Friday, October 31, 2008

Jay The Annoyed

Can I officially say that I'm sick and tired of hearing about Joe the Plumber and the 'instant' celebrity he has become? I'm not jealous of the fact that he's become a pawn in a hotly contested political game but the fact that he is being used to represent the 'common man' even though he couldn't be farther from the truth. When Samuel J. "Joe (The Plumber)" Wurzelbacher of Ohio asked Democratic candidate Barack Obama how his proposed tax plan would affect him, Republican candidate John McCain seized on the opportunity to make reference to that fact and showed that the common man was 'afraid' of what Obama was promoting and began using Joe as a symbol of his attachment and care to the common man.

To borrow a phrase, "well my friends" I ain't buying it. First off, according to what I have read about Joe, he asked a theoretical question about what would happen if he wanted to own a small company worth approximately $250K; he wanted to know if his tax burden would increase and the answer is yes. Now people can term this 'spreading the wealth' or income based taxation but one irrefutable fact remains, that no matter what, if the government keeps spending more than it is taking in in taxes then there is no way in Hell that the country is going to start digging itself out of the hole it is in in a financial sense. Remember all that tough talk many people had about ending repayment by countries in debt to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund? Maybe it's time that we start jumping on that bandwagon as well.

But the issue here isn't taxes as such, it is Joe. I'm tired of being compared to Joe because I have nothing in common with him. I'm nowhere close to earning $250K per year. I'm not looking to own my own business (as yet) and have no plans to do so in the immediate future so my concern is what the tax plans of both candidates will or won't do for me. I can tell you this, the changes in the tax laws over the last eight years haven't really helped me in the least. I didn't receive an economic stimulus check and in fact my taxes have gone up in recent days. I'm not an 'elitist', I don't run the 'Georgetown Cocktail Circuit' and I like to think of myself as a member of the 'common man club' but from what I've seen, I'm apparently not.

Now perhaps Joe believed that his time in the spotlight would be a flash in the pan as he liked to term it but that isn't the case. He's milking the opportunity for whatever it is worth. There's talk of record deals and the like. He's had to hire press agents and assistants to help deal with the media frenzy over him. Um... excuse me... but as a celebrity don't you think you'll be earning a little more than $250K? So by either candidate's tax plans you'll be shelling out more so are you so common now? I mean how many of us have our own press agents. Hell I act as my own press agent and I have yet to line up a gig on David Letterman or the Colbert Report. And Joe's only claim to celebrity is the fact that he asked a question of a candidate that was not vetted and happened to be captured by the media. I've seen politicians in person too and I've asked them questions, and the true 'common man' reaction to such incidents is the fact that half of what is asked by 'common people' never gets reported.

I dont' want to belittle Joe as I'm sure he's a nice person but he's not me and it grates on me when people begin to talk to him as if he has become a voice for the common man all over this nation. The closest I have come to being a plumber has been fixing my toilet and changing the shower head in the bathroom. Beyond that about the only thing I have in common with Joe is the fact that we have the letter 'J' somewhere in our names. He isn't me and he isn't going to be me in the run up to the election. I suppose he too will go away after Tuesday since there will no longer need to be coverage of a $250K earning plumber who asks questions that all of us would ask of anyone looking to raise our taxes. Perhaps after Tuesday then he'll truly become one of 'us' and be 'common' once again.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Know Your Voting Rights

We are only five days away from the election and things are going from bad to worse in some cases. So much so that many people out there are resorting to trickery and tomfoolery as a way to get people to either not vote or vote on the wrong day. Let's be clear on one thing; no matter what, you will vote on Tuesday, November 4th 2008. Now that that has been made clear (or hopefully clear enough) then we can talk about the different ways in which people are being deceived when it comes to your rights as a voter. Apparently in various parts of the country there are fliers of different kinds being circulated which have been spreading faslisities about who can vote when and how. I have included on here which was found in Ohio but similar flyers have poppped up here in Virginia as well.

Now I'm not pointing the fingers as Republicans per se but I have not been able to find a similar flyer which tells Democrats to vote on November 4th and for Republicans to vote on November 5th. What's the reason for it? I suppose to keep people from turning up at the polls. I can say one thing honestly and that is in the last few elections (be they primaries, congressional or gubernatorial) there has been an increased turnout and I guess the fear is that long-held beliefs about the political affiliation of certain states or areas has shifted so dramatically that it's near impossible to declare how certain states will vote compared to another or the past. I guess that may be part of the reason why some are resorting to this sort of deceitful act in order to help change the polls in one direction or another. It's sad that we are stooping to this level to ensure victory for whichever candidate we support. But these are by no means the other falsehoods being spread by rumor-mongers to sow the seeds of doubt.

Another flyer found in another part of Ohio (in crime-prone areas in particular) indicated that voters who had voted in any election this year would not be elligble to vote. That's not true. Your right to vote is not restricted to only one election per year. That's stupid because then why would we have record turnouts at the primaries if we weren't going to be able to vote at the general election? Don't believe that one for a second. Another is that if you have ever been found guilty of anything including traffic violations then you will not be allowed to vote. Not only that but if you have family or relatives that have been found guilty of anything (again including traffic violations) then you won't be allowed to vote either. Rumors run rampant of how police will be standing at polling stations to arrest anyone if they attempt to vote in violation of these laws. Again, this is a major falsehood meant to deter people from pushing their luck.

But not only do they attempt to scare you with arrest, they claim that you will be arrested and your children will be taken away from you. Now if that isn't a lowdown dirty way to scare someone away from the polls then I don't know what is. I think it's terrible that people are being misled this way to prevent them from exercising their constitutional right. According to some of the flyers found, violation of these rules can mean up to ten years in prison. Ten years! Now I've gotten a speeding ticket before and a toll violation but I'll be damned if I'm going to be denied to have my say in who runs this country for the next four years. One would think that this childish attitude would have been left behind when we outgrew diapers but I suppose that for some winning at all costs is not just a philosophy, it's a requirement.

No matter if you believe the polls or not, whether you think the election doesn't need your vote or not, you can't stand idly by and not take an interest. If you have the right to vote, it's your duty to do it. I can't abide people who have the right to vote but don't simply because they don't want to spend the time needed to vote. Then they are usually the first one hears complaining about the state of the nation. If you didn't vote but could have then shut the Hell up because you didn't take the opportunity to exercise your right. Your vote could have changed the result. As we saw in Florida in 2000, every vote counts. If things are as close as many polls claim they are then you need to be sure to be out there. Last I saw we were living in a democracy and not a police state so for the law to come in and take your right away is a falsehood. Remember, we all vote on Tuesday, November 4th 2008!!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Popular Vote

We still have a week (actually six days now) until the current election finishes and already pundits and prognosticators are looking ahead to the next election and if this current campaign has taught us anything it's that the campaigns will start right now. No, maybe not that early but early enough. I find it funny that we're talking about it now seeing as how many believe the results of this election are in the bag already. Some of the ads that the McCain-Palin campaign have been airing of late have an air of defeat in them; they talk about how Obama will not be ready to handle any international crisis that comes across his plate in the early days of his presidency (should he be elected). Why are we talking about what he could do if there's still hope of winning as many siding with McCain are claiming despite declining poll numbers? I guess they are done reading the tea leaves and are sticking with the polls. Is this why then we are already looking ahead? I suppose so.

But another, slightly more disturbing trend that I've seen coming into this election is the increase in the popular vote. I'm not talking about the actual political term but rather what you probably remember from student council elections in school if you ever had the misfortune of running against the most popular kid in school (as I did on a couple of occasions). It didn't really matter if I was smart or if I had the capability of completing my job as student council president but because my opponent happened to be the guy many girls in the school had a crush on I lost in the election (though it was only by two or three votes apparently). It was then that I first began to realize that popularity could be an asset and a bane. It all depends on your point of view.

Now even in this election, some of the polls have fluctuated on the popularity of a particular candidate. I don't think you can point to anyone more emphatically than Sarah Palin in this case. Following her announcement as the vice presidential nominee she has been at the forefront of many of the campaign ads and rallys and has helped get a solid backing for McCain in areas where there was flagging or minimal support. She has a dynamic personality that many find appealing and apparently it was enough to help his numbers though in the intervening months it has declined as more and more information on her knowledge (or lack thereof) on issues came to the forefront. But it didn't really matter. If you hear some of the people who have heard her speak at rallys they will talk and behave as if she is the smartest woman on the planet and that she is the answer to all our prayers and the cure for all the ills in our country at present.

