Presidential Elections Are A Choice, Not A Referendum

UJ’s post about what might have happened if John McCain were elected makes a good point.  Although I don’t agree with all of UJ’s conclusions, his comparison is the kind of analysis that voters engage in when they decide how to vote for President.  I think many voters decided McCain wasn’t up to the job when he was knocked off kilter by the economic shock during the 2008 campaign.  He seemed to panic, with his talk about suspending the campaign to go back to Washington, whereas Obama displayed the poise that Americans like to see in their leaders during times of crisis.

Presidential elections are a choice between competing human beings, not an abstract referendum on whether the existing President should be retained.  That is why, in my view, presidential approval polls really don’t mean much.  The fact that President Obama’s poll numbers are low is irrelevant if his 2012 opponent’s poll numbers are lower still, or if that opponent makes a significant misstep during the arduous months of campaigning.

We’re now at the point in our years-long campaign cycle where Republican candidates (and perhaps some fringe Democrats) will finally decide whether they are running for President and then begin raising huge sums of money, visiting Iowa kitchens and New Hampshire political luncheons, and so forth.  The potential Republican candidates — be they likely contestants such as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin, or dark horses like Chris Christie — and their staffs should already have done the same kind of point-by-point analysis that UJ has undertaken.

In that regard, UJ’s list of President Obama’s “accomplishments” is a good place to start.  If you are going to be compared to the President you are trying to unseat, why not begin by distinguishing your position on specific issues that are viewed, by some at least, as that President’s most significant accomplishments?

What a Difference a Few Years Makes

While in Chicago last weekend I spent some time reading an interesting article in Vanity Fair on John McCain and how he and his views have changed over the past two years from the man who almost became president.

The article mentioned a long list of issues and what might have been done if anything under a McCain administration. Here’s the list below with a couple that I researched and added myself :

Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – video shown above was the first piece of reform President Obama signed into law which offers fair pay to women – the reform was twice vetoed by President Bush and McCain was also opposed to the legislation.

Iraq – probably no troop draw down under McCain.

Iran – under McCain the United States would have maybe blockaded or possibly bombed Iran due to their nuclear ambitions and their flawed election last year.

Student Loan Reform – John McCain was not in favor of the government takeover eliminating private banks as the middlemen in the loan process.

Auto Bailout – General Motors and Chrysler would have most likely been allowed to go bankrupt causing thousands more to lose their jobs.

Wallstreet Financial Industry Reform Act – probably no significant regulation of the financial industry allowing them to continue to police themselves.  

Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – McCain’s comments on the Senate floor railing against DADT in recent days make it clear that he did not want DADT repealed.

Stimulus Bill – McCain was against the Stimulus bill and wanted a bill with more tax cuts – its hard to tell what condition the economy would be in at this point in time under his admistration.

Healthcare Reform – perhaps some modest reforms under McCain, but nothing even close to what has been passed under Obama.

Supreme Court Justices – McCain would have almost certainly nominated two conservative judges to the court. White males ?

Hate Crime Prevention – McCain like most Republicans is against hate crimes legislation saying state laws already cover hate crimes and passing the Hate Crime Prevention Act could criminalize religious opposition to homosexuality.

Credit Card Reform – perhaps modest reform under a McCain administration, but McCain has typically voted against additional regulation of banks and their credit card practices.

While it is impossible to know for sure what might have happened had McCain taken office I think this list speaks for itself and that the President deserves some credit for his persistency to get his agenda enacted.

Chance of a Lifetime

Ah, to be young again. Last Saturday and Sunday my niece Brittany and more than 2,000 other young people descended on the city of Chicago to stand in line for hours in temperatures barely above zero for the opportunity to sing their hearts out.

How cool – Glee is a having a reality television show where the American public votes to determine the next member of the Glee Cast. Producer Robert Ulrich is in the process of picking individuals to fill only a dozen spots for the cast of the Oxygen Network reality series, The Glee Project from participants trying out in Chicago and Dallas.

You couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of the youngsters waiting in line, but man was it cold. We got in line about 7:45 and Brittany was number 344. I was told that the people at the front of the line got there as early as 5:30 to wait five hours in bitter cold, boy that’s dedication. 

Five hours in bitter cold to sing for twenty seconds and hanging in the balance the possibility of a life changing event. Brit was confident and sang, Don’t Rain on my Parade, but Mr Ulrich said that singing alone was not the only criteria and that those who received a yellow bracelet making it past the first round had to have that certain something that audiences will fall in love with.

Unfortunately Brit didn’t receive a bracelet, but that’s okay she gave it her best shot and that’s all that matters. Good job Brit, keep chasing those dreams !

