Tag Archive: Obama


As 2016 wound to a close, and we look ahead to the transition of the presidency and governing powers in Congress, I think it’s wise to see what the successors of the past 8 years are inheriting.

First, remember that in 2008, the financial crisis had already begun in 2007 with the subprime mortgage crisis. The stock market took a dive, unemployment soared, and the stimulus package was already signed into law as Obama took office.

Through various policies and challenges, the government attempted to right the proverbial ship. While recovery was not as fast as many would have liked (and there were some obstructionist factors for this), the economy has recovered. Let’s look at some data.

stock-market

Above, you can see the great dip in 2008, and then see it’s massive and constant recovery through 2016. One would think that the DJ would be at least one indicator of a stronger economy, right? (This probably has something to do with the massive wealth inequality, but aren’t the rich–who are benefitting from the markets–supposed to trickle down their ducats?)

unemployment

Meanwhile, unemployment has steadily gone down on a similar, inverse trajectory. Again, another seemingly no-brainer as an indicator of the improvement of the economy over the past 8 years. Now I’m sure some out there argue that these numbers are meaningless (ignoring the fact that it’s used by investors to gauge the economy’s health, or it only seems to matter when it’s high so detractors can hypocritically blame the president for a weak economy), so let’s look at their favorite statistic when unemployment is low: Labor Participation.

labor-participation

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Here we can see a few things right off the bat. First, the people not participating in the labor market (for whatever reason) has gone down, particularly since the late 1990s, but continued to do so throughout the last 8 years. Second, labor participation is still higher than it’s been since the mid-1970’s. Third, even as participation has shrunk since, say 2008, it has only done so by about 3%. But man, to hear some of Obama’s detractors’ put it, that 3% is just devastating and proof that the economy is failing.

So what’s behind these numbers? Someone has done a more detailed analysis than me (and by someone, I mean various analysts and the Congressional Budget Office). About half of that 3% comes from a sharp increase in those retiring out of the work force (i.e. Baby Boomers–see the chart below). Another 1% is related to temporary factors that are part of the business cycle. That leaves about 0.5% that is accounted for by “unusual aspects of the slow recovery that led workers to become discouraged and permanently drop out of the labor force.” Yup, a whole 1/2 of a percentage point. Seems a lot less impressive when one actually digs into the data, eh?

retirees

See that steep uptick at the end? Them’s retiring folk not participating in the labor market anymore.

Finally, some folks misrepresented Obama’s concerns about automation acting as a factor that was slowing the recovery of the economy. Well, remember those jobs that Trump “saved” at Carrier? The investment to keep the company competitive (and out of Mexico) is going to be for…automated robots to replace human workers.

Ok, enough about the economy. What about all that “out-of-control” violence spuriously tweeted by Trump?

violent-crime

Source: FBI crime statistics.

Well, 2015 and 2016 did see an increase in violent crime, in part because by 2014, such crime was at historic lows for the last 44 years! Perspective is an interesting thing, right? Further, while the murder rate has gone up in some major cities overall, much of that percentage increase is attributed to 10–or 3–cities with more drastic increases (outliers spike averages).

Remember when some folks were worried that Obama would come and take our guns (as late as 2015 and 2016? Shockingly, that didn’t happen. What did happen was continued gun violence, crime, and theft by other citizens. That’s right, the government isn’t taking our guns away, our neighbors are.

How about the Affordable Healthcare Act? (Also known as “Obamacare”). Health insurance premiums are going up, so it must be repealed (so the main part of the argument goes). While that’s true, premium growth has been slower under Obama than his predecessor. Sure there’s problems with it, but fundamentally people agree with many of its premises, particularly in those states that went red and are soon in danger of losing their coverage (and some are realizing that danger).

president-obama

While there were, in fact, several things I was disappointed with over the past 8 years (some foreign policy issues, Eric Holder’s failure to hold anyone accountable for the banking crisis, etc.), overall, I think history will judge President Obama to be a successful, thoughtful, and intelligent president. His farewell speech was poignant, and his two terms were scandal free.

