Archive for December, 2010

For many a season, I’ve been crying loudly in the football wilderness about the absolutely obscene amounts of money in the game. No, not the pros. No, no. We’re talking college here. And it might be better if you sat down for this.

Let’s start with the University of Texas. With a 2009-2010 season of five wins and seven losses, Texas doesn’t sound like the place you would address first. Well, we do so because no other school made more football money during this period: revenue of $93,942,815! With a profit of … drum roll, please … $68,830,484!!! On a 5-7 season!

Yep, that’s among the findings of the U.S. Dept. Of Education which examined P&L’s of the 68 teams playing in the six major conferences. In total, for that one season, those 68 collectively took in more than $1.1 billion. That means each averaged about $15.8 million for the season; well over $1 million per game. Every game.

Aside from the staggering amount of money on the table, I have two questions for the University of Texas which played so poorly it has no bowl game this year: why did it take $25,112,331 to operate a football program for one year with just 12 games and what happened to that profit of nearly $69 million? Oh, maybe there’s a third question: will next year’s expected $69 million or so be stacked on top of that?

Ranked by profit, the University of Georgia was second: just under $71 million in revenue with a profit of $52 million. Then came Penn State: $70 million and $52 million; Michigan revenue was $63 million with profit of nearly $45 million; Florida with $68 million netting $44 million.

Though Alabama doesn’t appear in the top six, it ranked second in income behind Texas but only seventh in profit. Just out of the real money as it were. Coach Sabin had better tighten those purse strings.

Here’s another finding that burns my butt: these 68 schools had a combined profit margin of 49%! 49%! Anyone owning a pro team would be positively giddy with numbers like that. But it’s what you can do when you don’t have to pay the players. Pay them as much, that is.

But the real meat here … and the reason BCS and non-BCS separations make me so damned mad … is found elsewhere in the money swamp. Payouts on bowl games are split evenly among all teams in a conference. So, even though Texas sits home this year, it will enjoy another million or two because other teams in its conference made the post season. Found money for doing nothing.

Therein is the nut why you’ll never get rid of the BCS no matter how much logic stands against it. Money! Money, money, money. Any university president on any of these 68 campuses who announced support for a national playoff system would immediately qualify for unemployment compensation. Boosters would see to that.

So, for those of us who believe a national football playoff is the way to go, the task is to design, not a won-loss ranking like basketball, but a way for these 68 members of the collegiate mafia to participate without losing their outsized and outrageous incomes. Because if you don’t … and if everybody gets to participate on the basis of athletic merit and can split the pot more ways … there’ll never be the justice and recognition thousands of athletes work so hard for. And deserve.

Another finding of note: bowl-eligible schools in smaller conferences were almost poor by comparison. Those 53 schools split profits of $26 million with eight losing money.

And here’s yet another comparison. Texas Christian University (TCU), which got a Fiesta Bowl payout in 2010, had more 2009-2010 income than any other small school: $20 million. That would have made it 47th on the list of 68. But the TCU football program only broke even. No profit. Now you know why TCU is going to the Big East in two years. Bigger paydays.

Maybe those of us who’d like to deep six the BCS and go to a national playoff system are just so many sad souls whistlin’ in the wind. Maybe college football simply mirrors this country’s economic reality of the rich getting richer and the rest of us making do.

Somewhere along the line, American college sports … like American politics … fell victim to money. Lots and lots of money.

On the football field, we get to watch the richest schools … not necessarily the best. In politics, we get to deal with the ones that took in the most money … not necessarily … well, you know.

When politicians score a large success … a major win … it’s almost immediately followed with a pro forma news release trumpeting the “victory” to the folks at home. Which makes the refusal to do that by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) more than a little unusual.

Actually, Blumenauer didn’t score the win. But he worked hard at getting it done. And even though his wasn’t the final push, he and Sen. Rockefeller (D-WV) did a lot of groundwork and provided the spirited effort to keep the subject alive. As it were.

That subject: coverage of end-of-life counseling for those receiving Medicare. Thought it died when exorcized from the health care bill that eventually became law, did you? Well, surprise, surprise.

Pres. Obama quietly ordered the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to resurrect the end-of-life care issue by regulation. And it’s been done. Patients can schedule a discussion on the subject with their doctor and the doctor will be paid for professional services. All as it should be.

