Monday, June 25, 2012

Barack Obama Jumps the Shark and Lands on the Wedding Cake

President Obama has jumped the shark. The phrase “Jumping the Shark” dates back to 1977 when the cast of the popular television show Happy Days took a trip out to Los Angeles and The Fonz, played by Henry Winkler, jumped over a shark cage while waterskiing. The original use indicated when a TV program had run out of creative and compelling storylines and began to utilize gimmicks to keep viewers interested such as trips to foreign countries, the introduction of new characters (particularly babies) or cameos by special guest stars. Over the last three decades the idiom has taken on a broader application in that it typically means the beginning of end of something, some endeavor, an erstwhile high flying company, or in this case, a career.

According to Gallop, Barack Obama’s approval rating is sitting at 46%, and the last time it was above 50% was May of 2011. To put that in some perspective, at this point in 2004 George Bush was sitting at 49% and had been at 60% as recently as that January, while Bill Clinton was sitting at 55% at this point in 1996. As bad as that approval rating is, Rasmussen has Obama 5 points behind Mitt Romney with a further 5% undecided. Dick Morris has a great way of explaining why that 5% is likely to go sharply against the President. He says being undecided at this point in the election cycle is the equivalent of asking if you think you are going to be married to your wife this time next year. If you don’t come down strongly in favor of yes, there’s a problem. As such he suggests that most of those undecided voters are going to go against the President.

So what does all this mean? That basically things are not looking good for Barack Obama in November. The economy seems to be mired in the cellar, the housing and unemployment numbers are looking bleak and the writing has been on the wall for months about this week’s Obamacare decision. It is said that in times of adversity a person’s true character comes to light. Over the last few months Barack Obama has proved that adage true.

So what is a politician to do when their political career is hurtling towards the abyss? Use the political equivalent of gimmicks to resuscitate their campaign. In the case of President Obama, that means doing things that will energize his base, regardless of their constitutionality or their probity. Take for example the White House’s use of the left’s thuggish tactics to intimidate private citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights and using the Office of the President to suggest that individuals are somehow “Betting against America” simply for supporting Mitt Romney.

Then of course there is the President’s recent foray into law making that is unencumbered by constitutional authority. According to Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, the President is directed to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” On the 15th of this month President Obama decided rather than do as directed by the Constitution, he would implement his own extra constitutional version of “The Dream Act", a bill that Congress couldn’t pass, even when the Democrats had a supermajority.

And it’s not just in amnesty where the President is throwing out the Constitution. In February, the Justice Department announced that they would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, unilaterally declaring it “unconstitutional”. This might have come as something of a surprise to those who had witnessed the Administration defending DOMA in court only the previous month!

Now of course we have President Obama contradicting Senator Obama and deciding that Executive Privilege is a good thing, given the fact that he and Eric Holder have much to hide in reference to government weapon sales that have resulted in the deaths of 300 Mexicans and one American Border Patrol agent… in Arizona!

These acts, controversial one and all, are the acts of a desperate man. Not a single one of them was necessary to run the country. They were however necessary to a campaign is flailing about seeking to energize its base as it tries to combat its rapidly crumbling appeal to Middle America.

As disgraceful as much of this conduct is, none of it really fits the level of incredulity necessary to be deemed “Jumping the Shark”. This however does:
Got a birthday, anniversary, or wedding coming up? Let your friends know how important this election is to you—register with Obama 2012, and ask for a donation in lieu of a gift. It’s a great way to support the President on your big day. Plus, it’s a gift that we can all appreciate—and goes a lot further than a gravy bowl.
That’s right… The President of the United States is requesting that citizens give up birthday and anniversary presents along with wedding gifts to raise money for his campaign!

The Fonz jumping over a shark was more believable than this: The President of the United State asking a couple, on the most important day of their lives, to add a third figure to the top of their wedding cake… him! And he’s not even planning on making an appearance at the reception, nevermind sit through the wedding itself! Maybe those planning a 2013 wedding should move it up a year just to guarantee a victory…

To paraphrase Winston Churchill – obviously a favorite of President Obama – “Never have so many been asked to give so much to one man”. Yes we can!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Barack Spicoli Obama exposes the fallacy of Affirmative Action

According to Wikipedia, affirmative action began in 1961 when JFK signed Executive Order 10925 which required federal agencies “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin”. For the subsequent half century the United States has been debating in universities, workplaces and ultimately in the courts about what Affirmative Action means and what's acceptable in its execution - from 1978’s California v. Bakke and 1979’s U.S. Steel Workers v. Weber to 2003’s Gratz v. Bollinger and 2009’s Ricci v. DeStefano.

Barack Obama's election has taken affirmative action to its ultimate destination. What is that ultimate destination? Failure. Why? Because it puts race at the heart of a decision that should have nothing to do with race.

How else does one explain the treatment that the press and the public gave to Barack Obama in the run-up to the 2008 election? In 1992 Bill Clinton felt his campaign was sufficiently in peril to tell the New York Times the preposterous tale: “When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale, and never tried it again.” Eight years later George Bush’s campaign was almost torpedoed by an “October Surprise” involving his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol. Indeed his campaign also endured numerous questions about his possible cocaine use. And it didn’t stop with the campaign. As late as January 2007 the Huffington Post featured a piece suggesting the country’s problems were due to the mainstream media not being sufficiently diligent in pursuing Bush’s alleged drug use.

Fast forward a month to February of 2007, when Barack Obama announces that he is running for president. Candidate Obama was quite clear about his drug use, writing in his 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father: I spent the last two years of high school in a daze, locking away the questions that life seemed insistent on posing. I kept playing basketball, attended classes sparingly, drank beer heavily and tried drugs enthusiastically. Suddenly the notion of drug use being a disqualifier for the Presidency, or, frankly, something the press was remotely interested in, seemed to vanish.

There is something about that Obama quote that is even more interesting than his admitted drug use: “I spent the last two years of high school in a daze.” The reason why this is of such great interest is the fact that after those two years of “enthusiastic” drug use Obama was able to go on and attend Occidental College then Columbia and Harvard. One might wonder how a student who spent his last two years in high school in a drug induced daze could go on to gain acceptance into two of the most selective universities on the planet. Of course it could be that Barack Spicoli was like one of those oft talked about but rarely seen kids who were so bright that they never had to study but were still somehow able to earn straight A’s or one of those students who didn’t bother with school because it wasn’t challenging enough then went on to earn a perfect score on the SAT. While that may be a possibility, from what we’ve seen from Barack Obama as President, it seems unlikely.

Without benefit of seeing his application or the acceptance committee's notes, this is admittedly pure speculation, but I’m guessing Barack Obama gained entrance into Columbia and Harvard as part of some affirmative outreach program, the private / semi-government version of affirmative action.

Unfortunately in 2008 the American people took affirmative action, or affirmative outreach to an entirely new level. While many of us were very disappointed with the GOP candidate, the reality is, by any objective measure, John McCain was far more qualified for running the government and leading the nation than was Barack Obama. Frankly, even Hillary Clinton was much qualified than Obama. Of course elections are rarely just about qualifications. In 2008 Barack Obama won the Presidency because he was, in the words of Joe Biden “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”. In a country where “diversity” seems to have taken on the air of holy writ everywhere from schools to Hollywood to corporate mission statements, Americans were understandably interested in demonstrating that a black man could become president. If nothing else, it would demonstrate just how far we’ve come from the scourges of slavery and Jim Crow.

The problem with that however, like affirmative action itself, is that it changed the pitch of the playing field. While Barack Obama was ostensibly qualified for the Presidency as determined by the Constitution, he was hardly a man well qualified to lead the most powerful and dynamic nation in the history of man. Apparently, however, other than as Joe Biden had characterized him. Heck, even President Reagan's speech writer Peggy Noonan thought it was "a big deal!"

While affirmative action on its face is a travesty, it’s not always a disaster. In college I had a friend who was offered a high paying job right out of school. He was having something of a dilemma in that he wasn’t sure that he wasn’t being hired as part of some kind of outreach program because he was black, although there was nothing to suggest that he was. Indeed, just the opposite, my friend was one of the smartest students in the class – but alas, that’s another downside of affirmative action, it often makes people question the source of someone else’s success - or sometimes even their own. I responded “Who cares?” He hadn’t asked for special treatment and he had no control over the company’s hiring decisions. I told him that in the big picture it didn’t really matter. He would be successful or not based on his skills and his performance rather than the color of his skin. Even if they had brought him on board as an effort to diversify their workforce, corporations are rarely suicidal and if his work didn’t justify his continued costs he would be out on his ear. We lost touch but I have no doubt he was very successful.

While Barack Obama was an affirmative action / outreach choice for many Americans, he didn’t have to be a disaster. Unfortunately for all of us however, he has been. From his incompetence on the handling of the economy to his unwillingness to adapt to changing conditions to his ham handed power grab called Obamacare, Barack Spicoli was never equipped for the demands of the US Presidency. The reality of that should be obvious to most Americans by now.

There may however be a silver lining to this Fast Times in the White House debacle: Perhaps Americans will finally see that affirmative action – including those programs that seek to lower standards in order to promote unqualified candidates, and those that seek to insert race or gender or any other immaterial characteristics into the decision making process – is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. Once America gets back to judging people on the quality of their work, the competence they exhibit and the strengths they bring to the table, or as someone else put it a bit more eloquently almost 50 years ago: "a nation where they (his four little daughters) will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character;" the better off we will all be, black and white and everyone in between.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Transparently Hypocritical Barack Obama

Way back in 2007 crony capitalism was a bad thing. For years the left had been telling anyone who would listen that the Bush administration was in bed with the oil industry and that Haliburton was given preferential treatment because of its friends in the White House and as a result ended up bilking the government out of millions if not billions of dollars.

As a result, candidate Obama declared “I'll make our government open and transparent", "meetings where laws are written will be more open", and then President Obama, on his third day in office, stated: The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is to make it transparent. Gone would be cronyism, inside dealing, opaque transactions, and what’s more, citizens would have five days to read every bill that landed on the President’s desk before he would sign it.

The whole “five days” deal didn’t last long, and neither did much else in Barack Obama’s promise of bringing government transparency to new heights. What’s worse, the violations of that transparency pledge were greatest during the passage of arguably the single most important – and worst – piece of legislation ever to come across a President’s desk: ObamaCare. Euphemistically named the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare single handedly would open the door for regulation of anything in the American economy and the lives of the American people. The legislation inspired protests that have not been seen in decades. Needless to say, ObamaCare was and is controversial.

So it’s particularly interesting that Barack Obama chose that legislation to introduce some of his most potent behind the scenes dealings. Although it was known at the time that the administration was discussing the various elements of ObamaCare with Big Pharma, it wasn’t until three years later that the hypocritical interworkings of the negotiations would became public. In typical Washington fashion, the President traded (dropped) legalizing the importation of drugs from Canada and using government purchasing power to drive down drug prices in exchange for the pharmaceutical industry spending tens of millions of dollars in support of ObamaCare. The point here isn’t that the President engaged in anything particularly unusual, but rather his hypocrisy in explicitly promising an unprecedented level of transparency and then to immediately engage in secret deal making upon taking office.

Earlier this year, in an astonishing demonstration of the President’s disdain for the notion of truth in advertising, the Obama administration has decided to eliminate the single best tool taxpayers have for keeping an eye on where Washington is spending their tax dollars – as well as those borrowed from China – the Census Bureau’s Consolidated Federal Funds Report, and replace it with a variety of opaque reports that will make much more difficult to take an accurate accounting of government spending. And coincidentally this just happens to occur at the very moment when the government is spending more money on more obscure projects than at any time in US history. So much for the “most transparent administration” in history.

And unfortunately, it’s not just the transparency... (although there's lots more on that, like the administration's abysmal record on FOIA). The Obama administration is also hotbed of cronyism. When the stimulus bill passed President Obama said: “Let me repeat that: decisions about how recovery money will be spent will be based on the merits. They will not be made as a way of doing favors for lobbyists.” Skip ahead three years and, surprise, surprise, it turns out that the President might not have been entirely truthful.

Fully 80% of the $20 billion the Energy Department spent or guaranteed in the green energy sector during the first three years of the Obama Administration went to Obama donors, campaign bundlers or donors to the Democratic Party. Then there is the union payback via the nationalization of the auto industry. Or the administration’s attempts to get a general to perjure himself in support the Obama donor backed, and now bankrupt LightSquared. And who can forget the Navy paying $16 a gallon for “biofuel” from a company being advised by an Obama transition team member.

One could go for pages with this stuff, but why bother? One of the primary drivers behind “Hope and Change” was the promise that the Obama administration was going to usher in a new era of government transparency, accountability and an even handed administration of government operations. Three years later those illusions have been pierced and as Mr. Perpetual Fundraiser begins to send his already turbo charged campaign into overdrive, it might be helpful to remember that old joke: “How can you tell when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

A very basic primer on deciding between Romney and Obama in November

In business there is something called “sunk costs” which refers to funds that have been spent and are unrecoverable. At any given point sunk costs are irrelevant to the decisions going forward. An example of this would be a company that has spent a billion dollars building a plant and now has to choose whether or not to spend another billion dollars hiring staff and actually operating the plant. At the point of the decision the only thing that should be relevant to the decision makers is what makes best sense for the firm going forward. Does the company make more money by staffing and operating the plant or by selling it? The decision should be based solely on what’s best going forward, with no sentimental attachment to the billion dollars already spent building the plant.

