Political Animal


September 02, 2014 6:34 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

It’s going to be a short blogging week for me, since the medical procedure I was too sick to undergo week before last is now on for Friday.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Russian bank hires Trent Lott and John Breaux to lobby against U.S. sanctions. But it’s Obama who’s refusing to stand up to Putin, right?

* Rev. Rafael Cruz—his son Ted’s warm-up act—says African-Americans “need to be educated” on things like evils of minimum wage, history of civil rights movement.

* Former “personhood” advocate Cory Gardner now says he wants the pill to be made available OTC. Pretty good etch-a-sketching.

* At Ten Miles Square, Ramesh Ponnuru thinks Republicans are in danger of a 1998-style disappointment this year if they don’t embrace a positive agenda.

* At College Guide, Andre Perry lists non-academic objectives that are reasonable for parents.

And in non-political news:

* Turns out the Kardashian/Jenner tribe earned $10 million for latest season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Plus all that advertising for the other crap they sell.

That’s it for Tuesday. Let’s close with Billy Preston covering “Double O Soul” with Ray Charles on piano:


September 02, 2014 5:17 PM Fresh Out of Humanitarians

With Pennsylvania having given a boost to Medicaid Expansion Optimism, people are on the lookout for the next Republican-governed state that might go over the line. TPM’s Dylan Scott writes up Wyoming as a likely candidate, since Gov. Matt Mead has been instructed by his legislature to look into some sort of deal with the Obama administration.

Scott does a good job of asking Wyoming figures exactly what might have changed since the state rejected the Medicaid expansion at their first opportunity. As a Democratic legislator made it clear, it’s not like hearts have softened:

“We’ve already got everybody that is susceptible to the humanitarian argument,” he said. “We need new arguments because that didn’t get us enough.”

The fiscal deal is insanely generous, but that’s always been the case. Yes, concerns among hospitals that they’d be in a much worse financial position without the expansion have become tangible, and Scott reports Wyoming hospitals (and presumably some other providers) are pushing for a deal.

But the real clincher, it seems, is getting a deal that conservatives can claim as a policy victory, and there’s some precedent for that:

The administration has already signed off on alternative plans that adopted conservatives policies, like using Medicaid dollars to pay for private health insurance and requiring some enrollees to pay small premiums.

Mead would have every reason to push beyond the concessions already made. I’ve been saying this for a while, but if I were a Republican governor, I’d put together a plan that included every nasty right-wing Medicaid idea ever hatched, and then if it’s approved, I’d brag that I’d tricked Obama into financing conservative health reforms in my state. Right now, with an awful lot of people believing we’re at some sort of tipping point on states agreeing to the expansion, would be a good time to press one’s luck. So I’m not going to get too excited until we’ve seen the terms under which these expansions are happening, if they happen at all.

September 02, 2014 3:55 PM So Much for “Non-Interventionism”

Want to know how badly Rand Paul wants to be president? This bad (per a report from the Weekly Standard):

Kentucky senator Rand Paul tells the AP that he would seek to “destroy ISIS militarily” if he were president:
“Speaking to a ballroom later, some of the loudest applause for Paul came when he quipped: ‘If the president has no strategy, maybe it’s time for a new president.’
“In an emailed comment, however, Paul elaborated by saying: ‘If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.’
Paul had recently expressed ambivalence about U.S. military action against the Islamist terrorists who are building a state in Iraq and Syria. “I have mixed feelings about it,” Paul said of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS in early August. ‘I’m not saying I’m completely opposed to helping with arms or maybe even bombing,” he added.

So in less than a month Mr. Non-Intervention has gone from not being real sure about limited airstrikes in Iraq to calling for what sounds like a full-fledged declaration of war and an invasion. Sure sounds like he’s on the road to rationalizing his past opposition to military actions as being all about Constitutional Process, not some concern about a foreign policy centered on blowing things up.

September 02, 2014 3:28 PM Is ISIS Deterrable?

I do not claim any expertise whatsoever in Middle Eastern affairs, much less the intricacies of Salafi Islam. But given the hysterical talk about ISIS as sort of the ultimate terrorist organization that can be expected to blow up an American city any day now, I found this passage from a TNR profile of ISIS by Graeme Wood very interesting:

[S]lavish loyalty to historical example at least makes the beliefs and plans of ISIS a little more predictable than those of a spry, global-reach organization like Al Qaeda. We know, for example, that Baghdadi demands total allegiance and that the caliphal structure of ISIS does not lend itself to the cell-based activity that made the bin Laden network hard to eradicate. It also severely limits what ISIS can do, since any attack on a Western city would draw an immediate and devastating counterattack on Raqqa, and wouldn’t require the laborious fumigation of hundreds of mountain caves.

