Monthly Archives: October 2011

Wounded Warriors and Marathons: Semper Fi

I’ve been running five or six times a week now in the early a.m. for about 30 years. I do it for both the exercise and for the mental relaxation it gives me. Yet I’ll admit it. There are days — especially as the cold starts to grip NE Ohio — that I’m tempted to say the hell with it and just do what I’m told normal people do at 5 or 5:30 a.m.

Then I saw this story in WaPo, “Two wounded warriors practice true ‘Semper Fi’ in Marine Corps Marathon“:

They met for the first time in the cold and the dark on Sunday morning with 26.2 miles to go.

Carlos Evans was nervous. He’d never done a marathon before. Jimmy King, competing in his seventh Marine Corps Marathon, told him he’d be all right. He said he’d watch out for him.

Between them, they had one leg and three full arms.

The men, part of a team supported by the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, a nonprofit organization, were among dozens of wounded warriors competing. About 130 racers, including Evans and King, used handcycles. Others crossed the finish line on prosthetic legs, where a growing throng cheered.

Evans wanted his family — his wife and two daughters, 1 and 5 years old — to see him finish the race. After all the pain and suffering, he wanted them to see him in a moment of triumph.

But the first few miles were much harder than he had anticipated. The cold caused his shoulder muscles to cramp. The early hills sapped more energy than he thought they should. His prosthetic arm kept slipping out of place. Doubts started creeping in.

“Don’t give up,” King implored. “Keep going.”

The story then examines the injuries they suffered and what motivated them to participate in the marathon. Here’s the conclusion:

In mile 22, Evans hit the wall. He shoulders felt leaden; his abs ached. King encouraged him, making small talk: “Anything to keep his mind off the race.”

They trekked past National Airport, then doubled back past the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery toward the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial. When Evans slowed, King slowed. They had started off as strangers but were now buddies joined in a long, hard slog. “We’re Marines; that’s enough,” King said.

Three hours and 41 minutes after they began, they crossed the finish line together. Volunteers draped medals over their heads. Applause surrounded them. They bumped fists and steered their way through the crowd.

At one point they came to a curb and Evans hesitated, unsure he could negotiate his handcycle safely over it.

“You need a hand?” King said.

King popped up out of his handcycle, hopped over on his leg and helped guide Evans down.

“Got it?”

“Yeah,” Evans said. “Thanks.”

Then they went off to find their families. Evans had a new medal he wanted to show his daughters.

What a great story about personal accomplishment — and about valor, heroism and commitment.

I’ll complain a lot less tomorrow and in the days ahead when I’m up and tying the laces on my running shoes.

And I know this country has plenty of big problems, but with people like Carlos Evans and Jimmy King and thousands of others like them, something tells me things will turn out just fine.

 

Occupy Wall Street: Can the Middle Class be Saved?

OK. I know that elected officials, police and residents in the various Occupy Wall Street cities around the country are losing patience with the demonstrations and the demonstrators. And most likely we are going to see more arrests and violence like what happened in Oakland earlier this week.

So maybe it’s time for the protesters to roll up their sleeping bags and head for home. They have already accomplished what they can. They have focused national attention on the fact that many people — young, old and in between — are out of work and hurting in this country and that corruption on Wall Street has undercut our nation’s economy.

The protests have also highlighted a trend that has significant implications for this nation in the years ahead: the decline of the middle class and the elimination of jobs that provided middle class incomes and lifestyles.

Can the Middle Class Be Saved? Here’s from an extremely informative and comprehensive article in The Atlantic:

The Great Recession has accelerated the hollowing-out of the American middle class. And it has illuminated the widening divide between most of America and the super-rich. Both developments herald grave consequences. Here is how we can bridge the gap between us.

And more:

In October 2005, three Citigroup analysts released a report describing the pattern of growth in the U.S. economy. To really understand the future of the economy and the stock market, they wrote, you first needed to recognize that there was “no such animal as the U.S. consumer,” and that concepts such as “average” consumer debt and “average” consumer spending were highly misleading.

