Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Big Picture: Monthly Evaluation

We're back with the rest of the grades on Obama's agenda after doing the major item, health care, yesterday.
2. Green energy/environment: Last month we had this at our own 10, and gave Obama an A-/A. Since then, we've had the House pass the flawed but still groundbreaking climate change bill, much sooner than expected. As we explained last week, there is still a long long way to go politically and substantively until we're even making any real progress on green energy and climate change, but this was a good step in the right direction. Meanwhile, the Europeans are dissatisfied with the pace of this effort, which is a good sign that policymakers are finally becoming more ambitious, and that Obama is feeling the pressure to push these issues. Also, the EPA officially made California's stronger laws for auto emissions the de facto law of the land, a big step. So we'll move the ball to our own 20. And we'll keep Obama's grade at an A-, thanks to his impressive effort when it's not politically convenient, but in the coming months he needs to do more to persuade the public of the necessity of this effort.
3. Effective Regulation: Last month we had the ball at our own 35, and gave Obama a D+. As we said last month, there is so much necessary regulation out there, that we have a long way to go, and there's a real fear that elite opinion-makers and policy-makers are successfuly weathering the storm of the financial crisis' pro-regulation political environment and not allowing anything serious to pass. On the positive side, the new financial regulations, especially the consumer protection agency, while inadequate, are probably the most pro-consumer, strong-regulation steps in three decades. As speculation in the oil markets wreaks havoc on economic stability, the Obama Administration announced yesterday it would step up its regulation on this speculation, a real turning point. There are executive orders and bills going through committees seriously improving food and drug regulation. So there are some positives, even though the big picture is dominated by the unacceptable continuing political dominance of the Goldman Sachs and their ilk over Congress and the administration. We'll move the ball up to our own 45, and improve Obama's grade to a C.
4. Labor: Last month we had the ball at our own 35 and gave Obama a C+. There are positive political signs for labor's power - their strong influence over the terms of the bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors, Arlen Specter signaling he will vote for the Employee Free Choice Act, as well as a poiltical environment that is pretty class-charged, anti-big business and should favor workers. But, in the real world, labor is really at a low ebb, because unemployment is the highest in at least 25 years, job gains are wiped out, benefits are on the chopping block, services to help workers, like child care, summer school, etc. are being slashed, and the great manufacturing sectors that moved the working class into the middle class, labor's greatest triumph, are on their deathbed. And union rates are at their lowest levels since the '30s, even as workers have such little leverage because labor is not in demand in this Great Recession. As we discussed Monday, the Obama Administration, not to mention Congress, has done far too little about the core issues of jobs and wages. And it's not clear where good jobs are going to come from in the near future and the long term, as the Obama agenda meets with strong resistance. The ball is moved backwards, to our own 25. Obama gets a C-, for a particularly out-of-touch month.
5. Tax Reform: Last month we had the ball at our own 15, and gave Obama a B-. Little has changed. The one possible change down the road is taxing employer-based health benefits, which is actually a decent idea policy-wise but is a very bad idea politically. But that hasn't happened yet, and in fact none of the decisions on taxes have been made yet, so we're keeping it in the same position and giving Obama the same grade. On the positive side, at least we aren't cutting taxes on the rich any more. But how about some taxes on financial speculation that ruins the economy? Can't we at least get that through?
6. Education: We put the ball at our own 20 because of the major improvements necessary, and that is still the case. In fact it is even more so as the recession, states' terrible budgeting, and the inadequate stimulus mean that states are cutting summer school among other anti-education moves. On the plus side, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan seems to be using the stimulus money to promote reform, but that's still in its early stages and tough to evaluate. We'll move the ball back to our own 15, as we are further than ever from using our education system to provide strong education for our work force and equality of opportunity for all our citizens. But we'll continue to give Obama a B+ for what he's pushed in the stimulus package, and the presence of him, Michelle, and Sonia Sotomayor as strong role models.
7. Re-prioritization of the budget: Very little has changed since our last evaluation, when we had the ball at our own 15 and Obama with a B+, except that Congress rejected the cut of an extremely expensive and unnecessary weapons program, which is an ominous sign. The budget remains very un-attuned to the needs of the country. Obama has been working to shift that, the stimulus package was a big step in the right direction and we're starting to see the effects, but there's a great deal more work to go. We're going to leave the ball at our own 15, and leave Obama with a B+, because he has consistently articulated why the Bush-era budgets were wrongheaded and how they need to change, and has not backed down.

8. Global Cooperation toward shared goals: Last time we put the ball at our 30, and gave Obama an A. Since then we've had the Iranian election, which cuts both ways. In the short term there appears to be a crackdown on any push toward democracy and a blatant rejection of Obama's "we'll meet you halfway approach". But on the other hand I feel that the pro-democracy movement was immeasurably strengthened because Obama meant that the U.S. was no longer the bogeyman, the scapegoat. I feel that Obama handled the situation perfectly, maintaining our values while not doing anything that would backfire, as Republicans were demanding. He has also handled the situation in Honduras perfectly, avoiding a counteproductive intervention. Also on the positive side are U.S. troops pulling out of Iraqi cities, by far the biggest step yet toward a complete withdrawal. The recent visit to Russia shows Obama's power to tamp down hostilities even in an unwelcoming environment. However, and it's a big however, I strongly disapprove of the continued, and expanded, war in Afghanistan. 7 more American lives were lost on Monday. And for what? We're going to move the ball up to our 35, and give Obama an A-, marked down because last time I inexcusably overlooked Afghanistan.

The Strike returns from his travels tomorrow and should return with a flourish.

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