Will Maxine Waters Be Bad for Business?

Will Maxine Waters Be Bad for Business?

U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank (D-Ma.) announced his retirement this week after 32 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) is first in line to take his powerful seat as Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. But Waters potential ascent isn’t without controversy. Here’s a roundup of the criticism so far:

Ethics Violations Will Sink Her

The biggest threat to Waters’ elevation is an ethics investigation into whether or not she abused her power to acquire federal bail-out money for a bank in which her husband had a financial interest.

“Waters’ husband was a former board member of the bank and held more than $300,000 in stock,” ABC News reported. “A trial scheduled for last November was postponed indefinitely and the investigation effectively reset after two lawyers on the ethics committee resigned following allegations they secretly communicated with Republicans on the panel and compromised the investigation. Outside counsel was then hired to determine whether the case against Waters should proceed. That report is due on Jan. 2,” the article said.

Criticism of the President Will Do Her In

“Waters made waves this year when she publicly criticized President Barack Obama,” Roll Call reported. Next in line after her is Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and she “played a key role in addressing the financial crisis of 2008,” the article said. But Waters has backing from the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

“I resent any attempt by the financial services industry to prejudge Maxine Waters with no legitimate reason. I think that’s stupid,” CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) told Roll Call. “They can’t say, ‘Well she doesn’t know the issues.’”

She Doesn’t Have the Financial Chops for the Job

However, that’s exactly what Atlantic economics blogger Megan McArdle said in response to the possibility that Waters could replace Frank.

After summarizing a televised exchange between Waters and former Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis, in which Waters flubbed her question, McArdle concluded that the exchange was “kind of hilarious, until you realized that this was her job, and that she voted on critical financial regulatory questions.” It wasn’t the only instance, McArdle said, of Waters’ revealing scant knowledge of finance.

“Every time I see Maxine Waters at a hearing I know that the questions are going to be bizarre, and that Congresswoman Waters will make them even stranger with garbled readings and off-topic follow-ups,” said McArdle.

She’s a Bomb Thrower from the Far Left

Meanwhile, The Hill reported that “Wall Street executives are bracing for the possibility” that Waters will take the top spot. The outlet said Waters is “considered to the left of Frank on financial and housing issues.”

“She’s not a good face of the issues,” an anonymous financial executive told The Hill. “She’s too much of a bomb thrower.”

She’ll Slow Growth by Injecting Affirmative Action into Business

At Intervestors.com, the editorial board took Waters to task for “injecting affirmative-action decision-making in financial transactions, slowing the flow of capital and economic growth.”

How, you ask, did she do that?

“As a key member of the Dodd-Frank conference committee, Waters authored the ‘practical’ rule of requiring every bank regulatory agency to create an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion,” the editorial said.

It’s Time to Pass the Baton

“With decades in Congress comes more cynicism and opportunities for political shenanigans that can lead to ethics charges,” wrote Zerlina Maxwell at The Grio in a call to reconsider support for aging CBC members like Waters. “It’s not about whether we like the seasoned members of the CBC who have worked tirelessly for a generation; it might just be that it’s time for new ideas and a new perspective on political power representing the African-American community in Congress.”

What Do You Think?

Has Waters earned the right to chair the House Financial Services Committee, or will her perceived weaknesses sink her?

A Time to ‘Occupy’?

A Time to ‘Occupy’?

SEIZING THE NATIONAL MOMENT: Thousands marched to NYC's Times Square last month in support of Occupy Wall Street movement. (Photo by Mata Edgar/Newscom)

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On a cold Monday morning, I ran across the foregoing quote at Zuccotti Park, ground zero of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s quite a scene. The general assembly regularly convenes forums, teach-in sessions, and conversations on topics like economic theory and social movements.

The emergence of Occupy Wall Street, along with the continued thrust of the Tea Party, signifies an intensity of citizen engagement that many Americans have not seen in decades. These civic currents also illustrate that some things — tax policy, the distribution of economic productivity, and the expenditures of government among them — are worth debating and dramatizing in public.

More ominously, the vigorous extraparliamentary movement from the left and the right is a populist indictment of our legislative branch — an indicator that many citizens are incensed about the inefficient impasse of lawmaking in Washington. I found it striking to witness a group of people bearing the elements night and day to make a political point. Occupy Wall Street, to be sure, is an act of political theater, but it is also a display of asceticism in the service of communicating a point of view.

