Sunday, December 19, 2010

Beware the Deregulators

Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus, a darling of free market conservatives and the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was honest enough last week to summarize the fundamental contrast between the outgoing and incoming Congressional philosophies when it comes to federal oversight of the financial services industry: "In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Lonely Pragmatists

In a graphic illustration of how the ideologues on the Right and the Left have seized the political discourse, two of the smartest people in the nation's capital -- a Republican and a Democrat -- received giant sucker punches from their own political parties last week for having the audacity to embrace policies that were reasonable bipartisan compromises designed to move the country forward.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The NCAA Credibility Problem

Last night's USC-UCLA football game, the annual cross-town rivalry game here in Los Angeles, was the final game of the year for both schools. For UCLA, it was because the defeat by the vastly superior institution once again (no author bias involved) concluded a 4-8 season, which is not good enough for a bowl game. But for USC, it was because the school is serving the first of a two-year ban on bowl game appearances imposed by the NCAA as punishment for violation of various rules back in 2004 and 2005.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Growing Thanksgiving Gap

This weekend, millions of Americans gathered with friends and family to celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday, an annual moment to stop and take note of all for which we have reason to be grateful. It's a favorite American tradition and is often accompanied with feasts that commemorate the abundance we have enjoyed in this wonderful country since the arrival of our European descendants four centuries ago.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bush's TARP Legacy

As pretty much everyone has learned by now, Former President George W. Bush has a new book out -- Decision Points -- and a highly choreographed publicity blitz to coincide with its launch. The book is drawing a wide range of reviews, as should be expected, but I've been particularly interested in the content of several of his interviews that aired over the past week.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

One Idea for the New Congress

Last week's mid-term elections, which were a landslide for Republicans nationwide, have essentially turned the domestic political landscape upside down.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Another Election, Another Hurricane

With just two days remaining until the 2010 mid-term elections, all signs point to a conservative landslide in the House, Senate and state legislative races.  This might not come as a huge surprise to students of American political history, who are trained to expect major gains by the "out of power" political party in a mid-term election, but the pre-election polling data suggests we are on the verge of something bigger than the predictable tropical storm . . . this one is shaping up to look more like a hurricane.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

NPR's Shameful Move

Last week, executives at National Public Radio (NPR) managed to do something truly remarkable: they touched off a national discourse in which liberals and conservatives seem to be united.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Prize for the Times

Last week, a trio of academics -- Peter Diamond (MIT), Dale Mortensen (Northwestern) and Christopher Pissarides (London School of Economics) -- were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economics for their groundbreaking analysis of markets in a way that challenged people to think beyond the traditional supply/demand balance equation.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Meg and the Hypocrisy Lesson

The political campaign underway in California to determine who will be elected the next Governor of our state took an interesting turn a couple weeks ago.  During a debate between the two major candidates -- Former Gov. Jerry Brown, the Democratic Party nominee, and Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, the Republican Party nominee -- both candidates were asked about their proposals for dealing with illegal immigration in California.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The "No Labels" Movement

Fifty years ago today, the modern era of American political campaigns was born.  On the evening of September 26, 1960, the two principal candidates for President of the United States -- Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy -- met in the first-ever nationally televised debate between two presidential candidates.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Rally for the Rest of Us

Pew Research Center released the results of a survey this summer that asked registered voters to assess their views of the ideologies of the major political parties.  In the survey, they asked American voters to describe their own political views by placing themselves in the most appropriate of five categories: very conservative; conservative; moderate; liberal; or very liberal.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Land of the Free

There are a few dates on the calendar that are woven into the fabric of America -- July 4th, December 25th, February 14th -- and a few more that are etched into the minds of Americans keen on their history -- June 6th, December 7th.  Today's date, September 11th, has joined that short list of dates that jump off of the calendar.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Incredible Shrinking Crisis

It was 38 years ago today that Jim McKay, the award-winning ABC sportscaster, had the solemn duty of informing the world of the awful outcome to the hostage crisis that had stolen the world's attention from the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich.  In his unscripted remarks, McKay said, "When I was a kid my father used to say 'Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.'"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Come So Far, So Far to Go

On August 28, 1963, one of the most important American leaders of the 20th century -- Martin Luther King, Jr. -- put his unforgettable signature on the Civil Rights Movement in America.  His rousing "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial that day, was the poetic exclamation point to a peaceful, non-violent march on the nation's capital.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Welcome Home, American Heroes

The great thing about democracy is that all citizens have the opportunity to make their voices heard on issues of public policy.  The messy thing about democracy is that this political liberty inevitably leads to social conflict, as different voices express different views and we wrestle with a search for some resolution.  Ah, but the triumph of democracy is when a multitude of disparate voices all set aside their individual opinions on a difficult issue and find the right notes to become one choir.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Mosque: Beyond the First Amendment

A sure-fire way to tell when a public issue in the U.S. has become overrun by emotion, at the expense of reason, is when the proclamation of a basic constitutional principle spurs dramatic reactions of support and opposition from folks on either side of the issue.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Keynes vs. Smith?