Secret Family Recipe

Alright, I’m sure there are alot of families out there that have secret recipes for this or for that, but not the Webner family. None of us are really big on cooking and being single I rarely make a meal at home cause I am almost always getting carryout or eating out

With one exception, during the holiday’s and special occasions, I have taken mom’s cheesy potato recipe and kicked it up a notch. I mean don’t get me wrong, mom’s recipe was good, but I have taken it to another level where I have seen people scrapping the bottom of the pan to get every last bit.

The recipe is a simple one and is best if made one day ahead of the day to be served and placed in the refrigerator to allow the ingredients to soak into the potatoes. Before you start place a two pound bag of frozen Ore Ida shredded hash browns out thaw.

Take a small pot and combine a half cup of milk, one cup of heavy whipping cream, one teaspoon of dry mustard, one teaspoon of salt and place on low heat until warm. While that is going on take a two inch deep aluminum lasagna pan and cover the bottom with a layer of shredded hash browns.

After you have done that add a layer of shredded cheese, either mild or sharp cheddar, both work great. Then lightly salt and pepper each layer and generously sprinkle with California style garlic salt. By the time you have finished the first layer your liguid mixture in the pot should be ready and using part of it pour it on the first layer.

Continue to repeat the paragraph above adding another layer of shredded hashbrowns, cheese etc and pour more of the liguid mixture on top of each layer until you are out of shredded potatoes, shredded cheese and your liquid mixture. Typically you will end up with three or four layers. Bake in the over at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, then enjoy !

The Other Residents Of Sugar Beach

Costa Rica is a land that is rich in biodiversity, and Sugar Beach is no exception.  You cannot walk around the grounds here without seeing many different kinds of wildlife, and they are fascinating to watch.

Our first encounter with a native species came at our first breakfast.  As we sat down for the meal, a large, blue, ornately tufted bird alighted on the wall behind us.  He clearly was looking for some scraps of food, and he was perfectly willing to be very aggressive about it.  He stuck around despite repeated efforts at shooing, but his rapacious appetite made him easy to observe up close.  There are many of these birds in the trees on the resort property, and they make an astonishingly broad range of sounds — chirps, clucks, and squawks, among many others.

On the beach, you see pelicans, swallow-tailed kites, sandpipers, lots of fish, and every imaginable form of scuttling and slithering creature.  When the tide is low tidal pools form in the coral formations, and they are filled with tiny fish, crabs, and other crustaceans that look like lobsters without claws.  As you walk the beach, you see etchings left on the sand by sand worms, and the intricate tracks left by tiny hermit crabs, who hide under their shells as they hear human footsteps.  In one of his explorations of the coral reefs, Russell found an intact crab shell and brought it back to our bungalow, where it has kept us company ever since.

The grounds feature snakes, countless tiny scurrying lizards, and iguana.  The iguana are particularly interesting.  They seem ponderous, lethargic and slow-moving, until they aren’t.  I watched one cross the frazzled yard between our bungalow and the beach, moving with a sort of stately grace as it dragged its belly and long tail in the dust.  As it reached the mid-point of the yard it stopped, bobbed its head up and down in rapid succession, and then scrambled quickly toward the shadows of the nearby tree line.  I assume it spotted something that it hoped would be catchable and then edible.

This morning we saw our first mammal, and it was a memorable encounter.  This furry creature looks like a cross between an anteater and a monkey.  It features a long snout, some serious claws, and an extraordinarily long tail.  As it carefully and slowly approached our eating area, it sniffed the air with obvious interest, and was rewarded with some scraps of food from diners at a nearby table.

The non-human residents of Sugar Beach are themselves worth the trip.

The Long Overdue Demise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Yesterday President Obama signed into law the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  I commend the President and the Congress for taking an action that was inevitable, and long overdue.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a stupid policy from the beginning, the kind of awkward “compromise” that politicians devise and view as a real accomplishment and that rational people find mystifying.  DADT confirmed that being gay was not an impediment to serving with valor and distinction in the American armed forces.  (Did anyone really think it was, or would be?)  But gay Americans who wanted to serve their country had to do so at a price not paid by heterosexual Americans.  They had to disclaim a fundamental part of themselves and keep it secret from their comrades, upon pain of being drummed out of the service.  The patriotic gay Americans who were willing to pay that price are true heroes who should be recognized as such.

The contradictions of DADT made is inevitable that it would not last.  Still, someone had to take that step.  More so than the “stimulus” legislation or the “health care reform” initiative, I think the repeal of DADT will be viewed by history as a signature accomplishment of the Obama Administration — one which eliminates an irrational policy and recognizes that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong.  We should also be grateful that the policy was ended by the legislative and executive branches, and not by the courts.  Too often, Americans have looked to courts to resolve issues that really should be resolved through political processes.  In this instance, it is encouraging to see our politicians step up and do the right thing.

