Is the Stimulus Enough?

As published in the February 17, 2009 issue of The Cauldron.

(Author's note: I apologize for my tardiness. I thought I had posted this with the notebook earlier in the week...)

Congress gave its stamp of approval to a $787 billion dollar stimulus bill late Friday night. The final version, which has been cut up and put back together in Washington for about a week, passed the House with no GOP votes and seven Democrat defectors, 246-183.

In the Senate, all Democrats gave it the nod, with three Republican senators crossing over to help push the bill through 60-38. The result left many Republicans fuming over what they are called very partisan legislation. I have some other concerns.

The Congress passed this bill on Friday after it had only been posted for a few hours—meaning most law-makers had two or three hours to read the one thousand seventy-one page bill, or they were voting on it without actually knowing what it contained. Take it from me; after reviewing the legislation, I am confident none of our congressman could have read it in less than a twenty-four hour period.

I understand the urgency of passing this legislation, but insisting on the final vote a mere two or three hours after the final draft was written is a bit unreasonable. The money we spend right now has to be allotted very carefully. You cannot claim accountability when the persons casting the votes do not fully understand the money being spent.

The more I look into the contents of this bill, the more it seems President Obama and the Democrats are passing a stimulus bill just to pass a stimulus bill. They set themselves up with a deadline of President’s Day, and they have done everything short of torture GOP congressmen in order to meet that date.

Included in the stimulus package—according to the Christian Science Monitor—is $308.3 billion in new spending, $267 billion in social services and $212 billion in tax breaks. Among the tax breaks is $116.2 billion for Obama’s “Make Work Pay” campaign, $20 billion in tax incentives for clean energy, $14 billion for higher education expenses and $4.7 billion earned income tax credits for families with three or more children.

The package allots $48 billion for infrastructure, including $27.5 billion for highways. Another $11 billion will modernize the nation’s electric grid. The plan also provides $86.6 billion in federal matching payments for Medicaid and $19 billion to modernize health technology. Among the $100 billion for education, $15 billion will raise the Pell Grant for low-income students by $500 to $4,860.

While its reassuring to see our government taking the initiative to restore our economy and improve our world, a lot was left out of this legislation. Deliberations earlier this week removed $3.5 billion for energy efficient federal buildings, $200 million for the EPA, $3.5 billion for higher education construction, $100 million for science and $300 million from federal fleet of hybrid vehicles. A lot of that was replaced with trickle down tax cuts, or simply removed all together.

Compromise is a necessary tool, but removing every pro-energy, pro-environment, pro-science/math/technology allotment was not the answer. If the Democrats were going to be stubborn and pass legislation with zero support from the Republicans they should have stuck to their guns and gotten the big things funded.

President Obama did not even get his headline item through in its original form. The “Making Work Pay” program will only give families $400 or $800 dollars instead of $500 and $1,000. If the President cannot stand up to the opposing party on his first big piece of legislation, we might have a problem on our hands.

Now, I am not an economist and I cannot claim to know what the future holds. I can tell you that legislation like this is easy to recognize as half-hearted crap. The Democrats passed a stimulus package because they felt like they had to and they would have passed it no matter what.

The American people voted the Democrats into a majority because they were sick of the old worn out policies that had been running us into the ground. However, four years of the Democrats passing weak legislation and allowing the Republicans too much leeway with cuts and changes will leave us with nothing when Obama’s term ends in four years. If the Democrats want to control Washington for the long term, they have to change their policies, and their politics, now.


Jacksonian Political Notebook

As published in the February 17th, 2009 issue of The Cauldron.

Reid J May

Israeli Elections

Israel held its parliamentary elections last Tuesday, marking the second such occasion in less than one year. The last election resulted in a win for the centrist Kadima Party, which was subsequently unable to form a government coalition with rival politicians.

Kadima, led by Tzipi Livni, may be faced with a similar challenge this time around—as of Friday, the party held a one seat lead, 28 to 27, over rival Likud Party and leader Benjamin Netanyahu. About 100,000 votes remain to be counted and results will be verified sometime later this week.

Both Kadima and Likud are claiming victory—and the right to form a government with their leader at the helm—in this election. While Kadima won the same number of seats in the September 2008 election, Likud gained 15, giving legitimacy to its claim of mandate by the people. The Israeli election committee still needs to certify all results.

