Thursday, November 15, 2012


Saturday morning brought the news that Barack Obama had won a majority of votes in the state of Florida. That might be the very definition of “anti-climatic”, coming as it does five days after Election Day. Still, for Obama supporters such as myself, it’s gratifying news. Icing on the cake, you might say. An important swing state swung again for Obama.

In an election season filled with drama (or maybe more melodrama), the end itself couldn’t have been more theatrical. The Democrats didn’t just win, they won big. And the reaction from the opposition party was riveting, entertaining and sometimes even tragicomic.

With the tally from Florida finally completed, Obama won 332 electoral votes (62%), well beyond the 270 he needed to win. Speculation until the last minute was that - while Obama would win the Electoral College easily - he would lose the popular vote. He came out ahead there, too, beating Romney by almost three percentage points (50.5% to 47.9%).

In Georgia, naturally, it was a different story. It was Romney who won big in the Peach State (53%-45%), and really big in my home county (81%-18%). My vote was only one of the fewer than two thousand cast locally for Obama.

While the popular vote nationally might have been fairly close, the electoral vote was decisive. Or, in the nuanced, dispassionate terms probably favored by some Democrats, it was an “ass-whooping”.

You can forgive some Obama supporters for a little “ball-spiking”. (I tried my best to restrain myself.) Obama won by a landslide, if you go by the criteria of infamous GOP operative Dick Morris, who had predicted a 325-213 “landslide” for Romney. Not only did the Democrats win the presidency again, they wrecked any Republican hopes of regaining the Senate by defeating 23 GOP candidates and strengthening their control of the Senate by two seats. Tea Party favorites Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock were beaten handedly, presumably paying for their sins of gross rape insensitivity.

The sweetest victory was Elizabeth Warren’s in Massachusetts. When Warren, a strong advocate for consumer protection, was denied by the GOP the chance to run the new government agency set up for that purpose, she decided to run for Senate instead. Now, with Warren able to weld the much more imposing power of a US Senator, Republicans might wish they had allowed her to take up the job of a mere bureaucrat.

Besides Warren, eleven other women won their own Senate races (including one Republican), bringing the number of women in the Senate to an all-time record high of twenty, a fact that by itself speaks volumes about the shortage of women in Congress.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Dems won a net gain of eight seats in the House, though this does nothing to change the balance of power in that body. To be honest, the overall balance of power will be practically unchanged in Washington. Despite a welcome re-election, Obama still faces a tough next four years.

That prospect certainly didn’t dampen the ball spiking and waves upon waves of Schadenfreude washing over some rejoicing Democrats. A Tumblr site somewhat snarkily called “White People Mourning Romney” features pages of photos showing GOP supporters on election night looking absolutely glum, downcast, dispirited, weepy, sad, and simply shocked, dumbfounded by the reality that, against all their Heavenly ordained expectations, Romney did not win.

I admit, part of me felt a bit of glee looking at these images - after all, these are doubtless some of the same folks who have been relentlessly vilifying Obama since 2008, often in the worst possible way.

On the other hand, I do feel for them. The people in these photos are having a very bad day. It hurts to lose, and especially to lose badly when any outcome other than winning was simply inconceivable. Not all of them were Tea Party fanatics, and some had probably honestly been voting for Romney and his policies (as misguided and dishonest as they were) and not simply against Obama, or worse against a black man.  

It is a bit unseemly to ridicule such ordinary Romney supporters just because they were shell-shocked by Romney's utter defeat, even if they should have known better. Public opinion polls had been clearly showing Obama likely to win (the New York Time’s sage of statistics, Nate Silver, was giving Obama a more than 90% chance of re-election). But Romney’s supporters, like his campaign itself, dismissed those polls as “skewed”, and preferred the rosier predictions of their own polls.  Reality was a freight train they never saw coming.

While it’s one thing to ridicule some people’s simple heartfelt disappointment over the election, it's fair game to poke fun at the hyperbolic and comical reactions of some other really sore losers. (The hubris of Romney’s hapless campaign, however, and the GOP pundits (read: Karl Rove) who cheered it on deserves nothing but ridicule. Pile it on!)

The prospect of four more years under a Democratic president has provoked reactions that border on the silly and insane. A few widely publicized tweets show just how far around the bend some people have gone:

“A thousand years of darkness begins tonight.”

“I’m moving to Australia, because their president is a Christian and actually supports what he says.” 

(I assume that before this person, a Georgian by the way, actually went as far as booking her flight to Sydney she was told that Australia has a prime minister, not a president, that “he” is a “she”, and that she is well-known for being an atheist. Hope so. The tweeter was a teenager anyway, so maybe we should cut her some slack.)

The most jaw-dropping tweeting came from some the nation's most celebrated (and irrelevant) drama queens.

All-purpose clown Donald Trump: “He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!” (He later deleted this tweet.)

“Saturday Night Live” has-been Victoria Jackson: “America died.” and “Thanks a lot Christians, for not showing up. You disgust me.”

