State of the Union 2014: President Obama Says Strong!

President Obama addressed a Joint Session of Congress last night.  As he does every year, he delivered his State of the Union Address, 2014 Version.  As he does always, he pointed to a variety of Americans who for some reason have come to his attention.  He mentioned the success of specific programs, and the hard work and resourcefulness of a variety of individuals.  Mostly, he challenged the Congress to join him in efforts to support an overdue American Revival.

He touched upon many ideas including enhancing educational opportunities, expanding tech resources in high schools and colleges, and tweaking the alliances between high schools and colleges so that student may more readily obtain access, and to afford the opportunities that come with their new education.  The list below includes a significant but not exhaustive list of the President’s aims:

  • Lowering Corporate taxes
  • Immigration Reform
  • Executive Orders in lieu of compromise
  • Income inequality
  • Minimum wage
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • MyRA
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
  • Voting Rights Act Reform
  • Gun Violence Reduction
  • War in Afghanistan wind down
  • Syrian Regime
  • State of Israel
  • Iran’s nuclear program
  • American Leadership

The President called upon Congress, Wall Street, and Main Street to join him to help fulfill the American promise that, despite the inaction of an often recalcitrant Congress (my adjective, not his), still shines brightly.  President Obama has now stood before the American people and delivered a State of the Union Address five times.  He has addressed Joint Sessions of Congress on three other occasions.  I have watched most of the President’s major speeches.  As his moments in national conversation go, in my view, this may have been his finest hour.

Certainly, he has rendered phraseology that we might deem more impassioned.  He has spoken with more soaring rhetoric and he has offered a grander vision.  However, for this moment in time, when Republicans expected an angry, pugnacious, confrontational speech, the President was anything but contentious.  He was confident, and self-assured, but not smug.  He was relaxed and engaging, thoughtful and charming.  He was funny, but genuinely sincere, humble, and self-effacing, but clear and unequivocal.  Most importantly, while he engaged the audience in the Chamber, he made his case to the American people.

There is no doubt President Obama is aware he is languishing at a 43% approval rating.  His response was to make a case for a series of initiatives.  He asked for Congressional help, but he explained in granular detail his intentions to employ the use of Executive Orders where applicable, if Congressional Republicans continued their obstructionist ways (again, my language, not his).  In his words, he proposed “A Year of Action, with or without Congress.”

President Obama pitched America as the place that others look to as an example for all manner of endeavors.  In effect, as for the “State of the Union 2014: President Obama Says Strong!”

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President Obama Speaks: Race Matters

It took five years, but President Obama, after two successful presidential elections, finally concedes the obvious…in the great American narrative, exceptionalism notwithstanding, Race MattersDavid Remnick, editor of the New Yorker magazine, sat with the President in a series of interviews that resulted in an estimated 17,000-word profile (which equates to approximately 42-43 pages, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, in New Times Roman 12-point type).  The conversations took place over hours, sometimes in the White House, sometimes on Air Force 1, some late last year, and some earlier this year.

In this past Sunday’s issue, the Washington Post highlighted the New Yorker interview by pulling 17 points from the 17,000 words.  The items of emphasis ranged from the Race to the NFL, to Marijuana, to Iran, to Syria, to the NSA, to David Snowden, and more.  I have included all 17 summaries below for your review and convenience:

1. The NFL: Obama feels fine about watching football despite the reports of severe concussions and retired players with brain damage. “I would not let my son play pro football,” he said. “But … these guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”

2. Obama’s memoir: When Obama leaves the White House, he will write a memoir that literary agent Andrew Wylie predicted would fetch $17 million to $20 million. First lady Michelle Obama has already started to work on her memoir. Marty Nesbitt, Obama’s friend, said the president will likely focus on “human rights, education, and health and wellness.”

3.  Race: Obama acknowledges that the color of his skin might have affect how some Americans perceive his presidency, but he doesn’t think it has a major overall effect one way or the other. “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,” he said. “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”

4. What’s in Obama’s bagRemnick tells readers what Marvin Nicholson, Obama’s body man, carries in a bag for the president: “pens, the briefing books, the Nicorette, the Sharpies, the Advil, the throat lozenges, the iPad, the iPod, the protein bars, the bottle of Black Forest Berry Honest Tea.”

5. Obama has started socializing moreObama said he hadn’t socialized more in the past because he has two young daughters at home. “I had two young daughters who I wanted to spend time with—and that I wasn’t in a position to work the social scene in Washington,” he said. But now that they’re older, Obama and his wife have been hosting more dinners, with the president drinking a Martini or two, and Obama sometimes pushing guests to stay past 1 a.m. “I’m a night owl! Have another drink,” the president encouraged one set of guests.

6. Obama meets with presidential historians: Obama has had a number of presidential historians over as guests, including Doris Kearns Goodwin and Robert Caro, whose work on Lyndon Johnson often is cited as an example of how a president can more effectively get in his agenda through Congress. Remnick writes: “At the most recent dinner he attended at the White House, Caro had the distinct impression that Obama was cool to him, annoyed, perhaps, at the notion appearing in the press that his latest Johnson volume was an implicit rebuke to him. As we were leaving, I said to Obama, ‘You know, my book wasn’t an unspoken attack on you, it’s a book about Lyndon Johnson,’  Caro recalled.” Obama and his team continue to rebuff the idea that more social outings and pressure would lead Republicans to embrace his ideas. Obama pointed out that when Johnson “lost that historic majority [in Congress], and the glow of that landslide victory faded, he had the same problems with Congress that most Presidents at one point or another have.”

7. Marijuana: Obama said he is most concerned about the impact of drug laws on minorities and the poor.  “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” He added that he supports Colorado and Washington’s efforts to “go forward” with their efforts at legalization and decriminalization.

8. Malia’s career plans: Obama’s older daughter, Malia, wants to be a filmmaker.

9. Obama’s must-do listRemnick asked Obama about what he must get done before the end of 2016. He responded,”I will measure myself at the end of my presidency in large part by whether I began the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class, and reversing the trend toward economic bifurcation in this society.”

10. Iran: Remnick writes that Obama believes if the current diplomatic efforts with Iran prevail, it could bring a new stability to the region.  “It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other,” Obama said. “And although it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion — not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon — you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.”

11. SyriaObama said he feels confident that he has made the right decisions on Syria, although he confided, when prompted, that he is “haunted by what’s happened” there. But, he added, “It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq.”

12. Drones: Obama also defended his strategy of using drones to kill terrorism suspects abroad, saying that his “preference” remains to capture and prosecute them, but if that proves infeasible, “I cannot stand by and do nothing.” He continued, “What I’ve tried to do is to tighten the process so much and limit the risks of civilian casualties so much that we have the least fallout from those actions. But it’s not perfect.”

13.  NSA/Snowden: Obama said he does not regard the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as comparable to the Pentagon Papers or other leaks vindicated by history.  Remnick writes: “The leaks, he said, had ‘put people at risk’ but revealed nothing illegal. And though the leaks raised ‘legitimate policy questions’ about N.S.A. operations, ‘the issue then is: Is the only way to do that by giving some twenty-nine-year-old free rein to basically dump a mountain of information, much of which is definitely legal, definitely necessary for national security, and should properly be classified?’”

14. Clemency for Snowden: Asked about the prospect of a deal with Snowden, Obama responded, “I do not have a yes/no answer on clemency for Edward Snowden. This is an active case, where charges have been brought.”

15. How to address inequality: Although he is focused on inequality and economic opportunity, Obama recognizes he will have a limited capacity to address the issues. “The appetite for tax-and-transfer strategies, even among Democrats, much less among independents or Republicans, is probably somewhat limited.” Obama said. “Marshall Plan for the inner city is not going to get through Congress anytime soon.”

16. His key strength: Obama believes that his equanimity endures as one of his key strengths. “I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every president, like every person,” he said. “I do think one of my strengths is temperament. I am comfortable with complexity, and I think I’m pretty good at keeping my moral compass while recognizing that I am a product of original sin.”

17. A president’s limited power to change: Obama said that even the greatest presidents — like Abraham Lincoln — had to operate in the currents of history. “[D]espite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.” Remnick concludes the story with Obama saying, “I just wanted to add one thing to that business about the great-man theory of history. The President of the United States cannot remake our society, and that’s probably a good thing.” Obama then adds, “Not ‘probably’. It’s definitely a good thing.”

As should be apparent from the Title above, the item for consideration by this post is race.  The Post’s summary notes the President acknowledges that:

  • The color of his skin might have affected how some Americans perceive his Presidency
  • He does not think it has a major overall effect one way or the other
  • “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President.”
  • “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”

As is always the case, there are ready detractors to the President’s comments.  Howard Kurtz, writing for Fox News about the entire series of interviews asserts that the President provided the sense of a man who has abandoned what he once billed as the audacity of hope.

Further to the Right, Rush Limbaugh characterized the President’s remarks as derangement and delusion.  In fact, he referred to a specific excerpt:

  • “As Obama ticked off a list of first-term achievements — the economic rescue, the forty-four straight months of job growth, a reduction in carbon emissions, a spike in clean-energy technology — he seemed efficient but contained, running at three-quarters speed, like an athlete playing a midseason road game of modest consequence.”

“This is derangement and delusion – and the reporter, Remnick in this case, just eats it all up,” Rush said.

Limbaugh clarifies his position by arguing there has been no economic rescue, there have not been 44 months of job growth, there has been no reduction in carbon emissions, there has been no spike in clean energy technology; ergo, the President’s remarks are delusional, and Mr. Remnick, apparently an unwitting conspirator/accomplice.  In addition, Mr. Limbaugh suggested the President played the race card.

This last point, which is popular with the Right, and which was popular with them, even before the President weighed in on the matter, is but a straw man.  Nevertheless, the notion of the President playing the race card is at the heart of the matter I want most to address.  Remnick directly pushes back on the idea President Obama played the race card.  In fact, he argues flatly that the President did no such thing.

Here’s the deal.  The President has throughout his tenure, figuratively bent over backward and into pretzel shape, rather than attribute to negative racial attitudes, opposition to him or his policies.  Now there is no doubt that was smart, and courageous; it was even expedient.  However, it was neither straight forward, nor honest.

Beyond the limiting confines of another election, President Obama finally freely, and as usual, articulately spoke about one of America’s oldest and dirtiest little secrets; Race Matters.  In doing so, he demonstrated his genuine awareness that that knife cuts both ways.

I respect the President’s reticence in charging headlong into the issue of race relations.  He is after all, the President of all the people, not just black people.  The real issue is far deeper than the PresidencyDr. Cornel West wrote a book entitled Race Matters, published in 1994.  The book is an analysis of moral authority and racial debates concerning skin color in America.  Ninety-one years earlier, in 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his classic work, The Souls of Black Folk, “This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of color line.”

Well into the second decade of the Twenty-First Century, it is fair to say the color line is still a problem; Dr. Du Bois had no idea how prophetic his words were, nor for how long they would be apt.  Say whatever you like; “President Obama Speaks: Race Matters!”

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Bromides of the Day!

  1. If you always do what you have always done, you will always get the result you have always gotten
  2. Doing what you have always done and expecting different results = The definition of insanity

Two days have passed this week; both punctuated by more senseless gun violence.  If you regularly watch the national news, chances are you have seen coverage of the two incidents, one in Florida (Monday), and one in New Mexico (Tuesday).

On Monday afternoon at Cobb Grove 16 Movie Theater in Wesley Chapel, Florida, Chad Oulson, 43, was sending text messages during movie previews.  Curtis Reeves, Jr. 71, a retired Tampa police officer, who sat behind him, asked him several times to stop.

Mr. Reeves left for a few minutes; then returned.  At some point Mr. Oulson indicated he was texting his young daughter.  According to witnesses, an argument ensued, popcorn was thrown, and Mr. Reeves pulled out a pistol and fired at Mr. OulsonMrs. Nicole Oulson, 33, raised her hand to try and shield her husband from the bullet.  The bullet hit her hand and then struck her husband, killing him.

Mr. Reeves used a .380 caliber semiautomatic pistol in the shooting.  Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said an off-duty Sumter County Sheriff’s Deputy secured the weapon, and made sure Mr. Reeves remained in place until authorities arrived.  The parties were part of an audience of approximately 25, who were at the theater to see a movie about Navy Seals on a mission in Afghanistan.

Sheriff Nucco characterized the unarmed deputy as a hero.

Yesterday a 12 year-old 7th grade student at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, New Mexico started his school day by shooting two fellow students, an 11 year-old boy, and a 13 year-old girl.  The young man is in critical condition; the young lady is in serious condition.

The 12 year-old, who used a shot gun which he carried in a band instrument case, opened fire in the school gym as students waited out of the elements for time for class to begin.  A school staff member also incurred minor injuries, and declined treatment.

Susana Martinez, New Mexico Governor, said a member of the school staff, and a New Mexico State Police Lieutenant intervened to end the shooting and prevented further casualties.  Pete Kassetas, New Mexico State Police Chief, said that by the time his deputies arrived by 8:11 a.m., the weapon had been laid on the ground.  After securing the scene, authorities facilitated the transfer of the students to nearby Roswell Mall where parents picked up their children.  Police asked parents to stay away from the school during the investigation.

The Roswell shooting is just the latest school shooting in the country.  Only a month ago, a gunmen opened fire at Arapahoe High School in Colorado.  Shootings, in schools, theaters, malls, and elsewhere are simply the order of the American day, or so it appears.

Monique Salcido, 13, witnessed the shooting in the Berrendo Middle School gym.  In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, she described the details of the incident as she saw it unfold.  She knew all of the principals involved, including the victims and the shooter.

At the end of the interview, she uttered the following poignant statement:

  • “I wasn’t really scared of what happened.  But I don’t want to go to Berrendo anymore because of what happened.  I’m afraid it’s going to happen again.”

In the coming days, we will see numerous news programs on which hosts and guests discuss guns in America, and what to do about the epidemic shootings that result from them.  The NRA will proclaim guns are not the problem; advocates for stricter gun control will argue just the opposite.  Meanwhile, the same old song and dance will echo again, and again; nothing will change.  In the end, we will have only the “Bromides of the Day!”

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Ambassador Rodman: Really?

Yesterday, CNN, America’s self-proclaimed choice for balanced news, aired a segment with Dennis Rodman and Charles Smith, along with the rest of the former NBA players who joined Dennis to play an Exhibition game against a team of North Koreans to commemorate Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s 31st birthday.  In the grand scheme of things, this is not a story of consequence…at least not at this time.  However, in what passes for news these days, CNN, thought it was a good idea for anchor Chris Cuomo to talk to Smith and Rodman, ostensibly about the basketball game, but in reality, most pointedly about Kenneth Bae.

Mr. Bae was born in South Korea; he immigrated to the United States at age 16, and now finds himself serving time in a North Korean prison camp.  The North Korean Government sentenced him to serve 15 years hard labor for committing “hostile acts” against the state.

Early in the interview, Charles Smith, a former member of the New York Knicks, seemed to have been acting in the capacity of designated spokesperson.  Although Smith’s clearly delineated talking points centered on basketball, it was equally apparent that Mr. Cuomo intended to steer the conversation to ward Mr. Bae.  To more laser-focused his questions were on Bae, the more insistent, and eventually incensed, Rodman became.  His reaction eventually devolved into what USA Today labeled in one headline as, “a complete meltdown,” and what CNN referred to in another as, “Dennis Rodman’s Bizarre Rant.”

Certain elements of the news media have equated Rodman’s curious relationship with the North Korean Leader as a form of nascent diplomacy, all the while mocking the former NBA star.  Why would CNN attempt to interview Dennis Rodman on a subject as serious and as sensitive as the Kenneth Bae situation?  Could anyone, especially an experienced journalist, and/or a trusted media apparatus, realistically expect the combustible Rodman to engage sanguinely on a topic about which the interviewer challenges his very motives?  Say what?

Let’s be clear, CNN, and any other news outlet has every right to interview Mr. Rodman, or whomever else it may choose, and for whatever reason.  However, it seems a bit incongruous, if not an absolute stretch, for outlets far and near to blow-up the interview as though the histrionics were shockingly unexpected, and that they really anticipated a serious and perhaps even understated news event.

Members of Mr. Bae’s family are reportedly angry with Rodman.  They believe his comments are outrageous, and that he should use his connections to Kim Jong-un to petition for the release of their relative.

Suffice it to say, Rodman’s reputation precedes him.  He is certainly someone about whom most can/would say, “you know what you’re gonna get,” when you are dealing with him.  So when a distinguished anchor for “America’s most trusted news source” interviews him…well, what do you think he expected?  Ambassador Rodman: Really?

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What A Difference A Year Makes!


Twelve months ago, a series of relatively obscure concepts dominated the national conversation; they were Fiscal Cliff, Bush Tax Cuts, 2010 Tax Relief Act, Budget Control Act of 2011, Debt Ceiling, Budget Sequestration, and American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.  Despite President Obama’s freshly minted reelection, the GOP-T Party tandem threatened to plunge the country into an economic morass by refusing to vote for any measure that resulted in tax increases.  Their posture led to an impasse, the consequences of which, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke described as, “a massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases.”  The popular assessment at the time, including an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, was that such action would lead to another recession.

By virtue of reaching consensus on a on a bill the U.S. House of Representatives passed around 11:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, and that the U.S. Senate subsequently approved around 2:00 a.m. New Year’s Day, our country averted the pending crisis.  President Obama signed the bill into law later during the day.

A number of pivotal actions dominated our national conversation during 2013.  From my vantage point, the two that established the most traction were the GOP-T Party Government Shutdown and the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) website rollout.  Both may pose deleterious implications for their respective Parties during the 2014 mid-term elections.  While it’s too soon to hazard a guess about which may create the greater drag effect on respective Party aspirations, it is worth noting that the GOP opted to negotiate a year-ending budget deal with Democrats, rather than threaten a second shutdown.  Meanwhile, the President and his Party continue to look for inventive ways to deflect the unabated pummeling courtesy of the rollout gaffe.

Still, there is good news, as the country ends the year on an economic uptick.  Arguments persist that any economic rally continues to settle on Wall Street, while eluding Main Street.  The unemployment rate, while at its lowest in 5 years, remains too high, under employment is trenchantly stubborn, and discouraged workers are streaming out of the workforce.  All this is true, yet, it must be noted, this coin has a flip side.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) reached an all-time high52 times in 2013.  That’s once a week all year long, on average.  The Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 ended the year at an all-time high.  The National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (NASDAQ) ended at its highest level in 13 years.

Critics of President Obama are quick to opine that he does not control, nor have any impact on Wall Street.  Interestingly, this same element is just as quick to argue vociferously and incessantly that his economic polices are the main

impediment whenever there is an economic downturn.  Such selectively inconsistent analysis of facts is the one of the most farcical aspects of Obama critics as a class.  In essence, they contend that every negative turn of events is attributable to the President, while any and all positive outcomes are in spite of him and/or his actions.  Who needs a perfect storm when the facts are simply, “whatever you say?”

In summary, just how dramatic was the 2013 upswing?  When viewed independently, the performance increases look thusly:

  • DJIA 26%
  • S&P 500 29%
  • NASDAQ 38%

Do we still have aspects of the great American economic engine that need to be more finely tuned?  Yes, of course we do.  However, considered strictly on its merits, the economy is markedly improved.  Employment data remains nettlesome and requires direct policy intervention.  Alternately, housing data (Housing prices rose 11% in 2013), deficit reduction (409 $billion reduction in 2013), and especially the Stock Market responded in bullish fashion in 2013“What a Difference a Year Makes!”

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