Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Obama shows Romney what being “presidential” means in wake of Hurricane Sandy

In the 1972 film The Candidate, Senate candidate Bill McKay (Robert Redford) is visiting the site of a forest fire devastating Malibu, where he is explaining to reporters the environmental conditions that allow such a disaster to occur. Moments later, his opponent, Sen. Crocker Jarmon, arrives from out of nowhere in a helicopter, just long enough to tell reporters that he has just spoken to the president, who in one hour will declare a state of emergency for the area; Jarmon went on to say that he when flies back to Washington, he is going to sponsor the “Jarmon Watershed Bill” which would call for federally-backed disaster insurance. McKay, a liberal activist, clearly knows what he is talking about and his concern real, while the conservative Jarmon is being opportunistic and clearly could not give a damn about the Malibu community or environmental concerns; wild fires are a frequent occurrence in California, and only now that he is actually in an election fight does the opportunistic Jarmon decide to show “concern” for the victims.  

I read a contemporary review of the film, and the reviewer complained that it offers no insight into current political realities and is “dated,” a relic of the 1970s. Is that to say that people today “benefit” more from the insipid programming they view today? Is there something “wrong” with an intelligent and uncompromising examination of the issues? The issues of today are no different than 40 years ago, yet the media seems far less willing to discuss them; to discuss them would be “un-American” and promote “violence” against the status quo, as McKay was accused of doing in his closing statement during his debate with Jarmon. 

We see very much the same dynamic in the 2012 presidential campaign and in the both candidates response to Hurricane Sandy. Unlike George Bush and his FEMA “team” during Hurricane Katrina, there has been no “confusion,” delays, or lack of coordination which seemed to be politically-motivated; on the contrary, Obama instructed FEMA to “lean forward” to insure that resources and aid are promptly delivered and continued “for the duration.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie praised Obama for his “leadership” and rapid reaction in the matter, which has prompted complaints from his fellow Republicans. CNN—predictably off-target—absurdly accused Republican Christie of trying to “tip” the election in favor of Obama, although most creditable observers only see Christie’s “usual” blunt assessment of the situation. 

While the federal emergency apparatus has been in full swing (again in contrast to that of Katrina), Mitt Romney has been plainly opportunistic, flailing about haplessly. After FEMA’s shameful response to Katrina under the Bush Administration, some people might actually be fooled into thinking that Romney’s pledge to terminate FEMA has “merit”—claiming that it would be “immoral” to fund such and agency if it means increasing the budget deficit— but what it really means is that, once again, he has little empathy for the suffering of anyone but his own kind. On the other hand, Obama has demonstrated that presidents with different philosophies use their authority in different ways—such as for good, rather than indifference.  Although Romney has predictably pretended that he never said such a thing about FEMA after being repeatedly asked to “clarify” his remarks since the disaster began, in an editorial, The New York Times took Romney to task for his lack of empathy for those in need:

Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt… It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.

It is unlikely that most people read about the 1889 Johnstown Flood in their high school history books, but if you did you would discover the same callous attitude by the “elite” toward working people; this disaster, the most deadly before 9-11, was caused when wealthy “captains of industry” created their own lakefront playground out of the South Fork Dam in Pennsylvania, lowering it in order to create a roadway for their own use, and covering the spillways with a fish screen to keep fish inside the lake for sport; unfortunately the screens also gathered debris, which was seldom removed. On May 28, up to ten inches of rain fell during the worst storm in the region’s history, causing the dam to break and eventually destroying everything in its path, killing over 2,000 people. In its aftermath, none of the millionaires in the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club accepted responsibility for the disaster, although a few “donated” money for relief efforts. 

Romney’s own callous notions would force cash-strapped states with few resources to fend for themselves. Failing that, Romney has offered another “example” of how emergency relief would be run in a Romney administration, by setting-up his own “volunteer” emergency supply network in closely-contested Virginia, which many people involved in the disaster relief have accused of being uncoordinated, amateurish, and unnecessary—only getting in the way of the work of creditable relief organizations. His "altruism" also seems to be motivated by partisan politics; it has been reported that he has only offered "aid" to states with Republican governors.


