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“Obama Isn’t Done Being President”: He Promised To Play Through To The End Of The Fourth Quarter

Most of the time when President Obama is mentioned in a news article these days it is to talk about his legacy or note that he will be one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest assets on the campaign train over the next few months. All of that will change for a moment on Wednesday when he travels to Dallas to speak at the memorial services for the police officers who were killed in the attacks on Thursday night.

But in the meantime, he’s still busy being President. As I noted back in March, he set a far-reaching goal back in 2009 when he traveled to Prague.

So today I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.

Since then, the United States has hosted four Global Summits on Nuclear Security and the President affirmed the need to continue working on these issues during his visit to Hiroshima.

That is why we come to Hiroshima.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

Obviously Obama intends to keep working on this one right up until the day his second term is over.

In recent weeks, the national security Cabinet members known as the Principals Committee held two meetings to review options for executive actions on nuclear policy. Many of the options on the table are controversial, but by design none of them require formal congressional approval. No final decisions have been made, but Obama is expected to weigh in personally soon…

Several U.S. officials briefed on the options told me they include declaring a “no first use” policy for the United States’ nuclear arsenal, which would be a landmark change in the country’s nuclear posture. Another option under consideration is seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution affirming a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons. This would be a way to enshrine the United States’ pledge not to test without having to seek unlikely Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The administration is also considering offering Russia a five-year extension of the New START treaty’s limits on deployed nuclear weapons, even though those limits don’t expire until 2021. This way, Obama could ensure that the next administration doesn’t let the treaty lapse. Some administration officials want to cancel or delay development of a new nuclear cruise missile, called the Long-Range Stand-Off weapon, because it is designed for a limited nuclear strike, a capability Obama doesn’t believe the United States needs. Some officials want to take most deployed nukes off of “hair trigger” alert.

The administration also wants to cut back long-term plans for modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal, which the Congressional Budget Office reports will cost about $350 billion over the next decade. Obama may establish a blue-ribbon panel of experts to examine the long-term budget for these efforts and find ways to scale it back.

After the 2014 midterm elections, President Obama promised to play through to the end of the fourth quarter. Don’t count him out just yet. He is obviously making good on that promise as well.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 11, 2016

July 12, 2016 Posted by | Hiroshima, Nuclear Weapons, President Obama | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Final And Most Powerful Advantage”: Hillary Clinton Has A Secret Weapon. His Name Is Barack Obama

Hillary Clinton is crushing Donald Trump. In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, she thumped Trump 51 percent to 39 percent among registered voters nationwide. That’s an almost inconceivable 14-point swing in the Democrat’s favor since May.

But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Trump is barely even contesting the election, at least when it comes to the traditional fields of political combat. Last week, for example, it came out that he was running literally zero campaign ads in several swing states. The reason? His campaign is practically broke. It’s unprecedented for a major party nominee to basically not campaign. Is it any wonder Trump has resorted to crowing about polls in which he’s only losing narrowly?

Of course, there’s no guarantee this dynamic will last. Maybe Trump will get his act together and stop behaving like a silage-addled steer. Maybe the economy will crater and Trump will exploit it. Maybe Republicans will somehow oust him at the convention.

But even if these things happen, and Clinton’s healthy lead over Trump dwindles, we shouldn’t forget the final and most powerful advantage Clinton will have: President Obama.

No sitting president in modern times has ever campaigned at full strength for his party’s nominee. George W. Bush was persona non grata on the campaign trail by 2008. Bill Clinton was seen as damaged goods by Al Gore in 2000, who distanced himself from the Clinton name (despite the 42nd president’s tremendous popularity at the time). Ronald Reagan was already elderly in 1988 and did not have a great relationship with George H.W. Bush. LBJ quit politics altogether in 1968. Eisenhower did campaign a bit for Nixon, but he was also old by 1960, and avoided much of the campaign.

President Obama, by contrast, is still quite young (indeed, he is 14 years younger than Clinton herself), and by all accounts is eager to help Clinton, who represents the best chance of preserving his legacy. Any lingering sense that a soon-to-be former president should refrain from campaigning to preserve the dignity of the office is utterly dead. And as he finishes his presidency, Obama is more popular today than he has been since the bin Laden raid — part of an upward trend that shows no sign of slowing.

The economy is doing reasonably okay, particularly compared to several years ago, and as Obama himself is not running for re-election, some of the partisan hatred has passed to Clinton. But perhaps more importantly, Obama’s personality is extraordinarily well-suited for this political moment. Like him or hate him, you have to admit that he is even-keeled almost to a fault. Always cool, always considered, Obama never flies off the handle and rarely expresses any emotion aside from a wry humor. In a chaotic world, Obama is a reassuring presence.

Sometimes that leads to grotesque immorality, as when he flippantly disregarded the legal obligation that torturers be prosecuted. But when instability is breaking out everywhere, and things are developing fast — like, for example, when the U.K. has just voted to leave the European Union, precipitating a financial panic, and potentially auguring the crackup of the eurozone and the U.K. itself — it’s nice to know that the president is always going to keep his icy cool.

This kind of clamor and chaos seems to be happening every other week in 2016. Even aside from the horrifying spree killings and endless war in the Middle East, the tectonic plates of politics in Western nations are crumbling. Open bigotry and ethnic nationalism are making huge political inroads, and pointless austerity has badly damaged or destroyed the political establishment in many countries — Spain, to pick one example out of many, just had its two hung parliaments after not a single one since the end of the Franco dictatorship.

A deranged maniac is about to become the official presidential nominee of the Republican Party. It seems a safe bet at this point that Trump is not going to discover some inner reservoir of quiet intelligence. He’s a hair-trigger showboating ignoramus to the bone. And as the campaign goes on, and Trump says goofy, alarming nonsense in response to one crisis after another, Obama’s quiet, competent reserve is going to look increasingly appealing.

Hillary Clinton will only benefit partially from this, of course. She simply does not have Obama’s unflappability. But she’ll gain much by simple association with Obama’s extreme chill, and can only benefit by contrast with Trump’s extreme capering. Should she win in November — particularly by a large enough margin to take back the House of Representatives — Obama can claim a large share of the credit.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, June 28, 2016

July 5, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, President Obama | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Can’t Afford To Weaken Social Security”: President Obama Just Changed The National Debate On Social Security

Speaking in Elkhart, Indiana, President Obama made a significant policy statement, one that may get lost in all the talk of the campaign to replace him. He argued that Social Security not only shouldn’t be scaled back, as many believe, but that it should be expanded.

You can look at this as a move to the left. But here’s a better way to see it: as more like a digging in, a resistance to a decades-long effort to lay the groundwork for significant cuts to the program.

Now that Obama has taken this position, it makes it much more likely that most or all Democrats will adopt it as well, which could truly change a debate that up until now has been dominated by an alliance of Republicans and supposedly centrist advocates whose mission is to scale back the most successful social programs America ever created.

Here’s what Obama said in his speech:

But look, let’s face it — a lot of Americans don’t have retirement savings.  Even if they’ve got an account set up, they just don’t have enough money at the end of the month to save as much as they’d like because they’re just barely paying the bills.  Fewer and fewer people have pensions they can really count on, which is why Social Security is more important than ever. We can’t afford to weaken Social Security.  We should be strengthening Social Security.  And not only do we need to strengthen its long-term health, it’s time we finally made Social Security more generous, and increased its benefits so that today’s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they’ve earned.  And we could start paying for it by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little bit more.  They can afford it.  I can afford it.

Here’s why this is important. For a long time now, the way you’ve shown you’re a Very Serious Person about fiscal matters is to gravely intone that Social Security is “going broke” and say that we must cut back benefits, either by reducing retirees’ payments or raising the retirement age. There’s an entire industry of think tanks and advocacy groups whose mission is to create the intellectual and political environment that will make such cuts possible.

Liberals have only been pushing back against that coalition in a serious way for a few years now. There are some high-profile voices debunking the myth that Social Security is “going broke,” most notably Paul Krugman’s (I won’t bother to go over again why it’s a myth, but if you’re interested I explained it here). But they’ve been hampered by the fact that so many Democratic politicians want to communicate that they too are Very Serious, so they accept some of the premises of the other side’s argument, ceding half the battle over the existence of the program.

And make no mistake: it is a battle over the existence of the program. Despite their assurances that they only want to “strengthen” Social Security, many Republicans would like nothing more than to see it disappear, for two reasons. The first is that they’re simply opposed to large social programs on ideological grounds. The second is that by virtue of its success and popularity, Social Security is an ongoing rebuke to conservative arguments about government. It’s awkward to say, “Government can’t do anything right and should be cut back as much as possible” to a voter who has health care because of Medicare and isn’t eating cat food because of Social Security — and thinks both programs are terrific.

