Tuesday, February 2, 2010

One Year In: The State of the Union

Obama, one year in:

-Gitmo is still open.
-The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue.
-Health care still hasn't been passed.
-Economy continues to reel.

I should be pissed or at least disappointed. I probably would be if I thought of Obama as some sort of messiah or for that matter did not understand how government works (more on that later). Efforts to portray him as a socialist have led me to see many of those so opposed to him as bordering on ridiculous. His first year has been more subtle and filled with shades of gray than to allow a superficial up or down assessment.

He is a political incrementalist. Not necessarily my style but I see the logic behind such an approach. It is also this approach that has frustrated many of his most ardent (and unrealistic) supports.

Yet to assess his first year one must distinguish between what he has accomplished, what he has attempted to accomplish and what he is likely to accomplish. To be fair in this assessment one must be honest and note that the President of the United States is not a dictator and can only enact legislation so far as the Congress goes along. In essence, as Teddy Roosevelt pointed out, the real power in the presidency lies in the bully pulpit, the ability to force opinion that will then force the hands of politicians.

Also, as preface, it is necessary to point out what seems to be a completely contradictory set of values blisters him for not getting things accomplished while working simultaneously to thwart any effort he makes. Let's look at Guantanamo as an example: It is true that he has not closed the place as he stated. However, if the full effort here is examined, it becomes apparent that the real block to closing Gitmo is not Obama but rather the manipulation of political and public opinion by members of Congress to prevent any actions that might lead to closure. The reality is that the number of prisoners has been drastically reduced and continues to shrink. Obama continues to pursue the closing and I give him credit for that. On the other hand, John McCain advocated closing Gitmo long ago but now opposes it because it scores political points.

The war in Iraq. While there are still troops there, this war is for all purposes winding down. The U.S. never completely leaves anywhere as the hundreds of thousands of troops all over the world attests, but this war is done. If you're going by when the last troops leave, then WWII and the Korean War are still ongoing. If you mean done as in stopping the further waste of resources and an end in sight, we're there.

Afghanistan. This is Obama's biggest mistake. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from pouring any more resources down this rat hole. I think that Obama is motivated by political concerns that seek to refute any calls that he is weak on security. Of course, that is exactly what would have happened if he had done the correct thing and pulled out. Nonetheless, he should have started this debate with the public and the fight with Congress to end this war.

Health care has been a debacle. Obama likely erred by not pushing for a one-payer system if only as a bargaining chip. In trying not to appear too radical he ended up making a tactical error and then got called a socialist anyway. Of course, the real blame for how health care reform has played out must lie with the Democratic leadership. Even when they had 60 votes, Reid was too lame to get anything through. The Democrats in general played a game where they appeared to represent the people while they assured failure for anything that might threaten the insurance industry. The Republicans revealed themselves to be obstructionist who negotiate in bad faith. Ultimately though the blame falls on the Democrats who turn an eighteen vote majority into a minority. If the Republicans want to filibuster, then damn it, let them talk until they drop.

The economy. Unemployment is at 10 percent, probably closer to 17 if you take in the underemployed and those who've given up and no economist expect this to end in the foreseeable future. Forfeitures and foreclosures are up and there is not much promise ahead. On the other hand, the home market is rebounding and job losses will probably level at around zero this month. I liken his task here to catching an anvil: when he first grabbed hold it pulled him down further until he finally gained control.

Obama takes a lot of heat for deficit spending yet most economist caution that this is not the time for deficit reduction. Paul Krugman, Nobel prize winner in economics, has argued that the stimulus should have been larger and the only thing that can rescue the economy is government spending. I know many of you hate to hear that, but a paralyzed economy is in no one's interest.

One thing the Obama administration has done that has gotten surprisingly little attention is the recouping of the bailout money. The approximately $700 billion that Henry Paulson tried to steal from the Treasury for the largest banks has been largely returned. Paulson's accomplice Tim Geithner, may have finally served his purpose in pointing out where the bodies were buried and now appears to be on his way out the door.

Of late, Obama has been striking an increasingly populist tone when it comes to the economy. Proposing all kinds of tax cuts for small businesses and individuals, he also took Wall Street and corporations to task in the State of the Union address. His deficit reduction plan is pure gimmickry but served to make an interesting point as Republicans who had advocated a deficit reduction committee suddenly came out in opposition. He has maneuvered the Republicans into a position that they are blatantly supporting big business and the banking industry over the people.

Obama has also reversed years of declining American influence and reputation around the world. Even those who are opposed to his policies must acknowledge that he has done an enormous amount in changing the view of America in the world.

Obama has also pressed for increases in investments in education and infrastructure developments. These are two areas where it is clear that America has fallen behind and is destined for diminished stature on the world stage unless we quickly address our deficits. How hard the opposition fights these ideas will be a measure of how interested they are in the well being of the country versus how interested they are in playing politics.

Viewing a four-year-term of office as a four-quarter game provides an apt analogy. The expected franchise savior was met with an all out swarming full court defense at the opening whistle. Double and triple-teamed, every dirty play possible, tripping, pulling his shorts, standing on his toes, fouling after the whistle, etc. was used. Whenever he gained momentum, an endless string of timeouts were called and occasionally a fight broke out in the stands. His bench was useless.

Despite all this, the first quarter ended even. The other team has managed to turn the refs against them (polls show Republicans are blamed 2-1 over Obama for the countries woes) and he has started the second quarter strong. When Fox News cut away from his meeting with GOP house members it was clearly because he was dunking in their faces.

No, Obama has not been perfect nor has he solved every problem of the country. Anyone who thought he would was either naive or stupid. There have been pratfalls, primarily over health care, but even that can still pass (providing someone tells Harry Reid that 59 is more than 41). As pointed out herein, foreign relations are much improved, the economy is no longer in free fall, $700 billion given away by the previous administration has been returned to the Treasury, civil liberties are no longer ridiculed by the president, and we no longer expect to be embarassed when the leader of our country make a speech.

Science has been restored to its place in the decision making process. Environmental regulations are being enforced once again. Competence is more important for a job in the administration than political loyalty. The United States is important in the world for more than its military might. New trade alliances have been developed with India, undercutting China's influence. Corporations are no longer expecting free reign.

We are at a crossroads in our history with the country quickly becoming ungovernable due to partisan politics. More than anything else Obama has provided a calm voice that recognizes the complexity of the world. While the right wing likes to portray him as a Bolshevik, he clearly is a centrist interested more in pragmatic politics than ideology. However, it is just this effort to portray him as other than he is that is the source of his renewed popularity. When the man accusing you of a credibility gap is orange from a tanning booth, when the opposition party suddenly votes against its own bills when adopted, when what passes for debate is to question whether the president was born in the country, then it becomes increasingly difficult to look at Republicans as anything but political opportunists putting their own interests ahead of the nation.

In sum, Obama is still getting the feel of the office. Suffering from unrealistic expectations he was bound to have difficulty living up to them. However, to say that he has not accomplished anything is to believe the Fox News narrative of the world.

I guess people would prefer the first year of his predecessor.

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. mnn.com. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer