The Obama Administration

Obama's Squandered Recovery

In The Escape Artists, Noam Scheiber depicts a White House out of its depth on the financial crisis.

The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery . By Noam Scheiber, Simon & Schuster, 351 pages, $28.00. A guy I know told me a story. He had a friend who was working on the 55th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on that terrible day. When the plane hit the North Tower, everybody in the office understandably got very worried. When the plane hit the South Tower, people were going crazy. But the authorities on the floor—calm, experienced—told them not to panic. The guy’s friend thought to himself, “Fuck this, we’re all going to die," and raced downstairs, exiting the building right before it collapsed. I thought of that story when reading Noam Scheiber’s The Escape Artists, about the economic crisis at the start of Obama’s presidency and the administration’s response. In the book, based upon hundreds of on- and off-the-record interviews with principals and other witnesses to the events described, Obama and his top economic and political staff emerge as, to...

Congressional Battle Ready

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who is making her second run for Congress, lost both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. Duckworth first ran for Congress in 2006, but lost to Republican Peter Roskam. Now, the EMILY’s List candidate looks poised to win her primary in the Illinois 8th, and the seat in November. A 48-year-old Iraq War veteran, Duckworth has based much of her platform on veterans’ advocacy—a cause that was sparked by her first-hand experience recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I talked to Duckworth about a range of issues, but it was Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s comment about women in combat that sparked the greatest reaction. Duckworth, the daughter of a veteran, joined ROTC over 20 years ago, as a graduate student, and chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat positions open to women at the time. She went on to become one of the first women to fly combat missions in...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T-ing Teachers?

(Flickr/hpeguk)
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took to The Daily Show Thursday night to discuss and defend his agency's latest initiative: Project RESPECT. The project looks a lot like 2009's Race to the Top, a chance for states (and in this case school districts) to compete for big grants if they offer ideas that conform to the department's priorities. But unlike Race to the Top, RESPECT is almost entirely focused on teachers and teacher evaluation. It's not likely the Republican-controlled Congress will fund the $5 billion program, which is part of the the president's budget proposal, but the initiative does offer a clearer sense of the department's priorities. The plan emphasizes a need for higher salaries for teachers, but also pushes to reform job protections like teacher tenure and improving teaching colleges to make them more selective. If a state chooses not to compete, districts can apply for funds on their own or in concert. As Bloomberg News reports : The Obama administration...

Iran Is Not Cuba

In the face-off with the country, the best lesson from the past is that diplomatic compromise doesn't require appeasement.

(AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
Scrolling through news, especially news posted in America, I could think that it's time for me to stock up on canned food and check that my family's Israeli government-issue gas masks are working. The news suggests that Israel's air force is sure to attack Iran's nuclear facilities this year, perhaps this spring, possibly sparking a rain of retaliatory missiles from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Syria, despite or because of its current turmoil, might join in. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned earlier this month that Iran would soon reach an "immunity zone" in which its nuclear program would be impregnable—implying that Israel must strike first. The news site Ha'aretz's military commentator Amir Oren has bitterly expressed concern that the always-cocky ex-general Barak and his "assistant for prime ministerial affairs, Benjamin Netanyahu," might give the orders on their own, even though the law requires approval of the full cabinet to go to war. The Washington Post 's David...

Colbert Explains Contraception And the War On Religion

Stephen Colbert can't say that, can he?! Stephen Colbert Explains the Catholic Church and Contraceptives The comedian describes what Obama's birth control plan looks like to conservative Catholics. It involves a banana and a guillotine. The Colbert Report Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes , Political Humor & Satire Blog , Video Archive Log in or register to post comments

Republicans' Deceptive Payroll Tax Compromise

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Republicans finally came to their senses yesterday and realized they were waging a losing battle with their opposition to a payroll tax extension. The two-month extension Congress passed in December was set to expire by the end of this month, and Republicans were adamant that any further extension be paired with equal spending cuts. Democrats balked, instead suggesting a surtax on millionaires that the Republicans would never accept, and another last minute legislative showdown appeared inevitable. Then out of nowhere yesterday afternoon Congressional Republicans announced that they would drop their resistance: “Because the president and Senate Democratic leaders have not allowed their conferees to support a responsible bipartisan agreement, today House Republicans will introduce a backup plan that would simply extend the payroll tax holiday for the remainder of the year while the conference negotiations continue regarding offsets, unemployment insurance, and the ‘doc fix,’” said GOP...

