Time For TV To Go Easy On Us

Kish and I have watched the first two episodes of Designated Survivor, the new ABC drama.  Starring Kiefer Sutherland, it tells the story of a Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs who is named the “designated survivor” for a State of the Union address.  He doesn’t go to the speech so that, in the case of some massive attack on the Capitol, he is protected and can become the new President.

designated-survivorOf course, that’s exactly what happens.  The Capitol building is blown up, the President and Vice President, the rest of the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, and all of the members of Congress except for one congressional “designated survivor” are killed.  The stunned Secretary of HUD, who was on the brink of being fired, has to take over the reins of a shocked government where governors and angry generals are immediately ready to throw him overboard and go their own way.  We don’t know yet who launched the attack, or why.  And, of course, foreign governments express their official condolences but are immediately trying to take advantage of the disarray in the U.S. government.

It’s a well-made show, and it’s good to see the Kiefer Sutherland whisper back on TV, but I have to say Designated Survivor is tough to watch.  Given the current awful presidential election and the kind of splintering effect it seems to be having in our society — coupled with protests and riots over police shootings, random terror attacks, and trouble everywhere we look overseas, among other issues — I really don’t need to see a realistic depiction of the Capitol dome blasted in half and FBI agents carting body bags from the rubble of what used to be the U.S. House of Representatives.  And if, as I suspect, we’re going to learn that the explosions weren’t the work of foreign terrorists at all, but rather some kind of domestic plot, it’s just going to make things worse.

TV has long had its apocalyptic shows, where ordinary people have to deal with zombies, aliens, and death-dealing viruses.  But a realistic show about an attack that wipes out most of the U.S. government and exposes the deep divisions lurking just beneath the surface hits a little bit too close to home these days.

C’mon, TV producers!  Give us a break.  We’re feeling a little fragile here!

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Sled Away, Kids!

Sometimes government regulations make you shake your head in wonder.  So it is with the ban on sledding on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.

People can freely walk on the grounds of the Capitol, so security can’t be the reason for banning sledding.  Instead, Capitol Police justified the ban by citing statistics that there are more than 20,000 sledding injuries in America each year — a rationale which would justify banning sledding everywhere.  Do the Capitol Police really think we’ll buy the notion that they did some analysis of sledding injuries before deciding to impose a silly ban on an age-old winter activity?  I suspect that the real reason for the sledding ban is that some crusty old members of Congress didn’t like the sound and commotion of kids having fun on one of the rare days when the District of Columbia gets enough snow to make sledding feasible and told the Police to do whatever they needed to stop it.

I’m glad that parents and kids went sledding in defiance of the idiotic ban, which should never have been imposed in the first place and is just another example of unnecessary government overreach.  The Capitol is our building; our elected representatives just work there.  So long as security isn’t impaired, we should be permitted to use the grounds for leisure activities like sledding or playing frisbee.  And parents — not the Capitol Police —  should making the decisions about the safety of their kids’ activities.

So sled away, kids!  And learn that sometimes you need to stand up — or sled down — for your rights.

Congratulations, Mr. President, And Good Luck

President Obama was re-elected last night, narrowly beating Mitt Romney.  I congratulate the President on his victory and wish him success.  In my experience, a successful President usually means we have a successful America.

Democrats kept control of the U.S. Senate, while Republicans kept control of the House of Representatives.  In short, the United States is in for more divided government.  After two consecutive “wave” elections, the message of this election seems to be to maintain the status quo.

Divided government is not necessarily a bad thing.  The Constitution, with its complex system of checks and balances, contemplates divided government, where one man or the passions expressed in one election can’t fully control the direction of the nation.  Our system — wisely, I think — contemplates compromise and collaboration to accomplish legislative goals.  Our problem lately is that we haven’t had meaningful compromise, or perhaps even meaningful attempts at compromise, from the President or the two Houses of Congress.  Perhaps that unwillingness to compromise was due to the rapidly shifting views of the electorate and the looming presence of the 2012 election, but with that election now one day behind us that rationale no longer exists.

With more divided government a reality, President Obama and the congressional leaders of both parties need to figure out how to compromise, because only through compromise will we be able to address the huge problems confronting our nation.  We all know what those problems are:  the “fiscal cliff” of self-imposed cuts and tax increases that will take effect in less than two months, trillion-dollar deficits that extend into the foreseeable future, adding to a dangerous amount of national debt, and entitlement programs that are on the road to bankruptcy unless reforms are instituted.  All of these issues, and others, have reached the point of criticality.

We can no longer afford drift and inaction in the face of these challenges.  It is time for President Obama and Congress to grapple with these issues and to reach the kinds of rational compromises that people of good will, but different political viewpoints, can find acceptable.  It will be a big task that requires leadership, bipartisanship, and a recognition that the needs of the country must take priority over momentary political advantage.

When I left our house at 5 a.m. today for the morning walk with Penny and Kasey, I noticed that some of our neighbors of both parties who had put candidate signs in their yards had removed them already.  They recognize that the election is over and it is time to move on with our lives.  We need some of that same attitude at both ends of Pennsylvanian Avenue.

Our Beautiful Dome

I was in Washington, D.C. today, and got a chance to stop by the Capitol.

Americans can and do disagree about what happens inside the Capitol, but we can all agree it is a beautiful building.  The dome is a particularly inspiring architectural feature — enormous yet somehow delicate, perched atop the rest of the structure, its cavernous insides swallowing up the voices inside.  It’s like an architectural metaphor for a sprawling country that moves forward despite the tiny voices of political discord.

I like the back lit view of the Capitol because it accentuates the majesty of the dome, with the day’s dying sunlight streaming through and the features set in sharp relief.

The People Choose Edison

I’ve posted before about the people’s vote to decide which Ohioan should replace the statue of William Allen, a pro-slavery Ohio governor of the 1870s, in Statuary Hall at the Capitol.  The votes have been counted and Thomas Edison has been selected, with the Wright Brothers a relatively close second.  The people’s choice will now be considered as part of the selection process by the National Statuary Collection Study Committee, which will make the final recommendation to the Ohio General Assembly.

As I mentioned when the ten candidates in the people’s vote were announced, I think Edison would be a very good choice.  Inventors and businessmen are greatly underrepresented in Statuary Hall, and Edison was both.  Indeed, his inventions of the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb, and motion pictures created entire industries that have made huge contributions to growth of the American economy, employed hundreds of thousands of people, and allowed for new forms of artistic expression.  Edison also established the first commercial laboratory to facilitate experimentation and then the rapid and inexpensive realization of new inventions.  Edison’s concept of commercializing the process of research and development helped to foster a culture of innovation that has allowed the American economy to continue to lead the world in devising new technology.  Finally, Edison’s biography is a classic American success story and tribute to the value of hard work, risk-taking . . . and marketing and promotion.

Edison is a fine choice for Statuary Hall.  Let’s hope the Committee and the General Assembly agree.

Putting A New Buckeye In Statuary Hall

When Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C., one of my favorite places to take visitors was Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.  Statuary Hall is the former location of the House of Representatives chamber and is now the home of dozens of statues of American luminaries.  Most of the statues are bronze or marble; the notable exception that I recall was the towering black and gold depiction of Hawaii’s King Kamehameha I, who looked like he could have walked off the pedestal and competed successfully in the Arnold bodybuilding competition.

Many of the individuals depicted in the collected statues have long since faded into obscurity.  Most of them are politicians, and some of them are a bit embarrassing to see displayed so prominently at the seat of our Nation’s government because of their support for slavery.   One such example is William Allen, who served as Governor of Ohio from 1874 to 1876 and was pro-slavery and opposed to the Civil War.  Allen is one of only two Ohioans in Statuary Hall; the other is former President James Garfield.  Allen is an exceptionally bad choice to represent Ohio, which was home to the Underground Railroad, to countless men who fought and died in the Civil War, and to many of the Union’s most successful generals, including Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.

Appropriately, the powers that be have decided to remove the statue of Allen and pick from a list of 10 Ohioans who are viewed as better representing the values and heritage of modern Ohioans.  The list of candidates is interesting:  James Ashley, Thomas Edison, Ulysses Grant, William McCulloch, Jesse Owens, Judith Resnick, Albert Sabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Taylor Upton, and Wilbur and Orville Wright.  Some of these names are familiar, others less so.  James Ashley was a prominent 19th century abolitionist and politician, William McCulloch was a civil rights activist who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 25 years, Judith Resnick was an astronaut who was killed in the 1986 Challenger explosion, Albert Sabin was the medical researcher who developed the oral vaccine for polio, and Harriet Taylor Upton was a leading proponent of women’s suffrage.

Ohioans will get to influence the final selection through a popular vote.  I think all 10 are worthy candidates, but my preference would be for Thomas Edison, Jesse Owens, or Albert Sabin.  There already are more than enough politicians in Statuary Hall.  Adding an inventor and businessman who brought electric light to the world, or an athlete whose Olympic triumph electrified the world and exposed the stupidity of the racial superiority rantings of the Nazi regime, or a researcher whose hard work and inspiration freed millions from the debilitating effects of a terrible disease, would be fitting reflection of the many contributions that The Buckeye State has made to America.

It’s About Time

It’s hard to believe that, until this week, there were no busts or statues of African-American women in the Capitol. That all has changed with the unveiling this week of the bust of Sojourner Truth, who had a very interesting life (including giving a famous speech in my hometown of Akron, Ohio) and is certainly deserving of such recognition.

When Kish and I lived in D.C., I liked taking visitors to the Capitol and showing them the various sculptures in Statuary Hall. (The massive, black and gold statue of the muscular Hawaiian king Kamamahema (or however his name is spelled), with arm outstretched, was my favorite.) Interestingly, many of the statues in the Hall were of slaveowners of southerners who supported the institution of slavery. I think it’s about time that an abolitionist like Sojourner Truth is included, and I hope it is the first of many recognitions of the political, cultural, and literary contributions made by African-American women.