Political Animal


August 20, 2014 5:53 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Back on central coast of California, where high temperatures will range from 68 to 71 in next five days. Ah.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Paul Ryan says top-end tax cuts more important than expanded child tax credit. Take that, reformicons.

* National Journal’s Alex Roarty finds Alaska Republicans admitting Mark Begich has advantage over their new Senate nominee Dan Sullivan.

* Microsoft eliminates all donations to ALEC due to organization’s hostility to renewable energy. Glad they finally noticed.

* At Ten Miles Square, Mark Kleiman argues Rick Perry’s behavior should disqualify him from presidency even if he is acquitted on Texas charges.

* At College Guide, Sarah Butrymowicz reports on California kids who never make it to high school.

And in non-political news:

* NFL expecting potential Superbowl halftime acts to pay for the privilege, then and later.

That’s it for Wednesday. Let’s close with Sneaky Pete Kleinow and the Burrito Brothers (no longer “Flying”) performing “Spittin’ Image” in Germany in 1985.


August 20, 2014 5:29 PM Rand Paul Not So Hip

The undermining of the suggestions made (less by the author than by those he interviews) in Robert Draper’s “Libertarian Moment” piece for the New York Times Magazine struck new earth yesterday with Harry Enten’s questioning of the rather central assumption that the supposed avatar of the “moment,” Rand Paul, has a special appeal to young people.

Turns out once you look at generational breakouts Paul does no better among voters 18-29 or 18-34 than does Chris Christie in trial heats against Hillary Clinton—and both perform pretty dreadfully. Jonathan Chait piles on by reminding us from 2010 exit polls that under-30 voters were the only age demographic Paul lost in his winning Senate race against Democrat Jack Conway.

It’s a reminder the whole “libertarian moment” thing is a house of cards. Paul is a sorta-libertarian; young folks are sorta-“libertarian” on some issues (not always the same ones as Paul); Republicans could sorta look more libertarian with someone like Paul as a presidential nominee; leading to the possibility of a sorta kinda breakout by Republicans from what Chait in another column calls the GOP’s “geriatric trap.” It’s all sorta persuasive unless you think about it for an hour or so.

August 20, 2014 4:26 PM Here Comes SCOTUS on Same-Sex Marriage!

Well, any doubt that the Supreme Court is ready to bigfoot its way into the very successful legal battle for marriage equality went away today (per Alan Rappeport of the New York Times):

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a last-minute order putting a hold on same-sex marriages in Virginia less than a day before officials there were to begin providing marriage licenses to gay couples.
The move comes a month after the federal appeals court that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage refused to delay the effects of its ruling.
Legal experts have predicted that the Supreme Court will take up the issue of same-sex marriage in its next term, which begins in October.
In July, the court said that Utah was not required to recognize the marriages of about 1,000 same-sex couples there while state officials pursued appeals.

In the meantime, Virginia is still not for all lovers.

August 20, 2014 4:13 PM Exceptional American Conservatives

At the end of a long and interesting diagnosis of the problems facing his Republican Party, David Frum writes this excellent summation:

The United States desperately needs a party of business enterprise, of American leadership, and of work and family that can win elections and govern effectively. Instead, the country’s center-right has detoured into an ideological dead end. It must speak for a coalition broader than retirees and the rich. Above all, it must accept — and even welcome — that in the United States, as in every other developed country, universal health insurance is here to stay.

Plenty of Republican readers—if Frum still has plenty of Republican readers, I should add—might well have nodded along until that last sentence, and then went back to perusing less challenging material. Frum is unusual in identifying the “tipping point theory”—the idea that America is on the edge of lurching into irreversible socialism if one more entitlement program, likely Obamacare, becomes as entrenched as Social Security and Medicare (which Republicans lurch back and forth between demagogically protecting and seeking to subvert)—as ludicrous and politically suicidal:

Every other advanced country has some kind of universal health-care program — and also a center-right party that wins much (and even most) of the time. Right-of-center governments currently hold power in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and many other places. These parties haven’t run out of issues on which they can disagree with their social democratic opponents, and they’ve found plenty of voters willing to cast a ballot for private initiative and business enterprise.

It makes you wonder if one of the chief functions of “American exceptionalism” is to protect U.S. conservatives from even thinking about such questions. And it also serves as a reminder that the conquest of the GOP by a conservative movement that is not temperamentally conservative at all has made the idea of compromising to win elections ipso facto seem gutless and treasonable.

