The Obama Administration

Four Takeaways from Yesterday's NSA Ruling

Flickr/passamaquoddy eagle
Flickr/Cliff Y esterday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ruled that the National Security Agency's extensive collection of "metadata"—as revealed by Edward Snowden earlier this year—is likely to have violated the Fourth Amendment. Justice Leon stayed his ruling ordering the government to stop the warrantless surveillance of two plaintiffs pending a trial. Given the inevitable appeal, we're a long way from the end of this NSA program—even if Judge Leon rules again in favor of the plaintiffs. Not every legal challenge to the metadata program was successful. Judge Leon dismissed a challenge based on the theory that the NSA's program exceeded the statutory authority granted by Congress. The court ruled that it lacked the jurisdiction to hear the claim under the Administrative Procedures Act. Judge Leon did, however, find that he had jurisdiction to hear the constitutional claims against the program. "While Congress has great latitude to create statutory schemes like FISA," the...

Is It Already Too Late to Stop the NSA?

The revelations about the scope of National Security Agency surveillance from the documents released to the public by Edward Snowden have been so numerous and so extraordinary that I fear we may be becoming numb to them. That's partly because there's just been so much, one revelation after another to the point where the latest one doesn't surprise us anymore. It's also partly because mixed in with the genuinely distressing surveillance programs are some things that seem almost ridiculous, like the idea of NSA agents trying to unearth terrorist plots in World of Warcraft . But there are some basic facts about this whole affair that should make us all frightened. We can sum it up as follows: 1. The scope of the NSA's surveillance is far greater than almost anyone imagined. 2. Barack Obama is not only perfectly fine with that surveillance, he was perfectly fine with it being kept secret from the American public. 3. As much discussion and consternation as Snowden's revelations produced,...

Obama's Lie

Barack Obama is given to the long view, which comes in handy for a man at his particular nadir in this particular moment. More than the vexing and inexplicably botched launch of the Affordable Care Act, the president has been undone by ten words uttered enough times so as to feel exponential: If you like your health plan, you can keep it . This is the first time that reasonable people have caught the president telling an explicitly incontestable untruth, however small a percentage of insurance policies it may actually apply to, and therefore our wince-threshold with Obama is distinctly lower than with those who so often have said so many preposterous things about him for the past five years that long ago we exhausted winces in favor of twitches and spasms, until our outrage finally became catatonic. Accusations ever louder and ever growing of “socialist” and “Kenyan” have become background noise. The liar who lies once and badly—assuming the worst, which is that he knew better—...

Americans Suddenly Discovering How Insurance Works

Flickr/Eric Allix Rogers
It's been said to the point of becoming cliche that once Democrats passed significant health-care reform, they'd "own" everything about the American health-care system for good or ill. For some time to come, people will blame Barack Obama for health-care problems he had absolutely nothing to do with. But there's a corollary to that truism we're seeing play out now, which is that what used to be just "a sucky thing that happened to me" or "something about the way insurance works that I don't particularly like"—things that have existed forever—are now changing into issues , matters that become worthy of media attention and are attributed to policy choices, accurately or not. Before now, millions of Americans had health insurance horror stories. But they didn't have an organizing narrative around them, particularly one the news media would use as a reason to tell them. The latest has to do with the provider networks that insurance companies put together. This is something insurance...

The White House Press Corps Is as Mad as Hell: A Reprise

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo Circumventing the Press 101 When Stephen Colbert gave the keynote address at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, he suggested to President Bush that he ought to hire him. "I think I would have made a fabulous press secretary," Colbert said, looking out at the assembled reporters. "I have nothing but contempt for these people." These days, a lot of people think the Obama administration is even more hostile to reporters and what they do than that of his predecessor. When it comes to the relationship between the White House and the men and women assigned to cover it, there are a few things that have been true in every recent administration. The new president takes office promising to be open, candid, and accessible. Not far into his tenure, he grows terribly frustrated with the media, believing they are too focused on trivia, too quick to assume the worst and focus on his missteps, and uninterested in his accomplishments. His staff works hard to find ways to get its...

