Archive for September 2008

Leadership – Obama or McCain?

September 30, 2008

We may be asking the wrong question.  Who is fit to lead (better), John McCain or Barack Obama.  This seems to be one of the weighty questions of the day.  I would submit, however, that the question is far more complex than what the TV sound bites would suggest.

Let’s go to our “Gold Standard”, the current President, George W Bush.  Would you consider him “fit” to lead?  If you do, I must ask where have you been for the last 8 years?  If you do not, the question is “why”?

George W Bush has established such a low standard in terms of outcomes… that is everything he has touched seems to have come out poorly.  This alone could easily make someone think poorly of his leadership skills.  Yet results are in and of themselves, not a true indicator of leadership.  You must ask the question of whether the goals and the values that would guide the leaders journey were worthy ones or not.  Next you should ask how well the leader actually performed the function of leading, that is getting others to do what the leader wanted.  And lastly, you must ask what the leader did when his chosen direction turned out to be not where he wanted to go in the first place (or in Bush’s case, the place he wanted to go turned out to be, when he got there, not a place he liked).

So, we can argue whether McCain’s military experienc or just his plain personality are so “alpha” that he will be a natural leader, while Obama is so “wine and cheese” that he will hold “chats” during his entire term of office and never make decisions.  Both of these possibilities beg the real question and that is where do these two want to lead us, and is that place worthwhile?

For my vote I must admit that McCain is just another George W Bush in terms of destination and view that the ends justify the means.  I would guess that McCain will be a better executive than “W”, but then so would almost anyone else.  Barack Obama, on the other hand, has noble goals and a sense of what America needs today.  The open question for him is “can he lead us to that place”?

The Republicans have had their turn and “W” has let everyone down.  It is time now for the Democrats, and I do not think Obama will let us down.  He may not turn out to be “the leader of leaders”.  He will, I believe, turn out to be an honest broker and someone dedicated to returning America to long term respect and greatness.

Bail Out, Out?

September 30, 2008

The House of Representatives voted down the Administration’s proposed Wall Street bail out and many were left yesterday wondering why.  Here are some reasons.

1, Surprisingly President George W Bush has spent all his “political capital” won in the 2004 election and was unable to secure any credit with which he could try again.   He is less than a lame duck.

2. President Bush has not the slightest idea of what the proposed legislation covers and even less of an idea about what might happen if the bill passes or even it doesn’t.

3. John McCain has played this issue right down the middle, and so,  feels he is able to declare victory regardless of whether the bill passed or was voted down.  That’s leadership!

4. Senator Harry Reid and Speak Nancy Pelosi did a half ass job of organizing the actual vote (unless of course you suspect that they did not care whether it passed or not since the longer economy’s uncertainty remains on “page 1”, the more advantage flows to Democrats).

5. The American public does not understand what exactly has happened, why it happened, or how the “fix” will fix the mess.  Americans can discern, however, that their government has let them down and they are weary of doing a “Charlie Brown” and believing George “Lucy” Bush will hold the football this time.

6. There are few public officials who have studied the great depression and what exactly did Herbert Hoover not do that preceded the stock market crash.  History, if anything, does repeat.

7. There is far more wrong with the American economy than this current (and serious) melt down on Wall Street.  The housing bubble burst, the lagging in real income growth for the average American, and the inflation driven rise in the cost of living (read commodities, gas, oil, etc) are all elements that make for harder times for Americans.  Fixing Wall Street will not fix them.

My guess is that Congress will pass a bail out bill soon, maybe next week.  They will do it as the melt-down’s adverse consequences are more easily visible to Americans and a much better political story is presented to Americans on why this bail out should proceed.  I do not expect to see any leadership from George W Bush and we will all be better off if McCain and Obama keep to campaigning instead of trying to score political points during this crisis.

Open and Shut

September 29, 2008

There will be many legacies of the Bush Administration but none of them will be about what historians will view favorably .  While John McCain is a different person, he is on record as having supported those very same Bush/Cheney policies and judgments that have brought America tumbling down as a world leader.  Why then is the case for Barack Obama not open and shut?

