Year Three Day 20 Obama Administration February 8, 2011 - History

Year Three Day 20 Obama Administration February 8, 2011 - History


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Vice President Joe Biden points out landmarks to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood as they ride an Amtrak train through Claymont, Del., where the Vice President grew up, on the way to Philadelphia, Pa


10:30AM THE PRESIDENT receives the Presidential Daily Briefing Oval Office

2:30PM THE PRESIDENT meets with the National Policy Alliance Roosevelt Room

4:30PM THE PRESIDENT and THE VICE PRESIDENT meet with Secretary of Defense Gates Oval Office


Obama’s new tax on aviation

According to Bloomberg, the Obama administration has proposed a new $100/flight tax on turbine-powered aircraft. Such airplanes are already subject to a tax on every gallon of fuel used and, if chartered, a 7.5 percent excise tax on the ticket price. The existing taxes tend to favor efficiency. Al Gore’s Gulfstream will pay more than an efficient turboprop or light jet for the same trip. A charter trip in a heavy jet will pay more in tax than a charter trip in a light jet or turboprop. The new tax will do the opposite, imposing the same fee on a Gulfstream and a self-piloted Piper Meridian.

Mostly I’m confused by why anyone would want to create a new tax and associated federal bureaucracy (forms, help desk, inspectors, enforcement, appeals process) to collect it. If the goal is to raise more revenue, why not simply raise the rates on the existing taxes? Do we want our government to bleed us with paper cuts?

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11 thoughts on &ldquo Obama’s new tax on aviation &rdquo

Maybe a messaging thing? If it’s per-flight, it can be labeled a “usage fee” or some other pay-to-play thing, which people might perceive as being more fair.

A per-gallon excise tax is going to be a tax no matter how you spin it, even though, as you and all the other letter-groups say, it is a much more effective way to raise revenue. So there would be no way to avoid calling it a tax hike.

“Mostly I’m confused by why anyone would want to create a new tax and associated federal bureaucracy (forms, help desk, inspectors, enforcement, appeals process) to collect it.”

I’m guessing you’re being purposefully obtuse here, because the answer is quite obvious: almost every government employee votes for Democrats, and if they end up in a public employee union, a part of their tax-funded salary is excised for union dues, which ultimately get channeled into political contributions to the Democratic Party.

It’s disappointing that President Obama has gotten so latched onto private jets as his big talking point in his quest to extract more in tax revenue from the wealthy. It is exceedingly unlikely I’ll ever own anything turbine-powered, so I’m not sure why I care, other than that I worry that as business GA goes, so will recreational GA. I just started taking flying lessons (fixed-wing) about a month ago. I’m a little concerned about the wording of part of the Bloomberg article because it seemed to imply that only those single-engine piston flights which did not require air-traffic control services would be exempt from the $100 per flight tax. Here at KSGR for morning flying lessons my CFI sometimes has to file IFR to get us over the early-morning fog and low ceiling so that we can get to VFR on top, which certainly requires the use of ATC services. I would really rather not see my bills for each flight lesson jump by 50%.

More bureaucracy means more jobs.

“Do we want our government to bleed us with paper cuts?”

Do we even have a choice any more? We have a greater number of taxes, and a greater total tax burden, then the colonists did under King George III. In fact, I think the king would have been embarrassed to assess even 1/10th of the taxes we have today.

The Republicans aren’t going to give the President any tax increases, period. As long as there is a divided government, nothing is going to get done, period. The voters are going to hopefully decide in November which party they want to run the federal government and give that party sufficient power to do so. Choosing another divided government will make sure that nothing gets done for another 2 years (minimum), period.

I don’t know how much more in taxes people can pay and survive as free citizens in the USA. Most people knows if you can’t pay your bills, then you need to stop spending. Something seems very wrong and some in Washington seem to want to push it under the rug as if going deeper in debt is needed and O.K.

Why not let the very rich donate money for our country’s debt reduction and in exchange offer them or their company some really great incentives to help them in one form or another? Or let these same people be on a committee to oversee the national budget and spending habits to make sure their donated money is not wasted. We have a lot of brilliant and successful business minds that this job could be offered to. Some have already stepped up and offered their plans to help our country’s debt reduction.

When you think about it – why is it a given that government can propose any kind of a tax without providing their good rationale as part of the proposal?

It’s the difference between a “tax” (which the GOP would instantly demagogue) and a “user fee” (which isn’t technically called a tax). The Republicans have made “tax increase” such a toxic concept that politics now requires dancing around the term when raising revenue — even in this case where the user fee is a much klutzier way to raise revenue (and one that would have more adverse consequences) compared to simply increasing the existing fuel tax.

Remember that the Bush administration tried to put user fees in place too.

Z: As I noted in an earlier posting, I’m not sure why “the Bush administration did this too” is a compelling argument in favor of an action. First, the Bush administration acted under very different circumstances (e.g., apparently strong economic growth). Second, the U.S. was not in such great shape in 2009 that every American would agree that all Bush-era policies should be continued.

Much like Health Care, I believe government should get out of the airspace business. Private companies could bid on specific chunks of US airspace and purchase them outright. They could then off-shore the flight control process to workers in China and India. Those folks NEVER complain about fatigue or stress and could work a more reasonable amount of hours – say 50-60 per week 10-12 per shift – which would drastically improve profit for the parent company. Landing and Takeoff slots would go to the highest bidder. If the airport is busy during peak hours then you might pay $8k or $10K per slot but if you’re willing to schedule your flight on Saturday morning at 3am you could snag a deal. This would give incenctives for airlines to shop around and compare prices – JUST like healthcare.

This would take away the inefficiencies that government brings to ALL of its endeavors while letting the invisible hand guide the aviation industry.

The wording of the plan regarding this $100 fee is quite vague. Here is an example:

“This proposal would create a $100 per flight fee, payable to the FAA, by aviation operators who fly in controlled airspace. Military aircraft, public aircraft, recreational piston aircraft, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside of controlled airspace, and Canada-to-Canada flights would be exempted.”

When I read ‘recreational piston aircraft’, it makes my head want to explode. There is no such category of aircraft so does that mean that all piston aircraft will have to pay? Sure, a piston aircraft could be used for recreation, but it can also used for many other purposes such as training, business travel, etc. so will each flight need to be assessed for whether it was for recreational purposes? I use my airplane for commuting to work for some clients and have been known to visit several controlled fields in a day. Does this mean that I’d be charged $100 for each leg of a trip that terminated or originated at a controlled field?


Obama's Failing Plan to Provide a "College Scorecard"

The Obama State of the Union line that's attracting the most attention is the $9-an-hour minimum wage. But the policy initiative that's most illuminating in a certain way is the college scorecard.

The minimum wage is certainly telling. A friend emailed the day after the speech to ask, if the president really wanted to help the poor, why didn't he simply propose waiving, or cutting, the payroll tax for low-wage workers?

The answer, of course, is that the proposal isn't about raising up the poor it's about taking things away from the rich by forcing employers—i.e., small business owners or corporate shareholders—to pay a higher price for labor. Obama's goal isn't simply to help the poor, it's to reduce income inequality by redistributing wealth.

Less easy to pigeonhole ideologically was the president's promise that, "tomorrow, my administration will release a new 'College Scorecard' that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria—where you can get the most bang for your educational buck."

Sure, on one level, this is a classic display of left-wing, big government hubris. There's already, after all, a highly robust market of information for students and parents choosing colleges or graduate schools. The U.S. News college and graduate school rankings seem to be right up there with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in terms of newsstand special-issue money-makers. The U.S. News rankings are so influential that colleges have been caught lying to try to influence their rankings, or, more subtly, adjusting their policies to win better scores. The Washington Monthly magazine has its own set of rankings. A former higher education reporter for the New York Times, Edward Fiske, publishes a college guidebook. The staff of the Yale Daily News publishes its own annual Insider's Guide to colleges.

Obama apparently thinks that the federal government should enter the college guide business to compete with the private sector players who are already there. Where in the Constitution this power is enumerated is anyone's guess. The administration placed such a high priority on the effort that the new federal College Scorecard ran right from the White House Web site, rather than from the Department of Education.

What I found most striking about the federal college scorecard was the narrowly vocational focus. "Knowledge and skills for the jobs of the future," is the way the White House Web site puts it. The final item on the scorecard for Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., for Kaplan University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and for just about every other university I checked is "employment," and reports that "the U.S. Department of Education is working to provide information about the average earnings of former undergraduate students at [name of university] who borrowed Federal student loans."

Here, too, the government is competing with the private sector: a New York Times article noted that "PayScale, a company that analyzes payroll data for millions of workers, publishes annual rankings of colleges based on graduates' long-term earnings."

Maybe some students or parents will decide which college to attend based on where the graduates make the most money. But even that doesn't necessarily tell you much about how much value is being added by the university. Most students with the high school records to get admitted to Harvard or Yale or similar institutions would probably do pretty well in life even if they went to college somewhere else. And if "long-term earnings" are the only criterion, the dropouts—Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell—are the ones to emulate.

What's more, "Average earnings" or "long-term earnings" are imperfect measures. What about the lifetime earnings of some of my Harvard classmates who have chosen to be stay-at-home moms? Or the many other college graduates who pursue careers—the priesthood, the Peace Corps, teaching—whose psychic value isn't fully measured by salary statistics? The pediatrician who chooses to set up shop not in a wealthy suburb but in a poor inner city, the lawyer who goes to work as a prosecutor or for a non-profit?

