Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: barack obama

I am going to miss you

You have heard an awful lot about the President of the United States over the past eight years, but the substance of his policies remains badly misunderstood both at home and abroad. Barack Obama is often criticised for failing to deliver on the hope-and-change rhetoric that inspired so many voters in 2008. Indeed, his policies have been less glamorous than Donald Trump’s plan for a wall along the Mexican border or Bernie Sanders’ promise of free college for all. Yet, the reality is that Barack Obama has engineered a series of changes that have profoundly affected the US and the world we live in.

When he was elected in 2008 there was a lot of healing to do: the US had lost one war in the Gulf and was losing another in Afghanistan. In a poll of 19 countries, two thirds had a negative view of America. Back at home, the financial system was on the brink of collapse and the labour market was on free fall, with unemployment at 7.8% and rising.

Upon taking his seat in the White House, Obama pushed through and signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He guided the massive TARP financial and banking rescue plan to force financial organizations to pay back virtually all bailout money and rescued the car manufacturing sector. Unemployment today is 4.9% and falling, just like the federal deficit, which has been reduced from 9.8% of GDP in 2009 under Bush, to 2.5% of GDP in 2015. After having secured the economy, Obama relaxed relations with Cubaexecuted Osama bin Laden, reached a nuclear deal with Iran and vastly improved America’s standing in the world. Ten million adults now have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act and although 13.9% of Americans remain uninsured, this is still a drop from 18.9% in 2013. Obama indefinitely deferred the deportation of the parents of children who are either US citizens or legal residents, and expanded that protection to children who entered the country illegally with their parents (the Dream Act). He eventually spoke out forcefully for gun control and appointed two women to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina. Meanwhile, Janet Yellen is now the first woman to preside over the Federal Reserve. In the field of energy resources, wind and solar power are set to triple.

There are, of course, other facts to contend with. Immigration and citizenship have not been reformed. In foreign policy, US troops are still in Afghanistan, while there has been a 700% increase in drone strikes in Pakistan (not to mention Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere) and Guantanamo Bay remains operative. Obama’s dithering in Libya and Syria did not do much to stop chaos and terror, which then spilled over into Iraq. After the Wikileaks scandal, Obama used the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more than twice as many whistleblowers as all previous presidents combined and he deported more people than any president in US history. Importantly, wealth inequality and income inequality are massively on the rise, while corporate profits keep rocketing. A lot of work remains to be done.

In spite of these setbacks, Obama has produced a quiet revolution, changing the way Americans live. Gay soldiers can now serve openly in the military, insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, markets no longer believe the biggest banks are too big to fail, solar energy installations are up, carbon emissions have dropped, and so have unemployment and the federal deficit. These are only some of the many accomplishments of President Barack Obama’s policies. The quiet change he delivered is enormous.

When thinking of this legacy, however, we should not forget about the fundamental political revolution that Obama brought about. This is something that has been already noticed by David Brooks and duly reported on this blog. In Obama, and in his egregious family and staff, we are losing someone who took public service both seriously and gracefully. January will be the end of the line for a leader who believed that facts mattered and that politics can be done with a ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance.


Good manners and elegance

David Brooks, not exactly the ideal type supporter of the current American president, has written a marvellous, short article on the Obama presidency praising its ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance – something we all will, or should, miss at least a little bit.

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Re-appraisals: perché i democratici hanno perso

Il mese scorso il presidente Obama ha ricordato al pubblico della Northwestern University che “Io non sono sulla scheda elettorale nelle elezioni del prossimo autunno. Michelle é abbastanza felice di questo. Ma fate attenzione comunque: queste elezioni sono anche sulle nostre politiche“. Gli studiosi di politica confermano, in effetti, che le elezioni di medio termine sono di solito un referendum sul presidente in carica e il suo partito. E molti commentatori, incluso Charlie Cook di The Atlantic, spiegano ora che i Democratici hanno perso sonoramente perché gli elettori non hanno approvato le scelte di Barack Obama. L’idea di fondo é la seguente: il presidente ha sprecato il suo enorme capitale politico investendo tutto sulla riforma sanitaria anziché dare la priorità alle riforme economiche.

Mi sono trovato a dissentire con questa tesi. Nel 2009 Obama ha eriditato un’economia devastata e all’orlo del collasso e ha rimesso in sesto il sistema con una serie di stimoli monetari molto efficaci. Dimostrazione ne é il fatto che oggi l’economia americana va oggettivamente bene. Il tasso di disoccupazione é attorno al 5%, circa cinque volte inferiore a quello di Italia, Spagna, e molti altri Paesi europei, e il PIL pro capito é tornato a crescere da diversi mesi a questa parte. Tuttavia, la tesi della maggior parte degli economisti é che Obama abbia investito troppo sulla riforma sanitaria prima che la ripresa avesse effetti tangibili sul tasso di occupazione. D’altra parte, quando Obama giurò, nel gennaio 2009, la disoccupazione era al 7.8%, a novembre 2010 – momento delle prime midterm – si aggirava attorno al 10%. E già allora tutta l’attività dell’Amministrazione ruotava attorno all’Affordable Care Act. Un problema di priorità, quindi. Poi, va anche detto che i piani più “audaci” relativi allo stimulus bill stavano comunque incontrando una forte resistenza da parte del Congresso e quindi la scelta delle priorità ne ha probabilmente risentito.

