Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February 29, 2012--Leap Second

February 29th is my favorite quadannual day. Actually, it's the only day that comes around just once every four years.

Thus, technically, it is called an intercalary day [from Latin intercalārius , inter (“among”) + calō (“call out, proclaim”)] or bissextile day (also from the Latin, annus bissextilis, "leap year," literally, "the twice sixth-day").

It offers presidential candidates one more day to campaign since it always occurs during a presidential election year (not that we need more campaigning); stores have special Leap Day sales, following hard on the heals of Presidents Day; and, as time moves inexorably along, it slows down the aging process in that one's birthday during Leap Years includes one more day for denial.

Since for me, age has already done some of its inexorable thing, during much earlier Leap Days, when social life was very different than now, I looked forward to the tradition that on these days women were sanctioned to take the initiative in regard to dating and even making marriage proposals. As a shy and socially-inept adolescent and young adult I sat by the telephone on February 29ths from dawn to dusk. This waiting would suggest--quite accurately--that I usually had to hold on until the next Leap Year to revive feelings of potential attractiveness.

Inserting an extra day in the calendar every four years or so (more about the "or so" in a moment) is to compensate for the astronomic reality that earth's solar year is not 365 days but rather about 356 and a quarter days. But as with most things astronomical, things are not that simple.

For example, some exceptions to the Leap Year rule are required since the duration of a solar year is slightly less than 365.25 days. Years that are evenly divisible by 100 are not leap years, unless they are also evenly divisible by 400, in which case they are leap years. so 1600 and 2000 were leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. Similarly, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 2600, 2700, 2900 and 3000 will not be leap years, but 2400 and 2800 will be.

Therefore, in a duration of two millennia, there will be 485 leap years. By this rule, the average number of days per year will be 365 + 1/4 − 1/100 + 1/400 = 365.2425, which is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds.

Got it?

There's more, including a recent battle among scientists about one or-so second. As the New York Times reported, at a recent conference in Geneva, 700 delegates from 70 nations debated whether or not to abolish the leap second:

Unlike the better-known leap year, which adds a day to February in a familiar four-year cycle, the leap second is tacked on once every few years to synchronize atomic clocks--the world's scientific timekeepers--with Earth's rotational cycle, which, sadly, does not run quite like clockwork. The next one is scheduled for June 30. . . .

The United States is the primary proponent for doing away with the leap second, arguing that the sporadic adjustments, if botched or overlooked, could lead to major foul-ups if electronic systems that depend on the precise time--including computer and cellphone networks, air traffic control and financial trading markets--do not agree on the time.

Abolishing the leap second ''removes one potential source of catastrophic failure for the world's computer networks,'' said Geoff Chester, a spokesman for the United States Naval Observatory, the nation's primary timekeeper. ''That one second becomes a problem if you don't take it into account.''

While they battle it out, from habit, this Leap Day you'll find me wondering if the phone will ring and . . .

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 28, 2012--Romney in Public; Palin in Private

Desperate to appear likable, not the poster child for the one percent, Mitt Romney, perhaps on the brink of losing today's Michigan primary, has taken to talking about his Michigan roots and to make himself look and feel like a regular guy.

You've heard about his liking for the trees in Michigan, but here is the full context, with all the appliquéd ya's and dropped g's:

I was born and raised here. I love this state. It seems right here. Trees are the right height. I like seein' the lakes. I love the lakes. There’s something very special here. The Great Lakes, but also all the little inland lakes that dot the parts of Michigan. I love cars. I grew up totally in love with cars. It used to be, in the fifties and sixties, if you showed me one square foot of almost any part of a car, I could tell you what brand it was, the model, and so forth. Now, with all the Japanese cars, I’m not quite so good at it. But I still know the American cars pretty well and drive a Mustang. I love cars. I love American cars. And long may they rule the world, let me tell ya.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the State of Alaska last week released more than 17,000 emails that Sarah Palin either wrote or received during her last two years as Governor of Alaska. Most are routine, but a few reveal, as private emails often do, especially those that are dashed off, the "real" Sarah Palin.

"I'm just beat down on this one. I am tired. The opponents have succeeded on the drive towards our personal bankruptcy, and have divided my family,"

"One has to be single, wealthy, or corrupt to function in this political system."

"Any idea how they knew to find me at Fred Meyer [grocery store] yesterday while I sold Girl Scout cookies? The scout leaders wouldn't have told them."

"Would you [Tod] pray for our strength. And for God to totally turn things around. Enough is enough. May we see victories and feel His hand of mercy and grace."

And after learning about an impending ethics complaint, to adies she wrote--"Unflippinbelievable. I'm sending this because you can relate to the bullcrap continuation of the hell these people put the family through."

Who sounds more unflippinbelievably authentic? Romney or Palin? Not even close.

Monday, February 27, 2012

February 27, 2012--The Incredibly Shrinking Man

Rona asked, "Do you remember that 1957 science fiction movie, The Incredibly Shrinking Man?"

"I think I do, but remind me about it."

"In it, there is this businessman who is on vacation on a boat with his much taller wife when he suddenly is contaminated by a radioactive cloud. She avoids it because she was below deck getting drinks. The husband ignores the incident and at first doesn't appear to have been affected by it.

"However, one morning, about six months later, he notices that his shirt seems too big. He blames it on the cleaners. But then his wedding ring falls off his finger. As these physical symptoms continue, he thinks he's shrinking. At first his wife dismisses his fears as silly, but he continues to lose weight and height. This shrinking is dramatically shown when he, previously five or six inches shorter than she, has to look up when he wants to looks in his wife's eyes."

"Wow," I said, "This is coming back to me. But I forgot, what happens next?"

"He visits a government research laboratory and, after numerous tests, learns that exposure to the radioactivity and various pesticides caused his cells to shrink".

I then recalled that this deep-in-the-Cold-War movie became a cult classic, scaring Americans about the dangers of radioactivity and chemical warfare.

"And?" I asked. "Why are you remembering it now?"

"Because we are witnessing a contemporary version that could be called, The Incredibly Shrinking Y Chromosome."

"I think I know where you're going with this."

"Did you see the article about it in last Thursday's paper?"

"I did. It was the New York Times piece about what has been happening to the chromosome that determines maleness."


"It reported that the Y chromosome, which used to have about the same number of genes as the X, or female chromosome has dramatically withered. It had about 800 genes but so much DNA has been lost that it now has only 780 left."

"Correct. And if it continues on this trajectory, over time, the Y chromosome may lose the part of its structure that determines maleness."

"Which could mean . . . ?"

"The end of males."

"Among the many ironies," I said, "is that this shrinkage began as a way of protecting femaleness. In order to keep the Y chromosome from overwhelming the X chromosome and producing too many males, evolution carved out a so-called 'no-swapping' zone around the male-determining gene as a way to assure that there would be at least as many females produced as males. In fact, more."

