Blogs

President Obama to Appear on "The Colbert Report"

| Fri Dec. 5, 2014 9:29 AM EST

President Obama will have the distinct honor of appearing on one of the handful of episodes that remain before the nation must bid a sorrowful adieu to the institution that is "The Colbert Report."

Host Stephen Colbert, who is replacing David Letterman over at the "Late Show," announced the booking last night, summing it up as a great privilege to "be sitting down with the man who sat down with Bill O'Reilly."

The interview will take place Monday, December 8th and be broadcasted from George Washington University for a special D.C. edition. So pumped, we are.

 

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Unlike Diamonds, E-Books Are Not Forever

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 9:21 PM EST

Microsoft is getting a divorce from Barnes & Noble:

On Thursday, the two companies parted ways, with Barnes & Noble buying out Microsoft for about $125 million. In other words, in just over two years, the value of the Nook business has lost more than half its value.

....And yet despite these grim numbers, Barnes & Noble has reason to look favorably on its relationship with Microsoft. The initial $300 million investment gave the bookseller an infusion of cash when it needed it most....Microsoft, meanwhile, was hoping that the Nook software would bolster its own tablet business, making it a more viable competitor to Apple’s iPad. That didn’t pan out, and Microsoft was left committed to a declining Nook business that was adding little to its own ambitions in the tablet market.

This highlights one of the big problems with e-books: what happens when there's no software left to read them? I'm a big user of the Nook app on my Windows tablet, but its demise was announced months ago. Microsoft doesn't care about Nook because it's not a killer app for Windows 8, and B&N doesn't care about Windows 8 because Windows tablets have a minuscule market share. So the app died. For now everything is still fine, but it's inevitable that when upgrades stop, eventually an app stops working for one reason or another. Will I then be able to read my Nook books in some new Microsoft reader? Or will I just be up a creek and forced to switch to an iPad or Android tablet? There's no telling.

It's weird. I think I now know how Mac partisans used to feel when Microsoft was eating their lunch. They all believed that Macs were obviously, wildly superior to anything from Redmond, and were only on the edge of extinction thanks to massive infusions of marketing by an industry behemoth. Now I'm in that position. After considerable time spent on both iPad and Android tablets, I find my Windows tablet obviously, wildly superior to either one. It's not even a close call. But the market disagrees with me. The few drawbacks of Windows 8, which I find entirely trivial, are deal breakers for most users, and as a result app makers have stayed away. This causes yet more users to avoid the Windows platform and more app makers to stay away, rinse and repeat.

What a shame. I guess I can only hope that by the time Windows tablets are consigned to the dustbin of history there will finally be an Android tablet that's actually usable by adults who want to do more than update their Facebook pages. We'll see.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, this wouldn't be a problem—or not such a big problem, anyway—if Amazon and other e-book vendors allowed third-party apps to display their books. But they don't, which means Amazon's monopoly position in e-books also gives them a monopoly position in e-book readers. This is really not a situation that any of us should find acceptable.

Meet the Family Behind Latin America's Version of Planned Parenthood

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 6:24 PM EST
A reproductive health class in Bogotá, Colombia.

People in the United States have been going to Planned Parenthood for nearly a century, ever since Margaret Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916. But it wasn't until 1977, after the US had already celebrated Roe v. Wade, that Colombian women had any equivalent organization to turn to. That was the year Dr. Jorge Villarreal started Oriéntame, a women's reproductive health clinic now credited with inspiring more than 600 outposts across Latin America "and for reshaping abortion politics across the continent," writes Joshua Lang in a story about the Villarreal family, out today in California Sunday.

In the 1950s, botched abortions caused nearly 40 percent of Colombia's maternal deaths.

Jorge Villarreal Mejía graduated from medical school in 1952 and soon took the reigns of the obstetrics department at Colombia's national university. During that time, botched abortions caused nearly 40 percent of the country's maternal deaths. "Women in slum areas were putting the sonda (catheter) inside of them without any sonography," his daughter Cristina Villarreal told Lang. "They used ganchas de ropa (coat hangers), anything." When these women showed up at general hospitals, they were shamed and quickly given basic medical attention at most.

So in 1977, Jorge opened a stand-alone health clinic in Bogotá called Oriéntame. Abortions were illegal, so Oriéntame had to focus on helping women who were already suffering from bad abortion attempts, or "incomplete abortions." Colombians had to wait another thirty years before their mostly Catholic country legalized abortion, under pressure from a coalition that included Cristina Villarreal. (Abortion is now legal in Colombia when a mother's physical or emotional health is in danger.) In the meantime, Oriéntame continued its mission to heal and empower women, using a sliding-scale payment model in order to reach poorer clients. In 1994, Cristina assumed leadership of the organization, which had grown to include a second nonprofit to help doctors around Latin America open their own Oriéntame clinics.

