TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Restates Support of Israel in Synagogue Speech

President Barack Obama delivers remarks in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month at Adas Israel Congregation May 22, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images President Barack Obama delivers remarks in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month at Adas Israel Congregation May 22, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

President Obama sought to reassure American Jews that he fully supports the state of Israel while reiterating the need for a two-state solution at a Northwest Washington synagogue on Friday.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security and my commitment to Israel’s security is and always will be unshakable,” Obama said, adding that not doing so would be a “moral failing.”

Obama spoke at the Adas Israel Synagogue on the inaugural “solidarity sabbath,” a holiday meant to consolidate support for Jews amid rising anti-Semitism that falls toward the end of Jewish Heritage Month. On Friday, lawmakers were slated to appear in congregations across the country to mark the day.

In the wake of attack at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe, there’s been growing attention to the persecution of Jews across the world. Obama noted that the rise of anti-semitism should not be treated as “passing fad.”

“When we allow anti-Semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed,” Obama said. “It will spread.”

The statements follow a wide-ranging interview published by The Atlantic on Thursday, in which President Obama stressed his love for the Jewish state of Israel, telling commentator Jeffrey Goldberg that supporting the rights of Jews abroad is equivalent to supporting the freedom of African-Americans at home.

“There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” he said. “These things are indivisible in my mind.”

On Friday, he reiterated those sentiments, reflecting on his own introduction to the Israeli community. “For a young man like me grappling with his own identity, Obama said, “the idea that you could be grounded in your history as Israel was but not be trapped by it. That idea was liberating”

Obama’s statements to Goldberg and before the congregation at Adas Israel on Friday come amid nuclear negotiations Iran that have put strain on one of the U.S.’ closest relationships. But he made clear Friday that criticism is not going to change his mind.

“I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody the Judeo-Christian and, ultimately then, what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium,” he told Goldberg.

And on Friday, before a crowd in a packed synagogue where the rabbi called him a “champion of freedom,” Obama sought to reassure the congregation that he could be both a friend and a critic of Israel.

“It’s precisely because I care so deeply … that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I feel,” he said.

TIME White House

Obama Steps Down From the Bully Pulpit

President Barack Obama eats lunch at Charmington's Cafe with Vika Jordan, Amanda Rothschild, and Mary Stein to discuss the needs of all Americans as they balance their families and jobs on Jan. 15, 2015 in Baltimore.
Kenneth K. Lam—Baltimore Sun/TNS/Getty Images President Barack Obama eats lunch at Charmington's Cafe with Vika Jordan, Amanda Rothschild, and Mary Stein to discuss the needs of all Americans as they balance their families and jobs on Jan. 15, 2015 in Baltimore.

Barack Obama, who rose to the White House on the strength of his speeches, will spend the twilight of his presidency having conversations.

The orator-in-chief will continue giving big set-piece speeches, such as Wednesday’s commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy tying climate change to national security. But with his agenda hemmed in by Congress and the public’s attention drifting towards his would-be successors, Obama is increasingly taking a more informal tack.

In January, he sat down with YouTube star GloZell Green, better known for a “cinnamon challenge” video. In April, he chatted about climate change with Bill Nye the Science Guy while on a tour of the Everglades. Earlier this month, he sat on a panel on poverty at Georgetown University with a Harvard professor and the head of a conservative think tank.

The White House says these are all part of an effort to come down from the bully pulpit and get into the pews.

“The President wants to spend the next year and a half not just talking at people but having a conversation with people and there are a range of ways to do that,” says Jennifer Psaki, the White House communications director.

She stressed that these more nontraditional interviews allow Obama to talk more at length about the issues he cares about, especially when the subject is not the lead story on cable news.

“There are many, many people who care deeply about climate change for example, but they may not be interested in reading the latest clip or watching the latest cable news piece about a debate on Capital Hill,” she adds. “They’re more interested in watching a clip or hearing more in depth discussion with the president of the United States about how to address this larger, bigger issue.”

The strategy also allows the White House to reach audiences that may not be tuning in to the news through more traditional outlets. When Obama went on comedian Zach Galifianakis’ web series Between Two Ferns last year to talk about insurance enrollment, some pundits clucked, but the White House noted that signups on HealthCare.gov spiked.

In many ways, Obama is just following the path of predecessors like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, who used radio and television in new ways to get their message out.

“Younger audiences receive information in different ways,” says Don Baer, CEO of strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller and former Clinton White House communications director. “There is no need to stand on a lot of ceremony about that. At one point in our history, the presidential press conference was viewed as innovative, new and foreign. Today it’s one of the core staples of presidential communications.”

