Month: March 2009

The Problem of Cabinet Nominees and Back Taxes

It is certainly disappointing that yet another Cabinet nominee of President Obama,  Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas, owes back taxes of under $10,000.

This is the fifth or sixth time that this has happened, and it caused a controversy for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, although he was confirmed, and it prevented former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle from continuing his candidacy for the HHS position. 

Of course, Daschle had a major amount of money owed in back taxes, while Sebelius’s back taxes are quite small in amount.  This does not mean, however, that the average tax payer is going to be understanding of her situation.

The point is, however, whether Democrat or Republican, people who are asked to serve by a President or who serve in Congress or in government agencies in high positions, are not "average" people like most of us, including the author.  They are, in reality, wealthy Americans who welcome the opportunity to serve in government, and there is no way that we are going to ever see much of a change in that unfortunate reality. 

So my thought is, make them pay their back taxes, as long as not a major amount such as Daschle had, and realize that accountants for wealthy people can themselves disagree on the proper taxation for these fortunate people.  But let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face and prevent them from serving in our government, with their expertise and skills able, hopefully,  to contribute to the future of the nation.

The Growing Popularity of Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama has seen her popularity soar to a level where,  in a new poll, three fourths of the American people see her as a positive force.

This is quite a change since last summer when she was seen as controversial and outspoken, and a large portion of the American people saw her in a negative way.  Now even most Republicans see her as adding to the stature of her position and being a positive influence on her husband’s Presidency.

Michelle Obama is now being compared in glamor to Princess Diana of Great Britain and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  That is a good omen for the future, as she has made herself appear as the ideal mother, wife, and spokesman for social concern for those less fortunate.  She is on the road to possible ranking as one of the most outstanding First Ladies in a public role, joining such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, Rosalyn Carter, and Hillary Clinton.

Michelle Bachmann Resumes As A Controversial Figure

GOP Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, a major embarrassment during the 2008 Presidential campaign, when she called for investigations of liberal Democrats in Congress as traitors, has now emerged again as a divisive figure who hurts the attempt to revive the Republican party for the future.

An evangelical Christian, she now says that the country must be armed to protect against a government that she sees as the enemy, and declares her image of the nation as one where "patriotic" Americans must be be ready for "revolution".  She ridicules the issue of climate change as well, and promotes an incendiary atmosphere of division, conspiracy and hate.

While freedom of speech stays as a bulwark of our democracy, it is alarming to see the kind of invective that she spews forth, and there is a need for more careful investigation of her rhetoric and her associations, just as she espoused the same thing against her "liberal" enemies last year.  In other words, what is good for the goose is good for the gander! 

Barack Obama Goes International

President and Mrs Obama are now in Europe and about to attend the G-20 and NATO summits, and they arrive as international celebrities.

At the same time, Obama faces major challenges in his dealings with the other major economies in the world, as despite his personal popularity, the United States is seen overseas as the major culprit in the international economic decline which is threatening the stability of most of those nations, as well as the poorer nations in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

Obama must also deal with world leaders which include those who have made themselves controversial by their statements and actions, including those of Brazil, Italy, France, and Germany, but also includes the major challenges of nations such as the Russian Federation, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and Mexico.

The hope is that his personal popularity will translate into renewed respect for the United States and willingness of these nations, or most of them, to work cooperatively in dealing with the major crises, both economic and foreign, that the world faces in 2009.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Obama

When President Obama chose to retain Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as a carryover from the Bush Administration, there were many raised eyebrows, including mine.

Now that we have had a chance to see the two men interact and work together, it has to be said that the Gates retention seems like a smart move politically and diplomatically.  Gates, always a person who has kept his persona in the background, has had a positive impact on Obama defense policy.  If Gates had been Defense Secretary under Bush from the beginning, instead of the disastrous Donald Rumsfeld,  he might have been a good influence on that President and prevented the worst policy influences of Vice President Dick Cheney.

It will be interesting one day in the distant future to find out the full interactions when Gates worked under Bush and his involvement now with Obama, who Gates has positively compared with Bush as being more "analytical".  Gates is expected to stay for at least the first two years of the Obama Presidency, and at this point, he can be seen as playing a major role in the promotion of change in defense and foreign policy.

The Proposed Lifting of the Cuba Travel Ban

A move is on in Congress to lift the 47 year old  ban on travel to Cuba.  Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota is sponsoring a resolution to end this outdated policy and is being backed by a reputable Republican senator on foreign policy and a good friend of President Obama when he was in the Senate, Richard Lugar of Indiana.

