Monday, December 24, 2012

Obama: America’s Scrooge with pardon power

I was chatting with P.S. Ruckman, PardonPower blogger and the capo di tutti commuti, last week. Ruckman noted that if President Obama is going to issue Christmas pardons, he most likely would do so Friday night, or possibly on Christmas Eve. Or maybe there won’t be any Christmas pardons this year. Barack Obama has the worst clemency record of any modern president. And so far, there have been no post-election Christmas pardons.

In prepping for a recent column on the compelling reasons to commute the sentece of Clarence Aaron, despite the president’s dismal record of barely using his unfettered clemency power,  I watched this Dec. 10 conference at the Heritage Foundation on the subject.

It goes to competence. There’s clearly more applications that are deserving
and the fact that 40 percent haven’t even been decided in an adinistration  that takes pride on
making agencies competent and responsive to their function is to me indefensible.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Obama Expected to Name Kerry as Secretary of State

President Obama is leaning strongly toward naming John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and unsuccessful Democratic nominee for president eight years ago, to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, according to administration officials and friends of Mr. Kerry. 

But the announcement will be delayed, at least until later this week and maybe beyond, because of the Connecticut school shooting and what one official called “some discomfort” with the idea of Mr. Obama’s announcing a national security team in which the top posts are almost exclusively held by white men. 

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, who is black and was considered Mr. Obama’s leading candidate for the job, withdrew her name from consideration last week after opposition to her nomination grew in the Senate. 

For Mr. Kerry, 69, the appointment would fulfill an ambition that dates back many years. He had hoped for the post when Mr. Obama was first elected in 2008; since then, he has shepherded the passage of a critical arms-control treaty and conducted a series of quiet missions on behalf of the president, notably at moments of crisis with Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

But he would be entering an administration whose primary foreign policy strategies are already set, even as it tries to use American leverage in dealing with a Middle East that is veering toward hard-line Islamist governments and an Iran that is getting perilously close to a nuclear capability. 

With Ms. Rice out of the running, Mr. Kerry’s appointment “is the working presumption,” said a senior State Department official who has been preparing for the transition to a new secretary. But White House officials said the deal was not entirely done, because the lineup currently envisioned — with former Senator Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department and the acting C.I.A. director, Michael J. Morell, likely to be named to the post permanently — looks a bit too much like national security teams of a previous era. 

For Mr. Obama, a national security team led by Mr. Kerry and Mr. Hagel, and their longtime colleague in the Senate, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., would be deeply experienced but also, in many ways, deeply conventional. All three were in the Senate during the cold war, long before Mr. Obama came on the political scene. All describe themselves as pragmatists rather than ideologues, and all became skeptics, then critics, of the American experiment in Iraq from the early days of the war. 

Still, administration officials said, for now there are no serious candidates for the State Department job other than Mr. Kerry. He would be the first white man to serve in the post since Warren Christopher left the job in early 1997. His successors have been Madeleine K. Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Mrs. Clinton. 

Mr. Kerry’s colleagues in the Senate have said that he would sail through confirmation hearings. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, has already begun jokingly calling Mr. Kerry “Mr. Secretary.” Both men are veterans of the Vietnam War and worked together to provide President Bill Clinton with political cover to grant diplomatic recognition to Vietnam. Mr. McCain said of Mr. Kerry recently that he would most likely win a large number of Republican votes for confirmation. 

The issue of the composition of Mr. Obama’s team arose anew when Ms. Rice withdrew. If she keeps her current post as ambassador to the United Nations, she will remain in Mr. Obama’s cabinet and on his national security team. She is also considered the likely successor to Thomas E. Donilon as national security adviser. But Mr. Donilon does not intend to leave that post for a year or two, his friends say, unless he is named White House chief of staff. 

Michèle A. Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense for policy, remains a candidate to become the first female defense secretary. But in internal discussions, White House officials have said that the challenge of the next few years will be working with Congress to shrink the defense budget and kill some major cold war-era weapons systems. For that, Mr. Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, is seen as better able to win votes from his former colleagues. 