The two most glaring Bush/Cheney debacles are (1) the Iraq invasion and occupation and (2) the current Wall Street melt down.  Both of these events have the same roots with the advent of the Bush Administration.  When George W Bush was elected in 2000, American inherited a President with little knowledge of history and even less interest in working to understand the actual workings of government.  Bush looked around and saw a Country  that was working well (even generating budget surplus).  Without trying to first understand why things worked, he simply turned to his ideological agenda and started down the list. 

When 9/11 occurred, it gave Bush the “get out of jail” card which he then employed  to justify most everything else.  The Iraq invasion and occupation and the deregulation and lack of oversight that has lead to the Wall Street melt down were Republican ideological beliefs and in no way were supported by existing problems or broadly held theories.  While these happened on Bush’s watch, John McCain was there and cheered each one forcefully.

Today we look at Iraq (5+ years after we invaded) and have no clue how we are going to get out.  You must conclude that Bush and Cheney (and McCain) are fundamentally not interested in getting out.  They may legitimately hold that America can best serve our Middle East interests by stationing some 140,000 American troops in Iraq.  At $ 10 billion a month, the fact of life say we can not afford to remain in Iraq.

There is more to the Wall Street melt down.  During the 8 Bush years where essential “anything goes” attitude prevailed, manufacturing as well as other good paying jobs in electronics and science dwindled.  America is now producing less real value than the past. and the puncture of the housing bubble has exposed how hollow the Bush economy was. 

The Bush years may not be the example that John McCain would like to point to but it is in fact the result of policies and ideology he has supported through out his political career.  The case is open and shut that McCain is cut from the same cloth and his term as President would be 4 more years on the wrong path.  It is time to wake up to reality.

  • Our economic engine is broken (real jobs producing real things, not CDOs)
  • Our infrastructure needs repairs
  • We have lost our edge in math and science
  • Our social contract with citizens needs mending
  • China is a serious economic competitor
  • The Middle East is a 20th century concern, not a 21st century one
  • The “war on terror” is a misnomer, it shoud be a “war of poverty”.

Unneeded Help

September 28, 2008

Today a number of evangelical pastors are to speak from their pulpits on the subject of politics.  These “for profit” businessmen (and maybe women) are out of place with their career roles and should voluntarily step up and pay IRS corporate taxes like anyother honest business.

The pulpit is no place for talk in favor of or against either John McCain or Barack Obama, or for that matter any other politician.  The pulpit is a place where these “religious leaders” speak to their followers about how their followers should/could lead their own private lives, and not how I or anyone else should/could lead my/their lives.  What someone believes as a matter of faith is their private right, providing these beliefs do not violate existing laws or impose any burden or obligations on others.

These “for profit business leaders” who pose as “religious leaders” are using time tested techniques to build up fear among their financial followers (read church members).  Every one of these evangelical pastors has a Constitutional right to support one party or the other, or one candidate or the other.  Their support however should not be mixed with their privileged position.  What would you think if our top military leaders wore presidential candidate buttons?  Or, what about judges in their robes, could they display political posters in their court rooms? 

America has a secular government with a relatively large number of church attending citizens.  If some of these churches seek to encourage their followers to vote a specific way, these “for profit” churchs have crossed the line and left the sanctuary of tax free status.  If they speak up, they should pay up.

A Tie Unless You Listened…

September 27, 2008

“John, I do understand.  It is you who is living in the past.”  These were words I would have liked to have heard last night but did not.  Or how about this.  “John, the Surge has not produced victory in Iraq.  To this day, almost 6 years after the US invaded and occupied Iraq, our military remains bogged down and unable to deploy to other parts of the world, or better yet, come home to their families.  And John, on top of that, the Iraq invasion and occupation is costing US tax payers $ 10 billion a month.”

The debate last evening was helpful, if at all necessary, in painting the differenced between the two candidates.  Obama was calm and interested in why things have gone wrong (the first step in correcting any problem).  McCain, who was also calm, and talk without end about his experience, and “he knew how to fix it”.  McCain offered no insight as to why anything needed fixing (root cause) and no reason, other than he said so, why he could fix anything.

The spin meisters were at work immediately following the debate, and depending upon which dog you have in the fight, you could hear that your candidate won.  The next few days will features more pundit analysis and in the end they will conclude that no fatal blows were struck.  They will declare the debate a tie and then begin hyping the next one.