In fact, they said, America was composed of two distinct groups: the rich and the rest. And for the purposes of investment decisions, the second group didn’t matter; tracking its spending habits or worrying over its savings rate was a waste of time. All the action in the American economy was at the top: the richest 1 percent of households earned as much each year as the bottom 60 percent put together; they possessed as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent; and with each passing year, a greater share of the nation’s treasure was flowing through their hands and into their pockets. It was this segment of the population, almost exclusively, that held the key to future growth and future returns. The analysts, Ajay Kapur, Niall Macleod, and Narendra Singh, had coined a term for this state of affairs: plutonomy.

In a plutonomy, Kapur and his co-authors wrote, “economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few.” America had been in this state twice before, they noted—during the Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties. In each case, the concentration of wealth was the result of rapid technological change, global integration, laissez-faire government policy, and “creative financial innovation.” In 2005, the rich were nearing the heights they’d reached in those previous eras, and Citigroup saw no good reason to think that, this time around, they wouldn’t keep on climbing. “The earth is being held up by the muscular arms of its entrepreneur-plutocrats,” the report said. The “great complexity” of a global economy in rapid transformation would be “exploited best by the rich and educated” of our time.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters can’t solve this problem. But they called attention to it and that’s a positive, especially if the Prez, members of Congress and other elected officials can lift their butts off their thumbs and actually accomplish something.

Now the Occupy Wall Street protesters need to follow the advice of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues: “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

Ohio Issue 2: Another Romney Flip-Flop?

OK. I’ve already voted NO on Ohio Issue 2. As I opined a week or so ago, on this issue I’ll stand with the teachers, cops and firefighters against the politicians who view this as a way to advance their own political interests. But I’ll bet there is one politician — Mitt Romney — who wishes he didn’t have to take a stand at all.

First he was for the measure that limits collective bargaining. Then he didn’t really have a position – leaving it up to the voters of Ohio. And now apparently he is back on board the Kasich bandwagon. Oh, boy. Just what conservatives want. Another wishy-washy moderate who spends all of his time straddling the center lane.

Here’s from the NYT, “Romney Appears to Waver on Anti-Union Rules“:

Mitt Romney’s critics are quick to accuse him of being a flip-flopper on important issues, part of an effort by Democrats and his Republican rivals to establish him as a politician without a core.

Mr. Romney gave them new ammunition on Wednesday by appearing to waffle on whether he supports tough anti-union legislation in Ohio that is up for a vote on a referendum in that state.

Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had supported the union rules, imposed by the state’s Republican governor, John R. Kasich, several months ago. Then on Tuesday, in an appearance in the state, he suggested that he would remain neutral on the referendum. And on Wednesday he apologized for “confusion” and said he supported Mr. Kasich and the rules “110 percent.”

The result of the 24 hours of back and forth was a renewed push by Mr. Romney’s political opponents to highlight what they call his routine repositioning on the issues.

I understand why Romney wants and needs to establish some cred with conservatives, especially in key states like Ohio. It strikes me that right now many view him as John McCain without a war record.

So supporting Ohio Issue 2 might help Romney to get his conservative ticket punched. But it’s extremely divisive — and as of now, polls indicate that voters are going to repeal the law with a NO vote.

Here’s from Politico, “Ohio poll: Repeal anti-union law“:

An overwhelming majority of Ohio voters favor repealing a new anti-union law backed by Gov. John Kasich and opposition to the measure has increased sharply in the past month, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

The survey found 57 percent of voters said they support the repeal of what is know as “SB 5,” while 32 percent said they are against the bill’s repeal, amounting to a 25-point margin against the measure. In September, there was just a 13-point margin, with 51 percent saying they supported the repeal of SB 5 and 38 percent indicating they were against it.

And a key point:
The Quinnipiac poll found support for repealing SB 5 fell noticeably along party lines, with 59 percent of Republicans versus 77 percent of Democrats wanting the measure scrapped. Among independents, 56 percent said they back repeal.
If these numbers hold up, and independent voters do in fact turn out to repeal SB 5, that’s bad news for Romney as it tries to run his middle-of-the-road campaign in November 2012. He will need the independent voters to beat the Prez in Ohio — and conservatives will hold their collective noses and vote for him no matter what.
Better that he stands with the teachers, cops and firefighters now.