For those of us who live in a world of rational thought and prefer to deal with life’s realities as adults, my advice is to shove fingers in both your ears and keep them there for an extended period. Because the loud and prolonged screeching from wailin’ Palin, flatulent Limbaugh, looney Mr. Beck and other paranoids that “death panels” are back and government will “weed out the weak” has begun. Again. Still lies.

And that’s why Rep. Blumenauer sent out an all-but-secret email in November, saying the victory should be celebrated as a “quiet victory” and supporters should not “crow about it.”

“We would ask you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your lists,” he wrote, “even if they are ‘supporters.’ Email can be too easily forwarded. The longer this goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it.” Further, he said later, “Lies can go viral if people use them for political purposes.”

Indeed they can. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 30% of Americans 65 and older believe the new health care law created a government panel to make decisions about end-or-life care for people on Medicare. No such provision exists. Or ever did.

While I admire Blumenauer and others for their hard work and the President for doing the right thing, I question efforts to keep secret such an important subject just because fear mongers, the paranoid and political self-servers will twist it for their own selfish ends. As they are now doing. Either this was the right thing to do and deserves a strong defense by rational people or it wasn’t. It was going to surface sooner or later.

Already, Elizabeth Wickham of LifeTree is ready for battle. LifeTree calls itself “a pro-life Christian educational ministry.” Somehow, Ms. Wickham believes end-of-life counseling would encourage patients to “forego or curtail care, thus hastening death.” She claims patients will lose the ability to control necessary treatments at the end of life.

Road apples! That’s not “Christian” or even “educational.” And it certainly is false “ministry.”

As someone old enough to have experienced death close-up a number of times … and probably because of my involvement in the hospice movement over the years … the issue of advance planning for end-of-life care has no down side. It is a win-win for all involved.

Planning for how I want my care handled near the end of life … when I may not be able to participate in any decisions … is the best way to express my autonomy. And to take large burdens off loved ones who will be drawn into that time, not knowing what I really wanted done. If anything.

To me, living wills and durable powers of attorney for health care are as important as life insurance. All are meant to ease pain, lessen stress and provide comfort. Not for us but for those we love.

You talk life insurance with a good agent. You talk legal documents with a good attorney. And you talk health issues and end-of-life care with a good doctor. It really is just that simple.

Unlike Mr. Blumenauer, I believe the President implemented this new regulation for good and reasonable purposes. I’ll defend it toe-to-toe with any nut job who sees conspiracy and “big government” fears.

This one’s worth fighting for. At home. Or in Washington, D.C., Sir.

The five counties of SW Oregon … we live in one of ‘em … might as well be the separate “State” of SW Oregon at times. Especially when talking politics. And sometimes even our entertainment.

Though Interstate 5 runs through three of them, all five counties are rather isolated in many respects. Geography is one. The Cascade Mountains line the East side; the Pacific Ocean the West. A range of hills South of Eugene seems to be the northern border and the California state line is at the southern end. East-West travel is confined to only a few routes which further enhance feelings of separateness.

From time to time various malcontents, unhappy with the way the world is operating, reprise the idea of seceding from Oregon and creating the “State of Jefferson” with part of northern California. Never happen. But the high number of resident amateur “revolutionaries” means the subject surfaces periodically.

Timber, timber-related employment and tourism are important to the interior three counties; commercial fishing and tourism to the two on the ocean side. There are other businesses as well but most here serve the needs of those named.

While the seeming separation of this area is often geographic, it’s also exemplified in our politics This is the most heavily Republican area of Oregon. Still, local politics is pretty normal. We’ve got some good people doing the best they can under some truly awful economic pressures. Pretty typical.

But take our congressional elections. Democrats don’t stand a chance of winning any of the five counties. Maybe at the local level you’ll find one or two. That’s only because (a) they are the lone black sheep Democrat in an otherwise solid Republican family or (b) enough of the voters have met them personally to assure they are reasonably American and their heads aren’t filled with dangerous liberal thought. Other than that, it’s straight-ticket GOP voting,

Our last Sixth district congressional race was classic. Incumbent Pete DeFazio lost the five county “state” as he always does. But Democrats surrounding the campus of the University of Oregon came through to save his bacon. Happens every time. Foreigners.

His opponent this time was an aberration that probably wouldn’t have even been allowed to reside in the rest of Oregon. Well-educated on paper but totally absent common sense. Racist in thought and deed, dangerously ignorant of the realities of being a member of congress and who played directly to a base of scared, older voters, most of whom did not look behind his catch phrases to see what was really there. Or wasn’t.

