Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Good analysis from Newsweek

Obama should act more like a president than a prime minister
Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International

A great debate has begun as to how Barack Obama should respond to last week's election results in Massachusetts, which was clearly a protest vote against him, congressional Democrats and their signature policy proposal: the health-care bill. My own advice would be simple: Barack Obama needs to act like a president, especially the president he campaigned to become.

In his enduring treatise, "The American Commonwealth," James Bryce, a British writer who toured the United States in the late 19th century, observed that the Founding Fathers had created a president who would, in a crucial sense, resemble the British king, "not only in being the head of the executive, but in standing apart from and above political parties (italics in the original). He was to represent the nation as a whole. . . . The independence of his position, with nothing either to gain or to fear from Congress, would, it was hoped, leave him free to think only of the welfare of the people."

Obama began his presidency in this vein. In his response to the economic crisis, he steered a clear middle course, refusing to accept the left's cries for bank nationalization but also adopting a far more vigorous and Keynesian approach than the right could accept. In foreign policy, he reset America's image in the world in a manner that earned him kudos from the likes of James Baker and Brent Scowcroft. But that broader, presidential approach was partly set aside in passing the fiscal stimulus and then abandoned altogether in the drive to change the American health-care system.

Over the past six months -- which have correlated with his dramatic drop in the polls -- Obama has behaved less like a president and more like a prime minister. He has not outlined a broad vision for the country. He has not embraced the best solutions -- from left and right -- for the nation's problems. Instead he has behaved as the head of the Democratic Party in Congress, working almost entirely with and through that caucus, slicing and dicing policy proposals to cobble together legislative majorities. He has allowed the great policy program of his presidency to be written and defined by a collection of congressional Democrats, accepting the lopsided bills that emerged and the corruption inherent in the process.

If he represents all the people, Obama should remember that for 85 percent of Americans, the great health-care crisis is about cost. For about 15 percent, it is about extending coverage. Yet his plan does little about the first and focuses mostly on the second. It promotes too little of the real discipline that would force costs down and instead throws in a few ideas, experiments, and pilot programs that could, over time and if rigorously expanded, do so.

Watching the legislative process, Bismarck allegedly observed, is like watching the making of sausages. The health-care bill is particularly sausage-like. It has special exemptions on future costs for five states, exemptions for unions, concessions to almost every special interest in the industry and of course no reform at all of the crazy legal system because the trial-lawyers bar remains untouchable for the Democratic Party.

Defenders argue that Obama has only acted realistically. Focusing too intently on cost reduction would have alienated all the same forces -- insurance companies, Big Pharma -- that derailed health-care reform under Bill Clinton. But the result is one that few can honestly call "reform" and one that has steadily lost public support as it has moved through Congress. In a recent Wall Street Journal poll, Obama fared reasonably well on all attributes of leadership. His lowest scores came when respondents were asked whether they agreed with his proposals, and whether he had changed the way business was done in Washington. In other words, he has moved too far from the center and too close to special interests.

The Republican Party has decided to be utterly uncooperative (although on health care Obama never really reached out to them with serious compromises). But whether or not Republican senators would at first reward Obama for adopting a more nonpartisan approach, independent voters would, which would then change the political calculus in Washington. Rahm Emanuel quipped that the task was not to get health-care legislation through "the executive committee of the Brookings Institution, but the U.S. Congress." In fact, proposals that would impress experts would also impress tens of millions of independents, the vast middle ground where elections are won and lost in America. That is how Bill Clinton outmaneuvered Newt Gingrich, and how Tony Blair outfoxed the Tory party for 10 years.

On health care, energy, taxes, immigration, deficits and everything else, Obama should get away from the politics of legislating and go back to being president. He should put forward the best proposals to help solve America's problems. He may or may not get much support from Republicans, but he will earn political capital and power, which in the long run is the only way to enact a big, transforming agenda. This approach is exactly what Obama campaigned on. He promised that he would reach out to all sections of the country, listen to the best ideas and appeal to the nation as a whole. "I don't see a blue America and a red America, I see only the United States of America," he said.

Obama needs to shift course and govern as the president he promised to become. That's change I could believe in.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The earthquake in Massachusetts

In its lead editorial the day after, the NY Times pronounced: “The Democrats had an exceptionally weak candidate in Massachusetts, but the result calls into question the party’s tactical political competence.”

