The Obama Presidency: Five Years Down, Three To Go

Whether you see Edward Snowden as whistleblower or unpatriotic – I land in the former camp – it’s difficult to think that we would not have been talking about this had he not released the information he had.

President Barack Obama Honors TeachersI know judging a two-term presidency with 36 months to go is a dodgy proposition, but what is the point of writing a blog if not to make these brilliant observations?

THE GOOD:
I had great hopes because the very first thing he tackled was wage discrimination. He was stuck with a horrendous economy in freefall, and the stimulus, despite spending that ought to have been better targeted, had an overall good effect. GM and Chrysler were saved from almost certain death, which would have had a huge ripple effect on other parts of the economy.

The Affordable Care Act, a/k/a Obamacare, was not what I wanted, as I think his team took the single-payer option off the table WAY too early. Still, the fact that it doesn’t doom persons with pre-existing conditions to, likely, no insurance is a plus, and I appreciate the provision of keeping young adults on their parents’ policies.

Although he may have become more directed on the issue because of something his Vice-President said “too early,” Obama has been strong on LGBT issues, and in particular on marriage equality. One can argue about the US participation at the Sochi Olympics, but his delegation sends a message to Russia.

Obama is rather good at speechifying. From his talks after the shootings in Arizona to Nelson Mandela’s celebration, I often like listening to what he has to say, and how he says it.

The GOOD (but late):

The commuting of the sentences of eight federal inmates who were convicted of crack cocaine offenses, when the crime, if committed today, would not have engendered as much jail time, is the right thing.

THE BAD:

Here’s what I believe: our use of drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan and Yemen, with its inevitable loss of innocent life/”collateral damage”, is creating more terrorists. If you review the news stories about the various heads of terrorist organizations that have been killed abroad, it doesn’t appear to have had any long-lasting effect on the problem.

In the case of the NSA spying, the President is only now making plans to limit its reach, as though he had been oblivious to the extent it had been going on, which I found quite disquieting. Whether you see Edward Snowden as a whistleblower or unpatriotic – I land in the former camp – it’s difficult to think that we would not have been talking about this had he not released the information he had.

Surely, the Benghazi bombing, while not the unique situation that it has been painted, was never really well explained, and, as a recent Congressional inquiry suggests, avoidable.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is awful, and it’s little wonder Congressional Democrats are unexcited about it, citing the “potential to undermine important environmental, public health and labor standards.”

While I’ll tentatively tout Obamacare, there’s no defense to the terrible rollout on the website. If it’s your signature accomplishment, you’d think you’d make sure it worked.

THE HMM:

Every credible thing I read about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, suggested that it was 1) also done to liberal groups and 2) fairly limited in scope. I suppose I should define “limited” to clarify that there was no suggestion that this was directed by the White House since some groups wanted to use it as grounds for impeachment.

The bluster about going to war with Syria sounded like a bluff to get Congress to own it, and at least got Damascus to the table. How that situation will play out is still up in the air.

The Iraq war is one which the US shouldn’t have been fighting in the first place, and now the country seems to be falling into the sectarian violence that I had feared would happen. Not sure WHAT should happen there.

Much of the media point to the negative but see photos you didn’t see from the President’s trip to South Africa.

THE UGLY:

Yeah, the Obamacare rollout was a mess, but it’s become an excuse for bad behavior of other players: Insurance Scam; How Private Insurance Companies Are Using Obamacare Fears To Rip People Off.

And comparisons of Obama to Hitler and Mao are just stupid. Likewise the notion that he is paving the way for the Antichrist.

To suggest that none of these tasteless characterizations, not to mention calls for his assassination are about race would be disingenuous. Hey, The New York Post cover involving President Obama’s selfie at the Mandela event managed to be racist AND sexist.

I voted for Obama, TWICE. Never bought the HOPE stuff all that much, but I thought he was better than McCain, certainly better than Romney. This does not mean I approve of everything he’s done; far from it, and I’m undoubtedly leaving some stuff out.

At the same time, I’ve thought, pretty much from the outset, that being the first black President was going to prove to be very difficult, with folks on FOX Noise and its allies complaining about what he had not accomplished as early as January 28, 2009. The “spontaneous” Tea Party opposition was in full swing by April; where was the honeymoon presidents usually get?

Unfortunately, he’s getting to be pretty much a lame-duck president. Still, maybe something unexpected will come around to burnish his legacy.

What’s the “lesson” of 9/11?

The feds tell web firms to turn over the encrypted user account passwords, just in case they need them, but they’re not going to use them without cause, and a (rubber stamp) court order. Of course.

Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Every year, I hear, especially since the 10th anniversary, “Remember 9/11! Never forget!” If we somehow forgot, we’d cease to be ‘vigilant’. I remember September 11, 2001, amazingly well, thank you. Just this summer, I was at a highway rest stop on I-87, the Northway, not far from Albany, when I saw a memorial for three people who worked for the Department of Transportation, one of whom I knew not very well, who died on that day.

Even my daughter, who wasn’t even born then, knows about 9/11. Her third-grade teacher made a point of making sure those eight-year-olds knew about it. It even got covered on the local cable channel, YNN.

But what is it that we should not forget? Since then, the United States has had two of its longest wars, including with a country that had nothing to do with the tragedy.

