Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Donald

Clearly billionaire Donald Trump is enjoying all the attention he is receiving as he deliberates a run for the White House in 2012. But should he throw his hat into the ring he will not enjoy the scrutiny his political positions, extensive investments and personal life will receive.

For sure, these are difficult times for America. They include a stubborn unemployment rate at about 9%. Burgeoning annual deficits and a crippling national debt cast a grim shadow over its future. A weak housing market, the loss of manufacturing jobs, an under-performing educational system and a rapidly aging population are daunting challenges. Immigration policy has not been reformed and crime remains a concern along the southern border with Mexico. Then there is the matter of China's growing economic power, its undervalued Renminbi and uncontrolled piracy.

America faces the threat of terrorism every minute. Meanwhile, the country is engaged in two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, and a coalition military action against Libya's Colonel Muammar Qadhafi. Iran is meddling throughout the Mideast while not so secretly developing nuclear weapons. The region extending from Tunisia to Iran is convulsed in popular uprisings and civil war, which is putting tremendous strains on American diplomacy. America's close ally Israel is in a most precarious position as violence against it is escalating.

Japan's recent nuclear disaster is a shocking reminder of how even the best laid plans can go wrong in a flash, and raises questions about the future role of nuclear power in this country. This and the huge BP oil spill last summer in the Gulf of Mexico reflect the urgent need for a national energy policy.

Of course these are just a few of the issues President Barack Obama is facing every day. And meeting these challenges is made exponentially more difficult by the political divisiveness plaguing Washington and the nation.

These are also among the questions Donald Trump will have to answer if he chooses to run for the White House. So far no leading Republican has formally entered the race. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has announced he is forming an exploratory committee. Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann is expected to follow suit shortly. And former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been barnstorming the nation in anticipation of his candidacy.

In a recent CNN poll Donald Trump finished fifth among a list of likely Republican presidential candidates in 2012. Trump got 10% of those polled among Republicans or independents leaning Republican. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee got 19%, Mitt Romney got 18 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 14 percent, and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin drew 12 percent.

That's not a bad showing for the undeclared real estate mogul, although his name recognition may be a factor in the polling. The Donald is the ultimate showman. He owns the Miss Universe Organization, which produces Miss USA, and runs a reality show called The Apprentice. His name hangs on the front of resorts, casinos, golf courses and real estate developments across the country. And his private jet boldly carries his name.

Trump has said he will decide by June because that is when he has to make a commitment to another season of The Apprentice. This is the program where Trump dismisses contestants with a glare and the words "You're fired." But running for president will mean more than just giving up his beloved television program. Trump, a well-known germophobe, will actually have to shake hands with likely voters. Yet this is a sacrifice he says he is ready to make, "If I decide to run, I will be shaking hands with everybody."

Trump has increased his media exposure to speak about what is wrong with this country. He has said that America is a now a joke. He has criticized Washington's dealings with China, "Nobody, other than OPEC, is ripping off the United States like China." And he has recently inserted himself into the "birther" movement making a demand of President Obama, "I want him to show the birth certificate."

Trump is a smart and successful businessman. He seeks money, power and attention. He is blunt and opinionated. He does not speak in poetry and he does not govern in prose. For these reasons it is unlikely he will run for president.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan's Tragedy

As America expresses its deepest sympathies to the people of Japan for the painful tragedy that has befallen that great nation, it is still hard to grasp the enormity of the disaster. Thousands of its citizens have been killed in this historic natural calamity that has been exacerbated by a still raging man-made nuclear catastrophe.

The horrific images of towns and villages being swept away by a massive tsunami underscore the frailty of mankind's existence. The giant cracks in the earth's surface are a reminder that fate is most often arbitrary and random.

The search for the thousands of missing souls is frequently interrupted by tsunami warnings. Layers upon layers of destruction obstruct the efforts. How many days, hours, and minutes more can survivors live trapped beneath the rubble without nourishment and warmth? How many were washed into the ocean when the massive tidal wave surged back to the sea?

