#ThanksObama

That title might sound tongue-in-cheek, but it isn’t meant to be. President Obama’s policies over the last six years are leading to astonishingly positive outcomes. I realize that for a certain set of the population, all numbers are lies and only they know the real truth.

However, for the rest of us, I’m not sure the truly terrific outcomes of this president’s policies are being touted enough. President Obama has lead an incredible turnaround in America and while there is always more work to be done, he is putting together a record that should place him among our greatest presidents. Seriously.

For example, this morning the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 18,000. This chart shows the DJIA for the last 10 years. Can you tell when Obama’s policies began to be implemented? Hint: it’s just after the lowest point.

DJI Interactive Stock Chart _ Yahoo! Inc

In other news, the U.S. economy grew at a sizzling 5 percent annual rate in the July-September 2014 period, the fastest in more than a decade, on the strength of consumer spending and business investment.


What about unemployment?

In an interview with Time magazine (5-23-12), former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney pledged six percent unemployment by the end of his first term in office.

“I can tell you that over a period of four years, by virtue of the policies that we’d put in place, we’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, and perhaps a little lower,” he told Mark Halperin. Unemployment currently stands at 8.1 percent.

Here is the opening statement from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ December 5, 2014 report:

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 321,000 in November, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.8 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Job gains were widespread, led by growth in professional and business services, retail trade, health care, and manufacturing.

Impressive, huh? Obama’s policies have accomplished more in two and a half years than Romney hoped to achieve in four!


How about the number of uninsured Americans? 

But is the ACA costing more or less than projected?

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To be 100% clear, the ACA is costing less than projected.


I could go on and on. These are just some of the broad economic indicators that President Obama is really doing an amazing job in spite of an obstructionist Congress that has made this work far more difficult than it had to be. One thing is for sure: pass or fail, Obama deserves the credit (or blame) for these policies. He owns them. Fortunately for him, they seem to be paying off in spades.

It’s one thing to have a different political philosophy and desire different policies. However, if you are convinced Obama is intent on destroying America, you just aren’t paying attention. Good news, though: those tinfoil hats are probably on sale right now!

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Conservatives and liberals should agree on the death penalty.

I very much believe that there are opportunities ripe for collaboration between unlikely parties, like drugs and housing the homeless. These are examples of public policy that will save money, reduce crime, respect the dignity of those affected, and lead to positive social outcomes. Some of the ideas in this series require more study before widespread implementation, but I believe there is enough data to warrant further inspection and at least merit experimentation.

The Issue: The Death Penalty

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Abolishing the death penalty is one item we should all agree on as Americans. Every single one of us should oppose the death penalty. It is a stain upon our nation that we continue to execute our own citizens in the year 2014.

You may notice that I am writing this just days before Christmas. This may seem like a real downer. After all, Christmas is about life, about the birth of hope going into a new year, and the love of Christ being shared with the world.

If talking about how we hold people accountable for their crimes inspires discomfort and unease during a time of joyful celebration, perhaps that is one indication we are doing it wrong. Does the thought of killing someone during the Christmas season make you uncomfortable? It should. Listen to that discomfort; it’s telling you that something is terribly wrong with our justice system.

Conservative beliefs:

  • Personal responsibility
  • Limited government
  • Free markets
  • Individual liberty
  • Strong national defense
  • The role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals.
  • Conservative policies generally emphasize empowerment of the individual to solve problems.

If you are concerned about personal freedom, about individual liberty, there is no more egregious example of government overreach than depriving someone of their physical life. The death penalty is an expensive way to administer punishment (I won’t say justice). It is also an outcome often driven by systemic racism, where the guilt of the perpetrator is often in question.

See these conservative groups opposed to the death penalty for expanded arguments on this position:

Liberal beliefs:

  • Government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all.
  • Duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights.
  • The role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need.
  • Liberal policies generally emphasize the need for the government to solve problems.

Many of the problems with the death penalty, aside from what many people of faith see as a basic moral injustice, resides with its inherent systemic problems. For instance:

Conclusion:

These are just a few of the myriad issues with capital punishment, from both sides of the political aisle. There is simply no reason to put anyone to death in America in 2014. Revenge has never been a stated objective of our judicial system (nor should it be).

