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Historians Rank President Obama’s Legacy

Supporters and critics alike may eventually come to view President Barack Obama’s two-term White House tenure the same way.

His determination for change never appeared to cause him to stumble on his goals, be it Obamacare or commuting the sentences of so many who were imprisoned for so long — primarily because of antiquated laws that punished mostly low-level minority drug offenders.

Even as Obama is set to leave office, he took unprecedented steps to retaliate against alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Obama labeled Russia’s action as significant, malicious and cyber-enabled and sanctioned six Russian individuals and five Russian entities while ordering dozens of Russian diplomats to leave the country.

The president also gave them and their families just three days to pack up and leave.

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” Obama said in the statement released by the White House.

It’s the kind of action that some said will make them miss the progress of the past eight years and critics will come to realize that Obama’s place in history will be a lofty one.

“The biggest tragedy of the Obama presidency was the relentless and often irrational unwillingness of Republican lawmakers to work with him to achieve meaningful objectives,” said Mario Almonte, a public relations specialist who also blogs about politics and social issues. “Even so, many years from now, when the history of his presidency comes into better focus, our society will come to recognize the enormous impact Barack Obama had on American culture and possibly world culture as the first Black president of the United States.”

And, as Kevin Drum a writer for “Mother Jones” noted, Obama has moved forward on eight substantial executive actions over the past month – aside from the Russian sanctions – including enacting a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic Seaboard; he’s refused to veto a UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in the West Bank; designated two new national monuments totaling more than 1.6 million acres – Bears Ears Buttes in southeastern Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada; and he’s instructed the Department of Homeland Security to formally end the long-discussed NSEERs database.

Obama has also instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to deny final permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline where it crosses the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and he’s issued a final rule that bans the practice among some red states of withholding federal family-planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other health clinics that provide abortions.

Also, the outgoing president completed rules to determine whether schools were succeeding or failing under the “Every Student Succeeds Act.”

“He was most effective as a normal president, and he helped put the presidency back on a human scale,” said Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “He was a devoted and involved father, a loving husband, a man with acknowledged – albeit – vices, and someone who made it clear that he did not regard himself as omniscient.”

Walt continued: “As president, he showed that effective governing requires careful deliberation, discipline, and the willingness to make hard and imperfect decisions, and he let us all watch him do just that.”

Walt added that future historians will give President Obama “full marks” for never acting impulsively or cavalier.

Daniel Rodgers, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, emeritus and historian of American ideas and culture who taught at Princeton University, wrote that what buoyed Obama’s aspirations was not a program, but a dream that in his person, the people might come together and shape politics to their will and common aspirations.

“That was what the ‘we’ in the brilliant ‘Yes We Can’ slogan in the 2008 campaign was essentially about,” Rodgers said. “He has not called the nation to new feats of courage — ala Kennedy — to make war on poverty — as Johnson did — even to dream more freely than ever before — as stated by Reagan. What Obama’s words have called for is for Americans to be the people they already are.”

The single, biggest impact on Obama’s presidency has been the shattering of psychological obstacles in the American psyche toward electing a non-White president, Almonte said.

“When Hillary Clinton first ran for president, her gender was a major issue among voters. The second time around, it was not,” Almonte said. “With this psychological barrier removed, in future elections, we will see candidates from all walks of life, genders, nationalities, and possibly even lifestyles pursue the presidency with greater ease than they could have before.”

Even as Donald Trump and other Republicans promise to do all they can to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obama’s signature piece of legislation, historians wrote in New York magazine that it has been the president’s greatest accomplishment.

They noted that presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton failed to accomplish a passable affordable health care law.

“Obamacare is easily the signal accomplishment of this president, assuming current efforts to unravel it will be defeated,” said Thomas Holt, the James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African-American History at the University of Chicago.

“It’s an achievement that will put Obama in the ranks of [President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] with social security and Lyndon B. Johnson with Medicare because of its enduring impact on the average American’s well-being,” Holt said. “He won’t need bridges and airports named after him since opponents already did him the favor of naming it ‘Obamacare.’”

The Affordable Care Act’s progressivism stands out as the embodiment of Obama’s best intentions, said Nell Painter, an American historian notable for her works on southern history of the nineteenth century and a retired professor at Princeton University.

“Some three million poor people have gained access to health care, thanks to the extension of Medicaid. But those people will not be in deep-southern states where poor people are numerous, but Republicans rule,” Painter said. “I see this convergence as a consequence of watermelon politics, as unsavory a legacy of Obama’s time as Obamacare is fine.”

Finally, one historic trend-break that occurred during Obama’s presidency that has major significance for the well-being of African-Americans has been the beginnings of a decline in the national prison population, after decades of expansion, said Gavin Wright, professor of American Economic History at Stanford University.

“The Obama Administration deserves a fair share of credit,” Wright said. “In 2010, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing prison time for convictions involving crack cocaine.”

Wright continued: “Under Attorney General Eric Holder, sentencing guidelines were made retroactive, leading to the release of thousands. To date, the reductions have been small compared to the total incarcerated population, but the reversal is historic, and its disproportionate significance for African-Americans is evident.”

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White Supremacist To Serve in Top White House Role

The man considered by many to be a de-facto leader of the white supremacist alt-right movement is now the second-most powerful man in the White House.