A surprising number of friends who, I believed had better sense, voted for this nutcase. Well, not “for.” They voted “against” the other guy. They did so without giving a thought to being totally unrepresented in congressional district matters important to the economic survival of our five county “state” for at least the next two years. He would have been a minority of a minority in the majority.

But such is the way of life “abroad” in SW Oregon. I only resurrect the scary election story because it makes a perfect background to this. The current, widely-acclaimed movie “Fair Game” is not being shown in our town. It may take some international prizes; maybe an Academy Award or two. But, if we want to see it, we’ll have to go out of county. Out of “state” as it were.

The movie depicts the deliberate exposure of CIA operative Valerie Plame by the Bush administration. It has been drawing very fine national reviews because, apparently, it follows closely what really happened. In doing so, it shows former Vice President Cheney and administration underlings in a highly critical light. Factual. But unflattering.

We will not be seeing that on any of our 11 local screens.

Other films like “The Fighter,” “True Grit,” “The Tourist,” “Burlesque,” “Tron: Legacy,” and even “Yogi Bear” have been released since “Fair Game” and still no story of Valerie Plame to enlighten Douglas County political buffs.

Owners of the theater chain are probably afraid some irate local Tea Party stalwart will throw a half-filled cup of soda at the screen or put a couple of blasts of buckshot though it. So, don’t show it and messy situation avoided.

It’s true. But don’t just take my word for it. Go to your favorite local Republican headquarters and pick up a political “passport” to visit our “State.” See for yourself.

And, if you come after “Fair Game” goes to DVD, please bring along a disk. I’ve got some friends who’d like to get together for an evening of popcorn and good conversation. Plus sneak a peak at what’s going on in the outside world. Outside the “State” of SW Oregon.

Christmas 2010. I’ve never experienced another one like it. Oh, 2009 was similar in many ways. But 2010. There are some profound differences. For all of us.

A year ago, there were some foreclosures in our town. Now there are more added to those from the year before. Used to be the more affluent among us lived on the hill above the empty houses. Now the only difference in the vacant homes is the size of the uphill mortgage.

There seem to be fewer homes lit with outside lights and the other displays of the season. I’m sure electrical rates are about the same this year. More than likely the family income is not.

Car dealers a Christmas ago had reduced the number of new models on the lot and there was bare concrete where the previously floored stock had been. Now, a year later, many of these same dealers have branched out into larger used car lots … excuse me … pre-owned lots because that’s what’s keeping the overhead paid.

Christmas merchandising started about Halloween this year, far ahead of the traditional Thanksgiving date. By Thanksgiving in our town, we were already seeing “Christmas sales,” especially at the larger chain stores.

Columns of seasonal advertising and inserts in the local paper are fewer. There seem to be far more public service messages than paid ads on our local radio and TV stations.

Fewer businesses are planning the annual Christmas party. Fewer restaurants are hawking Christmas dinners for those who might want to eat out that day.

Speaking of eating, food banks in our town … and I’m sure in yours … are trying to meet record demand just for the basics of human dietary needs. Missions and other traditional stops for the hungry and the homeless have lines outside the doors at times. Food needs are considerably higher in our neighborhood than 2009.

We’re told by our school administrators there are more homeless kids this year. Our Rotary club has earmarked dollars that traditionally went to underprivileged kids needing toys for Christmas to buying toothbrushes, deodorant, soap and underwear for children living in cars, under bridges or in a vacant building. That’s new for 2010.

Nationally, we see a president seemingly unable or unwilling to exert the power of the executive branch of government locked in a no-win contest with a congress hellbent on becoming the pre-eminent voice in our democratic system. Both are wrong. Just how wrong we’ll know by Christmas 2011.

Last Christmas, there were discordant voices in our streets. Loud in protest but short on workable solutions for our nation’s problems. Now, a year later, some of those from the streets, with little knowledge of the workings of government, are in elective office where they must do just that: make government work. There aren’t enough of them to derail the system. But there are enough not caring to compromise, unwilling to learn and intransigent in thought, to keep us from solving some of the worst political and economic problems our nation has seen.

We are about to watch legislatures of the various states convene to deal with monumental issues of economics, up to and including life and death. It’s already started in Arizona. Legislators in other states will be asked to deal with the same issue. Decisions of who lives and who dies were not on the minds of most of us when we were marking our ballots in November. That’s different from Christmas 2009.

