Year Two Day 349 Obama Administration January 4, 2010 - History

Year Two Day 349 Obama Administration January 4, 2010 - History

10:15AM THE FIRST FAMILY arrives at Andrews Air Force Base

10:30AM THE FIRST FAMILY arrives at the White House South Lawn

4:30PM THE PRESIDENT meets with Secretary of Defense Gates Oval Office

The President is shown above signing 35 minor bills.

Good Thursday morning. EXCLUSIVE: Robert Gibbs will be the White House press secretary, a top Democratic official tells Politico. The announcement is likely to be welcomed by reporters because Gibbs, who was usually the senior aide on Air Obama, has unquestioned authority, access and institutional memory. As communications director of the Senate office, Gibbs helped plan and package Obama's meteoric ascent on the national stage.

Gibbs — the pride of Auburn, Ala. — became familiar to viewers during the campaign for his sunny steeliness during frequent appearances on morning shows and A-list cable news programs.

From his July promotion announcement: “Robert Gibbs, one of Senator Obama’s longest-serving and closest aides, has been elevated to Senior Strategist for Communications and Message taking on a broader strategic portfolio for the Fall campaign while continuing to serve as senior communications aide traveling with Senator Obama.”

Hat tip to NBC’s Chuck Todd, who reported on “Today”: “Robert Gibbs is probably going to be the guy behind the podium that will become the familiar face of the administration.”

The N.Y. Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller, bound for the Pentagon beat, has a delicious McCain campaign autopsy that fingers Randy Scheunemann as leaker of “poison” to William Kristol and reports Gov. Palin did not prepare for her interviews with Katie Couric. (Oops.) Bumiller describes a “civil war” between the McCain and Palin teams. Deets below. BUT FIRST:

DRIVING THE DAY: The Obama press corps hopes for a news conference today as Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) holds off on formally accepting a job he is all but sure to accept. (Let Barack Obama look stiffed on his first decision as president-elect? Uh, that would a “no.”) Official sources confirm that the job has been offered, but deny it has been accepted.

MAKING NEWS TODAY — The We Campaign, a project of The Alliance for Climate Protection — a nonprofit, nonpartisan effort founded by Nobel laureate and former Vice President Al Gore, from release: “Starting on Nov. 6, a series of new advertisements will run on television, in print and online. The first ad poses the question, ‘Now What’ The answer: ‘Our nation just made history. We have a historic opportunity to boost our economy and repower America with 100% clean electricity within 10 years. It will create new American jobs, end our addiction to dirty coal and foreign oil, and solve the climate crisis. … Big problems need big solutions. History is watching.’

PEOPLE magazine cover, with a smile and a flag pin: “Barack Obama MAKES HISTORY!” With teases to “Julianne Hough’s Surgery (‘I Was So Scared’)” and “BEYONCE My Best Dresses.”

TIME’s commemorative issue, featuring a portrait of Senator Obama in Chicago on Tuesday night, is on stands today, a day ahead of the usual schedule. (This is the same TIME that ran an October 2006 Joe Klein cover piece, “Why Barack Obama Could Be The Next President.”

Nancy Gibbs, the poet laureate of presidents, writes in “How Barack Obama Rewrote the Book”: “Some princes are born in palaces. Some are born in mangers. But a few are born in the imagination, out of scraps of history and hope. … We get the leaders we deserve. And if we lift them up and then cut them off, refuse to follow unless they are taking us to Disneyland, then no president, however eloquent, however historic his mandate or piercing his sense of what needs to be done, can take us where we refuse to go. This did not all end on Election Day, Obama said again and again as he talked about the possibility of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. And so, we are merely at the end of the beginning.”

Nancy’s ThinkPad is Smithsonian-bound. (Dramatic readings of the piece are available from Matt Cooper.)

In the closing seconds of last night’s “Law & Order," a reporter asks DA Jack McCoy as he's departing a presser on the courthouse steps: "Mr. McCoy: Is it true you've been asked to join the Obama administration?" (Hat tip: Jason Miller, now with Dezenhall Resources)

PODESTA WILL NOT RETURN TO GOVERNMENT -- Transition leader John PODESTA tells “Think Progress,” the blog of his Center for American Progress: “I am honored to have been asked to help organize the president-elect’s transition to a new government. For this purpose, I am taking a temporary leave of absence during the transition period. As I have advised Sen. Obama and the Boards of CAP and CAPAF, I will not be joining the new administration and will return to American Progress after the transition ends.” (Hat tip: Ryan Grim)


Latest Politico tally: 349 Obama electoral votes – 56 (+5) Democratic Senate seats – 251 (+19) Democratic House seats

Politico’s John Bresnahan and Patrick O’Connor, “House Dems celebrate with internal fights”: “Tuesday’s election may have made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the most powerful woman in U.S. political history, but she isn’t getting much time to celebrate: Some of her colleagues are accusing her of plotting to overthrow a popular committee chairman, and the possible departure of Rahm Emanuel could bring new fights for spots on her leadership team. In a move that shocked many of his colleagues, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday that he’ll challenge Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) for the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell is a popular ‘Old Bull’ who will likely have the support of his fellow committee chairmen, who see Waxman’s move as a threat to the hallowed seniority system. But there’s a history of bad blood between Dingell and Pelosi — she stripped him of authority over global warming issues last year — and some of Dingell’s allies suspect that Pelosi and her closest confidant in the House, Rep. George Miller of California, are behind Waxman’s insurgency.”

SCOOP – Politico’s Patrick O’Connor says it appears that “Minority Whip Roy Blunt … will step aside and avoid an inevitable challenge from his top deputy, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor.” Boehner looks safe.

AP: “Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens … is ahead, but only about 3,500 votes separate the Republican from Democratic challenger Mark Begich. Stevens' political future is now dependent on roughly 60,000 absentee ballots and 9,000 early votes and questioned ballots. Those votes won't be counted for days.

The aforementioned Chuck Todd, on “Today,” re the U.S. Senate race between Norm Coleman and comedian Al Franken: “Definitely a recount in Minnesota, so we won’t know anything in Minnesota for a month. In Georgia, the 50-percent mark for a runoff, Saxby Chambliss is sitting at about 49.9, so there might be a recount to determine that. We’ll see. Oregon looks like Democrats will pick that one up.”

BIRTHDAY GIRL: Autumn VandeHei.

TOP BUZZ – Reuters’ Matthew Bigg, “Michelle Obama: new style of first lady”: “Michelle Obama brings the skills of a corporate lawyer to the White House as first lady to President-elect Barack Obama, but she says her priority will be her role as ‘mom-in-chief’ to the couple's two daughters. … Michelle Obama has receded from the limelight since the convention, even though she draws large crowds while campaigning solo for her husband. She is immensely popular with Democrats who warm to the strength and smartness she projects.”

REALITY CHECK from ABC’s Rick Klein: “What Rahm Emanuel knows as he prepares to take the most important job in the Obama White House: Mandates and honeymoons sound really nice until you start counting votes. … John Dingell and Dave Obey didn’t need Barack Obama to become chairmen — and don’t need him to keep their chairmanships, either. … It was easier to keep the Rahm pace before he had kids.”

N.Y. Post cover: “BAMELOT: Kennedys high on Barack’s list for Cabinet.”

Exclusive from yesterday’s launch of “Politico 44,” our new White House hub: “Obama is strongly considering Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to head the Environmental Protection Agency… Kennedy's cousin, Caroline Kennedy, who helped Obama lead his vice presidential search, is being considered for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, … Obama advisers said the nomination [of Robert Kennedy ] would please both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). It also would raise the profile of the EPA.”

CHECK OUT : Obama’s Italian “Canali” label in a Reuters image on page A30 of today’s WashPost.

SHOT – WashPost front page – “Obama Supporters’ Celebrations: Across the Country, ‘It’s Like a New Aura.’

CHASER – Wall Street Journal, C1: “Economic Worries Produce a Rout: In another reminder that breathtaking lurches are the new normal, the Dow industrials plunged 486.01 points, a day after surging 305 points on a wave of global optimism.”

The (British) Guardian: “Obama’s new America.” The (London) Daily Telegraph: “The dream comes true.” … The (London) Times: Obama gets to work.”

NEWSPAPER SELLOUTS: Washington Times Executive Editor John Solomon – “We had an extraordinary experience of everyday citizens driving down our driveway all day and night looking for copies of our ‘President Obama’ front page. We responded with a special commemorative section this morning, which includes inside a frameable replica of the Wednesday morning front page.” From Solomon’s Analysis that opens the section: “He led a movement that reshaped the electoral map and demolished the last racial hurdle in American politics, an obstacle as old as the country itself. And no matter what record he creates as president, history's yardstick almost certainly will use the events of Nov. 4, 2008, to size up Mr. Obama's storied rise to the presidency.”

Editor & Publisher magazine online: “The New York Times is printing another 50,000 copies of [Wednesday’s] historic paper … The [Washington] Post … boosted the regular single-copy press run by 30% this morning. … ‘It disappeared within hours,’ [a spokeswoman] said. … " More than 200 ads were on Ebay … for Obama presidential newspaper editions, with at least one seeking $100 for a New York Times copy. Most others ranged from $6 to $25. The Chicago Tribune announced it will print another 200,000 copies and distribute them … at 7-11 stores, while The Los Angeles Times, which boosted its press run … by 40,000, is now printing another 42,000 copies to feed the demand … USA Today is also boosting its press run, up by some 500,000 copies, according to a staffer. ‘We have people in our lobby waiting for copies of the paper,’ said Jennifer Morrow, external communications manager for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. … [Early] inquiries prompted the AJC, which usually prints 50,000 single copies, to boost that up to 150,000 today. It is also planning a special section for Sunday.”
Front page of special WashPost afternoon “ commemorative edition.”

HOW HE DID IT – WashPost A1: “Democrats Add Suburbs to Their Growing Coalition.”

TWIN ANALYSES ON THE CAMPAIGNS FROM USA TODAY: Kathy Kiely: “Obama takes crises in stride – How he won: Optimist repeatedly changed misfortunes into opportunity.”
David Jackson: “McCain’s mission proved impossible – How he lost: Critics say the honored veteran missed the target on his message, and funding can’t be discounted.”

BUMILLER TO THE PENTAGON – The Daily Northwestern: “Elisabeth Bumiller, a 1977 Medill graduate, has been covering Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign for The New York Times since the primaries. … ‘I'll be taking some time off and then will be covering the Pentagon.’” (Hat tip: Romenesko)

BEST AUTOPSY -- “CIVIL WAR” – Palin didn’t prepare for Couric interviews – Elisabeth Bumiller’s tell-all with a Phoenix dateline: “[A] civil war between her campaign and Mr. McCain’s … raged from mid-September up until moments before Mr. McCain’s concession speech on Tuesday night. By then, Ms. Palin was in only infrequent contact with Mr. McCain, top advisers said. … anger within the McCain camp that Ms. Palin harbored political ambitions beyond 2008 … As late as Tuesday night, a McCain adviser said, Ms. Palin was pushing to deliver her own speech just before Mr. McCain’s concession speech, even though vice presidential nominees do not traditionally speak on Election Night. But Ms. Palin met up with Mr. McCain with text in hand. She was told no by Mark Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest advisers, and Steve Schmidt, Mr. McCain’s top strategist. …

“Advisers in the McCain campaign, in suggesting that Palin advisers had been leaking damaging information about the McCain campaign to the news media, said they were particularly suspicious of Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain’s top foreign policy aide who had a central role in preparing Ms. Palin for the vice presidential debate. As a result, two senior members of the McCain campaign said on Wednesday that Mr. Scheunemann had been fired from the campaign in its final days. But Rick Davis, the McCain campaign manager, and Mr. Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest advisers, said Wednesday that Mr. Scheunemann had in fact not been dismissed. Mr. Scheunemann, who picked up the phone in his office at McCain campaign headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, responded that ‘anybody who says I was fired is either lying or delusional or a whack job.’ …