Ms. Flournoy has also been mentioned as a possible C.I.A. director, but Mr. Morell, who ran the analysis division of the agency, is the favorite of C.I.A. officials. “Mike has been concerned about the over-militarization of the C.I.A.,” a senior military officer who has dealt with him said recently. “And so are many at the agency, who fear they have wandered too far from the job of analyzing trends and obtaining secrets.” 

John Brennan, a close aide to Mr. Obama and a former agency station chief in Saudi Arabia who has directed counterterrorism activity from his basement White House office, is also a candidate for C.I.A. director. But officials note that his current post already gives him sway over all 18 intelligence agencies. 

Mr. Kerry has worked hard to deepen his relationship with Mr. Obama. The president has at times considered him long-winded and a throwback to a previous generation of diplomats, aides said. But Mr. Kerry impressed Mr. Obama and Mr. Donilon when he was sent to deal with Hamid Karzai, the famously unpredictable president of Afghanistan, after Mr. Karzai’s supporters rigged a presidential election in 2009 and refused a second round of voting. 

Mr. Kerry also visited Pakistan several times to try to ease recurrent tensions, including a two-week visit after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Pakistani officials tried to get Mr. Kerry to write what they called a “blood oath” that the United States would never take action to seize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Mr. Kerry found a diplomatic way out, saying the United States had no “designs” on Pakistan’s weapons. 

“It meant nothing,” a member of Mr. Obama’s national security team said later. “And it solved the crisis. Quite artfully.” 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Letter: Harper isn’t defending Quebec’s interests

It is interesting how the Conservatives are quick to denounce Justin Trudeau’s comments and defend Alberta’s interests and honour, but nowhere are Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cronies anywhere to be found to defend Quebec interests — ever. They’ve given in/up to the nationalists.

Mr. Harper’s actions and those of his party show that they are representative of the people who voted for them, and not all Canadians. The PM should represent all Canadians, not just Albertans.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Weston beatboxer Scott Jackson crowned Canadian champ

Canada has a new beatbox champion. 

After two years of coming in second, Weston resident Scott Jackson was crowned the winner of the Freedom of Beats 2012 Canadian Beatbox Championships. 

Held Nov. 10 at The Mod Club downtown, 16 finalists made up of Canada’s finest beatboxers battled it out, with Jackson beating two-time defending champ Terry Im, who performs under moniker KRNFX.
Judged on originality, technical skill, creativity, battle tactics and crowd response, Jackson clinched first place and was awarded $500 cash, a trophy and the chance to represent Canada at the World Beatbox Championships to be held next year in Germany. 

“It was a tough battle,” Jackson said. “I beat the guy in the semis that won first for two years. It feels amazing to finally win. I can’t put it into words. To beat (KRNFX) in the semis is almost bigger than winning.” 

The friendly rivalry between Jackson and KRNFX, who retired from competition after the championships, has not only been played out at beatbox events but in front of television cameras as both men were two of 12 finalists on Canada’s Got Talent in the spring. 

“Scott Jackson has taken his rightful spot as the 2012 Canadian Beatbox Champion,” said Gary Goudini, host and director of Beatbox Canada. “A well deserved win over the toughest top 16 beatboxers in Canada to date. As an inspiration to us all, this hometown hero shares his passion selflessly, making beatbox music for all to enjoy. A true people’s champ.” 

Jackson’s path to beatboxing a decade ago wasn’t planned. Bedridden for months with a virus in high school, Jackson dabbled in beatboxing after hearing small snippets from beatboxers Doug E. Fresh and Miz Markie to help pass the time. But as time wore on, his skills evolved and it soon became a passion that would lead to winning competitions and turning his art into a full-time job. 

“It’s funny how stuff works out,” he said. “I took a negative and made it into a positive.” 

In 2008, Jackson won the very first competition he entered to become the Scribble Jam Beatbox champion. He was then invited to participate in the World Beatbox Championships, working as a busker downtown to hone his skills and raise funds for the trip. 

While he didn’t do as well has he had hoped, Jackson gained valuable experience, he said. 

And that experienced showed, as Jackson continued to dominate in almost every beatbox competition he entered. 

“Beatboxing really is like a family,” he said. “Right away that person is my brother or sister. At the World Championships in Germany I met people from all over the world and we had an instant connection. Music is an international language.” 

Having won the Canadian Beatbox Championships and a slew of other competitions, Jackson, 25, is now wrestling with the idea of retiring from battling. 

