Obama’s Legacy: A victim of his own success

screen-shot-2017-01-15-at-11-52-42-amDepending on your opinion of the man, Barack Obama has either been a success as a President, or a failure. History has a way of looking kinder at a President who leaves with a low opinion, an even kinder than that to one who leaves with a relatively positive opinion.

Obama entered office on the heels of a particularly unpopular president. “Change” his slogan, “Yes we can!” his catchphrase, I think anyone who has any sense believes “Yes he did” bring “change.”

Further, anyone who looks objectively at the Obama administration will come to the conclusion that he faced more opposition in Congress than any other modern president. Obama had objectives that didn’t mesh with the Democratic leadership, and Republican elites often wielded [or looked the other way to] the deep-south conservative “anti-black man” vibe, however were quick to dismiss it with the ideology of “Hey look, we have our black people, too! How can we be against the President JUST because he’s black?!”

Do I believe anyone in Congress or any of the elites were against Obama just because he was black? Not really, but they certainly had no problem using racial distrust to bring their point home to the the fringe-right, who wanted to put the “White” back in The White House. Look at the pictures of fringe-right Facebooks, showing pictures like Michelle Obama in ever-day clothes, or something a little less flattering, such as being sweaty, coming off of Air Force One, and next to it, a picture of Melania Trump, perfectly manicured, coiffed and in an expensive dress, with the meme tag line of “Change is Coming.” Now, that said, this is common across all political lines… but again, I think it goes to the mindset of the fringe-right: they want a sense of security back in the White House, not “the black guy who doesn’t wanna give the white guy a fair shake.”

Obama’s use of Executive action is largely unprecedented, because it was often the only way he was able to accomplish his agenda. Republicans have had a tendancy to block anything they remotely disagreed with, to get the President to acquiesce to their own agenda, which Obama largely didn’t do. He wanted consensus, Republicans wanted to flex their muscles of control — with hearings, with delays, with proforma sessions and lack of confirmations.

George W. Bush was brilliant in that he would shame his adversary-of-the-moment into compromise. He would sit down with the leadership and lay out his plan, and even his willingness to comrpromise. If he didn’t get what he wanted, he would stand up from the table, say “Thank you,” and walk right out the door, to a field of reporters, and say “I can’t get prescription drug coverage passed, because Senator Biden doesn’t want your grandmothers to be able to afford to eat AND take her medication!” While this is arguably “dirty politics,” it worked, often! Obama doesn’t play that game. He choses his battles, and rightly so — however, at what cost? Particularly when he is fighting an institution so engrained in itself to oppose him publicly at any turn. Obama would rarely call people out for opposing him, which I think only emboldened his adversaries on the Hill.

Barack Obama became the first black man to be President of the United States — no one can say that’s not a success. However, that success came with a price. He re-defined fundraising in America, re-defined the gaining of political capital, and even successfuly won re-election. However, America was a country still not ready for it, and while an obviously capable Commander-in-Chief, a series of miscalculations on his part, and the part of his aides gave rise to the greatest threats since 9/11, can these be blamed exclusively on him? No. Largely, perhaps — but a lot of these were already years in the making. Korea’s nuclear program has been working since the Bush Administration, and was eventually going to be complete. ISIL was previously a band of different groups, but of a similar ideology. Syria had been a dictatorship for years, and people across the Arab world had been fed up with corruption and greed of elites for years before the Arab Spring hit, it just all came to a head under the Obama administration.

Here’s to you, Barack. A President who’s largely been a victim of his own success — a do-nothing Congress that would rather bicker with itself than support the leader of the free world, a changing world where the rise of everyone else gives people the impression of a failing America in what is becoming the post-America world, and a guy who managed to hold it together in the meantime. I drink a toast to you, sir. I haven’t been your biggest fan for a long time, but that said, just like George W. Bush, Bill Clinton before him, H.W. Bush before him and Reagan before.. I admire the dignity you’ve held in keeping America safe, and helping hold the world together.

