The Obama Administration

The Politics of Gesture

(AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
(AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool) President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Janunary 20, 2015, in Washington. A version of this article first appeared at The Huffington Post . I f Tuesday's State of the Union address told us anything, it's this: We are seeing a somewhat bolder Barack Obama. In his speech, the president unveiled a litany of what he calls "fourth-quarter initiatives." Some of these can be accomplished by executive order; most will require legislation. The measures that can be achieved by presidential order include reducing the down-payment or interest on federally insured mortgages to stimulate home ownership. Obama has already used his executive power to suspend deportation of some 5 million undocumented Dreamers and in some cases their parents. He has required federal contractors to pay something closer to a living wage. He recently ordered federal agencies to give new parents up to six weeks...

What Obama Should -- and Shouldn't -- Say in State of the Union Address

While he's taken steps to improve Americans' wages, there's still more the president can do. 

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama delivering his 2011 State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. This article originally appeared at the website of the Economic Policy Institute . T onight President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address, which gives him an opportunity to lay out his priorities and set an agenda for the year ahead. At the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), we have argued that raising wages is the central economic challenge . It is terrific news that the president will address wage stagnation in his speech. After a year of strong job creation but continued stagnant wage growth, many economists and commentators—not to mention the American people—are beginning to focus on wages. Even the new GOP-controlled Congress is paying lip service to the middle class squeeze (but is offering no program to address these challenges). So we are now entering into a great debate about what can be done...

Don't Starve the Palestinian Authority. Replace It With a Real State

Cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinians would mean heaping one mistake on another.

(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
T he quick storyline is this: The president of Israel has just bashed the prime minister of Israel, which should create a dilemma in Washington—but only if someone is paying attention. President Reuven Rivlin was speaking this week at a briefing for several dozen Israeli ambassadors to European countries—the kind of officially closed session from which leaks are certain, with important comments intended for the media. Three days before, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had retaliated for the Palestinian decision to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) by freezing the monthly transfer of taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Rivlin said this wasn't smart, and wasn't good for Israel. "With those funds, the Palestinians provide for themselves and the PA functions. It is in Israel's interest that the PA functions," Rivlin said, adding that when he was a working attorney, "I never filed a suit for damages that would end up hurting me." Israel's...

Meet Austerity's Kissing Cousin: A Terrible Trade Deal

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP Photo/Martin Meissner) People protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) at the final election party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) prior E.U. Parliament elections in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday, May 23, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope is right on the edge of another downward lurch into prolonged deflation. GDP growth is hovering right around zero. Germany, as an export powerhouse, continues to thrive, but at the expense of the rest of the continent—victims of German-imposed budget austerity demands. The euro, which keeps sinking against the U.S. dollar, is now trading at just $1.20, its lowest level in four and a half years. Unemployment outside prosperous Germany remains stuck at over 12 percent. All of this weakens the political center that supports the E.U., and increases the appeal of far-right parties. (You wonder if Europe's leaders bother to read their own history. When there is protracted...

Torn Between Two Presidents

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
In the 2008 primary campaign, there was a moment when Democrats began to debate Bill Clinton's legacy. At one point, Barack Obama seemed to minimize the significance of the Clinton presidency when he said, "Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not." Hillary Clinton and her supporters reacted with horror, accusing Obama of thinking more highly of a conservative icon than a successful Democratic president (though that of course wasn't his point). In the end, that internal discussion—just how good a president was Bill Clinton?—never proceeded too far. But with Hillary Clinton still the prohibitive favorite to be the 2016 Democratic nominee, we could well have the full debate we never quite got in 2008, and in the context of the Obama presidency now entering its final phase. Hillary Clinton, it is said, has to distance herself from her former boss to convince voters that her presidency would be more than a...

Obama Compared to Prior Presidents On Job Creation, In Graphs

B arack Obama has some reason to crow about the direction the economy has been moving lately. As he said in his press conference on Friday, "as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we've accomplished: more jobs, more people insured, a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, booming energy." And it's true that there are some kinds of economic data that look excellent, particularly job creation, which is what I want to focus on for the moment. We've had 50 straight months of positive job growth, since September 2010, which is pretty remarkable. Once we get the December numbers there will probably wind up being around 3 million jobs created in 2014, which would make it the best year since 1999. So how does Obama stack up against his predecessors in this department? As always, it depends how you look at it. But let's start with just the job numbers . Here's a graph showing every president since Eisenhower: A few things jump out from this graph. While we don't...

Meet the Congressional Mouthpieces of the Anti-Cuba Lobby

They hail from both parties, but they have one thing in common: something called the U.S. Cuba-Democracy PAC.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) Like his Republican counterparts who oppose the president's opening to Cuba, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, has ties to the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. On Wednesday, December 17, he accused President Barack Obama of "vindicat[ing] the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.” This March 27, 2014, file photo shows him in his role as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, listening as the committee's ranking member, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. This article originally appeared at AlterNet . O n Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced that Cuba would be freeing several American captives while also overhauling relations between the two countries, moving to a full normalization of relations that would include a gradual lifting of the travel and trade bans. Obama's move is in sync with public opinion. Gallup has long polled Americans about their...

Barack Obama, Set Free

President Obama on the phone yesterday with Cuban president Raul Castro. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
Here's a little blast from the recent past, a meeting of the minds between Bill O'Reilly and Brit Hume in October 2013: O'Reilly asked Hume, "Is he just not interested? Is he bored with it? Is it deniability?" Hume said that unlike some past presidents, Obama is "not a micromanager" and prefers to rely on others. O'Reilly charged that right now, Obama's performance is so bad, he's in "major trouble on the history front" and has to be "in the bottom ten" in a ranking of all the U.S. presidents. This was a major theme in conservative and not-so-conservative media for quite some time: Obama is passive, he's bored, he just doesn't care anymore, he's like a senior two weeks from graduation who just can't wait to get it over with. Here's a piece from June by Ron Fournier passing on complaints about Obama from anonymous Democrats, including "his disengagement from the political process and from the public." "He's bored and tired of being president," Fournier cites one as saying. Not long...

Is Barack Obama's Revival On the Way?

White House photo by Pete Souza
Is Barack Obama about to have a revival? Peter Beinart argued the other day that he is, for three reasons: his actions on immigration have improved his standing among Hispanics, the economy is picking up steam, and there's a natural swing of the pendulum in press coverage as reporters tire of writing the current story after a while and look for change and new developments. An Obama comeback would fit the bill. I think Beinart is probably right, and the economy is the main reason; it swamps every other consideration in evaluating the president. We could have some major shock that upends the momentum it has been gaining, but if things proceed for the next two years on the trajectory they're on, the Obama presidency will be one of the best for job creation in recent history. But it's also important to understand that an Obama revival, should it happen, is going to look different than that of other presidents. Among recent two-term presidents, George W. Bush left office with approval...

The Great Budget Sellout of 2014: Do We Even Have a Second Party?

The Democrats not only lost this vote on issues they allegedly care about; they lost their role as a credible opposition.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) For in the great budget sellout of December 2014, fully 57 House Democrats voted with the Republicans to narrowly pass this deal. Key Senate Democrats close to Wall Street, such as Chuck Schumer of New York, shown here, were its enablers. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . I n principle, Saturday's vote to keep the government open should be the perfect curtain-raiser for the political debates between now and the 2016 election. As their price for averting a government shutdown, Republicans demanded and got a gutting of one of the most important provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, preventing banks from speculating with government insured money. Agencies hated by Republicans such as the Environmental Protection Agency took big cuts, and a rider was inserted permitting "mountaintop removal" coal mining once again. Another extraneous provision demanded by conservatives permits massive increase in individual campaign contributions. The IRS...