The very territorial base that makes ISIS such a magnet for terrorists, in other words, could also make it deterrable in a way that al Qaeda never has been. The kind of “second 9/11” a lot of people seem to be fearing at ISIS’ hands would without question provide political cover for a complete destruction of anything with a gun moving in the area controlled by the organization—an area without which, BTW, a credible “caliphate” would not be possible. So maybe this isn’t the ultimate nightmare after all, and maybe we don’t actually have to kill hundreds of thousands of people to protect our cities.

September 02, 2014 2:06 PM Lunch Buffet

Nothing like the day after a holiday weekend to find yourself in Slow News Land. So there will be some midday tidbits that ordinarily would stay in the pantry:

* Dave Weigel hired by Bloomberg to anchor its new politics “brand.”

* In other journalism news, WaPo replaces Katharine Weymouth with former Politico CEO Frederick Ryan, first non-Graham-family publisher.

* And in tragic news, second U.S. journalist murdered on video by ISIS.

* HuffPost’s polling-only Senate forecast shows Democrats with slightly higher chance than Republicans of holding Senate this year.

* Steve King brings in Michelle Malkin for big home-district event; she calls him “national treasure.”

And in non-political news:

* Manhattan Denny’s offers “Grand Cru Slam” for $300; includes bottle of Dom Perignon.

As we break for lunch, here’s Billy Preston covering Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

September 02, 2014 1:31 PM Homicide Victim Fails To Stay Alive

This happens too often to mention it every time, but hats off to James Fallow for a quick tweet on a Wall Street Journal post that mentions in passing the fate of a minimum wage bill in the Senate earlier this year:

The “failed to pass” line is a bit like a homicide victim being described as someone who fails to stay alive. It’s technically true, but misses the agency involved in what happened.

September 02, 2014 1:15 PM Bad Colleges

For all the attention paid to schools that do well on this or that college ranking system, it’s the flip side of the coin—colleges deemed “bad”—that drives paranoia and resistance to the kind of ratings with consequences the Obama administration contemplates. But that’s inevitably part of any system of school accountability, and given the heavy taxpayer subsidies involved even for private institutions, an unflinching look at the failures as well as the successes is important.

WaMo’s 2014 rankings includes four separate ways of identifying the 20 worst colleges; private for-profit schools tend to pop up a lot on all four but there are significant differences when you emphasize graduation rates or debt levels.

But to illustrate the problems facing schools—and more importantly, students at those schools—that tend to do poorly on such assessments, Matt Connolly and Phillip Longman took an in-depth look at one such institution, Ferrum College, a private non-profit school in southwest Virginia.

[W]hat makes Ferrum really stand out is the way that it scores consistently low across a broad range of performance measures. For example, Ferrum is a pricy place for what it offers. Even with grants and scholarships, the average net price to attend the college and live on campus still came to $19,324 in 2012. Largely as a result, fully 91 percent of Ferrum graduates take on student debt. This is far higher than the average borrowing rate for all private nonprofit four-year institutions in Virginia, which comes to 69 percent. Multiplying these borrowing rates by the amount of debt incurred by each graduate yields a weighted debt average of $26,169 at Ferrum, compared to an average $18,910 for all private nonprofit institutions in the state.
Paying back that much money isn’t easy, because even those Ferrum students who manage to graduate tend to earn less than their counterparts at other comparable Virginia schools. Its accounting grads, for example, earn a median $32,331 per year, compared to $42,086 for those at other Virginia colleges.
All of which leads many Ferrum students into default. Of the 461 who began repaying their student loans in 2009, more than a fifth have defaulted. This compares with a national average three-year default rate for private colleges of 8.2 percent.

One of the reasons Connolly and Longman chose Ferrum for a profile is that it illustrates how appearances and even good intentions can be deceiving. It apparently has a very pleasant campus, and its administration is by no means predatory. But it’s just not getting the job done for many students, and prospective students (not to mention donors and taxpayers) have a right to know about it. And that could even help it improve.