Now not to take anything away from Governor Palin but I find that pill a little hard to swallow. I have no doubt that she has a dynamic personality but to use that as a basis for saying that she will lead us into the future is a stretch. And I don't think it has anything to do with her proposals or policies for the White House (after all she seems convinced at times that she'll have more say in the running of the nation than McCain would as President), but the fact that she's popular. Many of her supporters point to the fact that they can relate to her. I guess that's why Neiman Marcus is doing so well in this economy since apparently everyone who 'relates' to her is spending thousands of dollars on clothes there. Maybe that issue has nothing to do with anything and it is all a bit of fluff meant to detract from her as a candidate, but what I find disturbing in these allegations is that on the one hand people say 'so what if she spent that much' and on the other they will say that she will donate those clothes. But the fact of the matter remains that she (or someone on her campaign team) has spent the equivalent of a medium valued house in some parts of the country. Is that frugal? I don't think so.

But it doesn't matter. People like her because she's popular and that popularity seems to be feeding her. Now more than ever she seems to go to rallys with slogans and promises that often sound contrary to what John McCain is saying at his. Is that independence or preparation for the next election. After all, many people are convinced that Sarah Palin will be a frontrunner for the Presidency in 2012 because even if McCain wins this year, he may be too old to run again in 2012 for re-election. My issue with that is that we've already had a President for eight years who was highly rated as 'a President you could have a beer with' and I dont' think it was all chocolates and roses. I'd rather have someone who knows what they are talking about and if they don't, has the guts to say that they don't and is ready to name advisors who are experienced enough to provide unbiased advise, not their own agenda. Who knows, if popularity is all that matters then it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see that campaign poster up there updated to show 'Vader 2012: Together We Can Rule the Galaxy'.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Security...But Not at My Expense

In anticipation of potential problems in the city during the run-up to next week's election or to prevent it, Metro officials have decided to kick off increased security screening to ensure that the system continues to run safely and without incident. Implementing a security screening process similar to what New York City implemented following September 11th, the Washington Metro system has begun to randomly screen passengers again in an effort to prove the presence of increased security and to deter any potential troublemakers. The problem is that many people are a bit wary of the increased security measures and are concerned as to how these measures will be implemented.

It never fails really. Every time there is an increase in security measures some place someone has an objection to it. People who use the system every day are concerned that these random checks aren't really random at all and that once again the spectre of racial profiling will rear its ugly head while others feel that it should be applied equally to all passengers regardless of race, color or creed. Now while that would be perfect in a perfect world, I feel that there is something inherently wrong with that concept and that's simply because people haven't thought things through. People have said that screening of all passengers would ensure equal treatment but already at airports (where such a concept exists) we're already arriving hours ahead of time in order to avoid missing our flights, do we now need to think about arriving at the train station hours ahead of our intended departure to do the same?

And what about the fact that many stations don't have the space or the capability of handling such huge crowds for random screening? Have you actually seen some of these stations at rush hour? The Marine Corps Marathon looks less congested in comparison to the way stations like Metro Center look during the height of rush hour so where then will these security screenings of all passengers take place? Outside the stations? Well if you do that then think about when it's raining, snowing or what have you. Do people actually think that passengers rushing to get to work or rushing to get home are going to stand in line for a long period of time before getting on the train to work? Instead of promoting a safe alternative to driving into the city, you'll see a rise in people driving to work. Less hassle.

And that is the essential factor that drives a lot of this discussion. Hassle. Many of us talk about the need or desire for less hassle but increased security. We want to be safe but we never want it to affect us. People who make these claims are rarely the ones pulled aside for 'random' screenings. Call it racist or bigoted but if you haven't been pulled aside repeatedly then you have no right to say that it isn't inconvenient. I don't behave suspiciously when I travel, I am a born citizen and I am a law-abiding resident of our nation's capital but because of my skin tone or ethnic look I am more likely to be scrutinized than some of my neighbors. Is that fair? I think these random bag searches are a happy median and if something to be implemented this is better than nothing. Those of us who have nothing to hide but will be screened more randomly than others are already resigned to that fact so it really doesn't matter in the end but I don't think people should look at it as the most viable solution.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Eking Out Another Win

Here we are at the midpoint of the season and the Redskins are 6-2; a winning record for the first time since about 2000 I believe. Now I know it's much to early to get excited about anything at this point because the team has gone 6-1 before losing the remaining nine games of the season but while the team is standing on top of the mountain at the moment, is it wrong to savor the moment and enjoy it. Redskins fans haven't had too much to celebrate over a sustained period for a long time and it certainly is something worth enjoying to have a winning record for a change. Sure the team has made it to the playoffs a couple of times since 1991 but those times were not only based on wins, but a great deal of luck as well.

That's not to say that this current roster doesn't have it's share of luck as well. Try as they might, the team looked to be on the verge of letting the game slip away from them on several occasions yesterday. Indeed, after seeing the Redskins opening drive, I was anticipating a very high scoring afternoon with the team going all out and running up the score against the then (and still) winless Detroit Lions. But after being denied entry into the end zone the Redskins settled for three and then settled for three almost the rest of the afternoon. Now it's true that teams like Baltimore (during their Super Bowl run) won due to their defense and their field goal kicking. The Redskins aren't quite that unproductive on offense, they have the tools but why they aren't prone to use it all the time is something I fail to understand and it sort of explains why the team was in the situation it was in for a good deal of the afternoon yesterday.

One of the highlights of this year's offense is even though the west coast offense that Jim Zorn was supposed to bring is very pass heavy, the Redskins (particularly Clinton Portis) has been extremely productive with the running game. Now I don't think it's a mystery to anyone else that the Redskins are running as well as they pass but you would think that when the running game is going so well, an opponent may be better prepared for it and indeed that showed as the Lions goal line defense was rather solid considering they were a winless team. Even when looking to be productive on the offense, the team was using both the running game and the passing game but why not use more of the passing game which seemed to move the ball farther down the field more efficiently? Sure you want to eat up the clock and have a higher time of possession but field goals alone aren't going to win games. Indeed, until Santana Moss's game clinching touchdown punt return for 80-yards, it was looking as though the Lions could come back and win it.

Even after Moss's run, a scary moment came when Clinton Portis made a fourth quarter run (which again set up a field goal) left him writhing on the ground in pain. As the NFL's leading rusher, Portis has helped keep the Redskins offense very diverse in the sense that it probably more resembles the team that Joe Gibbs used to coach back in the 1980's and 1990's rather than during his second iteration. This was the team that he wanted when he started and now it's there and it nearly went away again until Portis got up and walked off the field. I think the diversity the team has been showing lately is what is setting them apart. They have shown that even though they have a west coast offense, they aren't going to get rid of the run as some of our past coaches have done. Why break something that works? Add to it. By doing so they have kept the game multi-dimensional rather than one-dimensional. Isn't that better? Next week the Skins face the Steelers of Pittsburgh in what will undoubtedly be a major test. Their game last night against the Giants was indeed a preview of what they will face. Here's hoping that they step up and deliver the way they did against the Cowboys and Eagles.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Ready for the Results Already

Okay. I'm done. I've had enough of this campaign. I can recall growing up as a kid and waiting for my birthday or for Christmas and just wishing like crazy that time would move forward to the point that I could get to the day I wanted. This year, more than anything else I'm waiting for November 5th to come around. Granted I have only experienced presidential elections a sum total of eight times in my lifetime but I think I can honestly say this has been one of the nastiest and most vile campaigns that has been run in a very long time. Our country is so divided right now that it seems that no one is free of torment or violence based on their political beliefs. Case in point? Ms. Ashley Todd.

Ashley Todd, a volunteer for the McCain-Palin campaign in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was apparently attacked last night while she stood withdrawing money from an ATM. Apparently her attacker came up behind her in the dark and held her at knifepoint demanding her money. She proceeded to hand over the $60 she had withdrawn and then when the mugger saw the McCain sticker on her car, proceeded to attack her. The assault ended with the attacker using the knife to carve a letter 'B' into her cheek as an apparent retaliation for her support of the Arizona Senator in his bid for the presidency. Now I know you'll call it quite ironic that a McCain supporter would be attacked and have a letter 'B' carved into her face and though both sides have been quick to condemn the attacks, I am sure that the furor on this issue is going to spring up. Maybe the McCain-Palin camp won't bring it up but someone certainly will. Might as well be me on this blog.

