Friday, January 31, 2014

The President's Biggest Challenge

According to the Commerce Department, the US GDP grew at an annual rate of 3.2% in the fourth quarter. While that is slightly lower than the 4.1% growth in the third quarter, it is higher than the 3.1% projections, and points to an ever stronger economic recovery.

The Commerce Department goes on to say that consumer spending, one of the key drivers of the economy, rose 3.3% in the fourth quarter. This follows a 2.0% growth in consumer spending in the third quarter…a continuing trend in the right direction.
For those of you that are as uneducated on economic issues as we are…you should know that these are very good numbers. One economist gave the last two quarters a “strong B” rating.

So this is all good news for the White House! Right?

Not so much.

According to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, 71% of Americans are dissatisfied with the economy. 81% feel at the economy favors the rich. 63% feel that the country is on the wrong track. 43% approve of the president’s job performance while 51% disapprove…his lowest numbers since first assuming the presidency.

It seems that the more the economy improves the more the president’s approval ratings decline.

The reason is because the positive effects of the country’s economic growth have yet to find their way into the pocketbooks of the masses.

Wall Street is booming. The S&P rose 29.6% in 2013…its’ best performance in 15 years. The DOW climbed 26.5% in 2013…best since 1995. And the NASDAQ soared 38.3% in 2013…best since 2009.

While Wall Street booms, Main Street struggles.

50 million Americans live in poverty…including 16 million children. 51.4% of all Americans will find themselves living in poverty at some point before they reach the age of 65. Middle class wages are flat. 12.2 million Americans are unemployed. By the end of this year 4.9 million will be out of work for more than 26 weeks.

The income disparity between the “have’s” and the “have not’s” continues to grow. The rich ARE really getting richer while the poor get poorer.

Therein lies the president’s biggest challenge; how to get the growing prosperity on Wall Street to find its way to the poverty on Main Street. At stake is the very foundation of our democracy.

The economic stability of the masses stands at the heart of a thriving democracy.

Without it a democratic state cannot survive.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Time For a New Script

The president took his income inequality message on the road yesterday, visiting a Costco plant in Maryland that pays its workers a minimum of $11.50/hour. Then he was off to a steel plant in Pittsburg where he signed an executive order to create the “myRa” program, “making sure that after a lifetime of hard work you can retire with dignity.” Today he’ll visit Wisconsin and Nashville to double down on his SOTU message.

We’ve seen this movie before.

It is no secret that this president abhors the back room deal making that is the cornerstone of Washington politics; preferring instead to take his message directly to the people. His comfort zone lies behind a podium…making big speeches…inspiring the masses. His oratory is often followed by a road show full of pithy sound bites and photo-ops. His goal…to inspire the masses to do his bidding; to do that which he is reluctant to do himself…pressure congress to enact his agenda. He has been following this same strategy for the five years he has been in office. It’s not working.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Our country is in a generational decline. Upward mobility is stagnant. If you are born into poverty in this country there is an 80% probability that you will remain in poverty for the rest of your life. For the first time in history our children will in all probability be worse off than we are. And yet here we are, and here is our president, nibbling around the edges of what is a massive deterioration in our society…a decline that won’t be fixed by raising the minimum wage or providing benefits for the long term unemployed. Yes, these are important issues that need to be resolved. But in terms of our country’s future they are but a pimple on an elephant’s ass. We have big problems and the president is playing small ball when he should be focusing on the big picture.

It’s not his fault.’

The president’s supporters will say it’s not his fault. They will point to his intransigent opponents who have made it their life’s mission to block his agenda.

It is not Obama’s fault. It’s not George Bush’s fault either. It is not the Democrats fault any more than it is the Republicans. It is a systemic decline in our society that has been ongoing for decades...crossing over party lines…presided over by Democrats and Republicans alike…fueled by a national sense of entitlement and governed by a political culture that puts personal interests and party ahead of country. No amount of partisan tinkering around the edges is going to stop the decline.

It may not be Obama’s fault…but it is his job to fix it.

President Obama has held the most powerful office in the world for five years. Like all his predecessors, to him goes the credit and the blame for that which happens on his watch. Like it or not, he owns this economy. Like it or not, he owns the continued deterioration of our society and the income disparity and stagnant mobility that goes along with it. It is not his fault…but it is his job to get it fixed.

How does he fix it?

