Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Riots in Philly, and Why Newspapers are Failing

So much going on, it feels like time is revving up. It's fueled also by the swirling leaves and golden light of autumn, the manic-depressive news about the economy (thankfully it's been more manic lately) and of course the countdown to the election in just a week.

With my husband out of town, and two out of three kids back in college, the extra moments I steal to read the newspaper are probably also spurring my nerves. Reading the paper, one gets the idea that the election is a fait accomplis, that Obama, naturally, will win.

Tonight I heard from my husband, who had difficulty reaching his hotel in downtown Philadelphia, where a riot by celebratory locals at the Philly's World Series victory meant 100 newly-planted trees were torn out, and crowds streaming, screaming through the streets, shouting O-Bam-A! O-Bam-A! The police, in their riot gear, sought control.

I don't know what a baseball triumph has to do with the presidential race, but this suggests to me that next Tuesday night, cities better prepare for mayhem no matter who nabs the White House. And the chaos won't be led by Republicans.

Meanwhile, my ability to even READ the paper seems to be in jeopardy. The New York Times' Business section devoted lots of space today to "Mourning Old Media's Decline," and also featured articles about the end of the Christian Science Monitor's print edition, and layoffs of 600 at Time, Inc. A piece yesterday announcing an Audit Bureau of Circulations report revealed a decline in readership at hundreds of newspapers nationally.

The Los Angeles Times, the paper I grew up reading, has been losing loads of subscribers every year, but this year alone dropped 7% more. Said the NY Times: "On Monday, the paper...informed its newsroom staff that 75 of them would lose their jobs, the second major cut this year. The newsroom had almost 1,300 people at its peak, and with the latest reduction will fall to about half as many."

Newspapers' slump can't be blamed on internet reporting alone. In fact, I think it's related to papers' increasing decisions to wear their political persuasions on their, uh, headlines, choosing to canonize Obama and snicker at McCain-Palin. I put the two running-mates together, because print media can't as easily denigrate a war hero as a beehive-wearing moose hunter from Alaska. However, what do we see to balance all the articles trivializing Sarah Palin (we know her wardrobe's going to charity)? There's plenty criticizing her few years in government, but nothing that similarly reminds us that Obama has even less office-holding background.

The Pew Research center just released a study (Oct. 22) of campaign coverage, in fact, and look what they found:

Between the conventions and the last debate (the time measured for this study), there was lots more negative coverage for McCain. who got only half of the positive stories written about Obama. And the researchers said they were "very conservative" in their judging of content--meaning for a piece to be judged pro or con, it had to be clearly so, not just slightly implying a position.

It's this stomach-churning bias that keeps me from wanting to read the three daily newspapers dropped by our curb (far from our front door, btw). When I pick up the newsprint I dread the disheartening writing I'll be reading. The polls may show the country evenly split on their choices, but in the news sections of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Seattle Times, it's all over.

Even when elections aren't brewing, I really only enjoy the features sections of the paper. As my husband rightly points out, "there's no news business in America--only a bad news business." But when you've got a physical newspaper in your hand, you leaf through the pages and read all the headlines. Their dismal reportage seeps into my consciousness.

Online, however, I don't have to leaf through everything. I can target my reading much more easily. I'll google "World Series riots in Philadelphia," and have a selection of stories and sources to access. I'll pick a site that seems the most credible and least biased, and if I don't like the way it looks, I click back for an alternative. Reading news online is a completely different experience from reading a newspaper--and the depressive nature of newspapers lately drives me away to my computer.

I don't think editors and publishers get that. They think people are immersed in a "want it now" culture and prefer just to get a ticker of headlines at their desks. They think readers now hit the Wall Street Journal online and slurp up that paper's dose of reality quickly and move on. Well, it's not like that. When you don't have that ink darkening your fingers you can pick and choose not just the stories you want to read, but the slant on them you want to experience.

If newspapers weren't so darn biased, and went back to some semblance of real objectivity, they'd be a lot more appealing. And, I believe, they also might have a chance to survive.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This Crazy-Making Election

I've been looking at the latest presidental election polling with high hopes. I thought as Nov. 4 nears, Americans would get serious, and the numbers would show McCain improving and Obama slipping. While tonight the big news is that McCain and Obama are even in Missouri, other states show fluctuations in Obama's favor.

