Political Animal


September 23, 2014 5:59 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Haven’t mentioned my experience at the Georgia/Troy game on Saturday. The score was 66-0, and the Dawgs’ reserves played very well when they took over in the second half. Managed to get sunburned, but it was worth it. I may get back to Athens for the Georgia Tech game, but if this is my very last CFB game live, I can live with it.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Greg Sargent reviews Obama’s climate change speech at UN today. More about that tomorrow.

* Paul Waldman argues 2002/2004-style Republican national security messages won’t work as well with Democratic president leading the fighting.

* Jim Webb keeps speculation about a 2016 presidential bid alive, if barely.

* Marco Rubio and Mike Lee roll out latest version of tax simplification plan that goes to extraordinary lengths to disguise lowering of top rate.

* Federal prison population dropped last year for first time since 1980.

And in non-political news:

* Starbucks selectively rolling out latte that tastes like Guinness. I’m in.

That’s it for Tuesday. We’ll close with one of my top ten favorite songs of all time: Fairport Convention’s “Sloth.” It’s a good song generally when war is being waged, and a nice, gradually intensifying end to any day.


September 23, 2014 4:18 PM Back From the Brink in Spain

Big news from Europe today: the ruling conservative People’s Party in Spain abruptly backed off efforts to implement a ban on abortions (with exceptions for rape, incest and the mother’s physical and mental health) it had campaigned on in 2011. Here’s a quick overview from The Guardian’s Ashifa Kassam:

The Spanish government has abandoned its plans to tighten the country’s liberal abortion laws, ending months of speculation and prompting the resignation of the justice minister charged with enacting some of the toughest legislation on the issue in Europe.
“As president of the government, I have taken the most sensible decision,” the country’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, told reporters at a conference in Madrid, saying that his government had failed to reach a consensus on the issue.
“We can’t have a law that will be changed when another government comes in.”

Huh. Sounds like an ever-ready excuse for junking any controversial proposal, doesn’t it?

But Rajoy was dealing with highly adverse polls (showing 70% to 80% opposition to the new law) and heavily attended protests rallies as well. And it was clear that although PP had campaigned on much stricter abortion laws, it won office in 2011 basically because of massive unhappiness with the Spanish Socialist government’s handling of austerity demands from the EU.

As a face-saving manuever, the PP will apparently now propose a parental consent requirement for abortions by minors. But it’s suffered a blow that Republicans in this country ought to ponder, tied as they are to a tougher version (with no mental health exceptions) of the law that backfired in Spain.

September 23, 2014 3:31 PM Dynamic Scoring, How May I Mock Thee?

Among those paying close attention to Paul Ryan’s maneuvering of late, it’s sort of predictable if laughable that he’s returned to the ancient conservative chestnut of “dynamic scoring” to square the various circles in his latest tax plan.

Jonathan Chait calls dynamic scoring “magic pixie dust,” and as used by Ryan, that’s pretty accurate. The way I’d define dynamic scoring is that it demands the scorekeepers assume the economic world behaves the way supply-siders thing it does, even though it demonstrably doesn’t. Thus to a considerable extent high-end tax cuts pay for themselves, and also enable policymakers to cut the rest of the population a slice of tasty pie through much smaller tax cuts as well.

But I’ve already used a couple of metaphors here. I would invite readers to come up with their own ways to describe the incredibly convenient world of dynamic scoring, wherein if you assume an ideology is right then the numbers say so, too!

September 23, 2014 3:00 PM Pat Roberts Sees the Awful Specter of “National Socialism”

You know, back in 2009, when the Republican National Committee seriously discussed a resolution that labeled the opposition the “Democrat Socialist Party,” it seemed a very good example of how a radicalized conservative movement that was suddenly entertaining old Bircher memes had gained alarming influence in one of the country’s two major political parties. The RNC eventually dropped the proposal (though it did refer to the Democrat Party’s “socialist agenda”), but it was a near thing.

Nowadays loose references to “socialism” by Republicans are so common nobody much notices them. And when Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, no ideological firebrand but rather the most hackish of time-servers, casually said that under Democratic governance “this country is heading for national socialism,” it raised a few eyebrows, but didn’t get him immediately hooted off the rostrum and then removed from the ballot, as it might have done not that long ago.

You have to wonder what Bob Dole, who was sitting nearby Roberts when he made this incredibly offensive remark—and who fought against actual National Socialists in World War II—thought of it.

September 23, 2014 1:52 PM Lunch Buffet

Back on the Central Coast of California today, and it’s exactly as I left it two weeks ago: blue skies, blue water, light winds, temperatures topping out around 70. There’s an exciting 20% chance of rain on Thursday, but my money’s on the 80% probability of more drought.

