Tag Archives: 2008 recession

Thank You, President Obama

President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012.  (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“Before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th.  Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.”

President Barack Obama, January 19, 2017

President Obama, today you officially leave the White House and reenter life as a (somewhat) private citizen.  After an incredible, yet curious, eight years, you leave a unique legacy to a nation that challenged you both professionally and personally.  From my vantage point as an average citizen, I feel you did as best you could do.

First, you took on the most difficult job anyone could have: proverbial leader of the “Free World.”  It’s a position riddled with dichotomies: intensely powerful and emotionally draining; prestigious and notorious; riveting and excruciating; honorific and horrifying.  With a glaring tone of schizophrenia, it’s not so much a job as it is a role.  Chief Executive of the United States of America stretches across the horizon of humanity.  No wonder you leave office looking decades older than when you first arrived!

Second – and perhaps most important – you took on this task at the start of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; when we straddled two wars that left us enraged and tired; when the richest, most powerful nation on Earth suddenly had to question its future in relation to its past.  And you did it with members of the opposition who awoke each day more determined to destroy you than to ensure the nation’s success.

Your life story is fascinating.  Here you are – born of a Black immigrant father who abandoned you almost from the start and a White teenage mother who nurtured you as best as her young age would allow, but who would never see your rise to fame – one individual beginning life under such duress.  You attended Columbia College where you majored in political science and English literature.  You moved on to Harvard University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher education and one of the most difficult to access.  You were then president of the Harvard Law Review.  Before that, though, you were a student at Occidental College in Los Angeles where a hint to your political ambition became apparent in a speech calling for the college to sever its investments in South Africa.  None of these are small achievements.

As president, you helped to salve the damage of the Great Recession with investments in an economy that created 11 million new jobs; the longest such streak on record.  Unemployment is now down to pre-recession levels.  With exports up by 28% and a deficit cut by $800 billion, the stock markets have nearly tripled, the auto industry is flourishing again, and our reliance on foreign oil stands at a 40-year low.  High school graduation rates increased substantially, and Pell Grants doubled.  Your administration instituted new federal student loan payment plans; established a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; put in place a new mortgage refinance program; passed a Patient’s Bill of Rights; extended protection for land and water resources; and placed limits on carbon pollution.

If I have any grievances regarding your record, they are few, but noteworthy.  I personally don’t care for the Affordable Care Act, as it presently stands.  You and your fellow Democrats seemed to spend too much time designing and implementing this law, instead of focusing even more time and energy on the economy.  Americans certainly don’t need another tax, when they’re having trouble finding stable employment!  I was also disappointed in your response to threats by your Republican colleagues to withhold benefits for the long-term unemployed at the end of 2010, if you didn’t agree to maintain the Bush-era tax cuts; the very items that shoved the nation into economic jeopardy shortly before you took office.  I believe you had the executive power to force the dreaded tax cuts to expire as originally scheduled and further ensure benefits for those hapless citizens – people you rightfully deemed “hostages” – remained in place.  There were other down moments: “Operation Fast and Furious” and the Benghazi tragedy, in particular.  These episodes may haunt you, but they don’t define you.

You withstood the worst personal attacks on any public official I’ve ever seen.  From vicious protests by a band of (all-White) conservative students at Texas A & M University to a South Carolina congressman shouting “You lie!” in the midst of your first State of the Union address (something that had never happened before); the Arizona governor jutting her crooked finger into your face and later claiming you intimidated her; and finally to the asinine “birther” movement propagated by the incoming president, you’ve endured extreme social and political animosity.  As someone who began following U.S. politics with the Watergate scandal, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never witnessed such levels of verbal barbarity and recalcitrance as what your Republican counterparts slung at you.

