Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricanes, Taxes and Elections

Hurricanes don't usually reach up to Canada, but when they do they can be very disruptive.  Tied as we are to the States we are also very conscious of the damage inflicted on Americans, particularly in the south.  As we like to travel to the US, buy American products and enjoy American culture we are concerned.

It is unusual that such damaging weather can impose itself on the electoral process.  Many have already voted and their opinion will be reflected in who attains office.  They are missing the opportunity to see how both the president and the Republican candidate handle the challenge.  It is an opportunity for the President to look "presidential" while Mr.  Romney can look thoughtful and supportive.  At the moment both campaigns have to move away from the east coast, even though it contains a few swing states.

It is also an opportunity for the voters to reflect on the role of government, including how it can work for everybody and how it is paid for.

Working for everybody includes adding a seriousness to being prepared, supporting evacuation efforts of states and municipalities, providing timely financial support and communication when needed and being available.

The destruction of a major weather event affects everybody and we should all help to restore things back to a healthy normal.  When you go back to scratch or nearly scratch, it illustrates who all benefits from infrastructure.  As part of the 99% we need to get back to normal as quickly as possible to amongst other things restore our income and get our living structures viable.  We want to travel around to get to work or school, for medical attention, shop and visit friends.  The 1% wants us to get to work and to shop and of course they want to get around themselves.

A question might be how do we pay for this?  We all benefit from a restoration, but do we benefit the same?  If workers can't get to work, things don't get made or services don't get performed.  If consumers can't get out to shop or delivery trucks can't stick to their schedule some budgeted projections won't be met.  If workers don't get paid for the disrupted time some bills won't get paid.

In some ways a weather disaster just brings us down to the core basics.   Just like the first settlers to North America or becoming an independent country.  Everyone is in it together.  If we use our resources wisely the damage can be managed, but if we fail to be wise everyone will suffer, although not necessarily equally.

All that is to illustrate some of the logic behind a progressive tax system that some people want to flatten.  In aristocracies, those at the top didn't pay any taxes, but society as a whole did not benefit from this arrangement.  When we work together and pool our resources smartly everyone benefits including at both ends of the spectrum.  When those at the very top contribute their fair share they enjoy greater opportunities and security.  Those at the bottom survive and some of them will go on to not only improve their lot in life, but also contribute to the rest of us.

It is human nature to justify whatever you do (of course you wouldn't do anything immoral) and many of us assume those at the top earned it and those at the bottom deserve their lot in life.  Probably there is some truth to those assumptions, but not everyone got the same opportunity or has the same talent.  Many of us abuse others to either maintain our position or to improve it.  None of us has much control over such things as the weather, the stock market, traffic, disease and many other factors that impact our lives.

A weather disaster is of course unique both in consequences and in causes.  Emergency measures will be taken to mitigate the effects.  The weather is natural and for most of history not always predictable.  A common notion is we all need a "rainy day fund" to help us deal with any emergency.

Weather is still unpredictable, although we have gotten much more sophisticated it still seems a long term forecast has to be changed occasionally.  Scientists  have gradually understood how weather works and are able to measure changes to affect its predictability.  Some developments include the effects of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases on our atmosphere.  Increasing heat affects ice at the poles and water temperatures in hurricane forming waters like the Caribbean.  Some types of pollution actually counter the heat retaining gases while at the same time causing their own problems.  Is any specific weather event proof of climate change--not necessarily, but more likely a factor.

All of us (100%) are part of the problem.  Everyone affects the atmosphere mostly in ways that are relatively insignificant.  Using energy derived from fossil fuels or buying products that are processed through fossil fuel energy is obvious.  Eating meat also adds to the problem.  With an increasing population there is even more pressure.  Thousands of years to reach where we are today, but most scientists who have studied the matter have concluded that we are finally getting close to a tipping point.

The average person is at the mercy of those in power.  We also to some extent are at the mercy of those who claim to be experts on climate change that include those who vote on legislation, corporate powers, scientists, and our friends, neighbours and relatives.  Who do you trust?  How much can you ignore or belittle so you can go about your life the way you have gotten used to?

The good thing is that we have developed better expertise to understand how our planet operates.  The bad news is that some people have entrenched interests that flow against what needs to be done.  I should be honest and recognize that all of us have entrenched interests.  I don't want to change my mode of transport, especially if it will cost more and cut into my standard of living--how about you?  I also realize that most of us with some sort of pension investment are tied into fossil fuels one way or another.  Imagine how someone who has made literally billions from fossil fuel feels about the issues.  Then there are those in the corporate structure who depend on avoiding disruption.

Elections are very much affected by money.  The average voter (really all of us) has limited knowledge of all the factors involved and frankly we would rather spend our time doing what we like doing and what we feel we have to do.  In the meantime those with large piles of money do recognize a threat to their power and will fight back.  From Watergate a popular saying was "follow the money."  It is true that some people do recognize a problem as an opportunity by adopting green energy and a more sustainable life style and can even make a lot of money by these efforts.  Some fossil fuel brokers see an opportunity to join this bandwagon.  However many of those tied up in fossil fuels clearly feel they need to fight back anyway they can.  You can be sure that a good hunk of the $2 billion raised for the two major campaigns is to help maintain the role of fossil fuels.  Canadians and Mexicans also have vested interests in fossil fuels.

The result is a lot of hypocrisy and exploiting other people's ignorance (again that is most of us).  The only defense is to become as knowledgeable as practical and identify core problems and discard prejudices and biases as much as feasible.  You make decisions on an hourly basis that have tiny effects, but that accumulate with other people's decisions and perhaps more importantly set an example.  In the free world, adults have a vote and certainly there are many factors involved to determine the wisest vote, but we need to prioritize what is most crucial.  It is easy to vote for those things that have a perceived positive benefit to us, but more difficult to think long term not only for ourselves, but for future generations.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My three Persian experiences

One of the wonders of the modern world is you have access to the rest of the world that even the richest people did not have a few decades ago.  Often we either fear or look down upon those from other parts of the world.  I like to think I am above all that, but really nobody is.  My recent experiences are only a glimpse.

Iran is in the news and generally not viewed positively.  Iran is not just a government, but also people and a culture.

"A Separation" won the Academy Award for best Foreign Film and was declared by Roger Ebert as best film of 2011.  A North American can read a lot into the movie finding political meaning, but what I got was that the Iranians are not that much different, while they do have some unique qualities.   The focus is ultimately on a couple that have separated over the issue of leaving their country to give their daughter a better future against the husband's need to care for his father who has Alzheimer's.  It gets complicated with a miscarriage to a caretaker and the accusation that the husband caused it.  There is a bit of a mystery, but more importantly there is a clash between classes and tension within two marriages involving children.  And the real mystery at the very end.

Most of the film takes place indoors with settings not all that strange to our North American sensibilities.  Traffic looks familiar.  Well worth watching.

"Persian Fire" by Tom Holland was recommended by David Frum.  Basically it gets down to East vs West at a critical time when the world could have developed in a much different way than it did.  The focus is on the Greeks, but the author does explain a lot of Persian history and culture.  I found myself checking Wikipedia to further my understanding.

Some of the things I learned included trousers coming from Persian horsemen, a concept of good and evil, the Magi of the New Testament were Persian, the word Paradise is derived from Persia.  They were very fond of gardens.  We read about the Roman Empire, the British Empire, but are unaware of the Persian Empire.

Rayhoon Persian Eatery was brought to my attention through work.  I am familiar and attracted to a variety of "ethnic foods" including Italian and Ukrainian through my marriage, Moroccan through my sister, Asian  (Indian, Chinese and Thai) through good fortune.  I decided it is not fair to sell something I wouldn't buy, so I bought myself a visit to Rayhoon's with my wife.  We loved it.  Great service, great food.  Fortunately we had very helpful advice from a waitress that gave us good choices.  She was right, their ice cream is different and I am glad I tried it.


If you live anywhere near Burlington Ontario you should check out their website www.rayhooneatery.com/  Make sure you check the reviews as they will help you order.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

HOW I SEE THE AMERICAN ELECTION

It is always risky to stick your head out in political matters and I do not even have a vote in the American election.  Americans frequently express a disdain for what foreigners think.  The outcome (not just for president, but Congress) will have an impact for the whole world.  The best way to start might be to explain my ideals.  Simply I think there does need to be a balance between individual and collective rights.  It is my opinion that things are headed to being unbalanced.

I am a small l liberal, with a lot of respect for some conservative thinking.  You should not spend more than you take in, although it is critical to invest for the future.  Individuals need to be rewarded for taking risks, but we need to balance that by cushioning the fall of those who do not succeed which ironically encourages more people to take a risk, a good example being Germany.  Furthermore the masses of people need protection from those with power to harm them.  Capital is said to be the base of growth, but actually labour is equally important.  Many people risk their money (for some it is a form of gambling for excitement), but somewhere someone has to do something.

