It's almost over. Just a few more days. Then, no more chatter about President Obama's first 100 days. The lame construct will be dispatched to the media ash heap, at least for four years.
May 4 Time, and many others, offer obligatory, semi-mea culpas ("The idea that a President can be assessed in a mere 100 days is a journalistic conceit," writes Joe Klein in a solid analysis for an issue whose cover heralds, ah, "100 Days").
But, before it ends, you might also check out www.politifact.com. A creation of the St. Petersburg Times, this regular feature just won a Pulitzer Prize and, fittingly, showed off its stuff again on the very week our Pavlovian obsession with 100 days runs amok (with the White House, unavoidably, a partner in historical crime by feeding the media beast its take).
On separate days, this nifty site examined promises kept by the president and those he's broken, or at least not clearly fulfilled. The analysis concludes that he's fulfilled 27 promises and is working on 61 others the paper categorizes as "In the Works." Conversely, it concludes that he's broken six promises, a small number of the 514 campaign promises it is tracking but, at the same time, those represent what were six important campaign themes.
"Collectively, he has managed to fulfill promises that address key themes of his campaign:"
Bringing an end to the war in Iraq while boosting the effort in Afghanistan. He had promised that one of his first acts as president would be to "give the military a new mission: ending this war." And on his first full day in office, he met with the military commanders in charge of Iraq and told them "to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq," according his comments afterwards. Obama also promised that as combat forces were removed from Iraq, he would send at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to combat a resurgent Taliban. On Feb. 17, he issued an executive order to send one Marine and one Army brigade to Afghanistan by the summer."
Improving transparency and ethics. In one of his first acts as president, Barack Obama kept a promise to reduce political influence in his administration by issuing an executive order that requires appointees to sign forms saying they were not hired because of political affiliations or contributions. The same day, Obama kept a campaign promise to toughen ethics rules, signing an executive order that, in part, banned gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration. "
Encouraging a greener economy. President Obama packed a lot of green initiatives into the economic stimulus package, including promised money for solar, wind and other alternative energy research. The stimulus also included $5 billion to weatherize low-income homes, putting the administration on track to fulfill Obama's promise to weatherize one million homes per year. And it included funding for grants to encourage energy-efficient building codes as well as tax credits to purchasers of plug-in hybrid cars - knocking two more off his list."
There are lots of others, including improving diplomacy, promoting equality, and reversing President Bush's limits on the use of human embryonic stem cells in government-funded research.
When it comes to those he has not kept, the paper is pretty hard on him when it comes to transparency and ethics, notably stopping the revolving door for lobbyists and former government officials.
"We realize Obama probably will argue that he kept this promise. Among his first acts in office, he signed an executive order banning former lobbyists from working on matters they had lobbied on during the previous two years. But the order also included a waiver clause that the administration could invoke whenever they deemed it necessary. There was also the less rigorous standard of "recusal," which the administration used to avoid issuing formal waivers. After looking at how waivers and recusals were handled over his first three months, we concluded the promise was broken. "
It also counts as a broken promise the pledge to allow five days of public comment before signing bills. "Obama broke this promise on his 10th day in office when he signed his first piece of legislation, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law itself, which was intended to remedy some cases of pay discrimination, was retroactive, so there was no rush. But Obama still didn't wait five days to sign it. The White House said it intends to keep the promise after working out 'implementation procedures.' We're still waiting.
The other qualms involve taxes, including a promise to end income tax for seniors making less than $50,000, and waffling on recognizing the Armenian genocide. Here, the paper says that his recently declining to use the word "genocide" gets at the very heart of his promise. There's lots more here but, all in all, given the inherent intellectual dishonesty of so many campaigns, one could have expected far less so far. So, let's give the guy and his team a fair bit of credit but then bid farewell to the first 100 days, exhibiting a bit of patience and preparing to dissect a far more relevant marker, namely roughly the first full year. By and large, it's during that period that most presidents get their heavy lifting done, before the mid-term elections start slowing the whole political system and before the third year brings thoughts of a president's own re-election.
---The Liberal, a very smart journal of poetry, politics and culture, weighs in on "Barack Obama and the Politics of Expectation," with editor Benjamin Ramm smartly noting the passivity embedded in the whole business of our expectations of leaders. "It suggests consideration of an action outside of our volition, and places the onus squarely on the expected," a matter Obama clearly addressed during his campaign.
Ramm captures the myopia of our thinking about he Obama might "let us down," or is "bound to disappoint," all of which misses what may be his different approach and the burden on us, as citizens, to act. "Will we disappoint him? Will we disappoint ourselves? Perhaps more importantly, will we aspire to live as citizens, committed to a more perfect union with one another...."
There's much more in this, the spring issue, including Rob Riemen's, "Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal," a look at the relationship between the late Elisabeth Mann Borgese, the daughter of author Thomas Mann and herself a woman of great achievement in several fields, and her lifelong relationship with a distinctly odd and reclusive, but in his way brilliant, New Yorker, Joseph Goodman. Elsewhere in the issue, they offer "The Cognitive Olympics," Louise Whiteley's cautionary note about students taking drugs to improve classroom performance, and an excerpt from President John Kennedy's great 1962 speech at Houston's Rice University on the challenges of exploring space. The magazine can be found at www.theliberal.co.uk.
---May 4 New Yorker deserves a look for "The Life After," Philip Gourevitch's return to Rwanda 15 years after the genocide he covered to inspect one of the most fascinating social experiments of the modern era, namely the nation's attempt at reconciliation. How has President Paul Kagame seemingly pulled off a rather stunning achievement in reintegrating Hutus and Tutsis in the same society? And will that achievement survive his ultimate departure from the scene? Those who look at religious and ethnic conflicts elsewhere should really check this out, and cross their fingers.
--May 4 ESPN is worth two pieces: "Making a New Name for Himself," about young major league baseball player Jordan Schafer's revival after being ousted as a user of illegal human growth hormone, and "The Final Furlong," on vets who must deal with broken-down horses and, if truth be told, would rather shoot them (the old way) than end their misery via injection.
"Death by lethal injection comes in about a minute, which seems very peaceful, very quick. So it's stunning to hear many vets say that this method isn't in the best interests of the horse." Indeed, the most humane way, they say, is with a gun.
---"Philip Morris Unbound" in May 4 Business Week is the less-than-cheery tale of how Philip Morris International, spun off from Altria Group, is aggressively seeking new smokers overseas "where smoking is still a growth industry and a tobacco exec isn't viewed as a social pariah."
Over the past year, CEO Louis Camille "has launched seven new variations on Marlboro alone, including Marlboro Black Menthol in Japan and a super-slim variant in Russia and Eastern Europe." And, get this, "Camille is unapologetic about hawking a product known to cause cancer. He's not trying to woo new smokers, he says, just encourage existing ones to switch to high-quality cigarettes." His firm has a 42 percent market share in the United States, but fewer than 16 percent of the market worldwide.
---Lest one need the reminder but May 11 Forbes' "It's still Good to be Rich" acknowledges that "It's tough out there when everybody hates you" but proceeds to offer counsel on staying flush. There are tips on protecting assets, "sidestepping" taxes, and "keeping your toys" (this indicates that "big jets are available at bargain prices, with a $40 million Gulfstream potentially yours for a bargain basement $15 million!).
It should be noted that Forbes can be critical of the wealth of some, notably those it deems underperforming corporate executives. In a pay-for-performance study, it gives flunking grades to Kenneth Lewis of Bank of America, Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric, Ramani Ayer of Hartford Financial Services, James Tobin of Boston Scientific and Robert Rossiter of Lear. Its more charitable analysis of the best-performing bosses rates Michael Bennett of Terra Industries and Jeffrey Bezos of Amazon.com at the top.
---We know that Ashton Kutcher topped CNN in a contest to see who could generate 1 million Twitter followers first. But what about Twitter in general? May 1 The Week offers a primer in "The Twitter Revolution," wondering if it's a dramatic breakthrough in personal communications or a huge waste of time. In fact, it seems to not fall on either side, discerning some potent and productive elements, notably as a tool for businesses to survey consumers and build brand awareness, but also finding it rife with self-indulgent exhibitionism and a catalyst to productivity losses at the workplace.
---May Fast Company profiles "Hollywood's Rogue Mogul," the director known as McG (actually Joseph McGinty Nichol of Kalamazoo, Mich.), whose string of successes include television's "The O.C." and the silver screen's "Charlie's Angels," "Terminator Salvation" and "We are Marshall," not to mention a variety of videos, soundtracks and web efforts. But the best is "The Doctor of the Future," on how technology will dramatically change our medical lives, be it online diagnoses or robotic cardiac surgeries.
Less portentous but still of distinct relevance is "Smells Like a Billion Bucks," on how Proctor & Gamble's global deodorants general manager is discerning a potential mega-hit with the new Ever Clear, a antiperspirant-deodorant combo under the Old Spice brand, aimed at eliminating the white waxy residue that can leave white streaks on a guy's clothing.
Oh, the deodorant doyenne, Alex Keith, 41, says her friends ask how a woman can be hawking Old Spice to young guys. She responds, "I know that as a guy, you can have great hair and great clothes, but if you stink, game over."