If we are to reverse the downward spiral of the past decades we will have to undergo a dynamic shift in the way we do business. It will require a large investment in education and research and a complete restructuring of the manner in which we educate our children. It will require massive investments in our infrastructure. It will require an overhaul of the way we collect taxes and fund our government. And it will require a reform of our immigration laws so that we can attract and keep the world’s best and brightest. We’re not talking about nibbling around the edges of business as usual. We are talking about big changes and big ideas; none of which will be accomplished by executive orders and well written speeches. There are successful models out there. All we need do is embrace them.

So how is the president supposed to fix things when congress won’t work with him?

Nothing gets done until there is an agreement. And there can never be an agreement unless two sides are talking to each other…face to face…eye to eye. To get what you want you have to give something in return. The president cannot have a give and take with Speaker Boehner from a podium in Pittsburg.

If we were president we would get the best and brightest economists, scientists, educators, insurance experts, civil engineers, tax specialists and party leaders and lock them in a room until a long term deal is reached. Farfetched? Not really! It may take the remaining three years of Obama’s term to craft a plan, but so what. Could anything else be more important than the country’s long term future?

We don’t want to hear anymore speeches. We don’t want to see anymore finger pointing or listen to another lame version of the blame game. We would rather see Obama and Boehner locked in a room, smoking cigarettes until the walls turn yellow.

Lofty rhetoric isn’t working. Small ball isn’t either. The president needs to change his game plan. He needs to go bold. He needs to engage his opponents face to face and stop talking over them.

We are watching the same feature film over and over again. It doesn’t end well.

We need a new storyline.

The president has the power to produce and direct a new plot.

A struggling yet hopeful nation is watching.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hope And Change Within The Boundaries

Upbeat! Positive! Long on rhetoric! Short on substance!

That is our take-a-way of the president’s State of the Union address.

The president was in full campaign mode last night…touting the accomplishments of his five years in office…expressing his hope for the future and his belief in our country and the values that once made it great.

He challenged congress to set aside their differences and do what is right for the American people. And he warned that if they refused to act he would use the powers given to him in the constitution to act alone.

To his credit he spent most of his address talking about the plight of the American people and the ways congress can act to improve their lives…raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, renewing benefits for the long term unemployed, investing in education and research and creating jobs.

Noticeably absent was anything that one would characterize as “big and bold.” He called for a year of action…but his proposals barely nibbled around the edges.
Clearly this is a president who after five years in office understands that this congress is not going to work with him.

As one pundit noted…“The audacity of hope has been replaced with the reality of limits.”

The president did what he had to do. A center left speech presented in a center right manner. A conciliatory hand of co-operation extended. Hope and change within the boundaries.

One final note! There were three Republican rebuttals to the president’s remarks. We could only bear to watch one. The official response was delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), the fourth ranking Republican in the House. McMorris Rodgers seems like a nice enough person and she is probably a good mother and capable congresswoman. But her comments offered nothing of substance. She basically said everything will work out for the best if we work hard and pray to God to help us make the most of our opportunities. Her response proves once again that the “Rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union Address” should be discontinued once and for all.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We See Better Than We Hear

The President shall from time to time give Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
                                                                                                Article II, Sec. 3, of the United States Constitution
This evening, as directed by our founding fathers, the president will address congress as to the state of our union.  It will be President Obama’s sixth opportunity to formally make his case to the American people and their elected representatives.  The question is will anybody be listening.  For tonight the circumstances will be far different than they were one year ago. 
In January of 2013 the president bounded to the podium buoyed by a resounding re-election victory and a 52% approval rating.  He saw his victory as an affirmation of his policies and he put forth a progressive second term agenda that sent shivers down the spine of his opponents.  “Elections matter” he said as he challenged congress to take action on 41 separate issues.  His supporters were ecstatic.  Candidate Obama of 2008 had returned. 
Tonight President Obama will address the nation from a much weakened position.  His approval rating stands at 43%, the lowest during his time in office, a nine point drop from a year ago.  Two thirds of the populace feels that the country is on the wrong track.  Most damning of all…he is no longer trusted by half of the nation.  His only solace comes from the knowledge that the approval rating of those sitting in the chamber tonight stands at an abysmal 13%.   
The president is coming off of his worst year in office.  Of the 41 action items he put before congress in last year’s SOTU, only two passed…the extension of the Violence against Women Act and the raising of the debt ceiling.  Immigration reform, tax reform, climate change, background checks on gun purchases…all swept aside by a tidal wave of partisan bickering and Washington dysfunction. 
Rightly or wrongly this systemic case of Washington gridlock falls squarely on the president’s shoulders; for he is the President of the United States and people expect him to find a way to get things done. 
So what can this weakened president do to break the gridlock and move the country forward?  The word from the White House is that the president will challenge congress once again to act on a number of issues…immigration, climate change and raising the minimum wage.  But this time he will promise to use his executive powers whenever possible if they fail to do so. 
We’ll see.  Speechmaking has always been this president’s strong suit…following up his weakness.
Tonight’s speech will be important in that it will set the tone for the upcoming election year.  Far more important will be the president’s actions in the days and weeks to come.  Will his actions speak louder than his words?
We see better than we hear.  