"So what's going on now," Rona winked, "in response to these biological changes? A hint--for example, in Virginia."

"I doubt that the governor there much less members of the state legislature know much if anything about this--after all, most ultra-conservatives don't believe in science much less evolution--but on some level, since they are almost all men, they must be feeling a version of this withering away of maleness. Including, very much, their own."

"Which is the point," Rona said. "I'll bet they're not all that happy, among other things, about all the women in the workplace, especially those who become supervisors, and I feel certain that many of their daughters are not staying true to their fathers' chauvinist, religion-driven ideology. So when they do their legislative thing, in a version of a men's club, they get to act out their frustrations about all the changes happening around them and come up with outrageous ideas like compelling women to have transvaginal sonograms and look at the images of the fetuses before they are permitted to have abortions."

"Just like in the movie, they are shrinking before our eyes. More important, before their own eyes."

"Which is the real issue--how they are seeing themselves diminished."

"In this case they are shrinking not from radiation but because of their own insecurity and fears."

Friday, February 24, 2012

February 24, 2012--Lazy Friday

I got a late start and will return on Monday.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

February 23, 2012--Snowbirding: Cortadito

We were up at Bohio in Lantana, our favorite Cuban breakfast place where they serve a world-class cortadito--a scalding mix of dark Cuban espresso topped by a layer of steamed milk. It's worth the 10-mile drive up Federal Highway.

Before I could take my first sip, from the next table I heard someone say, "The news these days, man, is all about entertainment and distracting us from what's really going on."

Ah, I thought, there might be some good political conversation to go along with the cortadito.

"I couldn't agree with you more," I said, turning toward two men who were sharing the scrambled eggs special. "And I like your choice of food," I smiled to break the ice, "That’s my favorite. The onions and peppers and tomatoes and crisp pieces of bacon mixed in te eggs are wonderful."

"Man, what are they feeding us?" From his serious tone I knew he wasn't talking about the cooking. "And what do they take us for? They think we're children or something? I wish they'd treat us serious." I was nodding. "Now it's the Whitney Houston business. And contraception. How long do they think they can get away with those?"

"Until they have the toxicology report or gasoline is $5.00 a gallon," I suggested.

"In the meantime, man, look at Whitney’s record sales. Off the charts. And you know what?" He didn't pause for me to jump in, "they jacked up the prices. Doubled them. Can you believe that?"

"That I can believe."

"I'm all for capitalism, man. I don't have a problem with any of that, but I do have a problem with what the media are up to."

"What's that?" Rona asked.

"To keep us from knowing what's really going on." Neither of us said anything. "I'm in IT, man, I mean I used to be. I got laid off more than a year ago—it’s tough out there--but the things I learned I'm not sure you want to hear about on a beautiful morning like this." He gestured toward the east where the sun was shining through Bohio's wide-open windows.

"For example," he slapped his cell phone on the table, "they know where you are. From this." He tapped the phone. "Wherever you are on the planet. And I mean the whole planet, man.

"Why would . . . ?" Rona began to ask.

"Obvious, man. To control us better. Like I told you, I had this IT job. A big job down in Miami. Evaluating mortgage applications for a bank. One of the really big ones, man. No need for you to know just which. One day my boss called me in to let me know what the bank was really about. He said to me, man, ‘You've been here long enough and have proven yourself. I trust you, man, so you should know what’s going on.’ He told me my job, the bank's job, was to gain all kinds of information about everyone. Everyone, man. From the Social number and bank statements and taxes. From all of that and then to pass it along to the government, To a part of the government that you never heard of." He gestured toward me. "As I said, man, you don't want to know. You just want to enjoy the rest of the time allotted to you. To enjoy the sunshine and the good food and your lovely lady." He was smiling broadly.

"I can tell you from experience that the government knows everything,” he went on, “and I mean everything. And with that they control you and everything else."

"I find this hard . . ."

"I know, man, ‘to believe.’ Right?" I nodded again. "At first I too didn’t believe what they were telling me. So let me give you an example."

"I was just going to ask if you could do that."

"No problem, amigo. Do you remember the savings and loan scandal? From back in the 80s? You seem to be up on things. To most folks it looked like your typical banking scandal. The big boys, man, and this including a half-dozen senators, taking advantage of the government cutting regulations on the banks. And what happened? I mean from what you read in the papers?"

I tried to recall but while I was struggling to do so, he continued, now in part propelled by the two Cuban espressos he had downed, "Well, like recently, when these banks came crashing down and seemed to threaten the whole system, what happened?"

"The government stepped in to bail them out."

"That’s what they wanted you to think. The government I mean."

"I'm confused," I said. I truly was. "What did they want us to think?"

"That it was just another bail out. That's what they wanted you to believe. The truth is that this gave the government a chance to look into everyone's bank account. I mean of all these banks’ customers."

Squinting at him, Rona asked, "For what purpose?"

"It's part of a much bigger thing. About the government wanting to know, man, where we are every minute, who we're with, what we're reading, soon even what we're thinking. One of these days they’ll be able to plant a tiny chip in your brain,” he tapped his temple, “so they can know what you’re thinking. This isn’t science fiction, man. Remember, I’m from IT."

"Why do they want to know all this?"

"To sell us things. You got to realize that's government's main job. To make it easy for those corporations to get their hands on what’s left of our money. That's the whole point, man. I know you're skeptical. I used to be too until I looked into what's really behind all the new technology--these phones, our computers, our TVs, our GPSs, everything electronic, man. It's all about controlling us by taking away our freedom. Freedom is the most powerful thing. To take control of us they have to take it away. In ways, man, so that we don't notice it’s disappearing."

He paused to gulp down another shot of espresso. "Let me give you another example. Remember that Ted Kozinski Unabomber guy?"

"I do," I said.

"Well, man, what do you think his real story is? And I'll throw in something else for you to think about, man, since you're looking at me that way again. To fill out the picture. There's also that Timothy McVeigh. The Oklahoma City bomber. Remember him? Supposedly these two dudes acted alone. OK, McVeigh had that stooge Terry Nichols, or whatever, working for him. At least that's the cover story that they want you to believe. If you really look into his case, McVeigh’s, you'll discover that he was part of a big network. Guys who supposedly hated the federal government because of Waco, man, and Ruby Ridge. Remember them?"

"I do."

"And did you read the long confession he wrote while he was waiting for them to execute him?”

“I have a vague memory of that.”

“I recommend it to you. But in the meantime, I can tell you that the official stories in their cases are about these terrorist types--supposedly American terrorists--acting on their own. Unabomber, right? You know, man, what una means. One or alone, right?"

"About that I don't know," I confessed.

"Well, you can trust me on that one. But here's the real story, man,” he looked around and then leaned forward to whisper, “they were actually working for the government."

"Really? I find that hard . . ."

