Monday, August 21, 2017

The Age of Obama

One thing about black people is that we are always in involved in historic events. The historic campaign and election of Barack Obama as the first African American President of the United States of America represented a new era of our history. The end of the Bush administration was marred with economic recession, failures from the Iraq War, NSA warrantless wiretapping, the Katrina disaster aftermath, and other problems. Barack Obama spoke to the frustration of black people and others who desired a new way out of a situation caused by far right wing policies. Barack Obama’s gift was his usage of intellect, oratory, and charisma to advance story, consensus among different groups, and using structures plus detail to advance his ideas. He was elected with massive support among black people, other people of color, white progressives, the youth, women, college educated people, and other human beings. Some even promoted the myth that the election of a center-left politician Barack Obama would mean the establishment of a post racial era. Now, we see that to be a myth. Barack Obama would represent ironies and paradoxes. Barack Obama on many occasions would give middle of the road speeches on race and education (many of which that I don't agree with), yet reactionaries would still slander him as a racist and a person who was a socialist. Barack Obama would speak about personal responsibility and family parenting (which conservatives love to hear) involving schools, but that wasn’t good enough for those who viewed him as far left (which he wasn’t). Barack Obama would both execute legitimate policies (like the Lily-Leadbetter Act, the economic compensation to black farmers, the Iranian nuclear deal, normalizing relations among Cuba and America, many reforms in the criminal justice system, etc.) while also executing blatantly bad, neoliberal plus imperial policies (like the Wall Street bailout, the continuation of the NDAA, the massive prosecution of whistleblowers, and the massive drone strikes overseas). He in fact is the representation of the achievements of Black Americans in many areas and how far we have to go in achieving justice and human liberation. One cornerstone of the Obama legacy is his signing the Affordable Care Act, which was a national overhaul of the health care system (filled with legitimate policies and imperfections). In a sense, how many conservatives view Reagan, many liberals view the same for Obama. Barack Obama is the man who is the paradox of having massive genius intellectually, while we (as black Americans) saw increases of economic inequality, problems of infant mortality, decreases of black Americans wealth during the peak of the Great Recession (as a product of the recession and a fallible capitalist system), the growth of gentificiation (which has displaced the poor and harmed black community cohesiveness), and a continued epidemic of police terrorism against black people (especially against poor and working class black people). This is caused by a system which has existed long before Obama was elected, but he is responsible for some of these policies. This reality has been caused by a neoliberal capitalist system that can never solve the problems of poverty and economic exploitation period. Part of the Age of Obama was the inspirational words from First Lady Michelle Obama (she is a black woman with great intelligence, a clear advancement of health, and she told the truth that White House was built by slaves. Michelle Obama is easily the greatest First Lady in history).  The two extreme views (which has been promoted by some) of Obama being nearly perfect (and being immune from any critique as advanced by black bourgeois political figures especially) or Obama being evil incarnate (as advanced by white supremacists especially) must be rejected. We ought to fairly evaluate the Age of Obama as both filled with crisis and filled with a renewed fight among a new generation of social activists for social change. The unemployment rate declined by the end of the Age of Obama with millions of jobs being created. In terms of LGBT rights, he is the most pro-LGBT President in American history. The Age of Obama did saw the birth of the progressive Black Lives Matter Movement (which I will describe in more detail in the future) and the Occupy Wall Street movement. It saw both the tragedy in Ferguson including in Charleston and it saw more activism by heroes in opposing bigotry, police terrorism, and any injustice. Therefore, we have to look at the Age of Obama in comprehensive terms as a new era of Black America.

