This August was a crazy time for American politics. The debt ceiling debate (or debacle) along with the "compromise" bill where the Democrats essentially gave in to nearly all of the GOP's demands, followed by the stock market's precipitous drop and frightening volatility have resulted in hysteria among some of the political talking heads. One thing that annoyed me a bit was constant criticism of President Obama for taking a vacation after the debt ceiling crisis was finally solved. It seems to me that every time Barack Obama and his family take some vacation time, they are subject to relentless attacks by the right-wing media. Conservative pundits on FOX News and elsewhere assaulted the President for taking vacation during such distressing economic times. Of course after the debt ceiling compromise bill was passed, Congress took a three-week recess, and there isn't much the President can do about the economy without Congress. Even if the President recalled Congress, everyone should know by now that there is little chance the two parties could come to an agreement on measures to stimulate economic growth and fight unemployment anytime soon.
In hearing all of this criticism of the President and his vacation-taking, I wondered how he compared with his predecessors regarding the amount of vacation days he's taken. Fortunately, there are folks in the media who have nothing better to do than track Presidential vacation days.
CBS Radio's Mark Knoller observed the following in August:
So far, President Obama has taken 61 vacation days after 31 months in office. At this point in their presidencies, George W. Bush had spent 180 days at his ranch where his staff often joined him for meetings. And Ronald Reagan had taken 112 vacation days at his ranch. Among recent presidents, Bill Clinton took the least time off — 28 days.
Would FOX News care to publicize that comparison during their prime time shows?
A point was made a few months ago about the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (a.k.a. Obama's economic stimulus plan) that really made a lot of sense to me. Most of us probably recall the tragic I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007. The cause of the bridge was due to a faulty design-- the use of under-sized gusset plates-- and an excessive amount of concrete overloading the bridge. The Federal Highway Administration advised shortly thereafter that there were about 700 other U.S. bridges of similar construction and asked states to inspect them. The Society of Civil Engineers recently gave our U.S. infrastructure an overall "D" grade, indicating that in many cases, our roads, bridges, and other vital infrastructure are in dire need of upgrades. I fear we will have more I-35 bridge scenarios in the future because our current national political dialogue is overly focused on deficits, repealing the health care bill (which will increase the deficit), and other distractions.Read more
September 23rd marked six months since President Barack Obama signed the new health care reform bill into law. The new law contains a plethora of measures that aim to reform and improve the overall quality and availability of health care in America. However, most of the law's measures did not go into effect immediately upon the bill's passage. The first major milestone occurred yesterday, on September 23rd, when several key measures were implemented, some affecting almost everyone, others only initially affecting those with new and heavily revised insurance plans (with similar changes affecting all plans a little further in the future). Here are some of the ones I believe are most important:Read more
A recent nationwide survey found that a majority of Republicans believe that Obama "sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world."
According to the poll, 14 percent of Republicans said that from what they knew of Obama, they thought such allegations were "definitely true"; 38 percent thought the allegations were "probably true." Meanwhile, 33 percent of Republicans thought they were "probably not true" and 7 percent thought they were "definitely not true."
Even prior to its enactment, there has been much heated opposition to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a.k.a. President Obama's economic stimulus plan. Opponents have tried to smear it as a bill laden with earmarks (which is not true) that wasted money on pointless projects. Opponents have also (correctly) pointed out that it is mostly paid with borrowed money (I'll come to that later). However, the Recovery Act has gone further than any prior piece of legislation in the past half century in revolutionizing antiquated areas of our economy. And it truly has kept the economy from the brink of depression.Read more
The Eleventh Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints states, "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." [emphasis added]
It is frankly shocking and disappointing that about 70 percent of Americans apparently oppose the building of an Islamic center that will include a mosque in Lower Manhattan, according to a new poll. This opposition is rooted in bigotry and in ignorance. First a few facts - the proposed Islamic center is to be built on private property located a few blocks away from the World Trade Center site. It is not going to be built on the World Trade Center site. There are two other mosques located in Lower Manhattan very close to the WTC site. They have been there for decades and have not caused any controversy.
Over the past 16 months, I have thoroughly enjoyed conservatives' attempts to pin every one of our country's problems on President Barack Obama. Of late, they've been calling the BP gulf oil spill "Obama's Katrina." This is such a non-sequitur that I can't help letting out a little laugh each time I hear it. Oh yeah, because providing timely emergency response to a natural disaster threatening thousands of human lives, which IS the government's duty (think FEMA and the numerous major hurricanes that our government has promptly responded to prior to Katrina), is so very much like plugging a deep sea oil well leak, which the government has no expertise in. Can anyone say 'Apples to Oranges'? However, this spill should certainly cause any reasonable person to ponder the wisdom of doing more off-shore drilling and the adequacy of the current deep-sea drilling regulations regime.Read more
I was asked to critique why Barack Obama's Speech on Race was good/great - March 18, 2008
Where we should start is the assumption that this speech is good/great. I guess the issue I have always had comes not with the content (I think the content is remarkable) but the timing. I remember quite clearly the context that drove these remarks (and even more problematic for Obama were the comments that came after). This entire speech was a deflection and a political maneuver around Rev. Wright’s salacious comments. Does the context then taint the content?
