Tag Archives: leadership

Stock Market Meltdown: No Leadership but Plenty of Excuses

Well, as Dutch Reagan would say, “Here we go again.” Financial markets in the United States and around the world tanked yesterday. Hey, it’s time to fret over our retirement savings just like in 2008. I expect that the periodic cheery calls from my “wealth adviser” at Merrill Lynch are now on hold. Snort. I digress.

Anyway, I don’t buy the notion that this mess is the result of a “Tea Party Downgrade.” That’s just a talking point provided to the chattering class by politicians and their operatives who didn’t have the guts — or the smarts — to come up with a plan in 2009 or 2010 to address the very real problems of federal government debt and spending.

And at this point it doesn’t do any good to blame Standard and Poor’s. Granted, the management of that pathetically inept organization couldn’t find their asses with both hands in the dark during the mortgage debacle. But they are like baseball umpires without the benefit of an instant replay. No matter how stupid or wrong the call, it stands.

So what we have now is an economic crisis fueled by a slowing economy in the U.S. and throughout Europe, high unemployment, and a housing market that is all but dead unless you are fortunate enough to live Inside the Beltway.

And we have a crisis of leadership. I voted for Obama because I believed we needed a change — not just in policy but in how Washington could work together in the common interests of the American people. Oops. My bad. Let’s face it. Obama’s been a dud. He’s a mediator, not a leader. He’s a compromiser, not an advocate.

This, by the way, is not just the rant of one pajama-clad citizen journalist. When pundits like Dana Milbank at WaPo start to question the Prez, somebody in the administration may want to start checking on the availability of moving vans following the election in 2012.  Here’s from Milbank’s opinion article, “The most powerful man on Earth?“:

A familiar air of indecision preceded President Obama’s pep talk to the nation.

The first draft of his schedule for Monday contained no plans to comment on the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor’s. Then the White House announced that he would speak at 1 p.m. A second update changed that to 1:30. At 1:52, Obama walked into the State Dining Room to read his statement. Judging from the market reaction, he should have stuck with his original instinct.

“No matter what some agency may say, we’ve always been and always will be a AAA country,” Obama said, as if comforting a child who had been teased by the class bully.

When he began his speech (and as cable news channels displayed for viewers), the Dow Jones industrials stood at 11,035. As he talked, the average fell below 11,000 for the first time in nine months, en route to a 635-point drop for the day, the worst since the 2008 crash.

It’s not exactly fair to blame Obama for the rout: Almost certainly, the markets ignored him. And that’s the problem: The most powerful man in the world seems strangely powerless, and irresolute, as larger forces bring down the country and his presidency.

The economy crawls, the credit rating falls, the markets plunge, and a helicopter packed with U.S. special forces goes down in Afghanistan. Two thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track (and that was before the market swooned), Obama’s approval rating is 43 percent, and activists on his own side are calling him weak.

Yet Obama plods along, raising gobs of cash for his reelection bid — he was scheduled to speak at two DNC fundraisers Monday night — and varying little the words he reads from the teleprompter. He seemed detached even from those words Monday as he pivoted his head from side to side, proclaiming that “our problems is not confidence in our credit” and turning his bipartisan fiscal commission into a “biparticle.”

He reminded all that the situation isn’t his fault (the need for deficit reduction “was true the day I took office”), he blamed the other side (“we knew . . . a debate where the threat of default was used as a bargaining chip could do enormous damage to our economy”) and he revisited the same proposals he had previously offered to little effect: extending unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut, and spending more on infrastructure projects.

This, he said, is “something we can do as soon as Congress gets back,” along with further deficit reduction. “I intend to present my own recommendations over the coming weeks,” he said.

Over the coming weeks? As soon as Congress gets back?

In the White House briefing room after Obama’s statement, the press corps grilled Jay Carney about the lack of fire in the belly.

“The president said our problems are imminently solvable, and he talked about a renewed sense of urgency,” CBS’s Norah O’Donnell pointed out. “Why not call Congress back to work?”

Carney chuckled at this suggestion.

“I mean, the Dow dropped below 11,000 — where’s the sense of urgency?” O’Donnell persisted.

The press secretary uttered something about the founders and the separation of powers.

NBC’s Chuck Todd was not swayed. “Why not bring Congress back now?” he repeated, pointing out that “the American public seems to be in a little bit of a panic” while Washington says, “We’re going to stand back and wait until school starts.”

“I think we’re getting a drumbeat here,” Carney said. “The press corps is leading here — always appreciated.”

At least somebody is.

