Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Exhausted" voter puts President Obama on hot seat

A "deeply disappointed" supporter put President Obama on the grill yesterday at a town-hall meeting, telling him that he hasn't lived up to hopes, that she's grown exhausted defending him and that she is fearful about returning to the "hot dogs-and-beans era" of her life because he's not helping the financially strapped middle class.

"I've been told that I voted for a man who said he's going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I'm one of those people, and I'm waiting, sir," Velma Hart told Obama.

"I'm waiting. I don't feel it yet," the mom and Army Reserve veteran continued.

"And I thought, while it wouldn't be in a great measure, I would feel it in some small measure."

Hart, the chief financial officer for the veterans group AMVETS, was among the roomful of businesspeople pressing Obama for answers at a televised town hall in Washington sponsored by CNBC.

Hart lives with her husband, Karlton, who works as a facilities administrator at DC's Verizon Center, and their two teenage daughters in suburban Maryland. Yesterday she said she feels their middle-class lifestyle slipping away.

"I'm also a mother. I'm a wife. I'm an American veteran, and I'm one of your middle-class Americans. And, quite frankly, I'm exhausted," she said.

"I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now."

"I have two children in private school. The financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family," Hart said.
"My husband and I have joked for years that we thought we were well beyond the hot dogs-and-beans era of our lives. But, quite frankly, it is starting to knock on our door and ring true that that might be where we are headed again."

Hart concluded, "Quite frankly, Mr. President, I need you to answer this honestly: Is this my new reality?"

Obama responded: "As I said before, times are tough for everybody. So, I understand your frustration."

He insisted that the policies he has already implemented, including more college scholarships and consumer protections against credit-card and mortgage companies, will help the Hart family.

Obama said Hart represented the "bedrock of America."

"The life you describe -- one of responsibility, looking after your family, contributing back to your community -- that's what we want to reward," Obama said.

Last night, Hart told The Post that she was not completely satisfied with Obama's answer.

She complained that he didn't say whether these tough times are a "new reality" or just temporary.
"He didn't answer that," she said. "That was the heart of my question. Like most Americans, fear is starting to take hold, anxiety is taking hold.

American's Love Mac's Best

Americans' satisfaction with their personal computers has been on the rise for the past decade, but consumers still overwhelmingly prefer Apple's Macs to Windows PCs.

An American Customer Satisfaction Index report released Tuesday shows all PCs steadily improved in 2010, with consumer satisfaction rising an average of 4% over the past year. Consumers are the happiest that they've ever been with their computers, the 16-year old survey found, with PCs scoring a rating of 78 out of 100. That's up from 75 a year earlier.

Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500), Dell, Acer and other PC makers achieved higher ratings this year than they did in 2009: They all tied with a satisfaction rating of 77. The year before, all PC makers scored a 74 rating -- except for Dell which had a score of 75.

But Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) satisfaction rating also rose last year, blowing past its rivals with a score of 86, up from 84 in 2009. This year marks the seventh straight year in which Apple led the PC category.

"The biggest asset Apple has had for a long time is its commitment to innovation," said David VanAmburg, managing director of ACSI, an Ann Arbor-based research group. "Others are improving, but the whole world watches Apple when it comes up with its new products each year."

Some of that excitement is comes from Apple's famed "reality distortion field," in which a combination of brilliant marketing and Steve Jobs' aura of being ahead of the curve creates an inflated degree of excitement about the company and its products.

Apple's recent dominance in PC satisfaction is also fed by the company's halo effect from its other devices. Apple dominates the portable music player market with its iPod lineup, it kicked the smartphone market into high gear with the iPhone, and it reinvented the tablet market with the iPad.

Apple maintains that by creating great customer experiences around its popular devices, it can generate positive associations with its other products, including its Macintosh line.

The strategy is clearly paying off: Sales of Mac computers set an all-time high last quarter.

Still, Apple's PC market share is comparably tiny. In the United States, it commands just shy of 9% of the market, according to IDC. Globally, it's even smaller, with about 5% of computers running Mac OS, according to Net Applications.

Apple's puny market share has a lot to do with its prices. Its entry-level, bare-bones Mac Mini starts at $699, and the most basic MacBook will set you back $999. Though Apple's high prices have fostered a small, loyal niche of rabid fans, cheaper alternatives from competitors are getting much better, especially now that PCs are shipping with Microsoft's (MSFT, Fortune 500) vastly improved Windows 7 operating system.

While Apple's MacBook laptops scored at or near the top of each measurable category in a recent Consumer Reports survey, the influential magazine ranked Toshiba's 13-inch, $599 Satellite T-235 laptop higher than Apple's $999, 13-inch White MacBook. It also said HP's 17-inch $1,150 dv7 laptop was better than Apple's 17-inch MacBook Pro, which sells for exactly twice as much: $2,300.

"Windows 7 has become very popular, and PC prices are coming down," VanAmburg said. "The biggest concern going forward for Apple is that competitors will soon start rivaling Apple's quality but will offer their PCs for much less."

For now, with a nine-point lead over its nearest competitor on ACSI's index, Apple appears safely entrenched at the top of the consumer satisfaction ratings.

By contrast, HP's all-but-forgotten Compaq line, seems to have a lock on the bottom. Compaq's satisfaction rating, unchanged from last year, was the lowest of all those surveyed for the ninth straight year. It was the only PC brand that didn't improve from 2009.

Nadya Suleman, says she only has enough money to last her "maybe a week."

Dancing With The Stars - We Got A 'Situation' and it needs some help STAT!

The Season 11 premiere of 'Dancing With the Stars' was a situation, all right. Florence Henderson took a page from Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino's playbook during Monday's premiere, lifting her shirt to reveal a white bra (and matching abs) to viewers during a taped segment on the show. "Mama Brady flashed her boobies on our show tonight!" judge Carrie Ann Inaba said after the two-hour premiere.

"So, what do you give me?" Henderson, 76, asked the judge.

Judges didn't hand out any perfect 10s during Monday's show, but they did give three 8s to 'Dirty Dancing' star Jennifer Grey, making her the night's top scorer with 24 points out of 30. The actress and her professional partner, Derek Hough, performed a Viennese waltz to a song featured in 'Dirty Dancing' that moved Inaba to tears.

The pair was pleased with their performance, but Hough said scores weren't on their minds. "Tonight we don't think about scores, first or front-runner," he said. "Tonight was just special. We got to dance to a song that is so iconic."

There was another tie at the bottom of the judges' leaderboard: Comedian Margaret Cho, reality star Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino and actor-singer David Hasselhoff all landed in last place with 15 points each.

Sorrentino had only five days to practice the cha-cha with professional partner Karina Smirnoff, and judges said the performance lacked polish. Tonioli said he saw in the dance "a very, very faint thing that may or may not be talent." But head judge Len Goodman told the famously muscular 'Jersey Shore' star: "You've got the guns, but not the ammunition."

Sarah Palin wasn't on hand to cheer for daughter Bristol, who danced a cha-cha to Three Dog Night's 'Mama Told Me (Not To Come).' But the former vice-presidential candidate did give her some advice before the show, Palin said: "She just told me to be confident, smile and have fun."

Here's how the leaderboard stacked up:

Jennifer & Derek: 24
Brandy & Maks: 23
Kyle & Lacey: 23
Rick & Cheryl: 22
Audrina & Tony: 19
Kurt & Anna: 19
Bristol & Mark: 18
Florence & Corky: 18
Michael & Chelsie: 16
David & Kym: 15
Margaret & Louis: 15
The Situation & Karina: 15

'Dexter' star Michael C. Hall in Remission

When 'Dexter' star Michael C. Hall was diagnosed with a potentially deadly form of cancer last year, he thought his worst nightmare might be coming true. The actor says he had always wondered whether he'd live to be 39, the age at which his father died of prostate cancer when he was just a little boy. Hall was 38 when he found out he had Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"I think I've been preoccupied since I was 11, and my father died, with the idea of the age 39: Would I live that long? What would that be like?" Hall told The New York Times. "To discover that I had the Hodgkin's was alarming, but at the same time I felt kind of bemused, like: Wow. Huh. How interesting."

