Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The more things change....

I’ve been engrossed with Robert Caro’s biography of LBJ. I’m almost finished with volume 1 and am finding it tough to put down. I was reminded of the old adage, “the more things change the more they stay the same” as I was reading last night with CNN News on in the background. The news shows are full of budget and deficit talk. Last night the big story was the new proposal by the Gang of 6. It’s political theater.

Getting back to Caro’s LBJ. I’m currently reading about Johnson’s lack of a legislative record during the course of his time serving in the House. Caro points out that while LBJ ran for his Congressional seat shouting , “Roosevelt, Roosevelt, Roosevelt any chance he had, and promised to be a backer of the New Deal, he was silent when it came to debate on almost every issue of the day. It wasn’t like there weren’t major issues being debated.

I was struck by what I came across on page 550. I have to admit I don't know much about this recession in '38 and need to do more research. According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics the US unemployment rate hit 19%, up from 14% in ’37. To quote Caro,

Most significant of all, 1938, the year in which the New Deal had to face its own recession, was the year of the great debate in Washington over whether to fight that recession with mammoth new spending programs , or whether a balanced budget—the balanced budget which the President himself so devoutly wished for--- was more important: an issue whose resolution was to affect the fundamentals of American life for years, if not decades to come.

Sound familiar?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Game Change

I finally got around to reading Game Change, the book heralded as the inside story on the 2008 Presidential Campaign. The book benefited from a lot of buzz when it was released but I'm glad I waited a year plus to pick it up. We are right in the middle of the early stages of the next presidential campaign so the reading was timely as a look back. The book did illustrate how vacuous these campaigns are. There is no off-season in American politics now. The campaign and the associated media coverage is another form of entertainment. Another way to waste time between NFL games.

At the same, reading the book now and having two and a half years to look at Obama's body of work as President...something I wouldn't have been able to do had I read the book when it first came out solidified my view that our politicians really don't have much of a plan to deal with the numerous problems we face now.

It ends up, I'm even more cynical now after having read the book then I was before and that is saying something. I shouldn't be so naive but Game Change makes it obvious that the only thing serious about the presidential candidates is their "personal brand" and the public perception of that brand. The candidates, whether Obama, Hillary, McCain or John Edwards are bereft of any real solutions. It's all about the brand and all about them.

John Heilemann and Mark Halperin write a book in the Bob Woodward model. There are no footnotes, but the reader is privy to many closed door meetings and numerous anecdotes as to what a candidate was "thinking" at particular moments during the campaign. I have a problem with the integrity and accuracy of the information presented. For example there is a story recounted on page 17 of a 2004 Hillary Clinton conversation with a Reuters reporter at the NY State Fair... in Albany. The problem is that the NY State Fair is in Syracuse, there is no State Fair in Albany. It might seem like nit-picking, but how much can I trust the accuracy of closed-door dialogue and unaccredited sources when something I can check is just flat out wrong? It makes me wonder how much of the story is just a fictionalized account.

Reading Game Change didn't help this particular 2008 Obama voter be any more enthusiastic about supporting him this time around. Hope and Change are turning out to be nothing more than a neat advertising pitch.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Batty Bachmann and more pressing issues

My friend Jane Hill sent me a note the other night sharing the latest Matt Taibbi Rolling Stone piece. This one was a thorough hatchet job on the new GOP contender Michelle Bachmann. While I agreed with Jane that it is disturbing that someone as vacuous as Bachmann has emerged as a contender to lead the nation, my belief is that this political posturing is just more of the same.It's a game that keeps us entertained while we wait for the NFL season. Meanwhile our attention is diverted from issues and stories that are more pressing.

Three examples for this week that haven't had quite the same media play:

1) Minnesota on the verge of shutdown--- ( I guess it's official they have had a state shutdown). $5 billion budget problem.

2) The city of Annapolis, the Maryland capital needing to borrow $10 million to pay its bills. I know they will be flush in the fall with tax receipts. We've heard that before. As a result they will be paying $150-200K for these borrowed funds.

3 The state of New Jersey borrowing $2 billion+ from JP Morgan for a bridge loan at 9% interest so they can pay their bills. That's the same JP Morgan the taxpayers have bailed out through the Fed and Treasury with o% money..... brilliant.

Michelle Bachmann could be the least of our problems right now.