The campaign of Barack Obama grew after he announced his candidacy on February of 2007. It was a long campaign with social media being involved from Myspace, Facebook, and to the rest of the Internet. He fought against Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in the Democratic primary among other candidates. By the end of June 2007, Barack Obama out-raised then Senator Hillary Clinton for funds with a $31 million haul. Barack Obama’s campaign is based on “hope and change.” He advocated a withdrawal of American troops from the Iraqi territory (by the end of 2008). He was a previous opponent of the Iraq War. Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, and others ran for President too.  On September 18, 2007, Barack Obama advocated an $80 billion in tax cuts for the middle class while eliminating part of the Bush tax cuts on the super wealthy. Oprah Winfrey publicly supported Barack Obama on December 8, 2007. Massive crowds hear him speak and almost 30,000 people came to see Oprah and Obama in Columbia, South Carolina. The historic Democratic Iowa caucus had its results. Obama won the caucus on January 3, 2008. This sent shock waves all over the world. People celebrated. Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary. Obama won the South Carolina primary later. The South Carolina primary results caused Bill Clinton to compare Obama’s victories to Jesse Jackson’s campaigns in 1984 and 1988 (and Clinton said that Obama would be making him coffee back then according to the late Edward Kennedy). This caused rightful anger in the African American community. Barack Obama surged in popularity. First Lady Michelle Obama also spoke throughout the campaign. By February 27, 2008, Georgia Democratic Representative and civil rights hero John Lewis reversed his endorsement from Clinton to Obama. Small donations caused Obama to receive massive support. Axelrod was a great apolitical advisor to him too. There were controversies too. There was the Tony Rezko scandal. There was the March release of news clips of the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright (who was Obama’s pastor for 20 years) at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Ironically, Wright told the truth on many issues from exposing imperialism, disagreeing with social injustice, criticizing the overt war crimes of dropping bombs in Hirsohima (plus Nagasaki), and abhorring many evils against black people and Native Americans. Yet, it was taboo for anyone to say these comments in public, because courageous black preaching against imperialism has been demonized by the enemies of truth. Jeremiah Wright said “God d___ America.” Barack Obama gave his Philadelphia speech where he denounced Wright’s remarks while saying that black people’s legitimate grievance against racial injustice must be respected. His speech tried to appealed to people’s better natures and it was very conciliatory and moderate. His historic speech on race was called, “A More Perfect Union.” Barack Obama was a genius political figure during the 2008 campaign. Obama talked about some people clinging to guns, religion, and anti-immigrant sentiment. Hillary Clinton criticized this comment, but we know now that many people falsely scapegoat immigrants in explaining why neoliberal policies have caused jobs to be outsourced unfortunately. Debates about Ayers persisted, but he won the Democratic nomination for President among the Democratic Party. By June 3, 2008, Barack Obama is victorious to be a Democratic Presidential nominee. His Democratic National Convention speech in 2008 was in Denver. It was powerful and historic. He appealed to black people, working people, and other Americans. He called for energy independence, economic reforms, health care improvement, and other progressive positions. He wanted to end the Iraq War. The Republican candidate John McCain was his political opponent. He debated him in many debates. The Presidential campaign was fierce. Barack Obama equated McCain to the failed policy of the Bush administration. Barack Obama won the election in November of 2008. People cheered. Jesse Jackson cried. Oprah Winfrey celebrated. John McCain gave a very gracious concession speech. Barack Obama gave his victory speech in Grant Park of Chicago, Illinois with his wife and children. He was inaugurated on January 20, 2009 to a large crowd of people. Parades existed and hopes were high for the future of America.

During his first 100 days in office, President Barack Obama passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It promoted emergency assistance. The stimulus law gave 40 percent of the money to tax cuts and credits to individuals and businesses. It wasn’t a direct government jobs program modeled on the 1930’s era Works Progress Administration. The stimulus package stopped a massive plunge into a worse depression. The unemployment rate continued to increase for a while. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that promoted gender equality involving pay. He promoted an expanded S-CHIP or the State’s Children’s Health Insurance Program. He appointed Sonia Sotomayor (who is the first Latina American on the Court) and Elan Kagan to the Supreme Court. On October 8, 2009, he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a measure that expanded the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. On October 30, 2009, Obama lifted the ban on travel to the United States by those infected with HIV, which was celebrated by Immigration Equality. He repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in December 22, 2010. On March 11, 2009, Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls, which forms part of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, having been established by Executive Order 13506 with a broad mandate to advise him on issues relating to the welfare of American women and girls. He continued to expanded military involvement in the Afghanistan war while withdrawing military forces from Iraq involving combat missions. President Barack Obama had discussions about Israel, Russia, and the Muslim world. He gave his historic speech promoting tolerance to the Muslim world in Cairo during his first term, but he executed drones strikes and other militarist policies in the Muslim world. So, political news was definitely part of his administration.