Disturbed guitar player Ted Nugent: “Pimps whores & welfare brats & their soulless supporters hav [sic] a president to destroy America”

Plus, you had Glen Beck urging his viewers to start accumulating farmland and ammunition for, well I guess, for surviving the“thousand years of darkness” that’s coming.

Or maybe the ammo's for something else. In some 30 states, petitions are underway for secession from the United States. Secession! Seriously, how many people can there really be who’ve been inflamed by anti-Obama whining to the point of rebellion? In Georgia, that would be the 25,000 people who've signed one such petition so far.

All this because a Democrat was re-elected to the presidency? Even a president who instituted a so-called “socialized” health care program? I have to say, such dramatic overreaction, even if it’s only rhetorical, really is stupid, if not a little frightening.

Some folks, apparently so aggrieved that Romney will now not have the chance to repeal government-run “Obamacare” have threaten to leave the country and move to that Ayn Rand paradise to the north we call Canada. I wonder what kind of health care system they have up there. I hear it’s good.

At least those hordes of Republicans forever disillusioned with America are not planning to  escape to Finland. As far as I know. 

Notice posted by a Tea Party group with a flare for the melodramatic.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Home Stretch

Finally, the day has arrived. This time tomorrow, we’ll know who the next American president will be – unless a recount is needed and they have to call in the Supreme Court to cast the deciding vote. It’s happened before.

Something I think non-Americans must marvel at is the sheer length of the US presidential election. Today marks the end of a grueling two years (almost) of campaigning, debating, speechifying, demonizing, and obfuscating (if not sometimes outright lying) by a whole host of political characters. And some were real characters. (Herman Cain, where are you today?) 

No doubt like many others, I feel exhausted just watching the election unfold over the past twenty months or so. I can’t imagine how exhausted Barack Obama and Mitt Romney must feel, here on the home stretch. I also honestly can’t imagine why they would want to put themselves through it all.

In the latest polls, Obama and Romney are running neck-and-neck (you can never overplay horse-race analogies when it comes to elections). They are both showing 49% support nationwide, though Obama seems to be ahead in the only state that really matters, Ohio.

This morning I watched as the first actual votes were counted on live TV in tiny Dixville Notch, New Hampshire – five votes each for Obama and Romney. For the overall results, I’ll have to wait until after the polls start closing at two A.M. Finnish time. I don’t expect to sleep a lot tonight.

To some it might seem that this election has been badly overhyped, portrayed as an epic battle to decide the very future of America. At least the campaigns are happy to put it into such stark terms. As a casual observer, I would have to say:  yes and no. Or maybe.

It’s certainly the bitterest election of my lifetime. That’s a judgment call, of course. The 60s were a particularly politically divisive time, to be sure. But I was a kid then, and there was no talk radio and Internet to give a national forum to every “low information” citizen with a grievance, perceived or real, to pick at endlessly like a festering scab.

Since I don’t live in the States, and especially not in a swing state like Ohio or Colorado, I’m spared the onslaught of TV ads and robocalls flung at the voting public from both sides. Still, I’m feeling election fatigue just from all the political postings that fill my Facebook and Twitter feeds. To be fair, I’ve brought this on myself by choosing to follow certain tireless and prolific political sites. And I’ve posted my own share of unwanted and provocative status updates from time to time.

I’ve noticed that the political postings of many of my Georgia Facebook friends, who seem unanimously to support Romney, have slacked off in recent weeks. Maybe like me, they’re getting tired of it all. Or maybe they’ve become discouraged, as Romney has struggled to pull ahead of Obama. That’s my own spin, of course.

Or maybe they realize that since Romney will win Georgia anyway, and there’s no chance their postings will ever sway those elusive undecided voters in Ohio (the only voters who really count anyway), it’s pointless to publicly declare their strong disdain for Democrat Barack Obama. In Republican Georgia, that’s preaching to a choir that has long packed up and gone home.

It’s hard to ignore how poisonous the atmosphere has become. For example, a phone call a while back with someone in the States ended abruptly when our chat drifted to the rather staid topic of, wait for it, the Federal Reserve. Add “monetary policy” to the two topics that are traditionally too sensitive to be brought up in polite conversation – religion and politics.

Still, the atmosphere is surely nothing like that during the election of 1860, which resulted in half the United States deserting the other half, with the ensuing deaths of some 750,000 Americans. The US is not anywhere near that level of polarization, though some addled-minded blowhard somewhere is surely expecting another round of secession if Obama is reelected. I sure hope he doesn’t have access to guns (of course he has), or his own radio talk show (some have that, too).

Even many apparently sane conservatives are predicting dire consequents for the country if Obama wins. Obviously, I don’t agree. Likewise, some liberals see dark days ahead if Romney pulls out a victory. That’s based, of course, on Romney actually keeping half the promises he’s been forced to make trying to convince the Tea Party Republicans that he’s not, gasp, a moderate. There is still a chance that if he wins, he’ll ditch all that nonsense and govern like a reasonable person after all.

