Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt Is Up for Grabs

The lead story in the news of late is all about the unrest in Egypt.  Most of us Americans watch with limited curiosity and then go about our daily lives.  Why should we care?  What affect will the unrest in Egypt have on us?  The answer is that it could be substantial.
The United States provides $1.5 billion per year in aide to Egypt; most of it in the form of military assistance.  Only Israel receives more.  Why?  Because in the Middle East Egypt stands as our lone partner in the war against terror.  And they alone stand with us in support of Israel.  Experts say there is no question that a stable Egypt has kept us safe.  It is for that reason that while we have tried to nudge Egypt toward a more compassionate, equitable treatment of its citizens we have been cautious in our approach.  They are a key player in maintaining stability in the region.  An unstable Egypt could result in an even greater US investment into the area…in both treasure and blood.
Egypt is a youthful country.  Sixty percent of the citizens are under the age of thirty and thirty percent of them are unemployed.  The protestors want jobs, freedom and the end to what they feel is an oppressive government.  Sound familiar?
So as the movement in Egypt grows from a youth movement to a countrywide work stoppage the US finds itself in a difficult position.  The natural tendency is to support the will of the people; to call for the current government to step down and for free democratic elections to be held.  But that is a difficult position to take when the current government has been one of our few allies in the region.
The US has historically called upon governments that are facing domestic unrest to initiate reform and conduct open democratic elections.  Be careful what you wish for. The recent “elections” in Iran and Lebanon have not provided results that are the US best interests.    The Muslim Brotherhood and numerous other radical factions are eager to step into the Egyptian void.
In the battle between US interests and those of radical Islamic Fundamentalists, a shift in the Egyptian power structure could drastically affect the stability of the region and the US position therein.
Egypt is up for grabs.       

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Truth About Privatizing Medicare

During the mid-term campaign Republicans railed against Obama’s health care plan.  One of their assertions was that Obama was going to reduce Medicare benefits and use the savings to pay for his health care plan.  Never mind that the reduction in Medicare the Democrats sought was not in the benefits paid to seniors but in the waste, fraud and abuse in providing those benefits.  Now that they are in the majority Republicans want to push forward their plans for privatizing Medicare. 
According to the plan authored by Representative Paul Ryan they want to scrap the current Medicare system in its entirety.  Instead of providing Medicare payments seniors would be given a coupon which they would use to purchase private health care coverage in the free marketplace.
First of all the hypocrisy in this plan is palpable.  Anyone who thinks that privatizing Medicare won’t drastically reduce the benefits that seniors receive doesn’t understand the basic principles of insurance or economics.  There is no way that a 65 year old individual is going to buy coverage equivalent to current Medicare benefits with a “coupon” UNLESS that coupon is for a sum of money in the tens thousands of dollars per year. The older you get the more health insurance products cost.  This is particularly true when you are buying the product as an individual rather than in a large group.  Large groups have the power of numbers when negotiating price with a prospective insurance company.  Medicare, for example has a great deal of leverage in negotiating coverage and price due to the huge number of people they represent.  A 65 year old individual does not.  Furthermore, it costs more to insure the elderly because they are far more apt to need and use health care benefits than younger healthier citizens.  Any insurance company willing to insure a pool of elderly customers is going to charge a unbelievably high price for the coverage because virtually all of them will use the coverage;  the majority of them many times over.
That brings us to the second point.  Who is going to insure these elderly people?  Who is going to insure a pool of elderly people, provide adequate benefits at a reasonable price and make money for their shareholders?
The Republicans are offering to provide seniors with a coupon to buy a product that doesn’t exist.
THAT plan will most certainly reduce costs.        

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Government Lacks Courage To Make Hard Choices

When will somebody, anybody, in Washington have the courage to do the right thing for the American people?  When will one, just one of our elected leaders put fortitude and honesty over their political ambitions?  Recent events tell us we should not hold our breath.
The Associated Press reports that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says that in this year alone, social security will pay out $45 billion more than it collects.  For the past thirty years the program has run surpluses which the government has conveniently borrowed to pay for other programs. Now, with the program in red ink our leaders will have to find another Peter to rob in order to pay Paul.
That will be a problem because the CBO also reports that the government’s deficit spending will rise to a new high of $1.5 trillion this year thanks in no small part to the new tax cuts which add $400 billion to the deficit.  So not only is there not enough money to pay back Social Security, there’s no money…period.
So how do our elected leaders respond to this monumental problem that threatens the country’s very existence?
Lets’ start with the President.  On Tuesday night he gave the State of the Union address.  In his speech he challenged the country to “Win the Future”.  He proposed increased investments in education, infrastructure and innovation.  He said that “this is our Sputnik moment.”  How does he intend to pay for these investments?  His solution is to freeze discretionary spending at current levels for five years and roll back the tax cuts for the wealthy.  First of all discretionary spending is 12% of the budget.  In terms of overall spending it is a pimple on the butt of an elephant.  To freeze discretionary spending and expect any significant results is laughable and downright disingenuous.  Rolling back the tax cuts on the rich will have some impact.  But the chances of getting that past a Republican controlled House are slim and none….and the President knows that.  The President acknowledged the gorilla in the room, Social Security, saying we need to stabilize the program.  But he gave no specifics.  And he completely ignored the current hot topic, gun control.  His staff promised that the President would speak out on guns “soon”.  We’ll see.
Republicans are no better.  After months of campaign promises to cut the deficit and tackle Social Security they offer no specifics.  In fact when asked for their recommendations thy say they are waiting for the President to put forth his ideas and then they will comment.  Their only overt effort to tackle the deficit was to hold unemployment benefits hostage while they pushed Obama to approve the tax cuts for the wealthy; thereby ADDING $900 billion to the deficit over the next ten years.  When asked if he had a “Sputnik moment” Speaker Boehner said “you want a Sputnik moment?  I’ll give you a Sputnik moment.  We’re broke!  And the American people know we’re broke.”   Yet Mr. Boehner and his party offer no solutions.
 No one has the intestinal fortitude to step up and say what we need to do to fix financial problems.  They are all afraid that to speak the truth about the hard cuts that need to be made will cost them their jobs.  So they wait for the other side to do the dirty work so they can pounce on them for political gain.
Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough said, “Politicians are cowards.”  He’s right.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