In other words, voters are not fed up with the form and content of the government of Mr. Obama and the Democrats, and if the party had only run a well known celebrity – preferably with the last name of Kennedy – all would have been well.

The editors are trying to head off a retreat on the health care legislation. This is the rationalization of the elitist social engineers who will not accept that the American people are rejecting them – first in Virginia and New Jersey and now Massachusetts.

Stay the course, all will be well.

My guess is that the politicians in the party will see it differently.

Please read on.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Momentous Decisions Ahead

Parasites in Pinstripes

Mike Krauss
Bucks County Courier Times

President Obama will not succeed in being the transformational leader who remakes American society. The wonder is that anyone thought he would. That job is beyond one person. America must remake itself.

A year after an inaugural attended by huge good will and optimism, Mr. Obama has thrown it all away and become a deeply divisive and polarizing figure against which U.S. politics is remaking itself.

In the aftermath of the election of a new Republican U.S. Senator in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts, neither the Democratic or Republican Party will ever be the same.

Good. As it stands now, they are both useless for the great majority of the American people, and serve only as vehicles for the domination of the federal government by shallow, self serving entrenched interests.

But while neither party will ever be the same, will either be any better?

The Democrats now face a momentous decision. (I can’t bring myself to say “defining moment.” You might stop reading. I would.)

They can shove down the nation’s throat a health care bill no one understands and most don’t trust, asserting that they know better what Americans need, deepen an already palpable level of mistrust and resentment, and hope and pray that a mountain of cash can buy the next elections. Or, they can walk away from Mr. Obama.

If they walk away, there is some hope that the next Congress can write the health care bill Americans actually want: simple, understandable by mortals, one that broadens coverage and controls costs.

And maybe they can finally get to work on jobs, shut down the war industry and tell the American people what the Fed and Wall Street did with trillions of dollars.

Call it Obama II, in which a sadder but wiser president works with the Congress in plain view of the American people to solve the problems most Americans agree need solving.

But if the Democrats double down and push the health care bill through, they will be gone.

Mr. Obama got his nose bloodied in Virginia and New Jersey, and was knocked down but not out in Massachusetts. He lost not only Independents, but many progressive Democrats who feel they were suckered. To get up off the canvas and win them back, he has to take on the entrenched interests.

Will he?

Richard Nixon once advised, “Watch what I do, not what I say.” Nixon often spoke to the right, but actually governed to the center.

Mr. Obama’s rhetoric has been a masterful mantra of every progressive, hopeful idea in America. His actions have been at best a series of retreats or bad compromises with the status quo; at worst, a sell out to the entrenched interests, almost reactionary in content.

If Mr. Obama is capable of humility and independent action, he may yet succeed in leading America forward. If he is not, the nation will drift until a new Congress or a new president sets a new course.

Hillary waits in the wings. If Obama cannot recover, she’ll pick a fight and go. James Carville has already mapped out her campaign. I can hear the ad now: “Last time it should have been Hillary. This time, it MUST be Hillary.”

For its part, while Mr. Obama has actually succeeded in doing what most thought impossible - getting all Republicans to agree on something – there is no indication that Americans are on board for anything the GOP offers, because it offers nothing – yet.

“Just say No” is a tactic, not a strategy, and is in the end devoid of ideas. And it will take ideas and not a rehash of old slogans from a failed past to attract people to a credible alternative to the Democrats on a path to the recovery of America’s prosperity and purpose as a nation.

And while the GOP is building a head of steam going into the congressional elections, they are entirely capable of throwing it away as quickly as Mr. Obama did.

Rush Limbaugh is a swollen vanity. Sarah Palin is a celebrity. That’s why Fox hired her. Neither promotes the credible problem solving that can attract independents and progressives.

If this is the collective face of the GOP, the party will make gains in 2010 on the backs of angry voters, but will not be able to forge a common agenda which a majority of Americans will support. And the nation will drift to 2012.

And as the nation drifts, the shadow government of the entrenched interests that has pulled the strings of both parties for three decades will go on sucking the life’s blood out of the American people, digging in, willing to see America collapse so long as they have the biggest chunk of whatever is left.

Their allegiance is to the global club of parasites in pinstripes. They don’t give a damn about America.

