The Presidential Candidates and Me

Podium before GOP Debate Las Vegas
Podium, Las Vegas (AP Photo/John Locher)

Oh. You didn’t ask what I think about the current political scene? Well that’s certainly never stopped me.

In the wake of the latest GOP presidential candidate debate on CNN – the one on foreign policy and homeland security – I’m thinking of going into deep hiding. The rest of the 2016 presidential race  – only just getting started really with the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary coming up in February – should be a doozy.

And it’s not just the Republicans.  I’m not exactly thrilled by anyone who’s running on either side. I’d like to see a third party.  Drawing from the country’s majority moderates. And supporting  less “required” dogma for the parties’ base.

The problem as I see it is the whole primary system. It encourages what we’re seeing in the GOP – a lot of outrageous, “I’m in charge”  comments with no real actionable  policies behind them. Senator Rand Paul – the Libertarian – sometimes seemed the only reasonable voice in the tough-guy babel. Mildly pointing out that one candidate after another would violate the Constitution. Or take us into World War 3.

On the Democratic side – there’s Senator Bernie Sanders. With his well-meaning but costly and unrealistic ideas which have never worked. It’s unfortunate but the relatively unskilled jobs paying middle class wages – beloved by the unions – are not coming back. Nor are the big corporations going to stop combining and getting bigger. What can happen is better, more targeted education for today’s young people. And more targeted retraining for workers left behind in the rush to the internet of things.

That leaves Hillary Clinton. Who seems at this point an overwhelming force headed toward the Democratic presidential nomination. Right now – paired against any of the likely GOP candidates – Clinton is the only candidate on either side who has the real world experience to (perhaps) deal with the highly complicated mess the world seems to be in now. She’s been in the White House, she’s been a Senator, she’s been Secretary of State.  Of the Republicans, only Senator Marco Rubio seems to have any understanding of the world outside the US. He sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. And at least from what I’ve heard in debates and interviews he seems to be highly  intelligent.  Once he gets past the primaries controlled by the evangelicals and tea party  types –  he might come up with some reasonable ideas.

No Republican is going to stray far from the party line on macro issues like guns, abortion, education, immigration (total reform of which may be beyond any politician) etc. But I’m much more concerned with geo-politics and the migration crisis. How to deal with China’s rising prominence. How to handle Russia – who’s seeming “Leader for Life” Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most dangerous man on the planet right now. And of course how to destroy ISIS.  Before it completely destroys the Middle East.

Unfortunately ISIS or its successor (and until the core problems of the Middle East are solved there will be a successor) will keep radicalizing some Muslim citizens of countries like France, Belgium, Britain and the US as long as we – the dominant society – make those other citizens feel like outsiders. And having a presidential candidate talking about registering all US  members of the Muslim faith and closing the gates to all other Muslims doesn’t help.

Internal (homeland) security is not why I will ultimately vote for a candidate. We’ve been living with this same  threat since 9/11.  Actually well before but intelligence agencies were (and maybe still are) incapable of connecting the dots. It always takes something bad to wake us up.

I’m really afraid some of these issues are just unsolvable. By anyone in the West. How you get the Saudis and Iranians to agree to actually do something constructive about the Middle East?

No, you didn’t ask what I think. But I’m as angry as everyone else. And as afraid as everyone else. And I’m mostly afraid we’re about to have a Presidential election season which can only make everything worse.

 

 

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Paris Attacks – Friday the 13th

photo of Paris Police at hospital from Daily Telegraph -UK
Paris from The Telegraph – UK

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here. Travel, home remodeling, work, inertia. You know. I was finally about to write a couple of news-based stories on Friday.

And then came Paris. Those horrendous, inhuman, coordinated attacks against perfectly ordinary people. Who went to dinner or for a glass of wine or to a concert. And never came back. Like those thousands of people on 9-11 here in New York City who went to work in the Twin Towers. And never came back.  Or the Russian tourists who flew toward home from Sharm el Sheikh last month. And never came back.