Here's a Bargain Republicans and Democrats Could Make on Obamacare

Shake on it - for America. (Flickr/ClaraDon)
Since Congress just passed a budget and we are therefore at the dawn of a new era of bipartisan comity and compromise, I'd like to propose a trade, one that will allow both Democrats and Republicans to gain something significant without giving much up. The topic is the Affordable Care Act, and the trade is this: What if Republicans agree to pass a technical fix to address what it essentially a typo in the ACA, one that threatens to take insurance from millions of middle-class Americans, and in exchange, Democrats agree to repeal the ACA's employer mandate? Everybody would win. Let's start with the employer mandate. Republicans hate it, because it infringes on the prerogatives of business owners, whom Republicans tend to believe are the most virtuous among us. There is certainly a cost of the mandate, in that some employers who hadn't offered insurance before will now have to do so. Raise their expenses, and there will be some effect on employment as they don't hire as many workers...

Progressives Just Lost a Fight On the Budget. So Why Are They So Happy?

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
O ver the weekend, the "Cromnibus" budget was passed by a coalition that included the GOP leadership and the Obama White House. Neither conservative Republicans nor liberal Democrats were happy with what was in it. So why is it that the conservatives are feeling bitter and betrayed, while the liberals seem positively elated, despite the fact that they both lost? We don't need to work too hard to understand the conservatives' reaction. The budget doesn't stop President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, and Republican leaders decided not to force another government shutdown in a vain attempt to do so. As usual, the conservatives are convinced that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are wimps who do nothing more than bide their time between capitulations. But what explains the liberal reaction? For the first time in this presidency, liberal Democrats feel as though something like a coherent bloc, outside of and sometimes in opposition to the White House, is beginning to form...

Just How Delusional Are Congressional Republicans On Immigration?

Flickr/Anne
If you're enough of a weirdo to be following Congress' attempts to pass a budget before tonight's deadline, you've heard about the "CRomnibus," the oh-so-clever combination of bills Republican leaders devised to avoid a shutdown and simultaneously convince their members that they're really, truly going to give it to Barack Obama over his executive actions on immigration. The "omnibus" part is the bill that will keep every department but one operating through the end of the fiscal year (next October), while the "CR" part is the continuing resolution that applies only to the Department of Homeland Security, keeping it operating only until the end of February. At that point, tea partiers in Congress were told, we can have another shutdown fight and we'll really get that Obama, just like you want to. Now that the thing (in whatever final form it arrives) is about to pass, it's time to marvel at just what a bunch of fools those Republicans are if they think that come February they're going...

What You Really Need to Know About the Torture Report

The two contractors who designed the program were paid $81 million. And that's just one thing.

CIA.gov
This article was originally published by BillMoyers.com . O n Tuesday, amid much controversy and after a year of political combat between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA, a long-anticipated summary of the committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program was released. Here’s what you need to know… What are the key points? You can read a quick roundup of the report’s main findings here . New York Times reporters Matt Apuzzo, Haeyoun Park and Larry Buchanan looked at what the report says about the efficacy of torture techniques in a series of specific cases. For those with strong stomachs, The Daily Beast’ s Shane Harris and Tim Mak sifted through the report to unearth “ the most gruesome details ,” which we chose to omit below. It was torture… According to the report, after being authorized by the Bush White House to detain people with suspected ties to terrorist groups, the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were far more brutal than the...

Movements for Racial Justice and Economic Justice Could Converge to Form a Powerhouse for Change

(Photo by Rachel M. Cohen for The American Prospect)
What happens to a dream deferred? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode? T hat was the poet Langston Hughes, in 1951. In that year, more than half a century ago, the most basic dreams of African Americans were deferred. Segregation was mandatory in the old South. Discrimination was legal everywhere in America, whether in housing, education, or employment. Blacks were not just separated, but isolated, marginalized, restricted to the worst jobs and most dilapidated neighborhoods, the most dismal schools. For many, the racism just sagged, like a heavy load. It destroyed hope that hard work would be rewarded. The deferred dreams of that era seldom produced explosions, because the state had a very efficient system of terror. Blacks who resisted were likely to be lynched, jailed, or otherwise destroyed. It is a testament to sheer grit, tenacity and courage that large numbers of blacks managed to get educations, raise families, start businesses, and enter professions at...

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