He put a finger up to shush me, "I know you do. That’s the whole point. For you not to believe this. As I said, trust me on this one, amigo. I know from where I speak. It was the plan for the government to make it look like these were militia-types. Hating the federal government. Acting on their own. And after doing their deeds they gave the feds the justification they needed to take away more of our freedom. They provided the excuse to order up more surveillance.”

“This seems s little far fetched to me,” I offered.

Waving me off, he said. “And if you think this is far out, do you know that McVeigh and Kozinski were both working with the al Qaeda terrorists?” He paused for that to sink in and then continued, “I can tell by the way you’re both looking at me that you don’t believe this.” He was right about that.

“As I said, man, at first neither did I. But I came around because what I’m saying is true. It's all tied together because after al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11 what happened?" Rona and I just looked back at him. "Well you know about that Patriot Act, don't you? That let’s the government listen in on our telephone calls and emails. You think Bush could have gotten away with that one if he hadn't allowed the Israelis to attack us?"

"The Israelis? Now you're going too far," I said. “Actually, that's been charged before, investigated, and dismissed as, frankly, anti-Semitic."

"That's not who I am, man. I love the Israelis and the Jews. To me they're the best people in this world. I wish we here in this country were more like them."

"But you just said the Israelis were behind 9/11." Quoting him back to himself, I asked, "How does that make them 'the best people in the world'?"

"Well, some of them, man, are involved in what I'm trying to explain to you. Like I said, Americans for the most part are good. And most Israelis too, But all these good people here--and that includes all of us--and in Israel are at the mercy of their governments. It's the governments that I have my problem with. Not the people, man. Get me?"

"I think I do," Rona said, wanting to begin to bring the conversation to a conclusion and to get back to her cortadito. It was getting cold. “I know we have our problems, but about what you’re saying I’m not so sure.” She picked up her cup and turned back to her eggs.”

“Sorry if I got you all upset, man” he said, extending his hand to me. I shook it.

“That’s OK,” I said, “We like hearing all points of view.”

“One last thing,” he winked, “If you haven’t, you should read Kozinski’s Manifesto. Some of it’s crazy, that I’ll admit to you, but most of it's worth taking seriously. Especially how technology is taking away our freedom. And that McVeigh, who was in Desert Storm, was pretty liberal about foreign policy. He was against all these wars in the Middle East. Check them out, man.”

One the drive home, Rona wondered out loud, “How does someone as well informed as he come to such conspiratorial conclusions? You would think that after spending so much time reading he would see things in a much more balanced way. Sure there are problems with the government. Even most liberals would agree with that. But to see us and the Israelis conspiring to attack the World Trade Center just to help corporations make more money? I don’t get how someone that well informed would believe that.”

“I agree. We hear all sorts of anti-government things from people who really don’t know what they’re talking about. Who simply make things up and won’t accept any facts that contradict their beliefs.”

“Maybe the next time we run into him we’ll ask him about that—how he gets to his conclusions.”

“As for me,” I said, “the next time I think I’ll just pay attention to my cortadito.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 22, 2012--Endorsement: Mitt Romney for . . .

Not for president but for the Republican nomination.

I know that in the progressive community there is a movement afoot to help Rick Santorum win the nomination since, it is felt, he would be the weakest GOP candidate. That Obama would thus coast to victory.

There is chatter in the left-wing blogosphere encouraging Democrats to participate in the upcoming Michigan primary. It is an open one that allows Democrats and Independents to vote. If enough liberals vote for the allegedly less-electable Santorum, it is argued, it might help tip Romney's home state to Santorum and thereby effectively derail Romney's candidacy. Some even have a name for it--Operation Hilarity.

But though helping to nominate Santorum may in the short run be a smart and even playfully disruptive political tactic, in the long run it could turn out to be a disaster for our country.

If we are Americans before we are either Republicans or Democrats, to be responsible citizens we should hope that the two most qualified candidates wind up competing for the presidency--Obama and, I contend, Romney. So if liberals want to participate, they should be voting to help nominate Romney.

Yes, viewed in the most partisan way, Santorum is likely less competitive in the general election than Romney. But what happens if, somehow, Santorum manages to become president? How would we feel about that? If you want to give yourself nightmares, imagine who he would appoint to the Supreme Court. The last thing we need are more Anton Scalias and Clarence Thomases.

A Santorum presidential victory is far from out of the question. There is an almost 50-50 chance that whoever wins the Republican nomination will win the general election. Any GOP (or Democratic) candidate starts out with at least 45 percent of the vote. Nearly 90 of voters will not cross party lines. The election is therefore about the swing 10 percent.

Between now and November many things could happen to upend Obama's candidacy. The unemployment rate might reverse itself. Obama could have a health issue. There could be a significant terrorist attack on the United States. Israel could bomb Iran during the summer and gasoline could rise to $10 a gallon. What do you think that would do to the economy and Obama's chances?

Who would you prefer to have picking up the pieces if any of this were to occur? If we couldn't have Obama, how does Santorum sound? I hate the idea, but I'd find a way to live with Romney.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

February 21, 2012--Presidents' Day

An friend yesterday was grumbling about holidays. He's a curmudgeony type who enjoys being politically incorrect.

"Whatever happened to Washington's Day?" he asked.

"I'm not following you," I said.

"It used to exist," Ralph said, "It was always February 22nd."

Rona said, "They rolled Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Day into a single holiday and now call it Presidents' Day."

"To honor both of them," I added.

"But," he said, "the holiday now is to celebrate the lives of all the presidents. All 44 of them. You're looking at me skeptically," we were, "because of the all presidents part so when you get home look it up and you'll see I'm right."

Which we did and yes he was. From Wiki I read--

Presidents' Day, celebrated each year on the third Monday in February, is a day when Americans honor the legacies of the U.S. presidents. The holiday was established in 1800, when Congress declared February 22–-George Washington's birthday-–a federal holiday. Still legally known as Washington's Birthday, Presidents' Day has become a day to honor not only Washington, but Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president who was born on February 12, and the lives and accomplishments of all U.S. presidents.

So when I saw Ralph this morning and reported out to him, he smiled, feeling good about himself. "Read it to me again," he requested. After I did, he said, "I find this very confusing." As the other morning I again looked at him skeptically. "It's 'still legally known as Washington's Birthday' but they call it Presidents' Day?"

"I agree. It's very confusing."

"And how did Washington's Birthday get turned into celebrating 'the lives and accomplishments of all U.S. presidents?'"

"Another good question," Rona agreed.

"Does this include President Andrew Johnson," I asked, "who became president after Lincoln was murdered and who was such a racist that he proceeded to roll back the gains of Reconstruction?"

"And what about Herbert Hoover," Rona wondered. "Isn't he the one who presided over the Great Depression? I'm not sure I want to celebrate his 'accomplishments.'"

