Opinion: Barack Obama — Should He or Shouldn’t He?
By Gregory Clay
A Washington publication on July 19 portrayed Barack and Michelle Obama in a peculiar position on its cover: An illustration of a partially hidden couple peeking around the Washington Monument, with the headline, “How the Obamas became invisible. Longtime Washingtonians hoped the former president and first lady would become unofficial ambassadors for their adopted home city. Instead, they’ve kept largely out of sight.”
Coincidentally or not, Obama came up for air last week as we witnessed a messaging and a sighting of the former president.
The messaging: Obama announced that he was dipping his toe into the campaign game by endorsing 81 candidates for the 2018 midterm elections.
The sighting: Obama and his former vice president, Joe Biden, appeared at the noble Dog Tag Bakery, a Washington non-profit establishment that helps disabled military veterans learn business and entrepreneurial skills. Obama ordered a sandwich and a salad and this bakery business has been “booming ever since,” an employee said.
Campaigns and bakeries are fine for former presidents, but what about the $64,000 Question: What does Barack Obama REALLY think of the Donald Trump administration?
So the $32,000 Question obviously is when do former presidents quietly seek relative seclusion out of respectful deference to their successors and, conversely, when do they audibly perch themselves out on Front Street to essentially defend their honor. Especially in the case of Barack Obama, who day-by-day has witnessed Trump ripping his legacy to shreds, piece by piece.
Allan Lichtman, the acclaimed political history professor at American University in Washington, explained that there have been precedents for presidents. “Obviously, there is no formal rule that a former president can’t criticize a current president,” Lichtman said. “There is precedent: Herbert Hoover was a persistent critic of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. Jimmy Carter criticized George W. Bush, and Bush himself indirectly criticized Donald Trump.”
Nevertheless, we do have a couple of morsels reflecting Obama’s personal thinking about Donald Trump and the 2016 presidential election. Conveyed through a middle man. Those morsels are located in Ben Rhodes’ remarkable new book, “The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House.”
Rhodes, who was Obama’s deputy national security adviser, basically gives us an insider’s view of Obama while he was president. Rhodes, who started as a speechwriter for then-senator Obama, may be the first former Obama White House official to shine a very public lens in book form on the inner workings and feelings of the nation’s 44th president.
In fact, on Page 405 of his book, Rhodes paints a vivid picture of Obama’s visceral displeasure after Trump won the presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016.
Rhodes, setting the stage during Obama’s “Farewell Trip to Europe,” wrote of Obama referring to Trump as a “cartoon figure”: “Ten days later (after the election), on our final foreign trip there were flashes of anger. Standing backstage before his press conference with (German chancellor) Angela Merkel, I told him (Obama) that it was probably the last time a U.S. president would defend the liberal international order for a while. ‘I don’t know,’ he (Obama) said. ‘Maybe this is what people want. I’ve got the economy set up for him (Trump). No facts. No consequences. They can just have a cartoon.’’’
Rhodes appeared for a book discussion with Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic magazine, before a standing-room-only audience at a bookstore in Washington in mid-June.
Goldberg asked Rhodes: “Who was more surprised by Donald Trump’s election: Barack Obama, Michelle Obama or you?”
Rhodes, the brother of CBS News president David Rhodes, responded, “I was more surprised.”
Goldberg then asked, “They were not surprised?”
To which Ben Rhodes answered with, “No, I think they were a little surprised. I try to be candid in the book. It was white people who thought that Barack Obama’s election was going to transform race in America and not largely African-American people, certainly not the Obamas. They never believed that, because of the lived experience of being an African-American in this country.
“And so he was far more acutely aware of racism in this country than I was, you know. And far more aware of the forces that might lead to Trumpism. …”
Obama certainly has at least one poll on his side. According to a survey released by the Pew Research Center last month, Obama was viewed as the “best” president of recent years. When 2,002 respondents were asked the open-ended question “which president has done the best job during your lifetime,” 44 percent considered Obama to be the best or second-best president who they have witnessed.
He was followed by Bill Clinton at 33 percent and Ronald Reagan at 32 percent; Trump was voted best or second best by 19 percent of respondents. Note that in his second year of office, Obama tallied only 20 percent.
With that, now back to the issue of promoting a defense of the Obama Legacy. Should he or shouldn’t he?
Lichtman suggested yes, he should … but with a warning.
On one hand: “It’s a political calculation of when Obama — as well as the Democrats — should criticize Trump. Because there could be a backlash,” Lichtman said.
On the other hand: “Obama’s diffidence could hurt him and his legacy. He’s been too reluctant to speak out on political matters, in general.”
The bottom line, according to Lichtman: “Obama should speak on Trump and defend his own policies. He should criticize Trump’s politics, as well as defend his own legacy. And he doesn’t have to refer to Trump by name.”
The venue could be a public speech or a prime-time television interview. Perhaps that moment could be a belated birthday present by Obama to Obama. Remember, Obama turned 57 last Saturday, Aug. 4; social media hailed it as #ObamaDay.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Gregory Clay is a Washington columnist and former assistant sports editor for McClatchy-Tribune News Service. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: The Afghanistan War Is a Costly Failure
By Michael McGrady
President George W. Bush justified the invasion of Afghanistan as a means to bring those who were responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks to justice. Barack Obama’s administration can take credit with the removal and subsequent death of Osama bin Laden. However, once this accomplishment was realized, the globally supported International Security Assistance Force, with NATO partners, valued an exit strategy.
Little to no surprise though, the fighting continues. Violence remains potent within the rural districts of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as innocent civilians, and our troops, continue to die. The Obama administration de-escalated force involvement, and American and NATO forces remain on a mission to support regional and domestic stabilization. Donald Trump’s administration reauthorized overseas contingency funding early in his tenure to further contribute to these actions; however, the results denote a military failure that spans three administrations.
Based on recent findings from a leading U.S. government watchdog agency, failure is an understatement. According to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the U.S. government has wasted billions on failed stabilization and reconstruction efforts.
“Between 2001 and 2017, U.S. government efforts to stabilize insecure and contested areas in Afghanistan mostly failed,” SIGAR’s report reads, holding no punches. “The U.S. government overestimated its ability to build and reform government institutions in Afghanistan as part of the stabilization strategy.”
Thrusting blame for reconstruction and stabilization failures primarily on the Obama administration, the efforts to stabilize Afghanistan after years of fighting are a mess. Obama is responsible for his failed cleanup efforts. Bush can’t be dismissed for his warmongering. And Trump? He is complicit for continuing the war.
In total, the American taxpayers have bankrolled the conflict for hundreds of billions. From SIGAR’s findings in a different report, $15.5 billion of that commitment has been wasted one way or another. The agency acknowledges this total accounts for a part of the waste. One report was spurred from a request submitted by congressional representatives in September 2017. Congressman Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, with colleagues Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont, and Tim Walberg, a Republican from Michigan, filed their request with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko. The expected result was a dollar amount that represents total “waste, fraud, and abuse” SIGAR has investigated.
Jones, Welch and Walberg further justified the request as a means to also advocate for continued oversight. Sopko, in return, provided the requesting members with a report and findings that took 10 months to formulate.
“Our assessment included a total of 238 audits and inspections, 475 closed investigative cases, and 51 special projects that we completed during that period. We assessed the total value of the projects, programs and cases reviewed to be approximately $40.7 billion, or 32 percent of the $126 billion that has been appropriated for Afghanistan reconstruction,” an enclosure attached to Sopko’s response letter to Congress reads. Consequently, the scope of this work delivered a staggering number — being the $15.5 billion sum.
Another recent report from SIGAR documenting the efficacy of the central government corroborates further characterizations that the U.S. government’s financial commitment to reconstruction is costly. Citing a characterization from the Department of Justice calling the Afghan government “largely lawless, weak and dysfunctional,” SIGAR concludes that American costs increase due to influential, corrupt actors.
For example, this report covered the loss of influence in Afghanistan’s contested districts. The watchdog concluded that the Afghan central government’s control and power has diminished by 16 percent, according to data obtained since November 2015. In turn, those regions lacking government influence turn to the control or influence of insurgent groups has increased by seven percent. This significant shift of power can be attributed to pure force and corruption of local officials and ministries.
Insurgent control is at a low compared to past years, according to this report. Overall central government control continues to diminish further. The central government’s attorney general’s office also has failed to commit to the full initiative of stamping out corruption. SIGAR representative Jennifer George-Nichol characterized this finding regarding the AG’s failure as an indicator of the office’s “poor record of prosecuting powerful and influential corrupt actors.”
Failures, including this, have attributed to a “taxpayer black hole,” as characterized by the last three administration’s collective inability to withdraw American military forces. Through recent actions by the Trump administration, the costs will continue to increase. Trump has positioned for peace talks between Taliban political envoys and the United States; however, these negotiations can’t deteriorate. Though speculation, failed negotiations could be detrimental to the existing U.S. federal budget.
Obama’s negotiations, though welcomed, failed. The only solution is a lasting and robust international accord between Taliban political envoys and the United States. We can’t legitimize the Taliban organization; however, we can’t dismiss their requests in peace negotiations.
Effectually, the real settlement that will result in lasting peace within Afghanistan is a coordinated political agreement that also includes the legitimate Afghan central government. Policymakers need to divert American funding from Afghan officials as peace between Taliban leaders and the conflict’s partied governments is negotiated. Until that happens, the Afghanistan war remains a costly failure that several presidents — and world leaders — have to account.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michael McGrady, a political consultant, is the executive director of McGrady Policy Research. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Fault Lines in the Global Economy
By Desmond Lachman
Markets often fail to predict major market-moving events even though in retrospect, they should have been obvious to anticipate. A prime example of such a failure was the 2008 global market bust, which followed the extraordinary U.S. housing and credit market bubble.
An earlier example was the world equity market panic in late July 1914 that followed the outbreak of World War I and that occasioned the closing for a few months of both the New York and London Stock Exchanges. As historian Niall Ferguson reminds us, on the eve of World War I, markets remained buoyant even though all the signs were long since pointing in the direction of the world sleepwalking toward a catastrophic war.
One has to wonder whether something similar might not be happening today. At a time that the world’s major central banks are winding down their many years of ultra-easy monetary policies, global asset and credit markets remain very buoyant. They remain so even though a number of important fault lines in the global economy have appeared in plain sight, which could cause major financial market turbulence within the next 12 months as the world’s central banks proceed with normalizing their monetary policies.
Among the more dangerous of these fault lines is Italy, the Eurozone’s third-largest economy and the world’s third-largest sovereign bond market with a public debt of almost $3 trillion. This makes the Italian economy too big to fail for the Euro to survive. Yet it also makes it too big to save by its European partners if markets were to turn decisively against that country.
The danger that Italy might trigger a new round of the European sovereign debt crisis stems not simply from the likelihood that its very high public debt level and its very troubled banking system could soon be exposed as the European Central Bank ends its bond buying program later this year.
It is also that earlier this year Italy elected a populist coalition government, comprising the Five-Star Movement and The League, which appear to be on a collision course with Europe. A showdown between the Italian government and its European partners could come as early as October when the Italian government is expected to present a budget that will likely violate the Eurozone’s rules on budget deficit limits. It will do so by introducing a flat income tax as well as a basic income allowance.
An economic fault line closer to home for the United States is that of Brazil, the world’s eighth-largest economy with a public debt of $1.5 trillion. One reason for thinking that Brazil could come under severe market pressure in a less benign global liquidity environment is that, with a budget deficit of 8 percent of GDP, a public debt of almost 80 percent of GDP, and a very feeble economy, its public finances are on a clearly unsustainable path.
Another reason for thinking that Brazil could soon come under serious market pressure is that it does not seem to have the political will to either reform its economy or to get a better grip on its public finances. Sadly, the Petrobras corruption scandal has totally discredited Brazil’s political class. That makes it all too likely that in this October’s scheduled elections, Brazil will elect a populist government of one flavor or another not committed to addressing the country’s serious economic problems.
Perhaps more troubling yet than the shaky economic prospects for Italy and Brazil are those for China, the world’s second-largest economy and the world’s major international commodity consumer. A significant Chinese economic slowdown would come at an especially inopportune time for the emerging market economies, which already are being hit by a sharp reversal of capital flows back to the United States in the wake of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy tightening.
One reason for fearing that the Chinese economy will slow significantly in the year ahead is that the Chinese government is at last beginning to rein in the massive credit bubble that has been an important pillar of its economic recovery. Another is that the Chinese economy would seem to be the main loser of Donald Trump’s America First policy that soon could see increased tariffs on $500 billion of Chinese exports.
With economic storm clouds now gathering over Brazil, China and Italy, three systemically important economies, the Trump administration would be making a grave mistake in thinking that present global market buoyancy is a sign that all is well in the world economy.
Rather, it would seem that the administration should be now taking advantage of the present market calm to plan how it might respond to a global economic crisis that could be triggered by political or economic events in Brazil, China or Italy. It might also want to repair its frayed relations with its G-7 partners whose cooperation might very well be needed in helping to resolve any future global economic crisis.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Desmond Lachman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He formerly was a deputy director in the International Monetary Fund’s Policy Development and Review Department and the Chief Emerging Market Economic Strategist at Salomon Smith Barney. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
No More Whining on the Yacht
CEOs often make hundreds of times what their workers take home, and just got a huge tax break too. They’re still demanding more.
By Larry Checco | August 5, 2018
There was a time when the wealthiest among us were content simply to go sailing on a Sunday afternoon, sipping their vintage Chardonnay and munching on roe-covered canapés. For the most part, they left the rest of us pretty much alone to pursue our own American dreams.
