Barack Obama

moved into the White House in January, the GOP has managed to block at least thirty-two of his appointees and nominations. Using a parliamentary procedure known as a hold, Senate Republicans have kept key positions like secretary of labor and ambassador to Iraq unfilled for weeks. Some positions, such as head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), are still empty. A hold is supposed to be used by senators to buy some time to clear up any confusion and ask questions. Any senator can place one, even anonymously; and like a filibuster, it takes sixty votes to break.

In February, Obama named

Dawn Johnsen

as head of the OLC. Her responsibility would basically be to determine whether the president’s policies are legal–a critically important role in light of how the Bush administration used the OLC to justify torture. Using a distorted vision of her work with the prochoice organization


as an excuse, Republicans have successfully used holds and filibuster threats to keep Johnsen out of the OLC for eight months. The right also falsely claims that Johnsen once equated motherhood with indentured servitude.

David Hamilton

, a widely respected centrist judge nominated by Obama to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, is another nominee trapped in appointment purgatory. Hamilton has been attacked for a litany of bizarre reasons, from his supposed court ruling against Jesus to the time he spent a month going door-to-door for


after college. Like Johnsen, Hamilton remains unconfirmed despite having been nominated months ago.

Senators can even place a blanket hold, tying up dozens of appointees at once. This was the case in September when a hold was placed by eight Republican senators against all nominees to the Department of Health and Human Services for what was essentially a skirmish over healthcare reform. Caught up in this hold is Dr.

Regina Benjamin

, the president’s choice for surgeon general.

Republicans have also managed to block the appointment of New York Labor Commissioner

M. Patricia Smith

, Obama’s choice for Labor Department solicitor, over fears that she secretly used a state program to help unions. Incidentally, business groups also worry Smith will be too aggressive with her new authority to pursue wage violations.

The ease of its use and its remarkable ability to eat up the Senate’s time make placing a hold a win-win situation for the GOP. With healthcare reform, cap and trade and many other legislative goals unrealized, every minute wasted by Congress is a minute Democrats can’t devote to carrying out their agenda.   ERIC NAING


A program known as 287(g), which allows local and state officials to contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and enforce immigration law, has always had its critics. In 2005, when only three police organizations held 287(g) agreements, Congressman

Bennie Thompson

of Mississippi pondered the program’s unpopularity. “I wonder why so few states have signed up for this program. Specifically, does it impact local budgets, adversely affect relationships with immigration communities or burden agencies in a manner that takes their focus off local crime priorities?”

Today, sixty-three police organizations hold contracts with the federal government; pending ICE authorization, eleven more agencies could be added to the roster as early as this week. In July, Secretary of Homeland Security

Janet Napolitano

announced that all participating organizations had to sign a new, standardized contract. They were due in Washington on October 14 and will be reviewed and signed by ICE [see “The End of 287(g)?” at TheNation.com].

In the weeks leading up to the finalization process, the

Congressional Hispanic Caucus

and more than 500 organizations–including the


and the


–have pressed the new administration to repeal the program immediately. The

Southwest Border Task Force

–composed of law enforcement

and national security experts appointed by Napolitano–recommended in late September that the program be scaled back considerably. On October 12 the

New York Times

published a scathing editorial about the program, writing that “rather than broadening the reach of law enforcement, using local police can cause immigrant crime victims to fear the police and divert the police from fighting crime. It leads to racial profiling, to Latino citizens and legal residents being asked for their papers.”   JESSICA WEISBERG


On October 7 Nation columnist Gary Younge received Britain’s prestigious

James Cameron Memorial Award

for the “extraordinary quality” of his coverage of Obama before and after the 2008 presidential election. The annual prize, whose former recipients include the Independent‘s Middle East correspondent

Robert Fisk

, commemorates James Cameron, the late British foreign correspondent, and is presented to journalists for their “combined moral vision and professional integrity.”

In the run-up to last year’s presidential election Younge went “under the skin of small town America” and “behind enemy lines” in Republican Roanoke, a swing town in a significant swing state, Virginia. There he wittily and incisively chronicled the eccentricities, emotions and expectations of Roanoke’s communities, deftly weaving in his personal experiences and reflections as a black Briton in America. His multimedia reporting, which included a video blog, became a special series for the


, with many Roanoke anecdotes and insights also appearing in his monthly Nation column.

Younge accepted the award at the James Cameron Memorial Lecture in London and, in a modest quip referencing

Kanye West

‘s MTV outburst, declared: “


was the greatest writer of all time.”

Still in slight astonishment at his achievement, he says, “I’m delighted to be honored in the tradition of journalists who write about their subjects with passion and compassion and who recognize the responsibilities of their chosen profession.”   ANDREA D’CRUZ