Friday, September 30, 2011

Christie's Future

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will spend the weekend considering whether to declare his candidacy for president. Should he enter the GOP race he will have committed one of the biggest flip-flops ever, and many Americans will be asking, "What changed?"

For months the governor has been adamant that he will not run for the White House in 2012. Up to now the governor has repeatedly said on television, "I am not ready to be president." Should he declare his candidacy he will be seeing that soundbite in a lot of campaign commercials.

But now what has changed is the intensity with which supporters and some leading party members are clamoring for him to enter the race. It seems that many Republicans are not happy with their existing field of candidates.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has retaken the top spot in some polls of declared GOP candidates. A recent Fox News poll shows his support at 23%, which is about where it was two months ago. Despite his strong debate performances and tireless campaigning, Romney has not been able to win over most Republicans. It seems that "RomneyCare", his track record of changing positions on key issues and the fact he is a Mormon are all dragging him down among conservative party members.

Following his announcement in August, Texas Governor Rick Perry surged in polls to a commanding lead among Republican candidates. He quickly became the darling of conservatives and Tea Party members. But a series of poor debate performances and increased scrutiny of his record has rocked his campaign and dampened enthusiasm for his candidacy.

Businessman Herman Cain got a bump up to third place in this week's polls following his solid debate performance in Orlando, Florida. But his "9-9-9" plan for the American economy is more of a clever marketing pitch than a realistic solution to this nation's woes. Meanwhile, the rest of the field is mired in single digits and none are likely get their party's nomination.

Republicans believe they can defeat President Barack Obama in 2012, the number one priority of the party since he was elected. Whoever gets the nomination will campaign against the president's economic record, his health care reform act and his inability to end partisan politics in Washington. Their only dilemma is finding the right candidate.

So many key Republicans are pressuring Governor Christie because they believe he can unite the party and win over independent voters. The governor has only been if office two years but he has received a lot of attention because of his straight-talking brash style. Critics call him a bully. The governor has taken on the teachers' unions and he has balanced two budgets after eliminating huge deficits by working with a Democratic majority in the New Jersey legislature.

But is the governor ready for relentless national scrutiny? The unemployment rate in New Jersey is 9.5%, above the national rate, and the state's economy is struggling. The governor has no experience in foreign affairs and few, if any, relationships with international leaders.

Meanwhile, late night comedians are already making fun of the governor's weight. David Letterman reported to his audience, "Critics are saying he doesn't have fire in his belly, that's all he doesn't have in his belly." And political columnists are also raising the weight issue. Take Michael Kinsley, "I'm sorry, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cannot be president: He is just too fat." Will Governor Christie's weight be too much of a distraction? Will he be able to conduct a rigorous campaign?

Meanwhile, conservatives are not going to be happy with some of the governor's positions. On gun control the governor has said New Jersey has a "handgun problem" and that he supports some gun-control measures. On immigration he has said that being in the country without proper papers is an "administrative matter," not a crime. When critics howled because the governor appointed a Muslim lawyer to be a New Jersey Superior Court judge, he snapped, "I'm tired of dealing with the crazies."

Running for president is incredibly difficult, and a candidate has to go all out to have a chance of winning. But will Governor Christie be able to run for president and run New Jersey at the same time?

If he chooses to run for president, Governor Christie will have to answer questions regarding his background, his performance in office, his weight and his positions on key issues. Perhaps Governor Christie should carefully reconsider his own words, "I am not ready to be president."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Baseball Magic!

What a great day for baseball! What a terrible day for the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves. Both teams squandered commanding leads in their final stretch run to lose it all on the final day of the regular season.

The Tampa Bay Rays spotted the New York Yankees a 7-0 lead in Wednesday's game by the 5th inning, then came back to tie the game. Amazingly the Rays won in extra innings 8-7 on an exciting Evan Longoria home run in the 12th inning. The Longoria home run came just 3 minutes after Boston had lost.

Boston had blown a 71/2 game lead over the Rays with 20 games left to play. They went into the 9th inning of Wednesday's game with a 3-2 lead over the Baltimore Orioles and their star closer, Jonathan Papelbon, on the mound. Their final collapse came when The Orioles scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to win 4-3.

Meanwhile, in the National League the Atlanta Braves continued their nose-dive with a season ending loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. They had entered the final stretch with a 9 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. But the Cards would not be denied. While Atlanta was losing to the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis won the final regular season game over the hapless Houston Astros on a 2-hit 8-0 shutout.

So the Tampa Bay Rays and the St. Louis Cardinals snatch the wild card slots in their respective leagues and head into the playoffs with tremendous momentum.

Of course, the Chicago Cubs capped off their terrible season with a 9-2 loss to the San Diego Padres. In my lifetime the Cubs have never played in a World Series. Wait till next year!

