Wonkblog: barack obama

How the Tea Party broke the Constitution

How the Tea Party broke the Constitution

Tea Partiers are the most enthusiastic advocates of America's system of government, with its divided powers, checks and balances and representative government. So it's ironic that their innovative organizing techniques have revealed a major weakness in America's system of government.

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How a secretive trade deal could help American tobacco companies hook new smokers

Pretty soon, if U.S. representatives negotiating a secretive trade deal get their way, tariffs on tobacco in poor Asian countries will sink to zero -- and those countries will have a hard time protecting their citizens against a tidal wave of cheaper cigarettes.

Over several decades, the U.S. has relentlessly fought tobacco use. Anti-smoking ad campaigns, prominent warning labels, smoking bans and high taxes have had their desired effect: The smoking rate has been dropping for decades and this year reached a new low of 18 percent among people over age 18.

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A speech that shows how Obama has changed

A speech that shows how Obama has changed

In 2009, Barack Obama came to change Washington. Today's speech showed how much Washington has changed him.

Obama's first presidential campaign, and his first inaugural address, were about moving America past our old arguments. His second presidential campaign, and his second inaugural address, were about winning those arguments. It's in the space between those two projects that the triumphs, disappointments and lessons of the first term live, and where the project of Obama's second term reveals itself.

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Why a more transparent NSA would be good for Barack Obama

Why a more transparent NSA would be good for Barack Obama

Debates over government transparency are usually framed as a contest between the executive branch and the rest of us. Transparency is supposed to help Congress, the courts and the public hold the president accountable.

But history suggests that transparency is important for another reason: it helps the president himself keep control over his subordinates.

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Lobbyists becoming public officials isn't as bad as the other way around

Lobbyists becoming public officials isn't as bad as the other way around

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) left the Senate in 1999, then returned in 2011. He spent some of the time in between working as a lobbyist. At a Tuesday confirmation hearing for Tom Wheeler, President Obama's choice to head the Federal Communications Commission, Coats described how he approaches his relationship with his former clients.

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Poll: Republicans hate NSA spying. Democrats are ambivalent.

Poll: Republicans hate NSA spying. Democrats are ambivalent.

A majority of Americans, 53 percent, disapprove of two National Security Agency surveillance programs whose existence was reported last week. A Gallup poll found that just 37 percent approved of the NSA's efforts to "compile telephone call logs and Internet communications."

Interestingly, the most intense opposition to the programs comes from the political right. Republicans disapprove of the program by almost a 2 to 1 margin. Independents disapprove, 56 to 34 percent. But 49 percent of Democrats approve of the program, compared with 40 percent who disapprove.

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Obama says the NSA has had plenty of oversight. Here's why he's wrong.

Obama says the NSA has had plenty of oversight. Here's why he's wrong.

President Obama was in San Jose on Friday to talk about the Affordable Care Act. But he took the opportunity to try to calm the furor over new revelations that his administration is presiding over unprecedented surveillance of telephone and digital communications.

"These programs were originally authorized by Congress," President Obama said. "They have been repeatedly authorized by Congress. Bipartisan majorities have approved them. Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted. There are a whole range of safeguards involved. And federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout."

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How Congress unknowingly legalized PRISM in 2007

How Congress unknowingly legalized PRISM in 2007

On Sept. 11, 2007, the National Security Agency signed up Microsoft as its first partner for PRISM, a massive domestic surveillance program whose existence was reported by the Washington Post today. That's barely a month after Congress passed, and President George W. Bush signed, the Protect America Act.

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Everything you need to know about the NSA's phone records scandal

Everything you need to know about the NSA's phone records scandal

On Wednesday, The Guardian released a classified court order requiring Verizon to turn over records of all domestic phone calls to the National Security Agency. The revelation has led to a renewed debate over the legality and policy merits of indiscriminate government surveillance of Americans.

So what has the government been doing? And how will the program affect ordinary Americans? Read on to find out.

