June 6, 2013
Obama's second term is shaping up to be a disaster
The last few weeks have been among the worst of Barack Obama’s time in office, recalling earlier periods of turmoil for the president in 2010 and 2011, when his ratings also plummeted. In 2013, the situation is significantly worse for the White House, with the Obama administration engulfed in a series of major scandals (IRS persecution of conservative groups, the Benghazi debacle, and the Justice Department seizure of journalists’ phone records) that are not only eroding trust in government but also in the office of the president itself. This is undoubtedly a period of steep decline for the Obama presidency, whose imperial-style big government approach is being increasingly questioned not only by American voters, but also by formerly subservient sections of the liberal-dominated mainstream media. In contrast to his first term, Barack Obama is finding himself less and less shielded by the press, and far more vulnerable to public criticism.
With good reason, Americans don’t feel optimistic about their country’s future with President Obama at the helm. According to the RealClear Politics polling average, less than one in three Americans believe the United States is heading in the right direction. A new Economist/YouGov poll has the president’s job approval rating at just 46 percent, with 49 percent of Americans disapproving. Strikingly, 35 percent of Americans “strongly disapprove” of the president’s job performance, 15 points higher than the number who “strongly approve.” A mere 31 percent of Americans surveyed by YouGov believe the United States is “generally headed in the right direction.”
In addition to damaging scandals, which have raised major questions over the integrity and judgment of the Obama administration, there remain deep-seated concerns over the US economy and the enormous national debt, widespread opposition to the president’s health care reforms, and significant fears over national security. Barack Obama’s second term could not have started more badly for the “hope and change” president, who, with three and a half years in office remaining, looks more and more like a lame duck. Here are ten key reasons why the Obama presidency is in trouble, with the outlook exceedingly grim for the White House.
1. The American public is losing trust in Obama
A recent Quinnipiac survey found that less than half of Americans (49 percent) now view their president as “honest and trustworthy.” According to Quinnipiac, the series of recent scandals have begun to significantly dent the president’s standing with the American people, with his approval rating standing at just 45 percent. The IRS targeting of conservative groups has been particularly damaging, with 76 percent of voters supporting the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the scandal, and a series of Congressional hearings putting the Obama administration on the spot. Another survey, by NBC News/The Wall Street Journal, reveals a great deal of public concern over the “overall honesty and integrity of the Obama administration,” with more than half of Americans agreeing that recent scandals have “raised doubts” about the government’s trustworthiness. 41 percent of Americans believe that President Obama himself is “totally” or “mainly” responsible for the government’s handling of Benghazi – just 19 percent believe he bears no responsibility. On the IRS issue, only 24 percent say the president is not responsible in any way, while a third of Americans think he is largely culpable.
2. The Obama presidency is imperial in style and outlook
Leading conservative talk radio host Mark Levin was absolutely right when he blasted Barack Obama on Fox News back in January as “an imperial president.” It would be hard to find a US president in recent times who has behaved in a more arrogant fashion than President Obama, and that includes Richard Nixon. The Obama White House is routinely disdainful of criticism, sneeringly dismissive of Congressional opposition, nasty and brutish towards dissenting voices in the media, and completely lacking in humility. Even veteran reporters such as Bob Woodward, one of two journalists who broke the Watergate scandal, have found themselves on the sharp end of the White House’s boot after publishing unflattering stories. Woodward was warned earlier this year by a senior White House official that he would “regret” his remarks about the president’s handling of the sequester issue. At the same time the Obama presidency exudes a shameless “let them eat cake” mentality, abundantly on display with the president’s lavish vacations and golfing expeditions while millions of American families have struggled to pay their mortgage and stay afloat against the backdrop in recent years of the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
3. Most Americans are still worried about the economy
Economic concerns are the top priority for Americans according to Gallup. In a recent poll, 86 percent of Americans agreed that “creating more jobs” and “helping the economy grow” are the top two priorities. “Making government work more efficiently” came third, at 81 percent. Despite a slight uptick in economic growth, and improving housing prices in some markets, the United States still has deep-seated economic problems. Most Americans are still nervous about the economy. According to the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, just 46 percent of Americans approve of the job Barack Obama is doing in handling the economy. 64 percent of Americans are “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the state of the US economy today. Only 32 percent believe the economy will get better in the next 12 months. 58 percent of Americans still think the country is in an economic recession.
Strong job creation and robust economic growth are being significantly hampered in the United States by declining economic freedom, including rising tax rates, the growing burden of government regulation, and a rising dependency culture. Unemployment still remains at 7.5 percent, with nearly 12 million Americans out of work. 47 million Americans are living on food stamps (the highest figure in American history), and a staggering 128 million Americans are now dependent upon government programmes. A full economic recovery still remains far away. According to the Federal Reserve, Americans have rebuilt less than half of the wealth lost to the recession. As The Washington Post reported: “The research from the St. Louis Fed shows that households had accumulated net worth totaling $66 trillion at the end of last year. After adjusting for inflation and population growth, the bank found that number amounted to only 45 percent of the wealth that Americans had during the peak of the boom in 2007.”
4. America’s level of debt is frightening
America’s economic problems are compounded by its huge debt problem. Barack Obama continues to lead the United States down the path of European Union-style decline, with incredible levels of public debt, currently standing at $16.85 trillion, a per person debt of $53,000. President Obama has done nothing to confront the vast entitlement programmes that are a yoke around the necks of future generations of American taxpayers, while taking an axe to defense spending, resulting in politically driven cuts that undermine America’s national security while doing nothing to reduce the country’s debt burden. As he made clear in his Inauguration address in January, President Obama remains committed to a big spending, big government vision, and one that will force the United States down the road to economic ruin unless it is reversed.
5. Obamacare is hugely expensive and increasingly unpopular
A key liability that will further expand America’s debt mountain is Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), the Obama administration’s hugely ambitious and expensive health care reform initiative that threatens to dramatically increase the cost of healthcare for ordinary Americans as well as businesses, when it goes into effect next year. Forbes Magazine reports that in California Obamacare is expected to increase individual health insurance premiums by 64 to 146 percent. The latest Congressional Budget Office estimate puts a $1.85 trillion price tag on Obamacare in its first 10 years. A clear majority of Americans oppose Obamacare. The latest CNN/ORC International poll shows 54 percent opposing the law. A Reason/Rupe poll found that a mere 32 percent support it. An April poll by the Kaiser Foundation, and reported by Politico, revealed that “just 35 percent of Americans view Obamacare ‘very’ or somewhat’ favorably, down 8 points since Election Day.” Opposition in the business community is also high, especially among small businesses, the bedrock of the US economy. Gallup finds that 48 percent of small business owners say the Affordable Care Act is bad for business – just nine percent say it will be good for business. As Obamacare rolls in, opposition to its implementation will only grow. If the Republicans retake the Senate in 2014, expect Congress to launch a major effort to repeal it.
6. Independents are rapidly withdrawing support for Obama
As Gallup polling has consistently shown, America is ideologically a conservative nation, with conservatives outnumbering liberals by a nearly two to one margin. Strikingly, as Gallup has found, more than 50 percent of Americans view Obama as more liberal than themselves, with just 27 percent of voters declaring that they share the same ideology as the president. Despite a clear advantage in terms of ideology, the Republicans have struggled to win over sufficient numbers of “moderates” (roughly a third of US voters) in the last two presidential elections, many of whom identify themselves as “Independents.” There are signs, however, that support for Obama among Independents is dramatically falling. According to the recent Quinnipiac survey, 57 percent of Independent voters give Obama a negative rating, up from 48 percent on May 1st. 56 percent of Independents do not believe the president is “honest and trustworthy.” By a 45 percent to 35 percent margin, Independents believe that Republicans in Congress are doing a better job than President Obama on handling the economy.
7. The liberal media is less deferential to Obama in his second term
The Washington Post, standard bearer of the liberal establishment in the US capital, has labeled the IRS scandal a “horror story” for the Obama administration. Even The New York Times, the de facto inflight newspaper of Air Force One, recently carried a headline on its front page declaring: “Onset of Woes Casts Pall Over Obama's Policy Aspirations.” The liberal mainstream media closed ranks behind Barack Obama for most of his first term in office, and relentlessly pummeled his presidential election opponent Mitt Romney ahead of the November 2012 vote, in a shameless display of bias towards their favoured candidate. The big liberal newspapers and the major television networks, NBC, ABC and CBS, have been less willing to bat for Obama in his second term as public opinion has begun to turn against the White House. Clearly, there are some things even the most liberal columnists are finding hard to defend, such as the ruthless targeting of political opponents. Meanwhile, MSNBC, President Obama’s biggest flag-waver on cable news, has seen its ratings plummet in recent months, with Fox News further building its dominance of the ratings.
8. The Benghazi scandal has been extremely damaging
Much as the Obama administration tries to downplay the significance of the Benghazi scandal, it refuses to go away, with 46 percent of Americans believing “the administration deliberately misled the American people about the events surrounding the death of the American Ambassador to Libya” according to Quinnipiac. Like the IRS scandal, the Benghazi debacle has undermined trust and confidence in the Obama presidency. 58 percent of Americans in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey agree that that the State Department’s handling of the Benghazi attack raises doubts “about the overall honesty and integrity of the Obama administration.”
In the aftermath of the barbaric killing of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans on September 11, 2012 at the hands of al-Qaeda linked Islamist militants, the Obama administration tried to pass off the brutal attack as a spontaneous response to an anti-Islamic video that hardly anyone has seen. Undoubtedly worried that the killings would upset the White House’s carefully crafted narrative in the lead up to the 2012 election that al-Qaeda was in retreat, administration officials sought to downplay the broader significance of the attack in the run up to the presidential vote, a strategy that succeeded in the short term, but has since imploded in the face of sustained Congressional scrutiny. Not only has Benghazi damaged the president, it also hurt former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s image too. As former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan noted in The Wall Street Journal: “Will this story ever be completely told? Maybe not. But it’s not going to go away either. It’s a prime example of the stupidity of all-politics-all-the-time. You make some bad moves for political reasons. And then you suffer politically because you make bad moves.”
9. Obama’s national security strategy is weak and confusing
President Obama’s recent address to the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington has to go down as one of the most weak-kneed speeches by a US Commander-in-Chief in modern times. His call for a winding down of the global war against Islamist terror was naïve in the extreme, and sent completely the wrong signal to America’s enemies at a time when al-Qaeda is strengthening its presence in parts of the Middle East as well as North, West and East Africa. His declaration (once again) that the detention facility at Guantanamo should be shut down was hopelessly unrealistic in the face of concerted Congressional opposition as well as a humiliating exercise in pandering to international condemnation in Europe and the Muslim world. His Guantanamo policy is deeply out of touch as well with American public opinion. US polls have consistently shown strong support for keeping the camp in operation. This is hardly a strategy that will endear President Obama to an American public that feels less safe today than it did in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
10. Obama is “leading from behind” on the world stage
American foreign policy has become even more weak and incoherent in President Obama’s second term. On the world stage the United States has not been this powerless and disengaged since the days of Jimmy Carter. “Leading from behind” is no longer just a mantra for the Obama administration – it has become its philosopher’s stone. Washington’s leadership on the Syria crisis is non-existent, with the White House content to farm out its foreign policy to Moscow and the United Nations. On Afghanistan, Obama’s position is one of retreat and a handover of power back to the Taliban. Iran is barely mentioned by the president, as Tehran’s nuclear ambitions march on. Meanwhile key allies such as Britain are treated with contempt and lectured to on European policy as though it were a schoolboy being reprimanded for speaking out of turn, while the Special Relationship and the transatlantic alliance continue to be eroded. At home and abroad, the Obama presidency is weakening America, while undercutting the strength and ability of the world's only superpower to lead internationally.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
NSA reportedly collecting phone records of millions, though officials had denied holding 'data' on Americans
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
June 6, 2013
Reports that the Obama administration has been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers in the U.S. could contradict statements made by top officials who previously claimed the government was not holding data on Americans.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked at a March hearing whether the National Security Agency collects any data on millions of Americans.
"No sir ... not wittingly," Clapper responded, acknowledging there are cases "where inadvertently, perhaps" the data could be collected.
NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander also told Fox News last year that the agency does not "hold data on U.S. citizens."
But the Guardian newspaper reported late Wednesday that the administration has been collecting the phone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top secret court order.
The order, a copy of which apparently was obtained by The Guardian, reportedly was granted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25 and is good until July 19.
It requires Verizon, one of the nation's largest telecommunications companies, on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.
The text of the order, as published by The Guardian, says that "the Custodian of Records shall produce to the National Security Agency (NSA) upon service of this Order, and continue production on an ongoing daily basis thereafter for the duration of this Order, unless otherwise ordered by the Court, an electronic copy of the" the records in question.
Administration officials, while not directly acknowledging the order, defended their authority to collect records and stressed they're not listening in on conversations.
Further, the heads of the Senate intelligence committee sought to calm concerns, saying the requests are carefully scrutinized. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., though, revealed that this is part of an ongoing effort - she said these orders are renewed every three months through the court. She said the records are there for investigators to access if there is suspicion of terrorist activity.
A senior law enforcement official also pushed back on the report early Thursday morning, telling Fox News that the Justice Department has not yet received a referral from the intelligence community, meaning "the process has not started yet."
However, civil liberties groups and some lawmakers sounded the alarm over the collection effort.
"The National Security Agency's seizure and surveillance of virtually all of Verizon's phone customers is an astounding assault on the Constitution," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said.
One civil liberties group called this the "broadest surveillance order to ever have been issued."
"It requires no level of suspicion and applies to all Verizon subscribers anywhere in the U.S.," the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement.
The report in the Guardian newspaper follows revelations that the Justice Department was seizing the phone records of journalists, including at Fox News, in the course of leak probes.
The newspaper claims the document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens were being collected indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing.
Under the terms of the order, the phone numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls, The Guardian said.
A senior administration official, while not confirming the report, told Fox News a FISA court order would not allow the government to listen in on anyone's phone calls, saying that all the government would be able to collect would be metadata such as the telephone number or the length of the call. The official also said that any court orders issued under FISA are subject to "strict controls" to ensure the rights of citizens are not violated.
"Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States," the official said.
But Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, called the measure "beyond Orwellian."
"From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It's a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents," Jaffer said in a statement.
Verizon said in a message to employees on Thursday that it could not comment on the accuracy of the newspaper report but clarified that such a court order "compels Verizon to respond" and forbids the company from revealing the order's existence.
The alleged order also "excludes from production the 'content of any communication . . . or the name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer,'" Verizon said.
If true, the broad, unlimited nature of the records being handed over to the NSA is unusual. FISA court orders typically direct the production of records pertaining to a specific named target suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets. NSA warrantless wiretapping during the George W. Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks was very controversial.
The FISA court order, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, compelled Verizon to produce to the NSA electronic copies of "all call detail records or telephony [sic] metadata created by Verizon for communications between the United States and abroad" or "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls," The Guardian said.
The law on which the order explicitly relies is the "business records" provision of the USA Patriot Act.
Verizon Communications Inc. listed 121 million customers in its first-quarter earnings report this April -- 98.9 million wireless customers, 11.7 million residential phone lines and about 10 million commercial lines. The court order didn't specify which type of phone customers' records were being tracked.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge, Joy Lin and Jake Gibson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.