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December 18, 2014 6:02 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

So a big moment arrived last night when I achieved my 6,000th follower on Twitter! Then this morning I lost one and stayed stuck at 5,999 all day.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but WaMo has been slowly but surely trying to expand its footprint on social media. But that does take some resources. Please donate what you can afford to WaMo in this season of joy and tax planning, and we’ll move fully into the twentieth century as fast as we can.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Poynter rolls out annual list of best “media errors and corrections” for 2014. Much hilarity ensues.

* Looks like making overtime pay available to middle-class workers in the running to be the next big progressive economic cause.

* Dana Milbank notes that Rubio’s statements on Obama’s Cuban policy shift salted with language informed by “the unwavering dogma of Cuban exiles.”

* At Ten Miles Square, Martin Longman raps Robert Schmidt for trolling Elizabeth Warren on the stock windfall Larry Summers got after failing to become Fed Chairman.

* Robert Kelchen posts his “not top ten” list of bad developments in higher ed this year, and Kean University’s purchase of a conference table costing $219,000 was the “winner.”

And in non-political news:

* Church of England will finally consecrate first woman bishop, Libby Lane, on January 26.

That’s it for Thursday. Let’s close with another Animals song in which Chas Chandler’s bass and background vocals were pretty prominent, “It’s My Life,” as performed on Hullabaloo in 1965. George Maharis is there for really poor comic relief. Let’s hope the band didn’t have anything to do with the women’s-heads-as-hunting-trophies stage props (though at least they seem to be alive and rocking to the music).

Selah.

December 18, 2014 5:11 PM Will Cuba Be Rand Paul’s Iran?

So political observers are probably still in semi-shock over the very conspicuous voice not being raised against Barack Obama’s “outrageous” partial restoration of normalized relations with Cuba. It’s Rand Paul:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the latest potential presidential candidate to weigh in on policy changes to Cuba and the libertarian leaning Republican’s position splits from other Republicans who are also considering a presidential run.
Paul told Tom Roten of News Talk 800 in West Virginia that the 50-year embargo “just hasn’t worked” and normalizing relations with the island nation is “probably a good idea.”
“If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship,” he said.

Paul’s observations were entirely accurate, but it’s amazing to see him become the first Republican to admit this particular emperor has no clothes. He has worked so hard to overcome his old man’s reputation for “isolationism” by finding a way to join hard-core natioanal security freaks and even neocons in nearly every anti-Obama foreign policy fight. Now here he is, alone again, naturally, in the latest furor. I would have guessed he would have again found some excuse for attacking the scope of or the legal authority for Obama’s action, but not so far.

Perhaps Paul is calculating that no one will care about Cuba policy by the time the 2016 nominating contest gets serious, and that could be true. But if, say, Marco Rubio is in the field, I don’t think Paul will be able to avoid the issue. And I’ll betcha the other candidates will gang up on him just as they did on Ron about Iran, even as they largely refused to challenge his crazy monetary policy ideas or his long association with extremists. Conservative mistrust of the Paul family on national security issues hasn’t gone away by any means, and it’s surprising he’s giving it new life, even if he’s absolutely right on policy grounds. I’m quite sure Jennifer Rubin is writing a blog post on this fresh evidence of his “isolationism” as we speak.

December 18, 2014 4:36 PM Stupidest Part of American Foreign Policy

Before you get seduced into the kind of transactional analysis of the policy change towards Cuba that apparently led WaPo’s editors to denounce it (not enough quo for that quid!), step back with WaMo Contributing Editor James Fallows and look at how it relates to the rest of U.S. foreign policy:

For at least 35 years, the U.S. embargo on diplomatic or commercial dealings with Cuba has been the single stupidest aspect of U.S. foreign policy.
Not the most destructive: that title would go to the decision to invade Iraq, plus the ongoing ramifications of the age of torture, open-ended war, and the security/surveillance state.
But the Cuba policy has been the stupidest, because there have been absolutely zero rational arguments for its strategic wisdom or tactical effectiveness. Jeffrey Goldberg, who has traveled in Cuba and interviewed Castro, more tactfully calls it “ridiculous.” In my impetuous youth a few years ago, I called it not the stupidest part of U.S. policy but the “most idiotic.” Take your pick….
Thus even though people out of electoral office—Richard Nixon as an ex-president, William F. Buckley, even (bravely!) Paul Ryan before his vice-presidential run—have urged opening up to Cuba, for people in office, or considering a run, the ramifications in Florida have made such a move not worth the risk and bother. Every sane person knew the Cuba policy “would” and “should” change. But it didn’t.
Until now. It is unwholesome for U.S. democracy that so little now happens through normal “bill becomes a law” procedure, and so much depends on executive action. But in this case the executive is doing manifestly the right thing. Congratulations, thanks, and it’s about time. “Don’t do stupid s***” may have limits as a worldview, but it is an improvement over continuing a path of folly.

