Copyright

All blog posts, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted to the Author (that's me) and may not be used without written permission.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

President Obama's Accomplishments, mid-term

I know the far right and Tea Party members in particular don't want to be abused by facts, so this won't make any difference to them as we near the mid-term elections, but I thought it interesting to note the accomplishments of our current President at the mid-term. Here's hoping he is this productive in the second two years of his presidency.

~~~

Thanks to Robert P. Watson, PhD., Professor of American Studies, Lynn University, who compiled this list and writes “Like all presidents, Barack Obama has made mistakes. But, as a presidential historian, I have been struck by claims being put forward by Obama’s many critics and the news media that he has accomplished little when, in fact, his presidency is easily one of the most active in history.”

ETHICS

  • Ordered the White House and all federal agencies to respect the Freedom of Information Act and overturned Bush-era limits on accessibility of federal documents (2009)
  • Instructed all federal agencies to promote openness and transparency as much as possible (2009)
  • Placed limits on lobbyists’ access to the White House (2009)
  • Placed limits on White House aides working for lobbyists after their tenure in the administration (2009)
  • Signed a measure strengthening registration and reporting requirements for lobbyists (2009)
  • Ordered that lobbyists must be removed from and are no longer permitted to serve on federal and White House advisory panels and boards (2009)
    • Note: After saying he would not hire lobbyists, a few have been hired in the Administration
  • Companies and individuals who are delinquent on their taxes or owe back taxes are no longer allowed to bid for federal contracts (2009)
  • Initiated the “e-Rulemaking Initiative” (in cooperation with Cornell University) to allow for online public “notice and comment” of federal laws and initiatives (2010)
  • Issued the “Open Gov Directive” ordering all Cabinet departments to promote transparency and citizen participation in their policies (2010)
  • Signed extensions on banning lobbyists from serving on agency boards (2010)
  • Developed the “Don Not Pay List” with data on contractors and recipients of federal funds who are deemed to be ineligible because of fraud and abuse (2010)

GOVERNANCE

  • The White House website now provides information on all economic stimulus projects and spending, along with an unprecedented amount of information on our government (2009)
  • Ended the Bush-era practice of circumventing established FDA rules for political reasons (2009)
  • Ended the Bush-era practice of having White House staff rewrite the findings of scientific and environmental regulations and reports when they disagreed with the results (2009)
  • Limited the salaries of senior White House aides (salaries cut to $100,000) (2009)
  • Has urged Congress to adopt “Pay-Go” (whereby each dollar of spending is offset by a dollar in cuts or revenues, which was used in the `90s but abandoned in the `00s) (2010)
  • Has been holding open meetings with Republican leaders, although they complain of a lack of access and information (2010)
  • Signed the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (2010)
    • Note: To curb wasteful spending
  • Tasked federal agencies to develop plans for disposing of unneeded real estate and then to eliminate unnecessary or non-economical lands, properties, etc. (2010)

NATIONAL SECURITY

  • Phasing out the expensive F-22 war plane (which wasn’t even used in Iraq/Afghanistan) and other outdated weapons systems (2009)
  • Announced his intention to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay (2009)
    • Note: The closure has been delayed due to massive opposition but it remains on the agenda.
  • Stated his interest in housing terrorists at a new federal “super max” facility in the US (2009)
    • Note: this has been delayed in the face of massive opposition but it remains on the agenda
  • Cut the expensive Reagan era missile defense program, saving $1.4 billion in 2010 (2009)\
  • Canceled plans to station anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic (2009)
  • Replacing long-range, expensive missile systems with more efficient smaller systems (2009)
  • Increased US Navy patrols off the Somali coast in response to pirating (2009)
  • Established a new cyber security office and appointed a cyber security czar (2009)
  • Ordered the first nation-wide comprehensive cyber threat assessment (2009)
  • Instituted a new Nuclear Posture Review, revising US nuclear deterrence policy to encourage more nations to join the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (2010)
    • Note: Components of the policy include: a pledge to stop nuclear testing; a pledge to not build a new generation of nukes; identifying nuclear terrorism, rather than a launch from another nuclear state, as the major threat; a pledge to not use nukes on a non-nuclear state in a conventional conflict; etc.
