence of a maturing thought process that we should expect for a maturing person as they weigh out issues in light of new information. Rather, for me, it is evidence of him being a pleaser too, an excellent salesman who changes his message to match the audience to whom he is skillfully pitching the sale. In Massachusetts he campaigned for governor and governed as a moderate, taking positions which are contrary to statements over the last two years. Though he postured himself as a moderate, today he claims he was a radical right-wing conservative governor, thereby recasting his history. To gain the Republican nomination required Romney to make the hard right sales pitch, some of which he is today downplaying or walking back somewhat towards the center during the national campaign to appeal to the center. To do so he is highlighting moderate statements made five to ten years before, statements that conflict with positions taken in the primaries.
Given the economy, Romney should be well ahead in the polls and should win with a landside. Alas he is not winning in the polls by a wide margin, partly because a host of positions are out of touch with the center leaning public. If he is the victor, I fear that his presidency too will lack a clear well defined vision and passion. I also fear that under his presidency that the public debt will continue to grow significantly over the next four years.

The only positive is that regardless of who is in the President that according the federal Office of Budget and Management that the economy will continue to get stronger and employment will move below 6% by 2016. Romney’s projections of 12 million more jobs outlined in his plan is what the OBM forcasts to take place of the next four years. Of course, a President Obama or a President Romney and Congress could unravel those projections by doing something drastic or remaining engaged in unproductive gridlock.

The nation needs a President who has passion and a vision that is more than a slogan. Hopefully who ever is the victor will discover the passion.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Cut My Taxes and I Will Give More to Charity: Do You Buy It?

An argument for lowering taxes for the wealthy is that they will give more to charities if their taxes were lowered. Is the argument supported with data? Over the past five decades, taxes for the wealthiest 15% of Americans has declined decade after decade. If the arguement about charitable giving is correct, philanthropic giving by the wealthiest of Americans as portion of their annual income would be at its highest point since World War II.

In 1990 Terry Odendahl published Charity Begins at Home. In his book he summarized several studies over the prior decades as well as his own that demonstrated that philoanthropic giving by multimillionaires had not increased when their taxes decreased. Further, he noted that moderate and low-income families give a significantly greater percentage of their income to charities than do the wealthier fifteen percent of Americans. Since, study after study continues to affirm Odendahl's claims. Each year The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports families of modest means continue to be more philanthropic both with their time and money. As a percentage of their income, families of modest means continue to give at a much higher rate than the wealthiest of their neighbors.

If the argument was correct we would evidence an increase in giving by the wealthy each decade since the 1970s as in each decade the taxes paid by the wealthiest has declined each decade. While taxes have decreased, charitable giving by the wealthy as a percentage of their income has not increased. Rather, philanthropic giving has remained flat to having a slight decrease.

Impression and reality are sometimes different, as it is in this arena. Clearly it’s the occasional large gifts that receive headline attention. The occassional $100,000 or $250,000 gift to an organization that catches public attention, not the plethora of $50, $100, $500 and the $1,000 dollar gifts given repeatedly over the year to various local, regional and national charities by families of modest means.

Odendahl also noted the wealthiest also tend to support different charities. He noted the wealthiest tend support strongly organizations that they themselves use, such as the opera, performing arts groups, elite universities, cultural groups and leading medical facilities. Gifts when given to poverty organizations are a fraction of what they give to organizations they and their families frequently utilize. Studies since uphold the same trends continue.

Arguing lower taxes need to be based upon other grounds. Suggesting lower taxes will boast charitable giving is fallacy.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Contrast in Societies

The differences between Amsterdam and Paris were striking. The one reflected a history of regal and absolute governance with the results of power and wealth in the hands of the few aristocracy, with their opulent palaces and homes designed to impress and overwhelme the visitor. They filled their city with grand monuments to celebrate national glories and accomplishments. With wealth held by the overly wealthy few, it was done at the expense of the common citizen.  From generation to generation the poverty and missery of the common citizen increased until the masses cried out and revolution occured. During the Napoleonic age national wealth while held more broadly, the trickle down to impact the average citizen was limited and the middle class while larger was a small part of the overall national population. While national wealth under Napoleon shifted from building grand palaces to building national infastructure, the added grandeur of the decor and statuaries of the projects reflected the design to impress attitude of the monarcal area. In Paris one has a clear sense of a world view build around national pride and view of France being one of the world's intellectual and financial leaders, not needing to draw lessons from others.

Amsterdam on the other hand reflects different mindset and view of themselves. They are a historically independently minded people with governance grounded in compromise (much like the American Declaration of Independance and the Constitution), with the common citizen having a voice in civil affairs and far more of the national wealth in the hands of a large middle class. As a result the wealthiest 5% had far less of the national wealth than found in France. With civil leadership more diverse their buildings are more functional in nature and design, grand opulence unsought. The city reflects immense wealth of the past but expressed in more subtle ways, including in building of trade and commerce with the world, and in functional public infastructure.  The city also demonstrates that wealth was diversified across the populous, and with an attitude of maintaining of pragmatic collective assets. Their strong albeit quiet national pride is coupled with a world view that is global, collective and pragmatic.