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Daniel Ellsberg: 'I'm sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case'

Daniel Ellsberg: 'I'm sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case'

In 1971, an American military analyst named Daniel Ellsberg gave a New York Times reporter a copy of "United States Vietnam Relations, 1945 1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense," a multi-volume work that became known as the Pentagon Papers. The massive, classified study painted a candid and unflattering portrait of the military's conduct of the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court rejected the government's request for an injunction against its publication later that year in a 6-3 ruling.

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How patent trolling went mainstream

How patent trolling went mainstream

Patent trolling has gone mainstream.

Last year, small companies began receiving threatening letters from firms with inscrutable names, such as AdzPro LLC, AllLed LLC and GosNel LLC. The senders claimed to own a patent that covered the concept of scanning a document and then sending it by e-mail —something almost every firm does. Recipients of the letters were encouraged to license the patent, and forestall a patent infringement suit, for a fee of $1,000 per employee. Otherwise, the businesses were warned, "there can be serious consequences for infringement."

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Obama wants to crack down on patent trolls. That's not enough.

Obama wants to crack down on patent trolls. That's not enough.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration will soon unveil a package of reforms designed to deal with "patent trolls," the ambulance-chasers of the high-tech world. Trolls employ no engineers and produce no useful products. Instead, they use the threat of patent lawsuits to extract payments from those who do. Troll litigation costs the economy tens of billions of dollars per year.

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Obama's six-point plan to wind down the 'war on terror'

Like all presidential speeches, President Obama's Thursday address at the National Defense University was suffused with soaring rhetoric. But it was also a substantive and analytical speech, laying out the president's conceptual framework for counterterrorism operations and announcing a number of new policy initiatives. Here, stripped of rhetorical flourishes, is what Obama has planned for his second term on the national security front:

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Five ways to protect journalists and their anonymous sources

Five ways to protect journalists and their anonymous sources

In a speech Thursday at National Defense University, President Obama discussed the Justice Department's prosecution of leakers, emphasizing the need to "strike the right balance between our security and our open society." Many observers believe that current laws do too little to protect the rights of journalists to gather information about national security — and the right of government employees to disclose classified information if they believe doing so is in the public interest. Recent developments have underscored the legal dangers that whistleblowers and the journalists they confide in currently face.

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Everything you need to know about Obama's war on leakers in one FAQ

Everything you need to know about Obama's war on leakers in one FAQ

There's been a blizzard of news about the Obama administration's crackdown on government officials who leak classified information to the media. Last week we learned that the government seized the phone records of more than 100 Associated Press journalists. This week we learned that the government had accused (though not charged) journalist James Rosen with a crime for accepting classified information from a source, and that the government also obtained phone records for Rosen's parents.

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Obama wasn't joking at the White House correspondents' dinner

Obama wasn't joking at the White House correspondents' dinner

"Everybody has got plenty of advice," sighed President Obama at Saturday's White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. "Maureen Dowd said I could solve all my problems if I were just more like Michael Douglas in 'The American President.' And I know Michael is here tonight. Michael, what's your secret, man? Could it be that you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy? Might that have something to do with it?"

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Can Obama's second term make good on his first?

Can Obama's second term make good on his first?

President Obama begins his second term confronting a familiar and frustrating incongruity: the gap between how much he has changed and how little about the country seems different.

A partial accounting of Obama's first term reveals more accomplishments than most presidents secure in two. The health-care law, of course, is almost certainly the most significant piece of social policy passed since the Great Society. The rescues of the financial and auto sectors, though begun under President George W. Bush, were mostly carried out and completed under Obama. The Dodd-Frank financial reforms included the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The stimulus financed long-term investments in everything from weatherization to electronic medical records and high-speed rail.

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Reminder: Big presidential speeches (mostly) don't matter

Reminder: Big presidential speeches (mostly) don't matter

A quick reality check: The president's inaugural address probably won't much matter come, say, next Thursday. And on the off-chance that it does, it will probably make President Obama's life harder rather than easier.