I spoke to a friend who was recruited by the McCain campaign to boost the base in Nevada. She's encouraged by her efforts, but daunted by the scope of her task. Florida, meanwhile, seems split once again, leaning very slightly to Obama at the moment, and we're all skeptical enough after eight years ago not to tolerate hanging chads.

Meanwhile, I read a piece on ABC's online portal by Michael S. Malone, long-time tech journalist, that acknowledges the obvious--the media obnoxiously and arrogantly flaunt their Obama-sympathies, putting opinions on the front page and letting Obama questionables slide while blowing up like volcanoes even items distant to the McCain campaign.

I'd heard accusations that the media were suppressing questions about Obama's qualification for the presidency; charges that the candidate was born in Kenya and not eligible to run for office. A convincing post on laid my doubts to rest--they examined and photographed Obama's Hawaii-issued birth certification.

My big fear is that Obama's sounding platitudinous and centrist enough to coax votes but once in office will revert to his crippling leftist agenda.

A breathtaking Howard Stern show man-on-the-street poll by his sidekick Sal features Harlem, New York residents saying they love Obama and are cool with his support of right-to-life and staying in Iraq till we win. They say they're comfortable with Obama's choice of Sarah Palin as vice-presidential running mate, and that she'd do just fine as president, should Obama be unable to serve. In other words, these voters gung-ho for Obama have no idea what he stands for or who he's selected as his Number Two.

It's that runaway emotionalism that could get our nation into economic ruin in an attempt to "spread the wealth" down to those clueless voters. Trouble is, when Obama's taxmen go to find the wealth to spread, the smart people who earned it will also know how to hide it. And they'll be less motivated to sacrifice and push to accumulate it. Especially if their heirs have to sell the biz and family homestead to give half of that hard-earned profit--which was already taxed once--to the government.
This week I'm the chauffeur, cook, adviser and money-doler for our 16-year-old son (who takes his driving test Thursday) as my husband hits the road doing his bit to show voters why they're better served by McCain. It's tougher here without him, though nothing compared to the brave families who carry on for months and years while their husbands and wives in the military work in harm's way halfway around the globe.

And that's the bottom line. Most voters don't care much about politics or policies. It's the daily struggles and rewards that make up our lives, and at this point I've got to stop looking at poll numbers, perhaps pray a little more, and appreciate these crisp fall days and the astonishing colors of our world.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Halloween: Evil Paganism, Family Fun, or Election Distraction?

The Jewish holidays are finally over--which I say with a smidgen of guilt, as these are joyous, festive days that connect family, season, Torah and personal growth. But in the diaspora, we've just emerged from a series of two-day non-work holidays, which for me meant non-stop cooking, preparing, serving, dish-washing and clean-up. And, like the rest of my family, angst for missing so much work, and falling behind on assignments, class lectures, important deadlines.

Throughout, the election was a disturbing backdrop. The stakes are so high for the country, with no less than a major re-vamp in direction likely if Obama succeeds. I keep hearing that the election is so close that anything is possible. Obama tries to sound centrist, and McCain gets less press than Tina Fey.

Halloween is the national distraction. Even as my fave part of the Sunday New York Times ("Style") touts former designer-fashion addicts who have become "recessionistas," and the real-estate section laments a funk in prices for new homes, the Seattle Times Sunday magazine does a cover story on the excesses of Halloween.

And it's true: more houses in my community are ablaze with orange lights, smashed witches, cottony webs draped on bushes and Styrofoam-filled "ghosts" hung from trees. More front lawns sport "tombstones" and inflated jack-o-lanterns.

Is this an escape from reality, an ominous sign of an obsession with death, or a frivolous foray into unbridled consumerism? Are the children who don elaborate Cinderella, Batman and Hannah Montana costumes (the top three according to the Associated Press) materialistically justifying begging for deleterious sweets?

Every year, I get in the same argument with my husband about Halloween. He says it's pagan indoctrination with selfish undertones. I say it's a fun time to dress up and go meet the neighbors.

