Around the globe

Hannah Powell

President Obama ends presidency with an above-average approval rate

With just two days left in his eight years of service, President Obama is closing with an impressive 60% approval rate, according to an ABC poll.  This is well above the average end-of-term rate of 50%, and few presidents in the last half-century have finished with greater approval than Obama (Clinton and Regan among them).  Results of this and other polls during the Obama years suggest that the economy is a major reason for such a positive conclusion:  In 2009, 62% percent of Americans felt the economy was in a poor state, while only 14% believe so today.  Throughout Obama’s time in the White House, partisan lines have determined approval rates, making independents very much responsible for the increase in their approval of Obama from 44% to 61% in the last year alone.  As far as his legacy is concerned, 51% of Americans believe history will judge President Obama as an outstanding or above-average president, 25% as average and another 25% as below-average.  

Human-like robot debuts in the U.S.

The world of retail and sales may soon undergo major innovation because of new technology by Softbank Robots.  “Pepper” is a human-like robot who made her debut in the United States in November after several years of use in Japan. She reads facial expressions, cocks her head when she asks questions and provides a level of customer service most would never dream possible from artificial intelligence.  The existence of devices like Pepper raises questions about effects on the job market in retail, but Softbank says it envisions this sort of technology as a support system for salespeople, who can focus on complex tasks like finding shoes that match an outfit while Pepper answers questions about prices and locations of specific products.  The scientists behind Pepper emphasize that wide use of these robots is a long way off in the United States because there is currently only one facility equipped to update and maintain the technology, but they hope Pepper’s role can eventually expand to hotels and cruise ships along with small retail and shopping malls.

Another Trump nominee, another controversy

Amidst controversy surrounding many of Trump’s picks for his cabinet, treasury secretary nominee Steven T. Mnuchin raised partisan tensions during his confirmation hearing Thursday morning.  Much of the concern from democratic senators surrounded Mnuchin’s former leadership of a bank, which some have called “a foreclosure machine,” according to the Washington Post.  Mnuchin has been accused of “taking advantage of others’ hardships in order to make a buck,” in his own words, but he claims that he inherited the vast majority of the foreclosures when he bought the bank from the federal government and did his best to stop them by modifying loans. Questions were also raised as to whether Mnuchin has intentionally concealed both on and offshore assets to avoid taxes. Republicans at the hearing attempted to shut down these questions by saying Democrats were merely trying to obstruct as many of Trump’s nominees as possible.  Mnuchin was a major player of writing the tax code included in Trump’s campaign, and he is expected to try his best to push the bill through Congress.  

Trump sworn in at U.S. capital on Friday

Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States on Friday, January 20th.  The new president centered his inaugural address around returning power to the American people, saying, “we all salute the same great American flag,” and concluding with a promise: “To all Americans… you will never be ignored again.”  Chief Justice John G. Roberts conducted the swearing in of President Trump at the U.S. Capitol, in which two separate bibles were used: one from Lincoln’s inauguration, the other a gift from Trump’s mother in 1955.  There were multiple protest groups demonstrating throughout the district on Inauguration Day. One was Disrupt J20, whose goals included “paralyzing the city itself,” and others, like the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, sought merely to disrupt ceremonies in a peaceful and amusing fashion. The inauguration marks the first time since 2006 that Republicans will have control of both Congress and the White House. Trump enters office, however, with a 40% approval rate, making him the least popular new president in 40 years.