Friday at noon, the 45th President comes to power — Donald J. Trump.  Let’s give the incoming President all the support we can.  I certainly don’t agree with everything he says, but as a liberal, I intend to give him the respect he’s due, the ear he’s earned and the consideration that was largely absent when the holder of the office was of the other party.  Do with it what you will, sir.  Your actions pave the way of America’s future.

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Can Obama directly appoint to SCOTUS?

“The President … shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.”
— Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 2

The President has floated the name of Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, succeeding the late Antonin Scalia.

However, the current Senate leadership continues to doggedly state they refuse to meet with or even consider the candidate, much less place the candidate up for a vote. This would seem to stop the candidate dead in his tracks to his place on the Supreme Court Bench.

…or could it?

The Constitution is clear: nominations for “judges of the supreme court” must be made with the “Advice and Consent of the Senate.” However, is failure to vote for or against (i.e., taking no action) a statement waiving its right to act?

Indeed, Diskant, the senior partner of law firm of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler opined in the Washington Post that this is indeed the case.

“It is in full accord with traditional notions of waiver to say that the Senate, having been given a reasonable opportunity to provide advice and consent to the president with respect to the nomination of Garland, and having failed to do so, can fairly be deemed to have waived its right.  Here’s how that would work. The president has nominated Garland and submitted his nomination to the Senate. The president should advise the Senate that he will deem its failure to act by a specified reasonable date in the future to constitute a deliberate waiver of its right to give advice and consent. What date? The historical average between nomination and confirmation is 25 days; the longest wait has been 125 days. That suggests that 90 days is a perfectly reasonable amount of time for the Senate to consider Garland’s nomination. If the Senate fails to act by the assigned date, Obama could conclude that it has waived its right to participate in the process, and he could exercise his appointment power by naming Garland to the Supreme Court.”

This would break what Diskant noted as a “logjam” in our current legislative system. but could also set a new precedent in Presidential appointments: making the Senate act in one way or the other, requiring it to exercise its duty: even if its vote is in the negative, its still exercising its duty. Could this help break the ice of the current system of partisan stonewalling, by strongarming the opposition to act?

This isn’t entirely unprecedented — when the Senate was holding proforma sessions to stonewall Obama’s nominations, particularly to the National Labor Relations Board back in 2012, President Obama unilaterally declared the Senate out-of-session and exercised his appointment power and named his candidates to the Board. While the Supreme Court later ruled these exceeded his ability, this is somewhat different — the Senate is simply not willing to act; and therefore is not approving, but not denying either — and is taking no steps to decline his nomination.

I believe this very well could be a point: by giving the Senate ample time to act, and its refusing to, the reasonable person, and a living Constitution could accommodate the notion that the Senate is willing to waive its right to stop, and therefore grants an approval by being properly notified, and declining its right to stop the nomination and appointment.

Could this set a new precedent in Presidential appointment power? How will the Supreme Court view it; as power grab, or a break in Congressional gridlock?

Further Reading:

Should Puerto Rico become the 51st State? Yes.

American-and-Puerto-Rico-FlagConsider the fact that Puerto Rico has been a property of the United States since the 19th Century, and the citizens of it have been citizens of the United States since 1917.

Add to that the fact that they can vote in the federal election [the primaries, NOT the general, though], are subject to Federal law, and enjoy many of the benefits offered to citizens of the United States — such as diplomatic representation, protection by the United States Armed Forces and are able to come and go with ease from and to the mainland.

However, there are many things they do NOT enjoy: Puerto Rico has one Delegate in Congress who speaks for them, but is unable to vote in a tie-breaker situation; they don’t have electoral votes for the Presidency. This quite effectively disenfranchises United States citizens of Puerto Rico at the federal level.

Add to this the fact that a majority voted in a 2012 plebiscite (61%) for statehood, and that the statehood movement in Puerto Rico continues to gain steam — both in Puerto Rico and indeed, in our own government.

Said Dr. Ben Carson: “When you stop and think about it Puerto Ricans have been Americans for a century or more already,” “You’ve already paid your dues,” “There have probably been more patriotic Puerto Ricans than any other state. Look at all the contributions that have been made to America.”

He further went on to mention that Puerto Rico’s proximity to Cuba, and its position in the Caribbean make it ideal for granting full statehood to.