Regardless of our socioeconomic views, Occupy Wall Street invites us to express our convictions more consistently, and when deemed appropriate to do so sacrificially. Very little mention of sacrifice and struggle occurs in our churches. In the words of Martin Luther, many of our pulpits have exchanged a theology of the cross for a theology of glory, a strange pattern of speech that rarely mentions disease, death, and despair.

When is the last time your church spoke about something penultimate that mattered? Churches can and should speak of ultimate matters — life and death, sin, and salvation, creation and consummation. But what of penultimate things? Shouldn’t churches offer words of wisdom and love here as well — “on earth as in heaven”?

Andy Stanley, the pastor of Northpoint Church in Atlanta who preached a series on greed and the Great Recession, argues that churches should converse about issues that grip the nation. Occupy Wall Street meets that standard.

The life of the church may not end when we are silent about things that matter, but it is certainly impoverished. There is, of course, a time to be silent. But, as even the most casual Bible reader knows, there is also a time to speak.

The Next Political Awakening

The Next Political Awakening

It’s no secret that the American public is less than pleased with the performance of its national political leaders. As Republicans and Democrats once again threaten to shut down the federal government over budget disagreements, more Americans are becoming fed up. Anecdotes of anger and distrust have been repeated at length from the mouths of journalists across the country. A recent CNN poll joins a string of others that reflect America’s growing uneasiness with the White House and Congress. The findings of these polls are no surprise to those struggling to make financial ends meet, pay for college, or find a decent job.

Only 15 percent of Americans approve of how Congress is managing the economy. Only about 40 percent approve of the job President Obama is doing in leading our country. It’s safe to say Washington politicians don’t possess a good reputation these days.

Common sense, which seems to be increasingly less common, will tell you that reputation is important. Even the reputation of non-breathing entities, like companies, can be broken by a loss of confidence or a reputation for dishonesty (Enron, anyone?). Common sense would also suggest that Congress and the president should begin listening very closely to the desires of those who voted for them.

If the 2008 Obama campaign helped inspire a new movement of young and engaged voters, and the Obama presidency helped stoke the emergence of the fiery Tea Party, then the current economic crisis seems to be fostering a new scrutiny from voters who are demanding less partisan dogmatism and more practical results from Washington. This is the reason why, for instance, President Obama cranked out his ambitious proposal for a new jobs bill and immediately hopped on a bus to tout its benefits to voters across Middle America.

While the Middle East is continuing to wrestle with the negative and positive repercussions of the “Arab Spring,” America is undergoing its own kind of political uprising. The fallout of the debt-ceiling debate, high unemployment, and the global economic breakdown is causing a sharp awareness of just how important politics is to our everyday life. On the swift wings of social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, more Americans are reaching out and connecting with others who share their struggles and their convictions.

Many Americans are beginning to take a long, hard look at what their political parties stand for and are for the first time truly recognizing what lies behind the banners of donkeys and elephants. They are beginning to debate and school themselves on federal programs and legislation that were formerly relegated to Political Science 101 term papers.

Social Security, unemployment benefits, health care, class structure, welfare, immigration reform, tax cuts, abortion, and gay marriage are but a few issues that are forcing Americans, in the wake of Congress’ total disassociation with the public consciousness, to reevaluate what it means to exercise their political voice.

This renewed “awakening” has consequences for those in Washington and those unhappy with it. For some it means kissing reelection goodbye, for others it means confronting personal biases against their fellow Americans to forge common bonds and promote positive changes in their communities.

It means recognizing the true political beliefs of our neighbors and ourselves — beyond the Red State/Blue State trope. It means daring to talk about the deep divides in worldview that may exist inside and outside of party lines. It means rejecting some popular philosophies and embracing others.

It means taking time to read, watch, and listen.

It means talking, debating, and at times arguing.

For Christians it means being more focused and intentional in our prayers.

It also means a yearning for real answers to our problems.

The growing frustration in America, fueled by Washington’s legislative intransigence, is driving a political awakening that is something new for many Americans. It is a painfully personal coming-to-terms with where one stands as an American, regardless of party affiliation. It is a willingness to make tough decisions about the future, and to make short-term sacrifices for the nation’s long-term wellbeing.