“It’s a question that’s been circling in my mind,” he said. “I may want to defend my title, I’m not sure. I don’t know if there is much more I need to prove in Canada. I want to give opportunity to some of the younger guys to make a name.” 

While he decides, Jackson plans to keep busy with an upcoming battle in Switzerland and many school appearances, having performed at some 1,000 schools across Canada in three years, where he speaks about bullying, following your dreams and equality. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Obama celebrates win at rally

A cavernous hall at McCormick Place filled with deafening cheers late Tuesday night as President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term, launching a wild celebration among thousands of his supporters.
The nervous anticipation that marked much of the evening quickly melted as Obama's victory became clear. People in the crowd danced, hugged and high-fived as election results streamed in over huge television screens flanking the stage where Obama would speak. "Twist and Shout" blared over the loudspeakers, and Julie Lawrenz, 42, twisted nearly to the ground.

"I'm just really happy," said Lawrenz, of Chicago. "And I'm happy it's over quickly."

The timing of the announcement came as a surprise, with many in the crowd having been prepared to wait all night without a declaration of victory. As the win was announced, supporters screamed and hugged one another, waving American flags and snapping cell photos of the jumbo TV screens.

Actress Vivica A. Fox, walking away after finishing a television interview, froze in her tracks and began to cry. Mayor Rahm Emanuel strode past her, grinning, on his way backstage. Reporters jumped on tables to get a better look at it all.

Just moments before the race was called, two Chicago friends stood clutching each other's hands and anxiously watching the screen. When it flashed the word "elected," both erupted in jubilant yells, pulling nearby strangers into hugs. "That one time, I went to sleep thinking one thing and woke up to learn that George Bush had won," said Laverne Parker, a substitute teacher from Lisle. "I was going to stay up all night to make sure. ... But this is better."

Though the venue for Obama's Tuesday night election-results viewing party lacked the spectacle of 2008's sprawling event in Grant Park, revelers made the most of it. Many said they wanted to be part of history. Personally invested in the campaign, Sylvia Williams, 80, and Mary Austin, 82, missed their usual night with the Classy Divas bowling league for an opportunity to hear the president speak at McCormick Place.
"I'm on top of the world," said Williams, of Markham, who spent weeks working to get out the vote for Obama.

"This is history all over again," said Austin, who lives in Harvey.

Planners never expected the rally to equal what took place in 2008, when an estimated 240,000 people streamed into Grant Park to see a victorious Obama speak. His campaign chose to remain indoors this year, where the crowd was limited to a few thousand supporters. For Obama supporters who got a ticket, the change in venue mattered only a little.

"I miss the skyline and ambience of the city," said Craig Porter, a union official who attended the Grant Park rally in 2008. "But here, I guess it's OK. I like it because we are here all together."

Shortly before Obama's win was official, Emanuel said the results showed the breadth of Obama's support.
"Everybody talks about the president's coalition, heavily in the sense of minorities and women," Emanuel said. "Iowa, heavily white, heavily old, and yet he's going to, it looks like, if trends continue, win Iowa. I think everybody should step back with what they think about, what they're saying, and take a look at really what's going on."

When the doors opened around 7:30 p.m., people rushed into the hall, snapping pictures of themselves and the Obama campaign signs that covered the walls.

Janice Haywood, who was in Grant Park in 2008, arrived at McCormick Place with her 5-year-old daughter more than six hours before supporters were allowed to enter.

"My heart didn't start pumping until all the people started coming in," said Haywood, clutching toys and a laptop that she had used to entertain her daughter in the hours before the doors opened.

Having a black president has been important for both of her children, said Haywood, who also is African-American and has an 8-year-old son.

"It is so important for my kids to see the president," said Haywood, 43, of Bolingbrook. "(They) look through the presidents at school and now (they) can see someone who looks like them."

Bridget Turner, 41, of Homewood said she and her children attended Obama's election night rally at Grant Park in 2008, and they all volunteered for his 2012 campaign. She donated money to the campaign, made phone calls and canvassed neighborhoods on the president's behalf.

"I can say I had a hand in history," she said. "I'm very excited about that."

