Economy

A Decade Ends

Another decade ends and another decade begins. The march of time just keeps on ticking and tocking. Looking back at this decade requires a lot of pain, suffering, and sunglasses. There were some bright spots, some low spots, and some really low spots. But what will the 2000s be remembered for? Here is a list of the ten most memorable events of the decade so far. After all, things do change along with our perception of them. Who knows, in ten years, these could all change and our view of the decade along with it.

10. The Economic Meltdown – brought on by a lack of regulation, extended debt, high gas prices, and variable interest rates, the economy of the US, and most of the world, almost went in the dumpster in the fall of 2008. Huge bailouts have stemmed the tide for the time being, but many consumers and savers are still wary.

9. Social Networking – Blogs, Twitter, Facebook have changd how we perceive the news and get the news. in 2009 alone, the riots in Iran and Michael Jackson’s death showed that the world is more connected than previously thought.

8. Google – Who knew a little search engine would become one of the world’s fastest growing companies in less than ten years. It’s new phone and diversification have brought Google to behemoth proportions.


7. iPod/iPhone/Apple – No other cultural event changed the daily lives of people more than Apple products. Starting with the iPod, then the iPhone, Apple has been on a roll since a month after the iPod debuted in the fall of 2001.


6. Patriot Act – In rural America, the Patriot Act doesn’t get much play. However in urban America, it was everywhere. From libraries to government buildings to transportation systems to traffic security cameras to sporting events, the heightened sense of security pervaded the landscape of the American city.


5. Afghanistan – Eight and a half years later and there is no end in sight. Still no Osama and now Dick Cheney is commenting on Obama’s lack of leadership on the war. What was Dick doing for eight years? Oh, that’s right, he was shooting people in the face here at home. Anyway, as 30,00o more troops arrive in the coming months, new tactics and strategies to deploy these soldiers are needed as the Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurgent not only in Afghanistan but as well as in Pakistan.


4. Iraq – However, with Iraq, the end is in sight. American troops will most likely start coming home this summer with Iraq maintaining it’s own security thereafter. For the first 4 years of the conflict, that didn’t look like it was going to happen. Mismanagement of the war from the Pentagon to the White House to the State Department sullied all the goodwill the US had gained after September 11. Luckily, General David Patreus brought in a new strategy in 2005 and a surge and helped to lower the violence.


3. A Black President – 250 years of slavery – 100 years of segregation. A man of African descent is elected President of the United States and he doesn’t get the top spot? It must have been a really bad decade.


2. September 11 – In most decades, a terrorist attack on the United States would have been number one. In the US, this is the number one event of the last ten years. The events following both united and divided a nation. From the War in Afghanistan to the War in Iraq, everything came back to this point in time. Some justifiably, others not.


1. Tsunami
– in 2004, over 230,000 people were killed when a tsunami hit Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and other Indian Ocean nations. The lack of a warning system,like that in the Pacific, doomed most of the victims. While having a short term severe economic impact on the region, the psychological and environmental damage still continues. This once in a lifetime natural disaster changed how we look at the power of the sea and how we truly are at the whim of mother nature.

All in all, it was not the best decade. As I enter my sixth decade on this rock, the 2000s would have to rank at the bottom of those decades as they pertain to the state of the world. Who knows, in time, these events will slide up or down depending on what happens in the next decade.

Other events considered…
The 2000 US Presidential Election, Hurricane Katrina, Landing in the Hudson, Blagojevich, The Detroit Bailout, Health Care  Debate, The Sarah Palin Phenomena, The Politics of Hate and Fear, The Red Sox Win the World Series, Michael Phelps 8 Gold Medals, Iran, Halo,  Wii, Enron, Blackouts, Human Genome, Climate and Weather, Digital TV, High Definition TV, Texas Hold ‘Em, Death of Newspapers, News as Entertainment, Obama Nobel Peace Prize, Rubber Band Wristbands, Harry Potter Novels, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the sudden death of Michael Jackson.

Send me yours…and Happy New Year!