 

US Air and USA: Total Fail?

I wonder if US Air stands these days as a metaphor for the USA: Trying hard, but pretty much failing at most everything. OK. Maybe I’m being too hard on the United States, even though a new poll points to some 72 percent of us believing that the nation is generally heading in the wrong direction.

US Air clearly had me heading in the wrong direction yesterday. But I guess I should be thankful that I ending up heading anywhere at all.

Here’s the back-story.

I was in Charleston, S.C., on business for two days. And full disclosure. I hate any business-related travel these days; if it wasn’t for the strip search by the Homeland Defenders, it would be no fun at all.

Anyway, I started my return trip to Akron yesterday a.m. at 11 with a choice of stops in either Atlanta, Charlotte or Newark before touching down on terra firma in Akron/Canton. As most know, picking any one of these layover cities over another is equivalent to selecting a headache over an upset stomach. I opted for Charlotte.

And I made it to the Fox Sports Bar in Terminal E right on schedule. But when quaffing a cold one, my BlackBerry began to vibrate like the “personal item” found in a passenger’s bag on a flight to Dublin.

2:27 p.m. — First text message from US Air to Robert Jewell about Flight #2264 — scheduled to depart for Akron/Canton at 3:46 p.m.

Your flight # 2264 from Charlotte (CLT) to Akron (CAK) on Oct 25 has been cancelled. The aircraft is unavailable because of a prior cancellation due to aircraft maintenance.

Please call 1-888-204-6170 for re-accommodation assistance.

We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you for choosing US Airways.

Say, what? Cancelled?

2:28 p.m. — Text message from US Air to Robert Jewell about Flight #2264

The departure time for flight # 2264, from Charlotte to Akron on Oct 25 at 3:46 PM has changed. The flight is operating behind schedule due to maintenance affecting a prior flight. Your estimated time of Departure is 3:46 PM. Since we make every effort to be on time, please be at your gate as originally scheduled as US Airways continues to make every effort to return your flight to an on time schedule.

You can view the flight status of your flight on US Airways by clicking here

Your updated flight information:
Departing on: Oct 25
flight # 2264
Depart: Charlotte (CLT) at 3:46 PM
Arrive: Akron (CAK) at 6:09 PM

We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you for choosing US Airways.

Hmm. That’s interesting. Flight originally scheduled to depart at 3:46 has been delayed to, ah, 3:46.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in the state of North Carolina.”

Recognizing that cowards die many times before their deaths, I approached the gate attendant and opined that while parting may well be such sweet sorrow, I really had no desire to remain in Charlotte tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. (Wonder if the Bard was a frequent flier? Just askin’.”

And the quality of mercy on her part was not strained. There was another flight leaving for Ohio. Unfortunately, it wasn’t departing for Akron/Canton, but for Cleveland.

Me: “But alas, madam, my vehicle be at Akron/Canton.”

Her: “You’re fxxxxd big guy.” (Well, not exactly, but allow me some poetic license here. And you get the picture.)

So I made it back to Ohio, albeit the wrong city.

And sometime today I’ll make the trek to the Akron/Canton airport to retrieve my Jeep.

The drive by auto from Charleston to Akron is about 12 hours.

Total fail.

Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Congress

Well, I’m in South Carolina for a few days doing what might be considered by some to be actual work. And while the living is easy, the Internet connection is spotty. So my posts will be pithy.

As I roamed the digital media world early this a.m. I read two stories, both about groups that are trying to influence public opinion and decision-makers. One involves the demonstrations on Wall Street and elsewhere. The other involves the influx of lobbyists to the halls of Congress.