It’s obvious you tried to restrain your frustration; fighting through the muck of political swamp water.  But I still wish you had simply gotten ugly with these clowns.  With each personal assault, I kept wishing you’d strip away your professional comportment momentarily and bring forth the worst parts of your personality (the kind that exists in all of us); the nigger and / or redneck sides of you – all in a concerted effort to try to communicate with your adversaries.  They didn’t like you anyway.  Nothing you did or said could possibly satisfy their pathetically myopic attitudes.  If you tried to negotiate and compromise, they dubbed you weak and ineffective.  If you dared to raise your voice and talk back to them, they declared you uppity.  You couldn’t win no matter what you did.  So, why remain polite and dignified all the time?  Yes, I realize that’s not your nature.  But, in dealing with arrogance and outright stupidity, you occasionally have to jump into the gutter with those fools, merely so they can understand you.  I’ve had to do just that in my own professional life and I always hated it.  I despised dumbing down my intellectual capacity just to get my point across.  It’s nasty and painful to we intellects who understand the value and necessity of good dialogue.  But, like cleaning a dirty toilet in your bathroom, sometimes you just have to behave in such a manner to get things done.

And, despite the blatant, unapologetically crude and juvenile behavior your opponents exhibited, you tightened your lips, held your head high and kept your back straight.  You let your emotions show on only a handful of occasions; mainly when yet another deranged gunman rained terror on unsuspecting innocents.  In other words, you allowed the true nature of your humanity gush forward when it really mattered.

Your poise and demeanor are unmatched among modern-day public servants.  You and your beautiful family are emblematic of grace and class.  Mrs. Obama, in particular, displayed personal charm and studious refinement; more so than all four of her predecessors combined.

In 2012, I published an essay on this blog entitled “Barack Obama – The Unintentional Martyr”; where I highlighted that your professional troubles were a predictable, almost unavoidable evil; a grueling necessity to compel America to hold up to its promise of dignity and equality for all citizens.  You paved the way for future candidates who won’t fit into the pre-ordained mold of what an American president should look and sound like.  I suspect if your father had been born in Europe, Canada or even Australia, no one would have questioned your citizenship or your legitimacy.  But he was from Africa – the “Dark Continent” – that massive region of Earth that is the birthplace of humanity and whose indigenous peoples had the audacity to expel a cavalcade of brutal European colonists and – gasp! – demand they be treated with the proper deference naturally due to them as human beings.

I understand the hate that a mixed ethnic background incurs from the cerebrally- challenged.  I’m White (mostly Spanish, but also one-quarter German) and Mexican Indian.  I tell some people I’m justified in criticizing middle-aged White guys because…well, I’m one of them; while I told others who didn’t care for you to just vote for the “White Obama.”  My ancestry in the state of Texas extends back to a time before the Mayflower pilgrims had even begun making travel plans.  I celebrate my complex heritage because it ultimately spells A-M-E-R-I-C-A-N.

Unfortunately, future history-making presidents will have to face the same barrage of disquieting irreverence: the first female, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, atheist, or gay / lesbian Chief Executive.  All of them will have their character questioned and their birthright authenticity shredded by those who think America’s sacred promise of opportunity and equality actually applies only to them and their ilk.  These prospective White House occupants will be forced to prove their place in this great American society is not defined by other peoples’ ideals.

Sadly, you leave office – and the fate of the nation – in the lap of a maniacal, temperamental, foul-mouthed, proudly bigoted oaf; a cretin who holds no qualms in lambasting anyone who is the least bit different from or disagrees with him, yet seethes about the most diminutive of sleights.  He has single-handedly reduced the prominence of the U.S. presidency to 140 character rants.

I’m trying to imagine you entering the White House with a much-younger third wife for whom you left your second wife.  My brain cramps as I try to envision you standing before a crowd of thousands demanding they pummel a dissenter into the ground.  I can only wonder the reaction you’d get telling a mass of financially-struggling Appalachian Whites, “What do you have to lose?”

I will miss you, Mr. Obama, along with your eloquent words and unimposing determination to make the United States live up to its full potential as a nation for all people.  You can rest now, my good man; start building your library; await the days you become a father-in-law and a grandfather; and – above all – get some sleep!

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Dead Demos

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In some paranormal circles, “dead time” refers to the period when otherworldly spirits are most likely to be active.  Even though it’s not official – and really, nothing in the paranormal realm is considered official – it’s generally believed to occur between midnight and 5 a.m., with the two to four o’clock hours considered the key time.  Nothing in the political arena – especially here in the U.S. – is considered normal either.  But, for those who didn’t vote for Donald Trump in last fall’s presidential elections, dead time started materializing just as Tuesday, November 8 was turning into Wednesday, the 9th, and it appeared the bombastic real estate magnate was going to be our nation’s 45th Chief Executive.  Trump’s entry into the race nearly two years ago surprised few; his name had arisen more than once since the late 1980s as a potential candidate.  But, as he marched forward – taking out one competitor after another – the mainstream Republican Party stood dumbfounded; recoiling as each individual dropped from the race quicker than a Texan would drop a bottle of warm beer.

