Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Archive for February 2010

Obama health care summit good TV but bad policy

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There was a time not so long ago that presidents were leaders, and those leaders had accountability for what they did. Oh sure, there was politics at work. Economic numbers would be manipulated. Or time would pass, presenting a different picture as to how a president did.

Now what we have for presidential leadership is when there is a crisis, we get commissions and summits. And even worse, this “pass-the-buck” system isn’t even meant to accomplish the task at hand.

You might think I’m subtly talking about the health care summit this week with President Obama, and top Democratic and Republican leaders. But this issue goes much further back.

There was a hint of this during the Clinton Administration, but given how much Clinton actually got done, faulting him isn’t the best route. But he did like to hide behind the concept.

The 9/11 Commission was a classic example of this style of leadership. There were numerous mistakes. So instead of an investigation or some other inquiry or dare we say — accountability, we get a commission. And even when that is all done, we still don’t have an accounting of what happened, and what we can do to fix this.

I’ve blamed this in the past on Baby Boomer leadership, where we have the image of leading without the actual leadership. In that sense, George W. Bush was the perfect person to play the president. After all, nothing was ever his fault.

The good news is that Barack Obama has understood that a president has to show some accountability. Unfortunately, Obama seems just as eager to hide behind the skirts of a commission or summit.

Want to reduce the deficit? Fix health care? Get a commission or a summit, and we’ll solve the problem.

Uh, no.

What the United States needed in early 2009 was someone who wasn’t a Baby Boomer — Obama was born in what is considered Gen X material (1961) even if it falls in the Baby Boomer birth pattern — with a new sense of active leadership. Borrowing anything from Bush seemed to be a bad idea, but Obama can’t resist.

If you have lost your health care in the last 6 months, you have been affected by what President Obama has done, or not done. And voters in 2010 are going to reflect that impression.

Unfair? Perhaps. But Americans voted for strong leadership in 2008. The fact that Democrats finally understand that reconciliation might be what passes a health care bill — and there is still reason for that to be screwed up — is very much too little and definitely too late.

There was recent speculation that Obama might be a good candidate for the Supreme Court once his time as president is over. But while he is still president, Obama needs to be a little less judicial and more presidential.

Leadership isn’t launching an useless commission or summit; leadership is about answers. The MSM does a lousy job by focusing on winners and losers instead of spending time on how to improve policy. George W. Bush adapted his style to how the MSM would approach him, and the MSM treated him with extra care.

When Obama tries the same approach, he doesn’t get the same treatment. In his defense, some of that is because Obama is trying to get something done. The health care summit was a classic example of what the MSM loves, and what is bad for America.

People are suffering right now; they need help. And we need presidential leadership. President Obama would do the people well if he would speak up for what is wrong and what to do to fix it. We are a year behind on a problem that was in bad shape in 1994. Step up to the plate, forget about the commissions, and do the job Americans want you to do.

Spell out what you want, tell us why it’s a good idea, and we’ll put the pressure on Congress that you don’t seem to want to do. Give the voters some credit; they elected you to take charge. Let’s start the process.

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Alexander Haig dead at 85, remembered for ‘being in charge’

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Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig passed away at the age of 85. Regardless of his work in the Army and the Nixon and Ford Administrations, Haig will always be remembered for his taking charge after the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981.

“As of now, I am in control here in the White House, pending the return of the vice president.”

If a high school student didn’t understand the order of presidential succession, that student might be forgiven. But when someone with as much experience as Haig had, and it was a lot, such power trips can’t be forgiven.

A civilized country has a proper order of succession, so that in times of crisis, everything is taken care of so no one has to worry.

For someone with Army discipline, Haig’s behavior was even more startling. Any good soldier understands the chain of command, something Haig disposed of that fateful day.

Even if Reagan had passed away that day, the Vice President is in charge, wherever the VP may be, not just at the White House. The 25th Amendment was passed in 1967, something Haig should have been aware of that fact.

While successful assassination attempts change the course of history (see JFK, LBJ, 1963), unsuccessful assassination attempts also alter the course of human events. If Reagan had died, Haig might have been more forgiven for his actions. But instead, his power attempts were seen as lame and clown-like.

