Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Just a Guy Named Joe

News and views.

News: Barack Obama selects Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate.

Views: Joe Biden?

The same Joe Biden who said of Obama, “ I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy…”

The same Joe Biden who said, “You cannot go into a 7-11 or a Dunkin'Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. Oh, I'm not joking."

The same Joe Biden who said in June, “I'd make a great president. I'd make a great Secretary of State. I'd make a great vice president. There are a lot of people out there who want the job. I'm not one of them… (But) you'd have to take it. There's not a single, solitary person who, with Barack Obama as the presidential nominee in this most historic of races, who if asked would say 'no.' I wouldn't say 'no.' I hope he doesn't ask me….”

What, was Yogi Berra unavailable?

If Obama wants to capture the imagination of voters by bringing change to Washington, he might have done better than a 65-year-old insider with foot-in-mouth disease and a Senator Beauregard Claghorn approach to stump politics.

OK, he’s a blue collar guy and is considered an expert on foreign affairs, both attributes the Obama campaign is seeking to exploit.

But when you hear the slogan, “Change We Can Believe In,” do you think of Joe Biden? I don’t.

It all goes to show that while the vice president may only be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office, it’s not a job that makes the pulse race.

Who ever voted for Dan Quayle or Dick Cheney?

News: It seems like only yesterday the Summer Olympics were in full bloom.

Views: Actually, it was only a week ago. And it was a memorable event, filled with spectacle and excitement not to mention suppression of dissent and lots of “spontaneous” enthusiasm by the Chinese fans.

NBC drew high marks and the event itself was watched by the largest viewing audience in the history of TV.


I could have done without announcer Chris Collingsworth, who conducted a one-man love-in, gushing over everyone and every place he saw. He praised the Chinese people for their unflagging hospitality which leads me to believe he didn’t ask them about human rights or freedom of expression and he kept his distance from the military, whose members appeared to have had any hint on kindness in their faces surgically removed.

And I hope I’ve heard the last of Bella Karolyi, who game new meaning to the term sore loser by ripping judges and athletes of whom he didn’t approve in a voice that sounded chillingly like Dracula.

He directed most of his wrath at the Chinese who he accused on using under-age Munchkins in the women’s gymnastics competition.

I happen to believe he was right.

I’ve seen bigger athletes at Mommy and Me classes. For example, Deng Linlin is 4-foot-6, 68-pounds.Jiang Yuyuan, is 4-7 and 70 pounds.

On the other hand, NBC failed to mention that Japan’s Koko Tsurumi is 4-7 and 75 pounds. Russia’s Ksenia Semenova is 4-6 and 77 pounds. Japan’s team average is just 4-10 and 82.5 pounds.

By comparison, Shawn Johnson of the U.S. is checks in at 4-foot-9 and 90 pounds, a virtual summo wrestler compared to some of the competition.

Size matters in gymnastics.

I’m not saying it wasn’t a legitimate point. I’d just rather hear it from someone who didn’t sound like he was about to bite me on the neck.

While were at it, I could also do without platform diving, team handball, synchronized swimming and field hockey.

Speaking of the Olympics, is the best the Brits could offer at the closing ceremonies was the inevitable David Beckham and Jimmy Paige?

It’s bad enough Paige can’t sing anymore, but then they had to tone down the lyrics to “Whole Lotta Love” which was deemed too sexually explicit for a bunch of 20-something athletes.

Couldn’t he have done “Stairway to Heaven” instead? Or better yet, invite Ringo to sing “With a Little Help From My Friends.”

News: John McCain is endorsed by Daddy Yankee.

Views: No, Daddy Yankee is not another name for Uncle Sam. Indeed, Daddy Yankee is big star among some elements of our younger generation, a musician whose dabbles in something called raggaeton.

This was no offhand endorsement. The two men appeared together in Phoenix where Yankee (or Daddy if you know him well enough) said that McCain is “a fighter for the Hispanic community” and “a fighter for the immigration issue.’’

Replied McCain, “I just want to say thank you, Daddy Yankee.’’

According to the New York Times, Daddy Yankee, a native of Puerto Rico, had a smash hit a few years back called “Gasolina.”Although its catchy refrain, “Dame mas gasoline,’’ or give me more gasoline, fits in nicely with Mr. McCain’s “drill here, drill now” message these days, the Times reported, it is usually understood as a double entendre that has little to do with fossil fuels.

All of which would have caused smiles at Obama headquarters if they didn’t have their own celebrity headaches.

Singer Madonna, never one known to practice moderation in thought or deed, kicked off her latest world tour with images of McCain, Adolf Hitler, Robert Mugabe, starving children and global warming, all wrapped up in one multimedia spectacular.

In the meantime, Obama was depicted as Gandhi and John Lennon.

