Thursday, August 25, 2011

My 2012 Presidential Predictions

Four years ago or so, a little later than now in the election cycle, I made a political prediction that came true. I am much better at making political predictions than at making baseball predictions. This prediction was made at the point that we knew who the two presidential candidates were, but we did not know who their running mates would be. I predicted that if Obama didn't pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate that John McCain would respond by choosing Sarah Palin, then the hardly known Alaskan governor. I figured that he was so behind in the polls that he wanted new blood, female new blood in particular, to boost his numbers. Unfortunately, for him, he probably lost as many voters as she gained when she was very divisive and charismatic ... taking over the spotlight.

Very seldom does the US vote out an incumbent president, but it has happened three times in my lifetime: Carter defeats Ford (1976), Reagan defeats Carter (1980) and Clinton defeats Bush (1992). This is a sign of the times, perhaps, American voters are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Federal government. I think the most relevant of the elections in my lifetime (for this blog post) is Reagan's re-election in 1984. At this point in Reagan's presidency (when I compare him to Obama) in 1983, his approval numbers were very low just as low as Obama's now. Obama is around 42% approval now with personal approval a bit higher. Reagan's approval rate was 37% in January 1983 and on the rise to 45% by October. A Gallop poll in 1983 predicted that Walter Mondale would defeat Reagan by a substantial margin. This is obviously very wrong since the opposite happened with Reagan taking 49 states. Lesson here: a lot can happen in a year. What happened in that year? The most important events for him were probably the pulling out of Lebanon (an extremely unpopular operation), a quick military victory in Grenada and of course, the big one, the economy recovered in a very big way. These events along with Reagan's political savvy and charisma and his opponent's lack thereof, resulted in a victory for the incumbent.

So could Obama win re-election? Of course, he could. Is it likely that big events like this will happen in the next year? The economy shows no sign of recovery, like it or not, this is the biggest factor in any election even though president really don't have that big of an affect on it. I think the other big factor in lack of a good candidate in the Republican party which seems like a mess these days. Making political predictions a year in advance is fool hardy. So this is why I make them now, so that I have an excuse for them being wrong. I am doing this earlier than I did in the last election cycle, so I will be predicting the nominee for the Republican party and the running mate. Also, I am going to predict a long shot for the Obama campaign.

1st Prediction: Almost on a daily basis, the Republican nominees for president have a different leader. Businessman Herman Cain had a surge after the first debate, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann was the front runner for a time after she won the Iowa Straw Poll and now, as of today, Rick Perry has a commanding lead. But my prediction goes towards Mitt Romney. Regardless of what I have said in the past about the Republican party, the sane people still out-number the crazies. Like McCain, Romney is one of the few nominees that doesn't scare me and if not for the crazy element of his own party (aka the Tea Party), he would probably be a decent president. He hasn't lead the pack for a while but he is always been in the top tier. He is approximately in the same spot that McCain was five years ago or so. Romney will win New Hampshire and the rest of the pack will start dropping out thereafter. His running mate? Michelle Bachmann. Like McCain, his right wing chops are in question. Not only will Bachmann help appease the Tea Party but the fact that she is woman will only help the ticket.

2nd Prediction: I know this one sounds far fetch, but I am throwing it out there anyway. Obama originally brought Joe Biden onto the ticket to help fill a hole in his resume, namely, Obama's lack of international affairs experience. Let's face it Biden has been a drain on this administration (PR-wise) and he'd a much better choice for Secretary of State than Hillary Clinton. Since Hillary (and Bill) have proved that they can play well with Obama, I predict that Hillary and Joe are going to switch jobs. The Obama / Clinton ticket would win it all.

So here it: the Obama/Clinton ticket will defeat the Romney / Bachmann ticket for 2012.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ponds, Lakes and Fjords

The first house my wife and I ever bought was near Monkton Pond in Monkton Vermont back in 2001. What is interesting about Monkton Pond is that it is sometimes a pond and sometimes a lake. It is my understanding that the difference between a pond and a lake is not the size of the body of water although most lakes are bigger. The difference is that a pond is fed by an underground source while a lake is overground. A good part of the year, Monkton Pond is fed by over ground source like streams but when the water is low, they don't exist. The name of the pond changes as well based on who you talk to. If you ask a local, the pond's name is Monkton Pond. If you ask a realtor, it is called Cedar Lake. Apparently, Cedar Lake sounds nicer on brochures and websites.

One of the great advantages of living in Vermont is that we live just a short drive away from one of the most vast and beautiful countries on the planet, Canada. You could say that the US is as beautiful as Canada but there are much fewer people in Canada. It makes it so much more accessible. Our national parks have traffic jams of RV's and campgrounds that are at capacity. While theirs have little traffic and many camp sites available to you. We honeymooned in Jasper National Park in Alberta in 1998 and were in a campground, "Wapiti," that must have been 90% empty. Why would anyone deal with the American RV traffic when the Canadian alternative is available?

Our latest trip to Canada was a road trip from our home, a six and half hour drive to the Saguenay, Quebec (same as our recent road trip to Philadelphia). If you look at a globe you can see how Quebec City and Montreal are connected by the St. Lawrence River. North of Quebec City the St. Lawrence widens becomes a seaway (aka a sound). It is basically salt water at this point. In 2002 we drove on the east side of the St. Lawrence seaway up to the Gaspe Pennisula where it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. We camped in Forillon National Park with a view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This year we drove up the west side of the seaway, not as far north and rented a cabin in Petit Saguenay. The attraction? the Fjord.

A fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep cliffs along its sides that were carved by glacial activity. The picture I embedded was taken from one of the bays entering the fjord. I could not go any further with my kayak because the weather in the fjord is rough and unpredictable. I don't have a sea kayak either so I turned back because I don't have a death wish. The cliffs in this fjord get higher and steeper. They are spectacular.

The area where the fjord meets the seaway makes for excellent whale watching in late July and the month of August. We saw many minke and finn whales and possibly a blue whale. There are two blue whales in the region. We may have seen one in the distance, but the conditions were not clear enough to verify. It is also a good area to view beluga whales, but the weather conditions prevented us from seeing them. We did see a lot of grey seals. This picture is of a minke whale.

I have heard a number of Americans complain about Quebec saying the people there are rude. I cannot say this is my experience at all. I have been visiting Quebec since I was a kid and I haven't had any problems with rudeness or attitude. I do hate the way they drive up there, a driving style that makes Boston drivers seem sane and polite. Once they leave the confines of their cars, the Quebecois have been nothing but polite in my experience. I do not speak French well. I start each interaction with a polite "parlez vous Anglais" (do you speak English). The further north you go, the more likely the answer will be "non," but most service employees (waiters, hotel or tourism workers) are bi-lingual. To me, the challenge of the foreign language is all a part of the adventure.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Suing McDonald's Over Hot Coffee

Here in America we love to tell jokes and complain about lawyers. Even though, as John Adams said, we are "not a nation of men, but of laws," our public discourse doesn't seem to acknowledge this at times. I don't understand why so many people get obsessed by high profile trials like the OJ or the Casey Anthony case. Recently, someone that I know, personally, went to trial for a fairly high profile case here in Vermont and I was amazed at the on-line discourse about the case. People were following it very closely, people who didn't know anyone involved. Their comments were so vitriolic and outrageous, it is hard to see how anyone can have a fair trial when the court of public opinion is so decisive and powerful. Even after the trial is decided, the cases seem to obtain a life of their own.

The Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants is one of the high profile cases that seems to get brought up time and again for the past (almost) 20 years. The longer in the past the case is, the more distorted the facts get. It comes up a lot in conversations when people bring up how Americans are "sue-happy," ready to bring anyone to court to make a buck. People say that a woman dropped a hot coffee on herself while driving and sued McDonald's for millions. The facts of the case are much more complicated.
  • For one, she didn't drop the coffee. The styrofoam cup that was carrying the coffee dissolved in her hand. This is because the coffee was over 170 degrees Fahrenheit (this is the low estimate). The standard cup of coffee is 140 degrees.
  • She had third degree burns on her thighs, groin and buttocks. She had to be in the hospital for 8 days getting skin removed and repaired.
  • She was not driving, she was the passenger.
  • The car was parked while she was opening the top of the coffee to put cream and sugar in it.
  • She didn't sue for millions. She sued for the balance of her medical bills that her Medicare didn't pay. She was 79 years old. McDonald's only offered her $800 which didn't cover it. The jury moved in her favor awarding her $2.9 million. The judge reduced it to $260,000.00 (about 2 days worth of profit for McDonald's).
She would have gotten more if she wasn't at fault at all. McDonald's was found 80% guilty while Liebeck was found 20% guilty. A good part of their guilt was that they had already been sued for this offense over 700 times. The smoking gun in the case was a fax that they had sent to their chains, over and over, telling their teenage employees that ... whenever you think the coffee is hot enough, think again (I am paraphrasing).

So the next time you hear a Republican claim that we need tort reform, they are talking about stopping the ability of 79 year old ladies from suing large corporations (their contributors) for their organizational negligence. If corporations have the free speech of individuals, surely they have the responsibility of individuals as well. Coffee at McDonald's nowadays are delicious and safe, thanks to the lawyers.