Obama’s “Bad Blood” with Business (August 5, 2010)

Much has been made recently of the strained rapport between the Obama administration and corporate interests. Various talking heads and opportunistic Republicans have seized upon the trumped up “war” between the President and Big Business as the cause of everything from the consistently high unemployment rate (“corporations are afraid to hire in this era of policy uncertainty”), to hard times for small business (“Obama’s desire to let tax cuts for the wealthy expire harms entrepreneurship”), and even, to my incredulity, the fallout from the BP oil spill. For example, the UK’s new Business Secretary, Vince Cable has been quoted as saying of Obama’s rampant criticism of BP’s actions before, during, and after the deep well explosion, “the president talks in a cheap way about ‘kicking ass’. Whether or not the American president can kick our asses, he can certainly hurt our wallets and purses.”

Thank you Mr. Cable for your ever so enlightened inclusion of ladies’ “purses” in your corporate lament. We now see you for the truly forward thinking, fair-minded guy you are (cue laugh track).

Even the “liberal media” has enjoyed taking the issue apart. Sunday morning talk show Meet the Press featured a panel discussion this past weekend including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Greenspan, while rightly declaring the state of the economy to be “touch and go,” also added “The financial system is broke and I see we just stay where we are. There’s nothing out there that I can see which will alter the level of unemployment.”

As soon as the former Chairman uttered these words, I gleefully clapped my hands together and waited for host David Gregory to give him the what for. After all, that is what the incomparable and disinterested Tim Russert would have done. But the moment never arrived. How can Greenspan credulously state that he “sees nothing out there” to act as a positive force on current unemployment rates, at a time when Big Business is posting record profits, and holding onto wads of cash?

Companies like Adobe, AirTran, Honda – even the once shaky banks and mortgage lenders who needed a taxpayer bailout are suddenly right as rain. With all this good news, why isn’t a stronger bottom line leading to improvements for long struggling job seekers? As I perused The New York Times last week, suddenly the answer became clear:

Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/26/business/economy/26earnings.html

Writer Nelson D. Schwartz declares, “Many companies are focusing on cost-cutting to keep profits growing, but the benefits are mostly going to shareholders instead of the broader economy, as management conserves cash rather than bolstering hiring and production.” On so very many levels, this makes me ill. Seems to me that instead of focusing on the trumped up antagonism between Obama and corporations, we should be talking about how Fortune 500 establishments have become the tormenter of American families.

So to return to my earlier question, how did the rumor that the Obama administration is the enemy of business get started, and more importantly, why is it being perpetuated? From where I’m sitting, it seems that it’s never been a better time to be a CEO, if not a regular working stiff. In addition to the record profiteering, I don’t recall Obama slamming the door in the faces of banks, automakers and other industries that showed up on Capitol Hill with a tin cup begging for change.

Probing a little further, it seems that the convoluted health care and financial reform bills could be the tacit excuse. Big Business would have you believe that the runaway regulations being passed by the “socialist” President are the root cause of its persecution complex (see first paragraph – “corporations are afraid to hire in this era of policy uncertainty”).

Pardon my French, but what a bunch of horse shit. If anything, President Obama hasn’t done nearly enough to roll back the heady days of Clinton/Bush deregulation. I believe I am not alone in my frustration – having to listen to the tiny violin playing martyrdom of corporations, even as they pop champagne over record profits, commending themselves for delighting shareholders on the backs of the jobless masses.

If the Obama administration has been the arch nemesis of business, how much worse off would the nation be if he acted as a friend?

Dear God, Make Me a Walrus, So I Can Swim Far, Far Away… (June 24, 2010)

walrus2

So much bad juju has beset the already beleaguered Obama administration this week, it has been difficult to keep up. Even for the small purposes of organizing this post, I hardly knew where to begin. But let’s dive right in, shall we?

General McChrystal apparently has an Icelandic volcano to thank for his undoing. It’s been said that the now former Afghan Commander’s diarrhea of the mouth was the result of an ill-fated bus trip, replete with cheap beer, that the General took with his team and Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings. Had McChrystal given me a ring before he began drunkenly castigating members of the President’s cabinet, including the too-often mocked Vice-President, I would have told him what I learned myself the hard way long ago. “Car bar” is not the time for serious office discussions. Especially in front of a young, anti-war media representative with a tape recorder.

A brilliant military career thereby goes up in beer bongs and President Obama must deal with the implication that he is an armed forces chief without control. With the controversial surge about to ramp up in the Afghan region, this PR mess could not have come at worse time. Americans are tired of war, especially battles that are strategized in a reactive, discombobulated way. How do we support the administration’s plan when its ground leaders are insubordinate? Black eye #1 for the week.

Moving onto Federal New Orleans judge Martin Feldman, who ruled this week that the administration’s 60-day moratorium on deep water oil drilling was “arbitrary and capricious.” Republicans just love to howl about “activist liberal judges” who try to rewrite law. But tell me where in the Constitution it says that the judiciary branch can override a perfectly reasonable Executive Order just because they don’t like it? Come to find out (surprise!) that Feldman is a right wing oil guy. The bench ruling will almost certainly be overturned, but this is an unnecessary red tape headache that opens a window for oil companies to return to business as usual, even as crude continues to blacken the Gulf. Obama must respond to the public impression that his orders are easily flouted. Black eye #2.

What makes Feldman’s decision the more confounding is that the Executive Order was rescinded, even as it becomes more apparent each day that we are far from having a handle on the BP deep water trainwreck. Congress summoned Big Oil Executives to the Capitol the week of June 9th, with the idea that maybe something could be learned from the disaster response plans of BP’s competitors. Instead, we discovered that the only preparations these avaricious corporations had was to dig, baby dig and ask God really nicely not to let anything bad happen. But in case a oily walrus (not seen in the region for upwards of three million years) should happen ashore, they knew how to clean him right up!

And only yesterday, BP reported that two cleanup workers had died, and the containment cap partially subduing the gusher, knocked off by a robot submarine. More lives lost that will never become the front page news story it ought to be. Is it “capricious” Judge Feldman, to expect some resolution to this now months long horror story before going back into the Gulf with more deep water drills? I wish the families of these dead men, and the 14 who perished during the initial explosion, had been present in court when the judge handed down his decision. I doubt he could have located the gumption to look them in the eye.

BP and the White House are evidently no closer to solving this tremendous environmental and economic crisis than they were eight weeks ago. The idea that everyone responsible for this mess ought to be in jail, instead of floundering in a safe and comfortable office, permeates the American mindset incrementally. Black eye #3.

The President, blameless or otherwise, has been humiliated at every turn this week. About the only thing that has gone right for Obama is his meeting with grass-roots gay activists at the White House on Tuesday night. As major metropolitan locales throughout the country celebrate their annual “pride” festivals, GLBT leaders wanted to discuss the administration’s progress in repealing the embarrassing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military recruitment policy, the ongoing fight against Prop 8 in California, and an overall strategy platform which includes a hate crimes bill, expanded benefits for gay State Department employees and unpaid family leave to care for gay partners. The community remains disappointed in Obama for the slow pace with which he and his team are working to address these issues, but they continue to remain “hopeful and optimistic.” During a week like this, consistent faith can only be looked upon as a “win.”

While one ruckus after another disrupts the flow of regular business, it is almost easy to forget that Americans await action on other serious issues like energy, immigration, unemployment, and the fiscal crisis experienced by nearly all 50 States. This latter situation presently accounts for the once bedrock educational and human service networks coming apart at the seams. No funds means no resources, which threatens not only families and children in the present tense, but additionally places the next generation at risk as well.

I would like to recommend that Obama begin to wade through the disorganized cesspool of his agenda by creating a new cabinet post: Secretary of Shit Storms.

Obama’s Convention Speech: The Real Mission (September 6, 2012)

“But, mostly, I wish he’d be for something. I wish he’d rise above the petty tactical considerations that have shrunk him over the past two years. I wish he’d finally define what he stands for. A liberal populist? A Clintonian moderate? At some point, you have to choose.”

The quote above was pulled from “independent” New York Times columnist David Brooks’ latest effort. In a piece of commentary entitled “The Elevator Speech,” Brooks’ waxes nostalgically for the Obama before 2010, whereafter stymied by a do-nothing, Republican-controlled House, the administration’s agenda slowed to a virtual standstill. However, Brooks fails to recognize that this state of affairs was the albatross around Obama’s neck, referring to the post-2010 period instead as one where the POTUS’ “purpose did not survive contact with reality.”

Though I find myself frequently frustrated after a reading of Brooks’ punditry, headed into the main events of this week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC, I was incensed. The continual reference to the first Obama administration as somehow lame duck boggles the mind, and it isn’t only independents and conservatives who are guilty of painting the President’s record in such broad strokes. The Facebook fan page “Liberals Against Obama” currently has 577 “likes” with the tag line “Take back the progressive agenda.” Postings from the group include gems such as this: “Looks like the Republicans are doing their best to scare people into voting for Obama :(” I only wish I were editorializing the sad face emoticon.

It’s hard to understand how Obama’s first term could constitute failure, especially viewed through the eyes of his liberal base. While it’s true that the last two years have been punctuated by debacles such as the debt ceiling debate, which ultimately saw the country’s credit rating downgraded, the left-leaning electorate’s only concern ought to have been a leader who failed to recognize that Speaker of the House John Boehner never intended to show up at the bargaining table. Yet it’s impossible not to admire Obama for the good-faith effort and for ultimately revolting against a Tea Party “compromise” that would have savaged the social safety net while doing precious little to generate revenue.

It’s tough to disagree with the impression that this week’s convention is a high-profile opportunity to reset the tone for Obama’s second term, as well as a chance to lay out a specific agenda that promises to address continuing social ills like the disintegration of the middle class. But compare this to last week’s Republican celebration which was light on specifics, high on crazy (Clint Eastwood) and factual gymnastics (the Paul Ryan speech) and created a partisan vacuum where the chosen Presidential candidate could not tout his greatest political accomplishments, seeing as they now sit too far to the left.

It is expected that the President will share his vision for job creation and revitalizing opportunities for the bottom 99 percent, while addressing other issues like immigration reform, climate change and a host of other challenges facing the country. But Obama’s address is also a ripe opportunity to do the one thing he has failed to do over the partisan screaming of the last few years: tout his MAJOR accomplishments. Interrupting the country’s financial free fall, rescuing the struggling auto industry, revamping the broken health care system in the face of dire opposition, advancing equality for GLBT citizens marked by the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” taking out public enemy #1 Osama bin Laden while displaying deft foreign policy skills in many other challenging situations and ending a pointless, costly war in the process. If this record represents failure, then sign me up for four more years of it.