Monday, August 27, 2012

Mitt Romney: The Speech

This week the Republican Party will nominate their candidate for President of the United States, Mitt Romney.  And when Romney takes the podium Thursday night to accept his party's nomination he will be delivering the most important speech of his life. 

The Republican presidential primary campaign was brutal, as candidates fought hard for the approval of their party's largely conservative base.  Mitt Romney had to defend his previous moderate leaning tendencies, and his authorship of "Romneycare," the blue print for President Obama's universal health care legislation.   To do so, Romney aggressively attacked his opponents with negative ads, spent a ton of money, and fine-tuned some of his political positions in order to appeal to the GOP right.    

Yet, although Romney won the nomination, most Americans are uncertain about whom he is.  This Thursday night Romney will be introducing himself to America, while, at the same time, he will have to reassure his conservative party base that he can beat President Obama, and he can be trusted not to change his positions on taxes and social issues.

Romney's speech writing team has been hard a work trying to find the right balance.  On one hand, Romney will try to connect with his audience, something he failed to do very well during the primary campaign.  He will try to sound warm and likeable, not stiff and corporate.  He will add some biographical details, including a reference to his wife's ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis.  But also look for Romney to make the case the he should be elected president.  Here he will emphasize his successes as a businessman, governor, and head of the U.S. Olympics Committee, as examples of how he can lead.  

For sure, there will be plenty of quotable one-liners to stir delegates on the convention floor and appeal to the home audience.  Here's one you won't hear: "Watch my lips, no new taxes!"  Here's one you will hear: "President Obama is the only president to cut Medicare."  Of course, the president didn't cut Medicare--but why let the facts get in the way of an applause line.

Romney's speech will not be truly successful if he simply attacks President Obama's record.  He will need to offer independent voters more than the usual talking points: "Cut taxes, cut regulations and become totally energy independent."   Nor can he just simply say, "I have a 59 point plan to save the economy--it's on my website."  

Of course, the devil is always in the details, and Romney's economic plan simply does not add up.   For instance, how can he significantly cut taxes (which mostly benefits the wealthy) and increase defense spending, yet still balance the budget?  It's not possible unless he also massively cuts entitlement programs--like Medicare and Medicaid.  (Enter Representative Paul Ryan?)  So, Mr. Romney, specifically what government programs will you cut to balance the budget?  You owe Americans an explanation.  

Why will cutting taxes create jobs?  The "Bush Tax Cuts" have been in place for a decade, but they have had little impact on the job market, while making the rich even richer.   As part of his tax plan, Romney proposes eliminating tax loopholes, yet he has offered no specifics.   Does he mean offshore tax havens (I don't think so)?  Does he mean home mortgages or charity?   Details Mr. Romney, details? 

Of course, Mr. Romney will promise in his speech to end "Obamacare" to the delight of the floor delegates.  Ironically, he crafted a universal health care law that passed in Massachusetts and relies on an individual mandate, but now opposes the concept.   Mr. Romney, what is your replacement plan?  How will you close the "doughnut hole" on prescription drugs for more than 5.2 million Medicare beneficiaries who have already saved more than $4 billion since Obamacare went into effect? 

Romney has promised to eliminate Planned Parenthood if he is elected president.  Of course, conservatives hate Planned Parenthood because of its association with birth control and abortion.  But Romney is not likely to offer too many details in his speech on abortion, other than, "I believe in the sanctity of life."  Part of the problem is that in the last decade Romney has been pro-abortion, then later anti-abortion, except in the cases of incest and rape.  But the GOP 2012 platform calls for a ban on all abortions, with no exceptions.  

Romney is likely to accuse President Obama of campaign distortions and tarnishing the office of the presidency.  But Romney has been a leading practitioner of negative and misleading ads beginning in the primary.  For instance, most recently a Romney sponsored ad that says, "The president ended a provision requiring welfare recipients to work."  Wrong, but it plays well with blue-collar workers in swing states.  Or a Romney "joke" about his birth certificate.  Don't look for Mitt Romney to denounce the idiotic "Birther" movement from the dais.  

No matter how well Romney performs Thursday--and he should do very well--no mater how enthusiastically he is received, no matter how amazing all the production gimmicks are, there are still many questions that will, pardon the expression, always dog Romney.  He is, after all, extremely private, controlling and ambitious.    

Imagine:  Romney pauses in his speech Thursday to look up toward the heavens. At that point he hears the voice of his father, Governor George Romney, once a Republican candidate for president.  "Release more tax returns Mitt!"  To which he replies, "You're getting two years, and that's it!"

Zoe's Fashion Show

There is nothing more rewarding for a parent than watching your child create something meaningful.  Earlier this month, Zoe Peyronnin participated in a design and fashion exhibit at Parsons The New School of Design, here in New York City.  And Zoe's dress was a big hit.

Parsons offers summer school courses in a variety of design disciplines.  And this year hundreds of students traveled from around the globe to take classes.  Zoe's passion is fashion design.  She has been interested since a very young age, and has consistently shown a creative flair.

