The Obama Administration

Minimum Wage 101

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In his 2013 State of the Union, President Obama proposed a $9 federal minimum wage, indexed to inflation. Here to discuss the minimum wage as a policy is Arindrajit Dube. Dube is a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a widely respected scholar of labor markets and the minimum wage. Along with T. William Lester and Michael Reich, he is the author of Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties (2010), a major study that found no adverse employment effects of minimum wages increases by studying counties that cross state lines. Dube has written a summary back in 2011 on the state of this research here. Narrow, technical issues have dominated so much of the debate on the minimum wage, so I wanted to step back and get a better understanding of the minimum wage as a policy mechanism. These remarks are lightly edited. What does an introductory-level Economics 101 textbook tell us about the minimum wage, and how does that...

Game of Drones

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Murray Brewster
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File T he recent release of White House memos outlining the legal justifications the Obama administration believes it has to use drone strikes— against both foreign nationals and American citizens— reminds us that while the American public was otherwise occupied, a revolution in warfare was beginning. This revolution has some ways to go—we're not quite at the point where our next war is going to be fought by nothing but robots on land, sea, and air. But drones become more important not just to our military but to militaries all over the world with each passing year. Unmanned aerial vehicles, and their use in war, have a history nearly as long as aviation itself. During a siege of Venice in 1849, Austria launched balloons carrying explosives over the city—the first recorded use of aerial bombing. In 1863, a New York inventor named Charles Perley patented an unmanned aerial bombing balloon for use in the Civil War (it proved less than reliable, so it had no...

Be Like Janet, Dammit

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano testifying on comprehensive immigration reform before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday. S peaking about the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, California, on Monday, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano assured the audience that "the border is secure ... I believe it is a safe border," an assessment she reprised yesterday in a Senate hearing on immigration reform. "I often hear the argument that before reform can move forward we must first secure our borders, but too often the ‘border security first’ refrain simply serves as an excuse for failing to address the underlying problems," Napolitano said. "Our borders have, in fact, never been stronger." In advance of the administration's push for immigration reform, the secretary has quietly been making the case that after a decade-long ramp-up in investment, the wave of unchecked immigration that began in the 1990s has come to an end. Indeed, in the last...

Inaugural versus SOTU

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President Obama did not say last night that “the state of the Union is strong” a favorite phrase used in past State of the Union speeches. Instead he said, “The state of the Union is stronger.” That phrase points away from “the rubble of crisis” and toward a brighter future. In that respect, the address shared much in common with the president’s Inaugural, which presented a broad, liberal vision for Barack Obama’s second term and set policy goals for years down the road. In his address to the join session of Congress, the president was able last night to lay out more specific proposals than he could in his Inaugural speech. But did the president stay true to the ideals he set out in January while delivering his sometimes technical and wonky address last night? We investigate that question – point by point – below. Education During his Inaugural address President Obama said “a modern economy requires … schools and colleges to train our workers” suggesting we should improve schools by...

The State of the Kindergarteners Should Be Strong

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Flickr/US Army Africa O bama gave the country a glimpse of his new pre-K initiative in last night State of the Union address—and reason to hope that he’ll bring the rest of the country toward the national models set by states such as Georgia and Oklahoma . About halfway through the roughly hour-long speech, the President proposed “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America,”—an ambitious goal, given that only 27 percent of four-year-olds are currently in public pre-K. With his comment that “Most middle-class parents can't afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool”—which was met with an emphatic “that’s right” from the audience—Obama gave voice to a huge frustration of parents across the political spectrum. Those close to the issue had already been tipped off to the new initiative at a January meeting with Health and Human Services official Linda Smith, who estimated that the expansion of pre-K would reach some 1.85...

The President's Dream State

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak President Obama at last night's State of the Union address B y any measure, President Obama’s first term was consequential. In four years, he signed an $800 billion stimulus program into law, laid the foundation for universal health insurance, secured new regulations governing the financial sector, repealed "don't ask, don't tell," and put the United States on the path back to economic recovery. For his second term, he has an agenda that’s just as ambitious and—reflecting the coalition that re-elected him—unambiguously progressive. Other than a de rigeur nod to deficit reduction—he mentioned “the deficit” ten times—the speech ticked off a litany of liberal policies: Universal pre-school, a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions, a higher federal minimum wage (set at 9$ an hour, the highest it’s been since 1981), and billions more in new infrastructure spending to repair roads and bridges. That’s to say nothing of comprehensive immigration reform (with...

The State of Our Union in 28 GIFs

Hey, it's almost time to get started! Any minute now... Still clapping ... (Is the livestream stuck on a loop?) Aaaand, let's hear it for the middle class! We must keep promises we’ve already made so our young people aren't left holding the bag. “Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan.” Everyone likes the idea of a smarter government. It's just vague enough to work! MACS MADE IN AMERICA! Would you like some new jobs, former manufacturing workers? Finally, a shout out to fighting climate change. Boehner is not amused. Preschool for every child in America! + Immigration reform sounds awesome! Until you realize that "back of the line” means ... never? HEY GIRL, how'd you like a paycheck fairness act? Yes, and a reauthorized Violence Against Women Act, too, thanks! It's time to tie the minimum wage to cost of living. Was that dainty clap sarcastic, John Boehner? Who doesn't love our brave men and women in the military? We've got the most serious generals. And the best...

If He's For It, I'm Against It

(AP Photo/Tim Sloan, Pool)
Over the past few years, folks like me have pointed out many times that Republicans have, almost as one, changed their minds on the wisdom of a number of important policies, for no apparent reason other than the fact that Barack Obama embraced them. The most notable ones are "cap and trade," which used to be a conservative way to harness the power of markets to address climate change, but then became a sinister government power grab to force everyone to huddle in the cold as the useless solar panels on their roofs provided only enough power to run a tiny hotplate; and the individual health insurance mandate, which used to be a Heritage Foundation-crafted idea to use the power of markets to achieve universal private insurance coverage and avoid single-payer health care, then became the greatest threat to freedom the world has seen since Joseph Stalin was laid to rest. Yet for all the (deserved) ridicule, there's something almost rational lying underneath these changes in position...

