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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- December 22, 2013


(Providence, Rhode Island) – We call this a “brunch” every week, but I am not sure that applies this week. Brunch usually has a consistent theme or direction. This is more like a smorgasbord or a cafeteria spread. Anyway, here goes!

“Popularity Contest” – I will admit I am not a big fan of Presidential approval polls. I never thought they were much of an indicator – let alone a predictor – of anything. President Obama’s approval rating dropped to 41 percent this month – his lowest ever recorded. Just eleven months ago, when he was sworn in to his second term, it was at 55 percent. That’s quite a drop! But he’s "termed out." He won't be on the ballot again. The political punching bag might be his fellow Democrats in Congress who are up for reelection in 2014. The President’s plummeting poll numbers are mainly due to the botched health care roll out, and he conceded that in Friday’s news conference.

“Walk the Plank?” – President Obama is not the only one dealing with popularity issues. House Speaker John Boehner’s approval is down, especially from the far right, after the recent bipartisan budget deal. Republicans are likely to remain in power in the House, but you have to wonder if the rank and file (especially the Tea Party wing), might choose another Speaker. Stay tuned.

“64 Bills; Good or Bad?” -- CNN had a story over the weekend suggesting this was the most unproductive year in the history of Congress, because it only passed 64 bills – the lowest yearly number ever. The story made the assumption this was a bad thing. Really? Is Congressional success measured purely on the number of bills passed, or the number of pages of legislation in a particular bill? Those advocating for less government have a different view, especially after the health care meltdown. They might argue the old saying, “Less is more!”

“The Too Fat Polka!” – Yes, that’s the name of a popular old song and dance! This week, radio commentator Glenn Beck said, “Chris Christie is a fat nightmare. He is a nightmare.” The suggestion has been made by others, too, that Christie’s obesity will prevent him from being elected President. Let’s revisit history. William Howard Taft weighed in at 350 pounds, yet served four years as President and nine years as Chief Justice of the United States (the only person in history to hold both posts). Taft was also Secretary of Defense, and served as Provisional Governor of Cuba and the Philippines, with one of the most storied political resumes in U.S. history. And he lived in a time that did not have the medicines and health care that might help Christie. Taft was 72 when he died. Glenn Beck needs to pick a different issue. If people like Christie, they will elect him (as they’ve done twice in New Jersey).

“Too Old?” -- Along the same lines as questions about Christie'as weight, some are questioning whether Vice President Joe Biden is too old to run for President. Biden will be 73 when Campaign 2016 begins. Hillary Clinton will be 68. So what? I think we are beyond the weight and age issues. Ronald Reagan took the oath of office at 69, and John McCain ran a tough campaign in 2008 at the age of 72. If a person is competent – and that’s what people want – then who cares about their age or weight? Many people are living longer and healthier. Look, the campaign is a grueling gauntlet. If someone can’t cut it, we will know – in a heartbeat!

“Who’s In; Who’s Out” – The last item with any chance of passing in the Obama administration is immigration reform. Don’t count on it; but don’t count it out. Why is this issue so important to both parties? Democrats are hoping for more voters; Republicans are hoping for more workers. Democrats need those voters here legally to vote in large numbers; but Republican constituencies - especially in the hospitality and agribusiness industries - count on illegals to help fuel a low-wage underground economy. The two sides can’t have it both ways, thus the standoff. Democrats are also wary because many Hispanic voters (40 percent plus in some states) lean Republican, so legalizing them doesn’t necessarily help the Democratic-backed voter base, nor the Republican-backed cheap labor workforce. A bill that gives concessions to both sides might pass, but barely.

“Remember and Honor” – Saturday, December 21, was the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, which killed 270 innocent people. Of those killed, 189 were Americans, including 35 students from Syracuse University. A Libyan-sponsored terrorist attack brought down the 747. As time goes on, I worry that the memory of major events such as this, fade and are forgotten. Fortunately, memorial events were held Saturday at Arlington National Cemetery, Westminster Abbey, and Syracuse University and at other locales. These events and memorials remind us that the war on terrorism is far from over.

