Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Face of Gridlock

The House empowers the majority party; the Senate empowers individual senators. That's the way it has been for about a century and will continue for the foreseeable future. With the intoxicating power to shut down the institution via the filibuster and hold, it is no wonder that most members of the House dream of sitting in a Senate seat.

Just witness the story of Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) who single-handedly blocked 47 Obama appointments in order to "get the attention of the administration" because he wanted a lucrative military contract to build refueling tankers for the Air Force to be awarded to a company in his state. When asked why he did it, Shelby replied: "Ultimately, I am a senator from Alabama. I wanted to make sure there was fairness because if there was fairness, the jobs would go there." And when asked about whether or not the nominees he blocked were qualified, he replied: "Oh, I don't have any idea."

Senatorial holds and the blocking of nominees are not partisan issues--they happen regardless of the party who holds the White House and who controls Congress. Their frequent use does point to a larger problem, however: the fact that the U.S. Congress in the modern era is dysfunctional. With 535 members each looking out for their own parochial and partisan interests, often with little regard for the national interest, Congress is failing in its responsibility as a co-equal branch. It is no wonder that every president, even if they were a member of Congress previously, looks to increase the power of the executive branch vis-a-vis Congress. It is also little wonder that a mere 14% of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling their job.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

White House Photostream

I love anything presidential. I love pictures. The White House Flickr account marries the two. It is a constantly updated photo album of the Obama White House which makes available hundreds of pictures taken by official White House photographer Pete Souza and his staff. The photos give you a glimpse of the president, his staff, his family, and the White House itself very often not present during official events.

For example, one observation: President Obama likes sports and exercise. He shoots hoops. He plays golf. He throws a football, often. He throws it with staff. He throws it with members of Congress (even the opposition). I like that. It's cool seeing the president from beyond the podium. This humanizes a president--all presidents.

I hope this and future White Houses continue the practice of using Flickr. It's a very easy way to attempt to connect with the American people not subject to the filter of the media.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NASCAR's Danica Moment

NASCAR used to be rolling in cash, sponsors, and fans. It can boast none of that now. The sour economy has impacted NASCAR like no other major sport. Sponsors have been fading away quicker than the ink on Sarah Palin's hand. Fans? There's still a huge fan base but many fans have become bored with NASCAR, especially after the generic Car of Tomorrow has taken hold and fan favorite Dale Earnhart Jr. has struggled in the last few years.

Now comes Danica Patrick. How important is Patrick to NASCAR? Very. Just look at the ratings jump for Speed Network for Danica's ARCA race last Saturday--her first race in a stock car (she finished 6th). The ratings jumped 87% over last year. These numbers are out of sight and excellent news for a sport losing fans--especially the lukewarm fans that it needs to stay connected with the sport.

The big question is: will she be able to handle a stock car? At 5'2" and around 100 pounds, a stock car will be a beast to handle compared to the open wheel IndyCar she is used to driving. Also, much of NASCAR is about bumping and grinding--stuff that gets you killed in open wheel racing.

Yes, there will be challenges for her and success right away will be unlikely. However, she has the confidence, demeanor, and talent to run with the big boys. Although she's only won once in 81 starts since 2005, she finished fifth in points in 2009. I expect she'll make the jump to the Nextel series in 2011 and bring the best ratings to the Nationwide series ever.

Although the dinosaurs of NASCAR, fans and drivers alike, are likely rooting against her, those interested in seeing NASCAR flourish should be rooting for her because NASCAR's Danica moment could be the only compelling reason for many band wagon fans to jump back on the wagon and make NASCAR a profitable enterprise again. I know I'll be doing something this Saturday I haven't done in a long time: watching a Nationwide Series race. How Patrick handles Daytona International Speedway will certainly be on the minds of most. I think she'll do just fine.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wasilla Imbecile

Imbecile: "A person whose mental acumen is well below par."

How else can one describe former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin these days? It is mind-boggling that she was a major party candidate for vice president in 2008 (and I have made my opinions known on this subject in several posts on this blog). It is downright frightening that she is a GOP front runner for president and populist hero to millions.

In case you haven't heard, Palin was caught looking at notes written on her hand to answer questions at a Tea Party event last week. If one of my students had done this during a test, I would have failed them. The fact that this person is considering running for the highest office in the land should give everyone--Democrat, Republican, and everyone in between--pause. Not only is Palin "not ready"--she never will be.

If you need notes to answer pre-screened questions from a friendly questioner, you are an imbecile and always will be. You may be a hypocrite too, especially if you had just ripped the current President for being a "charismatic guy with a teleprompter" (a device, by the way, Palin uses herself). Now, if the event were not scripted in advance and you didn't know for certain what questions you might get asked--a debate perhaps--it is perfectly appropriate to have notes to refer to (though I would never recommend writing them on your hand like a 10 year old). But this wasn't a debate. It was a softball Q&A session among worshippers. Any public person worth their salt should be able to sleepwalk through such an event. But not Sarah. She had to write notes on her hand...

[Below is Jon Stewart's take on Palin's palm notes and the Tea Party convention in general. As per usual, Stewart nails it.]

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Are These Poll Results For Real?

Daily Kos/Research 2000 conducted a poll of Republican voters over the last several days of January. The results were shocking. Here's a few of the more interesting results:

39% of Republicans think President Obama should be impeached; 29% are unsure. [Um, and what crime is he alleged to have committed exactly?]

36% of Republicans do not think Obama was born in the U.S.; 22% are not sure. [Birthers are still prevalent in the GOP we see]

63% of Republicans think Obama is a socialist; 16% are unsure [Most of those have no idea what a socialist is]

55% of Republicans are unsure of whether or not ACORN stole the 2009 election [Seriously?]

31% of Republicans think Obama is a racist who hates white people; 33% are not sure [This has to be the scariest result of all. If you really feel this way, you are ignorant beyond reason and I am wasting my time typing this because you likely cannot read]

53% of Republicans believe Sarah Palin is more qualified than Barack Obama to be president [This one is laughable but scares me at the same time. Anyone who really believes this has zero credibility]

This poll is sad and shows the amount of hysteria gripping the Right in this country. The results would be equally sad had it been conducted with Democratic voters and garnered similar extreme results during the Bush 43 presidency.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Beyond the Political Cage Match

On Friday, President Obama walked into the hornets nest in Baltimore, also known as the House Republican retreat. Not only did Obama voluntarily walk into enemy territory, he opened himself up to questions and brought the media with him. This is the first time a president attended such an event sponsored by the opposition party...and he did it live on television.

I can't remember the last time I watched something on C-SPAN until the wee hours of the morning but I found myself doing just that on Friday night watching a rerun of that afternoon's events. It was fascinating political theater. Though the questions were anything but unscripted, the give and take was free flowing and fascinating. It also gave me hope that perhaps, just perhaps, both parties might be able to sit down and actually work together on the large number of issues they actually agree on.

To quote the President at the Baltimore retreat: "They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel-cage match to see who comes out alive. That's not what they want. They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done, and to solve the problems that they're grappling with every single day."

Amen to that.

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