Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Presidential Leadership

He is not going to be dramatic or emotional, just accept it. He is not going to pound his fists on the table or rant and rave. He is not going to suddenly change course in reaction to daily tracking polls or political pundits. Rather, he thinks long term, listens carefully to diverse opinions, gets information first hand, ponders deeply all of the possible outcomes and implications, and he will always apply a thoughtful process to difficult problems.

It is striking that, for someone who is so addicted to his BlackBerry, President Barack Obama seems to be unmoved by nattering commentators and partisan pundits who are ubiquitous in a multi-channel media world. They fling pithy comments, blog pointed barbs, always with their own spin, in hopes of being the one to get a rise out of the president. The fact that he doesn't lose his cool, or he doesn't raise his voice, drives even his most ardent supporters a little crazy. For sure, the president has had missteps, miscalculations and misjudgments. But in the end he believes all that matters are results.

And what a difference a day makes. President Obama was widely criticized by pundits for delivering an address to the nation Monday night that was "lacking in details." Yet this speech, Obama's first from the Oval Office, crisply covered what had happened, what was being done to fix the problem, and what America has to do to end its dependency on foreign oil. It was a very good speech.

Within hours most of those same critics were praising the president for major concessions he had negotiated from BP. The company has agreed to put $20 billion into an escrow account to be used to pay claims and the cleanup associated with the reckless oil spill that is still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Further, BP will put aside $100 million to be used for oil workers idled due to the six-month moratorium on deep-water oil drilling ordered by President Obama. BP also announced that it will not pay its shareholders dividends this year. Together these are significant steps by BP that came together as a result of the president's leadership.

Remarkably, now some Republicans are critical of these concessions. Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas actually apologized to BP saying, "I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday." Of the escrow fund Barton said, " I think it is a tragedy in the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown -- in this case a $20 billion shakedown." And Mississippi's Republican Governor Haley Barbour criticized the fund because he feels the $20 billion would be better invested in more off shore oil drilling and new jobs. Republicans could find themselves backed into a corner if they continue to take positions like these.

Meanwhile the president continues to pressure BP to stop the leak and to focus on the cleanup and claims process. Nothing BP does can bring back the eleven oil workers killed in the initial explosion. Perhaps the oil industry, the regulators and the federal government all can begin to make amends by implementing meaningful regulations for oil drilling and by innovating new sources of energy that would be the beginning of the end of America's dependence on fossil fuels.

President Obama enters the final lap to the 2010 mid term elections with an enormous amount on his plate, both foreign and domestic. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars continue overseas; Iran and North Korea and the threat of nuclear weapons; Israel's security and the Gaza blockade; the growing economic crisis in Europe; America's stubbornly high unemployment rate; the national debt; financial reform; the looming entitlement problem; immigration legislation and security on the border all remain top priorities for the president and his time. Now, because of what may be the greatest man made disaster ever, energy legislation has moved to the head of the line, although there may not be enough time left on the Congressional calender to pass something this year.

The president knows that, just as with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a major crisis can occur at any moment. In such times Americans look to the president for leadership. President Obama has done just about all he can do within his power to take on the Gulf oil spill. No amount of theater and atmospherics would change the reality of the situation. Fixing the problem, compensating all of the victims and cleaning up the mess are the top priorities. So, as we enter the third month of this crisis, President Obama finds himself fully engaged in a crisis that may define the future of his party.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Blackhawks Win the Stanley Cup!

"Shot and a gooooooaaaal!"

The Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane wristed a shot under the stick of the Philadelphia Flyers' goalie Michael Leighton for the sudden death victory in overtime Wednesday. With that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup Trophy for the first time since 1961.

Kane and Jonathan Toews, the series MVP, and their teammates outmatched the Flyers with speed and talent. The Flyers were tenacious, but they could not overcome the unrelenting Blackhawk offense and strong defense.

Chicago is one of the original six franchises of the National Hockey League. It had been in decline for the last forty years primarily due to stingy ownership. But Rocky Wirtz became owner a couple years ago, taking over for his father, and pledged to bring a trophy to Chicago.

Wirtz focused on bringing in a mixture of proven veterans and a lot of youthful players. This team is deep, every line is loaded with talent. Fast, quick, big bodied, the Blackhawks can be physical as well as graceful. This is the NHL 2010.

The "Golden Jet" Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita led the Blackhawks to their 1961 victory. Hull was a superstar then, fast and quick, he could split the defensemen and then blow a slapshot by the goalie. Today Hull would be just another of the star players on the Blackhawks' roster.

In 1948 my grandmother attended a Blackhawk game during a visit from her home in New Orleans. She loved it so much she reportedly told my dad, "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out"

Last night I watched a hockey game and history was made.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lady Gaga Goes Gaga

Lady Gaga attended her sister's high school graduation ceremony at the prestigious Sacred Heart Catholic girl's school Tuesday wearing a very revealing gown. Our street was closed because a part of the ceremony took place at the Brick Church which is right across from our house.

Now I ask you, is this dress a bit too much? Does Lady Gaga like being the center of attention? After all, it was her sister's day to bask in the glow of the sun.

And another thought, was this dress cleared in advance by the Bishop or the Vatican? What did the Nuns think of this dress? Perhaps that Lady Gaga has some bad habits?