Iran Willing to Talk

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week that he will welcome talks with the United States in a “fair atmosphere with mutual respect,” according to CNN. This news came one day after Barack Obama spoke of the need for a face-to-face dialogue with Iran.

Obama said his administration is reviewing the current policy towards Iran and says that the U.S. wants to use all resources to resolve issues with the nation. That would likely require a compromise on the uranium enrichment Iran continues to seek.

Ahmadinejad claims Iran is seeking nuclear capabilities for energy purposes and says they are against the use of nuclear weapons.

Gregg Drops Out As Commerce Nominee

Judd Gregg (R-NH) withdrew his nomination to become commerce secretary on Thursday citing “irreconcilable differences” over the economic stimulus bill and the 2010 census, according to Fox News.

Gregg and President Barack Obama do not hold consistent views over the execution of the 2010 census, which Obama wants to have overseen by the Whitehouse. Republicans see this as a violation of power and have threatened to take the case to court if Obama does not reverse his plans.

According to CNN, a Republican aide familiar with Gregg’s decision said the Senator consulted with GOP leaders before making his decision. It was also indicated that Gregg had concerns about being muted on cabinet decisions that were important to the Democrats, but not the Republicans.

Gregg said it was “his mistake, obviously to say yes.” He continued that it would have been an even bigger mistake to take the job and then “not be able to do it as it should be done on behalf of the President.”

Clinton Travels to Asia

Hillary Clinton will depart Sunday for her first overseas trip as the Secretary of State. Clinton has plans to stop in China, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. This decision represents a change in diplomatic tradition that the first overseas trip of a new administration is to Europe.

CNN quoted Clinton saying that the Obama Administration wants to develop a “broader and deeper” relationship with Asia, which is a region often neglected in the past. Most of Clinton’s discussions will focus on the global financial crisis, although furthering trade with the region is another stated goal of the trip.

Clinton also plans to name a special envoy, which will speak with North Korean officials regarding new diplomatic relations and the resolution of nuclear threats within the region. Clinton, according to CNN, said the United States is prepared to seek permanent, stable peace with North Korea. She also said, “If North Korea is genuinely prepared to completely and verifiably eliminate their nuclear weapons program, the Obama administration will be willing to normalize bilateral relations.”


Goodtimes in Goodyear

The first in a series of updates from Spring Training in Goodyear, Arizona

Reid J May

Pitchers and Catchers report to Goodyear, Arizona for their first workouts of the season on Thursday February 12, and with that in mind it’s time to start thinking about the big questions behind this year’s Cleveland Indians ball club. From now until opening day Goodtimes in Goodyear will appear in the Cauldron periodically to update Cleveland State on the happenings out west.

To start things off, here are five questions that Indians brass will begin considering between now and Opening Day, April 10, 2009.

Who will round out the rotation? Going in the Indians have two guaranteed starters in 2008 Cy Young Award Winner Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona. Carl Pavano has been guaranteed a spot in the rotation so long as he remains healthy all spring, and Anthony Reyes is likely to claim the fourth if his end of the season elbow issues do not flare up again. The fifth spot will need to be filled internally, at least until mid-season when Jake Westbrook returns. Candidates include Dave Huff, Aaron Laffey, Zach Jackson, Scott Lewis and Jeremy Sowers, with Laffey considered the favorite.

Who starts in Left Field? For now, Ben Francisco looks like he will get his shot. If Francisco struggles in the early part of the year the Indians will not hesitate to bring try one of the three highly touted prospects waiting in Columbus. Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta and Trevor Crowe all have a chance to be a factor with this year’s club. The Indians also have the versatility of Mark Derosa to fall back on. If need be, Derosa can play either left or right field. Do not count on seeing much of David Dellucci.

With both Kelly Shoppach and Victor Martinez proving their worth, who plays? Ideally, the Indians would love to play both Shoppach and Martinez, while still finding at-bats for Ryan Garko and Travis Hafner. Because they cannot, look for Martinez to significant time (25-40 games) at first base, and possibly DH if Hafner struggles. If Garko plays the first half of 2009 like the did the second half of 2008 it will make it difficult to leave him out and we might see him get some time in the outfield—apparently Eric Wedge will try him there in camp—to keep all three (Hafner, Garko, Martinez) bats in the lineup. If all four of these guys are having monster years look for someone—most likely Shoppach or Garko—to be trade bait in July.