The challenge of any society is to find balance, particularly in regard to wealth and lack thereof. Pre-revolution Paris is an example of a disregard of the middle class and the average citizenry and the accommulation of immense wealth and power in the hands of a few. Amsterdam of the same era reflects a different structure. Today, numersous countries are in the process of defining if they will be more like Paris or more like Amsterdam.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Canals, Rivers and Lakes

Paris and Amsterdam's rivers and canals are beautiful, picturesque, and post WWII they were increasing viewed in romantic terms. Yet as I walked along their banks I could not help recall that what I saw was so sanitized from how they were 150-300years ago. Even as little as 100 years ago the canals of Amsterdam, the rivers of Paris and the canals of Venice we're  smelly, dirty sewers full of rotting dead animals and other human refuse. The wealthy of Amsterdam left town during the summer heat due to the stench of the canals. In Paris, the grand houses were some distance from the river so that the smells of a polluted river did not fill their homes. 

Polluted waterfronts were not a European issue only. Four decades ago the Toronto Harbor Front, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the Hudson River in NYC were smelly and polluted.  Rivers in most major cities across North America were not the places of choice  for romantic and leisure strolls or where the wealthy sought to locate their homes.

I remember in the 70s the smells of the Toronto waterfront and seeing garbage filling the Hudson River and the images of the Cayuhoga River in Cleveland on fire.  I remember being in LA in December when the city was covered in a thick blanket of smog for as many as five days at a time.  Thank goodness for environmental activists who advocated for better cities in which to live and socialize. We are heirs of their work, with fresher air to fill our longs, and with cleaner and more pleasing waterways to enjoy with each other.  Let's not relax our standards, otherwise, the polluted  waterways of yesteryear will  return. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Significant Shift in Evangelical Thinking

This year something transpired in the Evangelical and Fundamentalist church that 20 yrs. ago, or even 8 yrs. ago I thought wouldn't occur in my lifetime. In the 70s and 80s several of my professors and other Evangelical leaders claimed that Mormonism was a threat to the church. They said ministers needed to teach those sitting in the pews that though it may seem at first to be a type of Christian faith, Mormonism was anything but a Christian faith. They noted it was a heresy on so many levels. A plethora of books were published in the same age on the subject. 

 Further, since the 70s Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have maintained that the President being a Christian was of paramount importance. Since the 90s it has been more so. Hence, for many presidential election cycles we have witnessed prospective candidates pandering to the conservative church. We have seen the same with House and Senate candidates who speak openly of their faith in "born again" language yet behind the scenes living a life contrary to their claims. 

 In the last months, overwhelmingly so Evangelicals have embraced Mitt Romney's bid for for the White House. To maintain the later means viewing Mormonism as a Christian faith, not a heresy or cult. To still view Mormonism as a heretical cult means Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are not as dogmatic about their President being a Christian by their definition of orthodox faith. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 Crossmen

In August 2012 the Crossmen made DCI's final 12 for the first time since 2004. Since it was so long since they marched on Saturday, their return to finals was filled with much emotion for the Corps, it's alumni, families and closest fans. The emotions on the faces during Finals Retreat at Lucus Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was clearly evident, particularly for those who have been in the Corps for three or more years who in past seasons have been in the stands on the Saturday evening watching the top 12 perform and go through Retreat wishing that they were on the field instead of the stands.

As the Crossmen finished 17th in 2011, a rise of five spots is a major accomplishment...only the 4th time in 40 years for a Corps has gone from 17 or lower to the finals a year later. It is highly likely therefore that the 2012 Crossmen will be held in the Corps' lore and history over the coming decades as a special group.

The current group of age-outs (wearing white crosses in the pictures below) are passing the mantle to those who have one or two more seasons of eligibility and to a good degree that it will be in their hands a return to the top ten rests. We  can anticipate that Fed Morrison will again assemble a strong staff for next season, a staff that will guide and teach the members well. Though the quality of the show is another factor, two other legs beyond the staff and the quality of the music and drill are critical. The leadership of the senior vets is the third leg. They need to keep faith with past senior vets who patiently encouraged and set the example the younger members.

The fourth leg, and one that should not be under stressed, will be the number of younger vets who return next year. In the past years a good number of vets moving after one to three seasons to a top six Corps has kept the Crossmen as being a young Corps that is thin on solid vets. Hopefully after this solid season and a return to the finals few current will move to a top tier Corps. The return of these vets who would normally move will provide the Corps with a solid fourth leg which in turn allows for the demands of the music and drill to be at higher level than it in past years. A young inexperienced Corps with well more than half of the Corps being rookies demands a simpler and less complex drill and music.

The 2012 Crossmen clearly savored Saturday. The joy and bounce in the their step was evidenced during breakfast and during the Corps' age-out ceremony. They marched Saturday with boldness and confidence. Normally lower standing Corps exit the Retreat field soon after the Retreat ceremony has concluded. The Crossmen did not leave quickly as they were the second last to leave the Retreat field (the champions are the last to leave as it is their field). They absorbed the moment.

When they left the stadium they did not immediately pack their horns and drums away like the other Corps. Instead the Crossmen formed their semi circle in order to play for the last time music that is dear to their hearts and identity. Doing so served not only as a celebration moment but a bonding moment too, one which hopefully will stir the hearts of many members  the desire to return and take the Crossmen the next level in the 2013 season.

Below are a few pictures from the Retreat as well as the YouTube link of the 2012 Crossmen playing their final notes together. In the pictures, Josh is the one carrying the horn flag, the flag that he has carried on and off the competition field throughout the season (interestingly the Crossmen are the only Corps to have a Corps flag that they carry onto the field at each show). You will also notice that as they exit the field behind the flag that they are walking in pairs with their linked hands held high as a symbol of unity (they do this following each show).