February 10, 2009
Change: The First Three Weeks
By Randall Hoven
Far be it from me to criticize Barack Obama before he's even had a chance to rule. Well, he's had almost three weeks in office as I write, and some patterns are beginning to emerge. Here is a list of accomplishments 20 days into President Obama's first term.
Prior to taking office.
- Bill Richardson withdrew his nomination for Secretary of Commerce "under pressure of a federal investigation into how his political donors landed a lucrative transportation contract."
- In December, President-elect Obama introduced a $775B stimulus plan, which enjoyed a 79% approval rating in the polls at the time .
- By January 12, the cost of the stimulus was up to $850B and "43% of people surveyed called it a ‘good idea,' while 27% said it is a ‘bad idea.' The rest didn't have an opinion," according to the Wall Street Journal .
January 21. Day One in office, or "Clean Government Day."
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel," which requires Obama's appointees to sign a statement saying they won't violate existing laws on things like gifts from lobbyists. That is, if you work for Obama, you are expected to obey the law. It's a new era.
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Presidential Records," which makes it easier to obtain former Presidents' documents over objections on grounds of executive privilege. It specifically revokes George W. Bush's Executive Order 13233. If you had been planning to take Bush to court, your job just got a little easier.
- Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on "Pay Freeze," which says, "I intend to freeze the salaries of senior members of the White House staff", and directs the Assistant to the President and the Chief of Staff to get back to him on that in 30 days. The 30 days aren't up yet, so the freeze level is unknown at this time.
- Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on the "Freedom of Information Act," which, from what I can tell, does nothing new except direct the Attorney General to issue guidelines "reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency." So existing policy is reaffirmed.
January 22, "Be Nice To Terrorists Day."
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Ensuring Lawful Interrogations," which defines "outrages upon personal dignity (including humiliating and degrading treatment)" as "torture" or the equivalent of torture, and not allowed by any agency of the US government, at least upon persons in custody. (If you are not in custody, it is still OK for the government to humiliate you.) This order also says all interrogations must be in accordance with the Army Field Manual - unless, of course, "the Attorney General with appropriate consultation provides further guidance." I believe waterboarding used to require a go-ahead from the President or Vice President; now Eric Holder is good enough.
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Closure of Guantanamo Detention Facilities," which says Gitmo "shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order." It also orders a halt in all military commissions there, while the Gitmo situation gets reviewed.
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Review of Detention Policy Options," which establishes a task force to study what to do with "individuals captured or apprehended in connection with armed conflicts and counterterrorism operations."
- Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on the "Review of the Detention of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri," who is being held as an enemy combatant in the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina. He is the only enemy combatant known to be held in the continental US. He is a citizen of Qatar, but was arrested in Peoria, Illinois, because, according to the New York Times , "government officials contended that he was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent, sent to the US to commit mass murder and disrupt the banking system." This presidential memorandum says his case should be reviewed, just like all the Gitmo cases. Apparently, the problem is not whether enemy combatants are held in Gitmo or somewhere else; the problem, apparently, is holding those who intend to commit mass murder at all.
January 23, "Be Nice To Abortionists Day."
- Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on "Mexico City Policy and Assistance for Voluntary Population Planning." The Mexico City Policy was enacted by President Reagan, rescinded by President Clinton and reinstated by President Bush. Now President Obama is rescinding it again. The policy prohibits nongovernmental organizations from using federal funds "to pay for the performance of abortions ... or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions." So rescinding that policy allows US government funds to pay for abortions or to coerce people to have or provide them.
January 26, "Help the US Automobile Industry Go Broke Quicker Day."
- Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on the "State of California Request for Waiver Under the Clean Air Act." This memorandum orders the EPA to review the decision denying California a waiver to enforce stricter auto emissions standards. If the waiver is granted, California will become the defacto arbiter of auto emissions standards in the US. So in a case of obvious interstate commerce with enormous national economic impact, President Obama rediscovers the value of states' rights.
- Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on "The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007." This memorandum directs the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to do their jobs. Federal law requires that the NHTSA publish a final rule on fuel standards for model year 2011 vehicles by March 30, 2009. This memorandum says the NHTSA must comply with that federal law.
