The Real Power

Between the political conventions, the people running for the second most powerful office in the land have to stand down for a moment and let the Big Guy speak.  That would be Ben Bernanke, who delivered his annual address at the Jackson Hole conference today.  You want real power?  If being able to print $1.6T ain’t it, I don’t know what is.

The speech was highly anticipated because in the past the occasion was used to announce rounds of Quantitative Easing.  There was hope there would be a third round of it, which is to say more greenbacks flowing out into the economy hot off the Fed presses.  It didn’t happen.  Bernanke spoke instead about what’s gone wrong and what they’ve done to try to get things to start back up.

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The scene is New Orleans, right about now.  20 inches of rain is falling in alternating torrents as Hurricane Isaac spins out over the mouth of the Mississippi.  A huge hole in the atmosphere sucks the Gulf of Mexico up and sprays it over the city, spinning out condensed vapor high above where the atmosphere is cold and barren.

The scene is near Port St Lucie, Florida, in 1979.  Hurricane David, a strong killer in the Lesser Antilles, is scraping the Florida coast and unloading what little is left of its once mighty strength.  Below, a few cars on the Florida turnpike struggle to inch ahead under blinding torrents of rain.

The scene is a classroom at FC Martin Elementary in Richmond Heights, south of Miami.  Ray Gunderson is going over hurricane preparedness with the sixth grade class as they plot out the latest storm.  Many of the kids come from Yankee families, so the curriculum includes heavy doses of how families should prepare for the storms that will come one day.  The lessons teach three things good for kids – some atmospheric science, a little Caribbean geography, and a fair dose of plain scaring the bejaysus out of them.

These scenes define at least one life of hurricane obsession.

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Convention(al) Wisdom

Why do we still have political conventions?  There is a legal requirement that they actually sit down and have the formal vote on who their nominee will be, but that does not take days of speechifying and pageantry.  If another political party like the Greens or Libertarians tried to get their conventions on prime-time teevee night after night they’d be laughed at.  So why do the two parties get so much unfiltered airtime?

Because people watch it.

About 40M Americans watched Obama’s acceptance speech in 2008, and nearly 2/3 of all Americans watch at least some of the conventions.  That’s about the same as the Olympics, generally speaking.  People actually want to hear the candidates speak without filters, and they want the party to tell the world what it stands for.

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The Slow Journey

The journey starts at the funeral for my Grandmother, Arletta.  I was a punk kid from Miami not at all used to the damp cold of a Pennsylvania January and all the relatives who drunk junk cars and spoke with a deep accent.  Truth be told, as much as I loved my Grandma I was worried about missing the upcoming Superbowl, Dan Marino’s first appearance with the Dolphins.  There was a lot going through my mind as I had to sit quietly waiting for the service to start.

My Mom broke the whirl of contemplation in her usual quiet way.  “You see those people over there, in the plain dresses and hats and prayer caps?”  I nodded, they were damned hard for me to miss.  “They’re your second cousins.”  What?  I have relatives in the 17th Century?

I’d like to say what direction my thoughts went from there, but I can’t tell you.  Suddenly, a whole lot of things made sense.  This was the first time it sunk in that my Grandfather had left the faith, Santified Bretheren but Amish as a decent shorthand for us Englischers.  I was one of … them.

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Gaps & Gaffs

The long season that leads up to an election is more like a basketball game than any other sports analogy – you make your shots, stay with the plan, and stay focused in the last few seconds.  That is why campaigns are often defined by gaffs and mis-statements.

The recent comments by Rep. Todd Akin won’t be repeated here, but there are plenty of places where they have been refuted completely.  One of them comes from the Romney campaign, which even went as far as to call on Akin to quit his Senate race.  They don’t want this anywhere near their candidate.

Polls show that, like a good hoop game, the Presidential election is close.  But the gap among women is on the order of 15% and could become much worse.  How?  This takes us back to a number of mess-ups with women that defined the discussion last Spring and threatened to rub off on all Republicans – something they can’t afford.

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