How will the bullpen shake out? An annual debate in Cleveland, the bullpen has a definitive tone to it this year. Six spots are guaranteed to Kerry Wood, Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt, Masa Kobayashi, Joe Smith and Jensen Lewis. Look for recently signed Vinnie Chulk to compete with Ed Mujica, Jon Meloan and Adam Miller for the seventh and final position.

Will Mark Derosa see time at second base? Probably. The more significant question is how much time, and that will be answered over the course of the year, not in March. If Jhonny Peralta struggles with his range at shortstop, Wedge may be eager to move Asdrubal Cabrera to shortstop, leaving Derosa a as the second baseman. For now, expect to see him at third consistently.


Where is the Bailout Going?

A similar version of this story was published in the February 9th, 2009 issue of The Cauldron

Reid J May

A lot of big financial figures have been thrown around Washington D.C. in the past several weeks. As debate rages over the prospects of President Obama’s $819 billion dollar stimulus plan, repercussions of the $700 billion dollar wall-street bailout are beginning to become more evident.

While the second half of the bailout has just been released to the new administration, the corporate expenditures funded by the first half are creating some serious concern within the government. News broke last week that Citigroup, the recipient of more than $300 billion in federal capital infusions and loan guarantees, had recent plans to purchase a new $45 million dollar corporate jet. Perhaps even more disturbing, Sandy Weill, one of Citibank's executives used a company jet to fly his family to a luxury resort in San Jose del Cabo at a cost of $12,000 per night during the New Year holiday.

Merrill Lynch, recently sold to Bank of America, paid out 4 billion in year-end bonuses even though they posted a $27 billion dollar total loss for 2008. It was also revealed that Wall Street executives had passed out a
total of $18 billion dollars in bonuses in 2008.

AFP recently reported that Wells Fargo canceled an extravagant employee getaway rewarding 1000 of its executives and their guests with trips to Las Vegas, after sharp public criticism of its plans. Wells Fargo lost $2.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2008 and received $25 billion in Federal bailout funds.

According to the Jakarta Globe, through Associated Content, Morgan Stanley, recipient of $25 billion in Federal bailout funds, canceled two employee recognition trips this week, one to Monte Carlo and one to the Bahamas, when its plans became public. Morgan Stanley already funded an employee trip to Palm Beach after receiving Federal bailout funds.

This very uninhibited spending—and this is only a small sample of such spending—of taxpayer dollars has generated serious concerns in from the Whitehouse and Congress alike. USA Today quotes President Obama as thinking it is “outrageous” that firms paid their top executives this type of money last year. Obama was also quoted as calling the spending “shameful” and the “height of irresponsibility.”

The same news prompted Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) to introduce a new bill to cap compensation of any employee that receives federal bailout money. Under the terms of the legislation, no employee could make more than the President of the United States ($400,000). CNN quoted McCaskill as saying, “We have a bunch of idiots on Wall Street that are kicking sand in the face of the American taxpayer. They don’t get it. These people are idiots. You can’t use taxpayer money to pay out 18 billion in bonuses.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) also expressed concern over the leeway allowed to banks in bailout fund spending. According to CNN, this came on the heels of reports that a lot of bailout money could go to bank dividends, satisfy old debts, buy other banks or shore up bottom lines. Boehner said, “Funds made available under the economic rescue package should not be used to pay for bank acquisitions, raises and executive bonuses. These are not the type of expenditures described on Capitol Hill.”

However, this irresponsibility was not entirely unexpected. There was a lot of concern expressed about the oversight involved with a bailout of this size, and most of the spending control was lost in the transition between Former President Bush and President Obama. The task today, is properly overseeing the remaining funds, and reigning in the “irresponsible spending.”

On that note, USA Today quoted President Obama saying, “We’re going to be having conversations as this process moves forward directly with these folks on Wall Street to underscore that they have to start acting in a more responsible fashion if we are to together get this economy rolling again. There will be a time to make profits and there will be a time for bonuses – now is not that time.”

Stimulus Bill up for fight in Senate

In related economic news, President Obama’s economic stimulus bill passed the House, but with no bi-partisan support. A strict vote on party lines left the package with no GOP votes and eleven Democrat defectors.