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© 2013, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- December 15, 2013


(Providence, Rhode Island) – It was a grab bag in the world of politics this week, with a surprising budget deal in Washington, D.C., and some bizarre happenings overseas. Here we go:

“Budget Deal Winners” – The much-hailed budget deal in Washington this past week was really a mixed bag. Among the winners, the notion that compromise and bipartisanship can actually work. Each side gave up significant items, and each side achieved some modest victories. It was not a deal to make everyone happy, especially those on the far right and far left. But it was enough to show the public that - at least sometimes – Congress can function. Both parties benefit in a deal with no tax increases. Republicans prevented deep cuts at the Pentagon; and Democrats prevented wide-ranging sequester cuts to some social programs that are near and dear to liberals.

“Budget Deal Losers” – Okay, so the deal cuts $65 billion dollars from the budget deficit. That’s pocket change in the grand scheme of the overall budget deficit. Still, it's a move in the right direction. The longterm unemployed will be losing additional benefits, something Democrats had pushed hard for, but lost in the end.

“The Political Fallout” – For Democrats, the band-aid budget deal may prevent further hemorrhaging of their party in Congress. Incumbent Democrats up for reelection in 2014 are already vulnerable over the Obamacare meltdown. So a chance to show compromise and bipartisanship on fiscal issues may help mitigate a potentially disastrous midterm election for them next year, especially in close races. For Republicans, the fallout may include some continued intraparty fracturing. Arch-conservatives and the Tea Party wing are furious over what they feel was too much compromise and not enough deficit cutting. Clearly, though, Republicans still hold the upper hand in next year’s election; but Democrats may have done enough to save a number of marginal seats to keep control of the Senate.

“Lost in Translation” – It was hysterically funny and terribly mortifying at the same time. A South African by the name of Thamsanqa Jantjie was hired to provide sign language interpretation of the eulogies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral last week. He was a fraud. The average person didn’t know, but sharp-eyed viewers who rely on sign language knew right away. Making matters worse, the man now admits to a history of violent, schizophrenic behavior. How on earth did he get on stage with ninety world leaders, including President Obama? Where were the security - the background checks? When I applied to be a member of the White House press corps twenty years ago, I underwent an extensive background check. The Secret Service even called my eighth-grade teacher. And that was pre-9/11. Yes, this will make a funny "Saturday Night Live" skit, but really it’s scary.

“Lust in His Heart” – Former President Jimmy Carter probably had a flashback when the sign-language-translator scam was revealed. Carter had his own problems with foreign translators. In December, 1977, Carter visited Poland. In a speech to that nation, he said something to the effect of “I love the Polish people!” To a much mortified audience, the Polish translator basically misquoted Carter by saying something along the lines of “I want to make love to the Polish people!” Actually, the language of the translation was a bit more colorful; but, hey, this is a family-friendly blog. The translator, who was being paid $150 per day, was promptly fired.

“North Korea Goes South” – Brutal North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un had his uncle executed this week. There were concerns his uncle’s personal behavior was becoming an embarrassment. By that standard, Billy Carter, Roger Clinton and Neil Bush would have been taken out in their prime. There were also accusations that Kim’s uncle might try to overthrow the government, something the wayward U.S. political relatives never attempted. Sure, things get chaotic and bizarre in American politics, but we retain a relative sense of civility, even to the wacky relatives of our leaders.

“Mandela Remembered” – My final thoughts this week are on the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Two things Mandela leaves the world with are the power of forgiveness and inherent nature of human rights. He left prison after twenty-seven years and could have lived out the remainder of his life as an embittered soul. Instead, he built healing in a divided nation and showed the world that political freedom and the practice of inalienable human rights are powerful forces that can move mountains. As the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., often said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Amen.

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© 2013, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

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