The Coming Battle over NCLB Exemptions

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In 2014, no students will be behind in math or reading. All of them will meet grade-level goals. That's the plan according to No Child Left Behind. Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that ten states were getting waivers from the controversial law’s requirements. The states would implement their own plans, approved by the Department of Education, for improving public schools. New Mexico, the only other state that applied, was not granted a waiver, but Duncan explained htat this was because its application was incomplete. A few days, he said, and the state would likely be approved. According to the Obama administration, 39 states have expressed interest in applying for waivers. The next round of applications will be due by the end of February. In the meantime, a fight about the future of educational improvement is unfolding both in Washington and in school districts around the country. As 2014—the deadline for total proficiency—gets closer, educators, parents,...

Birth Control Chess

(Flickr/brains the head)
Last week, I argued that it was unlikely that many critics of President Obama's contraceptive coverage requirement would be mollified by a compromise that would allow a religious exemption but still mandate that employees be provided with contraceptive coverage at no extra cost. Apparently, we're about to find out if that’s the case. I was very concerned when I first read that Obama was planning to announce a "compromise," and part of me still wishes he had just stood firm given the that the arguments against the new regulation were so bad. But, as described, I believe that the “ accommodation ” that was announced by the administration is acceptable. The bottom line is that employees will still be able to receive contraceptive coverage at no extra cost, and as NARAL's statement explains "[i]t guarantees that women will encounter no barriers from their bosses or insurance plans in getting birth control without a copay." As long as the substantive rights and benefits of employees are...

Hidden Gems in the Mortgage Deal

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
In the end, as at the start, Thursday’s deal between five big banks, the Department of Justice, and the attorneys general of 49 states came down to New York, the center of mortgage securitization and securities misrepresentation, and California, the center of mortgage mis-origination. Those states’ attorneys general—New York’s Eric Schneiderman and California’s Kamala Harris, both progressive Democrats elected in 2010—weren’t about the give the banks a pass. Which is why it wasn’t until two a.m. Thursday that the deal was finalized. Schneiderman’s chief concern was to preserve and enhance his and other law enforcement agencies’ ability to investigate the banks. Harris’s foremost interest was to secure the best deal for the hundreds of thousands of California homeowners who were struggling to make the payments on their devalued homes. Together, they compelled the banks and the Obama administration to come up with a better deal than the one that the banks and the Justice Department had...

Catholic Men at CPAC Oppose Birth Control

(Photo: Patrick Caldwell)
CPAC, D.C.—The controversy around the Obama administration's decision to mandate birth-control coverage in health insurance has dominated the talk at CPAC. "You may not agree with what that religion agrees. That's not the point. The point is, the First Amendment still applies," Marco Rubio said in his early morning address on Thursday. A group called Confronting Religious Persecution in America was primed to take advantage of the latest controversy. They're a Catholic men's organization that favors the conservative interpretation of social morals. "We have a desire to fight in a peaceful manner," said James Bascom, who stood with perfect posture, "to defend the Church, to defend the teachings of the Church, and to defend the remnants of Christian civilization that are being undermined and being destroyed in our society." (The American Prospect/Patrick Caldwell) Bascom, of Confronting Religious Persecution in America, spoke out against the birth control clause in the Affordable Care...