  • Executive orders to block payment, transfers, exports, etc… of individuals and organizations support the regimes of North Korea, Iran, Somali pirates, and other foreign threats (2010)
  • Presidential Memorandum to extend certain provisions of The Trading with Enemies Act which was to expire in September 2010 (2010)
    • Note: This includes freezing assets and banning trade that benefits the Cuban regime; however further efforts at normalizing travel to Cuba are supported
  • Signed bill for southwest border security and increased funds and agents on the Mexican border (2010)
  • Signed the Comprehensive Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act to deal with foreign regimes like Iran and North Korea (2010)

IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN

  • Began the phased withdrawal of US troops from Iraq (2009); continuing the withdrawal (2010)
  • Changed the US military command in the Afghan conflict (2009)
  • Tasked the Pentagon to reorganize US policy in Afghanistan; the new policy includes 30,000 additional troops deployed, priority training of Afghan forces, developing agriculture and infrastructure, limiting aerial bombing, etc. (2009)
  • Ordered the Pentagon to send additional helicopters to assist US Marine units and Special Forces in Afghanistan (2009)
  • Increased unmanned drone strikes on Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan (2009)
  • Ended the Bush-era “stop-loss” policy that kept soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan longer than their enlistment date (2009)

MILITARY & VETERANS

  • Ordered the Pentagon to cover expenses of families of fallen soldiers if they wish to be on site when the body arrives back in the US (2009)
  • Ended the Bush-era “blackout” imposed on media coverage of the return of fallen US soldiers (2009)
    • Note: The media is now permitted to cover the story pending adherence to respectful rules and with the approval of the fallen soldier’s family
  • Ended the Bush-era “black out” policy on media coverage of war casualties (2009)
    • Note: Full information is now released for the first time in the War on Terror
  • Ordered better body armor to be procured for US troops (2009)
  • Funding new Mine Resistant Ambush Vehicles (2009)
    • Note: The old Hummers were very vulnerable to roadside explosives and an alarming percentage of our soldiers lost in Iraq were on account of IEDs
  • Working to increase pay and benefits for military personnel (2009)
  • Improving housing for military personnel (2009)
  • Initiating a new policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses (2009)
  • Ordered that conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital and other neglected military hospitals be improved (2009)
  • Beginning the process of reforming and restructuring the military to a post-Cold War, modern fighting force (2009)
    • Note: Bush announced in 2001 his intention to do this but backed off the reforms after 9/11, which include: new procurement policies; increasing the size of Special Ops units; deploying new technologies; creating new cyber security units; etc.
  • Ended the Bush-era practice of awarding “no-bid” defense contracts (2009)
  • Improving benefits for veterans as well as VA staffing, information systems, etc. (2009)
  • Authorized construction of additional health centers to care for veterans (2009)
  • Suspended the Bush-era decision to purchase a fleet of Marine One helicopters from suppliers in favor of American made helicopters (2009)
  • Ordered a review of the existing “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military (2010)
  • New GI Bill for returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan (2009)
  • Signed bill providing assistance for caregivers of veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan (2010)
    • Note: The omnibus bill does the following: Training, funding, and counseling for caregivers; promoting pilot childcare programs for women vets under treatment at the VA; independent oversight to prevent abuse; readjustment counseling for National Guard and reservist units; etc.
  • Eliminated co-payments for veterans who are catastrophically disabled (2010)
  • Fulfilled campaign promise to have combat troops (90,000) out of Iraq by August 31, 2010 (2010)
  • Established a new inter agency task force to assist veterans owning small businesses (2010)
    • Note: The efforts include promoting federal contract opportunities, improve access to loans and capital, mentor assistance programs, etc.
  • Signed The Families of Fallen Heroes Act, which covers the moving costs of immediate family members of those lost in service (military, intelligence, and security personnel) (2010)

FOREIGN POLICY

  • Closed the Bush-era “secret detention” facilities in Eastern Europe (2009)
  • Ended the Bush-era policy allowing “enhanced interrogation” (torture); the US is again in compliance with Geneva Convention standards (2009)
    • Note: Obama has permitted some controversial interrogation techniques to continue
  • Restarted international nuclear non-proliferation talks and reestablished international nuclear inspection protocols (2009)
    • Note: Bush withdrew from non-proliferation talks and dismantled the inspection infrastructure
  • Reengaged in the treaties/agreements to protect the Antarctic (2009)
    • Note: These were suspended under Bush
  • Reengaged in the agreements/talks on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions (2009)
    • Note: These were suspended under Bush
  • Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any president in his first six months in office (2009)
  • Banned the export of cluster bombs (2009)
  • Overturned Bush-era plans to increase the US nuclear arsenal (2009)
  • Authorized the Navy SEALS operation that freed by force the US shipping captain held by Somali pirates (2009)
  • Restored the US commitment to the UN population fund for family planning; overturned the ban on providing funds internationally for family planning (2009)
    • Note: The family planning efforts were suspended under Bush
  • Instituted a new policy on Cuba, allowing Cuban families to return “home” to visit families (2009)
  • Extended an offer of engagement (free from sanctions and penalties) to Iran through December 31, 2009 (Iran did not accept the offer) (2009)
  • Sent envoys to the Middle East and other parts of the world, reengaging in multilateral and bilateral talks and diplomacy (2009)
  • Authorized discussions with North Korea and the private mission by former president, Bill Clinton, to secure the release of two Americans held in prisons (2009)
  • Authorized discussions with Myanmar and the mission by Senator Jim Web to secure the release of an American held captive (2009)
  • Renewed loan guarantees for Israel (2009)
  • Signed the USIFTA trade agreement with/for Israel (2009)
  • Authorized a $550m advance for Israel (six months prior to the scheduled date) in order to accommodate Israeli’s economic and financial needs (2009)
  • Continued agreements with Israel for cultural exchanges, immigration, etc. (2009)
  • Spoke on Arab television, spoke at an Egyptian university, and met with Arab leaders in an effort to change the tone of US-Arab relations (2009)