Ha fatto male Obama a investire tutto il suo capitale politico nella riforma sanitaria prima che le sue misure economiche avessero un effetti tangibile? Non dimentichiamoci che quella sanitaria é una riforma grandiosa in una materia nella quale gli Stati Uniti hanno moltissimo da imparare da noi europei. Stiamo parlando di diritti fondamentali che riguardano tutti, oltre che di una questione di civiltà ed eguaglianza. E dunque Obama ha ritenuto che questa riforma fosse il modo migliore di mantenere il suo patto con l’elettorato e andasse quindi fatta subito senza aspettare un secondo mandato. Purtroppo sul lungo termine questa scelta si é rivelata elettoralmente sbagliata.

Postilla: va anche detto che a prescindere dalle scelte del presidente, esiste una parte dell’elettorato, quella dei pensionati bianchi, che odia visceralmente Barack Obama. Il loro rapporto é stato accuratamente catturato da questo spezzone di un famoso film prodotto tanti anni fa.

nota: questo post é il risultato di un vivace dibattito tra me e Old Tom. I riferimenti dotti sono tutti merito della sua cultura enciclopedica.


A good night for marijuana

Republican Party candidates, who had transformed the mid-term elections in a referendum over the Obama administration, slaughtered their Democratic opponents in last night American Senate’s mid-term elections winning 21 of the 33 seats that were contested. They now have a strong majority in the Chamber (they already did before the election) and in the Senate (they did not), leaving very little room of manoeuvre to President Obama for the last two years of his mandate.

the US 2014 mid-term results

So much good news for the Grand Old Party. Indeed, last night was a success for the Republicans, but it was a good night for marijuana too, and for minimum wage. In the referendums held in many states, alongside the Senate elections, voters in Arkansas, Nebraska and Illinois decided to raise the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to 9, 8,50 and $10 respectively. In Oregon, the District of Columbia and Alaska citizens voted in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use – joining Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana had been allowed a few months ago. Paradoxically, while the Republicans have been tightening their stance on immigration and public debt over the last few years, they are now back in power at a time when the US is becoming more progressive than ever on social and civil issues. In his effective op-ed, Alessio Marchionna argued that if the Republicans want to capitalize on the success of the mid-term elections and aspire to the presidency in 2016, they will have to change along with the rest of American society.

Going the distance

In the last few months Obama sat for lengthy interviews with New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick, who interviewed the President for hours in the Oval Office and on Air Force One. The result is a  a nearly 17,000-word profile of the president as he begins his sixth year in office. The story is a great, personal, philosophical long-read, and you should get a cup of your favorite hot beverage and sit down with it for an hour.

Was Cheney right?

After Barack Obama was elected to his first term as President but before he took the oath of office, Vice-President Dick Cheney gave an exit interview to Rush Limbaugh. Under George W. Bush, Cheney was the architect, along with his legal counsel, David Addington, of a dramatic expansion of executive authority—a power grab that Obama criticized, fiercely, on the campaign trail, and promised to “reverse.” But when Limbaugh inquired about this criticism Cheney swatted it aside, saying, “My guess is that, once they get here and they’re faced with the same problems we deal with every day, they will appreciate some of the things we’ve put in place.”

What is happening on the other shore of the ocean is intriguing. This post by the New Yorker is just one out of many provocations that will ignite debate on such a broad range of issues. First about Obama’s presidency: is Obama is risking political damage that will get in the way of the rest of his term in office? Is his second term in the office going to be killed stone dead by issues of security and intelligence? thus far, all the major scandals, from Benghazi to the datagate, including the very recent cover-ups of internal investigations, have involved security services and intelligence. Also, I find it somehow fascinating that the political narrative has switched so quickly from security (between 2001 and, say, 2008) to economy (2008-2013) and now it seems we are back with security again as the most important issue on the agenda.

There is, obviously, much more than that. People may blame an administration for wire-taping calls and email, but at times they seem to forget that this is the price you have to pay if you want to fight terrorism. Surveillance and such techniques, although invasive and potentially dangerous, have prevented several terrorism attacks. But are these “modest encroachments on privacy” a fair price to pay? This, I believe, is a fascinating debate which is about terrorism, privacy, and trust in government.

And then there’s the whole discussion about transparency and use of the data. As Juliane Assange, Edward Snowden is a fascinating guy. He definitely has some charisma, doesn’t he? And, of course, he makes a point, which makes me think of Michael Focault’s Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish). As suggested by the New Yorker, surveillance technologies are like a loaded weapon—one that may not have been misused so far, but that could be any day.

Jobs, energy, and taxation

A useful info-graphic from the NYT commenting on the topics touched upon by President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address of his second term.

Welcome to the New American Century

The Wall Street Journal recently reported of a dossier delivered to the clients of Goldman Sachs from the same office that anticipated the economic boom of the BRICs four years ago. The dossier shows that the US will remain the most attractive economy in the 21st century. This is due to the fact that the US maintains important relative advantages on all the other world economies on a variety of different levels: immigration, human capital, institutional trust. Even Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal recognizes the merits of President Obama in building trust and confidence among citizens.

Good night, now

At the end, the margin is bigger than expected and there are reasons to celebrate. President Obama delivered one of his best speeches, that brought many people back in the victorious electoral night of 2008. Mitt Romney delivered a very high profile speech too. Now, again, there are reasons to be worried: just to mention a couple, the victory is far narrower than the historic election of four years ago and the Democrats are not in control of the Congress. But, yeah, after all getting four more years is already an accomplishment in itself. I guess for the moment we can celebrate and go to sleep, at least four more hours.

I’m wide awake

I regret having lost my report from 2008 elections. Anyways, this time as 2008 I am still awake after changing three pubs with a couple of friends and drinking some stouts. I am following the results even though they do not look good. Even if Obama will win (and at the moment the odds seems against) the margin will be so narrow that there is not going too much to be happy on the long term. Also, according to the CNN the Democrats will not gain back the Congress. That is very sad.