Come on America, Let’s Vote

President Obama speaking on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

President Obama speaking on the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Yesterday’s 50th anniversary commemoration of the historic civil rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma comes at a time when almost half of all Americans (45 percent) say race relations under President Obama have not changed.

The irony was uncanny as America’s first black president spoke to thousands of revelers at the site where fifty years ago peaceful marchers were beaten with clubs and tear gas by Alabama troopers on their way to the state capitol in Montgomery to demand equal voting rights.

While the president said America has accomplished much regarding civil rights and race relations over the past five decades, there is still a lot of work to be done, especially when it comes to voter turnout.

“What is our excuse today for not voting?” said the president.  “How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?”

There’s no doubt that the average number of Americans voting is atrocious, although there are signs of improvement.  Voter turnout since a low of 49 percent in 1996 has increased over the last 20 years, with 57 percent of American voters casting ballots in 2008, coincidentally, the year when Obama was first elected to office.

Many Americans have watched recent events unfold on TV and online, whether it’s Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking before Congress about U.S.-Iranian relations, to the GOP leadership absent from yesterday’s anniversary march in Selma, to Ferguson, Missouri, which prompted national outrage after a police officer shot and killed a black teenager last summer.

The president is right when he said that America always is evolving.  It’s a place where constituencies with opposite opinions converge to debate the future direction of the country, even though at times it gets messy and lives are lost.

America’s ongoing struggle in its pursuit of freedom and prosperity for its citizens should not be taken in vain.  So we may want to think twice about the power of one vote and how it can change or influence the future direction of a country and its aspirations.

BP is Right to Apologize, Obama is Wrong to Criticize

It’s no surprise that last week’s off-putting remarks by BP top gun Tony Hayward, who ‘wanted his life back,’ prompted a backlash of hostility among Louisiana residents and businesses. The embattled CEO immediately apologized saying he was “appalled” at his crass statements, and was especially sorry to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in the disaster.

Hayward’s glib comments are in contrast to company ads featuring him apologizing for the disaster and taking full responsibility for cleaning up the gulf spill. Regardless of any messaging snafu, BP is right to launch TV ads in an effort to communicate to the public.

Advertising is expensive. Any national campaign, especially TV, easily can cost tens of millions of dollars. Is BP trying to manage its image with the ads? Certainly, that’s a no-brainer. BP however needs to communicate during this crisis. They need to correspond effectively and regularly, and that includes running ads on television. What would the reaction be if BP didn’t run the ads? Critics certainly would jump on the bandwagon saying the company is unresponsive, uncaring and indifferent.

Those character associations of BP may still be at the heart of many constituencies, but the company is doing its job, right, wrong or indifferent. No doubt any tactic aimed at restoring BP’s brand makes for negative headlines against the company. President Obama was quoted saying the company should not waste millions of dollars to “manage their image in the course of this disaster.” He was partly right to some degree, but should have been more thoughtful in his comments, although it may be very difficult in this media frenzied environment. On the other hand, BP paying $10.5 billion in dividends this quarter, well, that’s an entirely different story.

Republicans Now Politicize National Security

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

President Obama called the botched bombing attempt of a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day a “catastrophic breach of security,” opening up investigations into the TSA’s air traveler screening network and FBI’s terror watch list.   The president’s stern remarks were made in Hawaii during a family vacation, amid much criticism from Republicans for his administration’s mishandling of the foiled terror plot.

Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the 23-year-old son of a prominent Nigerian banker who has reported links to al-Qaeda, was carrying 80 grams of a super explosive in his underwear aboard Northwest Flight 253 that went undetected. He fumbled detonation and was immediately subdued by passengers and crew before the attack could be fully carried out. Mutallab wasn’t allowed to fly into Great Britain because of his terrorist links and it’s still unclear why he was even able to board a U.S. flight.

Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano started the media frenzy when she initially praised ‘the system’ for working smoothly, but later backtracked from her original remarks saying they were taken out of context and that the system did not work in this instance.

Republican Reps. Pete Hoekstra (Michigan) and Peter King (NY) were quick to politicize President Obama’s response to the failed Christmas Day bombing. A sharp contrast to when Democrats remained silent about former President Bush not making any public remarks for days about Richard Reid (a.k.a. the shoe bomber). Ironically, Mr. Bush also was on holiday when the incident occurred. Why are politics at play here?