  • Ordered the US to finally pay its dues to the United Nations (2009)
  • Attended the Summit of America’s meeting in Trinidad and Tobago (2010)
  • Dispatched several envoys and initiated talks with numerous nations (2010)
  • Signed a nuclear limitation treaty with Russia (2010)
    • Note: The agreement calls for both countries to reduce their nukes by one-third (1,500) and launch systems by half (800)
  • Hosted nuclear non-proliferation summit for several nations (2010)
  • Executive Order to establish support offices in the State Department to assist the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan (2010)
  • Presidential Memorandum to continue drug interdiction support with Columbia (2010)

ECONOMY

  • Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants…) (2009)
    • Note: Bush was the first president since Herbert Hoover to not make infrastructure a priority
  • Authorized the US auto industry rescue plan and two GMAC rescue packages (2009)
  • Authorized the housing rescue plan and new FHA residential housing guarantees (2009)
  • Authorized a $789 billion economic stimulus plan (2009)
    • Note: 1/3 in tax cuts for working-class families; 1/3 to states for infrastructure projects; 1/3 to states to prevent the layoff of police officers, teachers, etc. at risk of losing their jobs because of state budget shortfalls
  • Instituted a new rule allowing the public to meet with federal housing insurers to refinance (in as quickly as one day) a mortgage if they are having trouble paying (2009)
  • Authorized a continuation of the US financial and banking rescue plans initiated at the end of the Bush administration and authorized TARP funds to buy “toxic assets” from failing financial institutions (2009)
  • Authorized the “Cash for Clunkers” program that stimulated auto sales and removed old, inefficient, polluting cars from the road (2009)
  • Convened a “jobs summit” to bring experts together to develop ideas for creating jobs (2009)
  • Ordered the FDIC to beef up deposit insurance (2009)
  • Ended the Bush-era policy of protecting credit card companies (2009)
    • Note: In place of the old policy, new consumer protections were instituted and the industry’s predatory practices were banned
  • Authorized the federal government to make more loans available to small businesses and ordered lower rates for federal loans to small businesses (2009)
  • Placed a 35% tariff on Chinese tires and a few other products such as pipes after China was found to be illegally “dumping” exports below cost (2009)
    • Note: Clinton, Bush I, and Reagan all refused to “get tough” on China’s predatory trade practices; Bush II refused four times during his presidency
  • In November 2009, Obama extended unemployment benefits for one million workers and expanded coverage for some existing homeowners who are buying again (2009)
  • Called on Congress to deliver a “Jobs bill” (2010)
  • Credit card companies are prohibited from raising rates without advance notification or arbitrarily if customers are paying bills on time (2010)
  • Signed a bill to extend unemployment benefits set to expire (2010)
  • Signed historic Wall Street reform bill (2010)
    • Note: Designed to re-regulate and end abusive practices and promote consumer protections
  • Signed the HIRE Act to stimulate the economic recovery (2010)
    • Note: The bill includes: tax cuts for small businesses who hire someone unemployed for at least two months; small businesses can write off their investments in equipment this year; etc.
  • National Export Initiative established to enhance federal support (technical assistance, training, trade missions, etc.) and coordination efforts to help US businesses export products and services (2010)
  • Initiatives to promote a “Wireless Broadband Revolution” (2010)
    • Note: Among other things, broadband is finally being considered as necessary infrastructure, with efforts to expand use, access, and spectrum.
  • Expanded agricultural credit to farmers during current economic crisis (2010)
  • Signed bill – US Manufacturing Enhancement Act (2010)
  • Signed bill – Single Family Housing Mortgage Insurance (2010)

TAXES

  • Negotiated a deal with Swiss banks to permit the US government to gain access to records of tax evaders and criminals (2009)
  • Ended the Bush-era policy of offering tax benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs (2009)
    • Note: The new policy promotes in-sourcing investments to brings jobs back to the US
  • Signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which provides small tax cuts for 95% of “working families” (2009)
    • Note: The tax cuts were not as big as was suggested during the 2008 campaign
  • Convened an advisory board that is looking into simplifying the tax code (2009)
  • Ordered the closing of offshore tax safe havens (for individual and business tax evaders) (2009)
  • Reduced taxes for some small businesses to stimulate the economic recovery (2009)
  • Extended the Home Buyers Credit for first-time home buyers (2009)
  • Proposed doubling the child tax credit (2010)
  • Called for the repeal of the capital gains tax for small businesses (2010)
  • Proposed rolling back the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (2010)
  • Note: This would be for families earning over $250,000/year and would return their tax rates to the 1990’s level

BUDGETING

  • Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut federal spending (2009)
  • Ordered a review of all federal operations to identify wasteful spending and practices (2009)
  • Established a National Performance Officer charged with saving the federal government money and making federal operations more efficient (2009)
  • Overturned the Bush-era practice of not listing certain federal programs in the federal budget (2009) (2010)
    • Note: Bush did this (so did Reagan) in an effort to hide programs and make the budget look smaller; such “off budget” items are now included in the annual budget
  • Full appropriations for war are now included in the budget (2009) (2010)
    • Note: Bush did not list many of the appropriations for Iraq, Afghanistan, and War on Terror
  • Funds for emergency appropriations are now included in the budget (2009) (2010)
  • Proposed a three-year freeze on federal discretionary spending beginning in 2011 (2010)
  • Is in the process of cutting 120 federal programs identified as either wasteful or unnecessary (2010)
  • Established a bipartisan commission on fiscal responsibility, staffed by House and Senate members and private citizens, tasked with submitting proposals to balance the budget (2010)
    • Note: In the face of Republican opposition, the powers of the commission were watered down
  • Established a bipartisan commission on the future of Social Security, tasked with submitting proposals to preserve and strengthen Social Security (2010)
    • Note: In the face of Republican opposition, the powers of the commission were watered down
  • Cut $20 billion from federal budget and has pledged to cut at least this much every year (2010)
  • Ultimately decided to cancel planned new presidential helicopter fleet and stick with marine One (2010)