Nonetheless, for all baseball fans this has been the most exciting September ever. A prediction: the Yankees will square of against the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2011 World Series. But if this year has proved anything, it has shown that predicting winners can be risky.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shovel Ready Debate

Immigration, Social Security and health care were the most contentious issues in Thursday's spirited debate among the field of Republican presidential candidates vying for their party's nomination. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney put on another polished performance while Texas Governor Rick Perry seemed at times to struggle. Nonetheless, no candidate delivered a knock out punch.

All of the candidates criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the U.S. economy. Governor Perry began the debate by once again referring to the relatively strong Texas economy and jobs creation as the reasons he should be elected president, "If it'll work in the state of Texas, it'll work in Washington, D.C." Former Governor Romney again pointed to his private sector experience and his economic plan as the reasons he should be in the White House. But, late in the debate, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson had the night's best line, "My next door neighbor's two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this president."

Governors Perry and Romney, the two frontrunners according to polls, went after each other on Social Security. In his recently released book Governor Perry denounced Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme" and suggested that some of the responsibility should be turned back to the states. When asked about Governor Romney's attacks on his stand Perry seemed to be on the defensive, "It's not the first time that Mitt has been wrong on some issues before...we never said that we were going to move this back to the states." He continued, "We ought to have as one of the options the state employees and the state retirees, they being able to go off of the current system, on to one that the states would operate themselves."

Governor Romney seized the opening, "Well, it's different than what the governor put in his book...There's a Rick Perry out there that is saying -- and almost to quote, it says that the federal government shouldn't be in the pension business, that it's unconstitutional." Governor Perry quickly responded by switching subjects to the former governor's universal health care plan for Massachusetts. The Texas governor said, "(In your book) you said it was exactly what the American people needed, to have that Romneycare given to them as you had in Massachusetts." Governor Romney denied he ever wrote that.

Immigration was a hotly debated subject and it found Governor Perry having to defend his policies. The Texas "Dream Act" allows children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuitions for college. Governor Romney criticized the Texas governor's position, "We have to turn off the magnet of extraordinary government benefits like a $100,000 tax credit -- or, excuse me, discount for going to the University of Texas. That shouldn't be allowed. It makes no sense at all." And former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum attacked Governor Perry's overall immigration policy, "I think he's very weak on this issue of American sovereignty and protecting our borders and not being a magnet for illegal immigration."

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, who had a stronger debate performance this time around, went after Governor Perry for his executive order in 2007 mandating that all 12 year-old Texas girls receive the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer. "Governor Perry made a decision where he gave parental rights to a big drug company," she charged, "That big drug company gave him campaign contributions and hired his former chief of staff to lobby him to benefit the big drug company." The governor said he was lobbied by a 31 year-old woman with cervical cancer and concluded, "I erred on the side of life and I will always err on the side of life as a governor as the president of the United States."

Governor Perry stumbled through his only real attempt to go on the offensive against Governor Romney, who he accused of being a flip-flopper on key issues. "I think Americans just don't know sometimes which Mitt Romney they're dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment?" Then the governor seemed to lose himself, "Was it -- was before he was before the social programs, from the standpoint of he was for standing up for Roe v. Wade before he was against Roe v. Wade? He was for Race to the Top, he's for Obamacare, and now he's against it. I mean, we'll wait until tomorrow and --and-- and see which Mitt Romney we're really talking to tonight."

It is unlikely that Thursday's debate in Orlando, Florida, will dramatically change the polls. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who had seen a bump up in a recent New Hampshire poll, may have actually hurt himself a bit with his awkward answer to who he might pick among the debaters to be his vice presidential running mate. His answer was businessman Herman Cain because he was also wearing a yellow tie at the debate.

In the weeks ahead, Governor Perry will have to do a better job of explaining his positions on Social Security and immigration or they may ultimately drag him down. Yet, what the governor lacks as a debater he makes up for in charisma and charm. On the other hand, while former Governor Romney is a strong debater with a solid business background, he is haunted by Romneycare and his history of changing positions on core Republican issues. A lack of enthusiasm may make it easier for President Obama to be reelected, provided he makes progress on reducing unemployment and improving the economy before election day 2012.

So, even though it is clearly a two-man race for the Republican nomination, many Republicans still haven't decided who to support. In other words, neither candidate is yet shovel-ready.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

2012: A Hard Road Ahead

With just thirteen months to go before the 2012 presidential elections Republicans are more confident than ever that they will defeat President Barack Obama, their number one priority for America. But the more scrutiny their field of candidates receives the more people are asking, "Is this the best they can do?"