However, Haig might have had less power than he had with Reagan. If George Herbert Walker Bush had become president in 1981, Bush likely wouldn’t have wanted someone like Haig in as high a position as Secretary of State, smooth transitions aside. Unbelievably, despite the buffoonness of his comments, Haig lasted as Secretary of State until July 5, 1982.

Maybe Haig would have run against Bush in 1984 in the Republican primary against Gary Hart.

Written by democracysoup

February 21, 2010 at 10:03 am

U.S. best in Olympics; in business, Ontario is a better choice

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Canada is in the spotlight for the last half of February with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in one of the most beautiful cities in the world in Vancouver, British Columbia.

With the focus being on the Great White North, there are opportunities to showcase what Canada has to offer. One organization is running ads during the Olympics to do just that. InvestInOntario.com is running an ad touting Ontario’s favorable tax rate as a reason for businesses to invest in the province.

The ad notes that “Ontario’s combined federal/provincial corporate income tax rate is lower than the average combined federal/state rate in the U.S.”

While I don’t run a business, the tax rate might be something to seriously consider, though there are likely more corporate loopholes in the U.S. tax system than in Canada’s system. But if I were running a business in 2010, I might invest in Ontario (or another Canadian province) for two more vital reasons.

In running a business, I would want better educated workers. In the Western world, most countries blow away the U.S. in terms of education. We fall way short even when things are normal. But when Utah seriously considers getting rid of 12th grade, when Hawai’i cuts back on its school year, this doesn’t inspire confidence.

Better educated workers might not make some CEOs think twice, but there is one other area where Ontario — and Canada — shines that would perk up the ears of a CEO: health care costs.

If you set up in Ontario, or elsewhere in Canada, there are no administrative costs, no hassles, no money to put into a system.  No worries about running a health care are system in Ontario or any other province for that matter.  And no incentive for employees who are stuck in a job to stay where they are miserable just because of health insurance in the United States.

The mess that the United States has made over health care is costing this country in ways that normally inspire change. After all, since corporations are now people, and to politicians, people they have cared more for than regular people, if corporations are upset, they should get changes they need.

But politicians are listening to health insurance companies and Big Pharma more than they are listening to General Motors and other companies affected by the disparity of health care costs.

Whether you are in favor of the public option or insist on “tort reform,” separating the employer from the health insurance system should be something we can all agree on doing. Corporations and people (not one and the same) should agree that having an employer-based system hurts employers, workers, and the American economy.

Want to improve the economy and create jobs? Those on the left and right all agree: getting rid of employer-based health care would be a huge jump start.

The only ones that don’t agree are those in non-corporate power. Politicians standing in the way against progress: employers and workers agree on few things, but this would be one of them.

We are competing on ice and snow against countries from all around the world for 16 days on the international stage. By that count, the United States is currently far ahead of everyone in the medal count. The United States has more medals (18) and more gold medals (6) than any other country, and the Americans have a 7-medal lead over second-place Germany.

However, in the international economic world, we aren’t up for a gold, silver, or bronze medal. We aren’t even in the top echelon. We need a lot more training and practice. But more importantly, we need to see what works in other countries, and how we can adapt it to work in our country.

If we want to compete with the rest of the world outside the Olympic Games, we need to act like champions. Olympic champions have talent, but they also have the desire to work hard to do what they can to make themselves champions. We have the talent; we need to put in the work.

We’re being passed by. If Ontario were a state, it would be the fifth most populous state. The province has North American access, strong trade relationships and agreements, incredible resources, and borders five U.S. states, including four of the eight most populous states. And they speak English, though with a few different spellings. All of this combined with strong education and no health care costs: This is a medal contender. Not to disparage Canadians, but if the United States can’t compete with one of Canada’s 10 provinces, the U.S. is a long way from gold.

Evan Bayh runs away from Washington problem instead of being the solution

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Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) — one of the symbols of partisanship and gridlock on the Democratic Party side of the aisle — has announced that he is not running for another term in the Senate because of partisanship and gridlock.

Really.

In the never-ending quest to give away a solid Democratic majority, another senator from the majority party is running away from Washington. This was a race that every expert figured Bayh would win, especially since his opponent was former Rep. and Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), who no longer lives in the Hoosier State.