September 02, 2014 12:05 PM Making Waves

While you can find plenty of arguments about whether or not there’s some sort of Republican “wave” that will add three or four points to the vote percentage of most GOPers this November, there’s no longer much talk among Republicans about what if anything they can do as a party to boost their prospects—probably less talk than you hear among Democrats about the possibility of pulling upsets via more intensive “populism.” So it’s interesting that the Editors of National Review are warning (and complaining) that a GOP without a positive national message is certain to fall short of its potential midterm performance:

Republicans continue to lack any strategy for winning the November elections beyond avoiding mistakes and hoping that President Obama’s unpopularity, especially in key states, delivers control of the Senate to them. It must be said that the party has executed this passive count-on-a-wave strategy fairly well, selecting presentable and sometimes admirable candidates. The strategy could even work. But it will not maximize the Republican opportunity, because it does nothing to dispel the public’s justifiable doubts about whether Republican rule would be good for the country.
Too many Republicans are running on the promise that they will “check” the president in some unspecified way. They are running as people who dislike Obamacare but have no plans to replace or alter it. But there are persuadable voters who worry that they will lose their health coverage if Republicans get their way, and ones who worry that Republicans will settle for Obamacare Lite. By keeping their plans on health care (and everything else) vague, Republicans are asking these voters to trust them. Yet the polls consistently show that the party does not have a lot of trust on which to rely.

After laying out an Obamacare alternative they think Republicans should be championing, the NR editors call on individual candidates to make their own waves by being for something:

With the exception of Tom Cotton in Arkansas, how many candidates are pledging to reverse the dangerous drawdown in our defense capabilities? Who besides Ben Sasse of Nebraska is talking about breaking the higher-education cartel? In Iowa, in Michigan, in North Carolina, in Kentucky, voters would like to see a tax code that is better for growth and better for families. But they won’t see that desire as relevant to their voting choices unless someone makes the case that it is.
The party is not going to do any of this corporately, so individual candidates should step up.

Remember this argument if Republicans do under-perform in November. You’ll be hearing it a lot during the 2016 cycle.

September 02, 2014 11:12 AM Losing Touch

The Prospect’s Paul Waldman is waging quite a war this year on dumb political memes. Earlier it was the idiotic media obsession with presidential vacations. And now it’s the hardy perennial attacks on Members of Congress for “losing touch” with constituents by living in Washington, or at least not spending the money to pretend they live back in God’s Country.

[T]his is the kind of inane faux-controversy that consumes campaigns, where one side pretends to take umbrage at something with no importance, then the press pretends it means something because a candidate is “on the defensive.” But as far as phony issues go, this one is actually revealing—not because of anything it says about the senators, but because of what it says about the often absurd and contradictory expectations we have of our representatives. We berate them for being lazy and not getting enough done, but at the same time, we get mad if they spend too much time in the place where they’re supposed to be working.

The flip side of this vulnerability, of course, is the growing trend of Members—mainly in the House—actually bunking down in their offices for the two nights a week they’re generally required to sleep in Sin City.

Those who accept that their job is in Washington to the extent of renting or buying living space there generally keep a home back in the state or district from whence they hail—another major inconvenience of a congressional life. But some with less insane levels of wealth will cut corners and use some family address or keep a tiny pied a terre, or even less. Trouble is, this is one of the first stops for oppo researchers.

Some of you may recall that the successful effort to topple House Speaker Tom Foley back in 1994 relied in part on an ad dramatizing a post office box that was allegedly his “residence” in the district. I don’t remember the exact year, but a Republican opponent of Robert Byrd ran an ad showing the Taj Mahal and Byrd’s DC home, with the question: “What do these two buildings have in common”? The answer, of course, was “Neither of them are in West Virginia.” (This attack line is probably more effective with a senator whose name is not emblazoned on countless buildings Back Home).

But this year may set records, with (so far) three U.S. senators being loudly accused of “losing touch” by actually living in Washington rather than their home states: Thad Cochran of MS (this was a subplot of the whole Rose Cochran saga: Thad had abandoned his wife and his state!); Pat Roberts of KS; and now Mary Landrieu of LA.

The first two targets were rather predictable, since they involved septuagenarian solons being accused of losing touch with the intense conservative ideology of their party’s “base.” Landrieu, however, is in her fifties; is not dealing with any intraparty challenges; and well, is kinda hard to imagine as a non-Louisianan.

I mean, seriously, anyone who’s spent any time around Mary Landrieu has no doubt where she’s from. Just listen to her talk. Her daddy was mayor of New Orleans; now her brother is in the same gig. She’s as firmly rooted as the Andrew Jackson memorial in Jackson Square. I just don’t see the attacks working on her.