Poor Barack. Next thing you know, he’ll be endorsed by the Dixie Chicks.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

Two incidents come to mind when I recall the dawn of the television age in America.

My first encounter with TV came shortly after a neighbor got the first set on the block. I raced to their house one Saturday morning anxious to see the first major league baseball game of my young life.

Until then, big league baseball on the West Coast was a fairy tale, a mystical game sometimes heard but never seen played by larger than life heroes in a faraway land.

I plunked down in front of the set along with the other neighborhood kids only to be required by the lady of the house to stand at stiff attention, salute and sing the National Anthem for those in the living room while some organist 2500 miles away played in an octive out of my reach.

Fortunately, my parents bought a set shortly thereafter so I was able to watch baseball and keep my dignity intact at the same time.

My other memory involves watching a political convention for the first time.

I won't claim to have been a political junky at the age of 10 but there was high drama taking place in Chicago in 1952 as Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft competed to be the Republican Party standardbearer.

Funny hats, fiery speeches, bands, demonstrations, roll calls punctuated by drama and humor. It beat hell out of "I Love Lucy."

I was a Taft fan, probably because his name was Bob. And watching high-energy democracy in motion struck a chord in me that resonates to this day. (I don't recall the Democratic convention. My father, a staunch Republican who considered Democrats nothing more than layabouts and welfare cheats, probably would have forbade me from watching it had I wanted to. Thus, I missed the nomination of Adlai Stevenson who ran on the anti-charisma slate).

Remembering political conventions back when they actually meant something is like yearning for the days of cheap gas and penny post cards. It's hard to believe such things even existed.

But the conventions march relentlessly on as we will see when the Democrats gather in Denver next week and the Republicans meet in St. Paul the following week.

The party business is concluded long before the opening gavel drops which means the conventions become week-long pep rallies.

The day when platforms would be built plank by plank and horse trading and back room dealing would be prime time fare are long gone.

Both parties learned that while dirty laundry may be compelling viewing, it didn't do a lot for them at the ballot box. Look no farther than the ruinous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago to understand that point.

And yet there are reasons to watch this year. Both network and and cable stations know it. They are actually increasing their coverage.

In Denver, Barack Obama will conclude his selection as the party nominee with a speech at Invesco Field, the 75,000-seat home to the Denver Broncos football team. It won't be the largest crowd he has drawn but it is sure to underscore his image as a rock star, able to draw massive audiences to hear his message.

But before Obama takes center stage, there are a pair of 500-pound gorillas that will have their say.

First is Hillary Clinton, who will speak on Aug. 26. Her campaign brought her closer than any other woman in history to securing the party's nomination.

Because of that, her supporters want to stage a march through the hall, a tribute with music and balloons, or some other display to mark her achievement, according to published reports.

Clinton supporters are adament she be shown respect at the convention. You can bet that whatever Hillary wants, she'll get. Her support is too important to the Obama camp.

The other looming presence is Bill Clinton, who, as one wag wrote, is behaving more like King Lear than keynote speaker.

The former president's support of the the Obama campaign has been tepid at best and it's anybody's guess whether he will be party royalty or a royal pain.

Not only that, but he preceedes the vice president nominee on the dias. Given the Clinton proclivity for long-winded speeches, he could force the vice presidential candidate right out of prime time.

Al Gore will speak. How will the man who lost to George Bush be received?

John Edwards will not be there. His next speech may be in front of a self help group for cheating spouses.

The Republicans feature no less than the President of the United States, and Vice President Dick Cheney. Also featured will be 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, now a McCain supporter.

Our very own governor Arnold Schwarzeneger will speak despite his support of the Obama plan for properly inflated tires.

And the keynote speaker will be Rudolph Giuliani. Count the number if times he mentions 9/11.

On paper, the Republicans appears to present a more unified front but McCain's attempts to woo the convervative wing of the party won't be far off stage.

Tune in. It will be the best reality show on TV.

Golden Moments

There are a lot of reasons to shun the Olympics.

A larger-than-life spectacle intended to showcase the very best the human race has to offer, it has been tainted too often by doping scandals, judging controversies, violence and boycotts.

The opening ceremonies have become orgies of extravagance whose cost exceeds the gross national product of some of the participating countries.

The games have been villified, politicized, commercialized and trivilized.

Yet, like California, we love it despite all its faults.

Where else can you see a finish as electric as the men's 400 meter swimming relay in which the U.S. beat the trash-talking, snail eating, bordeaux sipping French, an outcome that would have been more emotional only if we had edged out the Taliban. (Remind me: Why is it we are supposed to hate the French? Because they opposed the war in Iraq?)

Where else can you watch a Ghanian boxer named Prince Octopus Dzanie ply his craft?