SOTU, A Foreign Policy Speech

While last night’s State of the Union address focused on domestic economic issues in was also a foreign policy speech.  In urging Americans to focus on education, infrastructure and innovation he was talking to the rest of the world as well.  He was telling them “we’re coming”.  He was telling them that no longer will America continue to lag behind in these critical areas.  He was telling them that the America that first landed on the moon, built the interstate highway system, and led the world in research and development and the production  of new products is back.  He was telling the world that we will not cower to those that want to harm us and that our fight against terrorism will not stop.
More telling perhaps is what the President didn’t say.  The President took the time to rattle off a litany of foreign countries where America is deeply involved: Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Tunisia etc.  Glaring in their omission were Israel, Palestine and Lebanon.  What does that mean?  Has the President given up on peace in the Middle East or is there something eminent to be announced later? 

Sharp Contrast In Republican Response

Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican Chairman of the House Budget Committee, was assigned the unenviable task of providing the official Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address.  In sharp contrast Ryan offered neither the inspiration nor the hope for America’s future conveyed by the President.  Instead he talked about the impending financial Armageddon and the “crushing burden of debt.”  He attributed the terrible economic climate to the reckless spending and failed policies of the Obama administration.  He spoke of the need to reduce the government and make substantial cuts the deficit; and he challenged Americans to “hold all of us accountable.”
Much like the President’s speech, Mr. Ryan’s remarks provided little explanation as to how Republicans intended to carry out their agenda.  Much like the President’s speech, there were inconsistencies in his approach.  He talked about the impending doom which would befall us if we failed to cut the deficit but he didn’t explain how he supported the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy which added $900 billion to that deficit.  While saying he wanted to cut spending to help all Americans he avoided mentioning his own proposals to privatize Social security and scrap Medicare; cuts which would be harmful to middle class and poor Americans.
Republicans have learned from their victories in the mid-term elections.  The way to defeat this President is to just say “No” to all of his proposals and then act like you have alternatives when in fact you have nothing to offer.  They act like “we won, it’s over.”  But they forgot about the responsibility to govern that comes from winning.  Mr. Ryan will get his wish.  Americans will hold him accountable.
This is all the same political speak that we expect to hear from both parties.  We really learn nothing specific. More telling was the doom and gloom that permeated the Republican Congressman’s remarks.  Coming right after the State of the Union they stood in sharp contrast to the hopefulness offered President. 
Perhaps the President was too Pollyannaish in his approach.  But Ryan’s “Chicken Little the sky is falling” was depressing by half.
For those old enough to remember; it made this writer want to hide under his desk

Obama, "Win the future"

The President delivered his State of the Union address last night and challenged the country to “win the future”.   In a speech free of controversial rhetoric the President urged Americans to unleash their competitive spirit and “outdo the world”.  He focused on education, innovation, infrastructure, deficit resolution and government reformation as areas where the country can right itself and reclaim its’ rightful place as world leader.  His tone was positive and filled with hope for a country now struggling with high unemployment and record debt.
The mood in the chamber was much more subdued than in years past.  Absent were the cheers and standing ovations at every pause in the President’s remarks. Perhaps that was due in part due to members of the different parties intermingling and sitting together rather than on opposite sides of the aisle has had been done for over ninety years.   Or perhaps it was due in part to the memory of their colleague Gabby Giffords who was wounded in the Tucson shooting and still fighting to recover; her empty chair standing in silent tribute.  No matter the reason, the atmosphere was much different.  The President, known to feed off the crowd reaction, struggled at times with the lack of response to key points in his remarks.
Like most State of the Union remarks, this speech was long on the “what” but short on the “how”.  In some cases there seemed to be conflicting assertions.  For example, the President proposed a five year freeze on discretionary spending and then proceeded to recommend a whole host of new spending initiatives.  Afterwards one pundit described the speech as “a math problem without a solution”.
But this was a big picture speech.  He gave both Democrats and Republicans something they can feel good about.
Today pundits and politicos will parse his every word.  Three days from now no one will remember what he said.
Then let the games begin.            