Not unlike the volatile abortion politics in the US, across Latin America, "for every political action, there seems to be an equal but opposite reaction."

Lang's story, an eye-opening and educational read, details the Villarreals' persistence in the face of police and priests, health administration raids, legal battles, money troubles, and social stigma. Not unlike the volatile abortion politics in the US, across Latin America, writes Lang, "for every political action, there seems to be an equal but opposite reaction," making Oriéntame's success "all the more unlikely." Today, the organization continues to struggle for funding. But fortunately for the estimated 4.5 million women seeking abortions every year across Latin America, and countless others looking for reproductive guidance, Oriéntame's network has already laced together a much-needed safety net that will be difficult to undo.

Jon Stewart Explains What Is "So Utterly Depressing" About the Eric Garner Grand Jury

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 2:38 PM EST

Last night, Jon Stewart began the Daily Show by dropping the comedy and expressing in very human terms the frustration and disbelief everyone (or (well, not everyone) is feeling after a Staten Island grand jury's failure to indict the NYPD officer who put Eric Garner in a lethal chokehold on film."If comedy is tragedy plus time I need more fucking time—but I would settle for less fucking tragedy, to be honest with you. What is so utterly depressing is that none of the ambiguities that existed in the Ferguson case exist in the Staten Island case. And yet the outcome is exactly the same." Stewart says. "We are definitely not living in a post-racial society and I can imagine there are a lot of people out there wondering how much of a society we're living in at all." Pretty much.

 

A Big-Picture Conversation With David Corn on What the 2014 Elections Really Mean

Thu Dec. 4, 2014 2:37 PM EST

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke at the Chicago Humanities Festival in November, touching on the aftermath of the midterm elections, what lies ahead in 2016, and the continued fallout from the 47% video. Watch here:

St. Louis County Police on Tamir Rice Killing: "Kids Will Be Kids?"

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 2:19 PM EST

Update 12/5/2014: Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County Police Department posted a message on Facebook apologizing for officer Aaron Dilks' previous post, calling it a "misguided communication strategy."

On Thursday morning, the St. Louis County Police Department took the ill-advised step of deciding to weigh in on the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed by a Cleveland police officer last month, with a Facebook post titled, "Kids will be Kids?"

The post, which the Guardian reported was written by officer Aaron Dilks, urged parents to sit down with their kids and warn them about the dangers of playing with an Airsoft gun. That's the toy gun Rice had in a Cleveland park when 26-year-old rookie officer Tim Loehmann fatally shot him just seconds after pulling into the parking lot. The tragic incident was caught on surveillance video.

"If the type of gun is in question...the Police will respond as though it is a real gun until it can be confirmed one way or the other," the post said. It provided instructions for children to follow if they find themselves in a similar situation to Rice: "Do not run away. They need to no longer have the gun in their hands, throw it away from them."

That may well be reasonable advice. But the timing of the post, replete with tone-deaf headline, was horrible: Not only did Rice's death come just days after a St. Louis grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, but this post came within hours of a Staten Island grand jury deciding not to indict the NYPD officer whose choking of Eric Garner led to Garner's death. After all the controversy surrounding its tactics in Ferguson, how could the St. Louis County PD fail to realize that any pronouncements that could be construed as absolving police of the Rice killing would inflame a volatile situation?

The Facebook post, blasted by critics on social media for being insensitive, was removed by late Thursday morning, as was a St. Louis County PD tweet that had promoted it.

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No, the Garner Case Doesn't Show That Body Cameras Are Useless

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 12:51 PM EST

Very quick note: ever since last night, a lot of people have been making the point that Eric Garner's killing produced no grand jury indictment even though the whole incident was captured on video. So maybe the whole idea of body cameras on police officers is pointless.

This is ridiculous. There are pros and cons to body cameras, but only in the rarest cases will they capture a cop killing someone. Even if, arguendo, they make no difference in these cases, they can very much make a difference in the other 99.9 percent of the cases where they're used. The grand jury's decision in the Garner case means a lot of things, but one thing it doesn't mean is that body cameras are useless.

Can We Please Kill Off the Kabuki in the Press Room?

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 12:14 PM EST

Things are a bit slow this morning, so I want to replay for you a Twitter conversation with CNN's Jake Tapper. The subject is Jonathan Karl of ABC News, who harassed press secretary Josh Earnest earlier this week over President Obama's picks as ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary. Neither one has any special diplomatic experience, and one of them is a former producer for a soap opera:

Jake Tapper: meant to give props to @jonkarl for his Bold and Beautiful ambassador questions to @PressSec the other day

Kevin Drum: Why? Is anything really gained by this daily kabuki in the press room?