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has surged into the lead among declared Republican candidates according to polls, walks with swagger and speaks with a "straight talkin'" twang. The self-proclaimed "jobs creator" has presided over the state for the past decade during which the Texas economy has prospered.

Governor Perry repeatedly points out that Texas has added more jobs in the past two years than the rest of the country combined. While that may be true, it is also true that the unemployment rate in Texas just rose to 8.5%, the highest it has been in twenty-five years. When the Governor first took office in December 2000, the state unemployment rate was 4.2%, the lowest rate since he began serving as governor. Moreover, Texas currently has a higher unemployment rate than any of its adjacent states.

Governor Perry rails against President Obama's Recovery Act of 2009, a.k.a. the "Stimulus" package. But the governor used billions of stimulus dollars to balance his 2010 state budget. Texas has already received more than $11 billion of the $16.7 billion in stimulus money it has been awarded under the program. Further, the governor claims that stimulus spending added no new jobs nationwide. In a recent debate he said, "(Obama) had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs." Yet government and independent reports show that between 1.3 million and 3.6 million jobs were added or saved because of the measure.

Governor Perry has stubbornly stuck to his "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme" attack in campaign appearances and debates. His position has now become a major issue in the Republican primary. And it is flying in the face of even Republican voters who overwhelming support the program. It has also energized the campaign of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who wants to keep the current program with some fixes.

Governor Perry has come under fire for his 2007 executive order mandating that sixth-graders be vaccinated against cervical cancer with the Gardasil vaccine, which is manufactured by the drug maker Merck. "I will tell you that I made a mistake by not going to the Legislature first," he now says about the decision. Was this a classic “pay-to-play” scheme?

Gardasil received FDA approval a year before his executive order. But the governor's former chief of staff and close friend, Mike Toomey, was a lobbyist for Merck. Merck has given Perry's campaign $28,500 in donations and the GOP Governor's Conference another $377,500 when Governor Perry chaired the organization. The Texas Legislature later overturned the executive order.

While former Governor Romney is a far better candidate than he was when he ran for president four years ago, he has not been able to excite the Republican base. And it is no wonder. Governor Romney has changed his position on many important issues in order to win more support. This has raised great suspicion among conservatives.

When campaigning for governor in 2002 his position on abortion was that he would "preserve and protect" a woman's right to choose. Now he describes himself as an abortion opponent. In 1994 he said he was in favor of strong gun control policies, but in 2006 he joined the National Rifle Associate and said he supports the right to bear arms.

In 2008 Governor Romney wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times entitled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” In it he argued against a government bailout because it would fail, "You can kiss your money goodbye." Yet when the program righted the industry a Romney spokesman claimed, “Mitt Romney had the idea first. You have to acknowledge that. He was advocating for a course of action that eventually the Obama administration adopted.”

But of greatest concern to the Romney campaign was his passage of a universal health care law in his state. President Obama modeled his health care legislation after the Massachusetts plan, or "Romney Care." Republican presidential candidates have attacked Governor Romney hard on the issue, most notably Governor Rick Perry. "I think Mitt is finally recognizing that the Massachusetts healthcare plan he passed is a huge problem for him," Perry recently said.

With the Republican field in turmoil it would seem that President Obama, who is seeking a second term in office, should be in a good place. But that is not the case. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows that the nation’s high unemployment rate, 9.2%, and a struggling economy are taking its toll. The poll found only a 43% approval rating for the president, and a weakening of support among his base. Only a third of those polled approve of his handling of the U.S. economy and more than half disapprove. While a majority supports the president’s latest jobs proposal, almost 60% of those surveyed believe that unemployment will remain high for the next two years.

Most Americans like the president, understand he inherited a bad economy and recognize it will be hard to turn things around, especially given the country’s structural problems and a sagging global economy. But they want action now. And most Americans are tired of all the petty bickering between Congressional Republicans and Democrats. No wonder the poll shows a historically low approval rating for Congress.

The president has recently become more aggressive in his campaign appearances calling on Congress to quickly pass his jobs bill. But the GOP Congressional leadership, while not totally dismissive, is going to continue to drag their feet. Since, according to the Constitution, all tax and revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans, it is unlikely the president will see much of his proposal pass.

So the president will be left with having to forcefully run against a "do-nothing" Congress, and with convincing a majority of voters he is the best person to fix the economy. Otherwise, on election day frustrated voters may be willing to vote for a change just to try something different hoping a new president will get America back on track.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Toy Doll Story

So what were a large rabbit doll and some smaller stuffed animals doing sitting outside a New York day care center? Well, let me tell you the story.

There is, perhaps, no greater joy than being a parent. And most parents want so desperately to keep their children in the nest--even as time flies by too quickly. Inevitably, children become teenagers. For many parents that means changing roles from "best bud" to ATM machine.