Where else would you receive a press release from the Beijing Tourist Bureau announcing the serving of dog in restaurants will be suspeded during the games. "Restaurant staff should patiently suggest another entree," the release stated. Watch out, cats of China.

Where else can you see smog that makes Los Angeles look like Vail? Or as David Letterman said, ""There's excitement in the air over the Olympics...also lead, arsenic, benzene."

Where else can you watch a 9-year-old lip sync "Ode to the Motherland" because the real 7-year-old singer had crooked teeth?

Where else can see you Michael Phelps turn water into gold?

When else would you spend a weekend watching team handball, archery, synchronized diving, women's saber and weightlifting?

When else can you hear archery commentators make a match between Korea and Italy sound like the seventh game of the World Series?

When else would you look forward to the broadcast of events such as rhythmic gymnastics, race walking, modern pentathalon, table tennis and field hockey, all coming to a TV set near you soon.

Speaking of TV, NBC is in the middle of broadcasting 3600 hours of Olympic events. Or as one wag commented, just a few hours short of the number of "Law and Order" repeats running each week.

More than 34 million tuned into the opening ceremonies. An Associated Press dispatch pointed out that means some 270 million took a pass. I guess they were watching a "Law and Order" rerun.

One recent evening, I counted at least seven commercials running back to back during break time. Most of them seemed to be narrated by Morgan Freeman, who can make a credit card commercial sound like the Ten Commandments.

Some touted the candidacy of Barack Obama or John McCain, which means there is no escape from a presidential campaign characteried by tire pressure gauges and Paris Hilton.

Through all this thicket, NBC is doing a commendable job. The hype and overstatement are being kept to a minimum. The coverage extends beyond America competitors to those from other countries. Breaking news is being covered in a professional manner.

Let the games continue. And enjoy the ride.

Gone to the Dogs

Things are particularly dire these days in Sacramento, that political Chernobyl where good government goes to die.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is calling the state's budget deficit, estimated at more than $15 billion, a "fiscal emergency."

At the same time, a new Field Poll states that only 40% of the residents of our fair land think Arnie is doing a good job. And 57% think the state legislature stinks.

Indeed, 68 per cent think the state is on the wrong track while only 21 per cent think it's moving in the right direction.

But forget all that.

This week, in the kind of bold action that has made making law in Sacramento legendary, our legislature passed and the governor signed a bill that will allow you to leave your personal fortune to your cat.

Or iguana, goat, parakeet, fish or whatever happens to be hanging around at the time you write your will.

We may be broke. Our schools may be going to hell. We may be running out water. But, by God, Californians will have the right to take care of Rex and Fluffy in their golden years.

This bit of legislative derring-do is brought to you by state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) whose law will take effect Jan. 1.

Unlike most states, California law has treated pet trust funds as honorary and therefore the trusts are often unenforceable, he said.

"Pets are an important part of the American family," Yee said. "SB 685 will make pet trusts enforceable and assure that the wishes of pet owners are respected."

Great work, Mr. Yee. But while you were busy trying to nail down the pet owner vote, June 15 came and went, the date on which the state constitution says a budget must be enacted.
Then came the next deadline, July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
By late August, the state could be unable to pay its bills without borrowing.

What's going on here?

The Democrats and Republicans are fighting like, well, cats and dogs. Bickering and backbiting are the status quo.

The Democrats contend revenues can be can be raised by closing tax loopholes. Republicans are calling the Democratic plan a tax hike by any other name.

The governor, for his part, wants to borrow heavily against future state lottery revenues, a plan that has flopped with Democrats, Republicans and, according to polls, the public as well.
And if his scheme fails, you and I will pay an additional sales tax of one cent, raising it to 8.25 per cent.

How do we get out of this mess, short of leveling the capitol and starting all over again?

One bright light is a bipartisan, foundation supported group called California Forward which is attempting to get a handle on the problem.

The groups says its mission is "to transform our state government through citizen-driven solutions to provide better representation, smarter budgeting and fiscal management, and high quality public services so all Californians have the opportunity to be safe, healthy and prosperous in the global economy."

"The current budget process," the group says," is largely a relic of the mid-20th century, with the focus on how much to increase spending (or how much to cut), rather than the value that public services bring to Californians over time.

"These annual budget decisions often either push California's fiscal systems toward long-term solvency or away from it. The ongoing and chronic imbalance between revenues and expenditures is one indicator of system failure. Changing how budget process decisions are made could enable public leaders to deal with the more intractable and complex problems involving the revenue system and the state-local relationship."

It's a noble quest, one that could take years to accomplish.

But California Forward is a ray of hope because it's clear that reform in Sacramento will have to come from outside of the legislative establishment.