I hope Mr. Obama gets the message. I truly do. I hope the GOP sees the light. I truly do. What are the odds? We’ll know soon enough.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Leadership of Mr. Obama

Dear Reader,

There is a very serious point made below about the leadership of Mr. Obama. I have come at it lightly, but it is no light matter.



Obama's high level of comfort with high levels of incompetence
Bucks County Courier Times

Perhaps the most alarming thing about President Obama thus far is his willingness to accept incompetence and failure. George Steinbrenner he is not.

Baseball fans will know Mr. Steinbrenner as the long time owner of the New York Yankees, famous for spending millions to acquire talent, and equally famous for getting rid of that talent and firing managers if they did not get results. With Steinbrenner, failure was not an option. With the Obama administration and Congress it is a way of life.

Candidate Obama looked at George Bush's proposal to bail out a couple of Wall Street failures and decided that was the thing to do. The Congress agreed - no need for Wall Street barons to suffer the consequences of their greed and irresponsibility.

That's only for average Americans who don't understand these things.

Then Mr. Obama's advisors assured him and the American people that a massive transfer of the wealth of those average Americans to all the colossally failed Wall Street giants was the only way to prevent a collapse of the U.S. economy. Mr. Obama took their advice. The policy has failed spectacularly.

All the ills the bailout was advertised to avert have been visited on the American people, and with a vengeance: frozen credit, closed up businesses, massive unemployment, a tidal wave of home foreclosures, bankruptcies, wiped out savings and millions reduced to welfare (if there is any), unemployment compensation (until it runs out) and food stamps. The only people rescued were a bunch of criminally greedy and irresponsible bankers.

And while the Obama Justice Department has not found reason to indict or prosecute one of the Wall Street gang that looted America, all the advisors who rode to the gang's rescue are still on Mr. Obama's team, still advising the president, still picking up paychecks.

Christmas brought with it two more examples of Mr. Obama's high level of comfort with high levels of incompetence.

On Christmas Eve, when you might not have noticed, Mr. Obama gave the failed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unlimited access to the U.S. Treasury, beyond the former cap of $400 billion. This will give them the money - yours - to buy up all the bad mortgages still on the books of the failed banks. Another give-away to the failures on Wall Street as they prepare to dole out near record bonuses for the money they made in 2009 with the trillions they got from American taxpayers.

Adding insult to injury, the CEO's of the two failed mortgage giants got $6 million pay packages. Again, failure was rewarded. But, as least Mr. Obama can count on two more friendly faces the next time he speaks at one of House Speaker Pelosi's $35,000 a plate fundraisers.

Then on Christmas Day, an appalling failure. Despite billions of dollars spent on systems, technology and people since 9- 11, a known and armed terrorist with more red flags than a parade in Moscow got past every security agency in Washington and almost succeeded in killing a lot of people on a flight into Detroit – and throwing America into turmoil.

Mr. Obama was so upset that someone might be upset that he was quick to let America know that everybody stays on the payroll. These things happen. Stay the course.

But the president did say we need to give the people who failed more money, because that is evidently the way Mr. Obama thinks the welfare of the American people is best served - by rewarding failure.

So the private contractor that manages the data base of potential threats - which has swollen to over a million people and apparently includes both known terrorists and foreign students who might have said something unkind about the U.S. soccer team - will get more money. Since 2001, The Analysis Corporation (TAC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of defense and intelligence contractor Global Strategies Group/North America, has seen its yearly income from the taxpayers it can't safeguard from a guy in a clown suit grow from $5 million to $25 million.

In Washington , it pays to fail. As USA Today reported, while 7.3 million Americans lost their jobs the number of federal employees earning $100,000 or more a year jumped from 14 to 19 percent of the federal payroll. From December 2007 to June of 2009, the number of Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more shot up from 1,868 to 10,100. Before the recession, the Transportation Department reported only a single employee earning more than $170,000. Now 1,690 workers are paid at that level and the average federal salary has jumped 6.6 percent to $71,206, while one in four American children have been reduced to food stamps.

I understand New York Yankees owner Steinbrenner is not well. Too bad. While I think Mr. Obama's numerous policy czars are good for little more than buying tickets to his fundraisers, I would be in favor of adding one more, and making Steinbrenner the Obama Performance Czar.