This year, it's time off. From the nerve-wracking contemplation of the ker-plunk of the stock market if Obama wins. From the fear of the impact of his tax policies on small business, and on the five percent of earners who carry the ball for the forty percent who don't pay a thing. From dejection when considering a nation saddled for a generation with Supreme Court judges who don't abide strictly by the constitution but support penumbras of emanations, and will take it outward from there. From worry about the irreversible innovations a Democratic congress and Executive Branch can entrench together in health care, welfare, foreign policy, governmental expansion.

I did something daring. I put a McCain-Palin bumper sticker on my minivan. In my Obama-obsessed neighborhood, some think that's an invitation to get your car keyed. I wonder as I drive--did that guy cut me off because of the sticker? If my learner's permit-wielding son makes a curb-scraping turn, will the driver behind make a political connection? But I had to do it--everywhere you look here, Obama signs call out for balance. Still, it's another source of stress.

I'd rather just go to Costco and buy that humongous bag of Hershey's snack-size treats, and think about the cute princesses and dragons and pirates who'll ring my bell this Friday night. Oh heck, might as well open the bag right now, chomp a few m-and-m peanuts (I like the brown ones) and fantasize about those glowing pumpkins, and the mottled leaves that will float down my street as gently as those Styrofoam ghosts.
For the record, even in a non-election year, I win the debate with my husband. I do see the negative in Halloween (like the subtle shift from a kid-centric fun time to an adult excuse to party in overly-sexual attire) but also eschew the nonsense that knocking at neighbor's doors who willingly offer candy corrupts kids' otherwise altruistic values. The question has become moot in our home as our youngsters move into adulthood--one daughter opposed to the holiday on Jewish religious grounds, another giddily embracing the festivities with her sorority sisters. Our son likes the candy, but now at 16 is past trick-or-treating, and this year, with the 31st falling on Shabbat, he'll be at home with me, handing out Hershey's to those little goblins and fairies at our door.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wild Ride on an Autumn Day

I'm anxious about the election, nervous about the economy, and yet, today was a luscious fall day in the northwest.

The light was golden as the trees, hazy as the spiderwebs that frost branches and windowpanes, with sunshine hide-and-seeking through boughs sometimes crimson, sometimes dappled green, pumpkin, and a color I can only call "etrog." That's the lemon-esque fruit we hold, with the other three "species" of myrtle, palm and willow, in the "lulav," a peculiar combination waved by Jews on this holiday of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

It was a perfect day for my first ride on a super-charged jet ski. A very macho friend of ours owns an ultra-powerful water vehicle that can go 80 mph. Lake Washington was relatively smooth, and now that it's fall and the nippy air kept most of the sailboats away, vast swaths of lake called for throttling the 250 horse-power machine. Did I want to go for a spin?

To quote a vice-presidential candidate: You betcha. Our host promised that only our feet might get wet, so I wore my red and white polka-dot rain boots, my puffy down coat and a life vest over it all. I put on my felty gloves and climbed on behind my beefy driver, followed by my son.

We rolled slowly out of the speed zone into the lake. My host said, "Ready?" and when my son and I said yes, I nearly went flying into the lake. My slick gloves barely held around the smooth life jacket of our friend as he gunned the motor...40, 50, 55 mph! All I could do was SCREAM at the top of my lungs, as if on the drop of a monster roller-coaster....non-stop, high-pitched shrieks that formed a duet with my son's manic laughter punctuated with his "wohhhhha!"s. It was a wild ride, the occasional leap on a wind-caused bump sometimes chopping my incessant screams into short squeals.

We rode like and in the wind five miles, toward the end of the lake, admired the vermilion trees of a shore-side park, then swung back to speedily encircle the lake's 5-mile-long island. It was another ten miles of screams, with my reach taut in a life-or-death squeeze around the driver. At one point we stopped suddenly, which I didn't mind as it gave my near-numb fingers a chance to recirculate after holding my arms aloft for 20 minutes. Once the insect that had spattered on our host's sunglasses was wiped off, he once again asked, "Ready?" and this time I knew to grip hard as we leaped from standstill to 60 mph, my screams once again uncontrollable.

Back at the boat-launch I couldn't believe the adrenaline rush I'd sustained for the entire scary-fun ride. After he saw us, my husband, who was waiting for a turn, demurred, saying he didn't really want to go, but I forced him to try. After a much-shorter excursion, he returned with the same dazed wonderment, pumped by exhilaration, that my son and I shared.

That's the kind of wild ride I like. Too bad we had to come back to the headlines and hype that bring screams of a far less enjoyable ilk.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

McCain-Obama's Final Snoozer

Afraid of overeating once again, I was reluctant to go to my friend's house at 11 pm last night.
The presidential debate had started an hour before the conclusion of the first days of Sukkot, with their Sabbath-like restrictions on car-riding, lightswitch-popping, phone-talking and of course, anxiety provoking television-watching.

My husband turned on the remaining fifteen minutes of TV sparring once the holiday ended, but I had to shuttle our daughter back to her sorority, so missed it. But the event was to be replayed at 11 pm, so we trekked in the pouring rain to our friends', my husband dutifully absorbing the program for his work, me because I'm a glutton for punishment.

The last debate made me into a glutton. For chocolate, because I found the only cure for my anxiety about John McCain's performance in that one, pardon the TownHall reference, was to shovel chocolate chips into my mouth. This time, with last Tivo's gnawing discomfort fresh in my gullet, I was too upset even for Godiva.

As the program opened, and I listened to the inarticulate ramblings of my candidate, I cringed. He fumbled for words, he came up with very strangely constructed sentences. He blinked a lot. And through much of it, a split-screen showed a smirking, smiling, chuckling Obama.

Then Obama answered that first question about his plan for the economy. He looked straight into the camera and outlined points one, two, three. He wasn't perfectly cogent, either, but better than McCain. And as the answers continued, there were far fewer moments where he had to share that split-screen.

Then, there was Joe the plumber. Joe, aka Sam Wurzelbacher, who during an Ohio campaign stop challenged Obama that he would pay more taxes under the candidate's plan, was mentioned 26 times in the debate, becoming a celebrity, an icon for the hard-working entrepreneur who, as owner of a blue-collar business, was succeeding but stymied by intrusive tax demands. Despite the gruff, tough-guy image he's portrayed in YouTubes and articles during his fifteen minutes of fame, the idea of a risk-taking American Dream-chasing "regular guy" named Joe resonates with anyone who's considered starting his own business, or who struggles to build his enterprise into something big and successful.

McCain used Joe effectively: "You know, [how] Sen. Obama ended up his conversation with Joe the plumber -- 'we need to spread the wealth around.' In other words, we're going to take Joe's money, give it to Sen. Obama, and let him spread the wealth around. I want Joe the plumber to spread that wealth around."

Great concept. Poor delivery. And Obama kept hammering that notion that he'd give 95% of workers a tax cut. We've covered this before--he wants to give the 40% who already pay NO taxes a government check. But when they weren't talking about entrepreneur Joe, they both sounded gobble-de-gooky. Obama just looked more confident spouting his mumbo-jumbo.

The talk got downright smarmy when CBS moderator Bob Schieffer asked about cut-throat campaign ads. McCain felt hurt by unfair racist implications of Congressman Bob Lewis; Obama emphatically and wrongly repeated that McCain's ads were 100% negative. This was an uncomfortable interchange, with McCain clearly aggressive and pushing but Obama calmly though defensively responding. Especially the Bill Ayres and ACORN questions, which to me backfired when Obama spun the issues like dreidls.

Much of the conversation was the same old same-old. The two are nearly identical in their energy plans and goals. They both use similar platitudes about education, with Obama supporting charter schools and McCain supporting those and vouchers. Obama slipped in his $4,000 per year college tuition credit which would require a whole other administration for the "community service" required of students who get it. McCain let that go, and ante'd a program that would let former military become teachers without any training. From where I sat, both guys wanted government expansion into a field that should be locally controlled.

And the conclusion? I nearly fell off my seat when, after McCain's insistence that the last eight years were no good and that he'd be a maverick, reformer and changer, Obama stuck to his script and decried "the same failed policies and the same failed politics that we've seen over the last eight years." We know your mantras.

The big difference was McCain's feistiness and combativeness, his willingness to accuse Obama. But the calm, almost mocking response was just the right posture to meet the affronts. In the end, McCain came off looking better than he had in the other encounters, and Obama held his own. Polls the day after showed the candidates within two or three percentage points.