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Perfect Game

It is a shame that Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga was not able to enter the record books for one of baseball's rarest feats. But I cannot recall the names of but a couple of those pitchers who recorded a perfect game. I will always remember how Armando Galarraga handled the blown call.

To err is human. But to immediately admit a mistake, especially one of such historic meaning, is almost against human nature. I will always remember American League umpire Jim Joyce for how he handled his blown call.

To those who say the call should be over turned, I say don't change a thing, do not rewrite history.

This was the ultimate teaching moment. This is the ultimate meaning of sportsmanship. This is one of the greatest moments in any sport, ever.

This was the perfect game.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"W" on Facebook

Perhaps President George W. Bush now thinks it's safe to raise his profile again. He has allowed his team to create a Facebook page in his name. While it is not possible to "friend" him, it sure is possible for supporters to rave enthusiastically about how they miss him.

What's this all about? Perhaps it has something to do with the gushing oil leak that is likely to continue uncontrolled in the Gulf of Mexico until September? Perhaps it has something to do with the stubborn unemployment rate? Perhaps it has something to do with the midterm elections? I would guess it is part of a GOP strategy to tippy-toe "W" into the spotlight and allow him to help out where he remains popular. Especially since President Barack Obama's personal popularity is sliding because of the ceaseless problems popping up almost daily.

Take a look:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


A picture is worth a thousand words. Reflect for a moment on the image of a rain drenched President Barack Obama holding an umbrella during a driving rainstorm while guiding Illinois Memorial Day attendees to head for cover. When it rains it pours.

Of course, had the President Obama decided to visit Arlington National cemetery he would have been bathed in sunlight and avoided any criticism. Never mind that other presidents have chosen not to lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day. The point is the president left himself vulnerable to attack from detractors who have a political or personal interest by furthering negative perceptions of the president.

This is playing itself out on the Gulf Coast too, where an oil gusher continues to spew crude into the Gulf of Mexico. BP's deep-water drill explosion, which took 11 lives, may very well become the subject of a criminal investigation. It appears that short cuts were taken, less expensive methods were implemented and BP ignored regulations. This is a recurring pattern for BP, the most fined petroleum company ever.

From the beginning, the U.S. government has been managing BP's efforts to stop the leak. It appears that BP is way over its head as every approach has so far failed. The U.S. government does not have the equipment or expertise needed to stop the leak, which emanates from a well nearly one mile under the sea. The government is left to focusing on containing the spill and beginning the clean up.

Nonetheless, the president and the White House are coming under increased attack from all sides for their handling of the disaster. Yes the president should not have relied on the BP estimates of leaking oil; after all they want to minimize the damage out of business motivations. Yes the president could have spent more time on the Gulf Coast rather than head off for a family holiday in Chicago. Yes the president could have sent in General Colin Powell and several thousand troops in a massive show of force. But none of these steps would have stopped the leak.

The primary criticisms of the president have to do with "optics." He "looks like" he isn't passionate. He "looks like" he isn't engaged. So a narrative is beginning to be promulgated among conservative critics that the president is not competent. But this is like calling the Los Angeles Lakers losers because they get out scored in the first quarter.

The president got a stimulus package passed and it has been credited by most economists as stemming the loss of U.S jobs. The president supported further bailouts to the ailing banks that are now stabilized and have repaid much of the taxpayer loans with interest. The president stood behind the American auto industry to the tune of billions of dollars and now the car companies are well on the road to recovery, which preserves thousands of jobs.

Healthcare reform expended a lot of energy and political good will, but now 31 million more Americans have health care, no one can be eliminated from coverage due to a prior condition, and the spiraling costs of health care now have more controls. The president and Congress are nearing completion of financial reform, which will be an important first step to avoiding another devastating financial collapse. The president appointed the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court, and he will soon get Congressional approval for his second court appointment.

Sadly the 1,000th American soldier died in Afghanistan. Soon this will be America's longest war. The president, following the recommendations of his military, authorized a huge buildup to give our mission the best chance of success. Had he pulled out he would have faced withering criticism from the right and center. There are now more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq, where American troops are being drawn down.

The president is working hard with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deal with the North Koreans, a nuclear power, through diplomatic channels using tough sanctions. The American government outed North Korea for its sinking of a South Korean vessel. Meanwhile, President Obama is trying to rally all major powers to crack down on Iran's nuclear program. A military attack on these installations would likely result is heavy civilian casualties and turn most of the population against America. Diplomacy must be allowed to run its course.

This is a particularly complex and sensitive region. Israel's attack on a flotilla of relief ships intended to break the blockade on Gaza instantly led to international condemnation. Israel's General Counsel said that terrorists on one of the ships attacked Israeli commandos who were acting within international law in boarding the ship. The United States has now drawn fire because it has supported Israel. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of anti-Israeli protestors took to the streets in many European and Middle Eastern cities. President Obama will have to walk a fine line as more facts from this incident become known.

With growing deficits, slow economic recovery, a constant threat of terrorism and the imminent need for immigration reform, there are plenty more challenges for the Obama administration. For Republicans it may seem productive to turn political disagreements and past battles lost into questions of this president's competency. The president's record of achievement will speak for itself. In the end, however, all Republicans will do is remind American voters who got us into this mess in the first place.