During our daughter's early childhood we collected dozens of dolls. Some were gifts from friends, others we purchased. These dolls ranged from a large stuffed rabbit to a slew of "Beanie Babies." The Beanie Babies were always soft and colorful. They were relatively expensive but each brought great joy to our daughter.

Of course, a child's attention span is very short. And one day's favorite new doll would soon be shoved aside for the next fascinating or lovable little creature. Fame can be fleeting even for Beanie Babies! As the early years whisked by more and more dolls found themselves the victims of indifference. What could we do with the mounting body count? We certainly did not want to toss the dolls away because each one carried a special memory or meaning.

Consequently, most of the dolls were relegated to storage bins. For sure, this would mean a dark and desolate existence in the basement. A few lucky dolls were placed on a shelf overlooking the playroom. But no one really paid attention to them for years.

However, several dolls got some overdue attention ironically due to Hurricane Irene. Because Hurricane Irene threatened New York City with record rains and high winds it became necessary to batten down the hatches and remove all objects to higher ground. Thankfully the hurricane caused little damage. So after the storm passed it was time to put everything back.

But did we really want to keep all of the dolls? Certainly some other little child would love to have many of these precious stuffed animals? Regretfully, most places won't accept used toys. Given all the young children and parents who live in the neighborhood, it seemed to be a good idea to place them in an open bag outside our house. Maybe some of the dolls would be "adopted."

Later in the evening two young ladies from Denmark, perhaps college students, stopped by and found themselves fascinated with the dolls. They decided to do all they could to make sure the furry little creatures found a loving home. After discussing various options with them I remembered there is a child's day care center not too far away. They agreed to take all of the dolls, contained in two large bags, over to the center.

When the young ladies arrived at the day care center they decided to display the dolls on the window ledges, on an air conditioner, amidst security bars and the railings at the entrance of the facility. The wanted to make sure the stuffed treasures were fully appreciated! The dolls waited outside undisturbed all night. Passersby smiled at the site. Some took pictures. And when the children arrived the next morning, the dolls were there to greet them. What a joyous surprise!

The kids were so thrilled they decided to adopt the whole lot of them. And later that day someone put a sign on the railing of the day care center--which told of a happy ending.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Obama's Leadership

As Americans try to enjoy Labor Day weekend this year too many find themselves without a job and with little hope of finding employment in the near future. This is because Washington remains embroiled in a partisan battle over what steps to take to get the economy growing again.

The latest unemployment statistics released Friday were dismal. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the official jobless rate for August held at 9.1%, for the first time since World War II there were no new jobs added to the economy. Black unemployment hit 16.7%, the highest it has been in three decades, and 11.3% of Hispanics are out of work. Equally depressing was the fact that on Thursday the White House forecast the unemployment rate will be 9.1% for 2011 and only slightly better in 2012, 9.0%.

In response, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called President Barack Obama's economic policies "abysmal." In a written statement he continued, "The President’s policies have failed to deliver on his promises of job creation, deficit reduction, and much-needed economic growth.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh) simply Tweeted, "Where are the jobs?"

Over the past three months the U.S. economy has added an anemic average of 35,000 jobs. It takes an addition of 150,000 jobs per month just to keep up with population growth. Meanwhile companies are hoarding $2 trillion dollars, primarily due to the lack of consumer demand, that could be invested in their businesses. And many Americans, suffering the the adverse effects of a terrible housing market, are reluctant to spend.

There is plenty of blame to go around for this country's economic woes. But Americans are tired of Washington's "blame game." Most of them understand that President Obama inherited an economy in free fall and he took important steps to avert a second Great Depression. But the president has been in office for forty months and it appears nothing has changed when it comes to the economy.

Enormous pressure is focused on the president, who will address the nation next Thursday. The president is expected to announce several initiatives to get people working again. The New York Times reports that they will include a tax credit for businesses to increase their payrolls, an extension of the payroll tax credit for individuals and an infrastructure bank targeted at fixing roads and railways. Congressional Republicans will likely be able to block or delay implementation of all the president's proposals. And even if Congress passed an infrastructure bank, it will take months to begin feeling the impact.

The November 2012 presidential election will most likely be decided on who voters think can get America back to work again. Republicans will turn the election into a referendum on President Obama's handling of the economy. For political reasons they will do all they can to forestall any progress over the next year. Instead they will proffer their own pro-business, deficit-reducing initiatives.

In order to make a strong case for his reelection the president must be able to demonstrate that he has this country on the right track to a sounder economy. The president must make big bold proposals to reduce unemployment in his speech next week and then follow it up with a fierce and well-executed campaign against Republicans to get his agenda passed.

President Obama must give Americans a reason to vote for him. To do so the president must now show, in a two words, unrelenting leadership.