So the political situation is this. Republicans can’t mount a direct assault on the program because it’s spectacularly popular, particularly with those who get checks every month (and who vote in large numbers). At the same time, their campaign against it has been extremely successful in shaping public opinion. Large portions of the public have been convinced that the program is in crisis and is about to go broke, and young people in particular think Social Security won’t exist by the time they retire. The hope of the anti-entitlement forces is that if they can convince enough people of that, when they propose a specific plan to cut back the program, people will say, “Sure, whatever — it’s going broke anyway, so we might as well.”

Until recently, the debate around Social Security consisted of one side saying it was going broke and needed to be slashed, and the other side not disputing those basic assertions too strongly, but saying that we shouldn’t do anything rash. What we are moving toward, however, is the Democratic side saying not only that the program is essentially healthy, but that instead of cutting it we should be expanding it. That’s a profoundly different debate, one that produces an entirely different set of policy options.

Right now you have the president of the United States taking that position, as well as the two leading Democratic presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton has proposed some targeted expansions of Social Security benefits, for widow/ers facing a benefit cut when a spouse dies and for those whose benefits are smaller because they spent time out of the workforce raising children or caring for other family members. Bernie Sanders advocates an increase for all recipients: “expand benefits by an average of $65 a month; increase cost-of-living-adjustments; and lift more seniors out of poverty by increasing the minimum benefits paid to low-income seniors.”

With the exception of Donald Trump, all the Republican presidential candidates this year signed on to some form of Social Security cuts, either through increasing the retirement age or cutting benefits. Trump, however, said we just shouldn’t touch it. In one debate, he said, “It’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age and to leave it as is.” Trump doesn’t say how he’d pay for the program, which should undercut the idea that his position somehow challenges conservative orthodoxy; in reality, all Trump is saying is that he’ll make everyone so rich that we won’t have to make tough choices about such things.

By contrast, Democrats feel an obligation to explain how they’re going to pay for the benefits they propose. Obama described “asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute a little more.” That isn’t very specific, but there are a couple of ways you could do that, the most obvious of which is to raise the payroll tax cap. Right now you pay Social Security taxes only on the first $118,500 of your income, which means that beyond that level the wealthy pay a lower portion of their income than poor and middle-class people do.

Hillary Clinton says she would pay for increased benefits by “asking the highest-income Americans to pay more, including options to tax some of their income above the current Social Security cap, and taxing some of their income not currently taken into account by the Social Security system.” That would probably mean applying payroll taxes to investment income and not just wage income as it is now. Sanders wants to do that too, and is more specific about the cap: he would remove it entirely, though he would include a doughnut hole between the current cap of $118,500 and $250,000; you wouldn’t start to pay more payroll taxes until you reached that higher income.

Unfortunately, it’s a little hard to tell exactly how much in greater benefits we could afford with these kinds of measures, because how much the system takes in is heavily dependent on things we can only guess at, like what income growth, inflation, and immigration levels are going to be 10 or 20 or 50 years from now. But now that the most prominent Democrats in the country all agree that we should be expanding Social Security and not cutting it back, we could have a whole new debate on the issue.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 2, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | President Obama, Republicans, Social Security | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Washington Playbook”: If You’re Not Responding Militarily, You’re Not Responding

Richard Cohen has finally gotten around to writing about President Obama’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that was the impetus for so much discussion almost a month ago. In doing so, he demonstrates exactly what the President referred to as the “Washington playbook.” As a reminder, here is what Obama said to Goldberg about that.

“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

Cohen doesn’t so much champion the Washington playbook as he criticizes Obama for not employing it. For example, here is what he writes on the President’s statement about Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

It’s a rule that Obama himself should have followed. He speaks the unspeakable, conceding that eastern Ukraine, Moldova and Crimea are Russia’s for the taking. “Now, if there is somebody in this town that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it,” he told Goldberg.

Ambiguity is not Obama’s forte. Rather than keeping Vladimir Putin guessing — and maybe restrained — he signals the Russian president not to worry. Putin already has Crimea. He’s got eastern Ukraine. Will Moldova be next? Just a matter of time, it seems to me.

The playbook Cohen is working from assumes that the only possible response to Russia is a war. If President Obama isn’t willing to do that in response to Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it’s just a matter of time before Putin goes into Moldova.

What that completely ignores is that there are other possible responses – like economic sanctions that are coordinated with our international partners and the European Union.

Cohen also doesn’t seem to think that President Obama is doing anything about the situation in Syria.