“[T]he advisers said they strongly believed that Mr. Scheunemann was disclosing, as one put it, ‘a constant stream of poison’ to William Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard and a columnist for The New York Times. … Mr. Kristol said … ‘Randy Scheunemann is a friend of mine and I think he did a good job. I talked to him, but I talked to a lot of people at the campaign.’ The McCain camp was further upset about Ms. Palin’s interview with Ms. Couric … Ms. Palin, who had prepared for and survived an initial interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News, did not have the time or focus to prepare for Ms. Couric, the McCain advisers said. ‘She did not say, “I will not prepare,”’ a McCain adviser said. ‘She just didn’t have a bandwidth to do a mock interview session the way we had prepared before. She was just overloaded.’”

USA Today banner: “’A dream fulfilled’: Obama offers chief of staff job to Emanuel Bush calls victory ‘uplifting.’”

ABOUT LAST NIGHT – Jay Leno’s monologue: “Of course, there was a huge celebration over at Barack Obama headquarters – otherwise known as MSNBC. … You realize this is our first black president since the first season of ’24.’ It’s historic! … People were worried about the ‘Bradley effect.’ Apparently it’s not nearly as strong as the Bush effect. … I’ve got to admit, as a comedian, I’m going to miss President Bush. Barack Obama is not easy to do jokes about – he doesn’t give you a lot to go on. See, this is why God gave us Joe Biden. When one door closes, another one opens up. … Did you see that hologram thing they were using on CNN? … This is the same technology they use to make Larry King look like he’s still alive.”
And with Jay joking about “kings” in the hologram, an alien knocks out Wolf Blitzer.

THE ONION: “Bush: 'Can I Stop Being President Now?'”

NOT THE ONION – “Bacon wins over Fries in tasty Colorado race: LOVELAND, Colo. (AP) … Democrat incumbent Bob Bacon defeated Republican challenger Matt Fries [for the Colorado Senate] on Tuesday 63 percent to 37.” Sorry, AP: It’s pronounced “freeze.”

DESSERT – Wall Street Journal, “A Race to Deliver Election Books ,” By Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg: “Political titles in the works include an insider look at the presidential campaign by Haynes Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and Dan Balz, a Washington Post reporter. The as-yet-untitled book is to be published in the fall of 2009 by Penguin's Viking imprint, which is part of Pearson PLC's Penguin Group (USA). ‘Our goal is to write the best narrative history of the entire campaign that we can, because this was one of the most important and fascinating campaigns the country has gone through,’ Mr. Balz said. A rival title by journalists John Heilemann, national political columnist for New York Magazine, and Mark Halperin, senior political analyst at Time magazine and editor of ‘The Page,’ a political tip sheet at, is also under way. Tim Duggan, executive editor of the Harper imprint, which is owned by News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers, said the book doesn't yet have a publication date. ‘It's going to be the behind-the-scenes story of the most important election of our time,’ Mr. Duggan said. News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal. In addition, PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books LLC, is to publish in early January ‘A Long Time Coming: The Historic, Combative, Expensive and Inspiring 2008 Election and the Victory of Barack Obama’ by Evan Thomas and the staff of Newsweek. Every four years, Newsweek embeds a special team in both campaigns and produces a special election issue this year's version is to go on sale Thursday. The book, due in January, will include additional material, said Peter Osnos, the founder and editor-at-large of PublicAffairs. ‘There are people for whom this subject is irresistible,’ he added. The quick turnaround of the Newsweek book makes Mr. Osnos hopeful -- 75,000 copies are being printed -- but the speed of today's news cycle has made some of these books riskier. ‘The conventional wisdom is that these books are old news by the time they are published, which is why most publishers don't want them,’ said Jonathan Karp, publisher and editor in chief of Twelve, an imprint of Lagardere SCA's Hachette Livre.”

From Dave Letterman’s TOP TEN STUPID THINGS AMERICANS SAY TO BRITS: “Do you know what, England should do its own version of ‘The Office.’”

Obama's Approval Most Polarized for First-Year President

PRINCETON, NJ -- The 65 percentage-point gap between Democrats' (88%) and Republicans' (23%) average job approval ratings for Barack Obama is easily the largest for any president in his first year in office, greatly exceeding the prior high of 52 points for Bill Clinton.

Overall, Obama averaged 57% job approval among all Americans from his inauguration to the end of his first full year on Jan. 19. He came into office seeking to unite the country, and his initial approval ratings ranked among the best for post-World War II presidents, including an average of 41% approval from Republicans in his first week in office. But he quickly lost most of his Republican support, with his approval rating among Republicans dropping below 30% in mid-February and below 20% in August. Throughout the year, his approval rating among Democrats exceeded 80%, and it showed little decline even as his overall approval rating fell from the mid-60s to roughly 50%.

Thus, the extraordinary level of polarization in Obama's first year in office is a combination of declining support from Republicans coupled with high and sustained approval from Democrats. In fact, his 88% average approval rating from his own party's supporters is exceeded only by George W. Bush's 92% during Bush's first year in office. Obama's 23% approval among supporters of the opposition party matches Bill Clinton's for the lowest for a first-year president. But Clinton was less popular among Democrats than Obama has been to date, making Obama's ratings more polarized.

Obama still has three years left in his first term and possibly seven more as president, so there is much time for the polarization of his approval ratings to subside. However, if the current level of polarization persists through the end of his term, Obama would exceed Bush as the president with the most polarized approval ratings.

Bush's average Republican-Democratic gap for his eight years in office was 61 points. This included the record gap for a single approval rating: 83 points, which occurred twice -- in September 2004 (95% Republican, 12% Democratic) and October 2004 (94% Republican, 11% Democratic).