First, Frank Rich, opining in New York, “The Class War Has Begun“:

What’s as intriguing as Occupy Wall Street itself is that once again our Establishment, left, right, and center, did not see the wave coming or understand what it meant as it broke. Maybe it’s just human nature and the power of denial, or maybe it’s a stubborn strain of all-­American optimism, but at each aftershock since the fall of Lehman Brothers, those at the top have preferred not to see what they didn’t want to see. And so for the first three weeks, the protests were alternately ignored, patronized, dismissed, and insulted by politicians and the mainstream news media as a neo-Woodstock for wannabe collegiate rebels without a cause—and not just in Fox-land. CNN’s new prime-time hopeful, Erin Burnett, ridiculed the protesters as bongo-playing know-nothings; a dispatch in The New Republic called them “an unfocused rabble of ragtag discontents.” Those who did express sympathy for Occupy Wall Street tended to pat it on the head before going on to fault it for being leaderless, disorganized, and inchoate in its agenda.

Despite such dismissals, the movement, abetted by made-for-YouTube confrontations with police, started to connect with the mass public much as the Bonus Army did with a newsreel audience. The week after a Wall Street Journal editorial claimed that “no one seems to care very much” about the “collection of ne’er-do-wells” congregating in Zuccotti Park, the paper released its own poll, in collaboration with NBC News, finding that 37 percent of Americans supported the protesters, 25 percent had no opinion, and just 18 percent opposed them. The approval numbers for Occupy Wall Street published in Time and Reuters were even higher—hitting 54 percent in Time. Apparently some of those dopey kids, staggering under student loans and bereft of job prospects, have lots of parents and friends of all ages who understand exactly what they’re talking about.

The second article comes from Politico, “Supercommittee Lobbying: 200 companies, 12 members“:

In just six weeks, nearly 200 companies and special interests have reported that they’re lobbying the 12-member supercommittee.

It’s a stunning ratio of lobbyists to lawmakers but makes sense when you consider the high stakes faced by interests ranging from the health care industry to Native American tribes. The groups fear the supercommittee will find $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction before Thanksgiving by cutting their funding or raising their taxes.

Lobbyists have blitzed Washington, blanketing Capitol Hill with phone calls to lawmakers’ offices, launching multiplatform advertising campaigns and working to activate grass-roots bases.

The scale of the effort, tabulated by POLITICO in a review of recent federal filings, suggests that companies are taking the committee seriously and hoping to blunt whatever comes their way, even as hopes fade on Capitol Hill for a major deal.

“There isn’t much of an upside here in terms of what we’re doing. … It’s not like they are looking at ways to improve anything,” said Rick Pollack, a lobbyist for the American Hospital Association. “They are just looking at ways to chop.”

Why does something tell me that of the two “occupations” the one under way Inside the Beltway will do the most damage?

OK. I’m off for my early a.m. run. And since I’m staying on an isolated plantation in the low country, my toes are crossed that I don’t get paced by an alligator.

Just sayin’.

Reality TV Meets the Real World: Kim and OWS

OK. It’s early Friday a.m. and we’re sliding head first into the weekend. And not much pressing for a pajama-clad citizen journalist to opine about. Here are the top stories via a quick survey of online and dead tree media:

Mad Dog is playing Texas hold’em with Saddam.

Obama’s “Pass This Bill Now” jobs plan got smacked down again last night in the Senate.

Lindsay Lohan arrived late for her court-ordered community service at a morgue in LA and was told to leave. So she drove away in her $80,000 Porsche to get her teeth whitened. Sweet.

Yet beyond the headlines, other significant stories warrant attention. Two involve reality TV and the real world events surrounding Occupy Wall Street and Kim Kardashian.

Here’s from Mediaite — “MTV’s The Real World Is Looking For Some Sexy, Young Occupy Wall Street-ers To Get Real“:

The New York Observer has noticed that Bunim/Murray Productions, the company that produces The Real Worldfor Viacom-owned MTV has posted a casting notice on Craigslist looking for an Occupy Wall Street protester to join the cast of their next season.

So, basically, a giant corporation needs a young person to exploit for money and so they’ve decided the best place to look is amongst that giant group of young people who are sick and tired of being exploited by corporations for money.

Gosh! It’s just like a wacky rom-com odd couple!

Here’s what the posted listing says:

“MTV’s Real World is seeking cast members to tell their unique stories on our show. If you are over the age of 20 and appear to be between the ages of 20-24, and the description below sounds like you, we want to hear from you!