Meanwhile, Frida Ghitis, “special to CNN,” has “warned” that one should not vote for a president based on his response to a natural disaster—meaning just because Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy is markedly different than Bush’s to Katrina, we shouldn’t take into consideration the level of humanity demonstrated in either case (remember Barbara Bush’s comment that it was “scary” that Katrina’s mostly black refugees might actually stay in Texas, and that the “hospitality” that they were being shown shacked-up in the Houston Astrodome was “working very well for them” because they were  “underprivileged anyway”). But Ghitis’ op-ed was more likely motivated by reasons of being a disgruntled Hillary supporter; during the Democratic National Convention, she noted that Hillary Clinton spent her time at some Pacific Rim function where she, as usual, accomplished nothing, rather pointedly not helping her party retain the White House and the Democratic agenda. Her “mission,” apparently, was to promote of a “musical festival” staged and funded by the State Department's “Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs” program “American Music Abroad.” Ghitis found nothing not admirable in any of this, merely noting that Clinton continues to have high approval ratings for the “job” she is doing.

Ghitis doesn’t question why Clinton’s approval rating remains high. “Women’s issues” voters should note that Obama has allowed her free reign to pursue her “gender agenda” rather than insist that she actually do the job she was expected to do, like deal with China or use her “celebrity” and brilliance to forge peace in hot spots of the world. The problem is, of course, that Hillary was ill-suited temperamentally and experientially to be Secretary of State, but this matters not to her fans, when she is breaking “records” flying all over the globe and giving speeches; the primary effect of this is distancing herself from “Obama’s” foreign policy, since she has none of her own. When CNN’s Cathy Crowley tried to make Obama look small during the second debate by alleging that Hillary took “responsibility” for the events in Benghazi, it demonstrated that only Clinton’s reputation increased rather than diminished after such a bloody tragedy.  

One should note that Libyan ambassador Chris Stevens had one thing that Clinton lacked and she was clearly resentful of—credibility with various Muslim factions. Stevens was consulting with a Turkish diplomat in Benghazi only a few hours before the attack; it has been speculated that Stevens was coordinating arms transfers from the Saudis and Turkey to Syrian rebels. It has also been suggested that despite the deteriorating security situation, it was felt that a U.S. presence was required in Benghazi in order not to give the impression that the U.S. had “given-up” on Libya’s efforts to become a democracy and not a haven of terrorists.  The Libyan February 17th Brigade was supposed to be “policing” the compound,  but before the attack, one of them appeared to be “casing” the building, taking photographs. The attackers of the compound did not actually find Stevens or anyone else inside the building, as they had fled into a “safe haven.” After they attackers set fire to building, David Ubben, a security agent, claims to have led Stevens and Sean Smith to a window, through which he escaped; he claims to have expected the other two to have followed him out the same window, but they never appeared. Why Ubben exited first without insuring the safety of the ambassador is only a question he can answer. A CIA “quick reaction force” nearby re-occupied the building but did not find Stevens, apparently because of the smoke, the inhalation of which he died from. 

Criticism of the administration’s initial response is somewhat misplaced, since there were no U.S. forces or legitimate Libyan police forces in the area, and there was not enough time to gather military assets and make determinations as to the whereabouts of U.S. personnel and how to precisely target the attackers and not by-standers attracted to the scene.  Meanwhile, what was Clinton doing that day? Except for some rather mundane activities, her itinerary states that she met with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon at noon. What they discussed has not been disclosed. Interestingly, anti-Obama fanatic and Clinton "confidant" Ed Klein has recently claimed that Hillary wanted beefed-up security in Benghazi, but Obama denied it; others, however, have pointed out that security for U.S. diplomats is her responsibility, and that if Obama claims that no one told him that there were serious security issues at the Benghazi consulate, then there is at the very least some shaky business going on somewhere.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Do people vote on what they know--or what they "see?"

