Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Monster(s) in my Midst

A couple of recent events - the Jerry Sandusky case and the release of the Boy Scout's perversion files - have led me to reflect on an event from my own childhood that parallels the two events.

I was in Boy Scouts my whole childhood - and pretty active in it too. About 6 months after I joined my troop, one of the assistant scoutmasters (let's call him Larry) resigned. When I asked my parents aboout it they were pretty straightforward with me about it. Jerry had also been an assistant football coach at the high school I would eventually attend and my mother told me that he had "approached" a boy in the shower. That was reported to school officials, and he agreed to resign and leave town. And that's what he did. He packed up his family and moved half-way across country.

This was handled rather matter of factly as I recall. It was not reported in the media, and though it was an open secret, no one ever said "hey, this is wrong. We should prosecute the guy, or force him to seek counseling or something. But just making him leave town is only pushing the problem onto someone else. It's highly likely they'll be other victims because of it." Two years later, my troop was at an event in Larry's new home state and he stopped by to say hello. No one was creeped out by him and I remember being glad to see him. None of the adults in the troop, at least one of whom was there when he left, thought that his visit was inappropriate.

When the Jerry Sandusky case broke, I naturally started thinking of this event. What ever happened to the guy, I wondered. So I looked him up in his new home state. Sure enough, about 10 years after the incident in my hometown (and about 8 years after I last saw him) he committed some crime that got him registered as a sex offender. I'm not sure what he did, but I can guess. I wonder now if the victim in that case knows about what happened to Larry in Texas; how people kind of knew what they were dealing with, and pushed Larry their way. I wonder if they thought about suing.

Then, this month, the Boy Scouts released their perversion files. I searched them, and even though many of the "perverts" listed in it were listed by number, Larry was in there by name. There was a file on him about the incident that got him run out of town. The story I had heard was wrong. Larry didn't approach a high schooler at the shower of the high school, he molested two boys on a Boy Scout camping trip. A trip I was likely on. Even though I don't know which two boys he molested, I definitely know them. I knew everyone in my troop. I guess I was lucky it wasn't me, but it feels weird to feel lucky that someone else was sexually assaulted.

So now I wonder, did my parents know the real story (probably not and they don't claim to). The parents of the two victims, according to the file, decided not to prosecute. Do they know what happened to Larry later?  Do they regret that decision? And what about the school officials - a Catholic school I should note - where he worked? They knew. Or the scout troop leaders? And how many victims did Larry leave in his wake before he was caught?

I guess my main thoughts on all of this is that the Jerry Sandusky case is only special in that he was so high profile. This story, or one similar to it, played itself out in town after town, all across the country, for decades. I hope that now we're in a place where no one would just "run the guy out of town on a rail." and that we'll look back on that behavior the same way we'd look at "Colored Only" drinking fountains, as an ignorant and fear-based behavior that now seems so far out of step with American values. The people who made these decisions are people I know well (even when I'm not sure who decided what). Good people. In some case people I admired. And they made these horrible decisions because that's what you did at the time. I'd like to think that these kinds of decisions aren't made anymore. And I wonder what decisions I'd make today that would be looked at in the same way 30 years from now.

Anyway, this seems like an appropriate post for Halloween. There are monsters out there, and some of them are upstanding community leaders.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

On Romney, Service and Ambition

Mitt Romney is a man of considerable talent and ability - a real life John Galt if you will. He claims that he wants to be president to help the American people. In 2008, after the election was over, he found himself largely free of commitments. He could have done anything. At the same time, American was plunging headlong into the worst economic recession in 80 years. So what does a man of such talent with free time and a drive for service do when Americans are suffering - a man who believes in the private sector and that government doesn't create jobs or solve problems? 

In Mitt Romney's case he raised money for Republican candidates, wrote a book and served on the board of Marriott. 

He did not fund raise for charities, create a foundation or otherwise dedicate his extensive business and political skills towards alleviating the problems that Americans face. When Americans were hurting and Romney could have dedicated himself to service in a non-governmental role, he chose to run off to Galt Gulch and wait for the collapse to complete. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Weekend of the World

1. If Oscars were given for one's cumulative effort over the year, Matthew McConaughey might get a nomination for best actor. None of his roles this year are good enough on their own, but he's put together a group of good efforts and yes, in some he takes his shirt off.

