Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thank You President Barack Obama

"This is your victory," President Barack Obama said in his 2008 victory speech given at a time when the country was in the worst economic recession in decades, with unemployment soaring, the financial markets near total collapse, and the country immersed with two costly foreign wars.  

He inherited a dispirited and scared nation consumed with uncertainty and fear.  But his message to the quarter million people gathered in Chicago's Grant Park, and tens of millions Americans watching on television, was one of hope.  "The road ahead will be long.  Our climb will be steep," he said.  "We may not get there in one year or even one term.  But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there."

Many of those who voted for President Obama, the nation's first African American president, were seeking change.  The government in Washington was failing, the political system was broken, and big money had too much influence.  Manufacturing jobs were fleeing the country, millions of Americans had no health care, and the middle class was shrinking.  America's place in the world was diminishing, terrorists cast a shadow over daily life, and U.S. soldiers were dying in two distant wars that seemed interminable.  

President Obama's message of hope, his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, his incredibly positive demeanor, his decency, his integrity, his fine character, his grace under pressure, his equanimity and good temperament are traits that he lived by every day.  

Many challenges faced this president.  At the moment he was sworn in for his first term, the Republican leadership agreed to block every initiative, law, or action the president proposed.  They proclaimed they wanted to make him a one-term president. Members of Congress, right wing radio talk show hosts and a New York real estate mogul constantly questioned President Obama's religion, citizenship and character.  The attempts to delegitimize the president were disgusting and demeaning, and they added fuel to a very combustible situation created by those motivated by their own self-interests.  

No president has been perfect.  Every president makes mistakes, some more than others.  History will ultimately be the judge of Obama's presidency.  But, despite the challenges, he leaves office with many accomplishments.  He was a truly consequential president.  

President Obama saved the country from the Great Recession.  He saved the auto industry.  Unemployment fell from nearly 10% to 4.7% during his presidency, and the stock market has nearly tripled (almost all of it before his successor was elected).   He extended health insurance to 20 million Americans, dramatically slowed the growth of health care costs, and made it possible for those with pre-existing health conditions to get insurance.  President Obama supported marriage equality, repealed the military's "don't ask-don't tell" policy, signed legislation to combat pay discrimination against women, and signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  He signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Protection Act, and he signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act.  The president improved school nutrition programs, boosted fuel efficiency in cars, invested more in Veteran's Affairs, and reduced the homeless rate among veterans by 50%.  He appointed the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

President Obama's administration helped negotiate the historic Paris Climate Treaty.  The president helped negotiate the Iran Nuclear Deal, which includes Russia and our allies.   He ended the war in Iraq, reduced American military presence in Afghanistan, and ordered the capture and killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden.  He reversed Bush-era torture policies, began normalizing relations with Cuba, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.   However, he has been criticized for his policies toward Syria, Russia and the Middle East, three intensely complex and complicated issues with no easy solutions.  

President Obama held his final news conference in the White House pressroom Wednesday, thanking reporters and sending a message to the incoming president about the importance of having the press corps in that location.  "Having you in this building has made this place work better.  It keeps us honest, it makes us work harder," he said.  The president was asked about the election's impact on his daughters.  "What we've also tried to teach them is resilience," he said, "and we've tried to teach them hope and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world."

The president said he plans to take time off with his family, but he will speak about issues he deeply cares about.  "I believe in this country.  I believe in the American people.  I believe that people are more good than bad."  He continued, "If we work hard and if we are true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time.  That's what this presidency has tried to be about."  He concluded, "At my core, I think we're going to be OK.  We just have to fight for it, we have to work at it and not take it for granted." 

Thank you President Obama, this was your victory.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Will Trump be Presidential?

President Elect Donald Trump will be sworn in to office Friday as America's 45th president on the west front of the U.S. Capitol before thousands of supporters and millions watching on television around the world.   The peaceful transition of power will symbolize the strength of the American democracy.  

Perhaps equally important will be what President Trump has to say in his inaugural address.  The nation has been deeply divided for decades by partisan politics; the world has been roiled with regional conflicts and the growing threat of terrorism.  Will the newly sworn-in president speak of his genuine interest of uniting the country, which is rich with diverse cultures and beliefs?  Will he clearly identify the threats, foreign and domestic, facing the nation, and assure even his most strident opponents that he has the temperament and character to lead the country?  

Many of his predecessors used their inaugural address to set a tone for their presidency.  In his first address, President Thomas Jefferson said, "Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.  We have been called by different names brethren of the same principle.  We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."

Following a great Civil War President Lincoln sought to heal the nation's wounds in his second inaugural address.  "With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds," he said.  "To do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

In his first inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to a nation crippled by the Great Depression.  "This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.  So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," Roosevelt intoned.  "In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with the understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory."

As the nation was still recovering from World War II, it elected a war hero as its president.  In his first inaugural address President Dwight Eisenhower said, "We are summoned to act in wisdom and in conscience, to work with industry, to teach with persuasion, to preach with conviction, to weigh every deed with care and compassion.  For this truth must be clear before us: whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America."   

President John F. Kennedy, who was elected in 1960 in a close election, sought to mobilize young idealistic citizens with his stirring oration.  "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans," he declared.  "The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.  And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

President Ronald Reagan was elected in a landslide in 1980 as the country was reeling from inflation, high unemployment and gasoline prices, and a crisis of confidence.  "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem," he maintained in his first inaugural address.  "We are a nation that has a government--not the other way around.  And this makes us special among the nations of the earth.  Our government has no power except that granted by the people.  It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed." 

President Barack Obama was the first African American elected to the nation's highest office.  The deeply divided country was mired in two costly wars, was experiencing its worst economic recession in nearly one hundred years, and was split along party lines.  A massive crowd of 1.8 million people attended his swearing in, which was watched by a record audience around the globe.  "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."  He continued, "On this day, we come to proclaim and end to petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for too long have strangled our politics."    

Despite the soaring rhetoric, many presidents were not able to achieve all of their goals.  But President Trump's inaugural speech comes at an important time in this nation's history.  He will face enormous challenges, domestic and foreign.  The election is over, and while he finished second in the popular vote, he won the presidency.   And while the Russians meddled in the election, he was the winner.  

The American presidency is the most powerful office in the world. Now it is time for President Trump to actually govern.   Now it is time for him to end his personal insults, his impulsive and boorish behavior.  Now it is the time for an end to his Twitter rants, or tirades against the press.  Now it is time for him to praise U.S. intelligent agencies and their courageous employees, and to praise America's allies and support its alliances.  

Now it is time for President Trump to act presidential.  Too much is a stake.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

Undoing Obama

On January 20, President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn into office and he promises to hit the ground running with a flurry of actions that will undo regulations enacted by President Barack Obama.  "Regulations are coming off," he said to the crowd gathered at his New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida retreat.  Republican lawmakers, who will soon control both houses of Congress, have made undoing Obama's legacy their top priority.  

Of course, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is the prime Republican target for repeal.  They have described the law as a disaster, and have charged it has increased health care costs for many individuals and small businesses.  In truth, the ACA track record is more mixed.  Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that repeal would not mean that those receiving health care through the law will lose coverage.   "This has to be done carefully," he said, "It has to be done in a phased-in way over a period of time."  However, it is unclear how Republicans plan to replace the ACA.  

Obamacare has remained unpopular with the American public despite all of the benefits it provides.  About 20 million Americans have health insurance through Obamacare exchanges or Medicaid expansion. Senior citizens pay less for Medicare coverage and prescription drugs under the law.  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that repeal of Obamacare would increase Medicare spending by $802 billion over 10 years.  Obamacare totally eliminates the donut hole in Medicare prescription drug coverage by 2020.  All of these costs will be passed on to beneficiaries. Repeal may also mean that children up to 26 would no longer be automatically covered by their family policy, and those with pre-existing health conditions can again be denied health insurance coverage.

Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Twitter Monday, "The GOP wants to dismantle ACA & consequently increase costs.  It's wrong.  It will have an major impact on hardworking families & raise taxes."   She also warned that Republicans want to "dismantle Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid."   Many Republicans are for making changes in all of these programs in order to rein in government costs.  

President-elect Trump and Republicans also want to undo the many regulations President Obama has enacted.   They have their eyes set on the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which includes the "Volcker Rule" that restricts banks from trading for profits.  Dodd-Frank, which was enacted following the 2008 financial crisis, calls for a series of reforms meant to decrease risk in the financial system.   A Trump administration is likely to slow these regulations and rewrite the law.  

Trump will also go after several environmental regulations.  The Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan is likely to be repealed.  It calls for a 32 per cent cut in the power sector's carbon emissions by 2030.  The EPA and Army Corps of Engineer's Clean Water Rule is likely to be scrapped.  It makes small waterways, like wetlands and ponds, subject to federal rules much to the ire of many businesses.   The EPA's rule to limit ground-level Ozone, which is largely the byproduct of fossil fuels, is likely not to be strictly enforced under a Trump administration.  And Trump wants to eliminate rules that make hydraulic fracturing more difficult.  

These measures enacted by Obama were all an effort to protect Americans and make the environment safer.  But Trump is a world class self-promoter and businessman whose priority it is to undo Obama's regulations and legacy.  This, he says, will create new jobs and strengthen the economy.  However, many economists say ending regulations has not historically led to a large increase in jobs.  But it sure may help short-term profits for corporations.

This is how Trump will make America great again!