Monday, January 27, 2014

Republican Disfunction

Republican Senator Rand Paul appearing on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” says that accusing Republicans of waging a “war on women” is unfair because Bill Clinton preyed on a 20 year old intern.
The Arizona state Republican Party has censured Senator John McCain because he is not conservative enough.  Party leaders referred to McCain’s “disastrous” voting record as their reasoning for the censure.  No further action is planned…meaning the only reason for the censure is to embarrass the five term senator.
Republicans plan to air not one…not two…but three rebuttals to the president’s State of the Union address.  Because what the American people want is more partisan bickering.
Looking forward to 2016…Republicans feel that they need to nominate someone from outside the Washington beltway to run against Hillary Clinton.  Party leaders are focusing on current or past governors because “Governors know how to balance budgets and get things done.”  The all star cast being considered includes:
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – Walkers’ resume includes breaking the teachers’ union, cutting government jobs and slashing government employee benefits.  Walker’s unpopular policies resulted in massive demonstrations and a petition for his recall.  Walker barely withstood a recall vote.
Florida Governor Rick Scott – Scott has the lowest approval rating of any sitting US governor.  He helped pass legislation requiring welfare recipients to pass drug tests before receiving benefits…because if you are on welfare you must be a crack head.  Less that 1% tested positive.  Scott has never answered questions regarding what he knew about a 1997 multi-million dollar insider trading scandal involving a chain of hospitals he owned.  Scott invoked his 5th amendment rights 75 times in a deposition on the matter.  Because the suit was settled out of court Scott never had to tell all of what he knew.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee – More preacher than politician, Huckabee recently criticized Democrats for insulting “the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government…”  We didn’t realize that women were so easily persuaded. 
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell – The former governor has just been indicted on federal corruption charges for receiving cash, loans and gifts in exchange for political influence.  The governor’s former claim to fame was his proposal of a bill requiring that women undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound prior to undergoing an abortion.  On a happier note…McDonnell was chosen to give the Republican rebuttal speech to President Obama’s State of the Union address in 2010.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush – Governor Bush is…well…a “Bush.”
The Republican Party…the gift that keeps on giving.          

Thursday, January 23, 2014

This & That

HERE WE GO AGAIN – “Freedom Works” a powerful conservative grassroots organization that supports and funds Tea Party candidates, announced that it will back Matt Bevin’s primary challenge against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  McConnell, who for the past five years has led a successful campaign of obstruction against the president’s agenda, is just not conservative enough for the Tea Party faithful.  McConnell’s unpardonable sin was allowing Harry Reid and senate Democrats to re-insert funding for the ACA into the Continuing Resolution to fund the government.
McConnell remembered the political beating Republicans took for shutting down the government last October.  He understood that his party could ill afford a repeat performance if they wanted to win in the mid-terms.
The Tea Party faithful still don’t get it.  The way to move their ideology forward is to nominate electable candidates and win elections.  Challenging the leading Republican in congress is not the way to go.
RETRIBUTION OR COINCIDENCE – You are all familiar with “Bridgegate” scandal that has overwhelmed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Accusations of bullying and political retribution have threatened to derail the governor’s presidential ambitions.  Is it possible that similar tactics are being employed by the newly elected mayor of New York?
The recent snow storm that hit New York City was seen by many as the first test of newly elected mayor Bill de Blasio’s leadership skills?  Would the new mayor be able to keep the city that doesn’t sleep up and running?  The answer is…it depends where you live.
De Blasio the candidate portrayed himself as a progressive alternative to former mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, whose policies he characterized as “favoring the rich.”  De Blasio spoke of life in New York as a tale of two cities...the rich and famous who live on the upper east side of Manhattan versus the middle class, working poor and minorities who seek shelter in the forgotten boroughs.  De Blasio’s rhetoric struck a chord and he was swept into office largely by the inhabitants of the boroughs he promised to support.
So when Mother Nature dumped a foot of snow on the nation’s largest city, posing the first big challenge to the new mayor’s leadership skills, he responded in a very interesting manner.  De Blasio sent the snowplows into the boroughs…scraping the streets down to the pavement while the Upper East Side was largely ignored.  Those traversing the streets of Manhattan experienced traffic jams and gridlock of historic proportions while commuters in the boroughs moved with impunity.  Is this a case of political retribution or merely a coincidence?
IT’S LEGAL IN VIRGINIA – Federal prosecutors have handed down a 43 page indictment of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonald and his wife for allegedly receiving improper gifts and benefits in exchange for political favors.  The indictment documents an extensive listing of loans, cash, trips, watches, gowns, gifts, plane rides and vacations that the couple received from one of their supporters while in office.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Rising Tide No Longer Lifts All Of The Boats