President Obama, a former community organizer, now wants to help parents choose colleges for their children on the basis of how much money the children might earn when they get out. To anyone whose college career involved courses in moral philosophy, or in art history, or literature, the idea of choosing a college on the basis of future earning potential has to seem narrow, at least. I'm not saying the job and earnings prospects of college graduates should be ignored by those considering enrolling, but it's only one factor among many, and not necessarily the most important.

By all means, use the Internet and "big data" to bring more accountability and transparency to higher education. But a narrow focus on future earnings is misguided. This isn't necessarily a partisan issue. But the political party that tries to cater to "values voters" might consider what it is about a college education that's valuable other than "knowledge and skills for the jobs of the future." The answer may vary based on the individual or the family, which is why the college scorecards that really matter in the end won't be the ones prepared by President Obama's White House, but by students and their families.


Obama’s Iraq guy leaves government says Iraq political situation still being sorted out

Only one day after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, President Barack Obama‘s main Pentagon advisor on the country, Colin Kahl, left government to return to academia. In an interview today with The Cable, Kahl says he was brought in to help wind down the war, and now that job is done.

“I’m turning back into academic pumpkin after a three-year leave,” said Kahl. “I had a timeline for leaving just like the U.S. had a timeline for leaving. It wasn’t a coincidence.”

Kahl will return to the two jobs he held before joining the Obama administration as one of its first political appointees in February 2009. He will be a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Center for a New American Security. The first course he will teach upon returning to Georgetown is called, “Iran and the bomb.”

Kahl was initially granted a two-year leave from Georgetown so he “could help oversee the drawdown from Iraq,” he said. Last year, then Defense Secretary Robert Gates signed a letter to Georgetown asking it to extend Kahl’s leave until the end of 2011. He technically leaves government on Dec. 31, but is already out of the building.

Until a replacement is found, Kahl’s shop at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) will be led by acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Brig. Gen. Mike Minahan, an Air Force officer who was previously the commander of the expeditionary air wing in the United Arab Emirates. A new political appointee should be named by the end of the year.

Kahl’s exit leaves another high-level vacancy at OSD. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy resigned this month to spend more time with her family. The post of assistant secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs has been vacant since April, as the president’s nominee, Mark Lippert, is stalled in the Senate. In February, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Sandy Vershbow will leave the Pentagon to become deputy secretary general of NATO.

Kahl came to the attention of the foreign policy community during Obama’s presidential campaign, when he was a key architect of candidate Obama’s platform for ending the Iraq war. In July, 2008, Kahl co-authored an article in Foreign Affairs in which he wrote, “Now, the principal impediment to long-term stability in Iraq is the reluctance of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki‘s central government to engage in genuine political accommodation.”

Kahl argued for “conditional engagement” with the Iraqi government, whereby the United States would use the threat of abandonment to pressure the Iraqis to work together.

“In the end, this approach may not work. If the Iraqis prove unwilling to move toward accommodation, then no number of U.S. forces will be able to produce sustainable stability, and the strategic costs of maintaining a significant presence will outweigh the benefits,” Kahl wrote.

Those words seem especially prescient today, as Maliki has issued arrest warrants for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and his aides, causing the main opposition bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to boycott the parliament, in what has become an escalating political crisis.

“The Americans have pulled out without completing the job they should have finished. We have warned them that we don’t have a political process which is inclusive of all Iraqis and we don’t have a full-blown state in Iraq,” Allawi said.

Kahl told The Cable today that the Iraqi political blocs are jostling for power, which is natural, but that the international community should give the situation time to play out while encouraging all sides to engage each other politically and refrain from violence.

“We’ve seen these crisis pop up every once in a while, people are testing the boundaries of a new Iraq,” he said. “We are concerned about what’s going on and we communicated to the Iraqis that it’s imperative that the process moving forward happen with full transparency and within the rule of law.”

Many in Congress blame the Obama administration for not securing a new Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that would have allowed several thousand U.S. troops to remain in a training mission, which would also have had the effect of preserving greater U.S. influence in Iraq.

“We were willing to have a long term training relationship with the Iraqis, the entire question was how can we shape the relationship in the way that meets the needs of the Iraqis and offers our personnel legal protections,” Kahl said, explaining that without legal immunity for U.S. troops approved formally by the Iraqi Council of Representatives (COR), the administration had no choice but to pull out its military personnel.

“At the end of the day, the Iraqis wanted trainers but weren’t willing to put the SOFA agreement through the COR for a vote,” he said. “Once that decision happened, we had to shape the training through a different model, which is through the Office of Security Cooperation [at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad]. So that’s the model we’re going with moving forward.”

Kahl may be leaving government, but he said the U.S. government is not leaving Iraq. He implied that in the future, more U.S.-Iraqi security cooperation could be in the offing.

“We shouldn’t think of the end of this year as the end,” he said. “Over the next couple of years, our security relationship will evolve. This is to be continued…”

Only one day after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, President Barack Obama‘s main Pentagon advisor on the country, Colin Kahl, left government to return to academia. In an interview today with The Cable, Kahl says he was brought in to help wind down the war, and now that job is done.

“I’m turning back into academic pumpkin after a three-year leave,” said Kahl. “I had a timeline for leaving just like the U.S. had a timeline for leaving. It wasn’t a coincidence.”

Kahl will return to the two jobs he held before joining the Obama administration as one of its first political appointees in February 2009. He will be a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a senior fellow on the Middle East at the Center for a New American Security. The first course he will teach upon returning to Georgetown is called, “Iran and the bomb.”

Kahl was initially granted a two-year leave from Georgetown so he “could help oversee the drawdown from Iraq,” he said. Last year, then Defense Secretary Robert Gates signed a letter to Georgetown asking it to extend Kahl’s leave until the end of 2011. He technically leaves government on Dec. 31, but is already out of the building.

Until a replacement is found, Kahl’s shop at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) will be led by acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Brig. Gen. Mike Minahan, an Air Force officer who was previously the commander of the expeditionary air wing in the United Arab Emirates. A new political appointee should be named by the end of the year.

Kahl’s exit leaves another high-level vacancy at OSD. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy resigned this month to spend more time with her family. The post of assistant secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs has been vacant since April, as the president’s nominee, Mark Lippert, is stalled in the Senate. In February, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Sandy Vershbow will leave the Pentagon to become deputy secretary general of NATO.

Kahl came to the attention of the foreign policy community during Obama’s presidential campaign, when he was a key architect of candidate Obama’s platform for ending the Iraq war. In July, 2008, Kahl co-authored an article in Foreign Affairs in which he wrote, “Now, the principal impediment to long-term stability in Iraq is the reluctance of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki‘s central government to engage in genuine political accommodation.”

Kahl argued for “conditional engagement” with the Iraqi government, whereby the United States would use the threat of abandonment to pressure the Iraqis to work together.

“In the end, this approach may not work. If the Iraqis prove unwilling to move toward accommodation, then no number of U.S. forces will be able to produce sustainable stability, and the strategic costs of maintaining a significant presence will outweigh the benefits,” Kahl wrote.

Those words seem especially prescient today, as Maliki has issued arrest warrants for Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi and his aides, causing the main opposition bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to boycott the parliament, in what has become an escalating political crisis.

“The Americans have pulled out without completing the job they should have finished. We have warned them that we don’t have a political process which is inclusive of all Iraqis and we don’t have a full-blown state in Iraq,” Allawi said.

Kahl told The Cable today that the Iraqi political blocs are jostling for power, which is natural, but that the international community should give the situation time to play out while encouraging all sides to engage each other politically and refrain from violence.

“We’ve seen these crisis pop up every once in a while, people are testing the boundaries of a new Iraq,” he said. “We are concerned about what’s going on and we communicated to the Iraqis that it’s imperative that the process moving forward happen with full transparency and within the rule of law.”

Many in Congress blame the Obama administration for not securing a new Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that would have allowed several thousand U.S. troops to remain in a training mission, which would also have had the effect of preserving greater U.S. influence in Iraq.

“We were willing to have a long term training relationship with the Iraqis, the entire question was how can we shape the relationship in the way that meets the needs of the Iraqis and offers our personnel legal protections,” Kahl said, explaining that without legal immunity for U.S. troops approved formally by the Iraqi Council of Representatives (COR), the administration had no choice but to pull out its military personnel.

“At the end of the day, the Iraqis wanted trainers but weren’t willing to put the SOFA agreement through the COR for a vote,” he said. “Once that decision happened, we had to shape the training through a different model, which is through the Office of Security Cooperation [at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad]. So that’s the model we’re going with moving forward.”

Kahl may be leaving government, but he said the U.S. government is not leaving Iraq. He implied that in the future, more U.S.-Iraqi security cooperation could be in the offing.

“We shouldn’t think of the end of this year as the end,” he said. “Over the next couple of years, our security relationship will evolve. This is to be continued…”

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at [email protected]

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.


Obama’s Top 50 Accomplishments

1. Passed Health Care Reform: After five presidents over a century failed to create universal health insurance, signed the Affordable Care Act (2010). It will cover 32 million uninsured Americans beginning in 2014 and mandates a suite of experimental measures to cut health care cost growth, the number one cause of America&rsquos long-term fiscal problems.

2. Passed the Stimulus: Signed $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to spur economic growth amid greatest recession since the Great Depression. Weeks after stimulus went into effect, unemployment claims began to subside. Twelve months later, the private sector began producing more jobs than it was losing, and it has continued to do so for twenty-three straight months, creating a total of nearly 3.7 million new private-sector jobs.