Over-Interpreting Mundane Poll Results

So disillusioned he's just going to lie here until dinner. (Flickr/Corey Thrace)
Have the young turned on Barack Obama? That's the assertion coming out of a poll from Harvard's Institute of Politics, reported in the National Journal with the breathless headline, "Millenials Abandon Obama and Obamacare." "The results blow a gaping hole in the belief among many Democrats that Obama's two elections signaled a durable grip on the youth vote," writes Ron Fournier. In the poll, approval of the President among those 18-29 has fallen to 41 percent. Sounds terrible. But wait—what's his approval among all voters these days? About 41 percent . So is it possible we don't need a special, youth-oriented explanation of the latest movement in the polls? When there's a change in public opinion, it's tempting to pick out different demographic groups and impose on each of them some unique interpretation of what's happening. Here's what the poll's director told Garance Franke-Ruta: "People are disappointed because they are passionate," Della Volpe said. "They're passionate about...

On Inequality, Obama's Words Aren't Enough

President Obama speaking Wednesday on inequality.
There are times, like the speech Barack Obama gave yesterday on economic inequality, when he reminds liberals of what we found so appealing about him. The address can stand among the most progressive statements of his presidency. Not for the first time, Obama declared inequality "the defining challenge of our time," and articulated an eloquent case, based in American history and values, for the damage it does and why we need to confront it. So why was I left feeling less than enthusiastic? Because over the last five years, Obama has succeeded in doing so little to address the problem. "Making sure our economy works for every American," he said, is "why I ran for president. It was the center of last year's campaign. It drives everything I do in this office." If that's true, then his presidency hasn't been particularly successful. Now granted, it's not as though he hasn't been awfully busy. And he still has some notable achievements in this area, none greater than the Affordable Care...

The Contraception-Mandate Cases Aren’t Really About Contraception

Ap Images/Tony Gutierrez
Earlier today, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear not one, but two challenges to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate; they’ll be heard together in an action-packed hour of oral arguments sometime in the spring. Both cases deal with conservatives’ ever-growing penchant for anthropomorphizing corporations—this time, the justices will decide whether companies can be exempted from the mandate to provide birth control at no cost to employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs. Oddly enough, neither of the business owners involved are Catholic, even though the first objections to the contraception mandate were raised by Catholic leaders, who didn’t want religiously affiliated hospitals and schools to provide birth control, which the Catholic hierarchy considers taboo. One case— Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores , documented extensively for the Prospect by Sarah Posner earlier this summer —deals with an arts-and-crafts chain owned by evangelical Christians. The...

Drone War Testimonials

A reporter sits down with one Pakistani family who traveled more than 7,000 miles to tell their story to Congress—only five representatives showed up to listen. 

Humna Bhojani
Humna Bhojani The Rehmans: Nabila, Rafiq, and Zubair. T wo beams of light came down from the drone lingering over the field where they had been gathering okra and hit Nabila’s grandmother, Mamana Bibi. The earth shuddered. Nabila fell; terrified, she stumbled into a run. Blood was gushing from her arm. She wrapped her red chaddar (head covering) around the shrapnel wound; moments later it was soaked through. Through the smoke, Nabila caught a glimpse of Mamana’s brown sandal. She passed out. The day Mamana was killed, October 24 th 2012, was a beautiful one in the North Waziristan village of Tapi in Pakistan. A few clouds sprinkled over the bright blue sky—perfect weather for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which was the next day. For Muslims, Eid al-Adha is the holiest day of the year, celebrating the sacrifice Abraham made. “They have told me that Eid is like Christmas,” Zubair, Nabila’s, 13-year-old brother said during his testimony at a Congressional briefing on October 29,...

Bibi's Agreement Anxiety Disorder

T o explain Benjamin Netanyahu's frenzied reaction to the Geneva agreement on Iran's nuclear program, let me begin with the stack of brown cardboard boxes under my wife's desk. Each of the five cartons contains a gas mask and related paraphernalia for a member of my family to use in the event of a chemical-weapons attack. They were delivered last January, as part of the gradual government effort to prepare every household in Israel for a rain of Syrian missiles. I suppose that having "defense kits" in the house could be macabre, but what we usually notice is that they're a nuisance: another thing on which to bang your toe in an overstuffed city flat. What's more, they're apparently an obsolete nuisance. A couple of weeks ago, the usual nameless military sources told the local media that the Defense Ministry would recommend ending production of gas masks for civilians. According to the leaks, intelligence assessments said that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons...