We have had a series of laws – such as the so-called USA PATRIOT Act, which was passed less than six weeks after the tragedy, suggesting it was already in the hopper – that has directly led to the surveillance of Americans. OK, not on Americans, just our “metadata” involving our snail mail, and phones, and e-mail. The feds tell web firms to turn over the encrypted user account passwords, just in case they need them, but they’re not going to use them without cause, and a (rubber stamp) court order. Of course.

Whether or not soldiers have been fighting for our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s abundantly clear that freedom is being stolen at home by secret courts and executive overreach, against the wishes of most Americans. If the lesson of 9/11 is that we’ll do anything to be safe, that would be yet another tragedy.

Peace, Peace, When There Is No Peace

Thanks to Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, we now know that the progress that has justified the war during the Obama years is largely illusory.

Amy, the lovely singer/poet from Sharp Little Pencil, asked a few questions, only one of which I will address presently:

Do you think we should pull out of Afghanistan immediately to avoid engaging Iran if/when Israel sends the bombs flying?

Here’s the conundrum: one can appreciate the sacrifice that US military personnel make every day, and still have no idea what we’re fighting for in Afghanistan.

Joe Conason explains:
What keeps the United States engaged is a plausible concern that our departure will permit the Taliban to claim victory, and that our troops are making progress, slow but measurable, in recapturing territory from the enemy. There is no longer any illusion among Pentagon leaders or in the White House that foreign forces can permanently extirpate the Taliban, desirable as that would be. Instead, the real policy for the past few years, whether troops levels rise or fall, is to establish a basis for reconciliation between Kabul and its armed opponents, and to leave the Afghans prepared to defend themselves from extremism.

Thanks to Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, however, we now know that the progress that has justified the war during the Obama years is largely illusory. Generals like David Petraeus told the president and Congress that things are going well, but after spending a year on the ground, Davis discovered the opposite — and with great courage revealed his findings. (Watch this interview with Davis on PBS.)

I’m just not seeing a way out. After the Marines urinating on dead enemy combatants, then the Koran burning, which led to six American soldiers being killed, and then the massacre of 16 civilians – all revealed in the first ten weeks of 2012, no less – and I just find the situation all rather hopeless.

Moreover, as Ed Koch (!) points out, “Why do we remain when doing so causes the Afghan people to hate us more with the passing of each day, calling us occupiers, infidels, and murderers? The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is thought to be corrupt by many American observers.”

Can’t we declare victory and go home?

As for Iran, we can get sucked into a war there whether or not we are still engaged in Afghanistan. We’ll still have plenty of force in the region. I pray, literally, that we find a non-military way to deal with Iran. BTW, there is plenty of opposition in the Israeli Knesset to their country’s sabre rattling. I don’t think that it is inevitable, at least in the near term, that Israel will bomb Iran when it seems to have selective assassination in its arsenal.

Cartoon from The Bad Chemicals.com. Used by permission.

The Limestone Mansion

We did get two pieces of news from the outside world.

About three weeks after September 11, 2001, I told my wife, “We’ve got to go SOMEWHERE.” She countered that we could have a vacation right there at home. With all due respect, that was a terrible idea; my wife, I knew even then, was/is absolutely no good at what’s come to be called the ‘staycation’. She always finds something in the house that needs to be fixed or cleaned. We absolutely needed a different venue.

As it turned out, she had won, several months earlier, some drawing to stay one night at a place called the Limestone Mansion, in Cherry Valley, NY, only about an hour from Albany, and less than 20 miles from Cooperstown.

On Columbus Day weekend, we traveled to Cherry Valley for two or three days. It was a charming little town. My two most specific recollections were 1) finding a shop that made wedding cake toppers with same-sex couples, almost 10 years before gay marriage was legal in New York State, and 2) buying, as a result of the in-store play, an album by a group called the Afro Celt Sound System.

The Limestone Mansion was great. Wolfgang and Loretta were wonderful hosts. The food was quite fine. The room had great character. And the fact that there were no televisions was a definite plus. Not having phones in the room was not a problem either.

Still, we did get two pieces of news from the outside world. One, which I overheard on someone’s portable radio, was that the war in Afghanistan had begun – sigh. The second, via the one phone on the premises, is that our niece Markia was born. Those two quite disparate pieces of news have defined how I’ve thought of Columbus Day weekend ever since.

Peace, Peace, There Is No Peace

Obama’s not a yahoo, he’s a Constitutional scholar, and his defense of his actions is disingenous.

My great disappointment with the Obama administration is not merely the fact that he has maintained indefinite detention of terrorists, rendition, and [so-called] Patriot Act surveillance. It is that, by his previous statements, the public had reason to believe that his actions would end those practices. Except for waterboarding, I’m not seeing the CHANGE I expected.

While the Iraq war is seemingly winding down, the Afghanistan war is ramping up. I must say, I’m not sure to what end.

But I’m most disappointed about our war in Libya. There is this peculiar thing in the Constitution that says that Congress declares war. The War Powers Act gives the President 90 days to submit a request to Congress after fighting begins. Yet he claims it’s not a “real” war, even though we have a “real” military there, and we’re spending “real” money to stay there.

I’m not saying one couldn’t make the case for going into Libya. I AM saying that if another President acted that way, and he was, say, a US Senator, he might complain about the incursion without Congressional authority; wait, wait, he DID do that, and rightly so, re GWB’s war in Iraq. Obama’s not a yahoo, he’s a Constitutional scholar, and the defense of his actions is disingenuous.

Is there any way he can give BACK his Nobel Peace Prize?
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