It is an awakening driven by the harsh, inescapable realities of our new economic environment.

Our political leaders would do well to turn their eyes and ears toward an American populace more poignantly aware than ever of its political interests and influence.

The members of Congress may be demonstrating that they have lost their will to seek practical solutions, but those that elected them certainly have not.

‘Hope’ Without Jobs Is Dead

‘Hope’ Without Jobs Is Dead

REDISCOVERING HIS SWAG: President Barack Obama presents his jobs speech before a Joint Session of Congress on Sept. 8, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

As one of my Facebook friends posted last night, “President Obama has got his swag back.” And right on time, too. Although President Obama has been criticized in recent months for being long on compromise and short on muscle, he combined both in his jobs speech to Congress last night. Like the refrain in a treasured hymn, Obama repeatedly charged Congress to “pass this jobs plan right away” as he laid out the “American Jobs Act.”

In his characteristic commonsensical approach, Obama also told Congress and the country that nothing in his bill was controversial or had not been passed by some of these very Democrats and Republicans in the past. Some of the perks in the bill include: payroll taxes cut in half next year for small business owners, the repair and modernization of at least 35,000 schools, rehiring of laid off teachers, tax credits for companies that hire veterans and people who have been looking for a job for more than six months and a $1,500 tax cut for a typical working family. So what’s not to love in this bill?

After touting some of the benefits that everyone could agree on, Obama got into the nitty-gritty, attacking the sacred cows of the opposing sides. To the Dems, he said that Medicare needed to be reformed point blank and that “we are spending too fast to sustain the program.” And to the Repubs, he said “a few of the most affluent citizens and corporations enjoy tax breaks and loopholes that nobody else gets.” To drive home his point of irony, he mentioned that Warren Buffet has a lower tax rate than his secretary. Can we say a collective and prolonged, “Ouch?!” I’ll wait …

And Obama had a word for the rabble-rousing Tea Partiers too: government, in and of itself, is not evil. He reminded us how government built the transcontinental railroad, launched the National Academy of Sciences, set up the first land grant colleges, passed the GI Bill, and funded research leading to the creation of our beloved Internet. 

And all of this hope and change comes with a price tag of reportedly $447 billion in tax cuts and government spending.

Although Obama attempted to steer the conversation away from an election still over a year away, I can’t help but wonder if his “Clint Eastwood-esque” speech, a speech reminiscent of his best election speeches, is just the bullet he needed to have a fighting chance in the 2012 election. After the debt ceiling fiasco, I’m thinking Congress better act in a balanced way toward this bill (i.e., putting the welfare of Americans first and their political careers last). If not, they will face the biblical principle of what is first being made last. For the GOP presidential candidates, their refrain is the same: spending bad, Obama bad. No surprise there.

The president’s speech may be a good start, but you know what they say about action versus words. In other words, faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). If a person needs a job, and we shout, “This person needs a job,” but then no job is offered, what good is shouting? Good deeds must follow faith. Abraham followed up his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his son. Rahab the prostitute followed up her faith by hiding the Hebrew spies and leading them to a safe path.

What got Obama elected in the first place was not just his impassioned speeches but the fact that he was not a member of the commanding party that failed to act for the people (instead the corporate elite) as the economy tanked. While Obama will always be remembered as a great orator and even the president that passed health-care reform and took down bin Laden, if he does not inspire Congress to act in a way that produces tangible economic results — i.e., jobs — that can be listed 14 months from now, Obama’s reelection campaign might be dead on arrival.

Of course, the reality is that neither Congress nor the president really controls jobs or the economy. But as Obama’s renewed urgency suggests, that fact doesn’t mean anything to the American voters come Election Day. Likely, the only thing that will matter then is whether they — and their laid-off neighbors and their kids who just graduated from college and their friends from church whose companies went out of business — are working.

Obama’s Meekness Is Not Weakness

Obama’s Meekness Is Not Weakness

CIVIL SERVANT: President Barack Obama shakes hands with Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the State of the Union address earlier this year. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“The uniqueness of His meekness is too deep to speak / and if you think meekness is weakness try being meek for a week.” – ShaiLinne, “Mic Check 1 2 (featuring Stephen the Levite & Phanatik)”

Let me state a few things up front, so this doesn’t devolve into something from my highly refined, literary alter ego, Captain Obvious (And His Adventures in Missing-The-Point-Ville).

Obviously, President Barack Obama is not Jesus. Our 44th president is not, nor should he be, exempt from criticism. It does not make anyone a bad Christian to publicly criticize his actions or ideas, from either the political right or the left.

So I hope that neither LZ Granderson nor Roland Martin, both professing Christians whom I respect greatly, will take offense when I say that as Christians I think they’re dead wrong about Obama.

Specifically, they’re wrong about how President Obama should respond to House Speaker John Boehner’s latest act of insubordination regarding his upcoming jobs speech.

For the uninitiated, the White House publicly requested a joint session of Congress to assemble on the same day that the Republicans were planning a debate, also surrounding the topic of jobs. In response, Rep. Boehner asked instead for the date to be pushed back, citing security issues.

Don’t cave to Boehner,” pleaded Martin. Then after the White House rescheduled the date. Granderson lamented Obamas failure to respond to a diss to the presidency, as if the primary responsibility of the President of the United States is to avoid being punked. Then Martin lamented further, claiming that the president’s biggest problem is that no one fears him.

I beg to differ.

The primary responsibility of the president is not to show people he’s in charge. His job is to lead people as effectively and prudently as possible. It’s not that he “needs a spine transplant,” and is therefore incapable of standing up for himself. It’s that when it came to this particular issue at this particular time, he chose a more expedient path of action.

He doesn’t need to show people who’s boss, because he’s already the boss. Posturing is what one does when they’re auditioning for the role campaigning for the job. But as the POTUS, Obama must be the boss. He has a very complex and subjective set of priorities to address and keep in balance at all times. It shouldn’t be a surprise that saving face wouldn’t be the highest thing on his list. 

The Uniqueness of Meekness 

Consider the example of the Christ Jesus to whom Obama has publicly, repeatedly declared his fidelity.

Jesus often gets a bad rap in our popular culture for being weak and effeminate (which is one of the reasons why preacher Mark Driscoll is so popular, but that’s for another column). If you read your Bible, though, you’ll see that nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus was constantly challenging and confounding both the religious and political establishment. When he felt like street vendors were making a mockery of the faith, he destroyed their operation. There was a reason why they eventually conspired to kill him.

However, Jesus was not the revolutionary that his followers expected. He never made a play for political office. At the point where his followers thought they were on the brink of an armed revolution, Jesus rebuked one of them for resorting to violence. And then he acquiesced to his accusers, knowing full well the result would be a sham of a trial followed by a brutal crucifixion.

If I would’ve been one of Jesus’ disciples during this time, I’m sure the sense of frustration and disappointment in the air would’ve been absolutely palpable.

Why is he letting them DO THIS?!?!

Jesus was not happy about the events that had transpired. A bit earlier, He prayed to the Father for another way out. But in the end, He chose to be obedient, knowing that there was a larger objective that He was given to fulfill, one that required enduring the cross and all of its horrors.

Believing what Christians do about the resurrection, it’s hard to argue with the result.

When Jesus said “blessed are the meek,” in the Sermon on the Mount, the Greek word he used that we translate today as “meek” is one that referred to a sense of a great strength under useful control. It’s like a fierce fire that could warm a great castle, but that could just as easily be reduced to a pilot light. Or like a wild stallion capable of galloping 100 miles an hour, lightly sauntering under the master’s control.

Meekness is anything but weakness.

Strength Under Control

Meekness is keeping your cool because losing it could jeopardize the prize ever set before you.

It’s the difference between I’m-doing-this-because-I-can and I’m-doing-this-because-I-should.

In my opinion, this is the kind of strength under control where President Obama excels. Sure, it was disrespectful for Boehner and House Republicans to respond the way they did. And sure, Obama probably felt more than little vindictive about it. But Obama has a larger set of priorities in mind, among them being re-election in 2012. And acting out of a desire to be vindicated is something that might win the battle but lose the war.

So no, he’s not Jesus. And no, he’s not infallible.

But if you’re a Christian, and you think Obama is weak just because he chose not to flex his muscles over a scheduling conflict, then either you don’t read your Bible, or you haven’t been paying attention.