Here are some coasty-toasty midday news/views treats:

* Rick Hasen explains Kansas Supreme Court’s decision not to decide suit seeking to force Democrats to name a new nominee in the Senate race.

* Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and maybe even Detroit, likely to be refuges from global climate change.

* Airstrikes against IS in Iraq not having any notable effect on territory the group controls.

* Mark Salter seems on brink of challenging Rand Paul to a duel for “smearing” his boss, John McCain.

* Countries representing 54% of greenhouse gases and half of global GDP have pledged to tax carbon. US is the most conspicuous absentee.

And in non-political news:

* Going private postal: disgruntled former employee kills 3 at UPS facility in Alabama.

As we break for lunch, here’s more vintage Fairport Convention, this one a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Percy’s Song.”

September 23, 2014 1:19 PM Cruz Channels The Base on IS

To the casual reader of headlines, what most distinctively characterizes Sen. Ted Cruz’s typically loud rhetoric on the IS challenge and what to do about it is his bizarre focus—which NH Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown has also picked up on—on the Mexican border rather than Syria or Iraq as the most important theater of operations against IS.

But in a perceptive piece last Friday, Peter Beinart looked a little more carefully at how Cruz talks about the IS threat and discovers he represents a POV—which he calls “militaristic pessimism”—that favors military strikes without any real political strategy for—or even interest in—dealing with the situation in Syria and Iraq:

Like George W. Bush before them, McCain and Graham are militaristic optimists. They want America to bomb and arm its way toward a free, pro-American Middle East. Cruz is a militaristic pessimist. He mocks the Obama administration’s effort to foster reconciliation “between Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad” because “the Sunnis and Shiites have been engaged in a sectarian civil war since 632.” Notably absent from his rhetoric is the Bush-like claim that Muslims harbor the same desire for liberty as everyone else. Instead of mentioning that most of ISIS’s victims have been fellow Muslims, Cruz frames America’s conflict in the language of religious war. “ISIS right now is the face of evil. They’re crucifying Christians, they’re persecuting Christians,” he told Hannity.
Notice the difference. When Sunnis kills Shiites, Cruz shrugs because there’s been a sectarian divide within Islam since 632. But when Muslims kills Christians—another conflict with a long history—Cruz readies the F-16s.

In this respect, says Beinart persuasively, Cruz probably best represents the views of the GOP “base:”

With his combination of military interventionism and diplomatic isolationism, Cruz probably better reflects the views of GOP voters than any of his potential 2016 rivals. According to polls, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to see ISIS as a threat to the U.S. and to back airstrikes against it, but less likely to support arming Syria’s non-jihadist rebels. As Republican strategist Ford O’Connell recently told The Hill, “Ted Cruz is probably most in line with the Republican base in the sense he doesn’t want to have a discussion of Syria versus Iraq. He wants to dismantle and destroy ISIS. Period.”
More than a decade after the invasion of Iraq, this is where the GOP has ended up. Ted Cruz wants to kill people in the Middle East who he believes might threaten the United States. And he wants to defend Christianity there. Other than that, he really couldn’t care less.

There’s an old military saying (variously attributed to Marines or special forces troops, and dating back to the Catholic Church’s 13th-century campaign of extermination against the Albigensians) that probably describes this POV even better than “militaristic pessimism:” It’s “Kill em’ all and let God sort ‘em out!” It’s a monstrous but ever-popular sentiment that’s highly appropriate for a political party where unfocused rage is often confused with “patriotism.”

September 23, 2014 12:17 PM People’s Climate March Really Was About the People

At the New Yorker, Hendrick Hertbzberg has the must-read reflection on the People’s Climate March on Sunday:

At Sunday’s vast and beautiful climate march, on Central Park West somewhere in the Sixties, I ran into Bill McKibben, a longtime acquaintance (he got his start as a New Yorker writer back in the nineteen-eighties). He was strolling at the edge of the crowd, unmolested, with his wife and colleague, Sue Halpern. We had a brief conversation about how the march was going (very well indeed), then he and Halpern strolled on—again unmolested, and mostly unrecognized.
If anyone can be called a leader, even the leader, of the People’s Climate March (and of the movement it represents, for that matter), McKibben’s the one. He dreamed the march up in the first place; he is its intellectual father, he wrote its manifesto, and he was its principal organizer. He is at once its Thomas Paine and its Bayard Rustin. Yet there he was, taking a walk down Central Park West like everybody else.
This was remarkable, and it was emblematic of what made this march feel different from other big marches I’ve been on for other big causes—for civil rights, against wars in Vietnam and Iraq, for nuclear disarmament, against nuclear power, for or against what have you. At those marches, most of them, leaders were a big deal, a major drawing card. The V.I.P.s spent most of their time in special tents to which admission required special credentials, and when they ventured out they were generally accompanied by phalanxes of aides and hangers-on. Not this time. There was a smattering of relevant celebrities, to be sure—the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Mayor of New York, Al Gore—but as far as I know there were no special tents, no special credentials, and no phalanxes.