It was probably a sign that the old policy was dying when in 2000, not so long after every newspaper in the country was emblazoned with a front-page photo of Elian Gonzalez screaming as an armed federal agent pointed an assault weapon at him, Democrats still nearly carried Florida—or did carry Florida, depending on your POV. George W. Bush was the wrong president to do anything about the policy, but Barack Obama is the right one, and future presidents of both parties will certainly be happy not to have to deal with it.

December 18, 2014 3:55 PM “More Populism” Not As Simple As It Sounds

Harold Meyerson today addresses the increasingly popular false equivalency habit of treating Elizabeth Warren as the left-wing counterpart to Ted Cruz or Jim DeMint—an ideologue placing ideological pressure on a mainstream party.

[T]hese assessments miss one crucial difference between Warren and the right-wingers: She has crossover appeal. More importantly, so does Warrenism.
Cruz and DeMint can claim no allies within what remains of moderate Republican ranks. Warren’s war on Wall Street, by contrast, has enlisted colleagues on the right flank of the Democratic Party.

Meyerson then talks about Warren’s success (noted here as well) in bringing Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill on board with her votes against a cloture motion to move the Cromnibus with its Wall Street derivatives swap language intact. And he quotes polling data showing that the white working class voters who are so abundant in places like West Virginia think corporations have too much power, just as people like Warren say they do.

That’s all well and good, but it’s important to be precise on what kinds of “populist” pitches might work with white-working-class voters. On average these voters don’t much trust government any more than they do Wall Street. One good thing about Warren’s pitch is that she tends to focus on ways in which Big Government is working with Wall Street instead of making a broad case for regulation, because regulation—particularly environmental regulation in places like West Virginia—often strikes white-working-class voters as a job killer, precisely what Republicans keep telling them. But it’s important not to over-estimate how much government activism these folks will support, even if it’s not for what they consider to be “welfare” benefiting other people.

Until recently the argument for more “populism” in the Democratic Party usually had a second component: less progressivism, or at least less emphasis on progressivism, on cultural issues. Thus Tom Frank in What’s the Matter With Kansas accused Democrats of betraying the white working class’s economic interests and cultural views, deciding instead to chase upper-income professionals who were liberal on cultural issues and conservative on economic issues.

Well, that’s train’s left the station, as Ron Brownstein notes in commenting on Chuck Schumer’s case for appealing to while also not annoying white middle-class voters:

Today, social liberalism aimed at college-educated and single whites, especially women, on issues like abortion, gay rights, and contraception is the Democrats’ best asset in the white electorate. The tension (which Schumer skirted) is that those cultural commitments, now almost universally endorsed in the party, further antagonize many of the working-class whites the senator wants to court with “middle-class” economic programs like college aid.

For years now, I’ve been telling fellow-liberals that it’s a mistake to believe they can displace cultural issues by shutting up about them and just talking about economics, because frankly that’s insulting to people who do have strong cultural views, whether they are “progressive” or “reactionary” or based on personal identity, science or religion. Forget about your beliefs on the structure of the universe and your place in it and chow down on government benefits like everybody else, that approach seems to say, and there’s never really been much evidence it works.

What progressives need right now is less a debate between “populists” and “centrists” than a clarifying discussion on what “populism” actually involves beyond hostile rhetoric aimed at Wall Street, which is the easy and fun part. I’m personally not real interested in an economic agenda and message that deliberately ignores poor people on tactical grounds; that’s what offended me about Schumer’s prescriptions. But we do need to be realistic about the limits of altruism or social solidarity among white middle-class voters. So there’s plenty to discuss that goes beyond the current yes/no talk about “populism.”

December 18, 2014 2:06 PM Lunch Buffet

Sorry I am a little behind schedule, but had to do two actual phone conversations…remember those? Some people don’t, just as they don’t remember reading a print magazine, either. Here at WaMo were are trying to offer a full-spectrum multi-generational array of print and virtual content that is fun and informative for all ages! Please donate what you can afford and we’ll try to keep our balance.