Bayh, who amazingly was a finalist for vice president under Barack Obama, had reached a crossroads in his party. At 54, Bayh has already been governor of Indiana and is finishing up his second term in the Senate. But he is generally too conservative to be nominated for president or vice president.

When the unofficial nominations went down to three, Bayh stuck out of place compared to then Gov. Tim Kaine (VA) and Sen. Joe Biden (DE). Bayh had the good looks usually needed to do well in politics, and might have formed an impressive yet conservative sidekick to John Edwards, had Edwards won the party’s nomination in 2004.

But Bayh’s insistence on fighting over Democratic Party policy, especially under President Barack Obama, is why action isn’t being taken in Washington. Bayh could have taken one for the party, and helped get Blue Dogs on board for health care reform, which ironically a good policy would increase Democratic Party majorities, allowing for, get ready got this, more action to get done.

Yes, the party is in danger of losing the seat in November, further decreasing the ability to get things done in Washington. Once Bayh is on the outside, likely working as a lobbyist, hopefully he will get the irony of his decision. In the meantime, good luck in getting things done.

Written by democracysoup

February 15, 2010 at 11:07 am

Government, MSM forget jobs are necessary for economic recovery

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The press has taken more care than normal to spotlight joblessness. By no means are they covering it accurately and precisely, but there is more coverage than normal.

The MSM seems to think if Wall Street is doing well, and manipulated economic figures show progress, this means the economy is in better shape.

Unless, of course, you don’t have a job.

We heard the phrase “jobless recovery” often during the first decade of the 21st century. This isn’t just a MSM thing; accepted views are that there can be a recovery without jobs.

We need to change what constitutes a recovery.

The first stimulus bill was watered down in a battle of politics. Those looking for jobs weren’t at the top of the list of importance; the Democrats sacrificed jobs rather than stand up to the Republicans. The best way to recruit Republicans and Independents to vote for you in 2010 would have been a strong jobs bill.

There is a second jobs bill; the Democratic Party leaders seem to be learning from their previous mistakes, though there is plenty of time to mess this up. It would be nice if the Democrats could pass a pure jobs bill.

The White House released a report that says the U.S. is likely to average 95,000 more jobs each month this year. Let’s assume in this crazy mixed-up world that the projection is precise. The results would be a drop in the bucket compared to the need in this country. The real need, not just the “official” need.

If we were to look at this politically, it is George W. Bush’s fault. Not just the crash of 2008, but the systematic lack of interest in generating jobs from 2001-2009. And yes, Barack Obama had a huge task in front of him to create a record number of jobs in this country.

The issue at hand is using the presidential pulpit to push through ideas, programs, efforts to ensure as many jobs as the government could help to stimulate in the economy. This is where the current administration has fallen short.

You don’t need aggressive leadership in good times, but you do need to take bold steps in those awful times that we live in currently. Unlike the 1920s, before the Great Depression, job creation hasn’t been that strong in the years before a huge fall.

Having 95,000 jobs a month for the previous 8 years would have been helpful. Amazingly, the job growth from 2001-2005 was so horrible, it was Hooversque. You would think the MSM and accepted society would have vilifed a president with that unbelievably low job totals, that president would have branded with much more negative coverage than Jimmy Carter, by far the president treated with the least respect by the MSM in the modern era.

Yet, Carter had better job growth than George W. Bush from 2001-2005. Where was the criticism about Bush from anyone with a MSM pedigree? Still waiting for this.

But politics aside, Americans want jobs. They have wanted jobs for a long time. Even when Bill Clinton was president, with the best job growth in decades, there was still a need for longer-term job growth for positions that wouldn’t be exported. Because even in the Clinton Administration, too many jobs left the United States.

Obviously, the last 10 years have been gruesome from a job growth standpoint. Pathetic, awful. But the lack of concern, anything beyond an occasional headline or two, is what troubles Americans about the two major sources of power (outside corporations, of course): government and the MSM.

Job growth hasn’t been a real priority for either sector for a long time. Even when the Clinton Administration had good job growth, the MSM was more focused on bringing the man down for sins such as being late to events and press conferences.

The American people don’t want politics for the sake of politics when it comes to job creation. They want results. And they also want a MSM that cares that jobs are created in the United States. They want a system that punishes corporations for taking jobs overseas. This isn’t about protection; this is about domestic job creation. And they want those in power to care about joblessness in the same way that those without jobs care about joblessness.

Not having enough jobs isn’t a game or a battle of politics. This recessive depression hurts lives, short-term and long-term. The sooner the government and MSM realize this reality, the more respect they’ll get from ordinary Americans.

Written by democracysoup

February 12, 2010 at 8:56 am

Jon Stewart shows us how to correct pundits

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We saw three times where Republican pundits adamantly denied that Bush was president during 9/11 in an eerie parallel to Peter denying Jesus three times in the night.

And each time the interviewer didn’t correct the mistake. Only George Stephanopoulos offered somewhat of an apology, but not on the air.

Once again, Jon Stewart — a non-journalist — gets to show journalists how to do their job. When Stewart had on Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, the discussion went to the shoe bomber, Richard Reid. In drawing a contrast between the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber, and offering up Miranda rights, Gingrich said Reid was an American citizen.

Reid was a British citizen.

On the standard cable news channels and the MSM outlets, this false statement would not have been countered. But Stewart, a professional comedian, came back in the following segment and pointed out that Gingrich’s statement was false. Stewart did this on camera, something the folks at Fox “News” Channel, John King, and Stephanopoulos would not do on the Bush-9/11 connection. And Gingrich’s misstatement was more obscure than the “Bush wasn’t president on 9/11” lie.

Jon Stewart may not be a journalist. But he understands what journalists should do better than some of them who earn a living as a journalist.

Written by democracysoup

February 10, 2010 at 8:29 am

Notebook: Tim Tebow ad, John Murtha dies, Scott Lee Cohen walks away

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— There are those who are tempted to be snarky about the Tim Tebow ad and the coverage therein. The coverage after the ad was broadcast focuses on the timidity of the ad. “It wasn’t that big of a deal.” So the coverage tells us.

However, the principled point stills remains. Planned Parenthood wouldn’t have been allowed to buy a similarly timid ad. Those who may be on the fence on abortion sees Focus on the Family in a positive light for the ad, though the call to go to the Web site is more important to the pro-life side than the actual ad. Planned Parenthood doesn’t get that same treatment. The issue of fairness is still relevant, and has been ignored. Open it up to all or none.

— Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) passed away. His death wasn’t a surprise; his health had bee failing. The political obituary was complicated as was his political life. That seemed fair somehow.

Murtha, the first Vietnam Vet to serve in Congress, strongly supported the Iraq War but had the courage to change his mind after seeing the light of reality. He took a lot of pork for his district, playing the game but at the same time, making us wonder whether the game needs to be changed.

Murtha had a tie to the Abscam scandal, though not a huge one. He served longer than any representative from Pennsylvania. Murtha was pro-life and pro-labor. He was complicated.

— Outside of Illinois, you likely don’t know who Scott Lee Cohen is. The problem was in Illinois is that we didn’t know who Scott Lee Cohen is. We saw the TV ads and heard the radio spots as he ran on the Democratic side for lieutenant governor. Cohen put on job fairs and far outspent his opponents in the vastly ignored race.

Cohen won the race last week, but dropped out due to a number of allegations, including a domestic abuse arrest, steroid use, tax problems, and child support issues. Cohen had admitted to the arrest almost a year ago, but few were aware of his background.

It would be easy to blame the media for not covering this race more. After all, the spotlight on the lieutenant governor in Illinois is more intense, given that a) there is no lieutenant governor at the moment because of b) Pat Quinn’s promotion to governor to replace the impeached Rod Blagojevich.

In Illinois, gubernatorial candidates don’t run with the lieutenant governor candidates in the primary, but do so in the election. Quinn and Blagojevich never really got along even though they served almost two terms together.

But the media is a little short-handed these days. In Chicago, the papers aren’t even thick enough to line a bird cage. Extra space, extra reporters might have made a difference. Lieutenant governors can become governor. Might be nice to find out something about them before they reach that point.

True, the media still might not have done much with this race. But it would be nice if the media had more foot soldiers.

Written by democracysoup

February 9, 2010 at 10:05 am