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Obama, the Economy, and Those Free Trade Agreements

Jobs and the economy are Obama’s Achilles heel.  And he has no one to blame but himself.  Way back in 2009, I tried to warn him:

Actually, I feel like Obama’s the one getting punked. But it’s mostly his doing. Ask the many independents who voted for him. They wanted, and still want, Obama to focus like a laser on the economy. There are encouraging signs that we are beginning to turn this thing around, but we would have been much further along if that had been his primary focus. And if he had taken ownership of the stimulus bill and made sure damn near everything was stimulus and not just Congress’ pet spending projects.

Had he done that, Congressional Dems would have been golden for 2010. He could have used the remainder of his term to push for real healthcare reform. Many previously skeptical folks would have said, hey, this man proved with the economy that he knows how to focus and execute. So let’s give him a shot with healthcare.

That would have set up 2012 beautifully. After which point he could have pushed for major entitlement reform. The kind that addresses structural deficit and puts us back on path to long-term prosperity.

That’s what could have been. Instead, we have reform fatigue. We’re still digesting the economic reforms, and he’s ladling in healthcare. It’s all too much at one time. The result is that he’s going to get some healthcare reform, but it will be weak because there is insufficient political goodwill for anything more. And don’t even talk about entitlement reform.

So my issue with Obama is he has the right instincts for reform. But the way he’s going at about it — everything at once — makes it virtually impossible for his reforms to succeed. I hope I’m wrong.

(From a comment at http://www.taylormarsh.com.)  But the White House didn’t want to waste a “crisis.”  And so here we are, with Obama waiting for solutions from his Jobs Council.  Problems with this are three fold:

  • You don’t outsource job creation – it’s too important.
  • A 26-person (!) committee is only going to come up with pablum.  Encourage more SBA lending?  Make buildings more energy-efficient?  Streamline the federal permit process?  Heaven save us.
  • Composition of the council.  GE?  Amex? Intel? Citibank?  My goodness.  If you’ve read Clayton Christensen’s many writings on “Market Disruption” – and if you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to remedy that right away – you know that these companies are likely to be the disruptees rather than the disruptors.  Take Intel.  Its relentless focus on its core customers – desktops and workstations requiring high-powered chips – made it oblivious to the threats posed to it manufacturers of low-powered chips used in cell phones and now tablets.  Now Intel has to fight a two-front battle: try to gain a foothold in the low-powered market, AND fend against low-powered chipmakers moving upmarket.  I would have gone in a different direction, looking at companies like Nucor, Hyundai and Xerox (the focus on an article in today’s WSJ showing how it has reinvented itself).  These and other companies have innovation hardwired in their DNA, whereas most of the companies represented on the council strike me as moribund, staid, and completely orthodox.  (Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook is a conspicuous exception.)

But here’s the irony of the thing.  The one silver lining in this crappy economy is the weak dollar.  Sucks for imports and international tourism, but is like the Balm of Gilead for export markets.  More exports means more hiring, right?  So why aren’t we moving on the trade agreements?  Oh right – because organized labor doesn’t like them.  But here’s the problem.  We are not dealing in a binary world any more, where we either do the deal or don’t.  Now we compete with other countries for the same trade benefits.  And while we’ve dithered, other countries have rushed in to complete their own deals with Colombia, South Korea etc.

This state of affairs needs to be corrected, asap.  We don’t need no stinking pablum from a bunch of overpaid titans.  We need to sell our wares, and that means export markets.  So STMFTAA! (That means “Sign the Mut*a Fu*king Trade Agreements Already” – shout out to Dan Savage)  And I don’t want to hear any caterwauling from those liberals who insist that Obama must do something RIGHT NOW about jobs – but shriek like banshees when it comes to signing the free trade agreements.  Their arguments, such as they are, are easily accommodated.  So, as these guys so aptly put it, “it’s time for liberals to stop making excuses and let the deal get done.”

So, Mr. President, if you’re listening – Get ‘Er Done.

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5, 4, 3, 2, 1… The Obama Family Lights The National Christmas Tree

Posted by: Audiegrl
Written by Kori Schulman

President Barack Obama, with mother-in-law Marian Robinson, daughters Sasha and Malia, and First Lady Michelle Obama, react as they push the button to light the National Christmas Tree during a ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Ed. Note: Watch the full National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and show with musical performances by B.B. King, Sara Bareilles, Common, Maroon 5 and more at www.thenationaltree.org.

Last night, the First Family continued a proud holiday tradition – lighting the National Christmas Tree for the 88th time. View photos from the event and watch a video of the President’s remarks, the tree lighting ceremony, and a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by the First Lady.