Superficiality is the defining feature in our society. How can it be otherwise when so many people in this country base their judgments not on facts but their visceral reactions? Isn't that what local Republicans are counting on by using Democrat blue instead of Republican red in their roadside candidate posters? Even so-called 24-hour cable news programs like CNN don’t seem to have the time for anything but what will keep people “entertained”—depending upon sound bites from self-serving types without questioning their veracity, or blowhards merely offering an “opinion” usually based on their own prejudices rather than facts. 

Superficiality also defines the current campaign season; Seattle radio stations have been playing anti-Jay Inslee commercials non-stop for months now, as if the Seattle Times’ endorsement of Republican Rob McKenna wasn’t enough; perhaps the right-wing Pacs believe that the Times’ level of credibility is so low that McKenna needs help. The latest ad suggests that investment in solar energy that Inslee supports is baaaad, while the on-going ad with that woman with annoying voice complaining that it seems that Inslee wakes-up every morning wanting to do something baaaad is just plain irritating; I’d vote for Inslee just to shut her up. One thing that fascinates me is that the bespectacled McKenna appears to be bookish and wonkish, and no doubt many people actually see this; in reality he is not the paragon of bipartisanship that the Times calls him. Quite the contrary; during his years on the King County Council, McKenna was so insufferably partisan that King County Executive Ron Sims had to hold special meetings in order to find strategies to counteract him. McKenna was also relieved of his position on the Sound Transit board because he refused to accept the fact that voters had approved light rail, like a petulant child who could not get his way and just wanted to cause trouble. 

McKenna isn’t the only political candidate to benefit from the superficial impressions. Mitt Romney, who has said he will scrap FEMA if elected and force states to handle disaster relief alone, is now interfering with disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and butting-in without permission, since he and his handlers see this as an “opportunity” to buttress his presidential “image.” Romney has always been the conceited, privileged type, but despite the fact he acts patrician and speaks in a suitably patronizing tone to the plebes who don’t understand why he and his billionaire friends don’t have enough money, Romney looks like the kind of man who should be successful; the problem is so was Gordon Gekko in the film “Wall Street,” whose path to wealth was suspiciously similar to that of Romney—no superficiality there. Nor is it superficial that Romney, David Koch (who Romney practically bear-hugged at the Republican Convention, which CNN cameras conveniently cut away from) and his other millionaire and billionaire friends no doubt laugh among themselves at the plebes, in complete agreement with the sentiment that

The richest one percent of this country owns half our country's wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It's bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you're not naive enough to think we're living in a democracy, are you buddy?

Romney may have the look of a “successful” man who will make you “successful” just like him if people are foolish enough to elect him. However, he essentially expressed much the same opinion as in the quote from the aforementioned film during his “secret” fundraiser. That is not superficial. That is who Romney is.

Barack Obama has a different problem. I voted for Obama because he shares some of my concerns and what should be done about them. I suspect, however, that some voters see “black” and they assume that he is “against” whites, or like Dinesh D’Souza, believes that he wants to bring white America “down.” That is certainly the “message” that Romney and all those people chanting “USA! USA!” as if they were caught in a time warp to Nazi Germany are trying to convey. Superficial and simple-minded. Nothing could be further from the truth, but a recent Associated Press poll shows that negative racial attitudes among whites has increased in the past four years—not surprising given the constant racist drumbeat from Fox News,  right-wing radio and the Tea Party that occurred from the moment that Obama won the 2008 primary. They all want to remind you of Obama’s blackness—which is meant to reach into the dark recesses of human prejudices. 

Of course, superficial judgments do not necessarily require that you actually know what the person looks like. For example, just because someone has a classically Anglo name doesn’t necessarily mean they are not complete a-holes. A campaign ad supporting  Richard Sanders' comeback bid claims that he defends “our” rights, but of course only certain people are allowed to have “rights” according to him, like anti-government types—and not, say, black folks, which is why the Times withdrew its endorsement. His incumbent opponent, however, was a “criminal defense lawyer,” which apparently means that such things as due process for those accused of a crime is not a legitimate right either. That’s why I voted for his opponent with the funny name. I’d rather vote right with facts than wrong with superficial notions.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wilson apologists always forget about the other team on the field

