The Obama Administration

Missing the Arab Awakening

Fears of radical Islam and a depleted budget may keep the U.S. from shepherding a Middle Eastern transition to democracy.

Twitter/Shokeir
On January 25, Egyptians marked the one-year anniversary of their revolution with another massive demonstration in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of what has become known variously as the Arab Spring, the Arab Awakening, or the Arab Uprising. Whatever term one chooses for the events that began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor in December 2010 and soon swept through Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria—the last year has marked a decisive shift in the modern history of the Arab world. Though the situations in different countries have and will continue to take different paths, the people of the region have voiced their unmistakable rejection of the political and economic arrangements that have dominated their countries for decades. But what of the United States' role in the current era of transition? As I wrote in The American Prospect one year ago, the Egyptian uprisings offered President Barack Obama an opportunity to make good on the unfulfilled promise of his historic June...

Yes We Can ... Watch Something Else

Obama gave his 2012 State of the Union address last night, and all the eyes in the media and political world were tuned in. During the address, 766,681 SOTU-centric tweets were fired off , with 548 coming from inside the chamber. Despite the frenzy that takes over news rooms and congressional offices, the rest of the nation was more likely watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Wizards of Waverly Place . Ever since cable started competing with the networks for the hearts of the American public, ratings for primetime presidential addresses have plummeted, as shown by research conducted by Matthew A. Baum and Samuel Kernel of Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, respectively. Richard Nixon—not known for the most stirring rhetoric outside of defending questionable pet gifts—had 59 percent of households with televisions watch a routine press conference he gave in 1969. In 2010, Obama only had 41 percent of households watch him give the most important presidential...

The Difference Between Viagra and The Pill

Starting in August, women will no longer have to pay more than men for the prescriptions (the Pill, Viagra, Cialis) that enable them to have active sex lives. That was the big news this past Friday, when Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declared that almost* all employers must now pay for contraception in their health plans under the Affordable Health Care Act's requirement that insurers cover all preventive services. No co-pays. No deductibles. Whether or not women should pay for having sex—whether financially or through pregnancy—has been, shall we say, a hot topic for centuries. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. birth rate dropped dramatically because of new technologies (rubber condoms, that invention of Goodyear). Teddy Roosevelt decried contraception as "race suicide." Margaret Sanger went to jail for keeping women from withering and dying from gestating and delivering one after another bundle of joy. Late-19th- and early-20th...

Obama's History Channel

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
After months in which the Republican candidates for president have dominated the nation’s political discourse—likely, to their own detriment— President Barack Obama retook center stage last night with a State of the Union address that was the overture to his own re-election campaign. His theme was the indispensability of collective action—of national purposes advanced by public commitments to such mega-goals as the reindustrialization of America, with the burdens and rewards shared equitably by all. (At times, the speech sounded like a rebuttal to Maggie Thatcher’s assertion that there is no society, just individuals.) At the same time, however, Obama vowed to go it alone, if needs be, in reaching those goals—or, more precisely, that if congressional Republicans weren’t going to help him, he’d call them out again and again. The speech mixed Thomas Jefferson (attacking finance) and Alexander Hamilton (fostering domestic manufacturing, making the case for public investment in new energy...

The Scarlet Tax Return

AP Photo
Mitt Romney’s newly released tax returns, showing that he paid taxes in 2010 at a rate of just 13.9 percent on income of $21.6 million, should provide ammunition for President Barack Obama’s newly rediscovered populism. Obama is on record supporting a “Buffett Rule,” that the boss should pay at least the same tax rate as the help. In the watered down economic dialogue of 2012, a flat tax rate rather pitifully passes for the progressive position. Not so long ago, progressives were of the view that the more money you made, the higher your rate should be. The tax schedule should be, well, progressive. The original presidential sponsor of this concept was that Bolshevik, Theodore Roosevelt. That view of progressive taxation was widely held and was public policy in America, until the supply-side revolution of the Reagan era and its claim that lower taxes on dividends, interest, and capital gains would reward, and hence promote, investment and growth. Unfortunately for the theory, taxes,...

