Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Character and leadership of Obama

Andrew has published an email from a Dish reader that perfectly captures my feelings about President Obama (frustration and admiration), his character and leadership.

The reader is responding to that moment in the debate when Obama looked Mitt Romney in the eye and called his politicization of the Benghazi attack and murders as "offensive".   Here is the video from the debate and below is the readers response.  Forgive the long quote but it's important and I want it here for my own future reference.

Andrew's reader:
I keep coming back to a moment I think was the most important of the debate, and in some ways, Obama's whole presidency. When he called Romney's accusations of politicizing Libya "offensive," I pumped my fist in the air, thrilled. Then, when I found myself going back to that moment again and again, I wondered why it was so powerful.

Yes, the language was probably planned and practiced, yes it was partly political theater, but it reinforced something about this leader that I think many of us feel, even if we're not always aware of it. For all the complaints we have about Obama, especially in the conduct of domestic policy, one thing he demonstrates to me, and it's the reason I revere him more than Bill Clinton, is that he makes careful, patient, principled -- and practical -- decisions, waits patiently for them to bear fruit, and when they do, he trusts the public to analyze and understand what he's accomplished on their own. Libya, tellingly, happens to be high on the list.

There was no crowing about the delicately coordinated bombing campaign (and the covert actions on the ground which helped it succeed) that brought down a tyrant. No "Mission Accomplished" banners, no bold predictions about the future of a remade Middle East thanks to our military efforts. But Obama got results. For less than a thousandth of the cost of Iraq, and with no lives lost until September 11th, Obama gave us a democratically elected Arab ally, an ally whose people -- not their leaders, their people -- are so grateful for what America did and how we did it, that after the death of our Ambassador they poured into the streets in outrage, and attacked the Islamic militias responsible.

No the story's not over. But name another Arab country where you've seen anything remotely similar. What political hay does Obama make out of all this? Very little. Then or since. (To my great frustration, frankly.) After the ambassador dies, Obama's language is full of firmness, but also restraint and moderation, and zero politics. Mitt Romney's language? The opposite. Obama trusts us to use our eyes and give credit where it's due.

His anger in that moment, theatrical or not, was about something deeper. At least it was for me. There must be something horribly galling to our president about being called out for an absurdly minor offense (if it even was one) in the context of a huge foreign policy triumph. It should be galling to us too. We fail to appreciate this president's exceptional character at our own peril.
Bill Clinton, who hasn't been this popular since Newt Gingrich impeached him, is getting a lot of attention. No one could work a town hall like Bill and his policy mind is as sharp as anyone who ever occupied the White House. But in the afterglow of the Clinton years it's easy to forget how very political he could be in his decision making, which always had his own political survival as the top priority as he triangulated from none near death experience to another. This is where Obama is different, often times to my considerable frustration. Obama is maddeningly patient and both arrogant (neither Clinton suffers from a lack of arrogance as well) and at the same time understated.  I think Andrew's reader captures this perfectly.  

Obama is a leader first, and politician second -- an accusation no one would ever throw at Bill Clinton  And this doesn't mean he hasn't made plenty of policy decisions for political purposes, but when he does it, I'm often surprised.  That the decision would be political was a given with Bill Clinton, the surprise was his selling it and coming out the winner nearly every time.

The President is not entitled to special deference in a political debate

Since last night I've heard several people on both sides -- including Romney Campaign spokesman Joe Scarborough --  claim Mitt Romney was out of line for not showing "deference to the office" of President.

Utter nonsense.  Barack Obama is President of the United States, not a king.

The participants in any debate should behave in a courteous, polite and dignified way that shows respect for their opponents. 

Yes, Romney was a huge dick last night.  Romney's behavior was boorish and rude and disrespectful, but it would be no less so if he were debating Herman Cain. 

What makes Romney's behavior particularly reprehensible and boorish is the fact that the negotiated agreement between the campaigns on the rules for this debate included a prohibition against asking each other direct questions.

Romney violated this rule almost immediately and why did he do this?  Simple, the rules don't apply to him.  Mitt Romney is privileged and bound by no rules that he prefers to break any time it suits him.  Of course the Obama campaign will not object, because to do so makes them look like wimps. 

