Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reactions to State of the Union and Response

A few reactions to the State of the Union address and the Republican response...

It was very informative to see the distinct Republican contingent sitting in stony silence when Obama talked about how Osama Bin Laden had been killed and when he spoke in favor of eliminating tax incentives for companies to offshore jobs to other countries.

The rest of the chamber was applauding, and I have to believe most Americans also are in favor of such radical notions of killing Bin Laden and eliminating tax breaks for companies to ship jobs overseas.

So, the Republicans sitting there by contrast in silence spoke volumes about their values. Think on that for a minute.

Then, in the Republican rebuttal they trundled out the supposed rational moderate of their party (notice he is not running for President, however) who proceeded to unpack the same old hypocritical, conservative BS where all of a sudden they are concerned about debt and "big government." People, while both parties are certainly owned by big business and certainly we all agree that huge debt is not good, the Republican Party presided over the crashing of our economy.

Quite literally, during their control of the House, Senate and Presidency, their prescription for the economy - low taxes for the rich and corporations, doubling down on oil as our energy source, and deregulation of most sectors - is the exact reason we're in our situation now. The Republicans are not credible....not. Dress it up as a "respectable" moderate all you want, but that guy is saying the same thing that Newt, Romney, Paul and Santorum are.

What they are credible on is the ability to take what they are guilty of and projecting it on their opponents. So, through them we get Obama as the debt creator, Obama the job killer, Obama the class warrior, Obama the creator of big government. Sure, Obama should have more balls, but these things are not true. But hey...just say it in your "rebuttal" and it starts being taken as truth.

In closing, I will repeat my questions...

  • Who do you think will be the first and primary beneficiaries of a Republican presidency and Congressional control? Will it be the mother or father in a poor to middle class family who finally gets a job because somehow the magic of tax cuts for the rich unleashes a new wave of new jobs? 
  • Will it be the elderly who will suddenly benefit from lower housing and drug costs because of the "unseen hand of the market" forces prices down following more deregulation? 
  • Or, will it be the Wall Street bankers, energy companies and the upper class who suddenly get new tax breaks and less regulation on their businesses? 
I think we all know the answer. And we know this because WE JUST LIVED THROUGH IT over the past 10 years.

GOP SC Result Shows True Colors of Conservatives

Newt won the South Carolina GOP primary this past weekend, and did so by a lot of votes - sending one time front runner and presumed nominee Mitt "corporations are people my friend" Romney into scramble mode, and making the Republican race as up-for-grabs as it has ever been this time around.

But that's on the surface. What does Palmetto State win by Gingrich really say about conservative voters?

Well, we know that SC is a very, very conservative state. Hell, there is no such thing as left of center down there. The closest you'd get is a moderate Republican. So, we know that the voting populous there definitely represents a large number of conservatives, and presumably a good cross section of conservative beliefs on topics such as the economy, social issues, foreign affairs, etc. So, we know that South Carolina is a good test bed for taking measure of where conservatives are at.

Next, we know that the four main candidates - Romney, Newt, Santorum and Ron Paul - all represent different shades of conservatism and personality. All conservatives mind you, but different in some key ways:
  • Mitt is the classic upper class "silk stocking" Republican that used to dominate the party before social conservatives took over in the 80s. On the upside for Republicans, he should represent the ultimate outcome of their preferred economic prescription for America. You an economic conservative? Mitt's your man. On the downside for the Rs, he's aloof, from Massachusetts and Mormon. That last one probably being the worst for a party run by evangelical Christians.
  • Newt is an old hand in the Republican Party, having been the Speaker of the House in the 1990s. He's an authoritarian, combative and a good debater. On the up side for Republicans, he is seen as a fighter (a bully really) - as someone unafraid to take on Obama with the toughest rhetoric and stances. On the downside for them, he is a walking abomination in terms of their party's claims around support for "family values" and moral codes lifted from the Bible. Newt also has a clear track record of simply changing his stance on things so that he's always on the opposite side of his opponent and can argue with him/her. Oh, and he presided over an expanding Federal government he ground to a halt in the 1990s, lost his Speakership to ethics charges and is corporately indentured as heavily as anyone else running.
  • Rick Santorum is THE MAN when it comes to religious conservatism. It doesn't get any more Christ-y than Rick. On the upside for Republicans, in Santorum they have a very clear, very obvious guy to vote for if their issue is moral and family values (as defined by the GOP and conservatives that is). On the downside, some may see him as unelectable against Obama and feel he is not as aggressive as Newt.
  • Ron Paul is the libertarian in the group. He believes in virtually no Federal government at all. So, Republicans could see him as champion for one of their big causes, small government. On the downside for them, he also believes Marijuana should be legal, we shouldn't be the world's police and the government has no business in the lives of gay people.
So with the rock solid conservative credentials of the South Carolina people and the above lineup of candidates vying for their votes, what does a resounding win by Gingrich tell us about where the collective head of the conservative party is at?