The 85 richest people on earth own 46% of all global wealth.
That little factoid is included in a report released to political and business leaders attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  The study “Working for the Few” was commissioned by Oxfam International, a British humanitarian group.
According to the study, the richest 1% in the world controls $110 trillion in wealth… 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the population.  The bottom half owns about $1.7 trillion, roughly 0.7% of the total. 
Oxfam concludes: “The findings undermine democracy and make it more difficult to fight poverty.”
Oxfam found that the world leader in income equality is the good old US of A.  “The United States has led a worldwide growth in the concentration of wealth.”  No surprise there!
Quoting the report, “The percentage of income held by the richest 1% in the US has grown nearly 150% since 1980.  That small elite has received 95% of the wealth created since 2009, after the financial crisis, while the bottom 90% of Americans has become poorer.”
 We in this country care very little about the economic plight of our global neighbors.  So blinded are we by our fealty to “American Exceptionalism” that we view the world’s economic difficulties from a false sense of moral and intellectual superiority…that they are somehow inferior…and that we will never allow our society to sink to their economic depths. 
Yet here we are…the leader of the pack in economic inequality…the rising tide no longer lifting all the boats.   
 We have been warned!  We have been told by world leaders and economists alike that if we do not act the growing economic disparity in this country will be our demise.
The question now is…will we listen…or will we be brought down by our “exceptionalism.” 
A few weeks ago Pope Francis issued the same warning. 
Many of our conservative citizens labeled him a “Marxist.”   


Monday, January 20, 2014

"Politics Ain't Bean Bag!"

Another day…another scandal!
As Chris Christie struggles to recover from the “Bridgegate” scandal, new allegations have surfaced that further point to a culture of political retribution and bullying within his administration.
There are now reports that the Christie administration withheld Sandy relief funds from the city of Hoboken because the city’s mayor refused to support a development project favored by the governor.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer appeared on MSNBC Saturday and told the network that New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kimberly Guadagno informed her that she would have to support a development plan favored by the governor in order to receive Hurricane Sandy relief aid.  Zimmer said that Guadagno told her: “This is a message directly from the governor.”
Guadagno has yet to respond but, according to CNN, she is expected to “categorically deny” the allegations today.
The matter is now in the hands of the state’s attorney’s office.
“Politics ain’t bean bag.”
Republican Governor Christie has been widely praised for his ability to get things done in a very blue state.  Perhaps we are gaining some insight into just exactly how he “reaches across the aisle.”
Not that Christie would be the first.  Felonious behavior aside, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” is how politics works.  Local, state and federal lawmakers country wide have always used the power of their office to get what they want. 
Remember how Mitch McConnell rode to the rescue last November to broker a deal that ended the contentious 16 day government shutdown?  McConnell was hailed as a savior…a savvy experienced deal maker who was able to bring two warring factions together for the good of the country.  McConnell may very well be a patriot but he didn’t broker that deal for free. 
If you dig into the details of that agreement you will see that it includes $2.9 billion in funds for the Olmstead Lock and Dam Authority for a dam project that benefits McConnell’s state of Kentucky.  Not a bad day’s work for a senator who is facing an uphill re-election battle come November.  Some would call these shenanigans “kickbacks.”  The more acceptable term is “earmarks.” 
Is Christie guilty of bullying and retribution?  Or is this simply a form of political persuasion?  It is all the same thing…wielding one’s power to gain an advantage.
It is evident that the Christie administration has no problem using the power of the governor’s office to get what they want. 
Will voters reward his behavior with a seat in the Oval Office?
Or will politics as usual offend their sensibilities?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rule #1 In Politics...