Yes, there is much about Christmas 2010 that is different. We are not enjoying just another year on the calendar with a continuation of comfortable family or national quiet. We’re all feeling pressures not experienced in a long time. Or ever, by some. We’re making do with less in some cases; without at times. We’re being asked to help others even as we consider whether we, too, need help.

But it’s the sameness of the season that should occupy our minds even as we deal with harsher economic times. That “sameness” is, as they say commercially, “the reason for the season.”

“For unto you a child is born.” A child who changed each of our lives more than any economic condition; more than any legislative action; more than anything else that could happen to us in this world of ours.

Whatever the different human conditions we experience between this Christmas and the last … this Christmas or any that ever was … the life-altering universal gift of the first Christmas is unchanged.

Because of that first Christmas, we have reason to hope. We have reason to love. All in a gift that never changes.

Every so often, something occurs in our society to mark the end of the way things were and the beginning of something new. More often than not, that’s a good thing. What has my attention at this moment is not.

All my working years … all of them … no matter the employer and no matter the job, I tried to do my best for the company and, in nearly all cases, the company treated me well. That was true in the military; that was true in many years and several careers in civilian life.

In sum, it was loyalty. Something very simple. Something you gave and expected in return. Give the best you could and the effort would be rewarded by recognition, promotion, continued employment. Not something you could really put a dollar value on. It just “was.”

While there may be small exceptions, in much of today’s workplace, the term “loyalty” has been all but eliminated. Nobody goes to work for the phone company right out of school, for example, and expects to be there for an entire career. Even the professional military is subject to layoffs. And, because of current dire economic circumstances in most states, when the 2011 legislative sessions end next Spring, so will employment of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of government employees who thought their jobs were “recession proof.”

While I knew this disappearance of employer-employee loyalty was afoot intellectually, it came into sharp focus a few days ago in, of all places, Idaho Falls, ID.

There are two television stations in Idaho Falls, owned by separate corporations. Long ago, I spent a few years employed by one of them. They’ve been direct competitors since the ‘50’s. Head-to-head.

Now, they’ve done something that was unthinkable all those years. Each has fired about half the people in its news department and combined what was left into one. Oh, each outlet will continue broadcasting its “own” news programs but they’ll be the product of one … much smaller … news crew. All other head-to-head operations will be the same as before.

Imagine the Ford dealer and the Chevrolet dealer in your town … rivals for 60 years … firing half their shop staffs and putting the remainder into one shop. You WILL see that. It’s happening already.

But, back to Idaho Falls. A TV news department is made up of the a news director, editors, camera people, reporters and maybe producers. While a high cost operation for the station, it (a) is required by the FCC to operate “in the public interest” of the community and (b) is the highest image for the local station among viewers and advertisers, more often than not getting the highest prices for ads in local times.

Whether it’s the TV stations or the car dealers, imagine what it must have been like for employees to find that, after years of doing their jobs and showing loyalty to their employers, giving their best work and carrying the company flag(s), somebody made a bookkeeping decision cutting so many “X’s” from the organizational chart. Not names. “X’s.”

Now, I’m not a Pollyanna. Business is business. I know that. But, maybe before you were in the workforce, there was a time when ownership was local and the owner and the employees had a face-to-face relationship that benefitted both. For more and more Americans, it’s not that way today.

And therein, I think, is why loyalty as an expected quality in workers is disappearing. Civility, too, at times. Many businesses … even in small Idaho, Oregon or Washington communities … are corporately owned now. Decisions aren’t so much in the hands of local bosses as they are in some remote accounting office where profit-and-loss is the name of corporate thinking. The local person in charge may still have eyeball-to-eyeball contact nearly daily. But corporate sees just so many “X’s” and “O’s” on the P& L printouts. Eyeball contact there is between the CEO and the shareholders. And loyalty? Well, it’s nice, but not necessary.

In my younger years, I had all sorts of dread about getting older. Now that the inevitable has happened and I’m not on the frontlines of daily employment, much of that dread is gone. In fact, I’m actually glad things were the way they were then and that I don’t have to try dealing with what is often mislabeled as “progress.”

My loyalty and best efforts kept me with some employers a long time. Their choice. And their loyalty and best efforts on my behalf kept our relationship warm and working. My choice.

Something very bad is happening in our country to an extent I’ve never seen in my long life. And it greatly worries me. It ought to seriously worry every American.

