Walking to Victory with Joe Biden: The Debate “Scorecard”…..(What a Guy!!)

I have opined in an earlier post that America is, indeed, at a crossroads.  Crucial choices we make next month as an electorate will decide the future direction of  a country struggling to keep its identity as “a shining city on a hill”.  Will we continue to be, as Bill Bennett argues, the world’s “Last Best Hope?”  Or shall we continue what many perceive as a decline in our world stature……the “next” failed empire, and follow the Euro-zone into relativism and economic implosion?

We are now in the stage of the campaign where the swords of the contestants are crossed in a series of  ‘debates’.  The vitriol and negativism of the media machinery are at their height, but this is not new.  The heat of the campaign ‘kitchen’ has always been intense.  A study of  campaigns as far back as those of  Adams, Jefferson and Jackson will reveal shocking assertions and tactics, so low in many instances as to raise even the eyebrows of  modern pundits and analysts.  It is almost as if the debates are an island of civility in a roiling sea of acrimony and vitriol.  The contestants are introduced, smile and shake each other’s hand, and retire to predetermined podiums or tables where they are expected to “play nice” and to concede to the authority of a ‘moderator’.

This is, after all, a time-honored tradition, going back centuries.  ‘The debates’ are as much a part of the political culture as the keynote speeches of the conventions or the ceremonial casting of votes by the contenders in their home states and cities or towns.

It is a positive thing for the country that this tradition can persevere.  With the polarization of  the electorate now so severe that 80% of the campaign visits of either candidate have centered on a mere handful of “swing-states”,  it is perhaps more crucial than ever that the debate productions remind us all that the issues can be discussed; argued; and analyzed in a civil and controlled manner, and in a forum where rules exist and are enforced to ensure a level field of play and a courteous (if spirited) dialogue.  The drums of division can, at least for a moment, be stilled.  The jingoism and crude characterization of either side in slogans or placards by the other can be  suspended.

I was a high school debater.  I enjoyed it enough that I happily worked hard enough at the research; rehearsal; and skills of dialogue and extemporization to become a captain of our team when I was a senior.  Under the aegis of the “N.F.L.“,  (National Forensic League)  I was able to overcome stage fright; shyness and self-doubt to develop skills which helped my team to tie for third place in the state during my senior year.  While it developed my oratorical skills and honed my ability to speak publicly, what was most important for me was that it taught me the merits of logical analysis and the benefits to persuasion of structured argument.

It is no secret that the tradition of presidential debate was solidified forever in 1960; when the public was introduced to the first televised series of presidential debates.  This innovation had two results for the country.  The first was positive.  The second was not.

First, it helped the contestants reach an audience never before achieved in electoral history.  Television enabled the electorate to hear, and to react, to the arguments in real-time, without the need to have to read it in a newspaper the next day.  One no longer had to have the patience and/or ability to read lengthy narratives or quotes to be truly informed about the candidates’ stands on the crucial issues of the day.

Second, it allowed the media to become more powerful an “estate”.  The “fourth estate” was now able to relate to the public not just the narrative and the textual content of the candidates’ assertions and responses to each other, but also its’ “take”, or “slant” on matters irrelevant to the arguments; the logic; or the oratorical skills of the candidates.  The media/press was emboldened by the technology of television to opine; assert, and yes, to judge the contestants on matters theretofore only the province of Hollywood or Broadway critics.

The victory of Kennedy over Nixon was as narrow as we have seen, even in recent years.  Had the media not made such an issue of Nixon’s’ apparent perspiration (in the heavy lights of black-and-white television production back then); or of the existence of  his ‘five o’clock shadow’ it is arguable that the election could have turned out differently.  This ‘judging’ was not of  logic or analysis, but rather of physical attributes.  Debates had gone ‘Hollywood‘.

And so began the decline, (at least to this writer) of the quality of the ‘debates’.  Less emphasis on qualitative logic and analysis, and much more emphasis on “gotcha” moments (remember Quayle’s blinking disbelief at the comment ‘…you’re no Jack Kennedy“…?      or….Reagan’s ‘home run’ zinger…”…there you go again“…?).  My interest in the debates began to wane.  As argumentative skill was no longer at a premium to the ‘judges’, I realized that the media had taken over the playing field.  The condensation of the ‘zingers” and the ‘gotcha’ moments would flood the printed pages and the airwaves, and the “winner” would be the one with the least stutters; the best laughs; and the fewest  ‘fact-checkable’ assertions.

