Saturday, January 16, 2010

Obama: One Year On

I consider the Presidency to be a no-excuses job. If the country does well, the President did a good job. If the country does poorly, the President is lousy. By this measure Clinton was a good president, he inherited a country doing pretty well and left it in excellent shape. By contrast, Bush inherited a country in great shape -- paying down it's debt and militarily and diplomatically pre-eminent -- and left America a mess. Obama inherited that mess, but how is he doing so far?

Last year about this time I posted an article laying out where we were so that comparisons could be made [see Where We Are]. The ship of state is large and doesn't turn quickly, but after a year it's fair to start crediting or blaming Obama for what has happened.

The short answer is that the economy is better (except unemployment), our standing in the world is much better, and the military situation is better, but we are racking up debt at an amazing rate and that will sink us if not reversed.

For the long answer I've copied each of the items from last year's article that could be compared to today. Last year's text is in italic and this year's state in normal text. Note that it is often difficult to find the exact same measures as I did last year, so some of the comparisons must be treated with caution.


  • The federal government is $10 trillion in debt. Today is it over $12 trillion.

  • The projected deficit for fiscal 2009 is $1.2 trillion (not counting the stimulus package). The actual deficit for fiscal 2009 was $1.4 trillion. Estimated deficit for fiscal 2010 is $1.17 trillion. (NOTE: fiscal 2010 goes from 1 Oct 2009 to 30 Sept 2010).

  • The economy is losing half a million jobs a month, a total of three million in the last year. In November, the economy added 4,000 jobs.

  • Total debt, government, commercial, and personal, is about $53 trillion. Total debt is around $57 trillion.

  • The Dow Jones is around 8,000, down from around 14,000 a year earlier. The Dow Jones is at 10,600.

  • The S&P 500 is around 800, down from around 1,400 a year earlier. The S&P 500 is at 1,136

  • Home foreclosure filings in January 2009 totaled 274,399 [Reuters]. Banks took over 92,000 homes in December 2009

  • Major financial institutions have failed completely, others avoided failure only with massive government subsidies, and many more are on the brink of collapse. The major financial institutions have reduced their leverage from 30-1 to around 10-1 and seem to be much more secure, many are making money, and some have returned their bailout money with interest.

  • Two of the three major American car manufacturers require massive government subsidies to avoid bankruptcy. All three major American car manufacturers are alive, although GM now has the government as a majority stock holder and Chrysler was sold to Fiat.

  • The official unemployment rate is 7.6%. The official unemployment rate is 10%, down from 10.2% a month ago.

  • U.S. GDP has been down every quarter for about a year. It was down 6.8% in the last quarter of 2008. GDP increased 2.2% in the third quarter of 2009.

  • The economy is about as good as one might realistically hope given that it almost went off a cliff right as Obama took over. The stock market and GDP are up, employment is higher, but improving slightly, and home foreclosures are slowing. Debt, however, is very high and growing fast. If not curbed, America will go bankrupt.

    Foreign Affairs

  • Iraq is, relatively, peaceful and arguably democratic. Unchanged.

  • The ruling parties in Iraq have very close ties with Iran. Iran also has very close ties with rulers in the Kurdish areas. Unchanged, but the government of Iran has lost legitimacy after rigging recent elections.

  • America has approximately 150,000 uniformed forces and 190,000 'contractors' (aka mercenaries) in Iraq. In December 2009 there were approximately 112,000 uniformed forces and US troops are no longer actively participating in combat operations.

  • The Taliban have the initiative in Afghanistan and are making major gains. The Taliban were recently reported to be clearedfrom Helman province, which is a key area. Later reports suggest that this was only partially accomplished.

  • The Taliban have repeatedly cut NATO supply routes through Pakistan; in one case destroying hundreds of trucks filled with supplies. In another, destroying a hundred foot long bridge. NATO is being forced to develop alternative supply routes. Such attacks have not made the news in the last six to nine months, at least that I've noticed and I look.

  • Major news stories say Kyrgyzstan will close the Manas air base used to support and supply NATO forces in Afghanistan. The base is still in use by the US Air Force.

  • The Taliban control substantial and growing swaths of territory in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban have lost control of substantial territories in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

  • The Taliban leadership lives more-or-less openly in Quetta. I've seen nothing to suggest this has changed.

  • The Taliban just cut a deal with local government leaders to impose Sharia on the Swat in exchange for a cease fire. The Taliban were pushed out of Swat by the Pakistan army.

  • The Taliban just launched a successful attack in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The Taliban launched a big attack in Kabul today., all seven assailants were apparently killed.

  • Basically, the Taliban are kicking our butts. These are the guys that harbored al Qaeda at the time of the 9/11 attack. They are still close allies. The Taliban are hurting and may have lost the initiative. It's hard to tell the real situation though. Most important, a recent poll indicated abou 70% approval for the US effort, vs 40% a year ago. As support of the population is the key to counter-insurgency warfare, this is very good news.

  • The Isrealis and Hamas just ended three weeks of major fighting. Rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel have mostly stopped.

  • Particularly prior to Obama's election, much of the world viewed America as a country that tortures people, invades others, and pursues a largely go-it-alone, my-way-or-the-highway foreign policy. Many perceive America as a bully. Obama has turned this around to the point that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. While Obama did not believe he deserved the prize, awarding it is a strong sign that America's image is on the mend. Again, this is key to winning the war with al Qaeda. This war cannot be won without world-wide support, particularly from Muslims.

  • America has suffered major Islamic extremist terrorist attacks in the first few months of the last two presidential administrations. That would make us due for one now. There have been two small attacks, one killing 13 American soldiers and a failed attempt to bring down an airliner, but nothing on the scale of 9/11, the Oklahoma bombing, or the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

  • North Korea tested their first nuclear weapon in 2006. No new tests, but no improvement either.

  • North Korea conducted a number of long range missile tests, including multiple simultaneous launches (important for defeating missile defense). No recent tests.

  • Iran has made major strides in developing the technology and infrastructure to support development of nuclear tipped missiles. Iran has continued on this path.

  • Bottom line, in the foreign policy arena, particularly the war with al Qaeda and their Taliban allies, the situation is much improved in most areas.

    Governing Operations

  • The Republican and Democratic parties are bitterly divided and partisan; so much so that two Republican senators refused an invitation to watch the Super Bowl at the White House and an economic stimulus package passed with only three Republican votes in Congress. Nearly all economists, left, right and center, agree a large stimulus is needed to avert economic catastrophe. The parties are still bitterly divided, particularly over health care reform.

  • Government is generally viewed as grossly incompetent. Little change.

  • U.S. intelligence services regularly spy on American citizens, in America, communicating with others in America, without a warrant. It's not clear if this has stopped or not.

  • The U.S. government operates a network of out-of-country prisons specifically intended to evade the rule of law. Guantanamo being the crown jewel of the network. The network is still intact, but Guantanamo is being closed down, albeit not on schedule.

  • Medical

  • In 2008 there were almost 46 million Americans without health insurance. RWJF. America is the only industrialized country without nearly universal health care insurance. Unchanged, although reform bills have passed both houses of Congress but still need to be reconciled, voted on by Congress, and signed by the President. The primary issue is whether a compromise bill can win 50% plus one in the House and get 60 votes in the Senate to stop a certain filibuster.

  • Bottom line, the country is better off than it was a year ago, by a fair margin, although there are plenty of serious problems. So far so good. President Obama is doing a good, though far from perfect, job.

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