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn described Obama's re-election campaign as distinctly different from the 2008 "movement campaign" four years ago: "The president inspired, literally, hundreds of thousands of volunteers all across America to take on the super PACS and show what grass-roots democracy is all about."

Quinn added that another four years of Obama — whom he described as a supporter of the middle class — would be good for Illinois. "The president has been very good to Illinois from day one," Quinn said. "The president rode to our rescue."

Genise Smith-Watkins, of Matteson, said she began her day shortly after sunrise, loading volunteers on a bus to canvass Iowa and arranging phone calls in the president's south suburban campaign office. She left around 1 p.m. to head to McCormick Place, confident she had done all she could to help her candidate win.
"I feel good. I feel good about the president winning and I feel good about my contribution."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Top retailer to take lead role at Billabong

BILLABONG International has appointed experienced retail executive Ian Pollard as its chairman-elect as it attempts a turnaround amid waning interest from private equity suitors.

But the surfwear retailer may still find itself short of board members after its shareholder meeting this month, with investor advocates recommending that at least two directors be dumped.

The Australian Shareholders Association has recommended Billabong founder Gordon Merchant and former employee Colette Paull not be re-elected to the board for their role in rejecting a $3.30-a-share offer from private equity group TPG.

Billabong shares dived last week after the company confirmed TPG is reconsidering its current $1.45-a-share offer.

A second private equity firm, Bain Capital, made a matching bid but withdrew its offer in late September while undergoing due diligence.

''In his position as majority shareholder he [Mr Merchant] effectively prevented the board of directors accepting an offer of $3.30 per share from TPG Capital in February 2012,'' said the ASA in a report on its website. ''Not to sell or refusal to negotiate cost both him and all shareholders very dearly. In his position as a director, he should have known the perilous financial position the company was in and acted accordingly. His failure to do so no longer gives him the right to continue as a director.''

Mr Merchant was not available for comment.

The ASA said Ms Paull acted co-jointly with Mr Merchant and deserved similar treatment.

The ASA said it also seriously considered whether executive director Paul Naude also be dumped.
''This is a borderline decision as we considered it would not be wise to sack him as a director along with the previous CEO, Derek O'Neill, as this would leave too big a gap in the top management of the company.''
Current Billabong chairman Ted Kunkel, who recently announced plans to step down, presided over a rapid debt-fuelled expansion before the global financial crisis hit. He was chairman when Billabong rejected the higher takeover offer from TPG in February worth $850 million.

Mr Pollard is a past chairman of Just Group, the owner of several youth-oriented fashion retail chains including Just Jeans, Dotti and JayJays. Just has since been taken over by Solomon Lew's Premier Investments.

''Ian will bring a strong mix of commercial and financial expertise to assist with the ongoing transformation of the Billabong business,'' Mr Kunkel said. Billabong has said it is pursuing a four-year overhaul to combat sliding sales and profits.

Mr Pollard will join the board as chairman-elect after the annual shareholders' meeting on October 24.
Mr Kunkel will remain as chairman pending the due diligence outcome and, in the event that Billabong remains a publicly listed company, will stay until a smooth board transition is assured.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wasaga Beach hosts Georgian Bay Reads

There's going to be a literary show down in Wasaga Beach this fall. Wasaga Beach is gearing up to host the fourth annual Georgian Bay Reads in celebration of Canadian Library Month. 

Georgian Bay Reads will be held in the RecPlex at the Oakview Community Centre on Saturday, October 20. Georgian Bay Reads is a cooperative event between neighboring communities in celebration of Canadian literature. Libraries from Town of Blue Mountains, Clearview, Collingwood, Meaford and Wasaga Beach send a representative to defend the Canadian novel of their choice. 

Moderator for the evening is Wasaga's own Monica Quinlan, who will ensure the evening is lively as participants engage in a literary duke-out to determine Canada's best novel for 2012. 

This year Wasaga will be represented by Deputy Mayor David Foster, who will use his best council debating skills to defend the novel The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis.  The heat will rise as defenders battle, joke and do whatever is necessary to keep their book from being voted out.  Audience participation is a must as defenders debate the merits of their book. Each book is voted out of the competition by members of the panel with help from the audience. The winning defender brings home the GBR trophy for their library. As the biggest book debate in the Georgian Bay region the event promises to provide the audience with an evening of lively discussion, big laughs and great Canadian books. 