3. Passed Wall Street Reform: Signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) to re-regulate the financial sector after its practices caused the Great Recession. The new law tightens capital requirements on large banks and other financial institutions, requires derivatives to be sold on clearinghouses and exchanges, mandates that large banks provide &ldquoliving wills&rdquo to avoid chaotic bankruptcies, limits their ability to trade with customers&rsquo money for their own profit, and creates the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (now headed by Richard Cordray) to crack down on abusive lending products and companies.

4. Ended the War in Iraq: Ordered all U.S. military forces out of the country. Last troops left on December 18, 2011.

5. Began Drawdown of War in Afghanistan: From a peak of 101,000 troops in June 2011, U.S. forces are now down to 91,000, with 23,000 slated to leave by the end of summer 2012. According to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the combat mission there will be over by next year.

6. Eliminated Osama bin laden: In 2011, ordered special forces raid of secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which the terrorist leader was killed and a trove of al-Qaeda documents was discovered.

7. Turned Around U.S. Auto Industry: In 2009, injected $62 billion in federal money (on top of $13.4 billion in loans from the Bush administration) into ailing GM and Chrysler in return for equity stakes and agreements for massive restructuring. Since bottoming out in 2009, the auto industry has added more than 100,000 jobs. In 2011, the Big Three automakers all gained market share for the first time in two decades. The government expects to lose $16 billion of its investment, less if the price of the GM stock it still owns increases.

8. Recapitalized Banks: In the midst of financial crisis, approved controversial Treasury Department plan to lure private capital into the country&rsquos largest banks via &ldquostress tests&rdquo of their balance sheets and a public-private fund to buy their &ldquotoxic&rdquo assets. Got banks back on their feet at essentially zero cost to the government.

9. Repealed &ldquoDon&rsquot Ask, Don&rsquot Tell&rdquo: Ended 1990s-era restriction and formalized new policy allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military for the first time.

10. Toppled Moammar Gaddafi: In March 2011, joined a coalition of European and Arab governments in military action, including air power and naval blockade, against Gaddafi regime to defend Libyan civilians and support rebel troops. Gaddafi&rsquos forty-two-year rule ended when the dictator was overthrown and killed by rebels on October 20, 2011. No American lives were lost.

11. Told Mubarak to Go: On February 1, 2011, publicly called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to accept reform or step down, thus weakening the dictator&rsquos position and putting America on the right side of the Arab Spring. Mubarak ended thirty-year rule when overthrown on February 11.

12. Reversed Bush Torture Policies: Two days after taking office, nullified Bush-era rulings that had allowed detainees in U.S. custody to undergo certain &ldquoenhanced&rdquo interrogation techniques considered inhumane under the Geneva Conventions. Also released the secret Bush legal rulings supporting the use of these techniques.

13. Improved America&rsquos Image Abroad: With new policies, diplomacy, and rhetoric, reversed a sharp decline in world opinion toward the U.S. (and the corresponding loss of &ldquosoft power&rdquo) during the Bush years. From 2008 to 2011, favorable opinion toward the United States rose in ten of fifteen countries surveyed by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, with an average increase of 26 percent.

14. Kicked Banks Out of Federal Student Loan Program, Expanded Pell Grant Spending: As part of the 2010 health care reform bill, signed measure ending the wasteful decades-old practice of subsidizing banks to provide college loans. Starting July 2010 all students began getting their federal student loans directly from the federal government. Treasury will save $67 billion over ten years, $36 billion of which will go to expanding Pell Grants to lower-income students.

15. Created Race to the Top: With funds from stimulus, started $4.35 billion program of competitive grants to encourage and reward states for education reform.

16. Boosted Fuel Efficiency Standards: Released new fuel efficiency standards in 2011 that will nearly double the fuel economy for cars and trucks by 2025.

17. Coordinated International Response to Financial Crisis: To keep world economy out of recession in 2009 and 2010, helped secure from G-20 nations more than $500 billion for the IMF to provide lines of credit and other support to emerging market countries, which kept them liquid and avoided crises with their currencies.

18. Passed Mini Stimuli: To help families hurt by the recession and spur the economy as stimulus spending declined, signed series of measures (July 22, 2010 December 17, 2010 December 23, 2011) to extend unemployment insurance and cut payroll taxes.

19. Began Asia &ldquoPivot&rdquo: In 2011, reoriented American military and diplomatic priorities and focus from the Middle East and Europe to the Asian-Pacific region. Executed multipronged strategy of positively engaging China while reasserting U.S. leadership in the region by increasing American military presence and crafting new commercial, diplomatic, and military alliances with neighboring countries made uncomfortable by recent Chinese behavior.

20. Increased Support for Veterans: With so many soldiers coming home from Iraq and Iran with serious physical and mental health problems, yet facing long waits for services, increased 2010 Department of Veterans Affairs budget by 16 percent and 2011 budget by 10 percent. Also signed new GI bill offering $78 billion in tuition assistance over a decade, and provided multiple tax credits to encourage businesses to hire veterans.

21. Tightened Sanctions on Iran: In effort to deter Iran&rsquos nuclear program, signed Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (2010) to punish firms and individuals who aid Iran&rsquos petroleum sector. In late 2011 and early 2012, coordinated with other major Western powers to impose sanctions aimed at Iran&rsquos banks and with Japan, South Korea, and China to shift their oil purchases away from Iran.

22. Created Conditions to Begin Closing Dirtiest Power Plants: New EPA restrictions on mercury and toxic pollution, issued in December 2011, likely to lead to the closing of between sixty-eight and 231 of the nation&rsquos oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Estimated cost to utilities: at least $11 billion by 2016. Estimated health benefits: $59 billion to $140 billion. Will also significantly reduce carbon emissions and, with other regulations, comprises what&rsquos been called Obama&rsquos &ldquostealth climate policy.&rdquo

23. Passed Credit Card Reforms: Signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (2009), which prohibits credit card companies from raising rates without advance notification, mandates a grace period on interest rate increases, and strictly limits overdraft and other fees.

24. Eliminated Catch-22 in Pay Equality Laws: Signed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, giving women who are paid less than men for the same work the right to sue their employers after they find out about the discrimination, even if that discrimination happened years ago. Under previous law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the statute of limitations on such suits ran out 180 days after the alleged discrimination occurred, even if the victims never knew about it.

25. Protected Two Liberal Seats on the U.S. Supreme Court: Nominated and obtained confirmation for Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve, in 2009 and Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to serve, in 2010. They replaced David Souter and John Paul Stevens, respectively.

26. Improved Food Safety System: In 2011, signed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which boosts the Food and Drug Administration&rsquos budget by $1.4 billion and expands its regulatory responsibilities to include increasing number of food inspections, issuing direct food recalls, and reviewing the current food safety practices of countries importing products into America.

27. Achieved New START Treaty: Signed with Russia (2010) and won ratification in Congress (2011) of treaty that limits each country to 1,550 strategic warheads (down from 2,200) and 700 launchers (down from more than 1,400), and reestablished and strengthened a monitoring and transparency program that had lapsed in 2009, through which each country can monitor the other.

28. Expanded National Service: Signed Serve America Act in 2009, which authorized a tripling of the size of AmeriCorps. Program grew 13 percent to 85,000 members across the country by 2012, when new House GOP majority refused to appropriate more funds for further expansion.

29. Expanded Wilderness and Watershed Protection: Signed Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (2009), which designated more than 2 million acres as wilderness, created thousands of miles of recreational and historic trails, and protected more than 1,000 miles of rivers.

30. Gave the FDA Power to Regulate Tobacco: Signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (2009). Nine years in the making and long resisted by the tobacco industry, the law mandates that tobacco manufacturers disclose all ingredients, obtain FDA approval for new tobacco products, and expand the size and prominence of cigarette warning labels, and bans the sale of misleadingly labeled &ldquolight&rdquo cigarette brands and tobacco sponsorship of entertainment events.

31. Pushed Federal Agencies to Be Green Leaders: Issued executive order in 2009 requiring all federal agencies to make plans to soften their environmental impacts by 2020. Goals include 30 percent reduction in fleet gasoline use, 26 percent boost in water efficiency, and sustainability requirements for 95 percent of all federal contracts. Because federal government is the country&rsquos single biggest purchaser of goods and services, likely to have ripple effects throughout the economy for years to come.

32. Passed Fair Sentencing Act: Signed 2010 legislation that reduces sentencing disparity between crack versus powder cocaine possessionfrom100 to1 to 18 to1.

33. Trimmed and Reoriented Missile Defense: Cut the Reagan-era &ldquoStar Wars&rdquo missile defense budget, saving $1.4 billion in 2010, and canceled plans to station antiballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of sea-based defense plan focused on Iran and North Korea.

34. Began Post-Post-9/11 Military Builddown: After winning agreement from congressional Republicans and Democrats in summer 2011 budget deal to reduce projected defense spending by $450 billion, proposed new DoD budget this year with cuts of that size and a new national defense strategy that would shrink ground forces from 570,000 to 490,000 over the next ten years while increasing programs in intelligence gathering and cyberwarfare.

35. Let Space Shuttle Die and Killed Planned Moon Mission: Allowed the expensive ($1 billion per launch), badly designed, dangerous shuttle program to make its final launch on July 8, 2011. Cut off funding for even more bloated and problem-plagued Bush-era Constellation program to build moon base in favor of support for private-sector low-earth orbit ventures, research on new rocket technologies for long-distance manned flight missions, and unmanned space exploration, including the largest interplanetary rover ever launched, which will investigate Mars&rsquos potential to support life.