If we can allow travel to China and Vietnam, then what is the reason to continue the ban on Cuban travel, other than the influence of the Cuban American community and the few Cuban American members of Congress?  As it is, the Cuban community is becoming more divided on policy toward that island nation, with the younger generation expressing a desire to open up contact with the homeland of their elders.

Not only should this policy be changed, but also it is time to end the embargo on trade and diplomatic relations with the Raul Castro regime.  It has never worked, and has not undermined that government, and much progress could be made in US-Cuban relations if that five decade failed policy were now to be abandoned.  Let’s hope that President Obama takes steps in that direction very soon!

John McCain and Sarah Palin’s 2012 Presidential Bid

Senator John McCain was on Meet the Press on Sunday, and host David Gregory asked him about Sarah Palin’s possible candidacy for President in 2012.

McCain would not state that he would back his Vice Presidential running mate, stating that it all depended on who else was in the race.  He said he had admiration, love and respect for Palin, but that there were many qualified candidates including Jon  Huntsman,  Bobby Jindal, and Tim Pawlenty, and that he would have to wait and see.

This was obviously not a ringing endorsement!  It makes one tremble at the thought that had McCain won the Presidency and not finished his term, that Sarah would have been President.  I think it is clear that McCain has had second thoughts about the capabilities of his running mate! 

Dick Cheney’s Disgraceful Conduct Regarding President Obama

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is now revealed to have bad mouthed Barack Obama in the transition period from November to Inauguration Day, telling the Israelis that Obama was pro Palestinian, and that Obama was a "loser" in a general sense.

This kind of conduct, plus his strong criticism of Obama so soon into the new President’s term, is unheard of in the history of the Presidency, other than Andrew Jackson badmouthing John Quincy Adams after the contested Presidential election of 1824.

If former Vice President Al Gore had done the same thing to President Bush so shortly after the inauguration in 2001, he would have been strongly criticized.  Instead Gore kept his thoughts to himself for a long period of time, showing dignity and grace, but that apparently is beyond Cheney.

Cheney should be roundly condemned for his unwillingness to give Obama a breathing space before attacking.  In this regard, former President Bush has indeed shown better judgment in making clear his decision to give Obama a chance before he comments on his administration.  For once, Bush has not followed the lead of his Vice President, who seemed often to dominate decision making in the Bush White House.  This situation only adds to the horrible public image that Dick Cheney has, except among right wing talk radio and very conservative think tanks.

Texas Governor Rick Perry and The Stimulus Package

Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry has already established a record for longevity in his position, but it has not been a distinguished governorship.

Perry is now rejecting the Obama economic stimulus bill provisions calling for an increased benefit for unemployed Texans,  on the basis that it is interfering with the state’s right to limit those benefits, so as to prevent a crisis in state funding in the future.

Perry is following the lead of other GOP Southern governors including Bobby Jindal of Louisiana,  and also Alaska Governor Sarah Palin,  in creating barriers for aid to the unemployed.  At a time of the greatest unemployment numbers in many decades, and the rapid increases that have occurred in the past few months, it is unconscionable that Perry shows no concern for the lives and welfare of so many Texans.

The unemployed and disadvantaged are being played with for some kind of sick political gain, at a time when the whole nation should be working together to alleviate the suffering of those unfortunate enough to lose their jobs, many of them hard working Americans, who through no fault of their own, have now been thrown into poverty, and discover that their states’s governors have a hard hearted attitude toward their plight.  What a disgrace!

The Minnesota Senate Race Outrage

The Minnesota Senate race controversy between former Republican Senator Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken is about to be settled by a three judge panel after a full trial of all the evidence on contested votes, and it is expected that Al Franken will finally win the seat.

But now Senator John Cornyn, Texas Republican who heads the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, threatens "World War III" if the Democratic majority tries to seat Franken, and the indications are an appeal could be made to the US Supreme Court, which could drag out the race for months, and theoretically, years, denying Minnesotans their right to two voting senators.

This kind of situation has never happened before, and so far, 145 days have passed since the November election, the longest drawn out election  contest in US Senate history.  This situation is intolerable and it is time for Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, a possible presidential candidate in 2012, to do the right thing and certify Franken as the winner if the three judge panel rules Franken has triumphed by 225 votes.

The likelihood of this scenario, however, is doubtful, and it it an outrage against democracy, and it only adds to the image that the GOP is willing to do anything to prevent Al Franken from rightfully taking the Senate seat that he has earned, albeit by the small margin of 225 votes.  The situation will not help the historical reputation of Norm Coleman, or for that matter, John Cornyn!