In case you're wondering what I mean, I mean that someone (I don't know who... but someone) is going to raise the point that McCain's opponent, Barack Obama, has a 'B' as the first letter in his first name (heck, you betcha... it even shows up in his last name) and the chances of that particular letter being carved into a McCain supporters face is too coincidental to be anything other than a purposeful attack. So someone (again... I don't know who.... Michele Bachman maybe?) will come back and say that this is evidence that Obama supporters are 'un-American', violent, angry and ill-suited to be a part of our nation. They will be portrayed as domestic terrorists who will go around attacking those who don't support their views and will stoop to any level to bring about victory for their ill-suited knight in dark-suited armor, Barack Obama.

Now both campaigns have been quick to condemn the attack and have stated that this is a tragedy and that neither camp supports this type of action. The Obama-Biden campaign jumped on the issue almost immediately and issued their condemnation of this act which was followed shortly thereafter by condemnation by McCain and Palin. Now whether these acts constitute complete repudiation by both parties is a matter for debate but alas, there will be no more Presidential or Vice Presidential debates so we are left with nothing but soundbites and press interviews (if granted). Now I can say with almost guaranteed certainty that Obama wouldn't support this type of action and I'm just as certain that McCain wouldn't like anyone carving a 'J' or an 'M' into an Obama supporters face.

But what these actions have shown me is that the state of our nation has reached a point where we are more divided than ever and the viewpoints of many is that 'if you don't agree with me wholeheartedly then you are the enemy'. I though we lived in a nation that encouraged freedom of expression and ideas. If I don't agree with someone we don't attack one another or question that person's values. Or do I? It's come to the point now where someone with a dissenting opinion on an issue is portrayed as an opponent to freedom or what 'real Americans' would want. That's not true. That's not what this country was founded on and if that's the case then why are we encouraging the Iraqis or Afghanis to be peaceful in the political process? If we're resorting to violence and dirty politics in our own elections, what's to stop them from pointing the finger at us and asking, "is that how democracy is supposed to work?" I wish it was November 5th. Only about two more weeks to go. I have a nasty feeling that this isn't the last such incident that will occur and it will only make the next president's job that much harder. Uniting a country isn't a small task. Ask the Iraqis.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smile for the Speed Camera

I think we can almost all admit to it. We rarely, if ever drive at the speed limit. Most people follow the simple rule that if you are ten miles over the posted speed limit you are safe and anywhere over that you are pushing your luck. Well when counties and cities all over the United States started enforcing that belief through the use of speed cameras, the effect was relatively widespread and enlightening. Here in Montgomery County in Maryland, speed cameras have been in use since about May 2007. Basically how it works is if the camera 'spots' you going ten miles over the recommended speed limit, your car's photo will be snapped and you'll be sent along a copy of the photo along with a ticket for $40.

Studies of Montgomery County show that between May to December of 2007, close to 110,000 tickets were issued. That means that the county stood to earn $4.4 million for doing nothing other than processing photos. Not bad huh? But not everyone is pleased about the enforcement of the speed rules this way and they are lashing out. Over the past few months, speed cameras and traffic light cameras have had the roads in front of their lenses vandalized with graffiti sending out a message that many people agree with; that the whole concept of the speed cameras is a scam by the county government as a means of collecting revenue for next to nothing. While many will agree that the cameras do help slow people down, there is still that hazy area that leaves these cases up to debate.

What do I mean 'up to debate'? Well think of it this way. Supposing you are coasting down a hill without accelerating, naturally your car will pick up a little speed. If you happen to be coming down faster than you should be, and if your speed goes a little above the speed limit, you are liable to have your photo taken. Now many argue that this is where the difference between a machine and an actual officer comes into play. An officer can keep an eye on you and will have a reasonable idea as to whether your are speeding or gaining speed due to road conditions. The cameras on the other hand snap that instant in time. And even if you are only eleven miles over the speed limit for not more than a few moments, you will be stuck with a $40 ticket.

Now I'm of two minds on this issue because I do agree that these cameras aren't the most accurate or reliable means of determining who speeds and who doesn't but I also agree that they are a great deterrent. But I also see the side that people argue is the real reason that so many counties and cities are installing these cameras and that is for the revenue. In the first 8 months alone in Montgomery County you had the issuance of tickets that brought in approximately $4.4 million. With the addition of more cameras you could bring in close to $10 million. Now I'm not implying that that's the real reason behind the cameras but if you try to look at it from this point of view then perhaps you'll understand. As far as I know, these tickets are fines, but they don't add points to your license (unless you are really really bad) so most people look at $40 and shrug it off. Now if 110,000 people do that then you can see how the county can get $4.4 million for doing seemingly nothing more than printing photos.

This whole debate has raged on for a while in D.C. which was one of the first cities I had heard aobut that implemented these cameras so quickly and they have had similar results. That's not to say it's a bad thing since D.C. can't tax workers who work within the city but live in the surrounding states. As a result, D.C. has always looked for ways to get revenue where they can legally. Speed cameras solve two problems with one stone. They get you revenue which can be used to sustain the city but they also get you to prove to the public that you are taken actions meant to make the city safer through passive traffic enforcement. Not everyone sees it that way which is why vandals continue to strike. I don't think the cameras are going to go away any time soon so I don't think it will be much longer before we start seeing speed camera graffiti cameras. Stranger things have happened.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ho Ho...Uh Oh...Oh No

There are very few rites of passage that are as ingrained in my childhood memories as the memories of going to the mall and getting a picture taken with Santa Claus. I can remember going to PG Plaza or Beltway Plaza or New Carrollton Mall and having my photo taken along with my brother sitting on Santa's lap. We probably did that ritualistic act a handful of times in my childhood but seeing Santa sitting in the mall as Christmas approaches is always something that stirs those memories for me. And even though we only have a few of those actual photos tucked away somewhere, the standards that some of those Santa's set always set a standard for me by which I would later judge all Mall Santas.

Now it seems like a stretch to imagine that such a thing should matter to anyone but it most certainly does. When you are a child and you still cling to that belief that Santa is indeed real then I know that many parents want to ensure that the experience of seeing the 'big man' is as close to expectations as possible which is why the 'authenticity' of mall Santas is important. I mean I remember one year where my brother and I had our photo taken with Santa and though this Santa had a snowy white beard and a sizeable stomach, we were rather surprised to find out that Santa was in actuality a woman who was wearing a fat suit and a fake beard. It freaked me out somewhat to consider that Santa would actually allow a woman to play his role. I say Santa would allow because at that point I still believed in Santa Claus but I also knew that there was no way he could be at all malls simultaneously if he was supposed to be making the toys for Christmas. Still, I figured that perhaps times were tough and actors hard to come by so he hired a woman.

But it seems that times are still rather tough and even mall Santas are feeling the downturn in the economy. Case in point is the Santa who has worked at Tysons Corner Mall for the last 18 years. Michael Graham is a carpenter from Tennessee who has worked a temporary gig at Tysons Corner Mall for a long time and has counted on the $30,000 he makes for the role to help keep he and his family afloat. He's what I would term a 'good Santa' in the sense that he takes the role seriously. He is a bit rotund, and sports an actual snowy white beard. He has three suits to account for normal wear-and-tear and the occasional accident (some kids are not yet potty trained when they first meet Santa and the excitement is a bit much to.... contain). And by his own accounts, he takes the role quite seriously. He isn't involved just to make the cash and 'waste' a few weeks listening to kids talk about what they want for Christmas. He listens to the kids and 'looks them in the eye' to make each and every one of his visitors feel important and so that they feel that indeed, Santa has heard their wish.

Unfortunately, it seems like Michael Graham's time at Tysons Corner is finally up. Although his contract with the mall was set to run until 2012, he was recently told that he would no longer be needed at the mall as the mall was going with another company to set up shop in the mall center to take photos and play the role of Santa. Now not to knock the new Santa even before he (or she... don't want to be accused of sexism) takes on the role, but is that the way you want to treat someone given that for some kids, he has been the epitome of Santa at their local mall for so long? I can remember seeing different Santa's every year that I took photos with one but having one that would have been the same for so long would have been 'comforting' in a way. As it is reality sinks in fast for so many kids so it's nice to have some permanancy in fantasy and imagination for a while. Kids eventually learn the truth but why spoil it for them? Let them enjoy the fantasy for a while and let someone who appreciates and understands the role continue to fulfill so many kids imaginations.