Not unexpectedly, the Seattle Seahawks’ post-game apologists were behaving with wretched abandon babying poor Russell Wilson with reflections of what a “great game” he played and how “terrific” he was, and complaining that his teammates didn’t play up to his “caliber” in a 28-24 loss to a Detroit Lions team that every local sports radio personality wrote off as an easy win for Russell the Great. On the telecast, someone even compared him to Brett Favre!? Lions fans, however, were hardly enthralled by his Greatness. In the first half when as usual the Seahawks more or less executed their scripted plays, on the Lions’ official website they were saying things like:

Pack it in guys...This team is horrible!...Our Defense is now self destructing!...Can't believe the penalties the Lions D is commiting!
Where the hell is our pass rush???
Lions Corners are dumbasses...They never turn around and look for the ball!
This team has no heart!...Simply PATHETIC!
Really dissapointing to watch our D let the Hawks move the ball down field at will. Wow!...FRUSTRATING!
Corners still not looking back for the ball!

One of the laws of nature is that for every action, there is a reaction. In football, if a rookie quarterback looks “terrific,” it is likely because the opposing defense, well, “blows.” Wilson predictably looks “terrific” against suspect defenses, and miserable against competent defenses. You can understand the frustration of Lions fans by a defense that allowed a substandard Seahawk offense score more points than they earned. Lynch’s 77-yard touchdown run, a bizarre special teams penalty that led to a field goal, and on the fourth quarter touchdown drive, blowing coverage on a third-and-long with the Seahawks pinned deep in their own territory and then allowing the Seahawks to convert on fourth down—these are all plays the Lions should just as legitimately prevented as the Seahawks benefited from. The Seahawks offense could have just as easily have been held to 7 points as 24. 

But no. This week the scapegoat is Sidney Rice. On a “dropped” pass, Rice had to contort his body toward a ball that Wilson threw to the wrong shoulder; on the third quarter interception that was blamed on Rice by the post-game “analysts”—because he allegedly didn’t properly “contest” the pass—replays showed that Rice was running wide open waving his arm up. A wide-open Golden Tate is also seen waving his arm. Why do they have to do this, particularly on deep routes? Because they have to help Wilson “see” them? This isn’t the Patriots defenders incomprehensibly allowing Seahawk receivers to get behind them and Wilson throwing the ball so far hoping that a Seahawk receiver will catch-up to it. On this play, Wilson’s delay in throwing to either receiver allowed the defender playing deep to wait on Rice to come to him, and the badly overthrown pass forced Rice to dive forward to try to catch it; but the defender coming up was the only player who actually had a “play” on the ball, and Rice had no chance to “stop” the interception. 

Yet the Seahawks’ post-game analysts and sports radio personalities, all Wilson apologists, need to find scapegoats, and this is Rice’s week. Rice was a Pro Bowl receiver in 2009 with Favre throwing passes to him; this season with Rice healthy, the only thing that has been proved is that Wilson is no Favre. All too often, Seahawk receivers have to make “great plays” on the ball and Wilson receives the credit, but when they fail to do so, they take all the blame. I wonder if in their own minds they are becoming disenchanted with the “blame game” for which Wilson has been largely shielded from. 

Good teams overcome, and so do good players. If they can’t, then no amount of pampering will “help” them. If a player gets it into his head that their failure is not their own but someone else’s, then this is a recipe for a systemic team breakdown. With only a few exceptions, most quarterbacks—even Hall of Famers—have had to endure their share of criticism. One Lions fan said “Sheifler was WIDE OPEN!...Stafford BLOWS!” at one point in the first half of the game, and his best receiver, Calvin Johnson, was also dropping passes; but Mathew Stafford—being your pro-typical quarterback—soldiers on despite the criticism and a drop or two, because feeling sorry for yourself (or being allowed to believe you are not at fault) is not an option if winning is the game.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Seattle Times story about Mexican outsourcing hapless in its bigoted hypocrisy

“Boeing invites suppliers to conference on outsourcing to Mexico” blares the headline in the Seattle Times. If you know the Times like I do, most of its stories that have anything to do with Latinos here or abroad are designed to provoke negative reactions, whether “intended” or not. Illegal immigration, alleged burdening of the social welfare system, drugs, violence and mayhem, and Froma Harrop’s nativist rants constitute about 95 percent of what the Times devotes on the subject of Latinos. The comment sections of the Times’ website accompanying these stories are full of xenophobic rage, which only gets worse when a reader detects anything that can be in the slightest construed “sympathetic.” Of course, just the headline of the aforementioned story brings rage at those “Mexicans” stealing American jobs; you don’t need to read further. 

