Monday, February 23, 2009

Barack Obama's Birth Certificate

Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, says he hasn't seen President Barak Obama's birth certificate and, therefore, he doesn't know if the president is a natural born citizen, a constitutional requirement to become president. Senator, in case you don't know how to Google, and should you happen to see this Blog, here is Obama's birth certificate. It shows the president was born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, which was granted statehood in August 1959.

Senator Shelby was the chairman of the powerful Senate Banking Committee during the Bush administration, a period when banks enjoyed unprecedented deregulation. Given today's financial crisis, I can only assume that the birth certificate is not the only thing he failed to see.

Was Senator Shelby's comment about Obama an innocent mistatement of the facts? Or was it an irresponible political statement designed to undermine the president who enjoys strong public support? In either case, is it something a leading American statesman should say?

Do you suppose that Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed when administering the oath of office because he wasn't sure Obama was a natural born citizen? Maybe he checked before swearing in the president a second time?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

What is Fair?

President Barack Obama has repeatedly spoken of the sacrifice all Americans will have to make in order to get this country back on track. Now, as he begins to take steps to meet the challenge of restoring our economy and building a strong foundation for our future, some people are calling his initiatives unfair.

Was it fair that this country's debt more than doubled over the past eight years? Was it fair that unnecessary and wasteful spending was allowed to continue during that period? Was it fair that largely unregulated banks were allowed to make huge profits on complicated and obscure money schemes that still today plague the world's economy? Was it fair that mortgage-lenders preyed on aspiring homeowners, lured with visions of having a piece of the American dream? Was it fair that speculators flipped properties faster than a Roger Clemens fastball? Was it fair that some homeowners decided to reach beyond their means in an effort to have a bigger house and a huge payoff someday? Was it fair that, while all this was going on, Congress had devolved into bitter political gridlock based on political agendas and egos? America and most Americans chose not to acknowledge the financial bubble was growing, that the system was wildly over leveraged and that it could explode at any moment. What was everyone thinking?

Now all Americans are on the hook big time. The government has thrown billions of dollars at a failed banking system in an effort to stabilize the economy. Is that fair? The government has bailed out insurance companies. Is that fair? The government has allocated billions of dollars to American automobile companies with failed business plans. Is that fair? Now the government has passed a multi-billion dollar stimulus bill to preserve or create jobs. Is that fair? Meanwhile, plants are closing, 401K's are shrinking, housing values are declining, employment lines are growing as is the number of Americans who do not have proper health care. Is that fair?

In his proposals, President Obama has tried to balance what is best for the country with what is fair for each individual. This is a nearly impossible task. Take Obama's housing plan, which could cost taxpayers as much as $275 billion, but may help as many as nine million homeowners avert foreclosure. Critics are yelling "unfair" because the plan is rewarding "bad behavior." But haven't we already rewarded bad behavior? It was even suggested that a Web site be created where Americans could vote on whether they "really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages." Sure, and maybe we can vote on all those other government bailouts too!

These are not ordinary times, so extraordinary steps must be taken. While differences of opinion should be heard, at the end of the day actions must be taken now. President Obama was elected to lead our country in a new direction. He is quickly addressing the numerous problems that afflict our country and threaten its future. His remedies are not perfect for each American. It will take time; it will take patience. But it is time to lower our voices, reduce partisan bickering and self-interest. It is time to step up and increase our willingness to move forward as one nation.

Recently Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, declared, "It's the end of a certain kind of selfish capitalism." He continued, "(This is a time) when we have to reflect...on what are the things that nourish the values, the virtues, we want to have." He concluded, " Capitalism needs to be underpinned with regulation and moral purpose."

Let us all reflect on what made our country great as we try to make America healthy again.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Rather Special

Dan Rather is a uniquely important figure in broadcast journalism and his influence has been felt around the world.

So my class of graduate journalism students at New York University were particularly thrilled to hear Dan reflect on his remarkable career, including reporting the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War and Watergate. I questioned Dan for about an hour before an overflow crowd at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute Thursday afternoon.

Dan stressed to students the importance of writing; he suggested that they practice every day. Dan was particularly emotional when talking about the special responsibility of American journalists and how their role was protected in the constitution by our founding fathers.

The students described Dan's remarks as inspirational, and they swarmed over him for photos. You see, Dan Rather is a Rock Star!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Where's My Goat Cheese Salad?

Zoe and Susan dashed off for Los Angeles early last Sunday morning to attend the Grammy awards, for which Susan had managed to obtain two "all-access" passes. She had produced a Grammy special which aired on CBS the preceding Wednesday; it was anchored by Katie Couric.

Zoe and Susan attended the rehearsal, and sat in the front row next to Sir Paul McCartney, as the musicians went through their numbers. A problem arose when word was received that Chris Brown had beaten his girlfriend Rhianna. Their opening number had to be scrapped and Justin Timberlake was tapped to come up with a substitute. He was able to find Al Green and the two put something together. Timberlake worked hard to produce a stellar number.

Following the rehearsal Susan and Zoe talked with Timberlake for a few minutes, and then Susan was able to get a picture of Zoe and Al Green, which I posted on my Facebook site. Many of my Telemundo Miami friends commented on how Zoe had grown and referred to an incident involving goat cheese that had taken place years before in a Miami restaurant nearby my apartment on Brickle Key.

Zoe was not even four years old when she and Susan came to Miami for a few days vacation while I worked. One night we went out to dinner with a group from Telemundo. As the waiter took our drink orders Zoe said, "I want misghetti (spaghetti)with tomato sauce and a goat cheese salad." The waiter acknowledged her order and returned a couple minutes later with our drinks.

Impatiently, Zoe spoke up, "where's my goat cheese salad?" The waiter immediately retreated to the kitchen and returned with the salad. Everyone was laughing, but Zoey was earnest in her demand. And she didn't hesitate to begin eating the minute the salad was in front of her.

Sometimes the littlest things can leave a big impression.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Surprise Visitor

This past Saturday six New York families came together for the twelfth time to celebrate the successful adoption of their "Chinese daughters." In late January 1997 we traveled as a group to pick up our daughters in Hefei, Anhui province, a city of 5 million people about 200 miles west of Shanghai.

One year later we gathered around our one year old girls and watched them crawl on the carpet of our living room. They shook rattles, squeezed dolls and played with musical toys that blinked and glowed. We fed the girls milk and baby food. The parents were mostly agile, anxious and loving. How life does quickly move on!

Now picture twelve adults sitting on sofas and chairs, each with a glass of wine, and all discussing whether their daughter should join Facebook and MySpace. Agility had been slowed by arthritis, anxiety by alcohol, and our love had matured.

Meanwhile the girls were together downstairs putting on makeup, eyeliner, lipstick and blush. Some tried on dresses and shoes, others listened to the music of Faith Hill and Katie Perry. Those who could used Facebook or MySpace made their sisters jealous by linking to their home page. And boys? Yes, there was discrete discussion of boys. These girls had come together from Rochester, Scarsdale, Brooklyn, Long Island and Manhattan. But they are all linked together by a single shared event. And they stay in touch via email and text.

They ate turkey chili, pasta, pigs-in-a-blanket, salad and cake. They drank sprite and orange juice. There were a few spills, but nothing disastrous. And our seven pound Maltese, Cleo, tried to stay up with the "big girls" as best she could.

At one point a surprise guest, Katie Couric, came by with a friend to say hello. She is a wonderful role model for our girls. Just take a look:

Georgina, Leah, Halle, Anna, Zoe, Cleo, Katie, Lily, Sydney, Caroline

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rewarding Failure

President Barack Obama had harsh words for Wall Street. Americans are frustrated as well. Yet it seems that Wall Street still doesn't get it.

One time Merrill Lynch head John Thain spent more than a million dollars to remodel his office; he just doesn't get it. Citibank had to be shamed into canceling an order for a $50 million corporate jet; they just don't get it. Citibank is also spending $400 million in naming rights at the new Shea Stadium in New York; they just don't get it. Bank of America is negotiating for a sponsorship arrangement with the Yankees that will cost millions of dollars; they just don't get it. And, most recently, the Bank of America spent millions of dollars on a Super Bowl party; they really don't get it.

“They just don’t get it,” is the oft-repeated refrain from every corner of America these days, especially from Capitol Hill, where they know how to seize an issue and run with it. Now the heads of several Wall Street firms have been summoned to appear before Congress to answer questions. Questions like, how do these expenditures benefit taxpayers? Memo to Wall Street: the old way of doing business is over if a company is on life support and needs a huge transfusion of federal taxpayer money to bail it out.

Nowadays America’s financial markets appear to be one giant bottomless pit. This is the result of a few bankers who severely damaged our financial system, largely by taking advantage of less regulation and gaming a system that rewarded increased risk. And they were paid handsomely to do so!

Meanwhile, ten of thousands of Americans, many of whom are now struggling to survive financially, are the collateral damage from this turmoil. And layoff announcements are coming out daily from every sector of the American workforce.

New York Governor David Paterson spelled out the magnitude of Wall Street’s carnage in his state Monday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. The governor now estimates the state’s annual budget deficit will be $15.4 billion dollars, up from a projected $5 billion just a few months ago. The bottom has dropped out, and since Wall Street related business makes up 20% of state revenue, the deficit is likely to grow. In response, the governor has proposed deep across the board cuts in his next budget, including education and even critical health expenditures. More and more governors are facing this economic tsunami as it sweeps across the country. California may go bankrupt in a month!

So, it is understandable that news of $18.4 billion bonus payments by Wall Street banks led to public outrage. Most people who work on Wall Street are paid relatively low salaries and count on a bonus to help meet their expenses. The average year-end bonus was about $112,000. Nonetheless, the problem is that many of these institutions failed; their losses were enormous. And the government had to loan them billions of dollars to keep them afloat. Bonuses were paid for failing? Perception is reality.

I just don’t get why they don’t get it.