If you listened to the debate, one thing that emmerged loud and clear.  Just about everything that is not going well occurred during the Bush watch.  Things needing fixing have resulted from poor ideology, poor policy, poor execution, or all three.  It was a pleasure to listen to two men running against the same record.  I just believe one of them will deliver “change we can believe in”.


September 26, 2008

What a sick comedy yesterday was in Washington DC.  George W Bush interupted his quiet time to host a photo-opt for John McCain over the serious subject of the Wall Street bail out.  The meeting, whose main invitees were Congressional leaders, was positioned as our “President’s” effort to break the log jam and get a piece of legislation passed.  The surprise of the day was that both Democrats and Republicans backed away at the 11th hour.  And all the King’s horse (Georgie and John) could not put Humpty together again.

1. Polls taken this week indicate that Americans are split in thirds on the proposed legislation.  Roughly 1/3 are against any type of bail out.  These are those Americans who have not read any history and are unaware of the great depression.  Another third are for the Paulson proposal and still believe in Santa Clause.  But amazingly there is about a third who do not have any opinion.  These are probably the only honest ones.  They see the problems all around but ask, “should I buy another used car from this guy?”

2. John McCain and his publicists were there and beating the drum as hard as they could.  Karl Rove/Steve Schmidt “the throw out the baby with the bath water if necessary” campaign advisors, were only interested in McCain’s Presidential chances, not the Country’s health.  McCain does not have a clue about what’s going on and instead of letting those who do work out details, McCain has fought for center stage without regard for the impact on the proceedings.  Does this give you a clue what a McCain Administration might be like?  How about more of the same but with a far more energetic Presdient.

3. The Democratic majority showed a bi-partisan sensibility initially, and negotiated a number of changes that made the Paulson proposal stronger (oversight) and stomach-able (executive pay limits).  But at the 11th hour, they hesitated when a band of Republicans refused to back the bill.  On one hand it may be prudent since the Paulson proposal is not a guaranteed fix, it is simply his best recommendation.  On the other hand, the Democrats were gutless and more interested in safeguarding themselves should the Paulson plan not work.  If everyone is for it, then if it does not work, Democrats can say “we all were wrong”.  Democrats simply were unwilling to give the slightest chance to Republicans.  That says a lot as to how sure Democrats are that this $ 700 billion bail out will work.

Today is another day and we may learn more.  If there is not an agreement on a path forward, one thing will be for sure.   Bush has led us into Iraq when it was not necessary and has been unable to lead us out now that it is necessary.  Bush has also led American into the housing bubble, subprime mess, and now the banking and investment houses implosion, and he has not a clue on how to get us out.  There certainly are a lot of examples of leadership all around us.  I am thinking that change you can believe in might be ok.

When More Is Less…

September 25, 2008

Yesterday treated us to an example of where “more is actually less”.  President George W Bush and the man who wants to replace him, John McCain, after embarrassingly long periods of silence, weighed in on the pending legislation in Congress centered around a Wall Street bail out.  It is at least making for great political theater although it is clear that their participation has little value to the real problems.

1. George W Bush ran for office on the “leave me alone, I can do it myself” brand of Republican conservatism.  While running for office, Bush forgot to mention the other part of this mantra… “I need to be left alone so I can stuff my pockets from the toils of greed and shady deals”.  What we are seeing today with the melt down of Wall Street is the fruits of those policies.

2. You might remember some of Bush’s other gifts to America –

  • Imminent threat from WMD, active nuclear weapons development program, and a cozy and supportive relationship with Al Qaeda (read 9/11 involvement) leading to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
  • Absolute need to abrogate the ABM treaty, restart the anti-missile program, and deploy these new unproven systems thereby ruining any hope of a helpful relationship with Russia (and at great expense to the American tax payer).
  • Denial of the need for the Kyoto Protocal and the charge that there was no science to back concerns about greenhouse gases, and the ultimate world scientific community isolation and resistance of the US position.
  • The constant White House propaganda that their only concern was America’s security and freedom while they denigrated human rights (Abu Ghraib), threw out due process (Guantanamo), and invaded the privacy of Americans (NSA spying).