The political divide in Bush's ratings is to some extent understated, though, given the rally in public support for Bush after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, when he received record-high approval ratings. Even with these approval ratings, he averaged a 55-point gap in approval by party during his first term. During his second term, the average party gap in his ratings was 68 points, higher than Obama's to date.

The accompanying graph makes clear how much the level of political polarization has grown in Americans' evaluations of presidents in recent decades. Prior to Ronald Reagan, no president averaged more than a 40-point gap in approval ratings by party during his term since then, only the elder George Bush has averaged less than a 50-point gap, including Obama's average 65-point gap to date.

Bottom Line

As a candidate and as president, Obama -- like his immediate predecessor, Bush -- sought to bring Americans together after periods of heightened political polarization in the United States. But despite their best intentions and efforts, both men's approval ratings have been characterized by extreme partisanship -- with high and seemingly unwavering approval from their own party's supporters and very little from the opposition party.

The way Americans view presidents has clearly changed in recent decades, perhaps owing to the growth in variety, sources, and even politicization of news on cable television and the Internet, and the continuing popularity of politically oriented talk radio. The outcome is that Americans evaluate their presidents and other political leaders through increasingly thick partisan lenses.

Obama administration announces paid sick leave for government contractors — and a new policy to address pay disparities

The Obama administration announced Thursday two new rules it says will boost working families. Starting next year, federal government contractors must provide paid sick leave to workers, and large companies must report to the government how they pay employees by race and gender.

The updates reflect the needs of the modern workforce, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said, and are designed to lift the country’s struggling breadwinners. Opponents of both measures say they overburden businesses and could threaten jobs.

“To build a 21st-century workplace that is globally competitive,” Jarrett said, “employers must adopt 21st-century workplace policies.”

The paid sick leave mandate, which will affect only government-solicited contracts, will reach about 1.1 million workers, allowing them to accrue up to seven days of compensated time off each year, according to the Labor Department. Eligible employees would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 they work.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said families that lose a day or two of wages risk slipping into poverty. “It’s the difference between food on the table,” he said, “and gas in the tank.”

The measure comes a year after President Obama first signed an executive order compelling federal contractors to provide paid sick leave and seven months after the Labor Department released a draft of the directive. Perez said the White House will keep pushing to open the benefit to all workers.

“ Paid sick leave is not simply a family imperative,” he said. “It’s an economic imperative and a public health imperative.”

The Labor Department estimates supplying the leave will annually cost, on average, $349.5 million

Carrie Lukas, managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., said workers will ultimately absorb the bill. "We recognize that all Americans - men and women - need to take time off from work to address personal matters,” she said in a statement Thursday, “But there are tradeoffs between more benefits and take-home pay. Some workers may prefer having more money in their paychecks rather than guaranteed paid time off.”

Paid leave advocates view the program as an investment, one that will keep workers productive and healthy.

During the 2008 H1NI outbreak, for example, approximately 7 million people caught the bug and 1,500 died because contagious employees didn’t stay home, according to the American Public Health Association. An August study from the Swiss Economic Institute’s Stefan Pichler and Cornell University’s Nicolas Ziebarth, found that U.S. cities that adopted paid sick leave over the last decade — including San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — saw flu rates drop an average of 5 percent.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, meanwhile, will begin collecting summary pay data from employers with more than 100 workers, requesting information about employee compensation by sex, race, ethnicity and job category. The requirement, first proposed in January, adds a task to paperwork such companies annually file to the government, EEOC Chair Jenny Yang said.

Gun Laws Signed by Obama Expanded Rights

During his first term, Obama didn't call for any major new restrictions on guns or gun owners. Instead, he urged authorities to enforce the state and federal laws already on the books. In fact, Obama signed only two major laws that address how guns are carried in America, and both actually expand the rights of gun owners.

One of the laws allows gun owners to carry weapons in national parks that law took effect in February 2012 and replaced President Ronald Reagan's policy that required guns to be locked in glove compartments of trunks of cars that enter national parks.

Another gun law signed by Obama allows Amtrak passengers to carry guns in checked baggage, a move that reversed a measure put in place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Obama became most 'fiscally irresponsible' president in history, despite old rhetoric

In a June 2008 campaign speech in Raleigh, North Carolina, then-Sen. Barack Obama Barack Hussein ObamaObama: Voting rights bill must pass before next election The world's most passionate UFO skeptic versus the government Biden plans to host Obama for portrait unveiling that Trump skipped: report MORE railed against the Bush administration’s “mountain of debt” and reckless tax code.

“George Bush’s policies have taken us from a projected $5.6 trillion surplus at the end of the Clinton administration to massive deficits and nearly $4 trillion in new debt today,” said Obama. “We were promised a fiscal conservative. Instead, we got the most fiscally irresponsible administration in history.”

It’s difficult to argue with the foundation of candidate Obama’s analysis Republicans and the Bush administration spent far too much money in the early and mid-2000s. One analysis by Veronique de Rugy at the Mercatus Center calculated the size of the federal budget increased by greater than 50 percent under President Bush, and de Rugy found discretionary spending rose by 96 percent between fiscal year 2002 and fiscal year 2009. These troubling statistics are quite the opposite of what one should expect from an allegedly “fiscally conservative” president.

All those fine points made by candidate Obama, however, seem to have been lost on President Obama, who, according to his own standards, would not only be far worse than George W. Bush ever was, he’d be the new “most fiscally irresponsible” president in history.

By the time Obama leaves office in January, he’ll have nearly doubled the already massive national debt, adding nearly $10 trillion since 2009. Even more appalling, this figure means Obama will have added almost as much national debt as every other president and Congress before him—combined.

Obama’s supporters will say, as they have from the start, such a massive amount of government spending was necessary to keep one of the worst economic crashes in modern history from spiraling into a second Great Depression. But even if we assume the gargantuan, multi-billion-dollar bailouts of important financial institutions were needed and worth the initial investment, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could at this point argue the other trillions of dollars in expenditures have provided the economy with the boost Obama and Democrats promised they would.