Various reporters tried to elicit more information about Obama’s economic plans and deficit-reduction proposals, but Carney declined again to take the lead.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of the process,” he explained to the Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler, adding that Obama “will be contributing to that process, not driving it or directing it.”

“Why?” inquired Politico’s Glenn Thrush. “He’s the leader of the free world. Why isn’t he leading this process?”

That is the enduring mystery of Obama’s presidency. He delivered his statement on the economy beneath a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, but that was as close as he came to forceful leadership. He looked grim and swallowed hard and frequently as he mixed fatalism (“markets will rise and fall”) with vague, patriotic exhortations (“this is the United States of America”).

“There will always be economic factors that we can’t control,” Obama said. Maybe. But it would be nice if the president gave it a try.

 No leadership. Plenty of excuses.

Just sayin’.



Frank Rich, Obama and Leadership

Wow. If Prez O loses Frank Rich, the liberal NYT pundit, can the country be far behind? Two years ago I didn’t figure that anyone — Republican, Democrat or whatever — could challenge Obama in a run for the White House in 2012.

I’m not so sure today. Why?

We need leadership from the Oval Office — and that sure is in short supply these days. Consider Frank Rich’s NYT Op-Ed Sunday morning, “All the President’s Captors.” My take on his viewpoint: Obama is now so intent on placating the Republicans that he has forfeited the opportunity to lead.

Here’s an excerpt from the Op-Ed:

The captors will win this battle, if they haven’t already by the time you read this, because Obama has seemingly surrendered his once-considerable abilities to act, decide or think. That pay freeze made as little sense intellectually as it did politically. It will save the government a scant $5 billion over two years and will actually cost the recovery at least as much, since much of that $5 billion would have been spent on goods and services by federal workers with an average yearly income of $75,000. By contrast, the extension of the Bush tax cuts to the $250,000-plus income bracket will add $80 billion to the deficit in two years, much of which will just be banked by the wealthier beneficiaries.

And more:

The cliché criticisms of Obama are (from the left) that he is a naïve centrist, not the audacious liberal that Democrats thought they were getting, and (from the right) that he is a socialist out to impose government on every corner of American life. But the real problem is that he’s so indistinct no one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is. A chief executive who repeatedly presents himself as a conciliator, forever searching for the “good side” of all adversaries and convening summits, in the end comes across as weightless, if not AWOL. A Rorschach test may make for a fine presidential candidate — when everyone projects their hopes on the guy. But it doesn’t work in the Oval Office: These days everyone is projecting their fears on Obama instead.

I voted for Obama. I didn’t agree with everything that he stood for as a candidate. And I certainly don’t now. But I had this notion that after the debacle of the Bush years Obama would bring to the national political stage a spirit of civility, openness and leadership.

Next time around I’m going to try to figure out who is going to be the best leader — not just the best candidate.




Health Care: Courage, Leadership and Trust

I spent the early a.m. chasing the belt on the treadmill. I could have run outside — but my left foot is sore from the pounding on the concrete over the weekend. And I’m convinced now that this nagging injury isn’t going to get much better and there isn’t any point in going back to see my doctor or physical therapist. Hey, maybe that’s one of the reasons I think so much about health care these days.

And that was a sneaky — although probably not very good — transition to what I was thinking about while modestly elevating my heart rate this morning. After months and months and months and months of talk about health care reform, I was struck by something that was said during President Obama’s visit to Strongsville (near Cleveland) yesterday.

Here’s from The Plain Dealer story by Mark Naymik:

“I believe Congress owes the American people a final up or down vote,” he (President Obama) told an audience at the city’s Walter F. Ehrnfelt Recreation and Senior Center.

Obama said “there is a lot of hand-wringing going on” over the implications of voting for the legislation, when he was interrupted by a woman in the crowd who shouted, “We need courage.”

“We need courage.”

There is plenty of room in this health care reform debate — as with any number of other issues — for honest disagreements on policy and principle. But at some point we need our elected officials to demonstrate some personal courage. That time on health care — ready or not — may be coming this week.

We also need leadership — and the ability to trust elected officials to make decisions that extend beyond their own self-interest.

Courage, leadership and trust.

Those qualities have been absent during much of the debate on what is a significant public issue that will touch all of our lives.

Too bad it took a shout-out in Strongsville yesterday to get us back to considering the importance of courage — and leadership and trust.

Mike Holmgren and Credibility

Well, I’m still chasing the belt on the treadmill. Ugh. And I thought I had a shot at hitting the concrete this a.m. but couldn’t pull the trigger. The Weather Channel online said 24 degrees, but feels like 11. Not today, thank you.