Here are some balanced midday news/views treats:

* AP announces enhanced coverage of state governments. If it’s real, that deserves three cheers.

* Speaking of AP, the service’s Ken Thomas gets Rand Paul on record calling the trade embargo of Cuba more or less pointless.

* Brother Benen notes other Republicans who are pleased with Obama’s shift, including those at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

* A refresher course on the suddenly very important U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, chief lobbying instrument for those opposing thaw in relations.

* Study shows a lot of people still think Colbert’s a conservative.

And in non-political news:

* “Naughtiest” city in America is—Milwaukee?

So in addition to this being Chas Chandler’s birthday, Keith Richards was also born on this day 71 years ago. As we break for lunch, here he is two years ago performing one of his distinctive and semi-autobiographical Stones songs, “Before They Make Me Run.”

December 18, 2014 1:39 PM How Bush Got Out of Step With the Right on Education

I was looking at one of those straws in the wind today, a Heritage Foundation Daily Signal piece by Genevieve Wood on why conservatives no longer like Jeb Bush, the guy who was on Heritage’s board from 1995-1997. And there was this brief passage on education policy:

In years past, he was often considered the most conservative member of the Bush family involved in politics. But he has gone from being a champion of school choice as the governor of Florida to a vocal supporter of nationalizing education standards via Common Core.

Now so far as I can tell, Bush has not abandoned his support for “school choice” one bit. So what is it that makes “school choice” inconsistent with Common Core?

It mostly has to do with how you view private school vouchers. Just like his older brother, Jebbie promoted vouchers as a sort of emergency outlet for students in bad public schools, and as a distant threat to the “school monopoly” and to teachers unions. But he didn’t profess to any desire to get rid of public schools altogether.

That, however, is very much the way the wind is blowing right now—in the direction of regarding public schools as—to use the term Heritage president Jim DeMint helped popularize—“government schools” that are inherently illegitimate. Meanwhile, extensive voucher programs like Bobby Jindal’s in Louisiana are rationalized as shifting accountability for educational results from public authorities or even from voters to parents, who “know best” (thanks in many cases to their pastors, who steer their kids to the Academy of the Fiery Judgement for some old fashioned learnin’). In that kind of world, who needs any standards, much less uniform national standards? And as I noted in a piece on this trend over two years ago, standards-based education reform is not consistent with the GOP’s recent advocacy of “religious freedom:”

[E]ven if a Republican Congress and White House (or states following their lead) were willing to partially abandon the parental-market-place principle and begin insisting on standards for curriculum and instruction, it would run smack into another ideological totem: The growing resistance of conservative religious institutions to any conditions for the use of public funds that might tread upon their “freedom,” however they choose to define it.

So Jebbie may be the best existing champion of conservative education policy circa 2002. But he’s really just not in step any more, and that’s just one of the ways in which he has stood still as his party moved relentlessly past him to the right.

December 18, 2014 11:54 AM North Korea Is Not Funny

Yesterday brought the startling confirmation that North Korea appears to have launched the recent cyberattack on Sony that roiled Hollywood, followed up by threats of violence so graphic that it forced the cancellation of a major motion picture release at huge expense to Sony. Steven Borowiec and Julie Makinen of the L.A. Tiimes explain:

A number of North Korea experts on Thursday echoed U.S. intelligence officials’ assessment that the reclusive regime was somehow connected with the computer hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, leading to a massive leak of sensitive data and threats that prompted the studio to cancel release of the North Korea-themed comedy “The Interview.”
Though most ordinary North Koreans have no access to computers or the Internet, isolated and impoverished North Korea is believed to have a small stable of highly skilled hackers, and computer attacks are inexpensive to carry out and can be plausibly denied, a number of academics noted.
North Korea has a history of lashing out at those who criticize or ridicule it. Last spring, South Korea concluded that the North was behind a large hack of several South Korean banks and media outlets. The media outlets that were affected were all known for critical coverage of North Korea. South Korean government data put the damage caused by that attack and one other last year at more than $800 million.
“The hacking code that was used in the attack on Sony was very similar to the code that North Korea has used in cyber attacks on South Korea, so I believe it was them,” said Kim Seung-joo, a professor at Korea University Graduate School of Information Security….
In June, Ja Song Nam, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, penned a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling the movie an “act of war” and urging the U.S. to “take immediate and appropriate actions to ban the production and distribution” of the movie. “Otherwise,” he added, “it will be fully responsible for encouraging and sponsoring terrorism.”