I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend reading and listening as the experts explain how ISIS developed and why Paris and the nation of France was, has been and will be again targeted. Much of it makes sense. But it’s been said before and still ISIS grows, recruiting often well educated young men – and some women – from every country where Muslim people live. Working painstakingly through the internet and messaging apps where intelligence agents can’t as easily follow. It’s seems quite clear that the  carnage will not be limited to the Middle East and France.

As for all the reasons and explanations — in the end… what’s done is done. We can’t undo it. Can’t rerack the disastrous war in Iraq. Or the intelligence inadequacies never corrected after the Cold War ended. As I am fond of telling myself when I feel trapped  – it is what it is.  We the civilized nations can only try to devise a strategy to deal with what we now see. I am not wise enough to know what that strategy should be. I only know half measures won’t work now and didn’t work then. They never do of course. Senator Lindsey Graham – running almost invisibly for the GOP Presidential nomination – wants to bomb ISIS into smithereens. Well actually he wants to solve every foreign quagmire that way. Others talk of feet on the ground, safe zones, education, integration — too many ideas to list them all. Maybe they all have some value. But we don’t have the time.  That was lost in the years we allowed ISIS and the civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites to grow. Something big has to be done right now. Immediately. Not just by us, the US, but by all nations who value our (relatively ) free way of life.

And what about the migrant crisis spawned by Syria’s inner battles? I haven’t even mentioned that. But with one of the Paris terrorists possibly coming through Greece, then Serbia and other Balkan states with the river of migrants – using what authorities now say may be a fake Syrian passport with a fake name and then moving on to France — what now?

These questions and issues are what the presidential candidate debates on both sides should be focused on. Along, of course, with President Obama and the current Congress who have the unenviable burden of doing something. Now. The West needs a leader. Some country has to produce one. It should be us.

 

 

 

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Update From I-95

On the Road Again
On the Road Again

On the road again. Cats quiet in their travel box behind us. Frank driving, me reading, sun finally up, cloudless blue sky. And oh yeah — I’ve been getting freeze warnings from NOAA in my iPhone for every town we hit in New Jersey!! With temps around 27! In a 2 day cold snap – I guess that’s not surprising.

In a few hours I’ll call the pet friendly hotel in Dillon where we always stay to make a reservation. Tomorrow we’ll have our favorite breakfast at Missy’s. Maybe doing these same things would be boring to others but to me there’s a reassurance in continuity. Every 3 or 4 months we touch the bases. You don’t get old if you follow your curiosity to new experiences. But you also don’t get old if nothing ever changes.

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Road Trips

Mr. Bojangles and Stormy
Mr. Bojangles and Stormy

It’s a hallowed American custom — taking the kids and the dog, piling into the car and heading for the highway. Maybe it’s to visit Grandma, maybe to go camping, maybe a trip down memory lane on storied Route 66.

Well we’re taking the cats – Mr. Bojangles and Stormy – and heading south. I-95 all the way. Destination: St. Augustine FL, the oldest city in the US. But first we have to get to Dillon, SC. Home of the former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (with an interchange sign to prove it). Home of the Dillon Speedway. And Missy’s.

Dillon is just south of the North Carolina border and we didn’t pick it to overnight because of the Bernanke connection. Actually it’s kind of the town the world left behind. A good 12 hour drive (with the usual comfort stops along the way). The cats just shut down in their fleece-floored, soft-sided carrier. Go to sleep. Occasionally Mr. Bojangles (Bo for short) gets up, looks through the mesh to be sure we’re still there, and goes back to sleep.  Stormy just sleeps.  Pretty much what he does all day at home anyhow.

So why do we head for Dillon?  Missy’s One Stop. It’s like stepping into the 40’s or 50’s with a home-cooked Southern breakfast, a crew of bearded, retired regulars and a steady stream of locals stopping in to fortify themselves for the work day. When I was a child I went to summer camp in Maine. Near a town with a general store. With penny candy. That’s Missy’s. A bit of old America you can still find off the blue highways.  If you take a road trip and let your curiosity be your guide.