I don’t put great faith in what I read and see in reporting about most polls, even those conducted by respected national pollsters. News organizations nearly always report only overall findings without delving into the meaning of the pieces of the puzzle that almost always tell more than one story. Maybe even a more important story than the reported headline. Most such organizations aren’t equipped for such analysis.

But occasionally, a poll comes along … maybe multiple polls on the same subject … wherein the outcome is so lopsided it doesn’t take a lot of specialized training to grasp the full meaning. Such is the case with new samplings of American opinion published this week by Gallup and last week by CBS News. These are the cause of my great concern.

Both organizations were after the same nationwide information in recent days: “Do you approve or disapprove of the job members of the Congress of the United States are doing?” Very simple question. “Yes” or “No” with no shades of gray to blur the outcome. No special knowledge of government necessary to have an opinion.

The Gallup disapproval rating: 83 percent. CBS News: 77 percent.

Gallup showed just 16 percent approval by Democrats, down from 38 percent in October. A drop of more than half in 60 days. Approval by Independents was 13 percent and seven percent for Republicans. For both organizations, the negative numbers were the lowest in their polling histories.

I’m not a trained poll reader, not a statistician and have no special gift or legitimate methodology education to know what all the internal information contained in these two reports means. But with results as lopsided as these, common sense is about all you need.

We have just completed a bitter national election involving record numbers of voters. The various outcomes have been debated for weeks by the “talking heads” and other pundits. We’ve been told to believe the meaning of our balloting was “this-that-or-the -other” depending on which side of the fence the opining was being done.

Without picking a fence side and shooting straight down the neutral middle, the question this new information leaves me with is this: How long can a nation survive and effectively govern itself when the governed have nearly no faith in … much less respect for … those doing the governing?

Dump all the crap about the far right, the far left, tea parties, two parties, third parties, independents and all the other divisions we’ve created for ourselves. None of that … none of it … is relevant when you’re talking survival of an entire political system of government.

While the new crop in congress has not yet taken the oath, evidence is already piling up those fresh faces will eventually look and act pretty much like the bunch they’re replacing. Their “outsider” status will evolve to “insider” and they will soon resort to the same money-raising, vote-chasing traits as those we discarded in November. Their promises not to “ear mark” will be replaced by efforts to secure “selected government spending” for their many constituents. Pledges will be greatly diluted by Potomac River water. Currying voter favor and job protectionism will become personal “congressional issues.”

I see the new congress very much like the one we have now. And the one we have now has just been judged by respondents in two national polls and found guilty of being wholly ineffective in the conduct of our business.

The overwhelming negative results of these two experienced polling organizations are being looked at by other nations. When more than four in five citizens disapprove of their own elected government representatives, we can be seen from overseas as a weakened country with nearly no national will to support decisions of the leadership we have just said we overwhelmingly disapprove of.

Congress … especially the Senate … is ignoring citizen direction on many issues i.e. don’t task-don’t tell, debt reduction, ending two wars, etc. We’ve told members repeatedly which paths we want to take and they have repeatedly taken the other. Or ignored us.

Looking at reasons behind failures of many nations in history, you will often find governments either out of touch with the people or who ignored the will of the people. We may not yet be at a point to repeat the French Revolution. But the gridlocked, “let-‘em-eat-cake” attitude of too many on Capital Hill may indicate they should brush up on some French history.

Readers of these irregular musings know I have a low degree of tolerance for many who call themselves “politicians.” But I reserve the lowest rung on that ladder for those who masquerade as someone important while enjoying the trappings and enrichment of phony celebrity.

That’s why I place Sarah Palin at the intolerant level in the first instance and beneath the lowest rung in the second. Her incessant pursuit of personal-promotion-for-dollars confirms both ratings.

Her latest shameful exhibitionism is the photo op trip to Haiti. She’s not the first “celebrity” to do it and she won’t be the last. While some, like Sean Penn, have poured large amounts of personal wealth and time into trying to help, Palin’s only contribution has been an increase in landing fees collected at the local airport because of all the world media flights occasioned by her self-promotion.

From my perspective, there was clearly no other reason for the visit. She took nothing with her but a contingent of media and left nothing behind except questions by the locals of “Who was that woman?”

What sets off my personal anger at her conduct is there was open to her a 100% legitimate way to be an invaluable resource to the several million people still suffering a year after the earthquake’s devastation. The opportunity was hers to take and it would have won plaudits from all who are sincerely interested in the plight of those who suffer. Even me. It was, as they say, “a no-brainer.”