  • Freezing all discretionary spending for next three years, except on national security (2010)
  • Presidential Memorandum to freeze discretionary awards, bonuses, etc. for federal political appointees (2010)
  • Beginning to use “Pay-As-You-Go” (Pay-Go) to offset budget expenditures with budget cuts or revenue enhancements (2010)

HEALTHCARE

  • Removed Bush era restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research (2009)
  • Federal support for stem-cell and new biomedical research (2009)
  • Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children (2009)
  • Established an independent commission to make recommendations on slowing the costs of Medicare (2009)
  • Reversed some of the Bush-era restrictions that prevented Medicare from negotiating with pharmaceutical firms for cheaper drugs, allowing government to again competitively bid (2009)
    • Note: Obama had promised to lift all restrictions but, while he did negotiate with drug companies for them to lower their costs the deal only lifted some restrictions
  • Expanding government vaccination programs (2009)
  • Issued new disease prevention guidelines and priorities for the CDC (2009)
  • Authorized the FDA to finally begin regulating tobacco (2009)
  • Tasked federal labs to prioritize research on and deployment of H1N1 vaccines (2009)
  • Asked multiple congressional committees to bring forward a healthcare reform bill; held dozens of public hearings and town halls on the issue (2009) (2010)
  • Established a new council on National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health to be chaired by Surgeon General and charged with promoting healthy lifestyles and integrative healthcare (2010)
  • When accusations to the contrary arose, an Executive Order was signed to reaffirm that federal funds are not to be used for abortion services (2010)
  • Historic healthcare reform bill signed – $940 billion over 10 years (2010)
    • Note: 32 million additional Americans will receive healthcare coverage and costs will be lowered for most Americans, but many of the goals are phased in over four years
Components of the bill
    • Prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals/family members with pre-existing health conditions; a temporary plan is being developed to cover high-risk individuals with pre-existing conditions until the full reforms go into effect in 2014
    • Prevents insurance companies from placing lifetime limits on benefits
    • Bans “rescission” so insurance companies can’t cancel coverage if individuals keep their policies current or if they become ill
    • An individual’s out-of-pocket healthcare expenses are capped
    • Closes the “donut hole” (Part D) for Medicare prescription drug coverage (under Bush, Medicare helped pay for drugs up to $2,600 and above $4,550, but individuals had to pay 100% of the costs in between these amounts); now Medicare helps cover costs irrespective of the amount – seniors will now pay only 25% of drug costs up to $4,550 and only 5% of drug costs above that amount
    • In 2010, an emergency provision will offer seniors a $250 rebate on the costs incurred within the “donut hole”
    • Individuals living at or below the poverty line were eligible for healthcare under Medicaid, but by 2014 individuals/families living slightly above (making up to $14,404/$29,327) the poverty line will also be eligible for benefits
    • Individuals/families making less than $43,320/$88,200 per year will qualify for government subsidies to help purchase health insurance
    • All individuals must have health insurance or face a government fine; all large (over 50 employees) employers must offer health insurance to employees or pay a fine
    • Small businesses can get a tax credit if they offer health care
    • There are hardship exemptions if individuals can’t afford health insurance
    • Families can keep their children in college on their plans through age 26
    • Promotes health insurance “exchanges” so consumers can buy “wholesale”
    • Creates consumer assistance offices to help consumers file complaints or appeal decisions from insurance companies; beginning in 2011, insurance companies can no longer make excessive rate hikes without justification and approval, and those doing so may be barred from participating in new health insurance exchanges
Funding sources:
    • Large employers (over 50 workers) that don’t offer health benefits will be charged a $2,000/worker fee; if the employer offers coverage but employees instead purchase federally subsidized insurance the fee is $3,000/worker receiving federal subsidies or $750/worker (whichever is lower)
    • Annual fees on pharmaceutical companies ($27 billion), health insurance companies ($60 billion), and medical device-makers ($20 billion)
    • Annual penalties on individuals who do not have health insurance (up to a maximum of $695/person)
    • Increase in the Medicare payroll tax from 1.45% to 2.35% for individuals making $200,000+ and families making $250,000+
    • 3.8% tax on unearned income for millionaires
    • Insurance companies will be subject to a tax on each high-end insurance plan (so-called “Cadillac” plans) they offer
Miscellaneous:
    • Illegal immigrants are not eligible for insurance or subsidies
    • By Executive Order, such federal funding can’t be used for abortion
    • The federal government will assist states by covering all of the increased expenses of expanding Medicaid coverage (90% of costs after 2020)

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT

  • Removed a ruling that now allows individual states to enact automotive fuel efficiency standards above federal standards (2009)
  • Offered attractive tax write-offs for those who buy hybrid automobiles (2009)
  • Overturned Bush-era rule that weakened the Endangered Species Act (2009)
  • Announced plans to purchase fuel efficient American-made fleet for the federal government (2009)
  • Ended the Bush-era policy of not regulating and labeling carbon dioxide emissions (2009)
  • Signed a measure requiring energy producing plants to begin producing 15% of their energy from renewable sources (2009)
  • Announced that the federal government would reengage in the long-delayed effort to clean up “Superfund” toxic waste sites (2009)
  • Announced the long-term development of a national energy grid with renewable sources and cleaner, efficient energy production (2009)
    • Note: Much of Obama’s energy reform was killed by Senate Republicans
  • Proposed a new refuge for wild mustangs (2009)
  • Canceled several Bush-era mountain-top removal and mining permits (2009)
  • Reengaged in international treaties and agreements to protect the Antarctic (2009)
    • Note: Bush had withdrawn from such efforts
  • Asked Congress for an energy reform and “cap and trade” bill (2009)
    • Note: The Congress failed to pass such a bill
  • Developing plan to lease US coastal waters for wind and water-current energy production (2009)
  • Overturned Bush-era policies that allowed uranium mining near national parks such as the Grand Canyon (2009)
  • Expanded the Petrified Forest National Park (2009)
  • Signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act that protects millions of acres of scenic, historic, and recreational lands and trails (2009)
