When people think back on the attempts of presidents and presidential candidates to engage directly with pop culture, they usually date the modern era to Bill Clinton donning shades and playing sax on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992. There were a few awkward attempts prior to that, like Richard Nixon participating in the "sock it to me" gag on Laugh-In in 1968. But Barack Obama has probably done more of these appearances than anybody else, not just going on shows like The Tonight Show and The View to be interviewed, but actually becoming part of the entertainment.
He slow jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon, but in that case he was essentially the straight man, which is the safe place for a president to be. After all, he needs to be in on the fun, but not sacrifice his dignity. Nixon may have said "Sock it to me," but his advisers were smart enough not to let him get hit in the head with a giant club. This morning, however, we get a look at what may be a new high in presidential pop culture performance. Believe it or not, Barack Obama sat down with Zach Galifianakis for an episode of "Between Two Ferns."
Israel’s announcement on Wednesday that its naval commandoes had seized a civilian ship laden with Iranian rockets bound for militant groups in Gaza came a day late to be included in the bill of particulars against Iran in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference. But it did come in time for a briefing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee by Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who used it to bolster the argument that Iran’s only true face is the terrorist one.
In other words, the extraordinary stupid arguments that Republican Senators raised about Abu-Jamal shouldn't be allowed to conceal their real agenda: kneecapping federal efforts to do things like protect voting rights, address police brutality, oppose employment discrimination. The Republican rejection of Adegbile is of a piece with a broader anti-civil rights agenda, such as their ongoing efforts to suppress the vote of racial minorities and the poor and a bare majority of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act based on incoherent arguments with no basis in the text of the Constitution.
For some time, a few liberals (like yours truly), and many more conservatives, have used the "Free Mumia" cause as a shorthand for a kind of ineffectual yet harmless activism that always exists in some corners of the left. Whatever the merits of Mumia Abu-Jamal's case, if you brought a "Free Mumia" sign to an anti-war rally in 2003 (as some people actually did), you weren't doing anybody any good.
But over three decades after his conviction for killing police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 as the officer conducted a traffic stop of his brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal's case continues to exert power, most particularly the power to strike fear and rage in the hearts of certain people.
President Obama is not afraid of this man. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
You probably saw a news item about a hearing yesterday of the House Government Oversight Committee. The reason you saw it is that it ended with some shouting, which is a relatively rare occurrence on Capitol Hill, and therefore that became an irresistible piece of news. But what really mattered about that hearing wasn't Darrell Issa cutting off Elijah Cummings' mike, causing Cummings to get extremely angry. It was that the hearing was happening at all. I'm not sure if there's ever been an opposition party more thoroughly convinced of a president's corruption yet so utterly incapable of doing anything about what they see as his crimes. You might think that's because Barack Obama is not particularly corrupt, and that's part of the story. But the Republicans' buffoonery—and Issa's in particular—when it comes to making Obama pay for his alleged misdeeds seems to know no bounds.
If Obama started on the Charles Atlas program, no one would kick sand in America's face.
Am I the only one seeing a new sense of purpose in the old neoconservative crowd, an almost joyful welcoming of a good old-fashioned Cold War showdown with the Russkies? Nobody's saying they don't love the War on Terror, but let's be honest, it's getting a bit old. Best to forget all about Iraq, and Afghanistan isn't much better. That jerk Barack Obama ended up getting Osama bin Laden, which was—well, let's be kind and call it bittersweet. But this Ukraine thing is just like old times. It's us against them, a battle of the big boys! Well, sort of anyway. So now is the time for action! Aren't there some missiles we can move into Turkey or something?
Ukraine is providing a great opportunity for the muscle-bound manly men of the right, who are totally not overcompensating so shut up, to demonstrate how tough and strong they are. Action!, they demand. Not words! We have to show Putin who's boss! He thinks we're weak! Obama is weak! We must be strong! Strong strong strong!
It is, I suppose, theoretically possible to get the big picture right even when you can’t see the small pictures at all. That seems to be the achievement of political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. in his cover story in the March issue of Harper’s.
As Reed sees it, both political parties have been captured by neo-liberalism, by Wall Street, by the cult of laissez-faire. The Democrats have succumbed while maintaining, or even increasing, their liberalism on social and cultural issues, even as the Republicans have moved rightward on those same social issues.
You haven't heard much about healthcare.gov lately, and that's because it's working pretty well. So this is a good moment to think back on both what went wrong and how it got fixed, which we get in a timely article from Steven Brill. The fixing story is an interesting one, but before it's too late, I want to do a little more blame-placing.
It goes without saying that much of the responsibility lies with the contractors who did such a terrible job of creating the site. Another way to think about the problems is that there was a missing middle: you had people who understood the technology but didn't grasp the politics, and people whose job was politics who didn't understand the technological challenges. That's intuitively appealing, but I think it lets the political people off the hook. Their screw-up wasn't a result of their unfamiliarity with technology. It was a political failure, full stop.
As more people sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the next few months will usher in a fundamental change in mental health care. Under the ACA, insurers are for the first time required to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment as one of ten “essential benefits.” This is good news for the millions of Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness but don’t seek treatment. The question now is whether the country’s mental health infrastructure is equipped to deal with an avalanche of new patients. The answer? Probably not.
Protesters in Kiev, a place John McCain knows as little about as everyplace else. (Flickr/streetwrk.com)
I'll admit that I know next to nothing about Ukrainian politics. And when it comes to the current crisis there, I don't have any brilliant ideas about how the United States could solve this problem, but that's partly because the United States probably can't solve this problem. My limited knowledge and lack of transformative ideas puts me on equal footing with John McCain. Yet for some reason, McCain is once again all over the news, now that the situation in Kiev is turning uglier by the hour. What does McCain have to say? Well, he believes that it's all Barack Obama's fault. "This is the most naive president in history," he said, citing as evidence the fact that five years ago, the Obama administration said it wanted to "reset" relations with Russia. Got 'em there, John. Obviously, if a certain someone was president, and he's not not naming any names here, this whole thing could be wrapped up in an afternoon.
What does McCain actually think we should do about Ukraine? We'll get to that in a moment. But if you had to sum up John McCain's foreign policy beliefs in a single word, that word would probably be "Grrrr!"
Last week I had lunch with my mother. At 86 going on 66 she’s remarkable, alert and energetic, in generally high spirits; in the last decade she’s found the church, which I figure is fair enough for anyone who knows they must be somewhere near the end. Now this enters her conversation more, which I accept as well as someone can who has a higher opinion of God than of religion. Mom and I used to talk about politics a lot, something that always unnerved my wife, who didn’t understand how our contentiousness could be so good natured. But starting with the Iraq War, which made me madder than anything in my political life (including the Vietnam War, when I was a potential draftee), and moving into the Age of Obama, we’ve tiptoed around the subject of politics, for reasons that became clear at last week’s lunch when we skirted the subjects of Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly’s Super Bowl interview with the president, health-care reform, and the weather.
Do you believe everything your boss tells you? The answer probably depends—if he tells you the Cubs are going to win next year's World Series then maybe not, but if he tells you your benefits are being cut and explains the reason why, you'll probably take him at his word. After all, he's in charge of the business, so he should know.
In late December, the Obama administration announced that the president would commute the sentences of eight prisoners serving decades-long sentences for crack-cocaine distribution (or intent to distribute). Last week, at a New York State Bar event, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced that there may be more—many more. The administration, he said, will seek other drug cases to consider for clemency, working with the Bureau of Prisons to encourage inmates to request commutations and asking that state bar associations help with preparing their petitions.
AP Images/The Tyler Morning Telegraph/Sarah A. Miller
Chances are that you missed the State Department releasing the final environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline last week. You were meant to: it came out on 4pm on the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday. The mainstream media only had a few moments to glance at the executive summary—the report itself is an un-skimmable eleven volumes long—before the news cycle moved onto the big game.