Big money has too much power (including the military industrial complex, oil, pharmacy, financial, insurance, gambling, etc.).  Republicans should be most noted for chutzpah.  They blame Barrack Obama for a poor recovery, overlooking that they were instrumental in triggering the colossal mess, they obstructed reasonable solutions (even to the point of voting against their own ideas), and they are proposing the same policies that caused the mess--namely tax cuts, de-regulation and an aggressive military stance.  Some people would consider their behaviour treason as they obviously put their party above the country.  Many others don't see the full picture.  When they jumped on "he didn't build that" they gave a disgusting distortion of an idea that is not only very basic, but needs to be appreciated if we are to survive.

Sticking with money, I have to say it affects both parties.  The Democrats used to be beaten up pretty badly when it came to fund raising, but a few decades back started to fight back.  There are a lot of strategies to raising money, but to be effective you have to go after big money and ultimately that means favours.  One of the greatest problems is money and before Americans can have true democracy they have to find a way to cut the power of money.

Many conservatives indignantly exclaim that Obama has performed very poorly.  Extremely unfair and hypocritical.  His predecessor in 8 years did some very significant things that caused the sort of crisis that only happens every few decades.  Taking a budget surplus the Republicans gave out huge tax cuts that favoured mainly the wealthy.  He initiated two wars, one approved by Americans, but the other was foolishly leveraged on ignorance.  Although there was lots of proof that Saddam Hussein was an evil man there were really no indications he had anything to do with 9/11 and much evidence was criminally distorted to create a different impression.  For the first time in history tax cuts were portrayed as patriotic during a war.  These two factors plus a poorly thought out Medicaid (that leaned towards Big Drugs) are the real reason for the deficit and unfortunately Obama has to deal with the consequences.

The job crisis (which exasperated the deficit) was brought on by de-regulation.  It is true that too much regulation does stifle business, but if  fair regulations are enforced they help ensure not only consumer protection, but also keep a level playing field for honest entrepreneurs.   In order to maximize profits it seems nothing should interfere whether it is concerns for pollution, climate change, wildlife preservation, safety, fair understandable contracts, etc.  Republicans are very lax when it comes to consumer protection.  There does need to be a balance.

Most Americans seem unconscious that the Mid East is not all uncivilized, nor uniform in culture.  One of the biggest beefs is that the Middle-East has with Americans is their treatment of the Palestinians who in fact have been very unfairly treated.  But the Muslims in the Mid East also bitterly resent American support for dictators.  While Americans look at Iranians as fanatics they do not remember that Americans engineered a coup that displaced a legally elected popular politician.  Tough talk and premature action has made the situation more dangerous.  We are now in a transition that could go in different directions.  Deeper understanding and patience are required.   Those foolish enough to criticize any part of the war on terror during the Bush years were branded unpatriotic.

Social issues.  The Republicans realize that normally voters would recognize their economic self interest is not served by conservative policies.  But they cleverly tied some social issues that are so strong some voters will side with them anyway.  This leads to a lot of hypocrisy.  Those who get short changed by some of these emotional social issues include women, many ethnic and racial minorities, homosexuals.  The meaning of conservative means to me resistence to change and the status quo.  Americans need to change and realize they cannot dictate to everyone (at home or abroad)--we need to look for solutions as the real problems affect us all.  There is a segment of Americans that resent a black man in the White House and that seems to cloud a lot of Obama's policies and approaches.

What I see as the most basic problems facing the future are climate change, global joblessness, over-population, democracy.  None of these problems are seriously discussed.

Climate change is dismissed by far too many and is so touchy few are willing to bring it up as the serious issue it should be.  Few can remember when big tobacco spent millions to deny any connection between smoking and cancer and still lobby to maintain their right to lure gullible youngsters into an unhealthy addiction.  Climate change is real and apparently becoming closer to a dangerous tipping point--why Americans believe Big Oil interests rather than real scientists is baffling.

Joblessness is under assault not just by outsourcing, but also by technology--can be a very good thing if it is done with everybody in mind.  Unfortunately those in charge see the need to reduce labour costs as more critical than social harmony.   This leads to inequality.  Inequality is wasteful, dangerous and unfair.

Over population leads to all sorts of stresses such as pollution, food shortages, diseases.

Democracy is threatened by big money interests that distort reality to boost their profits.  Without a truly democratic government plutocracy is inevitable.  Probably getting everything in the right balance will be a continuous battle.

Who should pay for civilization?  In other words who should pay the taxes for America?  Those who benefit.  Those who want a big military to protect "our interests", those who want easy communication and transportation for their goods, those who want a legal system that ensures fairness,.  We all should pay, but be honest we don't all benefit equally nor do we all have the same capacity.

