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:

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

What I learned… Laurel Sprague

laurelA lot of the time in high school, I called my Info-Tech teacher, Wanda Smith “Mom.”  She always kinda looked out for me, and even busted my chops a few times when I got things wrong — drastically wrong, one time…  When I graduated high school, I got a card from Wanda that said “You’re like a Son to Me…” and it contained wonderful words of encouragement on my future to come.  After my mother died, Wanda, of course, in the status as “High School Mom” kept a watch on me…  “I’m still Mom #2!” she’s said once or twice.

Coming up on graduation yet again — as I enter the final stretch, Laurel Sprague’s likely the one who holds the status of “College Mom,” as Wanda did and does for me from High School.  While I’ve only known her a little over two years, Professor Sprague and I hit it off right away as colleagues — spending up to an hour talking outside of class after class was over, frequently late to commitments we had after class because we had such interesting conversations on everything from political theory to adjunct faculty policy.

What I learned from Professor Sprague…

Over the summer after a class we had, she invited me to a lunch, asking how I was doing, how I did otherwise in my classes that term, and if I had any constructive criticism or statements on the class I had with her.  I was fortunate enough to even land an internship with her that day, too!

I found myself under her tutelage again this semester, which ended today — on Contemporary Political Theory.  While I’m far more versed (and comfortable, admittedly with the Classics of Political Theory, especially Social Contract stuff) — the good Professor saw I was having trouble almost right away.   “You’re not your usual, talkative self in class, Samuel!” she said at one point in one of our many after-class meetings.  After I said that this was a little out of my comfort and experience zone [in that I’d not studied much on the contemporary stuff we were covering] she offered to tutor me during her office hours, which, sadly conflicted with my work schedule — but I kept up the best I could.

This was a rough semester for me.   Between full-time work, more than a full time courseload, and all of a sudden now working full-time on a campaign too… but then presenting at our school’s largest academic conference, TOO,  I found myself in a very precarious position.  I was spread far too thin, and I had finally reached my breaking point.  While I didn’t break, I was *very* frayed… and in danger of it.  Things were further complicated with some personal problems, including a heart attack my father suffered in the last week of classes — when things were down to the wire.  While everyone, including the good Professor, was nice and even gave me some leeway on things due and presented that week because of it, the good Professor Sprague, being the unique individual she is, kept tabs on me.  At one point, she even ordered me to “Go home, and get some sleep,” because she could see I needed it.  She’s even let me poke fun at her once or twice with what I commissioned as the #Laurelmeme:

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I learned a lot from this woman — and while I’ve definitely earned better grades in her classes [even when she cut me some slack!] before, I’ve not only expanded my comfort zone a little in my theorizing, but I’ve also made a friend for life, I think.

While I don’t qualify for any more of her classes, I have a feeling I’m still going to be “reporting in” to the good Professor Sprague in the future.

Thanks for everything you’ve done for me — and for all your students, teach.  Serious students look for serious teachers like you to take the lessons they learn from you through the rest of their lives.   🙂

Memorable Quotes:

“In Locke’s world, things aren’t so bad!  In Hobbes’ world, it’s DEADLY.”

“Because when we’re  talking about the Leviathan… it’s this big…  monstrous… THING [emphatically gestures “largeness” with her hands and arms] from which there is no escape.”

Iowa Supreme Court rules on Melissa Nelson

quote-open

Eva Evangelina (Courtesy of Brazzers.com)

Eva Evangelina
(Courtesy of Brazzers.com)

“Without proof of sex discrimination, the employment-at-will doctrine followed in Iowa guides the outcome.”
Iowa Supreme Court Ruling, 12 July 2013

The problem I see here is, this sets a dangerous precedent.

Miss Nelson alleges that she was fired because her employer found her “irresistible,” and indeed, her presence during his on-again-off-again sexual relationship with his wife was like “…like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”  The employer doesn’t deny he said this, if I remember correctly.

Okay, a fair statement, perhaps.  Perhaps during the downturn of his sexual relationship with his wife, he found himself enamored with his assistant.  This has the makings of a very unfortunate situation.  A marriage hangs in the balance on one side, and Nelson’s employment on the other.  Unfortunately for Nelson, the marriage argument won out, and the employer, under the at-will employment laws in Iowa, terminated her employment — for that exact reason.  She is “irresistible.”

Most At-will laws say that employment can be terminated at any time, by either party, for any reason that doesn’t violate other laws, such as the Civil Rights Act, or anything that’s essentially NOT a BFOQ.  This is common knowledge.  You can be terminated for showing up to work late, even once.  You can be fired for misfiling an important document, even once.  While not “good” reasons, they are reasons under the law.

However, my concern here is the precedent it sets.  While this reason may be “legal,” is it 1) ethical; and 2) safe from precedent?

Because now that the Iowa Supreme Court does not count this at-will termination as a form of sex discrimination, does this set the scene for even more extreme terminations for similar reasons?

Let’s not forget: The court has UPHELD the employer’s right to fire because of his “irresistible” attraction to her, likely physically; as there are mentions of his requiring her to wear lab coats, and her other physical attributes.  Does this now, mean that someone, such as I am now allowed to terminate someone like ME, under the rules of something along the lines of…

quote-open“You are being terminated because I found the size and shape of your breasts to not be large enough.  Because you are a front-office worker of a successful company, I require front-line employees to be dressed and appear impeccable, including your physical attributes, such as breast size, shape, appearance, acceptable amounts of cleavage showing, etc.”

Basically, it means I’m allowed to fire her because her tits aren’t big enough — and she’s not wearing tops or suits that expose them “properly.”  While this may sound ridiculous, is it *REALLY* something that could be unprecedented, if this ruling is upheld in the high court as part of an “at-will” termination?

What I learned… Dr. David Victor

ImageDr. Victor is one of the four favorite teachers I’ve ever had — and one of the 3 I’ve had in college so far.  His candor, honesty and frankness are very refreshing.

When I was accepted into the Honors College at EMU, the head of the Honors College kept telling me “Take Victor,” “Victor is the one you want,” “Everyone likes Victor,” “You should REALLY take Victor.”   So, looking at the available classes and instructors, I said “Hmm, something is telling me to take this guy.  So… Victor?

Summer went by, and I talked to a couple of people in my department who had taken him.  “Victor’s awesome, dude.  Bit of a hardass, but awesome,” said one person.   Another echoed his sentiments.  “You’re not going to get through his class without reading the book — he sets it up that way on purpose, but if you do, and show up to class, you shouldn’t have much of a problem.”

So came the first day of school.  I met the other teachers I had that semester, which all seemed pretty okay.  The last teacher I met was Dr. Victor.

I figured out right away that I would learn more than explicit knowledge from him — one of Dr. Victor’s strong suits is he’s able to communicate a lot of tacit knowledge over the long term, that is – stuff that you can’t specifically “explain” – but you put together over the whole course.

465667_10151140665271817_1912544928_oWe did a semester-long project to satisfy the Honors portion of the class, that was worked on over the term, and then due and presented during the last meetings of the class before the Final Exam — which I think was the most enjoyable part.  Having time to actually look at the customs and culture of another nation, without the pressure of “getting it done” that comes with having an assignment due a month later is a lot more informative.

His feedback, while not only humorous sometimes, provided value and was well-received by everyone.

For instance, after we gave our presentation, we took our seats.  Dr. Victor happened to be sitting at a student desk that was next to mine — and helped answer questions that we weren’t able to — or that he felt he wanted to contribute to as well.  Being an Honors Class, people were actually interested in what other people were presenting.  Just as I had crossed my legs, someone asked “What do they mean by ‘Don’t point your feet at someone?  Do they mean like, when standing?”   Dr. Victor took this question and made a point of it:

quote-openThey mean more along the lines of sitting.  Pointing the soles of your feet at someone in the U.A.E., such as what Samuel is doing to me right now, is a sign of disrespect.  Were I an Emerati, I would be highly offended.”

Feeling foolish for a split-second, I immediately put both my feet on the ground, while everyone, including myself, laughed — but it was a point that was not only well made with practicality AND humor, but it was something that I remembered, and will continue to do so.

Another example was a little more discrete, but just as effective.  Having asked a question, I put my had up to answer it, stating something along the lines of “Well, businessmen generally prefer an atmosphere of formality and composure.”

He cocked his eyebrow, and at first, I thought he disapproved of my answer.

quote-open“By ‘Businessmen” — I assume you mean both men AND women?”

 

Again — a split-moment where I felt kind of stupid.  A faux-pas of epic proportion, but it’s something I’d never considered before.  I’d used the term throughout my entire professional life, and nobody had given it a second thought.  I certainly hadn’t.

While I didn’t get the best grade in his class (a “B” — his tests were tough!) — I took a lot more away from the Honors Global Business class than just being able to regurgitate print from a book.  I left with a new advisor and someone who, while mindful of your feelings — will make a point; even if it’s not what you want to hear.  He genuinely cares about what his students take away from your time together.

If you go to Eastern… take Victor.

Recommended Reading:

– International Business Communication – David A. Victor.  1997.
– Class 3 – LESCANT (kelmglobal.wordpress.com)

What I learned… Dr. Adrian Lottie

ImageDr. Adrian Lottie — one of my top four favorite teachers I’ve ever had — and one of the top-3 I’ve had in college yet.  To say that this guy is smart and quick as a whip is an understatement.

I had him my first semester at Eastern Michigan University — indeed, he was the second instructor I met as a student.  One thing I like about him is his wit.  If you didn’t read the readings, and tried to talk out of your butt, as I did once — he’d be the first to call you out on it… in front of everybody.  It made me a better student from the get-go.

quote-open“Oop!  You just told on yourself, Mr. Cummings!  Didn’t do the readings, huh?”

I’ve had him twice — once my first semester for PLSC 215 – “Civil Rights and Civil Liberties,” and a year later for PLSC 210 – “Political Analysis,” arguably the HARDEST math class I’ve ever taken.  Ever.

What I learned from Dr. Lottie:

Dr. Lottie helped me understand statistics in a way I never could before.  His choice in Salkind’s “Statistics for People who [think they] Hate Statistics” was an awesome choice.  I kept the book; as I think it will come in handy in the future.  I’ll always be grateful for his teaching me how to make sense of r-squared, tests of significance and strict scrutiny.

He also told a story during both semesters that stuck with me — as a non-sequitur.  When he was a young Army Lieutenant, he took his platoon out on an orienteering mission.  His Commander specifically noted “ALWAYS keep your pencil sharp when you lay out lines of bearing on your map,” as even a slightly dull pencil can throw calculations off a couple of degrees.  Long story short, he accidentally wound up orienteering his platoon on “the ass end of the rifle range!”

quote-open“The moral of the story,” he said: “…keep your pencil sharp.  Always.”