Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Obama's Looking Good

In the words of one long-time Republican, "The Republicans are making President Obama look good." Well, he makes a very good point about the Republican field of presidential candidates.

It appears that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is very frustrated. Despite his energetic campaign and strong debate performances, Romney cannot score more than 25% in polls of Republican voters. The problem is that he has changed positions on key issues in an effort to win more support in his party. And, just in case some Americans haven't noticed, the Democratic National Committee has been airing a political commercial called "Mitt vs. Mitt" that drives the point home.

Romney's campaign has recently resorted to airing a misleading political ad that shows President Barack Obama saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” But then candidate Obama was merely quoting a statement that Senator John McCain had made. When the president's campaign cried foul, Romney responded, "We are obviously getting under their skin."

Romney has dutifully avoided doing any press interviews. That is until he agreed to do a Fox News interview on Tuesday. Fox News anchor Brett Baier asked Romney, "You have been on both sides of many issues." He then cited some flip-flops before asking Romney how voters can trust him. Romney responded, “Your list is just not accurate. We’re going to have to be better informed about my views on issues.” He then looked very defensive for the remainder of the interview.

But if Romney looks uncomfortable, businessman Herman Cain appears under siege. Cain has been repeatedly asked questions about allegations from Ginger White that he had had a thirteen-year affair with her. Cain has already had to defend himself against allegations of sexual harassment involving several other women.

Cain was defiant on Wednesday saying, "They have been trying to do a character assassination on me." He told a crowd of supporters in Ohio, "They are attacking my character, my reputation and my name in order to try and bring me down." Cain has even suggested that Democrats were behind the charges in an effort to help former House Speaker Newt Gingrich win the nomination. Cain has announced he is reevaluating his campaign and he would have an announcement on his future plans next week.

The big winner has been Newt Gingrich. He has surged to the front of the Republican field fueled in part by strong debate performances. But new revelations that Gingrich has earned millions of dollars since leaving office advising health care related companies and the mortgage company Freddie Mac have raised some serious questions. His personal life, a joint appearance with Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi in a global warming ad and ethics violations while in Congress are among issues that he will have to overcome.

Meanwhile, President Obama has been unrelenting in his campaign effort to get his jobs bill passed. His most recent focus has been on extending and expanding the payroll tax cut, which is set to expire at the end of the year. If the payroll tax cuts are not extended it will cost the average American family $1,000. The president has proposed paying for the tax cut by raising taxes by on Americans earning a million dollars or more. Republicans in Congress oppose him saying they want to fund the extension with budget cuts. A majority of Americans support additional taxes on high income earners.

The president's stock is rising as he has stepped up his reelection efforts. And, barring another economic set back, his chances of winning a second term are improving. Meanwhile, with a month to go before the Iowa Caucuses, the Republicans are stumbling badly towards the starting gate.

Friday, November 18, 2011

GOP: Oops

If there is one word that best summarizes some of the Republican presidential candidates, it is the one uttered by Governor Rick Perry himself: "Ooops."

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has found himself on the defensive just as he has secured a position as a frontrunner for his party's nomination. For instance, there are no more reviled institutions for conservative Republicans than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In fact, Gingrich himself has been a most ardent critic. Then came the revelation, by Bloomberg News, that Gingrich had earned nearly $2 million from Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage underwriter, over several years ending in 2008. His campaign says he was not lobbying, he was just offering advice on how to navigate Congress.

But Gingrich has earned a lot of money from corporate clients since leaving office. The New York Times reported that one client was Gundersen Lutheran Health System of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. In July 2009, Gingrich wrote a piece on the Washington Post's Web site praising that organization's efforts to convince patients to have "advance directives" on end-of-life care that if adopted by Medicare would save "$33 billion." But not too long after his comments conservatives were attacking President Obama's health care reform bill that called for end-of-life consultations for Medicare--a.k.a. "death panels." Gingrich then joined the critics.