Insurance Companies Got You Down? Stupid Obamacare!

White House photo by Pete Souza
It has been said many times over the last few years that now that Democrats successfully passed a comprehensive overhaul of American health insurance, they own the health-care system, for good or ill. Every problem anyone has with health care will be blamed on Barack Obama, whether his reform had anything to do with it or not. Your kid got strep throat? It's Obama's fault! Doctor left a sponge in your chest cavity? Stupid Obama! Grandma died after a long illness at the age of 97? Damn you, Obama! OK, so maybe it won't be quite as bad as that, but pretty close. Here's an instructive case in exactly how this plays out. Take a look at this article that ran in yesterday's Washington Post , telling how in order to keep premiums down and attract customers, some insurers are limiting their networks. "As Americans have begun shopping for health plans on the insurance exchanges," the article tells us, "they are discovering that insurers are restricting their choice of doctors and hospitals in...

Harry Reid's Triumph

At least when it comes to executive branch and (most) judicial branch appointments, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, democracy is coming to the United States Senate. Senate Democrats responded to the Republican minority's blockade against any Obama appointments to the D.C. Circuit by eliminating the filibuster for most presidential nominations. This vote will likely be the most important congressional vote of President Obama's second term, and Senate Majority Harry Reid and most of the rest of the Democratic caucus deserve immense credit for pulling it off. I have explained at length why I believe that the filibuster is an indefensible practice. The short version is that the American political system already has an inordinately high number of veto points, so anyone favoring additional extraconstitutional ones should face a very high burden of proof. The filibuster, with its long and dismal history of allowing overrepresented minorities to prevent Congress from addressing the interests of...

Apology Silliness, Foreign Policy Edition

I apologize for these pastries. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
We're now negotiating the terms of our sort-of-departure from Afghanistan, and there's no doubt the Afghan government needs America more than America needs it. Imagine, if you would, that we just packed up and left. There would almost certainly be a full-on civil war, one the Afghan government would be hard-pressed to win. And back here, we'd pay about as much attention as we do now to the river of blood flowing through Iraq, which is to say, every once in a while we'd see a news story and say, "Gee, that's terrible," and then go back to wondering how long it'll be before Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan go on a cross-country crime spree. So if you were the Afghan government, you probably wouldn't want to drive too hard a bargain in negotiating the terms of the future American presence there. And it's all getting hung up on whether the Americans are going to apologize for killing Afghan civilians, and whether they might offer an apology that isn't really an apology, and whether they can...

The Real Roots of the Filibuster Crisis

As fake as the moon landing, obviously. (White House photo by Sonya Hebert)
We're about to have ourselves a little filibuster crisis, and the only surprising thing is that it took so long. We've now reached a point where Republicans no longer accept that Barack Obama has the right, as president of the United States, to fill judicial vacancies. Unlike in previous battles over judicial nominations, we're not talking about the nominees' qualifications or their ideological proclivities. It's merely a question of the president's constitutional privileges. Republicans don't think he has them. This is only the latest feature of a long descent for the GOP away from considering any Democratic president—but particularly this one—as a legitimate holder of the office to which he was elected. There has never been a president, at least in our lifetimes, whose legitimacy was so frequently questioned in both word and deed by the opposition party and its adherents. Even today, many Republicans, including some members of Congress, refuse to believe that Obama was born in the...

How Both Republican and Democratic States Are Helping Obama

Last week, President Obama announced a "fix" to the problem of people in the individual health-insurance market getting cancellation notices from their insurance companies: he'd allow the insurers to offer those substandard plans for another year. Does he want the fix to work? We can't read his mind, but depending on how you define "work," it would be better for the Affordable Care Act's ultimate success if it didn't. As things have played out over the last few days, there are reasons that as a political problem this could fade. As you may know, insurance markets are governed by officials in each state. If a state's insurance commissioner doesn't want to allow the substandard plans to be sold, he or she can say no, no matter what the President might want. A few of those insurance commissioners—from Vermont, Rhode Island, and Washington state—have already said they won't allow it. So what you have here are heavily Democratic states not supporting Obama. But here's the key to the story...

Pages