With this as a back ground, who would listen to President Bush anyways?

With respect to John “I have always been against regulations” McCain, to show a sudden “bi-partisan” interest in the bail out bill smells of other motivation.  So why might McCain have decided to suspend his campaign and probably skip the first TV debate?

1. It could be that McCain needs something positive to boost his chances.  If he could somehow get some photo-ops and claim he engineered the deal, his handlers might reason this would be a help.

2. It could be that McCain’s campaign was in a rut and for the last week or so, he has been steadily losing ground while Americans pondered the economic realities.  Going to Washington and showing “those politicians” how to do it just sounds Presidential to the McCain team.  (For sure this current mess far exceeds President Bush’s energies and intellect.)

3. It could be that what McCain really wants is a “time out”.  His campaign desperately needs a war or other foreign disturbance.  Lacking a war, he would need Obama to be found in bed with Hillary or even better Bill so that the Republicans can rightuously stand tall and say “not me”.

In any case, there is nothing distracting about the Presidential campaigns in terms of helping resolve the financial crisis.  Media coverage has focused upon McCain’s history of deregulation and the irony of his call now for regulation.  His “hockey mom” super-star VP nominee, Sarah Palin has been of no help in this matter, and to make things worse, she has been parading around the UN looking for photo-ops with foreign leaders.  She has gotten some but really looks like a deer in the headlights.

Bush had no interest in making his speech last evening and must have known no one would believe him.  McCain, who was much more relaxed when he declared (erroneously) that All Americans were Georgians, is simply on the wrong side of history on this issue.   Free market economics and individual self reliance are wonderful American beliefs that have clearly worked to make America great.  Today, too many American banking and investment institutions have grown too big to be trusted with the life savings of Americans… without some regulations.  Even large private investment firms that suck up liquidity that otherwise fuels the general economy must have some limitations on their operations.  The principle being the “common good” is greater than the unbriddled “individual good”.  (The ultimate irony of this is that when the “common good” is serve, the energetic and innovative “individual” also wins.)

Nine Points

September 24, 2008

In one of the national polls announced today, Presidential candidate Barack Obama had opened a nine point lead in national polling over John McCain.  Of course one must remember that these are polls and subject to change based upon future events and even more importantly, this is a popular vote result and not a state by state electoral vote indicator.  Never the less it seems to reflect the country’s dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and unfortunately John McCain is standing watch now and must shoulder the blame.

I almost feel sorry for McCain.  He is being judged on the dismal record of the Bush/Cheney Administration with this latest fiasco, the Wall Street melt down, just the icing on the cake.  I am sure McCain would have been heads and shoulders better than George W Bush, and would not have taken the crap from Cheney that took place on Bush’s watch.

Reality, however, is that these past 8 Republican years have been a huge failure for all Americans and that is what McCain must run against.  It is hard to know whether McCain would have insulted the American people by picking Sarah Palin had he not had such a hardship to overcome.  You also have to wonder whether he would have run a positive and above board campaign instead of the misleading and untruthful TV ads that have come to dominate his campaign.  They say that “times make the man” and it is true  that the Presidential stakes are enormous.  Where else can one person direct so much money and patronage with the flick of his little finger?

If this campaign ends with justice prevailing, Barack Obama will become the next President and will begin with absolute control of both Houses of Congress.  This will be both a blessing and an hardship since he will have the chance to move the Country forward as well as enable Democrats to feast on the public troth.  Between now and the finishing line, especially as the Obama lead increases, the charges and negative advertisements will reach new depths of classlessness.  But relax, it will be over soon.

McCain’s Chicken’s Are Coming Home…

September 23, 2008

The title of this posting could have been “Bush and Cheney’s Chickens are Coming Home to Roost”.  I have inserted John McCain’s name into it because he is making such a big deal of his military and foreign affairs experience that I simply thought he deserved first mention.

1. “Five Russian warships are heading to Venezuela” was a headline from today’s newspaper.  Surprise, surprise.  Once again we learn that for every action there is a reaction.  John McCain mistakenly spoke for me when he said a few weeks back, “Today all Americans are Georgians”.  That was a dumb thing to say then and it is a reflection of how little the “cold war” set of politicians have drifted out of date with current events.