Take the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009, for example. This $830-billion “stimulus package” was supposed to keep unemployment from moving above 8 percent, but by April 2009, the unemployment rate reached 9 percent and it wouldn’t fall back below that mark until October 2011—and even then, it fell largely as a result of millions of people dropping out of the labor force, not because of significant economic improvement.

Despite the trillions of dollars in government spending pumped into the economy every year under Obama, America has never once enjoyed an annual GDP growth rate at 3 percent or higher, making Obama the least successful president—at least when it comes to economics—in modern history.

A historically sluggish GDP isn’t the only concern worth mentioning. Under Obama’s tenure, average annual food stamp enrollment has risen by more than 15 million (compared to 2008). The home ownership rate is the lowest it has been since 1995, the earliest year provided in the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports more than 590,000 Americans say they are not in the labor force because they are discouraged, a figure that’s 26 percent higher than even the worst annual average under George W. Bush. Additionally, the employment-population ratio has been continuously below the 60-percent threshold under Obama the last time it was this low was 1985.

Obama has often pointed to the large number of jobs added over his eight years in office as proof his government-centered economic approach works, but he always fails to mention the inconvenient fact job growth has failed to keep pace with population growth. Compared to the previous jobs peak, in January 2008, the U.S. population has grown by more than 20 million, but the number of jobs has increased by less than seven million. The size of the working-age population has also outpaced job growth.

Some of Obama’s supporters have acknowledged the economy has failed to grow in a substantial way, but they maintain Obama was instrumental in ensuring the state of the nation didn’t get much worse after the 2008 crash. Yes, Obama failed to fix the economy, they say, but at least things aren’t as bad as they would have been without his massive government-funded investments.

This short-sighted view, while commonly held, is exceedingly dangerous. Make no mistake about it: America is treading in dangerous waters. Trillions of dollars of debt, year after year of low interest rates, and a giant pile of IOUs made out to foreign governments have created artificial market bubbles that could potentially pop if the economy and the government’s balance sheet don’t turn around soon.

By overspending, the United States has created a great deal of distrust with much of the rest of the world, which still uses the dollar for the vast majority of international transactions. If the federal government doesn’t get its act together, it’s entirely possible, perhaps even inevitable, the world will move to some sort of a global, United Nations-backed currency for international transactions, a decision that would prove apocalyptic for Americans.

The president is leaving office with a sluggish economy, more Americans dependent on government, and with a national debt that dwarfs the failings of every other president in history, making Barack Obama, according to his own 2008 standards, the most fiscally irresponsible president ever.

Justin Haskins ([email protected]) is executive editor of The Heartland Institute.

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Why Obama Has Failed to Close Guantánamo

At the Guantánamo military prison—a desolate place near the eastern tip of Cuba—detainees began a chant that grew louder as it spread: “Obama! Obama! Obama!” It was Election Night in November of 2008, and the returns had made it clear that Barack Obama had soundly defeated John McCain. The chant echoed from blocky concrete buildings arranged into camps, where “compliant” detainees watched television and took classes, and “non-compliant” ones passed their time in twelve-by-eight-foot cells. The sound of the chant stopped short of the top-secret Camp 7, where the C.I.A. held “high value” detainees, including five men charged with participating in the attacks of September 11, 2001. But at Camp Justice, which housed visiting defense lawyers and military prosecutors in facing rows of tin sheds, the lawyers formed a chain and mamboed through the prosecutors’ side, chanting their own refrain: “Hey, hey . . . goodbye!” The prosecutors evidently took offense: a shoving match broke out.

When Obama began his first Presidential campaign, in 2007, the idea of closing the prison facilities at Guantánamo seemed to be gathering political force. Both Hillary Clinton, Obama’s main opponent in the Democratic primaries, and McCain, the Republican nominee and a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam, endorsed it. But Obama spoke about the issue with particular passion. “In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantánamo, we have compromised our most precious values,” he said. Guantánamo has been the scene of dubious, lengthy detainments, force-feedings, sleep deprivation, stress positions, vicious beatings, and other forms of torture, and yet in 2005 Vice-President Dick Cheney dismissed accusations that the camp was, in the words of one Red Cross report, a place of “humiliating acts.” He said of the prisoners, “They’re living in the tropics. They’re well fed. They’ve got everything they could possibly want. There isn’t any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we’re treating these people.”

For Obama, closing Guantánamo was an essential break with the Bush-Cheney era. On January 22, 2009, his second day in office, he issued an executive order, directing that the prison be shut down within a year. When detainees got the news, they shouted to the guards, “Have you heard? We’re getting out of here!”

Guantánamo, which has held as many as seven hundred and seventy-nine prisoners, now houses just seventy-six. But it remains open, at a cost of $445 million last year—an expensive reminder that the United States, contrary to the ideals of its judicial system, is willing to hold people captive, perhaps for life, without a trial. For Obama, it is also painful evidence of the difference between the campaign promises of a forty-six-year-old aspirant and the realities of governing in a bitterly polarized time. Last March, when he made an appearance in Cleveland, Ohio, a seventh grader asked what advice he would give himself if he could go back to the start of his Presidency. Obama said, “I think I would have closed Guantánamo on the first day.” But the politics had got tough, he said, and “the path of least resistance was just to leave it open.”

Obama may yet close Guantánamo before he leaves office, but his failure to do so in nearly eight years as President has drawn criticism from a vast number of people who otherwise support him: liberals, centrists, officials in his own Administration. Obama and his aides are keenly aware of the unfulfilled promise, and of the short time—six months—left to them. Susan Rice, the national-security adviser, has spoken of the urgency around closing the prison: “I can’t say with certainty that we’re one hundred per cent going to get there, but I can tell you we’re going to die trying.”

In recent months, Guantánamo has been swarmed by defense lawyers trying to clear cases. The rush is inspired partly by Obama’s concerns about his legacy and partly by political calculations, as the Presidential election approaches. Hillary Clinton, who will accept the Democratic nomination this week, in Philadelphia, has vacillated on Guantánamo. But as Secretary of State, Administration sources say, she was far more willing than Obama to take political risks to get it closed.

