Monday, April 6, 2009

FDR's Oglethorpe University Address Speaks Loudly Today

Did you know that in May 1932, presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt gave the commencement address at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta? Until this morning when I caught up with Thomas Friedman's April 4, 2009 op-ed piece, I did not. Beyond a sense of regional pride that a local school had scored such a high-profile speaker, the relevance of those remarks as we approach this graduation season are striking.

Jonathon Alter's recently published book on the "First 100 Days" of FDR's first term serves as a vibrant example of how a history lesson reads as fresh as a contemporary Tweet might seem today. Alter brings the reader into the world of uncertainty and fear that gripped the country in 1932. Those descriptions are eerily familiar to contemporary news reports. Although the unemployment rate of 1932 was roughly triple that of early 2009, in context it was similarly higher than recent years at the time.

Listen to the quotation from FDR's May 1932 address, “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation,” said Roosevelt. “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Could President Obama have expressed his own approach to the economic challenges of 2009 any more clearly than that? No. This administration is following FDR's philsophy almost exactly in its multi-pronged approach to the banking crisis, the failing auto industry, the housing crisis and an approach to resurrect GDP growth.

As Americans adjust to hard times and look to our political leaders to address them, it is clear that differences continue as to the best approach both in terms of size and of philosophy. For those resisting the President this soon into his term I say this, "Let the American people who overwhelmingly elected President Obama have the change they chose. That means not only a different direction now but a course-correcting leader for the next four years."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Senator Chambliss Replies

Last week I sent an e-mail to Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. He was recently re-elected and is now into his second term. I wrote to ask for his position regarding the stimulus legislation working its way through Congress at the time and to ask that he be proactive in the debate, rather than falling back on a partisan-only position of, "No!"

The reply I received was not satisfactory and I have, this morning, written to tell him so. Instead it was a talking-points-memo style generic reply intended to paint a picture of a 100% irresponsible President and Democratic Congress and a 100% responsible Republican loyal opposition.

Senator, we both know that is pure crap and I deserve a better answer. Perhaps others among your consituents are satisfied with the party line, but I am not, sir.

If Senator Chambliss continues to invest in this kind of non-leadership as his way of representing the diversity of his fellow Georgians, he is going to be getting a lot of e-mail from me and from the millions of others who are ready to have leaders who actually LEAD, rather than follow the out-dated politics of our previous President and his ilk.

Many Georgians believe they deserve better. I know I do.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Why the Public Doesn't Want to Bail Out Detroit

For months now, the American public has watched dollars flying out of the US Treasury to rescue businesses in the name of salvaging the US Economy. Billions upon Billions of them. It is politically correct to refer to this money as "taxpayer dollars" but, in fact, they are not. At least they are not the dollars of current taxpayers. No, by and large these are the dollars of the next and future generation of taxpayers.

But why quibble about that?

Isn't it interesting that when it is time to consider similar (though much smaller) bailouts for the Big 3 automakers, the public seems to have even less tolerance than we did for the likes of AIG and Citibank? Why is that when we know how big a job segment the car business represents?

Is it bail-out fatigue? Is it fear of passing a mountain of debt on to our children and on and on? Or is there something else at work here?

I submit that it is all of the above and, further, that the un-named "something else" is born of actual taxpayer experience, not something ethereal or hypothetical.

While relatively few Americans have had a personal relationship with Bear-Stearns or AIG, even Citibank or Merrill Lynch - those that have had a relationship with those companies generally report them as acceptable, if not great. On the other hand, lots of Americans have felt burned by one or more of the US automakers in their lifetime. Think of it this way - when was the last time you saw a disabled brokerage account tying up rush-hour traffic on a Friday afternoon?

Sure, there are GM fans out there, even some who don't get their livelihood from the company. My uncle was a "Ford-man" who proudly stood by the brand and its cars and trucks. Those people, like my uncle, are gone now. They have been replaced by millions of Americans who gave up on the Big 3 a long time ago and developed a relationship with Toyota or Honda or one of a dozen other foreign car makers who won their loyalty by a combination of superior quality and marketing savvy.