2. Film making is a relatively new art form. Closely related to stage drama, it is a collaborative art. But unlike the stage it is permanent rather than ethereal. How many thousands of plays have come and gone, lost to humanity forever? And while films have been destroyed and lost or, like Savannah Smiles, merely forgotten many of them remain. We've already seen movies remade over and over again. Rear Window has not only been remade, but it was the basis for Disturbia and Fright Night (which itself has been remade). So is it getting harder and harder to come up with a truly original story?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekend of the World: Debate

1. Trying to discredit Obama by calling this the "Worst economic recovery" in xx years is a little like criticizing a coach for an ugly win. First of all, there haven't been that many recoveries since the Great Depression, so it's kind of a small sample size. Second, this recession was worse than all those others. And third, no growth still puts you in the middle of the spectrum. It's not as good as strong growth, but still better than a recession. Of course, Americans are optimists, so slow growth won't meet with their expectations. There are certainly things that Obama could have done to make the recovery better (It's almost always true that people can do better, but the more you expect the less likely that is to be possible), and I'm sure the administration would have done things differently if it had thought it might lose Sen. Kennedy's seat in early 2010 or known had bad things were, but still, this isn't as devastating an attack as people make it out to seem. It's like a college freshman complaining about how lousy his girlfriend is in bed - there are still a lot of virgins who would gladly trade places with him (Spain, Greece, etc..).

2. At the debate, Romney had the advantage of being able to behave as though we were in a crisis, but Obama had to behave as though we were not. He had to be calm and low-energy. Not that he didn't suck, but he had some disadvantages going in.

3. In the $20,000 pyramid category "Things Obama wished he'd mentioned at the debate" you can add this: when Romney was going on about his ability to reach across the aisle, Obama should have mentioned that Romney, in one term, used his veto power 844 times - and that 700 times the legislature overrode it.

4. What Joe Biden should have said after Ryan's laugh line about him knowing  "that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way".  "Y'know I've had my fair share of gaffes. In fact I might be an expert in gaffes. And that was no gaffe. That was him speaking from the heart." OR "I know gaffes. Gaffes are my forte, and that was no gaffe."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Best Debate Questions

The first presidential election I voted in was in 1992. That election was notable for a lot of reasons, but one that stuck with me was the introduction of the town hall format in which undecided voters were allowed to ask questions.

I remember being disappointed with the questions that were asked, though going back and re-reading them, I realize I was too harsh.

Aside: It's really interesting to read old debate questions and answers knowing what we know now. For example, in '92 someone asks the candidates when parties will nominate women and/or African-Americans for president. No one gives a date, but they all say they'd like to see it within their lifetime. Perot even names a few possibilities: Colin Powel (who he thinks will be on someone's ticket in '96), General Calvin Waller (who died before the '96 election), Sandra Day O'Connor and Dr. Bernadine Healy Bush throws out Dr. Lou Sullivan. Meanwhile, America's first African-American president was then a new law professor at the University of Chicago working on registering voters for the '92 election.

Anyway, ever since then, I often find myself thinking about what question I'd ask were I given the chance. I often gravitate to questions where all answers are somewhat unappealing, perhaps because that gets one close to the truth, perhaps because it reveals some lie. 

Below I've listed the best questions I've been able to come up with. They're in no particular order, except for the last one. Also here's some questions by Ruth Marcus. And others from Politico

Obama: Are American's better off than we were four years ago, and if not, why shouldn't we change leadership?

Ryan: You have advocated for a government that is small and limited. You have simultaneously criticized the President for not using the goverment to undo damage to the economy that was enormous and widespread. Isn't pursuing a small, weak government tantamount to asking that government be less capable of solving big problems? Do you see any disconnect between what you advocate for and what you criticize the president for?

Romney: In a video you made while at Bain Capital, you said it would often take 8 years to turn a company around, and yet you've criticized the President for not turning the country around in half that time. Why is reviving the nation's economy easier than turning a single business around?

Obama: Why haven't you dealt with the fiscal cliff yet? And what is your plan to do so? Do you believe the threat of it is hurting people, and if so do you regret agreeing to it?

Romney: In your 2008 concession speech you predicted that President Obama would "retreat from the war on terror" and "declare defeat", that a win by Obama "would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that would make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child's play. About this, I have no doubt." Do you believe your prediction was accurate? If not, how much credence should we give your prediction this year that "If Barack Obama is re-elected...the future will not be better than the past."?

Romney: During the primary you bragged that you'd never had a DC address. Why do you think that is a good quality, especially in light of the fact that you ran for the Senate and named someone who's lived in DC for more than a decade as your Vice-President?

Romney: A central claim of your campaign is that, as a successful businessman, you are uniquely qualified to restore the economy, because you understand how the economy works. Looking at American history, which presidents do you think follow that model? Which successful businessmen, once in the White House, became good shepherds of the US Economy?