Last week, President Obama made a visit to Michigan in order to celebrate the fact that the Big Three American automakers — GM, Chrysler and Ford — were all operating at a profit again. He even went so far as to make a bold declaration that American car companies had not only rebounded from their deep structural problems that had driven the industry into decline for years, but that they were on the road to resuming their place as global leaders once again.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Advise and Politicize

Article Two, Section Two, of the U.S. Constitution dictates that the President of the United States "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint . . . Judges of the Supreme Court . . ."  As with lots of other statutory language pertaining to how our government functions, the original Constitutional requirement has been interpreted and applied in different ways over the last 200+ years.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Remembering Atticus

One of the cultural highlights in the U.S. during the summer of 2010 is the calendar of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the classic American novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  From Birmingham to Boston and Plano to Pasadena, fans of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning book are turning out in communities of all sizes to read passages from the story, discuss its themes and screen the 1962 motion picture that was based on the novel.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Price of Narcissism

Last week, one of the dominant sports-related conversations in the U.S. was the imminent decision by LeBron James -- at 25, already a two-time Most Valuable Player in the National Basketball Association and one of the most talented basketball players we've ever seen -- regarding which team he would choose as his new employer.  As an unrestricted free agent, this was his right, to consider offers from any team interested in hiring him and select the one that suited him best.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Is it the Fourth?

Tomorrow, millions of Americans will gather in communities from Alaska to Maine to celebrate Independence Day.  This will mark the 234th birthday of the United States of America, the most stable democracy the world has ever known.  But it will also mark the 184th anniversary of the passing of two of our founders, including the author of the Declaration of Independence itself.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Time to Revisit Another "Good War"

Last week's shocking dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, which was triggered by the publication of disparaging remarks made by the general and his staff members regarding the Commander in Chief and other senior members of the Obama Administration, made for a good news story and led to some entertaining talk show content.  But now that the dust is settling, there is a far more important story that needs to rise to the surface of our national political discourse.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lessons from the Politics of Civil Rights

This week in 1964, the U.S. Senate passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, a sweeping piece of legislation that outlawed discrimination in places of public accommodation, publicly owned facilities, employment and union membership, and federally aided programs. It also gave the Attorney General new powers to speed school desegregation and enforce the right to vote that had been extended to African Americans.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Sour Electorate

One of the reliable adages in American politics is that most American voters can't stand politicians but they like the one from their town.  This is one of the reasons -- in additon to the inherent financial advantages and gerrymandering power -- that historically there is very little turnover in Congress, with 90 to 98% of incumbents being re-elected every two years for the past generation.

For this trend to remain in place again this fall, it's going to take some very creative campaigning by incumbents and just the right voter turnout on Election Day.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden's Life Masterpiece

In his autobiography, They Call Me Coach, John Wooden described two items he used to carry in his pocket daily.  A lucky rabbit's foot and a diamond-studded money clip perhaps?  No.  Maybe a momento from one of his record 10 NCAA basketball championships as a coach at UCLA and a photo collage of his two College Basketball Hall of Fame plaques (one as a player and one as a coach)?  No.

The two items that Coach Wooden carried with him daily throughout his extraordinary life and incomparable coaching career were a simple laminated cross, which reminded him of his Christian faith and the importance of living a life of humility, and a personal note of advice written to him by his late father, which contained this nugget of counsel: "make each day your masterpiece."

The passing of John R. Wooden yesterday marked more than just the death of the greatest college sports figure of all-time and the loss of one of the most important Americans of the 20th century.  It was the final day of a 99-year life that can only be described as a masterpiece.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Voter-Nominated Primaries in California?

Here in California, where most of us agree that our state legislature is broken and it seems that our state government is on the brink of bankruptcy every few months or so, there are a number of hotly contested races underway for our June 8th primary election.  But amidst votes that will be cast for the nominees in each major party for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General, the outcome of a vote on one specific initiative on the ballot has the potential of having a far more long-lasting impact on our state than any of the individual races for elective office.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Disappearing Middle

Last week's primary elections in some hotly contested campaigns for various House and Senate seats yielded results that were extremely important -- but not just for the obvious "who won and who lost" reports that filled up most political Web sites and cable news talk shows.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Making A Mark

What is art?  That's one of those great college study group questions, where everyone has an opinion and virtually none of them are the same.  The classical definition of art is typically the idea of using skill and imagination to create something that can be shared, while more modern conceptions of art seem to emphasize the importance of creating things that provoke reactions and engage audiences.  Whatever one's definition, I believe the highest form of artistic expression is when one uses creative skills to inspire other people, to lift them up, or to make a mark in the culture that points us to a better place.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Wrestling with the Immigration Debate

The recently enacted anti-illegal immigration law in Arizona, which for the first time empowers law enforcement authorities to investigate an individual's citizenship status based on the "reasonable suspicion" standard, has been a lightning rod in the immigration debate.  For two weeks now, this law has attracted the support of a majority of Americans but triggered large-scale protests by vocal opponents in major cities nationwide.