Donald Trump has vowed to keep the prison open, and to “load it up with some bad dudes.” According to a leaked memo obtained by CNN, those prisoners will include American ISIS supporters—which, critics say, will likely mean American Muslims, deprived of their constitutional rights. “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” Trump has said, adding, in other appearances, “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works,” and “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing to us.”

In public remarks, Obama has usually blamed Congress for his failure to close the prison. But months of reporting revealed a highly charged series of political maneuvers, involving nearly every part of the Administration. The attempt to close the prison has entailed tense negotiations with foreign officials, heated confrontations during meetings in the White House Situation Room, and, especially, a long-running fight with the Pentagon, which outplayed Obama for years. For those who worked to implement his policy, often without support, the frustrations were acute. “You need White House backing,” a senior Administration official told me. “If something went wrong, the risk was all ours. Gitmo was a potential career-ender.”

The Guantánamo detention center was built on a forty-five-square-mile U.S. naval base, situated on land that has been leased from Cuba since 1903. When the prison opened, in 2002, it seemed like a rogue intelligence agent’s dream—an offshore facility, free from U.S. laws, where foreign prisoners could be held without access to family or lawyers, and interrogated however their jailers saw fit. Prisoners were brought there after 9/11 to remove any threat they might pose and to provide intelligence, but there was little expectation that they would be criminally prosecuted, so scant attention was given to the kind of evidence-gathering that would be required in court.

Despite persistent rhetoric from figures like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who described the detainees as “the worst of the worst,” some members of the Bush Administration felt ambivalent about Guantánamo. The overwhelming majority of detainees were not terrorist leaders but low-level foot soldiers, along with some men who were just unlucky. Many had been turned over to the American military by local warlords for a bounty of as much as twenty-five thousand dollars a head. A leaflet distributed by the U.S. in Afghanistan and Pakistan promised that anyone who handed in an “Arab terrorist” would receive “enough to feed your family for life.”

Major General Michael Lehnert, the first commanding officer of Guantánamo, quickly understood the complexities of the situation. “Some of these people had simply been turned over with essentially a made-up rap sheet,” Lehnert told me. “The problem we faced was that almost everybody that got there said they were innocent and they’d simply been studying in a madrassa,” an Islamic religious school. “Some of them had been, there is no doubt in my mind,” he said. “And others were fairly senior in the Taliban or Al Qaeda. These types of things should have been sorted out in Afghanistan, with Article 5 hearings—the usual procedure followed under the Geneva Conventions to sort out ‘the sheep from the goats.’ That didn’t happen, largely because the decision was made that the Geneva Conventions did not apply in this conflict.”

Lehnert pressed repeatedly for hearings, but the Defense Department turned him down. “In retrospect, I should have continued to push,” he said. “At that time, Guantánamo could have gone either way. We could have sorted them out, and moved those who should be moved.” When the detainees staged a hunger strike, in February, 2002, Lehnert sat outside their cells, trying to persuade them to eat. The next month, he left for a new posting. Major General Michael Dunlavey, who succeeded him, sent a memo to his commanders later that year requesting authorization to use harsher interrogation techniques.

John Bellinger, a legal adviser to the National Security Council and the State Department in the Bush Administration, thought that, even if some detainees were being held unfairly, the first media stories about the prison portrayed them too sympathetically, as “innocent shepherds.” He asked an interagency group to help him provide a rebuttal: a list of a dozen prisoners who were plainly dangerous. “They came up with nothing,” he said. “The C.I.A. said, ‘No. Classified.’ And D.O.D. said, ‘No. Defense classified.’ And the F.B.I. said, ‘Law-enforcement sensitive.’ ” In time, he became convinced that the prison should be closed.

“It was an albatross,” a senior Bush White House official told me recently. “We really wanted to get it closed—but we didn’t want a political firestorm. A large part of it was the Defense Department. They were against closing it then, and they still are.”

But Robert Gates, then the Secretary of Defense, wrote in his memoir, “Duty,” that he saw the mistreatment of detainees as “at odds with our traditions, culture, and history.” He has said repeatedly that he was in favor of closing the prison. When I mentioned this, the official said, “Right,” and winked. “No, he was not. He had to deal with the building, with all the career people. The resistance there goes through the building.”

The department had created Guantánamo and invested in it extravagantly. Many Defense officials viewed it as an asset too important to lose. Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013, told me, “There was an attitude that, in war, if you’re capturing those involved, you need to have a place to secure them, or you’re not going to have the intelligence you need.”

By January, 2009, when Obama took office, the Bush Administration had transferred some five hundred and thirty-two detainees out of Guantánamo. Two hundred and forty-two remained.

Despite Obama’s sweeping campaign rhetoric, the first effort to close the prison was distinctly technocratic: he created interagency task forces to vet detainees and to study detention policy. The process began with little urgency, since he and his advisers believed that there was a bipartisan consensus on closing the prison. This measured approach turned out to be a miscalculation. Greg Craig, a former Obama White House counsel, told me recently, “Maybe it was a mistake to put together these task forces, to be so rational in the way we approached the topic. Maybe the President should have told the Secretary of Defense, ‘I want this closed in one year. You figure out how, but do it.’ ”

Obama’s officials began the task with abundant assurance. In January, Craig went to Capitol Hill to meet with Ike Skelton, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. According to a congressional staffer who attended the meeting, Craig spoke of the prison as a moral travesty and vowed that it would be closed by the end of the year. Skelton was incredulous. “How?” he asked. “Where are the detainees going to go?” Craig did not have an answer. (Craig disputes this account.) The staffer said that the plan was little more than a sketch: “It was so haphazard on specifics, and on strategy. I thought of it as Obama’s ‘Field of Dreams’ approach: ‘If I say it, they will come.’ ”

As Obama began trying to empty the prison, it became clear that few people with political power were invested in seeing the detainees moved. The first major effort involved seventeen Uighurs—Chinese Muslims, most of whom had travelled to Afghanistan in the nineties, fleeing persecution by the Communist government. After the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, the Uighurs were turned over to the military, in exchange for a bounty of five thousand dollars each.

