The US is in serious trouble
Cambridge, Massachusetts - This week Barack Obama told a radio interviewer of his response to criticisms of his administration, "I tell them what Joe Biden says, judge me not as the Almighty, consider the alternative."
Certainly the Republican's unimpressive presidential hopefuls are pretty awful, but Obama's track record has left many former supporters angry. Perhaps the most significant thing about the 2012 presidential election will be who bothers to vote; there is such disillusion and anger here with politicians on both sides of the field.
Obama's comment was astonishing. The man who came in on a wave of public optimism and support, whose rallying cry was, "Yes, we can" was brushing off his four years of "no, we can'ts," and a record that makes George W. Bush seem okay. Here are some examples:
- Obama has increased drone strikes eight times over what the Bush administration did across two terms according to John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the progressive Institute for Policy Studies.
- He prevailed upon the Environmental Protection Agency to pull back anti-smog legislation as part of the Clean Air Act. The U.S. with China and India is the worst carbon emitter in the world.
- He has failed to close Guatanamo Bay - an election promise.
- He promised immigration reform - a key promise given that 26 percent of the electorate are Hispanic - instead he has stepped up arrests against illegal migrants. In 2010, his administration arrested more migrants - 393,000 - than any administration before (81,000 more than in President George W. Bush's last year in office).
Obama's failure to keep promises has been mapped by a user of Idea Palooza, a U.S. website, it is sobering reading. The creator compiled all 891 election promises Obama made (perhaps the first warning was a candidate who made so many promises, but Americans and the world, exhausted after eight war-mongering years of George W. Bush failed to pay attention). So far, according to this measure, which is used by major U.S. news media, Obama has kept 233 promises, broken 116 and failed to address 61 percent.
He is to the right of President Ronald Reagan, the Tea Party hero, according to the Institute for Policy Studies on some financial issues. They point out that after more than 250 economists wrote to him earlier this year calling for more imagination in the handling of the massive U.S. $15-trillion debt their call was spurned by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (Obama remained silent).
The IPS said, "That rigid position places the Obama administration to the right not only of Reagan, but also both Bush presidencies and the International Monetary Fund." Geithner served as head of New York's Federal Reserve under Bush, and is one of a number of key Bush appointees Obama has kept close; they also include national Federal Reserve chief, Ben Bernanke and former Defense secretary, Robert Gates, among others.
When Obama was elected into office in November, 2008, he had the strongest majorities in both houses of Congress since 1993.
Democrats held 258 of the 435 seats in the House and at least 54 of the 100 seats in the Senate - two years later he lost Congress to the Republicans and the United States has essentially been on autopilot since.
Obama has been incapable of uniting Congress, and no longer seems to care, which adds fuel to his detractors and antipathy among some Democrats toward him. Congress has slumped to a nine percent approval rating - its worst ever - from citizens for its ongoing bickering, failure to implement, and continual threats to shut down government. These threatened shutdowns have seen government departments freeze - they are too nervous to implement projects or to hire staff because there is no assuredness that they will receive an ongoing flow of funding.
And so America's infrastructure has begun crumbling, the potholes in roads are acute, the rail system is antiquated - the New York subway is little better than a sewer, 12% or 69,000 bridges are "structurally deficient," and hospitals are in serious need of overhaul. In some states schools are on four-day weeks because there is no funding and thousands of teachers have been retrenched.
"Frozen" federal departments hinders employment which officially is at nine percent, but unofficially close to double that. In August the White House reported that unemployment among young African Americans was 32%, by December it had leapt to 41.3% -figures similar to those in South Africa.
The union group, AFL-CIO reported last week that, "The loss of public-sector jobs has disproportionately impacted African Americans - nearly two-thirds of city employees across the country facing layoffs are African American."
African Americans are deeply divided about Obama, while some in Washington D.C. still refer to him as "the chosen one", others, like federal whistleblower and author, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo are deeply critical. She writes for Black Agenda Report, an African American website that regularly hammers Obama.
While Africa greeted his election with joy, Obama has shown little interest in the continent. In September, he signed into law a $23.2 million cut for Pepfar - the HIV and AIDS program introduced by President George W. Bush and an important funder of treatment and care programmes in South Africa and other developing nations. There was a further cut of $16.1 million to the Global Fund - and as a result South Africa is seeing NGOs that work in HIV struggling to surviveg.
But global family planning and reproductive health services took the biggest hit with a reduction of $85 million. Obama's track record on women's reproductive rights is poor, his health secretary recently overruled a Federal Drug Administration regulation that would have allowed emergency contraception pills to be sold over the counter for girls younger than 17 (the U.S. has an avalanche of teenage pregnancies).
The U.S. has the highest maternal death rate of any industrialised nation according to the CIA Factbook. The Save the Children Fund notes that "an American woman is more than seven times as likely as one in Ireland to die from pregnancy-related causes and her maternal death risk is 15 times that in Greece. Only three developed countries - Albania, Russian and Moldova - had a worse maternal mortality rate."
The array of depressing figures from the U.S. are astonishing: the Census Bureau reports the number of Americans in poverty jumped to 15.1 percent in 2010, a 17-year high. About 46.2 million people, or nearly one in six, were in poverty. And 49.9 million were without health insurance in the country with among the most expensive health-care in the world.
In October, the Congressional Budget Committee revealed that since 1979, the richest one percent had seen incomes rise 275%, while the middle class was 40% more comfortable and the lowest fifth of the nation had seen incomes rise only 18% - essentially, they got poorer.
Yet in November, the so-called super-committee nominated by Obama to find ways out of the debt crisis failed to reach accord, one of the biggest stumbling blocks was a refusal by Republicans to increase taxes on the rich - many of whom pay far lower tax than the lowest earning members of the country. Billionaire Warren Buffet famously pointed out recently that his personal assistant pays more tax than he does.
Many of these issues Obama inherited, but with the mandate the electorate gave him he had the greatest capacity of any president in decades to make a real difference.
When he was elected Obama said: "Americans have sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of red states and blue states, we have been and always will be the United States of America."
Under Obama the United has fallen off the States of America. History still has to reveal whether Barack Obama was a giant con foisted on the American people, or whether he is a victim of racists in the Republican party who will do anything to stymie the first black president for the United States. Either way the United States is in serious trouble.
Charlene Smith is a South African-born journalist who lives and works in the United States and for a period this year covered the White House
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