When my '92 Chevy died on Roswell Road some years ago, after less than 40,000 miles, I was not a happy camper believe me. Sure, I liked the car enough to spend money to fix it and drove it for almost 55,000 more miles, I never completely regained my trust in that car. And I haven't bought another American-made car since.

Is that fair to today's Big 3? Maybe not. But when it comes to buying something as big and mission-critical as a vehicle, the majority of Americans have been saying, "No" to Detroit for years. Changing our minds right now doesn't seem likely to happen. And, can you blame people?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Saxby Wins - What Does it Mean?

The nation watched, or rather a hardcore few of the nation watched the returns from Georgia last night. Would this be another Minnesota-style cliffhanger? A Florida-style hanging-chad affair? An Ohio-style "keep the polls open late so that the hundreds still in line at closing time can exercise their constitutional right to vote?"

Not so much, no.

Senator Chambliss easily defeated his Democratic challenger yesterday, winning by double digits in a runoff for the US Senate only made vaguely interesting by two issues: 1) the Democrats, until last night, held a slim chance of attaining a 60-seat majority in the Senate and 2) would the patriotic voters of Georgia stand up and reject the reprehensible politics used in 2002 by our Junior Senator in defeating war hero Max Cleland?

Not so much, no.

Despite the significant numbers of "Support the Troops" bumper stickers and car magnets to be seen along Georgia's highways and byways, Senator Chambliss' refusal to support the new GI Bill of Rights was just fine with Georgians. Despite unwavering support for the horribly mis-guided invasion of Iraq and subsequent bungling of the mission their, Georgians must be fine with it. I always thought that, among those for whom support for the military and for a strong national defense was a paramount issue, failing to support those things here was a political sin from which one cannot recover.

Not so much, no.

In his victory remarks, Senator Chambliss indicated his willingness to work with President-Elect Obama whenever he seeks to help everyday Georgians and fight terrorism. When, on the other hand, the new President demanded socialism (you know, redistributing the wealth like it talks about in the Gospels) he would proudly stand with his fellow obstructionists and say, "NO!". Should the President seek to "mess with" the 2nd amendment, Senator Chambliss and his buddies from the NRA will scream bloody hell (an apt metaphor, I think) and say, "NO!".

It will be interesting how long it takes for last night's declarations by the Senator for when he will support or oppose the incoming President to be violated. Well before inauguration day is my guess.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gratitude list

For me, Thanksgiving should be part of everyday, not only the 4th Thursday of November. Still, here we are at that designated day and, like so many, I have a long list, so here goes:

My wife is amazing. She is a delightful person who I adore and my sweet love!

Rob is a man that I am deeply proud of. He is kind and generous, smart and dedicated. He is my son, and I love him, pray for him and think of him many times every day.

My sister is my friend, my support and my favorite phone buddy.

My dad is inspiration, loving father and head of our family - thanks, Dad!

Now - I am deeply grateful that our country has turned the corner (please, let it be true) on the philosophy of more for those with the most, blind eyes toward injustice and greed, the military-industrial complex and ideology as idol.

Finally, God bless all those who serve our country both near and far. Those who sacrifice on behalf of others, who - though imperfect - are deeply blessed for their service. May we all find a new way to serve in the coming year.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cars, Politics and the US Economy

To listen to the soundbites on radio or TV, this whole Detroit bail-out thing seems pretty straightforward. As I have heard it explained, it comes down to some things everyone (a relative term, to be sure) agrees on and some things that no one (again, relative) agrees about.

Agreed: The US car companies have, through a variety of sins, set themselves up in recent decades for a serious day of reckoning.

Disagreed: The current mess (version 25 billion or thereabouts) is more about the unforeseeable credit crisis than it is about car companies not seeking to get better, make fuel-efficient cars, etc.

Agreed: ANY taxpayer money that might, possibly, someday be loaned to US car makers must come with major strings attached.

Disagreed: Bailout money now is throwing good money after bad ... or not. Or put more bluntly, the bailout is a case of beer for the alcoholic - "It might be fun for a day, but it don't solve the problem" vs. this is a viable "Bridge to somewhere".