When the Bush Administration took up their case, Bellinger, the legal adviser, thought that the Uighurs’ situation was a “tragedy.” But they could not be repatriated to China, where they would likely be tortured or executed. And, when he tried to persuade other countries to accept them, foreign officials wanted to know why they should take people whom the U.S. didn’t want—particularly when China was threatening economic retribution. Bellinger argued that some of the Uighurs should be resettled in the U.S. But, he said, “arrayed against us were Defense, Justice, the C.I.A., Homeland Security, and the Vice-President’s Office.”

The case made its way to U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. As hearings began, the judge, Ricardo Urbina, wondered if he was “misunderstanding the situation,” as he recalled in an oral history sponsored by Columbia University. “When I reviewed the submissions, there was nothing that suggested anything dangerous about these people.” In October, 2008, Urbina ruled the detention unconstitutional and ordered the Uighurs released into the United States. Bellinger recalled, “That decision was such a shock to Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security. They filed an emergency appeal to reverse, saying, ‘These are dangerous people!’ ” The appeal succeeded, and the Uighurs remained in prison when Obama took office.

In April, 2009, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, hosted a principals-committee meeting, assembling Cabinet secretaries and agency directors involved in national security. At this meeting, the group concluded that at least two of the Uighurs should be brought to northern Virginia, which had one of the country’s largest Uighur communities.

Frank Wolf, a Republican congressman from the area, was a fervent supporter of the Uighurs and a critic of China. But, as the White House worked on a plan, it failed to involve him the information was leaked to him, one Friday afternoon, by a contact in the Administration. Wolf angrily refused to accept the detainees, describing them in a letter to Obama as “terrorists” who “would be released into neighborhoods.” Other Republicans joined him even Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, said, “We don’t want them.” Emanuel abandoned the idea of a transfer, and Obama did not force the issue.

As the Administration was planning to move the Uighurs, Congress was working on legislation that would temporarily prohibit bringing detainees to the United States. With the provisions gathering momentum, Craig recalled, he got a call from Senator Dianne Feinstein, a longtime proponent of closing Guantánamo, saying, “Do you guys care about all this stuff? Because no one’s here from the White House—no one’s pushing back.” By then, White House officials were consumed with other issues, particularly with lining up votes for the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s foremost domestic initiative. “Rahm’s job was to get the President’s agenda through,” a former high-ranking White House official told me. “He said, Why are we going to waste our political capital on detainees? No one is going to give you any credit for closing Guantánamo—and you’re willing to risk being the only Democratic President to solve the health-care problem?”

With Obama’s team focussed on other goals, the bill that forbade moving detainees to the U.S. passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. Elisa Massimino, the C.E.O. of the advocacy group Human Rights First, described the White House’s decision as the template for many others that followed: “It was Obama’s lack of nerve to do what was politically difficult that created space for all the mischief that Congress made.”

When Hillary Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, it was unclear how strong an ally she would be in the closing of Guantánamo. As a senator, she had at times seemed to waver in her views on how detainees should be treated. In July, 2006, she noted that American law permitted them to be held until the war on terrorism was over, even if they had been tried and acquitted. “I mean, we had Nazis in prison camps in our country for years,” she said. Then, reportedly after a series of tense meetings, she agreed to support legislation that would allow detainees to challenge their detention in court. She told the Daily News that she would endorse torture to gain information in a “ticking-time-bomb scenario” that put many lives at immediate risk, but she subsequently reversed herself, saying, “It cannot be American policy, period.” In 2007, she co-sponsored legislation that would allow detainees to be moved to a facility in the United States. A month later, she voted for an amendment intended to prevent just such a move.

But, after losing to Obama in the Presidential primary, Clinton saw the State Department as a place to establish herself as an effective leader. Her new staff members described Guantánamo as a painful liability. “Gitmo was a goddam weight around our neck,” Daniel Fried, who had worked under Bush as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, told me. “It hurt everything we tried to do. I went to Germany to talk about Russia, I got a lecture on Gitmo. I’d talk about energy security, I got a Gitmo lecture. It cost us political capital.”

Soon after arriving at the State Department, Clinton asked Fried to take the newly created job of Special Envoy for Closure of Guantánamo. He would help lead the transfer process, in which State’s role was to find other countries willing to take detainees and then work with Defense and other agencies to make sure that the security arrangements were adequate. A seasoned, irrepressible diplomat, fond of quoting Napoleon, Fried saw the political risks involved. As he moved into his unprepossessing office, on the department’s sixth floor, Clinton told him, “Good luck—and I’m afraid we’re already in trouble!”

The congressional restriction on bringing detainees into the United States had already taken effect, so Fried had to look abroad. The Bush Administration had transferred detainees mostly to their home countries—Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Kuwait. Fried enlarged the focus to include “third countries,” for detainees who risked being tortured if they were sent home, or whose home countries were too unstable. In the first two years, he said, seventeen countries took detainees: from Ireland and Spain to Latvia, Cape Verde, and Palau.

Debunking the Myth: Obama's Two-Year Supermajority

Mitt Romney's at it again -- shading the truth on CBS News' 60 Minutes .

In this video he's perpetuating the false Republican narrative that President Obama should have gotten more done during his first two years in office because he had a supermajority in the Senate.

A supermajority is a filibuster-proof 60 or more Senate seats, allowing one party to pass legislation without votes from the other,

Don't forget: the president needed a supermajority because of the Republicans' unprecedented use of the filibuster as an obstruction tactic -- they've used it more than 400 times.

But here's the deal -- the real deal -- there actually wasn't a two year supermajority.

President Obama was sworn in on January 20, 2009 with just 58 Senators to support his agenda.

He should have had 59, but Republicans contested Al Franken's election in Minnesota and he didn't get seated for seven months.