We'll spend the next week arguing over what Obama's second inaugural augurs for American politics. In my entry into the genre, I said that it represents Obama's changed strategy -- he's stopped trying to move America past old arguments and begun trying to win them. Noam Scheiber says that Obama has realized that "arguing for his worldview isn't a separate task from governing." David Brooks says it means that "those who disagree [with Obama's liberalism] and those of us who partly agree now have to raise our game."

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A speech that shows how Obama has changed

A speech that shows how Obama has changed

In 2009, Barack Obama came to change Washington. Today's speech showed how much Washington has changed him.

Obama's first presidential campaign, and his first inaugural address, were about moving America past our old arguments. His second presidential campaign, and his second inaugural address, were about winning those arguments. It's in the space between those two projects that the triumphs, disappointments and lessons of the first term live, and where the project of Obama's second term reveals itself.

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Does the White House want Mitch McConnell to be majority leader?

Does the White House want Mitch McConnell to be majority leader?

The Washington Post is reporting that Sen. John Kerry is being seriously considered to head the Department of Defense. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why.

In 2009, the incoming Obama administration tapped Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar to head the Interior Department, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to lead the Department of Homeland Security, and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Polls would have to be wrong by four points for Romney to win

Polls would have to be wrong by four points for Romney to win


"The only poll that matters is on election day," goes the old clich. It's a reassuring sentiment for Mitt Romney supporters, given that recent polling shows their candidate running behind in many key swing states. And there's a kernel of truth to it: There's absolutely a chance the polls are all wrong.

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President Obama lays out his second term

President Obama lays out his second term

You may have heard about a weird campaign kerfuffle where President Obama did an interview with the Des Moines Register but insisted it be kept off the record. The paper then wrote a blistering (and correct) piece arguing that the interview should be on the record. The Obama campaign folded and the transcript is here.

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When did Obama lose ‘the vision thing’?

When did Obama lose ‘the vision thing’?

Joe Biden did his job Thursday. But in the end, winning the election is up to the presidential candidate, not the vice presidential candidate.

The next presidential debate is Tuesday, and the advice President Obama is getting is largely stylistic. Attack more. Look less sleepy. Stop writing in your diary while Mitt Romney is talking.

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Obama’s unconvincing theory of change

Obama’s unconvincing theory of change

“The most important lesson I’ve learned is you can’t change Washington from the inside,” President Obama said in Univision forum today. “You can only change it from the outside. That’s how I got elected. That’s how the big accomplishments like health care got done.”

That’s a rather revisionist take on how health reform got done. The health-care process, which I reported on extensively, was a firmly “inside game” strategy. There were backroom deals with most every major interest group and every swing legislator. There was the “cornhusker kickback” and the “Louisiana purchase.” There was a multi-month period during which the entire process ground to a halt so Senate Finance chair Max Baucus could negotiate with five of his colleagues in a room that no members of the press or public were allowed into.

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Do 15% of Ohio Republicans think Romney killed bin Laden? Probably not.

Do 15% of Ohio Republicans think Romney killed bin Laden? Probably not.

Public Policy Polling has a new poll(pdf) out of Ohio showing Obama with his biggest lead since May. Given how hard it would be for Mitt Romney to win the White House without winning Ohio, that’s a big deal.

But a secondary finding in the poll has gotten a lot of attention. PPP asked voters who they thought deserved more credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden: Obama or Romney. 63 percent said Obama, 31 percent weren’t sure, and 6 percent said Romney.

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The economy vs. the president

The economy vs. the president

President Obama’s speech Thursday night took place in a world where the jobs crisis didn’t exist. It’s not that he didn’t talk about jobs. But there was no particular urgency in his diagnosis, much less in his prescription. The mentions of the unusual severity of the situation were glancing and the proposals mostly unresponsive. The speech would have been as appropriate for an economy at 6.5 percent unemployment as 8.1 percent unemployment.