August 20, 2014 3:13 PM Ribbon Cutting

There’s an interesting flare-up in the Georgia governor’s race that casts light on a disgusting phenomenon that’s especially though not exclusively common in the South. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein has the story:

A part of Democrat Jason Carter’s economic pitch is a pledge to “professionalize” the state’s business recruiting office.
The Atlanta state senator said he wants to launch a nationwide search to find a “top notch” head of the Georgia Department of Economic Development rather than make what he views as a political appointment.
It’s a dig at Gov. Nathan Deal’s last two appointments to the post: Chris Cummiskey, a former Mirant executive who was a longtime GOP operative, and Chris Carr, who was U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s chief of staff. Carter has said he has no ill will toward the men, but that another leader was needed to better sell Georgia.
“Right now the economic development office is essentially a political office,” he said Tuesday. “They set up ribbon cuttings.”

Deal and his minions fired back with chagrin at the terrible demagogic criticism of their hard-working smokestack chasers.

Carr said his office is “proud of each and every one of those ribbon cuttings,” which have led to about 100,000 jobs since 2011 and nearly $17.7 billion in investments. To suggest the office has been politicized, he said, “does a great disservice” to its more than 200 employees, some who have worked for years to land big projects.
The governor said in an interview Wednesday that Carter’s statement shows a “lack of understanding” about what the economic development office does.

No, I don’t think so. Carter’s right, from my experience in this area (and in Georgia): ground-breaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies are ways to give the state and the governor political credit for things that were already happening. Deal says ribbon-cuttings are “simply symbolic representations of many, many thousands of hours of work of many dedicated people.” Maybe so, but the work is aimed at giving the state and the governor political credit for things that were already happening, and that are a tiny part of what “economic development” is really about.

This last point is the most important. The assumption, which has reconquered the South in the last couple of decades like a returning plague, that “corporate investment recruitment” and “economic development” are the same thing is outrageous on its face, and leads to the sort of corporate whoring behavior Rick Perry is so proud of. I’m not that familiar with Georgia’s corporate subsidy structure (other than its noxious film credits) these days, but Georgians should actually hope all those ribbon-cuttings really are as superficial as Carter suggests they are. Otherwise they are a celebration of self-abasement by a community that is incapable of building on its own resources, and thinks of development as something delivered to them by corporate gods from afar.

August 20, 2014 2:09 PM Lunch Buffet

Having some medical issues this week that could disrupt regular blogging, but I’ll try to minimize it as much as possible.

Here are some midday news/views treats from the hospital snack bar (just kidding!):

* Missouri State Police Captain Ron Johnson flashes college fraternity signal in various pix, and some of our woolly-headed friends thought it was a “gang sign.”

* TNR’s Brian Beutler examines conservative fury over Ferguson voter registration drive.

* ISIS-executed James Foley was one of the last Western journalists to have reported from Syria.

* Obama promises “justice” for Foley, could increase airstrikes.

* Pryor first red state Senate candidate to run major ad touting his vote for Obamacare.

And in non-political news:

* Porcine virus causing massive number of deaths in U.S. pig population.

As we break for lunch, here’s Sneaky Pete Kleinow performing with the Burritos on “Lazy Day.”

August 20, 2014 12:46 PM More Government Shutdowns!

Mitch McConnell is, according to TPM’s Sahil Kapur, going around Kentucky promising the heavy use of appropriations riders to impose the GOP’s will on the president if Republicans win control of the Senate. So it’s a promise of more of the same-old same-old, right?

Well, not exactly. In a divided Congress appropriations battles can and usually must be resolved before bills get to the president’s desk. Now each appropriations conflict will inherently involve an executive/legislative collision in which a shutdown is always on the table, since the president cannot force Congress to appropriate and Congress cannot force the president to sign a bill. So fiscal brinkmanship is very likely to get worse, not just stay the same.

August 20, 2014 11:34 AM Prosecutors Giveth and Prosecutors Taketh Away

It’s almost as though we are conducting a national seminar in the role of prosecutors in the criminal justice system, isn’t it? I mean, seriously, the two dominant domestic news stories this week have revolved around the question of whether Missouri prosecutors will indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, and the question of why a Texas prosecutor has already indicted Gov. Rick Perry on a relatively vague abuse of power/corruption charge. And the meta-story hanging over this election year is whether and to what extent the president will change enforcement of the immigration laws in order to guide and limit prosecutorial discretion.