Participants in this year's event are: 

Representing Blue Mountains is Araby Lockhart, library supporter, defending Barometer Rising by Hugh McLennan.
Representing Clearview Township is Edward Henley, director of finance, defending Neuromancer by William Gibson.
Representing Collingwood is Ashley Kulchycki, supervisor CPL, defending The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.
Representing Meaford is Cor Boogerman, library supporter, defending The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott.

Representing Wasaga Beach is Dave Foster, deputy mayor, defending The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis.
Tickets are required for the evening event. Tickets are free but limited. For more information or to put your name on the ticket list contact Cathy at the library at 705 429-5481 ext. 2405.
Jackie Beaudin is chief librarian at Wasaga Beach Public Library. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Biden to make Obama's case to middle class

It’s time for Joe Biden to show why President Barack Obama is keeping him as his running mate.

The vice president is set to address the thousands of delegates at the Democratic convention — and millions more watching at home — on Thursday evening. Advisers say Biden will tell what he saw from his front-row seat as Obama made some hard decisions. And he'll make the case that Republican rival Mitt Romney isn’t suited to make the tough calls.

Biden’s target audience is white, working-class voters. Look for him to use words such as ‘‘conviction’’ and ‘‘character.’’ He also plans to talk about the decisions that have defined Obama’s term in office, such as sending Navy SEALs to get Osama bin Laden and helping bail out Detroit’s automakers.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Obama — GOP Holding Middle-Class Tax Cuts ‘Hostage’

Just hours after the Senate voted to extend tax cuts for the middle class, President Obama accused House Republicans of holding the tax cuts “hostage” until the nation agrees to spend $1 trillion on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

Speaking to supporters at the House of Blues, the president praised the Senate for moving forward with his plan to extend the Bush-era tax rate for families earning less than $250,000 a year and to let the rate expire for higher earners.

“This is something I deeply believe in, because the middle class is still struggling, recovering from this recession.  You don’t need your taxes to go up and we could give you certainty right now,” he said.
When it comes to House Republicans, however, the president said their desire to preserve the tax rate for all earners “makes no sense.”

“If Congress doesn’t act, the typical middle-class family is going to see their tax bill go up about $2,200. Small businesses will also see their taxes go up,” he said. “But so far, they don’t see it that way.  Gov.  Romney doesn’t see it that way.”

The president cast the dueling tax plans as indicative of the broader economic visions at stake in the election.
 ”They believe in top-down economics,” he said of Republicans. “Their plan is to cut more taxes for the wealthy, cut more regulations on banks and corporations, cut more investments in things like education, job training, science, research — all with the thought that somehow that’s going to help us create jobs.  That’s what Mitt Romney believes. That’s what Washington Republicans believe.”

“That’s not what I believe.  That’s not what you believe.  That’s not what most Americans believe.  We believe not in top-down economics; we believe in middle-class-out economics.  We believe in bottom-up economics.  That’s what we’re fighting for,” he said.

The president spoke before about 400 supporters who’d paid at least $250 each to attend the event, one of two fundraisers Obama attended in the Big Easy tonight.

In shirt-sleeves and a loose tie, a relaxed Obama said it was good to be back in New Orleans.
“I’ve got to admit I was thinking about just blowing everything off and going and getting something to eat,” he joked. “The next time I come down, drinks are on me.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Despite "boos," Obama re-inspires the faithful in Boston

To Fenway-trained ears, it sounded mostly like “Yooouuk,” the guttural chorus that traditionally broke out when ever longtime Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis stepped up to the plate. But President Obama clearly believed he triggered another traditional sound, after he thanked Boston for trading Youkilis to his favorite team, the Chicago White Sox.

“I didn’t think I’d get any boos out of here, but I guess I shouldn’t have — I should not have brought up baseball,” Obama said to supporters who filled Boston Symphony Hall on Monday night. “My mistake, my mistake. You’ve got to know your crowd.”

Politics and sports are a treacherous mix. Boston baseball fans booed John Kerry when he threw out the first pitch before the start of a Sox-Yankees game that preceded the 2004 convention that selected the senator from Massachusetts as its nominee. But the pro-Obama crowd that filled Symphony Hall quickly settled any confusion over their response to the president’s words.