In fairness to Mitt Romney he had to cater to two types of voters.  Those who decided on his nomination were more socially (and fiscally) conservative than the voters that could elect him to be president.  The etch a sketch is pretty much what any Republican would have to go through.  I am sure he thinks he has a better economic model to strive for than is in place right now and realizes he won't get a chance to impose it without going through a lot of hoops.  I think his vision and that of his heavy financial backers is that Americans needs to let rich people loose.

An even broader perspective is needed.  Consumers are critical to making anyone rich, but they need a source of income and they also need to be protected from fraud, and shoddy products.  At some point somebody has to do the dirty work and they also need protection and incentive.  We all benefit when there is a level playing field which is unattainable in perfect terms. Inequality hurts everyone--we need the best medicine, the best science, the best technology, smart consumers, enthusiastic workers.   We all benefit when we all have access to information to make decisions, but most of us are squeezed with other demands and distractions on our time

Mitt Romney is undoubtedly a more practical man than he is portraying himself, but his supporting advisors are scary and his voting base even scarier.  Perhaps the greatest concern is he cannot keep his policies straight, a sign that he is not his own man and/or will say any thing to win

I would also like to point out to conservatives that since Dwight Eisenhower (who warned about the military industrial complex) Republicans have increased the deficit while Democrats have lowered it.  Despite many claims to the contrary even Obama has paid more attention to the deficit than Bush.

Obama also has to cater to a variety of interests and required a lot of financial backing to get his platform, so he cannot do everything he thinks is best and like everyone he is imperfect.  But he is the better choice.  Don't forget he needs a strong supporting team.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Smart Trust

Earlier I had read a book by Stephen R M Covey, "The Speed of Trust".  I have read a lot of books on selling and many of them talk about developing rapport.  What they really mean is trust.  People trust you for a variety of reasons, but before you even get to demonstrate that you do what you say, the better people feel they know you the more they will trust you.  Milton Friedman who I always thought of as a tough minded conservative identified trust as the key ingredient for business growth.

Stephen R M Covey and co-author Greg Link agree that trust can come in a wide range and some of it is not so smart.  You can be blindly trusting or continually suspicious with both extremes doing harm.  They have developed a grid to illustrate four general categories.

We all fear misplacing our trust, but too often we do not think of the consequences of not trusting.  Or the benefits of extending trust.  The bottom line is there is risk in trusting or not trusting.

Not trusting employees cuts off engagement.  Not trusting friends or relatives builds resentment.  Does everyone deserve full  trust--of course not.  One illustration can be found in the supermarket category where in the United States there is a 47% staff turnover, but in one very trusting company, Wegman's, (a company mentioned in my Demand blog post) turnover is only 3%.  They trust their employees to make a lot of critical decisions with their customers and it pays off in customer satisfaction as well.

Some fortunes have been made by realizing that most people will not abuse trust, although a certain percentage will.  Self serve is an example saving money, but it wouldn't be offered if fear of abuse was too great.  Many momentous deals have been sealed with a handshake.

First you have to believe in trust.  That is frightening to some of us who can recall instances of trust being violated.  But believing is essential.  Trust yourself.  Most people are good.

It is good for employers to extend trust. If it is abused it can be cut off, but if not abused it can be built upon.  Give people a chance to earn your trust.  Innovation flourishes in high trust environments.  True smart trust means giving responsibility and authority.

One long quote struck me and here it is.  "A company is granted a licence to operate from society and therefore owes society a duty of care.  Pursuit of short term performance is not enough.  That performance needs to be allied to a purpose; otherwise, the performance disappears too...companies can do well, long term, only if the societies in which they operate also do well."  Comes from Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Company and writer of the introduction for this book.

I remember when my son Michael was about ten and often on family trips he would be the last one out of the house.  I used to go back to check to see if the door was locked.  One time he blasted me for not trusting him and I stopped checking to see if he had locked the door.  He has proved to be trustworthy.

It might seem like a simple concept, trust, but the two authors will help you understand it better and give a lot of practical advice.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

CARL SAGAN AND OUR FUTURE

Just finished reading a biography of Carl Sagan by Keay Davidson.  In the early part of his life he was very egotistical and in many ways not a nice person, although recognized as very bright.  He had fantasies shared by many youngsters.  I enjoyed the book and the tv series, "Cosmos" as well as a few other books.  Following Carl's thoughts made one feel sophisticated.