If the visit of Russian vessels does not make enough of an impact, what do you think will happen when Russian aircraft and missiles are stationed in Venezuela, for totally peaceful purposes of course.  The Russians will cite the instability in neighboring Columbia and the desire to defend the Russian homeland from any aggression by these rebels.

The failure of the Bush Administration and it would look like McCain’s (were he elected) will do the same, is that they can not prioritize what is really important and imminent from other matters of significance but not urgent and in our nation’s best interest.  The Soviet Union dissolved when it tried to compete in spending on Star Wars and went bankrupt instead.  McCain better see the precarious nature of America’s economy and steer a course of diplomacy with the Russians, and most important stop sticking them in the eye with provacations in Georgia, Czech Republic, and Poland.  We will not like the Russian’s counter provocations that follow.

2. “The Surge is Working“, so says McCain whenever he can.  Well it all depends on what “working” means.  If it means the amount of violence and senseless killing can be kept to 10 incidences or less each day, then there are grounds to say it is working.  If, however, the surge was really intended to help end our involvement in Iraq (remember the US will stand down when the Iraqis stand up?), the the surge is not working.

The situation in Iraq is frankly as predicted.  There is no government of unity and both the Sunnis and the Shiites are waiting for their chance to kill each other.  Both sides want the oil and will not compromise.   The Sunni “awakening militias” are assisting in keeping these almost peaceful conditions because the US military is paying them.  That should be no surprise in that jobs are wonderful in promoting peace.  But what do you think will happen when the US stops paying?  Don’t expect any Shiite government to arm and pay Sunnis.  The answer should be evident that McCain’s campaign dialog about the surge is short sighted and incomplete.  He too will have to face withdrawal and leaving an Iraq to fend for itself under Shiite (read Iran) leadership.  (Joe Biden’s soft partition does not sound so bad any more).

If You Had Any Doubts…

September 22, 2008

Over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Paulson worked long and hard to describe the type of emergency legislation that he had concluded was in the best interest of the Country.  Most experts have also concluded that something must be done in order to stem the degeneration of our banking system and the almost certainty of a recession, if not a depression.  Sunday’s Treasury Department release asked for authority to buy any assets, any place in the world, and not be subject to review at an estimated expense of $ 700 billion dollars.

On Monday we are now hearing members of Congress and economic experts asking for time to think through what is being asked for.  Some have already lined up for including limits on the authority and a much tighter definition of what type of assets exactly that can be acquired.  Others have questioned whether the Secretary of the Treasury should be the decider or whether there should be an independent corporation that in tern was supervised by Treasury.  The White House has now cried out that this subject is too urgent to delay and we must act now.

Does that sound familiar?  Do you remember words like that when the Bush Administration sought Congressional approval for the war powers act it used to justify its invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq?  If you do then you should be very concerned now.  Here are some things to consider

1. By most all accounts, we can not let this mess take care of itself.  It is too big and wide spread and is threatening to shut down the liquidity markets and bring our economy to a screeching halt.

2. By most accounts Paulson’s initial plan to buy mortgage assets is pragmatic and experts can see how it could stabilize the markets.  An alternative of dealing with the 10% or so mortgage holders who are in trouble seems more difficult to manage and may not get to the toxic” securities that are already out there.

3. From experience we should know we must have oversight, accountability, and tansparency.  There can be no sweetheart deals or politically motivated bank rescues.  Without these guaranties, there should be no deal.

There are other suggestion which are not necessarily germane to resolving the problem but seem clearly fair.  The most popular suggestion is that the senion executives of companies that are assisted must not make any profit or large reward (such as bonuses).  Others have suggested forfeitures and even criminal prosecution.  I think there is a practical argument around limitations on pay and bonuses in that we want these executives to be focused upon running their businesses well and not on cooking up a new scheme to manufacture profits.

At the end of the day, I believe a healthy discussion will benefit all Americans and two weeks is not too long.  What is certain, however, is that if George W Bush wants to go forward with the current proposal (no oversight and no specificity), and do it rapidly, then you can be assured that that is the wrong path forward.  George is good for one thing… getting it all wrong.