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Harry S. Truman: Lessons for Obama

Not that my father has given me any grief, but Harry S. Truman is his favorite President. The former haberdasher is not my favorite executive, but he is not my least favorite either. For me, Truman is in my top ten…most likely at seven or eight (these things fluctuate you know). He is the perfect example of a president whose approval ratings have risen over the course of fifty-six years since he left office. They were the lowest of the lows until a certain chief executive just left office. But when you look at Truman, there a lot of similarities to look at between President Truman and President Obama. And I do mean A lot.

When FDR passed in April of 1945, Truman was a little known Vice-President, and before that he was a little known Senator from Missouri. He had served his country in World War I and had led the Truman Committee in the Senate which saved the government $15 billion. But aside from those two instances in the limelight, the world, or for that matter, FDR, hardly knew anything about him. The same can be said for Obama.

Other Similarities
1. Two Wars to Win – When Truman ascended to the Presidency, he was more shocked than anyone else. He inherited a 2 conflicts – one on it’s last legs; the other could take years. The War in Europe was just about over and American and Soviet troops has pushed into Germany and were knocking on Hitler’s bunker door. Within a month, Hitler would be dead and the US and Soviets would be dividing up the continent into free and communist states. The war against the Empire of Japan was not so easy. An invasion of the home islands could result in anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million American lives, and not to mention, the cost in Japanese lives. The only use of nuclear weapons in history occurred in August of 1945 when Truman saw an option to bring a quick end to the war. Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki consecutively did result in the surrender of the Japanese aboard the USS Missouri. For Obama, nuclear weapons are not an option. The War in Iraq is at an iffy stage. While the surge of 2008 proved to help matters in the region, the real help came in money paid to insurgents not to kill us. According to Thomas Ricks, that is the gamble that General Petraeus is counting on. After we  leave, who is to say the Iraqis don’t start killing each other again. As for Afghanistan, the Taliban have been digging in the mountains since the days of the Mujaheddin and the Soviet occupation – much like the Japanese were preparing to do before the bombs. I don’t know how you are gonna smoke them out. It didn’t work in Vietnam and it is doubtful to work in Afghanistan. The conflict in Afghanistan is something we may not see the end of for a long time. Part of me says, turn it over to the Pakistanis and Afghans but neither government is stable enough right now and may not be for a long time.

2. The Economy – Coming out of World War II, the biggest fear the American Public had was that they thought the country was going into another depression. Inflation took hold and Truman had to bite the bullet and attack things head on. Truman threatened to take over the railways if a strike by workers took place. He also told the workers they would be drafted if they went on strike.  Obama’s problems are a little different and probably a little worse. In 1946, there were no shortage of manufacturing jobs but the prices of post war goods and services that had been rationed for four years skyrocketed. In 2009, we are not dealing with inflated prices, but deflated homes. Obama could have the Treasury Department buy up $350 billion in home loans and renegotiate with each and every lender and lendee, but that could be an immense undertaking, a risky one, and ultimately a worthwhile one which would help stabilize the housing market.

3. Israel – In 1947, the newly set aside land for the Jews became embroiled when the British announced they were going to leave in 1948. Arab armies massed at the border, and in 1948, the state of Israel was born and for the last 60 years, a tenuous situation has ebbed and flowed in the Middle East with some nations refusing to even recognize the existence of Israel. Truman set the precedent of supporting Israel and every American President has followed suit. Now, the questions have not become whether Israel should exist but how much of it should be a Palestinian state and whether the two can co-exist. As for Obama, he has publicly stated his support for Israel, but I don’t know if he will let the leadership of Israel do whatever they please to the Palestinians. Special Envoy George Mitchell was Obama’s first choice, and one of his first tasks is to deal with both sides (notice the lack of Hillary in dealing with issue).