But beyond the equality of marchers, there was an absence of what normally passes for “content” at protest rallies and marches:

Typically, at such events, the destination is an open-air field or arena featuring an elaborate speakers’ stand, with a backstage infrastructure of headquarters tents, satellite vans, and port-a-cans. The stand is festooned with microphones, amplifiers, and powerful loudspeakers. Rock bands and folksingers, the more famous the better, alternate with orators representing the various factions comprising the sponsoring coalition. At the People’s Climate March, there was no speakers’ stand, because there were no speakers. There was just the march and the people marching.
The crowd was big—three hundred and ten thousand, according to a scientific count conducted by a complex-systems mathematician from Carnegie Mellon University using data supplied by thirty-five spotters. It was probably closer to four hundred thousand, judging from the constant churn of people arriving and leaving. The crowd was noisy, with lots of impromptu chanting and singing and drums and noisemakers, including not a few vuvuzelas. (Remember the 2010 World Cup, in South Africa?) At precisely 1 P.M., an hour and a half into the march, the throng fell silent, suddenly and completely. Then came the wave—first a rolling tsunami of arms thrown into the air, travelling swiftly at us from the head of the march, two miles away, then, like thunder after distant lightning, a wall of sound, a deafening, exuberant roar of human voices all around. No speakers? Not quite. More like hundreds of thousands.

But that helps explain why the event didn’t get the kind of media coverage it deserved: there were no “big speeches” by identifiable celebrities or authority figures to quote. A few more marches like this one, though, and even the MSM may begin to understand that “debates” between “experts” who do and don’t “believe” in climate change exclude the voices that most matter.

September 23, 2014 11:48 AM Jeb ‘16—The Excitement Builds!

It’s no secret the GOP Donor Class loves Jeb Bush and would like to see him run for president. But if you have any doubts, read this unintentionally hilarious spin sent out via Politico’s Mike Allen today:

As Jeb Bush plunges into a frenzy of fall travel for Senate candidates, his allies insist a presidential campaign is becoming more of a possibility than even they thought a few months ago. He’s doing a lot of under-the-radar prep, including foreign policy tutoring and meetings with tech gurus. And several of his friends think he is leaning more yes than no. The more opaque his plans, the greater the clamor - a “Greta Garbo strategy” that has amped up demand for the former Florida governor.

In the next breath, Allen is admiring Bush’s practice of holding fundraisers IN FLORIDA for Senate candidates in other states. That’s on top of the “frenzy” of travel, I suppose, and none of this wildly exciting activity contradicts the “Greta Garbo strategy” of acting coy. As to why this would “amp up demand for the former Florida governor,” Allen is as “opaque” as the man he’s hyping.

September 23, 2014 11:18 AM National Voter Registration Day

Today has been designated National Voter Registration Day by a variety of organizations that are holding cooperative registration events around the country today. But it’s also a good time to make the argument that voting is a right, not a privilege (despite the ConCon claim to the contrary), and that public policy should encourage, not discourage, voter registration and access to the ballot itself, to the maximum extent consistent with election integrity. “It’s too expensive” or ” we don’t have enough staff” or “anyone who really wants to vote can do so” are excuses we should no longer take seriously.

A report out today from ProjectVote usefully looks at various measures states have taken to regulate—and in all too many cases, simply harass—those who carry out large-scale voter registration efforts. They range from innocuous-sounding registration requirements for registration canvassers (some of them generated by the Right’s obsession with the ACORN myth), to the states that require proof of citizenship not just to vote but to register, to efforts to virtually ban “third-party” voter registration drives. ProjectVote actually endorses bans on payment of canvassers on a per-registration basis, but warns that most restrictions are intentionally or unintentionally too burdensome and have no real justification other than partisanship.

It’s a good day to register to vote, or to volunteer to register other folks. It’s a good way to effectively respond to the cynics and ideologues who view voter suppression as an effective political tool.

September 23, 2014 9:39 AM Streaming Video for WaMo/NAF Event

Here’s the streaming video for this morning’s WaMo/NAF event on America’s Worst Colleges.

September 23, 2014 9:16 AM Talking America’s Worst Colleges

As noted here earlier, WaMo is cosponsoring a live event today with the New America Foundation on the themes and questions raised by our first-ever listings of America’s Worst Colleges.