Oh – sorry about the penny candy.  Missy’s has it but it’s more like dime candy now.

 

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Ode to the Front Page

NY Times Front Page, courtesy Poynter Institute archives

I miss the front page.  Oh I know — I can see a digital front page on my New York Times iPad app. But social media editors are always adjusting the stories to encourage more clicks. Which often has little to do with late-breaking news.  I want what today would be called, I guess, a “sticky” front page.

I’m one of those half and half people.  I read almost all my news from all sources on my iPhone and iPad. Mostly iPhone. Seldom even on a legit website.  But I still get the print version of a few newspapers.  Like the New York Times. Daily and Sunday. I like to look at that front page in the morning — already outdated in our 24/7 world – and get a sense of what is or was important.

Most days I put the paper in the recycle pile without opening it.  Mondays and Tuesdays I save the Business and Science sections for the media and health stories I can read later.  On the apps — those stories are often moved to the bottom of the stack — or even dropped — before I have time to get to them.

But the front page — that’s the heart of any newspaper. The world at a glance. You just can’t get that from a stacked-up news app on the iPhone. It’s kind of like the legacy networks’ evening news broadcasts.  We know the news already, mostly. But that half hour neatly sums up the newsday.  Front page in the morning. Newscast at night. (Although I could certainly do without all the drug commercials with their ridiculously scary side effects). With so much information out there – true and false – most people don’t have the journalistic skills to sort it all out. Prioritize.

That’s what editors do.  The 3 who are left.

Well I suppose I’ll give in soon enough. Dump my print delivery with its front page of record. But before I go — one more thought.  When you’re reading and eating fried chicken or a sloppy tuna-in-a-pita sandwich –the real newspaper doesn’t care that your fingers are all greasy.  It neatly absorbs whatever your fingers slop on its pages.  Try that with the gorilla glass screens of the iDevices.

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Spotify and Starbucks = Muzak

Starbucks Coffee

Now I know what happened.  And why.  I came back home from my summer university teaching in Prague, went to my local Starbucks, held up my iPhone with its Starbucks app to the scanner and settled down happily to enjoy my coffee in what I expected would be the usual warm, comfortable atmosphere. Then I realized something had changed. Where was the mood-setting music mix of new and old, jazz and rock? Manager’s choice music which varied from store to store to fit the customer mix?  Background music which – like that of a lounge pianist – created a sense of belonging, of social interaction in an otherwise sterile, masculine-colored brown and tan, oblong strip mall space.   What I heard now was more like the old Muzak. Boring, genre-less, insipid elevator music.  It was like an Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Or maybe the Stepford Wives.

I asked the baristas. We hate it too, they said. I emailed the regional manager. I’ll tell my boss, she emailed back. I even filled out a customer complaint form on the Starbucks website.  We’ll pass on your comments, came the stock reply.

Today I found out the truth.  What really happened.  In a way it was an Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Spotify and Starbucks had partnered to create what they called “a next generation music ecosystem”. In all 7000 company owned US stores.  I must have missed the announcement last May.  Had I known I might have stayed in Prague.  Where the body snatchers haven’t ventured yet. And Starbucks is still Starbucks.

There’s nothing in my local New Jersey store saying something like “Music by Spotify. Plunk down your 10 monthly bucks to subscribe.” There’s just nothing. Musical nothingness.

I wonder if it’s because most of Starbucks’ employees are just too young to remember Muzak. Or all the jokes.  Or maybe out in Seattle  – where corporate Starbucks lives – they never had elevator music.  It’s the West Coast after all. And the living is —- different.