There is a downside, says Tevi Troy, president of the American Health Policy Institute and author of “What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House.” The YouTube interview or the Top 40 radio station hit is not a presidential press conference, and the circumventing of the traditional media does not go unnoticed by the people of the White House press corps who constantly struggle for more access to the president.

“The number one downside is that the traditional media don’t like it,” Troy says. “And as president, that can impact the way they write about you.”

Still, Psaki insists the president’s conversations with bloggers and thought leaders do not signal that he’s completely done away with traditional speeches and interviews.

“It’s about expanding the scope of what you consider and also thinking about what your audience cares deeply about,” Psaki says. “How do you—not just talk at them, but also engage.”

TIME National Security

Obama Calls Climate Change a National Security Threat

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a commencement ceremony at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D. on May 8, 2015.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a commencement ceremony at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D. on May 8, 2015.

Obama says the global change in climate will pose a direct threat to our military

President Obama is once again arguing that climate change is a threat to national security.

In a commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday, Obama noted the problems created by extreme weather, which scientists believe can be exacerbated by climate change. Members of the Coast Guard are often among the first responders during natural disasters such as hurricanes.

“You are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us,” Obama told the class of 2015. “Climate change will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip, and protect their infrastructure, today and for the long term.”

During the speech in Connecticut, Obama said that an increase in natural disasters will lead to more humanitarian crises that pose direct threats to a nation’s stability. “More extreme storms will mean more humanitarian missions to deliver lifesaving help,” he said. “Our forces will have to be ready.”

The speech echoed statements presented in the White House National Security Strategy, which said extreme weather, rising tides and temperature shifts fights over scarce resources and diminishing coast lines that will have a stark impact on the global economy.

According to a White House report released Wednesday, the Department of Defense is currently examining the impact climate change can have on U.S. military bases. The Pentagon is also considering how much strain extreme weather places on the Coast Guard.

Wednesday’s speech is the latest Obama administration push to focus the nation’s attention on the threats of climate change. Obama has often said climate change is the greatest threat facing the world’s future generations. It was a sentiment he stressed during an Earth Day trip to the Florida Everglades where he said, “This is not a problem for another generation. It has serious implications for the way we live right now.”

Facing a skeptical Congress, Obama has relied on executive action in efforts to curb the effects of changing temperatures and rising seas. The U.S. has also pledged to a 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

“Some warming is now inevitable,” Obama said Wednesday. “But there comes a point when the worst effects will be irreversible. And time is running out. And we all know what needs to happen. It’s no secret.”

TIME global trade

White House Says Would Veto Trade Bill If Currency Amendment is Added

Barack Obama
Andrew Harnik—AP President Barack Obama speaks at a news conference after meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders at Camp David in Md. on May 14, 2015.

The amendment presented by Sen. Portman, Earnest said Tuesday would “undermine the ability of the Federal Reserve"

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday the President would consider vetoing the entire trade authority bill if an amendment co-sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman and Debbie Stabenow were to pass.

A vote an amendment that would target countries that manipulate the value of their currency to improve the prices of their exports could come as soon as this week in the Senate, Politico reports. Under Portman’s amendment, countries would be held to standards set by the International Monetary Fund.

The amendment, Earnest said during Tuesday’s briefing, would “undermine the ability of the Federal Reserve” and if it were to come across the president’s desk he would “even take the extraordinary step of vetoing the TPA bill.”

“The president would certainly not support that kind of provision,” Earnest said Tuesday, though he said there are additional amendments the administration is open to considering.

MONEY fiduciary

If Humans Can’t Offer Unbiased Financial Advice to the Middle Class, These Robots Will

Wall Street says it can't be a "fiduciary" to everyone who wants financial advice. But the new breed of "robo advisers" is happy to take the job.

Fast-growing internet-based investment services known as robo-advisers have already begun to upend many aspects of the investment business. Here’s one more: Potentially reshaping the long-standing debate in Washington over whether financial advisers need to act in their clients’ best interests.

If you work with a financial adviser you may assume he or she is legally obligated to give you unbiased advice. In fact, that’s not necessarily the case. Many advisers—the ones who are technically called brokers—in fact face a much less stringent legal and ethical standard: They’re required only to offer investments that are “suitable” for you based on factors like age and risk tolerance. That leaves room for brokers to steer clients to suitable but costly products that deliver them high commissions.

The issue is especially troubling, say many investor advocates, because research shows that most consumers don’t understand they may be getting conflicted advice. And the White House recently claimed that over-priced advice was reducing investment returns by 1% annually, ultimately costing savers $17 billion a year.

Now the Labor Department has issued a proposal that, among other things, would expand the so-called fiduciary standard to advice on one of financial advisers’ biggest market segments, Individual Retirement Accounts. A 90-day comment period ends this summer.

Seems like an easy call, right? Not so fast. Wall Street lobbyists contend that forcing all advisers to put clients first would actually hurt investors. Their argument? Because advisers who currently adhere to stricter fiduciary standards tend to work with wealthier clients, forcing all advisers to adopt it would drive those who serve less wealthy savers out of the business. In other words, according to the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a fiduciary standard would mean middle-class investors could end up without access to any advice at all.

(Why, you might ask, would anyone in Washington listen to business rather than consumer groups about what’s best for consumers? Well, that is another story.)

What’s interesting about robo-advisers, which rely on the Internet to deliver automated advice, is that they have potential to change the dynamic. Robo-advisers have been filling this gap, offering investors so-called fiduciary advice with little or no investment minimums at all. For instance, Wealthfront, one of the leading robo-advisers, has a minimum account size of just $5,000. It’s free for the first $10,000 invested and charges just 0.25% on amounts over that. Arch-rival Betterment has no account minimum at all and charges just 0.35% on accounts up to $10,000 when investors agree to direct deposit up to $100 a month.

Of course, these services mostly focus on investing—clients can expect little in the way of individual attention or holistic financial planning. But the truth is that flesh-and-blood advisers seldom deliver much of those things to clients without a lot of assets. What’s more, the dynamic is starting to change. Earlier this month, fund giant Vanguard launched Personal Advisor Services that will offer individual financial planning over the phone and Internet for investors with as little as $50,000. The fee is 0.3%.

The financial services industry says robo-advisers shouldn’t change the argument. Juli McNeely, president of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, argues that relying on robo-advisers to fill the advice gap would still deprive investors of the human touch. “It all boils down to the relationship,” she says. “It provides clients with a lot of comfort.”

But robo-adviser’s growth suggests a different story. Wealthfront and Betterment, with $2.3 billion and $2.1 billion under management, respectively, are still small but have seen assets more than double in the past year.

And Vanguard’s service, meanwhile, which had been in a pilot program for two years before it’s recent launch, already has $17 billion under management.

Vanguard chief executive William McNabb told me last week that, although Vanguard had reservations about the specific legal details of past proposals, his company supports a fiduciary standard in principle. Small investors, he says, are precisely the niche that robo-advisers are “looking to fill.”

 

 

 

 

 

TIME White House

Here Are the Best Responses to Obama Joining Twitter

The President now has his very own handle, @POTUS

President Barack Obama tweeted from his personal Twitter account first the first time on Monday.

It took just a few hours after the tweet went up at 11:38 a.m. ET for @POTUS to rack up more than 1 million followers, appearing to handily beat the current Guinness World Record for the fastest time to hit that milestone (it took Robert Downey Jr. 23 hours and 22 minutes in April 2014).

A video posted by the White House gave what seemed to be proof that it was actually Obama typing on a smartphone and not a staffer:

The Chicago Cubs appeared slightly offended that Obama, a noted White Sox fan, followed the Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls and Bears, but not their team.

Michelle seemed pretty excited:

Joe Biden was pleased:

And Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior advisor, was glad he signed up:

But it was perhaps No. 42 who had the greatest reaction—and a good question (#askingforafriend, of course):

Despite a busy schedule—he tweeted from Camden, New Jersey—Obama responded promptly, and with a good question in response:

Read next: You Asked: Why Are My Devices Messing With My Brain?

TIME White House

How Camden Became the Poster Child for Police Reform

Officer Adam Fulmore, of the Camden County Police Department, goes on a foot patrol in the Parkside neighborhood of Camden, N.J. on Aug. 22, 2013.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Officer Adam Fulmore, of the Camden County Police Department, goes on a foot patrol in the Parkside neighborhood of Camden, N.J. on Aug. 22, 2013.

For a speech highlighting police reform, President Obama chose to travel to Camden, New Jersey.

The Philadelphia suburb is one of the nation’s poorest and most violent cities, but in the past two years it has also become something of a poster child for police reform, earning praise from Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie alike.

The city’s mayor tells TIME that a restructuring of the police force helped transform an area that she said was borderline lawless. “Camden has had the reputation of being the most violent city in America for over two decades,” Mayor Dana Redd says. “It was almost like anything goes.”

On Monday, Obama will highlight the city’s reform efforts as a model for other municipalities where police and community relations are strained, tour a police data center and meet with young people from the area.

The city is home to about 77,000 residents but saw a record 67 homicides in 2012. That year, officials gutted the expensive, city-led police department and rebuilt a county police force in an effort to get more uniformed officers on the street. Many had been laid off in 2011—the year after, the city faced record homicides. In a city where violent crime was once rampant, the mayor says there’s been a 40% drop in homicides over the past two years.

A recent survey found students in middle and high schools feel significantly safer leaving the building. And the police and community members work together to keep peace. The city is also one of 21 communities across the nation that is taking part in a White House initiative to make better use of data and technology to increase transparency and track crime.

The President’s Task Force for 21st Century Policing released its final report on Monday, filled with pages of recommendations on how to make communities safer and restore trust. Camden was highlighted as a city on the right track. The Camden County Sheriff is quoted in testimony he gave before the task force saying, “the only way to significantly reduce fear, crime and disorder, and then sustain these gains is to leverage the greatest force multiplier: the people of the community.”

“It’s new paradigm unlike what the former police had to offer,” Redd says. “The new police department is really integrated in a way that connects with the community in positive engagement and our officers are serving as role models.”

That’s not to say the problems have been solved. The Wall Street Journal reports civil liberties groups have taken issue with the increase in citations for minor infractions and that groups like the NAACP are concerned about the fact that the new force’s union isn’t as strong as the past one. The mayor calls the overall experiment a “work in progress,” but notes that by restoring law and order to Camden, doors of opportunity will open in other areas. She wants to see businesses coming back, more students completing their educations, and perhaps even vibrant tourism in the city’s future.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Redd says. “But, this year we can see a light at the end of the tunnel for the people of Camden.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the drop in crime in Camden. Homicides are down 40% in the last two years.
TIME Barack Obama

President Obama Now Has His Own Twitter Account

President Obama gets his own Twitter account

Two Twitter accounts weren’t enough for President Obama. On Monday, he signed up for a third.

Though Obama has been an avid user of social media — and by one study is the most followed world leader on Twitter — his other accounts @WhiteHouse and @BarackObama are controlled by the Administration and Organizing for Action, the nonprofit that succeeded his presidential-campaign arm.

The new account, @POTUS, looks like more of a personal account, perhaps to allow him to continue running it after he leaves the White House.

The account rapidly added followers, going from zero to almost 100,000 in less than half an hour and growing by the minute.

Obama made some interesting choices setting up the account. The short bio reads: “Dad, husband, and 44th President of the United States.” And the header photo at the top of his account page is a picture with his family crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the anniversary of the iconic civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in March.

The White House says the new account is a way for the President to engage directly with the American people.

“President Obama is committed to making his Administration the most open and participatory in history, and @POTUS will give Americans a new venue to engage on the issues that matter most to them,” wrote a White House blogger announcing the account.

TIME White House

President Obama Honors Fallen Police Officers in D.C. Ceremony

President Barack Obama speaks to reporters following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit at Camp David on May 14, 2015.
Kevin Dietsch—Corbis President Barack Obama speaks to reporters following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit at Camp David on May 14, 2015.

The President delivered remarks at the 34th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on Friday

President Obama took a moment on Friday to thank the members of our nation’s law enforcement amid ongoing strife between police and communities of color.

During a speech at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service held at the U.S. Capitol at the close of Police Week, President Obama honored the lives of 131 peace officers who have died in the line of duty.

“To all of the families who are here today whose loved ones did not come home at the end of a shift please know how deeply sorry we are for loss that you’ve endured and know how deeply grateful we are for your loved one’s sacrifice,” Obama said Friday.

For a little over 10 minutes, President Obama delivered a measured address to the nation’s law enforcement, acknowledging the danger the nation’s men and women in uniform face every day, while noting the mistrust that exists between police and the communities they serve. That lack of trust has come to bear in recent weeks not only through the riots and protests on the streets of Baltimore, but also with the murders of officers in Mississippi, Queens, and Brooklyn.

Sheriff’s and police officers have even placed some of the blame for the spate of police killings and tensions on Obama. “Obama started this war on police intentionally,” wrote conservative Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr., in a series of tweets. “Right in line with his community agitating.”

“Your jobs are inherently dangerous. The reminders are too common,” Obama said Friday. “We cannot erase every darkness or danger from the duty that you’ve chosen.We can offer you the support you need to be safer. We can make the communities you care about and protect safer as well.”

Obama rattled off ways that could be done: more resources for officers, confronting poverty, mending relationships between police and community members. He closed by saying, “Most of all we can say thank you. We can say we appreciate you and we’re grateful for the work you do every day.”

After his speech, the President met with families of many fallen officers who were in the gathered crowd.

TIME Drones

Man Detained for Trying to Fly Drone Near White House

The White House was briefly placed on lockdown

A man was detained Thursday afternoon for allegedly attempting to fly a drone over the White House fence.

The unnamed person was held by the Secret Service, CNN reports, and a portion of the White House was briefly placed on lockdown.

President Obama is currently out of the White House at Camp David.

The incident comes just months after a quadcopter drone crashed into the White House lawn, causing a lockdown.

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