During the primary, Rick Santorum said of you "The experience Gov. Romney keeps touting out there is not the experience you need to be president. A CEO directs people to do what the CEO thinks is right to do, and those people work in his chain of command. Senators and congressmen don't work for the president. You've got to work with people, not order people." Isn't that a valid point? 

Both: The day after Paul Ryan's convention speech, a lot of the discussion was about what the independent fact-checkers were calling untruths within it. No one's hands are clean. For example, Politifact has labelled X of Gov. Romney's statements as Pants on Fire and only Y of President Obama's. And yet, both sides turn to the fact-checkers for defense when the other side is found at fault. Unfortunately, this campaign is becoming a race to the bottom.Would you both be willing, from now until the election, to use the fact-checkers - or some other group you can agree on - as a referee, submitting ads to them for approval before running them, pulling ads found to be egregiously untrue and issuing apologies for statements that are deemed the worst level of falsehoods such as "pants on fire"? Or maybe you could have a standard bet on facts? Perhaps $10,000? Gov. Perry may not have been a gambler, but you know the guy who invested in Solyndra is. 

Romney: You've claimed the stimulus didn't work and that what we need are tax cuts to get the economy going, but 36% of the stimulus WAS tax cuts. So if tax cuts are what is needed, then why didn't the stimulus work?

Obama: You came to office promising to change the way Washington worked, with the implication being that you would be a post-partisan president. I think it's safe to say that you've failed in that. Where did you go wrong? How partisan do you predict a 2nd Obama term would be?

Romney: At the convention you said that ""If Barack Obama is re-elected...the future will not be better than the past." Do you think the United States is so weak that it is only one bad president away from an eternal downward path? 

Obama: A lot of people are out of work, and have been for a long time. Median income is down. Despite promising to change Washington, it's more partisan than ever. You failed to close Guantanamo, pass cap-and-trade legislation and comprehensive immigration reform. As a result, a majority of Americans say they don't think you've earned a second term. Are Americans wrong to be disappointed in you?

Both: (via Walter Pincus) "If the need arises again to send American forces to fight abroad, would you get authorization from Congress and a special tax to pay for those operations?"

Ryan: After the midterm election, Sen. McConnell said that "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." He didn't say that it was to create jobs. Do you think that Republican efforts to deny Obama a second term undermined their ability to achieve lesser goals like creating new jobs?

Romney: You've been unwilling to make more than 2 years of your tax returns public. You've also avoided telling Americans the specifics of how you would pay for the tax cuts you propose while reducing the deficit. You're a businessman. Would you invest in a business that would only show you last year's financials and would not provide you the details of their business plan?

Romney: Some have characterized the absence of George W. Bush from your nominating convention as a tacit admission that his presidency was a failure. But at the same time, a lot of your advisers served in the Bush administration. So do you think George W. Bush was a successful president or not?

Both: When President's leave office, there is often an ugly pardon process in the final days. In addition, many find it unseemly when President's pardon former political appointees as both of the Bush's did. Would you commit to a promise to never pardon one of your political appointees for crimes committed during your presidency and to no pardons between the Presidential election before you leave office and the day you leave office?

Both47% of Americans pay no income tax. Is this a problem and if so, how do we solve it?

Romney: If you were a successful governor of Massachusetts, why is it that only 6 years after leaving office, you aren't likely to win the state in November?

A note before the final question: Let me point out that I believe the following question is very dirty pool. It really is not fair, because it is designed to make Romney look like a racist, and I don't believe he is a racist. Nor do I believe that an answer of "no" makes one a racist. But, if that were his answer, it could be a devastating question.  I wouldn't ask it though and I wouldn't respect someone who did.

Romney: Some people have said that your campaign's attack on the welfare waivers the Obama administration issued was a racial dog whistle. This, combined with the behavior of a few bad apples at the RNC who threw peanuts at a reported and the fact that you're polling at 0% among African-Americans creates for some the perception that while Republicans are not racists, the Republican Party is where racists find a home. So I wonder, have you ever voted for a black person and if so, who was it and when?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Weekend of the World - Irony and Elections

1. With all the money that is moving from wealthy Americans - money that would have probably sat in stocks or other forms of savings and holdings - to the world of advertising and campaigning, well over $2B; it is like a little bitty stimulus package paid for mostly by a tax on the wealthiest Americans.

2. SAT scores are down on the verbal element. But students who used to not take the test are now taking it because more kids are going to college. Which means comparing one year's results to another is meaningless. A better analysis would be to compare the average SAT score of incoming freshmen at the top 100 colleges. That, I suspect, is going up. As near as I can tell, the Flynn effect is still happening and the SAT's probably adjust for it automatically. So another good question is how would today's students do on the older tests?