Moreover, the fact that Statehood would eliminate the limbo that Puerto Ricans find themselves in: citizens in fact, but do they have the same privilege? In a lot of ways, no — particularly at the federal level. When you further consider granting them statehood would effectively eliminate their current sovereign debt burden, become a means of tax revenue for the federal government and engage already-citizens of the United States in the political process of their own country, the usefulness and positivity of this prospect crystalizes into a solid “YES!”

Is Tenure important? Yes. Here’s why…

Tenure is one of the more controversial benefits offered to educators in the United States, in particular. Teachers who are “tenured” often are difficult to discipline constructively if they commit violations — even some severe violations.

But when examining the benefits, it becomes clear that Tenure is necessary for a classroom that is as little motivated by external politics as possible.

Consider the fact that Governors often appoint Regents to the University’s management board. This function allows the Governor to effectively control policy at a State school of learning, by and through his appointees to the Board of Regents. While this in and of itself doesn’t sound overly daunting, consider the following:

Consider an instructor teaching a course in a college the Governor appoints Regents to, and this instructor teaches philosophy contrary to the opinions of the Governor. The Governor finds this out, and wishes to see that this employee is somehow sanctioned; which he could theoretically do through his Regent appointees, because the Chief Executive of the State often has the power to “unappoint” individuals, as these individuals often serve at the pleasure of the Governor. The Regent could feel pressured to sanction the employee in some way, including not approving a new contract of which the employee is a part. Regardless of the issue, it gives one individual a LOT of power — that power being the Governor’s.

Without Tenure protections, teachers who teach “politically inconvenient” subjects or topics could find themselves in very serious trouble — and even fighting for their job. With this type of pressure in mind, is a teacher able to remain unbiased from external forces when building a lesson plan? Maybe so, maybe no.

Tenure helps deflect issues such as these — and allows the individual teacher to teach and conduct pedagogical methods or even politically or internally unpopular ideals, methods or philosophies, with a far diminished fear of retribution.  This allows the instructor to be influenced as little as possible by external forces, including shifting political views with the times, changes in administrative or executive leadership — both internal and external to the school, and other forces that drive education.

With these things in mind, what do you think?  Should teachers be as isolated as possible from forces outside the University or School System, or should they be directly held accountable — not the school?

I’ve always believed in holding the school accountable, so schools can error-correct themselves, particularly when it comes to more simple issues such as methodology, research or general practice.   [I’m not taking into account things such as gross dereliction, or showing up to work drunk, or other massive concerns where Tenure shouldn’t count as much, I’m assuming your average, every-day teacher].  Placing individual educators under the microscope of the public, or to forces outside the institution politicizes them — and that simple act causes a change in how the teacher will function, pure and simple.

Further Reading:

NYT: Tenure Firmly in Place, but Colleges Grow Wary of Lasting Commitments

Hagel Out: A New Obama In?

Chuck Hagel was all but officially fired from his post today as the Secretary of Defense.

With the “shellacking” that the Democrats took in the Midterm elections this month, coupled with a fact that the move seems to be motivated by “Foreign Policy,” could this mean that there may be a strategy shift coming with the War on Terror — specifically, with ISIL?

After playing artful dodger for several weeks on his continued tenure in the White House and at the Pentagon, he told PBS recently, “I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity I’ve had the last two years to work every day for the country and for the men and women who serve this country. I don’t get up in the morning and worry about my job. It’s not unusual by the way, to change teams at different times,” but added also that “I serve at the pleasure of the President.”

With these things in mind, do we now have a path that could lead to a ‘boots-on-the-ground’ policy when it comes to ISIL? Could there be a shift on defense policy coming — or is this just simply post-second-midterm-personnel reshuffling beginning?

I lean toward no on the last part of that question. It’s been noted that President Obama “asked” for his resignation — which is akin to a firing. Why request someone relieve themselves of their job if you have their confidence? Particularly in gridlocked-Washington. I think the following the confirmation of his successor, we may see some kind of drastic shift in Defense and Foreign Policy — particularly centered around the Middle East.   With the loss of the Democratic leadership in the Senate, confirmations will be interesting to say the least, and the hard-line that Obama is taking with Executive Action on Immigration seeming to push Republicans away, the ancient Chinese curse of “May you live in interesting times…” certainly seems apt today.