Of course, he would be doing the president's job. Still, it would be fun to watch as overpaid failures get exploded out of Washngton and Wall Street and sent back to the minor leagues, where they belong.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Grotesque Parody of Representative Government

Impoverishing the middle class


Bucks County Courier Times

Not quite one year into his presidency and Barack Obama is well on the way to joining the pantheon of iconic Democratic presidents with a memorable domestic achievement of his own. To FDR's New Deal and Truman's Fair Deal will be added Obama's "Raw Deal."

Instead of the falling wages of the past 30 years, tens of millions of Americans now have no wages. Instead of struggling to make the mortgage, millions of Americans now have no mortgage - and no home. Instead of graduating high school and going on to college, millions of young Americans will now graduate high school and go nowhere. Instead of looking forward to a secure retirement, millions of seniors are now looking at wiped out retirement savings and reduced medical care.

In a grotesque parody of representative government, Congress shadow boxes with lobbyists to discover what "reforms" their corporate pay masters will permit and the president pleads with the Wall Street robber barons to "be nice" to the American people.

And while Wall Street wallows in trillions of dollars expropriated from the American middle class and one in four American children now are reduced to food stamps, terrorists slip into the United States undeterred by an army in Afghanistan .

The terrorist apprehended in the Detroit airport on Christmas day couldn't wait to get off the aircraft before attempting to kill Americans. How many have had more patience?

In addition to the 68,000 troops now in Afghanistan , there are more than 121,000 paid contractors deployed there. When President Obama's escalation takes effect, another 30,000 troops will be added and, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service, as many as 56,000 more contractors - a Vietnam War force level of 275,000.

In a briefing paper, a Senate subcommittee reported that private contractors now comprise 69 percent of the Department of Defense's total work force, "the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in U.S. history."

The health insurance lobby spent a reported $1.4 million a day to get the health care legislation and profits it wants. The finance lobby spent $3.2 billion in 10 years to get what it wanted, and in the last couple of months alone has spent more than $300 million to keep what it has.

How many millions do you suppose defense contractors are spending in lobbying and campaign contributions to keep America at war and their profits rolling in?

This legalized bribery of those elected to represent the American people will continue until the American people break the power of the corporate pay masters of the Congress.

There must be a package of public financing of federal elections, an outright ban on corporate campaign contributions and full, timely disclosure of all lobbying. Nothing short of this can take the Congress back from its corporate paymasters.

And to get the money to meet the urgent needs of the American people the wars must end and there must be substantial new taxes on Wall Street and the highest earners in the United States .

It is worth remembering how and when America became the world super power. It happened in the 1950s, when the modern suburbs were born and the middle class exploded in prosperity. Three policies of the American government enabled that advance.

One, America was at peace. President Eisenhower ended the Korean War, declined his generals' urging to make war with China , declined a similar invitation to join the Anglo French War in Egypt and in fact shut it down, and refused to plunge the U.S. into war with the Soviets when they sent the tanks into Eastern Europe .

Two, the tax rate on the highest earners throughout the 1950s and beyond was 91 percent.

You read it right, 91 percent. Instead of the wealth of America being concentrated in ever fewer hands, more prosperity was shared more broadly among more people than at any time in history.

Three, the G.I. Bill put millions in college and into homes.

Returning America to that level of broadly shared prosperity will be a bruising battle and the war will not be won in 2010 and not even by 2012. Already, the corporate interests are stuffing the campaign war chests of incumbent members of Congress, to keep them in office and in line.

So there must also be a means to bypass the corrupted federal center and the rapacious elites who have hijacked it, and restore control of the future more directly to more Americans.

That measure is the creation of publicly held state banks, to create new credit and investment, directed locally and bypassing Wall Street and Washington. Such a bank already exists in North Dakota . And in addition to low interest loans for businesses and students, investment in infrastructure and jobs, creation of a secondary market for mortgages and a lower cost market for municipal bonds, the Bank of North Dakota will return more than $60 million to the state's general fund this year.

The alternative to these measures is Mr. Obama's Raw Deal - the impoverishment of the American middle class, the funneling of vast wealth to mega banks and corporations, and a concentration of power in a corrupted federal center.

January 07, 2010

Mike Krauss is an international logistics executive and author, and a former officer of Bucks County and PA government. Reach him at mike@mikekrausscomments.com