On…Paul Ryan (Or: The Two Percenter)

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Mitt Romney announced on Saturday that he selected Wisconsin Congressman — and Budget Committee Chairman — Paul Ryan as his running mate. With that announcement, Romney effectively turned Ryan into a two-percenter. The label is not meant to suggest Ryan is an elitist (though, based on a profile in the New York Times, he may be), but rather is a reflection of Nate Silver’s research indicating that vice-presidential candidates typically net their ticket two percentage points in their home states.

Assuming that past experience holds true for the 2012 election, we should therefore adjust the Wisconsin polling data taken prior to Ryan’s ascension by about two points. Now, I may have nearly failed 10th grade precalculus, but even I can do the calculation and tell you that those two points still may not be enough to win Romney Wisconsin.

But even if it were, the only key battleground state in which Romney was clearly challenging Obama before this weekend was Florida. Silver’s analysis, while solid on the benefit a vice-presidential pick can have for the ticket in the candidate’s home state, cannot extrapolate any potential negative impact the VP pick may have in other states. Think the Obama campaign wasted any time putting together TV adds to run 24 hours a day in Palm Beach about the treatment of Medicare under Paul Ryan’s budget?

With Ryan on the ticket, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin are still all in play. Some, like Florida, more than they were last week and others, like Wisconsin, perhaps less so. But when you look at the electoral college polling, it becomes clear that the election may not be as close as national polling suggests. My own final prediction? Barring military conflict with Iran, an economic disaster, or any other unforeseen event, Obama-Biden win in November with 297 electoral votes.

On…Andrew Breitbard (Or: Sorry He’s Dead, but, Come on, He was a Jerk)

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Incorrigible conservative Andrew Breitbart passed away earlier this week, the victim of a massive karma heart attack.

The coverage of Breitpart’s untimely passing demonstrates that nothing moves journalists and political commentators more than reminders of their own mortality. His allies (and, frankly, some of his enemies) have spent the last several days recounting charming stories about Breitbart’s escapades, all of which seem to involve his making someone – usually someone whose political ideology differed from his own – feel uncomfortable. Or baselessly fired from their job. While I’m very sorry for his family, particularly his children, it’s a crying shame how easily people have forgotten the legacy that Breitbart leaves behind. Like serving on the board of an organization that outed a Rick Perry aid. True, he stepped down in the ensuing outcry. What a guy.

Breitbart’s allies point to his role in the Shirley Sherrod escapade – in which he deliberately edited a video of an African American USDA official to make it appear that she had intentionally declined to help a white farmer – as a prime example of the kind of right-wing muckraking that Breitbart loved. I call it lying. Lying and not caring how many people’s lives you ruin as you step on their backs on your way up to a million-dollar Fox News consultant contract. 

So yes, it’s sad for his family and for the politicos who caught a glimpse of Christmas future this week. But not for civil political discourse in America.

On…2011 (Or: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times – Especially if You Were a Mid-East Despot)

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On the whole, 2011 was a pretty shitty year. The world’s economy continued its descent toward a complete meltdown, America’s leaders made a mockery of our political system (and, in turn, our electorate), and cities from Joplin to Fukushima were devastated by natural disasters. But despite pundits’ claims otherwise, 2011 was historically significant.

Of course, from the American perspective, the death of Osama bin Laden was the headline of last year. The U.S. operation that found and killed bin Laden was undoubtedly an important event. But, although perhaps not quite up to the same level of importance, there were many other events of significance in 2011. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Occupy Wall Street. Inspired by the greed and selfishness of publicly-held corporations that employ thousands of American workers in an explicitly-stated attempt to return as much value to their shareholders as possible, scores of mostly under- or unemployed, mostly young people took the streets to demand…well…it’s not so clear what they were demanding. Although OWS failed to inspire any kind of political or economic concessions, the Occupy Wall Street movement can claim one victory: teaching young people across the country that it’s probably a better idea to shower regularly and be part of the system than it is to live in public parks with dozens of like-minded (and like-smelling) people for months on end to no discernible benefit.
  • The Arab Spring. After decades of living under totalitarian dictatorships, the people of Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, and other countries across the mid-east region, launched major protests. Unlike their Occupy Wall Street brethren, the Arab Spring found success because it was better organized, had easily understood objectives, and was well groomed.
  • The NBA Lockout. Sorry. I really didn’t care all that much about the five-month-long NBA lockout. I was much more interested in NBA’er Kris Humphries’ 72-day marriage to sex taper Kim Kardashian. For those of you keeping track at home, yes, the lockout lasted longer than Mr. and Mrs. Humphries’ nuptials. You’ll also note that I’m resisting the urge to question Humphries’ ability to drive the hole. Doing so would be beneath a blog of this stature.
  • The Royal Wedding. LOVED it. Abso-frickin-lutely loved it. Though I hid it well, even from those closest to me, I ate up every bit of the hype. And the hats?!? Oh. Em. Gee.
  • The War in Iraq Ends. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. It was with misty, bloodshot eyes that the brass at Haliburton said goodbye to 2011. The last eight years have been good to the defense contracting firm, which scored billions of dollars in contracts with the federal government for services in Iraq. With the War in Iraq now officially over and all but a handful of troops back home, Haliburton, like so many other Americans, is out of a job and must now figure out how it will put food on its table.

