Before the midterm elections, the conventional wisdom was that President Barack Obama's first twenty months in office had hovered between disappointment and disaster. Yet thanks to a flurry of activity in the past month, voters may decide to reassess Obama's early record. Of particular note was the historic Senate vote over the weekend that finally put an end to the Pentagon's bigoted "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
To his credit, Obama never gave up on repealing the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the US military, even though the historic effort looked like it was dead in the water earlier this month. Conservative Senate Republicans led by John McCain had successfully blocked the repeal when it was part of a defense authorization bill. At that point, it looked like game over. Everyone knew that when Republicans take over the House in January, they would kill any hope of enacting the repeal for at least two years.
But then Senators Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, and Harry Reid, along with help from the White House, pressed forward with a stand-alone bill to repeal DADT. First, the House, still controlled by Democrats and led by Nancy Pelosi, approved the new bill. And then, on December 18, the Senate voted 65-31 to stop discriminating against those who want to serve and die for their country.
Of course, it was pathetic that it took the nation so long to finally do the right thing — but it was nonetheless a historic achievement for the president. For progressives, it also helped heal the wounds inflicted by the passage of Obama's tax-cut deal with Republicans late last week. That agreement extended the Bush tax cuts for the rich — a move that promises to add $700 billion to the nation's out-of-control debt, and likely paved the way for more debilitating government cuts in 2011.
Liberals hated the deal and contended that Obama had sold out one of his core principles. But for the president, historians may look back on the tax-cut measure as a shrewd move. In one bold stroke, the president undercut many of the lunatic claims leveled against him by the far-right during the past two years. After all, how could a communist Muslim from Kenya strike a deal with conservatives to give tax cuts to the wealthy?
The tax-cut deal also isn't that bad — it included some holiday gifts for the rest of us. It extends tax cuts for the middle-class and low-income families. It extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for thirteen more months. And it includes a payroll tax cut that economists say could stimulate the still sagging economy.
In fact, in retrospect, Obama's record so far seems impressive. Yes, unemployment is still at unacceptable levels and the foreclosure crisis continues to haunt us, but the much-criticized bank and auto bailouts appear to have been successful. The president also pushed through both a Wall Street reform package and the most significant overhaul of the nation's health-care system since at least the 1960s.
One of the few disappointments was the failure to pass climate-change legislation. Another setback arrived over the weekend when conservative Senate Republicans blocked passage of the Dream Act — a landmark immigration reform measure that would have provided a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military.
California Passes Cap-and-Trade
Although the federal government failed to deal with the coming climate crisis, California met the challenge head-on. Late last week, the state Air Resources Board adopted virtually the same cap-and-trade system that Obama wanted for the nation. The new system, the first of its kind in the country, caps the amount of greenhouse gases that a polluter can emit, while allowing polluters to buy "credits" from clean-energy producers. The market-based system thus makes carbon-emitters less profitable and green-tech more profitable. It will go into effect in 2012, and is designed to slash greenhouse gases by more than 20 percent by 2020.
Oakland Pot Farms Questioned
Oakland's plan to tax and regulate four large medical cannabis farms was questioned this month by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, California Watch first reported. O'Malley sent a letter to Mayor-elect Jean Quan, raising some of the same concerns expressed by the Obama administration and Oakland City Attorney John Russo. At issue is whether Oakland's plan to tax the farms as separate business entities from medical pot dispensaries violates state law. O'Malley also raised concerns over whether Oakland political officials will be held criminally liable by the feds. The Oakland City Council was scheduled to address the controversy Tuesday night.
Governor-elect Jerry Brown warned educators to "fasten their seatbelt" and prepare for big cuts in public school funding as the state grapples with a projected $25 billion deficit. ... A preliminary report by federal regulators indicated that the deadly San Bruno pipeline blast might have been caused by faulty welds that PG&E didn't know existed. ... UC Regents raised the employee retirement age and slashed contributions to retiree health care in order to bridge a $21 billion budget gap. ... The state Supreme Court upheld open primaries in California, meaning that voters will be able to cast ballots for any candidates they choose, regardless of party affiliation. ... Facebook's sales are expected to top $2 billion this year, more than double last year's. ... And Twitter reported that its value has reached a staggering $3.7 billion.