One of Carl's obsessions was to find life outside earth.  Eventually his reasoning combined with new results doomed his early hopes.  Venus was considered a candidate for life, but as it was examined more closely it was determined that it was far too hot to sustain any life.  At first its closeness to the sun was thought to be the critical factor and then different aspects of the atmosphere were examined.  Carl was one of the first to realize that Venus was enveloped with heat retaining substances, one of which was carbon.  This led other scientists to study the matter more closely for our home planet.

Carl had been involved in a project to listen to radio signals from outer space, called SETI.  The reasoning was that with so many stars in the universe there has to be some with conditions similar to earth, some of those with life and some of those with advanced civilizations.  There has been a great deal of argument against wasting the money for a project and the disappointing results seem to reinforce the argument.  In a formula that captures the idea one key factor is the life of civilizations.  How many survive long enough to be technologically advanced enough to communicate across the galaxy.  Sagan was concerned that perhaps intelligence can lead to self-destruction.

He had a long history of taking activist causes.  He participated in civil rights marches and gave lectures at black southern universities.  He also became concerned with feminist causes.

Although as a scientist he had been funded by the military and worked on their projects he became anti-nuclear.  He dared to criticize Ron Reagan's pet Star Wars project.  He felt that any anti missile system that could not totally prevent nuclear missiles gave false security.  Right wing politicians would argue that a nuclear war was survivable, but Sagan helped organize scientist education against that notion.

One of the criticism of Sagan was that he was a popularizer of science and to some people he seemed to give it elements of a religion in competition with other religions.  As we see today some fundamentalist religions ridicule some science issues such as evolution and climate change.  In the long run it is critical that voters consider scientific opinion and priorities when they mark their decision.  Too many (encouraged by vested interests) pooh pooh climate change and most of us are unconscious of nuclear risks.

His second last book, "The Demon-Haunted World"  proved to be a good conversation piece with a friend, Gary Lohman.  Sagan was concerned that the masses of the people were more aware of gossip than they were of many more significant facts of the news.  Too many people seemed more willing to believe that Elvis Presley was still alive than would accept that science had proved smoking causes cancer.  He referred to Thomas Jefferson who pointed out that the cost of education is trivial compared to the cost of ignorance or of leaving the government to the wolves.  Judging by the American electorate, science does not often enough over-ride some religious belief or self serving pronouncements of big money.

After his death, a movie of his book "Contact" was released.  He and wife Ann Druyan worked on both the book and the movie.  They became friends with producer Linda Olbst.  An observation made was that two movies dealing with aliens, "Men in Black" and "Independence Day" depicted aliens as the enemy.  Both movies were more popular than "Contact" which sought aliens as friends.

What motivates people to pursue a particular path is often a model or a shining light.  Carl Sagan was a candle in the dark.  We need more scientists and they deserve more respect.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

MY PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT

Life has been good to me in many ways and I feel proud of accomplishments along the way--school, sports, work.  My proudest achievement wasn't from any of these fields or learning anything. Teaching provided my greatest satisfaction.

A critical step in my development was my mother reading bedtime stories to me which was just taken for granted.  At about age 8, I was hospitalized for a week and blindfolded after eye surgery.  My mother visited every day and read stories to me.  Thornton W Burgess with his Bedtime stories became an obsession. Reading opened up the world for me.

I wasn't a particularly good father--my impatience and self interest kept getting in the way.    When my first child came I wasn't mentally prepared although my intentions were honorable.  Too often avoided doing my share of what needed to be done.

At the library one day I stumbled on a book (meaning I wasn't looking for it), "Teach your Child to Read in 60 Days" by Sidney Ledson.  It was about how one father had taught his young children to read in 60 days.  Through divorce he had become a single parent and was frustrated trying to do his job and raise two young children.  He thought about the problem a lot and realized that if his children could occupy themselves he would have more time to himself and maybe even relax a little.

He already read to his children and found it demanding although somewhat enjoyable.  He hit upon the idea of teaching his children to read so they would want to read on their own and not require so much of his time and energy.  I could identify with this.  Copying my mother I had already decided that reading to my daughter would be a part of fatherhood I could feel comfortable with.  I also could identify with the craving for more time as I worked long hours and felt deprived of adult conversation, and all the tempting things on tv and bookshelves.

The author realized it had to be fun or the effort would just be a form of torture for all parties. English is a troublesome language to read, but he figured out a lot of common words do have some phonetic consistency.

