The Obama Administration

GM's Hunger Games

The hunger strike is just the latest in a long history of labor tensions in Colombia.

(GDA via AP Images)
H asta la muerte ! “To the death,” chanted 12 hunger strikers outside the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia. General Motors subsidiary Colmotores had fired the workers a year ago, claiming they were dismissed because of declining productivity. In truth, they were injured on the job and deemed no longer useful. On August 1, they sewed their mouths shut in protest. On August 6, Colmotores briefly sat down to negotiations with the workers, who formed the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors Colombia (ASOTRECOL), but ended up walking out later the same day. Protests in the United States and Colombia soon sprouted— Martin Sheen and Noam Chomsky have been among the more well-known public defenders of the GM workers. Under mounting public pressure, Colmotores agreed to negotiations facilitated by the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on August 23. The talks, however, did not result in GM rehiring the workers or compensating them for lost wages. After...

How Does the President Justify Having a Kill List?

Have you ever heard of Ben Swann, a Toledo reporter/analyst on local Fox news? I hadn't. But someone pointed me to one of Swann's recent four-minute segments , "Reality Check," in which he asks Obama how he justified having a kill list that includes American citizens who've never been charged with a crime—and then concisely analyzes both the constitutional issues and the reasons the national news media are giving Obama a pass. It is well worth your four minutes of watching time. It left me wondering: Why doesn't every reporter demand answers in this way? Why isn't local TV news always like this? My lord, this is far more worth discussing than most of what we saw from Charlotte last week.

Grading the Dems' 2016 Arithmetic

(Flickr/NewsHour)
Elizabeth Warren walks offstage after addressing the 2012 Democratic National Convention (Photo by Jared Soares for PBS NewsHour) W ow. That was some humdinger of a speech, huh? Clears up a lot about the upcoming election! No, I’m not talking about Barack Obama's closing address. Sure, the conventions serve as the unofficial kickoff for the final leg of the presidential campaign. But there’s always another story: Who’ll be the nominee next time? Up-and-coming pols have always used conventions as launching pads for future runs; they hobnob in hotel corridors with the Richie Riches who can fund their early ads in Florida. They make small talk with the New Hampshire county chair in the crazy hat. And they aren't always so subtle; many of the 2016 wannabes schlepped over this week to offer presentations to the Iowa delegation . But more than anything, primetime speaking slots on the main arena stage present an unusual opportunity to introduce oneself to a national audience. As everyone...

Third Night of the DNC: TV & Twitter Review

So the DNC gave us a week that got more and more sober as it went on. By last night, we were down and dirty with tough choices and grim policies. Foreign policy dominated the early part of the evening, with a salute to military veterans that had many in my Twitter feed commenting on how strange it was that the parties have switched places. The Republicans hadn’t even mentioned the wars or the veterans; as conservative Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted , “Really was malpractice, and wrong, for Romney not to mention troops in Iraq, Afghanistan in convention speech.” And so for a night the Democrats became the party of LBJ again, the party of a strong military and uncompromising attack. By the time Joe Biden trotted out his bumper sticker line, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!” the crowd chanted it with him. How strange was that: a crowd of Democrats cheering for someone’s head on a plate, and for a business bailout? Don’t get me wrong; I understand that both absolutely had to...

On Mom-in-Chief

There’s oh so many reasons to hate the phrase “mom-in-chief," the highly criticized phrase that cropped up in the end of Michelle Obama’s otherwise well-received speech Tuesday night. Let’s start with the most obvious, which is it’s yet another reminder that even amongst liberals in the 21st century, women still have to reassure the public that just because they’re independent doesn’t mean they don’t love their children. It’s also another example of how women are still expected to define themselves not by their accomplishments in the world, but by their relationships to other people, in a way men are never expected to do. As Kerry Howley at XX Factor noted , “mom-in-chief” invokes the image of Michelle Obama as “ready to lead legions of subservient moms to do battle against producers of unhealthy snacks.” It adds an extra layer of insult to women’s dignity: Apparently, mother sounds too powerful for sensitive ears, and has to be softened up with mom. If this ship doesn’t get turned...