The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed through the House Wednesday by a 359-67 vote.  The Senate is expected to act on the bill by week’s end.
Traditionally, the Speaker of the House rarely votes on legislation.  But yesterday Boehner expressed his support by voting for the bill.
What a difference a year makes!
Ninety days ago Speaker Boehner and his Republican caucus orchestrated a 16 day government shutdown that furloughed 800,000 government employees and sucked $24 never to be replaced billion dollars out of our economy.  The reason given was that the proposed spending bill funded Obamacare and failed to address the major causes of our debt and deficit…Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Yesterday Speaker Boehner and his Republican caucus voted FOR a spending bill that funds Obamacare and fails to address the major causes of our debt and deficit…Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
So what happened between October of 2013 and January of 2014 that caused such an abrupt change of heart? 
That would be the 2014 mid-term elections.
Rule #1 in politics…never allow your principles to stand in the way of your prospects for election.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wasting Tax Payer Dollars

Tired of the twenty four hour wall to wall tedious coverage of the narcissistic New Jersey governor’s “Bridgegate” train wreck?  Exhausted by coverage so vapid it has been reduced to asking “What did the governor NOT know…and when did he NOT know it?”  Then join us as we turn our attention to our friends on the Hill.
Word out of Washington is that the world’s most dysfunctional deliberative body has reached an accord on a massive $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill.  The bill would extend the short term deal cut a few months ago and avoid a repeat of last year’s politically disastrous 16-day government shutdown.
Lawmakers went out of their way to congratulate themselves on this bi-partisan agreement.  “This agreement shows the American people that we can compromise and that we can govern,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-MD.
Congratulations on doing your job!
To be fair, there are some good things in the bill.  It restores some of the sequestration cuts to domestic agencies for education, research, mental health and veteran’s benefits, to name a few. 
Far more interesting is what is NOT in the bill.
The bill fails to address what polls show are the two greatest concerns of majority of the American people.  It does not extend the unemployment benefits that are a critical lifeline for 1.3 (soon to be 4.9) million long term unemployed.  And it offers no apparatus for the creation of new good paying jobs.
Democrats say that the extension of unemployment benefits is critical because the funds provide immediate assistance to the needy and are poured directly back into the economy, thereby creating economic growth.  Republicans say that the best way to help the unemployed is not through government handouts but by creating good paying jobs.
This bill does neither.
Any deliberative funding measure that fails to address the most pressing needs of the American people is nothing more than a waste of their hard earned tax dollars.    

Monday, January 13, 2014

Neo-Cons Blame Obama Rather Than Face The Truth

Iraq has gone all to hell.  In the absence of a US military presence, the Sunni/Shia civil war that has ravaged the country for centuries, resumes anew.  Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents fuel the unrest and bloodshed.  Fallujah, site of America’s bloodiest victory, is now in the hands of her enemies.
The Neo-Cons blame the president.  They say the violence would not have erupted had the president stayed the course.  10-20,000 troops in country for the foreseeable future would solve the problem.    Their appetite for war is ravenous.  A war weary populace, mounting debt and an overly extended military establishment are not their concern.     
John McCain leads the charge.  McCain has never met a war that he didn’t want to wage.  He takes to the senate floor and addresses president’s decision to withdraw and the hard earned victories now lost to history.  “What do we say to the families whose loved one’s paid the ultimate price?  How do we tell them that their sons and daughters did not die in vain?”
Perhaps we might start with the truth.
“We are sorry for your loss.  In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the country was first shocked, then devastated and then angry…very, very angry.  We had to respond.  We had to exact some type of revenge.  The intelligence was confusing.  We heard what we wanted to hear…believed what we wanted to believe.  We sent your loved one into an unnecessary war that was based on what we had convinced ourselves was a just cause.  In fact it was a lie.  We were so hell bent to do “something” that we set in place a series of events that cost thousands of lives and destroyed tens of thousands of families.  Words cannot express the depth of our sorry for the loss that our reckless behavior has caused you and your family.  We can only offer you the appreciation of a grateful nation for your loved ones service; and the promise that we will never again send another son or daughter, father or mother, friend or confidant into harms’ way without just cause.”     

