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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Morning News and Views



January 17, 2010

Haiti

Mass was held this morning between the remaining walls of the Cathedral in Haiti, with a capacity crowd giving thanks for being alive. The death toll in Haiti now exceeds 100,000, with at least 15 Americans dead in the disaster.

President George W. Bush denounced fellow Republicans and others who are criticizing President Obama for either being too slow to get relief to Haiti or for using Haiti to his political advantage. Bush says the Haitian people face desperate straits and need all the help they can get from the international community, particularly their neighbor the United States.

The comments were made as former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton made the talk show circuits together this morning, promoting support for the people of Haiti.  Both complimented how the US response is being coordinated, and explained that despite media pleas of where is the aid, the reality is that 30 nations are responding faster than to any other unexpected disaster in history. The lack of infrastructure has limited things logistically, but overall response has been as fast as it could possibly be. The US had the airport, hospitals and humanitarian assistance on the ground within 24 hours, with large amounts arriving stating last night.

“It is not fruitful to get involved in politics and talk host,” Clinton said, saying the “Haitian people are in need of help now. It is not helpful to get bogged down in other things.”

Bush says his focus is “on trying to help people who need water, a place to sleep, food and medical help now.’

The fund the president’s are setting up is meant to help now and be there to help them recover in the months and years ahead.

As former president, Clinton has worked with the UN in Haiti, so he lost friends and knows many who are on the ground helping now.

Bush says to be wary of “fake organizations” that pop up. “We are a safe haven, where the money will be put to use.”

Both former presidents, who say they have been friends for years, say that the US Government must continue to provide aid in every form it can, along with over 27 other nations, as a humanitarian imperative, despite our own needs at home and elsewhere in the world. It is our responsibility as a nation and a people.

They were asked to take the lead on this effort by President Obama. Both agreed as soon as they received Obama’s call.

The web site to donate to is http://www.ClintonBushHaitifund.org.

A Nation Divided

 “Yes We Can” opened in Frankfort, Germany this weekend to rave reviews. The musical about the campaign for president of Barack Obama was sold out in multiple cities before it opened. Obama is still very popular in Germany, with over an 80% approval rating. They are still celebrating the end of George W Bush’s presidency.

This week marks the completion of Obama’s first year in the presidency. The average of polls in the US has 49% looking upon the Obama presidency as favorable to 45% unfavorable, which remains high for a modern president one year into their presidency. This is despite the major recession, job loss, two wars and the health care debate finding an erosion of what was to begin with strong popular support of the need for reform.

President Obama will be in Boston this afternoon to campaign in a senate race that could, on Tuesday, make the late Senator Ted Kennedy’s seat the one that defeats health care reform. The Republican candidate is running a tight race against the Democrat filling Kennedy’s seat, using mostly an anti-health reform platform. Democrat Martha Coakley faces Republican Scott Brown on Tuesday in a special election to fill Kennedy’s seat.

Here is a question to ponder: why are so many people so critical of President Obama so early in his presidency? One year ago this week he was sworn in as president of the country, inheriting two hot wars, seven military conflicts, the largest deficit in US History, the bank bailouts, the deepest recession since the Great Depression, spiraling health care costs and a declining infrastructure.  In other words he took on the same if not more than Franklin Roosevelt faced when he became President. What has changed about America?

We have changed as a people.

Why the anger, hatred, judgmental jumping to conclusions, pettiness and polarization? What happened to reason, thought, giving the benefit of a doubt and working together with the least of our brothers in mind?

Is this the age of single-issue voters? Are we a nation who feels that it is our way or the high way? Do we expect our leaders to do what we want and only we want? It is beginning to look that way as politicians no longer are allowed to use the information they are privy to and make their own decisions in our best interests.

We expect those we elect to follow through on issues and views that we feel are right, even if other issues change over time, face limitations in money or shifts in other priorities.

How can a president who inherited the largest deficit in history be expected to reduce it while we support and pay for world wide conflicts, a war, do our best to avoid a repeat of the Great Depression and face major health challenges? Then along comes natural disasters and spiraling health costs. Is there no empathy or understanding? Or are we intent on attack, controversy and finding fault?

The issues that polarize us cover every aspect of our lives and our society. Right to Life or pro-choice? Gay marriage or marriage is sacred? End the war no matter what changes or what our commitments to others are? Universal health care or no change or improvement in how we care for others and ourselves? I have a job and insurance so why should I pay to help someone who has neither? These are some of the issues that divide us and that divide is growing wider and less tolerant.

Whether it is closing Gitmo or rushing aid to Haiti, our expectations are that things can and should happen at computer lighting speed in a world where politicians and other still have to deal with very real limitations on their power and the reality of compromise as the way to move things forward.

How will the American democracy survive in an age where the electorate is increasingly intolerant of compromise and conservative time lines?