"The list of lousy presidents is quit long," Ralph said. "And if it includes our current president, count me out. And while we're at it," he is not the strongest civil-rights-orientated person in the area, "what's the story with Martin Luther King Day? Does he deserve a holiday of his own when we eliminated Washington's? And, of course, as far as I'm concerned, even if our first president still had a day of his own, I wouldn't . . ."

I cut him off not wanting to give him the opportunity to go on about Obama and King. "You're making a few good points--just a few--and I don't want to . . ."

He smiled at me. "I know what you're thinking. And you're right!"

On the way home Rona continued to think about holidays. "I bet they eliminated Lincoln's Birthday because a lot of people in the South were unhappy celebrating the birthday of the president who they feel launched what some call 'The War of Northern Aggression.'"

"Could be."

"But I'm with Ralph about not having any holiday honoring presidents. Even the good ones like Washington. We're not a monarchy here and we shouldn't see presidents in the same way as we honor the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It's a holiday everyone can agree about."

"I'll bet even Ralph likes July 4th."

"I'm not sure about even that. He's so grouchy. But if we have to have a holiday honoring significant historical figures I'd prefer to have a Founders' Day. That way we could honor Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, among others, who never became president. They're more important than President Calvin Coolidge. And if we have holidays to honor leaders from different ethnic groups, in addition to one for Martin Luther King, shouldn't there be one for Hispanic?"

"Or a woman?"

"There's already one that's a twofer--Columbus Day, which Italians see as their own holiday."

"Should there be a Gay Day? Ralph's gay so what do you think he'd say about that?"

"He'd probably be against that one too."

By the way, how did Labor Day manage to slip in?

"Why and how did Armistice Day became Veterans' Day."

"What does Memorial Day memorialize other than the unofficial first day of summer?"

"It used to be Decoration Day and was to honor the Union soldiers who died during the Civil War."

"But not Confederate soldiers?"

"That's why they changed the name and also who is honored."

"All soldiers who died in combat?"


"Then there are Mother's and Father's Days."

"For which we don't get the day off."

"I think I'd vote for a national Parents' Day holiday."

"But that leaves out folks like us who don't have children."

"And why is Christmas a federal holiday? What about the separation of church and state?"

"It's all very confusing."

"And probably very political."

"We'll see what Ralph thinks."

"Knowing him, he'd problem be happy if all holidays are eliminated."

Monday, February 20, 2012

February 20, 2012--Church & Sport

I'm OK with Lin-mania. Or Linsanity.

As a long-suffering New York Knicks fan I'am happy to have Jeremy Lin on my team playing point guard. He and the Knicks are on quite a run. Even if it and he flame out in a week or two (that's what always-pessimistic, true Knicks fans expect) while it lasts, I'm enjoying the giddy ride even though a lot of the conversation is about how much money he and especially the Knicks will make as a result of his explosion on the scene.

How could I not be OK with the Knicks signing him to a contract which means he will earn about $800,000 this year and can therefore rent a place of his own and no longer need to camp out on the Lower Eastside on his brother's sofa.

I'm also OK that Nike is signing him to a multi-million dollar sneaker deal and that it is estimated that he'll pull in about $20 million this year in endorsements no matter how the rest of the basketball season goes. After all this is America where Taylor Swift makes $45 million a year and hedge fund guys can net billions annually and pay almost no taxes. And since we live in a globalized economy, with China's GDP soaring, it's no surprise that a Chinese-American is a hot commodity. (Forget for the moment that he is of Taiwanese, not mainland Chinese descent.)

But when I checked with Stubhub to see what tickets might be available for Thursday's Miami Heat-New York Knicks game, to spend at least $250 each seemed more than a little high.

"Hey, it's only basketball," I said. "I can understand paying that much and more for the upcoming Madonna concert at Yankee Stadium. If the price of tickets seems steep, we can take her advice: she announced that since she's 'worth it' anyone who wants to attend should 'start saving their pennies.'"

"For $250 I'd rather go the the Knicks game," Rona said. "Actually, for $250 dollars I'd rather watch it on TV. Or the Republican debate, which will likely be more entertaining."

But, again, I understand. The Lin phenomenon is a legitimate mania. A microeconomic bubble. The value of Madison Square Garden stock is soaring and the Knicks are making a fortune selling #17 Lin shirts. But, who knows, by Thursday we may be obsessing about something else. For example, Whitney Houston's toxicology report.

Then I read about Lin's rookie trading card. For the uninitiated these are produced by bubble gum and other manufacturers and are highly coveted by sports memorabilia collectors, especially if the player represented on the card goes on to have a hall-of-fame career. So a Magic Johnson rookie card can go for $350 and a Michael Jordan for $650. This too I can sort of understand. They had long and distinguished careers.

But, as I read, the rookie card for Jeremy Lin, which sold last week for $1,000 (which itself is crazy), the very same card is currently listed on eBay and the opening bid was $12,000!

Michael Jordon $650? Jeremy Lin, who up to now has played in just 10 Knicks games, $12,000 and bidding?

While attempting to get comfortable with this--all right, forget comfortable--while attempting to understand this, I read something else about Lin that may help explain some of the craziness--his evangelical Christianity.

In an interview in 2010, when talking about why he plays basketball, Lin struggled with a contradiction. He questioned: "I wanted to do well for myself and my team. How can I possibly give that up and play selflessly for God? . . . I'm not working hard and practicing day in and day out so that I can please other people. My audience is God. . . . The right way to play is not for others and not for myself, but for God."

It doesn't get much better than being able to root for an exciting Chinese guy who's also a Christian. This also helps explain Tim Tebow's popularity. He's far from hall-of-fame material but there is another mania surrounding him, sparked in large part by all the praying he does on the sidelines while the game is still in progress. The pose he gets into--sort of a kneeling in a Rodin Thinker-style genuflect--is called "Tebowing" and young people all over America are imitating it.

I prefer Xs and Os on the football field and smart passing by point guards such as Lin on the hardwood.

While the country has been participating in a dizzying political debate about the separation of church and state some attention should be paid to separating church and sport.

Note--Then, again, I watched the Knicks play the Warriors Sunday afternoon and Lin looks like the real deal. So who cares if he's doing it for God.

Friday, February 17, 2012

February 17, 2010--Political Ju Jitsu

Pretend you're Barack Obama and realize you will face in November a very tight race for reelection. No matter who the Republicans nominate. Even Rick Santorum, who is really nothing special, in a head-to-head poll, trails Obama by "only" seven or eight points.

So what to do? You understand, in spite of the fact that the economy is improving, that it is still likely to be the defining issue during the campaign. You also know that you will be blamed for the certain still-high rate of unemployment this upcoming summer and fall. This is where you are most vulnerable.

The solution--change the subject. Get the national conversation focused on social issues. That's where you, Obama, are strong. Especially among independent voters. Women particularly. The election is in their hands.

But how to do that?

Like what we just saw last week in regard to contraception.