Friday, January 10, 2014

Christie Contrite...Republicans Silent

“I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey… I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team…I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution…I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts may ultimately uncover…The buck stops with me…I accept full responsibility…”
With those words a contrite New Jersey Governor Chris Christie began what will certainly be a long journey toward repairing his image as governor and his candidacy for the presidency.
In an extraordinary 107 minute press conference the governor addressed the scandal surrounding the lane closures of the George Washington Bridge.  Most politicians would have given a statement and hurried off having taken no questions.  To his credit, Christie stood there for the better part of two hours patiently answering everything the press threw at him.  When the presser was finished Christie went to Fort Lee, NJ to apologize personally to the mayor and residents of the town that was shut down for a week by the lane closures.
This was a side Chris Christie never before seen by the public.  The usually self assured governor seemed genuinely stunned that such a callus and egregious event could have been orchestrated by his most trusted staff members.
From our perspective the governor handled the situation as well as could be expected given the circumstances.  But as much as Christie would like to put this in his review mirror there are still potholes in the road ahead.
The governor made several emphatic statements during his press conference about dates, times and places.  Today the state assembly will release almost 1,000 pages of documents related to the case.  If these documents provide any evidence that contradict the governor’s statements he could not only find himself facing the end of his political career but the possibility of civil and even criminal charges.
And we have yet to hear from the parties that perpetrated “Bridge Gate.”  David Wildstein appeared before the state assembly and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.  Bridgett Anne Kelly has yet to speak to the press.  Either of these key players could have facts that undermine the governor’s protestations of innocence.    
As for Christie’s his run for the presidency…let’s just say it is a long way to 2016.                                               
We did find it interesting that not one Republican politician…not even the Chairman of the Republican Party…has come out in support of the presumptive frontrunner for the Party’s nomination.
Their silence is deafening.              

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Making Of A President?

Is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie fit to be President of the United States?
That question is at the heart of a burgeoning political scandal that is threatening to derail the governor’s presidential ambitions.
Recently released emails and text messages indicate that high ranking members of the governor’s staff deliberately created traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey as retribution for the town mayor’s unwillingness to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.  What seemed to be an improbable story has now taken a life of its own.  
In an email to David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie and his top appointee on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey,  Christie’s deputy chief of staff. Bridgett Anne Kelly wrote: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”  “Got it,” Wildstein replied.  Two weeks later Wildstein closed two of the three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge.  The GWB, which connects New Jersey to New York City, is the most highly traveled bridge in the world.  The resulting gridlock shut down Fort Lee for a week.  Commerce ground to a virtual standstill due to the massive traffic jam.  School busses could not get kids to school.  Police and fire units were seriously hampered by the traffic as they attempted to respond to calls.  One EMT unit was delayed in treating a 91 year old woman who collapsed from heart failure later died.
The traffic jam was originally said to be part of a traffic study.  But the Port Authority usually warns motorists weeks in advance of any activity that would limit access to the bridge.  No such warning was ever issued.  No “traffic study” has ever been produced.
Wildstein has since resigned.  As has Bill Baroni, the Port Authority’s Executive Director. 
Christie originally scoffed at questions of “bullying” and “political retribution.”  He jokingly said that he was “one of the guys handling the cones” and he marginalized the incident as “not a big deal.” But the governor took a different tone when emails authorizing the shutdown were found to have been sent by his closest advisors.  Never one to cower under criticism, the usually combative governor cancelled his public appearances and released the following statement:  “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.”
It would appear that the governor would have us believe that he only recently learned of his staff’s orchestration of the shutdown.  Such a statement strains credulity.  If in fact he was caught unawares that such an act was being perpetrated right under his very nose; then one must question his management and leadership skills.  If he was complicit in the shutdown or if he found out after the fact and attempted to cover it up; then his candidacy for the White House is finished.
Is Chris Christie a viable candidate for the world’s most powerful office? 
Or is he just another in a long list of embarrassing Republican office seekers?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Jobs? Jobs? Jobs?