The death penalty is expensive, ineffective as a deterrent, and diminishes us all by its presence here. We as a nation should abolish the death penalty. Conservatives and liberals both should agree on this objective based on complementary and shared values.

Further Reading:

How (Not) to Respond to Grief

While scrolling through my Newsfeed yesterday morning, I saw a blog post that was “Liked” by a friend. The post was simply titled “Adoption Update.” I didn’t know the husband or wife who wrote the blog, but since we share a Facebook friend, I followed the link. I was crestfallen when I started reading the full post. They explained that yesterday, after months of excitement and preparation, they expected to officially adopt their daughter and bring her home for the first time. But instead, the birth mother changed her mind and decided to keep the baby. What was to be a day of joy, a day to welcome their baby girl into their lives, was now a day of loss.

The blog’s comment section is full of condolences and prayers. But one comment has stayed with me for 24 hours, because of its well-meaning inappropriateness.

Screenshot 2014-12-20 at 11.20.03 PM

Did anyone catch that besides me? If not, let me repeat the phrase that makes my hair stand on end: “Please remember that God has a plan and this baby was no meant for you…”

How could anyone think this is an appropriate comment, now or ever? Imagine this couple’s daughter has been kidnapped. Imagine they’ll never see her again, and there’s nothing they can do about it (Because that is, essentially, what happened to them)…Welp. God must’ve planned it that way! But hey, I’ll be praying for ya!

Here’s the deal: If believing in God always made sense, believers wouldn’t need faith. It takes faith to believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God. Especially when horrible things like this happen. But God never asked His followers to understand or explain all the areas of life that require faith. It’s not our job to know God’s plan. Maybe there’s a reason why God allowed this couple to lose their baby girl. But now’s not the time to tell this couple about that reason. God’s name should not be used as a magical sadness-stopping band-aid. Simply invoking some mystical “plan,” like a witch doctor would invoke a spell, is not an adequate way to comfort someone in the grips of despair. It’s not fair. And it’s disrespectful.

Let the grieving grieve. Mourn with them. Tell them your heart breaks with them. Pray with them if they’re comforted by prayers. But please, don’t say a word about God’s plan. Just let them grieve.

Non-Serial Podcasts for the Obsessed Serial Podcast Listener

I’m thrilled to present the first post from a guest contributor to this blog. James Fowles is a longtime friend and someone whose views and opinions I find to be well-reasoned and articulate. I hope this is the first of many posts here from him. You can find him on Twitter @jayfowles. -Matt 

The world rejoiced yet again when the newest episode of the true-crime podcast Serial dropped earlier today. If you haven’t heard about it, go here. It has quickly become the most popular podcast in the world, and for good reason. In fact, it is so popular that it has spawned a cottage industry of additional podcasts about the podcast. Some podcasts obsess over every detail of the show. Some are spoofs of the original’s distinctive style and narration

I recommended Serial recently to a friend, who, after catching up on the original, quickly began gorging on the spin offs. Thousands of other fans are doing the same. And while I understand their enthusiasm, I cannot follow them down the rabbit hole. I made that trip over and over again when Lost was on the air, and I know from experience that such obsessiveness requires too much mental space. So I have kept my passion for Serial in check. No spin offs or spoofs for me.

However, my enthusiasm for Serial has caused me go overboard with other podcasts. After one episode, I quickly scoured the iTunes Podcasts app for other shows that could fill my daily commute. After a few months of refinement, I’ve created a rotation of podcasts that I listen to regularly, and I submit them here for your listening pleasure.

A special note before we begin: Before Serial, my car’s radio was essentially locked onto my local NPR affiliate. Some podcasts I subscribe to are either produced by NPR, or by studios that regularly produce content for NPR. Most are simply re-broadcasts of shows already available over-the-air, but aren’t usually on when I drive. So for these podcasts, I’ve also listed when they are currently scheduled to broadcast on my local NPR affiliate, 90.1 WFYI.