At the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin explains that once the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is made, the deal has often really and truly gone down. That’s why he thinks Rick Perry could be in big trouble:

Prosecutors have wide, almost unlimited, latitude to decide which cases to bring. The reason is obvious: there is simply no way that the government could prosecute every violation of law it sees. Think about tax evasion, marijuana use, speeding, jay-walking—we’d live in a police state if the government went after every one of these cases. (Indeed, virtually all plea bargaining, which is an ubiquitous practice, amounts to an exercise of prosecutorial discretion.) As a result, courts give prosecutors virtual carte blanche to bring some cases and ignore others. But, once they do bring them, courts respond to the argument that “everyone does it” more or less the same way that your mother did. It’s no excuse. So if Perry’s behavior fits within the technical definition of the two statutes under which he’s charged, which it well might, he’s probably out of luck.

It’s also a bit disingenuous for a longtime statewide elected official and national celebrity to claim he or she is being “singled out” or “targeted” by a prosecutor. Nobody made Rick Perry run for governor all those times. And I know it might be tough, but it’s entirely possible to serve as governor of Texas without threatening and bribing other elected officials to quit their jobs. So as Toobin says, Perry could be out of luck, but it’s bad luck he’s made for himself.

August 20, 2014 10:10 AM State of the Cycle

Since the Alaska primary offered the last competitive Senate contest of the cycle aside from Louisiana’s November 4 “jungle primary,” I figured it was as good a time as any to sum up what the GOP has wrought. So my latest column at TPMCafe looks at the environment anew and concludes that while Republicans didn’t hurt themselves by choosing blatantly bad candidates, they really didn’t much improve their chances of taking control of the Senate, either.

They’ll gain seats simply because the landscape is so heavily in their favor, and midterms are their meat and potatoes. But there’s still no sign of a “wave” or any other factor that would give them a final push in the many close contests under way, and a real wild card could be the DSCC’s Bannock Street turnout project. Meanwhile, quite a number of GOP candidates have vulnerabilities, even if they aren’t howling at the moon like an O’Donnell or Akin or Angle.

So even though the GOP hype machine is gearing up for another autumn of anticipatory spin, it’s not yet justified by conditions on the ground.

August 20, 2014 9:43 AM Hanabusa Throws in the Towel

Since Hawaii and Alaska politics are a pretty remote afterthought to most continental American observers, we might as well follow up the primary from the 49th state with a big development in the 50th: Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has decided against a legal challenge to Sen. Brian Schatz’ 1700 vote win in the August 9 primary (extended in two precincts to August 15).

So in the absence of a bitter overtime battle, Schatz should have no problem dispatching Republican Cam Cavasso in November.

August 20, 2014 9:29 AM North To Alaska

Alaska held its 2014 primary yesterday. Alas, alackaday, Joe Miller did not get the chance to blow another Senate general election candidacy. But he did significantly outperform expectations, winning 32% of the vote to winner Dan Sullivan’s 40% (with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell trailing the pack), which is impressive particularly if you consider Miller was outspent at least 10 to 1, and his opponents were in league with a global conspiracy to snuff out freedom as we know it (just kidding about that last part, but Joe is a bit paranoid).

Sullivan was heavily backed by both the usual Republican Establishment groups and by the Club for Growth. As noted yesterday, Sen. Mark Begich and his supportive independent groups have spent some time and money softening Sullivan up. It should be a very close general election.

The other news from Alaska last night was the apparent narrow defeat of a ballot measure to roll back a recent tax cut for oil companies, As you can imagine, the “no” campaign held about a 20-1 financial advantage, buttressed by oil company threats to cut production in the state. Ironically, the tax rates the initiative would have reimposed were those put in place by Sarah Palin.

August 20, 2014 8:48 AM Daylight Video

Sneaky Pete Kleinow, pedal steel guitar wizard, was born on this day 80 years ago, and died in 2007. Here he is with the Flying Burrito Brothers performing their immortal tune “Sin City.” Hard to miss Pete in the group shots; he’s the one with the pterodactyl on his black Nudie suit.