You see Santorum more and more as the likely GOP nominee and you recall that for months and years he has been expounding his views about sexuality and procreation. Listening to him it's as if we are experiencing déjà vu. It's the 1950s again when many states banned the sale or distribution of any form of birth control. Or maybe Santorum wants to dial us back to the 15th century when Savonarola raged against the sexual excesses he claimed to see around him. Excesses that he claimed were leading to the Last Days.

In 1494, the ruling Medici were overthrown and Savonarola emerged as the new leader of the city, combining in himself the role of leader and priest. He set up a republic in Florence. Characterizing it as a “Christian and religious Republic,” one of its first acts was to make sodomy, previously punishable by fine, into a capital offence. Homosexuality had previously been tolerated in the city, and many homosexuals from the elite chose to leave Florence.

Sound familiar? Well, it did to Obama who got the subject changed from jobs, jobs, jobs to gayness and contraception and reproductive health. Areas of strength for him and weakness among the broader electorate for Santorum. And Rick took the bait.

As evidence--what are we talking about now? The crustiness and mean-spiritedness of the Catholic bishops who have doubled down on this for ecclesiastical as well as political reasons (even though more than 95 percent of their congregants use birth control) as well as Rick Santorum's uncompromising views. There is all sorts of video tape of him ranting about how contraception distracts people from the only valid reason to engage in sexual intercourse--procreation.

From last October, direct from Santorum, here is a sample of his views on the subject:

One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”

It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.

Again, I know most Presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These how profound impact on the health of our society.

Ironically, though he says that no president has talked about contraception Obama in fact has and he, as a result, has put a spotlight on Santorum's neo-medieval views.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February 16, 2012--Rick Santorum's Blue Collar

As Rick Santorum soars in the polls, a self-proclaimed narrative about him is emerging--that he pulled himself up from his blue-collar roots and thus can relate better than either Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to Americans from similar hardscrabble backgrounds. He is from the 99 percent, he never fails to remind us, while Romney is obviously the poster child for the i percent; and Obama, well, he went to Columbia and Harvard.

A quick look at Rick Santorum's actual background tell a substantially different story. While his grandfather may have been an immigrant coal miner (Rick at every rally vividly describes his calloused, coal-dust-stained hands), by the time Rick Santorum arrived his family had moved on up to relative professional affluence.

He grew up solid middle class, with a clinical psychologist for a father and a nurse for a mother--both lifelong Veterans Administration government employees, by the way--so Rick lived off of the tax payers from the day he was born. His "blue-collar" Pennsylvania upbringing was spent in Butler County, a 98 percent white and reasonably well-off exurb of Pittsburg.

He started off in the county's excellent public schools and finished at Carmel High School, a private, Catholic school outside of Chicago. From there he did his undergraduate studies at Penn State, got an MBA at the University of Pittsburgh and a JD at Penn State's Dickinson School of Law.

Four years as a lawyer (largely as a lobbyist arguing to allow World Wrestling Federation performers to be exempt from steroid laws) were the sum total of his private sector experience before being elected to the House, then the Senate. And after being defeated for a third term he was a very well paid lobbyist for companies he had gained tax loopholes and such for while in the Senate.

Very little of this sounds all that blue-collar to me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

February 15, 2012--Apologizing for America

In his book--note the title--No Apology, Mitt Romney repeatedly claims that Barack Obama rejects the notion that America is "exceptional" and asserts that he has an almost uncontrolled impulse to apologize for America. Especially when travelling overseas.

Doing this is about the biggest transgression for an American while out of the country. If we have critical things to say about the United States, we should do so only when back home. Thus, Obama's propensity to apologize is more than inappropriate. Further, this charge, if true, feeds a subliminal theme that Obama, with his exotic, mixed-race background, is not really American.

The operative phrase is "if true."

I thus decided to do some fact checking to see if Romeny's charges are true, particularly since they are echoed by Newt Gingrich and the new GOP front-runner, Rick Santorum.

As with so much of the shrill criticism of Obama this claim of disloyalty does not hold up to even casual scrutiny.

This narrative began before Obama was elected--recall how he was criticized for apologizing for America when he made a trip to Europe while still a candidate; but this attack was fully launched by Karl Rove less than three months into Obama's presidency in a Wall Street Journal article titled, “The President’s Apology Tour.”

The Washington Post blog "Fact Checker" tracked down every statement Obama uttered that partisans claim was an apology, and concluded that all of them had been misquoted or taken out of context. (Article linked below.)

One example from Mitt Romney. In his book and while on the stump he often cites a statement Obama made in April 2009 while in England as evidence that he does not believe in American exceptionalism. Asked by a British reporter whether he thought the United States was uniquely qualified to lead the world, Obama answered: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” But as Romney put it in his book, this “is another way of saying he doesn’t believe it.”

Obama in his full response in London went on to say, “I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world.” He continued: “If you think of our current situation, the United States remains the largest economy in the world. We have unmatched military capability. And . . . we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality, that, though imperfect, are exceptional.”

Sound exceptional to me. Though I know Karl Rove and Mitt Romney made note of that "imperfect." America, after all, is perfect.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February 14, 2012--The Bibles of Walter Reed

Late last week I spend some time checking in on what was happening at the annual CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference.

As might be expected, since it was being held just after the ban on gay marriage in California was overturned, the Susan Korman Foundation was stepping back from its decision to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, and President Obama was being pummeled for the new guidelines requiring Catholic (non-church) institutions to provide payment for contraceptive devices, this trifecta of cultural news was summed up by many as evidence that Obama was waging "war" on religion.

Among those leading the charge was Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. When challenged in an interview with Chris Matthews to give examples of Obama's attack on organized religion (particularly Christianity), he said that Obama had banned bibles from the Walter Reed Naval Hospital (WRNMMC).

If true, if Obama himself had approved this, this would be very disturbing and a good example of the administration's alleged assault on what should be constitutionally-protected religious practice.

Too bad Chris Matthews didn't have the facts at hand as they show conclusively that Perkins and his CPAC and Fox News enablers are almost entirely making this up. Intentionally not telling the truth for craven political purposes.

Here are the facts--

Back in September, a low-level staff member of the WRNMMC issued a memo indicating that the public would no longer be allowed to bring or distribute religious material in the hospital. As soon as the administration of the hospital (career naval officers) learned of this they immediately apologized, issued the following statement, and posted it on their Website:

Bibles and other religious materials have always been and will remain available for patient use at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The visitation policy as written was incorrect and should have been more thoroughly reviewed before its release. It has been rescinded. We apologize for any confusion the policy may have caused.

Please know that at admission, all patients are asked for their religious preference and a chaplain associated with their preference visits them regularly to provide spiritual services. In addition, their families may also bring religious material and we will not refuse any religious group entrance.

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center remains committed to supporting the religious preferences of all our patients and we will continue to ensure their spiritual needs are met.