The Mortgage Deal with the Devil

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
The long-awaited mortgage deal between the federal government, 49 state attorneys general, and five big banks that was announced Thursday is pretty thin gruel, but it could have been a lot worse. Under the deal, the banks will provide relief to homeowners in a deal variously described as ranging from $25 billion to more than $40 billion. But a look at the fine print suggests that only about $5 billion cash will actually change hands. Some $1.5 billion will go directly to homeowners who went through foreclosure, with each receiving about $2,000. Other cash will go to states to help distressed homeowners. The rest of the money will be granted in the form of “credits” to banks that refinance loans or reduce principal amounts of underwater mortgages. But this is, in fact, funny money. Much of this write-down has already been taken by the banks, which know that an underwater mortgage is worth far less than its nominal value. In exchange for agreeing to refinance loans, the banks will get...

Why Should the Government Enforce Catholic Church Beliefs?

Flickr/Kim TD
When I was growing up, we had an infinite supply of Catholic babysitters, who all came from families of 7 or 9 or 12. If Margaret stopped babysitting, Mary stepped right in. Once Mary got too old, there was Anne. That was no longer true for my baby sister, born 14 years after me. By the 1970s, those Catholic families had mysteriously stopped adding a new child every year. Now we all know what happened to those families: After 1968, en masse, they rejected the Catholic Church's ban on contraception. In her column today, Gail Collins explains that, now, the Catholic hierarchy is furiously trying to get the U.S. government to come in and enforce its beliefs. Is it really the role of a secular government to take sides in internal theological debates between a church and its members? No one in the administration is making it mandatory for Catholics (or non-Catholic employees at Catholic institutions) to take the Pill, whether for contraception or for the myriad reasons that women try to...

A Second Term at All Costs

“I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests," President Barack Obama said during his 2010 State of the Union, staring down the six Supreme Court Justices in attendance. It was a week after the high court issued its decision on Citizens United . That landmark ruling—followed shortly by a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Speechnow.org v. Federal Elections Commission that removed the $5,000 donation limit for political-action committees (PACs)—led to the development of super PACs that can receive unlimited campaign donations as long as they do not directly coordinate with the candidates on messaging and ad creation. The president spent much of the following year bemoaning new routes for corporations to buy political influence in elections and investing his political capital in the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have instituted additional disclosure requirements but done little to stem the flow of unchecked money. The efforts were...

High Fashion Backs Obama

Slideshow Obama Campaign Couture President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign is trying to duplicate the success of its 2008 Runway to Change designer collection with Runway to Win, a new apparel line making its debut February 7. All proceeds from the sales will go to the re-election effort. The Obama campaign is setting the presidential election contest ablaze with its second designer clothing collection. Runway to Win features 2012-themed apparel created by some of fashion’s heaviest hitters. The line launches February 7, with profits going toward the Obama re-election effort. This set of Obama-inspired attire is similar to the campaign’s first collection, Runway to Change, which included limited-edition inauguration duds from such designers as Zac Posen. Now, driven by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, a top-tier fundraising “bundler” for Obama’s 2012 campaign, other prominent designers—including Vera Wang, Beyoncé and Tina Knowles, Diane Von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang, Narciso Rodriguez, and...

Conservatives Ditch Corporate Spending After Eastwood Ad

(Flickr/Sachyn)
Conservatives spent Monday being outraged about the Chrysler Super Bowl ad featuring Clint Eastwood. They were upset that the great Western hero and former Republican would highlight Detroit manufacturing, which they argued was an implicit endorsement of Obama's policies. “I was, frankly, offended by it,” Karl Rove said on Fox News. “I'm a huge fan of Clint Eastwood. I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising." "The commercial’s theme was more closely informed by Barack Obama’s recent SOTU call for the country to put aside its differences and march to the president’s tune than by the rugged individualism that one usually associates with the star who played Dirty Harry and The Man with No Name," National Review 's Charles C.W. Cooke wrote . I was more ambivalent. It's nice to see...

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