Watching the interchange was nerve-wracking because of McCain's inarticulate phrasing, but at least when I got home at 12:30 am, I didn't head straight for the candy cupboard. I was way too full of Sukkot festival meals for nibbling, and too tired of the political sparring to do more than go to sleep.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gimme Shelter

It's almost the "Feast of Tabernacles," the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. It's called "the season of our rejoicing," as God has allowed us to clear our slates at Yom Kippur, and now, by constructing a booth in our back yard where we take all our meals and spend as much time as we can, we show our confidence that God provides our true shelter.

We have eight days of holiday, the first two and last two being full-out "yom tov," days when, like Shabbat, we stop work and any creative activity. The big difference from the Sabbath for families like us who are hosting guests in our succa is that we can cook via the transfer of flame. The intermediate days of the festival are less restrictive but still a notch more special than non-holidays.

This year we enter the festive week more acutely aware of our vulnerability, which is a theme of Sukkot. Our backyard booths, covered by cut branches--in the northwest, fir--have roofs whose formerly-living, water-filled organic matter evoke the "clouds of glory" that protected the Jews in their historic wanderings in the wilderness prior to entry in the Promised Land. In the wilderness, the Jews were dependent on God for everything, from their manna food to the miraculous repair of their clothing, to their climate-controlled environments. The message? After being forgiven our sins, we must not get too cocky and assume our own amenities are any less from God.

With the stock market tumbling, the government scrambling, voters confused, disenchanted and seeking change, we are all feeling vulnerable.

It makes me anxious. Not only is national finance teetering, but so are institutions that have been the bedrock of civilization. Connecticut, in a 4-3 judicial ruling Thursday that cannot be appealed, will begin allowing gay marriages October 28. The decision written by Judge Richard Palmer held that civil unions violate equal protection clauses, a whopper of a difference from the rulings (also each by one judge's vote) that brought gay marriage to Massachusetts and California. This is a precedent whose domino effect could destroy the essential character of marriage, and yet with news dominated by an election maelstrom and financial chaos, received yawning coverage and little comment.

Yes, it's the economy, stupid, and stupid we are, most folk parroting buzzwords like "subprime mortgage" and "fannie mae and freddie mac" without really understanding what's going on. Derivitives? Hedge funds? Can you clearly define them? Yet most people are willing to blame Bush for it all, forgetting that we were in a huge boom just last October, and it's only since Democrats controlled both houses of Congress that suddenly those "subprimes" and "fannie and freddie" caused Wall Street collapse. In fact, in the last presidential debates, "Wall Street" was used as a synonym for "greed and corruption."

It's just not that simple.

And so, with much insecurity, we move to our succa. I personally could use a dose of emuna, faith in God. I can't say that sitting in the succa for meals provides it for me, frankly. But serving our guests, observing this time together as a family, noting the colder nights and threatening rain does remind me that political and financial issues are, like most everything, temporal. This, too, shall pass, and so being anxious about it serves no purpose at all.

Chag Sameach--a happy, meaningful Sukkot--and may we all take refuge in the most significant kind of shelter.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Taking Stock

Well, I survived. Every time I go into Yom Kippur, I'm not quite sure if God will actually grant me another year. I still don't know for sure, but at least He didn't knock me off the planet today. My fast was pretty easy and the service was actually inspriational--as much as all day in synagogue can be. There's a jumble of emotions throughout the services, including a few non-verbal moments when I don't know if I'm connecting with God, or just thinking I'm connecting with God...but it's intense and even tearful.

I've done the break-fast dishes and it's late, but I was shocked, downright shocked to see that the stock market took a further tumble, down 679 points today. Most in the last 90 minutes of trading. That brings the market down 2,251 points in a week, a drop of nearly 21%, almost as bad as "Black Monday" in 1987 when the Dow sank 22%.

This is dizzying as far as our savings. However, we had a lovely meal this evening with some good friends. We are alive and so far still have jobs and school. But the financial news is scary and I'm afraid won't help our side in the election, just three weeks away. Actually, it helps neither side--I think the nation is stunned and we'll just hold onto our seats as this roller coaster swishes us into the breeze.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

McCain's Debate Performance: Pass the Chocolate

I just returned from viewing the Town Hall presidential debate this evening, with people who were not shy about expressing their opinion that Barack Obama looked more natural, more confident, more relaxed and articulate than did John McCain.

