Day: March 31, 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!