4. Kashmir/Pakistan/India – In 1947, India gained its independence from the British Empire. Soon, the partitioning of India resulted in bloody deaths and a conflict which has never really ended between the Pakistanis and the Indians over the territory of Kashmir. In the midst of a burgeoning Cold War, Truman and the US became allies with the Pakistanis and a tenuous relationship has existed for 60 years between the two nations. Now, add in that both sides have nuclear arsenals, the Mumbai attacks, Muslim extremism, and a weak Pakistani democracy, the situation is ripe for conflict. Where India has thrived in the global economy, Pakistan has not. The disparity of wealth is something Obama will have to deal with in all of the Muslim world, not just in Pakistan.

5. The Rabid Right – Truman was also bipartisan with his Republican brethren when it came to foreign affairs, but not so when it came to domestic ones. The same can be said for Obama. Although Obama has met with Republican leaders, the relationship is strained at best because of the passage or ARRA and the soon to be disbursement of the remaining TARP funds. In the late 40s and early 50s, the House Un-American Activities (HUAC) committee and later Senator Joseph McCarthy staged a series of congressional hearings on communism at home. It made stars out of many including HUAC member Richard Nixon and witness Ronald Reagan. Now, Rush Limbaugh, a star who has risen, fallen, been  to detox, lost weight and put it back on, is in a tizzy because of the $787 billion ARRA while he is OK with multi-trillion dollar spending deficit of the Bush regime…OK. I better stop here.

6. Farmers – Dr. Bruce Field has chronicled Truman’s relationship with the Farmers in his well researched and well written Harvest of Dissent. The farmers did not like Truman’s foreign policy and made no bones about telling him so. Unfortunately, the Korean War split the National Farmer’s Union into two camps. It did not stop farmers from being a political voice to be reckoned with. It is a little different today for Obama. No one has benefited more from the collapse of property values more than farmers. Not only are they happy they have to pay less taxes, they are happy that people still have to eat and that there are lots of people to eat. Where Obama and the farmers will clash in the coming years will be with regards to subsidies and also whether or not to continue subsidies for ethanol production. It should make for some interesting dialogue.

7. China – Of all of the criticism leveled at Truman during his tenure, none was more damaging than “How we lost China”. When Mao in the Communists sent Chiang Kai Shek across the sea to Taiwan, many in America were shocked at the outcome and at Truman. For Obama, the task is how to deal with China in a global economy and how they now control a large portion of our debt. It’s scary how the world works somedays.

8. Miscellaneous – The similarities are almost endless. You could throw in NATO, race relations, baseball, the Fair Deal (National Health Insurance), and how to use the UN to advance American Foreign Policy. It is almost like looking in/at a mirror.

Lessons for Obama from Harry Truman
1. Be who you are
What my father most loves about Truman was that Truman was a tough little guy who didn’t seem to be changed by Washington. He was actually quite perturbed by it. He never spoke out of character, and he used his swear words judiciously –

“I fired him [MacArthur] because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President… I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”
—Harry S. Truman, quoted in Time magazine

How many Americans can call a World War II hero a dumb SOB and get away with it? But then again, I don’t have that high an opinion of MacArthur in the first place. But I digress…
2. The Buck Does Stop Here
Obama and no one else is responsible for the actions of his administration. Geithner’s press conference last week, or lack thereof, was a pithy way to say nothing. A President has to do more than that and the people deserve better.
3. A Lot of Pans on the Stove
Truman not only had a lot of things to deal with but many were at the same time and many were about the same two issues: Communism and the Economy. Obama may not like the fact that he has just about as many pans on the stove as Truman did between 1947-1950 but he can’t change the fact he does.
4. The Truman Doctrine

We can’t fight every war and not every war needs to be fought. But we can aid those in need and reshape the world to be our allies by our actions and their choice rather than by fear of our force.
I have no clue what an Obama Doctrine would look like at this point. The world is a much different place today than it was in 1946.
5. Right, Virtue, and Creativity
For all of Truman’s actions, they were done because they were the right thing to do and history has proved that Truman’s actions were just. He had to get a little creative at times to do them, but he did. From executive orders to airlifts to treaties to envoys, where there is a will to do right, you can always find a way.