UK begins borrowing in Chinese Yuan — dangerous thing to do?

The Treasury of the United Kingdom has noted that it has begun trading bonds in the Chinese Yuan.

Why is this a concern? The concern is two-fold: one, the currency and economy is centrally planned and manipulated in the People’s Republic of China. Not only is this in direct contradiction of the free-market model of the Western world — and not only is this validated by the Western world by sovereign funds trading in yuan; but this is also a concern of the authoritarian regime having a bigger centrally-planned grasp on Western economies, that is supposed to be relatively free from governmental controls past base consumer and business regulation.

Further, a serious concern is the manipulation of the currency itself by the Chinese government. Quite often, it depresses the yuan compared to the United States dollar, to inflate the US’ trade deficit with the PRC. Inso doing this, while it may be doing it strictly for the sake of manipulating its debt compared to the US currency, the reserve currency of the world, as it sits today — is the United States Dollar; and devaluing its currency compared to the US Dollar manipulates its value across the board. Is the United Kingdom taking a willing part in letting the PRC government manipulate its own currency and economic status by taking the yuan on as an informal reserve?

Further Reading:

– China’s currency dream gets U.K. lift
http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/09/investing/china-yuan-uk/index.html?hpt=hp_t3

Americans with Ebola Released From Hospital… But…

The fact that the Americans who contracted Ebola and returned to the United States for treatment — and have now been released from the hospital after apparently recovering should be a cause for celebration. We now have a potential cure for such a devastating disease.

However, there are those who have said that it took Americans to get sick to come up with a cure for the disease. To a point, that’s kinda true — however…

The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method

As a scientist myself [admittedly in my own crack-pot, not-yet-a-REAL-doctor, amateur, Emmett-Brown kinda way], there’s one thing drilled into the psyche of every scientist: be it a surgeon, a researcher, a social scientist or a biologist: the Scientific Method. “Real” research takes time, indeed, often a lifetime’s worth of testing, re-testing, hypothesizing, re-hypothesizing, failures, and successes, before the fruit can be borne. Indeed, Albert Einstein’s own “Great work” which he died writing, is still being written even now by his successors! [That being a revision of general relativity, essentially.]

It takes a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of effort to come up with true scientific data, particularly when it comes to that of real scientific progress, as opposed to an undergraduate paper being written the night before its due.

It *did* take Americans getting sick to get approval for the drug, “ZMapp” to be released, it would seem — but… it’s still untested. Its side effects, if any, are unknown. Could Ebola be completely wiped out of the body by the drug? Or, could the treatment be similar to how HIV is treated: where it can be functionally eliminated, but still “hide” in the body somewhere, and when treatment stops, the virus gains a foothold on you again. We simply don’t know.

The FDA’s “Compassionate Use” protocol allowed those who knew full-well the risks involved, indeed, scholars in the area themselves, to take part in treatment, knowing that further down the road could bring more problems. What if there is some side-effect that the medication has that winds up causing problems down the road? Could it be an unknown carcinogen? Could it degenerate the brain? That’s what painstaking research and the scientific method is all about — and that’s exactly why it takes years for drugs to be made available for everyone.

Is the system perfect? Of course not. Do “bad drugs” still slip through the system? Of course. But its BECAUSE of the system of test, re-test, test again, test repeating and re-testing the test results that people don’t die from new drugs every day. I herald the day that these people were allowed to go home and continue their recovery, indeed, I celebrate it — Ebola DIDN’T lose two of its most prominent soldiers fighting against it, and indeed, I’m willing to bet that these individuals may find a renewed determination in fighting this terrible disease because of their experience. But, it doesn’t mean that Americans get “preferential” treatment just-because. The rest of the world isn’t a petri dish for the American way of life. We care too — which is exactly why untested drugs don’t go to just “anyone.”