The Great Recession harmed the Black American community in such bad ways, that we have not fully recovered from it to this very day. In essence, the Great Recession was caused by many factors not just one. It involved a massive economic decline in many world markets from the late 2000's to the early 2010's. It was the worse global recession since the Great Recession according to the IMF. The causes of the Great Recession related directly to the financial crisis of 2007, and the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2009 too. Under the economy definition of recession (which is about 2 or more consecutive quarters of GDP decline), it lasted from December of 2007 to June or July of 2009. Yet, the African American community suffered economic hurt to this very day. Subprime loan losses in 2007 expanded the economic crisis. Loses continued and Lehman Brothers fell on September 15, 2008. Neoliberal politicians passed bailouts in their minds to save the largest banks from total financial collapse. During the Great Recession, international trade, and commodity prices declined. Unemployment grew and many human beings foreclosed on their housing since they couldn’t afford to pay their mortgage payments. Household debt increased also. The housing bubble nearly tripled the prices of homes and other real-estate from 1999 to 2007. This huge increase was due in part to the uncontrolled credit given by the American banks that engaged in such practices, and which further increased demand in the housing sector. On December 30, 2008, the Case-Shiller home price index reported the largest price drop in its history. Increased foreclosure rates in 2006–2007 among U.S. homeowners led to a crisis in August 2008 for the subprime, collateralized debt obligation, mortgage, credit, hedge fund, and foreign bank markets. As early as October 2007, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury had called the bursting housing bubble "the most significant risk to our only economy.” Economic inequality further grew. The distribution of household incomes in the United States has become more unequal during the post-2008 economic recovery, a first for the U.S but in line with the trend over the last ten economic recoveries since 1949. Income inequality in the United States has grown from 2005 to 2012 in more than 2 out of 3 metropolitan areas. Median household wealth fell 35% in the US, from $106,591 to $68,839 between 2005 and 2011. The U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission found that some of the causes were the failures of financial regulation (like the Federal Reserve’s failure to stop the spread of toxic mortgages. Back then, many aspects of the derivatives trading lacked transparency and basic regulatory controls), the financial firms acting too reckless and taking too much risk, excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that permitted this risky reality, and many policy makers failing to prepare for the crisis. Many conservatives blamed the crisis on the actions of Fannie & Freddie since they were involved government policy in dealing with much of American housing. Liberals, of course, disagree with that assumption. The capitalist system was filled with risky practices, excessive leverage, and instability that contributed to the recession. African American suffered greatly during this era.

The Economic Policy Institute mentioned that in 2010, black unemployment reached above 10 percent. There was the 2001 recession too (as a result of the dot com bubble). Many black workers suffered discrimination, loss of wealth, and massive economic troubles. Bailouts existed for big Wall Street corporations (when no major Wall Street banker have been convicted of financial malfeasance) while the leadership of both parties refused to bailout state and local governments during the Great Recession (and afterwards because many of them believe in the neoliberal philosophies of austerity and free market fundamentalism). During the Great Recession, Black household wealth fell to one-twentieth that of median white households. After debts were subtracted from assets, the median white household was worth a little over $113,000, while Black households could lay claim to only $5,600 in assets. Half of Black households were worse off than that, and about half of those had virtually no family worth at all. Studies have documented racial discrimination against black Americans involving many financial situations. Wall Street oligarchs and their allies received the majority of the economic benefits post-Great Recession. That’s the sad part. There has been economic growth since 2009, but that growth has been uneven. The US gained 1.058 million jobs in 2010, 2.083 million in 2011, 2.236 million in 2012, 2.331 million in 2013, and 3.116 in 2014. GDP grew roughly 2.5% in 2010, 1.6% in 2011, 2.3% in 2012, 2.2% in 2013, and 2.4% in 2014. May 2014 also marked the recovery of all jobs lost during the recession. Over 12.1 million jobs have been created since job losses stopped in February 2010 as of June 2015. However, these new jobs are not equal in pay to those medium-paying jobs lost: roughly 40% are high-paying jobs and 60% are low-paying jobs, further widening the income gap between poor and affluent Americans. Government attempts to reduce deficits via the sequester budget cuts will remain a drag on the economy for as long as the Budget Control Act of 2011 remains in place. I don’t agree with sequester, because of obvious reasons. Economics are complex, so every aspect of an economy can’t be blamed on any President completely. Goods and services spread in the economy while Wall Street banking interests have used hedge funds including derivatives to establish record profits. Only a revolutionary policy can be a real solution. In essence, Americans (and other people worldwide) were victims of an imperfect economic system while the financial oligarchs were heavily involved in exacerbating the Great Recession in the first place. One aspect of the Great Recession was that it has inspired many progressive activists to advance the goal of economic justice.

By Timothy

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