“We still love you,” a woman’s voice rang out, bringing the warm ovation that is more common in Obama-crazy Massachusetts.

About 1,800 Obama supporters paid $250 to $10,000 to fill the balconies and sit around small, Pops-style circular tables on the floor. In return, they heard a campaign speech aimed at re-inspiring the faithful by reminding them of the shared vision of 2008, the “compact that binds us together as a people.”

Four years later, it is striking to realize just how hard Obama must work to reconstruct the shared vision that catapulted him to the White House: the “basic bargain” that a country bought into so passionately in 2008.

Now, the narrative is complicated by Obama’s version of the challenges he confronted once elected: “surpluses turned into deficits… two wars fought on credit cards… the worst financial crisis of our lifetime.” Now, he has to spend time quietly stitching together the story of what he tried to do, and who tried to stop him, before he can thunder the phrases that bring supporters to their feet. Now, he has to argue “there is nothing radical” about his vision, and insist that he does not believe government is the answer to all problems. Now, to arouse passion in listeners, he must divide up the electorate around specific causes. They include women’s right “to control their own health choices”; the right of gays not to be “kicked out of the military”; and the desire of illegal immigrants to one day attain citizenship.

“How do we reclaim that basic bargain? How do we do it?” he asked the faithful. Obama calls the answer “the defining issue of our time,” and he’s right. His challenge in 2012 is that there are two dramatically different visions of what it takes to re-ignite confidence in the country. And confidence is key to achieving the shared goal of turning the economy around for all citizens.

Even in Boston, Obama may not have had everyone at hello. But by the end of this speech, he reminded this gathering why they see it his way.

“It was a quiet conversation about what’s at stake,” said Boston City Councilor Michael P. Ross. “He brought the crowd to his side.”

Then again, it was Boston. If he can’t do it there, he can’t do it anywhere.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Obama's Economists Say U.S. Household Wealth Recovering

The White House, in a rebuttal to a Federal Reserve study, said the “entire decline” of almost 39 percent in household wealth reported by the central bank occurred before President Barack Obama took office and that much of the wealth has returned. 

“The numbers are a tough and brutal snapshot of the financial crisis and housing bubble that President Obama inherited,” White House economists Gene Sperling and Jason Furman wrote in an official blog posted today. All of the decline in wealth occurred before Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, they said. 

The June 11 report, released five months before presidential and congressional elections, showed almost every demographic group experienced losses during the 2007-2010 period of study. The losses may hurt retirement prospects for middle- income families, who are the focus of Obama’s re-election effort.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has criticized Obama’s handling of the economy, including that the U.S. unemployment rate rose last month even as the Fed maintained record stimulus and after Obama’s $830 billion stimulus program. 

The U.S. economy grew more slowly in the first quarter than previously estimated, expanding at a 1.9 percent annual rate, down from a 2.2 percent prior estimate. Retail sales in the U.S. fell in May for a second month, the Commerce Department reported today, another sign the U.S. economy is cooling. 

The financial crisis wiped out 18 years of gains for the median U.S. household net worth, with a 38.8 percent plunge from 2007 to 2010 that was led by the collapse in home prices, the Federal Reserve study showed.

Wealth Rising

Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, and Furman, its principal deputy director, said in the White House blog that wealth “has risen every year” since Obama came to office, though it hasn’t fully recovered. 

The economists said household wealth fell 24 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2009, when George W. Bush was president. They said Americans’ net worth grew by 15 percent between the first quarter of 2009 and the third quarter of 2010. 

“Household wealth has risen every year President Obama has been in office, by a total of 23 percent overall,” Sperling and Furman wrote, citing gains the in value of mutual funds, increasing bank deposits and gains in stock values, aided by stabilizing home values. 

Even so, they said, “These data show that wealth still has not fully recovered from the worst recession since the Great Depression and reinforces how much more work we have to do.” 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Romney and Obama: Lost in the Arizona Desert

The Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments on Arizona's anti-immigrant law SB 1070. I was inside the chamber as the justices indicated they were inclined to uphold at least part of the law, the "show me your papers" provision. It allows police to detain people they believe are in the country illegally while their immigration status is determined.