36. Invested Heavily in Renewable Technology: As part of the 2009 stimulus, invested $90 billion, more than any previous administration, in research on smart grids, energy efficiency, electric cars, renewable electricity generation, cleaner coal, and biofuels.

37. Crafting Next-Generation School Tests: Devoted $330 million in stimulus money to pay two consortia of states and universities to create competing versions of new K-12 student performance tests based on latest psychometric research. New tests could transform the learning environment in vast majority of public school classrooms beginning in 2014.

38. Cracked Down on Bad For-Profit Colleges: In effort to fight predatory practices of some for-profit colleges, Department of Education issued &ldquogainful employment&rdquo regulations in 2011 cutting off commercially focused schools from federal student aid funding if more than 35 percent of former students aren&rsquot paying off their loans and/or if the average former student spends more than 12 percent of his or her total earnings servicing student loans.

39. Improved School Nutrition: In coordination with Michelle Obama, signed Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 mandating $4.5 billion spending boost and higher nutritional and health standards for school lunches. New rules based on the law, released in January, double the amount of fruits and vegetables and require only whole grains in food served to students.

40. Expanded Hate Crimes Protections: Signed Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009), which expands existing hate crime protections to include crimes based on a victim&rsquos sexual orientation, gender, or disability, in addition to race, color, religion, or national origin.

41. Avoided Scandal: As of November 2011, served longer than any president in decades without a scandal, as measured by the appearance of the word &ldquoscandal&rdquo (or lack thereof) on the front page of the Washington Post.

42. Brokered Agreement for Speedy Compensation to Victims of Gulf Oil Spill: Though lacking statutory power to compel British Petroleum to act, used moral authority of his office to convince oil company to agree in 2010 to a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico $6.5 billion already paid out without lawsuits. By comparison, it took nearly two decades for plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez Alaska oil spill case to receive $1.3 billion.

43. Created Recovery.gov: Web site run by independent board of inspectors general looking for fraud and abuse in stimulus spending, provides public with detailed information on every contract funded by $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Thanks partly to this transparency, board has uncovered very little fraud, and Web site has become national model: &ldquoThe stimulus has done more to promote transparency at almost all levels of government than any piece of legislation in recent memory,&rdquo reports Governing magazine.

44. Pushed Broadband Coverage: Proposed and obtained in 2011 Federal Communications Commission approval for a shift of $8 billion in subsidies away from landlines and toward broadband Internet for lower-income rural families.

45. Expanded Health Coverage for Children: Signed 2009 Children&rsquos Health Insurance Authorization Act, which allows the Children&rsquos Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover health care for 4 million more children, paid for by a tax increase on tobacco products.

46. Recognized the Dangers of Carbon Dioxide: In 2009, EPA declared carbon dioxide a pollutant, allowing the agency to regulate its production.

47. Expanded Stem Cell Research: In 2009, eliminated the Bush-era restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, which shows promise in treating spinal injuries, among many other areas.

48. Provided Payment to Wronged Minority Farmers: In 2009, signed Claims Resolution Act, which provided $4.6 billion in funding for a legal settlement with black and Native American farmers who the government cheated out of loans and natural resource royalties in years past.

49. Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Helped South Sudan Declare Independence: Appointed two envoys to Sudan and personally attended a special UN meeting on the area. Through U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, helped negotiate a peaceful split in 2011.

50. Killed the F-22: In 2009, ended further purchases of Lockheed Martin single-seat, twin-engine, fighter aircraft, which cost $358 million apiece. Though the military had 187 built, the plane has never flown a single combat mission. Eliminating it saved $4 billion.


Contents

Abortion and contraception Edit

In his write-in response to a 1998 survey, Obama stated his abortion position as conforming with the Democratic platform: "Abortions should be legally available in accordance with Roe v. Wade." [2] His presidential candidacy was endorsed by several groups advocating for legal abortion, including NARAL Pro-Choice America [3] and Planned Parenthood. [4] In August 2008, in Lake Forest, California, Obama responded to the question as to when life begins, "Whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade." [5]

In the Illinois state legislature, Obama opposed the Induced Infant Liability Act [6] and repeatedly voted against requirements and restrictions intended to stop what opponents label as "born alive" abortions. [7] [8] Obama said that his opposition was because of technical language he felt might have "interfered with a woman's right to choose" and said Illinois law "already required medical care in such situations." [8] [9]

Obama voted against a bill that would have made it a federal crime for anybody other than a parent to accompany a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion. [10]

He expressed displeasure with the Supreme Court ruling that upheld a ban on "partial-birth" abortions saying the ban didn't sufficiently consider the mother's health. [11] [12] He has, however, expressed support of banning some late-term abortions, provided they include exemptions for the mental and physical health of the mother. [13]

During the third debate during the 2008 presidential election, Obama further detailed his stance on abortion:

"[. ] there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, 'We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby'. Those are all things that we put in the Democratic platform for the first time this year, and I think that's where we can find some common ground, because nobody's pro-abortion. I think it's always a tragic situation. We should try to reduce these circumstances." [14]

Obama voted for a $100 million education initiative to reduce teen pregnancy and provide contraceptives to young people. [12]

Embryonic stem cell research Edit

Obama supports embryonic stem cell research and was a co-sponsor [15] of the 2005 Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act which was passed by both houses of Congress but vetoed by President Bush. Obama condemned Bush's veto, saying, "Democrats want this bill to pass. Conservative, pro-life Republicans want this bill to pass. By large margins, the American people want this bill to pass. It is only the White House standing in the way of progress – standing in the way of so many potential cures." He also voted in favor of the 2007 bill lifting restrictions on embryonic stem cell research that was passed but was also vetoed by President Bush. [16]

On March 9, 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13505, Allowing "responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law". [17] This executive order also served to revoke Executive Order 13435, signed on June 20, 2007, by President Bush.

Disability rights Edit

Obama was the only Democratic presidential candidate to issue an unsolicited statement expressing his views on disability community issues. [ citation needed ] For example, he stated his intention to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and expressed his support of the ADA Restoration Act. [18]

LGBT rights Edit

On March 15, 2007, Obama stated, "I do not agree. that homosexuality is immoral." [19] During the July 23, 2007, CNN/YouTube debate, he further stated, ". we've got to make sure that everybody is equal under the law. And the civil unions that I proposed would be equivalent in terms of making sure that all the rights that are conferred by the state are equal for same-sex couples as well as for heterosexual couples." [20] Obama supports expanding the protections afforded by hate crimes statutes to cover crimes committed against individuals because of sexual orientation or gender identity. He also called for full equality for gays during his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013, saying, "Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well." This was the first time that a president mentioned gay rights or the word "gay" in an inaugural address. [21] [22]

LGBT in the military Edit

He also stated his opposition to the U.S. military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, and signed a bill repealing it. [23]

LGBT and hate crimes Edit

LGBT and anti-discrimination laws Edit

Obama has said that he would sign into law the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which — if passed — would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

On July 21, 2014, Obama signed Executive Order 13672, adding "gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring in the federal civilian workforce and both "sexual orientation" and gender identity" to the categories protected against discrimination in hiring and employment on the part of federal government contractors and sub-contractors. [25] [26]

LGBT adoption Edit

Obama has said that he supports same sex couples adopting children. Obama extended the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to cover employees taking unpaid leave to care for the children of same-sex partners. [27]

LGBT and religion Edit

Obama was criticized [28] for inviting Reverend Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary, and Reverend Hezekiah Walker – who all have a history of making anti-gay remarks – to participate in a three-day gospel music campaign tour called "Embrace the Courage", as part of Obama's "40 Days of Faith and Family" campaign in South Carolina. [29] The Obama campaign responded to criticism in a press release, saying, "I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as president of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division." [29] For events held on Sunday, October 28, 2007, Obama added Reverend Andy Sidden, an openly gay pastor. [30]

LGBT appointees Edit

Sharon Lubinski, the first openly gay woman in her position, was formally nominated the U.S. marshal for the Minnesota district by President Obama [31] on October 2009 and then confirmed by the Senate in December of that year. On January 4, 2010, Amanda Simpson was appointed by Obama the Senior Technical Advisor to the U.S. Department of Commerce, being possibly the first transgender person appointed to a government post by any US President. [32] [33] [34] Monique Dorsainvil has served as the Deputy Director of Advance and Special Events [35] and Director of Planning and Events for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs before accepting the position of the White House's LGBT liaison in 2014. [36]

Same-sex marriage Edit

Obama supported legalizing same-sex marriage when he first ran for the Illinois Senate in 1996. [37] Also, he was undecided about legalizing same-sex marriage when he ran for re-election to the Illinois Senate in 1998. [38] He supported civil unions but not same-sex marriage when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and for U.S. President in 2008. [37] Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. However, in a 2008 interview, he stated that he personally believed that marriage was "between a man and a woman" and that he was "not in favor of gay marriage." [39] He supported civil unions that would establish legal standing equal to that of marriage for same-sex couples, but believed that decisions regarding the definition of the word "marriage" should be left to the states. [20] [40] [41]

In December 2008, Obama called for repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). [42]

On May 15, 2008, in a statement in response to the ruling of the California Supreme Court, Obama announced his opposition to Proposition 8, an initiative measure proposed for the 2008 California General Election ballot that would amend the California Constitution to define the word "marriage" as the union of a man and a woman. [43] In a letter that he read to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club on June 29, 2008, Obama reiterated his opposition to the proposed amendment, stating that he supported the extension of "fully equal rights and benefits to same-sex couples under both state and federal law." [44]

On May 9, 2012, Obama told an interviewer that he supported same-sex marriage. He was the first sitting U.S. President to do so. [45] He stated:

. over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

On March 1, 2013, Obama, speaking about Hollingsworth v. Perry, the U.S. Supreme Court case about Proposition 8, he said:

When the Supreme Court asks do you think that the California law, which doesn't provide any rationale for discriminating against same-sex couples other than just the notion that, well, they're same-sex couples -- if the Supreme Court asks me or my attorney general or solicitor general, 'Do we think that meets constitutional muster?' I felt it was important for us to answer that question honestly. And the answer is no.