It would be tempting to think of this intense debate as something unique to the travails of 21st century America, but the truth is that we have a long tradition in our public discourse of being conflicted as a people when it comes to how we manage immigration.  There may be no better metaphor for this conflict than to review the writings on this subject from the most brilliant American political thinker of all time, who just so happened to be the author of our founding document.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Two-Party System Under Pressure

The United States is one of the few Western democracies that has retained a two-party system for much of its history.  Sure, the names of the parties have changed from time to time and the political values espoused by the major parties are often unrecognizable from what they were generations ago, but the occasional flurries of interest in third parties have invariably crashed and burned.  We're witnessing another one of those periods of pressure on the two-party system now and one wonders if this time the results might be different.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

RIP "Too Big to Fail"

I'm not a believer in the concept of government bailouts of private industry.  For one thing, as someone who has been self-employed for nearly 20 years, I have an acute understanding of the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship -- if you want to pursue a business strategy you think could yield greater profits for your wallet, you also take the inherent risk that your strategy might fail and instead leave you broke.  To paraphrase Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own, there's no crying in business.  Second, it's been my empirical observation that bailouts of soon-to-be-failed companies tend to benefit the largest equity stakeholders the most -- typically, the institutional investors and the executive team.  So the picture that leaves me is one of the average U.S. taxpayers pitching a few nickels into a hat in order to keep the wealthiest among us from suffering a major hit to their private balance sheets, something that offends my left-leaning sensibilities.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Changing Image of America

My family just returned from a wonderful vacation in Australia.  It was a terrific trip and included a number of really special memories made at places like Darling Harbor in Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef.  We like to travel abroad about once a year in order to experience other cultures, see new things and challenge our perspectives.  There is, of course, a great big world out there beyond the borders of the USA.

One thing that I was struck by on this recent trip, however, was the dramatic change in perceptions of the United States government -- and our president in particular -- among "local" residents in the country we were visiting.  In recent years, I've had surprising conversations with waiters, taxi drivers and train passengers in countries such as France, Spain, Italy and England . . . conversations that have left me a bit disheartened about how people in those countries viewed our government as reckless and imperialist.  So it was shocking and altogether encouraging to hear quite different comments from average working folks in Australia, all of whom expressed confidence in our current president as a man of diplomacy and restraint (and a sense of admiration for America that we elected someone as our chief executive who would not have been allowed to use the same Mississippi drinking fountain as me just two generations ago).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Our Country Ought to be Lovely

Edmund Burke, the great 18th century British philosopher, wrote that "there ought to be a system of manners which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely."

Although Burke was thinking about his own country at that time, his words have been recited by lovers of democracy for the past two centuries and celebrated as a standard that all free societies should seek in their public discourse.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Patriot in Our Midst

Regardless of how the implementation of health insurance reform transpires over the coming years -- if indeed it withstands court challenges and potential shifts in the Congress over the next two elections -- I think it's safe to say that political scientists recounting the political maneuveuring required to pass the bill will long be writing about the pivotal role played by a single member of the House of Representatives.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Health Care Hysteria

Democracy is messy.  It's part of the essence of our system of government that we elect officials whom we think best represent our own political values and priorities, then empower them to go speak for us in the creation and implementation of laws that govern our nation.  That very basic principle guarantees that there will be ongoing debate and differences since so two Congressional districts, no two states and no two Americans are likely to have identical views on every issue facing the country at any given time.

So it's not the conflict of the past year regarding health care reform that troubles me; our system was designed for debates like this and it's the hallmark of America that we wrestle with these tough social issues in a vocal and public way.  What troubles me is the hysterical characterization of the various ideas on this issue, which has clearly reached a crescendo this month.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What is Arete and Why Should it be Pursued?

"Arete" is a Greek word that is most frequently translated as "virtue" or "moral excellence" in English, and in fact was the name given to the Greek goddess of virtue, excellence and goodness.  Although this sounds like something that would be reserved for discussions in graduate school classrooms or seminaries in 21st century America, arete was actually one of the most common values in ancient Greek culture.  Homer, Socrates and Plato all wrote about the pursuit of arete, but it was Aristotle who challenged his audience to consistently acquire more knowledge about what it means to be virtuous and to dedicate themselves to the infusion of arete into the public square.