The Mad Dash to Pass President Obama’s Last Law—and Keep Technology at Work in Washington – Issie Lapowsky 01.27.17. 6:00 am

Barack Obama gives his farewell address in Chicago on January 10, 2017. Jon Lowenstein/Redux

Barack Obama gives his farewell address in Chicago on January 10, 2017. Jon Lowenstein/Redux

Obama gives US intelligence greater access to warrantless data on foreigners – Jon Swaine and Spencer Ackerman in New York Thursday 12 January 2017 16.26 EST

CIA, FBI and other agencies will be able to access surveillance on foreigners abroad, including information identifying Americans they may be in contact with


NSA officials are no longer required to filter out information about innocent people whose identities have been scooped up. Photograph: Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images Jon Swaine and Spencer Ackerman in New York Thursday 12 January 2017 16.26 EST Last modified on Thursday 12 January 2017 16.28 EST

Barack Obama, in one of his final acts on national security, has permitted US intelligence and law enforcement agencies far greater access to raw communications data warrantlessly collected on foreign targets, a move that has alarmed privacy advocates.

Under an executive order, the CIA, FBI and other security agencies will be able to access unfiltered surveillance aimed at foreigners abroad, before information identifying or revealing Americans they may be in contact with gets censored out

Article continues:

Obama used his farewell address to issue 5 warnings about US democracy – Updated by Andrew Prokop Jan 10, 2017, 7:36pm PST

His speech harked back to Washington and Eisenhower.

President Obama participated in a venerable tradition Tuesday night by using his farewell address to give warnings about his fears for America’s future.

While the speech was broadly optimistic in tone and avoided any significant discussion of the man who will soon occupy the White House, the bulk of the text was devoted to expressing his fears about how things could go wrong for the United States.

Saying early on that his speech’s theme would be “the state of our democracy,” Obama went on: “There have been moments throughout our history that threatened to rupture that solidarity. The beginning of this century has been one of those times.”

The president named five specific threats he said he felt American democracy was currently facing: economic inequality, racial tensions, polarization, foreign threats, and decaying democratic institutions.

“How we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland,” Obama said.

Presidential farewell warnings have a long history

The tradition of the presidential farewell address technically dates back to George Washington, who published the first and most famous such address (in text form) in September 1796. The tradition fell out of fashion for some time, but with the dawn of mass communication technology in the mid-20th century it came back in vogue, and since then, every president who’s served two full terms in office has delivered one.

Most farewell addresses are forgettable. They’re a time for presidents to brag about their accomplishments, say how much they’ve loved serving the country, and give a final goodbye on their way out. Few remember, for instance, George W. Bush’sfarewell reflections on the war on terror or Bill Clinton’s argument for fiscal responsibility.

Article continues:

What Kind Of Jobs President Has Obama Been — In 8 Charts January 7, 2017 6:00 AM

President Obama speaks to Caterpillar employees in East Peoria, Ill., in February 2009 about the then-struggling economy. Charles Dharapak/AP

President Obama speaks to Caterpillar employees in East Peoria, Ill., in February 2009 about the then-struggling economy.
Charles Dharapak/AP

The final chapter of the Obama economy drew that much closer to its end on Friday, with the final jobs report of the 44th president’s time in office. That report showed the 75th straight month of job growth, with employers adding 156,000 jobs.

Solid, but nothing flashy.

In that way, it was emblematic of how the job market has generally fared since the worst of the Great Recession’s aftermath: chugging along, slowly but surely recovering.

With the final Obama administration jobs day in the books, it’s a good time to look at how American workers have fared. Donald Trump will inherit a job market that is vastly rehabilitated from devastating lows just a few years ago. However, it has also undergone profound changes that have scarred many American workers.

Unemployment: How low can it go?

As Obama prepares to leave office, the unemployment rate is at 4.7 percent, less than half of the peak it reached in October 2009.

That decline is the result of a prolonged period of job growth. The administration has grown fond of showing off its prolonged run of job growth every month.

For some perspective, here’s how big that job growth was: Obama averaged 109,000 jobs per month. That’s far better than either President Bush experienced, but it’s well below the 242,000 that Bill Clinton presided over in the roaring 1990s. For Reagan, it was 166,000.