President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday appointed Breitbart chairman Stephen Bannon to serve as his chief strategist and senior counselor — a decision that was widely rebuked by moderate Republicans, Democrats and civil rights organizations.

“Stephen Bannon was the main driver behind Breitbart becoming a white ethno-nationalist propaganda mill,” the Southern Poverty Law Center tweeted on Sunday, linking to Breitbart articles under Bannon’s leadership with headlines including: “Hoist it High and Proud: the Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage,” written two weeks after the a mass killing of Black parishioners at a church in Charleston last year.

Steve BannonThe SPLC has identified Bannon as a member of a white nationalist hate group.

Meanwhile, a statement by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt on Sunday said, “The ADL strongly opposes the appointment of Steve Bannon as senior advisor and chief strategist in the White House. It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the ‘alt-right’ — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house.’”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alternative Right, or Alt-Right, “is a loose set of far-right ideologies at the core of which is a belief that ‘white identity’ is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states.” SPLC adds that “racist ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas –– all key tenets making up [this] emerging racist ideology.”

“The appointment of Stephen Bannon as a top Trump administration strategist sends the disturbing message that anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and white nationalist ideology will be welcome in the White House,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, in a statement Sunday. “We urge President-elect Trump to reconsider this ill-advised appointment if he truly seeks to unite Americans.”

Beyond civil rights groups, politicians from both sides of the aisle have decried Bannon’s appointment.

“President-elect Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that white supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump’s White House,” said Adam Jentleson, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. “It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of white supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide.”

Rep. California Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted: “Selection of Steve Bannon for senior WH role unsurprising but alarming. His alt-right, anti-Semitic & misogynistic views don’t belong in WH.”

John Weaver, a veteran GOP strategist who advised Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign, also weighed in, tweeting: “The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America.”

According to the statement from Trump’s transition office, Bannon will serve alongside newly appointed White House Chief of Staff and former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus as “equal partners.” In fact, the statement listed Bannon’s new position first, indicating the new president places a higher value on that role.

Bannon has been known to admire, or at least push, the beliefs of white nationalists and neo-Nazis. Under his leadership, a Breitbart headline called conservative commentator and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol a “Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew” for not supporting Trump’s candidacy, and has been unflattering to women with headlines such as: “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews.”

Bannon’s anti-Semitism was cited in court documents 10 years ago, when his ex-wife Mary Louise Piccard, whom he allegedly assaulted, said Bannon did not want their daughters attending a private school in Los Angeles because there were too many Jewish people.

Former House Speaker and staunch Trump loyalist Newt Gingrich on Sunday defended Bannon, saying he could not be anti-Semitic because he has worked in banking at Goldman Sachs and in the Hollywood film industry — two industries typically associated with a high number of Jewish people and that conspiracy theorists point to as evidence that Jews control banking and the media.

Since Trump’s election early Wednesday morning and this past Friday, the SPLC said it had counted 201 incidents of election-related hateful harassment and intimidation across the country, including anti-Semitic, anti-Black, anti-woman and anti-LGBT incidents.

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White House Defends Larry Wilmore’s Use of the N-Word While Addressing Obama at Correspondents’ Dinner

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president did not express any issues with Larry Wilmore’s routine, adding that “he appreciated the spirit and the sentiments that Wilmore expressed.”

The White House is defending late-night comedian Larry Wilmore's use of the n-word during his routine at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner over the weekend, saying that President Barack Obama "appreciated the spirit and the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed," the Washington Post reports.

Wilmore caused a buzz over the weekend when he concluded his remarks with a reference to Obama's historical importance as the nation's first black president, and then added, "So, Mr. President, if I’m going to keep it 100: Yo, Barry, you did it, my n--ga. You did it."

Obama hugged Wilmore after his remarks, but his use of the n-word drew harsh criticism on social media and beyond. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Rev. Al Sharpton told its reporters at MSNBC's after-party that the reference was "at best in poor taste."

The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart published a blog criticizing Wilmore for the performance.

"But never before has the n-word been used to address the president. At least, not in public and most definitely not to his face. That’s why Wilmore’s use of it was as shocking as it was disrespectful. And that’s why many African Americans in the room and watching on television were appalled by Wilmore’s excessive and inappropriate down-home familiarity with the leader of the free world in front of the world," Capehart wrote.

On Monday, when April Ryan, the Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks, questioned White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest about Wilmore's comments, Earnest brushed them off, pointing out that "comedians are gonna go right up to the line."

"Any comedian who's signed up to follow President Obama at the White House Correspondents' dinner is assuming one of the most difficult tasks in comedy. Just by the nature of the engagement, that's a tough job, following the president of the United States," Earnest said. "It's not the first time in the Monday after the correspondents' dinner that some people have observed that the comedian at the dinner crossed the line."

Earnest added that he had discussed the routine with Obama Monday morning and that the president expressed no hangups about it.

"He said that he appreciated the spirit and the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed," he said. "He ended his speech by saying that he couldn't put into words the pride that he felt in this president, and he made the observation that this country has made remarkable progress in this lifetime.

"I'm confident that Mr. Wilmore used the word by design. He was seeking to be provocative. But I think any reading of his comments makes it clear he was not using the president as a butt of a joke," Earnest added.

Read more at the Washington Post.

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