Even fairly casual observers of North Korea over the years have probably noticed that the regime is incredibly sensitive about international perceptions of its leaders, to the point that it has created a bizarre and deceptive shadow show of outsiders’ supposed obsession with them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers those regular and very weird full-page ads in the New York Times taken out back in the day to reprint Kim Il-Sung’s address to the delegates of the Fifteenth Congress of the Toilers of the East on tractor production quotas or somesuch. It’s that self-image, of course, that makes North Korea so tempting a target of ridicule or worse.

But at TNR Claire Groden and Elaine Teng make the entirely valid point that there’s nothing really very funny about North Korea:

[B]abyfaced Kim Jong-un knowingly commits human rights violations across North Korea on a widespread, systematized basis. According to a 400-page report issued by the U.N. this February, “The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.” The laundry list of horrors that unfolds over the report (which features more than 1,500 citations) include: religious persecution, mass starvation, non-existent speech and press freedoms, arbitrary detention, torture, public executions, and enforced disappearances.

Precisely because its behavior is so—well, pre-modern—and with normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba making its position unique, it’s easy to ridicule Pyongyang, and also to treat as inconsequential an entertainment product that would cause a scandal in any context:

Hollywood has always drawn its villains from America’s enemies, but The Interview is unprecedented in that it actually portrayed the gruesome assassination of a sitting world leader (melting flesh, flaming hair, and all)…. Hollywood didn’t even dare to kill Hitler, the most evil of all dictators, during his lifetime. When Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator at the height of World War II, he lampooned the world’s most dangerous man without even considering the possibility of offing him. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) was controversial in part because it wrote an alternate history that included Hitler’s gruesome murder. That The Interview would blithely do the same to a current world leader shows just how absurd North Korea has become in the American imagination.

So while no, Hollywood and certainly the U.S. government shouldn’t bend in response to threats from North Korea, Americans generally might want to take this vicious police state seriously enough to knock off the joking a bit.

December 18, 2014 10:19 AM Taking a Stand Against Torture

In asking readers for a donation in whatever amount they can afford, I’d say the Washington Monthly is best known for long-form investigative journalism into the activities that thwart government’s proper strong but accountable role in American life. But on occasion this magazine has been a rallying point on a matter of principle. That was particularly true in early 2008, when WaMo published a collection of essays from 37 distinguished Americans—from Jimmy Carter to Richard Lugar to Nancy Pelosi to Wes Clark to John Kerry to William H. Taft IV and many more—calling for an unconditional end to the use of torture.

Here’s an excerpt from the Editors’ introduction to the essays:

Ideally, the election in November would put an end to this debate, but we fear it won’t. John McCain, who for so long was one of the leading Republican opponents of the White House’s policy on torture, voted in February against making the CIA subject to the ban on “enhanced interrogation.” As for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, while both have come out strongly against torture, they seldom discuss the subject on the campaign trail. We fear that even a Democratic president might, under pressure from elements of the national security bureaucracy, carve out loopholes, possibly in secret, condoning some forms of torture.
Over the past decade, voters have had many legitimate worries: stagnant wages, corruption in Washington, terrorism, and a botched war in Iraq. But we believe that when Americans look back years from now, what will shame us most is that our country abandoned a bedrock principle of civilized nations: that torture is without exception wrong.

Still seems pretty fresh and relevant, I fear.

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December 18, 2014 9:22 AM Chum in the Water

At the end of a post reciting the big moves “our bored, exhausted, disengaged president” has taken since the midterm elections, Kevin Drum makes an important point about what that means for next year:

All of these things are worthwhile in their own right, of course, but there’s a political angle to all of them as well: they seriously mess with Republican heads. GOP leaders had plans for January, but now they may or may not be able to do much about them. Instead, they’re going to have to deal with enraged tea partiers insisting that they spend time trying to repeal Obama’s actions. They can’t, of course, but they have to show that they’re trying. So there’s a good chance that they’ll spend their first few months in semi-chaos, responding to Obama’s provocations instead of working on their own agenda.