  • Requiring that government buildings and facilities be retrofitted to save energy costs (2009)
    • Note: These green retrofits are moving very slowly
  • Authorized studies in several western states to determine how to support large-scale solar installations (2009)
  • Attended the Copenhagen talks and, after the talks were stalled, negotiated an international (voluntary) agreement on reducing carbon emissions and raising funds to assist developing nations in offsetting carbon emissions (2009)
  • Banned importation of pythons in response to a growing population of pythons damaging the Florida Everglades (2009)
  • Committing the federal government to increasing research and use of renewable, clean energy sources such as wind, biomass, etc. (2009)
  • Executive orders establishing a federal initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in all federal operations (2009) (2010)
  • Called for exploring the possibility of additional off-shore oil drilling in the Gulf, Atlantic, and off Alaska (but not in ANWR) (2010)
  • Agreed to consider increases in nuclear energy production and requested a study on the feasibility of nuclear power plant construction (2010)
    • Note: Nearly all energy initiatives were defeated by Republican opposition in Congress
  • Increased investment in clean energy projects (2010)
  • Executive Order to develop a new strategy for and commitment to ocean and lake resources, and for scientific research on water quality (2010)

RIGHTS

  • Instituted enforcements for equal pay for women (Lilly Ledbetter Bill) (2009)
  • Appointed Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina, to the Supreme Court (2009)
  • Held the first Seder in White House (2009)
  • Appointed a diverse Cabinet and diverse White House staff (2009)
  • Spoke at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization (2009)
  • Signed the first major piece of federal gay rights legislation that includes acts of violence against gays under the list of federal hate crimes (2009)
  • Reversed the Bush-era practice of politicizing Justice Department investigations and prosecutions against political opponents (2009)
  • Pushing for some of the 9/11 perpetrators to be tried in federal court (2009)
    • Note: The process has moved at a snail’s pace and, in the face of opposition, Obama has remained quiet
  • Signed an extension of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Bill to provide federal research and support for treating the disease (2009)
  • Allowed the State Department of offer same-sex benefits for employees (2009)
  • Proposed that the Pentagon repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; placed a “freeze” on current efforts to remove alleged homosexuals from the military (2009)
  • After eight years of neglect, the Justice Department and EEOC are again enforcing employment discrimination laws (2009)
  • Convened the White House Tribal Nations Conference, inviting representatives from 564 federally-recognized Indian tribes (2009)
  • Provided increased school projects for Indian lands and increased funds for the Indian Health Service (2009)
  • Signed an Executive Order mandating that his Cabinet develop plans to work with and consult Indian tribes on issues impacting Indian lands (2009)
  • Commissioned a study to develop alternatives to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (2010)
  • Called for federal agencies to look into recognizing gay partnerships in terms of benefits (2010)
  • Signed an Executive Order for the President’s Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (2010)
  • Increased funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (2010)
  • Signed Executive Order to promote the federal government as a “model employer” when it comes to hiring the disabled (2010)
    • Note: This includes new efforts to increase the recruitment, hiring, and training for the disabled
  • Programs to assist Spanish speakers with the US Census (2010)
  • Elena Kagen appointed to Supreme Court (2010)
  • Tasked all federal agencies to develop new strategies to address HIV/AIDS (2010)
  • After organizing studies on the topic in 2009, tasked the Pentagon to eliminate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (2010)
  • Signed Fair Sentencing Act (2010)
    • Note: The Administration continues to deescalate marijuana interdiction and raids; increased dramatically the amount of cocaine one must possess to be sentenced to jail; eliminated mandatory sentencing for first-time drug abusers and simple possession

EDUCATION

  • Authorized construction funds for high-speed, broadband Internet access in K-12 public schools (2009)
  • Increased funding for school construction (2009)
  • Increased funding available for student loans (2009)
  • Expanded the national youth service program (2009)
  • Streamlined the federal student loan process to save $87 billion over the next 10 years (2009)
  • Changed the rule to allow students struggling to make college loan payments to refinance their loans (2009)
  • Beginning discussions with Congress for education reform (2009)
    • Note: Much of Obama’s education reform has been sidelined by opposition in Congress
  • Initiated a “Race to the Top” competitive federal grant program for states who develop innovative policies (2009)
  • Instituted a “judgment review” allowing families with student loans to petition to have their current financial status determine the loan rather than the previous year’s finances (2009)
  • Launched “Educate to Innovate,” a public/private partnership making $236 million available for science, mathematics, and technology education programs (2009)
  • Proposed capping the maximum amount students must pay on student loans (as percentage of their income) (2010)
  • Proposed reducing student loan obligations for individuals going to work in community and public service jobs (2010)
  • The federal government will offer direct student loans, cutting out the cost of private banks (“middle man”) who increase the costs in order to make a profit (2010)
  • Increased investment in technologies for schools/education (2010)

DISASTER RESPONSE

  • Ordered a review of hurricane and natural disaster preparedness (2009)
  • FEMA once again reports directly to the president (2009)
    • Note: Bush removed FEMA (prior to the Hurricane Katrina disaster) from this status
  • Demonstrated an immediate and efficient response to the floods in North Dakota and other natural disasters (2009)
  • Ordered that funds be released and red tape be streamlined for the ongoing Hurricane Katrina recovery effort in the Gulf Coast (2009)
  • Timely and massive relief effort in response to the January 2010 earthquake and ensuing humanitarian crisis (2010)
Components of the response:
    • The FBI’s National Center for Disaster Fraud was tasked to look into possible fraud with organizations soliciting funds for relief
    • Announced the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund
    • Established an emergency Haiti Task Force in the State Department
    • Established a website with information, resources, and a posting of a “person finder” online to help families and friends to locate loved ones
    • Joint aid and relief planning with the U.K.