The key element of sunk costs is recognizing that you can’t change or undo anything that has already happened and therefore the focus of your attention should be what you can do today to impact tomorrow.

The last three years should be looked at as sunk costs… or simply unalterable history. The November election cannot turn back the clock. It can only look at a course for the future.

As such, voters should evaluate Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as a board of directors would if they were seeking to hire a president or CEO to run their organization.

The first thing you’d do is take a cursory look at their resumes. Obama earned an undergraduate degree from Columbia while Romney earned his from BYU. Both men earned graduate degrees at Harvard. On that score you’d have to say that the men were very similar. As for their success as students it is not currently possible to compare the two. Romney graduated in the top 5% of his class at Harvard while Obama has refused to release any of his school transcripts.

The next thing you might look at their relevant work experience.

Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago, taught Constitutional law at Columbia, was elected to the Illinois Senate and then the US Senate. His most important work experience comes from his three years as President of the United States.

Romney worked as a business consultant, founded a private equity firm, managed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and served as Governor of Massachusetts for four years.

Finally you might look at their family situations and personal life as you wouldn’t want your new leader embarrassing your organization. Obama is a nondenominational Christian and is by all measures a devoted husband and dedicated father of two little girls. Romney is Mormon, has been married to his wife for 43 years and the couple has raised five boys.

On first blush both men seem to have the basic qualifications necessary to be President. But one needs to look at the experience a bit deeper now.

Barack Obama’s career was fairly unremarkable prior to entering the White House. As such, his best case can be made when looking at his time in office. He was presented with a difficult situation of the American economy in 2009. What has he done? The most obvious thing is that he’s borrowed and spent a great deal of money. Results? Higher unemployment than when he took over. Fewer people are actually working than when he became President. Inflation is 3% higher although the economy is experiencing stagnant, albeit positive, growth; the slowest recovery since the Great Depression. He passed ObamaCare and was subsequently sued by 27 states and the law is in front of the Supreme Court. Osama Bin Laden is dead. American troops are out of Iraq.

Romney’s work experience is far more telling: While at Bain Capital he earned his shareholders billions of dollars via his rescuing and restructuring companies – although not all such attempts were successful. In Olympic host city Salt Lake, he took a Winter Games that what was on course to lose hundreds of millions of dollars (which is the norm for host cities) and turned it into a money maker – to the tune of $100 million – and a successful Olympics to boot. So too as Governor of Massachusetts, where he left the state with a surplus after having entered office with an expected $3 billion shortfall.

Romney’s tenure as Governor was anything but spectacular however. Although he helped the city of Boston climb out of its Big Dig disaster, he left with a 34% approval rating and budget deficits returned once he left office. He also implemented the blueprint for ObamaCare in Massachusetts during his tenure.

As a member of the nation’s board of directors tasked with choosing a new leader you might want a viable third candidate, but you don’t have one. As such, the question is who will do a better job of running the country for the next four years. The answer is actually crystal clear. While Mitt Romney’s tenure as Governor of Massachusetts was less than spectacular, his business career was everything including spectacular. In addition, at the Olympics he had to deal with a plethora of international organizations, federal, state and local governments and everything was under klieg lights unlike any other event around the world. And he performed that job flawlessly.

Barack Obama on the other hand has made an absolute mess of the US economy, he has divided the country and has accumulated more debt in three years than any person in human history. At the same time he has discouraged millions of Americans from looking for work while dramatically increasing the number of people on the government dole. At the same time he has promised to put the United States on the socialist path of Europe, just as that continent is disintegrating.

American success was built on the backs of entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors, capitalists and workers seeking their own piece of the American Dream. Unleashing the power of that lineup to help the country emerge from the never-ending economic quagmire we find ourselves in is going to take someone who has a basic understanding of what it takes to incentivize those players to not only want to get back into the game of productivity and profitability, but more importantly, understand what keeps them from doing so… i.e. how organizations function or don’t. The organization in this case is the United States and the thing that keeps it from functioning properly is government regulations and interference.

When the American people walk into the voting booths in November and decide which lever to pull, they should imagine themselves pulling the lever for the candidate who is going to help not just them, but the employer who pays their salary or the customer who buys their products or the employee who works for them. Or if they don’t’ have a job, who can create an economic foundation for enough to be created for them to have a choice as to which one to take. They should then open their eyes and pull the lever for Mitt Romney.