The Senate announced late Friday night that it has reached a compromise on a $780 billion dollar stimulus plan. Days of private meetings between several moderate Democrats and a group of five key Republicans—including Ohio Senior Senator George Voinovich—resulted in a version that Democrats assert will pass the final Senate vote scheduled for Tuesday.

Several Republican Senators expressed continued disappointment at the bill, calling it partisan politics and a lot of pork spending. According to CNN, John McCain, R-Arizona said, “This is not bi-partisan. If this legislation passes it will be a very sad day for America.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California told opponents of the bill to “Get over it.” Boxer added that the election was about change and that forty-two percent of the bill is already allotted to trickle down tax cuts—which the Republicans seek to increase—that didn’t work under Bush, and are “responsible for where we are today.”


Dear George

As published in the February 2nd, 2009 issue of The Cauldron

To: George Kokinis, General Manager, Cleveland Browns

From: Reid J May, Sports Columnist, The Cauldron

Dear George,

First and foremost, welcome (back) to Cleveland and the Cleveland Browns organization. We are very excited to begin the newest era—and let me tell you, we have seen many—in Brown’s town. Your addition to the front office provides us with the final piece to an exciting new management team, which we hope will bring us long awaited success in the National Football League. As an avid supporter of the Browns, I thought I might drop a few words of advice, to help you transition into the job.

George, you come from a Baltimore Ravens organization that has a reputation for breeding top-flight NFL executives—we love that Ozzie Newsome tree—and your resume speaks volumes about your abilities. In the past seventeen years, you’ve provided scouting services for college prospects and regional athletes, conducted advance scouting of Raven’s opponents, negotiated the contracts of draft picks, acquired veteran players through trades, and evaluated each year’s free agent market. Simply put, on the outside you look like a solid GM selection.

Yet, I have some concerns.

Most importantly, George, are you prepared to handle the environment in Cleveland? I know you have been here before, but things are different than they were in 1995. This is no easy place to work. We Clevelander’s tend to have a short fuse and low appreciation for ineffective performances on and off the field. Don’t misunderstand me, we love the Browns win or lose—and we see a lot of losing—but we are not afraid to let you know when we are disappointed. When 2008 didn’t go our way, Phil Savage could not handle the criticism of one fan’s post-game email. His inappropriate, profane response embarrassed our city.

My next concern also stems from an incident last year. One of our best receivers contracted an infection, which the organization chose to keep quiet. When this player got upset, he was suspended. Are you going to be honest with us, George, even when it might be embarrassing for the organization to admit it has a potential problem?

How transparent will your front office be? We hear a lot right now about transparent governments, and I can promise you the city of Cleveland expects the Browns to be no different. We will always want to know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Are you prepared to be accountable to the fans?

Will our active approach to the off-season continue? While we were certainly disappointed with some of the non-football related things Phil Savage did, we loved his aggressive attitude on the free agent market and in the draft. Because of Savage, we have franchise cornerstones like Joe Thomas, Brady Quinn, Eric Steinbach and Shaun Rogers. Will you be prepared to eagerly pursue talent like this?

Are you prepared to take a stand behind one of the two potential Quarterbacks? The Browns are notorious for pre-season deliberations regarding the man under center. I can confidently say we are sick of it. It is time to pick between Quinn and Anderson and stick to him, for at least two or three seasons. Give someone a chance to excel, rather than pulling the plug after a bad game or two. We want a franchise quarterback and we keep hearing the organization say we have two. Pick one and trade the other. The last thing you need is another training camp battle.

Finally, George, are you prepared to take a stand for the players you think best fit our roster? I know you are a close friend of Eric Mangini and he is responsible for your hiring, but you must be ready to exert authority. As our General Manager, we expect you to lead our effort to put the best team on the field, and let Coach Mangini take it from there. If one person in this relationship takes too much or too little power, we will have another Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage type conflict. That is the last—aside from another loss to Pittsburgh—thing we want.
Bottom line here, Cleveland wants a leader. We want someone smart and aggressive, who will not hesitate to make gutsy decisions. We want a decisive man who will stand behind the decisions he does (or doesn’t make) and who will stand up for himself and his team. We want a unifier, not a divider. We want a proactive, positive, honest front office. If you can give this to us, George, we can give you all the support you can ask for. You are the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns and we have the best fans in the world.

Thanks for listening.
Good Luck.

Reid J May