If you have followed this space over the past few weeks you know that we have been a bit obsessive in our commentary about the extension of benefits for the long term unemployed.  Our fixation on this topic stems from a deep bewilderment over the total disconnect in Washington about the serious consequences the unemployment situation is having on our economy and our society.
Over the past five years we have watched our elected officials give lip service to creating good paying jobs.  “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!” has been the rallying cry for every politician who took to the stump.  Yet all we get out of Washington is partisan gridlock as our elected leaders debate abortion rights and Obamacare ad nauseam. 
We have become immune to the theater of Washington politics.  Failing to come through on ones’ campaign promise is more the rule than the exception.  That’s politics.  But cutting off a critical lifeline to those most affected by your inability to make good on your word…that’s unconscionable.    
We have written about the plight of the 1.3 million long term unemployed Americans who lost their benefits on December 28, 2013.  We have written about the consequences of this misguided congressional decision; the 240,000 private sector jobs that will be lost and the .4% decline in our GDP. 
What we have failed to point out is that this is but the tip of the iceberg.
If congress fails to act on its promise to create jobs, the 1.3 million who have been out of work for over 26 weeks will grow to 3.2 million in June…and 4.9 million by the end of 2014.  The recessionary periods of 1990 and 1981, when long term unemployment numbers barely reached 50% of today’s figures, pale in comparison.  You have to go back to the Great Depression to find long term unemployment numbers this bad.  As these numbers grow so too does the negative impact on our economy and our quality of life
Yesterday, the senate managed to pass a cloture vote to allow debate to reinstate unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans.  The measure stands little chance of passing in the House.  Next up…another debate over the ceiling debate.
Jobs? Jobs? Jobs?


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Seems Like A No Brainer

Let’s say you are a politician running for national office.  Your chief of staff brings you a piece of legislation that he says will immeasurably increase your odds of winning the next election.
This legislation will save millions of Americans from falling below the poverty line.  It is revenue neutral…it will pay for itself.  It will add 240,000 private sector jobs and it will grow the economy by .4%.
Helps people…costs nothing…adds jobs…grows the economy…and helps you win your election!
Are you in? 
Hell yes…unless of course you are a member of the most ineffective congress in American history.
Yesterday Harry Reid had to postpone a vote to extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans.  Harry said the inclement weather had delayed several senators from returning to Washington from their recess.  The truth is Harry didn’t have the votes to stop a Republican filibuster to block the vote.
Republicans in the senate have refused to support the extension unless it is “paid for” by cuts in other programs…preferably social safety net programs. 
According to the Congressional Budget Office it will cost $30-$35 billion to fund the extension of unemployment benefits.  According to the Congressional Budget Office unemployment benefits pour $30-$35 billion back into the economy.  This represents .4% of our GDP and supports 240,000 jobs.  When congress failed to extend unemployment benefits last month it damaged our economy.  As with the government shutdown last November…that is economic growth that we will never get back.   
Unemployment benefits average between $100 and $300 per week.  They are often the only thing standing between a homeowner and foreclosure.  Critics in congress argue that recipients would be better off taking any job until something better comes along than relying on such a paltry sum.  Perhaps!  But when you are long term unemployed, listing a homeless shelter on your employment application is pretty much a non-starter.
Unemployment benefits:  help people…cost nothing…add jobs…grows the economy… and helps a do nothing congress get re-elected.
Reid has re-scheduled a vote for 10:30 AM today.
Seems like a no brainer.         


Monday, January 6, 2014

Congress Returning To Work Or Not Work?

Congress gets back to work today.  The question is do they have the political courage to accomplish anything with mid-term elections mere months away.  Put another way…will the moderate majority in the Republican Party summon the courage to stand up to the Tea Party minority in order to win at the polls.
There are actually a few important issues that have some measure of support even among the Tea Party faithful:  Immigration reform, extending the unemployment benefits and increasing the minimum wage have the best chance of passing. There are stumbling blocks along the way.  
Democrats have long courted the Hispanic vote.  Republicans, having finally awakened to the fact that complexion of the country is changing, are lusting after the nation’s fastest growing demographic.  Passing a bi-partisan immigration reform bill would go a long way toward proving the party’s sincerity.  But Tea Party members want nothing to do with amnesty or a pathway to citizenship.
Harry Reid announced that the Senate will take a trial vote today on extending the unemployment benefits.  Democrats need to find five Republican votes to avoid a filibuster.  Extending unemployment benefits for ninety days would seem to be the compassionate thing to do.  Tea Party members won’t vote yes unless the extension is paid for…preferably with cuts to other social safety net programs.
Both Democrats and Republicans agree that if you work a full time job you should earn enough to rise about the poverty line.  Tea Party members worry that increasing the minimum wage to $10.00+/hr. will kill small businesses.
There are two warring factions within the Republican caucus; each holding what they believe to be an effective strategy for winning in November.  The moderates in the Party believe the path to victory runs through governing…particularly by compromising on the issues noted above.  The Tea Party believes that the way to win control of the senate and increase the conservative majority in the House is to stay the course…say no to compromise while continuing to excoriate the ACA rollout.  The result of this internal conflict will determine whether or not this do nothing congress will actually do something.
The past five years politically have been all about “Obamacare.”  In this an election year our guess is that the conversation turns toward raising the middle class.
Stay tuned!  Its gonna’ be a show.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The End Of An Era.