President Barack Obama addresses the crowd as he and the First Family attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama and First Family listen to the program at the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

BB King performs Merry Christmas Baby at the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The National Christmas Tree shines bright during the lighting ceremony on the Ellipse in Washington, Dec. 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

“Snow or shine, in good times and in periods of hardship, folks like you have gathered with Presidents to light our national tree,” said President Obama, “Now, it hasn’t always gone off without a hitch. On one occasion, two sheep left the safety of the Nativity scene and wandered into rush-hour traffic. That caused some commotion.”

He continued, touching on the history of the ceremony and taking a moment to honor the men and women that are serving in uniform overseas this holiday season:

Often, the ceremony itself has reflected the pain and sacrifice of the times. There were years during the Second World War when no lights were hung, in order to save electricity. In the days following Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill joined President Roosevelt to wish our nation a Happy Christmas even in such perilous days.

But without fail, each year, we have gathered here. Each year we’ve come together to celebrate a story that has endured for two millennia. It’s a story that’s dear to Michelle and me as Christians, but it’s a message that’s universal: A child was born far from home to spread a simple message of love and redemption to every human being around the world.

It’s a message that says no matter who we are or where we are from, no matter the pain we endure or the wrongs we face, we are called to love one another as brothers and as sisters.

And so during a time in which we try our hardest to live with a spirit of charity and goodwill, we remember our brothers and sisters who have lost a job or are struggling to make ends meet. We pray for the men and women in uniform serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and in faraway places who can’t be home this holiday season. And we thank their families, who will mark this Christmas with an empty seat at the dinner table.

On behalf of Malia, Sasha, Michelle, Marian — who’s our grandmother-in-chief — (laughter) -– and Bo — don’t forget Bo — (applause) — I wish all of you a merry Christmas and a blessed holiday season.

And now I’m going to invite the entire Obama crew up here to help me light this Christmas tree. (Applause.)

All right, everybody, we’re going to count from five — five, four, three, two, one.

(The tree is lit.) (Applause.)

Merry Christmas, everybody!

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West Wing Week ~ It’s Alive! ~ December 3 – December 10, 2010

Posted by: Audiegrl

President Barack Obama gets a hug as he shakes hands with the U.S. troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, Dec. 3, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Walk step by step with the President as he visits Afghanistan to celebrate the holidays with our men and women in uniform, announces a free trade agreement with South Korea, attends a series of meetings at the White House and holds a press conference to answer questions about the tax cut compromise, signs the Claims Resolution Act of 2010, and more…

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West Wing Week ~ Sharp Elbows ~ November 26 – December 3, 2010

Posted by: Audiegrl

First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses laugh as young visitor tastes her decorated cookie during a holiday craft demonstration with the children of military personnel in the State Dining Room of the White House, Dec. 1, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Walk step by step with the President as he holds a meeting with bipartisan members of the Congressional Leadership at the White House, greets the American 2010 Nobel Laureates in the Oval Office, meets with General Colin Powell, makes a joint statement about the importance of ratifying the START treaty with Russia, and more…

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President Barack Obama is reflected in a mirror as he meets with newly-elected governors at Blair House, Dec. 2, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

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Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah at the White House

Posted by: Audiegrl
Written by Kori Schulman

Last night, President Obama, Vice President Biden and the First Lady welcomed friends and leaders from the Jewish community to celebrate the second night of Hanukkah at the White House. “So on this second night of Hanukkah,” said President Obama, “Let us give thanks to the blessings that all of us enjoy. Let us be mindful of those who need our prayers. And let us draw strength from the words of a great philosopher, who said that a miracle is “a confirmation of what is possible.”

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Before lighting the menorah, the President delivered remarks:

Now, tonight, we gather to celebrate a story as simple as it is timeless. It’s a story of ancient Israel, suffering under the yoke of empire, where Jews were forbidden to practice their religion openly, and the Holy Temple — including the holy of holies — had been desecrated.

It was then that a small band of believers, led by Judah Maccabee, rose up to take back their city and free their people.  And when the Maccabees entered the temple, the oil that should have lasted for a single night ended up burning for eight.

That miracle gave hope to all those who had been struggling in despair.  And in the 2,000 years since, in every corner of the world, the tiny candles of Hanukkah have reminded us of the importance of faith and perseverance. They have illuminated a path for us when the way forward was shrouded in darkness.

And as we prepare to light another candle on the menorah, let us remember the sacrifices that others have made so that we may all be free. Let us pray for the members of our military who guard that freedom every day, and who may be spending this holiday far away from home.

Let us also think of those for whom these candles represent not just a triumph of the past, but also hope for the future — the men, women and children of all faiths who still suffer under tyranny and oppression.

That’s why families everywhere are taught to place the menorah in public view, so the entire world can see its light. Because, as the Talmud teaches us, “So long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith.”