Now the Japanese are facing perhaps an even greater peril. The country is heavily reliant on nuclear power. No country has taken greater care with the design and building of these plants than the Japanese. And yet their best laid plans have failed. The Fukushima Daiichi reactors have overheated due to damage from the earthquake and tsunami. They have begun to leak radioactive material into the environment threatening nearby residents and, depending on the wind, perhaps millions more. Even more alarming is the fact that it may take weeks or months to end the threat.

The earthquake, measuring an astounding 9.0 on the Rickter Scale, tore through the northern portion of Japan and moved the entire country eight feet to the east. As a result, the earth's axis shifted about six inches and each day will be nearly two millionths of a second shorter.

Rescue and support teams are coming into Japan from all around the world to provide assistance. The damage is already estimated at $100 billion, but it is too early to know for sure. Because Japan is the world's third largest economy, the financial aftershocks are being felt from Tokyo to London to Wall Street.

Still in the grips of their catastrophe, the people of Japan are stoic, reserved and accepting of their suffering and misfortune. They quietly sit in freezing and poorly furnished shelters that have no power or heat. Hungry and thirsty, they stand in long lines waiting for a few scraps of food and water. They calmly accept their quota of gasoline after waiting for hours. Their courage in the face of overwhelming adversity is almost incomprehensible.

But the Japanese have overcome a destructive world war. They have recovered from the uncertain difficulties of a "lost decade" brought on when their economy collapsed in the early nineties. For sure, iconic images of cars, boats and houses washing across the open fields of northern Japan will last a lifetime. Perhaps the scars will never heal. But, as Japan struggles to right itself, it will certainly recover and rebuild because it is a strong nation with a resilient people.

There will be much for the world to learn from this unimagined tragedy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Huckabee Misspeaks?

Mike Huckabee has not declared he is a candidate for president but the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows he is now the favored candidate among Republicans. 25% of those polled supported the former Arkansas governor and Fox News contributor, edging out former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who had 21% in the poll.

Huckabee, who ran for president in 2008, has always played the nice guy. In his latest book he writes, "If you've come here looking for a personal attack on President (Barack) Obama and those in Washington, you should head to another shelf in the bookstore." The book, which he is busy promoting, is called, "A Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need From Washington (And a Trillion That We Don't!).

Of course, Huckabee was a preacher in Arkansas for twelve years beginning in the early eighties. Television evangelist James Robinson, Huckabee's mentor, said of him, "His convictions shape his character and his character will shape his policies. His whole life has been shaped by moral absolutes." But there is one absolute that this former and future presidential aspirant will not be so moral about, the need to win the Republican base.

The other day conservative talk show host Steve Malzberg asked the former preacher about President Obama, "How come we don't have a health record, we don't have a college record, we don't have a birth certificate?" Previously, Huckabee dismissed questions about President Obama's birth certificate. Not this time!

"I would love to know more," Huckabee said, "What I know is troubling." Shockingly, Huckabee went on to talk about the president's upbringing in Kenya. "If you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya is very different than ours," Huckabee said, "because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather."

President Obama did not grow up in Kenya; he grew up principally in Hawaii, as in the U.S.A., and Indonesia. His father, who he met only briefly as a boy, did not raise young Obama. And the riff about the British appears to have been manufactured out of whole cloth. Subsequently, a Huckabee spokesman said that the former governor "misspoke" and instead meant to say, "he grew up in Indonesia." Indonesia was never British. By the way, is anyone going to talk about the president's mother and her family since they raised him? Well, of course not.

It appears Huckabee is beginning to believe he can win the Republican primary. Most of the potential candidates for the GOP nomination are flawed. Romney has "Romneycare", Newt Gingrich was kicked out of office, Sarah Palin isn't ready to lead the nation, Indiana's Mitch Daniels and Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty have no charisma, and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has made questionable comments about the Civil Rights era. Even better for Huckabee, Chris Christie, the energetic and articulate New Jersey governor, has repeatedly and emphatically said he is not running for president in 2012. Although Governor Christie now says he could win!

The former preacher and state governor from Hope, Arkansas, also President Bill Clinton's birthplace, is now making his move. He will have to win over the Tea Party, the GOP establishment and he will have to re-energize the Christian coalition. Some good old Obama bashing will play well with all of these groups. So it's no more Mr. Nice Guy!