Moreover, as Waldman points out, Landrieu’s re-election campaign is focused intensely on depicting her as a big-time Washington playa. So the “losing touch” argument could even reinforce her message.

In any event, this really is a dumb “issue” to raise against anyone. And it really should be easy for those being accused of “losing touch” to just say: “Yeah, I live in Washington, because you sent me there, but I don’t drink the water and I can’t wait to leave.” Look at the First Family, for God’s sake. Nobody thinks they’ve “gone native”—certainly not the social lions who are always complaining about the Obamas not hitting the local dinner and fundraiser circuit. The heart is not necessarily where the property registry calls home. Truth is, I’d guess the dream home for a majority of congresscritters is one of those golf resort McMansions that could be absolutely anywhere south of the Snow Belt. So maybe it’s a better idea to evaluate them on the jobs they are doing.

September 02, 2014 9:52 AM Candor From the Bench

Anyone paying attention to the law and politics of abortion is aware that the recent wave of “health regulations” on abortion providers that has swept Republican-controlled states has little or nothing to do with health, aside from efforts to seize on publicity over Kermit Gosnell’s illegal abortion operation in Philadelphia. These cookie-cutter laws are aimed at shutting down abortion clinics, plain and simple. They are framed as “health regulations” in order to give friendly courts performing judicial review a way around the prevailing “undue burden” standard for post-viability abortion restrictions, and also to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s weakness for paternalistic “protections” for women that just incidentally have the effect of taking away their reproductive rights.

Well, it should be clear by now that Texas-based federal judge Lee Yeakel (a George W. Bush appointee, as it happens) does not run a courtroom friendly to this sort of indirection approach to banning abortion. For the second time, Yeakel has ruled in favor of a challenge to Texas’ new abortion law (HB2), and this time he’s calling out the Texas legislature for its mendacity (per a report from ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser):

Responding to the state’s argument that some Texans can seek abortions in New Mexico if they are unable to obtain one in Texas thanks to HB2, Yeakel notes that this argument completely undermines any suggestion that these laws are supposed to protect women’s health
“If the State’s true purpose in enacting the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is to protect the health and safety of Texas women who seek abortions, it is disingenuous and incompatible with that goal to argue that Texas women can seek abortion care in a state with lesser regulations. If, however, the State’s underlying purpose in enacting the requirement was to reduce or eliminate abortion in parts or all of Texas, the State’s position is perfectly congruent with such a goal.”
Yeakel, in other words, calls a sham a sham. He recognizes, in the words of the Supreme Court, that the purpose HB2 is to “place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” And he comes just one step from outright accusing the state of lying when it claims that the law was actually enacted to protect women’s health.

Yeakel’s earlier decision against HB2 was instantly overturned by the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. That will probably occur again this time. But at least the truth about the intent of this kind of law will be on the table.

September 02, 2014 9:24 AM House Keeping

There’s no longer any organic connection between Labor Day and election cycles, but since it’s generally assumed voters check into (briefly) politics during the period just before balloting, we’ll be seeing a ton of post-Labor Day election roundups and projections this week.

Politico kicks off today with a House overview by Alex Isenstadt, who suggests Republican gains falling short of the GOP’s eleven-seat target. In his take, there’s not really any underlying “wave” this year, and the turnout advantage Republicans enjoy is being offset by superior Democratic fundraising and by an exceptionally small playing field. As you probably know, strengthening House incumbents was the GOP’s meta-goal during the redistricting process, so while that makes Democratic gains difficult is also limits Republican opportunities.

Those who got excited about the possibility of House Democratic gains—or even a takeover—back during last year’s government shutdown saga, and have trouble imagining an incredibly unpopular Republican Party picking up seats, should keep history in mind:

From a historic perspective, a five- or six-seat gain would be a disappointment for the GOP. Since 1950, the party out of the White House during the sixth year of a presidency has gained an average of 25 seats. In the most recent midterm election, Republicans swamped Democrats across the country en route to a 63-seat gain.
And it would fall well short of the 11-seat pickup some top Republicans have set as their goal.

When you stare at lists of competitive House races, what stands out most is how little overlap there is with states holding competitive Senate races. The Cook Political Report currently has 38 House seats as highly competitive (either tossups or leans). A grand total of one of them—IA-03—is in a state with one of the barnburner Senate contests. So the money pouring into Senate races is unlikely to have much effect on the balance of power in the House.

