Showing posts with label John McCain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John McCain. Show all posts

Monday, October 2, 2017

Our Gun Culture

We are addicted to guns.

Now this horror in Las Vegas. 

Other developed countries have more sensible laws. “The United States’ gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than other high-income countries” -- The Guardian:  So, America, this is how other countries do gun control. 

It’s not only the laws, it’s the culture.  In what country, other than the U.S. would you see a politician brandishing a gun, like Alabama’s Roy Moore proudly did, and then get endorsed by its leader? 

After the terrorist attacks in Paris Trump said that it "would've been a much different situation if the city had looser gun laws” meaning if everyone had a gun the shooter might have been taken down earlier.  Makes a lot of sense, arm everyone and that will lead to less shooting.

I wonder how Roy Moore’s cap gun would have stood up in the Las Vegas shooting, or anyone’s hand gun for that matter pitted against someone with a military grade automatic weapon firing from far away, and way above. 

After Representative Steve Scalise was shot last year when a gunman targeted a congressional baseball practice I wrote the following about gun control:  unless we all pull together the subsequent dialogue can go two divergent ways.  One could lead us down the path of greater authoritarianism and the call for arming more citizens (although a greater police presence is going to be necessary when many of our Representatives are in public venues).  The other path could call for the long-needed ban of military grade weapons.  Are we all supposed to be armed with AR-15s on our baseball fields?  I’m no Pollyanna and know that such a ban would have little impact on what happens in the near future.  I’m thinking long term.  This is not about challenging the 2nd Amendment, and it is not about Republican vs. Democrat.  It’s about common sense banning military weapons, doing comprehensive background checks, expanding our treatment of mental illness, and developing better early warning signs of mentally disturbed people from social networks and prior arrests.

Senseless to repeat everything I’ve written about this self-inflicted plague, our love of guns.  It starts with more sensible laws, better education, and a change in our thinking that having a gun somehow symbolizes freedom and machismo.

The key word index to this blog says it’s 19th time I’ve written about the topic.  With each outrage I feel the urge to say my piece.   This particular entry after the Orlando shooting summarized some of them.

Perhaps we will finally have the wisdom to approach this problem sensibly as have other developed nations.  What politician has the courage and is willing to lead?  Although he's taken contributions from the NRA, I nominate John McCain for the role. It is time to stand up for what is right. He's respected on both aisles, and an about-face would be a fitting legacy. "Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Gorilla in the Room

Finally it comes out, point blank.  No mistake about it, racism in the so called post-racist USA and its possible impact on the election.

One of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign advisors, John Sununu, in an interview on CNN when asked about Colin Powell’s endorsement of President Obama for a second term, said, “Frankly, when you take a look at Colin Powell, you have to wonder whether that’s an endorsement based on issues or whether he’s got a slightly different reason for preferring President Obama.” When asked to clarify what that issue might be he said “well, I think when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States, I applaud Colin for standing with him.”

Does that mean Sununu supports Romney, not based on the issues, but because of race?  It is not too farfetched to wonder why ”according to Reuters/Ipsos polling conducted October 1 to October 7, likely white male voters favored Romney 55.5 percent to 31.9 percent.” 

An earlier entry mentioned that I was reading the last of the “Schmidt trilogy” by Louis Begley, the current one being Schmidt Steps Back, published this year but probably written over the two prior years.  I think of Begley as being the intellectual equivalent of John Updike, who coincidently was Begley’s classmate at Harvard, both graduating summa cum laude in 1954.  From there, their careers diverged, Updike becoming a writer and Begley an international lawyer.  But Begley is now a full time writer, and to me, writes with the intellectual ease of his classmate and, like Updike, follows a character in multiple novels over years (Rabbit and Schmidt).