    • Sponsored a resolution in the UN Security Council for additional security and police forces in Haiti
    • Dispatched the US Navy floating hospital (USNS Comfort) and, within 5 days, 9 naval and relief ships, 5 Coast Guard cutters, 8 Coast Guard aircraft, and 12,000 US military personnel
    • Initial dispatch of several ships and cargo planes full of humanitarian aid and supplies, 6 search/rescue teams (500 personnel), and 265 Department of Health & Human Services personnel for emergency medical and aid support
    • Established a mobile US air traffic control center at the destroyed airport in Port-au-Prince
  • After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a freeze was placed on new deep water projects (2010)
  • Executive Order to establish new security measures to minimize accidental release of bio and chemical agents; new strategies for public health and bioterrorism response (2010)
  • Established a national commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon spill to examine facts and report a plan of action; new efforts to prevent offshore spills (2010)
  • After a slow start in responding to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the White House is promoting a long-term plan to reconstruct the damaged Gulf and negotiated with BP the establishment of a multi-billion dollar trust fund for victims of the spill (2010)
  • Extended national flood insurance program for those in need during current economic crisis (2010)

OTHER INITIATIVES

  • New federal funding for science and research labs (2009)
  • Signed national service legislation; expanded national youth service program (2009)
  • Increasing opportunities in AmeriCorps program (2009)
  • Instituted a new focus on mortgage fraud (2009)
  • Ordered the DEA to stop raids on medical marijuana usage (2009)
  • Ordered a review of existing “mandatory minimum” prison sentencing (2009)
  • Signed an order to limit airport tarmac delays and the time passengers had to sit in the plane/on the tarmac during delays (2009)
  • Restored the EPA to “Cabinet level” status (2009)
    • Note: Bush removed the EPA from this status
  • Beginning discussions with Congress for comprehensive immigration reform (2010)
    • Note: Much of Obama’s immigration reform had been stalled by opposition in Congress
  • Commissioned expert panels and reports from NASA; announced a new direction for human space flight that involves funding a new heavy lift-launcher and jettisoning the Ares 1 program; boosting NASA’s budget by $1 billion in 2011 (2010)
  • Ordered a ban on text-messaging for all commercial truck and bus drivers (2010)
  • Signed bill – FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act (2010)

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING

  • The Obamas paid for the renovations of the private living quarters in the White House with their own money rather than using the funds provided to all new first families (2009)
  • The Obamas reused many Christmas ornaments from previous White House trees rather than buy new ones (2009)
  • The Obamas used LED energy-saving lights on White House Christmas tree (2009)
  • Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; donated the award money for the prize to several charities (2009)
  • Planted a garden for the White House’s vegetables and flowers (2009)
  • Installed a swing set/playground for the Obama daughters and children of White House employees (2009)
  • Held over 150 public town halls, press conferences, interviews, etc. in first year in office (2009)
    • Note: Official numbers are not available on such things, but this seems to be a new record high
  • Less than 30 days of vacation in first year in office (2009)
    • Note: Official numbers are not readily available on such things, but this seems to be a new record low

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What the ???

The only way out of a recession or depression is to spend money. Recent articles concerning the housing market and cable companies show that some business areas or individual companies are choosing to ignore their customers, anger their client base, and/or make it as hard as possible for their clients to pay them money.

The housing article is particularly upsetting. The housing market drives much of the country's economy, so finding out first that the market is foreclosing on people who are paying their mortgages and are not in arrears is troubling enough (many articles, not citing a particular one here), but then to find that it is also not giving loans to those who are qualified and overqualified to get loans makes this insanely stupid. "We're in one of the most dire straights since the 30s and 40s. You're paying your mortgage, so we're kicking you out and trying to resell your home. And you want to buy that home we illegally repossessed, you can afford to pay the mortgage (just like the person we kicked out of it), but we're not going to give you loan. We're going to sit back and not let our clients pay us in any way. That'll fix things." Oh, and then the Senate quietly passes a bill that makes it harder for those who have been illegally kicked out of their homes to fight back. The bill only stopped when it reached President Obama's desk and he refused to sign it into law and asked for a probe into what was going on with the foreclosures. Thank goodness someone was using their head.