It's tragic that we have even gotten to this point. At the same time, compelling arguments have been made about how opponents of SB 1070 might benefit from galvanizing the support of the Latino community.  A political silver lining for some, perhaps, but that won't matter for the families who suddenly find themselves at the mercy of local law enforcement able to freely discriminate.

Earlier this year while campaigning in Arizona, Mitt Romney declared his support for the state's 'model' immigration law, and pledged to drop the Justice Department's challenge to SB 1070 should he become president.

Even worse, he told voters about his plan for addressing undocumented immigration, which amounts to finding ways to make life so difficult for the undocumented that they 'self deport.'
Imagine how that might play out.

Perhaps it will look something like the Underground Railroad of the Free State/Slave State days or a mass exodus of the oppressed out of the hands of their oppressors a la biblical Egypt.

To anti-immigration extremists, this scenario might seem like sound, constitutional public policy. To me, it sounds like an America where we might have to put the Statue of Liberty in storage or be called hypocrites.
Now that Romney is virtually assured the GOP nomination, he is desperately trying to shed his 'severely' anti-immigration skin that has baked in the Arizona desert while he pandered to the SB 1070 zealots. No doubt about it, Mitt must molt. Conditions have changed.

'Self deport' and praise for SB 1070, for example, have repelled potential Latino supporters in battleground states as well as farmers and businessmen. It was no surprise that in an attempt to back away from SB 1070, a Romney campaign spokesperson last week 'clarified' that the candidate, in fact, did not call SB 1070 a model immigration law, but was instead referring to Arizona's e-verify system.

That was news to the law's author, former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, who, like the rest of us, was sure Romney was referring to SB 1070. So was I, which may be the only time you'll hear me agreeing with anything said by Pearce.

President Obama's immigration record isn't exactly blemish-free either. Under his watch, the federal government's unjust Secure Communities deportation program has greatly expanded. Though perhaps not as toxic as SB 1070, Secure Communities often results in racial profiling and leads minority communities to distrust law enforcement.

Still, Obama is rightfully challenging unconstitutional immigration laws like Arizona's, and he steadfastly remains on the right side of important legislation like the DREAM Act. But in trying to get Congress to put immigration reform on the agenda, the president has fallen short. Challenging SB 1070 merely on the grounds that state law cannot displace federal law on immigration laws does not address the larger issues at stake.

The Arizona desert can be an unforgiving place. But it can also be one where an immigration policy that is fair and respects civil liberties can flourish. The heat is on for the candidates to make that happen.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Obama Introduces Bullying Documentary on Cartoon Network

President Obama opened up a 30-minute documentary on childhood bullying for Cartoon Network this evening, continuing awareness initiatives he set into motion last year.

The minute-long introduction, which was pre-taped, featured the president speaking directly to the camera for the documentary titled “To SPEAK UP Against Bullying,” a 30-minute special broadcast that aired Sunday on Cartoon Network.

“Bullying is not a rite of passage or harmless part of growing up,” Obama said. “It’s wrong. Its destructive and we can all prevent it.”

Obama said that for him the issue is personal.

“I care about this issue deeply, not just as the president, but as a dad,” he said referring to his two daughters, Sasha and Malia.

The president mentioned last year’s White House summit on bullying prevention in his opening remarks, adding that partnerships have been made “with schools and parents to raise awareness.”

According to the White House an estimated 13 million students are bullied each year.

As he closed his remarks, Obama left viewers with a call to action to do more.

“Everyone has to take action against bullying,” he said. “Everyone has an obligation to make our schools and our communities safer for all our kids.”

The commercial-free documentary, which extends the network’s social initiative Stop Bullying: Speak Up, aired on Cartoon Network across the country today at 5:30 p.m.

It featured a number of kids, mostly between the ages of 8 and 13, as well as a number of famous athletes, including tennis star Venus Williams, soccer goalie Hope Solo, extreme bike trickster Matt Wilhelm, and Joey Logano, the youngest NASCAR champ.

The children spoke about their own bullying experiences and how to stand up to bullies.

Young Aaron Cheese said he used to “fight back tears when called names,” causing his grades to fall.

“It wasn’t a really fun elementary-middle school experience for me,” Cheese said.