I intend to some more on Begley when I finish the book, but I have to quote something from Schmidt Steps Back which has a direct bearing, on “the gorilla in the room.”  One of the characters in the book,  Mike Mansour, an ultra wealthy and powerful international financier, gives voice to the issue (bear in mind, Begley does not use quotation marks for dialogue in the novel, an idiosyncratic style I’ve become accustomed to so the quotation marks here are mine):  “Then Mr. Mansour took over.  He began to orate, his voice rising as he expounded his theory, which in other versions  he revealed to Schmidt more than once, to the effect that Obama’s presidency, however much he personally wished it to succeed, was doomed. The question is, he insisted, the question is can he make American politicians do his will.  The last Democrat able to accomplish that was LBJ.  He’d grab them by the balls….—and they said, Yes Mr. President, before he’d even begun to squeeze…But Obama is black!  Black in the most racist country in the world.”   Another character reminds Mansour that Obama was just elected by a landslide.  “The question is, the great financier continued, whether it knew what it was doing. I tell you that too many of those who voted for him didn’t have a clear idea.  Now they’re saying the White House is going to be the Black House, and they didn’t sign up for that….Obama has to be such a good guy that his hands and feet are tied.  You watched him debate McCain?....You saw him smirk whenever Obama talked?  Not once, not twice, but every time.  LBJ would have said, Wipe that smirk off your face or I’ll tear your head off.  Barack can’t do that.  You can’t have a black man telling off the Man.  Please, there is no place here for angry black men! Obama has to be polite and make nice, and you know what they say about nice guys – they finish last.”

It will be a close election as the one in 2000 decided by the Supreme Court ....


Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Alternative Reality

It's easy to be cynical in this presidential election year, the rhetoric and posturing of the scripted, agnotological "debates," the Super PAC ads, the robo-calls, the deluge of direct mail, sending out those sound bites to "the undecided."  But what would this election cycle be like if McCain had won in 2008?  Ironically, it would have been the Democrats finger pointing about the economy because we'd probably be in a similar situation, or worse, who knows -- it's impossible to prove an alternative reality, but we can speculate.

The debt Romney carps about was first ramped up by the Treasury Department of the previous administration, not by Obama, with the enactment of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008 to stabilize the financial system and it was quite necessary at the time.  Jobs were falling off the cliff before Obama took office. Our financial system was in melt down.  And what would have been a McCain administration response as that crisis just continued to deepen?  Go into an austerity spending mode?  Cut taxes?  No, that would have been impossible.  The time for government to reign in its spending is when the economy is NOT falling off the cliff and even a Republican administration would have had to take similar action (and the Federal Reserve's Ben Bernanke was an appointee of the Republican administration as well).

Reviewing some of the more distant past, Clinton enacted tax increases in 1994, mostly on high income earners. Eventually, those, as well as a booming economy (note, no loss of jobs due to raising taxes on the upper 1%), turned around President George Bush Sr.'s deficits into surpluses. After three consecutive years of national debt reduction under Clinton, the surplus in 2000 amounted to $230 billion. 

The first fiscal year impacted by George W. Bush's tax cuts was 2002 when the surplus swung to a $159 billion deficit, a $286 billion negative change from the previous year.  True, we were now embroiled in the war on terror, but the administration persisted on raising the stakes with tax cuts.  Bush said while campaigning for a local Alabama congressman. “In order to make sure that our economy grows, in order to make sure the job base is strong, you need to have a congressman who will join me in making sure that tax relief plan we passed is permanent and doesn’t go away.”  Where were the jobs after nine years of this "temporary" but massive tax cut, mostly benefiting the upper 1%?

When Paul O'Neill, Bush's Treasury Secretary, argued against a second round of tax cuts, VP Cheney purportedly said "You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don't matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due."   This was Cheney speaking, not some liberal Democrat. O'Neill said in an interview "It was not just about not wanting the tax cut. It was about how to use the nation's resources to improve the condition of our society. And I thought the weight of working on Social Security and fundamental tax reform was a lot more important than a tax reduction."  For that view, O'Neill was eventually fired.

Obama clearly underestimated how long it would take to reverse years of deficit spending, not only his administration's (necessary as the private sector was not spending), but his predecessor's as well. (He also didn't anticipate being stonewalled by Congress.)   But if McCain had defeated Obama in 2008, he would have inherited the same mess and today we might have Hillary Clinton running against McCain (or Palin or Romney) making some of the same arguments about fiscal responsibility being spun by Romney. 

As I said, it is hard not to be cynical about this particular election, but I respect Paul O'Neill's admonishment:  "It was not just about not wanting the tax cut. It was about how to use the nation's resources to improve the condition of our society." That is why I support President Obama and hopefully in a second term he would have Congress' cooperation to achieve some fundamental tax reform and make inroads in controlling the growth of entitlements. 

And last night, as I was preparing to post this, a bit of serendipity led me to watch the 1957 classic A Face in the Crowd on Turner Classic Movies. Directed by Elia Kazan and written by Budd Schulberg, it depicts Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith), a drifter who is found in a jail by Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), who she enlists to sing and talk on a local Arkansas radio station, he ultimately rising to the pinnacle of media demagoguery.  He is nicknamed "Lonesome" Rhodes by Marcia, and she goes on the journey with him from obscurity to fame to fall.  

The relevancy of this film, made more than fifty years ago, to today is striking.  Lonesome is drawn into the political arena, and is brought in to help transform the film's Senator Worthington Fuller into a Presidential candidate.  Lonesome instinctively and sardonically understands the manipulative power of language and media. 

When he first meets the Senator, he advises him to abandon his stiff personality and give himself over to Lonesome's control:  "...Your problem is getting the voters to listen to you. Getting them to like you enough to listen to you. We've got to face it, politics have entered a new stage, television. Instead of long-winded debates, the people want slogans. 'Time for a change' 'The mess in Washington' 'More bang for a buck'. Punch-lines and glamour....We've got to find  a  million buyers for the product 'Worthington Fuller'....Respect? Did you ever hear of anyone buying any product beer, hair rinse, tissue, because they respect it? You've got to be loved, man. Loved....Senator, I'm a professional. I look at the image on that screen same as at a performer on my show. And I have to'll never get over to my audience not to the millions of people who welcome me into their living rooms each week. And if I wouldn't buy him, do you realize what that means? If I wouldn't buy him, the people of this country aren't ready to buy him for that big job on Pennsylvania Avenue....I'm an influence, a wielder of opinion...a force. A force."

To Marcia he says :"This whole country's just like my flock of sheep!....Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers - everybody that's got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don't know it yet, but they're all gonna be 'Fighters for Fuller'. They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do. Only they're even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em. Marcia, you just wait and see. I'm gonna be the power behind the president - and you'll be the power behind me."

An actor on Rhodes' show asks him about Senator Fuller: "You really sell that stiff as a man among men?" Lonesome Rhodes replies: "Those morons out there? Shucks, I could take chicken fertilizer and sell it to them as caviar. I could make them eat dog food and think it was steak. Sure, I got 'em like this... You know what the public's like? A cage of Guinea Pigs. Good Night you stupid idiots. Good Night, you miserable slobs. They're a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers."

'Nuff said before next Monday's "debate" after which the "undecided" can flap their flippers.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Anecdotal Headlines Redux

One of the advantages of writing a blog is to be able to understand what I was thinking (or not thinking) at a certain point in time.  It can be satisfying, or amusing, or downright embarrassing looking back. We are all adrift in an ocean of information, the seas fomenting more than ever, that affecting our perception of the horizon, when we can see it at all.  Sometimes, the headlines of the Wall Street Journal seem to cry out a general national Zeitgeist and this weekend's edition was such a moment.  I've noted this phenomenon before, first on Wednesday, December 10, 2008, Anecdotal Headline Annotations, which I prefaced with a sentence that could exactly apply to the most recent edition, three and a half years later: If I was handed a copy of today’s Wall Street Journal only a couple of years ago, I would have thought the headlines were a forecast of an ethical and economic Armageddon. How otherwise does one interpret the following captions, from just one day’s newspaper?  
Then, a little more than two years ago, Friday, April 9, 2010, I posted another such moment, Anecdotal Headlines, writing at the time: ...while the Dow basks in the glow of massive liquidity injections in a low interest rate environment, approaching 11,000 as I write this, and investment bankers are rewarding themselves with record bonuses, the economy swims on against the tide of high unemployment (much higher than reported), kicking the state/municipal finance crisis down the road, and rising foreclosures

Usually, extreme headlines happen at inflection points.  Certainly the Dec. 2008 posting was one as far as the stock market is concerned (the Dow bottoming three months later), but the April 2010 posting was during the market's ascent. However, the so called "market" seems to be disconnected from the economy and jobs and whatever recovery there has been of Main Street mostly has been induced by the Federal Reserve and other government stimuli.  Some like to finger point, believing that recent deficit spending is the cause of our economic malaise.  I don't like deficit spending any more than they, but it is overly simplistic to think that if we ran our government like a responsible family, sitting around the ole' kitchen table, budgeting our expenses, tightening our belts, all will be OK.  Running a country is not like running a household, and without the stimulus, who knows where we would be today. 

We are going to hear a lot about the economy, everything being Obama's fault (note now that gas prices have fallen in the last few weeks we no longer hear about his being responsible for those) but another benefit (there are not many) of writing this blog is some of the documentation it provides. The Monday, September 22, 2008 entry, This Fundamental is Whining  is worth revisiting in this regard. Senator Phil Gramm, who had then become a lead economic adviser for McCain’s presidential run, called us (the American public) "a bunch of whiners," saying the only economic problem we have is a "mental recession."  Well we now know that this little "mental recession" was real, could have been a depression (who knows, it still might become one), and it was set in motion long before Obama took office.  Nonetheless, at the time McCain was already blaming Obama for the economy, saying “We've heard a lot of words from Senator Obama over the course of this campaign…But maybe just this once he could spare us the lectures, and admit to his own poor judgment in contributing to these problems. The crisis on Wall Street started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling, and he was right square in the middle of it."  Obama was to blame even before he became president!  And today, we not only have the residual effects of our own economic problems baked into the cake, there is also the exogenous factor of Europe's slow-motion economic collapse -- something we have no direct ability to control, even if we could agree on anything.  Then, there is the sun-setting of the Bush tax cuts, a fiscal cliff that desperately needs our malfunctioning government to agree on something. What are the chances?

Unfortunately, presidential elections do focus on how people feel at the time, and while we were feeling lousy in 2008 and "hope" was a mantra we eagerly seized, now we will be asked to "hope" some more, or rely on the magic wand of a private equity bailout specialist, Mitt Romney.  It is a nice fantasy (the magic wand), and as the Federal Reserve may be running out of its own magic bullets, the economy and the leading economic indicators will dictate the election, no matter how much tinder the Super Pacs throw on the campaign fires. 

The headlines of today are not much different in tone than those that preceded them, two years ago, and almost four years ago. Two of my favorites from 2010 are: Greek Bond Crisis Spreads and  Fed Chiefs Hint at Low Rates Possibly Into 2011.  Where is Yogi Berra when you need him? "It's deja vu all over again."  But he might have got it wrong with,  "The future ain't what it used to be."

So, how are we to divine our economic and moral future from today's headlines (presented in the order as they appear, just from the first section of the Wall Street Journal June 2/3 2012)?.....

Grim Job Report Sinks Markets
Feeble hiring by U.S. employers in May roiled markets and dimmed the already-cloudy outlook for an economy that appears to be following Europe and Asia into a slowdown

As Costs Soar, Taxpayers Target Pensions of Cops and Firefighters

Edwards Jury Saw Guilt, but Lack of Proof

State Takes Fresh Crack at Mortgages
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will participate in a Nevada program to cut loan balances for certain homeowners who are current on their mortgages but owe more than their houses are worth in what could be a model for other hard-hit states.

Big Scandal for Small Town
Sunland Park, N.M. sees Mayor-elect indicted amid host of lurid allegations.

Sen. Kirk Of Illinois Pushed Coin Bills
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois pushed for legislation authorizing a collectible coin that generated $2.5 million for an organization that had hired a firm that employed his former girlfriend to lobby for the bill, according to people involved in the matter.

Campaign's Focus Turns to Grim Data
Friday's weaker-than-expected jobs report quickly became the central focus of the presidential campaign, with President Barack Obama seeking to mitigate the political fallout and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney trying to seize on the disappointing numbers.

Fed is Sure to Step Up Debate on More Stimulus
Friday's dismal jobs report is sure to sharpen a debate at the Federal Reserve about whether to take new actions to spur economic growth, but it likely doesn't settle it.

Euro-Zone Reports Deepen Gloom
Block sets record in number of Jobless as manufacturing activity falls; figures highlight widening North-South divide.

Asia Weakness Heightens Fears of Contagion
Manufacturing activity in China and across a wide swath of Asia slowed in May, heightening fears that the turmoil in Western economies is dragging down one of the few remaining engines of global growth.

Brazil Loses Steam As World Slows
Brazil grew at its slowest pace in more than two years during the first quarter as weak industrial production and a weakening global picture undermined Latin America's largest economy.

Cyprus Is Close to a Request for Bailout
Cyprus looks increasingly set to become the fourth euro-zone country to seek financial aid under Europe's temporary bailout fund, as early as this month, as it scrambles to protect its banking system from Greece's widening financial crisis that is threatening to engulf its tiny island neighbor.

Japan Gives Warning on Yen
The Japanese government went on high alert against the newly rising yen Friday, trying to scare off global investors with multiple threats of intervention in currency markets, but stopping short of direct action to drive the yen down.