In this speech, Obama is masterful at playing both sides of the race argument, from society's grind on minorities, to reverse discrimination found in programs like affirmative action. He is amazing at positioning himself somewhere in the middle as you would expect a pragmatist would. His speech intends to unify, not divide, and he delivers the remarks from a vantage point where one would not question his experiences or his positioning.
With that being said he touches very little on the new race that divides our nation, and he focuses on areas that are safe. He ventures very little on the new Brown vs. Board of Education or the segregation developing in politics. The greatest divide we currently face in this nation, is not color or creed, but political affiliation. It’s hard to deny that Obama is a beneficiary of race, or his personal story places him in the persuasive middle of the color argument. This is why the race subject is safe for him. But the destructive forces of political posturing are overcoming this nation and dividing us from within.
Why have we come this far? Why does Obama’s name create sudden divide in the masses? Why do we venture to the point of routing for failure just to be right? Why do we fill the pockets of the egocentric individuals whose sole purpose is to divide this great nation? When will we arrive back to the point in time when compromise was the end solution and not a “my way or the highway” mentality? Obama starts his speech with an illustration concerning the Framers of our Constitution. He elicited memories of the first signing of the Constitution by individuals who were no more philosophically divided then the people are today. The difference? Compromise was sought in all matters. The original patriots were able to lock themselves in a room and work together to arrive at a common outcome. No 24 hour CSPAN to record what today would be perceived as weakness. No media filtration to paint a picture supporting their viewer’s perceptions. No posturing that would not be called out for what it really is. Obama has often said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. But selective sunlight creates flawed arguments and black marks on political discussions.
We all agree that healthcare needs to be fixed. We all agree that illegal immigration is a problem. We all agree that terrorism threatens our moral standards. We all agree that poverty can be corrected. And we agree that greed is overcoming our capitalistic roots. What we disagree on is government’s role regarding solutions to these issues. But disagreement is not foreign to our political dialogue. Do you think the conservative right was aligned with Reagan’s decision to provide amnesty to four million illegal immigrants? Or the liberal left was aligned to Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act? With 300+ million citizens disagreements will come. The problem we now face is our tolerance with reaching across the aisle to come to a unified agreement.
Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech details very little of this national crisis. Part of me believes that he was naive or miscalculated the political divide we now face. He misjudged the alarming influence the media has on steering opinions instead of presenting facts. Case in point: Obama is doing exactly what he said he would do while on the campaign trail. He passed a stimulus bill. He passed healthcare reform. He passed cap and trade legislation. He increased troops to Afghanistan. Yet his popularity has never been lower.
We as Americans have disingenuous dialogue based on differences not similarities. We seek opposition not unification. We are color coded, not by skin color, but by geography and ideology. We seek to stereotype, not by pedigree, but by affiliation.
The hard reality is that we have no one to blame but ourselves. We do not demand the serious conversation needed to repair the divide. We cater to entertainment instead of enlightenment. Our sources of information are limited to 45 second sound bites; hardly enough information needed for compromising and identifying. In Obama’s speech I remember distinctly his awareness of the success this great country afforded him. He stated that no other country could have vaulted a man from his background to the levels he has now ascertained. As fear and anger creep into our discussions I wonder if ideology becomes the new skin color, and party becomes the new religion. If there is one overarching theme I share with Obama’s speech, it’s that reality needs to drive our perceptions, not perceptions driving our reality.
(My favorite speech Obama has ever delivered was right after he lost the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton)
A couple points of response:
If any company takes taxpayer dollars, then by right of being a shareholder, taxpayers should have some say in how the company operates. I completely agree with you regarding the government's lack of industry expertise, but at the same time if the banking industry is going to benefit from my investment, as a stockholder, I have a right to their profits.
Same with the insurance companies. Medicaid and Medicare pay billions to insurance companies to regulate healthcare. What do we get in return? Larger premiums and poor coverage while the share holders rake in the profits. With government being the largest customer of private insurance companies, they have a right to demand better service, lower premiums, and higher quality of care. If an insurance company does not want to deal with the government's request, capitalism steps in. The insurance company needs to drop the government as a customer and the market will pick up the slack. However, insurance companies understand current legislation has been written in their favor. The government has legislated high barriers to entry and strict state to state competition laws. You and I have limited choices in what insurance companies we can purchase from, stifling competition. To make matters worse insurance companies are protected by anti-trust legislation making it harder to pin responsibility on price fixing and collusion.
Similar condition with with drug companies. Drug companies (with the help of Republicans) wrote price fixing laws into the 2003 Medicare bill making it illegal for the government to directly negotiate pricing. As a result the largest buyer of drugs pays the highest price. Capitalism or intervention? Drugs are cheaper in Mexico and Canada for the sheer reason of market forces. Now I wish the best for the pharma industry. I hope they make billions in profits. They should be rewarded for their innovation. However it’s a double edged sword to play the victim of legislation that encourages the use of free market concepts to drive down profits. The drug companies have been sucking the tax dollars from our wallets with no repercussions of the price gauging they have regulated.
Now, "Obamacare" fixes several of these issues. It protects consumers from being dropped when their health takes a turn for the worse. It reinstates the government’s power to negotiate drug prices. It creates an insurance exchange to allow small businesses to band together and negotiate like massive corporations. Several of these concepts are free market principles. Now, I am not sure how I feel about mandating every citizen to buy healthcare. Obviously cutting down on emergency room care through scale would be a huge cost saver, and one of the driving principles of this legislation. I am also not sure if regulating small businesses to provide healthcare is a wise market principle either. However, economics will teach you that there are vast economies of scale as competition increases and demand rises. This is exactly why we can cover more people, using market principles, at a lower cost per individual. Is the healthcare bill perfect? No. But it is definitely better then the legislation we currently have in place. The CBO, a non-partisan organization, has projected the bill will be covered by forecasted costs already in the system (I guess we should thank the Republicans for that – the Medicare 2003 bill was quite an expensive entitlement program!) and increasing payroll taxes on individuals making over $250,000.
With Obama’s plan to let the Bush Tax cuts expire in 2010, there has been an onslaught of media attention concerning his budgetary decisions. Phrases like “socialism”, “re-distribution of wealth”, and “tax hikes” are being associated with President Obama’s fiscal policies to discredit his approach. Obama has been open and direct concerning who his tax policies are targeting. The interesting part of the situation? There has never been such an uproar from the middle class fighting for the benefits of the wealthy.
Now to be clear I have little issue with the wealthy, or their personal incomes. Athletes, actors, stock brokers, and executives are all paid based on market conditions. I do believe that the wealthy are the largest benefactors of governmental regulation. We live in a mixed market economy, not a free market. The government regulates trade, blocks monopolies, and protects intellectual property. Almost all of the bailout money went to save the shareholders of large corporations and free up credit markets which have the largest impact on the wealthy.
The richest Americans have been the largest recipients of tax cuts over the past 30 years. Starting with Jimmy Carter’s administration, the highest tax rates have been cut in half to present day levels (70% to 35%). The wealthy have also seen the largest jump in income. From 1992 to 2004 upper class income rose from 111,000 to 154,000 (+39%). Over the same time period median wages only increased from 39,000 to 43,000 (+10%). So, over the past 30 years the wealthy have seen their taxes decrease by 50%, and their incomes increase by 39%. (Inflation adjusted for all above examples)
What many Americans do not realize is the vast redistribution of wealth over this period. Whenever tax rates are cut disproportionately, tax burden shifts among classes. Regarding the 2002 and 2003 tax cuts, families making $60,000 saw their tax payments drop by $1,000. In contrast, the wealthiest 1% saw their annual tax bill drop by $58,000. This resulted in a dramatic swing in tax burden to the middle and lower classes and redistributed wealth to the upper class.
President Obama’s plan is to close the gap on the federal deficit by allowing the Bush tax cuts of 2002 and 2003 to expire. This would increase the tax bracket of the wealthiest (single taxpayer making more then $357,000) from 35% currently, to 39%.*** This would return some of the tax burden back to the wealthy, and redistribute the wealth back to the middle class. Before the middle class rejects Obama's policies, they should remember upper class Americans never asked for the Bush tax cuts, and certainly didn't need them.
***Now, before you drop your jaw regarding these figures remember this is a bracket, and tax brackets can be misleading. A family of four with household income of $365,000 claiming $100,000 in deductions actually pays about 17% in income tax. In comparison, an average family of four with income of 150,000 and deductions of $30,000 falls into a 25% bracket, but only pays about 12% in tax. An average family of four with income of 70,000 and no deductions falls into a 15% bracket, but only pays about 5% in tax.