So I finished my run, took a quick shower, downed a bowl of cereal and some more coffee, and scanned the dead-tree edition of the Akron Beacon Journal. And I read an interesting front page column by Patrick McManamon (“Browns president begins by lending hand to legend“) about Mike Holmgren, the newly hired president of the Cleveland Browns.

McManamon focuses on the requisite sports stuff: retain coach Eric Mangini or not, interview and hire a GM, access the team and staff on more than just a few games and so on.

But the story really gets to the heart of two qualities that define leadership and success: character and credibility. And that’s true in business, government, education — and sports.

If you have read these musings previously, you know that I am a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan. And I really believe that much of the success that the Steelers have had on the field for the past four decades can be linked directly to the leadership — shaped through the character and credibility — of the Rooney family.

Saying that, I would like to see the Browns succeed. It would be good for the entire community and for a really dedicated and loyal fan base that spans generations.

If Mike Holmgren brings — and maintains — character and credibility, Cleveland will have a winning team.

Yeah, leadership matters. And you don’t lead without character and credibility.

A Jobs Summit: Wishing and Hoping?

Kind of a slow news day. There’s more on the net about the Sarah Palin Newsweek cover photo kerfuffle —  a bold and descriptive illustration (used previously in Runner’s World) depicting the contrasts that Palin represents or a shameful exploitation and sexist to boot. Gee, guess it depends on your world view. And ho-hum. I opined on that Monday.

And everyone seems more interested in Bill Belichick’s play-calling than in the long-awaited decision by Prez O about whether to send more American troops into the rat hole that is Afghanistan. Oops. I digress.

Anyway,  as I was making my five-mile pre-dawn running tour of the neighborhood this morning it struck me that maybe we have lost sight of what should be the biggest issue in this country now: jobs.

Folks, the Great Recession might be easing somewhat — if measured by recent stock market gains and modest improvements in housing and in consumer confidence. But there are still millions unemployed — millions who are working at jobs for which they are overqualified and most likely underpaid — millions — especially seniors and young people — who have dropped out of the job market altogether.

A solution? Well, how about a national jobs summit. That’s going to take place at the White House Dec. 3.

Will calling together business pooh-bahs, policy wonks and other miscreants get people back to work? Well, here’s wishing and hoping.

Here’s from Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, writing on The Huffington Post, “A Wake Up Call on Jobs“:

President Obama has announced a White House Jobs Summit for next month. At least that’s the beginning of recognition that the unemployment rate is unacceptable. The measured rate is now 10.2 percent, but if you count people who have given up or who are involuntarily working part time, the real rate is over 17 percent.

And the point:

If past Obama White House Summits are any guide, this one will invite a broad cross section of people: trade unionists and deficit hawks, investment bankers and labor economists, industrialists and Republicans; and everyone will speak of the importance of their pet project for job creation. That’s not good enough. This is not a moment for another White House gab fest. It’s a time for progressive leadership.

Hmm — progressive leadership.

Here’s wishing.

And hoping.

Obama and Health Care: Leadership and Words Matter

Day is off to a great start. Woke up, scanned the Internet sites, quaffed a pot full of  coffee, and dragged my dead foot and leg over five miles of concrete. Then an hour or so later the sun did come up. I guess Obama’s talk on education yesterday to students around the nation didn’t end life as we know it after all. (See Los Angeles Times, “Bipartisan praise for Obama’s school speech.”)

Here’s hoping for an even better result tonight when the Prez opines on health care. (Tons of stories on this today. Here’s one: USA Today, “Obama to detail health care vision.”)

Ah, the vision thing. Well, if Obama is going to share his vision on health-care reform, let’s hope he does it with more clarity, meaning and enthusiasm than most (all?) mission and vision statements prepared by companies, universities and so on. Most organizations reduce the idea of vision to a single word: mush.

We need more from President Obama on this critical issue of health care. We need to understand his vision — expressed clearly, in a way that provides meaning to a subject that is terribly complex, and with enthusiasm.

But most of all we need his leadership. We need to trust that he is acting in the nation’s best interest — and not in the narrow self-interest of his own re-election or that of the Dems in Congress.

And providing leadership — based on trust — represents a more difficult challenge, given the contentious nature of the debate on both sides of the health care issue and the fact that the big-money interests — health insurers, medical establishment, drug companies and so on — are not going to fade away quietly or gently.

There are a number of articles making their way around the blogosphere this morning about what to look for in Obama’s speech tonight. Try Chris Cillizza — WaPo — “Morning Fix: What Obama Should Say.” Or David M. Herszenhorn — NYT — “How to Watch the Speech.”