But this class was the first chance she had to conceive, design and create a piece of clothing.  The display would also include some sort of compatible visual display.  In preparation, her mother, Susan Zirinsky, bought Zoe a sewing machine, which she brought to school several times.  But Zoe did everything on her own. 

Zoe sensed that leather would make a very timely and elegant look.  She traveled to New York's Garment District and selected the specific leather she would use.  As you can see, the top of the dress is a solid black leather, while the bottom piece of leather has a python like design.  The two pieces complement themselves and together are a most stylish look.  One admirer was heard to say, "Where can I buy it?"

Zoe had a very fulfilling and rewarding experience at Parsons, and she has made many new friends that share her passion for fashion design.  This was the first step in what may become a wonderful career.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


"Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States," said Mitt Romney. Mitt muffed the announcement.  But, no doubt, many conservatives were thinking, "from Mitt's lips to God's ears!"  .   

Romney's pick of the youthful Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate plays to the conservative base of the GOP, many of whom are frustrated and distrustful of their party's banner carrier.  Ryan is the Republican intellectual leader on budget issues, and his selection inextricably links Romney to the Ryan budget, which calls for lower taxes and deep cuts in social programs.  

In his announcement, Romney disingenuously attacked President Barack Obama for $700 billion in Medicare cuts. It was the old misleading "Medi-scare" tactic again, targeted at senior citizens.  In 2009, Medicare spending was about $500 billion, and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Medicare spending will grow to a budget busting $930 billion in 2020. 

President Obama has not cut Medicare, rather Obamacare calls for $500 billion in savings over the next decade through operational efficiencies and more effective care.  But Ryan's plan also calls for about $500 billion in savings.  The plan would control Medicare spending by converting some of it into subsidies for private insurance, thereby shifting more of the burden to individuals.  Ryan's plan also calls for privatizing Social Security.

The selection of Ryan turns the election into a choice rather than a referendum on Obama's presidency.  In Ryan's own words, "We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes."  To liberals, this is code for cutting social programs.  And President Obama’s campaign quickly responded saying Ryan’s selection is, “a commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy.”

Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee and a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.  He is in his seventh term in Congress, and he previously worked as a staffer on Capitol Hill before his election.  He is a Washington insider who serves a largely rural Wisconsin district that sits between Milwaukee and Madison.  Ryan supported the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq War, and TARP, the 2008 government bank bailout that was unpopular with conservatives.  

During the Republican presidential primary, then candidate Newt Gingrich said the Ryan budget plan was "social engineering", a charge he later retracted.  The CBO said of the plan that it was possible seniors would face higher costs, and its enactment could result in, “reduced access to health care; diminished quality of care; increased efficiency of health care delivery; less investment in new, high-cost technologies; or some combination of those outcomes.”  

Upon accepting the role as Romney's running mate, Ryan said, "We won't duck the tough issues, we will lead. We will not blame others we will take responsibility.  We won't replace our founding principles, we will reapply them."  Ryan is young, 42 years-old, energetic, ambitious and driven.  He is severely conservative on social issues like abortion and gun control, and a Catholic.  

Ryan's selection will only further highlight the differences between the opposing sides and charges up the party base.  But his selection may cause problems among another key group of likely Republicans voters: seniors.  Furthermore, it is unclear how his views will be received among independent voters, a group likely to decide the election's ultimate outcome.     

This has been a rough month for Romney, filled with gaffs and missteps by his staff.  Romney has been under siege to release more of his federal tax returns, including from leading Republicans.  Questions of the legality of a $100 million trust fund he set up for his sons and of the wisdom of establishing off shore bank accounts have been a constant drumbeat. The Ryan announcement is sure to provide a brief respite from all the incoming attacks.    

Romney corrected himself in Saturday's Ryan announcement, ""Every now and then I'm known to make a mistake. I did not make a mistake with this guy. But I can tell you this. He's going to be the next vice president of the United States."  And later, Ryan was earnest, "It will take leadership and the courage to tell you the truth, Mitt Romney is this kind of leader, together we will unite this country and get this done."

Now the two sides are more clearly defined for voters.  But will the vice presidential candidate matter?  In the end, the election will rest on the state of the economy on election day, and on who voters believe they can trust.  Mitt Romney still has a lot of work to do on the trust issue.   

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Going Blue

A few weeks ago my daughter, Zoe, asked if she could dye her hair blue.  She wanted to try something different, something distinctive, something stylish. 

As you might imagine, this resulted in much discussion between her mother and father.  Working to her benefit was the fact that she actually asked permission, as opposed to attempting it on her own.  The idea of blue hair seems consistent with her passion for fashion.  She spends a lot of time looking at designs, fabrics and colors.  She is taking a summer school class in fashion design at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology.  

Like many teenagers, Zoe is trying to discover her identity.  She will be a junior in a prestigious private school, which is very competitive and academically demanding.  Last year was very challenging for her, but she ended the term with a B average.  She also greatly matured and gained in confidence.

While the idea of her having blue hair didn't sit well with me, my reasons for her not to do it seemed trivial.  What would other parents think?  Would she be accepted among her peers?  And I found out that there is no school regulation against it.  So, in the end, we agreed to go along provided that we have it done by a professional.