And, quite frankly, you don’t need to. The first paragraph in Times’ reporter Dominic Gates’ story constitutes one simple declarative statement:

“Boeing is actively encouraging its suppliers to outsource work to Mexico.” 

If Gates was hoping to excite outrage from the natives, he certainly managed that. You would think that with all the complaints of illegal immigrants coming here to look for, people would be “happy” that some effort is being made to keep some of those workers over there, especially since one of the dirty little secrets about NAFTA is that many poor Mexican farmers have been devastated by the agreement’s protection clauses for U.S. produce, and forced to abandon their farms and look for work elsewhere. But the Times and the right-wing readers it has actively tried to court don’t want to know about any of that. The lower cost of doing business in Mexico, is of course, also a “bad” thing, and Gates allows his opinion to permeate the story, which can be further deduced by such statements as 

“(Jim) Mullen (a Boeing supplier) argued, counter-intuitively, that his firm's outsourcing created additional work in Washington state.”

Under the heading “pros and cons,” this is the only thing Gates’ offered as a “con.” This is obviously his personal opinion, because he doesn’t offer anything of substance to refute Mullen’s assertion that giving Mexico the “lower-level” work allows his company to concentrate on the more lucrative aspects of his business. The conceit of American attitudes towards Mexico and Mexicans on the subject of trade is amply demonstrated in the following table of U.S. trade this year through August 2012, with select countries, in millions of dollars:

China:      Exports $69,999.5  Imports $273,121.0
Japan:       Exports $46,508.6 Imports $99,092.6
Germany:  Exports $32,850.5  Imports $70,350.1
Mexico:    Exports $143,193.2  Imports $186,624.5 

Regardless of how one feels about NAFTA, it is clear that complaints about Mexico are at best ignorant, and at worst, racist. The supreme irony is that complaints about outsourcing jobs to Mexico is pathetic when one contemplates the manufacture of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. Here is a list of some of the subcontractors involved, according to Wikipedia:

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Japan: wing manufacture
Alenia Aeronautica, Italy: central wing box
Korea Aerospace Industries, South Korea: horizontal stabilizers
Global Aeronautica, Italy; Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Japan; Korean Air, South Korea: fuselage sections   
Latécoère, France: passenger doors
Saab AB, Sweden: cargo doors, access doors, and crew escape door
HCL Enterprise India: software development
TAL Manufacturing Solutions Limited, India: floor beams
Labinal, France: wiring
Korean Air, South Korea: wing-tips, flap support fairings, wheel well bulkhead, and longerons
Messier-Dowty, UK/France: landing gear

And Gates and the Times are whining about Mexico for what amounts to nuts and bolts? Japan alone constructs 35 percent of the 787. What is the American workforce left to do? “Assembly.” In a story the other day, Boeing boasted of its faster delivery capabilities—but not, of course, of the 787. After claiming that a new plane would take just two days to “assemble,” years of delays and poor quality control finds the 787 continuing to be plagued by delays. Reportedly dozens of these planes are “stacked-up” in Boeing’s Everett facility, in need of various “fixes.” Thus far, this has been a monumental botch-job of outsourcing, yet in a 2005 story, Gates was overwhelmed with wonder over “our global partners” and “spectacular” 747s with “bulbous tops” transporting parts from all over the world, marveling how “they ferry in giant pieces of the 787 for assembly.” Nothing, curiously, about all those lost high-paying jobs for U.S. citizens.

So, as Big Daddy might say, mendacity, mendacity—always mendacity with xenophobes.