Happy New Year, everyone.

On…Frequent Flyer Miles (Or: Extreme Couponing: Travel Edition)

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I have a new obsession: collecting airline frequent flyer miles. (Shhh…stop crying, Taylor Swift, I’ll still always have time for you.)

You know those people who are allowed to board the plane before everyone else and who you see sipping champagne as you’re passing through first class on your way to the middle seat in coach between two obese strangers that you’ll call home for the next six hours? It turns out that they might not be wealthy, dot-com millionaires or Real Housewives. They just know how to game the system. And there are tons of them. And now I’m one of them, too.

Last night, my fiance and I earned over 1,000 frequent flyer miles whilst dining on the finest fried macaroni and cheese balls that Romano’s Macaroni Grill has to offer. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: an absolutely delicious way to work towards a free honeymoon (and clogged arteries).

I earned another 1,000+ miles just for filling out a few no-commitment insurance quotes. Sure, my cell phone has been ringing off the hook all weekend from insurance sales reps eager to make commission, but, hey, I’ll be laughing all the way to Europe as I sip champagne in business class (with my cell phone turned off). I should probably also check my credit report.

Speaking of which, I’m also well on my way to earning tens of thousands of Delta miles just for opening a new credit card account! High-interest, open lines of credit never hurt anyone, right? And if I need help reading through all the fine print of the disclosure of my new credit card, I can mosey on down to my nearest Lasik Plus office, where, in addition to 20/20 vision, I can walk out the door with 5,000 Delta miles for a no-strings-attached, free exam and a whopping 25,000 miles if I undergo laser eye surgery. It practically pays for itself! And what’s the worst that could happen?

If you think all of this seems a little bit excessive, I hear you. But for those of you who, like me, watch Extreme Couponing and feel a mixture of awe at how much money the subjects on the show are saving and disgust at how much food they have stockpiled in their houses, this is fat-free, guiltless way to feel like you’re in the Extreme Couponers’ ranks. Plus, globetrotting gratis is much more sophisticated than free canned vegetables.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go trade thousands of dollars in stocks. Only $50,000 in securities trades to earn 25,000 miles!

On…Knights of Mayhem (Or: Who Says We Don’t Make Anything in America Anymore?)

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In case you don’t have as much free time as I do, let me explain. Knights of Mayhem is a new show on A&E that follows a group of youngish Texans in their quest (get it?) to bring a real-life, honest to god, no-fake-Medieval Times-bullshit, full contact joust to the forefront of American sports. It’s Jackass meets Hard Knocks. Yes, think A Knight’s Tale, except real. And in the year 2011. And much, much sadder.

See, most of the guys on the show are a bit down on their luck. Several are out of work. A couple actually quit their jobs to pursue their dream of riding a horse at full speed toward another fully-armored man on top of a horse riding at them whilst trying to hit said man with a 10-foot wooden pole. A handful have families that they’ve left behind until they hit it big on the joust circuit. Did I mention that not all of these knights are in what you might consider to be peak physical condition?

And then there’s the not-so-small issue of the impact (get it?) that pursuing their passion has on their body. Their head gear, for example, amounts to a solid-metal helmet with no cushions. It was therefore little surprise (but fantastic entertainment!) when one of the knights nearly suffered permanent brain damage and sustained a severe concussion in a fall of his horse after his opponent out-jousted him. (Note: If this sport is really going to be a thing now, so is that word.) But I’m sure his brain injury was but a small price to pay for the fame and fortune that awaits once he becomes the King Knight. (That’s going to have to be a thing now, too. Or Knight Champion? Undisputed Knight of the World?)

