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Monday, September 5, 2016

OBAMA'S UNFINISHED BUSINESS


The end of the Obama experiment is nearby.   It was an experiment because the American presidential electorate opted for a candidate with none of the usual required entries on his resume’ and focused on the “hope and change” slogan which seemed to resonate with those “hoping” that the first black president could simply by his election victory, dispel much of the racial hostility narrative from the Left and cure racial attitudes in the nation.  But the President of the United States has much greater responsibilities, both global and national, than changing social attitudes at home and by these standards, no matter how well meaning Obama may have been, he was simply not up to the job and the experiment has failed.

 The future is fraught with danger as Obama’s presumptive successor, Hillary Clinton, seems to offer the same lack of any president’s most important quality, leadership skills. 

Obama will leave Hillary a list of important tasks which he did not have the leadership qualities and/or the knowledge and experience or the motivation to accomplish during his eight years in office.
Nonetheless, his core of apologists and knee jerk supporters offer a list of his “accomplishments” which is a good place for Hillary to start a remedial job description.

At the top of this list is usually found the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, now commonly called “ObamaCare”.

ObamaCare, signed into law in March, 2010, was an ambitious and comprehensive overhaul of American health care and the American health insurance industry.  The goal was to significantly reduce the number of uninsured Americans, lower insurance costs, and expand the coverage of individual health insurance.  The law is highly complex but after six and a half years the general parameters of its failure are apparent.

 Insurance companies, large & small are getting out of the exchanges because they are losing money. Their losses are the result of several built in defects in the law.  One is that participating insurance companies must offer the broadest possible coverage in all policies.  These include such things as comprehensive pre-natal care, birth control medications, mental health care including drug and alcohol treatments, breastfeeding support/supplies, domestic violence screening and counseling for tobacco use and healthy eating.

This “any problem you’ve got, government will fix” philosophy has resulted in losses for the participating health insurance companies in spite of higher premiums for policy holders as well as a lack of participation by individuals, especially  the young and single who don’t want to pay for coverage which they don’t need; single men don’t need “breast feeding support and supplies” and “domestic violence screening and counseling.  These individuals are opting to pay the penalty (2.5% of adjusted gross income) for non-compliance instead of the exorbitant premiums. This leaves the insurance companies client base weighted towards the older, less healthy segment of the population.

With the larger companies withdrawing from the ACA markets, there will be significantly fewer choices for those in the system and for future policy holders.  This in turn will create fewer choices for health care providers as the remaining insurers restrict their coverage to the least expensive doctors and hospitals in spite of Obama’s famously false statement that, “If you like your doctor or hospital, you can keep them.”

Individual customers who don’t have employer based coverage and who don’t qualify for the low income government subsidies, will be hit the hardest as insurance premiums dramatically rise.  This is a large group as the subsidy cut-off point is $47, 500.00 for a single person and $64,080.00 for a couple. The premium problem will be exacerbated in 2017 when the government’s annual subsidy to the insurance companies ceases.

Overall, the success of the program hasn’t met expectations as the participating pool of participants is much smaller than predicted with as many as 27 million people remaining uninsured. 
Hillary has said that she wants to improve, not replace or repeal, the ACA but she has few choices that don’t inflict severe economic pain on either  the insurance companies, the policy holders, the non-participants, or the tax payers who foot the bill for the premium subsidies. 

The ACA is an out of control Frankenstein monster  probably fundamentally and permanently flawed, but repealing it before designing a far less ambitious pseudo copy of a Canadian style single payer plan which was the goal of the Democratic congress in 2009, would cause health care chaos and be a political disaster which Hillary will not accept. But intransigent Democrats in the new congress will probably oppose any meaningful changes and the Republicans will oppose any increases in subsidies and or penalties, for non-participation.

Foreign relations:

One has to search hard and grasp at proverbial straws to find a “legacy” quality Obama foreign policy that doesn’t present a major problem for the next President.  Of course, her four years as Secretary of State creates a shared responsibility for the mess she inherits.