Until last Tuesday.

When I saw the performance of our Vice President, I began to realize that the time-honored tradition of classic oratory and debating skill was still alive and well.  That Joe Biden…..what a guy!

Allow me to demonstrate.  In classic debate forums; a debate is judged objectively, and a ‘victory’ goes to the contestant most adept in the following categories:

Logically Defensible Case–(Selection of Arguments):  Mr. Biden was masterful at summing up the defense of the ‘status ‘quo’ of the last four years.  The Obama administration was in control of the economy; the situation in Libya and the proper pace of the draw-down of troops in Iraq.  He supported these assertions with geometric logic which was irrefutable and unrebuttable.

Analysis–(Ability to Analyze the Topic Area):  Again, “Joltin’ Joe” was in command throughout the debate.  The Libyan embassy situation, for example, was a result of intelligence failings, and as a result the administration could not have done anything different.  His logic was concise and his analysis was keen.

Organization–(Ability to Organize Ideas into a Structured Whole):  The vice-president’s ability to organize complex issues enabled him to harness the minutia of myriad statistical studies and to present them in layman’s’ terms

Evidence-(Support of Arguments with Information):  Again, the clear winner here was Biden.  He was able to use the “wonkishness” of Mr. Ryan against him by reminding  the other “average Joes” out there in the audience that Ryan was like the smartest kid in the class at school that everybody hated.  Mr. Ryan’s almost ‘savant’ command of  economic data was used as evidence that Romney/Ryan were not to be trusted.

Language–(Phrasing of Concepts Clearly and Concisely):  Decades of public service had served Mr. Biden well.  He has a folksiness and beaming smile which is at once disarming and brutal.  He was easy to understand. He spoke the language of the ‘common man’ 

Refutation–(Perception of Irrelevant or Irrational Arguments):  The vice-president was able to parry each and every one of Mr Ryan’s’ assertions directly, with a “matter-of-factness” that was devastating.

Use of Allotted Time–(Conciseness of argument):  An old law school professor of mine use to tell us, before the essay portion of our final examinations, that “brevity is its’ own reward”.  Joe was succinct; to the point; and never went over his allotted time.

There you have it.  Mr. Biden was the clear winner as a function of forensic debate parameters.  His performance has already become the stuff of legend.   (What a guy!!)

One hopes he will participate in the coaching of the President in his preparations for the second debate with Mr. Romney.  The style he seems to champion seems like a natural fit for someone ‘at sea’ without a teleprompter.

We can only hope……


Walking the Capitol Steps–(A Long, Tot Hummer in the Sting Swates)

The campaign for the 2012 presidential election is going along pretty much as I predicted.  It’s going to get much uglier.  Already overwhelmed by the plethora of ads both sides are buying, I find myself  jaded to the point of apathy.   But there is no escape.

sameoldI live in one of the handful of “swing states” that both campaigns are targeting with 40% of their campaign coffers.  Add to this the incessant yammering of the “talking heads” at CNN; Fox; MSNBC; etc., and it seems you are going to have to become more  familiar with your DVD collection, or, to at least become aware of the location of the nearest RedBox, if you are to enjoy any of your repose before your television between now and November.  

It is sad that the media has been successful in steering the emphasis away from the real issues at hand, and instead, substituted the “gaffe du jour“; the “YouTube moment”; and even the filleting of the CEO of Chick-fil-A. as the real “meat” of the contest.   It is even sadder that our indifference in this, our  “apathy”  stage of  this deteriorating empire, encourages the chicanery.   ‘Slogans’ have given way to ‘keywords’ and ‘tags’.  Party “platforms” have all but disappeared from public view, lest they become “trapdoors” unlatched by a random “live mike” or the fuzzy, (but remunerated) recollections of a high school acquaintance.

Indeed, the campaigns have become so comic; so surreal, that, were an alien  to peruse the media as he orbited prior to landing, he would be quite reasonably certain that the contest is between a Kenyan socialist from Hawaii and a hairdresser (since high school) from Michigan. He would note that unemployment compensation creates  jobs  (Who knew?);  that the most important laws and most comprehensive administrative regulations passed in Congress are actually passed before they are read,  and that a reasonable result of having produced 163,000 new jobs is an increased unemployment rate (8.3%).