So who says we don’t make anything in America anymore? We make stupid, vapid compelling reality shows…

…that I can’t stop watching.

On…The Penn State Scandal (Or: Thoughts from a [technically speaking] Nittany Lion)

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Technically speaking, I am a Nittany Lion. By that I mean that I have a degree from Penn State but I only stepped foot on campus a handful of times. And those handful of times all took place within the same week. I did, however, stumble upon a closed football practice while I was there (I was trying to find a school bookstore to buy swag), so I think I’m fairly qualified to give an insider’s perspective on the Penn State’s assistant-coach-sexually-abused-multiple-underage-boys-while-the-head-coach-and-school-administrators-did-nothing-scandal.

Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse is vile. But it’s been widely established in the press that various people at Penn State, both within the athletic and administrators communities, knew that Jerry Sandusky had engaged in despicable, disgusting acts with underage boys. (Fear not: Despite my insider status, I had no such knowledge.) In my view, as is almost always the case, the cover-up here is worse than the crime. Had any of the assistant coaches – or Joe Paterno, or the school’s athletic director, or the school’s president – contacted law enforcement when Sandusky’s sexual abuse was first witnessed, it’s entirely possible that he would have gone to jail over a decade ago. And, of course, his ability to pimp out underage boys to Penn State donors through a charitable front would have been hampered behind bars.

I cannot understand the Penn State community’s support for Joe Paterno. I watched the Board of Trustees’ press conference on Wednesday night when they announced Paterno would be relieved of his position; you could hear the crowd gasp. And they were the neutral press. Then I watched as Penn State students – my (kinda, sorta) brethren – spontaneously gathered in front of Old Main to protest Paterno’s firing. Then they kind of rioted. This wasn’t entirely unexpected: It’s a tough economy and the kids from Philadelphia wanted to show their friends from elsewhere in the state, who can’t necessarily afford a vacation, what’s it like in big city.

To be fair, I never understood Paterno’s god-like stature in State College from the outset. I get that he built Penn State’s football program into one of the best in the country and, by doing so, put Penn State on the map. But what lesson would Penn State students – or anyone else for that matter – have taken from Paterno being allowed to stay? Football is more important than morality? Senility is a viable legal defense?

And, Penn State, let’s be honest with ourselves: Paterno wasn’t really running the show full-time anymore, either. Or even part-time. He was a figure-head. His presence helped both recruiting and fundraising, but it was also impossible to understand much of what he said. He was, if you’ll allow the comparison, State College’s Queen of England. He had to go.

On another note, as the value of my Penn State degree dropped precipitously over the last few days, I’d also like to formally request a refund for my tuition.

On…Herman Cain (or: Really? It’s the sexual harassment allegations that are making you think twice, America?)

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I am a fan of underdogs. I’m a New York Rangers fan. I can’t help but like Danny Woodhead. I rooted for Rocky Balboa (except, ironically, in Rocky Balboa, which I refused to see). But I don’t get this fascination with Herman Cain.

Let’s go back to before Cain was accused by five different women of five different, independent acts of sexual harassment. The times when Cain was adored by GOP primary voters as an outsider whose 9-9-9 tax plan was hailed as a simple, transformative means through which to reform the U.S. tax code – so simple that it took Cain himself weeks to figure out the details. When, if you’ll remember, Cain’s focal qualification for deciding whether to deploy America’s nuclear arsenal was his success selling really shitty, tasteless pizza. Or was it his foreign policy credentials? (Uzbeki-beki-beki-bekistan anyone?)

None of Cain’s startling under qualifications seemed to bother you, middle America. It’s only now, after five separate women have alleged that Cain sexually harassed them in five independent episodes (did I mention that already?) that Cain has to answer tough questions for the first time.

Why can’t can’t we just call a spade a spade? I’m sure Herman Cain is a nice enough guy (which, incidentally, is the likeliest explanation for his five different acts of sexual harassment – he’s just guilty of being too nice) but how in the world does anyone in their right mind think he’s the guy to lead the world out of the global debt crisis? Or our own debt crisis? Or, for that matter, the Iranian nuclear crisis?

I mean, come on. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Picture Herman Cain in the Oval Office. Now picture a CNN breaking news alert that Iran has announced it has developed fully capable nuclear weapons. Now picture Herman Cain in the Oval Office again. Still a fan?