And, for the second time in sixteen years, Americans found themselves with a president-elect who didn’t win the majority of the popular, but still managed to garner most of the electoral votes.  The vast majority of liberals and moderates were shocked – and appalled – that such an event could happen again within so short a period of time.  As the Democratic National Party scratched its head, people began to question the validity of the Electoral College system that original framers of the U.S. Constitution had created as a means of spreading the generosity of power.

U.S. intelligence had surmised last summer that Russian hackers were trying to infiltrate our voting system.  Now comes proof they actually did manage to sneak their way into it.  Exactly how they were able to do that remains uncertain.  Were votes eliminated, or were votes added?  Was someone in the Electoral College bribed?  Even if no one hacked into the system, would Trump have won anyway?

It’s bad enough that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump garnered their respective party’s nominations last summer.  But they plowed through the campaigns with the lowest favorability ratings of any presidential candidates in U.S. history.  In other words, no one really liked either of those fuckers, but felt compelled to vote nonetheless.  Voting is more of a right and a civic duty than it is a privilege or an inconvenience.  I have to admit that – for the first time since I began voting in 1992 – I went rogue and selected Green Party candidate Jill Stein.  I knew Stein had as much of a chance of getting into the White House as I do of going a month without a mixed drink or a glass of wine.  But it’s always the thought that counts, right?

I’ve always liked Bill Clinton, but Hillary never had much appeal to me.  Most of my friends and relatives voted for her.  A few criticized me for choosing Stein over Clinton; emphasizing that I was inadvertently voting for Trump instead.  I don’t care.  Opting for the lesser of two evils isn’t much of a choice.  I did that in 2004, when I voted for John Kerry.  Regardless, I wasn’t going to be swayed by party loyalists this time.  While Trump is atrocious, Clinton is as hollow as the empty bottles of hair dye she leaves on the bathroom floor.

Yet, as the world looks at the United States – that self-proclaimed beacon of democracy and freedom – with a mix of horror and amusement, the Democrats are still patching up their emotional scars and sorting through the morass.  But let’s pretend for a moment that no one had hacked into our voting system, or that any such attempts were successfully uncovered and squelched months before election day and that Trump still managed to win.  The Democratic National Party would still have to undergo some serious soul-searching and understand what they did wrong.  I can help and have narrowed the fiasco down to three primary issues.

 

Affordable Care Act (ACA) – While millions of average Americans were losing their jobs, their homes and their life savings because of the 2008 economic meltdown, the Democrats curiously focused their efforts on one issue: health care.  Yes, it’s great if people don’t have to choose between a flu shot and the light bill.  But ensuring that citizens will have adequate health care is not nearly as significant as ensuring they have gainful employment.  I don’t know why the Democrats went off into an ideological black hole with this issue.  That Democrats seemed more concerned with the ACA than boosting the economy was matched only by the Republicans’ determination to destroy the program.  Both parties operated within a vacuum.  Nothing else – mainly that economic thing – seemed to matter.

Inequality – The “Great Recession” almost completely destroyed the U.S. economy.  So many factors contributed to the calamity, but the USD 8 trillion housing bubble burst was the primary culprit.  More people than ever before were buying homes, which would normally be a good thing.  But, in this case, people were getting into homes with little or sometimes zero money down.  How reasonable does it sound for someone earning roughly USD 30,000 a year to buy a USD 500,000 house without making a down payment of even 5% of the structure’s value?  Such a practice was inconceivable two decades ago.  But that’s exactly what people were doing.  And both financial institutions and homebuilders were part of the fiasco.

When I got laid off in the fall of 2010 (in the midst of a fragile recovery), my top concern was the job market; not whether I could afford to get my teeth cleaned.  By the end of that year, the “Great Recession” was, from a purely technical standpoint, over.  But to those of us trapped in its putrid residue, it was alive and well and sucking up our savings and maxing out our credit cards.