My conclusion is that the SC results show that conservatives are quickly and conveniently willing forget their supposedly strong support for "family," "responsibility," and "fiscal conservatism," and "small government," in favor of a guy they thing will be able to verbally beat down Obama. Essentially, they will sell out their values for an authoritarian guy who they think will thug his way to the Presidency. This trumps other candidates and core beliefs. Truth, adherence to strong principles, small government, ethics, religion, family values...all that stuff can go out the window because conservatives like how Newt can verbally beat someone up.

How else can you explain it? If conservatives' primary objective is to "restore family values," then Santorum should have won the primary.

If they wanted to ensure the continuation of government support for the "supply side" economics they so love (government by and for the 1%), then Mitt should have come out on top.

And, if they wanted to really shake things up and get things back to more of a "state's rights" situation (ask South Carolinians about state's rights...they'll tell you that is why the North started the Civil War. Note: that wasn't the reason and the South started the war...but I digress), then Ron Paul should have won.

But they didn't. Newt did.

Typically, conservatives respond well to being told by a strong man (bully) what to do, how to think, how to vote and what to say about the opponent. No thinking, no critique...just do it. Nixon, Cheney, Haig, McCarthy, Rumsfeld, Limbaugh, Oliver North. Those are the types conservatives flock to, and so is Newt. He always has been.

Luckily, some other GOP primaries are taking place in less distilled conservative states so we may see some more moderation in the vote tallies for the candidates. But, I'll be watching to see if "tough guy" beats out "smart guy," "religious guy" and "live free or die guy."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kelly Staying

....And once again "that didn't take long."

Less than 24 hours ago, it looked like Oregon head football coach Chip Kelly was gone to the NFL to take charge of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But no.

As of this morning, the situation has been clarified and resolved (see HERE)...so Kelly will be staying at Oregon. I think Duck fans can put 1-2 more wins back on their projections for the 2012 season now.

The Ducks will still have some challenges repeating as league champs with their starting QB and RB going pro, but with the head coach now staying I think their chances of making another run are very good.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Kelly Appears Gone

Wow. Well...that did not take long.

Approximately two weeks after winning the Rose bowl at the University of Oregon, head coach Chip Kelly appears to be leaving for the head coaching job at the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sure, at this very moment he could technically stay at Oregon, but I doubt it. Assuming he leaves...combined with the departures of Duck star players RB LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas...methinks the PAC-12 just got a a whole lot more interesting.

Sure, the Ducks will still be good. But, the three time-in-a-row conference champions will now be down a coach, an experienced QB and the nation's leading rusher. It cannot be expected to be as good.

Nope. Indeed, I think USC, UW and perhaps Cal will all now be considered equal if not better threats to win the league in 2012.

And you know what...that's OK with me. No, I don't like it. But, on the other hand, it's to be expected. At a some point all dominant programs go down hill. There are different reasons why - but chief among them is the departure of critical elements all at the same time. In the UO's case, that's what we're looking at.