At this point in the year it is already too late for Michael Graham to sign with another mall. When he first took on the role 23 years ago in Tennessee it was because his local mall's Santa had suffered a heart attack and he was a last minute replacement. Since then he has worked consistently for many years and now can relate to Terrance Howard, the actor from "Iron Man" who was similarly removed without prior knowledge or warning from the "Iron Man" sequel even though he had a contract. Now with the market in flux and the fact that he is suddenly $30,000 short of his yearly income, Graham faces foreclosure on his home. I realize that times are tough and everyone has to take a hit now and again but I don't think its fair to end his contract the way it did without any prior warning. Even though Christmas is still two months away, it's already like the Grinch has taken control. Bah Humbug.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ignorance is Bliss

I think there is truth to the old adage that 'ignorance is bliss.' I say this because being a semi-political junkie, I try to keep abreast of what's happening in the world of politics since I live so close to Washington, D.C. and because whatever they decide in D.C. affects all our lives in some way shape or form. Seeing as how this current campaign for the Presidency has been going for seemingly the last decade now, one would think that the nasty campaigns that both parties have led against one another would begin to subside and we would begin to see some form of talk on the issues come to the forefront but sadly, it hasn't been happening.

What has been happening however, is a clear indication that racism and fear of something or someone different is alive and well here in the United States. For all our talk of being a tolerant and accepting society, I think it's clear that we have a long way to go. Sure we accept someone different as long as they don't represent me. God forbid that someone who doesn't believe exactly what I do or who doesn't practice the same religion as me should take power, that person isn't going to care a lick for what I care. Let me tell you all right now, every single candidate out there running for President, whether they are Republican, Democrat or Independent? None of them represents me if that is to be our benchmark. Not a single one of them is of Indian origin (and I mean from India and not Native American descent). Not a single one of them is a practicing Hindu so why should I expect that they would care about my religious views or beliefs?

Sure we'll wax philosophic about how we have freedom of religion or other views and talk about the wonders of Democracy but I can't help but think back to less than a year ago when an Indian priest was asked to deliver the morning prayer during the openning session of Congress for that particular day. Some of the protests were downright reminiscent of religious persecution as one could get. And this was in Congress! The office of government that is supposed to most directly represent me! So am I to overlook that or am I to take that to mean that I can practice my religion or state my beliefs in my own dank corner and let everyone else have their say on the governmental stage? I bring this up because I think one of the sad facts in recent times is that there has been so much lumping of terms and generalizations that we are making ourselves more ignorant instead of less.

I can't help but wonder if Barack Obama would be under such tremendous scrutiny if he hadn't had the name that he does. I seem to recall reading about how Kennedy was under intense scrutiny given that he was a Roman Catholic and that so many people thought that the Vatican would be taking control of our government as a result. I don't think that happened quite the way people feared but still, unless we take that first step, how will we know? I think what many of us fail to understand is the way in which the government is set up. Outside of Washington there is a great deal of mysticism that seems to apply to Washington and even some of those who come to Washington to work in the government seem ignorant of some truths. I can't think of anyone more lost right now than Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota who basically equated anyone with liberal views as being staunchly 'un-American'.

In her rant on MSNBC last week she more or less accused Barak Obama of having un-American views and called on the media (isn't this the same media Republicans have been bashing for weeks on end) to investigate and find out how many Congressional leaders are actually un-American. Well if we are to use that criteria then perhaps we need to find out how many Congressional leaders have family serving in Iraq right now and I think we'll find that there are very few. But doesn't support for the War in Iraq and Afghanistan prove your loyalty and patriotism? So then by definition isn't the majority of Congress un-American? Rather than creating an air of fear, with only a handful of days left to the election, shouldn't our leaders be trying to educate us on their plans and not make us dumber? I guess maybe it's too much to hope for.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Another Week Another Win

It's a common enough cliche when it comes to the Redskins, but yesterday's game against the Cleveland Browns was easily a 'must win' situation. Two weeks ago on the heels of the defeat of Philadelphia on the road, most oddsmakers and fans were already making assumptions that by this time next week, the Redskins would be standing proudly with a 7-1 record. Unfortunately the Rams put a bit of a kaibosh on that goal and though they didn't win that game, the Redskins came into this week with the goal of re-energizing the franchise back to the winning form they had shown since week 1 and I think they accomplished that goal.

Now the St. Louis Rams did go on to beat the Cowboys yesterday which is a good thing for us as it means we are now firmly in place for second in the division behind the New York Giants. With Detroit coming up next week, it is possible that the team could very well be 6-2 next week but rather than making it an inevitability, I think the team should treat it as a possibility until it becomes reality. If we were to flash back to a week ago, I doubt anyone would have thought twice as to whether the Browns would have any chance against the Super Bowl Champion Giants but they not only beat them but beat them soundly so I think that was the wake-up call plus cold shower that the team needed to wake themselves from the complacency stupor they found themselves in. The Browns proved that the pre-season hype that surrounded them was justifiied in beating the Giants, it gave the Redskins something to prove themselves against.

And frankly I think the defeat against the Rams last week was needed since it may have made the team realize that there truly isn't anything like a 'gimmie' game this season. It's odd the number of times teams that are termed 'losers' come back and trounce on supposed champions. Look at the Cowboys. Sure they have a veritable all-star roster with injured players but still, they aren't playing in the form that people assumed they would be at the start of the season. So what's so different with the Redskins this year than opposed to seasons past? I think healthiness is defintely an issue. In years past we've had a great squad but unfortunately injuries ended up depleting the core of players to the point that at times it seemed the team was ready to pull players from the stands to fill in. This year though injuries have taken out some key players, the team overall is still in relatively great shape.

But what else? That can't be the only reason and it certainly isn't. I think one key factor has been Coach Zorn. I will admit that I had my doubts about an untested head coach who was bringing a style of play to Washington (the vaunted West-Coast offence) which had been introduced here in the past withough much success. But the key difference from the first time it was used to today is the fact that Coach Zorn has not yielded to the assumption that the Coach will only do what he wants to do despite obvious advantages. What's that mean? Well the West-Coast offense emphasizes short passes for gains that lead the team down the field. The running game isn't necessarily the focal point but when you have a league leading running back like Clinton Portis leading the charge, how can you not use him? I think Coach Zorn has been smart in using both Portis and the passing game to keep the offense on the move.

And let's not forget the defense. The secondary was laying some major hits and coverage on the Browns passing game yesterday. Some of those hits were so hard that my teeth were rattling just watching them. Now I'll be the first to say that I'd rather have victories that are by such large margins that the team can literally allow the opponent several uncontested touchdowns but still, there's nothing more exciting than watching a close game. If it hadn't been for the dropped ball by Clinton Portis late in the fourth quarter I don't think the defense would have allowed Cleveland a single touchdown. The goal line defense of the Redskins stood firm and held the Browns to a field goal the first time they tried desperately to punch it in. Had it not been for that opportunity and the out-of-form miss from Shaun Suisham at the end of the first half on the attempted field goal by the Redskins, that margin would have been bigger but still, I think their victory yesterday certainly proves one thing. That the team is winning on their skills and ability and not on flukes.


Friday, October 17, 2008

The Jury Will Disregard that Remark

Growing up I used to see a lot of courtroom dramas on television and in the movies; and if there's one thing I learned from all those viewings is that some of the more astute lawyers out there will sometimes make a statement or claim that they know an opponent will object to but by then the jury will have already heard it and despite the fact that the judge would likely ask the jury to disregard the offending statement, the seed of doubt has already been planted. I think this is precisely what's happening in this election season as well. After two previous presidential election where there was much doubt spread among people as to the legality of certain actions taken during the actual voting phase, election day has come under such close scrutiny that it seems almost insane not to want to protest misconduct even though the conduct has yet to be done.

At the debate earlier this week, Senator McCain raised issue with one of the topics that has been getting more press time in these recent days and that's the issue of whether or not the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is guilty of voter fraud. In a nutshell, what the whole stink over ACORN's actions are is the fact that many Republicans are claiming that the liberal-leaning group has been filing thousands of new voter registration cards and many of them are for people who don't exist. What they are implying is that I could go up to an ACORN agent and register as Luke Skywalker and Clark Kent and then get two additional voter cards in my name so that I can vote three times. Now granted I've only ever voted in two states (Maryland and Virginia) but never in the same election and never more than once per election. In order to even be allowed to vote I had to show my driver's license and prove my identity by either rattling off my phone number and address or provide some other form of proof. Plus I couldn't just show up at any polling place, I had one assigned to me. So despite all these safeguards are we really to believe that Luke Skywalker and Clark Kents across this nation are going to have their say?

Now perhaps it's misguided and foolish of me to be so naive as to think that the election process in this country is a bit more organized and fastidious in its actions to prevent such blatant fraud but for the sake of arguement if it isn't, then why are we bringing this subject up now? Well I think it goes back to what happened in the last two elections. In 2000, the election was so close that it came down to votes in one state that had tremendous electoral vote totals. I don't think I have to mention that it was Florida but in case you didnt' know now you do. At that time there were allegations of voter fraud and voter intimidation flying all over the place. Accusations that Republican party supporters drove van loads of people to their polling stations so that they could vote while polls in poorer Democratic controlled areas were occupied by voting booths that had been around since George Washington's time. What that meant was that there was greater propensity for the whole 'hanging chad' debacle to come to the fore.

By the time the smoke cleared in 2000, the Supreme Court stepped in to announce the final decision and Gore withdrew his protest and so George W. Bush became our President. Flash forward to 2004 and again the votes were close in some states and again, accusations of voter fraud and voter intimidation came up but this time in Ohio. Though there were cases where there were clear indications of voter misconduct, John Kerry withdrew his objections fairly early and announced that he would not contest the results that had come out. Many Democrats decried his actions but I think the entire mood of the Kerry campaign was that it would be wrong to subject the country to so much uncertainty in the wake of another election. Plus the fact that it would smack of sore-loser-ism if this sort of protest was to happen again. So how do you stave it off? By starting your sore-loser-ism even before you lose.

It seems to me that a lot of the hubbub around ACORN's actions is that it's helping lay the groundwork for a protest by the McCain campaign if they happen to lose the election. Rather than coming out then and accusing the organization of fixing the election through fake votes, they are already implying that there could be tons of fake and duplicate votes all over the country thanks to groups like ACORN. So then if the case they fear happens and Obama wins the election then they could start proclaiming, "See? I told you so I told you so! Fix fix fix!" Now granted they may not say it in such a childish manner but you see what I'm trying to get at? Now when John McCain mentioned ACORN, I'm sure that the majority of people out there were wondering if McCain was referencing the coming winter and was thinking of squirels getting ready for hibernation during the winter but that clearly wasn't the case. Perhaps he's already thinking of his endgame strategy to set up for a protest should he not win the election. Somehow I don't think we've heard the end of this debate.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Saying What Needed to Be Said.... Sort Of

Finally! The debates are done and we're finally free of these things at least until January 2009 when I'm sure the campaigning for the 2012 elections will begin. I shudder to consider that fact but it's probably what will happen given that this campaign for both parties has been going on since Ronald Reagan was still acting in Bonzo movies. Whether you are a fanatical politico or passive listener, one can't help but be interested in what's happening with this election simply because the results will no doubt have tremendous impact on all of us.

The repeated references to real-life Joe the Plumber (obviously not his real name) was something both John McCain and Barrack Obama latched onto many times during their final debate at Hofstra University in New York last night. At first it was like one of those classic political moments where a politician will make reference to someone regarding their plight and the story will relate to how the candidate will solve the problems plaguing the person. In this case however, Joe was used more like a tennis ball that was being whacked from McCain to Obama and back again. I figured that if the Vice Presidential debate drinking game had maximum drinks consumed for the use of the word "maverick" then this debate's maximum drinking phrase would have been "Joe". I kept tally and lost count after a couple of hundred times.

It seemed that McCain was hellbent on referencing Joe in order to show his not being out of touch with the common man though many people began to interpret the references later on as being gimmicky. Regardless, I think both candidates used the person as their own platform for launching into discussions as to what their plans were for the country. I'm just glad that Joe the Plumber wasn't referenced when the question of foreign policy was on the table. I for one dread such a prospect and though I know most politicians wouldn't make such a rash decision stranger things have happened. I remember just moments after the second plane hit the towers on 9/11, some other 'Joe' watching the television in our office with me commented that we ought to nuke China. Now granted that was a knee-jerk reaction but I think you understand what I'm saying.

And in terms of knee-jerk reactions, I don't think any debate this campaign has been as lively as this one turned out to be when the question of negative ads came up. The transformation of John McCain during those discussions was tremendous and I was stunned that he would choose to unload on those. Sure he may have repudiated every single statement made by his supporters but when Obama raised the point that some people at his rally's have shouted statements like "terrorist" and "kill him" (in reference to Obama himself) I don't think it's wrong of him to expect repudiation nor is it a knock against those attending the rally. I don't think it was ever implied by either candidate that the people making these blanket statements (wrongly I might add) represented every one of the supporters for either McCain or Obama but still, when your own running mate is stoking those fires, you better say something!

I think the best line of the night had to go to McCain when he made the statement to Obama that he (McCain) wasn't President Bush and that if he wanted to run against President Bush he should have run four years prior. It was a line that will undoubtedly go up next to Senator Lloyd Bentsen's "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" line from his debate with Dan Quayle during the 1988 Vice-Presidential debates. Isn't it eerie how twenty years later we're hearing similar lines being uttered. Perhaps it is truly a case of history repeating or at least proof that candidates just say what they are safe in saying. And that's my whole issue with these debates. I think party hardliners are going to support whichever party they are allied to no matter what. I know there are staunch supporters of McCain and Obama who are voting simply because they are the candidates that their party has chosen; regardless of whether they like or agree with them or not.

So then who are these debates for? I think mostly for the people who are undecided. If the last two Presidential elections have told us anything it's that every vote does count and it makes a tremendous difference in the end. Some elections in some states have been won with margins as close as a few hundred votes. Just think about that; that's not many more people than may be working in your office building. And I think what these swing voters were hoping to do was put up a strong enough case for their Presidency to convince people that they had a plan and were well-versed in the role to have an end goal in mind. For once, the candidates seemed to break out of their practiced talking points mode and answer honestly but they didn't stray so far. I think what may end up hurting McCain in the eyes of many (and many pundits agree) is that McCain seemed to hem and haw quite a lot and was angry and harsh at many points during the debate. Maybe it was interpretation but the reality comes to the fore in such cases. Did they say what they had to say? Sort of. Did they convince those still on the fence? We'll find out in three weeks.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Home Stretch

Can any of us remember back to the time the debates for this election season began? I'm not talking about the debates between McCain and Obama but the debates in general for presidential nominees. It seems like a lifetime ago. Wasn't it around the time Bush started his second term? I can't recall for the life of me but it seems like this election began shortly after the previous one concluded. I suppose it makes sense seeing as how unless there is some rapid fire change to the Constitution that leads to an extension or additional term for the sitting President, this will be the first time in 8 years that someone new will be occupying the White House. But if one is to listen to the nonsense being bandied about by both sides our choices are limited to an out-of-touch old man or an 'Arab'. Both descriptions are off but that's what the images have been reduced to. And whose fault is that?

One could argue that the stakes for this election are much higher than the previous ones. Of course that's something that everyone says during every election. But the next President is going to have to deal with some very major issues in the coming four years and that's where my interest lies; in how the candidates plan on dealing with the problems. We have a fiscal crisis that the country has not really seen since around the time of the Great Depression, we have wars going on in two countries with other countries around the world beginning to show signs of boiling over into potential problem areas as well, and we have the greatest schism in political views since... well ever. I can't help but think back to the first campaign George W. Bush ran against Al Gore. During that time the Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked the end of the Clinton administration's second term. Bush ran on a platform of bringing change and creating bipartisanship that had become fractured in the wake of Clinton's trial.

Bush pledged to work both sides of the aisle in Congress in order to bring the government together and until September 2001, nothing much was working right in that regard for the President. Then, as is a popular rejoinder with one of my conservative family friends, "9/11 happened." Sure, the attacks of September 11th were horrific and tragic and they set our country on a course that would define the following 7 years but what it also caused was a polarization of people that I have not really seen in the span of my relatively short life. Suddenly it became an us against them mentality and it has only gotten worse. I remember statements being made by Bush to the effect that 'those who don't stand against us with terrorists will be seen to be standing with them.' That also seemed to apply to Congress and anyone else who didn't see eye to eye with the moves being made either.

If you disagreed with the war or felt strongly that we should have focused on capturing or killing Osama bin Laden then you were considered an unpatriotic and foolish person who harbored terrorist tendancies. I'm sorry but that's not what I felt at all. I felt that we should capture the one who has clearly masterminded the attacks on our country. We had worldwide support and there was no better time to do it than when we first entered Afghanistan. But focus shifted and now we stand with one foot in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan and still, both sides argue for and against this move and still people are so emmeshed with the 'with us or against us' mentality that it's hard to have a rational discussion.