JT: why what? why is it worth challenging people in power about questionable decisions?

KD: It's kabuki. Everyone knows the answer. It's happened forever. Earnest wasn't going to answer. Why waste the time?

JT: i guess i dont think trying to hold those in power accountable is a "waste of time." have a great day

Tapper's point is pretty easy to understand, and my colleague Nick Baumann agrees with him. There's a long tradition of rewarding big campaign contributors with cushy ambassadorial posts in spite their fairly visible lack of qualification. There's not much excuse for this, so why not demand to know why Obama is doing it?

But here's my point. This is yet another example of a bad habit that the White House press corps engages in constantly: faux confrontation over trivia that gets them camera time and kudos from late-night comedians, but is, in reality, completely pointless. Jonathan Karl knows perfectly well why these two folks were appointed. They raised lots of money for Obama. Josh Earnest knows it too. This stuff has been going on forever. But Karl knows something else: Earnest is a spokesman. He's flatly not allowed to fess up to political stuff like this, and he's just going to dance around it.

This is why I called it kabuki. If this were actually an important topic where there was some uncertainty about the answer, then confrontation would be great. I'd like to see more of it for truly important stuff. But is Karl's investigative reputation really enhanced by an inane kindergarten round of "let's pretend" with whatever poor schmoe happens to be at the press room podium? Is this truly an example of "holding those in power accountable"?

I really don't see it. Then again, maybe Karl is working on a whole segment about the ridiculous practice of rewarding supporters with cushy diplomatic posts in fashionable countries. Or maybe even a segment asking why countries even bother having ambassadors in high-profile capitals where they serve precious little purpose anymore. If that's the case, then maybe the questions made sense.

But purely as confrontation? Please. Dignifying this silliness as "challenging people in power" is like calling a mud fort an infrastructure project. It really doesn't deserve any props.

UPDATE: Hmmm. Apparently Tapper and some others interpreted my initial tweet as referring to the entire concept of the press briefing. So to some extent, this is a misunderstanding. Obviously I don't object to the general practice of holding briefings (though I wish reporters would boycott all the "background" briefings). I just object to the habit of peppering White House flacks with questions about trivial topics that everyone knows the answer to. It seems more designed to get YouTube kudos than to truly challenge anyone in power.

This Pro-Hillary Cowboy Anthem Will Make Your Ears Bleed

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 11:56 AM EST

The 2016 presidential election's stupid season has begun. Sure, it's only been a month since the midterms, but a bevy of super-PACs are already boosting Hillary Clinton's nascent presidential campaign. Three new pro-Hillary groups have been established in the past six weeks, the Washington Post's Matea Gold noted Thursday.

One of those new super-PACs is Stand With Hillary, which debuted by releasing a truly horrendous pro-Hillary country anthem. In the video—which leans heavily on shots of barns, tractors, and construction workers—a bearded cowboy croons about his desire for Clinton to run for president one more time. "Now it's 2016," he sings, "and this time I'm a thinkin', guys put your boots on and let's smash this ceiling," at which point a pane of glass with 2016 written on it is literally smashed with a sledgehammer. Oy vey.

"Don't matter if you're living across this great land in a red or blue state," he sings. "Cuz our American dream is at stake and there's some hard choices that need to be made. We're needing a leader who is tough and ready, who's got vision." It's left unsaid whether this cowboy favors Clinton for her hawkish foreign policy views, her support of fracking, or her thoughts on parental leave laws.

But purely as a piece of music, this is rubbish. If you want a better country song, try some Blake Shelton. And if you want a song to serve as the soundtrack to Clinton's presidential rerun, it's never a bad time to revisit the 2008 classic "Hillary4U&Me":

Some Fair and Balanced Race Baiting at Fox News

| Thu Dec. 4, 2014 10:58 AM EST

Andrew Sullivan is heartened that even most conservatives seem to be shocked by yesterday's grand jury decision not to return an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner. But "most" is not quite all:

The exception to all this was Fox News last night. Megyn Kelly’s coverage proved that there is almost no incident in which a black man is killed by cops that Fox cannot excuse or even defend. She bent over backwards to impugn protesters, to change the subject to Ferguson, to elide the crucial fact that the choke-hold was against police procedure, and to imply that Garner was strongly resisting arrest. Readers know I had very mixed feelings about Ferguson. I’m not usually inclined to slam something as overtly racist. But there was no way to interpret Kelly’s coverage as anything but the baldest racism I’ve seen in a while on cable news. Her idea of balance was to interview two, white, bald, bull-necked men to defend the cops, explain away any concerns about police treatment and to minimize the entire thing. Truly, deeply disgusting.

Jeez. A thinly veiled appeal to racist sentiment at Fox News? I am shocked, I tell you, shocked.