Between the fall of 2008 and the summer of 2009, the U.S. economy lost 8.4 million jobs, or 6.1% of all payroll employment.  It was the worst job loss since the Great Depression.  When people mention inequality, they’re not referring to racial or gender disparities.  They’re talking about the wealth gap; that ever-widening abyss that separates the middle class from the upper class.  After-tax income has been shrinking for the past three decades, while the cost of living has been increasing.  Sen. Bernie Sanders made this a key point of his own bid for the presidency last year, and it certainly gained a great deal of attention.  But the Democrats seemed more intent on denigrating Donald Trump’s character and highlighting his personal foibles.  People working two or three jobs just to stay afloat financially don’t really care if the real estate mogul fondled a young woman at a beauty contest.  They want to know if they’ll ever be able to stop working so hard for so little.

Illegal immigration – For decades politicians have said, if they want to appeal to Hispanics, they have to devise a comprehensive immigration plan; meaning that illegal immigrants from anywhere in Latin America must be treated better than others.  This ideology assumes two things: that most Hispanic-Americans are immigrants and that we only care about providing sanctuary for people who emigrate to the U.S. illegally from Latin America.  Immigration – legal or illegal – is NOT the top priority for most Hispanic-Americans.  As a group we’re concerned about the same things most other Americans are concerned about: jobs and the economy.

Obama’s demeanor – Barack Obama is one of the smartest and most verbally gifted men ever to ascend to the nation’s highest elected office.  He had the right message with the right tone.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.  His demeanor is as remarkable as it is unimposing.  It’s one of his greatest attributes.  But, once in the White House, it became one of his greatest faults.  You’d think someone who came of age in the rugged world of Chicago politics would be a little more forceful.  But I felt Obama was too conciliatory, too nice, and too willing to compromise.  The Republicans made it clear from the moment he won the 2008 contest they were determined to ensure he wouldn’t garner a second term.  Their efforts didn’t pay off: Obama won again four years later.  And, as Obama himself stated in his 2016 ‘State of the Union’ address, there was never any doubt he actually won.  But the level of disrespect and recalcitrance the GOP displayed towards Obama has been unprecedented.  From Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” at Obama during the 2009 State of the Union address to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer jutting her finger into Obama’s face (later claiming he intimidated her), I can say without a doubt Obama endured more shit than any of his predecessors.

I’m certain race played a major factor in their behavior.  A gaggle of (mostly) old, White men just couldn’t fathom that a half-blooded Negro actually won the presidency.  So, instead of working on behalf of their constituents (that is, doing their jobs), they opted for the asshole category and tried to stifle Obama at every turn.  If he tried to compromise, he’d be viewed as weak; if he talked back, they’d consider him uppity.  He just couldn’t win no matter what he did.  And I know he could see this.  Therefore, he should have responded accordingly.

Politics in any nation is a blood sport, and the United States leads in the sanguinary nature of this.  Obama needed to get ugly with those clowns.  And not just ugly, but fuck ugly; telling them, ‘Look, I’m president and I run this joint.  You either work with me, or I’ll use my executive powers to slaughter your ass.’  That wouldn’t have earned him any fans among the right-wing crowd.  But he might have earned their respect.  I’ve learned that the hard way; sometimes you just have to stand up and scream at people to get their attention and make them bestow upon you the dignity and deference you deserve.  It’ll definitely piss off some people.  But in politics, like in business, you have to draw the line somewhere and tell people to shut the hell up and listen.  It’s just the nature of both realms.  You may not win any friends like that, but you’ll generally get the job done.

 

Overall, though, I’m satisfied with the Obama years.  One person – even the President of the United States – can only do so much.  History will be kinder to him than his contemporaries.  It’s already treating George W. Bush with more compassion than he deserves.  If the Democratic Party intends to remain relevant in the future, they need to be tougher with their opponents.  But they also need to be more forward-looking and emphasize that we can’t go back in time when things seemed simpler and calmer.  Otherwise, they’ll be digging an early grave for themselves, and only their most devout followers will be in attendance.

Demos.

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