The administration's brief did not describe all state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, but argued that the proper standard to apply to laws that use sexual orientation as a category is "heightened scrutiny", which legal observers say no state ban could survive. [46]

In October 2014, President Obama told an interviewer, "Ultimately, I think the Equal Protection Clause does guarantee same-sex marriage in all fifty states". He praised the way the U.S. Supreme Court had addressed the issue, saying, "There have been times where the stars were aligned and the Court, like a thunderbolt, issues a ruling like Brown v. Board of Education, but that's pretty rare. And, given the direction of society, for the Court to have allowed the process to play out the way it has may make the shift less controversial and more lasting." [47]

Conversion therapy Edit

In April 2015, Obama condemned the practice of conversion therapy in response to a petition calling for the practice to be banned. [48]

Sex education Edit

As an Illinois State Senator, Obama supported Senate bill 0099 for "age and developmentally appropriate" sex education, which would have allowed parents to choose to withdraw their children from the classes. [49] The bill was endorsed by the Illinois Parent Teacher Association, the Illinois State Medical Society, the Illinois Public Health Association, and the Illinois Education Association. [50] In a debate in 2004, when questioned by Alan Keyes about what kind of sex education was "age appropriate" for kindergarteners, Obama said, "I'll give you an example, because I have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old daughter, and one of the things my wife and I talked to our daughter about is the possibility of somebody touching them inappropriately, and what that might mean. And that was included specifically in the law, so that kindergarteners are able to exercise some possible protection against abuse. " [51] In 2007, in response to a similar attack from Mitt Romney, an Obama spokesperson stated his position that communities should determine the curriculum. [52] The Illinois bill did not call for addressing all sex-related issues in kindergarten classes, [50] and Obama has said that he "does not support teaching explicit sex education to children in kindergarten." [53] [54]

HIV Edit

Obama has encouraged Democrats to reach out to evangelicals and other religious groups. [55] In December 2006, he joined Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) at the "Global Summit on AIDS and the Church" organized by church leaders Kay and Rick Warren. [56] Together with Warren and Brownback, Obama took an HIV test, as he had done in Kenya less than four months earlier. [57] He encouraged "others in public life to do the same" and not be ashamed of it. [58] Addressing over 8,000 United Church of Christ members in June 2007, Obama challenged "so-called leaders of the Christian Right" for being "all too eager to exploit what divides us." [59]

Drugs Edit

In May 2008, a campaign spokesman for presidential candidate Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle that he would end DEA raids on medical marijuana suppliers in states with their own laws. [60] President Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, said in March 2009 that the DEA would only raid medical marijuana suppliers which violated both state and federal laws. [61] However, by April 2012, the Obama administration was exceeding the Bush administration's number of raids on medical marijuana, including a high-profile raid of Oaksterdam University. [62] Legislators from five states sent an open letter to the Obama administration urging them to stop interfering with state law-abiding marijuana dispensaries. [63]

The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe. [64]

Obama has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 by creating a market-based cap-and-trade system. [64] He also has planned to improve air and water quality through reduced carbon emissions. [64]

Obama worked as a member of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works during the 109th Congress. [65] During the presidential campaign, he rejected John McCain's proposed suspension of federal gas taxes, claiming that it would hurt consumers, hinder highway construction, and endanger jobs. Obama criticized the idea of a gas tax "holiday" as a ploy by his rivals "designed to get them through an election" and not actually help "struggling consumers". [66]

Obama opposes offering reparations to the descendants of slaves. "I have said in the past – and I'll repeat again – that the best reparations we can provide are good schools in the inner city and jobs for people who are unemployed," Obama said. An apology for slavery would be appropriate but not particularly helpful in improving the lives of African Americans, he said. Reparations could also be a distraction, Obama said. [67] "I consistently believe that when it comes to whether it's Native Americans or African-American issues or reparations, the most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer words, but offer deeds," Obama told a meeting in Chicago in July 2008. [68]

Obama's administration offered a brief in support of affirmative action in March 2010 vis-à-vis a court case seeking to challenge Grutter v. Bollinger and the legality of "race-conscious" college admissions. [69]

Following the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, President Obama gave a 20-minute speech on July 19, 2013, in which he addressed the shooting of Trayvon Martin, racial profiling, as well as the state of race relations in the United States. [70]

Native Americans Edit

Obama has stated, "The bond that I would like to create between an Obama administration and the [Native American] nations all across this country. is something that is going to be a top priority." Obama added that "few have been ignored by Washington for as long as native Americans – the first Americans" and that "too often Washington has paid lip service to working with tribes while taking a one-size-fits-all approach" and promised "that will change when I am president". [71]

Obama was given honorary membership into a Native American tribe, the Crow Nation. At a private adoption ceremony, Obama was given the Crow name "One Who Helps People Throughout the Land". [71]

Obama voted in favor of the 2006 version of the USA PATRIOT Act. [72] He voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [73] and later voted to restore habeas corpus to those detained by the U.S. (which had been stripped by the Military Commissions Act). [72] He has advocated closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, but has not supported two specific bills that would have done so. [74] Obama still opposes the use of torture [75] and used to oppose warrantless domestic wiretaps by the U.S. [76] He voted against the Flag Desecration Amendment in 2006, arguing that flag burning didn't justify a constitutional amendment, but said that he would support a law banning flag burning on federal property. [77] As of August 8, 2008, the ACLU has given Obama a score of 80% on civil liberty issues for the 110th Congress U.S. Senate. [78]

USA PATRIOT Act Edit

As noted above, Obama voted to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act, which extended the Act, but with some amendments. Such amendments would clarify the rights of an individual who has received FISA orders to challenge nondisclosure requirements and to refuse disclosure of the name of their attorney.

He voted against extending the USA PATRIOT Act's Wiretap Provision on March 1, 2006. This bill would give the FBI the authority to conduct "roving wiretaps" and access to business records. Voting against this bill would prolong the debate, keeping the USA PATRIOT Act provisional whereas voting for this bill would extend the USA PATRIOT Act as permanent. [79]

Warrantless wiretaps Edit

Obama had previously opposed legislation that granted legal immunity for telecommunications companies that helped the Bush administration to conduct wiretaps without warrants but later voted in favor of a compromise bill that included such provisions. [80]

Death penalty Edit

Obama has said that the death penalty is used too frequently and inconsistently. However, he favors it for cases in which "the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage." [81] Speaking as a state senator about the Illinois legislature's constant additions to the list of factors that render a defendant eligible for the death penalty, Obama said, "We certainly don't think that we should [. ] have this laundry list that does not make any distinctions between the run-of-the-mill armed robbery that results in death and systematic killings by a terrorist organization. And I think essentially what the reduction of aggravating factors does is, it says, 'Here's a narrower set of crimes that we think potentially at least could deserve the death penalty.'" [82] In his own words, "While the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime I believe there are some crimes – mass murder, the rape and murder of a child – so heinous that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment. On the other hand, the way capital cases were tried in Illinois at the time was so rife with error, questionable police tactics, racial bias, and shoddy lawyering, that 13 death row inmates had been exonerated." [83]

On June 25, 2008, Obama condemned United States Supreme Court decision Kennedy v. Louisiana, which outlawed the death penalty for a child rapist when the victim was not killed. He said that states have the right to consider capital punishment, but cited concern about the possibility of unfairness in some sentences. [84]

Criteria for selecting judges Edit

On October 15, 2008, during the third and final presidential debate, Obama said, "I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through." [85] According to MSNBC, on July 17, 2007, Obama said, "We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges." [86] However, he stated at the final debate that "the most important thing in any judge is their capacity to provide fairness and justice to the American people." [85]

During a February 28, 2008, speech in Beaumont, Texas, Obama said, "It's not good enough for you to say to your child, 'Do good in school,' and then when that child comes home, you got the TV set on, you got the radio on, you don't check their homework, there is not a book in the house, you've got the video game playing. So turn off the TV set, put the video game away. Buy a little desk or put that child by the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework. If they don't know how to do it, give them help. If you don't know how to do it, call the teacher. Make them go to bed at a reasonable time. Keep them off the streets. Give 'em some breakfast. I also know that if folks letting our children drink eight sodas a day, which some parents do, or, you know, eat a bag of potato chips for lunch, or Popeyes for breakfast [. ] You can't do that. Children have to have proper nutrition. That affects also how they study, how they learn in school." [89] According to the White House website: "The President has also proposed an historic investment in providing home visits to low-income, first-time parents by trained professionals. The President and First Lady are also committed to ensuring that children have nutritious meals to eat at home and at school, so that they grow up healthy and strong." [90]

After Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was struck down by the Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder in 2013, Obama called for Congress to pass new protections for minorities for the VRA. [91]

District of Columbia voting rights Edit

Residents of Washington, D.C., do not have voting representation in Congress, as residents of states do, under the United States Constitution. [92] Instead, Washington currently elects a non-voting delegate to the United States House of Representatives and has no representation in the United States Senate.