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So Much for Civility

So much for civility and respectful dialogue.  So much for stopping the personal attacks.  So much for the promises of heated debate without personal ranker.  Members of Congress and the talking heads that cover their every word had all agreed on at least one thing.  They agreed that while the vitriol and hate speech that filled our airwaves had not caused the tragedy in Tucson, words do matter and the rhetoric needed to be toned down.
Apparently Glenn Beck didn’t get the memo.
On a recent show he referred to liberals, specifically Nancy Pelosi, as “radicals” and “Marxists” and “revolutionaries”.  “If you listen to them they will lead you toward a totalitarian state”. 
Mr. Beck was just warming up.  “You are going to have to shoot them in the head or they are going to shoot you.”  Continuing: “You will have to shoot me in the forehead before I will let you step into my house and tell me how to raise my children.  You will have to shoot me in the forehead before you will take away my gun.  You will have to shoot me in the forehead before I acquiesce and become silent.”
Mr. Beck is not alone.  In the wake of the Tucson shooting there have been many, many more individuals who have expressed the need to include guns and violence in our political discourse.
Maybe we just can’t help ourselves. 
We are Americans!  We are three hundred million strong!  We are also a violent country.  We are the most heavily armed country in the world by far, well ahead of our closest competitor.  We have ninety guns for every one hundred citizens.   The internet and newspaper are filled with reports of hundreds of shootings and murders in our country each and every day.  At the risk of raising the ire of conservatives; Canada has thirty six million people.  They have ten million households and seven million guns.  That’s still a lot of guns per capita.  But somehow they only had two hundred murders last year.   
It is hard to understand why Mr. Beck and his ilk need to fill their commentary with gun references in order to make their point.  Maybe it’s an “American thing”.  Psychiatrists would have a field day finding the answer.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Enjoy the Moment

In the new spirit of civility and bi-partisanship Democrats and Republicans have vowed to sit next to each other during tomorrows’ State of the Union address.  Gone will be the time honored tradition of elected leaders from the President’s party popping up like jack-in-the boxes at every uttered exclamation or pause while the opposing party sits on their hands in glum silent protest.  Gone will be the always entertaining optics of our elected leaders acting like jackasses. 

But never fear; once the speech has been given and the klieg lights doused they will return to their respective coroners and the battle will once again begin.

Those privy to the President’s remarks say he will call for more increases in spending; primarily in the areas of education, infrastructure, innovation and research and development.  He will say that we must continue to invest in these areas to secure our future and to compete in the world marketplace.  He will make this case in spite of the fact that these spending increases will add even more red ink to an ever increasing deficit.

The Republicans will counter with a call for sweeping cuts in spending.  They will say that we need to make cuts across the board including education, infrastructure, innovation and research and development.  They will boast that their proposals will cut $500 million dollars from the deficit.  $500 million is certainly real money.  But it is a drop in the bucket when compared to a $14 trillion dollar deficit.

Neither party will address the two white elephants in the room: defense spending and entitlement programs.  The desire for re-election always trumps any meaningful conversation about cutting these areas.

So let’s all enjoy the “Kumbayah” moment tomorrow night.  Then let’s get back to the non-substantive dialogue and partisan posturing that we have come to expect from our elected leaders.  

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Olbermann Leaves MSNBC

Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s popular prime time show “Countdown” announced that last night’s show would be his last.  He gave no reason for his sudden departure.  It is reported that he has two years remaining on a four year contract that pays him an estimated thirty million dollars.
The bombastic Olbermann is well known for speaking his mind.  A staunch liberal, he enthusiastically defended the Democratic Party’s agenda taking on all comers.  His “Special Comments” against the Republicans were at times front page news.  He held Democrats accountable as well often criticizing party lawmakers as well as the President for failing to keep campaign promises.
But his most frequent target was FOXNEWS.  Olbermann’s on air battles with FOX were legendary particularly his back and forth with his time slot competitor Bill O’Reilly.
He battled his bosses as well.  Olbermann was recently suspended for two days for making contributions to political campaigns.  Typical of Olbermann, who was often seen making on air corrections for errors in his reporting, Olbermann apologized to his audience for “putting them through the drama”; pointed out that he had made three contributions not two as reported by the network; and noted that rules preventing his donations were not in his contract “for had they been there they would have been illegal.”
While Olbermann often came off a bit “haughty” in his approach he backed up his statements with facts and followed his words with action.  A strong supporter of health care reform Olbermann used his show to promote a number of free health clinics that were being held around the country.  He asked his audience to help and they responded by donating over two million dollars in support of that effort.  Olbermann himself made a substantial monetary contribution.
Keith Olbermann was unusual.  At a time when television journalism is long on sound bites and ratings and short on facts, Olbermann stood for honest reporting and a strong belief in one’s values.  When you tuned in to “Countdown” you knew what you were going to get.  You may criticize his politics. But his honesty, compassion and unwavering belief in those politics are above reproach.
He will be missed.  We hope that he returns to the airwaves someplace soon.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Where Are The Jobs

For the past year and a half the Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for not focusing on job creation.  During the mid-term campaign their message was clear and consistent.  Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!  This mantra was repeated over and over across every conceivable media outlet.   The President, they proclaimed, had erroneously placed his focus on health care reform at a time when Americans were struggling to find work and care for their families.  They portrayed the President as being out of touch with the needs of the country.  Republicans promised that once elected they would heed the will of the voters and concentrate on getting the nation back to work.  With real unemployment hovering around 19% the voters responded and swept Republicans into office.
So what has the newly elected Republican majority been doing to spur job growth since taking office? 
They have been repealing health care reform.
Instead of proposing creative legislation that will create jobs they have been repealing the President’s signature piece of legislation for political theater.  Instead of charging the Congressional committees with the task of finding ways to put Americans back to work they have charged those committees with finding alternatives to Obama’s health care reform policies.  Instead of doing what they said they would do they are doing exactly what they criticized Obama for doing.  
Republicans will say that they are repealing the health care reform act because it is a job killing piece of legislation. But the Congressional Budget Office and virtually every economist disagree.
Republicans will tell you that they extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich and these tax savings will trickle down into the development of new jobs.  But virtually every economist will tell you that the rich will pocket most of those tax savings and if any money trickles into job creation it will be creating jobs overseas.
So where are the jobs, jobs jobs?   

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Time For Republicans To Govern

Democrats have always had trouble getting their members on the same page.  Getting Democrat legislators to stay on message is like trying to herd cats.  You can never get them all moving in the same direction.

Republicans on the other hand have always been very good at staying on message.  In 2009 and 2010 they embarked on a strict path of obstructionist politics.  Their message was simple: “No”.  Just say no every policy initiative put forth by the newly elected President and his Democratic controlled Congress.  They were very effective.  They stayed on message and road that horse to what the President referred to as the “shellacking” of his party in the 2010 mid-terms.  Their sweeping victory emboldened them to proclaim that they would change the way Washington works.  They would reduce the size of government and take substantive steps to cut the deficit.  One Republican Congressman was so swept up in the euphoria that he proclaimed that his party would “propose a debt reducing piece of legislation each week that they were in session.”

 Republicans are now officially in control of the House.  So let us now review the sweeping new deficit cutting, big government reducing plans they are proposing.


Oh, that’s right…they said they would cut discretionary spending starting with the Congressional budget.  Great!  Unfortunately cutting discretionary spending is like plucking a grain of sand out of the Sahara and expecting to see a change in the landscape.

Still waiting!

Oh, that’s right….Republicans have been busy since their installation repealing President Obama’s Job killing Health Care Reform Act. But they offered no alternative plan to cut skyrocketing health care costs.  Furthermore, everyone knows this vote was just a charade to appease their Tea Party handlers.  The vote has little if any chance to pass the Senate and zero chance to clear a Presidential veto.

So what else have they proposed?

Nothing!  They have proposed absolutely nothing.  In fact Eric Cantor, the number two Republican in the House, was asked to describe in detail the specific measures that Republicans intended to offer. He said “we are waiting for the President to offer his proposals and then we will comment on them.”  In other words the Republicans will wait for the President to put forth what everyone knows will be difficult unpopular cuts in the budget and then they will blame him for the fallout. Perfect! Staying right on message another Republican said “we can’t do anything until the President speaks.  We don’t control the government, the President does.” Someone obviously didn’t do well in his civics class.

The polls already show that the country is tired of waiting.  According to the NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll issued today, the President’s approval rating has jumped to 53% right along with the disapproval rating of House Republicans.  Obama’s high marks stem from his successes in the lame duck Congress and no doubt from his inspirational eulogy in Tucson.  People like to see things getting done.  The voters like this President but feel the newly elected Republicans are off to a bad start.

Operating as the party of “No” is not working anymore.  It is time to govern.  And with the next election season a few short months away, Republicans might want come up with some concrete ideas soon.  Very, very soon.    

In Fairness To Speaker Boehner

Yesterday we took John Boehner to task for declining to attend last night’s State Dinner honoring Chinese President Hu Jintao.  We noted that given his stature as arguably the second most powerful politician in our country and the leader of the opposition party, his absence from this important event was inappropriate.

In fairness to Speaker Boehner; last night we learned that Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also had better things to do than to join the President in welcoming Hu.  While their absence is not as important as Speaker Boehner’s we feel that they should have been there as well. 

This was an event hosted by our government in which we welcomed the country that will be our foremost partner, competitor and adversary in the twenty first century.  While this event may have been merely a show of pomp and circumstance, optics are in fact important.  And given the importance the Chinese place on protocol and stature the snub by three of our most important political leaders was certainly felt.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

US And China Need Each Other

The President will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao over the next few days.  On the agenda will be a host of topics including China’s position on currency, trade, nuclear proliferation, Iran, North Korea and human rights.  But make no mistake the center piece of these talks will be economic issues.
Pundits have called these discussions a game of high stakes poker and they wonder how the President can win when China holds all the cards.  After all, the US economy is struggling while China’s economy continues to grow at a rate of 10% per year.  And then there is the little problem of China holding a substantial amount of American debt.  We need to maintain a good relationship with our Chinese banker.  And we need access to their markets for our products.  Under these circumstances many question what if anything would move the Chinese to give in to our demands.
The answer is the Chinese need us just as much as we need them.
The legitimacy and stability of the Chinese government is no longer based on ideology; it is based on economic growth.  Due to their birth practices China is populated by millions of young, mostly male citizens who are poor and unhappy.  As news of the affluence of citizens in other country’s reaches even China’s most distant provinces they have become increasingly restless. To keep them compliant the government needs to keep them working.  And one of the best ways to do that is to keep feeding the American need for all things material.  The Chinese keep their currency value low in order to attract more money into their economy.  That money creates jobs. And the greatest source of that money and therefore those jobs is the good old US of A.
While it is true that China holds a large amount of American debt; it is in fact only 7% of the total amount our government owes.  Far more troubling is the amount of money we need to pay back to the social security fund that we have tapped so often over the years.  But that is a whole different blog topic.  The point is that no banker wants to wake up in the morning and find out that a major customer cannot afford to pay its’ loans.  It is in China’s best interests to help us to maintain our financial strength so that we can continue to pay the enormous interest on the money we owe them.
Finally, there is the military aspect.  While China has been investing untold sums into their economy they have been able to do so thanks to our serving as the world’s peacekeeper.  They have been able to invest in themselves because we have spent trillions to maintain a relatively safe and peaceful planet.  They need us to continue in our role so that they can be free to continue in theirs.
Historians will note that we have been here before.  Back in the eighties it was the Japanese who were going to take us over.  They dominated the auto industry and local prognosticators ran around with their hair on fire because the Japanese “were going to purchase Pebble Beach”.  But we were able to use our considerable influence to negotiate a more favorable rate of currency and more equitable trade agreements.  The world continued to turn on its’ axis.
While it is doubtful that this week’s meetings will bring any major announcements let us hope that they will mark the beginning of positive relations with China. Because whether we like it or not, we need them and they need us.   

Fudging Facts For Political Gain

House Republicans will move today to repeal the President’s “Job Killing Health Care Bill.”  They say that the bill in part will cost the country 650,000 jobs and they cite the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) as the source behind their claims.
The problem with their claim is the CBO said no such thing.
According to the Associated Press, what the CBO in fact did say was that the impact of the health care bill on the supply and demand for labor would be minimal.  Most of the reduction in labor would come from people who no longer have to work, or can move to part-time work because they will not have to depend on their employer to obtain affordable health insurance.  The AP reports that according to the CBO: “The legislation, on net, will reduce the amount of labor used in the economy by a small amount – roughly half a percent – primarily by reducing the amount of labor those workers choose to supply.” 
The CBO isn’t reporting that the legislation will cost jobs.  It is reporting that the bill will allow more people to stop working if they so choose because they won’t have to rely on their employer for their health insurance.  There is a big difference.
Apparently that difference was lost on Speaker Boehner and his fellow Republicans.  They latched onto the “half a percent reduction in labor” statement and ignored the rest; all in order to promote their political agenda.
This is politics as usual.  Skew the facts to meet your needs.
So much for the Republican’s promise of transparency and honesty in government.


Boehner To Miss State Dinner

Speaker John Boehner was invited to attend tonight’s State Dinner honoring Chinese President Hu Jintao. He has declined.  He has another meeting that he needs to attend.  Apparently that was the same excuse that he used explain his absence from the memorial service in Tucson.
Tonight’s event is not a partisan political event.  It is a State Dinner where the government of the United States is hosting the nation that will no doubt be its primary partner or adversary in the twenty first century. For the man who is arguably the second most powerful person in the government, second in line for the Presidency and the leader of one of the country’s two major political parties, to be too busy to attend raises a number of questions.
Speaker Boehner is know in Washington as a great golfer and party enthusiast.  He is known for hosting lavish events for the purposes of raising money for his party.  Apparently his social calendar is too crowded to accommodate tonight’s little shindig.
Boehner’s office says that he is not attending in part because he has a private meeting with Hu later in the week.  That may in fact be the case. But perception is reality and for many his absence tonight  is perceived as a political stunt.
Boehner has made all the right moves since assuming the mantle of Speaker.  But he stubbed his toe on this one.    

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Obama Pro-Business Advocate

 Republican Party members have been quite vocal in their criticism of the President’s relationship with Wall Street and the business community.  They have said that his policies have ushered in an era of big government that is strangling the economy and the entrepreneurial spirit of the country.  The fact is these accusations just aren’t true.
Wall Street stock prices have risen 48% during Obama’s first two years in office.  That represents the third largest growth in our nation’s history trailing only FDR and Calvin Coolidge.  Wall Street traders are making record sums of money and top DOW corporations publishing record profits.
Obama passed the Banking Reform Act which most economists agree was critical in saving the economy.  Banks now have a surplus of cash on hand and have the ability to grant small business loans once again.
Obama bailed out the auto industry which not only saved over three million jobs but enabled one of the few remaining manufacturing industries in our country to avoid extinction.
Obama extended tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of wage earners.  According to Republicans this was a critical step in continuing the country’s economic growth.
Obama met with industry leaders to find out what they needed from their government to enable them to grow their businesses.  He was told less regulation.  This week the Obama Administration will embark on a review of current government regulations in an effort to eliminate those that would be harmful to domestic corporations.
Obama successfully negotiated a more positive trade agreement with South Korea which will improve the country’s trade relations with that nation.
This week Obama will entertain China’s President Hu Jintao. In a series of meetings with America’s primary competitor he will attempt to persuade China to cease the manipulation their currency in a way that harms US trade.
Republicans should be wary.  Should Obama decide to embrace the findings of the Debt Commission he will give Republicans little to run on in 2012.  

Sarah Palin: Viable Candidate or Publicity Hound

 Sarah Palin has once again placed herself in the “crosshairs” of American politics.  Last night she subjected herself to another soft ball interview with Sean Hannity.  Once again she took great pains to project herself as the victim in the Tucson Shooting.  She defended her use of “crosshairs” imagery with the time tested argument that everybody does it.  She used the tragedy as an opportunity to rail against those who she said “was trying to shut her up.” In so doing she portrayed herself as the self proclaimed poster child for those who feel that their opinions are being unjustly silenced by the “lamestream media”.
Sarah Palin is tone deaf.  She just doesn’t get it.  At a time when the country is mourning the loss of innocent lives she has attempted to make it about all things Palin.
In her defense, any one of us would be rightfully upset if we found ourselves the victim of the torrent of criticism that rained down on her within minutes of the Tucson shooting.  But being a strong leader means that you have to remain cool, calm and reasonable when everyone else runs around with their hair on fire.  You have to weather the criticism and offer reasonable explanations for your beliefs.  And you have to have compassion and the ability to empathize with your constituents.  Sarah Palin has not demonstrated the capacity to do any of those things.
Is Sarah Palin a viable political candidate or a publicity hound cashing in on her celebrity? 
Sarah Palin has a large constituency.  She is a formidable player within the Republican Party.  She has said that she might consider running for President in 2012.  Is she a serious candidate for public office?  Or is she a serious candidate to be the next Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck?  Many have already written off her political career.  However one need only look back to 1979 when a former governor that many discounted as “too dumb” and a “B grade actor” won the White House.  Ronald Reagan had the last laugh.  Will Sarah Palin?    

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Day of Reflection

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  We honor the man who has been defined as the “chief spokesman for non-violent activism in the civil rights movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.”  In celebrating the man we have cause to reflect on a time in our history when life was much different than it is today.  A class of our citizenry was considered to be somehow “less” than the rest of us for no reason other than the color of their skin.  Dr. King saw the inequity in that and spoke out.  He said that “if a man does not have something worth dying for then he has nothing to live for.”  He paid the ultimate price for standing up for his convictions.  His life’s work helped to usher in a new chapter in American history.
Today also marks the turning of another page in that history.  Today, in the wake of the tragedy in Tucson, life will return to normal for most of the nation.  Family and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured will continue to mourn and deal with the aftermath, but most of us will move on.  Except for checking on the condition of a courageous congresswoman we will return to the safe cocoon of our normal lives.  In so doing most of us will miss the connection between the Tucson tragedy and Dr. King’s teachings.
The incident in Tucson gripped our attention.  It threatened our safety and our way of life.  It did so in part because one of the victims was a highly visible public figure.  It did so because of the heroism of common citizens who put their lives at risk to help others.  But it also did so because it happened in a mostly white, middle class community to mostly white middle class Americans.
The Tucson tragedy happens in black communities every single day.  Every day young black lives are cut short.  Every day local black citizens step up to render assistance.  Every day families are torn apart by senseless acts of violence.  Their pain and sorrow and loss are no less important than the loss suffered in Tucson. But reports of these incidents seldom extend past a few column inches in the local newspaper.
This is not meant to diminish the tragedy that happened in Tucson.  It is meant out point out that Tucson is not alone.
Dr. King did not just call for racial equality; he called for civil discourse and non-violent solutions as well. Violence is not a solution; it only results in more violence.   Clearly there is much more work to be done.
So let us reflect on Dr. King’s words today.  Let us remember not just the unrest and the struggle of that time.  Let us also remember that heroic American’s like Dr. King stood for what they believed in and made America a better place.  Let us reflect, and vow that the incident in Tucson and other similar incidents happening throughout the country will do the same. And like Dr. King, let us do something about it.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Gun Control Will Test Civil Debate

As family members and friends of the Tucson shooting victims lay their loved ones to rest the country contemplates the return of their normal everyday lives.  Members of Congress will return to the floor to pick up where they left off armed hopefully with a new sense of civility and co-operation in the wake of the past week’s events.  One wonders how long this atmosphere of bi-partisanship will last for the members will surely be tested quite soon.
There is nothing that stirs the hearts and souls of conservative minded individuals like a rousing discussion about gun control.  The subject was already being discussed across the nation’s airways even as memorial services were held in Tucson.  This subject alone will test the fabric of civil discourse.
In the wake of last week’s shootings liberals have already started calling for more restrictions on firearms.  Conservatives respond that if more people had been armed last Saturday the shooter would have been stopped before causing such carnage. Democrats are proposing a ban on the “extended magazine” that allowed Jared Loughner to fire thirty one rounds before reloading.  Republicans are offering a bill that allows elected leaders permission to carry their weapons onto the House floor.  Some even want to “require” House members to carry a firearm.
This is a debate that has raged for years and one that seems to begin anew whenever a violent tragedy occurs.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out this time; and to see if our leaders were serious about their pledge to be more civil to one another.     

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Obama, Consoler in Chief

President Obama went to Tucson last night and delivered a remarkable eulogy for the victims of last Saturday’s shooting.  In so doing he brought the conversation about political discourse to a higher level.
It is said that the President put much of himself into his remarks, working on the final draft even as Air Force One approached Tucson.  He owned this speech.  As a father of two little girls it was evident that his remarks came from the heart.
The President, while speaking to a packed house of 14,000 at the University of Arizona McKale Center spoke to the country in a tone that was sometimes, somber, sometimes inspirational and sometimes uplifting.  The positive energy in the arena was fluid moving from the contemplative, respectful mood of a memorial service to the joy of a pep rally. 
He struck just the right cord.  He was our favorite uncle with his arm around our shoulder.  He was our father telling us that everything would be ok.  He was our parish priest, our rabbi our comforter.  He gave the citizens of Tucson, and the country a reason to mourn, to laugh and to be hopeful for the future.
Supporters have called this speech the beginning of a turning point for our nation.  Others have said that once the pain and shock subside we will probably return to the same old rhetoric that has permeated our conversation for decades.  Only time will tell.
One thing was certain last night.  At a time when the country needed him, Barak Obama stepped up.  In the face of tragedy he helped us remember all that is good in each of us and in our country.
In his closing remarks he remembered Christina Green, the nine year old whose life was so tragically ended last weekend.  He recalled her recent interest in politics and how she viewed democracy and the country with the wide eyed enthusiasm that only a child could have.
“I want our democracy to be as Christina imagined it,” Obama said.  “I want America to be as Christina imagined it.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pivitol Momment For Obama

The President will fly to Tucson today where he will attend a memorial service for the victims of Saturday’s shooting.  He will also address the nation.  In his speech the President is expected to express his condolences to the families and commend those who put their own lives in danger to offer assistance.  He is also expected to call for a more civil tone in our political discord.  On this final point let us hope he succeeds.
The President’s speech comes at a time when hate speech and inflammatory rhetoric has become accepted rather than the exception.  It comes at a time where violence and threats of violence against elected officials are at an all time high.  The Secret Service reports that death threats against members of Congress have increased substantially over the past two years.  Members of Congress and other high ranking officials who were never afforded protective details now have them because the Secret Service is concerned for their lives.  Political pundits who voice their opinions now see an increase in violent threats.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s tragedy House Speaker John Boehner has emerged as a leader for restraint.  He has called for an end to the harsh rhetoric that has dominated the political landscape and in so doing has struck just the right tone.  His actions, words and demeanor are to be commended.
There are some that have already gone on record in their hope that the President fails tonight.  They see this speech as merely an attempt to use false compassion to win political points.  These utterances are crass and deplorable.
It is said that the President has poured a lot of himself into this speech.  It is said that he has been up into the night trying to find just the right words to move this country to a more civil place.
All Americans, regardless of political persuasion, should hope that he succeeds.   

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Freedom of Speech vs Human Decency

On Thursday family members of nine year old Christina Green will hold a funeral service for the little girl who was gunned down by Jared Lee Loughner this past Saturday.  The nation will join the family in mourning the senseless loss of this young child’s life.
That is except for the members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka Kansas.  They plan to picket the funeral.  Why?   CNN reports that a flier released by the church about the protest targets the Roman Catholic Church because Christina and her family are members. They plan on staging protests at the funerals of the other Loughner shooting victims as well. 
The Westboro Baptist Church is known for its’ extreme stance against gays, Jews, Christians, blacks, soldiers and the American government.  They have held protests at funerals all across the country and most recently sent members to protest at the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards.
The church members state that as long as they assemble legally and peacefully they are simply excising their right to free speech as provided by the Constitution.
Unfortunately the Constitution does not address the need for compassion and human decency at this time of terrible loss.        

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Politicizing a Tragedy

The tragic shooting in Tucson this past Saturday will bring the country together to mourn this senseless loss of life. We will learn about the victims and their families and reflect on how fleeting life really is. Unfortunately there will be those who use this tragedy as an opportunity to seek political advantage. 
In the coming weeks pundits and lawmakers on the right will say that this tragedy shows just how angry the country is with the direction in which Obama is taking the country.  And the left will say that the hate speech promoted by the right led to the actions of a troubled individual.  In so doing they will turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the basic lesson that this tragedy should teach us.  Our words do matter.
To think otherwise ignores history.  Some people have the ability to inspire us. With a simple phrase others can move us to tears.  People are promoted and elected in part for their ability to motivate.  “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”  These few words motivated millions to seek a life of public service.  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” galvanized a country at a time of war.  Kennedy and FDR are remembered for these few brief words because of the positive effect they had on the populace. Is it not therefore reasonable to assume that encouraging angry constituents to “Reload”, publishing a “target list” and referring to Congressmen as “dead men” can have a similar effect?
Words are powerful. They have consequences.  We need to be very careful how we use them.

Saturday, January 8, 2011 ain't easy

The train wreck that was the Republican’s first week of controlling the House of Representatives mercifully ended yesterday.  And Republicans found out that it is truly much more difficult to govern than to sit on the sidelines and just say “No”.
Republicans started the week off with a gleam in their eyes and a song in their hearts.  Armed with Speaker Boehner’s “Pledge to America” they were ready to reform the way Congress operates and give the American people the transparency and honesty in governing that had been missing during the Pelosi controlled Congress.
And then within hours of assuming control they broke virtually every promise that they made.
They started by administering the oath of office to the new members.  Unfortunately some of them were not present because they were attending a celebratory fund raiser…on government property…which is illegal.  No matter.  The truant members raised their right hands while watching the ceremony on television…also illegal.  And then they came back to the chamber and voted on matters of Congress…which once again is illegal as they were not duly sworn members of Congress at the time they voted.
They decided it would be fitting to read the Constitution aloud; a fitting symbolic gesture.  And then in the spirit of openness they purposely omitted several paragraphs referring to slavery. 
Finally, after promising members open votes and the opportunity to offer amendments and differences of opinion, they held a closed vote to repeal health care reform.  And in so doing galvanized and united Democrats like they had not been united since Obama’s election.  The vote to repeal “Obamacare”, a symbolic charade to appease their Tea Party constituents, enabled Democrats the opportunity to highlight all of the enormously popular portions of the bill.  It gave Democrats the stage on which to paint their Republican counterparts as killers of all things Grandma.  Even Democrats who originally opposed the bill turned on the Republicans.  Only three voted for repeal.
Governing…not as easy as it looks.  Maybe next week will be better.     

Friday, January 7, 2011

"The CBO says..." Gospel Truth or Meaningless Information

“The CBO says…”  One can often hear both Democrats and Republicans proudly pontificating on the findings of the CBO when those findings further their political agenda.

“The CBO says that the President’s Health Care Reform Act reduces the deficit by $147 billion dollars over ten years.”  Democrats squeal with joy.

One can also hear those same legislators dismiss the CBO findings when those findings throw cold water on their ambitions.

“The CBO says that repealing the President’s Health Care Reform Act will add $230 billion to the deficit.”  “Their analysis is wrong because they only take into consideration the facts that they are given.” Republicans sneer.   (Editor’s note:  What other facts could they analyze other than the facts that they are given to analyze.)

What is the CBO?  And why do people care what it thinks?

The CBO is the Congressional Budget Office.  In simple terms, it is a nonpartisan body that is charged with providing Congress and the President an impartial analysis of the monetary effects a proposed piece of legislation will have on the country’s pocketbook.  Its’ analysis and subsequent findings can provide weight and validity to any proposed legislation.  A positive finding can provide the impetus to push a piece of legislation through Congress.  A bad analysis can bring the end to what seemed like a good idea at the time.  Is it important?  It would seem so.  Democrats spent months tweaking their health care bill so that it would meet the CBO sniff test.

So why does Congress have the CBO if lawmakers only listen to it when it suits their needs?  Good question.  The simple answer is because the CBO can only provide analysis and cannot force Congress to act in any particular manner.  Put another way, Congress often ignores the CBO findings because they can…and because sometimes, oddly enough, politics wins out over common sense.  

One thing is certain.  Failing to heed the CBO’s advice has led us to the need to raise the country’s $14 trillion dollar debt ceiling (credit card limit) in the next few months.  And more is coming.  This week alone Republicans passed new House Rules that will make way for programs that will increase the national debt by $1.01 trillion dollars.

Next week House Republicans have vowed to repeal Obama’s health care bill.  They will undertake this charade to appease their Tea Party handlers knowing full well that their efforts will be blocked either in the Senate or by the President’s veto.  Once their repeal efforts are rebuffed they will attack the bill incrementally and make every effort to stop its’ funding; once again ignoring the CBO's analysis. 

So as Congress wastes time on this repeal strictly for the purpose of political theater they are missing a most important point.  While they  generously approve hundreds billions of dollars that we don’t have to build hospitals and clinics in Iraq and Afghanistan and pour billions more into foreign aid, over 50 million Americans who put them in office are suffering without affordable quality health care.  To politicize this is both fiscally and morally wrong.            

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Does anyone really believe...

...that the Republicans will vote "No" to increase the debt ceiling?  Several of the freshman legilators are sounding the alarm that they will not agree to increase America's credit card limit unless substantial cuts are made in government spending to lower the deficit.  They have threatened to "shut down the government" unless their demands are met.


So Rand Paul and Marco Rubio and many of their Tea Party backed cohorts will stop social security checks from being mailed, halt medicare payments, withold govenment payroll checks and, most importantly stop the flow of money that supplies the food, water and munitions to the men and women on the battlefield conducting two wars at their command!


Not to mention that such an action would cause the country to default on its' financial obligations and as a result cause the collapse of the world economy.

But then this is the party that after campaigning for deficit reduction used the unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans as a bargaining  chip so that they could increase that same deficit by 1 trillion dollars in order to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.

It will be interesting to watch as the newly elected Tea Party legislators wield their power.

Or perhaps "frightening" is a better word.

And So It Begins...Same old Same Old

The 112th Congress had barely settled into their seats when it became apparent that very little had changed.  Speaker Boehner had just promised the American people that under his leadership the House would deliberate in a open and transparent manner.  A few short hours later that promise was broken.  Republicans announced that they would not allow an open vote on the repeal of the Health Care Reform Act.  That means that the vote to repeal the President's signature piece of legislation would be acted upon without the opportunity for any amendments to be considered.  While a smart move politically, because it shelters Republicans from having to vote "No' on popular aspects of the bill, it smacks of the same gamesmanship that Republicans promised to halt during the November campaign.     

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Changing Of The Guard

John Boehner will assume the mantle of Speaker today as Republicans take control of the House.  Republicans campaigned by promising transparency and a determination to cut government spending back to 2008 levels saving taxpayers $100 billion in the first year alone.  They have also promised to repeal President Obama's signature piece of legislation, Health Care Reform.  A tall prder to say the least. There will be obstacles along the way. They have already been forced to scale back their promises to perhaps $50-$60 billion due to the previous Congress'  failure pass appropriations bills for 2011.  And the Democrats still maintain the majority in the Senate and Obama still holds the power of the veto.  Regardless, the Republican base will expect results.  And the Tea Party will be watching their every step.  As Representative Chris Van Holland of Maryland told the NY Times, "it's easy to talk about these things in the abstract.  It's another thing when you start taking away people's college loans and Pell grants or cutting early education programs."

It is time for the "Party of No" to govern.  The American people will be watching.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

US vs China

While Congress prepares to begin an idealogical food fight over the Republicans' intention to repeal "Obamacare", and haggles over fixing the deficit, the country's most feared competitor, China, continues to grow more powerful. 

An overwhelming majority of the American people have stated quite clearly that they want the government to raise taxes on the rich, end the war in Afghanistan, cut the deficit and cut government spending.  But the President and the lame duck Congress crafted a "bi-partisan solution" that ignored the will of the people.  Tax cuts were continued, the war rages on, the deficit grows and wasteful government spending is business as usual.  Today's news is filled with articles citing billions of dollars of infrastructure projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, paid for by American tax dollars, that are crumbling for lack of use and care.  This while military operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen escalate.  An excess of 450 military bases around the world continues to drain American coffers.

Meanwhile the number of wars China is waging is zero.  The number of Chinese military bases on foreign soil is zero.  China is aggressively spending its' money on inovation, infrastructure and purchasing minerals around the world.  They are strengthening their trade agreements in Asia, Europe and Africa and thereby expanding markets for their products.

China is spending its' money on growth and investments while the US spends its' money on blowing things up.