Tomorrow's Republican Post-SOTU Whining Today

Here's a heads-up: After President Obama delivers his State of the Union address tomorrow, Republicans will wave their hands in front of their faces and whine that it was viciously, horribly, frighteningly "partisan." And what will this partisanship consist of? Hold on to your hat here. He's expected to argue for the same policies he has been arguing for and pursuing for the last four years . If the Republican members of Congress restrain themselves from shouting "You lie!" during the speech, it'll only be because of their superior breeding and manners. This, of course, is a follow-up to Obama's inauguration speech, which was condemned by Republicans not because he said anything mean about them, but because he talked about some of the policies he prefers. That, you see, is "partisanship," and when the other side does it, it's beyond the pale. So in today's Politico , under the headline "Obama's State of the Union: Aggressive," we read , without any particular evidence for the...

New Voters, New Values

AP Photo/Jerome Delay
AP Photo/Jerome Delay President Barack Obama holds hands with Vice President Joe Biden following their victory after the 2012 election. B arack Obama would have lost the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections had a new set of voters not joined the American electorate—voters who brought with them a range of values that differed sharply from those of more traditional voters. These changing values—on such issues as personal social responsibility, the role of government, sexual mores, gender roles, and America’s place in the world—underpin the decisions these voters made on Election Day and provide a basis for understanding Obama’s victory. They also signify profound changes to American politics and pose elemental challenges to both the Republican and Democratic parties in coming years. As the values of the new American electorate (Latinos, women, the young, the unmarried) clash with those of the old (particularly white married men over 35), the country could see a shift not only in voting...

The Nominee the Senate Won't Obstruct

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President Obama's decision to nominate John Brennan to head the CIA was certainly not encouraging to anyone concerned about the administration's record on war powers and civil liberties. Nominating Brennan, who played a significant role in the CIA during the Bush administration, symbolizes the extent to which the abuses of the Bush administration have become mainstream in American government. Brennan's confirmation hearing before the Senate on Thursday reflects this as well. While Brennan did receive slightly more critical questioning than the typical CIA nominee, neither Congress's questions nor Brennan's answers will satisfy skeptics. Here are three key takeaways: Silence on the white paper Days before Brennan's hearings before the Senate, Michael Isikoff uncovered a secret white paper in which the Obama attempted to justify its targeted killings program. Not only should the justifications offered by the paper have been subject to scrutiny from the Senate, the fact that the memo had...

Checks and Balances on the Western Front

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AP Photo/Brennan Linsley T he release of the white paper justifying the Obama administration's targeted killings program—as well as the confirmation hearings for President Obama's CIA nominee John Brennan —has brought attention back to the role the executive branch plays in the abuses and overreaching that have come to define the "War on Terror." This is how it should be. While the president's power over domestic policy tends to be overrated, the president is the dominant force in military affairs. It's also true that Congress shouldn't be left off the hook. The legislative branch has substantial constitutional authority over military affairs. In the case of the War on Terror, Congress has repeatedly deferred to the White House, starting with the extremely broad Authorization for Use of Military Force against al-Qaeda in 2001. While the targeted killings memo did cite the president's Article II powers to defend the country, the most commonly cited authority for the administration's...

Citizens? They Want to Be Citizens?

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House Republicans convened their first hearing on immigration reform on Tuesday and made clear that they were scared to death of immigrants actually getting the vote. Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia set the tone when he made clear he was looking for a mid-range position somewhere between deporting and granting citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. A nice, safe legal “resident” status, he suggested, never to be upgraded to that of citizen and voter. San Antonio’s Democratic Mayor Julian Castro took understandable exception to this idea in his testimony before the committee. “I just cannot imagine an America where we assign these folks to an underclass status,” he told the congressmen. Then again, Southern whites—the core of the modern Republican Party—have had historically high comfort levels with just such arrangements. Perhaps they should propose counting these non-citizen residents as three-fifths of a person in the next...

License to Kill

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In a major reportorial coup, NBC's Michael Isikoff has uncovered the "white paper" that the Obama administration used to internally justify extrajudicial killings in the "war on terror." Not only has Isikoff performed a valuable service by making the memo available to the public, this will also be the first time it had been made available to most members of Congress . The memo, unfortunately, will not reassure anyone who thinks that the Obama administration has continued much of the Bush administration's overreaching. The document lays out three conditions justifying killings ordered by the executive branch. First, an "informed, high-level official" in the United States government must determine that an individual poses an "imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." Second, the capture of the individual must be "infeasible." And, third, the operation must be conducted in a "manner consistent with applicable law of war principles." When these conditions are met, the...

How to Fix the Federal Student Aid System

The New America Foundation takes a crack.

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A landmark report came out last week from the New America Foundation featuring a novel plan to fix the federal student aid program. What makes it so new? It helps more Americans finish college—the end game of federal student aid—without burdening them with debt. The report has 30 specific recommendations for everything from the Pell grant to the student loan program. And here's the kicker—according to their accounting, the changes are revenue-neutral over the next ten years. The idea is to simplify programs—for example, by having only one student loan program with one repayment plan—so families don't borrow as much up front, colleges don't have as much freedom to raise prices, and students have the support they need to stick with an education program. It’s the sign of a truly broken system that there is so much low-hanging fruit to be found: it would actually be quite possible to save money and help more of the neediest all at the same time. But implementing the whole plan would...

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