The President of the United States is a public servant, answerable to the American people. After the first 4 years, if the President wishes to continue for 4 more years, he must stand for re-election and the public is free to fire him.

The Bush administration hide behind this 'deference to the office' canard to question the patriotism of anyone who criticized Bush, and to deflect all criticism of his policies, many of which were completely disastrous.

Certainly, the President is entitled to deference in delicate matters of foreign policy (like when say, an embassy is attacked and diplomats murdered) and military matter, but even then he's not above criticism and oversight.   And when running for re-election, the President is not entitled to any more deference on the campaign trail than his opponent.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Is a Whole Foods Coming to the Central West End?

Official rendering of City Walk at Euclid and West Pine
It's been rumored for many months, maybe even a year, that Whole Foods was coming to the Central West End.

By city standards, the vacant lot at Euclid and West Pine is enormous.   During the boom it was sited for a 30 story condo/apartment tower that went bust with the economy.  The old Soviet style medical arts building on the site sat empty for a few years when it was finally knocked down creating the CWE mosquito hatchery that scandalously occupied the site for a couple years before finally being filed in. (scandalous because if an unconnected person owned that lot they would have been relentlessly fined until the hole was filed in which would have taken weeks and not years).

Finally, Tim Bryant reports in the Saturday Post-Dispatch that it's official, site owner Mills Property has announced a deal to develop upscale apartments and has a letter of intent from Whole Foods to lease the 30,000 square foot ground floor.

The deal includes a commitment from Mills to improve the streetscape from Forest Park Parkway to Lindell.  Why Barnes-Jewish/Washington U wasn't pressed to upgrade the streetscape when they metastasized northward across Forest Park Parkway to build a large parking garage and office tower that will never, ever, appear on the property tax rolls even as it sucks up city services is another matter.

An anonymous independent source to The Ward Report has spoken to a Whole Foods employee transferred to Saint Louis from Chicago to advance the new store and study and learn the neighborhood to tailor the store to the unique nature and needs of the CWE.

The neighborhood Casandras will appear at all public hearings and everywhere else seeking attention to their opposition to this and all projects in the neighborhood, but they are well known to the development community inside and outside of City Hall who have learned to ignore them and go about building a better city.

As a committed homeowner of the CWE, I could not be more happy about this development, even though I won't actually believe it's true until there is a signed lease from Whole Foods.   This will do wonders for the living quality and property value of this neighborhood and the city.

Thank you Mills for finally coming through.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bryce Harper is an egotestical douche bag badly in need of veteran leadership

The Nationals suffer from a lack of real veteran leadership in their clubhouse and there is no better example of this than young Bryce Harper who is becoming a major league douche bag.

After game two, Baseball Hall of Fame writer Rick Hummel asked Bryce a perfectly reasonable question, “Have you found yourself to be overanxious, trying to do [too much] in your first couple games?” This didn't sit well with His Holiness Brycecakes who responded:

Then last night, after looking foolish on his final strikeout of the game, Brycecakes grabbed his crouch and sneered at Cardinal pitcher Jason Mott.

So far, Bryce Harper has not responded to our request for comment.

Note: This post was updated with new video of Harper popping off to Rick Hummel. The old video source seems to have expired.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Martha Raddatz and the VP Debate

On the whole, I think Martha did a very good job and certainly better than Jim Lehrer.  I hope we see her again in 4 years.

Josh Barro disagrees, and he has some valid points.
And the last 20 minutes of the debate were given over to silly questions: an abortion question (fine) framed not around policy but the candidates’ religious views (silly); an "is this campaign too negative" question that predictably led to each candidate repeating their own negative attacks; and a "what makes you unique?" question that Paul Ryan couldn’t seem to believe he was being asked. This is time that could have been spent discussing other issues that have thus far been neglected in the debates: immigration, monetary policy, housing policy, unwinding the fiscal cliff.
The last 20 minutes were just awful and I actually think Barro is too kind. I think the religious views of candidates has no place in the nationally televised debates.  Our government is designed to be free from religion and asking such nonsense questions only indulges the uninformed and childish beliefs of those who think the US is a "Christian nation" which is most assuredly not.  'Campaign negativity' or 'too expensive' questions are meaningless fluff to sooth stupid people.  This is not to say a good question about Citizen's United wouldn't have been great.  As for negative campaigns, nothing in modern American history rivals John Adams campaign against his Vice President, Thomas Jefferson.

Mental Health Break

A bad lip synch recap of the first presidential debate.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Will Romney veto anti-abortion bills?

Mitt Romney told the DesMoins Register that abortion legislation isn’t part of his agenda.
“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” the GOP presidential candidate told The Des Moines Register’s editorial board during a meeting today before his campaign rally at a Van Meter farm.
But then the President doesn't really set the legislative agenda making such attempted reassurances meaningless.

The obvious follow-up questions involve vetos, a power the President does have.

If the House passes a bill to redefine rape as they did in 2011 when Romney's Vice President, Paul Ryan, joined Todd Akin to pass a bill to distinguish Todd Akin's "forcible" or "legitimate" from all those other "so called rapes" of women who really wanted it and only cried rape later, will President Mitt Romney veto that bill?

Will Mitt Romney veto an so called Human Life bills or any bills with broad sweeping language intended to criminalize abortion while pretending to do something else?

Who will be asking Romney these questions? 

Saturday, October 06, 2012

St Louis Symphony Orchestra cheers on the Cardinals

We in Saint Louis are blessed with a storied and historic baseball team and a world class symphony orchestra.

Last year the symphony cheered on the Cards who went on to win the World Series from a more than improbably wild card birth and game 6 of the World Series that had to be the most amazing baseball game ever played. 

Here's hoping lighting strikes twice.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame - STL Symphony from St. Louis Symphony on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Romney's debate performance was great but his numbers still don't add up

Three takeaways from last night's debate in Denver:

1.  Romney's performance was great.  Better than anyone expected and better than any Republican hoped.

2.  Obama's performance was abysmal.  Worse than anyone expected and worse than any Republican hoped.

3.  Romney's numbers still don't add up, and simply repeating something doesn't make it true.

Romney's plan of cutting every tax rate by 20% and paying for it by eliminating loopholes  on top earners can only blow a hole in the deficiet the size of the Grand Canyon.

This is not new.  The Tax Policy Center looked at Romney's proposal and even when making all assumptions most favorable to Romney -- including economic growth -- the policy only remains revenue neutral when all tax deductions are stripped from working class families. (A pdf of their report is here).  I discuss the report here.

This chart, taken from the TPC report, explains the impact.

You may click on the image to enlarge it for easier viewing.

Bottom line: Romney's plan only remains revenue neutral when families earning less than $200,000 pay more in income taxes as a result of the lost deductions.  A handy side effect for the wealthy and very wealthy, i.e. Romney, will pay significantly less because the reduced rate more than offsets the loss of the deductions.

In the end, Congress will not remove the deductions from the working class, and like every Repubican tax cut from Ronald Reagan's through G.W. Bush, we will blow an additional  trillion dollar hole in the deficit, in this case, a $5TRILLION DOLLAR HOLE.  

Did Romney's refusal to acknowledge this truth, and Obama's impotent attempt to call him out on this lie turn the campaign around?  Well. we are about to find out, but my advice to Republicans is, don't hold you breath.

In 2004 John Kerry dominated the debates with Bush who often looked confused and uninformed, and Bush won reelection.

UPDATE: In last night's debate, Romney said "5 other studies" contra the Tax Policy Center's analysis and agree with him.  That's not true.  The Washington Post, Salon, and Politifact all say this claim is false because these so-called studies are not studies at all, but articles written from conservative hacks that simply deny the math. One was a WSJ article from Martin Feldstein, an economist and an adviser to the Romney campaign; one was from Harvey Rosen, an economist at the Griswold Center for Economic Policy Studies at Princeton University; one was by Matt Jensen, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank; and two were WSJ editorials,” Politifact explains.