Second Night of the DNC: TV and Twitter Review

The early part of last night’s DNC TV show couldn’t match Tuesday night. As I wrote yesterday, that first night rocked out over the body issues: health care for all, equal pay for women, open LGBT military service, repro rights, equal marriage laws—the human values of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. The speakers preached, and the crowd roared. The night was, as Robert Kuttner writes, a full-on embrace of the social issues that the Republicans have been attacking for decades. You hate homos? We love them! You think women are lying sluts? We believe in women’s integrity! It was awe-inspiring and energizing. Last night’s implicit theme was It’s The Economy, Stupid. Union dudes and CEOs stood up and explained—well, I couldn’t tell you what they explained, exactly, because one after another, they were so boring that my eyes rolled to the back of my head and my wife insisted that we turn it down the volume to “inaudible hum.” As Molly Ball (@mollyesque) tweeted, “The...

First Night of the DNC: A TV & Twitter Review

Did you watch it last night? It was an amazing night of TV, of Twitter (that instant snark convo), and of politics. My twitter feed was full of journos saying to each other: Wow, there’s a lot of energy here! Don’t you feel more buzz than in Tampa? I thought this was supposed to be the dispirited convention, but these folks are excited. You could see that in every breakaway shot of the convention floor: Folks were cheering, nodding, yelling back in witness. Over and over again, the Dems boasted proudly about standing up for health care, equal pay, LGBT rights (including the freedom to marry), and yes, reproductive rights, without apology. (CNN political commentator Erick Erickson got roundly swatted for tweeting, "First night of the Vagina Monologues in Charlotte going as expected.") Whoa. Way to respect your lady viewers! But he was right about this: The Dems were indeed standing up for the ladies’ power over their own bodies and paychecks. Up on stage, the speeches were just on fire...

Julian Castro's Great Expectations

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Before San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro walked onstage at the Democratic National Convention, the crowd was already pumped. They'd laughed and cheered as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland lambasted Mitt Romney—the former with righteous indignation, the latter with humor at full volume. After Castro exited, Michelle Obama, now unquestionably the most popular woman on planet Earth, took the stage with a speech that left both crowd and pundits—left and right—spellbound. Consequently, despite weeks of attention on the young Latino mayor, Castro's perfectly serviceable keynote speech isn't likely to be the one that everybody remembers. But that hardly means he failed. In fact, "perfectly serviceable" may have been the desired result. In their first day, the Democrats did a masterful job of both managing expectations and drawing specific contrasts with the GOP's convention last week. Castro shared the evening spotlight with Obama, much as New Jersey...

Should Labor Boycott Charlotte?

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The Democratic National Convention is less than a week away, and liberals are getting fired up. But at least one of the party's key constituencies isn’t quite so excited. That group is organized labor. Last July’s announcement that the convention would be held in the staunchly anti-union city of Charlotte, North Carolina—the least unionized state in the country—set off a firestorm of protest in the labor movement. A year later, dissatisfaction still simmers, and there's a case to be made for an unprecedented move. The message is simple: maybe labor should sit this one out. To a large extent, politics is about resources. How an organization decides to deploy those it has available says a lot about its values and priorities. So why would labor want to channel limited funds into bolstering a local economy organized around avowedly anti-union principles? By opting for North Carolina as a convention destination, rather than a swing state with stronger union infrastructure such as Ohio or...

No, National Review. Mitt Romney Is Not a Sex Symbol.

(Flickr/AlaskanLibertarian)
As election season slides into its final stretch, some members of the punditocracy, from lack of sleep and abuse of caffeine, start to lose their minds. Or at least that’s the most generous explanation for how Kevin Williamson came to write—and the editors at National Review came to approve—a bizarre love letter to Mitt Romney that falls somewhere between a hagiography and a letter to Penthouse . Williamson’s thesis—and you’re going to have to read his piece to truly understand that I’m not making this up—is that Romney’s wealth and fertility make him the sort of sex symbol that should be able to just waltz into the White House, if he just had the guts to be himself and stop trying to relate to the little people. While ordinary people might wonder about the decision-making process that led National Review to publish this bit of erotic fan fiction, those who watch the conservative movement closely have no doubts about the rationale. The piece is a smorgasbord of misogyny, contempt for...

The GOP's Platform Heels

(Flickr/PBS Newshour)
(Flickr/Courtesy of PBS NewsHour) The 2008 Republican National convention Oh, what excitement we’re having for a slow August! (One of my editors, frustrated that no one would return his calls, once called these two weeks “the dead of summer.”) First we learned that Representative Todd Akin believes women have magical powers to repel a rapist's sperm from our uteruses—and the underlying ideas that, as Lindsay Beyerstein yesterday delineated so crisply, "forcible rape is the only real rape" and "women habitually lie about rape," which she notes are two sides of the same coin. Then we learned that the draft Republican Party platform will continue to insist that women should never be permitted—under any circumstances, even rape, even childhood sexual violation, or even if the pregnancy endangers their lives—to refuse to host the comma-sized embryo lodged inside them. What exactly might a world with such laws look like? Consider what happened to a pregnant teenager in the Dominican...

Fast and Furious Returns

The House Oversight Committee, lead by California Republican Darrell Issa, has decided to bring suit against Attorney General Eric Holder. The underlying charges are a pseudo-scandal being overblown by Republicans who have been lacking in real Obama administration scandals to promote. And yet the suit does illustrate real and important issues with respect to the potential abuse of executive privilege, and for this reason may not be a bad thing. The contempt suit is an extension of an earlier citation of contempt by the Oversight Committee against Holder, which represented "the first time in American history that Congress has imposed the sanction on a sitting member of a president’s cabinet." The contempt citation came from an interbranch conflict surrounding the Fast and Furious "scandal," allegedly a failed sting operation by the Justice Department that was part of the larger "Project Gunrunner" project started under the Bush administration in 2006. After Border Patrol agent Brian...

Cordray Goes to Congress

House Republicans can’t stop fuming about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Job creators, job creators, job creators. That's all you hear from Mitt Romney and Congressional Republicans these days. For the most part, Republicans trot out the job creator (a figure spoken about with great veneration, but in fact a term coined and crowd-tested by GOP talking-point guru Frank Luntz) whenever large discussions on government spending or tax cuts come into play. But a quiet little hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill showed that this veneration trickles down to the most minute details of policymaking. The House Small Business Committee had summoned Richard Cordray, director of the upstart Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) , to testify on a series of regulations the agency proposed to drastically simplify the forms you see before you close a deal on a mortgage. Theoretically, the hearing was a chance for the representatives to scrutinize these regulations and propose subtle (or not-so-subtle) tweaks if things weren't working. But the types of changes...

Potlandia

(Flickr / pbump)
This November, voters in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have the chance to do something radical: legalize marijuana for recreational use. In all three states, activists secured enough petition signatures to place initiatives on the ballot to essentially treat cannabis like alcohol, regulating its distribution and taxing it. The three states already allow patients with ailments like cancer and AIDS to use marijuana; Colorado allows dispensaries, which make for a bigger and broader semi-decriminalized system. But if these initiatives pass, they would be the first allowing anyone who doesn't have (or claim to have) a medical need to use marijuana. One poll shows the Washington initiative passing by a 13-point margin, while a poll in Colorado predicts an even bigger margin in favor. These polls should be read skeptically, but they suggest the strong possibility that at least one of these initiatives could succeed. If that happens, it will raise a whole slew of questions for the country...

Explaining and Inspiring? Good Luck with That

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
When Barack Obama sat down with Charlie Rose recently, he scrutinized his past four years in office and named his failure to give equal weight to policy and narrative—what he termed "explaining, but also inspiring”—the biggest failure of his first term. His self-criticism sounded a melodious chord with the constant complaints the press corps has leveled against his presidency. After the 2010 State of the Union, George Packer called Obama’s inaugural year in the White House a “communications failure,” and Drew Westen, who laments Obama’s failures as a communicator with the fervor of a foreteller of Armageddon, reached his most apocalyptic heights when he wrote of Obama’s inauguration speech, “there was no story—and there has been none since.” Obama has agreed with these complaints before too. In November 2010, Obama went on 60 Minutes and said , “What I didn't effectively, I think, drive home, because we were in such a rush to get this stuff done, is that we were taking these steps not...

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