Make that, Obama brings his grade up a notch, from C+ to a B, with a huge qualifying asterisk, explained toward the middle of this post. I first started working on this update of my “grade” for President Obama back in June but cast it aside as I figured out how to be fair without pretending to be neutral. It seems something akin to the difference between, on the one hand, scoring a multiple choice exam, where the answers circled allow for more objective assessment (even there, the questions selected can show bias on the part of the examiner), without regard to whether the student is a favorite of yours, and on the other hand scoring an essay exam where you both have definite opinions of the correct theories and a particular personal dislike (though not hatred) for a test taker who holds to theories you consider somewhat asinine in the least or abhorrent at the outer limit. Oh, and thanks Richard for not inactivating my password after my long absence from both posting and commenting. I’ve been busy but have thought of you all!
For President Barack Hussein Obama’s speech in Cairo admitting to our colonial practices at times and their long-lasting disastrous consequences; his inviting a new start with the Muslim world; his admitting to overreacting to the arrest of a friend and then using it as an opportunity to explore possibilities in racial understanding and reconciliation; opening us up for dialogue with Iran while still maintaining expectations regarding their nuclear programs; issuing one of the sternest rebukes given to Israel in years, while also letting Palestinian leaders know that more is expected of them, too; canceling the highly dubious missile defense system placement in Poland and the Czech Republic; promising to end production of the F-22 Raptor, that supersonic stealth “wonder” that was up for 200 more in production at a cost of $350 million each; for suggesting that military intervention was oversold as a solution for Afghanistan’s challenges and national security (while I keep asking about world security); easing trade and travel restrictions on Cuba, showing greater respect for Central and South America; and for giving the fullest disclosure of total U.S. yearly intelligence expenditures, $75 billion being the latest figure, I calculate that President Obama has brought his grade average up from a C+ to a B- in a combined military/foreign affairs approach. His grade could be higher, but the overall subsection called Afghanistan merits no better than a D+ for trying to create something coherent out of non-existent parts. A further subsection related to legal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice of past torture practices, I give a B+ for allowing Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision stand to press ahead despite Obama’s proposal to make changes, but not look back. If, as lobbied by numerous former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Obama orders Holder to kill the investigation, I’ll change Obama’s grade there to a D+, allowing it to remain that high only by comparing any positive change to former Vice-president Richard Cheney’s post-service pronouncements on torture that I am creating a special mark of F- for.
*In the event Obama shuts down Attorney General Holder’s torture investigation, limited as its scope already is, I would lower Obama’s overall grade back down to a C+.
Pundits from the ultra-right are squealing about our new president. How dare the president issue an apology! How dare the president open the curtain that hides our shameful misdeeds! And how dare the president seek a better relationship with Muslims! I don’t know, but when my head hits the pillow at night, I’m a little more relaxed than before Obama became president. The problems we face in the world are enormous, but why is it so bad for a proud, bright and beautiful nation to open its walk-in closet and let the crammed skeletons see the light of day as they fall over each other is beyond me.
On National Health Care, I rate Obama at a B-. His administration’s proposals get a solid B from me, but his inability to stay consistent in explaining to the public what likely would or would not change gets a C-. His inability to decide on and then articulate a consistent position on the “public option” or government role allowed many would-be Congressional supporters to become weak kneed. For grace under fire concerning the outrageous lies about the formation of “death panels” to decide the fate of the elderly deserves an A. I am not a financial expert, but I think Obama’s claim to be able to keep the initial cost to $900 billion is unrealistic and cost him credibility with the public. That the United States is the only “power” nation that cannot deliver even minimal health care to as many as 30 million of its citizens is a disgrace, however. No nation that drives as many to medical bankruptcy as does the U.S. can call itself a “wealthy” country, recession or no.
And our system of billing for medical services is confusing, illogical, and often downright immoral. I am fortunate to have good health insurance. However, I don’t find myself happy or appreciative, as I’m told I’m supposed to be, because blood lab work that is billed at $2,367 is “discounted” or “negotiated” down to $381. Who wouldn’t be pleased that they have just saved $1,986 off the original billed fee? Well, anyone with a conscience shouldn’t be too pleased, because those without insurance, are expected to pay that entire $2,367 and are often sued, with notice given to the public, have liens placed against their homes and frequently actually have their homes foreclosed on due to medical fees that they often couldn’t pay off in 100 years. Many in Congress oppose health care reform as “flawed” as if the billion dollar bailouts to the banks and auto companies weren’t also deeply flawed, often rewarding those who dug the graves of others. Interesting that war and weapons are often argued as morally necessary no matter how messy or costly, but that national security issue of basic medical care for all citizens must be neat in all regards. National health care or no, no one, even the experts, can accurately predict future medical costs with great accuracy because the unknown frontier includes what medical equipment and tests will be invented over the next generations, and what longevity of life will be.
On reform in the credit card industry and practices, I hand out a B. The industry will be more restricted, card agreements and notices must be more clear, but the bottom line is that usury issues go insufficiently addressed. And while I commend the President for his support of credit card policies that benefit the consumer, I would prefer to see a cap on credit card interest rates at 15-20 percent at a minimum, but as explained below, that is beyond the President’s ability minus a tidal wave change in public opinion or tolerance. He can however, use his “bully pulpit” to shame some folks. I would have loved to see a cap on late charges and over-the-limit fees. Due often to medical bills, there are many folks who have a credit card limit of $2,000, have been paying on time for years and then get hit by some truly exploitive fees. On my “example” of the $2,000, let’s say the card holder has been paying on-time for months $80 to $100 and that the bank sponsoring the card requires 3 per cent of the $2,000 to be paid each month. The card holder has no medical insurance and is badly hurt in an accident. After that, for about two years, the credit card holder can only send the bank (Visa, Mastercard, etc.) $50 a month,- $10 less than the minimum, but hardly a “bust” for the lender - so the bank (card sponsor/provider) rushes in with the penalties. Each time, the card holder is hit with a $39 late payment fee, which is more than half the minimum amount due. The card holder continues to send in what money they can, but eventually they go over the credit limit, which results in a separate $39 penalty. The credit card legislation will help with some of the dual penalties and partially limit rate increases for shorter delinquency periods, but consumers who meet up against even rather short-lived financial challenges will remain at the mercy of the credit industry.
So the card holder is a conscientious type and is paying the bank what they can. However, in a short while, the card provider ups the interest rate to 29 per cent due to the late payment and “over-the-limit” fees. The card holder continues to make payments. However, month after month the card holder falls short of the minimum payment and is hit with late fees or “over-the-limit fee”. Years go by and the card holder, for all their effort to honor their commitment, now owes $3,500 instead of $2,000. This scenario has happened to many people hit with large medical bills. In much, if not most of the world, such lenders would be disgraced.
New legislation limits how many times a card holder may be hit with both “over-the-limit” and “late payment” fees. But the changes are still favorable to the banking interests and promoting of a culture of greed. Why? As labor union influence has dropped, more and more Democrats running for office get their money from those affiliated with the banking/lending industry. So now, those elected to Congress either as a Democrats or Republican “owe” the industry. Whether he was legally required to take them on or not, Abraham Lincoln assumed the debts of a business partner and it took him a number of years to pay off the debt (although the frequently referenced debt repayment period of 17 years is considered by most historians to be greatly exaggerated).. Under the often predatory lending practices sanctioned today, Lincoln’s debt payments might have extended for so many years as to prevent a successful law practice and his eventual run for the presidency. In a March 9, 1832 address, Lincoln said, “It appears that the practice of loaning money at exorbitant rates of interest has already been opened as a field for discussion; so I suppose I may enter upon it without claiming the honor or risking the danger which may await its first explorer. It seems as though we are never to have an end to this baneful and corroding system, acting almost as prejudicially to the general interests of the community as a direct tax of several thousand dollars annually laid on each county for the benefit of a few individuals only, unless there be a law made fixing the limits of usury. A law for this purpose, I am of opinion, may be made without materially injuring any class of people. In cases of extreme necessity, there could always be means found to cheat the law; while in all other cases it would have its intended effect. I would favor the passage of a law on this subject which might not be very easily evaded. Let it be such that the labor and difficulty of evading it could only be justified in cases of greatest necessity.”Due to a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision, subsequent banking legislation in 1980 and then the final blow via law signed by President Clinton, a Democrat, there are effectively no usury limits except with regards to student loans and by individual state and then only with respect to certain business-granted consumer loans (used car sales, etc.). Yet, the United States was able to prosper financially many times in its history when usury laws were in place. At this point, it would take a U.S. Constitutional Amendment, which I would favor, limiting interest rates while allowing for unusual inflationary pressures. U.S. Developments in this regard closely parallel the significant limitation of understandings of salvation to the personal, mostly ignoring corporate or community covenant notions of a social gospel. Again, because both political parties and their candidates mostly rely on the banking and lending industries to finance their campaigns (substantial exceptions included some of the presidential campaigns in 2008).
On the overall stimulus package, granting that much of it was enacted before Obama became president, I still find it far short in creating jobs by funding much-needed road, bridge and other infrastructure projects. Recovery must include living wage jobs, not just technical definitions of quarters of growth showing an end to a recession. While some bankruptcy laws needed to be revised because of fraud or abuse, the 2005 law went too far. Now President Obama has proposed easing some provisions, particularly in allowing people to retain their homes where their calamity has been due to medical catastrophe, weather disaster, etc. Considering the forces that will oppose him, I give Obama an A- in this area.
In the area of grace under fire, with clear racism or bigotry assaulting Obama’s presidency, I give the president an A. I do not however, find that Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouting of “you lie” at Obama from the House floor to have remotely been shown as rooted in racism. Some say the Obama haters are acting no worse than the Bush haters, but I find both a qualitative and quantitative escalation against Obama by the “birthers” as well as those hawking wild ideas of Obama confiscating arms protected by the Second Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on that second amendment issue and despite some of the positions on gun control Obama advocated as a U.S. Senator out of concern for urban violence, neither Obama or the dreaded “feds” are going to be seizing weapons under the cover of night. Why does there seem to be even more racially-based opposition now than during the election run-up? First, Republican presidential candidate John McCain took significant steps to keep race out of the campaign. With McCain’s loss, there is no central opposition figure with the stature to keep the extremist sentiment in check. Further, no matter that the polls showed a substantial lead for Obama throughout the fall of 2008, I think many of those whites who have such a hard time abiding a black president didn’t believe, in their hearts, that Obama could actually be elected. Now reality is sinking it. They are “5 to 10 per centers” but in Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the remnants of the Pat Robertson operation, their venom is amplified.
What is your grade for President Obama and why? You are not limited to the topics I covered. And perhaps more importantly, as the world scene rapidly changes, how long will it be before Americans have to seriously study the records and agendas of other world leaders? I read a good bit about Canadian, Chinese, German, Iranian leaders and their proposals, but it is embarassing that the average citizen in so many of the world’s leading countries know far more about our leaders than we do about theirs. If Americans don’t change on that score fairly soon, we are in for a rude but inevitable awakening, be it in ten, twenty, or thirty years.
Note (added October 1): Although the information is readily available online, I really ought to note upfront that I contributed $973 to Obama’s presidential campaign.