The Writer’s Almanac (Mon-Fri: 10:00 AM, Sun: 9:00 AM and 7:55 PM): My morning drive begins with this five-minute gem. Host Garrison Keillor, with his warm papa bear voice, recounts historical events that correspond with the current date, including the birthdays of authors and other historical figures. He concludes each five-minute episode by reading a notable poem. It’s as close to meditation as you can get while driving bumper-to-bumper.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: A pure NPR podcast (not broadcast on radio) hosted by Linda Holmes, who is also the editor of NPR’s pop-culture blog, Monkey See. It’s a light-hearted 45 minute show that features a discussion about all things pop culture. A recent episode discussed Disney’s Big Hero 6. The week before that they discussed Foxcatcher and movie trailers (specifically, what makes a trailer effective or not effective). The panel consists of Holmes and three other NPR personalities. Their discussions are always thought-provoking, but they never take themselves too seriously. They also occasionally produce “Small Batches.” Eight to ten minute episodes about a specific book, movie, television series, etc. They recently did a small batch about Serial spinoffs, too.

This American Life (Fri: 8:00 PM, Sat: 2:00 PM): Serial’s parent. This show is a luminary of the modern-day radio format. The show explores universal themes that are always rooted in deeply personal portraits of real people. Sometimes funny. Sometimes heartbreaking. Sometimes dramatic. Sometimes stringently journalistic. Seriously, if you haven’t heard of This American Life, stop reading right now, and download any of its 541 episodes. A good episode of This American Life will stay with you for days (and there are no bad episodes of TAL, btw).

StarTalk Radio, with Neil DeGrasse Tyson: An hour-long interview format podcast, where NDT discusses all things Science. They just finished up an enjoyable two-part series on the state of science journalism, which featured Bill Nye and Elise Andrews from IFLScience.com. NDT usually has a different semi-famous co-host each week, and a different semi-famous guest (my recent favorite was Hank Azaria from The Simpsons). Though “Radio” is in its title, this is a pure podcast. I am not aware of it being broadcast anywhere over the air. However, this podcast does have more commercial breaks than any other podcast on this list. Of all the podcasts listed here, StarTalk sounds the most like a traditional radio talk show, minus all the yelling and partisan fighting.

Planet Money: This NPR podcast generally lasts 15-20 minutes, and focuses on economic issues. But not like how Bloomberg focuses on economic issues. Have you ever wondered how the lunar-esque terrain of Iceland evolved into a hospitable, thriving economy? No? Well, the Planet Money people have. They do a great job of using unique problems to explain current economic issues. For non-business minded people like me, its a great way to learn about economic concepts without being bored. And to learn about Iceland.

Working: This podcast, produced by slate.com, highlights people’s daily lives at work. In each episode, host David Plotz asks one person about the details of their career. I enjoy this podcast because Plotz does a great job of keeping his interviewees focused on their day-to-day responsibilities. When someone uses terminology unique to their industry, he’ll interrupt to ask for clarification. He doesn’t ask about big ideas or industry trends. He’s only concerned about the minutia of their daily lives. His questions pull interesting details from his interviewees, no matter what their career is. Appliance repairman. Farmer. Pastor. Porn Star. All these careers and more have been featured on this unique podcast. Anyone who enjoys learning about people would enjoy this podcast.

WTF, Mark Maron: Fair warning: if you have a problem with the F word, you probably won’t like this podcast. Comic Mark Maron has been producing this podcast from his garage for five years (a lifetime in podcast years). In each 1.5 hour episode Maron interviews celebrities and his comedian friends. But this isn’t “Access Hollywood.” Maron is a gifted interviewer, and like David Letterman, excels at getting his guests to open up about their lives and experiences. Plus, he’s pretty funny. So there’s that.

Feel free to share your favorite podcasts by clicking on the dialogue bubble at the top of this post.


James Fowles is a long-time resident of Mapleton Fall-Creek, a neighborhood on Indianapolis’ near north side. After he puts he three young children to bed, he enjoys watching movies that feature lots of cussing. He can be followed on Twitter @jayfowles.