Case in point: Congressional Republicans are now going to have to spend significant time and energy in a Cold War battle with Obama over Cuba policy—one that is likely to end in failure, and that appeals only to a sliver of the U.S. population.

After all the interminable stuff we heard in 2014 about the Great Big Adult Republicans getting control over the unruly Tea Folk, I think we’ll find that Boehner and McConnell aren’t going to easily restrain conservatives with so much chum in the water. The provocation to a feeding frenzy is just becoming way too overpowering.

UPDATE: WaPo’s Greg Sargent makes the parallel case that Obama’s executive actions are framing the 2016 presidential elections in ways that tend to trap Republican candidates in the past.

December 18, 2014 8:44 AM Did Yellen Thread the Needle?

So with the investor universe all ears, the Fed’s Open Market Committee did indeed drop the words “considerable time” from its comments on how long it would maintain current interest rates, but then also indicated its course of action in 2015 would be “consistent” with that of the last two years. Oh brother.

In her press conference after the statement was released, however, Janet Yellen found the word that everyone but the most militant deflation monkeys seemed to be looking for: the Fed would show “patience” in holding off on interest rate increases, which was taken to mean they will begin to happen mid-year under current assumptions but could be canceled if the economy slows down.

What a way to set and implement monetary policy: by delphic pronouncement.

December 18, 2014 8:06 AM Daylight Video

We have an embarrassment of birthday riches today. First up we’ll honor the late Chas Chandler, an original member of the Animals and then even more famous for “discovering” Jimi Hendrix and creating and managing The Experience through their first two albums. Here he is with the signature bass riff—the first I learned as a baby bass player in 1968 or so—of “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place.”

December 17, 2014 5:21 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Another reason to make a donation to the Washington Monthly? Our second and third blogs, in addition to Political Animal. There’s Ten Miles Square, which contains both gleanings from the web from some of WaMo’s friends, and fresh and original content, like today’s piece by Blake Fleetwood on data about police killings. And there’s also College Guide, with the best of blogging about education policy, including a lot of original material from the ever-insightful and delightfully jargon-free Daniel Luzer. I probably don’t do enough here at PA to draw attention to all this stuff, so you should make a habit of reading it on the site every day.

Here are some remains of this day:

* Gov. Peter Shumlin announces slow-down in Vermont’s transition to a single-payer health care system.

* WaPo’s Philip Bump notes steady Democratic trend among Cuban-Americans since 2002.

* Paul Waldman notes it’s about time to stop talking about Obama being bored with his job as he pulls off another complicated shocker of a policy change.

* At Ten Miles Square, Harold Pollack checks back in with woman living—and living well—for several years with Stage IV breast cancer thanks to palliative health care.

* At College Guide, Jackie Mader examines Mississippi’s failed effort to secure federal funds to expand preschool services.

And in sorta non-political news:

* Top five movie chains decide not to show The Interview due to threats from hackers, who may be connected to North Korean regime that’s the subject of the flick.

That’s it for Wednesday. Paul Rodgers left Bad Company in the early 1980s, and before long joined up with Jimmy Page to form the not-very-successful “super-group” The Firm. They did have some good tracks, however; here they are performing “Radio-active.”

Nah, let’s close with one more Bad Company tune, one of my favorites, “Deal With the Preacher.”

Selah.

December 17, 2014 4:36 PM Documenting Police Killings

One of the sources of confusion arising during recent controversies over police killings in Missouri and in New York has been the lack of good and consistent data on similar incidents. Congress just passed legislation to revive a lapsed 2000-2006 data collection law, but as veteran journalist Blake Fleetwood notes in a web-exclusive piece for Ten Miles Square today, the earlier law wasn’t enforced. As a result we know less than we should about police killings and such closely related issues as the risk to police of being themselves killed by lethal force in the line of duty. But by piecing together available data, Fleetwood does reach some tentative conclusions well worth testing with fresh data.

A Washington Monthly analysis of police homicides found wide discrepancies in the rate of police killings among major metropolitan police departments, when measured against population figures.
Contrary to popular belief, New York City—-with a police homicide rate of 1 in 123,529 citizens—-ranks near the top (best, least people killed) of large cities in the U.S. The NYPD killed 68 people from 2007 - 2012 out of a population of 8.4 million.
In Miami-Dade County, in a population of 2.5 million, (less than a third of the people living in NYC) police killed 68 citizens during that same five-year period. This means that citizens of Miami are 3.5 times more likely to killed by their local policeman than their counterparts in New York City.
An amalgamated review of police shooting data from the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and figures from 105 major police departments (obtained by the Wall Street Journal) —- when overlaid with population figures —- revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department killed 111 citizens during this period in a population of 3.8 million, which works out to one police homicide per 21,229 persons. This indicates that the average citizen’s chance of being killed by a policeman is nearly six times greater in Los Angeles than in New York City.

Fleetwood esttimates that the total number of police killings from 2007-2012 probably exceeded three thousand. Probably half or more of those killed did not have firearms. Moreover, while no one wants to expose police officers to undue risk, some facts remain that contradict the impression that it’s open season on the police:

In five years, 2008 to 2012, only one policeman was killed by a firearm in the line of duty in New York City. Police officers are many times more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by a criminal. Eight NYC policemen took their own lives in 2012, alone.
Comparatively, a fisherman is 10 times more likely to be killed on the job than a police officer, according to national figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A logging worker is eight times more likely than a police officer to die on the job, and a garbage man is three times more likely to die while working.
Most policemen killed on the job die in auto accidents, according to FBI statistics.

What can be done to reduce the number of police killings without making the lives of officers more dangerous? Fleetwood points to better training of a sort that used to be available not that long ago:

Twenty years ago Bill Clinton funded the Police Corps, whose mission was to train elite policemen with physical and mental conditioning very much like the training of the Seals and Green Berets. The recruits spent a year role-playing through every possible situation. The Police Corps produced 1,000 of the best trained and most professional policeman in the country.
But it was expensive, and, according to Joe Klein, it was killed by George W. Bush.
If the United States had better trained, more professional police, we certainly would not have so many police homicides, which are tearing apart the social fabric of our country.
December 17, 2014 4:13 PM Cuomo Orders Fracking Ban

Andrew Cuomo’s many critics may find fault with him for vacillating on this issue until his reelection was in the bag, but he has finally acted to impose a ban on fracking in New York, per a report from the New York Times’ Thomas Kaplan and Jesse McKinley:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of uncertainty over the controversial method of natural gas extraction.
State officials concluded that fracking, as the method is known, could contaminate the air and water and pose inestimable dangers to public health.
That conclusion was delivered during a year-end cabinet meeting convened by Mr. Cuomo in Albany. It came amid increased calls by environmentalists to ban fracking, which uses water and chemicals to release natural gas trapped in deeply buried shale deposits.
The question of whether to allow fracking has been one of the most divisive public policy debates in New York in years, pitting environmentalists against others who saw it as a critical way to bring jobs to economically stagnant portions of upstate.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who has prided himself on taking swift and decisive action on other contentious issues like gun control, took the opposite approach on fracking. He repeatedly put off making a decision on how to proceed, most recently citing an ongoing — and seemingly never-ending — study by state health officials.
On Wednesday, six weeks after Mr. Cuomo won re-election to a second term, the long-awaited health study finally materialized.

Kind of reminds me of a moment from New York’s distant political past, when the state placed its Democratic governor, Grover Cleveland, in the White House in an incredibly narrow victory over James G. Blaine that owed a lot to defections by anti-Blaine Republican “Mugwumps.” One of them, the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast, went through a variety of arguments for what “did it,” and then concluded: “No matter what did it, it’s done.” So, too, is fracking in New York, at least for the time being.

December 17, 2014 2:46 PM Pope Francis Does It Again

In my earlier comments on Obama’s Cuba gambit, I failed to pay special attention to the role of Pope Francis in brokering an agreement to free Alan Gross but also in providing religio-political cover to Obama. It obviously produced some heartburn for Marco Rubio, whose angry remarks on the development sought unsuccessfully to insulate the Pope from the change in U.S.-Cuba relations. But it’s hard to rationalize this away (per TPM’s Sahil Kapur]:

In a statement circulated by the White House, the Vatican said, “The Holy Father wishes to express his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relation, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their history.

Rubio is still officially a Roman Catholic (though he also attends conservative evangelical services), so he has to be careful on this subject, as does co-religionist Jeb Bush. But you have to wonder if the Rev. Rafael Cruz of the Purifying Fire Ministries is going to get his Protestantism on and start shrieking about the Whore of Babylon before his son can shut him up. Any way you slice it, though, this Pope is a real burr in the saddle of those who proclaim the Gospel of the Day Before Yesterday.

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