30 January 2009

Loose Lips Sink... the Hindenberg?

I'm not a big fan of voodoo. I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, or Batman. I have seen "The Secret" and think it's a great way to feel better about life, although I wouldn't want to use it in place of cancer treatments. (I don't really think that cartoon is funny, either, but.. oh well.)
But when I saw a headline in the Washington Post saying "Obama Calls Slump a Disaster" immediately under another story about how the two year long recession is deepening, causing the quickest economic contraction in 25 years, I thought "Thanks Big Guy."
There seems to be a lot of argument about the depth and severity of the recession. I read an article this morning that credibly made the case that this recession is NOT as severe as the one in 1980. The recession of 1980 featured unemployment in the low teens and inflation about the same. That's a tough time.
And as I listened to the afternoon White House briefing, I heard a reporter ask what I wanted to know, "Does the President think calling this slump a disaster and all his talking about how bad it is will be helpful?" (Thanks very much, Major Garrett of FoxNews.)
Since the recession is being worsened by panicked consumers who are cutting their spending and expenses, it doesn't help to jump up and down on the heap. The media is accused of this all the time, but the reality is, we generally just report the numbers.
It is sort of amusing how different some people's tone is these days. Promises before the election; grave-faced serious talk after the election. It would have been nice if voters had spotted that during the campaigns, but the wakeup call needs to end.
This reminds me of what an old gentlemen I knew of said about marriage: "Date with your eyes wide open. Be married with your eyes half-shut."
Perhaps we need a dose ourselves with some of that "half-shut" as we try to work ourselves through this recession.

29 January 2009

Of Doing the Right Thing - Cardinals to Peanut Processors

A federal grand jury is looking at Cardinal Roger Mahony's involvement in covering up the child sex predatory activities of priests in his diocese.
One word: "Hallelujah!"
At what point does someone tell themselves that it's okay to let someone prey on innocent children and then send them on their way to a new, unwary parish and a whole new set of unwitting victims?
How does someone who is supposed to represent God and shepherd the spiritual growth and paths of millions think this is acceptable?

I went to Mahony's news conference two years ago where he apologized and announced the Archdiocese would be offering counseling and a settlement to the 508 victims to the tune of $660 Million.

It was the first time Mahony had spoken publicly and faced the media to address this topic. He gave his statement and then opened himself up for questions. I think I asked the second or third question.

"Cardinal, how do you answer to those victims who are calling for you to be prosecuted for your role in this?"

Cardinal Mahony sort of brushed me off with a "I wasn't the Cardinal during most of period that covered most of these crimes."

"Right, but most isn't all. So how do you answer to those victims who were molested under your term of service and now want you prosecuted for your part in it? What do you say to them?"

He never really did answer my question. I'm not sure there is an answer. I'm guessing the intervening two years have been filled by the search for a way around the law's protection of the sacred and private confessional. Now they've found that loophole and the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles is going forward. They say U.S. Atty. Thomas P. O'Brien is personally involved in the Grand Jury case.

Earlier this week, the FDA announced findings that the Georgia peanut product manufacturer that is responsible for salmonella that killed at least eight and sickened several hundred people knowingly shipped salmonella-tainted products to food companies. They knowingly did this.

The peanut products were used in things like cookies, snacks, breakfast cereals and other sweet treats. Those products all have one thing in common: their biggest consumers are children. And children are among those most susceptible to salmonella.

How did Mahony tell himself his actions were good and right? The federal government can't prosecute him for keeping confessions sacred. They are considering prosecuting him under a a federal statute that makes it illegal to "scheme . . . to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." The victims then would be the parents of those children molested. The children he knowingly allowed predatory priests to "serve."

It won't make things right. Prosecution won't restore innocence or resurrect people killed, in many cases, by a half teaspoon of peanut product served in a harmless looking cookie. It's just sad that some people are minus the gene that says "Do something. Make it the Right Thing to Do."

27 January 2009

But Wait... There's More!

I can't stop giggling. Or posting. As one New York newspaper headlined it, "Who needs the 'Jackass' dudes when you have government goofballs?"