I can ask the questions, but deep inside I have confidence in our society, of our nation as a people and in our ability to rise to the occasion. It’s just harder in this mediated world where conflict sells papers, advertising and builds ratings.

International News and Features
Its’ white flight from black schools and neighborhoods in the Chez Republic, only the meaning of “black” is different than here in the US. The division is between ethnic Check citizens and the Romany, who we know as Gypsies’.

Election day in the Ukraine, where the incumbent government is very pro-west, and the opposition is pro-Russian and a new Russia coalition (just short of a new Soviet Union).

Did you now that New Zealand is monarchy under the Queen of England, a full British subject? They have their own prime minister, parliament and government, but are not a republic? New Zealand is the largest of a family of countries that remain British subjects.

In England pugilist are being required to shave their beards so the referees can see any cuts or blood. This is causing a major religious problem in Great Britain, where not only Muslims, but also Seeks from India and other groups consider beards a religious mandate.

What do we learn in school?

Once more we are at the bottom of the heap. Nevada ranks fiftieth in the quality of our educational system, with only the District of Columbia rating lower, according to Quality Counts 2010, the annual survey from Education Week Magazine. The survey of K-12 education rates us as a “D”. We are 48th in the country in our spending per pupil, we are at the bottom in language integration, we do not provide pre-school or full day Kindergarten, we are low in arts and liberal arts education and do poorly on test scores. We rank a “D” in the evaluation of potential student success. Our teachers rank “C” for average, as do our facilities.

Finances and the Economy

Commercial contracting permits for Las Vegas have declined 60 to 70% each month since 2008.  Non-residential construction is down 6.9% for 2009, building construction down 17%.

We need 130,000 new “net jobs” every month just to hold unemployment in the US where it is, much less make ground over jobs lost. That figure is not likely until mid 2010, according to guests on the Wall Street Journal Report. Inventories will be up, but that is more of a correction to the decline in 2009 than anything else. As to whether we, as consumer, have money to spend, no one can predict.

Philanthropist Michael Milken of the Milken institute says that small to medium businesses are hesitant to hire with budget tight, so recovery will be slow, but he says that the United States immune system is well and investment and capital will come in 2010. We are seeing a replay of the 1973 to 1977 period, the equivalent of 1975. More capital has been raised in 2009 than in any other year in history. The bailout and money that the US government has pumped into the economy is working. Critics do not understand that this money is our money being used to cure what ails our economy and jumpstart the primary engine, our industry and our investments.

Milken’s primary interests now is to increase health in the US in a very real way. He says that it cost one trillion dollars for the economy over the past twenty years just by the increase in US in our average weight. Our weight is weighing down the economy, in Milken’s view, costing us all real money, not just health risks.

12% of a typical American’s budget goes to paying off credit card debt.

The credit card act takes effect next month. Among the many provisions of the bill no cards can be issued to anyone under 21 without a co-signer and rate increases will not be allowed for the first year you carry the card. The act increases protections but also empowers credit card companies in ways that consumer advocates find potentially dangerous.

Under “cell phone wars” the industry faces a major hurdle. Companies, including AT&T and Verizon, are dropping prices and adding smart phones, at the same time facing a decline in the infrastructure to support the phones. They need increased revenue, which required increasingly large number of customers as they lower income by dropping prices.

Yahoo has joined Google as the subject of hacker attacks assumed to come from or be sanctioned by the Chinese government. Unlike Google, the Microsoft partner will remain in China regardless of the outcome of protest and request for greater freedom of access requested by Google and other American interests.

Personalities

68 years ago today Mohamed Ali was born Cashus Clay. In 1964 he won the heavyweight championship, announcing after the fight his change of name. He became the first boxer to return from a long period out of the ring when he returned following his banishment for refusing to serve in the military during the Viet Nam War.

Harrison Ford visited his Chicago boyhood home, grade and high school with CBS Sunday Morning’s. His father was an advertising executive in he Mad Men age of the 1940’s o 1960’s. He remembers fueling the furnace with coal, just as I do when we lived on the south side of Chicago. Born Harry Ford, he was always an actor of sorts, loving it so much he decided to try his hand in Los Angeles instead of continuing at his college in Wisconsin. He jokes they threw him out four days before graduation. A flip of a coin led to LA instead of New York for Ford and his young first wife. As we know he has skills from his Chicago roots of carpentry, electrician and handyman. In “Deadheat on a Marry Go Round” with James Colburn he played a bellhop with two lines. He broke a SAG rule when he volunteered with George Lucas to read other actors for “Star Wars”. Lucas paid the fine for Ford to play the role after Christopher Walkin dropped out as Hans Solo. Ford said the character was harder edged and even more cynical, a tough heatless mercenary, but Lucas allowed him to soften it and make it his own.