Thursday, July 15, 2010

Midterm Referendum

The Senate passed financial reform legislation that President Barack Obama will sign into law next Wednesday. This legislation will address many of the problems that led to the near total collapse of the American economy.

This is the latest in an impressive list of successes by President Obama, which should be winning him praise from Americans and political pundits. Yet the President continues to struggle in national polls and his party's control of Congress is threatened.

Just look at the huge legislative victories the Obama White House has had since taking office. Last year Congress, over fierce Republican opposition, passed a $787 billion stimulus package that has saved or added more than 2.5 million jobs since it was enacted according to many estimates. The president continued the TARP program for ailing banks and invested in the failing American auto industry. The large banks have now repaid their loans with interest and are experiencing robust profits, and the U.S. auto industry is surging back as well.

In an historic move, and following a brutal battle, President Obama was able to sign major health care reform legislation into law, which extends coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans and eliminated pre-existing conditions as an insurance loophole. President Obama also appointed the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that will enable women to be paid equally to men for their work.

Nonetheless, a stubbornly high unemployment rate and slowly recovering economy, a burgeoning national debt, a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, continue to weigh heavily on the Obama presidency. And Republicans are doing all they can to focus the attention of Americans on these issues despite the fact that they had a major hand in creating the mess.

As a consequence, Democrats face the real prospect of losing control of the House of Representatives during this fall's Midterm elections. Of course the party in power usually does suffer loses during these elections, but many Democrats who won in Republican districts because of Obama are now vulnerable.

The Republican agenda is to make this coming election a referendum on President Obama. For sure the president's approval ratings are down. But the Republican Party's approval ratings are significantly lower. And it is no surprise because, other than saying no to health care reform, to financial reform and apologizing to BP for the way it has been treated by the White House, it appears that their big idea is to extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy. They do not offer a "Contract with America" that helped them win the 1994 Midterms.

The White House and the Democratic Party must energize voters this November, especially independents, to retain control. This will be a major challenge with unemployment at nearly 10%. It must also get members of the progressive wing of its party to enthusiastically embrace the president's achievements even if they view them as not going far enough.

Democrats, the White House and President Obama must more effectively and passionately communicate to the voters that under their leadership the country is moving in the right direction again. And the focus of their agenda must be to create jobs.

Friday, July 9, 2010

French Holiday

France is especially beautiful this time of year and teeming with vacationers and tourists. But here it is easy to see the impact of the ongoing economic turmoil that is roiling Europe. This is not to say the French people are despondent, after all it is holiday time in France.

Paris is alive with energy and passion. The banks of the Seine are populated in the evenings with picnickers and young lovers. The sidewalks of Boulevard Saint Germain as well as the Avenue des Champs-Élysée are bustling, even though their stores are not. Boats laden with sightseers slowly make their way past the Ile de la Cite where the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris towers above an endless stream of tourists from around the world. There are also lengthy lines of visitors waiting to ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The World Cup matches in South Africa have captivated the attention most Parisians. Tens of thousands of young men and women gather in a park to watch the matches on a huge television screen regardless of who is playing.

In the richly colorful Provence, with its uniquely blue skies, vibrant trees with varying shades of green and an abundance of pink, purple and yellow flowers, the crowds seem smaller than usual. Clothing and jewelry stores are not full and many display sale signs. Many of the restaurants are not doing well.

In the Cote d'Azur, also known as the French Riviera, carefree crowds fill the beaches from Nice to Monaco and romp in the cool sea. Nonetheless, this wealthy region is not immune to the economic downturn. Many hotels, stores and restaurants are struggling even though this is their most important season for business. Thank goodness for the Russians, they are everywhere. In fact, one hotel employee observed that his hotel is fully booked between June and the end of August and 40% of the bookings are Russians. But, he quickly noted with a smile, "The Americans are coming back!"

France is always wonderful to visit. But some things are a bit annoying. For instance, when are these people going to get the memo about smoking? To France's credit, many cities forbid smoking inside a restaurant, unless you are a star or celebrity. Why don't bathtubs have better drains? Perhaps it is because the local population does not as frequently use showers. Why does it take so many people to get anything done? At one hotel it appeared that a full time person was assigned only to staple documents together, like the final bill.

Of course, you should know that according French law the tip is built in to your restaurant or hotel bill. Yet on credit card receipts the word "tip" appears just below the subtotal. If one asks the waiter whether the tip is included the answer may very well be "no", or the waiter may act as if he has just forgotten his English. He may be thinking, “Thank God the Americans are coming back!”