Needless to say, it’ll be a whole new ballgame in 2016.

September 02, 2014 8:06 AM Daylight Video

Today would be Billy Preston’ 68th birthday, had he not died in 2006. Here he is back in 1973 performing “In Outa Space.”

September 01, 2014 3:23 PM Day’s End and Sunset Watch

Since it’s a major federal holiday, I’m wrapping up early and then going out to clean the grill. Labor Day is traditionally the end of the tourism season here on the Central Coast, so it’s a good day for people-and-puppy watching on the walking trail, too. But everyone should read the new issue of the Washington Monthly before feeling free to goof off, of course.

Here are some remains of the day:

* At Think Progress Ian Millhiser provides a comprehensive account of the great Pullman Strike of 1894, which inaugurated the modern era of labor struggle in the U.S. and exposed the radicalism of major employers acting in collusion with government.

* Paul Krugman mulls the implications of the sudden downward trajectory of estimates of future Medicare spending.

* At TNR Naomi Shavin looks at BLS numbers on worst-paid occupations; fast-food cooks come in dead last.

* At Ten Miles Square, Julia Azari provides a first-hand account of the hotel fire that disrupted this year’s American Political Science Association meeting in Washington.

* At College Guide, Conor Williams discusses new research on dual language learning experiements.

And in non-political news:

* Watched a pretty good football game Saturday. Woof.

That’s it for Labor Day barring major breaking news. We’ll be back to the regular blogging schedule tomorrow. Let’s close with the original version of “Which Side Are You On” by Florence Reece of Harlan County, Kentucky.


September 01, 2014 2:42 PM British Tremors

If you get bored with the U.S. midterm election cycle that according to some ancient traditions really begins today, there’s always British politics, where a mandatory parliamentary general election to be held no later than next May is already being described as a potential “earthquake.” It’s looking like a preliminary tremor will occur in an October by-election in which the anti-EU, anti-immigrant UKIP party is very likely to secure its first parliamentary representation, per this HuffPost article:

David Cameron looks set for a by-election humiliation at the hands of Ukip following former MP Douglas Carswell’s defection, according to an opinion poll.
Mr Carswell’s decision to join Nigel Farage’s party and trigger a by-election shocked Westminster and the poll of voters in the Clacton seat predicting a massive 44 point lead for Ukip will add to the prime minister’s discomfort.
The Survation study for the Mail on Sunday put Ukip on 64%, with Mr Carswell’s former party on 20%, Labour on 13% and the Lib Dems on 2%.

A UKIP victory of that magnitude could tempt other Tory MPs to defect, while increasing pressure on Cameron’s government to pander further to nationalist sentiment. It looks like the promise of a post-election referendum on EU membership may not be enough to squelch UKIP, which along with the collapse of support for the Tories’ LibDem coalition partners, has become a real threat.

September 01, 2014 11:36 AM Unions Today

If you want some stimulating reading for Labor Day, I strongly recommend the interview of labor strategist and all-around fabulous political writer and thinker Rich Yeselson, conducted by TNR’s Jonathan Cohn. The piece covers a lot of ground, from the myth of union responsibility for Detroit’s problems to the possible wave of unionization among franchise employees if the courts don’t screw that up. But I’ll just quote Rich’s big-picture observation about the anti-union culture of the United States and its irrationality:

Pretty much in every other country in Western Europe, Canada, even Australia and the U.K. (which share some labor-management features with the U.S.), the assumption is that unions are basic ingredient of liberal capitalism. Among conservatives and business owners in those countries, you’ll hear a lot about how they are inefficient, too powerful, or just pains in the ass. But pretty much everybody accepts them as a normal part of the political/economic/legal landscape. That’s simply not the case here.
What’s ironic about that is that unions are inherently conservative institutions, which historically developed parallel with the development of capitalism itself. They are as much a part of capitalism as Henry Ford or Apple. Unions use contracts—and there’s nothing more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract—to link their members to the fortunes of the companies they contract with. They are capable of having huge fights with capital (as in the thirties)—which raise the hopes of leftists—but, usually, over the attainment of very incremental ends—-which disappoint leftists. Marx had nothing but contempt for British trade unionists, and Trotsky saw no value in unions at all. Yet conservatives and most libertarians hate them. Weird.

‘Tis weird indeed, but a real and abiding problem.

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