Strange place, this USA.

Indeed, so strange, that I find it sadly pointless to debate any of the substantive issues, regardless of my political leanings, since it is these self same  issues which are pointedly ignored by the media due to the revenue magnetism of ‘reality” genre television, and by the candidates and their handlers out of simple convenience.   When I started this blog, I looked forward to using my education in political science; law; history and literature to writing essays and commentary which would do George Will or Mike Royko proud.  But, as apathy has become the grease by which we hasten our descent to a total state of dependence on governmental largesse merited not by individual worth, but by common demography,  it seems clear that it’s the sound-bites; the teleprompters: and the “fuzzy math” of  vote tabulation which will win the day for whichever side is victorious.

As such, in the interest of my sanity, I have deleted the many drafts I have started, on everything from ‘flat-taxes’, to media de-contextualization of sound-bites; to Wall Street coziness with Congress, and beyond.  I find that the only hope I can have to reach out to those still curious enough to look at the issues is by helping to convince them of the media’s high-jacking of the process by exposing the sheer silliness of its’ style and emphasis.  If we are serious about changing course, or serious about keeping the current course, we owe it to ourselves to look beyond the charlatans of the media and to look for the real beef in the issues.

As a “fair and balanced” observer of the political scene, I read and watch multiple sources of news:  Fox; CNN; RealClearPolitics; Politico‘ and PBS and NPR.  One of my favorite broadcasts on NPR is the semiannual presentation put on by a group called “The Capitol Steps“.  This comedy troupe is well accomplished in writing “send-ups” of all that is political,  and provides a merry mix of song; narrative and dramatic vignettes which spares no side or faction from its’  ‘lampoonery’.  My favorite part of the show is what I refer to as “Alliterative Dyslexia”, wherein the beginning consonants  or complete syllables of words in phrases and names, are switched for each other, mostly with hilarious results.  ( Some people refer to these as “Spoonerisms”….  I like my name better)

I present the following not to be cute; nor to supportive of one side or the other.  I present the following inanity to illustrate just how close the real world of the media is to a state of inanity; and to how little it still yet takes to see it for what it is:

It was a sot hummer.  Way HOO tot.  Ho sot he could stardly hand it anymore.  He bopped open a peer, and cat on the souch.  Rurfing away on the semote, he was coon sussing at all the comitical polercials.

“Ritt Momney” wants to Taise your raxes, middle America!”  (click)

“Obama now supports  “may garriage”…..but nat’s thot what he said in 2008.  He’ll do anything to vet your gote”.  (click)

“Ritt Momney exported jousands of thobs when he ran Cain Rapital.  Was one of those yobs jours?”  (click)

“Rarry Heid and Pancy Nelosi are bending us into spankruptcy.  And that’s bust the jeginning.”   (Click)

“Here at Fox, we’re bair and falanced……let’s look at this clip of Miss Chratthews talking about how, when he thinks about Barak Obama, it sends ‘lingles dunning rown his teg.’ “.   (click)

“Remocratic Depresentative Waxine Maters sez:  ‘The Pea Tarty can ho to gell!’  ”  (click)

“Obama, on tampaign crail , reminds business owners:  “You bidn’t duild that.  Hovernment gelped.”  “(click)

“Commander-in Chief’ cispronounces ‘more’ as ‘morpse” …. Taulty feleprompter blamed”  (click)

“Obama says some Pennsylvania voters prefer to ‘cling to their gaith  and their funs’.”‘   (click)

“Ritt quoted as promising 12 jillion new mobs in first term”     (click)

“Ritt bights fack at allegations of tullying as a been.”  (click)

“Obama bires fack at suggestion he is flanning the fames of ‘class warfare’ ”  (click)

“Justice Department sues states for voter I.D. laws which violate the Rill of Bights”  (click ‘off’)

He rossed the temote on the table and got another feer from the bridge.  He rolled the can across his brow, defreshed by its’  skoolness against his rin.  Opening it, he took a swong lig and tried to sake some mense out of what he had just seen.

He was underemployed at a jeager mob. The hortgage on his mouse was still underwater.  Gasoline was pushing four gollars a fallon, and it was harder this summer than ever before just to put tood on the fable.  None of what he had just seen provided a plogent  can for stump-jarting the economy.  All he could fook lorward to was  the coming deventions and the conbates.  There, spectacle would surely overcome  substance; rehearsal would trump refutation.

He thridled at the bought that campaigns had degenerated into a slicing and dicing of the electorate into ‘sting-swates’,  where bace-raiting and frass cliction would be used to vet out the gote in an all-out effort to take the wheel of the bus  leaving Dependence, Illinois in November, and arriving in Bondage, Georgia soon thereafter.

He sighed.  It moesn’t datter who is driving when you can’t range the choute.

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” —Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816

The Decline of a Nation.  (Copyright (C) 1996-2012 Probe Ministries)

 The first stage moves from bondage to spiritual faith. The second from spiritual faith to great courage. The third stage moves from great courage to liberty. The fourth stage moves from liberty to abundance. The fifth stage moves from abundance to selfishness. The sixth stage moves from selfishness to complacency. The seventh stage moves from complacency to apathy. The eighth stage moves from apathy to moral decay. The ninth stage moves from moral decay to dependence. And the tenth and last stage moves from dependence to bondage.

Walking With Karen—A Lesson in Humility

For those few of us who may not have had occasion to view; read about; or hear related the sad ordeal of this remarkable woman, have a taste of it by clicking below:

I will reserve judgement as to whether those who can watch it in its’ entirety are callous; strong of stomach, or simply depraved.  (I could not endure past the halfway point)

While Karen has become a YouTube phenomenon and a lightening rod for the commentary of media punditry, it might be easy…even inviting for so nascent a blogger as I, to wax eloquent about it, with walls of text outlining a litany of societal flaws and exhorting the reader to pound his pitchfork; light his torch, and follow me to the forums of  the ethernet where battle can be easily joined with  those who do not profess their disgust loudly enough for our liking.  It would be easy…. but it would not be right.

What would be right would be to forego the sensationalism and the taunts….to stop; place ourselves in Karens’ shoes (or seat); and wonder at the growing portion of the infinitely small time we each and all have on this planet that is being devoted to just such pitchfork- pounding, and how much of our increasingly circumspect vision is being obscured by the smoke of the torches we bear.  Perhaps some precious moments devoted to such contemplation and such clarity of vision would convince us all that, if Karen were any one of us, would we have bided our temper?  Would we have turned the other shoulder after having been poked ( and, technically, assaulted) by the corner edge of a notebook?  Would we have quelled our tongues from lashing out?

Many, if not most of us, would not have bided; turned; nor quelled.  We would have, however understandably, reacted verbally; physically and with gusto.

But Karen did not.

The second coming draws nearer every day.  My take on this incident is simple and succinct:

            *It is a result of a culture so steeped in concepts of entitlement; ego and diversity, and so devoid of respect; faith and humility, that the ‘Golden Rule’ has become a useless tool and the ‘milk of human kindness’ has been supplanted by the energy drink of all that is base in the human soul.*

God bless Karen.  And God save those of us who scorn the thirst for the one true ‘energy drink’ of the soul:

Walking Your Next Mile in the Shoes of Another

Racism, homophobia, “class warfare” etc. ….

These are not so much problems as they are the symptoms of a deeper issue. As a friend in a forum I belong to so succinctly points out: “But wouldn’t it be great if instead of pushing down and trying to take from the others, we could teach ourselves to create and be something bigger?”

Whatever your faith or religion, it cannot be denied that Jesus articulated two basic tenets of harmony: First, that we should love our God; and second, that we should demonstrate our love for our Maker by loving each other as we do ourselves.

Those guilty of ignoring these tenets are members of every race; all ‘genders’; every political party and all religious denominations. Those who strive to enhance their self-perception and regard by noting their own ‘superiority’ via vilification of “the other” are the truly bigoted villains of a healthy society.

It will not be until the ‘second coming’ that these faults can be finally erased from the human condition.

I majored in History. I watched the live coverage of hoses and dogs being used in the South in the ’60’s. “Strange Fruit“, a tale of lynching sung by Billie Holiday, is my favorite song by her. I do not see how anyone can be homophobic about a genre of personalities that include Somerset Maugham and Cole Porter.

Ever seen the films Traffic or Colors?   These powerful depictions of the folly of “otherness” address the basic issue more aptly than any focus group or sensitivity curriculum ever could or will.

Would that everyone could view and comprehend the message of these films. And by “everyone” I mean just that. Yes, caucasian males are the handiest whipping boys on whom to pin the badge of racism and homophobia, but again, the mindset of “otherness” is not confined to just us ‘pinkish prudes’. I note, from personal experience, that:

** My mother still uses the ‘n’-word’. It is reflexive in her and unchecked by the practice of…faith. (The ‘unknown’ as “the other”)

** I’ve worked with middle-aged, well-groomed black female professionals who matter-of-factly related to me their detesting of Condoleeza Rice when she was Secretary of State. They were certain she was the concubine of the elder Bush, and afforded no weight to her obvious intelligence and acumen. (‘Accomplishment and success’ as “the other”)

** I’ve been kicked out of gay bars for having brought a female who danced a bit too flagrantly for the tastes of the attending clientele. (The ‘difficult to pigeon-hole’ as “the other”)

**I’ve been turned down for a position at a former employer who, informed me that my background and qualifications were so good, that it might be “intimidating” to the younger, female prospective co-workers. Since I was securely employed in my current position, it seemed there would be no harm or foul in indulging in excluding ‘the graying male’ (as “the other”).

**At that same large employer, I was reported to security after inserting my hand into the closing doors of an elevator after a break. The refined Jewish female I shared the car with eyed me up and down from my shoes to my straw “Max Cady” fedora. Though I wore the mandated photo ID on my shirt, it was clear she regarded me as an interloper at best, and a public menace at worst.  After disembarking and returning to my desk, I predicted to my team-mates that I would be visited by a security officer soon.  And I was. After satisfying the security officer that I was a bona fide employee, I remarked to them that “I been profiled!” A directory search and a phone call, out of courtesy to my fellow employee in the elevator, did not elicit an apology. (the assertive and ‘severe-looking’ male as “the other”)

** My own former habit of disdaining those who come to church in jeans and sweatshirts has been conquered after working with and talking with these individuals and enjoying their company and contributions. (The ‘less holy than I’ as “the other”)

I could go on for days. My point is that, without the comprehension of, and adherence to,the Golden Rule, all this crap about racism and bigotry and homophobia will continue to be exploited as the favored elements of the arsenal of power politics. ” Divide and Conquer”,…that’s the ticket!!   Always has been, and always will be.

Love yourself!!  Love your neighbor by calling out the charlatans who would divide us by demonizing the other color; the other sexual preference; the other income bracket; the other political party; the other faith.

Resist being counted as ‘sheep”  by brokers of media power and influence.   Only God Almighty can view us as ‘sheep’.  We must all let “the other” shoe drop and finally walk to our own conscience rather than to the cadence of the drums of division.  The’ Golden Rule‘ is not a high-wire.  Its’ path is wide enough for all who shun the politics of division and recognize the Holy Spirit in each  of us as children of God.

‘Walking-Around Money’ (The ‘Baby-Boomer’ Bubble)

(Disclaimer:  As a recently retired financial services representative, I feel obligated to stress that the opinions; observations and factoids contained herein are the opinions of a private individual….not appointed with any vendor of financial services, and not offering said opinions and/or observations out of any motivation other than the sharing of personal experience with financial risk management)

Is your desired retirement date within the next ten years?

Do you measure “recovery” by the number of foreclosures on your street?

Wondering what will be in the next senate bill and what your senator will think of it when he or she does finally read it?

You are not alone.

As a “baby-boomer”, you have the privilege, (deserved or not) …of observing housing and banking ‘bubbles’  as a member of the largest population “bubble” in centuries.  Your sheer number poses an impending economic tsunami in the increasingly turbulent waters of the world economy.

What to do?   Unless you are ready to put in the hours necessary to “day-trade”, you need to speak with some sort of  “financial services representative”.

As unpleasant as this sounds, it is necessary.  Like your doctor; dentist, or attorney, you need someone to protect your ‘portfolio’ (such as it is) with preventative maintenance.

Let’s cover some groundwork:

1)  You must make the decision to act.  No one is going to take you by the hand and review your portfolio until you decide that it just might be prudent to review your risk tolerance; your time horizon for retirement; your desired lifestyle in retirement; and your legacy goals.  Social Security and Medicare are but supplements to your sustenance in your ‘golden’ years.  The ‘safety net’ afforded by these increasingly stretched government resources definitely cannot be regarded as the “hammock” of your long dreamed-of retirement.

2)  You must acquaint yourself with your ‘portfolio’.  In my practice; it was sobering indeed to note that, most people in fact are unfamiliar with their protection portfolio…..and therefore unclear as to what exactly they might have to work with toward retirement planning.  You need to speak with your human resources people at your job to cover a myriad of topics:

Life Insurance:  Is it convertible to your own coverage if you are terminated or leave the company?  Is your privately owned insurance enough to cover your mortgage; debts; education; and survivor needs of your family?

Disability Insurance:  If you are unable to work for other than a work-related injury or illness,  a)  what is the ‘waiting period’ before short-term disability coverage ‘kicks in”?…b)  What percentage of your average pay is paid? 60%?  (It is definitely not 100%)…c)  What duration of time does your fractional disability income last?…d)  What is the ‘waiting period’ ; amount and duration of  long-term disability coverage (if any).

Medical Coverage:  Know what is covered and what is not, and what the maximum payout is.

401K:  Know what amount the employer matches.  What funds are you in?  How is the performance compared to the overall market?  Does it match your risk tolerance?  Do you know what your risk tolerance is?

Budget/Savings:   Streamline your budget by comparing your income and your cash outflow.  As to outflow……categorize expenditures of income as ‘necessary’ versus ‘discretionary’… (many people are surprised to note that lots more cash than they realized was going to lottery tickets; premium cable channels; tobacco; unlimited cellphone allowances; etc.)

***Save enough cash to pay for at least 6 to 9 months of your monthly living expenses…  This ‘buffer’ is not only common sense and prudence, but it will convince your financial adviser you are committed to reviewing his/her advice.

Now, you can call an adviser for an appointment, or finally accede to allowing one to come over from among the half-dozen or so ‘cold’ calls you probably receive monthly, (which is due simply to demography… your membership in “the bubble”.)

Just as your doctor or lawyer was ‘new’ to you the first time you met, your financial adviser is ‘new’ .  From this writer’s experience, it may be helpful for you to realize that:

1)  The ‘good‘:   Licensing; continuing education; ethical standards; training; etc., are covered at both the state and federal governmental levels to an extent which can equal or exceed standards required of  physicians or attorneys.  You can quickly review the age; experience; license status and disciplinary record of any such representative before you even meet…..State departments of insurance; FINRA/SIPC , etc.,  all have websites which monitor these people down to a regular review of their traffic records; credit histories;  and the proper verbiage on their business cards.

2)  The ‘bad‘:  Since the Madoff debacle;  our learned representatives and senators have reacted with the ‘Frank-Todd’ Act; a plethora of new agencies and regulatory bodies; heightened continuing education requirements; and more rigorous oversight of everything a representative does, down to each and every e-mail sent or received.  The unfortunate result is that your financial representative or adviser has taken the ‘brunt’ of legislative reaction to the crimes of  ‘Bernie’ and the acquiescence of those who had regular and ample opportunity to expose his time-worn ‘Ponzi’ antics.  That this field has become more demanding is borne out by the depressing statistics…most new reps do not last more than 2 years.  And, those who are able to stay in the field due to their marketing prowess or their alacrity at appointment setting, simply cannot afford to deal with clients who are not business owners or professionals.  The regulatory environment, in its’ ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the Madoff episode, has simply increased  both the cost of doing business for these ‘frontline ‘soldiers in the field, and increased the risk perceived by these ‘soldiers’ of regulatory discipline; fines; and penalties for  things so minute as the lack of  a proper disclaimer at the bottom of an e-mail.  (In my experience, these were updated as often as every two months.)

So, it is a committed individual you will be meeting with.  Just don’t be alarmed if he arrives looking like this:

So….If you can make the decision to act, and can actually talk with some general knowledge of what is actually in your portfolio, you will have done a service to yourself and your family simply by doing your job…..so the adviser can do his job.