Other children recounted similar experiences.

“You’d feel really vulnerable,” Alye Pollack said, recounting the names she was called: “Oh, you’re so fat, goodbye and push me into a locker.”

She said her tormentors prompted her to create a YouTube video titled “WORDS DO HURT” to explain to her tormenters how she feels.

Her actions led to apologies, with one child who saw the video telling her how sorry he was for his actions and eventually sticking up for her against another bully.

BMX star Matt Willhelm told a story of how he too was bullied as a child, which eventually led to his desire to do trick biking.

The documentary featured scenarios for how to handle bullies, as well as allowing the children to explain why they don’t speak up — and why they should.

According to Cartoon Network’s website the documentary “captures the authentic, everyday stories of America’s bullied kids and the youth who have helped them” and “seeks to empower all kids to take part in the growing movement to help bring an end to bullying.”

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Are new unemployment figures a boost for Obama?

An unemployment rate that dropped to 8.3 percent in January as the economy added 243,000 jobs – might have caused the White House staff to do cartwheels. If you’re going to get blamed when things are rough, why not celebrate when they go well?

But that would have been behind closed doors, and the official response was more measured.

“These numbers will go up and down in the coming months, and there's still far too many Americans who need a job or need a job that pays better than the one they have now,” President Obama said. “But the economy is growing stronger.”

Came the quick retort from Mitt Romney, front-runner in the GOP race to try and unseat Obama: “Not so fast, Mr. President. This is the 36th straight month with unemployment above the red line your own administration drew. The real unemployment rate is over 15 percent. Mr. President, America has also had enough of your kind of help.”

(Romney’s “real unemployment rate over 15 percent” apparently includes the underemployed and those who’ve gotten discouraged and stopped looking.)

So the political question is: How much can Obama be credited with what looks to be an economic turnaround – if indeed that’s what we’re seeing?

On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Larry Summers, Obama's former economic adviser who served as Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration, put a positive spin on the new employment figures.

“Unlike many of the favorable past reports, if you look beneath the surface of this one, almost every indicator within it is favorable,” he said. “The growth is mostly from the private sector. The alternative survey, the household survey, suggested 500,000 or more jobs were created. The revisions of past months were favorable. People are working a longer week. Paychecks are going up. The number of vacancies, firms looking for work, are going up.”

Blogging in the New Yorker, John Cassidy points out that if January’s rate of hiring continues, within a few months the jobless rate will drop below 7.8 per cent – where it stood when Obama took office.

“At that point, it will be tough for Mitt Romney to stand up and say the President’s policies have made the recession worse,” Cassidy writes. “And it will be impossible for Republicans to deny that things are getting better.”

Republican congressional leaders don’t deny that the employment situation is improving. They just think it would be better if they were in charge – or at least if Obama would urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to take up the jobs bills that have passed in the House with bipartisan support.

Political prognosticators say the improving employment news gave a bump to Obama’s standing in the 2012 presidential race.

The Intrade prediction market now gives him a 57 percent chance of being re-elected. Romney has a 38 percent chance of preventing that, according to Intrade.

“While a month of 250,000 jobs added isn’t sufficient to get the president re-elected, it was necessary,” writes Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics. "We should realize that this isn’t exactly the 1.1 million jobs added in September 1983, but it is absolutely an important first step for Obama to get back into the 2012 race.”

Still, in a mock election Obama leads Romney by a scant 2.2 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls.

And in an article titled “Why Obama should be worried,” Jim Vandehei at Politico warns against “Pollyanna punditry.”

“There are a bunch of real-time numbers coming in that tell a much different tale,” he writes.

“There’s a new Congressional Budget Office report that shows unemployment likely to climb to nearly 9 percent by the election, there’s polling data showing Obama tied or trailing Mitt Romney in the most important swing states (and doing only marginally better against Ron Paul), and there is mounting evidence that the assumption of a decisive Obama fundraising advantage for the fall might be flat wrong,” Vandehei writes.

Over at Gallup, the polling organization reports that in just ten states and the District of Columbia do a majority of those surveyed approve of the job Obama is doing, according to monthly tracking data through 2011.

So if the White House gained a little spring in its step from the latest job figures, it needs to focus on other trends as well.