Who indeed?

26 January 2009

This... or That?

Taken from a well-known online message board game:
Go to work... or workout?
Chocolate chip... or oatmeal raisin?
Lose your eyesight... or see online photographs of Madonna in lingerie at age 50?
Spaghetti... or lasagna?
Pepperoni... or sausage?
Bourne... or Bond?
Hugh Jackman... or Brad Pitt?
Angelina... or Jennifer?
Show up to stand trial for offering to sell a high ranking federal office for the most advantageous combination of money, influence, and jobs for the spouse... or make the rounds of morning talk shows claiming it's all a conspiracy to quash your fight for the rights of the people of Illinois?
That last one kinda makes you scratch your head, doesn't it? But it does make things a lot more amusing. And what the heck... he's a handsome posterboy for the taxpayers of The Prairie State. Their proudest moment, no doubt.

25 January 2009

Approval Ratings?

Let's all take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
And now let's note that Gallup Pollsters have taken our temperature nationally and after three business days in office, two-thirds of the American people approve the job that Mr. Obama is doing.
That's right. THREE DAYS.
This reminds me of someone who was newly divorced and um, perhaps a little needy told me that his best friend had gotten married one month after his divorce "and they're still really happy and totally in love."
And how long have they been married, I asked?
"A month!" he said, perhaps a little too breathlessly.
I think I giggled at that point. (Do you see the problem my male friends have with me?) A whole entire month? Was that a full 31 days? A shortened 30 day month? Or are we maybe talking about February?

Relax. He's got four years. Keep breathing.

22 January 2009

Obama: The Leader for Change

He's stopped prosecuting accused terrorists. He closed Guantanamo Bay. He's keeping his Blackberry. He wants Capitol Hill democrats to move on the bailout plan. He's all about change.

I mean, hey, he campaigned on the idea that he would change things, right? And he's started already. Except look who he's got working for him.
Former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke has now been appointed as Obama's envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with the resurgence there of al-Qaeda and the radical Taliban movement. Holbrooke is a former Clinton administration appointee, well known in diplomatic circles. (Also well known in journalism circles for marrying one of Peter Jennings wronged ex-wives.)
And over at the Justice Department, Eric Holder, may become the first black Attorney General. He also was there before, during the Clinton Presidency.

Of course, we all know who the Secretary of State is; someone who has to have her husband clean up his business dealings so they don't become an embarrassing conflict of interest as former Senator Mrs. Hillary Clinton represents the United States on various diplomatic stages around the world.
Also on the job again, the former President's personal secretary, Betty Currie. She's now answering phones for John Podesta, a former Clinton administration bigwig, who is heading the Obama transition team. (Another member of the team? Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich... Clinton-era.)

And back at the helm, steering the new President through these difficult legally challenging times, Greg Craig, who was Clinton's personal attorney during those very trying times that ahhhh, lots of people don't like to talk about.

So... he's got a lot of help that already have their standing lunch orders in at the White House cafeteria, right?
Does that seem odd to anyone else that someone who campaigned on change apparently didn't mean "change" as much as he may have meant "change back?"

Hmmm. Maybe it's just me.

20 January 2009

The New Guy

I went. Do you really need pictures of me shivering to prove it? I think not.
I was impressed. By the size of the crowd. The mood of the crowd. The generosity and happiness that seemed to be free-floating through the crowd. It was a wonderful day.
I thought Mrs. Obama looked amazingly elegant and beautiful in her gold ensemble. I'm not sure how she managed to stand there, even under heat lamps, holding the Lincoln Bible for him to take the oath of office, without visibly shaking in the January cold, but... she did.
I thought President Obama's speech was incredibly good. Where other past presidents have issued a "wake up call" to Americans, I thought Mr. Obama issued more of a "grow up" call. I liked the way he asked us to start making the hard decisions; to work hard, to start repairing our image abroad and to generally take responsibility for ourselves and our lives.
And I liked being there for all of it.
I was a bit disappointed that people booed the outgoing President. Doesn't his office still deserve our respect, even though so many of us didn't like him? And on big national occasions like that, when we feel so good about our new President and the shining future that he holds the door to, is it so very neccessary to tell his predecessor and the rest of the world that is watching that we didn't like President Bush? He's already leaving with the worst approval rating in decades... if not ever.
I had to stop myself from taking a school marm tone when the crowd was even louder in disapproving Vice President Cheney. I wanted to shout, "Folks, you're booing a man in a wheelchair," but...
It was that crowd's day, I supposed. And in standing on the Washington Mall in that cold January wind that was blowing, I really got the feeling that someone else was about to teach us some manners. Someone else is taking over the lessons in etiquette and "raising the children."
Personally, if the Inauguration and its events were any indication, I look forward to watching Him and Her press ahead... getting the country's groove back on.