I am not sure that Zoe had any idea of how complicated and time consuming the dye job would be.  Swaths of her hair were wrapped in foil. 
Bleach was used to remove her natural black hair color.  After two hours of arduous work, performed by a stylist and an assistant, her hair was all white.  She appeared to age thirty years!
Finally, her style team painted each hair with blue dye.  The whole procedure took nearly four hours. (And was very expensive!)
At first, Zoe seemed nervous and tentative about her hair.  And the reactions from her friends, while largely favorable, were mixed.  Nonetheless, she is now very pleased with the way her hair appears. The only drawback so far is that for a few days the blue dye rubbed off on her pillow. 

There are only four weeks remaining before the new school year begins.  It will be interesting to see how the blue hair plays among her classmates.  My guess is it will be will be no big deal.

Zoe is grateful we gave her the opportunity to experiment.  She also knows that her parents treated her with respect, value her opinions and are not unreasonable.  I think the parent-kid bond got a little tighter.

Friday, August 3, 2012

My Medicare Milestone

Today I crossed a major milestone: I now qualify for Medicare.  Yes, I am a Baby Boomer, and I am proud of it!

My first memory, I must have been two years old, was of me looking out my bedroom window watching some kids walk through the empty field next to my suburban Chicago home.  It was as if, for some reason, my brain suddenly decided to start recording at that moment.  I was briefly startled, but soon regained my composure.  From that moment the memories came flooding in. 
My first educational experience was at a Catholic school.  The nuns were very strict, and I got hit with a ruler more than once.  But my crimes were always misdemeanors, like talking out of turn in class or writing on the blackboard.

One day all of the students were administered the new polio vaccine.  Actually, some of the students got the vaccine while others got a placebo.  It was one of the earliest tests of Dr. Jonas Salk's miracle vaccine.  My parents had agreed to allow me to participate; I think I got the vaccine. 

I laugh now when I think of the air raid drills we students endured.  We would regularly practice hiding under our desks, which we were instructed to do in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.  The school also had a bomb shelter that was so well stocked with canned foods and water that there wasn't a lot of room for humans.  To convey the urgency of the situation, school officials showed students civil defense films of atom bombs going off.  "Sir, forgive me, but are you sure we'll be safe under our desks?"

Somewhere around this time I received my first exposure to politics.  I proudly wore an "I Like Ike" button on my shirt, even though I only vaguely knew who General Dwight David Eisenhower was.  I watched a bit of the political conventions on our black and white RCA television, which occupied a prominent spot in our living room.  Our favorite television newscaster was John Cameron Swayze ("and the Camel Caravan").  Edward R. Murrow was our favorite radio newsman.  But there was no television or radio while we were eating dinner.

In the early fifties television was in its infancy, but it was quickly growing in popularity. My sister and I watched Kukla, Fran & Ollie almost every day.  It was an entertaining an endearing puppet show that appealed to children but was popular with adults too.  Then Captain Kangaroo came along, and his show would air on CBS at 8am weekday mornings for the next thirty years.  

Most of my free time was spent outdoors playing in our big backyard, or in the field next to our house.  When my dad got me a bike, I was scared to learn how to ride it.  It got increasingly tense over the course of several days as my dad became impatient with me.  One weekend afternoon he ordered me to get on the bike and said he would run along side of me while firmly holding onto the seat so the bike wouldn't crash.  As we rode along, I detected that my dad had stopped running.  I glanced back and saw him standing in the distance.  Yes, I was actually riding my bike! I loved it!

Not too long after that my dad told my mother she had to learn how to drive.  Mom was scared to death of driving and resisted mightily.  Our house was in a rural western suburb where most of the side roads were a combination of gravel and potholes.  But my dad did not want to play chauffeur every time my mom wanted to go somewhere.  So he told her she had to learn to drive or she would have to walk to the grocery store, which was two miles from the house.  She got her driver's license, but she absolutely hated driving for the rest of her life. 

Our first dog was a collie, and we named her Lady.  We did not want to name her after Lassie, the first dog with a television show named after her.  Regretfully, Lady was hit by a car and killed just down the road from our house.  It was my first loss.  By coincidence, not too long after that my father moved our family to a new house thirty miles away.  And I made new friends and I rode my bike all over town. 

But, as I look back it seems that my earliest memories are all in black and white.  This goes for the  nuns, the students, the town and even the giant garden in our backyard.  There were good guys, the United States, and bad guys, the Soviet Union.  The films of atomic bomb explosions were in black and white, as was news footage of President Dwight Eisenhower.  So too was Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who had a gunfight with the bad guys in the movie High Noon.  As were the Lone Ranger and Tonto, who helped tame the Wild West, and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who hosted a television show called Life is Worth Living.  Every thing seemed so much simpler then.

While I share many memories with millions of Baby Boomers, I wonder: how could time go by so quickly, where have all the years gone?  Maybe that's not all I lost.  Shakespeare said In Much Ado About Nothing, "As they say, when the age is in, the wit is out."