For me, all I want to know is what Obama stands for, what he wants to see in health-care legislation and why it is in the best interest of the nation. And I want him to tell me that clearly, in a way that I can understand WTF this is all about, and with enthusiasm.

And by the way, it’s possible that at the same time the Prez hits the airwaves Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters will be smacking the tennis ball at each other in the quarterfinals of the U.S.Open. Or maybe it will be the match featuring Melanie Oudin, the teenager from Georgia who has become the surprise attraction of the tournament. Oh well.

I guess I’ll watch the Prez.

The ball on health care, after all, is now in his court.

Obama: About Education and Leadership

I enjoyed the Labor Day extended weekend, managing to survive two five-mile runs on consecutive days. And I’m only limping a little today on my injured left foot and leg. OK. Back to school, work, whatever.

It wasn’t that many years ago when Labor Day marked the last day of summer and signaled the beginning of the school year. And even now when many (most?) schools start classes in August, the day after Labor Day has that semi-official start of the new year to it.

I guess that is why Prez O scheduled his talk on education today. Sort of like tossing out the first pitch on opening day of baseball season. And for many, Obama’s remarks came up short even before he took to the mound.

You know the story. Prez schedules talk that will be beamed into most classrooms in the 15,000 some school districts around the country. Department of Education puts out a teacher’s guide that encourages students to write a letter to themselves about how they can help the president. Shitstorm ensues.

This to me is not a silly argument. In fact, it points to a few big realities that we are dealing with these days. One, the nation remains divided over important issues, not the least of which is health-care reform. Two, everybody who wants one these days has access to a communication platform and a megaphone. Public debate is no longer framed exclusively by the mainstream media. (See David Carr/NYT — “A Struggle Taming Any Debate.”) Three, we’re a country that believes strongly in local control and autonomy for local schools. Four, the lack of trust in government at all levels — and in elected officials — is alarming and has not improved in the least since the elections in November.

And fifth, we desperately need leadership from President Obama. He’s working in the Oval Office for plenty of reasons, one being the lack of leadership displayed by the previous administration. Ah — Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job. And so on.

But here’s the point. No thinking person can disagree with the need to improve education in a way that allows our young people to stay in school and then succeed on the job and throughout life. Can we disagree about the best way to make that happen? You bet. But we can’t ignore the problem: too many young people don’t graduate from high school and many of those who do graduate are not prepared for either work or college.

As I read it, that’s essentially Obama’s message (via New York Times and USA Today articles) today to students, teachers, parents and anyone else. Here’s the speech text — via the Associated Press.

Helping students succeed in school is a defining issue for Obama and for our nation. Here’s from an article I wrote in January as the new administration was preparing to take office.

Here’s a suggestion that would lead to big results. President Obama should shine the national spotlight on the increasingly serious problem involving young people who either drop out of high school or who get a diploma but not the education and skills necessary to succeed. Those young people forfeit their future in our knowledge-based global economy.

The facts here aren’t new, but they provide a compelling call to action for leaders in government, business and education. Consider the following:

  • Close to one in three young people drop out of high school every year. More than 1.2 million.
  • America’s Promise Alliance, established by Gen. Colin Powell, estimates that each year dropouts represent $320 billion in lost lifetime earnings potential.  That translates into diminished consumer spending – and lower tax revenue.
  • There is a difference of about $300,000 between what a dropout and a high school graduate earns during a working lifetime, according to the National Dropout Prevention Center.
  • That same organization estimates that high school dropouts make up 75 percent of America’s state prison inmates.
  • For those who do graduate, as many as 40 percent are not prepared for the workplace of today or tomorrow, based on research conducted with employers by Corporate Voices for Working Families and other organizations. (Disclosure: I initially wrote these points on behalf of Corporate Voices for Working Families.)
  • And while a college degree is not required for successful entry into the workforce, employers in the same study, Are They Really Ready To Work?, project that they will hire more new employees with a college degree and fewer with only a high school diploma.

Our failure to help students succeed in school and on the job is a national crisis touching the lives of more than 4.3 million disconnected young people.  It stretches and often breaks the social services that our community organizations and local governments can provide and undercuts our economy and global competitiveness.

So let’s keep the national spotlight on how to best improve our schools and help our young people succeed — recognizing that a part of the solution involves personal responsibility by students and parents. Excellent classroom teachers make a big difference. But they can’t help students learn and succeed without plenty of help in the classroom and out.

And let’s hope that the president matches his words — with some real leadership.