For once I would hope that the candidates would finally get down to discussing how they would deal with these issues and how they would want to bring the people together. I think the problem is only going to get worse until after the election. So much mud has been slung in this campaign so far that one wonders whether we are in a pig sty or if we are seeing the reality of a democratic nation in which insulting and badmouthing the other guy is the way in which you win and show your superiority. Admit that your record stands the way it does due to your beliefs or those of your constituency. Don't tell me about heresay or make accusatory remarks. Talk about the past because those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Admit that mistakes were made and that we've got to make improvements. Perhaps then the closedmindedness that has taken control of our country will finally loosen it's grip and then we can finally work to help our country.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Topsy-Turvy League

Though I'm sure some readers figured I'd stay mum about the fact that the Redskins lost against the until-then-winless St. Louis Rams this past Sunday, I am hoping to prove that that's certainly not the case. After the win in Philly, that too a come from behind win against a fierce division rival in one of the unfriendliest stadiums in the League with the ironic distinction of being in the City of Brotherly Love, I was among those who believed that there was a good chance that the team would be 7-1 by the end of the next three weeks. Yet here I am a little over a week later talking about a team that is now officially 4-2 and tied for second place in the division.

The situation with the Rams is one that couldn't have been any better for us. They were a winless team coming to Washington. They had just gotten a new head coach and had been a team that was averaging a two-touchdown deficit per game thus far this season. Given that the Redskins had been racking up about that much per game so far this season, it was reasonable to assume that the team would do well enough to keep on that winning record. It would be an understatement to say that their predictions (and mine) were quite premature. The Redskins have been getting off to slow starts every game this season and it isn't surprising that they would get off to a slow start this game either. However, I was somewhat hopeful when that slow start started off with a turnover in favor of the Redskins. With the ball being carried out of the endzone by the Rams, the Redskins recovered a fumble on the four yard line and then punched it in for a touchdown on the first possession of the offense.

It certainly seemed like an auspcious start to the game but it wasn't all rosy and the team didn't seem to get started on a roll the way they previously had been. Against teams with vaunted defenses, the Redskins got the running game going early and spiced it up with passes in medium and long range to keep the opposition guessing as to what was going on. This week however was a flashback to the Skins of old. There were multiple sacks on QB Jason Campbell, there were lots of turnovers (though no thrown interceptions so Campbell's streak continues) and some turnovers, like the fumble by Pete Kendall were just too costly to be overlooked. When a pass late in the first half was deflected into the air, Kendall came down with it and rather than downing it, he attempted (nobly) to gain yardage. Unfortunately the ball was popped loose and returned for a touchdown.

One would think that a sense of urgency would enter the team but instead, they retained their relatively blase attitude and ended up going three and out many more times than they previously had. Not that players like Clinton Portis weren't doing their damnedest to keep the game going. But the first touchdown was about as high as the highlights went for a long time and it wasn't until the fourth quarter that the team finally appeared to be making moves to improve on the situation thus far. Behind by 6, the Redskins drove down the field and managed to score a touchdown to go up by 1 point. It finally seemed as if the play calling was back to the aggresive mode it had been in previous situations. But once more the Skins managed to turn things over despite being given opportunities to capitalize on the inept play of the Rams.

A deep pass in the fourth quarter with just minutes remaining put the Rams in field goal range but penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct drove them back out of field goal range. Do or die time for the defense of the Skins and though they had held their own throughout the day, they couldn't hold on long enough to keep the Rams from again returning to field goal range and with the final seconds counting down the Rams took the lead and won the game by 2 points. It was a game that Redskins could have and should have won but it ended up being a feather in the cap of new Rams head coach Jim Hastlet. I congratulate him and his team for coming to Washington and proving that no team can be called a no-account time at all in this league.

Don't believe me? Well take a look at the results throughout the league this week. The Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions, lost their first game, and rather badly I might add, to the Cleveland Browns who are on their way to D.C. next week. The Cowboys lost to the Arizona Cardinals who had been handed their butts in Washington about a month ago. Dallas also suffered the loss of QB Tony Romo for at least four weeks with a broken finger so that probably helps the Redskins in their bid to remain high in the rankings of the NFC East. I guess this week was the week of unexpected fortunes for everybody. Still, I think back to last year when the Giants lost their first six games and then turned around to win the Super Bowl. I also think back to Norv Turner's first season when he went 6-1 and then lost the rest of the season. I think this year's team is much better overall but they need to prove it. Hopefully they won't look down on the Browns coming to town this coming weekend but rather that they will consider them a team of the same caliber as Dallas or the Giants. Certainly the Giants would agree.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Soaring to New Heights

It's a time of firsts and we have so many more to come. In a little less than a month we will be electing a new President and for the first time in eight years, one of them isn't the incumbant. It will be historic from the standpoint that regardless of who wins, history will be made. If the McCain-Palin ticket wins then for the first time in the history of the United States, a woman will occupy the Vice Presidency of the country. No less an achievement would be if the Obama-Biden ticket wins in which case an African-American would occupy the Presidency of the United States. Something that could have been considered inconceivable no more than 40 years ago. It would be great if this was the only set of 'firsts' that we'd have to look forward to but unfortunately it isn't. Not even close.

Back in 1989, just a few years shy of the IT boom and at the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the late Manhattan real estate developer, Seymour Durst installed the 'National Debt Clock' in Times Square as a sort of visual reminder to the people of just how much the country owed in debts and what it worked out to (roughly) per family. At the time it was installed, the National Debt Clock had digits out to only the first trillion place. But the times they are a'changin' and now Durst's legacy, the Durst Organization has made a temporary (at least hopefully temporary) fix to the Clock by adding a permanent '1' to the front of the line of numbers in order to have sufficient numbers to show the actual number of the national debt. It would certainly be some time before we would have to consider changing the '1' to a '2' but still, with the uncertainty that has affected the world market, it isn't out of the realm of possibilty.

Indeed even after the bailout bill was passed in Congress, the affects to the domestic and world markets have been shakey at best. Although there hasn't been a run on the banks as there was during the Great Depression, there has been a declining confidence in the financial institutions around the world. I think no point illustrates just how much of a decline there is than in the recent announcement by Michigan Lottery officials that the winner of the $42 million jackpot (who is due to be publicly announced later today) will take the money in increments. This is unusual since most people choose to get a lump-sum payment (which is lesser than the total $42 million) and then invest it. But according to lottery officials, the winner has so little faith in the market that he doesn't want to risk putting his winnings in the bank only to see that bank or any other investment opportunity fail. Funny. Now even choosing a bank has become like the lottery.

That's not to say that everyone is losing out. Some people are getting in on their own homes or getting new property due to the rising numbers of foreclosures and declining housing costs. Living in Tysons Corner, I can see the results nearly every day when I look around the area and see the number of properties coming up and seeing just how many of them have gone from ownership properties to rentals. I guess the property owners realized that they are signing on for a losing proposition if they try to make home sales now. Flashback to about a year and a half to two years ago and recall the amount of new development that was going on all over the area and you'll realize that this wasn't as surprising an outcome as many people thought.

Sure banks were willing to give you a loan on a house despite the fact that it's about four times what you earn in a year but the assumption was that by cutting taxes, people would be more enthusiastic for purchasing property since they could now 'afford' it. I guess it was just too much for the banks to constantly take possession of houses that were well beyond the means of many people and then attempt to sell them at a loss to at least get them off their hands. It's hard when you have a boom in new home construction, it's even harder when you have to compete with these all over the place. I'm sure the housing market will stabilize eventually and once again home costs will rise but regardless of which party takes control of the White House, I hope they take charge of the problem and try to find a solution before we run off into yet another part of the world to help them find democracy. At present we're not doing a stellar job of defining it for the rest of the world. We may scare off more people than we attract.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Campaign Songs

I remember when I used to watch the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) when I was younger. I was a staunch follower of Hulk Hogan, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcack, the Ultimate Warrior and so many others. I knew wrestling was fake but it was good entertainment. Sure the outcomes may have been determined ahead of time but the moves that these guys made were certainly the real thing. And at that time, I remember each wrestler having his (or her) signature entry theme that the faithful fans sung at the top of their lungs whenever their favorite superstar was entering the arena. So what does that have to do with the title to today's blog? Well I can't help comparing wrestling to the ongoing presidential campaigns of both John McCain and Barrack Obama.

In an attempt to gain some identity or come up with a theme that is meant to embody the musical identity of each candidate, the campaigns, like so many others in the past, have tried to associate certain songs or themes that they feel represent their candidates. It's much the way wrestlers have their entry songs. If you recall the campaigns of Bill Clinton or Al Gore, they both had songs which were quite representative of their efforts. Bill Clinton was known during his first term for his theme "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" and Al Gore with Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al" for his 2000 run for the presidency. In both cases the original artists of both songs were okay with the candidates using the songs for their campaigning purposes. It's not so much so this time.