17 January 2009

Who's Running the Store?

I propose a new rule this year.
For all CEO's, CFO's, COO's and anybody who gets a big bonus tied to how much profit they make... here's my new deal.
If the company they run loses money, they get no bonus. None. Nothing whatsoever. Not even a free cup of coffee in the breakroom.
I'd like to suggest they give back money, too, but nobody ever seems able to enforce that. So I'll keep it simple. If the company under your direction doesn't make money, you don't get money above your salary.
Since most of the folks running these companies seem to have exorbitant salaries, I am guessing they can live within their means.
And no stock options either. What do you need with stock in a company that you're running into the ground anyway?

Nope, that's end. End of gravy train. Remember when Lee Iacocca ran Chrysler? He boiled it down nicely when he said, "In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product, and profits."
Of course he also said, "The trick is to make sure you don't die waiting for prosperity to come."
That may be the more salient point at the moment.

16 January 2009

Promises, Promises...

A friend invited me to go to the Inaugural Parade with her and her son today. Well, that's not really accurate. She asked what I was doing and then said that she was taking her son and going to try to get as close to the parade route as possible.

So... unless she's a BIG MEANIE, I think I'm invited.

Going to an Inauguration with her and her kid is, to be honest, a lot more fun than going with say... a 6'2" burly guy wearing a $50K camera on his shoulder. Trust me. I know this.

Anyway, I'm now officially interested in going. (I'm jaded. Ok. I admit it. Are you happy now?)

And here forthwith are.... (drumroll, please?)


1. Ensure all children have health insurance coverage. 73% of us think this is very important. Somewhat fewer of us (62%) believe he can actually do this.
2. Reduce health care costs for the typical American family by up to $2,500 per year. This is where it begins to amuse. 70% say this is a biggie. 56% think he can pull it off. At least fewer of us need a reality check on that one.
3. Double the production of alternative energy. That same 70% say "very important. 59% say "Uh, yeah, the dude can do it." Hmmmm, I don't know if he can, but that ought to be doable. If he did, could that industry be a rocket for the rest of the economy to ride?
4. Enact a spending program to strengthen the nation's infrastructure of bridges, roads and schools. 60% of us think this is a big deal. 80% of us think this is doable. And heck, we might even benefit as federal dollars get infused into local economies.
5. Cut federal income taxes for 95 percent of working families. 57% said this was very important. 53% say this is possible. (Read the previous four points and you'll see why this isn't the most likely of prospects.)
6. Withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months. 51% say "very important." 54% say probably he can. What percent say the troops will be shipped from Iraq to Afghanistan?
7. Increase U.S. military strength in Afghanistan by at least two brigades. (What did I just say??) Very important, say 43 percent of Americans. 68% say the incoming President can "achieve" this. (Remind me why he promised this? What was there a goal beyond just musical military chairs?)
8. Lift restrictions on government funding of embryonic stem-cell research. 42% say this is vital. 61% say the new President will be able to do this... and likely, he'll be able to get a Democratic Congress to actually fund the less-restricted research.
9. Close the U.S. prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. 32% of us believe this is very important. 59% of us think he can do it. (Does the phrase "same circus, different tent" mean anything?)
10. Make it easier for labor unions to organize. 28% of us say this is very important. 59% of us say Mr. Obama can do this, once in office. I'm really unclear on how he'll do this last one. Offer tent meetings on the edge of town? Secret clubhouses in Iowa? Send in Sally Fields?
I post these because I think it'll be good to have them all in one place. Sort of benchmark them. Here they are... all compiled and ranked.
Now I can go to the Obama-Rama (Do they have tea cozy's with him and the girls on them? I might like that. Or maybe some demi-tasse cups that I can serve pot d' creme in some dark, dreary day?) and not worry myself further. We'll return and tally his count in a few months.
BTW, AOL posted those numbers and added an online poll. Extremely unscientific, but I noticed that 29% of those responding expect Barack Obama will make a poor president. Another 27% think he'll be fair. 24% expect he'll be excellent and 20% think he'll be only good. Reality has been checked.