January 27, "Be Nice to Terrorist Lovers and Tax Cheats Day."
- Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on "Unexpected Urgent Refugee and Migration Needs Related to Gaza." This memorandum directs that up to $20.3 million be used for "humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza." In a totally unrelated story one week later, "Armed police officials with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza seized United Nations refugee supplies at gunpoint."
- Timothy Geithner was confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner suffered a short-lived controversy for failure to fully pay taxes. He paid $34,000 in back taxes. After admitting to "careless mistakes" in doing his own taxes, he is now in charge of tax collection for the government of the United States.
January 28, "Bipartisan Schmipartisan Day."
- Obama's stimulus package passed the House with a vote of 244-188. That version of the plan was $819B. All 288 yea votes were from Democrats. The opposition was bipartisan: all 177 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
January 29, "No Statute of Limitations on Anything Day."
- Obama signed into law the "Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act," making it easier to file equal-pay lawsuits. Before, such a lawsuit had to be filed within 180 days of the date the pay was agreed upon. Now the limit is within 180 days of the most recent paycheck. So trial lawyers can now search for pay discrimination decades into the past.
- "A day after President Obama struck a conciliatory tone toward Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged Washington on Wednesday to apologize for its actions toward his country for the past 60 years." Iran has also given the preconditions necessary before talking with Obama: send all US military forces back to the US.
January 30, "Payback the Unions and Keep Joe Busy Day."
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Notification of Employee Rights Under Federal Labor Laws", which revokes George W. Bush's Executive Order 13201, which forced employers to notify employees of their rights. However, government contractors will be forced to "post a notice, of such size and in such form, and containing such content as the Secretary of Labor shall prescribe, in conspicuous places in and about its plants and offices." So the notices will no longer contain what President Bush wanted them to contain (e.g., their rights under the law), but what the new Secretary of Labor wants them to contain.
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Economy in Government Contracting", which says government contractors will no longer be reimbursed for "any activities undertaken to persuade employees to exercise or not to exercise" the right to organize and bargain collectively.
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Nondisplacement of Qualified Workers Under Service Contracts", which says a government contractor can't just hire who he wants, but must first try to hire the same people who worked for the previous contactor - the contractor who likely lost a competitive bid to the new contractor.
- Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on "White House Task Force on Middle-Class Working Families." This puts Joe Biden in charge of a task force to "focus on raising the living standards of middle-class working families." The task force must provide annual reports on its findings and recommendations.
February 3, "Being President is Hard Day."
- Tom Daschle withdrew as Secretary of Health and Human Services due to controversy involving failure to fully pay his taxes from 2005 to 2007. He ultimately paid $128,000 in back taxes plus $11,964 in interest. He was also criticized for his lobbying ties to the health industry, after having made over $5 million in the last few years.
- Nancy Killefer withdrew as deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget and the first "performance officer" in the White House due to tax problems, including failure to pay unemployment compensation on household help.
- According to the Financial Times, "India has warned US President Barack Obama that he risks ‘barking up the wrong tree' if he seeks to broker a settlement between Pakistan and India over the disputed territory of Kashmir... the new US administration was in danger of dredging up out of date Clinton administration-era strategies... The warning comes as Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, prepares to come to the region for the first time."
- Support for Obama's stimulus package, now flirting with a $900B price tag, fell to 37%, according to Rasmussen.
- Iran denied visas to the US Women's Badminton Team, sent by the US in hopes of easing tensions between the two countries.
- Iran launched its first satellite into space. According to Voice of America , "to leaders and analysts in the west, the satellite launch represents a forward step in Iran's apparent quest to be both nuclear capable and able to deliver a warhead on target."
February 4, "More Socialized Medicine Day."
- Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on "State Children's Health Insurance Program." This memorandum withdraws previous limits on the flexibility of states to set income eligibility standards for SCHIP.
February 5, "Community Organizing, Low-Flow Coffee-Makers and Trade-War Day."