The cupboard is not bare in Eugene. There is loads of talent to put on the football field. Black Mamba. Just sayin'. But, that talent is now a slightly thinner and appears to be without its genius coach. Not sure who'd they'd get to replace Kelly....bring back Mike Belloti? Get a "big name" who is available (not sure who that would be)?

So, sitting here in January 2012...and assuming Kelly is gone...I'm going to say that the Ducks football team goes 8-4 in 2012 and is not the league champion. They'll lose to to USC, one of the Arizona schools, Cal and one of the Washington schools (hopefully not UW). That's my prediction.

If Kelly stays, I'm thinking more like 10-2, 11-1 territory.

We'll see.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

As the Elephant Turns

A few interesting developments in the old Republican primary race over the last 24 hours:

Turns out, Rick Santorum actually won the Iowa Caucuses, not Romney. The voting was so close that it took until now to officially certify the winner - and it wasn't Mitt Romney as thought on the night of the caucuses. Hmm. OK.

Next, Rick Perry bails out of the race and endorses Newt Gingrich.

Newt is again surging in the polls. Not necessarily because of the Perry thing, but because he's popular in the very (very) conservative state of South Carolina - site of the next primary.

And of course Mitt "I pay 15% income tax" Romney maintains his status as front runner for now.

How does this all relate? Well, to my eye, it appears that the GOP is going to nominate one of the following to go up against Obama in the fall...
  • A raging, out of touch social conservative with beliefs that will shock well more than half the nation into either not showing up to the polls or voting for Obama. Santorum believes in some pretty crazy stuff. Check it HERE. Hint: you think birth control should be outlawed because it's against God? Rick's your man.
  • An authoritarian blow hard who's main interest is self promotion and "beating the other guy" rather than new ideas and what's best for the nation. Seriously, Newt is so bent on showing you who is boss and wallowing in verbal combat that he literally shut the government down in the 1990s. Not too sure we want a combative hot head who actively goes out looking for a fight running our nation. Oh, and he has a really bad track record on his personal relationships.
  • A super rich, out-of-touch, aloof flip-flopper who belives things like "corporations are people my friend," and that by God we have way too much regulation. Right, just what we need. The exact type of guy who crashed our economy running it. Isn't major deregulation of financial, tax, energy, environmental, labor, real estate law one of the big reasons we find ourselves in our economic mess now? 
I'm seeing some credibility issues here people.

Oh, and sorry Ron Paul fans, I almost forgot. I just don't see your libertarian hero getting the nod by a party so dominated by big money and social conservatives. I am not a Ron Paul fan, but I do know that on many issues he is a threat to big business and social conservatives - so, thanks for playing Ron.

What's double ass scary is each one of these guys subscribes to the devastatingly disproved "supply side" economics theory that got us into our current mess. They'll talk about "personal responsibility" and "pulling yourselves up by your bootstraps," but what the all are actually saying is "give more tax breaks to corporations and the rich and deregulate more."

Perhaps a hard core dude like Ron Paul actually belives that philosophy (although a study of, oh, I don't know...the entire history of the USA would strongly suggest he's wrong), but it is a fantastic stretch to take Romney, Newt or Santorum seriously when they hold themselves up as having the answer to everyday issues in the form of making the rich richer. You just KNOW they're putting you on because they are beholden to and like the perks of associating with huge money people and companies.

Let me put it another way. Who do you think will be the first and primary beneficiaries of a Gingrich, Romney or Santorum presidency? Will it be the mother or father in a poor to middle class family who finally gets a job becuase somehow the magic of tax cuts for the rich unleashes a new wave of new jobs? Will it be the elderly who will suddenly benefit from lower housing and drug costs because of the "unseen hand of the market" forces prices down following more deregulation?

Or, will it be the Wall Street bankers, energy companies and the upper class who suddenly get new tax breaks and less regulation on their businesses?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

Anyway, to summarize, I think the Rs are going to nominate someone who has serious credibilty issues. They all have credibility issues on the econony and what they'd do, but then they each individually have big liabilities in their personalities, history or ideas. And I think that will be their undoing. Unless something major happens, I don't think these guys are going to beat Obama.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ducks Vs. My Rose Bowl Prediction

Well, it's been a couple weeks since the Ducks pulled off the victory in the 2012 Rose Bowl. Certainly I'm overjoyed with that outcome, but sadly...I'm hitting a bit of college football withdrawal.

