Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sorry, Mr. President, But I'm Not Happy

It is a matter of published record in this space that I supported President Barack Obama's candidacy for President this past November. Since taking office, I've had a mixture of praise and criticism for his policies, but the balance of my commentary has been more positive than not (I gave the President a "B" on my 100 days report card, and I believe that this is reflective of the aggregate of my commentary during this period.)

Today, I'm not happy with our President. I'll cover three topics: the release of torture photographs, proposals to limit incomes in the financial sector and the current state of the federal budget. Two of my three criticisms are from the right, one (the first), is from the left.

Where is the Transparency?
The President's decision that he announced today that he will fight the court-mandated release of photographs from military investigations into prisoner torture is wrong and a full-scale flip flop. The President announced the decision today, claiming that the photos added no new information to the already-released torture memos and that releasing them would put American troops at risk by inciting Al Queda.

This is same sort of utter nonesense that Republicans cited when the President released the torture memos. Let me summarize this theory: Al Queda will want to kill troops more if they see photos? So....they don't already want to kill Americans? Abu Grahib photos and the torture memos didn't incite them but this well? AND there is no new informaiton? It is utterly illogical.

Let's pretend for a second that I accept the premise that release of the photos will galvanize Al Queda (which, if you were unclear in the last paragraph, I do not.) The photos should still be released because it is the RIGHT THING TO DO. We claim to be a free society, with free speech, accountability in government and that we pursue truth. Truth is an important value. If there really are no new secrets here, let's have the facts. Would we demand any less if this were another country?

That President Obama has flip-flopped on this issue is particularly distasteful. He is now attempting to flaunt a court order. Let's hope the courts force his hand. Does this sound a lot like the last 8 years to anybody else?

Limiting Incomes in the Financial Industry
A proposal floated as a trial balloon by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to cap executive pay in the financial industry goes too far -- way too far. Let's be clear here -- I'm not talking about companies taking TARP money. My view is that companies that take taxpayer money are subject to a totally different set of rules -- if you take my money, you are going to be subject to my views on compensation, governance, etc. What I'm talking about here is a proposal to cap executive pay for financial companies that take no federal money.

This proposal undermines the underpinnings of free market capitalism, namely the concept that you can sell something (your labor) for any amount another private enterprise is willing to pay. Do I think that executive compensation has become outrageous in some circles? Absolutely! But that is an issue for the owner's (the shareholders and the board) to manage. Government regulations capping pay for entirely private firms is a dangerous slippery slope. Do we want the government deciding what your job is worth? How would unions feel if the government stepped in and capped industrial wages to keep industries competitive? How would you feel if your pay were capped by the government?

This proposal goes WAY too far and should be quickly discarded.

The Mess of a Federal Budget
This year, the federal government will borrow almost half the money that it spends. Deficits are bad for a ton of reasons, as they not only create a massive liability for future generations, they suck up investment capital that could be going to productive ends like innovation and capital investment.

Yet, the President has yet to present a real deficit reduction plan. Tinkering around with $17 billion in cuts is insufficient. I realize that the tax base collapsed, large stimulus spending was necessary and I certainly don't hold the President accountable for today's budget. But a crisis of this magnitude requires leadership and I've yet to see anything resembling a comprehensive plan for how we are going to get back on track.

Why can't President Obama show us a 10-year budget that gets us back in balance? I suspect it is because he has been unwilling, at least so far, to make the tough trade-offs between spending priorities and tax rates on the middle class.

Simply put, there is no way to do universal healthcare, maintain entitlements, balance the budget and not raise taxes on the middle class. As I've said for a long time, let's come clean about these trade-offs and have a national discussion. Let's quit pretending we can do all of these things without consequence.

I Don't Regret my Vote
Having said all of this, I am still glad I support the President in November. I believe he has done a great deal of good (social policy changes, the stimulus package, foreign policy direction, a very capable cabinet) and is performing far, far better than his predecessor. I hope he will continue to do a lot of promised good.

But I need to call them like I see them, and this week, I'm not liking what I'm seeing.

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