Though this was clarified and cleared up in September, more than two months later, in early December, the Family Research Council, ignoring this fact, issued the following statement:

This is Obama's military, where homosexuality is celebrated and Christianity is censored; where witches are financed and crosses are scorned; where bestiality is embraced and Bibles are banned; where same-sex "weddings" are encouraged but international charity is not. After three years of ideological warfare, the administration's intent is clear: to disarm the military of its biggest weapon. Faith. Regardless of President Obama's agenda, there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that empowers the government to stop family members from giving Bibles or crosses to their loved ones. And from a PR standpoint, I'm not sure the best way to boost approval ratings is by denying comfort to wounded warriors. Unfortunately for our troops, who have endured so much turmoil under the Obama administration, this is another blow.

Why didn't Chris Matthews have this information at hand so when he intervivieed Perkins he would have been able to read to him his own ignorant and biggoted words?

Monday, February 13, 2012

February 13, 2012--Gulf of America

He now says it was a joke--to bring attention to all the anti-immigrant talk--but Mississippi state representative Steve Holland's proposal to change the name of the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of America garnered lots of attention and support. Support from the same folks he was attempting to mock. This sounds just like--remember them--Freedom Fries when we jingoistically were feeling dissed by France for not supporting our invasion of Iraq.

As the Culture Wars reignite just as the economy freshens (any connection?) we are again obsessing about how much of a theocracy we want to be (really how much of a Christian nation) and ramping up the call to make "English the official language of the United States" (which of course it already is).

Those who want to change the name of the Gulf could do a lot more than just that. Since the Gulf of Mexico is as much Mexican (check your map) as American (also look up what American more hemispherically refers to--hint, not just the United States), we should focus on the many other Spanish names, and while we're doing that we might as well get rid of all the Native American place names in the United States.

I'd be curious to know what Rep. Holland might come up with as an appropriate all-American substitute for our 47th state, New Mexico. Maybe just Mexico since New Mexico was a part of Mexico until we annexed it in 1848 after defeating Mexico in the Mexican-American War.

If we want to get serious about this renaming business, to deal with the Los Angeles problem I kind of like The Angels, California. Though the origin of California is itself problematic. It was called Las Californias before we annexed it. Sounds suspiciously Spanish, no?

Then if we want to go all the way, what's with the names New England and New York? Though they're in English, isn't the problem more that they are really English and not American?

If after the American (or whatever) Revolution, when we rid ourselves of English rule, we should have taken the opportunity to rename the northeast region of the new United States. New England could have become something benign like the Northeast. And New York could have been named something like Washington (no one had claimed that name yet) so as to cut our place name ties to the English Duke of York, who later became King James II.

You get the point.

But, indulge me, one more.

While the Mississippi legislature is contemplating what to call the Gulf of Mexico, they might turn some attention to the name of their own state--Mississippi--which was named by French (the French again) missionaries who used the Algonquian Indian name for "big river"--a compound of Ojibwa mshi, "big" and ziibi, "river."

Friday, February 10, 2012

February 10, 2012--Day Off

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

February 9, 2012--Sex Wars

As the Obama administration struggles to figure out how to dial back at least a half-step of its new policy that requires all employers to have their health insurance coverage include payments for birth control pills and devices, the Republican presidential contenders are having a field day savaging Obama for his "war on religion."

As I attempted to assess the political implications, Rona wondered out loud if Obama backs off and carves out an exception for Catholic colleges and hospitals would Christian Scientist employers be next in line seeking to be exempt from providing any heath coverage at all since they do not believe in medical intervention because it interferes with God's plans?

And what if a Jewish hospital that gets federal money sought to close its emergency room from sundown on Friday through sundown Saturday since according to traditional Jewish teaching no work must be done on Shabbos? Would they be able to cite in support of this request whatever deal gets struck between the administration and Georgetown University?

"Isn't it true," I asked, "that Jehovah's Witness children who attend public schools are not required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or join in singing the National Anthem? Isn't that similar to what some Catholic institutions are seeking?"

"Not exactly," Rona said, "It is not federal law that public schools are required to begin the day that way. It is a school district or state-by-state requirement and the carve-out for Jehovah's Witnesses was determined, I think, by the Supreme Court, just as is the exemption for Quakers not to be require to participate in combat."

"But didn't the Supreme Court also rule that it is unconstitutional to require children to say a morning prayer in public schools?"

"Indeed. But, beyond the current specific controversy, isn't it a reminder that the so-called Culture War is still raging? Just this week we have the contraception controversy, the Ninth Circuit court decision to overturn the California ban on gay marriages, and the Koman Foundation's decision and reversal about its support for Planned Parenthood?"

"We may be getting our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan but these sexual wars--and that's what these are--will go on forever."

"And in the political arena until this week it has been about jobs, jobs, jobs and now 24/7 its contraception, abortions, and gay marriage."

"I need a break," I sighed, "Let's go get a drink."

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

February 8, 2012--Offshore Everywhere

For those of you who think about the future of the United States on the world stage, if you do not know the work of Tom Engelhardt, I recommend him. He links U.S. cultural history to the ways in which we have fought our wars. He is also insightful about the future.

Engelhardt is author of the acclaimed The End of Victory Culture and The United States of Fear. Here is a sample of his work from his blog, In "Offshore Everywhere—How Drones, Special Operations Forces, and the U.S. Navy Plan to End National Sovereignty As We Know It," he writes:

But here’s the thing: even if the U.S. military is dragging its old habits, weaponry, and global-basing ideas behind it, it’s still heading offshore. There will be no more land wars on the Eurasian continent. Instead, greater emphasis will be placed on the Navy, the Air Force, and a policy “pivot” to face China in southern Asia where the American military position can be strengthened without more giant bases or monster embassies.

For Washington, “offshore” means the world’s boundary-less waters and skies, but also, more metaphorically, it means being repositioned off the coast of national sovereignty and all its knotty problems. This change, on its way for years, will officially rebrand the planet as an American free-fire zone, unchaining Washington from the limits that national borders once imposed. New ways to cross borders and new technology for doing it without permission are clearly in the planning stages, and U.S. forces are being reconfigured accordingly. . . .

Along with those skies filled with increasing numbers of drones goes a rise in U.S. special operations forces. They, too, are almost by definition boundary-busting outfits. Once upon a time, an American president had his own “private army” -- the CIA. Now, in a sense, he has his own private military. Formerly modest-sized units of elite special operations forces have grown into a force of 60,000, a secret military cocooned in the military, which is slated for further expansion. According to Nick Turse, in 2011 special operations units were in 120 nations, almost two-thirds of the countries on Earth.