Agreed: $700 billion just isn't what it used to be. [major sigh]

Disagreed: A far better approach (the Real American, free market approach) says that when bad companies fail, they can and should seek bankruptcy protection via Chapter 11. OR, unlike airlines which provide a service that the pubic has demonstrated a willingness to continue buying despite numerous bankruptcies, the public's likelihood to buy a car from a bankrupt company - risking the unavailability of future service or parts is something approximating Zero. (In other words, Chapter 11 today leads inevitably to Chapter 7 next year and that means liquidation of assets - ugly.)

So here we are. Again. I know that, for now, we need to figure out what to do with this stalwart, if prodigal, domestic industry. But, my god - is not the real problem here that by relaxing regulation in general and approvals for mergers and acquisitions in general, we have created a country dominated by businesses that are "too big to fail"? For all the talk about the importance of small business when it's time to campaign, the 16 years (1995-2007) in which Republicans ruled the Congress seems to have been good for big business at the time, but not even good for big business now. And for the rest of us? Well, thank god those days are over, at least for a while.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Redefined Parties

This morning's Rasmussen Reports indicates the first post-election polling on what they call the "generic congressional ballot". It is a poll which asks voters if they would vote today for an unnamed (generic) democrat or republican for Congress in their district. Prior to the election, democrats held a six point advantage in this poll. Today, that advantage has dwindled to two points. Why?

In the week since election results have been published, many people have heard and read media reports about the new, larger democratic majorities in the US House and Senate. In particular, much attention has been focused on the Senate, where a "super majority" of 60 members from one party can theoretically do whatever it pleases, having achieved the number of votes it takes to prevent a filibuster. The concern regarding this has been amplified by right-wing media and is being sounded daily here in Georgia in ads being run by Senator Chambliss in the lead-up to his runoff election with Jim Martin.

I met this morning with a person who is quite concerned about this issue. Having voted for Senator McCain, he was understandably cautious about what the incoming President might do. What he did not focus on, however, was what the two parties have come to stand for in recent years. In reality, it isn't easy to even know what they stand for unless a person spends a significant amount of energy digesting and analyzing the news and discerning outlying opinions from mainstream ones.

What the Republican party has frequently stood up for in recent years is unbridled executive authority (see also "warrantless wiretapping") ,the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war and an economic philosophy based on the belief that free markets will always surpass the economic performance of regulated ones and, further, that watching out for high net-worth individuals and large corporations is, ultimately, good for everyone.

The Democrats have frequently stood for ending the Iraq war because of its flawed origin, of defending the constitution (but often in fuzzy, non-compelling terms) and in opposing pretty much anything that the Republicans want to do. Only since the 2008 primary season kicked off in earnest have democrats begun to articulate a vision with more substance.

In the aftermath of the 2008 elections, both parties need to do a better job of deciding and then consistantly expressing what they are FOR and how that translates into the lives of real people, rather than generic ("millions of jobs" or "country first") terms.

Care for a suggestion? Republicans - stop trying to resurrect Ronald Reagan and the 80's. We're sooo over that "government is always bad" mentality. It's a losing formula just as it was in 1932 when FDR was inaugurated. Instead, look at how limited government and private partnerships can provide real solutions to 21st century problems like global warming, global trade, inequality of work force and environmental protection and the challenges of terrorism in a world where we are not the only country with a stake in the outcome.

Democrats? Enjoy the victory for about one more day and then forget it. While President-Elect Obama has a mandate of sorts, there was no overriding congressional mandate articulated during the election cycle that turned this into a "national" election rather than a state by state or district by district one with the exception of a general repudiation of the Bush Administration. In other words, democrats did not completely sell a philosophy to the American people that has now been embraced by the electorate. They did not convince the public of a better approach to the role of government in anything close to specific terms. To believe otherwise will lead to significant over-reaching and a likely losing 2010 mid-term cycle.

No matter what else happens, the days of democrats as pure tax and spend liberals or of republicans as social and fiscal conservatives is gone - at least for now.