Recently the band The Foo Fighters asked the McCain campaign to stop using their song "My Hero" at his rallies. According to the Foo Fighters, the song is meant as a tribute to the 'common man' and perhaps they feel that someone with seven houses (though that total is still up for debate) isn't common enough to be represented by their ballad. And they aren't the only artists up in arms over usage of their songs. Sam Moore requested that the Obama campaign cease their usage of his classic song "Soul Man" during his rallies. In addition, the band Heart, John Mellancamp, and Jackson Browne requested that the McCain campaign also stop using their tunes in rallies and gatherings. Now the McCain-Palin camp is in a tizzy because according to their spokesmen, they have paid the appropriate licensing fees for the public usage of these and many other songs and therefore have the right to use them but the artists themselves don't see it that way.

I remember when Ronald Reagan referenced Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." in a speech as a reference to being 'in touch' with the youth of the 1980's. It was a windfall for Reagan who many felt was truly in touch with the youth but it was a case of a President using the mention of a popular song to paint an image. Springsteen himself was rather upset at the fact that his song was being used for political purposes and has continued to speak out on occasion over having his tunes used in such a manner. But artists performing or supporting candidates or sitting presidents is nothing new. Frank Sinatra recorded songs and gave concerts for John F. Kennedy during the 1960's and even now, some artists happily record songs for candidates they support.

But therein is the problem. Some artists' songs are being used without their knowledge and it sometimes implies that the artists themselves are in favor of the candidate. Now perhaps Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters doesn't really have issue with John McCain but it's also possible that he doesn't feel it appropriate that that song be used in reference to John McCain. Artists usually have some story in mind when they write songs and sometimes that story can be misconstrued or corrupted to such a degree that they get even more disturbed by that usage. For example, Sting often talks about how his song, "Every Breath You Take" is considered a staple at many weddings whereas he wrote it not as a romantic love ballad but as an expression of his anxiety and anger over his then-recent breakup and his attempts at stalking his ex. I don't think a song of obsession to that disturbing a degree is what those who play it at the wedding intend. But perhaps he wouldn't really have an objection if it had been used in efforts to get people to buy off on the Domestic Surveillance bill.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

What is a Washingtonian?

It never fails. Every election you are almost always guaranteed to hear the same claims and the same protestations. Many politicians, regardless of their party affiliation or lack thereof, will often talk about 'those people in Washington' or 'the Washington Elite' or some variation on that same message. This is meant to imply that people in the Washington are actually a population that exists year-round and is responsible for the rise and fall of our nation. For people who have never been to the city I guess it's almost akin to a mythical place where laws are made (and sometimes broken) and the American way of life is upheld or brought down.

And these same politicians, when hoping to get elected, will talk about how they will bring change to Washington and how they are not part of the established order and how they will bring new ideas and new values to the city. As if to imply that the 'Washingtonian' people are themselves an elite bunch that need to be brought back to the realities of society. As if to imply that the 'Washingtonians' are so insulated from the rest of the nation that they have no idea what's going on in their home states. As if to imply that by becoming a member of the government, 'Washingtonians' no longer care one lick for what happens anywhere else in the country. Well I hate to shatter that arguement but all of the people who are assumed to be part of that 'Washington elite' aren't even from Washington!

Oh sure, when Congress or government agencies are in session, a lot of them will reside in the city. They'll have multi-million dollar mansions and residences that make actual Washingtonian residents appear small in comparison. They'll live and work in the city as long as there is work to be done and then they'll return to their home states and live out the rest of the year there. I mean after all, you can't live in Washington and be the representative from California if you don't actually hail from California. Besides that, Washington isn't even represented in Congress other than the representation in the House. Why do you think they choose to cry "No Taxation without Representation", a call which harkens back to the Revolutionary War? It's because people live and work in Washington but don't pay their taxes there.

Washington's actual population is relatively small; smaller even than some major cities in far-flung corners of our country. If you haven't been to Washington before then you probably don't realize that when Congress is not in session, that area of the city is a veritable ghost town. All those multi-million dollar homes in Georgetown are closed down until Congress returns. And where do they go when they rear their heads? No... not just to Alaska but to whatever state they represent. So then are these 'Washingtonians' really Washingtonians or are they the products of their home states? When a Congressional leader is chosen, they are chosen by the people of the state which they represent. They are chosen to represent the interests and ideals of the state they are from. So are Washingtonians really elite? No, not really. They are just extensions of the same people who supposedly inhabit main streets across the country. So then don't bad mouth the real Washingtonians, they aren't bad at all.

They have their own diverse culture as well. Washington already has Joe Six-Packs and Hockey Moms in addition to Soccer Moms and Football Moms. They have their main streets and they have the culture that is just as normal as any town in the country. They can 'spin' statements any way they like but what polticians all have to realize is that the government is representative of the people themselves and by labeling someone as a 'Washington elite' they are clearly making a mockery of their own understanding of the term. Sure Washington has it's elite, but it doesn't all have to do with politics. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised; what with anything and everything being brought to the forefront as political fodder for the news it isn't surprised that badmouthing innocent residents of this fine city in an attempt to show separation from an established order which these politicians are themselves parts of is nothing more than business as usual.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Standing Firm in Philly

Now I'm no sports writer. I can't spout off endless facts and figures about players in the National Football League and talk intelligently about how the Steelers of the 1970's were far superior to the Colts of the time due to various factors. Sure I love listening to such discussions but I'm no die hard expert. "Star Wars" is a different matter but when it comes to the Redskins, over the past three decades I have been a fan who has seen the rise and fall of the team. And after having dwelled in the valley for a very very long time, it appears as if the team is finally climbing out for greener pastures.

Now this isn't the first time that the team has strung together some victories and snatched a win from the jaws of defeat but it's the first time in a long time that I can remember the team doing so against teams with far better reputations than the Redskins themselves. In past years it was not surprising for the Redskins to come out ahead by halftime and lead the game with a commanding presence and then see that lead fizzle away like the end of a hand held sparkler. They would sit dejected on the sidelines and scratch their heads wondering how it was that they lost the way they did. A couple of years ago had the Redskins suddenly started out the first quarter of a game being down 14 - 0, I think fans would have started heading for the exits at that point itself. I mean what was the point seeing a major blowout if you could beat traffic and still have the euphoria of the tailgate parties fresh in your mind.

But this year there's something different. This year it seems that the team only gets better with each passing quarter. After starting off down by two touchdowns, the defense which has already been suffering due to injuries, stepped up and held firm against sixth best offense in the League. Last week they held their own against the Cowboys who had a similar reputation and so this week just seemed to be more of the same. After a shakey start, the defense buckled down and began stopping Westbrook's run and McNabb's air game. I'm curious though how things might have been if this has been the McNabb of a few years ago when flushed from the pocket, he would have gained more yards than some of the running backs in the League. He isn't as agile anymore but he still holds his own quite nicely yet he was effectively shut down. I think we saw shades of his old form in the shape of Jason Campbell when late in the game he ran over ten yards to get a first down and more to keep the Redskins clock-killing drive alive.

When the Eagles looked to last week's game against the Cowboys to see how to defeat Washington, they realized the importance and power of Santana Moss. So effectively treating him like Washington's version of Terrell Owens, they kept him covered up tighter than a mason jar lid but they forgot that Campbell has plenty of options to throw to including Antwaan Randle El, Chris Cooley and Clinton Portis among others. All three picked up the pace and helped Washington come out ahead in the end. And not enough can be said for Shaun Suisam. It's easy for most of us to forget the kicker on the team; usually the most silent contributer to a team's success or failure. I remember when the Ravens of Baltimore were on their Super Bowl run. Trent Dilfer couldn't do anything other than get them in field goal range, it was the defensive scoring that helped them become champions. In the case of this year's Redskins, there is an all-around team that is pulling it together to get victory.

One could argue that the opening game against the Giants was how the team was supposed to play out the season. Losing to the teams that were good by a narrow margin. Previously the team has lost games with margins as little as one point or three points. And even some of the games we won, we won because of such miniscule margins. I won't say a six point victory against the Eagles is a major achievement but when you think that the team was better prepared for the Redskins than perhaps the Cowboys were, you realize that there may be something more to this year's team than people come to realize. At the start of the season the NFC East was considered to be one of the top and toughest divisions and for the most part it has lived up to that reputation but one team missing from that discussion was the Redskins.