Job growth by president
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Of course, President Obama came into office as the economy was plunging into a recession (a plunge that also drags down George W. Bush’s number). But even if you average out Obama’s 75 straight months of job growth, you get 199,000 jobs per month, still shy of Clinton’s economy.

In other words, the Obama recovery has been moderate, but remarkably steady. The question is how long that steady climb can continue uninterrupted. The unemployment rate is already near a nine-year low, as Steven Russolillo at the Wall Street Journal pointed out this week, and there is some question among economists how low it can go.

Wages finally climbing

Having a job is one thing. Having a job that pays well is another. And slowly through Obama’s tenure, those wages have inched upward. In fact, wages were one bright spot of Friday’s jobs report. Average hourly wages were up by 2.9 percent in December. After several years of hovering around 2 percent, that’s welcome growth.

Aside from meaning more money in workers’ pockets, wage growth serves as yet another sign of a tightening labor market, signaling that employers are willing to pay more to attract workers.

Rising wages may inspire the Federal Reserve to take its foot further off the gas pedal in the coming months (that is, allow interest rates to rise) — a reminder that the economy isn’t exactly under the president’s control. (More on this later.)

Labor force participation is low, but what does it mean?

This one became a flashpoint in the presidential election, with Trump at times pointing out how much the labor force shrank under Obama. The main measure of this is the labor force participation rate — that is, the percentage of people who are either working or looking for work (that is, who are in the labor force).

That figure was at 65.7 percent in January 2009, at the start of Obama’s presidency, and today is at 62.7 percent — a steep drop. And today, the figure is well below its 2000 high of 67.3 percent.

But it’s not clear how bad or how benign that change is. Many Americans are out of the labor force and entirely happy about it. Quitting work to retire, for example, is a totally nonalarming reason to leave the labor force. But then, there may be many people who, facing a tough job market, have given up looking for work. That’s not good, and it also happened for many Americans both during and after the recession.

In the aftermath of the recession, economists have tried to figure out exactly how many people are voluntarily versus involuntarily out of the labor force. As of 2014, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that half the decline in the participation rate at that time had come from “long-term trends” like aging — as baby boomers age, that means a large chunk of the population will naturally retire. But that left half of the decline a result of economic weakness and a slow recovery, in the CBO’s estimation.

Should the participation rate hold steady or creep upward during a Trump presidency, that could keep the unemployment rate from dropping, as only Americans who are looking for work are counted as “unemployed.” That would be one of those cases where a slightly higher unemployment rate could be a good thing.

Improvement for part-time workers

Full-time job growth over the course of the Obama presidency has far outstripped part-time job growth, as FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman has pointed out.

Of course, some of those people working part time want to be working part time, and some don’t. Another bright spot here is that the share of those workers who are involuntarily part time has fallen off.

However, that figure is still a fair bit higher than it was prior to the recession (and that level was itself, in turn, higher than it was before the prior recession). That’s one place where there could still be some improvement — there are still about 1 million more of those involuntary part-time workers than there were prior to the recession.

An economy more about doing than making

Politicians of both parties love to talk about manufacturing. Obama pushed manufacturing initiatives throughout his presidency, and Trump built much of his economic message during the campaign around singing the praises of America’s manufacturers.

But when it comes to employment, the goods-producing share of the economy has continued to fall. Throughout the past few decades, the share of Americans who make things — people in manufacturing, mining, logging and construction — has fallen off, and that trend continued during the recent recession, finally flattening out toward the end.

We present this chart over a longer time frame, which makes it a little bit of a cheat — this isn’t exactly a measure of Obama’s “record on jobs.” Nor is it necessarily a measure of economic weakness; in fact, manufacturing has, thanks to technological advances, maintained strong output while shedding workers.

It’s a reminder that all the usual macroeconomic indicators (unemployment, wages, labor force participation, GDP) can quantify a lot of things in the economy, but you have to dig in to learn about the quality of that economy — what exactly is going on behind those numbers. This decline in goods-producing jobs doesn’t signal that the economy is getting worse or better — it’s just changing, in this case to become more focused on providing services, instead of goods.