Ben Retik lights the Menorah as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama take part in the Hanukkah Candle Lighting ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 2, 2010 (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Ben Retik lights the Menorah as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama take part in the Hanukkah Candle Lighting ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Dec. 2, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

He continued, explaining how the menorah and the family who helped light it both stand as symbols of that faith:

This beautiful menorah has been generously loaned to us by Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans. Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water.   Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold.  And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.

And that feeling is shared by Susan Retik. It’s a feeling they know all too well.  After her husband, David, was killed on September 11th, Susan could have easily lost herself in feelings of hopelessness and grief.  But instead, she turned her personal loss into a humanitarian mission — co-founding “Beyond the 11th,” a group that reaches out to Afghan widows facing their own struggles.

So on this second night of Hanukkah, let us give thanks to the blessings that all of us enjoy.  Let us be mindful of those who need our prayers. And let us draw strength from the words of a great philosopher, who said that a miracle is “a confirmation of what is possible.”

Ed. Note: In August 2010, Susan Retik was awarded the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal for advancing women’s rights and the power of America’s ideals. The Medal is among the highest honors a civilian can recieve. Watch a video of her story here.

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First Lady Michelle Obama at the Holiday Preview: “It’s the People’s House

Posted by: Audiegrl

Written by Jordan Harp

First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off the holiday season by welcoming military families who organize a local branch of the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots drive to the White House. “The idea behind this year’s theme,” Mrs. Obama said, “is Simple Gifts, because in the end, the greatest blessings of all are the ones that don’t cost a thing — the time that we spend with our loved ones, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and the joy we feel from reaching out to those in need.”

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In her remarks, the First Lady discussed the importance of opening the doors of the White House during the holiday season and thanked the nearly 100 volunteers from across the country that made it all possible:

In many ways, this is really what the White House is all about.  And I say this all the time. It’s the “People’s House.”  It’s a place that is steeped in history, but it’s also a place where everyone should feel welcome.  And that’s why my husband and I have made it our mission to open up the house to as many people as we can, especially during the holiday seasons.

So it goes without saying that when you look around, that our family never could have done all of this wonderful decorating on our own.  In fact, we only did a little bit of it. That’s why over the last few days nearly 100 volunteers from all over the country have been working so hard.  They’ve been making all the ornaments that — many of them that you’ve seen.  They’ve been hanging the lights and transforming these rooms into breathtaking works of art.  And I have to say the house looks more beautiful than it did last year.  It is really something special.

First Lady Michelle Obama talks with a boy during a craft demonstration in the State Dining Room of the White House, Dec. 1, 2010. The First Lady visited three creative stations where children of military personnel worked on holiday projects. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)

Thanking the military families in attendance for their sacrifice and service, the First Lady introduced the President and CEO of “Toys for Tots,” Lieutenant General Pete Osman. Lieutenant General Osman shared a touching story about a family impacted by Toys for Tots:

A couple of years back, there was a wonderful family in D.C. — Mom, Dad, five kids.  Happy family.  And unfortunately, tragedy struck.  The father took ill and quickly passed away.  The mom, who had been a stay-at-home mom, all of a sudden found herself having to find a job while still raising her five children.  She realized she was going to have to make some tough choices, and she did.  I mean, she had a house payment to make, utilities, food to buy, clothing and all that, and she said, “We’re going to have to cut Christmas this year.”

First Lady Michelle Obama shows off a card during a craft demonstration in the State Dining Room of the White House, Dec. 1, 2010. The First Lady visited three creative stations where children of military personnel worked on holiday projects. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Now, she had to make this decision early on, probably in the October time frame.  And she was comfortable with it.  But as Christmas drew nearer and nearer, she became very concerned.  In fact, on Christmas Eve, she was distraught.  She was beside herself with the thought on Christmas morning her children were going to come downstairs and there weren’t going to be any gifts under that little Charlie Brown Christmas tree that they had.

Fortunately, the knock at the door came, and standing there were two Marines, a couple of volunteers, and a bunch of boxes full of toys.  So needless to say, for the Johnsons the next morning, they had a wonderful Christmas.

But that’s not the end of the story.  Interesting thing was one of the toys was a big old red fire truck.  And one of her sons really took a liking to that fire truck.  That became his favorite toy that day and for the rest of the next year and actually to years after that.  And as you would have it, that fire truck had an impact. Today, that man is one of D.C.’s finest.  He’s a firefighter with the D.C. Fire Department.

So if you don’t think that toy makes a difference, just remember this story.  And the great thing is, is there are thousands of stories just like that out there.

To find out ways to get involved, visit the Toys for Tots website.

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Remarks by the First Lady at Holiday Press Preview

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