Shortly after the quake a year ago, this country pledged relief aid of some $1,650,000,000, the largest offering of help from any nation. Just imagine what such a sum, added to promises from most of the major countries in the world, would have done to minimize suffering for several million people and to get reconstruction started.

So what has been America’s dollar contribution paid to date, nearly a year after the promise was made? Nothing! Zero! Zip! Nada! Not a buck! Along with hundreds of other bills awaiting congressional approval, the party that has benefitted most from Ms. Palin’s endless media presence has blocked the Haiti relief pledge from being converted into the much-needed cash. The bill will die when the current session of Congress ends next month.

Had Sarah-baby really wanted to make a difference in the tragedy in Haiti, all she had to do … with or without the ever-present cameras … was to use her GOP prominence before her trip to put public pressure on her own party to pull the Haiti relief bill out of the large stack of stranded legislation and place it for immediate passage. And payment.

That’s it. One more “news” conference … even if only on Faux News. One more grasp at the moving spotlight … yet another invasion of our living rooms. Except this time, she’d have a perfectly valid and, some would say, real humanitarian opportunity to actually do someone else … besides herself … some good. A lot of good!

Boehner and McConnell would have duked it out to be the first to call up the bill for certain passage and Democrats would have been willing participants to finally get some positive media.

That’s all there was to it for her to capture worldwide attention and to give herself some legitimacy for being on television again. One news conference. One phone call. Then hop the chartered jet, make her publicity visit and claim some personal credit for improving the lives of several million Haitians. Barak Obama couldn’t do it. Bill Clinton couldn’t do it. She could.

Because she didn’t make the slightest move in that direction, she is either getting political advice from Tiger Wood’s personal agent or is surrounded by the least talented political minds since John McCain had the brainstorm to choose “what’s-her-name, you know, the new governor of Alaska” as a running mate in 2008.

There is some value to celebrity. There are some legitimate reasons for its use. This was one of them. And it was in the lap of someone who could use some public presence with “meat” on it. But, as in so much of her over-publicized life, “she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.” And she apparently won’t listen to those around her who “should know what she should know.”

In a few years, she will be a footnote in Republican party history. Now, she’s just a publicity-hungry, personally-greedy, self-serving creature of the media. There is no there … there.

Men who’ve become president of our country have interested me for years. Not just those you like or don’t; which ones were effective or weren’t. And I’d have a single question for all of them; “Why do you want the job?”

My guess is there are as many answers as there are men and women who’ve run. Ambition, power, sincere belief he/she has something to offer, control. And likely a large ego. Always ego no matter how well-concealed. Without it, you won’t be successful..

I asked the late Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) the “why” question when he announced his abortive presidential run in the ‘70’s .

“Well,” he said, “as a senator, I’ve been on the board of directors for many years. Now, I’d like to be chairman of that board.”

A flip answer? Maybe. Maybe not. But probably as good a one as any candidate could come up with on short notice. Everyone who’s become president has his own reason and has brought his own tools to the job. Some have been effective; some not.

As an independent in ‘08, concerned with John Mc Cain’s deteriorating positions on everything and not wanting Sarah Palin to be answering that phone call at three in the morning, I voted for Barak Obama.

I did so, I think, for good reasons. Like Reagan before him, he spoke of hope and better times. Like Bush the elder, he seemed to have a grasp of issues important to me. Like Bill Clinton, he offered enthusiasm and a youthful vigor which this country badly needed.

Now, 23 months into his presidency, I still feel good about my decision. And I feel pride in the first family as the global representative of this country. But I’m greatly uncomfortable with Obama’s conduct of the political side of the job.

We have three stipulated branches of federal government: judiciary, congress and the president. Our country works best when the three are in balance. It works least when one or two gets a bit more powerful than the third. Or, as in this instance, one branch drops the ball by deferring too much to the other one or two.

Therein lies the only negative thought about my vote 23 months ago. The three co-equal pieces are out of balance. Obama has ceded power to congress and the opposition minority party and, at the moment, is in the far weaker position. We’re out of balance constitutionally.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen five strong presidents. Franklin Roosevelt, with governorship and cabinet experience plus masterful persuasion, quickly learned how to take a position and move congress his way. Missourian Harry Truman, again from the congress, was almost contrarian on some issues, took his stands and, on many issues, made congress come to him.