The World, Through Sunglasses

What is it about sunglasse?  Why do they have such a profound mental and physical effect?

You put them on, and immediately you begin to relax.  Your brain thinks, “vacation.”  You breathe out and exhale all of the work-related pressures and stresses.  You chuckle at the effect.  You smell coconut lotions and fruity, umbrella-topped concoctions.  You feel the sand between your toes and a warm, tangy, salty breeze gently brushing the hairs on your arms.  You slow down a bit.

I think sunglasses have an almost magical effect on people for many reasons.  First, almost everyone thinks they look cool in sunglasses.  Celebrities and Secret Service agents wear them all the time, for a reason.  Whether you really do look cool doesn’t make any difference, of course — it’s the thought that counts.  Second, sunglasses are associated with vacations and good times.  And third, the way in which sunglasses alter the world around us makes a big difference.  Why shouldn’t we want to take the edge off the glare of bright sunshine and darken and soften the world a bit?

Beach Time For The Holidays

As we have done several times before, the Webners have hit the road for the holidays.

We head for warm weather, beaches, and cold beer with strange, exotic names.  This year, we have journeyed to Costa Rica, a rugged country far south in central America, where the land bridge between North America and South America narrows to a rocky thread.

It has been a good choice.  Although it took a long bus ride to get to Sugar Beach resort, where we are staying, the ride was worth it.  The temperature has been in the ’80s and our house is quiet and private.  The beach is beautiful and secluded, the food is good, and many Imperials have already been quaffed around the cribbage board.  It is a great way for the family to catch up after a long, busy year.

Anywhere, U.S.A.

Going through any airport in the United States is an experience in soul-deadening sameness.  Every airport has the same features, the same stores, the same signs, the same walkways, the same arrival/departure boards — in short, the same everything.

Why is this so?  Is it because airport designers and managers believe that most Americans are so immersed in consumer culture that they cannot exist if they ever get more than 50 yards from a Sbarro, a generic newstand, or a sticky, crowded food court?  Is it because airport designers are engaged in a giant cover-your-ass exercise, figuring that if they create an airport that looks like every other airport the county board or city council that floated the bonds won’t complain?  Or do they honestly believe that there is only one way that an airport should look, and feel, and that is all we are going to get?

Magazine ads used to feature mock envelopes with the address “Anytown, U.S.A.”  Small towns, however, always had their own unique features, foods, and local stores.  Airports don’t.  Most pictures you take of an airport — like the picture accompanying this post — look exactly like every other airport.  (In this case, it is Houston.)  It’s sad, and makes you feel like you really aren’t going anywhere at all — just to another bland stop on the sameness express, where every airport has the dash and spice of a mouthful of phlegm.

How Will History Judge?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now describing the current Congress as the “most productive Congress in the history of the country.” He numbers among its accomplishments the “stimulus” legislation, the “health care reform” legislation, repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, new financial regulations, and the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

When you are in the moment, it is difficult to assess what the ultimate judgment of history will be.  I doubt that many Americans would put the current Congress up among the great Congresses of the past, however.  After all, voters just gave the boot to many of the Representatives and Senators who passed the legislation Reid touts, and Congress’ approval rating is a dismal 13 percent — its lowest level in decades.  And those people who are critical of Congress no doubt will point to the things that Congress didn’t do, like passing appropriations bills or making meaningful cuts to the federal budget.

History will make its judgment, as history always does.  In the meantime, there is something unseemly and profoundly unattractive about Senator Reid’s excessive pride.  His hubris exemplifies a significant problem with the current uninspiring crop of legislators:  they are oblivious to how they are being perceived outside the Beltway.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

Where I live, some areas are forbidden.  One area is up in the air so I cannot see it, but I can reach it with my paws if I jump.  And then, if there is something interesting up there, I try to grab it and pull it down.  There is almost always something interesting up there.  I can smell it, and usually it is food that only the others in the pack get to eat.

That is not fair!  So, I always jump up to see if I can get my share.  Sometimes it is hard work.  One time a few days ago, I pulled down a big plate and ate everything on it.  Just as I was finishing it, the old boring guy came in.  He was mad!  I knew he was mad, so I ran to my sleeping spot, where he couldn’t get in.  Ha!  Too slow, old boring guy!  And then, I enjoyed the taste of the food.  It was sweet and good.

I know it is a forbidden area, but I should get my share of the food for the pack.  Why not?  I am hungry!