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Fact-checking Obama’s speech

Fact-checking Obama’s speech

President Obama’s big moment came tonight as he accepted the Democratic nomination for reelection in Charlotte. But did his assertions check out? The Wonkteam looked into it.

TRUE – By 2008, we had seen nearly a decade in which families struggled with costs that kept rising but paychecks that didnt; racking up more and more debt just to make the mortgage or pay tuition; to put gas in the car or food on the table.

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President Obama’s agenda: A return to political normalcy

President Obama’s agenda: A return to political normalcy

If you looked past the rhetoric and focused just on the policy, this was a modest speech. It was a more humble vision. What President Obama offered the country on the final night of the Democratic convention was reminiscent of what Warren G. Harding offered almost a century ago: A return to normalcy after a long period of emergency.

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Obama’s “goals for America”

The Obama campaign has released a few excerpts of the president’s speech tonight. They’re not very interesting. But they’ve also released a set of “goals for America” that he’ll lay out tonight. They’re more interesting:

Tonight President Obama will ask the country to rally around a set of goals on manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit a real, achievable plan that will create jobs, expand opportunity, and ensure an economy built to last.

Manufacturing

  • Create one million new manufacturing jobs by the end of 2016
  • Double exports by the end of 2014

Energy

  • Cut net oil imports in half by 2020
  • Support 600,000 natural gas jobs by the end of the decade

Education

  • Cut the growth of college tuition in half over the next 10 years
  • Recruit 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years
  • Train two million workers for real jobs at community colleges

National Security

  • Invest in the economy with the money were no longer spending on war

Deficit

  • Reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade

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In a second term, Obama would rely less on Republicans than in his first

In a second term, Obama would rely less on Republicans than in his first

A peculiarity of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign is that the single most consequential thing he could do is get reelected. That’s true even if, after he gets reelected, he isn’t able to come to an agreement with Congress on anything more significant than keeping the lights on.

What makes Obama’s most significant achievements unusual is that they roll out slowly. His key accomplishments were signed into law in his first term, but they won’t be fully implemented by November. But if Obama isreelected, the Affordable Care Act will be implemented, on schedule, in 2014. At that point, it’s likely permanent. The Dodd-Frank financial regulations will continue to be written and wrapped around Wall Street. At that point, they, too, are unlikely to be undone anytime soon.

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The White House’s huge gamble on Paul Ryan

The White House’s huge gamble on Paul Ryan

Here’s the weird thing about Paul Ryan being named to the Republican presidential ticket: It’s all part of Barack Obama’s campaign plan — a plan that’s working better than his strategists could have hoped. It could also backfire more disastrously than they could have ever imagined.

It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time, not long ago, when Ryan was no better known than Democrat John Spratt of South Carolina, his predecessor as chairman of the House Budget Committee. And the Republican Party’s leadership was eager to keep it that way.

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We’re having a ‘serious conversation’ over the issues!

We’re having a ‘serious conversation’ over the issues!

Part of my job involves going on TV to talk about American politics. And so I’ve been present for a number of discussions about the impact Paul Ryan is going to have on the 2012 presidential race. So far, they’ve mostly played out according to the same basic script: “We can finally have a serious conversation about the issues!”

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How’s our model doing?

A while back, Ezra — with the help of political scientists at Yale, UCLA, and George Washington University — developed Wonkblog’s very own presidential election model. It uses only three variables: economic growth during the first three quarters of the election year; the president’s average approval rating as measured by Gallup in June of the election year; and whether or not a candidate is a member of the incumbent party.