The President's cause was helped in April when Pennsylvania's Republican Senator Arlen Specter switched parties.

That gave the President 59 votes -- still a vote shy of the super majority.

But one month later, Democratic Senator Byrd of West Virginia was hospitalized and was basically out of commission.

So while the President's number on paper was 59 Senators -- he was really working with just 58 Senators.

Then in July, Minnesota Senator Al Franken was finally sworn in, giving President Obama the magic 60 -- but only in theory, because Senator Byrd was still out.

In August, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts died and the number went back down to 59 again until Paul Kirk temporarily filled Kennedy's seat in September.

Earth science, planetary science and more

President Obama's space-science legacy is perhaps a bit more complicated. In these tough budget times, the outgoing administration seems to have prioritized Earth science and full funding of the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope over robotic-exploration missions, Dreier said. He pointed to a $300 million cut to NASA's planetary science funding in the White House's proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 as an example.

The planetary-exploration cupboard therefore looks to be somewhat bare in the near future, two recently announced asteroid missions notwithstanding, Dreier said. There are no uncrewed NASA Mars missions on the books beyond the Mars 2020 rover, he pointed out, and, in a year or so, the agency won't have an active probe at Jupiter or Saturn for the first time in two decades (excepting a nine-month stretch in 2003 and 2004).

The Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since July 2004, will wrap up its work this September, and the Jupiter-orbiting Juno probe's mission is scheduled to end in early 2018. NASA is developing a mission to the Jovian moon Europa, but that effort's not slated to launch until the mid-2020s.

"You have a generation of missions about to end and nothing ready to replace them for five to 10 years," Dreier said.

But it's possible that there could have been more happening now on NASA's robotic-exploration front if the White House had cooperated to a greater extent with Congress, Dreier said.

"They almost wouldn't believe that Congress was willing to give them extra money on planetary science, but year after year after year, Congress added money to planetary science, particularly in the House," he said. "I think there are a lot of lost opportunities there."

Pace agreed, lamenting the lack of "new starts" in NASA's exploration pipeline. But he said the Obama administration deserves credit in some other areas, such as space defense.

"Putting more money into DoD [the Department of Defense] and recognizing the Russian and Chinese counterspace threat — that's, I think, in the positive column, so I hope that continues," Pace said.

"Most of the Obama space policy, I would argue, is actually quite reasonable," he added.

Pace did have some major caveats, however. He's not a fan of the move away from the moon for human exploration, and he said the Obama administration employed an overly broad definition of "commercial spaceflight," resulting in some confusion about the roles the private and public sectors should play.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Birth Certificate Flap That Wasn't

It's pathetic, really. This is all they've got?

I'm talking about the big "birth certificate" flap that is being ginned up by wingnut media over whether President Obama's birth certificate is bogus, some kind of a Photoshopped facsimile that obscures the "fact" that he was born in Kenya or where-the-fuck-ever.

Now he's being sued by some knuckledragging kool-aid drinker in the wingnuttery to force him to "prove" that he's a "natural born" American citizen and therefore eligible to be president.

Bullshit. The certificate is there, online, for anyone to see, PLUS the state of Hawaii has certified that it is, in fact, an actual copy of the certificate they have in their own files AND the extremely reliable has verfied that the birth certificate is real, valid and true.

But none of that matters when it comes to the usual game of dirty-pool politics.

Most of this is being promoted by the talking heads mouths assholes of the radical right with their various talk radio shows, but the prime sponsor seems to be one Michael Weiner (aka "Michael Savage" -- I can see why he changed his name. ), who has a little-listened-to show (he claims eight million listeners, which I sincerely doubt) syndicated through something called the Talk Radio Network. Other noted stars in the wingnut firmament syndicated by this same network include such wise and notable commentators on the American scene as Laura Ingaham, Rusty Humphries and Tammy Bruce.

In other words, not the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Mikey the Weiner is all over this "issue", almost to the detriment of any and every other issue that he could be talking about. But where was Little Mikey eight years ago when people were asking for a similar documentary proof, specifically where was George W. Bush when he was supposed to be showing up for duty with the Texas Air National Guard?

Short answer: Nowhere to be found. What a fucking hypocrite Little Mikey is. But what can we expect from someone who was fired from a major cable network for attacking a caller who claimed to be not only gay but also infected with AIDS: "Oh, so you're one of those sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig how's that? Why don't you see if you can sue me, you pig? You got nothing better to do than to put me down, you piece of garbage? You got nothing to do today? Go eat a sausage, and choke on it. Get trichinosis. Now do we have another nice caller here who's busy because he didn't have a nice night in the bathhouse who's angry at me today? Put another, put another sodomite on. no more calls. I don't care about these bums they mean nothing to me. They're all sausages."

The facts mean less than nothing to these people. All they can do, all they feel like doing, their only sexual outlet, lies in attacking the "left", wherever and whenever they can identify them.

So fuck you, Mikey the Weiner. May you rot in whatever hell you happen to believe in.

And all of you people who are part of the Reality-Based Community, here's the 411 on Obama's birth certificate, and likewise, the straight dope on the peripheral "issues" as to whether his mother was somehow too young to be "eligible" to give birth to a child who would be a "natural born" American citizen.

It's all a bunch of fucking bullshit, of course, but the truth really doesn't seem to matter to these fuckers. Give me a break. Even I, the original Pissed Off Veteran, was willing to give Baby Doc the benefit of the doubt between the time of the SCOTUS coup until he proved once and for all that he was the profoundly moronic and irretreviably evil asshole that history will undoubtedly judge him to be. Which sadly did not take long.

On a side note, I wish that the Seattle Air America station, KPTK (1090 on the AM dial), would boost their signal at night. It seems that all I can pick up in those wee hours of the morning, when I am teetering between staying up all night in fear of the American fascists and sleeping snugly in the knowledge that the progressive left has finally won and all is well, are those goddam wingnut stations.

Maybe I should take more drugs. A nice cocktail of Xanax and Ambien might do it.