But the Syrian civil war has produced a humanitarian calamity, at least 250,000 dead and an almost unprecedented refugee crisis that is destabilizing Europe. Obama acts as though this is a minor matter, just another Middle Eastern dust-up, but the Syrian mess is an example of the slippery slope he does not mention when he mentions the one he wants to avoid. Like, possibly, Moldova, it is the consequence of inaction that may matter more than any action itself.

It seems as though Cohen is unaware of the fact that the U.S. is engaging in air strikes against ISIS in Syria. But even more importantly, Sec. of State John Kerry has been working tirelessly on the multilateral peace negotiations that are seeking an end to the Syrian civil war.

For people like Cohen, if the U.S. isn’t using military intervention to wield it’s way around the globe, it’s not doing anything. That pretty much sums up the Washington playbook that President Obama refuses to implement.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 5, 2016

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Foreign Policy, President Obama, Richard Cohen | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Learning From Obama”: Voters Have Lately Been Given A Taste Of What Really Bad Leaders Look Like

Like many political junkies, I’ve been spending far too much time looking at polls and trying to understand their implications. Can Donald Trump really win his party’s nomination? (Yes.) Can Bernie Sanders? (No.) But the primaries aren’t the only things being polled; we’re still getting updates on President Obama’s overall approval. And something striking has happened on that front.

At the end of 2015 Mr. Obama was still underwater, with significantly more Americans disapproving than approving. Since then, however, his approval has risen sharply while disapproval has plunged. He’s still only in modestly positive territory, but the net movement in polling averages has been about 11 percentage points, which is a lot.

What’s going on?

Well, one answer is that voters have lately been given a taste of what really bad leaders look like. But I’d like to think that the public is also starting to realize just how successful the Obama administration has been in addressing America’s problems. And there are lessons from that success for those willing to learn.

I know that it’s hard for many people on both sides to wrap their minds around the notion of Obama-as-success. On the left, those caught up in the enthusiasms of 2008 feel let down by the prosaic reality of governing in a deeply polarized political system. Meanwhile, conservative ideology predicts disaster from any attempt to tax the rich, help the less fortunate and rein in the excesses of the market; and what are you going to believe, the ideology or your own lying eyes?

But the successes are there for all to see.

Start with the economy. You might argue that presidents don’t have as much effect on economic performance as voters seem to imagine — especially presidents facing scorched-earth opposition from Congress for most of their time in office. But that misses the point: Republicans have spent the past seven years claiming incessantly that Mr. Obama’s policies are a “job killing” disaster, destroying business incentives, so it’s important news if the economy has performed well.

And it has: We’ve gained 10 million private-sector jobs since Mr. Obama took office, and unemployment is below 5 percent. True, there are still some areas of disappointment — low labor force participation, weak wage growth. But just imagine the boasting we’d be hearing if Mitt Romney occupied the White House.

Then there’s health reform, which has (don’t tell anyone) been meeting its goals.

Back in 2012, just after the Supreme Court made it possible for states to reject the Medicaid expansion, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that by now 89 percent of the nonelderly population would be covered; the actual number is 90 percent.

The details have been something of a surprise: fewer people than expected signing up on the exchanges, but fewer employers than expected dropping coverage, and more people signing up for Medicaid — which means, incidentally, that Obamacare is looking much more like a single-payer system than anyone seems to realize. But the point is that reform has indeed delivered the big improvements in coverage it promised, and has done so at lower cost than expected.

Then there’s financial reform, which the left considers toothless and the right considers destructive. In fact, while the big banks haven’t been broken up, excessive leverage — the real threat to financial stability — has been greatly reduced. And as for the economic effects, have I mentioned how well we’ve done on job creation?

Last but one hopes not least, the Obama administration has used executive authority to take steps on the environment that, if not canceled by a Republican president and upheld by future Supreme Courts, will amount to very significant action on climate change.

All in all, it’s quite a record. Assuming Democrats hold the presidency, Mr. Obama will emerge as a hugely consequential president — more than Reagan. And I’m sure Republicans will learn a lot from his achievements.

April fools!

Seriously, there is essentially no chance that conservatives, whose ideas haven’t changed in decades, will reconsider their dogma. But maybe progressives will be more open-minded.

The 2008 election didn’t bring the political transformation Obama enthusiasts expected, nor did it destroy the power of the vested interests: Wall Street, the medical-industrial complex and the fossil fuel lobby are all still out there, using their money to buy influence. But they have been pushed back in ways that have made American lives better and more secure.

The lesson of the Obama years, in other words, is that success doesn’t have to be complete to be very real. You say you want a revolution? Well, you can’t always get what you want — but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 1, 2016

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, President Obama | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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