All of this is to say that Trump inherits a job market that is humming along comfortably, given how poor of shape it was in only recently. But it’s also an economy that has sharply moved away from manufacturing and other goods-producing industries — the very ones he pushed the most in the election. That change has hurt plenty of Americans, despite the job market’s improvement.

Trump has tried to claim credit for several hundred goods-producing jobs here and there (credit that he doesn’t always deserve, as the Washington Post‘s Philip Bump has reported), but bringing manufacturing employment back in a sizable way seems like a tall order for any president. Furthermore, alternative work — like driving an Uber or Lyft — continues to grow quickly as a share of the economy. That change could eventually require policy attention, as more workers take jobs that don’t come with benefits.

But there’s another big caveat here. Presidents get lots of credit and blame for the economy’s performance, despite the fact that they don’t really have firm control over that performance. (If they did, why would recessions ever happen?)

Yes, a president can push an economic agenda and in some cases push particular policies that end up having a sizable impact on the economy (see: the 2009 stimulus package, which undeniably had a positive impact).

But they also need Congress to enact those policies. Not only that, but the Federal Reserve has its own set of controls — a set to which the president does not have access, despite some conspiracies of politically motivated Fed scale-tipping.

So, like Obama, whatever happens to the economy under Trump, he may not deserve whatever credit he may claim (and the same goes for whatever blame is thrown his way).

In Controversial Move, President Obama Designates Over 1 Million Acres in West as National Monument By Elliot Hannon

Bears Ears National Monument Facebook Page

Bears Ears National Monument Facebook Page

President Obama designated two new national monuments on Wednesday aimed at protecting sacred Native American sites in the desert regions of southeastern Utah and southern Nevada. The move will “protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes,” Obama said in a statement. But the move to designate more than a million acres of land a national landmark, thereby protecting it from development, is a controversial one, particularly in the West.

The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah will protect approximately 1.35 million acres of land and the Gold Butte National Monument will cover some 300,000 acres in Nevada. “Environmental groups have praised the conservation efforts, but critics say they amount to a federal land grab,” according to the Washington Post. “Some worry that the new designations could fuel another armed protest by antigovernment forces inspired by the Cliven Bundy family, such as the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon this year.”

Article continues:

Obama pulls regs that could have fueled ‘Muslim registry’ under Trump – POLITICO

The Department of Homeland Security filed a notice that it is deleting the published rules for the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System.

Source: Obama pulls regs that could have fueled ‘Muslim registry’ under Trump – POLITICO

Obama Just Took a Big Step on Climate—and Trump Probably Can’t Undo It – DAVID SMITH DEC. 20, 2016 8:29 PM

Sorry, Donald.

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Barack Obama has permanently banned new oil and gas drilling in most US-owned waters in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, a last-ditch effort to lock in environmental protections before he hands over to Donald Trump.

Obama used a 1953 law that allows presidents to block the sale of new offshore drilling and mining rights and makes it difficult for their successors to reverse the decision.

However, Obama’s ban—affecting federal waters off Alaska in the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea and in the Atlantic from New England to the Chesapeake Bay—is unprecedented in scale and could be challenged by Trump in court.

The president-elect has vowed to unleash the country’s untapped energy reserves and exploit fossil fuels. He has previously questioned the science of climate change, threatened to tear up the Paris climate agreement and appointed climate-change deniers in his cabinet.

“These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” Obama said.

This has led to a scramble from environmentalists calling on Obama to impose whatever regulations and executive orders he can to protect his climate legacy.

Article continues:

Obama Blames the Political Press for the Rise of Fake News. Is He Right? By Will Oremus

Obama may have a future as a media critic. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Obama may have a future as a media critic. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There was a plenty of blame to go around in Barack Obama’s melancholy final press conference of the year on Friday.* But he reserved some of his most trenchant criticism for the American political press. Whether or not the media is the villain most deserving of his public contempt right now, Obama’s critique was insightful—and largely valid.

Speaking on the same day the Washington Post reported that the FBI had joined the CIA in concluding that Russian state-sponsored hackers worked to help elect Donald Trump, Obama suggested that the U.S. media were at least as much to blame as the Russians themselves.