Now, during the debate my hosts laid out a delicious kosher Chinese dinner, and, fueled by anxiety, I scarfed my vegetarian chow mein and egg rolls, chopsticks furiously flying from plate held head-level, to mouth.

But now at home, as I sit to write this, I need chocolate. And with my Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips, I'm trying to spin this positively. A conservative friend calls, asking who I thought "won" the debate; I insist he tell his view first, and he said that on economic issues, it was a tie; on foreign policy, McCain had the advantage.

I wish I could agree. Obviously, on a day when the stock market plummets--again--the audience is feeling insecure, powerless and afraid. Both candidates sympathized. Both support the bail-out, or "rescue," according to Obama, and also called for government help for homeowners. McCain mentioned buying out troubled loans; Obama proposed another WPA: "...helping state and local governments set up road projects and bridge projects that keep people in their jobs."

In other words, the economy's bad. Let's throw tax money at it, and, at the same time, lower taxes. Obama wants to do it for "95% of the population," and McCain wants to "raise taxes for no one." Neither candidate distinguished himself with an innovation, and despite philosophical differences, ended up sounding pretty similar, insisting the Feds step in and turn the whole mess around. I'm leery.

We heard each guy continue to repeat his pet themes. For Obama--evil CEOs "on Wall Street" with golden parachutes who don't "pay their fair share of the burden," his scalpel, not hatchet-carved expense cuts, McCain's misguided support for entering Iraq.

For McCain--life as a maverick who slices pork earmarks, "I know how to do it," on everything from saving social security to negotiating with enemies, his record and experience, Obama's erroneous scoff of the surge.

May I ask: What's wrong with shopping? At one point Obama asked the audience to recall that fateful day of 9-11, denouncing one of Pres. Bush's suggestions--that Americans continue to make purchases. At the time, with everyone in shock and afraid to leave our homes, businesses suffered. Why bash Bush for asking people to try a little "retail therapy" to help keep these businesses afloat?

Because Obama paints business as the bad guy. He repeatedly implied that businesses that make more than $250,000 annually, and their sinister CEOs, have more than they should and therefore owe the government an even bigger cut of their income. He's encouraging a hate of the "haves" from those who "have not"--yet. This politics of envy conflicts with the American Dream that, believe it or not, still fuels millions of immigrants and striving citizens.

Hearing this, I was plotzing, and fantasizing the answer I thought McCain should have given: "Do any of you ever patronize your neighborhood florist? Have a favorite little restaurant? Do you ever take your dry cleaning into a place on the corner? These are all businesses that Obama thinks should have to pay more taxes, because, due to the hard work of their owners, they might have found your customer loyalty and thereby some success. Instead of plowing those profits back into the business, as most small-business owners do, invigorating the economy by purchasing advertising, buying better equipment or hiring more workers, Obama thinks they should shoulder even more of the tax load. Who do you think suffers in the end?

And I (as McCain) would continue: "Is there anybody here in the audience who owns a small business? Is there anybody here who has ever thought about starting one? Maybe you make the best cookies and want to start baking in bulk. Maybe you have a great idea for a housecleaning company, or a dog-walking service or want to buy a franchise. Is there anybody out there who dreams of getting rich? Of maybe even making $250,000 a year? You're the one from whom Obama wants to take more money. You're the one he thinks needs to pay more in order for your taxes to be 'fair.'"

And that's the thing that makes me pop those nuggets of chocolate: I was so frustrated with McCain's ham-handed, heard-'em-before responses that I was answering the questions, and Obama, myself.

The scary thing is that Obama is sounding so much like McCain (foreign policy, energy and environment, the bailout) that he's camouflaging his true intent to redistribute wealth, start up a nationalized health program paid mostly by employers (eliminating private health insurance)--and spend, spend, spend, on education (always a local issue before!), checks to people who don't pay taxes, and 15 billion annually developing energy sources--the kind of research entrepreneurs are willing to do for free.

Yep, in this debate, I could even envision Obama as president, he was that relaxed, confident and vigorous. He'd practiced for this event well. Meanwhile, McCain, his see-through comb-over obvious from the camera-angle, leaned crookedly on his stool, sounded tense, and made less sense. He'd started out four or five points behind in the polls, and I think tonight might have exacerbated the situation. Though he has better policies for our country's safety and economy, we never heard any snappy, memorable epiphanies.

I've got plenty to pray for, as we enter the holiest day of the Jewish year tomorrow night on Yom Kippur. Not only will I repent sincerely for my own transgressions, but I will fervently ask God to look favorably on our nation as He determines the outcome of the next several weeks. I've got to cook tomorrow for our pre-fast, and prepare for the break-fast that we'll serve to guests at the holiday's conclusion.

But in the meantime, I'm nervously munching on chocolate.

The Task for McCain in Tonight's Debate

Could the economic news be more depressing? The stock market is at its lowest in five years. This is giving my husband anxiety, and the thought of Barack Obama trying to implement his spending proposals and consequent tax increases on the people who provide the jobs only deepens the nausea.

It's in this climate that we await the debate tonight. Barack got points (and his echo, Joe Biden, repeated the trick) when he stared into the TV camera at the first debate and swore that "Under my tax plan NINETY-FIVE PERCENT OF YOU would get a tax cut!" The other five percent, the obscene filthy rich who of course need to be coerced under threat of imprisonment to part with any of the loot they hoarde, clearly owe their underlings a further chunk of their earnings.

Now, 40% of the population pays NO income tax, so giving them a "cut" would mean a gift from the eeeevil wealthy 5% in the form of a government check. And the vast majority--70% to be exact--of that 5% are owners of small businesses. You know, like the corner laundry, the neighborhood restauranteur, the quick-print store where you get your xeroxing done--these are the guys who would be taxed more, WAY more than the at LEAST 35% they already pay. That will really stimulate the economy, because then these guys will be unable to expand and create more jobs. Make sense?

I'm really nervous. Tonight I'll be watching the debate hoping John McCain explains why his approach--lowering taxes on business--trumps the tax business plan of Obama. It's a hard sell to those 40% who pay nothing and would get free money. McCain has to show how it's a small consolation when stocks and jobs suffer as a result.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Palin-Biden Debate: Something Missing

I watched the Sarah Palin-Joe Biden vice-presidential debate Thursday night in a room with 400 people, on a wall-sized screen. By now you've read all the pundits' pronouncements that Palin performed competently and engagingly. She got whoops and applause in my venue, but, I have to confess, I was a bit disappointed in her.

Now, she was cool, she was relaxed and she was confident, qualities she seemed to lack in the Charlie Gibson interview I watched, and, I'm told in the Katie Couric interview so widely criticized. In fact, with Biden she didn't miss a beat, jumping into her answers with gusto, sometimes, it seemed, barely pausing for air.

I think her responses were homey, and direct to the people, reinforcing her out-of-the-beltway, one-of-the-Main-Streeters status. Yes, she's from a little town in Alaska, and that's a good thing, not a handicap. (Her detractors keep trying, though: I saw a nasty article in our local paper with a photo of her "nearly 3,500 square-foot" 4 bedroom home--for seven people, remember--that implied she lives in grandeur on her seven acres valued at $550,000.) She wasn't flustered by Biden's attacks or even his outright lies (like the whopper that the US and France cleared Lebanon of the Hezbollah). She stuck to her strong points (a little too much, perhaps, chopping answers to replay her energy background).

And, she looked great. OK, she should have worn a strong, friendly color (like moderator Gwen Ifill's seafoam green) instead of that severe black, but her newscaster experience was evident in her eye in the camera, her poise and energy. The fact I comment on her appearance is not sexist; remember that Richard Nixon lost his 1960 debate with John F. Kennedy based on his haggard, basset-hound countenance.

But, despite Sarah Palin's ingratiating presentation, she didn't deliver something else I sought. I was hoping she could prove herself serious, sharp, savvy and presidential. We all know she's a PTA volunteer who has a pregnant high school daughter. We all know she's vivacious and folksy and talks as if she's gossiping over coffee in the nearest Starbucks, dropping final "g"s and saying heckuva, and adding a little wink now and then.

But do we know if she's aware of who are our enemies and allies, and their leaders? Does she know the background of our conflicts and conflagrations? Can she turn serious and formidable when addressing complex issues and dangerous circumstances? I wanted to see gravitas; I wanted to know she has the smarts to synthesize information in a comprehensive and dynamic way. I was not reassurred by that debate.

Now, I like the lady. And I think she performed well, generally, as did Biden. But I would have preferred her to have enough information at her fingertips to call him on his factual errors, just as he was willing to call her on statements he found objectionable. We need a woman who can hold her own in an argument, whether it's with a dishonest political opponent or a national leader.

However, I do believe that John McCain is excellent in such situations. He's not only principled but is experienced-- he has stared down foes, and weathered dire threats. He understands the broad international landscape and history, and from this knowledge has formed his perspective--in a way Barack Obama would need two decades to match.

I'm voting for McCain, and I think just as a wife completes a husband, Sarah Palin can complete this ticket, adding the strong feminine ingredient our nation has only enjoyed previously from a first lady's unofficial influence. As a partnership, McCain with his gravitas and experience, and Palin with her energy, zeal and ability to connect with a huge swath of Americans, can enthuse the constituency while at the same time bringing reform to the bloated monster government has become.

One of the points made by Biden in the debate was that the role of the Vice President has been "dangerously" extended by VP Richard Cheney: "the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote," Biden insisted. "The Constitution is explicit." If that's true, our primary judgment should be on the qualifications of the presidential candidate, not his "yes-person."

On that criterion, Obama's three years in the Senate doesn't come close to McCain's 27 years of military service and two decades in the Senate. And one of the indicators McCain is willing to be daring and unconventional is his selection of Sarah Palin. She may not yet emanate gravitas, but she brings her own bright light to the job. And she'll be getting on-the-job training from one whose honor, ability and respect cannot be questioned.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Financial Crisis and G-D

Over the last two days of Jewish holiday--Rosh Hashana, the birthday of mankind and the beginning of the year 5769, we have spent many hours in synagogue focusing on God's role as sovereign of the universe, and determiner of the fate of each of us. We heard hundreds of blasts from the shofar, the ram's horn that calls us to repentance and is a means of connection with God (as the sound of life and death, as the noise accompanying His delivery of commandments to the Jews gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai).

At the same time, we entered into the incommunicado time of the holiday--no TV, radio, phones or other contact with the wider world--tense with the drop in the stock market of 777 points and the rejection of a bail-out package by congress.

Our friend, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, wrote on the eve of this holiday of introspection and recognition of God's kingship that every "shmitta" year, the seven year agricultural cycle that occurred this year, God seems to punch us to attention with a huge financial whammy. Last time, Rabbi Blech himself lost his fortune in the dot-com bubble burst. This time, we've got Wall Street meltdown. Seven year cycle. Stock market down by 777.

Seven, btw, is the number that represents completion for man. Have you ever considered why the week is seven days? It could just as easily have been five or four. It's seven because that's the way God created the world, in a cycle of seven.

So, here I was Tuesday night on Rosh Hashana, in the evening after our holiday meal (and after doing the dishes) and I pick up a financial section of the newspaper, I think it was the Wall Street Journal, and in the column on the left front top, I see something that floored me.

The article began something like, "Is it time we start to think about G-D?" For the uninitiated, people who are quite religious, in an effort to not even take the English word for the Lord in vain, will write His title as G-d, omitting the middle "o." So you can imagine my shock when a secular newspaper begins its article on our economic collapse asking if we need Him.

"With so many indicators seeming to point to G-D, we would do well to look to the flaws that led to this situation." Indeed. I have many sins for which I must better atone. "Some may say it's premature to consider G-D, but many experts are warning that unless drastic action is taken, our entire economy will surely suffer radically."

And so it is. We stood in shul pledging our fealty to God, beseeching Him to grant us life and the positive resolution to our problems. I personally had to consciously resist asking for help for our financial system, feeling that I better concentrate on my own worthiness for another year of well-being. And yet, there was a prayer for sustenance. And a prayer for our government. We need to better acknowledge the true source of our success, and not get too confident, secure or cocky.

I kept reading the article, feeling that it had been placed there just for me, to concentrate my thoughts beyond the headlines. And as I kept reading, I found out something wild: the article wasn't about God at all--G-D stands for "Great Depression." Is it too early to start talking about another Great Depression? I don't know. But it's certainly the right time for Jews to be thinking about God.