To sooth that a bit, here are some thoughts about how my Ducks fared compared to my prediction before the game.

How did they do?

Essentially, I said that it was going to be a close one and that the thing that would probably be the difference between a UO win and a loss by the Ducks were turnovers.

Sure, Wisconsin would do what they do well, and so would the Ducks. But, my feeling was that if Oregon could limit their turnovers to one or fewer they would win.

Technically speaking, I was wrong then as the Ducks gave up the ball two times - once on an interception and another on a "scoop and score" fumble by Wisconsin.

Lucky for Oregon, when those things happened when there was plenty of time on the clock and the game very close...as it was all game long. While hurtful, those turnovers did not sting quite as much as they might have.

Why? Well, the Duck offense was scoring regularly. That and the Ducks created Wisconsin turnovers - and crucially timely ones too. One was a diving interception by an Oregon linebacker when it looked like the Badgers were once again marching down the field to score in the second half. The second was a fumble right by the sideline by a Wisconsin wide receiver very near the end of the game. Holding a one score lead, the Ducks pounced on the ball, killed a bunch of clock with their ensuing possession - and even though they had to punt, they killed enough time that the Badgers could not go the length of the field to score. Game over. So, the turnover game worked for both teams...but the Ducks a little bit more.

Moving on from there, another issue going into the game was the conventional wisdom that no matter how fast and athletic Oregon was, a big powerful defense with a month to prepare for the Ducks would stymie them - much as Auburn and Ohio State did in the 2011 BSC Championship and 2010 Rose Bowl respectively. But, this did not materialize this time. Nope. With only a couple exceptions when they had to punt, Oregon went up and down the field on Wisconsin...just a bit more than Wisconsin's offense did against the Duck D. The myth of a month to prepare was exploded. Indeed, the explosiveness and frequency of explosion by the Oregon offense kept them in the game and minimized the turnovers.

So the Ducks won by a touchdown, 45-38. Did I predict it? Not really. I felt good about Oregon's chances, but honestly I was too nervous and wary of past bowl performances to go out on a limb. I figured if turnovers went their way they'd win.

Am I happy about the outcome? YOU BET!

More college football come August.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Romney Pays 15% Annual Tax Rate

Yep, that's right. Mitt pays 15% income tax annually. Think that's something he should be proud of? Think that you'd like to get in on some of that yourself...as in, if he wins the Presidency some of that low tax rate stuff is coming your way?

Think again. That's now how Mitt works, it's not how the Republican Party works and it's not how conservative economics work.

The issue of Mitt's tax rate and the spectacular irony it presents in the context of our economy and the 2012 election cannot be recapped by me better than has already been written on The Plumb Line Blog appearing in the Washington Post's Opinion section.

That short but well-worth-reading post is HERE.

To summarize, the fact that Mitt pays 15% tax is not the solution to our economic problems. No. How he can do that and continues to do so is the problem with our economy.

Italy: La Dolce Vita - The Series

Below is the consolidated and complete series re-capping the Italy portion of our European Trip in the summer of 2011. For the full report on the Romania portion of the trip, go HERE.

Italy: La Dolce Vita - The Series
  • Venice - seeing the sights, great places to eat and the beauty of Venetian canals
  • Florence - our afternoon and one evening in this beautiful city
  • Photo Feature - a set of photos I took while in Italy
  • Tuscany - we drive south of Florence and spend a few days soaking up rural Tuscany
  • Rome - The Eternal City hits and highlights

Also, for those interested, you can read other stories of our travels in a number of series that I've written. For example, check these out...

Excursion To Egypt

Visiting the U.S. South

The China Reports

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK Day 2012

The following is a re-post from an article I wrote a year ago. Nothing has changed, and the following info is just as relevant today as it was a year ago...

It's Martin Luther King Jr. day here in the United States. Many people have the day off from work and may not think too much about the man, what he stood for and what he helped accomplish in the United States in terms of civil rights...not just for people of color, but all Americans.

While it would be far beyond my power and to divert people away from enjoying a day off from work, nor would I want to, I do think MLK Jr. deserves some reflection and I think it's very possible to do so in a meaningful and relatively quick way.

For example, here are three easy things to do:

READ UP - you don't need to read a book to get the basics about MLK Jr. (although that would be best), but for a quick review, check out the Wikipedia page on the man HERE.

MUSIC - listen to the song "Pride (In the Name of Love)" by U2. It's about MLK Jr., what he stood for and the price he paid for those convictions. If you don't already have this song, it costs 99 cents on iTunes.

PICTURES - there are loads on the Internet about the man, the events he led and where he went. ClickHERE for the Google image search results for King. Below is a photo I took on our trip to Memphis a few years ago...sadly, it's where he was shot and killed.

So, that's what...a few minutes to listen to and ponder a song, 5-10 min. reading and say 5 min. checking out some pictures. Do it. You'll come away knowing more all in 15-20 minutes...and that's a better use of your time than reading about who gave the most outrageous speech at the Golden Globe awards last night.

NOTE: Picture in this post taken by Marc Osborn. Use of the image not permitted for any use without prior written permission.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Italy: La Dolce Vita - Rome

Waking up one last morning in the our rural Tuscan oasis at Locanda dell'Amarosa, Diane and I decided that instead of hurrying out to see one more town before making our way to the train station to go to Rome, we'd instead spend a leisurely morning on site at the hotel to enjoy the food and the setting.

By 10 a.m. or so, it was time to get going as we had to drive to a nearby town to catch the train for the last stop of our trip.

(A complete set of pictures from the Italy portion of our trip can be seen HERE. I've just added pictures relevant to Rome at the end.)

We caught the train at a town called Chiusi and the ride to the Eternal City from there took about two and half hours. Arriving at the big Termini station in central Rome, we exited the train and into the hot Roman sun to catch a taxi to the lovely Crossing Condoti hotel. This small boutique is near the Spanish Steps and well located to catch the subway or walk to any number of great restaurants, bars and shops.

Service at this hotel is wonderful and within 30 min. of us checking in, the manager had arranged tickets to the Vatican Museum for that afternoon. He also recommended lunch a the delightful Gina restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel.

In terms of the Vatican, we'd already seen the museum in detail in our trip to Italy some years ago, so we were not keen on seeing the whole thing again. But, we did want to see the famous Sistine Chapel again because when we were there before it was partly under restoration. So, we wanted a clear look at the restored room. Making our way through the crowds and the various exhibits, we eventually  made it to our destination deep within the boarders of the Vatican City. It was worth the effort as the stunning work of art is the Sistine Chapel reviled itself to us anew and like never before. One does not need to be a religious person to draw inspiration or appreciate this intense display. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures inside the chapel, so all I have is a postcard scan.

We next walked to St. Peter's Square and then into St. Peter's itself for a look. Again, impressive in many ways. For me, however, these massive displays of wealth and power from a religious organization come with some pretty heavy doses of irony and hypocrisy. One can definitely see how European power through the ages ran straight through the Catholic Church. And so it is that every time I'm in a place like that I have split feelings - appreciation and awe for the architectural achievements and sense of history, but then also a sense of disgust given how many millions upon millions of people were kept in poverty, harmed, killed or simply scammed by or in the name of organized religion.

Exiting the church, we made a stop to get gelato on the way back to the hotel - calling it an afternoon and taking a rest before heading out to dinner at a restaurant nearby our hotel.

The following day was our one and only full day in Rome. And what better to do than hit the highlights? We started at the Coliseum, checked out the apartments and palaces of the Roman Emperors up on the, Palatine hill, then took in the Roman Forum. This adventure took up the morning, and after a stop at the Pantheon for a look, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant.

All of these ancient Roman ruins impress me. That such an advanced society existed 2,000 years ago is inspirational and makes a person - at least me - really think about history and what has come before and what may come again. To that point, it's all too clear when walking the ruins that Roman society fell. I'm sure the Romans didn't think their society would end, that their way of living would slide into history...past tense reference instead of an enduring symbol of human advancement. In this context, looking at the ruins of a once great society, I wonder what will become of ours - western society in general and the USA in particular. We're already seeing signs of decay and backsliding with our economy and democracy massively distorted by big money and corporate interests, our culture warped by celebrity distraction and a "look at me" populous. Who knows, in 500 years will tourists by looking at the decayed ruins of an abandoned and almost forgotten NYC, Dallas or San Francisco?

Anyway, with these things on my mind, we walked over to the cheery - but VERY crowded - Trevi Fountain. It's beautiful and hundreds of people at a time come to look at it and toss in a coin along with a wish. We capped off our afternoon with a walk back to the neighborhood our hotel was in and did a little shopping.

In the evening, we walked up the Spanish Steps and into the neighborhood above to have dinner with a spectacular view overlooking Rome. A perfect way to end our stay in that city and as the last evening of our European trip.

And that was pretty much it. The next morning we were off to the airport for our trip home. Our flight pattern took us from Rome to London, London to NYC and NYC to Seattle. Long day. But, we arrived home safe, sound and with a ton of great memories.

NOTE: All pictures in this post taken by Marc Osborn and are not authorized for any use without prior written permission from him.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Some Thoughts At the Start of a Political Year

2012 is a political year. The Ds and Rs will be out there fighting for your vote and trying to convince you that "the other side" is not only wrong on everything, but evilly and mortally wrong for the USA. The politics of power. The politics of crush the opposition. The politics that - in both those contexts - ends up being the politics of, you guessed it, money. Lots of money. Greed, maximizing profit, "growth," shareholder value...call it what you will.

For a long time now, I've been disappointed in both our political parties - without hesitation the GOP, but more recently Democrats too - because as the last 15 years or so have unfolded it's become increasingly clear that the two parties are SO VERY SIMILAR. Among the top reasons for this in my opinion is that the people in charge of those parties, running and winning office in those parties and many who support those parties have the wrong set of values.

That's right. Values. And they're wrong - at least for virtually everyone. Indeed, the overriding political principles our society is guided by are things like the winning, money and power that I mentioned. They are motivated by defeating the opponent, securing lucrative contracts for cronies, making things easier for the rich and powerful, their buddies, etc.

Thet are NOT guided by ideas like fairness, competition, doing right by one's fellow citizen, hard work and the potential for a better tomorrow for most of us. These are secondary at best, and more often than not, not even registered as important. There seems to be a fundamental flaw pervasive in our collective political thought, and FOR SURE present in our actual political processes and institutions.

Pretty heavy stuff, and hard to change. Indeed, how do you change something like that? Once again one of my all time heroes, Joe Strummer, summed it up well...

“In any kind of realistic political change you have to start on the inside, by changing the central value system. You can’t start by changing the structure, change has to be a personal choice.” - Joe Strummer 1981.

I think what Joe was saying that for real political change to happen, the majority of people have to see the situation for what it is and stop buying into the central value system that is the driving force of most of modern western society - greed, profit, power, etc. - and freely chose to base political decisions on other things. He's also saying that changing the structure itself - at minimum which party controls the legislative and executive branches and at maximum a new form of government - is not the answer. That's just re-arranging the chairs on the Titanic. No, change can only come from the inside.

To be sure, enacting THAT type of change is difficult. How bad do things have to get before most people wake up and realize that they're being taken for fools...that what they've been voting for over the last 20+ years (and I include both parties in this...and yes even Mr. Obama) has actually worked to their great disadvantage?

Not sure. But I know that in 2012 I am freely choosing to cast my support and vote for local and national candidates who reflect the values I want to see more of.