The leaks of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails, Obama said, became in the media’s hands “an obsession that dominated the news.” He suggested that major media outlets’ newfound outrage at the latest charges of Russian meddling was disingenuous, because they had reported all along that there was evidence Russia was behind the hacks—but continued to gleefully dissect and distribute their content on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, Obama argued, the groundwork for the success of the political hoaxes that have come to be called “fake news” was laid by hyperpartisan conspiracy-mongers on the U.S. media’s fringes, especially the rightward fringe. He said:

If fake news that’s being released by some foreign government is almost identical to reports that are being issued through partisan [U.S.] news venues, then it’s not surprising that foreign propaganda will have a greater effect. It doesn’t seem that far-fetched compared to some other stuff folks are hearing from domestic propagandists.

To the extent that our political dialogue is such that everybody’s under suspicion, everybody’s corrupt, everybody’s doing things for partisan reasons, and all our institutions are full of malevolent actors—if that’s the storyline that’s being put out there by whatever party’s out of power, then when a foreign government introduces that same argument with facts that are made up, voters who’ve been listening to that stuff for years, who’ve been given that stuff every day from talk radio or other venues, they’re going to believe it.

If we want to really reduce foreign influence on our elections, then we better think about how to make sure that our political process, our political dialogue, is stronger than it’s been.

Article continues:

5 Fact Checks From President Obama’s News Conference December 16, 2016 6:44 PM ET

In his final press conference, Obama looked back on eight years, but pressing questions about Russian hacking and violence in Syria took center stage. Leigh Vogel/WireImage

In his final press conference, Obama looked back on eight years, but pressing questions about Russian hacking and violence in Syria took center stage.
Leigh Vogel/WireImage

In his final press conference, Obama looked back on eight years, but pressing questions about Russian hacking and violence in Syria took center stage.

Leigh Vogel/WireImage

President Obama held his final news conference of 2016 and painted a rosy picture of his tenure as president — from economic growth to foreign policy. So how did he hold up on the facts and what context did he leave out?

We look at five different quotes:

1. “The Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are trying to obfuscate the truth. The world should not be fooled, and the world will not forget.”

President Obama accuses Russia and Syria of trying to “obfuscate the truth” in the city of Aleppo but says the world will not be fooled and will not forget. He says they are to blame for the atrocities unfolding there. The president says he does feel responsible, too. He is defending his decision, though, not to take any military action to tip the balance in Syria. He says it couldn’t be done on the cheap. The Obama administration often argued that the choice was between diplomacy or military action, though activists argued there were other options short of sending in thousands of troops uninvited, including safe zones or targeted strikes on Syrian airfields to take out helicopters that were dropping barrel bombs and chlorine bombs on civilian areas.

— Michele Kelemen, diplomacy correspondent

2. “So with respect to Syria, what I have consistently done is taken the best course that I can to try to end the civil war while having also to take into account the long-term national security interests of the United States. And throughout this process, based on hours of meetings — if you tallied it up, days and weeks of meetings … we went through every option in painful detail with maps and we had our military and we had our aid agencies and we had our diplomatic teams, and sometimes, we’d bring in outsiders who were critics of ours.

“Whenever we went through it, the challenge was that short of putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground uninvited, without any international law mandate, without sufficient support from Congress, at a time when we still had troops in Afghanistan and we still had troops in Iraq and we had just gone through over a decade of war and spent trillions of dollars …”

Article continues:

Will Obama regret not doing more for black Americans? – D. WATKINS TUESDAY, DEC 13, 2016 04:00 PM PST

(Credit: Getty/Bill Pugliano)

(Credit: Getty/Bill Pugliano)

Does Barack Obama owe African-Americans anything? My friends like to toss this question around. My answer is no. He’s a politician, and politicians do what politicians do: play that give-and-take game. And that can be taken in a good or bad way, like this: Obama appointed the first Latina to the U.S. Supreme Court, was the first president to endorse same-sex marriage and increased funding for the Violence Against Women Act. But he’s also is the same guy who set off more drones and prosecuted more whistleblowers than former president George W. Bush. Give and take.

As is the case with most things, your perception of him likely boils down to how his presidency has affected you, unless you are black — and that’s what will complicate the question.



Article continues: