Thursday, January 27, 2011

Let It Snow!

It seems that I have spent more time shoveling snow this year than any other year in my life. And we haven't even reached the halfway point of winter!

Nineteen inches of the white stuff fell on New York City, bringing the city that never sleeps to a halt. Schools and many businesses closed because the streets and sidewalks are dangerous. My daughter cheered when I informed her early this morning that she would not have to go to school. She then immediately rolled over and went back to sleep, no doubt with visions of snowmen in her dreams.

Cars parked on the side streets are covered with snow and look more like a series of white mounds that are used in a ski mogul race. The way things are going these vehicles may not be freed until April. Prognosticators predict that this will be a record year for snow.

Our dog Cleo finds the conditions most challenging. She stands but eleven inches high and is dwarfed by the two foot snow drifts. If she steps in the white stuff she is buried. So Cleo shuns all attempts to take her for a walk. She would rather lay in a warm and cozy place, like someone's lap!

The East Coast has been slammed with record snow this season, from the Carolinas to Maine. Residents of Washington DC, once my home for more than ten years, endured great difficulties commuting last night. I constantly received Tweets from friends reporting their snail like progress as they headed home. It seemed that the average speed was about one mile per hour. NBC's Chuck Todd took four hours to drive four miles. Even President Barack Obama's motorcade encountered enormous traffic delays returning to the White House from Andrews Air Force Base. But rather than be frustrated by inconveniences, it is always better to enjoy the beauty of new fallen snow.

Daughter Zoe went out to capture pictures of mother nature's white coating on New York's Central Park. It is a phenomenal site to behold. The tree limbs are weighted to capacity with clumps of snow. Many pine trees have a dusting of white, as if from a painter's brush. And fearless joggers are undeterred as they stride unsteadily through the powder and mush. Talk about a workout!

And there is more good news just around the corner. The weatherman is predicting another blast of snow in the next couple days!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama's Sputnik Moment

President Barack Obama delivered an uplifting and hopeful State of the Union address to the nation that was long on innovation, education and infrastructure. The atmosphere seemed to reflect the mood in America and on Capitol Hill since the Tucson shootings.

In a bipartisan gesture, the president congratulated the new members of the 112th Congress, and newly elected House Speaker John Boehner. He then noted the Chamber's empty chair: "We pray for our friend Gabby Giffords." The members responded with a standing ovation.

The president said that "contentious debates" are good in a "robust Democracy." However the president's tone throughout was conversational and steady, rather than pointed. This was not the eloquent speech that the president is capable of delivering. Instead, he thoughtfully directed his remarks toward the future rather than focus on the past. "What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together," the president said referring to the evening's mixed seating arrangement, "but whether we can work together tomorrow."

His theme was, "We need to out innovate, out educate and out build the rest of the world." This line was welcomed with a standing ovation. Then the president followed with, "This is our Sputnik moment." Hopefully most of the 70 percent of Americans not yet born when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite understood the message.

The president then issued a challenge that 3 million cars on America's roads in 2015 be electric. He then called for more clean energy sources and a reduction in oil dependency. To pay for it he proposed cutting government subsidies to oil companies. "Last time I looked, they were doing okay," he said to laughter.

On education, he again asked parents to take on more responsibility at home. "We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated," he said, "but the winner of the science fair." This also garnered widespread applause. "We want to reward good teachers," he noted, "and stop making excuses for bad ones."

To counter the country's burgeoning deficit he called for a freeze on domestic spending for five years. The president cited his health-care reform measure as helping to cut costs, but called for reorganizing government so it will be more efficient. He made clear that cuts in programs should not come "on the backs of those who need it."

He then turned to social issues. "We should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration... and let's stop expelling talented young people," although the president was not specific. In a reference to the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" he said soldiers should not be stopped from "serving the country they love, because of who they love."

The president then noted, "Our infrastructure used to be the best -- but our lead has slipped." He called for a re-doubling of efforts to rebuild the nation's trains and highways. Offering no specifics on how to pay for the investment, he then called for an end to corporate tax loopholes and urged Congress to simplify the tax code.

The president got a laugh when he observed, "Now I've heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about the new health care law." And he said he'd be willing to listened to changes, but, "What I am not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition." He warned, "instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let's fix what needs fixing and move forward."

President Obama ended his speech with this upbeat note: "It is because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong."

Republican Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, gave the GOP response. He opened cautiously, "some of his words are reassuring." But then he blamed President Obama for running up massive debt and increasing the size of government. Rep. Ryan was comfortable and conversational in his remarks. He talked of limiting government and restoring free enterprise. Republicans no doubt were happy with his performance. Then came the Tea Party response from Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. She hammered at "Obama-care" and showed an amateurish chart depicting massive deficit spending by the Democrats.

Because he can be such a talented speaker, President Obama's address did not achieve the high expectations some had. But America's slow economic recovery, his "shellacking" at the polls last November, and a tragic shooting in Tucson may have tempered his remarks. Steady as she goes, Mr. President.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tragedy in Tucson: Two Speeches

One heinous act in Tucson Saturday by a lone gunman left six people dead and more than a dozen injured. For five days the nation gasped in horror as it tried to search for answers.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama traveled across the country to attend a memorial ceremony, held at the University of Arizona, to speak with emotion and compassion of Saturday's tragic shootings. President Obama announced to the cheering arena that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who had been shot through the left side of her brain, had opened her eyes for the first time since her surgery. He also recognized the heroes of the incident, the families of the victims and focused the closing portion of his speech on nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who had been killed in the assault. Recently elected to her school's student council, Christina had gone to the scene to meet her Congresswoman.

Earlier in the day, and four thousand miles away, Alaska's former governor, Sarah Palin, broke her silence on the shootings by releasing a nearly eight minute heartfelt and sincere video statement on Facebook. In the immediate wake of the shootings, Governor Palin had been criticized for the tone of her campaigning, especially by the left. In particular, for posting on her website a map that displayed crosshairs over target districts, including Democrat Representative Giffords' Arizona district.

Here are excerpts from their speeches:

President Obama: "I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today and will stand by you tomorrow. There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: The hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy will pull through."

Governor Palin: "Our exceptional nation, so vibrant with ideas and the passionate exchange and debate of ideas, is a light to the rest of the world. Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents were exercising their right to exchange ideas that day, to celebrate our Republic's core values and peacefully assemble to petition our government. It's inexcusable and incomprehensible why a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.

President Obama: "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate -- as it should -- let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle. The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better."

Governor Palin: "Like many, I've spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance. After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event."

President Obama: "We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that's entirely up to us."

Governor Palin: "If you don't like a person's vision for the country, you're free to debate that vision. If you don't like their ideas, you're free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

President Obama: "If there are rain puddles in Heaven, Christina (Taylor Green) is jumping in them today. And here on this Earth -- here on this Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and we commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit."

Governor Palin: "America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week. We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy. We will come out of this stronger and more united in our desire to peacefully engage in the great debates of our time, to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner, and to unite in the knowledge that, though our ideas may be different, we must all strive for a better future for our country."

Representative Gabrielle Giffords continues her slow but remarkable recovery. She faces a difficult and uncertain journey. So do all Americans.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Palin Speaks!

After remaining largely silent following the Tucson shootings Saturday, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has spoken. But instead of a healing address from her heart, Palin's remarks were mostly a counter offensive reflective of her favorite slogan: "Don't Retreat. Instead, Reload."

In fairness, Palin did express her sympathy, "My heart broke for the innocent victims...we do mourn for the victims' families as we express our sympathy." And she called for all Americans to, "honor those precious lives cut short in Tucson by praying for them and their families and by cherishing their memories. Let us pray for the full recovery of the wounded. And let us pray for our country."

But the focus of Palin's eight minute address to the nation, read using a teleprompter, was an attack against "...the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event." Palin obviously doesn't like being in the crosshairs.

She quoted a 1968 speech by then Governor President Ronald Reagan, made during an era of great civil strife throughout the country. "We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker," Reagan said at the GOP convention in Miami. "It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions." That was a different time in our history, but his words always work well with her base.

Instead of toning down the rhetoric, Palin threw a punch, "...journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible." In so doing, she immediately created another controversy. A "blood libel" is an anti-Semitic term that has been used to persecute and kill Jews for centuries. The use of this term, in any context, is most reprehensible. Governor, Google it before you say it!

At one point, Palin said, "Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box - as we did just two months ago." Governor Palin: "respectfully"? Like in "Second Amendment" remedies?

In her address today, Governor Palin could have been a great national leader. She could have focused most of her attention on the victims, expressing great emotion and empathy for those who have directly suffered from this great tragedy. She could have expressed her profound sorrow to the people of Tucson and the state of Arizona.

Yes, Governor Palin could have stood above all the rancor and bickering. She could have risen above the politics of hatred and personal attacks. She could have echoed the recent comments of many influential Americans that the rhetoric must be toned down. She could have apologized if anything thing she said, or displayed on her website, might have incited any violence. She could have been an inspirational national leader speaking powerful and motivational words. She could have called on all Americans to unite.

Instead, she refutiated the lamestream media and its commentators, "We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy." It was as if she is also a victim of this great tragedy.

Her address is certain to be a disappointment for most Americans, especially those who still believe in her. Now they can see for sure that Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Free Speech

On the day when America collectively observed a moment of silence for Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of Saturday's shootings in Tucson, a war of words broke out over the role "vitriol" played in the incident, even though there probably is no link. And the argument reflected the deep division that has roiled this country over the past few years.

Most interesting was the apparent admission by Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, in an interview with founder Russell Simmons, that Fox News takes sides in its journalism. "I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually," Ailes is quoted as saying to Simmons, "You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that." So much for "Fair and Balanced."

But Ailes' words in defense of Fox News were most forceful, "He (the assailant) was a flag burner. He just was not attached to the Tea Party. It’s just a bulls--t way to use the death of a little girl to get Fox News in an argument." In fact, Ailes pointed a finger at the left, "Listen, I have a picture of Sarah Palin hanging from the end of a rope. They made a doll up like her and hung her." Of course, if true, the picture is disgusting. But Palin has many enemies, left and right.

Broadcasting this weekend from the other side of New York City's Sixth Avenue, literally, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was truly chastened by the shootings. "Violence, or the threat of violence, has no place in our Democracy," he said emotionally, "and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence. Because for whatever else each of us may be, we all are Americans."

But leave it to conservative host Rush Limbaugh, the leading Angry American, to rage at media coverage of the Tucson shootings as "childish" on his radio program today. And he jumped to the defense of Fox News and former Governor Sarah Palin, "There is no evidence that (the assailant) listened to talk radio. There is no evidence he listened to Fox News. There is no evidence that he saw Sarah Palin's Facebook page. No evidence he saw her lame website with the crosshairs." But Limbaugh could not resist making an outrageous political attack, "Sad tragedies, where people die, are seen first as political opportunities by these people." He added, "The Republicans had nothing to do with the bombing at Oklahoma City, but it was seen as a political opportunity for Bill Clinton. This is now the same template."

Joe Scarborough, Miki Brzezinski and their supporting cast spent the better part of three hours this morning discussing the tone on America's political media outlets. The take away from the program was that everyone should be more civil in their debates. The discussion seemed to reflect the sentiment in most newspapers across the country.

Just a few days ago, Representative Giffords read the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives. It reads in part, "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people to peaceably assemble." Of course, this opens the door to those who will speak irresponsibly. Sadly there are plenty of commentators, and even politicians, who dispense with common sense decency in order to further an agenda, call attention to themselves or garner high ratings.

America has more than 300 million citizens, so there are bound to be a few who are on the edge; who are looking for a reason to strike. While we do not know if the young Tucson assailant listened to the "vitriol" of the right or the left, it would be hard to miss the personal attacks and intemperate words spewing from all media platforms. It is time for everyone to "tone it down."

This is a teaching moment. It is a time for parents and history teachers throughout the country to assure America's children that free speech is a precious right that should not be abused. That, while there are political differences in our country, civil debate of the issues will make the country stronger. And every qualified citizen has the right to cast a vote to elect a government that reflects the will of a majority of its people.

Do this in respect for Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of this great tragedy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Boycott Irresponsible Commentary

My prayers for Representative Gabrielle Giffords' recovery, and for the souls of those who were shot to death is Tucson yesterday morning. This will likely turn out to be the act of a crazed lone gunman, but all Americans should give thought to why it happened.

Just a few days ago Representative Giffords read the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives. This is the amendment which ensures free speech in this country. Of course, it opens the door to those who speak irresponsibly. And sadly there are plenty of commentators, and even politicians, who overstep common sense in order to call attention to themselves or garner high ratings.

In a country of more than 300 million persons there are bound to be a few who are on edge; who are looking for a reason to strike. We do not know if the young Tucson assailant listened to the vitriol of the right or the left. Nonetheless, there is plenty of hatred spewing from all media platforms. A candidate for the U.S. Senate endorsed "second amendment remedies" in her recent campaign. The second amendment gives all Americans the right to bear arms. What do you suppose she meant by this reckless statement? Television commentators have called the president a Nazi, while others have called a past president an idiot and a liar. Just because they have the right to do so does not mean it is right!

Let there be no law enacted that in any way abridges our right to speak freely, for sure. The din of democracy, however, is ubiquitous because of advances in technology, But there may be a way for Americans to alter the tone of some in our media. Commentators rely on ratings to cash in on their intemperate words. All citizens should boycott those outlets that pervade diatribe and harsh attacks. The loss of ratings is sure to bring about much needed change.

Let there be a full debate of all the issues. But boycott those who are irresponsible and reward those who choose to partake in civil debate.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Christmas with Cleo

Cleo is quite special. She is our five-year-old Maltese, and, even though she is but seven pounds, she is a large presence in our family life.

We must factor Cleo's feelings into all our decisions. For instance, take our recent Christmas vacation to Colorado. It turns out Cleo likes to travel. As we began packing our suitcases Cleo ran around them sniffing and wagging her tail. You can almost hear her saying, "Oh boy, road trip!"

When we bring out her little white travel bag she frequently crawls in and out of it apparently in an effort to make sure things are just right for her. We place a couple of her toys in the bag, as well as water and dry food in the side pockets.

She sits patiently in the bag while waiting to board the plane at the airport, that is as long as she is on someone's lap. Her little nose poked out, and on occasion she stuck her head out to see what's happening. Before we leave one of us takes her to the bathroom where we placed a "wee-wee" pad on the floor. Cleo then immediately relieved herself before her journey (TMI?).

Cleo is a phenomenal passenger. She sat quietly in her bag, which must be resting on a lap. She doesn't like to be stuffed under the seat in front. She must be in her rightful place; after all, she is a lap dog.

This was her fifth trip to the Ft. Collins Hilton, located on the edge of the Colorado State University campus and in full view of the Rockies. She didn't spend too much time looking at the mountains; rather she liked to take walks, even in the cold and snow.

Upon returning from each of her walks, little Cleo runs to the automatic entrance doors, often alone with her leash trailing behind her. She then he zooms with little hesitation into the hotel even before the doors have fully opened. She then runs toward the lobby and around a corner. There she enters whichever elevator is open and waits for one of us to join her. Thankfully an elevator has never taken off with her as the solo occupant. Upon reaching our floor, Cleo dashes to the room we are occupying and waits for the door to be opened.

Now Vail had more than three feet of snow when we arrived. For sure, perfect skiing conditions. This should discourage any animal that is only ten inches tall. But Cleo loves to romp and sniff in the snow. While it is difficult to keep track of a small white dog in heavy white snow, Cleo's constant movement makes the task much easier.

Cleo likes receiving Christmas gifts. In fact, she likes everyone's Christmas gifts. She gets excited when packages are unwrapped, often jumping into the fray. She loves to tear, or chew, the wrapping paper off her own gifts. She then grabs each of her new toys in her teeth and runs around the room playing "keep away." She never asks that a present be returned or re-gifted.

I don't think Cleo believes in Santa Claus. But I do know she loves the Christmas spirit of giving. Everyday with Cleo is Christmas because she brings so much joy to our family and friends!