State of the Union: President Obama Covers All Bases

The American economy is still struggling. The stock market is soaring, the fat cats on Wall Street are happy again, but Main Street is still hurting with high unemployment. Jobs from manufacturing to IT to services have moved overseas and are not coming back anytime soon. Companies are continuing to cut back. The housing prices show no sign of recovery in the near future. The deficit is growing, the Republicans are back in power in Congress with their tried and failed tax-cut mantra.  In this bleak situation, what can a President tell the American people that can make them feel better? Will the American people take bad news for an answer? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “No.”

What can a President deliver under these circumstances? What did President Obama divvy up? He started off by patting the backs of Vice-President Joe Biden and newly elected speaker of the house, John Boehner [who I thought might break down :-)] with some kind words about how you can “make it” in America provided you work hard.

From then on, it was a difficult but elegant dance where he would jump two steps to the right by calling for a spending freeze, and promptly jump four steps to the left calling for infrastructure improvements from high-speed rail to broadband penetration in US homes; then again three steps to the right saying he would veto any bill with earmarks, then five steps to the left warning against repealing the healthcare bill; then four steps to the right calling for medical malpractice reform and an end to illegal immigration; this ultimately lands him smack in the political center.  The net effect of this wonderful dance is that he had something in his speech for everyone. It was like Santa Claus showing up for Christmas and praising everyone to the skies, but with no real gifts for anyone. In the end, those who believed that President Obama had turned Centrist are now somewhat convinced of their assessment. Those on the left are relieved that he is still thinking of infrastructure spending. Those on the right are somewhat hopeful that he might be open to cutting spending. Even the infamous Tea party types got some deficit reduction served up for them. And oh, last but not the least, there was the inspirational stuff—the clean energy push, the Sputnik moment, competing and winning the future, and so on—and the parroting of his accomplishments thus far—Healthcare, START treaty, Tax-cuts, Don’t ask don’t tell etc..

In short, it was a carefully planned speech, delivered in characteristic Obama style.  But the oratorical impact of it was significantly diminished by the “lovey-dovey” Republican-Democrat seating arrangement. Nevertheless, the intent was to remain ambiguous, to obfuscate, and thereby continue to be flexible with wiggle room on pretty much every issue.  That goal was achieved to a tee. Although President Obama is painted by the right as a big spending liberal, he did nothing like Bill Clinton who, faced with a similar situation in 1994, declared in his State of the Union address that “the era of big government was over.” On the contrary, President Obama delivered a speech which attempted to appease all constituencies without telling the country what he actually stood for or was willing to fight for—the hallmark of a truly savvy, career politician.

America is all about being positive, optimistic, and exuding the perennial can-do spirit, even in the worst of times. Unfortunately, over the years, this otherwise noteworthy trait has devolved into one of sugar-coating and outright delusion about the reality. No President aspiring for re-election can ever stand up before the country and deliver news such as, “We are screwed. We need to do something drastic or we are dead.” To their credit, the Republican and the Tea party Express responses did precisely that, but they had nothing to offer besides tax cuts for the rich. Those on the left deeply believe that the government must significantly increase spending. But this has to come at the expense of an increased deficit and relies heavily on successful execution of government programs.

Ultimately, “the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook” simply can’t agree on the future course of action to rectify the current mess it finds itself in. So as America muddles along from issue to issue, legislation to legislation, crisis to crisis, bickering over tax-cut versus spending, from one state of the union to the next, questions about America’s future continue to persist.

Dumping Ponting is Not The Answer

Some former players and pundits have written off Ricky Ponting and called for a look to the future minus the star batsman. I think the critics are wrong.  Despite currently being out of form, without a doubt Ricky Ponting still remains Australia’s best batsmen. Australia’s biggest problem seems to be the complete lack of good, solid, capable players! Its as a simple as that.

Australia’s problems start right at the top of the order. Phil Hughes was a terrible replacement for Simon Katich.  Shane Watson despite not being a regular opener has adapted superbly to the task and deserves to remain at the top of the order. Along with Katich he provides a semblance of stability at the outset. With Hughes coming in, it was only a question how soon Australia would lose its first wicket.

Usman Khwaja appears to have the talent and should be in contention for  permanent slot in the future. Michael Clarke who is hopeless out of form and appears to be low on confidence could surely use a break. Mike Hussey showed shades of form but could perhaps use a break too. Steven Smith in his current incarnation is really an ODI player and simply unsuitable for Test cricket.

As for the bowlers, Australia’s spin chest seems barren at the moment. After Warne and McGill, Australia appears to have been stranded with no replacements. Xavier Doherty was clearly not up to the Test level, while Michael Beer, though a better choice between the two, was still well short of being the answer to Australia’s spin woes.  Nathan Hauritz who was discarded after a poor tour of India might have been a better bet than either of these two youngsters.

Among the seamers,  Peter Siddle showed the most promise but was not consistent. Perhaps with good support from the other end he could had more success.  Hilfenhaus is hardly a devastating bowler and Ryan Harris ran into injury troubles pretty quickly. Johnson is by far Australia’s biggest bowling failure. At a time when he should be leading the bowling attack, he comes in at first change and barring his performance at Perth, did little to justify his place in the team. The sooner the selectors can give him an extended break to regain his form the better.

Ricky Ponting had great success as a captain in the past because he had a formidable team.  In fact, he inherited a perfectly balanced team from his predecessor, Steven Waugh. Ironically, Waugh was phased out while he still had some cricket left in him. Hayden, Langer, Martyn, Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath, to name a few (apart from Ponting himself) of Waugh’s team mates were a class apart. None of the present members of the Australian team are anywhere close in talent or abilities to these champion players.  Its the very same captain, its just that he has poor resources to work with at the moment.  In the past, he just had to go out there and be a good batsmen (something that always came naturally to him) and the rest just took care of itself. Even if he failed there were many others in the team who could be relied on to score runs. Today its a very different story. Ponting’s failures directly impact the team. When he fails, the team fails. In fact, the performance of the rest of the team was so bad this Ashes tour, that I suspect Australia would have lost the Ashes even if Ponting had succeeded as a batsmen!

After having dominated world cricket for a couple of decades Australia finds its Test cricket at an all time low. Surely, the cricket administration bears some responsibility for this slow but steady decline. While I am no fan of Ponting’s captaincy I still believe that its best for the Aussies to retain Ponting as a member of the team and even as captain and spend the next couple of years grooming a team for the future. At this stage naming a new captain will be way too much pressure on the new comer who will have to establish himself as a player in the team and as a captain.  The bulk of the current crop should probably be shown the door or at least given a break to work their way back.  To dump Ponting and start afresh would be a wrong move for Australian cricket.