By their nature, special operations forces work in the shadows: as hunter-killer teams, night raiders, and border-crossers. They function in close conjunction with drones and, as the regular Army slowly withdraws from its giant garrisons in places like Europe, they are preparing to operate in a new world of stripped-down bases called “lily pads” -- think frogs jumping across a pond to their prey. No longer will the Pentagon be building American towns with all the amenities of home, but forward-deployed, minimalist outposts near likely global hotspots, like Camp Lemonnier in the North African nation of Djibouti.

Increasingly, American war itself will enter those shadows, where crossings of every sort of border, domestic as well as foreign, are likely to take place with little accountability to anyone, except the president and the national security complex.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

February 7, 2012--El Gordo

While down here in Florida, among other ways to get into the spirit of things, we play Powerball. Especially when the prize tops $100 million. It seems so simple--pick just six numbers and, voilà, cash in your ticket.

I say to Rona, "Why bother to win when the jackpot is only $50 million? It hardly pays to fantasize."

Which we then proceed to do, promising to share our winnings with all our family and friends. "We could pay off ___ 's mortgage," Rona says.

"And pay for ___ 's college tuition," I chime in.

"And then there's ___ 's car payments."

"Also . . ."

It's all magical thinking, particularly about ways to be generous. Imagining that the more generous our plans to distribute the wealth, the more likely the benevolent forces permeating the universe will bless us.

This is one of the ways we wile away the languid hours.

So far we have not gotten more than one winning number on any of our Powerball tickets. "What's the story with that benevolent force," I wonder out loud, "maybe we aren't being generous enough."

"You've taken to talking to yourself," Rona says, "Do I have to worry about you?"

On the other hand, in a tiny farming town in north central Spain, Sodeto, the entire village of 70 households just won El Gordo, the mammoth lottery that this time is paying Sodeto's winners a total of more than $950 million!

In all the time we have spent in Spain we were never able to figure out how El Gordo (the "fat one") works so I will not attempt to do so here. Suffice it to say that any given potential winning number can be subdivided many, many times and so it is not uncommon for the prize to be widely shared. What is unusual is for an entire town to divide the winnings among themselves.

One Sodeto farmer, Jose Manuel Pennela Cambra, prior to winning had been worried about how he would make payments on his new irrigation system. But his wife bought two shares of the ultimate winning number from the town's homemakers' association which turned out to be worth $260,000 and their son discovered two more his mother had purchased bringing their total winnings to $520,000. He told his son to keep looking for more but in the meantime he is no longer worried about paying the bank what he owes.

A member of the association tried to sell a ticket to a neighbor but she couldn't afford it because her husband was unemployed. She said she'd like to participate but needed to pay for the ticket later when she had the money. When the number was announced she still had not paid for a ticket and wasn't sure if a ticket had been set aside for her. She was nervous about enquiring, but when she did she discovered that her neighbor in fact had set aside a ticket for her. A lot of happy crying ensued.

Another farmer summed uo the town's feelings--"The best part is that isn't just me who won. Everyone won."

After reading about Sodeto in the New York Times, I said to Rona, "Maybe we can get everyone who lives in Delray to chip in for Powerball tickets and then we could be like an American Sodeto and . . ."

"You're becoming delusional," she said, "As for me, I'm going for a beach walk."

* * * *

PS--We didn't win Powerball but will keep trying.

Monday, February 06, 2012

February 6, 2012--Romney's Safety Net

During the run-up to Saturday's Nevada caucus, a day after his big win in Florida, Romney stepped in it. Again.

While trying--again--to convince middle-class voters that he cares about them, really cares about them, quarter-billionaire Romney, just before being endorsed by real-billionaire Donald Trump, uttered his now viral "I'm-not-concerned-about-the-very-poor" remarks.

To assure any of the very poor who might have been paying attention (most, I'm sure he agrees with Newt, were probably too busy buying gourmet foods with their food stamps) he explained that he doesn't have to care about them because they have a safety net. Further, if more assurance was necessary, he promised that if there are holes in it he'd fix them.

Even putting these comments back in their full context, since he has a propensity to make faux pas of this kind, a picture of Romney has come into focus--the uncaring, out-of-touch rich guy.

That's the impression most American's have of him. But if you are inclined to want to assess candidates more with facts than feelings, take a look at what the safety net would look like in the unlikely event that we were so gullible as to believe him (or hate Obama so much) to elect Romney president.

In regard to tax policy, according to the Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, Romney's tax plan, if implemented, would increase after-tax income for those making more than $1.0 million per year by 14.5 percent while increasing after-tax income for those making between $30,000 and $40,000 by just 3 percent while those making less than $20,000 per year would see their tax burden decrease by less than 1.0 percent.

These almost inconsequential tax cuts for the lower middle class could be rationalized if Romney's budget proposals were generous toward lower-income people--those who have a safety net already or a net with a few holes that Romney said he would mend.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-profit think tank that describes itself as a "policy organization . . . working at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals," a detailed analysis of Romney's budget proposals points out that what his cuts would do are more severe than those contained in the draconian budget proposed by Paul Ryan and unanimously approved by all Republican members of the House of Representatives.

The CBPP writes--

Governor Romney's budget proposals would require far deeper cuts in non-defense programs than the House-passed budget resolution authored by representative Paul Ryan: $94 billion to $219 billion deeper in 2016 and $303 billion to $819 billion deeper in 2021.

The Center report continues--

The Romney plan would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year [per family], or some combination of the two. These cuts would affect very-low-income families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities.

The very same people Mitt Romney revealed he is "not concerned about" and whose safety net he would fix, if needed.

Friday, February 03, 2012

February 3, 2012--Down Day

I am declaring a lazy day and will return on Monday.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

February 2, 2012--Ladies of Forest Trace: What Obama Needs to Do

“I’m worried about the ladies,” my mother said over lunch the other day.

“Is Bertha in the hospital again? I know that Fay . . .”

“No, they’re fine. By that I mean fine for people our age.” My mother is approaching 104 and showing no signs of slowing down. Except when it comes to eating the Peking duck we were sharing at the Silver Pond in Lauderdale Lakes.

“So why are you worried? As long as they’re OK that’s . . .”

“I’m worried about what they are saying about the president. Obama.”

“They’re saying . . . ?”

“That they may not vote for him.”

“They’re going to vote for Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich?”

“That’s what they’re saying. They haven’t made up their minds yet, but this is what they’re thinking about.”

“Why is this? They’re life-long Democrats, aren’t they?”

“Since before they could vote. I mean from before the time when women were allowed to vote.”

“But now?”

“Hold on a moment, I want a little more of the bok choy.” I helped her refill her plate. “They don’t serve food like this at Forest Trace.”

“Of course they don’t. That’s why we like to go out for Chinese food once in awhile. Just like we did back in Brooklyn.” This made her smile and I could see lifted her spirits. Her concerns about the ladies and the presidential election were clearly upsetting her.

“Why are they thinking about not voting for Obama?”