Sports writers across the country had little or no expectations as the team had a new offensive style and most especially a new rookie coach. I will admit that I didn't have very high expectations of Jim Zorn when I heard that he was taking over for Joe Gibbs. That's not to knock Coach Z or his ability; I think he answered those doubts early in the preseason with some great victories. But what was troublesome if you think back to those games was the fact that the first two we won and the last two we lost. Badly. Now I'm not assuming that that's what will happen during the regular season but we are not tied for second place with the Dallas Cowboys and the next three teams on schedule for the Redskins have a total of one victory on the year so far so it's quite possible that two weeks from now I'll be writing about how the team is 6 - 1 and poised for a great season. I'll be ready to write it but I am just hoping that the team doesn't come into that form of complacency that they get when they are going up against a 'lesser' team. Sure the Rams of St. Louis aren't the Super Bowl contenders they were some years back but that doesn't mean we should write them off. I mean people had written off the Redskins at the start of the season after the loss to the Giants and look where they are now.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Beating Around the Bush

Politicians. You've gotta love them. I mean I think they sometimes come off as being more like beauty contest contestants than beauty contest contestants themselves. Now before I get a dearth of e-mails from readers chiding me for being sexist in comparing beauty contest participants to politicians simply because I'm blogging about the Vice Presidential debate last night in which Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska participated but that's not the case. Not by a long shot. I am comparing politicians, liberal and conservative, to beauty contest participants because they will smile incessantly and stick to the key talking points that will make them appear to be knowledgeable about what they are being asked about.

As many of you probably know, last night was the night of the only Vice Presidential debate for this election. The Republicans who had been worried about how Sarah Palin would perform given the endless videos of her during her interview with Katie Couric being aired showing her multiple faux pas were probably pleasantly surprised at how she did. The Democrats on the other hand probably are rejoicing in the fact that Joe Biden didn't come off as a bully as many feared he would. I think it was restraint on his part that helped him come off as more knowledgeable and better prepared and it was the fact that Palin stuck to her ticket's main talking points that helped her maintain an air of knowledge in the face of confusion. I say this though knowing that for the most part in many cases, neither candidate offered up any concrete answers to what they were being asked.

But that's not something limited to this debate or any other for that matter. It's something that is inherent in the nature of politicians themselves. They will be asked a question but then they will talk around the issue and try to lose us in a sea of words so that somehow they can come back to talking about the issues they want to focus on and those are the times when the moderator of such debates needs to step in and ensure that the candidates get to the point. It was frustrating to see the candidates begin to answer the questions in brief and then talk around the facts, drop some statistics and then get back to their talking points. In that comparison I would say that Biden came off better because in many cases (I won't say all), he had key points which he made in support of his answer and then used those to tie into his rhetoric against John McCain. Palin for her part would quickly answer and then revert back to talking about John McCain being a Maverick. So if John McCain is Maverick, does that make Sarah Palin Goose? (Sorry... couldn't help making the Top Gun reference).

But that's beside the point. If candidates don't answer the question then how are we to know what they stand for? I blogged about it earlier in the week when I stated that if we don't as direct or unexpected questions, how can we ever expect to know what the true feelings or preferences of these candidates are? When you watch debates such as these you are often confronted with facts that the candidates throw out as evidence of the wrongdoing or misguided principles that their opponents have followed thus far. They sit there and insist that this is positive proof that the opposition is wrong and not worthy of your votes. But in all honesty, do you really think that the actual Joe Six-Pack and Hockey Moms out there really have the time or inclination to check?

I can bet you that outside of Washington, D.C., there are very few people who could care less. They probably care more about how much tax they are going to have to pay and whether they can live in their home for another month or not. I don't think anyone cares about how the candidates and their presidential running mates are going to solve the issues, they just want the issue solved and over and done with. It's a lot to hope for but unless you start effecting change, there isn't going to be any. Want to end our dependence on foreign oil by producing our own domestically? Great! But what about the fact that you begrudgingly accept that man is partially to blame for the environmental changes that have been affecting our planet? I'm sure the situation would be much improved by drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. Of course it's all part of nature's cyclical cycle. I'm sure that's why the dinosaurs got wiped out when they started turning to drilling while Adam and Eve were hanging out in the Garden of Eden 6,000 years ago.

I think by sticking to talking points and spouting their ticket's littany of accusation and counter-arguements, they don't offer up concrete ideas for our future. They try to paint pictures of themselves to show that they are better than the rest of the field. And I certainly take exception to the fact that the Republicans accuse anyone and everyone of being sexist in their comments regarding Sarah Palin yet it was Governor Palin herself who brought up the fact that she's got the toughest job in the world by being a Mother. I give points to Senator Biden for jumping on that and bringing up the fact that he was a single father who raised his two boys after his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident. I'm sure it's not sexist when a mother talks about raising children but if a man brings it up, that too a father, then it would have been a sexist blow. How hypocritical.

I can't say that I was disappointed by the debate but I can honestly say that I didn't really learn anything or hear anything that I wasn't expecting to. Now I'll sit and go through the entire gamut of analysis and counter-analysis on what all was said and done by the candidates in the debate. The Republicans will spend countless hours lauding Sarah Palin while the Democrats will sing the praises of Joe Biden and while it's great that those aligned with a party or a certain ticket already are so happy. But they aren't the ones who will decide the race; it's the ones who are on the fence who will make the difference and the key to winning that battle is showing who is more reserved or better poised and competant enough to win over people whether it is by experience and knowledge or simply a folksy attitude. Whatever the criteria, it won't mean anything if they don't come out and vote.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Testing Our Citizenship Qualifications

I was reading in the paper this morning that the Citizenship Exam that all new immigrants are required to pass is becoming a little more subjective and some aren't too happy about it. When I was a freshman in high school I remember taking Civics which culminated with an end-of-the-year exam that required me to prove my knowledge of the basics of our government. It encompassed everything from knowing the various branches of the government, the terms of office for most major government positions and a whole gamut of questions that ensure that you knew about your country and how it works. From my understanding, the Citizenship Exam is more or less the same thing but there have been some changes coming down that have some people concerned.

On the surface the changes seem mundane seeing as how they are looking to get the same result but get it by wording the questions differently. For example, an older question was "How many voting members does the House of Representatives have?" A new question has supplanted it and the question now reads, "Why do some states have more representatives?" Now they are on similar things but with slightly different wording and purpose. The answer to the first is 435 and the answer to the second is due to population sizes in particular states. Now the older question simply required you to memorize the fact that there are 435 members in the House while the second asks you to justify it. Going are the questions of basics like "How many stars are on the U.S. flag?" or "What is the Constitution?" I think that the newer questions are fairer but still, as a born citizen of this country I have been exposed to it for a long time.

I think that it's unfair however to expect that new immigrants to this country should be required to critically analyze these points when a large number of other natural born Americans would have trouble answering these questions as well. I don't doubt that there is necessity in new citizens knowing this information but what we're taught in schools (or at least what we were taught in schools) was what we needed to memorize in order to pass the test. Taking those concepts beyond that one Civics exam was the farthest from many people's minds. Sure some people were then inspired to study government and politics in college but for the most part, after that exam was over, most of us chose to forget what we were taught. I would hope that most people born here would know how many stars are on the American flag or how many stripes are on the flag.

Immigrants should certainly have to demonstrate a certain knowledge of the functions of government if they are going to be citizens so that they'll know and understand what they can and can't legally do but still, we shouldn't ask them to do any more than what students in high school are expected to do. Part of that is due to the nuances of the English language that can make it difficult to understand what exactly is being asked. Now having the context on the question of the representative that I had asked above given that the original question was on the House of Representatives, you could ascertain that the question was referring to the House of Representatives. But the revised question is a bit vague when it asks for why there are more representatives in some states. Technically, isn't a senator also a representative of you? And each state has two senators; so then couldn't you argue that all states are equal?

People could counter that the term 'representative' should clearly indicate that the exam is looking to find out knowledge on the House but I say that it isn't that clear. There are proposed questions that want a discussion on the Ammendments of the Constitution and what they all mean. That's perfectly fair but if I walk out on the street and ask someone about the Ammendments, chances are that most people would only know three right off the bat. The Freedom of Speech, the Right to Bear Arms, and the Right to Remain Silent by pleading the Fifth. And honestly that has nothing to do with love of country than it does in the ability to bad mouth someone while carrying assault rifles and then keeping mum when you're arrested.

Ask the average person out there busy with their normal lives why there are thirteen stripes on the American Flag and I'll be surprised if many of them know that it is the symbolic representation of the original 13 Colonies that formed the United States. This is all knowledge that is important but secondary to a citizen-to-be to know. Knowing at a high level how the government operates and what are the basic tenets of the government is what's important. If the rest of us out here can get by with a general knowledge then shouldn't the immigrants taking the exam be afforded the same opportunity?