Bush the elder, with cabinet and congressional time, knew the fine points of how to use the power of the presidency tactically and was a persuader. Bill Clinton was impeached and could have been a caretaker president thereafter. But, with a strong personality, determination and political skill second to none, kept the balance of power and had a co-equal presidency with those who impeached him.

The strongest in my mind was Lyndon Johnson. By far. He had not only great congressional experience but he was also “master of the deal.” Persuasion? Sure. But also trickery, deceit, threats and outright political blackmail if necessary. Fortunately for the country, he used power most often to better our lot and not for personal gain. Still, despite his strength and even his legacy of historic work, he left the presidency a broken man because, even with power, he could not end the Viet Nam war.

Obama? A fine mind? Yes. A fine education? Yes. Some political experience? Yes. Youthful, grounded and comfortable with his own talents? Yes, I think. But he’s a peacemaker, not a warrior. I admire people who negotiate, accommodate and try to bring everyone together. Those are strengths of character to be sure.

But … another necessary strength in a strong leader is the warrior; the ability to fight and to kick some ass from time to time. Define a goal, marshal the troops and go for it. Obama, at least in the public conduct of his office, seems incapable of that and has paid a high price.

While he has accomplished some historic feats already … the new healthcare law for one … he and most of his party’s congressional leadership have ceded power to a minority. Even as voters have reduced his party’s congressional numbers, he’s still talking about cooperation and bipartisanship as if they existed. They haven’t. And they won’t.

I haven’t received a call from the White House asking for my opinion. Probably won’t. But, if that happens, my advice will be this. Stop trying to be a mediator. Give up on the peacemaking. Go to the nearest video store and check out a DVD of “The American President” staring Michael Douglas. Watch the last 10 minutes three times.

Then, like President Andrew Shepherd, go KICK SOME ASS!

Newspapaer editors and broadcast news directors with any gray hair at all, often chastise reporters who get tangled up with people’s celebrity and other issues while covering a story. Beginners are often influenced by titles or celebrity and less with transcribing facts.

Imagined or even real importance of someone connected to the facts can easily become the focus. Facts can be lost to celebrity. So can the reporter. Likely because of my contrarian personality, I’ve not often had that problem with someone’s fame or status. But there is one exception: the presidency.

I had a lot of problems with some of the doings of Lyndon Johnson and no use at all for Richard Nixon. Others in public life … cabinet officers … governors … titans of business … entertainment stars … all interviewed directly or covered in my traveling career and the story usually came before the recognition factor. But the presidency is … different.

In 1966, Rep. Ralph Harding (D-ID) was running for re-election and swooped down into Pocatello, Idaho, with LBJ in tow. The national press flew on to Boise so the only reporters at the Pocatello airport were local. Because of that, and because we few reporters were familiar to the advance Secret Service people after a couple of hours of waiting, we got great access.

Idaho office seekers used to hand out small plastic potatoes about the size of half dollars. Harding put a handful in one of Johnson’s pockets. While shaking outstretched hands of the crowd pressing against a four-foot steel fence, the two men handed them out.

As I said, reporter access was better than usual. I got inside the fence and was shooting film of Johnson working the crowd as I backed along ahead of him at the same speed. Suddenly, my lens was blocked. I lowered the camera to find Johnson’s big right hand stretched out to me while he held the little potato pin in his left.

“Bet you’ve got a lot of these, Son,” he said. “Here’s one from me.”

I put the camera down, took the pin and received a very firm handshake. He winked, turned around and the two of them headed for the plane. Then they were airborne. I stood there.

Now, add a few other items to the picture. A half dozen black clad Secret Service guys … looking like clones … who occasionally let their sidearms show. An Air Force Colonel carrying a small box called “the football” in which were military codes the president would use to send this nation to nuclear war. A physician and two nurses. Several well-dressed staff members. Local and state cops. Presidential and American flag standards near the plane.

It’s most commonly referred to as “aura.” It exists with presidents just as much today. For nearly any other occupation, there are other people who do the same job. But the President is the President; just one of him and he’s the most powerful person you’ll ever meet. How you may feel about the individual is one thing; respect for the office … regardless of occupant … is quite another.

Richard Nixon is a case in point. Again, I didn’t like or trust Nixon. For many reasons. But when covering him in the White House or in appearances around Washington, D.C., it was the same as with Johnson. The trappings of the office … power represented by the occupant … deference paid by all in his presence … these things take awhile to get used to for even a good reporter. You have to consciously work past them if you want to stay focused on the story at hand. Many young reporters today don’t seem to be able to do that.