The dawning of 2014 marked the end of one of the most comprehensive, costly and divisive political eras in our nation’s history.  We are referring to the Republican Party’s obsession with repealing the Affordable Care Act.
Since the president signed the ACA into law on March 23, 2010 Republicans have made its repeal their number one goal.  Their primary focus during the 2010 mid terms was to “Repeal Obamacare.”  Their candidate for president in 2012, Mitt Romney, said that the first thing he would do if elected would be to “Repeal Obamacare.”  Over the past three years the Republican led House voted over 40 times to “Repeal Obamacare.”  When the Affordable Care Act went into full effect on January 1, 2014 it mercifully brought to a close any realistic chance that Republicans might actually be able to repeal the law.  For in spite of all of its flaws the ACA provides benefits that are wildly popular with the vast majority of Americans:
-Thanks to the ACA you can no longer be denied coverage because you have a pre-existing health condition.
-Thanks to the ACA your health insurance can no longer be cancelled because you got sick and suddenly became an “unprofitable risk” to your insurance carrier.
-Thanks to the ACA there are no longer caps limiting the amount that your insurance company has to pay for your illness during any given year.
-Thanks to the ACA you don’t lose your insurance coverage just because you lost your job.
-Thanks to the ACA if you are no longer forced to stay in your current job for fear of losing your health coverage.  If you change jobs you can take your coverage with you.
-Thanks to the ACA, if your child cannot find a job that provides health insurance benefits, he/she can stay on your policy if necessary until they reach 26 years of age.
-Thanks to the ACA your insurance carrier must spend 80% of your health care premiums on actual health care benefits rather than bonuses or golden parachutes.
Republicans have obsessively channeled their efforts on repealing the law because they understood that once these popular benefits went into effect they were never going to be able to take them away from the American people.  Now that the ACA is the law of the land Republicans can only hope to offer “fixes” to those aspects of the law that they find ideologically offensive.
Make no mistake the ACA needs fixing.  It is a flawed attempt to provide health “care” for ALL through a free market system that is only interested in providing health “insurance” for the young and healthy. The ACA is interested in improving the quality of life for the public at large.  The insurance industry is interested in making a profit for its shareholders.  There are bound to be conflicts.  Repeal is no longer a solution.
As we move through the next few months we expect that the ACA enrollment numbers will grow and along with them its popularity.  Over time the flawed rollout will become yesterday’s news.  There will continue to be “glitches” in the system that will be fixed as they occur.  The ACA is here to stay.
Republicans have a choice.  They can offer thoughtful, constructive options that maintain most of the ACA’s most popular components; a more “moderate” tone that would bode them well in the 2014 mid-terms.  Or they can continue to criticize a program that a majority of voters view in a positive light; giving credence to their single digit approval ratings.  They can govern and offer solutions.  Or they can obstruct and offer nothing.
The “repeal” option is mercifully no longer on the table.      

Thursday, January 2, 2014

"It has to stop sometime."

Harry Reid says that when the senate returns from its holiday recess next week it will vote on a 90 day extension of the unemployment benefits.  The benefits, which expired on December 28, serve as a lifeline for 1.3 million long term unemployed Americans. 
No word on whether the House will follow suit.
Critics say enough is enough.  “How long do they want to extend benefits, three months, a year, two years or longer?  It has to stop sometime.”
Does it?
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program was approved by congress under Bush 43 in 2008.  If our math is correct, that is 5 going on 6 years of providing assistance to the unemployed. 
Compare that to big oil companies that have been receiving tax breaks and taxpayer funded subsidies since 1913.  Yes, that’s 1913…one hundred years of government assistance.
Big oil posted profits of $120 billion in 2012…yet they continue to receive tens of billions in tax breaks and government subsidies.
It has to stop sometime!  Doesn’t it?
If we can afford to extend benefits to the folks at Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips and the like, then shouldn’t we be able to help out those less fortunate?