I suppose the first question is why talk about bad colleges in the first place? That’s the implied premise of all the “best colleges” listings that let readers figure out for themselves which schools don’t make the grade. But on the other hand, colleges that charge too much, saddle their students with unsupportable levels of debt, generate terrible dropout rates, and don’t seem to give those who do graduate the tools they need to find remunerative careers, are taking advantage not only of their young charges but of taxpayers who subsidize colleges in so many ways. That’s certainly the thinking behind the proposed new college rankings the Obama administration is developing, which will aim to clearly identify good and bad investments by parents, students and taxpayers. But identifying the “worst colleges” isn’t always easy, and how to go about it fairly will be one topic of discussion today.

Go here for info on today’s event, which will run from 9:30 - 11:00AM at the New America Foundation. You can find streaming video at that site, too. There will be an ongoing online conversation on Twitter, at #WaMoRankings; you should follow @WashMonthly and @NewAmerica as well.

September 23, 2014 8:44 AM Daylight Video

Yesterday was the first day of autumn, though thanks to global warming, it never much feels like it for a good while in most parts of America. I intensely identify autumn with the music of Fairport Convention, and since I post their music every chance I get anyway, here they are with “Meet on the Ledge.”

September 22, 2014 5:03 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Wish my flight was on the fancy new Councourse E, with all the power outlets. Here on Concourse D, you have to fight with surly gamers for power. There is a Five Guys, though.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Mike Pence gets a Wall Street Journal presidential profile.

* Pew finds 32% of Americans think houses of worship should endorse political candidates, up from 22% in 2002.

* Gitmo, the “most expensive prison in the world,” is physically deteriorating at an alarming pace.

* Big Politico profile on Lois Lerner makes her sound significantly less satanic than she’s been painted by conservatives who believe in constitutional right to untaxed secret political donations.

* Michael Boggs judicial nomination finally sunk.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer defends the much-maligned university endowment managers.

And in sorta non-political news:

* Chelsea Clinton baby watch dominates media attention for Global Clinton Initiative meeting.

That’s it for Monday. Let’s close with Leonard Cohen talking about and then performing probably his best-known song: “Suzanne.”


September 22, 2014 4:43 PM No Longer Quivering

I probably don’t do this often enough, so today I’m drawing attention to a blog I just discovered via Amanda Marcotte. It’s a site for survivors of the conservative Christian Patriarchal movement known as “Quiverfull,” which encourages maximum childbearing and submission by women. And it goes by the delightful handle: “No Longer Quivering.”

Check it out.

September 22, 2014 3:21 PM Hil and Saul: Here We Go!

Anyone who thinks it’s too early to talk about the 2016 presidential campaign should be aware that the Right has just chosen its Big Narrative for the cycle, via the Free Beacon’s discovery of correspondence between Hillary Rodham and—wait for it!—Saul Alinsky. It was previously known that HRC had written (both favorably and unfavorably) about Alinsky in a college thesis on community organizing (it would have been rather difficult to ignore him on that subject—sorta like writing about Chick Fil-A without interviewing the late Truett Cathy). But direct correspondence is a new thing.

No, it doesn’t reveal any revolutionary plotting between the two, and yes, this was forty-six years ago. But we’re off to the races.

National Review’s Stanley Kurtz, who wrote a whole book about Barack Obama’s alleged devotion to an Alinskyite conspiracy. is a very happy man today. And he shows his appreciation by laying out exactly what he and hundreds of other gabbers are going to do with this very old news:

Hillary has never abandoned her early leftist inclinations. She has merely done her best to suppress the evidence of her political past, from barring public access to her thesis on Alinsky during her time in the White House, to papering over the significance of her internship at Treuhaft, Walker, and Burnstein, to pretending that she turned away from Alinsky after her undergraduate years, when in fact she brought his methods and outlook into the heart of her political work. Her strategic preference for polarization and targeting enemies is well documented from her time in the White House, even, or especially, by sympathetic writers like Bernstein.
Hillary is fortunate in having a more open and straightforward champion of the left like Elizabeth Warren as a foil. Yet far less separates the two of them than meets the eye. Not only have Hillary’s deepest sympathies always been on the left, but the newly ideologized Democratic
With Obamacare and much else besides, the legal and bureaucratic groundwork has already been laid for a leftist transformation of America. It is naïve to believe that Hillary would roll any of this back. On the contrary, as president she would finish the job Obama started. A Hillary presidency is destined to be Obama’s third term. Two Alinskyite presidents in a row? Hillary said it best: “the result would be a social revolution.”

This last quote was something Clinton said in her thesis about what Alinsky’s vision if implemented would mean. But don’t expect such nuances to be given a lot of attention. Kurtz’s meme will soon be coming to a viral email near you.

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