Heather was either in kindergarten or grade 1 at this time.  At first I followed the book model and cut out letters and got my daughter to make a "C" sound which really was more like Q or K and then moved on to the "A" sounding more like ah and then "T" sounding something like "tuh".  Then slur them together to arrive at "cat".  When she was able to produce that, followed by laughing it actually made me feel I had accomplished something.

Now that it was established as sort of a fun ritual we went through the alphabet learning new sounds and slurring them with already established words.  The next sequence included bat, fat, mat and by this time my daughter Heather was suggesting other rhyming words.

At some stage we diverted from the book and started making up words using strange but common English combinations that don't work so good like "ight" and putting them with already learned sounds and coming up with night, light, right, fright, fight, etc.

All this time I was still reading stories as part of the reward system, but occasionally spotting a word that Heather could sound out.  At first she was annoyed as that slowed down the story telling however she also developed some satisfaction when she could pick out more difficult words.  I looked for very simple books (spending more time in the children's section than the adult) and encouraged her to read to me.  At some point there seemed to be a big breakthrough and I could tell that she was figuring things out on her own and laughing at me for falling behind.  That was the most satisfying of all and before too long she was picking out books and I was reading to her less.

My son Michael was four years behind in years, but I had had more practice.  It was only two or three years before his reading lessons began.  By this time I was aware that some teachers felt phonetic reading was a bad start for kids learning to read English, but I was pretty confident it worked.  Of course there are many words that don't sound out logically, but through life we are always learning rules and exceptions.  The pace was very similar in his progress.

Children's books are often not  "childish." There is adult wisdom and certainly many are entertaining.  One I remember was "The King's Stilts" that hit me hard.  I worked for a newspaper circulation department at the time and all too often I would start early (part of career was with morning newspapers) and often work late to either canvass or to talk with carriers who had been at school most of the day.  It seemed normal to me as my father had been a truck driver who very often worked 14 hour days.  In the Dr Seuss book the king spends the morning doing his kingly duties very conscientiously, but in the afternoon he would get on his stilts and really enjoy himself.  When the stilts were stolen he lost his joy of life and his kingly duties suffered dangerously.  A good lesson for all and in the story his interest and energy were restored when his stilts were recovered.

When I visited Michael while he was at the University of Victoria I walked through an art event and realized I recognized one of the artists participating.  It was Ted Harrison who wrote and illustrated a children's book on the Yukon.

With both Heather and Michael there was a boost of interest in books.  They were always looking for more interesting stuff.  They are both above average in intelligence so maybe all that would have happened anyway.  I like to think I am very intelligent (not everyone notices), but when I think back I am grateful for my mother's efforts in reading to me.

Both my children, now adults  are working with youngsters and opening up minds.  Heather works at a community centre and deals with youngsters outside school hours.  My son Michael not able to get a teaching job in Canada has been in Korea, Tanzania, England and now New Zealand teaching.  I am proud of them both and like to think I helped get them started.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Debate

Like many Canadians I have been following the American election.  Like many liberals I was very disappointed at the failure of Obama to fight back at a recent debate.  It is a bit of a mystery to me.  My hope is that voters will realize there is more to an election decision than the dynamics of a debate.

The purpose of a debate is to use logic to persuade people to your way of thinking.  In reality, emotions and perceptions play a critical role.

Excuses.  One I have heard of is the altitude of Denver which possibly is a secondary factor.  It might be more realistic to say Obama was fatigued, after all he has a full time job.  We will never know all the details of that job, but it is public knowledge that Turkey and Syria were shooting at each other and who knows what other problems the president may have to contend with.  Mitt Romney's job is running for president and he can afford to take time out to prepare and be rested.

I had also heard that Obama personally dislikes Romney and was advised to be cool so as not to display his anger.

Some people have been arguing that Obama was giving Romney rope.  That can be dangerous as some people will inevitably believe the lies and others won't care because they have locked themselves in.  

I think Obama was stunned by Romney's blatant claims.  Things Mitt had boasted about were now denied.  Mitt did it in such a confident manner that likely many people were falsely reassured by these new statements.  The next day Obama commented on the spirited man who called himself Mitt Romney but couldn't have been because the real Mitt had been making claims to the contrary.

One report I read suggested that Obama is not confrontational.  He would rather conciliate.  At the moment the other party seems steadfast and resistant to logic.  Definitely Barack has not made as much progress as voters would like, but can they overlook what obstacles have been placed in his way by many of the most vociferous critics.  A portion of the public seems upset that a black man with a Muslim father is running the show.  Big money resents restrictions that are intended to protect the public interest. The Republicans have decided the best strategy is not to co-operate any more than necessary and more than anything that is the cause of slow progress.