“Because of all his promises. Not because of them,” she quickly corrected herself, “but because he made so many and now he isn’t keeping them. Not all his promises, but too many. At least that’s what the girl are saying.”

“It is true that he promised more change than he has been able to deliver. But they have been following politics long enough to know that this is typical. That no president is able to fulfill all the promises he makes during the campaign.”

“Or she.”

“Touché. I get your point—what he or she promises. Hillary also would have not been able to keep all her promises. Who knows if she would have been able to get Congress to pass any health care legislation. My guess is that Republicans would have been waiting in ambush to stop even a new version of what they derisively called Hillary Care. But at least we now have Obama’s version. It’s not perfect but millions are now going to get coverage.”

“You’re making my point for me.”

“Which is?”

“Which is that Obama has accomplished a lot. I keep trying to tell that to the girls, but they keep saying he isn’t fulfilling his promises. I tell them about bringing the troops home from Iraq, about the stimulus bill, about how he helped us avoid a depression, about killing bin Laden and other terrorists, about don’t-ask-don’t-ask.”

“Don’t tell.”

“That too. There’s a long list. I forget half the things. Now I forget everything. Including what kind of soup we just had.”

“Shredded chicken and corn soup.”

“You see. You can remember what you just ate, but I can’t tell you if today is Tuesday or Wednesday . . .”

Every time we speak these days she is eager to tell me all the things she forgot since the last time we spoke. I keep telling her that remembering what she forgot is a form of remembering. So, wanting to distract her from this now familiar litany, I asked, “Tell me what you think . . .”

“I think I’m losing my memory.”

“I mean, about Obama. How do you think he’s doing?”

“Maybe better than one could expect, considering that from day one
didn’t the Republicans say that their highest priority was to make sure he is a one-term president?”

“Yes they did. They were very open about that.”

“I understand that. They are after all the opposition party and want to take control back as soon as possible, but this doesn’t mean opposing even things that Republicans had previously supported. They have done everything possible to undermine him. I say to the ladies, ‘Isn’t it impressive that he has accomplished so much when his opponents are out to defeat him at every turn?”

“And they say?”

“That he’s not delivering on his promises.”

“I hear you and I hear others, including many Democrats, saying the same thing. But let me ask you a question--if you were Obama, what would you do?”

“I would have another helping of those noodles. I forgot what they’re called.”

“Soy sauce noodles.”

“They’re my favorite.”

“I’m glad you’re enjoying them. But, again, what would you have Obama do?”

“It’s very simple.” She was having trouble using her chopsticks and I suggested using a fork. “I know exactly what he needs to do.”

“I’m listening.”

“He needs to explain to us how the system works.”

“The system?”

“Yes, the system. How, though the president can do many things around the world—like what he is doing with those drains.”


“Those airplanes that fly by themselves and . . . “

“You mean drones. Yes, in foreign policy and in the fight against the terrorists he can do many things on his own as commander in chief.”

“Again, you’re making my point for me. But when it comes to taxes and doing things to help people with mortgages he can’t do very much on his own. He needs Congress to pass bills.”

“I think everyone understands that. It’s basic Civics 101.”

“I don’t know about the 101 business, but I know most people do not understand how this works. Including, I have to say, some of the ladies here. Even the ones who read the Miami Herald.” I nodded.

She was looking around to see what else there was to eat. “Did you say you ordered a steamed fish?”

“Yes, mom, with scallions and ginger.”

“They make it wonderful here. But like I was saying, if Obama wants people like the girls to vote for him—and remember this is Florida, a big, what-they-call, swing state—he should begin to educate us about how he couldn’t deliver on all his promises because he doesn’t have the power to do so. He needs Congress to go along with him. At the moment, on TV they are blaming him for this. As if he could do this on his own. Which he can’t. But too many people don’t understand this. They think when they call him the commander in chief it means he has more authority than he has. That all he has to do is command people to do what he wants. But this of course is not true.”

“Good point, mom. Since at least Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt presidents have been trying to accumulate more power. One of my college professors, Richard Neustadt, wrote a book about this, about the effort by presidents to increase their power.”

“You read all those books so you know these things, but not everyone has time to do that and so Obama has to talk to us about how he needs Congress to help him deliver on his promises. It’s not smart to allow his opponents to assign all the blame to him. As if it’s all his fault.”

“Maybe you should write to him or his campaign manager. They might think this is a good idea.”

“I’m not much of a writer any more so maybe you could write something for me. I mean for me maybe to copy and send to them.”

“That’s a deal,” I said. “Are now you ready for your fortune cookie?”

“That sounds like an excellent idea. You need to break it open for me and read it to me. My eyes aren’t what they used to be. Like my memory.” She smiled slyly.

“Yours says—May you live a hundred years!” That’s appropriate.”

“If that fortune comes true I would have already been dead for almost four years.” Now she was laughing.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

February 1, 2012--Obama's Tax Cuts

Checking up on Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity Monday night to see how they were spinning things, wondering who the Fox News team was supporting in the Republican scramble for the nomination, a ubiquitous guest was former Clinton advisor cum conservative fanatic Dick Morris.

He was fulminating about why it is essential to rid the country of Barack Obama. In a recent book he called him a socialist. Since Morris actually has a good education, he should know better. He should know what socialism is and isn't; and, if he could manage to calm down, he would notice that Obama has done more than I feel he should have to prop up the worst of American crony capitalism. Think bailing out Goldman Sachs.

Top of Morris' list of evidence that Obama is waging class warfare was the accusation that he has increased taxes and wants to do even more. While it is true that Obama wants to raise taxes for those earning over $250,000, during his three years in office he has cut taxes, including for the wealthy, even more than George W. Bush.

First, in an effort to secure Republican support for his stimulus bill, he agreed to include $237 billion in tax cuts for the middle class and affluent. This amounted to almost 40 percent of the full cost of the bill. Incidentally, in spite of Obama's willingness to include these cuts, not one Republican voted for the bill.

Then, back in December 2010, needing Republican votes to extend unemployment benefits, he agreed to a two-year extension of the full spectrum of the Bush tax cuts. Tax cuts that disproportionately favored the highest earners. For this reason, some Republicans gleefully joined the majority.

And finally, he made a series of deals with the GOP to institute a costly payroll tax holiday.

There have been no new taxes whatsoever to offset any of the costs associated with these cuts. In fact, embedded in various other pieces of Obama-sponsored legislation are additional tax cuts and credits for small businesses who hire the unemployed and returning veterans, invest in new forms of energy generation, return jobs to the United States, and for people who purchase new cars (remember cash-for-clunkers?), first-time home buyers, and for those who retrofit their houses to make them more energy efficient.

The progressive in me wants to ask--what's going on here? Why have there been so many regressive tax cuts under Obama and why are Republicans lying about his record?

About the former, I do not have a good answer; about the latter the answer is obvious.

What's that Jack Nicholson line about "handling the truth"?