Romney and Off-Shore Bank Accounts

Life must be good at the Obama campaign's Chicago headquarters these days. They can sit back and idly watch as Republicans do their job for them. This is around the time that a presidential reelection campaign would begin zeroing in on the best strategy to use against their general election opponent, but the GOP field has already settled on the narrative against frontrunner Mitt Romney. Instead of a primary defined by Romney's dreaded authorship of Massachusetts's health mandate or his wavering stance on abortion, Romney's opponents have unloaded on his "vulture capitalism" and glee at handing out pink slips. The spotlight was directed on Romney's hesitance to release his tax returns at the debate earlier this week, and will surely be raised again tonight when the candidates gather in South Carolina. Obama for America isn't taking the Republican implosion for granted though. In a conference call with reporters earlier today, campaign officials ripped into Mitt Romney as out of touch...

Exxon Ain't Cryin' Yet

The victory against Keystone XL is an essential—but insufficient—step to building a powerful climate movement. 

This afternoon, the Obama administration rejected an application from transmission company TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport carbon-rich oil from Canada’s tar sands, through America’s heartland, to refineries in Texas. That doesn’t mean the pipeline won’t be built. It just won’t be built on the timeline set by Republicans. Far from embracing the coalition opposing the pipeline, President Barack Obama has indicated that the permit is primarily a State Department affair and that he is most concerned about the potential threats to “the health and safety of the American people,” as he said in his November statement. His most forceful statements about Keystone came in response to Republicans’ legislative efforts to bully his administration into a decision. He has had little to say about the climate-change implications of the pipeline project. Republicans in Congress forced this decision with a deadline-setting rider to the payroll tax extension, and the...

Resistance Is Not Futile

Slide Show: The grassroots movement that effectively rallied against the Keystone XL pipeline project

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Slideshow Resistance Is Not Futile The grassroots movement against the TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. Protesters across the country mobilized against plans to build the Keystone Pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. Critics of the project argued that the dirty tar sands oil transported in the pipeline would devastate the ecosystems and water supplies of the communities along the route. Meanwhile, proponents, including congressional Republicans, said the project would create jobs. In December 2011, the Republican Congress approved a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance with a provision that President Obama make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline within two months. Obama was expected to make an announcement rejecting the project January 18.

The End of the Internet?

As Wikipedia and Google protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a rival bill offers a middle road to protecting copyrights.

Nancy Scola/yfrog
Google Google featured a censored doodle in protest of proposed SOPA legislation Wednesday. After President Barack Obama released a statement over the weekend that he would not sign any bill resembling the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Representative Darrell Issa postponed Wednesday’s hearing on the proposed law. News as of today is that SOPA is DOA. Since December, prominent tech figures and digital activists, including luminaries like Sergey Brin of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, have characterized the bill as a draconian measure that would chill online innovation. A number of popular websites like GoDaddy, Reddit, and Wikipedia have threatened to black out service for a day to boycott the law, and Craigslist, in its rudimentary script, has a running message on its site protesting the measure. New legislation introduced by Issa and Senator Ron Wyden called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) looks to avoid a number of the problems with SOPA that...

Lonely at the Top

The debate among the Republican candidates over Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital has raised again questions about whether Romney’s tenure in the “1 percent” will damage his campaign. The Obama team certainly welcomes this debate. After all, they have been attacking Romney along precisely these lines: The day after Mr. Romney squeezed out a razor-thin victory in the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Obama’s political brain-trust trained most of its fire on him, painting him as both a Wall Street 1 percent type and an unprincipled flip-flopper. Some new survey data that Lynn Vavreck and I have gathered in collaboration with YouGov suggests that Romney is vulnerable to this line of questioning. In a survey conducted nationwide from January 7-10—right about the time that the Republican attacks on Romney’s “vulture capitalism” were crescendoing as the New Hampshire primary approached—we asked respondents: How well do you think each the following describes Barack Obama/Mitt Romney: very well, somewhat...

Yes, It's "Rape" Rape

Last week I heard two pieces of good news about rape—one local, one national. The local news: While Boston's serious crime reports dropped by 8 percent overall, rape reports spiked by 12 percent, according to police; the rise was especially dramatic in some lower-income sections of the city. So why is that good news? Well, no one believes more rapes occurred—primarily because there was no increase in reported rapes by strangers, which are most likely to be reported but only make up an estimated 20 percent of all rapes. Nope, the good news was that Boston women decided to report it when acquaintances, boyfriends, dates, friends, and family members forced them to have sex. Public-health and criminal-justice statistics folks know that's happening; according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's recently released sexual violence survey , nearly one in five women is raped in her lifetime, and more than one million women are raped each year. Far fewer are reported to police...

Obama Announces New Chief of Staff

Budget Director Jack Lew will take over for Bill Daley.

President Barack Obama announced Monday that Bill Daley, who has served as his administration's chief of staff for one year, is stepping down. In a statement to the press at the White House, President Obama said that Daley's resignation letter last week took him by surprise and that he initially refused to accept it. "But in the end, the pull of the hometown we both love—a city that's been synonymous with the Daley family for generations—was too great," Obama said, referring to Chicago, where the two men first met. Daley took over as Obama's chief of staff in 2011 after Rahm Emanuel left office to make a successful bid for the Chicago mayor's office. During his year-long tenure, Daley oversaw bitter fights over the American Jobs Act and the budget. Jack Lew, a D.C. veteran who previously served as budget director for President Bill Clinton and deputy director for the Department of State under Hillary Clinton, was recommended by Daley to succeed him at the post. Most recently, Lew...

Payment Where Payment's Due

The uninsured cost the health-care system $120 billion a year. All the individual mandate does is make them pay for it.

The Republicans who argue that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) violates the Constitution have based their argument around the idea that the law will result in a remarkable new expansion of federal power that will lead us on a path to total government tyranny. As the brief filed by the Obama administration in defense of the ACA makes clear, however, the mandate to purchase insurance in fact falls squarely within the framework of federal power that the Supreme Court has consistently advanced since the New Deal. It’s a clear explanation of the history and goals of the legislation and the relevant constitutional issues that everyone interested in this important question should read. Arguments against the ACA center on the assertion that the bill’s requirement that most individuals obtain health insurance or pay a tax penalty goes beyond the power Congress has under Article I Section 8 to regulate “interstate commerce.” According to the bill’s constitutional critics, because the health-...

Mitt the Unassailed

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Manchester, New Hampshire —Well, that was unremarkable. The last presidential debate until another begins ten hours from now saw none of Mitt Romney’s challengers actually challenge him. His toughest challenge probably came from George Stephanopoulos, who asked him if his assertions on Bain Capital’s job creation were really on the level—neither Newt, Ron, Jon nor the two Ricks, confronted Romney with anything as potentially threatening to his lead. Part of the problem, as my colleague Jamelle Bouie has pointed out, is that a number of these guys don’t really seem to be running for president. Ron Paul, who took off two-and-a-half days between the Iowa caucuses and his arrival in New Hampshire yesterday afternoon, is simply running to spread the libertarian word, and take shots at his inconstantly conservative rivals (focusing tonight on Rick Santorum—not Romney). Paul had a good night pitching to libertarians and anti-warriors. Santorum had a good night, too, but it’s not likely that...

Occupying Grand Central Station

OWS rings in the new year with a fight against NDAA.

Sargeant Shamar Thomas protests against NDAA Tuesday at Grand Central Station.
Five hundred people returned to Zuccotti Park on New Year's Eve, with drums, chants of "Whose Year? Our Year!", and a tent, which they say they gave to police in exchange for entrance to the park. An hour before midnight, police and occupiers attempting to remove metal barricades around Zuccotti had a violent confrontation and, by 1:30 a.m., police had cleared activists from the park. Tuesday, occupiers mobilized against the National Defense Authorization Action signed by President Obama on New Year's Eve. After a lunchtime march to the offices of New York senators, occupiers gathered in the Grand Central train station, where multiple people were arrested while leading "People's Mic" recitations of an anti-NDAA script. The indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA have become a lightning rod for Occupy actions, including Philadelphia—where activists presented "Fascist of the Year" awards to actors portraying their Senators—and Iowa, where they occupied the hotel headquartering the...

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