Asteroids are fine… BUT…

Have Americans Given Up On Space?
— Topic of Fareed Zakaria

Yes — and No.  The retirement of the Space Shuttle, without a conceivable and cemented-in-plans vehicle replacement, my fear is that the love of space has been lost in America — for now.

While the prospect of landing on an Asteroid, and even controlling its direction is a laudable and heady goal — it’s my feeling that this isn’t quite what people want to see.– at least in an exclusive goal.

new-mission-to-fly-by-mars_64718_600x450With this in mind, I believe an eye back to the Moon should be the most urgent goal, with a plan of permanent colonization, similar to the Space Station.  Indeed, not only could it serve as a model for an eventual Martian research colonization, but indeed, the Lunar outpost could serve as a “pit stop” on the way to Mars to pick up supplies previously launched.

A goal of settling the Moon with a research team, as a model for a similar Martian research colony could do a lot to buoy American and world confidence in the Space Program again; and the return to progress, as opposed to the perception of figuratively spinning our wheels in space exploration…

…what do you think?

China set to surpass the US Economically This Year — Wait, not so fast…

US-China-Economy-2011

US and China – 2011. Courtesy: WSJ Click for Larger.

While it’s true that the economy of People’s Republic of China [PRC] is indeed set to surpass that of the United States “soon,” [some estimates even say by the end of the current year] — that’s really not that important.  Here’s why:

The United States has held the top economic spot in the world for well over 120 years.  It turns out, if you count everything but sheer “mass money,” America still is the largest economy — and still will be for quite some time.  Here’s why:

Firstly, the Chinese market and economy is manipulated and controlled directly by the Chinese government.  While a lot of what goes on in China that involves international trade or business goes on in “Special Economic Zones” [which are areas that involve far less government intervention than anywhere else], its relatively safe to say that the Chinese economy, as such, is otherwise centrally planned and managed.  The world knows this, and this is something born in mind in any economist, businessman/businesswoman or otherwise when considering the economic power of the PRC.

Secondly, PPP.  Fareed Zakaria aptly demonstrates that the Purchasing Power Parity of the United States still far exceeds that of the PRC.  Indeed, Fareed’s demonstration of the same loaf of bread in China being bought for $1.66, compared to that of $2.39 on average in the States.  Further, his example of the cost of utilities, on average being a third the cost in the PRC compared to a similarly sized home in the US also further demonstrates the US’ superior PPP standing.

Quite so, when one analyzes the PPP of the US and China, China could combined its PPP with that of JAPAN and still not exceed that of the United States.  Indeed, China’s still not able to bank on its PPP — it has to pay for everything at the prevailing exchange rate — not the rate based on its PPP, unlike the US.  And this is just one singular example.

So… is China really overtaking the US economically?   In the words of Tom Wright at the Wall Street Journal, “Yes and No.”  You decide.

Further Reading:

– Tom Wright.  China’s Economy Surpassing U.S.?  Well, Yes and No – The Wall Street Journal Blog

– Chung-Tong Wu. China’s special economic zones: five years later – Asian Journal of Public Administration

– Fareed Zakaria  Is China really about to overtake the US? – Fareed Zakaria 360 – Global Public Square

For Behold: The power of political incumbency?

Cynthia Brim, a Cook County, Illinois judge was suspended in 2012, after a series of bizarre incidents wound up having her declared “legally insane.”

cynthia-brim

Judge Cynthia Brim

While the board investigating this incident (a panel made of two judges and two civilians) continue to investigate and determine her plausibility to stay on the bench, not only is she continuing to collect her nearly $200,000 a year salary while on suspension — she’s since won RE-election to the bench.

Reportedly having been hospitalized for mental-related illnesses nine times since 1994, including after having gone catatonic during an official proceeding, the major problem came after she assaulted two Deputy Sheriffs; one was struck by her, and another was thrown a set of keys in an allegedly dangerous manner.

While her case continues to be evaluated, she continues to serve as a suspended judge — meaning she takes no cases, but receives all the pay and honors of a member of the bench; and indeed, has since been RE-elected.

Does this say something about the power of political incumbency?   I encourage you to do your own research and find out.