I don't think people are as up in arms over the cable industry issue, simply because we all know (not think or guess, but actually know) that cable companies are gouging us. What they don't seem to realize is that we all have so many other options by which to get the same content these days. While cable companies (and satellite vendors) provide us with possibly the easiest packaging and simplest connection to that content, we can now get it through legal and illegal means readily from a whole host of other means. We don't need them any more. And don't get the public started on battles between multi-millionaires/billionaires, whether they are corporations or people (I'm looking at you, NFL and NBA labor disputes). We don't sit with that any more. There are too many entertainment options out there now to be loyal to any one channel, cable company, sport, or venue.

Maybe, just maybe, actions like this will drive the cable companies and satellite providers toward giving the public what they want: per-channel pricing and per-channel packages. The technology has been available at least since the 80s for them to do this, yet here it is 30 years later and they still refuse. Yet, if they give the people what they want, rather than forcing packages containing dozens of channels the people don't want to watch, they actually become a better and more attractive option to the public. Imagine how many more customers they would have if a person could sign up for the 10 channels they want for $1 per channel/per month, instead of not buying anything because they can't afford the minimum $35/month for the channel package the cable company wants to give them.

So, here we have two examples of companies that are losing money, bleeding customers/clients, wounded and weak, that are going out of their way to anger and turn away even more customers. Doesn't seem like a smart business strategy for weathering the current economic crisis and being viable long-term, does it?

Friday, October 15, 2010

NBA Shoots Itself in the Foot Again

My wife primarily only watches the NFL. Which means that most of the year, she has little to no interest in most other sports and pines away for the return of football season each year. I enjoy both the NFL and the NBA, so can make it nearly year-round with watching sports I like. I have tried to entice my wife into watching and, hopefully, learning to enjoy the NBA but so far she hasn't been able to.

The NBA should be a fluid game filled with constant action and little contact. It should be fun to watch these superb athletes play this sport. It isn't. The NBA has gone rule crazy to a degree that has whistles blowing all the time, which stops play. They have a means by which players are kicked out of the game so fans can't watch their favorites play. They hire athletic thugs and allow them to absolutely beat up on one another in this low-contact sport. When they are simply playing and the whistles aren't sounding, my wife does get into it. But that doesn't happen enough.

The owners have agreed that players complain too much after calls. While I agree, the egregiously bad calls that have been going on for over a decade now do warrant some complaint. However, the owners response for this upcoming season is to pretty much make any show of emotion over a bad call worthy of a Technical foul, which means free throws, a stoppage of play, and potentially quicker exits for players from the game. This was seen in a microcosm this week during preseason when a technical was called in the New York/Boston game, which Kevin Garnett argued, giving him a technical, and then he said something about that call and was ejected from the game. I'm missing someone, but in the course of about 20 seconds of this game, four technical fouls were called and one super-star was ejected. Meanwhile, Stoudemire was complaining nearly every trip down the floor, arguing with referees and no technical was called on him. (cite)

The rules changes to allow refs to call technical fouls sooner seem to be too subjective. What constitutes demonstrative and continuous displays of emotion to one ref may not be to another ref. So the players won't know when, how far, or how much they can show emotion on the court. One ref may feel the player's reaction is in the heat of the moment and not over the top, another may differ. (cite)

This all boils down to: players will get more technical fouls and those who get technical fouls are more likely to miss playing in that game and in future games (since the NBA has a limit on how many technical fouls a player can get during a season). Which defeats the NBA's stated goal of "growing the brand." It also puts more stoppages of play into the game, which none of the fans like or want. And, lastly, and possibly the worst result, it means the refs decisions can decide the outcome of a game. (comments from someone who sat in on the refs overview of the new rules)

All of these things cause my wife to shy away from getting involved in the sport. It likely means other wives don't want to watch it either. It likely means that new people have a harder time getting into, understanding, and enjoying the sport, so don't start watching. Which, in the end, means that the NBA is shooting itself in the foot yet again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mail Delivery

I am used to a certain level of service from my post office. The US Postal Service is the biggest single business entity in the world, delivers more mail more accurately than any other postal service, and it works more days per year than any other postal service. My wife and I frequently put letters in the mail in Calais, ME and they arrive in Southern California within, on average, three days.

Now I'm living in Canada. I have suspected that the Canadian postal service is not as great as America's before, but recent events have really brought it to focus. Twice in the last six weeks my pay check has been sent from a company in "uptown" ("downtown" to most Americans) and it has taken one letter nine business days (13 days total) before it arrived and another, the one I'm currently waiting on, is at 10 business days (15 days total) and I still haven't received it as of yesterday's mail delivery.

My wife and I have a Zip.ca subscription. The vast majority of those movies are between 1-3 days later than the estimate, and I am convinced it happens when they reach this city. One of my brothers in law tells of receiving a package from Japan in four business days, while a letter he sent to someone else in this city took seven business days. We get a lot of mail, junk mail, and fliers, yet our mail box can be suspiciously absent for days at a time.

In America, the post office has their motto that, basically, says they deliver the mail no matter what. Even though this area of Canada is well-known for snow and bitterly cold days in winter, our mail carrier doesn't deliver on those days. Doesn't matter if it is important or you're waiting on something you might need desperately, like a pay check, it is too cold, wet, dark, snowy, foggy for people who, for the most part, have been born and raised in this weather and well know how to cope with it safely to go out to deliver something as unimportant as the mail.

I guess it is a good thing we rely primarily on my wife's electronically deposited pay check for things like bills, as Canada Post simply doesn't think my pay check taking approximately two weeks to go from one location within the city to another location within the city is a problem. And, I'm sure, if we relied on that pay check for our mortgage, our mortgage lender would be just as forgiving and understanding when we told them we're waiting on the check to arrive. Yeah, right.

I found the online email complaint services for Canada Post and have made a complaint to them about this. I received a fairly generic reply back that completely missed the point, so have informed them again of the inadequacies of the mail delivery service in this town. Probably means that we won't receive mail for at least a week as they mark us as a problem delivery location, but when something you can prove is clearly going wrong, you have to complain. And if more people did that, change would occur.

Addendum
After my last email to them, reiterating the problem and suggesting they need to look into the issue further and see if it is the mail carrier or something wrong with the processes in the main postal annex, I got this response:
Hello,
Thank you for your message to Canada Post.
I can certainly appreciate your concern and would like to apologize for the inconvenience caused.
I have opened an inquiry, which will be sent to the local depot that is responsible for delivering the mail so that they can look into this concern and resolve any discrepancies. Your customer number is ######## and your case number for this inquiry is #######.
 
The depot does not normally follow up with the customer for these types of issues unless they require additional information. Please allow 5 business days for resolution and if you do not see any improvement, please contact us again.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bullying

I'm torn by this recent increase in bullying and suicides by teens in America. I'm torn because I don't think it is actually an increase in the acts themselves, just higher profile acts that are making it to the national media. I'm also torn because I don't understand the thought processes that lead to the bullied committing suicide.

I was bullied throughout my formative years. In grade school and into junior high school, I was a small kid. I wore a lot of blue. I was teased and picked on and called a "Smurf", "Smurfette", and, as my peers and I were starting to discover curse words, worse names. I hated it, but it taught me to be quick witted with comebacks and quicker still with my feet -- I could outrun nearly everybody at that age.

In junior high the bullying got more physical at times. I had a few people who liked to physically push and shove and others who threatened me with harm. Hell, even after I had one summer where I grew a number of inches, I wound up with my formerly short friends upset I wasn't part of their crowd, so they used their "Napoleon complexes" to pick on me for having grown, but I still wasn't tall so many of my taller peers continued to assault me for being still so short! In junior high, I started to see and learn that the teachers and other adults in my life also could be bullies, although I think most of them didn't realize it. Gym teachers who didn't think I was trying hard enough would make me try to do more in front of a class full of students who resented that my ineffectual actions were slowing down them getting to play time. Teachers who parade an obviously scared, crying child in front of the classroom and continue berating them for all the class to see and hear. However, rather than plotting their deaths or my own, I got smarter, wilier, more devious. I figured out ways around those teachers. Hell, one teacher in junior high who pissed me off one too many times I battled with verbally until he went to the little closet office he had attached to his classroom and cried. I learned to fight back.

In high school, the bullying became much more physical. Constant targeting by bigger, tougher students when I was a Freshman and Sophomore. Again, my quick feet and quick wits helped me out of most of those situations, and I tended to find something on them that I could get to an authority figure surreptitiously so they had to deal with their own issues.

And, frankly, the bullying over the years made me into a bully. I was more subtle than many in my bullying, but I teased, cajoled, whispered, and wheedled until I made those around me crack. I got good at manipulating those around me, students and teachers alike.

But all during these times, even when I couldn't avoid it and got into physical fights, I never once thought about suicide. One of my life's mottoes from a very earlier age has always been "as long as there is life, there is hope." And it is true. If you are bullied in grade school, it will end when you grow, or become quick witted, or find your strength, or when you go to junior high and away from one, some, or all of your bullies. Same with junior high and high school.

Life is constant change, especially at young ages. From childhood through college, it is almost constant change. Knowing that, why would you think that ending life (your own or someone else's) is a viable solution? Instead, just actively seek out change or simply wait for the next change to come about and suddenly everything around you is different.

I can't speak directly about the homosexual angle to many of the recent bullying stories. Although some of the bullying that I had to put up with came from those who accused or insinuated I was gay, I was always very comfortable in my skin and with my sexuality (even when it was budding) so I never took those threats or taunts too seriously. In most cases, that was just one of many tactics the bullies had used to get my goat and under my skin. For those for whom the sexual-orientation taunts are true, I guess they haven't developed a comfort with their sexuality due to how homosexuality is viewed in general in America. So it makes it harder for them to ignore those taunts.

In the end, I wind up torn on the issue: while I agree that bullying is a serious issue and we should strive to eliminate as much of it as we can, my opinion is that bullying is something that everyone must overcome. In many cases, overcoming bullying makes people who and what they are as adults. Without bullying, many of our best athletes, most entertaining musicians and actors, and many of our leaders wouldn't exist -- it is through overcoming their bullying that they learned they had a facility for comedy, a passion for the arts, or became great athletes and leaders. Pressure can turn carbon into diamond, but it can also crack and break that diamond if too much is applied, or the pressure comes from the wrong angle. Without that pressure, many people may not find their gifts and their niche in the world. But too much pressure can obvious crack a mind and spirit and cause someone to either kill themselves or those around them. It is a balance and I simply don't have a solution for it.