Terrorism and national security issues always have united both parties. Republicans have used Northwest Flight 253 to yet again, further distance themselves from President Obama and the Democratic Party. The GOP must find its identity in 2010. Following an “anti-Obama” agenda will only hurt Republicans in next year’s mid-term elections. One suggestion might be to rally around Abraham Lincoln, who literally built the GOP into a national powerhouse. Leveraging Lincoln might just be the spark the Republican Party needs right now. Otherwise, continuing to knock healthcare legislation and the economic stimulus will only further distance the GOP from its own constituency and the general electorate.

President Obama Needs to Leave Politics Aside in New York, at Least for Now

NY Governor Dave Paterson

NY Governor Dave Paterson

Polls for Governor David Paterson (D-NY) continue to head south as more New Yorkers question his leadership ability. The governor’s job performance rating dropped to 18%, down from 23% last month, according to a survey released this week by the Siena College Research Institute. The survey also found that only 14% of New Yorkers are prepared to re-elect Paterson, while 71% prefer someone else.

Despite his dismal polling numbers and a strong, public urging from the White House advising him not to run in 2010, Paterson will seek re-election. New York’s governorship is not only at stake however. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) is facing re-election after she was appointed in January, coincidentally by Gov. Paterson, to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vacant senate seat. Seven New York congressional seats also are up for re-election in 2010.

A possible gubernatorial loss in New York may be putting a chill on Gillibrand’s re-election hopes and the seven other congressional races being held next November. Democrats still need to maintain their majority in Congress, while President Obama pushes healthcare reform and considers redirecting the focus of the Afghan war.

The Obama Administration is right to get involved in pertinent local elections, but it’s wrong for President Obama to participate in the politicking. The president’s actions towards Paterson were perceived to be heavy handed and a blow to Obama’s image as an all-inclusive, bi-partisan president. No doubt Obama will recover from this snafu and stay out of local politics until the general election.

Fourteen months may be plenty of time to rally support for Paterson. The reality is the Democratic Party can’t take that chance, as Republicans ponder the notion of former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) entering the race. Democrats will likely back New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of former three-term New York governor, Mario Cuomo. But this all can change. Everyone loves an underdog. Is Paterson that underdog? Even President Obama was a long shot to win the presidency in 2009.

Obama’s Speech on Financial Reform hit its Mark, Albeit Grudgingly

President Obama Speaking at Federal Hall on Wall Street

President Obama Speaking at Federal Hall on Wall Street

President Obama today delivered sort of a lecture on financial reform to a mixed Wall Street crowd of fund managers, elected officials and business advocacy groups. The president’s remarks were made on the one-year anniversary of the Lehman Bothers collapse at Federal Hall in New York City.

There’s no doubt that much has changed since last September. At the time, several of the world’s largest and oldest financial institutions had fallen, either bankrupt, bought or bailed out. Credit markets froze and panic ensued as five trillion dollars of household wealth evaporated. America truly was on the verge of a financial collapse, at least in sentiment.

These days there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Much of the TARP money borrowed by banks has been repaid at a profit to the American taxpayer, and the Dow Jones Industrial Index is on an upswing from its historic lows earlier this year. So why risk recovery with reform?

Strike while the iron is hot. Few would disagree that the country needs financial reform. The same goes for healthcare. Greed not only by Wall Street, but Main Street too, is at the root of this current financial crisis. The only way for a full recovery is through reform.

President Obama’s tough talk warning the financial community that the days of “reckless behavior and unchecked excess” are over comes at a pivotal time during the nation’s history. Most Americans (70%) lack confidence that the federal government has taken safeguards to prevent another financial industry meltdown. The president instead invited Wall Street to join in a wide scale effort to dramatically change the rules and regulatory structure of the financial industry.

Whether Wall Street will help reform itself remains to be seen. Change is inevitable however. The financial markets must restructure its current environment or face another collapse. This is the simple truth we learned from the real estate and technology bubbles. The real challenge will come when a turnaround is imminent, profits are up and the money starts to roll again on Wall Street.