Gingrich supported a single-payer mandate in the 1990's, which is at the heart of President Obama's health care law and became anathema to conservatives. The Supreme Court will take up the legality of the mandate next year. Gingrich is now opposed to mandates. Maybe he is now opposed to large jewelry purchases from Tiffany's? Should Gingrich get his party's nomination he will face questions about his personal life and the fact that he is the only Speaker of the House to ever have been disciplined for ethics violations.

In the past two months businessman Herman Cain surged to the top of polls among Republican voters. But then reports surfaced that several women accused him of sexual harassment. While he has denied all the charges he has failed to quell the controversy and his campaign has been hurt.

Perhaps even more embarrassing for Cain has been his inability to correctly answer foreign policy questions. He told one interviewer that China "was trying to develop nuclear capability." China has had nuclear weapons since the 1950's. When asked by a Milwaukee Sentinel editorial board about President Obama's handling of the Libyan uprising he struggled for more than a minute and never provided a clear answer. Cain later defended himself in a campaign appearance by saying, "I'm a leader, not a reader."

Texas Governor Rick Perry has stumbled throughout his debate performances. None of his blunders is more problematic than his brain freeze when he tried to name the three federal government agencies that he wanted to eliminate. Ooops! In an effort to get attention away from his struggling campaign, Gov. Perry began airing a political ad accusing President Obama of calling Americans "lazy", which is not true. In fact, the president said that American businesses were "a little bit attract new business into America."

By all appearances, Governor Mitt Romney should be well ahead of his opponents. He has done an effective job in his presidential campaign. But “Romneycare”, the Massachusetts health care bill he passed that served as the basis for President Obama’s health reform law, has dogged him. And his fellow candidates have attacked him for flip-flopping on abortion, gun control and the U.S. auto industry bailout. Romney's approval among Republicans has been stuck at about 25% because most people in his own party don't trust him!

Meanwhile, Representative Michele Bachmann has blown her early lead with gaffes and former Governor Jon Huntsman, President Obama's former ambassador to China, has focused only in New Hampshire, where he is still in single digits. Representative Ron Paul maintains a loyal but small following despite some of his controversial statements.

The GOP primary process has been painful and embarrassing, especially for Republicans. While President Barack Obama faces a tough reelection campaign, the Republican Party seems to be doing all it can to help him obtain his goal. Or, as Governor Perry would say, "Ooops."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Penn State Scandal

The events surrounding the child molestations at Penn State University have shocked the nation. How could the football team's former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, have gotten away with such heinous crimes for so long?

In the wake of the disclosures, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett says his state needs to change its law so that alleged incidents of child abuse are immediately reported to government authorities. Let's make that the law of the land.

Sandusky is charged in a grand jury report with assaulting eight young boys over a 15-year period between 1994 and 2009. Some of the assaults took place on campus both during and after he coached at Penn State. Sandusky's attorney says he disputes the report.

But in 2002, graduate assistant Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a boy in the showers of the athletic facility, yet he did nothing to stop the attack. Rather, McQueary waited until the next morning to inform Penn State Head Football Coach Joe Paterno, who then brought the incident to the attention of the school's athletic director.

Why didn't McQueary try to stop the attack? Why did he wait until the next morning to report it? Why didn't he inform the campus police? Why didn't Paterno immediately inform the campus police? What did the athletic director do with the information? Why did it take so many years for law enforcement to be informed of the allegation? Why did it take nine years for Sandusky to be indicted? How many of these molestations could have been prevented? Are there more victims?

The failure of all those in the know to immediately act is inexcusable. Now charges have been filed against Penn State Athletic Director Timothy Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz for failing to report the abuse to authorities and misleading investigators. But the prosecutors determined that a legal duty to report the alleged abuse did not apply to McQueary and Paterno.