I’ve been in the presence of Kennedy, Carter, Ford, Reagan and Bush the elder. Never a direct interview. Sometimes a few other reporters in a small room; sometimes thousands in the crowd. But it’s always the same. You can feel a different attitude in others nearby, too.

I spent several years in the national media in Washington. Famous and infamous people were a daily commodity. Soon after taking the job, I sort of just assumed the day would bring an interaction with someone you might see on TV that night. Embassy cocktail parties and other social events could result in personal conversations with all sorts of dignitaries and celebrities. It got pretty routine.

Covering of and dealing with famous or important people never presented problems for me. Most of the time it was just someone who’s really a lot like you. Or me. Except for … well, you know. Love ‘em or hate ‘em. The presidency is a different animal.

As one who blogs/writes/opines, I read a lot of media daily. Maybe I should say “skim” a lot of media daily. From top to bottom and left to right, there’s one hot current subject missing from the works of most editorial/opinion writers: WikiLeaks and the issue of free speech.

Those professionals may be smarter in not to stepping into the void. Or they may be conflicted as they try to balance the old chestnut of “the public’s-right-to-know” versus nearly any form of censorship. So saying, I have an opinion and I’m not conflicted.

WikiLeaks is wrong. What WikiLeaks has done has nothing to do with media doing its constitutionally protected job or censorship. What WikiLeaks is doing is not … nor should it be … protected by any perceived right of free speech. It’s dumping huge quantities of mostly extraneous classified data into the mainstream media, not because it’s the right thing to do but because it can. That isn’t free speech. That’s an abuse of free speech.

Over several decades, I’ve loudly defended the “public-right-to-know.” Especially when it concerned MY right to know. There were also times when I more quietly honored the maxim though I disagreed with the information under discussion and with publication of it. It really is a two-edge sword.

Think back over all emails and other written correspondence you’ve ever created for whatever purpose. Think of all the extremely personal data you’ve committed to the written word and placed in the hands of people you trusted. Make it even simpler. Think of all the credit card numbers and bank account details you guard.

Now, suppose someone resurrected all your personal correspondence and found all those account numbers. Suppose all that information appeared on the front page of your local newspaper. And every other newspaper. Today!

You’ve done nothing wrong. You’ve honored relationships, been truthful in your business dealings and careful in guarding your private economic information. But, through no fault of your own, every word you’ve ever written and every business transaction you’ve ever made, is now everybody else’s business. All of it. Even bank accounts.

My guess is you … like me … would scream to high Heaven that you felt violated, that someone had committed a treasonous act and, regardless of the accuracy of the information, you had been victimized. And you would be right! All of us … individuals, corporations or governments … have a need for privacy. We have an expectation of privacy. We have a right of privacy.

Computers and the Internet have combined to give us technological abilities far exceeding our ethical responsibilities to use them for their designed purpose: processing and distribution of information. We’d all like to expect the best from each other. But centuries of experience have shown there will be an abuse for every use.

Many of us now possess tools to make us the most informed … and in some cases the most powerful … people who ever lived. The ubiquitous little laptop and an electronic attachment to the largest party line ever created have given us that power. What we don’t think of most of the time is that we have an accompanying responsibility to use them safely and properly. And securely.

Someone … or several someones … has been deliberately exposing hundreds of thousands of pieces of information dealing directly with our national security and the conduct of our relationships with other countries in the world. That person … or persons … has defaulted on individual responsibility and safety in the name of some sort of personal ego trip. Treasonous? Maybe. Wrong? Certainly!

WikiLeaks, in turn, has defaulted on its chosen role to be a reliable public information source, instead becoming the conduit by which deliberately privileged information is no longer privileged.

A responsible media dealing with private or unpublished information will almost always balance the value of disclosure of that information with the public’s right to know. Most of the time … most of the time … some or all of it will be published in some form. But once in awhile, issues of individual/national safety, economic security or other reasons will be considered when publication decisions are made. That’s the right thing to do.

WikiLeaks has not done any of that. By admission of it’s own management, documents were not read or screened or evaluated in any way before publication. They were dumped in and they were dumped out.

That’s where I part company with WikiLeaks and, in this case, “right-to-know.” Each document, from whatever source and about whatever subject, required review prior to publishing. Information value, national security and other factors should have been weighed. It appears none of that was done.

That’s my opinion. Guess the New York Times is still working on theirs.