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Ryan’s full response to Obama


Obama thinks his budget is better than Ryan’s budget. Ryan disagrees. (JEWEL SAMAD - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
I made a mistake in Wonkbook this morning. I wrote that Paul Ryan “didn’t contest” the numbers in Obama’s budget speech. And that was true for the statement posted to Ryan’s Web site. But as his press secretary, Conor Sweeney, pointed out, the Ryan team did post a longer response on its Facebook page. Sweeney:

Not only did Ryan’s immediate statement make clear that what he heard ‘distorts the truth’ our shop (@PaulRyanPress) contested many of the charges as we heard them, once given a chance to review the text of the remarks and dig into the specifics, we broke down the President’s numerous breathtakingly false claims about our numbers. Ryan very clearly contested these false claims based on disingenuous assumptions and clear distortions.

I didn’t see the Facebook post. Mea culpa. But now I’ve read the response carefully, and I have to admit: I still don’t see where they contest any of Obama’s numbers. Let’s go through it in detail:

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Comparing Obama and Reagan’s economic records

Comparing Obama and Reagan’s economic records

James Pethokoukis and Joe Weisenthal have been arguing over who presided over the more impressive recovery: Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan?

This is, I think, a mostly useless exercise. Obama and Reagan presided over different kinds of recessions that began at different times and ended in different ways. Imagine you had two doctors, one who had treated a patient for a drug overdose, and another who was treating a patient who recently suffered a heart attack. Would flatly comparing the speed of the two patients’ recoveries tell you anything about the doctors? Of course not. So too with Obama and Reagan. But if you do want to compare the two presidents, here are some things to keep in mind:

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Reorganizing government, recapturing executive authority, and criticizing Congress: The highlights from President Obama’s speech


(Andrew Harrer - BLOOMBERG)
At 11a.m., President Obama delivered remarks on modernizing the government for the 21st Century. He asked for more executive authority to reorganize the bureaucracy, and spent a considerable amount of time bashing Congress. Here are the parts that caught our eye:

- “We live in a 21st century economy, but we’ve still got a government organized for the 20th century. Our economy has fundamentally changed – as has the world – but the government has not. The needs of our citizens have fundamentally changed but their government has not. Instead, it has often grown more complex.”

- “There are five different entities dealing with housing; more than a dozen agencies involved in food safety. And my favorite example, which I mentioned in last year’s State of the Union Address. As it turns out, the Interior Department is in charge of salmon in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in saltwater. Apparently, this all had something to do with President Nixon being unhappy with his Interior Secretary for criticizing the Vietnam War.”

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The ridiculous things presidential candidates want you to believe about jobs


(Graph: Ezra Klein; Data: BLS)
Mitt Romney’s campaign would have you believe that every job lost over the past three years is President Obama’s fault. That includes the 820,000 jobs lost in January 2009, despite the fact that Obama didn’t become president until the 20th of the month. It includes the 726,000 jobs lost in February 2009, before any of Obama’s policies had gone into effect. It suggests Romney holds a deeply ambitious view of a president’s power to influence the labor market -- -- a view, as we’ll see, that’s not shared by economists who were responsible for White House economic policies in recent administrations.

But Romney’s campaign also asks us to believe that every job created in Massachusetts while he was governor was Mitt Romney’s doing. Obama might deserve the blame for the jobs lost in every state on his watch, but George W. Bush, who was president during Romney’s governorship, gets no credit for the jobs created in Massachusetts during his administration. And Romney claims that every job created by any company that Bain Capital had a hand in should also be credited to Romney -- even if the job was created long after Bain separated from the company. Heads, I created a jobs; tails, you lost one.

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Neither Reagan nor Clinton believed in austerity

Economist Robert Barro thinks real recovery will only come from austerity. And not this weak sauce, supercommittee-and-discretionary-spending-cuts austerity. Real austerity. A consumption tax and an end to the mortgage-interest deduction and a rise in the retirement age and massive spending cuts. I don’t agree, but to each their own, obviously. The part of the op-ed that really confuses, though, is the grand finale: “This dream could become reality if our leader were Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton — the two presidential heroes of the American economy since World War II — but Mr. Obama is another story.”

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