But his 39th birthday came and went in February, with Hall's cancer in remission. The actor, who plays a sympathetic serial killer on the hit Showtime series, had announced the previous month that he was undergoing chemotherapy.

To discover he'd developed a disease that could be fatal shortly before his 39th birthday while he was starring in a show about death seemed like a doubly uncanny coincidence.

Hall was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma while he was in the midst of filming the fourth season of 'Dexter.' He says he kept his illness a secret on the set. Shortly after he disclosed that he had cancer, he accepted a best actor Golden Globe wearing a knitted cap, since the chemo had left him bald. Many in the audience were moved to tears.

The effects of the treatment have now completely worn off. Hall says he feels newly energized.

But the actor doesn't think it's happenstance that the characters he's played on TV have a tendency toward repression -- first the closed-off funeral director David Fisher on 'Six Feet Under' and now the reserved, guarded Dexter Morgan on 'Dexter.'

Hall speculates that it's because he, too, is repressed.

"Maybe it has to do with not knowing quite what to do with the storm of feelings that accompanied my father's death. Maybe it's a learned behavior," he told the Times. "Now I'm taking it to the bank."

What did you think of NBC's 'The Event'?

It’s a good thing Jason Ritter is front and center on The Event, because he’s just about the only element in this new series that wasn’t trying to avoid actually doing something. For a big-blast next step in serialized storytelling, The Event was alternately coy and timid, strenuously avoiding tipping its hand.

Ritter, who’s been so good in recent years, such as his work in Parenthood, has a gift for playing earnest men who aren’t merely neurotic dweebs. In The Event, he’s Sean Walker, a seemingly ordinary guy who just wants to propose to his girlfriend, Leila (Sarah Roehmer). But she disappeared. And when Sean searched for her, he found there was no record of her having been aboard their romantic cruise trip.

The other side of Sean was a bit more manic: He disrupted an airline flight; he has a gun. In the cockpit was Scott Patterson, playing a pilot who also happens to be Leila’s dad.

Jumping around in time and location, we saw an Alaskan version of a detention camp holding 97 prisoners, one of whose overseers was Laura Innes’ Sophia. (Since it was said of the detainees that they “may not be Americans,” I’m guessing The Event doesn’t have the stomach to make them foreign political prisoners and all the thorny real-world issues that require tackling, but will take an easier route: Aliens, you think?) The latest TV-President of the United States, Blair Underwood’s Elias Martinez, was looking into this Alaska set-up, making it clear he stands for justice and fairness, even though he has Zeljko Ivanek as one of his advisors, and any time you see Ivanek on TV (and I always welcome that sight), you can be pretty sure he’s either up to no good or covering something up.

Unfortunately for The Event‘s premiere, pretty much everything was covered up, including narrative sense. The show’s time-line was scrambled not so much as a metaphor for the confusion “the event” can/will cause, but simply to keep you in front of the screen, trying to revitalize your Lost big-picture-puzzle mind-muscles.

By the time Pres. Martinez and his family were cowering in a Presidential SUV to protect themselves from a big crash, The Event had become a bit of an irritating tease. Yes, I’ll tune in next week to see if there’s more revealed. But The Event had better give us more characters than just Ritter’s Sean to care about if it wants to build a following, don’t you think?

The show’s producers have promised to let loose with a lot more info early on in the series’ run. There’s a good interview by AOL TV critic Maureen Ryan with Event creator Nick Waulters here that is encouraging, and if you want to start tracking more Event info, the show has a Twitter account, @truthseeker5314 (the number refers to Sean and Leila’s cabin room), that you may want to start following.

Are you hooked enough to keep watching The Event?