 

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A Nation of Couch Potatoes

couch potato

i don’t have much patience with couch potatoes.  Personally, I don’t sit well.  I fidget a lot.  At work I’m always jumping up and down — walking to the printer, the coffee station, the bathroom.  Walking fast because there is always so little time.  I wouldn’t go so far as to work at a standing desk but it’s far too easy when you’re working hard, concentrating on a PC screen, to become an immovable object.  Something health experts say is the very antithesis of healthy. AKA couch potato.

Before I blew out my knee I ran (and finished) 28 marathons. Not necessarily well and certainly not fast but — I finished. This past Sunday my husband Frank finished his umpteenth marathon (we’ve lost count and who has time to add up his medals).  Today’s New York Times contained a timely article on the gold standard for all runners known as the runner’s high. This was a somewhat windy article about how that high may not be caused by endorphins after all but by a marijuana-like chemical in our bodies. Doesn’t really matter.  What matters is how serious exercise makes you feel.  I can still get a runner’s high from my current short 2 to 5 mile runs.  Whatever its chemical cause, a runner’s high is simply a feeling of well-being when your run is done.  I imagine people who bike a lot get the same lifting of the spirit. In fact probably any sustained exercise makes you feel good.  Aerobic classes.  A long, fast-paced walk in the fall-colored woods.

I see out of shape people sashaying hopefully into my gym every day.  No doubt sent there by their doctors, their children, their loved ones who’d like them to stick around for a lot more healthy years.  A few of them stick it out.  Work on the weight machines with a trainer, huff and puff on the treadmill or a bike, struggle through a zumba class.  After a few hard-fought months or maybe even a year –those few even become gym rats like me –determined to keep their thinner, more muscled, healthier, happier and – actually – younger selves.  But the majority waste their year’s membership.  Drop out in a month or less after their determined start.  I don’t really know why. For most it’s wasted money they worked hard to make. Or someone in their families did.

What makes some of us not just able to keep our daily date with exercise but more than willing to do it?  And what makes others seemingly unable to stick to a workout plan which could save their lives and will certainly make those lives a lot better? I’m just a reporter not a psychologist. I haven’t a clue. But the psychological rewards of regular exercise — those runners’ highs — would certainly change the equation.  Overcome couch potato-ness.  If only more sitters would just stand up — and move.

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Another Opening of Another Show

cropped-SS-Blog-Short-Hair.jpgI don’t suppose I’m unique these days but I feel like I’m always re-inventing myself professionally. So here I go again — to paraphrase a President named Reagan whose 1980 presidential campaign was my political reporting trial-by-fire.

I’ve blogged before and eventually, when I get the technical stuff in hand, you’ll see a link to Global Perspectives as I so grandly called it.  Long, carefully crafted columns. Not really so global as it turned out.

I travel a fair amount and love exploring other cities, other landscapes, other countries, other cultures and above all — other people’s lives.

I’m a health and fitness nut.  A gym rat who ran 30 marathons and now runs only occasional 5ks.  On a 6 year old knee replacement. Yes – I learned a lot about the power of the mind and the frailty of the body as I ran my knee into the ground. Always sure I could will my body to do my bidding, injury or no, 14 hour work days or no. Sleep? Ha! A half hour of running at 5AM was worth more than a half hour more of sleep I figured. Especially when the time allotted for sleep averaged just 4 -5 hours a night!  Hey dummy — you can’t run marathons on so little sleep. Or on injuries. But I’m a control freak and I didn’t believe it.  Believe me, I do now.

So look for some stuff about health and working out here. And eating right of course. Nothing about cooking. Never had the time. But thankfully my husband cooks.  And we have a microwave. Or I’d probably live on salads and cold cereal.

And again – as soon as I get the hang of it – look for some videos, some photos, some infographics with audio — whatever I can do to make my point.  If I find news during my travels – I’ll post it here.  And probably a little here and there about the absurdities of life.  I’ll try to keep things reasonably short. And I don’t want to hear from grammarians.  It’s my voice. As I have always phrased my radio and TV newscasts and reports. Fragmented like me. I hope it’s the beginning of a beautiful and interesting relationship.

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