December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is frequently attributed to the ancient Romans or Babylonians. According to some, it has to with Janus, the two-faced king who could look both to the future and to the past, and folks wanting to curry his favor or to start the year out on the right foot.

These days, we don’t so much seek favor from the gods, but tend more to commit to weight loss, exercise, and eating better; getting out of debt; and the generic ‘spending more time’ with friends and family. I worry that last one’s an invitation to spend more time with fingers flying over a touch-screen talking finger to finger, rather than face to face, but in the end it many not matter so much the ‘how’, as long as the ‘what’ is achieved.

This is the first year for resolutions here at veritable pastiche. So here we go:
  • I resolve to engage more with people. Instead of just writing about the people who make the news, I’m going to write to the people I write about, so that they have the chance to get involved in the conversation. And, I resolve to give them the benefit of the doubt even when that seems silly, and even when fairness is the farthest thing from my mind. If they ignore me, well that’s another story…
  • I resolve to find joy in my writing. There are moments, sometimes days, I confess, that writing is the last thing I want to do. And then, when I start up again, I can write for hours without even thinking about it, and it’s all fun. Much of that doesn’t end up anywhere, or get seen by anyone, it’s just me priming the pump. I’m also hoping to explore writing poetry a little more; I used to do that when I was younger, but it’s been a while (well, since my poem for a contest in Slate) and I want to enjoy that again.
  • I resolve to read more this year. My Sweet Baboo and I have a whole mess of books that we’re going to be moving into our new library, before spring. They come from garage sales, from friends, and from the bargain bins at the major booksellers, and they’re here for me whenever I need them. I just have to make time for me to make time for them.
  • And, of course, it wouldn’t be a new year if I didn’t resolve to lose weight, eat better, exercise more, spend more time with family, and be kind to strangers.

Oscar Wilde famously noted that, "a New Year's Resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other."  He's right; historically, while something like half of American adults make resolutions, 97% of the ones made are never fulfilled. And while 75% of us are solid on the resolutions after two weeks, a mere 46% make it past six months. I don't know the number of those who make it the full year, but it's not high.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to meet your expectations, if not my own. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, safe, and prosperous New Year.

December 27, 2010

Poll Watch: Ho-Ho-Holiday Edition

According to recent surveys by Rasmussen Reports, (all of which can be found here) 83% of those surveyed believe that credit cards tempt folks to buy things they can’t afford. Of people who have at least one credit card, 36% think they personally need to cut back on spending, 58% think they don’t, and 81% think that everyone needs to cut back. In a showing of economic strength, 65% of credit card holders feel it’s unlikely they’ll miss a payment in the next six months. Last, 36% of those surveyed are very comfortable using their credit cards online, compared to 11% who are not at all comfortable doing so. 

In a survey taken before ten days before Christmas, Fox News found that 75% of respondents would offer a hearty Merry Christmas vs. the more generic Happy Holidays. If a store were to force employees to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, 30% would stop shopping there; the number of Republicans (46%) and white born-again Christians (48%), not surprisingly, is much higher.  Kindly, a good number of those surveyed - 41%  - would give President Obama whatever was on his list, but 31% would give him only fruitcake. Another 21% would give him the proverbial lump of coal. On that subject, if the President were to re-wrap his coal and pass it on to someone else (say, Mitch McConnell), he’d be in good company with the 16% of the population that are re-gifters.  Dems, at 54%, are more likely than Reps (42%) to just keep an unwanted gift. Which may explain Charlie Rangel’s longevity.

December 26, 2010

Sunday School: 12/26/10

On CNN’s State of the Union, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs advised us that POTUS has not had a smoke in about nine months, and that since the election the Reps have learned that they can no longer sit around saying “no” but now they have to participate in governing, which is why the Lame Duck session was so productive.

Over at NBC's Meet the Press, senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett echoed Gibbs’ statement about the Reps having to lead, and she also talked about Obama’s desire to spend more time outside Washington, “listening and learning and engaging” with the American people.  In the roundtable with Tom Brokaw, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Peggy Noonan and Bob Woodward, there was a lot of conversation about the lame duck accomplishments, including the tax deal, repeal of DADT. Brokaw pointed out that POTUS was leading from the front, rather than the back, of the pack and how he stood down the Dems who were not pleased with his deal-making with the Reps. Woodward related a story about Bill Clinton at Richard Holbrooke’s wake, and how everyone got caught up in Clinton’s emotional aura, in comparison to Obama still not seeming connected with the people. Obama may need to find his inner Clinton, or to Peggy Noonan's point, he needs to regain his mystique. And everyone thinks it’s going to be an interesting two years starting in January.

Chris Wallace talked with Senator Tom Coburn on Fox News Sunday. Coburn is the one who brought us the Waste Book 2010, with its $11 billion in easy pickings of wasteful spending. Coburn pointed out that both Dem and Rep administrations have not made the kinds of sacrifices that are necessary to keep us from ending up like Greece. When pressed for specifics, he talked about eliminating redundancies and cutting programs, such as having 39 agencies supporting 267 jobs training programs. If we don’t make changes, the senator says, we could see “15 to 18% unemployment”. Also, Coburn gave us this week’s “no way, no how” – he will not run for another term, he’s sticking to his commitment and self-imposed term limit. Last, Bill Kristol, of the Weekly Standard, predicts that Sarah Palin won't run in 2012.

December 16, 2010

There were only four to greet us...

The day we have been expecting, but not looking forward to, has come. Today we lost our beloved Michael T, the King of Cats.

Affectionately known as Mikey or MT, Michael came into My Sweet Baboo’s life back in 1996, as a little gray and white long-haired puffball. He was originally our neighbor’s cat, but spent most of the time on this side of the property line. Neighbor Bob offered the cat to MSB, and the rest is history. A cat named Zoey went to the vet, but Michael T was the cat that came home – you can hide a lot under all that fur!

Over the years, MT established himself as the king of the house, and more importantly, king of the garden. There were always other cats around, but he was the Big Shot, his gorgeous gray fur and pure white mane demanding attention not only from people, but from the other cats as well. He wasn’t at all interested in birds or squirrels, but adored the flowers, shrubs, and all of the little hiding places he found in the garden, and we always said that for MT, a bad day outside was way better than a good day inside.

Earlier this year, while MSB was doing some weeding out back, MT was at his side, helping out. One of his favorite things was to lie down either on our hands, on the weeds we were trying to pull, or on top of new plants we had just put in… This time, MT stood up looking as if he was going to chase something, then jumped, let out a yelp, and fell to the ground. Making a long story short, after a night at the emergency animal hospital, it was determined that he had suffered a heart attack, he had fluid around his heart and lungs, and a blood clot had likely cost him use of his right hind leg. Worse, we were given a very discouraging prognosis of only three to four months.

Well, MT had other ideas. Loaded up on Plavix, enalapril, Lasix, and aspirin, he fought back slowly but surely. Within a couple of weeks, he had regained almost full use of his hind leg. With good weather every day and the garden starting to come into bloom, he began to thrive, returning almost to the Michael of old. He spent his days in his favorite spots, on a bench out back in an untamed part of the garden, or hiding under the euonymus, or on the bridge over the dry creek bed – we didn’t know for sure where he’d be, and we were pretty nervous at first when we couldn’t immediately find him, but he stayed close to home, came in every night, and was just a happy cat.

As summer turned into fall, and the weather started to turn, he continued to enjoy his time outside; the gazebo became his favorite spot, where he could sit and survey the garden from a cushioned lawn chair, out of the sun. He’d come to meet us at the car when we got home, and when we’d head inside the indoor cats would race to him, greeting him as if he were a conquering hero.

Even when it got colder, he wanted to go outside, he didn’t want to waste a single day of it. Once it got really cold and we had all the snow, he’d grudgingly spend the day inside with the other cats. Every day when we got home, there’d be the five of them waiting at the door, MT in the front of the pack. If it wasn’t too bad, he’d go out and sit on the front porch, or maybe head out into the driveway, getting his curly belly hairs damp with the snow, and then hurry back inside.

Today, when we came into the house, there were only four to greet us. MT had seemed fine last night and this morning, but he passed sometime during the day while we were at work.  I like to think he just figured that all this snow would take way too long to melt, and he couldn’t stand the thought of being inside that long.

Rest in peace, MT.

December 12, 2010

Sunday School: 12/12/10

Today I'm introducing a new feature: Sunday School, where I'll recap the Sunday gabfests. Let's get to it!

White House advisor David Axelrod is confident that the tax deal the president negotiated with Reps will pass when it comes up for a vote. There are still a number of complaints from House Dems, but as many Reps have said, come January the game changes as controls shifts from the left to the right side of the aisle. At that point, all bets are off. Axelrod spoke on CNN’s State of the Union.
As mentioned on Fox News Sunday, ten years ago today the US Supreme Court anointed George Dubya Bush President -- my how time flies!  Also on FNS was some conversation about the tax deal and a great round table discussion on Friday’s press conference with ‘two presidents and one lecturn’. A great clip here at about the 7 minute mark.

Over at NBC’s Meet the Press, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg indicated there’s "no way no how" he’s running for president.  He also pointed out that in the real world of governing leaders do what’s possible and so everyone gets something, rather than sticking to a straight partly line and getting nothing accomplished, and that President Obama’s success is America’s success and we all should be supportive of him now, as our President, in light of our current economic situation with China in particular. Interesting position, but perhaps an easier one for an Independent big-city mayor to take than for a dyed-in-the-wool Rep, for example.
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich) told the reporters on CSPAN’s Newsmakers that the hearing on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will likely wait until after Congress has an investigation into the shootings earlier in the year at Fort Hood. Levin personally was against DADT and remains so, recognizing that many other countries allow gays to serve openly.
At ABC’s This Week, the tax deal was the main topic of conversation, echoing what was seen on the other shows or talked about last week… the ‘hostage’ situation mentioned by the President; calling it a stimulus; and pointing out that the huge increase in the deficit caused by this compromise seems to be a step in the wrong direction. The round table discussion raised the point that sure this was bipartisan, but it wasn’t leadership and it didn’t make any hard choices or call Americans together in shared sacrifice.  Next year, when the Reps are in control of the House, will there be shared sacrifice, or only sacrifice? 
Last, on Face the Nation, Axelrod declared he was not worried about Obama being a one-term president, and Howard Dean indicated he didn’t think Obama would face a primary opponent for 2012.  Interesting.

December 9, 2010

Shots Fired: Bush Tax Cuts, etc. Edition

There’s a whole lot of jibber-jabber about the plan to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone across the income spectrum, tinker with the death/estate tax, and with any luck add even longer unemployment benefits.

Here’s just a sampling from Tampa Bay online, NPR, and Business Week:
  • "If it's take it or leave it, we'll leave it," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.  
  • "While I have concerns with some specific aspects of the plan, I support the proposed framework to avert further economic hardship and provide a first step to restore the foundations for sustained growth and job creation." Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-WI)
  • “Most of us who ran in this last election said we were not going to vote for anything that increased the deficit. This does. It raises taxes. It raises the death tax. I don't think we need to negotiate that aspect of this thing away. I don't think we need to, you know, extend unemployment any further without paying for it.” Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC)
  • “I've said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed.” President Obama, in his press conference on Tuesday.  
  • “If everybody took out what they didn’t like we would have nothing…At the end of the day this will get done.” – White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
Until we see a vote, which may come Monday, I suspect we'll hear a whole lot more of stuff like this.

December 7, 2010

Poll Watch 12/7/10: Confidence, Deficit Reduction, DADT

According to Rasmussen Reports, most of us don’t have high expectations for the new Congress. In a recent survey of  likely voters, only 33% think it’s at least somewhat likely Congress will make significant spending cuts, compared to 60% who think it’s unlikely we’ll see significant reductions in government spending.  Also from Rasmussen, 41% think that the 99-week unemployment benefit period up for renewal now is too long, and 49% think that it encourages people to stay unemployed.  

A Wall Street Journal/ NBC News poll taken late last month shows that we’re skeptical of deficit reduction plans proposed by the Presidential Commission, and that Congress has a tough row to hoe in this regard.  Only 41% of those surveyed are comfortable or somewhat comfortable with gradually raising the retirement age to 69; only slightly over a quarter of us are comfortable with cuts to Medicare and Social Security, and about 60% are uncomfortable with other initiatives such as reducing the mortgage interest deduction, raising gas taxes and changing corporate tax rules.

Over at CBS, a new poll shows that 69% of us believe gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly; John McCain is not one of them. Regarding the WikiLeaks and the released confidential documents, about 75% of us have heard about the debacle, and about 60% overall  -- Republicans (74%), Democrats (52%) and independents (59%)  -- believe the leaks will have a negative impact on us. Not surprisingly, only 25% of folks surveyed believe that the public has a right to know everything, and also not surprisingly, Dems (30%) outnumber Reps (18%) on this question. 

It’s going to be an interesting season when the new Congress takes their seats.

December 5, 2010

Five Questions for Ann Marie Buerkle

The race for NY’s 25th district didn’t end until three weeks after election day, and Ann Marie Buerkle has been elected by a prosciutto-thin margin.  She's announced her plans to hold firmly to her ideas but be open to the other half of her district who voted for Dan Maffei. Given that, I've got a few questions for our new Congresswoman, based on her Compact25 and published reports.
  1. You indicate you want to “defund and repeal” Obamacare.  Assuming you are successful, how will you explain to us why we again have be subjected to annual or lifetime limits on health insurance benefits? Or why we’ll again have to pay for preventative care, instead of having it be covered in full? Or why folks with pre-existing conditions will again become effectively uninsured? 
  2. You want to "review all federal agencies for efficiency and effectiveness and cut their budgets accordingly," and at the same time you promise to "ensure the Department of Defense is adequately and appropriately funded."  Will you start with DoD as the primary agency for the efficiency/effectiveness review? Some recent articles on incredible contracts, our bloated defense budget, and out of control intelligence spending may be of interest. 
  3. Congressman Maffei was hammered in your campaign ads (as well in those of the out-of-town groups that poured money into the race) as being a pawn of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Should we consider you a pawn of incoming Speaker John Boehner, and vote you out in two years, if your voting record is consistent with the new Speaker's ideology?
  4. What exactly do you mean by ‘treat our allies like allies and our enemies like enemies’ and who specifically do you think is being treated incorrectly now? 
  5. You support giving tax credits to parents who send their kids to private schools. Why does someone who supports accountability and individual responsibility think the rest of us should be subsidizing people who choose not to participate in public education?
I’m sure I’ll have more questions as you settle in to your new role in January, and I’m looking forward to staying in touch.