Economy

Lots of people can (and will) tell you about the views of Jim Yong Kim, the administration's nominee to be World Bank president, on fighting poverty and improving global health over the next few days. But the Wall Street Journal has unearthed what's sure to be the most compelling character testimonial you're going to find (fast forward till about two minutes in to get to the good stuff):  A bit painful to watch, I know, but it convinced me the guy is going to be pretty terrific in this job. I love him already. 

On Sunday, The Washington Post published a long, blow-by-blow of last summer’s negotiations between Barack Obama and John Boehner over a $4 trillion deficit deal. The take-away from the piece is that Obama had a chance at a deal involving $800 billion in tax increases and trillions in spending cuts (including cuts to sacred programs like Medicare and Social Security), but that he got cold feet and backed away.

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It’s very hard to watch “The Road We’ve Traveled,” 17-minute documentary the Obama campaign released Thursday night, and not be impressed by its underlying premise, which is that the president inherited a terrible set of crises, and that we’re in far better shape thanks to his efforts. The video succeeds in recreating the clammy terror of the financial crisis, and in calling up the sense of relief you felt when this obviously serious and composed young president spoke so fluently about how we’d get out of it.

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I’m hardly the first to seize on the new Washington Post poll showing Obama’s continued struggles with independents. Heck, I’m not even the  first writer at this magazine to weigh in. But there’s a wrinkle of the story that’s received less attention, and so I think it’s worth piling on a bit more.  According to the Post’s write-up, and to many of the commentators who’ve kibitzed about it, Obama’s sudden retreat among independents—57 percent now disapprove of his handling of the economy—is mostly a function of rising gas prices.

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Today is finally the day you can walk into a Barnes & Noble and pick up your copy of The Escape Artists—or, for that matter, simply order it on Amazon, no “pre-ordering” involved. On the off-chance you’d like to know what you’re getting into beforehand, The New York Times has a review of the book in today’s paper, and The Huffington Post has written about it here and here.

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Really enjoyed answering everyone's questions on my reddit "Ask Me Anything" Q&A yesterday. So much so that I'm coming back for more today at 11am. Hit me with your best shot! 

Jon Chait asks the key question in response to the internal administration memo I uncovered while researching my book--the one in which Christy Romer wrote that it would take $1.7-to-$1.8 trillion to fully revive the economy by 2011. Chait writes: It’s important to keep in mind, though, that this still does not resolve the question of whether or not Obama could have gotten a larger stimulus. ... [T]he ultimate decision-making power here was where it always was: with Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter, the senators who stood at the decision-making point.

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At least on the left, by far the oldest and most energetically-debated question about Obama is whether his bipartisanship is naïve or shrewdly strategic (in addition to being sincere, which almost everyone concedes it is). Since at least 2007, battle-scarred liberals like Paul Krugman—and for that matter Hillary Clinton—have derided his bipartisan musings as gauzy blather at best and, at worst, dangerously provocative, since Republicans would exploit them.

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Many pundits seem convinced the Obama Administration’s decision on contraception coverage is bad politics for the president. And although I support the decision to make coverage mandatory, even for large religious institutions, that conclusion about the politics is likely true in at least one sense. Up until about a week ago, Obama was cruising politically. Unemployment was falling, the Republicans were self-destructing, and the president’s poll numbers were climbing. The improvement was modest, for sure, but the trend seemed to be steady and in the right direction.

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If you think the controversy over birth control and health insurance is simple, you probably haven't spent enough time hearing out the other side. I happen to support the administration's decision to make contraception coverage mandatory, limiting the rule's "conscience" exemption to churches and institutions that primarily employ co-religionists. But I also think the critics make some valid points. Chief among them: Freedom of religion means the freedom to observe the tenets of one's faith.

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