12 January 2009

Will It Be Different Once HE Walks thru the Door?

They are putting up the risers, getting the souveneir stands ready, and starting to haul in the porta-johns in Washington. The Nation's Capital is preparing for that magical mystery event called an Inauguration. The New Guy is a-comin' and the love is a-flowin.'
In short, it's getting a little deep in some places.
Me? I'm theorizing on what will happen on January 21... The Day after The Inauguration of The Anointed One. Man, I'm hoping it's everything they hype. Oh, um, HOPE. I meant hope.
Yeah, I heard that nomination acceptance speech in which he promised to help everybody from college students to immigrants to teachers to the indigent and homeless. "If you have health insurance, I'll get it for you cheaper. And if you don't have insurance, I'll get you Congress' insurance." (Paraphrasing... but still very close.) You don't hear big promises like that anymore, but like the rest of America, I'm still hoping for something here. I am guessing his Inaugural Speech is going to be a lot more subdued.
I remember when George H. W. Bush was leaving office after one term, the economy was in a downturn and the media had scrawled the word "recession" from one end of the country to another.
We like to do that from time to time. It gives us something to talk about. I'm just sayin'...
So then Mr. William Jefferson Clinton steps into office and almost within a few days, the economy started to turn around. It was stunning. I think back to all the conversations I've had with Washington DC cabbies who told me "I wish we could keep Clinton in office; he turned the economy around!" If only that were true.
Because of course these days, we've all learned that the economy is cyclical in nature and that what one President sets up, another reaps. Particularly painfully true in the MORTGAGE CRISIS, MR. CLINTON. Sigh.
But let's continue. It does seem like we in the media enjoy a friendly relationship with Mr. Obama. He was clearly the one for The People, too. While I don't think that the recession is being over-reported or made worse by our writing and reporting, I'll be wondrously amused if I see the economy take sudden bounds back into healthy territory immediately after the upcoming inauguration. Don't get me wrong; I'll be thrilled, too, if it is legitimate. I'll be so very, very thrilled.
But since I saw a dearth of good news for Bush (41) while seeking his second term... and I see the same playing out for Bush (43) as he leaves office, I do pause every so often in wonderment. (Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying he's brilliant. But seriously... when was he so influential and gifted that he did all this himself? Let's remember congressional oversight of the banking and mortgage industry is NOT under the Executive Branch.) And consider the possibilities: what will happen on January 21?
It's a splendid thought, isn't it? If all the hope for change that He promised really came about? If all the things He promised to buy for us were magically in place that day, like so many presents waiting to be unwrapped. And we could forget about that other nagging, ugly thought... forget about our recession?
So the question I really want answered and we'll know very soon, can a media anointing mean things will finally turn around... is it really just because we say so? Or does the reporting simply start to reflect the hope that we feel?
The truth is that objectivity really is in the eye of the beholder. As much as we like to argue otherwise, the idea that any of us are objective is sadly naive. We're not. (And deep inside, we know it. Otherwise, what would we talk about at all those big dinners and such?)
As for the other question… the one of chicken or eggs... does the economy go south everytime a Bush sets foot in the Oval? Does a Bush walking into the West Wing ruin the geometry for all?
If I were Jeb, I certainly wouldn't let my Dad play in my hat closet. He might inadvertently throw one of those tokes in the ring. Personally, I think we need to get past this current generation without needing to see if a Bush can do it a third time.