Are you a part of the OCCUPY WALL STREET movement?

If so, please contact realworldcasting@bunim-murray.com. Your subject heading should be YOUR NAME and WALL STREET.

Please attach 3 RECENT PHOTOS and a brief BIO, including your full NAME, DATE OF BIRTH (for ID purposes only) as well as your CONTACT INFORMATION including PHONE #.”

The whole thing is patently ridiculous. Don’t these people realize that, to go on this show, these protesters would have to go against the very things they’re fighting for, thus demolishing their very ideals? I mean, jeez, this is as stupid as creating a show called Jersey Shore and filling the cast with all people from New York instead of New Jersey!

Oh, wait…

Ah, to be young and sexy and sleeping on the sidewalk in Lower Manhattan.

Then there is Kim Kardashian. And dare I say it? There are reports that her marriage to Kris Humphries might not last as long as the NBA lockout. Go figure.

Here’s from a post on AOL TV as found on The Huffington Post:

Uh oh. Have Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries fallen victim to “the curse of ‘Hello!’ magazine” already? It seemed like a marriage made in reality TV heaven, but reports this week suggest that if you haven’t already picked out a gift from Kim’s spectacular wedding list, then don’t bother.

Before the ink’s even had time to dry on the thank-you notes comes news that the newlyweds’ relationship may have hit the rocks. There have been numerous “Splitsville!” reports in various publications, with allegations ranging from serial flirting to visits to a divorce lawyer through missing wedding rings, ex-girlfriends reappearing and — gasp — no reality TV future for Kris.

Now comes a report that Kim’s agent has dropped Kris as a client. And, that the Kardashian reality TV behemoth allegedly has no plans to feature the couple together on a reality show. Not even a road-to-divorce one. And we had so many plans for them …

According to ‘The MailOnline’, not only has Kim’s agent at William Morris dumped Kris, but it could be game over for the fledgling marriage. The website quotes a source close to the pair as saying “I don’t know when they’ll announce the split or why they got married in the first place but they are done.”

The source then spelled it out: “They are divorcing. They haven’t been together for a month and while Kim has been staying in New York she has been staying in a hotel room which Kris has failed to visit.”

And there we were thinking that Kim’s only wedding regret was that she wished she’d stood on a box to kiss her new husband …

‘Life & Style’ says the couple — who, let’s face it, seem to barely even know each other — are living separate lives. A producer on ‘Kourtney & Kim Take New York’ told the magazine that “Kim’s mapping out 2012, including holidays, and Kris isn’t a part of it. Any itineraries for the future don’t include Kris very much. That’s not a good sign.”

But it is a good sign for fans of the show, who presumably can now be rest assured that they’ll be following the sisters’ antics through next year. Sans Kris getting in the way or making Kim look short.

Arrrgh.

I read the news today, oh, boy!

Inside the Beltway: Almost Heaven?

When buying or selling a home, the old quip was that only three things mattered: location, location, location. Of course, nobody can buy or sell a home these days, unless you live and work Inside the Beltway or in one of its appendix communities. Location matters.

And right now there is no better location than DC. And I wonder how that shapes the worldview of the politicians, lobbyists, federal government workers, policy wonks and other miscreants who dominate the public policy agenda?

Here’s from Politico, “Census: D.C. is country’s wealthiest area“:

Washington, D.C., is now the country’s wealthiest metro area, replacing Silicon Valley in the top slot, according to new data from the Census Bureau.

The average household income for residents of the Washington metro area was $84,523 in 2010, when the nation’s median household income was $50,046, Bloomberg reported in an analysis of census data.

According to the new data, — Bloomberg reports that San Jose had an average income of $83,944 in 2010, dropping from $84,483 in 2009. The average household income for Washington last year also fell from 2009, when the average was $85,168.

Federal workers last year had average total compensation of $126,369, representing an increase from $122,697 in 2009. As of June, the Washington metro area had 170,467 federal employees, according to the analysis.

The Washington metro area has about 5.6 million residents with a total household income of about $221.4 billion; the San Jose area population is about 1.8 million, and has a total income of $67 billion, Bloomberg also reported.