Obama supports "full representation in Congress" for residents of the District of Columbia. [93] As a Senator, Obama co-sponsored the failed Voting Rights Act of 2007, which would have granted the District of Columbia full voting representation in the House. [94]

Obama has encouraged Democrats to reach out to evangelicals and other church-going people, saying, "if we truly hope to speak to people where they’re at – to communicate our hopes and values in a way that’s relevant to their own – we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse." [95] [96] He supports separation of church and state and contends that: "I also think that we are under obligation in public life to translate our religious values into moral terms that all people can share, including those who are not believers. And that is how our democracy’s functioning, will continue to function. That’s what the founding fathers intended." [97] In July 2008, Obama said that if elected president he would expand the delivery of social services through churches and other religious organizations, vowing to achieve what he said President Bush had fallen short on. [98] His 2008 campaign web site contains his Faith Statement.

As a state legislator in Illinois, Obama supported banning the sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic firearms, increasing state restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms and requiring manufacturers to provide child-safety locks with firearms. [99]

In 1996, during Obama's run for the Illinois State Senate, he was surveyed by a Chicago nonprofit, the Independent Voters of Illinois (IVI) about criminal justice and other issues. Obama's questionnaire showed that he supported a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns. Subsequently, Obama denied that his writing was on the document and said that he never favored a ban on the sale and possession of handguns. [100] [101] [102] In 1999, he urged prohibiting the operation of any gun store within five miles of a school or park, which according to gun-rights advocates would eliminate gun stores from most of the inhabited portion of the United States. [103] He sponsored a bill in 2000 limiting handgun purchases to one per month.

As state senator, he voted against a 2004 measure that allowed self-defense as an affirmative defense for those charged with violating local laws making it otherwise unlawful for such persons to possess firearms. [104] He also voted against allowing persons who had obtained domestic violence protective orders to carry handguns for their protection. [103]

From 1994 through 2002, Obama was a board member of the Joyce Foundation, which amongst other non-gun related activities provides funds for gun control organizations in the United States. [105] [106]

While in the U.S. Senate, Obama has supported several gun control measures, including restricting the purchase of firearms at gun shows and the reauthorization of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. [107] Obama voted against legislation protecting firearm manufacturers from certain liability suits, which gun-rights advocates say are designed to bankrupt the firearms industry. [100] Obama did vote in favor of the 2006 Vitter Amendment to prohibit the confiscation of lawful firearms during an emergency or major disaster, which passed 84–16. [108]

During a February 15, 2008, press conference, Obama stated, "I think there is an individual right to bear arms, but it's subject to commonsense regulation." [109] Obama has also stated his opposition to allowing citizens to carry concealed firearms [110] and supports a national law outlawing the practice, [111] [112] saying on Chicago Public Radio in 2004, "I continue to support a ban on concealed carry laws". [113]

Obama initially voiced support of Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban and said that it was constitutional. [114] Following the Supreme Court decision that the ban was unconstitutional, he revised his position in support of the decision overturning the law, saying, "Today's decision reinforces that if we act responsibly, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe." [115] He also said, in response to the ruling, "I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms. The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view." [116]

After being elected as President, Obama announced that he favors measures that respect Second Amendment rights, while at the same time keeping guns away from children and criminals. He further stated that he supports banning private transfers of firearms at gun shows (referred to as "closing the gun show loophole"), "making guns in this country childproof", and permanently reinstating the expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban. [117]

The Obama administration had changed the stance of the United States regarding the proposed United Nations treaty on trade in small arms from strong opposition to support for the treaty if it is passed by "consensus." [118] According to recent deliberations regarding the treaty, signatory countries would be required to adopt "international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms" in order "to prevent the diversion of conventional arms from the legal market into the illicit market." [119] Despite popular claims to the contrary, the treaty would not restrict U.S. citizens' Second Amendment rights for various reasons. [120] Most notably, a specific provision in the preamble acknowledges "the right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownership, exclusively within their territory." [121]

On January 16, 2013, one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, President Obama outlined a series of sweeping gun control proposals, urging Congress to reintroduce an expired ban on "military-style" assault weapons, such as those used in several recent mass shootings, impose limits on ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, introduce background checks on all gun sales, pass a ban on possession and sale of armor-piercing bullets, introduce harsher penalties for gun-traffickers, especially unlicensed dealers who buy arms for criminals and approving the appointment of the head of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for the first time since 2006. [122]


TIP Press Releases

  • No construction underway in Jerusalem
  • PM Netanyahu calls for negotiations
  • Presidential candidate Romney concerned about Palestinian unilateralism


TIP Press Release, Sept. 28.

  • High Holidays come at time of political turmoil in Israel
  • Rosh Hashanah message from President Obama: Israel-U.S. bond “unshakable”
  • Israeli PM calls on Palestinians to recognize Israel as Jewish state

TIP Press Release, Sept. 27

  • Middle and working class teamed up in peaceful campaign
  • Government, parliament expected to vote on proposals
  • Protestors promise to continue struggle until they achieve change

Obama's Deficit Demons Can Be Vanquished In Second Term Thanks To Political, Economic Momentum

WASHINGTON -- It may come as a surprise to President Barack Obama's critics, but the one domestic issue that defined his first term in office was reducing the federal budget deficit.

The size and impact of the president's economic stimulus package was trimmed out of fear of sticker shock. Federal workers have seen their pay frozen so that Obama could send a signal on deficit reduction. Even the signature achievement of his administration, health care reform, was premised on the idea that it would save the country money -- and it will, if properly implemented.

The primary theme of the president's reelection campaign was not a set of job creation proposals, but a plea for fairness in curbing the deficit. The rich, Obama said again and again, should have to pay their fair share, not only for moral reasons, but for fiscal ones. Without higher taxes on the wealthy, former President Bill Clinton said during the campaign, the “arithmetic” just wouldn’t work.

After closing out his first term with the "fiscal cliff" drama, Obama begins his second term facing three possible fiscal standoffs, each with the potential not only to set the domestic agenda for the rest of his presidency, but to define his economic legacy.

As it turns out, that's not such a bad place to be. What Obama needs in the second term is a combination of steadfastness and luck: a steady hand politically and a continued revival of the global economy.

Three standoff scenarios are currently the talk of the Beltway:

1. The debt-ceiling fight. Obama is thought to have the upper hand going into the latest battle over the debt limit, while congressional Republicans have everything to lose if they continue to play the role of hostage-taking obstructionists. They are already showing signs of bending, trying to stall the coming late-February face-off for another three months, pushing it as far back as June.

2. A government shutdown. Leaders of both parties believe the GOP will be blamed for a default or a federal shutdown if Congress doesn't fund the government when it runs out of money at the end of March, even if Republicans help pass a debt-ceiling extension.

3. The “sequestration.” The automatic budget cuts due to go into effect in early March will hit GOP-affiliated defense contractors hard, without cutting Social Security or Medicare benefits.

Getting through all three scenarios leaves Obama the opportunity to defuse the deficit as a political issue, perhaps without taking a hatchet to the social safety net.

He also may be able to shrink the deficit a surprisingly good deal. Obama has set a target of $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years -- a number that even many deficit hawk economists view as more than sufficient to stabilize the economy. Budget and spending deals he made in his first term are worth $2.5 trillion. So he’s already not too far from that target, and the GOP may be unable to stop him from getting the rest of the way there.

Of course navigating this tricky course will take both political will and the right policy priorities. Obama has himself repeatedly proposed cutting both Social Security and Medicare in the name of deficit reduction during prior standoffs, and has caved on other important policies as negotiations have come down to the wire. Will he stand firm this time?

The underpinnings of the current manufactured crises give him a chance. Despite the ubiquitous deficit hyperventilation in and around the Capitol, the fiscal situation Obama faces is not dire or insurmountable. Deficit woes are and always have been more political than economic.

The consensus of mainstream experts is that there is little risk of catastrophe in running large deficits over the next few years, and that the budget gap can be narrowed dramatically without attacking programs that benefit the elderly or the disadvantaged, as long as the economy continues its slow but steady recovery.

"The recovery is going along pretty well, in spite of the political system's attempts to derail it," said Alice Rivlin, a centrist Democrat who has worked with GOP stalwarts including former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on deficit-reduction plans.

The way Rivlin sees it, the biggest threats to the improving economy are those coming from Congress, either in continued brinkmanship or in cutting too deeply too fast.

"The thing not to do is to get hysterical about the current level of the deficit, but focus on the real problem, which is the future debt," Rivlin said. Deficits are the annual shortfalls the government runs, while debt is the long-term bill it owes. Deficits are now running above $1 trillion, but are projected to drop.

Total U.S. debt is about $16.4 trillion -- a scary, oft-cited number that's about equal to the country's total annual economic output. But that includes some $5 trillion that the government owes itself, primarily to the Social Security Trust Fund. The less-frightening amount that economists care about is what Uncle Sam owes the public, and that's a little over $11 trillion, or about three-quarters of the GDP. Such a debt level is historically high, but nowhere near a record. And it looks even better next to the significant assets the government holds.

Rivlin notes that while such debt ratios have sparked problems in other countries, including interest rate spikes and even banking crises, they're another matter for the United States. So far, investors have been perfectly comfortable with American debt. The only objective measurement of investor confidence -- interest rates on Treasury bonds -- are at record lows, indicating high confidence. Foreign governments in China and Japan have in fact been increasing their purchases of U.S. debt.

"The world has always been willing to lend us money at relatively low interest rates," said Rivlin. "The reason for being nervous is that may not last. It's almost certainly not going to last forever, and as your debt gets to be a larger and larger ratio to your economy, you're more and more vulnerable."