Trump has some mighty big shoes to fill, and I daresay he is not up to the challenge.

 

 

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I consider myself a reasonable rational person, and I’d like to think I have an open mind about most things.  So when opposing views are discussed, I am quite happy to hear what the “other” side has to say and then, if I have the knowledge and inclination to do so, rebut their claims with evidence, facts, and context as needed.

Apparently, this is not the case for some other folks.  Some people think that presenting their side of an argument is sufficient to “win” the debate (in their mind), regardless of how spurious their logic is, how fallacious their arguments are, and how out-of-context their evidence might be.

Case in point:

I came across this gem on Facebook and, after some very easy fact-checking, it became obvious what a joke the implication of this Post-It note was.  (The premises being: a) gas prices were low when President Obama took office; b) gas prices are high now; therefore 1) it’s President Obama’s fault and 2) you shouldn’t vote for him because of this).

First, some context:

A) Prices of oil and gas were indeed low in January of 2009 after having grown steadily since 2001 (when George W. Bush became president), though they actually declined a bit and then hit a plateau until 2003.

Remember what happened in 2003?  That’s right, the Bush administration pushed for war in Iraq based on faulty and cherry-picked intelligence, while continuing operations in Afghanistan.  Oil (and thus gas) prices continued to increase until July of 2008, right before the U.S. stock market crash.  (There is ample evidence that speculation on the price of oil led to a bubble of sorts which facilitated and contributed to the crash.  In other words, financiers were looking to continue making money in oil on the backs of thousands of dead soldiers and civilians.)

So the market crashes, sending everything plummeting (including the price of oil), just before the inauguration of President Obama (who inherited the recession which had already started before his term).

B) Since then, as the market has slowly recovered (and oil demand returned), the price of oil (and gas) has gone back up.  Nothing really surprising in that now, is there?

See? Context matters.

As for the conclusions asserted by Mr. Post-It:

1) First, no President has any direct control over the price of gas (which is derived from the price of crude).  Why? It’s a global commodity, largely influenced by OPEC, a conglomerate made up of countries in the region where we’ve been waging war for 10 years.  If they want more money for their oil, they withhold production of crude and the price goes up (they sit on 40% of global oil production and most of the world’s reserves).

And, as you may know, the U.S. doesn’t even get most of our oil from the Middle East; our top four imports are from Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Venezuela.  But, since it’s a global market for oil, we don’t catch a price break from our neighbors because they, like any other smart business entity, are telling us to “show them the money.”  Getting most of our oil from outside OPEC is more of a political move than an economic one.

Well, I guess this guy would.

Certainly the U.S. president (and his administration) can indirectly affect the price of oil (and gas).  For example, say the U.S. unilaterally invades a nation against the better judgment of the international community.  And say that invasion is based on false premises sold to a panicked citizenry.  And let’s say tax cuts are offered as a vapid olive branch to the citizens which consequently removes more money from the nation’s coffers to actually pay for the war.  Sure, those things could have a detrimental effect on the price of oil (indirectly through antagonizing OPEC) and directly on our economy.  But I mean, who would do such a thing, right?

2) So is any of the offered premises and conclusions a reason to not vote for President Obama?  I’ll leave that to you to decide, now that you have all the relevant facts and context.  But let me leave you with a few other changes that have occurred since January 2009.

* Gays and lesbians were not allowed to serve openly in the military, but now they can.

* Struggling young people can stay on their parent’s health plans longer until they get on their feet.

* Seniors pay less for prescriptions thanks to the closing of a loop hole in Medicare.

* He issued the kill order to end Osama bin Laden’s threat to the United States.

* We are no longer at war in Iraq.

* Workers with student loan debt (which has surpassed credit card debt in this country) can now have that debt forgiven after 10 years of making payments and working in public service, a traditionally low-paying and unselfish career choice.  If you pay for 20 years in any other field, the loan will also be forgiven (because paying 35 years for a 4 year education is ridiculous).

I would say that the above “changes” certainly provided “hope” for all those involved (FYI, that’s like millions of citizens).

So for all you folks out there who think you’re presenting your side of the story and hoping for an objective analysis of the situation, that’s not how “objectivity” works.

Objectivity requires full disclosure of the facts in order for them to be, you know, objective.  Leaving out information provides a set of subjective premises and leads to a subjectively biased observation (and consequently skewed conclusion).  Of course, if you don’t actually want to have an open and honest dialogue about something, then presenting only one side of an issue (and doggedly refusing to see the other) will certainly reinforce your own narrow world-view (and certainly, this is much easier to do anonymously or, you know, on the Internet).

But it won’t win you any real victories in a debate.

In the wake of hearing about the assassination of Osama bin Laden, several thoughts—sometimes conflicting—have surfaced while reflecting upon this event. Bear with me, it’s a bit longer than most.

Closure

The hard-lined justice seeker in me feels no compunction about the death of this man who planned and ordered the killing of thousands of civilians throughout the world, though obviously the victims of 9/11 hold a prominent place in my allegiances. While his death will not bring back any of the victims of his schemes, I hope that this form of closure—10 years in the making—can help bring some peace to the friends and family of those who lost their lives.

Historical Skepticism

While we may have killed this particular head of the hydra that is al Qaeda, I’m under no illusions that this will impede the terrorists’ ability or desire to carry out further attacks against their enemies. In fact, it could even spur more in the guise of retaliation, though I think the US forces were surprisingly and singularly impressive of how they dealt with his body. They balanced the traditions of Islam (burying the body within 24 hours) against the prevention of a tangible form for his martyrdom (it is now impossible to have a shrine containing his physical remains). In any case, continued attacks will have been carried out regardless of the death of this leader.

Further, this operational success comes at an opportune moment for US/Pakistan intelligence relations. In the aftermath of the recent killing of 2 Pakistani citizens by CIA agent Raymond Davis, Pakistan has called for full transparency regarding US covert operations within their borders. Now that Osama bin Laden was killed in a compound (built 5 years ago) a mere 700 yards from the Pakistani military academy, the US has regained some of its leverage, especially if Pakistan wants to continue to give credence to their desire to fight terrorism alongside their Western counterparts. Here’s President Obama’s not-so-subtle message to Pakistan: “They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al-Qaida and its affiliates.”

Disgust with Polarization

Again, the internet (well, the anonymity of the internet) brings out the best and the worst of our citizenry. On a day when there should be unity and relief that Osama bin Laden’s reign is over, there are people who simply use this as a platform for their ignorant ravings. Everything from ‘President Obama is a Muslim that needs to go next’ to ‘Osama is not really dead, where’s the body’ has surfaced in response. Never mind that there’s not a rational thought in such rants, but such comments beg the question: are we so polarized that we cannot come together for a moment in what is arguably a conclusion to the tragic events of 9/11?

Moral Dissonance

As I said above, although part of me is content that bin Laden has been killed, part of me wonders if that was the best way to resolve this episode? Would not trying him in a court of justice have facilitated our claims to the moral high ground? Should we be jubilant over the violent death of another human being, no matter how heinous their crimes? How are such celebrations different from the cheering our enemies do over the bodies of our soldiers? Chants of “USA, USA!” at Ground Zero and the White House smack of jingoistic fervor which can (and has) led to more bloodshed. Perhaps I’m over-analyzing such worries, though I don’t believe I am.

Journalistic Incredulity

Finally, is it really so hard to keep President Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden differentiated? Granted, most of the so-called gaffes (though not all) came from Fox News (and this isn’t the first time), but one has to question the professionalism of “journalists” during moments that will define a year if not a decade. Because it’s either a) an honest mistake and such journalist are “merely” inept, or b) it’s on purpose in order to further divide the nation and discredit the President in insidious ways e.g. a Fox News focus group believed that President Obama is a Muslim. In either case, we still need more accountability in the field of journalism.

In the end, I’m relieved that Osama bin Laden is no longer able to direct attacks against the US or any other country. I’m not particularly upset by the way the final operation was carried out, though the 10-year and future costs are worrisome. As I said before, I just hope the family and friends of all his victims find some peace as a result of his demise.