August 19, 2014 6:16 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Heading back West with a vast layover at SFO before they twist the rubber bands for the final hop. So it goes.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Must be a slow news day at the Weekly Standard: “Activist Encourages Defacement of Cover of Paul Ryan’s Book.” Is nothing sacred?

* Summary of the grief Jay Nixon is getting over Ferguson. Suspect the talk about a national ticket spot is fading fast.

* Crossroads ad up accusing Mark Pryor of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare. Classic Rovism on behalf of a real threat to the safety net, Tom Cotton.

* At Ten Miles Square, Julia Azari discusses Obama’s dilemmas in dealing with Ferguson and Iraq.

* At College Guide, Andre Perry notes the high number of new teachers leaving the profession quickly.

And in non-political news:

* Steve Ballmer leaving Microsoft board to run the L.A. Clippers.

That’s it for Tuesday. Let’s close with a classic performance by Ginger Baker with Cream: “Sunshine of Your Love.”


August 19, 2014 4:36 PM Bitter Laugh of the Day

Get a load of this (via Politico’s Jonthan Topaz):

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles on Tuesday stood by his comments about racial tensions in his city, saying that none of the city’s residents believe there is a racial divide in the community.
During a contentious interview with MSNBC’s Tamron Hall, Knowles — who has previously downplayed racial tensions in Ferguson’s history — was asked whether he had changed his opinions after seeing outcries following the fatal shooting of unarmed African-American 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“I don’t believe that’s the case, still. There’s not a racial divide in the city of Ferguson,” the mayor said.
“According to whom?” Hall responded. “Is that your perspective, or do you believe that is the perspective of African-Americans in your community?”
“That is the perspective of all residents in our city, absolutely,” Knowles said.

Yeah, all those uppity and disgruntled folk are outside agitators, no doubt.

There are, of course, “outsiders” taking advantage of the trouble in Ferguson, some simply to protest, others to loot or toss Molotov cocktails. But the idea that all those people on the streets from the very beginning, including hundreds of identifiable local residents, have been “outsiders,” is ludicrous.

You may have been wondering how Knowles, a white Republican employing a nearly-all-white police force, got elected in a place like Ferguson to begin with. As Daily Kos Elections’ Steve Singiser (among others) has explained, Ferguson hold municipal elections in off-years (most recently 2013) in April, a time guaranteed to produce low and racially-skewed turnout. Accordingly, turnout came in at a booming 11%—6% among African-Americans and 17% among whites. By comparison, in 2012, black and white turnout rates in Ferguson were roughly equal.

Now these sorts of low-turnout (by design, it would seem) local elections are not unusual. As Singiser notes, turnout in the 2013 Los Angeles municipal elections was also 11%. Methinks if Knowles runs for re-election, that will change, and he’ll learn first-hand that African-Americans are not pleased with his governance. But it’s a shame we have to have situations like that in Ferguson before people notice American democracy is often everything but.

August 19, 2014 4:07 PM Race to the Bottom in Hollywood

Well, I guess it was inevitable. California, the legendary home of the film industry, has fished into the national and international competition to bribe said industry to located productions where the living is cheap and easy.

The Golden State already had a film credit program. But it was relatively small ($100 million a year), run by a lottery to avoid big productions soaking it all up, and offering credits whose value was capped by a studio’s state tax liability. That wasn’t sufficient to compete with New York City and Georgia offering big, production-specific, and refundable (e.g., available beyond tax liability and thus sellable on credit trading markets) credits. Basically, other states were paying filmmakers to come play, and while some programs crashed and burned thanks to massive fraud (e.g., in Louisiana and Iowa), the allure of making one’s state the Next Hollywood remains strong.

So California’s proposed new program will be set up at $400 million per year with refundability and no lottery. Credits will be capped at 25% of production costs, and there is a formula for prioritizing job-creating productions and clawing back credits (and sanctioning abusers) when lies are told. The program is about to hit the Senate floor, and though Gov. Jerry Brown hasn’t taken a position, rumor has it he’ll sign the bill.

It’s all a bit sad, though you can’t really blame California for competing, and it appears the program won’t be as ludicrously generous as some others. Any way you slice it, though, it’s corporate welfare, at a time when that’s supposedly a dirty term to politicians in both parties.

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