Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I watched President Obama give his first speech (talk) to Congress since becoming president. Now we all know that the talk really targeted the American people, not just Congress, including Congressional Republicans who had to listen along--like it or not.

We all knew that the Republicans were going to play the chair game, sit when the Democrats were standing, and stand when the Democrats were sitting. I can count at least one instance when both sides of the aisle actually stood together, probably the only bipartisan moment since the beginning of Obama's administration.

In recent days we've heard a lot about how deep our economic problems run. We're told that economists and the government haven't really been completely honest about how big the problem actually is.

It's a lot like the person who borrowed your car calling and telling you he's been involved in a fender bender, when in fact your car has been totaled.

We can't know just how much money it's going to take to fix the economy, if we don't know just how much damage the economy has sustained.

A few months down the road we should have a pretty good inkling of whether we'll need a whole new economy, or if we can put new tires on the old one, give it a tuneup, and repair a few nicks here and there.

We may find that we'll have to overhaul the whole damn thing, or roll out a new one altogether.

Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal(R) of Louisiana, giving the Republican party's rebuttal, seems to think that all the economy needs is another mechanic, the one that we hired to work on the economy is using the wrong principles, the wrong methodology.

After tonight's performance, if Republicans think that Governor Jindal is going to be that rising star to eclipse the Obama sun, then they need to consult another fortune teller. But they may have to wait in line: fortune tellers are now in great demand what with this recessionary economy.

Here's the Grand Obstructionist Party's position:

"To hell with a Stimulus bill designed to put Americans to work.

"Let our old jalopy of an economy run idle for a while. That's the self-correcting thing to to.

"Even without a mechanic, our sputtering economy will be up and running before you know it."

The Republican party's prescription for repairing the economy that they're largely responsible for wrecking, is to cut taxes, cut taxes, and cut more taxes.

They forget that three Trillion dollars of tax cuts to date haven't as yet done the trick. Maybe, just maybe, a combination of tax cuts, and targeted spending, will do what tax cuts alone haven't.

As Byron Williams has observed in his name prescient article entitled, No Time for Ideological Based Economic Solutions, posted December 10, 2008 05:34 PM (EST):

We the people should have little tolerance for any elected official, regardless of party, who stands on ideological grounds. Such thinking robs one of the ability to work with someone who may see the world differently.

Truth is, the only logical answer that anyone has a firm grasp, as it relates to this economy, is "I don't know."

The last time I heard a politician imply the words, "I don't know," and say, instead, "I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you," was Sarah Palin, as Katie Couric pressed her in an interview to provide examples of where John McCain pushed for more regulations.

The sad truth, she didn't know, and, as we were to painfully learn later--there were a lot of things that Sarah Palin didn't know.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Can You Be Both Right And Wrong?

I can say, without reservation, that the past election season was one helluva rollercoaster ride. And it wasn't just because this time around a black man was running for this nation's highest office.

We've had black men and a black woman who have run before.

Remember Shirley Chisholm? And of course Jesse Jackson has thrown his hat in the ring a couple of times. No this election will stand out for me because of the division it caused. And although now President Obama insisted during his campaign that there are no red states and blue states, his words came across more as an ideal rather than a reality.

This time around you could clearly see the divide that separates us in this country, the almost religious fervor with which people embrace their particular party.

To be honest, I saw this more with the Republicans than I saw it with Democrats, but in all fairness I suspect that both sides have a fervent love for their respective mascots, whether it be Donkey or Elephant.

For me, the choice was clear. Barack Obama all the way. As far as I could tell, Obama didn't have the health issues that haunted McCain, and he was willing to end the war in Iraq, and reverse many of the decisions that President Bush had put in place--Gitmo, and spying on Americans.

And although domestic spying was supposedly ended after it was uncovered, I wasn't quite sure what other illegal crap was in place that we Americans weren't privy to.

Now that Chaney has admitted that he gave his approval for the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques," torture for the rest of us, many are wondering if the Obama administration will investigate war crimes, and prosecute, if such crimes are discovered.

Just today, I watched and listened to a Republican spokesperson support the principle of "preemptive war" and "torture."

My God has it come to this: that the Constitution, our laws, and our international treaties can be set aside, not to mention the conscience of those we hire to protect us, under the guise that the enemy doesn't play by our rules, so we may just as well dismiss them.

"If I know someone wants to hurt me and my family, I'm not going to wait until they carry out such a heinous act, I'm going to kill them first. And if they have information I need to keep my family safe, I'm going to torture the hell out of them."

I'm told that we're a nation of laws and that no one is above the law. That may be true, but let's face it, the big guns aren't going to go down if someone or someones are found to have committed crimes.

As always, it will be the grunts who'll have to answer for the "sins" of their superiors. And, we're told, that no one is immune just because he or she claim that he or she were merely following orders, if those orders are later determined to be illegal.

Let me make a confession. I don't like Republicans. Now don't get me wrong. It's not because I find their conservative principles repugnant. No, I have no problem with their principles. It's just that I find them repugnant--their arrogance, their mean-spiritedness, their smug belief that their party is the correct and righteous party as though it has been blessed by God, Himself, as His chosen party--or so it seems.

It's their vilification, and demonization of everything liberal, as though every liberal, every Democrat lack their intelligence, their smartness, and their superior savvy.

Now, to be fair, something I don't see much from the other side, let me state that not all Democrats are saints, that some go over the line as well, but, frankly, I just don't see them doing that as much as I see Republicans.

And I try really hard to acknowledge those that have slipped over the edge, regardless of party. Blago (Rod Blagojevich readily comes to mind) as someone who slipped over the edge.

And I've visited conservative and Republican blog sites. I have yet to find one that is balanced or fair. Like scoundrels, they take refuge in their so-called conservative principles, and Republican ideologies, as though their principles carry the same authority as the Ten Commandments.

And some black conservatives, and some black Republicans wonder why more blacks don't find the same poltical answers in the Republican party that they find. Seriously!

If blacks haven't been invited (and I don't see any indication that they're welcomed), I seriously doubt that blacks are going to crash the party.

"If they only knew what our party was all about. We're clearly the better party. We have the best plan for black Americans. Why do they continue to be pawns in the hands of those damn Democrats."

Someone needs to tell Republicans that their way is merely another way, not the only way.

Now what do I make of their recent recalcitrance in opposing the Stimulus Bill, and their willingness to do absolutely nothing about the economy but dole out more tax cuts? Bush gave out two trillion dollars in tax cuts, and a large portion of it went to those who didn't need it--the wealthy. And we're still trying to dig our way out of our economic morass.

I'm thinking that these Republicans won't be happy until we have a One Party government, where they get to call all the shots, and the notion of liberalism is forever stripped from the monuments, the documents, and the minds of the people.

Now, on Monday evening, HBO will be televising a documentary. It's called, Right America: Feeling Wronged - Some Voices from the Campaign Trail, by that award winning, liberal filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, you know, the one akin to that other liberal that Republicans love to hate, Nancy Pelosi. That's the evening I set aside for the next installment of 24 and Jack Bauer, so I'm going to have to TiVO it.

Good, that way I can take a closer look at certain key scenes at will.

No, I don't think that all Republicans are repugnant, some just give the others a bad name. The Republican moderates that took the Stimulus Bill well beyond the reach of a Republican filibuster are Republicans that have the nation's best interest at heart.

And there are others that put country above party affiliations, but there's not many.

What I'm betting is that the documentary is going to show a nation so divided, so torn down the middle (after all, 58 million voted for the McCain/Palin ticket, so wrong to be Right, that it would take a complete blog entry to do it justice), that Jesus Christ, Himself, couldn't unite this nation.

Jesus warned:

"Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand...."

Let me get to the heart of it: I haven't seen this documentary, so I'm going to go out on a limb here. I'm betting again that this documentary is going to support much of the sentiments that I have expressed here about how I feel about Republicans. And I'm willing to bet further that black Republicans will defend whatever light their fellow Republicans are cast in--even if it's negative one.

I suspect that much of this fervor against liberals this time around is not just because liberals won, but because liberals won with a black man--a black man that is now leading our nation. For them, I imagine, its a lot like Uncle Tom's Cabin meets Idiocracy

"We're not ready for this. We're moving too fast. This man was not ready to lead. He's a socialists. He's a terrorist, and he palled around with terrorists. "

Well, time nor history is going to wait until they are ready. The train has left the station and all that aren't onboard are going to be left behind, holding their heavy luggage, and wondering if and when there will be a "next" train.

Republican's seem to be doing whatever they can to bring about the demise of the Democratic Party. Yet, as their numbers dwindle, and their short-sightedness continue to erode their base, it may be their funeral that we end up attending.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Smart Power"

Obam & Hillary
In his first prime-time news conference, President Obama revealed just how he planned to work in a bipartisan fashion with fractious Republicans. He didn't come right out and say it, but it was there for all to hear, if they had ears to hear.

It is Obama's plan to use "smart power" (some call it a velvet glove), a term first used by Hillary Clinton during her Confirmation Hearing on the Hill.

Keeping true to his campaign promise to be inclusive, he's nominated three Republicans to his cabinet, noting, himself, the "unprecedented" nature of the act.

Acknowledging that few Republicans signed on to the Stimulus Bill, President Obama defended his efforts at bipartisanship by consulting the opposition, and involving them. He said that it was an investment in the future, that he was providing a down payment on the mutual trust he hopes to establish between himself and his opponents.

While he was answering questions, I had one of those a-ha moments. I came to realize the tactic that I believe Republicans are using to offset their lack of a majority presence in the senate and the legislature, and to win back control of the presidency and both houses of congress.

And to fight back, Obama is going to have to use all the Smart Power he can muster to break the gridlock that they're planning.

Here's what I believe that the Republicans are doing. No longer with a majority hold on the two houses, they've come up with a rather devious plan to structure a win-win for themselves politically, whether the economy tanks, or grows.

Let's use the Recovery, Reinvestment Bill to illustrate how Republicans plan to implement their new strategy:

First, attack Obama for not keeping his campaign pledge to operate in a bipartisan way. It doesn't matter if the attacks represent the facts, or not.

Second, attempt to shape the bill the way they wish--insist on more tax cuts, than spending--bandying around the dreaded word, "socialism," as a way to discredit the bill and those who favor it.

Third, refuse to vote for the bill, stating that it violates their sacred principles of fiscal conservatism: less government involvement in the private sector, no socialism, nor government ownership of banks, or other businesses.

How will this strategy benefit the GOP, now the Grand Obstructionist Party?

If the Stimulus Plan is successful they can say that it was because of their insistence that certain provisions be included in the Plan--certainly the tax cuts portion of it. This is why they're insisting on its inclusion in the Bill. If it succeeds, it will be that portion of the Bill that will have made the difference, they will say, as well as other supported provisions that make it into the final Bill.

If the Stimulus Plan fails, then they can blame the Democrats for cobbling a Bill that was seriously flawed from the outset, and could have been made better had they, the Republicans, been allowed to provide more input, or to craft it themselves.


And they're gambling that the American People will see it there way, too. That they were the party of sanity, of frugality, of restraint, rightfully opposing the Democrats euphoric spending Bill, for the purpose of supporting their "pet projects," and "pork barrel" spending, when tax cuts were all that was needed to save the economy.

Not only do Republican intractableness play to their base, it makes Republicans appear disciplined, and unified. And they have a strategy: one that they probably didn't wish to have revealed this early in the game. But they have shown their hand (their winning strategy for the next four years). Unwittingly, or otherwise, they have revealed how we can expect them to behave in the future when other bills sponsored by this president and his party come before them.

And as McCain observed during one of his debates with Obama, assigning blame for some perceived failing (Obama voting for an Energy Bill laden with "goodies"), that the failure of the economy to rebound will fall on,


Obama, and the Democrats.

If this Stimulus Plan fail, it's possible that the GOP could take over the reins of power, but they may not have an economy to preside over, believing, as they do, that their conservative principles trump all other approaches.

This is politics at its rankest, placing party above the interest of the people. And I don't for a second believe that Republicans have found their fiscal conservative conscience, when under them the national debt doubled, and the nation entered two wars, one of which was elective, giving Halliburton a no-bid contract worth billions of dollars, and making VP Chaney a wealthy man.

It's hard for me to believe that all of this took place to protect Americans.

The solution that Republicans seem to be pushing are tax cuts, and permitting the economy to rebound on its own. A sure recipe for failure. It was laissez faire economic policies (not regulating the financial sector enough, but permitting greed to lead, without responsible fiscal management) that got us into this awful mess, not legitimate market forces and laws.

And it's going to take severe measures to reverse what may become a irreversible downward spiral that will ultimately erode all public confidence.

In recent days, Obama has exercised a little of that Smart Power by conducting town hall meetings in some of the states hardest hit by the shaky economy.

He could have used his considerable appeal, and called for the people of those states to take their congressperson by the collar and "make them and offer they couldn't refuse." Instead, I believe, he's hoping that the people in those recession-struck states will take the initiative to call their representatives and show them a bit of people power to get them to support the Stimulus Bill.

Smart Power in action!

Smart Power only works, however, when you have enough time to implement it properly. This Recovery, Reinvestment Bill has to be passed quickly. Each day of delay is risky. At any time, the economy could reach a negative tipping point from which it will be difficult to rebound.

Will this Bill work? Only time will tell. But the alternative--doing nothing to jumpstart the economy, relying solely on conservative principles, and economic laws to prevail some day--will only plunge us into another Dark Age, but this time an economic one, one that we may never emerge from.

Considering the human suffering that all of this could spawn tells me that this economy, this people, this nation, is too big to fail.

And I'm hoping that Smart Power will be the answer to all our many problems--at home and abroad--that the many years of Dumb Power have dumped on our front steps.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Stimulate This!

President Obama & Paul VolkerYears ago I worked for a company that had us pad our equipment and supply budget requests, because it was general knowledge that company heads would trim some items in the final request.

We would identify requested items numerically: those that were essential got a one, and those that were less essential, a three, four or five.

And it worked: we got most of the ones and many of the twos and threes, but rarely the fours and fives.

I can't say that this is what is happening on Capitol Hill with the Stimulus Bill, since I'm not that familiar with the Hill's culture, and only a little with the inner workings of how a bill becomes a law.

But, a little of that could be taking place: Put some extraneous crap in the bill to give the opposition something to cut, and to wrangle over, so that you get your ones, twos, and threes through without excessive wrangling from the opposition.

And although the bill was apparently cobbled together on the left, without input from the right, it wasn't long before the right began to whine about being left out of the process, accusing President Obama of neglecting his campaign pledge to bring a bipartisan tone to the Hill.

A cocktail, and a Super Bowl party later, and several Republican-demanded cuts, the Stimulus Bill received one Republican vote, no, strike that, no Republican votes. Notwithstanding the cuts, Republicans were still unhappy with the bill.

And in the Senate, Republicans revolted, insisting that the bill should be revamped to include nothing but tax cuts, and no Federal spending. I think that about 36 Senate Republicans said that they could vote for such a bill, despite information that warned that Americans hoarded some of the previous tax rebates designed to stimulate the economy.

This is how I see it: Republicans will not support this bill unless it's their bill, one geared more to tax cuts than Federal spending. And they're willing to take a partisan stand--rather than negotiate a compromise--to make that happen.

Democrats in both houses are struggling, it seems, to keep alive their vision of what the bill should be. Rather than work in a bi-partisan way, Republicans are attempting to wrest this bill from the Democrats, while insisting that President Obama and his party are the ones who're not behaving in a bi-partisan fashion.

A common Republican tactic: To deflect blame, blame the other side of doing what you're doing:

Spread the wealth among the wealthy, and call Democrats socialists. Take entrenched partisan positions, and insist that Democrats are partisan. Help create a recession, and call it Obama's Recession. Fail to uphold the Constitution, and call President Obama soft on terrorists and terrorism, for upholding the Constitution.

Everyone knows that the economy is in an abysmal mess, and falling fast. Consider the following:
1. 1.8 million jobs lost in the last three months.
2. Unemployment rate at its highest in 16 years.
3. Worst loses in 36 years.
4. Unemployment rate at 7.6 %
5. January--the largest one-month job loss since 1974.
We can do what I heard radio personality say: "We should let the banks, and the financial system fail and let economic forces dig us out our recessionary hole." But he forgot one glaring reality--it wasn't the economy that failed, it was the failure of some in the financial sector to control their greed that failed us.

Sure, we could do nothing. Just wait out the storm. And it's possible that no matter what we do, the economy may take most of this century to recover, especially if the economy collapses into a depression.

What's needed is someone who really knows the economy, and what is going on with it now, to give us solutions for a firm recovery. I'm just not sure if that person is out there, or even if he or she is being listened to.