I accept that Romney is an intelligent man and also practical.  Like most politicians he realizes he had to jump through a lot of hoops to get to this platform.  Pleasing some people inevitably displeases others.  Barack has a similar problem, but seems to be more thoughtful and careful.  People are always saying politicians lie to get elected and there is a lot of truth to that, although I do not feel politicians really want to do it that way.  Nobody wants their taxes to be raised or their services to be cut or their rights to be limited.  And there are an awful lot of people that are essentially one issue voters that will ignore their own self interest.

If you actually look at what was said, Romney left himself exposed.  He made very bold statements, but avoided critical details.  He belittled green energy inaccurately and boasted of his interest in education.  Letting Big Bird symbolize PBS may prove to the biggest mistake of all.

Politics is a dirty business.  There is a lot of exaggeration, distortion and taking things out of context.  As someone said the best disinfectant is sunlight.  The world is a dangerous, complicated place and difficult choices will have to be made.  The debate was actually very revealing.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

JIMMY CARTER, A MUCH MALIGNED HERO

When Jimmy Carter's name appears, too often it is derisively.  He is most remembered by some as a one term president who Ronald Reagan managed to belittle on his way to the White House.  Current commentators denigrate in passing.

I look at him differently.  He was a man of principle and of vision and not one who rested on his laurels.  He made his share of mistakes, but people too often overlook the good things he accomplished and the obstacles that were not his fault.  This past September 7th marked the point where Jimmy had the longest post White House career of any president--31 years.

Jimmy Carter trained as an engineer in the navy and later studied nuclear physics.  He is no dummy and has a closer view than most of one of the most powerful forces in the world today.

His first effort to run as a state senator in Georgia ran into some ballot box manipulation which with a lot of effort he was able to overcome.  He became conscious of ballot box abuses and later became involved with election monitoring.

When he decided to run for president his timing was good in that voters were sick of the corruption that Watergate symbolized and leading Democrats were sidelined.  He ran as an outsider and made some very good campaign moves.  For instance he took the traditionally early Iowa primary much more seriously than his rivals did and was able to build some momentum from there.  He used zero based budgeting as governor and as a campaigner.

For his inauguration he and Rosalynn stepped out of the official vehicle and walked.

Gerald Ford stirred up some resentment by pardoning Richard Nixon, but perhaps that was part of a necessary healing process.  Jimmy Carter's first act was to pardon Vietnam War draft dodgers.  A lot of hard feelings, but also helped to soften many wounds.

As an outsider he did not have any natural constituencies.  While trying to maintain his independence he offended many insiders.  As president you could say his honeymoon lasted about one year and things went downhill from there.

In a famous Playboy interview he was criticized for admitting that he had "lusted in his heart," but he was faithful to his wife.  Honesty is not always rewarded in politics.

First Ladies like to get involved in new non partisan initiatives.  Rosalynn chose mental health, a concern too many are reluctant to deal with.  She carried on this interest with the Carter Center by amongst other things encouraging journalism to cover some of the issues.  She was concerned to alleviate the stigma that complicated identifying and treating mental illnesses as well insurance concerns that also made it more difficult.

During his presidency the Arab oil cartel  decided to use an embargo to express their frustration. Jimmy Carter realized that America had to reduce their dependency on oil.  He encouraged alternative energy sources, but was also keen on conservation.  Famously he put solar panels on the White House which were dismantled by his successor Ronald Reagan who wanted to make a point. Although Reagan left a bigger imprint on America at the time, I feel Jimmy was the better man with the better message.

When the Russians invaded Afghanistan Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the Moscow Olympics. This was greeted favorably at first, but later there was some resentment and of course the Russians reciprocated by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics a few years later.  I have very mixed feelings as I have always thought of the Olympics as non political-- a chance to put differences aside.  At the same time there are few options available outside of war that would have as strong an impact.

His mother Lillian proved to be an asset to Jimmy, but his brother Billy an embarrassment.  Billy was alcoholic and non political.  He was used by other people and at one time became a lobbyist for Libya.

Carter was able to take advantage of Anwar Sadat's willingness to take a chance.  He invited Menachem Begin and Sadat  to Camp David.  The Israeli was very suspicious and fearful of any deal.  Egypt was the only Arab country that had any military strength to remotely rival Israel who had almost unlimited access to American resources.  There was a lot of going back and forth before a deal could be made.  