The Middle East still cries out for a strategy.  The Syrian civil war which overlaps the Islamic State terrorist’s war on the West is going nowhere as the Russians and Iranians have an independent agenda, and the European states, the victims of horrendous terrorist attacks and lacking American leadership are reluctant to play too aggressive a role.  Russian President Putin, emboldened by his annexation of the Ukraine’s Crimea, has filled a strategy void in Syria, unfortunately on the wrong side. Obama has been content to hand off this problem to his successor and simply engage in “targeted” air strikes and pleas to Russian president Putin to cooperate with him to negotiate a ceasefire in Syria which would benefit civilians but would represent nothing but a pause, not a strategy, to bring the conflict to an end.

Obama has abandoned the Palestinian/Israeli conundrum and brought American/Israeli relations to a historic low with the undisguised and mutual hostility between himself and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.  While maintaining the politically sensitive economic and military aid program with Israel, his public comments on the conditions for a successful settlement came without consultation with Netanyahu to whom they seemed arbitrary and lacking in understanding of the fundamental problems. 

The Iran nuclear deal, which Obama sought as a legacy accomplishment and a new relationship with the Islamic Republic has been exposed as seriously flawed and since its initiation the Iranian regime has been outwardly hostile to the U.S., even engaging in provocative military actions against U.S warships in the Persian Gulf and continuing its participation in the Syrian civil war against the U.S. backed rebel forces opposing the government of Hafez Assad.

In pursuit of a “legacy” breakthrough with the Iran, the nuclear deal disregarded Israel’s security interests.  The Israeli government considers a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat and was ignored in the negotiations .

Obama’s response to the deepening instability and violence in the Middle East was to announce an “end to the wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq as far back as November, 2011 as a prelude to a “tilt” in foreign policy priorities towards Asia.  This hasn’t worked out well as the wars continue to this day and the Chinese government, which is the major power in Asia, is undeterred in a strategy to extend its influence and indeed domination in the South China sea thus stimulating a serious conflict with Japan over control of remote islands in the area and security concerns in numerous other Pacific nations. 

Obama’s Asian “tilt” has had no effect on the hostility of the seemingly irrational policies of North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un who has persisted in conducting nuclear weapons tests and who recently fired a submarine launched missile near Japan.  He has claimed that his country now has the capability to attack the west coast of the U.S. with nuclear armed missiles. While this is probably a gross exaggeration, it is destined to become a reality.

The TransPacificPartnership (TPP) which is another Obama “legacy” project, offered a difficult but less adversarial component of “the tilt”.  This is an international “free trade treaty” which has been in negotiations  for seven years and the proposed membership is comprised of twelve Pacific nations including the U.S., Mexico, Peru and Australia.  The U.S. Congress has given Obama “fast track” authority for ratification which means an up or down vote with no amendments but the vote has been put off until after the presidential election. The presidential “heir apparent”,  Hillary, as Secretary of State, supported TPP and called it “the gold standard” of trade agreements.  However strong opposition by Bernie Sanders and his followers during the primary elections led Hillary’s support to “evolve”, and she now opposes the successfully negotiated agreement which probably means that barring another, post-election  “evolutionary experience”, Obama’s legacy will take another hit, and without U.S. participation, the TPP will lose significance and may well fail.  The best hope for Obama’s legacy is for the project to be delayed while Hillary’s minions try and renegotiate certain elements to give her cover to declare that the treaty is “fixed” and allow a vote in a new Democratic controlled Senate.

The U.S. Economy

Much has been made about the weakness of the U.S. economy in the 2016 presidential campaign.  Unfortunately, the discussion conducted by the two final candidates has been characterized by promises without feasible solutions related to “middle class incomes” and “inequality” in wealth.

President Hillary will be faced with serious structural economic issues, the most critical being the federal debt and the annual federal deficits that contribute to its rapid growth.  Current U.S. government debt is 19.5 trillion dollars or 105% of the U.S. economy (GDP). Federal spending is @ 3.853 trillion dollars while federal tax revenue is @ 3.274 trillion which means an annual addition to the federal debt of 579 billion, not counting the annual interest on the debt, which in 2015 was 223 billion dollars at historically low interest rates.  These rates are projected to rise beginning late this year.

In spite of the prospects of continued out of control federal debt, Clinton’s campaign has largely ignored the issue, instead outlining a number of new spending programs as she tried to match Bernie Sanders’ self -described  “democratic socialist” economic agenda. This effort has produced the Clinton version of Bernie’s free college education program.  Those eligible would be students who attend in-state public institutions whose families make less than $125,000 annually. 

Her health care plan would offer local subsidized clinics offering primary care to those who can’t afford basic health care, although she has said she want’s to reform ObamaCare and retain it. Her reformed system would no doubt retain the federal subsidies for low income individuals buying health insurance from the government exchanges.  She would also allow individuals between the ages of 55 and 64 to “buy into” the Medicare program but has offered few details for this new version of a system that is already projected for insolvency.

But those are just two of Clinton’s spending proposals.  It is reported that Moody’s the investment analysis and financial company, estimates that  “Clinton would spend about $300 billion more on infrastructure over the next 10 years, $700 billion more on education, $300 billion on new worker leave policies, and $200 billion more on new economic development programs.  Combined with eliminating the sequester cuts, Clinton’s plan would increase spending by about $2.2 trillion.”

This, in spite of her “plan” to pay for it all by . . .”taxing the rich”.  One such program would start with a 3.8 percent tax on investment income for the “rich” making at least $200 thousand a year.  The truly rich, those making more than $1 million annually would face a 30% tax increase and those rock stars, athletes, and charitable foundation owners (?) making more than $5 million annually would get a another 4% surcharge.  Then everyone would face a “reform” (increase), of the capital gains tax and the inheritance tax. 
Race Relations:
According to a New York Times poll, sixty-nine percent of Americans say race relations in the U.S. are “generally bad”; the highest number since the 1992 Los Angeles race riots.  The Black Lives Matter protest group which has highlighted the deaths of several blacks during confrontations with local police agencies, is the focal point of the tension. Seventy-seven percent of American blacks agreed with the group’s claims as compared to only 37 percent of whites.
The “first black President” hasn’t helped the situation and has arguably made it worse with his public interference and bias in local police matters involving blacks. He claimed that the Cambridge, MA police were “stupid” because the asked Obama’s “friend”, Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates for identification when his neighbor reported two men breaking into Gate’s home. Gates, who had lost his house key refused to furnish ID to investigating officers and became irate when pressed for it, leading to his arrest.  
Obama tried to influence the jury in the Travon Martin/George Zimmeman case by sympathizing with Martin who was shot while attacking Zimmerman. Obama famously opined that if he had had a son he would have looked like Travon Martin.  Zimmerman was found not guilty under Florida law in what former Harvard law professor and civil rights attorney Alan Dershowitz described as a political trial. 
Obama’s lack of objectivity, and leadership in the Martin case and his claim that black shootings at the hands of arresting police officers was “a national issue” laid the foundation for Hillary to use the issue as a campaign tactic, claiming before a black audience in South Carolina that the nation was mired in “systemic racism”.  It thus does not appear that a change in the occupant of the White House and owner of “the bully pulpit” will exercise the leadership necessary to lower the temperature of the racial conflict in the country. 
Immigration:
This emotional, cultural, national security and economic issue has become a verbal war between the presidential candidates, the media and the voters. Hillary, pandering to the Hispanic voters has said will go even further than Obama’s illegal executive order to ignore immigration laws and grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens currently in the country. Without her commitment to enforce the border with Mexico she will have great difficulty in getting immigration reform passed in the Congress unless the Democrats gain majorities in both houses which are currently under control of the Republican Party. 
In sum, eight years of the Obama experiment have left the nation with most of the problems that confronted it in 2008. The economy, as measured by inflation, unemployment, GDP growth and the stock market has improved as is the case in the self-correcting nature of free markets, aided in this case by the U.S. Federal Reserve’s stimulative monetary policies, but the federal debt and continuing deficits in federal spending are enormous issues mostly below the political and electioneering radar.

It is possible, however unlikely, that the second President Clinton will take off her campaign hat on January, 20, 2017 and put on a presidential hat with the broader responsibilities that come with it.  However, if she simply wants to be the president of the Democratic Party and ignore the problems of, and solutions for, the nation as a whole, then Obama’s “unfinished business” will remain unfinished and Hillary will leave office with her own legacy of important unresolved issues.