What I do know: I don't trust those who have only recently decided to return to their fiscal conservatism after a 9-trillion-dollar hiatus. Our economic problems didn't just happen. They've been in the making for a long time, overlapping several party-controlled two-house majorities.

Where were these conservatives when President Bush proposed the first bail-out, strike that, financial rescue bill, that was weighed down with about 100 billion dollars of pork to fry up bacon to give certain congresspersons a whiff of what they could have if they supported the bill.

Now that President Obama is in the White House, the same Republicans have found their fiscal conservative conscience, and have changed their name from the Grand Old Party to the Grand Obstructionist Party.

Mind you, I don't oppose so-called Conservative Principles, just hypocrisy, no matter who's cooking it up.

We still don't have a stimulus bill, but the latest: a compromise has been struck with a few moderates on both sides of the aisle to filibuster-proof a passage of the bill.

And if you think that lobbyists are not "crawling all over this bill," think again. It's the ideal bill to get pet projects through . The bill is so big that it makes it easier for some pork to slip pass the watchful, fiscal eyes of the truest fiscal conservative.

It may take awhile to learn whether the bill is big enough to jump-start the economy. During that time, we need to get our own fiscal house in order, and, for some, that might mean renegotiating some of their bills, and sitting down with the family to decide where cuts and sacrifices can be made, and monies saved.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Cap That Fits?

What's wrong with giving CEOs, and top earners in corporations big year-end bonuses to the tune of more than 18 billion dollars?

What's wrong with corporations sending their top earners, and big sellers on expensive junkets to Las Vegas as a reward for work well-done, and to keep them motivated?

What's wrong with a corporation taking possession of a new, multimillion dollar company jet that the company ordered for the use of it's corporate heads?

Well, one thing that's wrong with it, is that these things are being financed with the American people's tax dollars, during a time when many Americans have lost their jobs, and are tightening their belt as a new kind of exercise regime.

"But that's not exactly right! American tax dollars are not being used for these expenses, whether you think they're exorbitant or not. These monies are coming from other funds."

Yeah, sure! How these execs can separate our money from any other is beyond me. Weren't these corporations teetering precariously on the precipice of ruination? Didn't some have to go to Capitol Hill, hat in hand, begging for a bail out?

It seems to me that if these companies were doing so well that they could pay billions of dollar in bonuses, finance expensive junkets, sporting events, and sports arenas bearing their names, then they didn't need the people's money to begin with.

For future recipients of bail out monies, yesterday, February 4, 2009, President Obama capped the salaries of corporate heads at the pay level of the American President, $500,000.oo. The move is not retroactive. Already, many are crying foul, while others are applauding the move.

"This move by the President could be very bad for New York; the state will suffer the most under this cap. And it will cause an unfortunate brain drain, a mass exodus of talent to other corporations, at a time when the best minds and the most talented are needed to shepherd these failing corporations out of the red and back into the black."

Well, if these talented tenth were so great, why are these corporations in the fix that they now find themselves in? If they're so damn smart, why did they need government bail out monies at all?

One thing that we may face if these talented, smart people move to other companies is that they may bring the new companies down in the same way they did the old ones.

And if the rats abandon a sinking ship, who would want them anyway? I thought a captain went down with his foundering ship, and was the last to desert her bow and stern.

By capping the salaries of company heads who accept bail-out money, many believe that Obama capitulated to politics, and political expediency, in hopes of smoothing the ruffled feathers of those Americans who're struggling the most in the economy.

I say power to him. Maybe it's time for some of these companies to fail, if their only hope for survival is to continue with their business as usual tactics--the very things that got them here in the first place, unchecked greed, and bad business policies.

If corporations wish to pay out big bonuses, fine, just don't ask the American people to finance it.

I thought that "pay to play" was at the very least unethical, if not illegal. We shouldn't assure companies that they're too big to fail, and insure them against bad managerial decisions and policies. I know of no place where bad decisions are tolerated, and failure is rewarded with fun and games and expensive consolation prizes, to the extent that we have seen during this financial crisis. I say if these corporations wish to play, let them pay, and not the American people.

This cap is just the right size, given the immensity of the problem, and the extensive use of taxpayer dollars that will be required to help resolve the problem.