Paterno is a legendary figure in college football; he is an icon. He turned Penn State into a football powerhouse and a hugely profitable program. Paterno was fired last week along with the school's president, Graham Spanier, following the release of the grand jury report. After reporting the incident, McQueary was promoted to a full-time assistant coach. On Friday he was put on administrative leave, and he is now reportedly in protective custody.

Penn State has been rocked by the scandal. This past Saturday, tens of thousands of fans filled Penn State's football stadium to cheer on their team. It was the Nittany Lions first game in decades without Joe Paterno. Before the opening kickoff fans and alumni, along with members of both teams, observed a moment of silence to honor victims of the sex abuse scandal. Penn State fought valiantly throughout the contest but lost to Nebraska 17-14.

How are the innocent victims of the horrendous abuse dealing with this scandal? This case will take a long time to be legally resolved. But the victims will carry their scars for the rest of their lives.

Tragically, thousands of children are the victims of sexual abuse in this country each year. Yet how many cases are never reported?

Governor Corbett said on Fox News, "What I saw was a failure to act, and I always have said your actions speak louder than your words."

It is now time for action.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Geaux #1 LSU

Saturday night's clash between the #1 Louisiana State University Tigers and the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide was among the most memorable games in college football history. In the end, LSU won in Bama's house in overtime, 9-6, securing for another week its position atop the BCS standings.

No doubt about it, these are the most athletic teams in college football. Both teams are flush with huge size, brute strength and blistering speed at most every position. Each team has several first round NFL picks on their roster.

Going into the game Alabama had the nation's top ranked defense and LSU was close behind. Therefore, it was no surprise that their showdown, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, would be a bruising slugfest.

Alabama failed to cash in on several opportunities. Three missed field goals topped the list. Alabama's field goal kicking was awful, and Bama coach Nick Saban had to alternate kickers. But their kick receiving squad also came up short, literally. LSU was pinned deep in their own territory late in the game when their punter, Australian Brad Wing, boomed a 72-yard punt over the head of a hapless Tide returnman.

The play of the game came on a promising Alabama drive into LSU territory. After building some momentum running the ball against LSU's defense, Alabama tried a bit of trickery. While under pressure their star receiver, Marquis Maze, attempted a long pass toward the LSU endzone. As his off-balance throw floated toward Bama receiver Michael Williams, LSU safety Eric Reid quickly got into position.

Reid made an amazing interception that saved the day for LSU. Here's how the Alabama "Rollbamaroll" website describes it, "Michael Williams went up for the football like an 80-year old sales clerk going up to get something off the top shelf of a department store. A 6'7, 265 pound tight end simply cannot lose a jump ball to a 6'2, 210 pound safety. Period. Terrible decision, terrible execution, disastrous result."

Bama also committed too many silly penalties, like "twelve men on the field" and "blocking in the back." But when the game entered overtime Alabama seemed to lose focus and drive. A missed pass, a penalty and a disastrous sack left the Tide with a 52-yard field goal attempt, which fell short.

The Tigers got the ball on the 25-yard line, needing only a field goal to win. LSU coach Les Miles, "The Mad Hatter", called for an option play to the left that almost resulted in a touchdown. Two plays later the Tigers scored a game winning field goal that immediately quieted the disheartened Alabama home crowd.

LSU found a way to win. They were able to pull off several truly outstanding plays during the game. Their energy and enthusiasm was palpable throughout the contest. They consistently played with swagger. Inevitably, this is what separates a winner from the rest.

About 20 million viewers watched LSU's victory over Alabama, the highest rated regular season college football game in a quarter century. 101,000 fans packed the Alabama stadium while tens of thousands tailgated outside. It was the season's most highly anticipated college football match up. An enormous amount was at stake; pride, rivalry and a national title game in New Orleans this coming January. As a result of the game LSU maintained its #1 ranking but Alabama slipped to #4 in the AP poll. This means a rematch between these two titans is unlikely in the BCS championship game.

Nonetheless, the LSU-Alabama showdown will long be remembered one of the great college football games of all time.