I had read that on a world tour, Jimmy asked Rosalynn where she would prefer to spend New Years Eve and she chose Teheran.  Although Americans dealt with all sorts of dictators around the world, Jimmy had a reputation of high moral standards.  Unfortunately his admiration for the Shah was about to blow up in his face.  Americans forget that under President Eisenhower, the Iranians staged a coup d'etat against an elected president and replaced him with the Shah.  The Shah organized secret police  (with help from the CIA) and exiled Muslim leaders and used oil revenues for his own benefit.

During Jimmy's tenure the Iranian people rose up and caused the Shah to flee.  It soon developed that he required sophisticated medical treatment.  Carter consented to let the Shah seek it in America. This was a factor in Iranian students deciding to attack the American Embassy and take the staff hostage. For awhile there was some hope it might end soon, but it dragged on.  Carter seemed helpless and a failed rescue attempt made him seem more so.  In September Saddam Husein thought it an opportune time to attack Iran which further disrupted any progress Carter was having for the hostages.

Some of the circumstances around his 2nd presidential election are suspicious.  Most everyone cites the Iran hostage crisis as perhaps the most critical factor as it dragged on for 444 days.  Although you would think Ronald Reagan's tough words would encourage the Iranians to compromise with Jimmy, they in fact held off until Reagan's inauguration day.  I had read reports that the Republicans had arranged this behind the scenes and it is known that deals were done involving Iran and Nicaragua.

Could he have brought stagflations under control?  Perhaps some leaders with intelligent support from Congress, but realistically not very likely. He did a lot of things to reduce a deficit that aggravated employment.

The Democrats did not unify under Jimmy Carter and he had to deal with a serious campaign from Ted Kennedy.  That obviously cut into his support and distracted his administration.  John Anderson ran a third party candidacy which also hurt.  For one of the debates his preparation notebook had been stolen and later given to the Reagan team.  In the end he got about 41% of the popular vote and Reagan got 51% and the essential electoral college votes.

Jimmy and his wife had been humiliated and went back home to Plains.  Before too long people asked for his help and advice.  Eventually he looked around and saw all sorts of problems that became challenges.

It is difficult to sort the variety of tasks he and Rosalynn tackled.  They formed the Carter Center to give some focus to all their efforts.

One interesting task was to supervise elections in Nicaragua.  He felt the Sandinistas were too confident and when they were rejected at the ballot box there was fear they would not accept the results.  Carter pointed out that losing an election was not the end of the world.  He became involved in numerous elections, not all of them going smoothly.  He had to leave places where he refused to compromise.  He pushed for fair elections.  It was not uncommon for violence to surround many of the elections he was involved in.  Many politicians recognized Jimmy gave credibility to the election results.   Other elections monitored included Haiti, Sudan, Ghana, Guyana and rural China.  Not everyone co-operated, but generally Carter played a positive role.

An issue that he pushed against as president was Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.  He kept pressing the issue and at one point wrote a book, "Palestine, Peace not Apartheid" which was condemned by many politicians.  I believe he identified the key obstacle to peace in the Middle East. It is unfair to say that he was trying to harm the Israeli cause as he seemed to feel a resolution to this issue would better insure their long term security.

He has been involved in mediating some tough foreign situations including Korea and Haiti.  In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Although Americans manage to deal with China, Vietnam, and Venezuela, a solid core of anti Castro people in Florida have made it very difficult to have bi-lateral relations with Cuba that would benefit everyone.  In office Carter had lifted some restrictions with Cuba.  Jimmy didn't always see eye to eye with Fidel Castro, but he was able to push him to loosen up things a bit.  He also worked with Cuban medical resources in many of his disease campaigns..

Jimmy identified many diseases that were being neglected.  One they helped wrestle to almost distinction was guinea worm disease.  It is not fatal, but causes pain and debilitation.  One tool that combats the disease is netting that serves as a filter.  A deeper problem was that in some areas the water was considered sacred and he had to persuade many villagers that they had deal with the water in a practical manner.  In treating river blindness (onchocerciasis) they learned that a patented medicine for heartworm was effective and took steps to incorporate its use to alleviate a lot of suffering.

Another project Jimmy is associated with is Habitat for Humanity where he did manual work and helped organize the building of many houses all around the globe.  The idea wasn't just to hand over a house to some lucky people, but to teach responsibility.

The Carter Center will continue past him as he has been careful to involve and train staff to take overall his functions.  His celebrity and his talents helped get it started, but Jimmy sees the real value as ongoing.

I was pleased to learn that Jimmy Carter's grandson helped reveal a secret video of Mitt Romney that was very revealing and apparently critical for the 2012 election.