That’s the argument being made by David Frum in his recent endorsement of Mitt Romney. Frum, the George W. Bush speechwriter who so famously coined the phrase “Axis of Evil” in the propaganda campaign leading up to the US invasion of Iraq, is now considered a rare moderate voice in an increasingly extremist Republican Party. My, how times have changed. 

One telling reason for Frum thinking Romney is the better choice is the fanaticism of his own party.

“The congressional Republicans have shown themselves a destructive and irrational force in American politics. But we won't reform the congressional GOP by re-electing President Obama. If anything, an Obama re-election will not only aggravate the extremism of the congressional GOP, but also empower them: an Obama re-election raises the odds in favor of big sixth-year sweep for the congressional GOP — and very possibly a seventh-year impeachment. A Romney election will at least discourage the congressional GOP from deliberately pushing the US into recession in 2013.” (Emphasis added.)

Wow. You could call this the “Mel Gibson ‘Lethal Weapon’” rationale, something like:  “I’m way, way crazier than you are, dude, so you’d better do whatever the hell I say, or we’re both going down together.”

Call me old fashion, but given a choice, I always go with the least crazy bunch of folks. I only hope today that the good people of Ohio do the same. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Minding the Gender Gap

Another one those global rankings came out last week that illustrate why I very much like living in Finland.

The World Economic Forum issued its annual “Global Gender Gap Report”, with the unsurprising result that Finland remains one of the most progressive countries in gender equality anywhere in the world. This year, Finland moved up one spot from number three to be outdone only by Iceland. Ever consistent, Suomi has seesawed over the past six years between either number two or three in this list of some 130 nations. The US dropped to 22nd place, between Canada and Mozambique, from 17th last year.

The ranking is based on measurements of gender equality in four categories related to health, education, employment and politics. And it’s good to keep in mind that the differences between a country and those ranking just above or below it are mostly very small. The big gap comes, as always, between the top and bottom of the list.

Considering the quality of health care and education here, it's no news flash that Finland is ranked number one in both “Educational Attainment” and “Health and Survival”.

What is even more encouraging is that Finland is not alone in achieving near-total gender equality in these two essential elements for a successful life.

Thirty-one other nations (countries as diverse as France, Uganda and Mexico) tied with Finland for the top spot in comparative health outcomes for men and women (score 0.9796). Unfortunately, the US did not quite make it into this group. It was relegated to the next-best ranking (with a very close score of 0.9792). The difference seems to be that in Finland, women outlive men by one year more than they do in America.

In education, 19 other countries, including the US, joined Finland in gaining the highest possible score (1.0000, which represents perfect equality). Before getting too heady about the appearance of progress in this area, however, we shouldn’t forget Malala Yousafzai.

With so many countries (almost a quarter of those surveyed) seeming to agree on the importance of educating women, it’s all the more glaring to realize how this basic right can incite raw hatred in some parts of the world. (Swat Valley, I’m talking about you – but you’re probably not alone.) Just imagine the kind of primitive, dark mind someone must possess in order to justify shooting a fifteen-year-old girl in the head for simply helping to ensure other girls can attend school. Girls in school! What a subversive concept! The fabric of society will be torn apart! Thankfully, such a medieval mindset isn’t shared by the rest of the world, and thankfully Malala survived the attack, as horrific as it was.

Back to the WEF report. The category where the difference between Finland and the US is the widest, big enough in fact to drive a presidential campaign bus through, is “Political Empowerment”. In this category, which is based mainly on the ratio of women in a nation's political leadership, Finland came in second (score 0.6162), while America placed a very distant 55th (score 0.1557), between Israel and Madagascar.

This poor result for America shouldn’t be shocking. Of the 535 current senators and members of Congress only 92 are women (in Finland it’s almost half), and no woman has ever attained the US presidency. If a county has had at least one female head of state, you can tell your daughter that someday she can be president, without sounding divorced from reality. That’s much harder to do in the US.

The only category where the US outperforms Finland is “Economic Participation and Opportunity” (a fancy way of saying “working outside the home”), where it ranked 8th compared to Finland's 14th place. (Mongolia is top of the world in this category – certainly a thing to ponder.) 

Finland’s weak spot here seems to be the relative dearth of female managers (score of 0.42 compared to America’s 0.74). This is based on a reported 43% of American bosses being women, whereas in Finland the share of managers who can boast of two X-chromosomes is a mere 30%.  

I guess I have to take the WEF at its word on this, though my impressions are different, skewed perhaps by my own experience of the Finnish workplace.

In my twenty-plus years of working in Finland, I’ve had a dozen bosses, of which seven have been women. That’s well above 30%, though I can easily believe my work history isn’t typical. In the high-tech electronics firms where I made my living, the documentation, marketing and PR teams I worked in tended to attract the more, uh, expressive sex (there, I said it). Especially in a work environment dominated by no-nonsense mostly male engineers, more gender equality is always more than welcome.