University of Texas economist James Galbraith, a former Democratic staffer on the congressional Joint Economic Committee who is even less concerned than Rivlin, notes that several factors -- the dollar's status as the reserve currency abroad, the United States' ability to borrow money in its own currency, and the Federal Reserve's operations -- make the U.S. deficit fundamentally different from deficits in other countries.

"The term 'deficit' presupposes and implies something bad that should be filled in or made up for," Galbraith said. "It suggests that the right norm is a deficit of zero, and all of this is completely without meaning in economics. Zero is not the middle number. . There's no presumption that zero is better than some other number, and in the case of the U.S., it's absolutely the wrong number. The U.S. provides reserve assets to the rest of the world, so it has to run a deficit and it would be a bad thing if it did not."

Deficit concerns are usually raised as a proxy for unpopular ideological preferences, Galbraith notes. Instead of demanding cuts to Medicare because it constitutes what Ronald Reagan once called "socialized medicine," conservatives now insist that such programs must be cut to avoid the supposedly greater pain caused by fiscal trauma.

"The deficit is a front issue for a different agenda of rolling back the New Deal, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid," Galbraith said. "It's frustrating to have to shadow-box on this."

And indeed, staunch proponents of dramatic deficit reduction like the arch-conservative Club for Growth accompany their calls for tighter budgets with anti-government ideology. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Club spokesman Barney Keller suggested eliminating the Department of Commerce, the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to close the deficit. Paul Ryan's most famous budget proposal included a plan to privatize and cut Medicare benefits, while also cutting taxes so severely that it would have actually expanded deficits.

Total deficit failure in the U.S. isn't likely to end the way it has in other countries, like Greece, that can't borrow money in their own currency. When Greece gets in trouble, it is at the political mercy of the European Union. The United States, in contrast, is at the mercy of the Federal Reserve, which can always print more dollars to finance American debt. Eventually, printing money can result in inflation. But inflation isn't likely to get too out of hand thanks to the dollar's status as the international reserve currency. So the U.S. faces the prospect of mild long-term inflation if it doesn't get its fiscal house in order. That's very different from the bank runs in Argentina during the '90s, or the current humanitarian crisis in Greece.

If Obama can emerge from the looming policy battles with the bulk of his priorities in place -- and secure sufficient savings to satisfy the financial markets -- he'll have nearly his full second term to try to prove that progressive-leaning economics are not just good for people, they're better for the economy.

Public attitudes on the deficit are muddled. Two-thirds of respondents to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll said it was either "extremely important" or "very important" to "drastically reduce the federal budget deficit through either spending cuts or tax increases," and a narrow plurality -- 43 percent -- favored reduction through spending cuts alone, compared to 39 percent who favored both spending cuts and tax increases.

But when asked to specify what programs should be cut -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Defense, or "Something Else," respondents overwhelmingly favored Defense and Something Else, registering 39 percent and 34 percent each. Just 2 percent said Medicare, and 3 percent said Social Security. When asked which program is the biggest contributor to the deficit, a small plurality, 28 percent, said defense spending. The next most popular response was "foreign aid," at 22 percent.

The polling sentiment doesn’t square with the spending reality. Social Security, health care programs and defense spending each account for roughly 20 percent of the federal budget, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Foreign aid accounts for about 0.1 percent of the budget. All "non-defense discretionary spending" -- everything but defense, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- amounts to about 40 percent of the total deficit. Even if the U.S. cut every item under "something else," most of the deficit would remain. Many of those programs are popular or essential government functions -- like veteran's benefits, transportation funding and public education.

Obama's high approval rating and the actual state of the budget then give him a strong hand in the upcoming showdowns. He has been arguing for a "balanced approach" -- raising some taxes and making some cuts -- to find the remaining $1.5 trillion in his planned deficit reduction. Republicans have insisted that no revenue be raised, and that further reductions come from cuts alone.

But they lost in their bid to stick to that formula on New Year's Day, and had to swallow some $600 billion in tax hikes on the wealthy in the fiscal cliff deal. There has been no change in the public mood since. That suggests that whatever the GOP stance, the White House and Democrats are likely to continue seeking their balance.

Indeed, the deal that Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nearly cut in December could have come very close to the overall $4 trillion target for deficit reduction.

Similar proposals are likely to emerge in the coming months. The largest pieces would curb tax breaks for the wealthy, perhaps limiting how much they can write off mortgage interest and other common deductions. That could bring in some $500 billion to $600 billion. There are also numerous other tax law loopholes -- such as oil subsidies and tax breaks for private jets that add up to hundreds of billions more.

The White House also has floated some $300 billion in health care cuts, and hundreds of billions in cuts to Social Security and mandatory spending programs.

There is a path to get such a plan passed -- especially, Democrats note, since Boehner nearly backed such a scheme in December and back in 2011.

“Everyone knows that the tax code is riddled with giveaways for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations, and those should certainly be on the table as we work toward a balanced and bipartisan budget deal," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) the chair of the Senate Budget Committee. "Speaker Boehner proposed to raise $800 billion by closing these loopholes during the last negotiation, so I am certainly going to fight to make sure that middle-class families and seniors aren’t being asked to bear the burden of the next round of deficit reduction alone.”

Republicans' leverage to demand cuts is essentially to threaten catastrophe -- a strategy that is increasingly unpopular, except with the GOP base in very red districts.

That schism has all-but paralyzed the House, dividing the Republicans into a Tea Party camp and a more realistic anti-tax group led by Boehner. The solution to the cliff standoff was to have Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) work out compromises with the White House and then leave them on Boehner's doorstep.

The GOP protested loudly. But once Boehner put the measures up for votes, they passed easily with support from Democrats and a minority of Republicans. Faced with both public pressure and the reality that shutting down the government or defaulting would be more harmful, that same scenario is likely to play out again and again.

If it does, it leaves the White House in an enviable position for the rest of Obama's administration. If bipartisanship takes root, it could open up the possibility of doing better still on spending, including on the real long-term driver of America's future debts: the high cost of health care.

The problem with focusing on health care, however, has always been that one side or the other invariably politicizes it. Finding health care savings doesn't have to mean slashing benefits. Strategies such permitting Medicare to negotiate with prescription drug companies could save billions without hitting seniors. But when Obama extracted such savings with the Affordable Care Act, Republicans demagogued the issue by saying he'd "cut Medicare," and Democrats lost control of the House.

Facing no reelection, and with the debt stabilized, Obama could wind up with the clout to start dealing with that root problem of health care costs, not to mention other priorities such as education and immigration.

Let us know what you think about the federal budget deficit below:


What is Obama’s Arctic Legacy?

As Obama’s presidency draws to a close after almost 8 years in the White House, attention turns to the legacy he will leave. As the first African American President of the United States of America, Obama’s position in history is already secure however, it is an exceptional legacy based in policy that he has sought to leave. For the last 18-24 months, this has entailed a focus on the environment. With the exception of Teddy Roosevelt and his establishment of National Parks a century ago, or perhaps Jimmy Carter and his drive for energy efficiency, there is no US President who has had a real stand out environmental legacy. It is in this regard that Obama achieved another first in 2015, becoming the first sitting US President to travel north of the Arctic Circle . Over his time in office, the Arctic presented Obama with a range of economic, defence and environmental issues that warranted greater attention. The legacy that the Obama Administration leaves in the region is bound inextricably to his wider achievements in countering climate change, given the large overlap between the two. There remains much for the next President to do to tackle climate change and to mitigate its effects in the Arctic, but to dimiss Obama’s efforts would be unfair, given the notable achievements and progress he has made. By the end of his term, Obama would have had a positive legacy on the Arctic and the environment, even if it is incomplete.

Addressing Climate Change

The Arctic is very much ground zero for climate change, with its impacts already affecting the everyday lives of Americans. Alaska has warmed 1.7ºC over the last 60 years in 2016, it experienced its warmest February and second-warmest winter on record, with only the winter of 2000-01 having a higher statewide average. (1) According to the database of NOAA ’s National Centers for Environmental Information , February 2016 had an average statewide temperature of 17.2 degrees, much higher than the 20 th -century average of 4.8 degrees. Furthermore, data from the National Weather Service revealed that Barrow, the northernmost point of the United States, had an average temperature of -4.1 degrees that month, 10.1 degrees warmer than the long-term average for February. (2) Current projections show the Arctic to be warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. Rising temperatures have clearly affected the Arctic’s ecosystems, with huge implications for the local population. Caribou populations have reportedly dropped by 5o%, which is a major blow for communities that rely on hunting – both economically and culturally. (3) Thawing permafrost caused by the rising temperature has led to saltwater encroachment and sewage contamination, both of which threaten supplies of drinking water. In addition, the first climate refugees have been created in the region as the changing climate drove the population of Newtok, Alaska, in 2015 to relocate their town.

Protecting the Arctic requires counteracting and mitigating climate change and under Obama’s leadership, this climate agenda has been advanced, with meaningful progress made on a number of initiatives and comprehensive strategies developed to deal with climate change in the long term. On 19 March 2015, President Obama issued an Executive Order that would cut the Federal Government’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% from 2008 levels over the next decade, amounting to savings of $18 billion in avoided energy costs for taxpayers. The same Executive Order would also increase the share of electricity from renewable sources the Federal Government consumes to 30%. (4) Moreover, investment has been made on an unprecedented scale in clean energy technologies. Internationally, Obama has negotiated an agreement with China whereby both countries will reduce their greenhouse gas output. While China has pledged to cap its emissions for the first time, the US has promised to reduce its emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025. (5) The Administration’s crowning achievement on the environment – the Paris Agreement in 2015 – witnessed 178 signatories agreeing to limit temperature increase to under 2ºC. One caveat, however, is that Obama accomplished this through presidential prerogative, rather than endorsement through Congress. Therefore, Obama’s climate legacy will depend largely on his successor continuing his work and it could be overturned, were the successor to follow a different course of action. Nonetheless, in terms of wider environmental policy, the Obama Administration has done much to mitigate climate change both domestically and globally.

Addressing Economic and Energy Security

Obama is clearly aware of the causes and consequences of climate change in the Arctic, and the dangers of risky Arctic exploration or oil extraction projects. However, there are both economic and energy security pressures that encourage oil drilling and exploration in the region. This has led to a conflict in policy for Obama, in seeking to advance both his environmental agenda, whilst also cautiously favouring Arctic oil exploration. Despite the clear impact of climate change on the Arctic, and disastrous consequences of an oil spill, the economic benefits of fossil fuel extraction remain attractive to Arctic residents and to many in the lower 48 states. By April 2016, CNBC reported that Alaska’s $3.5 billion deficit, which translated as around two-thirds of its budget, read “like a classic boom-bust tale”, with the collapose in crude prices and lower oil revenues taking its toll on the Alaskan economy. (6) The Alaskan economy is seen by many to be facing its first recession in decades and remains dependent on fossil fuels for many of its jobs. Over a third of Alaska’s jobs are reportedly tied to the oil and gas industry, with the petroleum industry providing 110,000 jobs statewide. In fact, even though Alaskans are those most at threat from climate change, they benefit significantly from the energy industry. 90% of Alaskan state revenue comes from taxes on oil and gas pipelines, making it by far the single most important contributor to the local economy. (7) Many of Obama’s political opponents favour granting more leases to oil exploration companies within the Arctic, and he is frequently derided by many in the Republican Party for not opening the region to more safe exploration. Indeed, in 2015, Governor Walker of Alaska criticised Obama for not “putt[ing] more oil in the pipeline” in Alaska even when it was three-quarters empty. Likewise, he lamented that Obama and the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell were “declaring war on Alaska’s future” by seeking through Congress to declare a vast expanse of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, thereby restricting exploration. (8)

Perhaps the argument for drilling that has proved most pertinent to Obama is the need for the US to establish energy security. This has been a factor in both his presidential campaigns favouring the establishment of energy security, and he has cautiously supported drilling in the Arctic. The reasoning for such an interest developing in the region is clear, as it is predicted that the Arctic has a significant amount of undiscovered energy resources. The United States Geological Survey suggests it contains 30% of the world’s remaining undiscovered resources, with the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas holding an estimated 23.6 billion barrels of conventionally- recoverable oil. (9) Pro-Arctic drilling arguments have, at times, led to a duality in Obama’s policy within the region, balancing energy security pressures against environmental concerns. This was made very clear in 2015 when Obama approved Arctic exploration for Royal Dutch Shell in a move environmentalist darling and Democratic heavy-hitter Al Gore described as ‘insane’. (10) The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management predicted a 75% chance of one or more large spills occurring, while Greenpeace cited failed coast guard inspections on Shell rigs as a reason to withdraw the permission. (11) The Obama Administration responded by citing energy security as the reason for allowing the exploration, which had to be pursued as a matter of national security. This decision was greeted with extreme anger, with climate activist Bill McKibben stating that it is ‘odd to first hand Shell a shovel and then go for a visit’ in an interview with Slate. (12)

A Delicate Balance?

Obama eventually reversed course on his decision and rescinded the permission for exploration that had been granted to Royal Dutch Shell. Further steps back from Arctic drilling have been taken, with the US Administration blocking Arctic drilling for 2 years from 2016 and also rejecting the extension of other existing leases granted by the Bush Administration. In July 2016, the Administration established new safety rules tailored to protect the Arctic environment in the event of future exploration. The new rules require oil companies to develop responses to oil spills, have available technology to cap spills if they occur, and have the ability to report and respond to ice conditions. These rules have attracted mixed reviews from environmentalists happy that precautions are being taken, yet disappointed that drilling has not been completely ruled out. Despite a 2-year ban on Arctic drilling, including the cancellation of leases in Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2016 and 2017, it appears, from an early Department of the Interior draft, that the Arctic will be included in the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Program, and leases will be granted in Cook Inlet, Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell suggested that there will indeed be drilling in the Arctic however, this will occur near the end of the lease, so as to thoroughly evaluate the safety.

Despite potential future drilling, President Obama has made progress in protecting areas of the Arctic. This is particularly evident in the case of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge , which is believed to host the most diverse array of wildlife in all of the Arctic. (13) The region is home to the Porcupine caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, grey wolves, foxes and muskoxen and bird species from the Coastal Plain are known to migrate to all 50 states of the US. Yet, much of the region – including the Coastal Plain – is not protected as wilderness, and the region has faced similar pressures to open up to oil drilling, which a source at the White House regards as “a move that could irreparably damage this ecological treasure and harm the Alaska Native communities who still depend on the caribou for subsistence.” (14) In January 2015, the Department of the Interior put forward a revised Comprehensive Conservation Plan to better sustain and manage the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the expanded protections it proposed were met with scorn by Republicans placing greater weight on energy issues. In April 2015, President Obama went further and asked the Republican-led Congress to block an additional 12 million acres of the refuge from oil and gas drilling by designating the Coastal Plain and other core areas of the refuge as wilderness this would bring the total protected wilderness area in the refuge to 20 million acres. (15)

While this move was lauded by several environmental groups, it was lambasted by Alaska’s senior Senator Lisa Murkowski, Head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who vowed to fight and block the Administration’s efforts to unilaterally “impose new restrictions on Alaska’s land and resources” by advancing the new wilderness designation, despite bipartisan opposition from Alaska’s leaders. “The vast majority of Alaskans do not support creating new wilderness in ANWR, so I am disappointed to see the Obama administration is continuing to press the issue”. Murkowski, who has introduced legislation permitting oil production in the refuge, stated, “A Congressional designation of the Coastal plain as wilderness will not happen on my watch.” (16) Likewise, the junior Senator for Alaska, Dan Sullivan, criticised Obama’s “goal of starving the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and turning our state into a giant national park”, and warned that the proposal would “undermine Alaska’s future and America’s energy security”. (17) Nevertheless, Obama has found a kindred spirit in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In 2016, both pledged to further protect areas of the Arctic from drilling and overfishing, committing to protect at least 17% of the Arctic land mass and 10% of Arctic marine areas by 2020. (18) Such efforts may not constitute the official designation of wilderness that environmentalists want however, such a designation can only come from Congress. Given that Congress in recent years has been slow to use its power to create wilderness zones, Obama’s best course of action has been to utilise alternative means to achieve the desired results. Both Obama and Trudeau have committed to meet later this year and to possibly expand these targets, looking to protect more of the Arctic area from exploration.

International Cooperation with other Arctic States

In addition, the Obama Administration has frequently looked to work in conjunction and cooperation with other Arctic states on issues that affect the region, as shown during the GLACIER Conference (Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement & Resilience) in August 2015. Similarly, while chairing the Arctic Council since 2015, the US propounded three main thematic focuses – improving economic and living conditions for indigenous Arctic communities, promoting Arctic Ocean safety and stewardship, and addressing the impact of climate change. Advancing these agendas within the Arctic Council has highlighted the Obama Administration’s commitment to working to advance mutual cooperation within the Arctic, despite geopolitical developments elsewhere. The inaugural White House Arctic Science Ministerial , scheduled for 28 September 2016, provides another example of the Obama Administration’s efforts to enhance global cooperation by “advanc[ing] promising, near-term science initiatives and creat[ing] a context for increased international scientific collaboration on the Arctic over the long term”. (19) This meeting will include high-level officials, science ministers and scientific advisors not only from the Arctic but also across the globe. The event, scheduled for the first anniversary of Obama’s Arctic visit, looks to enhance understanding and cooperation over climate issues in the Arctic. The primary focus will be to secure greater cooperation on data gathering and sharing, whilst also looking to increase integration between states and community-based projects. Furthermore, efforts will be made to fully utilise the knowledge of indigenous people, whilst also looking to build their resilience to climate change and develop joint strategies that build resilience to future threats.

Approach to Arctic Security Concerns

Obama has also been confronted by the growing security debate in the Arctic. Russian military build-up in the region, including the renovation of 10 Soviet-era bases, has caused some alarm within the military, who believe that there is a chance that America could ‘lose’ the Arctic. Obama has decided to opt for diplomacy and cooperation on Arctic security matters, and has avoided pressure for increased military presence in the region. The US has focused on cutting military forces under Obama thus, sending or reinforcing a military presence to the Arctic would have given a troubling signal to Russia, and likely sparked reciprocal action from the latter. Maintaining cooperation with Russia on soft security issues like Coast Guard cooperation is currently more valuable than exacerbating tensions in the region. This is not to say that the US military is unprepared for activities in the Arctic – for example, taking part in exercises like the IceX 2016 , which was deemed to be largely successful. (20)

Obama’s Arctic legacy is, thus, predominantly positive, having advanced the climate agenda and improved cooperation in the region, while also looking to further scientific collaboration with the Arctic Science Ministerial this September. Obama has avoided falling into the trap of prematurely militarising the region in favour of continued engagement, cooperation and diplomacy with Russia. Much of Obama’s progress, however, relies on his successor advancing the same or similar policies.


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