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Amendments to Executive Order 13199 and Establishment of the President's Advisory Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships." For some reason, the phrase "community initiatives" will be replaced with "neighborhood partnerships" throughout all language on the initiative. Whatever "neighborhood partnerships" are, they have equal footing with faith-based ones. In other words, the local Planned Parenthood or ACORN center will be treated like a house of God, in the eyes of the federal government. So the "Faith-Based Initiative" is pretty much the same, except it's no longer faith based.
- Obama issued a Presidential memorandum on "Appliance Efficiency Standards." This memorandum directs the Secretary of Energy to do his or her job. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, and a later court decree, require the DOE to issue efficiency standards for appliances by certain dates. This memorandum says DOE should comply with the Act of 1975 and the later court decree.
- According to Time, "Europe's euphoria over Barack Obama is fading fast. As Congress wrangles over the President's $819 billion stimulus package, a ‘buy American' clause has the European Union threatening legal action and retaliatory sanctions and opening up the prospect of an explosive trade war."
February 6. "Be Even Nicer to Unions and Terrorists Day."
- Obama issued an Executive Order on "Use of Project Labor Agreements for Federal Construction Projects", which revokes President Bush's Executive Orders 13202 and 13208. This new order encourages federal executives to require government contractors and subcontractors to use union-organized labor.
- Pakistan released Abdul Qadeer Khan from custody. Khan was the father of Pakistan's bomb and also provided plans for nuclear weapons to Iran, Libya and North Korea. He is considered a major nuclear proliferation threat.
- In response to President Obama's Executive Order of January 22, charges were dropped against Gitmo detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an al-Qaida suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, which killed 17 US sailors.
February 8. "Moderate Republicans, Not So Moderate Jihadis Day."
- The AP reports that the stimulus package is still in some trouble in the Senate. The Senate version costs $827B, or just $8B more than the House version, after having been pared back from $900B, supposedly, due to the influence of a handful of Republican moderates. That is, in the House, zero Republicans supported the stimulus, and its cost was $819B. But in the Senate, due to support from a handful of Republican moderates, the cost will only be $827B. That is how Republican moderates compromise.
- Yemen released 170 al-Qaida suspects. That's almost enough for nine 9/11s, by my arithmetic. Maybe eight 9/11s and one London train bombing.
February 9. Day 20, or "Fear, Not Hope Day."
- President Obama travelled to Indiana to rally grass-roots support for the stimulus package. He said if it's not passed, and passed immediately, the crisis will be so deep that "we may be unable to reverse" it. "We can't afford to wait. We can't wait to see and hope for the best." Re-read that last quote: President Obama said we can't hope - literally. Other Democrats, in an effort to calm our fears, have called our situation "dark, darker, darkest," "in mortal danger of absolute collapse," and "Armageddon."
I should also report on the progress of the Democratic Congress. Here is what the House did already in 2009:
- Established January 2009 as "National Stalking Awareness Month."
- Supported the ideals of "National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week."
- Established a redress process for individuals, such as suspected terrorists, wrongly delayed or prohibited from boarding a flight.
- Reauthorized SCHIP.
- Delayed digital TV.
- Encouraged states to report to the feds information regarding people who die in the custody of state law enforcement agencies.
President Obama also said many words in these first 20 days: press conferences, speeches and op-ed pieces, but I left these out of the above list in order to concentrate on actions rather than words. (To my knowledge, Obama did not complete another autobiography in the last three weeks.)
I probably missed a few things, but I think you get the drift. Undo whatever Bush did. Expect appointees to obey the law, with a mulligan given for first-time offenses less than $128,000. Pay back Democratic special interests like unions, trial lawyers and Planned Parenthood. Define "bipartisanship" as inviting Republicans to lunch and telling them, "I won." Spend really, really huge amounts of other people's money. Make terrorism a law enforcement issue instead of a national defense issue. And watch terrorists and nuclear proliferators be released, from Pakistan to Yemen to Gitmo.
President Obama has lived up to my expectations.
I believe these first 20 days could best be summarized in the immortal words of Mark Steyn, who said, "We have nothing to hope for but hope itself." (The dates given might not be exact, but close enough. The source for Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda was the White House.)