And from Mediaite, “Washington, D.C., is America’s Best-Paid City“:

Normally, hearing that your city offers the highest average income in the country is something to celebrate, but today’s news that the Washington metropolitan area (which includes the District of Columbia and parts of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia), has surpassed San Jose’s metropolitan area (better known as Silicon Valley), for the highest average income is likely to be met with jeers and groans.

With an informed base of Tea Partiers angry with the Washington elites, and thousands of protesters on the streets of every major city in America placing blame on Wall Street and the Washington cronies who protect Wall Street’s interests, this news couldn’t have come at a less opportune time.

According to Frank Bass and Timothy R. Homan of Bloomberg News:

Federal employees whose compensation averages more than $126,000 and the nation’s greatest concentration of lawyers helped Washington edge out San Jose as the wealthiest U.S. metropolitan area, government data show.

Last year, the typical household in the Washington metro area earned $84,523. In San Jose, that number was $83,944. The national median income for 2010 was $50,046. Pushing the Washington numbers up? Lots of lawyers and lobbyists. Bloomberg computed that Washington has one lawyer for every 12 city residents. By comparison, New York State boasts one out of every 123 residents, while California’s is one in 243. And the 12,964 registered lobbyists in the Washington area combined to set a record for money spent on lobbying efforts, reaching $3.51 billion last year, up from $3.49 billion in 2009.

Wow. And what’s the median pay for public school teachers in Ohio? I digress.

Anyway, here’s an interesting analysis in the NYT, “Why Washington Really Likes Itself“:

IF it sometimes seems as if Washington exists in a totally different economic universe from the rest of us, rest assured: it does. According to Gallup, the District of Columbia is the most economically optimistic part of the country.

Every day, the polling organization surveys Americans of all income levels about whether they think current economic conditions are good, and whether the economy is getting better. The results of these two questions make up Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index.

The latest index report shows that the District of Columbia is far more confident in the economy than any state, by a long shot. In every state, most residents think the economy is getting worse; in the nation’s capital, fully 60 percent think the economy is getting better.

And yet the District of Columbia also has an unemployment rate above the nation’s — 10.8 percent, compared with 9.1 percent — and persistent ills like crime and poverty.

“If ever there were a place where people not only tend not to face economic facts, but it’s almost their purpose not to face economic facts, it’s Washington,” said P. J. O’Rourke, a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard and a political satirist.

And more:
According to the government’s housing price index, the worth of homes nationwide fell 2 percent last quarter. In Washington, they grew 2 percent. Zillow, a company that tracks real estate data, says three of every thousand homes in Washington are in foreclosure, less than a third the rate for the nation.

There is, of course, a large subset of Washingtonians who are not flush with federal largesse, as indicated by the high jobless rate.

Washington has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, with 18.4 percent of residents living below the poverty line, a rate exceeded by only three states in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available.

Washington also has the highest income inequality in the country, according to the Census Bureau. For decades there has been a sharp divide between the haves and the have-nots in Washington. Northwest Washington is mostly white and wealthy; the other sections are largely black and poor.

“I do think that the views of politicians, specifically, are warped by their social networks and backgrounds,” said Larry M. Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University and author of “Unequal Democracy.”

Perhaps this enduring divide explains a complacency among the better-off toward how others live. To the extent that those in Washington who are suffering from economic downturn are the same people who are normally suffering during boom times, the heightened pain may not be that noticeable. “There are high and deep pockets of poverty in Washington, but they’ve been here for a while,” Mr. Bernstein said. [Note: Quote from Jared Bernstein, one of the architects of the administration’s Stimulus One plan and now a policy wonk opinion on economic and policy issues.]

Longtime Washingtonians may also have become inured to the cries that the national economy is teetering on the edge of the abyss. There are, after all, myriad politicians and pundits who have built entire careers on proclamations that the sky is falling.

Ah, dudes. In many parts of the country, the sky is falling.

But not apparently in DC. So to paraphrase the late warbler John Denver,  Almost heaven, Inside the Beltway.