That was a time, back in the mid-20th century, when CEOs could feel satisfied making a mere 30 times what average American workers were making.
At the same time, workers could feel good about lifelong jobs at decent wages that granted them entry into a thriving middle class. They could translate these jobs into homeownership, save for retirement, rely on employer-based health care, finance their kids’ educations, and even enjoy ample annual vacation time.
In short, the haves and those who had less lived, for the most part, in a tranquil coexistence.
Then something happened. Those on their yachts began to bellyache. They wanted more.
Their pals in academia, meanwhile, supplied them with justifications for their bellyaching. In 1970, for instance, the famed conservative economist Milton Friedman argued that corporations had one stakeholder that mattered and one stakeholder alone: their shareholders.
Workers? Community? Environment? They don’t count. Corporations, Friedman preached, need focus only on generating ever-greater profits for shareholders.
Those who ran America’s corporations found that an appealing message. To boost shareholder returns — and their own paychecks — corporate executives began paring back their labor costs and rewriting the social contract that had set the tone for America’s postwar years.
By the 1990s, that contract had changed enormously.
“The U.S. is increasingly becoming a nation of part-timers and freelancers, of temps and independent contractors,” a Time magazine article observed in 1993. “One by one, the tangible and intangible bonds that once defined work in America are giving way.”
In the 25 years since that article appeared, the bonds between workers and their employers have given way. Capital no longer seems to need much in the way of labor, and that indifference to workers has decimated millions of once middle-class families.
How deep has that decimation gone? A recent United Way study found that today — at a time of rock-bottom joblessness, high corporate profits, and a rising stock market — more than 40 percent of U.S. households cannot afford the basics of a middle-class lifestyle.
Those on their yachts could care less. They want more than higher share prices. They want more than executive pay packages that have CEOs routinely making hundreds of times more than their workers. They want to pay as little in taxes as possible.
And, from their perspective, why not? For the most part, the richest Americans live off the public grid. So why invest in public services?
Invest in public education? In heavens, why? The rich send their kids to elite private schools. Public transportation? The wealthy have chauffeurs and private planes. Public parks? They picnic on their estates. Local police? They have private security details and live in gated communities.
And those social programs — like food stamps, health care clinics, Head Start, child care, and legal aid — are you kidding me! The rich never need to touch them.
Back in the 1950s, Americans of means faced a 91 percent tax rate on income over $200,000 — and the economy was humming. The top rate in 2018? Just 37 percent. And our economy? It’s only humming for Americans of means. Millions of American families are just scraping by.
So if you’re one of those sitting on the yacht, no more whining! You’ve taken more than your share. You’re leaving too many of the rest of us behind in your wake.
Marketing analyst and author Larry Checco has spent the last four decades helping large and small nonprofit organizations. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
You’ve Heard of the Gender Pay Gap, But There’s More
It takes the typical black woman 20 months to earn what a white male worker earns in a single year.
By Jessicah Pierre | August 3, 2018
The gender wage gap continues to harm women, their families, and the economy, despite women being in the workforce for decades. But not all women are marginalized by this disparity in the same way.
In 1996, the National Committee on Pay Equity decided to bring awareness to the wage gap by creating National Equal Pay Day.
The day signifies how long it takes for a woman to make the same amount of money a man makes for the year prior. Each year Equal Pay Day for All is held in April — meaning it will take an average woman about 16 months to make what a typical man makes in a year.
But when we look at the wage gap for women of color, this day of “catching up” falls way later in the year — all the way into August.
Recent data from the National Women’s Law Center has shown that while white women in the U.S. make 80 cents to every dollar men make, black women working the same number of hours typically make just 63 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts.
This means that a black woman would have to work more than 200 additional days to make the same amount of money a white man makes in a year. This year, August 7 marks Black Women’s Equal Pay Day.
The day highlights the contrast not only between black women and white men, but also between black women and other American women.
To further paint the picture, let’s take a look at the numbers. Currently, median wages for black women in the United States are $36,227 per year, compared to $57,925 annually for white, non-Hispanic men. This amounts to a loss of about $21,698 each year for African American women and their families.
Some might argue this is because black women aren’t working the right jobs, but the data says otherwise. A fact sheet released by the National Partnership for Women and Families found that even in states with large populations of black women in the workforce, rampant wage disparities persist.
Others might also argue that maybe black women aren’t earning more because they’re not pursuing degrees in order to get higher paying jobs. But the National Center for Education Statistics found that black women are enrolled in college at a higher percentage than any other group — including white women, Asian women, and white men.
Despite this, black women are still marginalized by the fact that they also take on more student debt than any other group of women. And because they make less money after graduation, it takes longer to repay their loans. Along with Latinas, black women have the highest default rates.
African American women are also currently the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in this country. But they still face many barriers that contribute to the wage gap, including employment discrimination, gender and race-based bias, lack of pay transparency, inadequate minimum wages, unfair workplace practices, lack of affordable child care, lack of quality public education, a dismantling of organized labor, and inadequate access to capital.
The only way we can actually reverse this gender and race-based pay gap is through effective policy-making. That includes strengthening our current equal pay laws to specifically address the disparities affecting women of color.
In return, the beneficiaries of these policies will be not only black women and their families, but all women and all families. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?
Jessicah Pierre is the inequality media specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
Why Does Betsy DeVos’s Family Yacht Fly a Foreign Flag? Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ Administration and the Cayman Islands
Microsoft & Agile to bring broadband internet to 110K people in rural Ohio
Microsoft and Agile Networks announced a new agreement to extend broadband access to 110,000 unserved people in rural Ohio, and greatly expand access in underserved rural areas, over the next four years.
This addresses a critical need in rural Ohio, where more than 900,000 people lack access to reliable broadband and the advances it enables in agriculture, telemedicine, and education, and opportunities to participate in the digital economy. The project will also support the critical public safety functions in our communities, which increasingly rely on high-speed connectivity,
The project is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative and will use a mix of technologies, including TV white spaces, as well as leverage Agile’s robust network of telecommunications infrastructure throughout Ohio. Throughout the rural US, 19.4 million people lack access to broadband internet.
Agile Networks and Microsoft announce agreement to deliver broadband internet access to rural communities in Ohio
The agreement will leverage underutilized infrastructure in counties across the state, bringing high-speed internet access to 110,000 people in rural areas without broadband
CANTON, OH (AUGUST 8, 2018) – Today, Agile Networks, a leading provider of telecommunications solutions, and Microsoft Corp. announced a new agreement to bring broadband internet access to rural areas in Ohio, reaching 110,000 currently unserved people and greatly expanding access in underserved rural areas. The partnership is part of the Microsoft Airband Initiative, which is focused on closing the broadband gap by extending broadband access to 2 million unserved people in rural America by 2022.
This partnership leverages Agile’s robust network of telecommunications infrastructure throughout the state and cutting-edge technology, including TV white spaces, to provide more people living in rural Ohio with access to broadband internet over the next four years.
“People across the state, no matter where they choose to live, work and send their children to school, should have the same access to strong, reliable broadband service,” said Kyle Quillen, Agile Networks Founder and CEO. “This partnership will have an impact on more than 900,000 people across the state of Ohio, of whom 110,000 completely lack access to broadband. We’re excited to partner with Microsoft as part of this national initiative to ensure everyone has access to the information they need, when they need it.”
“In today’s digital economy, broadband access has become a necessity across industries including healthcare, agriculture, business and education,” said Shelley McKinley, Microsoft’s head of Technology and Corporate Responsibility. “Our partnership with Agile will help deliver broadband internet access to rural communities across Ohio so that they can take advantage of today’s and tomorrow’s opportunities and the latest cloud technologies.”
Across Ohio, there are critical functions in need of reliable, high-speed connectivity, including medical clinics and rural hospitals, schools, oil and gas wells, agriculture operations, and households. By equipping its towers with innovative TV white spaces equipment, Agile’s efforts, in partnership with Microsoft, will enhance public safety interoperability across the state of Ohio, while providing competitive, affordable broadband access options to rural consumers and businesses, as well as turnkey solution sets tailored to fixed and mobile wireless carriers. As a result, this project will serve as a catalyst for economic development and rural broadband deployment in Ohio.
The Microsoft Airband Initiative is focused on bringing broadband coverage to rural Americans through commercial partnerships and investment in digital skills training for people in the newly connected communities. Proceeds from Airband connectivity projects will be reinvested into the program to expand broadband to more rural areas.
About Agile Networks
Agile Networks is the premier provider of hybrid fiber wireless broadband data networks, supplying connectivity to empower individuals and transform organizations. Agile Networks’ hybrid network – The Agile Network – utilizes vertical infrastructure along with the latest in fiber-optic and wireless technologies to provide world-class data solutions. Engineered to the stringent specifications required to support public safety, The Agile Network boasts carrier-grade performance and military-grade security. Agile’s Last-Mile Agility makes delivering solutions to rural areas just as feasible as major cities
Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.