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush

The Enigma of Reagan – Lessons for Obama

In this continuing historical look at past Presidents and what Obama could glean from them, I have decided to add one more to the list: Ronald Reagan. To me, Reagan is an enigma – a mystery wrapped in a riddle. Here is a man who made Americans feel good about themselves and their country after the “malaise” of the late 1960s and 1970s. Here is a man who Obama even called a “transformative” leader. But the facts of the matter state deficits rose dramatically during the Reagan era, a recession never truly ended, the Iran-Contra scandal rocked our confidence, and jobs for new college graduates dwindled (this author included). His trickle down theory of economics (or what his ice-President called “Voodoo Econmics”) never really worked. However, his policies along with Margaret Thatcher’s paved the way for what would become globalization.

Now Reagan’s vision of less government is something I agree with wholeheartedly -“Government is not the solution. Government is the problem”. Now we will most likely see a trillion dollar deficit next year. To me that is just mind boggling. After 2009, I don’t know how the deficit will look in 2010. But if the economy hasn’t started a turn by 2010, Obama could become a one-termer. However, he could learn a thing or two from Reagan about how to survive, and thrive, during a recession.

1. Character Counts
While Reagan was against government handouts and welfare, he would often write people checks out of his own checkbook to help them out. Not many people know this about him. Despite his penchant for less government, it didn’t mean that he was a cold heartless bastard, rather the opposite. Men born before World War II in this country have a different way of looking at what it means to suffer and help somebody. Self-reliance and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps were how you got out of hard times. Hard work and honor were how you took care of your family. My father was never one to give handouts, you worked your way out things. Today, life is quite different and I tend to lean towards Reagan on this one.

2. Lassez Faire Leadership
How much “hands-off” is too much “hands-off”. I remember junk bond scandal after junk bond scandal in the 1980s along with the Keating Scandal. Today the government has handed over billions in the TARP plan. Unfortunately, they cannot account for where it all went. Obama will have to walk a fine line between regulation/oversight/transparency and the government having too much role in the economy. As a strict free market kind-of-guy, sometimes a President and government has to let some of these companies go under. Let new more efficient companies take their place. Now, the dilemma for Obama will be how much regulation there will be.

3. Communication
Tell it to us straight. We can take it. Don’t sugarcoat the problems. We are Americans and what we do best is rise from tragedy. We only ask for the truth. What Reagan did best was communicate. Obama has shown flashes of brilliance in his 4 years on the national stage. Of all of his strengths, his communication skills have the ability to inspire a generation and to rank with our greatest presidents. The question now becomes a matter of practice over ability.

As for where Reagan stands on my list of top Presidents, I do not have him in my top ten but he is close. 20 years since he left office is way too close to judge the effects of his policies but I do not see him getting much higher than say…12?

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush

Obama and Lincoln: Lincoln’s Lesson – Apples of Gold

The media likes to draw comparisons of Lincoln and Obama. One reason is they are both from Illinois. Another reason is one is black while the other freed the slaves. Third is the power of the spoken word. But the connections end there. No President ever faced the challenges that Abraham Lincoln faced (and hopefully no one ever will again). A great Civil War tore apart families, communities, states, and a nation over a period of 4 years. It ended in the blood shed by the 16th President. But in those 4 years, Lincoln set a style for leadership which even Obama seems intent on copying.

In fact, Obama himself has been very open about his own love of Lincoln. After having read Team of Rivals myself, Obama clearly has taken several pages out of the Lincoln playbook already. From keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer, Obama seems intent on mastering the Lincoln style of politics from cabinet positions to Whig philosophy of internal improvements. But I can offer 2 lessons not discussed in the book.

Lesson One
1. The Declaration of Independence is just as important as the Constitution, if not more so. Lincoln understood the difference between the two. While the Constitution talked of a more perfect union, the Declaration spoke glowingly of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness along with equality. Lincoln would write:

“All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of “Liberty to all”—the principle that clears the path for all—gives hope to all—and, by consequence, enterprize, and industry to all.

The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity. No oppressed, people will fight, and endure, as our fathers did, without the promise of something better, than a mere change of masters.

The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word, “fitly spoken” which has proved an “apple of gold” to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple—not the apple for the picture.

So let us act, that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, or bruised or broken.

That we may so act, we must study, and understand the points of danger.”

Clearly, if ever so clearly, the vision of America by the founding fathers has been eloquently transformed by Lincoln. The lesson is to let the vision of what America should be not be perverted by what is has become.

Lesson Two: A Domestic Agenda
Lincoln is seen as a war President and deservedly so. But his Domestic Agenda slips in under the radar and it is this domestic agenda which transformed a nation. Under Lincoln’s guise:
*The Homestead Act was passed.
*The Transcontinental Railroad was started.
*The Morrill Land Act was passed which set up universities through the nation.
*Paper Money (Greenbacks) were started.
*The Department of Agriculture was established.
As a Midwesterner, the legislation herein enabled the Midwest to thrive for a 100 years and transformed a nation economically from an agricultural base to an industrial giant in a matter of 35 years after Lincoln’s passing. The key aspect of the lesson is that many things go hand in hand. Industry cannot survive without agriculture. If we had no agriculture, our towns would dry up and fly away. If we had no railroads, how would our cattle, hogs, and grains be taken for processing and later consumption (it would be roads today). You can’t have one without the other. Let that be an economic lesson for today. Everything is part of the puzzle. Do not favor one over the other. The farmer is just as important as the banker, the creditor, or the investor, for they play their role in the economy. Invest in that.

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush

Franklin Roosevelt – 12 Years of Lessons for Obama

Of all the presidents on this list, the most PE Obama could learn from is Franklin Roosevelt. Not just on what Roosevelt did, but what the programs of the New Deal did and did not do. Obama already seems to have the communication through the media thing down, so on to other things.

The Three R’s of FDR

1. The First New Deal was aimed at Recovery and Relief.
2. The Second New Deal was aimed at Reform.

Unfortunately for Obama, the nation cannot afford 2 plans – everything has to be in one plan. That would be one hell of a plan. If you sit and think about what all is wrong with the economy, the budget, and the nation, one program can not hope to solve it all. Looking back at FDR’s New Deal, the problems were far greater: overproduction, foreign competition, and unstable credit catapulted the nation into record unemployment. Now here’s the difference – Obama comes in 4 months into the crisis. FDR came in 4 years into the future. Almost every government organization from 1933-1936 tried to put band-aids on bleeders. I don’t care how pragmatic a President may be (and FDR was quite the pragmatist), Obama cannot afford to be pragmatic at all. The problems are just too numerous. And I don’t know if throwing money at the problem is going to work. Our economy is so out of whack, that regulation, jobs creation, and reform are just not going to cut. We need a new economy. FDR had to wait until World War II to create that economy and it did do the trick. Unfortunately, the circumstances were not what he had wished.

Obama must reinvent the economy. If he cannot, then the lessons of FDR will be useless. Obama has to start a fundamental shift in how we do things, what things we do, and why we do things. Stop me if you have heard this one before: energy, transportation, communication, and information systems. While FDR stopped short of doing all those things until the war, Obama has to hit the ground running. All this and reforming the credit industry have to be done. Yikes! If you were to ask Thomas Friedman, he would say, “Green is the new Red, White, and Blue”. However, he is not that far off. To restructure our automobile industry, our energy systems, and infrastructure along with modernizing several other things will revitalize the economy along with set us u to succeed and to end a lot of our foreign policy problems save Israel (that’s a whole other blog).

Now, the New Deal and the economy were not the only things on the plate of FDR. Foreign Affairs dominated the second half. The biggest lesson here is you need to find your “Winston”. To try and tackle the world’s problems with “Cowboy” Diplomacy has not worked in the last 8 years. What needs to work is for you to set about some goals and aims like the Atlantic Charter with your “Winston” and then go out and do it. Now, I don’t believe that Joe Biden is your “Winston” nor is the current PM of Great Britain or the leaders of the free world, or for that matter, Putin, but there has to be someone out there with whom you can help build a better world.

Other Presidential Lessons for Obama Series
George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
Abraham Lincoln
Teddy Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
Dwight Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush