Political Animal


January 28, 2015 8:00 AM Daylight Video

It’s Sarah McLachlen’s birthday, and we’ll get to her music a bit later. But for a wakeup call from the distant past, here’s a song that hit number one on this day 50 years ago, as performed on Hullabaloo. It’s the Moody Blues with “Go Now,” a record I bought at the time with my kiddie savings.

January 27, 2015 6:10 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

So my long-lamented Georgia Tall Dogs are threatening to enter the top 25 as they take on Vandy tonight. (The Georgia women’s team is already ranked at number 21.) I’ll be at church meetings tonight and will miss the game, but may sneak a peak at the score.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Why is this no surprise? Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore says he will defy a federal judge’s order striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

* LDS leaders propose “truce” where they’ll support non-discrimination laws for LGBT folk if religious folk allowed to violate them. Still, Mormon recognition of “gender identity and sexual orientation” as something they will respect is a big step forward.

* One particular LDS leader, Mitt Romney, struggling with continued hostility of Rupert Murdoch, who loves him some Jeb Bush.

* At Ten Miles Square, Mark Kleiman examines Jamaica’s proposal for legalization of cannabis without commercialization.

* At College Guide, Andre Perry collects advice for the new superintendent of New Orleans’ embattled public schools.

And in non-political news:

*Big drop on Wall Street despite weather as computers react to bad earnings data.

That’s it for Tuesday. Let’s close with Bobby Blue Bland performing “The Thrill Is Gone” and then bits and pieces of other standards, with B.B. King.


January 27, 2015 5:26 PM Alternative History: Gov. Rubio

So the thinking person’s conservative political analyst, Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics, comes up with a fascinating counterfactual scenario on Twitter:

There are obviously a lot of planted axioms embedded in the hypothesis. Rubio would have presumably faced Republican gubernatorial front-runner and party warhorse Bill McCollum in the gubernatorial primary, with his movement conservative street cred chasing off Rick Scott or pushing Scott into the Senate race. Had he won the primary (without the vast personal fortune Scott was able to use to croak McCollum), he probably would have been able to beat Alex Sink in the general election, but would have had also to win a comeback bid by Charlie Crist last year—again, without Scott’s bottomless cup of funds.

Had he survived all that, then he could have entered the 2016 presidential contest without the disastrous association with comprehensive immigration reform legislation that damaged him so much in places like Iowa, and with a “job-creating” record (coinciding, as it did for Rick Scott, with Florida’s cyclical recovery from a particularly bad recession and housing crisis) to rival Rick Perry’s. Moreover, with as much time at the wheel in Tallahassee as his one-time mentor, Jeb Bush, Rubio could credibly claim to have superseded him entirely as Florida conservatives’ gift to the world—especially if he still managed to build a relationship with the Reformicons.

Yeah, I think Sean’s got a point. I don’t know that a Gov. Rubio would be “unstoppable” in 2016. But he’d probably be in a vastly better position than he is today.

If you have any other interesting counterfactuals for 2016, feel free to describe them in the comment thread.

January 27, 2015 4:58 PM “Broken Windows” and Broken Communities

As a participant in the robust discussions of policing strategies in the early 1990s, I was a big supporter of “community policing,” and viewed the “broken windows” theory as a corollary: anything that degraded a community’s social capital and capacity for self-defense made it more hospitable to criminal predators. But I hated the idea, which seemed a perversion of “broken windows” policing, of “zero tolerance” raids on a neighborhood wherein the cops sealed off an area and stopped everything and everybody that moved in search of petty offenses. That turned “community policing” on its head by treating citizens as residents of neighborhoods under police occupation and subject to what would inevitably be racial profiling.

But depending on where and how it was implemented, “broken windows” policing clearly did lead to wars against communities instead of wars to strengthen communities. And now, one of the co-founders of not only the “broken windows” school but one of the early proponents of community policing, George Kelling, is admitting it, per a report from Public Radio International:

Kelling believes that the “demand for order in minority communities is strong.” He adds, however, that police should be using the “broken windows” model to operate on behalf of citizens.
“For me, ‘broken windows’ has always been a subsumed or is a tactic under community policing,” he says. “Police operate on behalf of citizens. They have to work with citizens.”

Kelling believes that under-policing of high crime areas, which is in practice what we are seeing in New York right now, is a bad idea as well. But if “broken windows” policing had not degenerated into a racialized effort to hassle people in minority communities, New York would not be facing this sort of false choice.

January 27, 2015 3:32 PM Bibi’s Reckless Gamble

Other than the congressional Republicans who are playing a supporting (and somewhat clueless) role in the drama, it’s hard to find much of anybody who thinks Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress—made following a deliberate snub of the White House—on the brink of Israeli elections is a good idea. As Joel Greenberg of McClatchy News reports from Jerusalem, Bibi’s getting more and more heat from home about the ploy, which could imperil his party’s chances in a very close election.

But as The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg (not a pundit who’s entirely unsympathetic to Netanyahu, particularly on Iran policy) argues today in a column that is going to be quoted a lot (with the blunt headline “The Netanyahu Disaster”) it’s here where Bibi’s gambit is most likely to backfire, with terrible long-term consequences for Israel:

Faced with this conundrum—an American president who he believes is willing to strike a flawed deal with Iran—Netanyahu has made the second-worst choice he could make. He has not attacked Iran, which is good—an Israeli attack holds the promise of disaster—but he has decided to ruin his relations with Obama….
Netanyahu appears to believe that his mission is singular, but Israeli prime ministers, in fact, have two main tasks. The first is to protect their country from existential threats. The second: To work very hard to stay on the good side of the president and people of the United States. Success in accomplishing this first task is sometimes predicated on achieving this second task.
Israel has been, for several decades, a bipartisan cause in Washington. Bipartisan support accounts for the ease with which Israeli prime ministers have historically been heard in Washington; it accounts for the generous aid packages Israel receives; and it also explains America’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.
Netanyahu’s management of his relationship with Obama threatens the bipartisan nature of Israel’s American support. His Dermer-inspired, Boehner-enabled end-run has alienated three crucially important constituencies. First, the administration itself: Netanyahu’s estrangement from the Obama White House now appears to be permanent. It will be very difficult for Netanyahu to make the White House hear his criticisms of whatever deal may one day be reached with Iran.
Netanyahu has also alienated many elected Democrats, including Jewish Democrats on Capitol Hill. One Jewish member of Congress told me that he felt humiliated and angered by Netanyahu’s ploy to address Congress “behind the president’s back.” A non-Jewish Democratic elected official texted me over the weekend to say that the damage Netanyahu is doing to Israel’s relationship with the U.S. may be “irreparable.”
A larger group that Netanyahu risks alienating is American Jewry, or at least the strong majority of American Jews that has voted for Obama twice. Netanyahu’s decision to pit U.S. political party against U.S. political party—because that is what his end-run does—puts American Jewish supporters of Israel in a messy, uncomfortable spot, and it is not in Israel’s interest to place American Jews in a position in which they have to choose between their president and the leader of a Jewish state whose behavior is making them queasy.

So Bibi’s alienating Obama, Democrats and American Jews, and all he’s getting from it is at best mixed reviews back home and a new bond with congressional Republicans who have no control over foreign policy and will fawn over any right-wing leader of Israel with no extra encouragement. Other than all that, it’s working brilliantly.

January 27, 2015 1:57 PM Lunch Buffet

Deadlines in every direction today, but hey, I’m on schedule, which is more than most writers can say at any given moment, myself included.

Here are some timely midday news/views treats:

* At Vox, Sarah Kliff outlines the new administration plan to begin making Medicare payments reflect health outcomes, not just the type and volume of procedures ordered. More about this later.

* Dave Weigel explains that Bibi’s speech to Congress next month fulfills a long-time aspiration of Louie Gohmert.

* Jonathan Chait wades into the liberal/Left controversy over speech codes, “trigger” warnings, and the very concept of “political correctness.”

* Democratic filibusters stop Keystone XL pipeline in the Senate, for now.

* In wake of his “victory” at the Iowa Freedom Summit, Scott Walker forms 2016 exploratory committee.

And in non-political news:

* Big buzz over faulty “historic blizzard” forecasts for NYC.

As we break for lunch, here’s slide guitar virtuoso Elmore James, who would be 97 today, performing “Blues Before Sunrise.”

January 27, 2015 12:50 PM Why Steve King is Powerful

The only thing more predictable than the quadrennial thumb-suckers about the Mood of Iowa heading towards a competitive presidential nominating contest are the quadrennial complaints about the Iowa Caucuses. What makes the complaint by John McCain’s former alter ego Mark Salter at RealClearPolitics today interesting if ultimately disposable is that he’s not arguing that lily-white cornfed Iowans are unrepresentative of the country or shrewd shakedown artists or too greedy of their prerogatives, but instead that the Caucuses misrepresent Iowa itself (he’s from the state himself). And he particularly thinks a process that elevates someone like Steve King into a powerful position is a grievous crime against Iowa Nice:

I met few people if any like King among the many Iowans I knew in the quarter century I lived there. I think to a very large majority of Iowans, King, and not the objects of his abuse, is the alien.
It’s one thing to oppose legalizing the status of people who have entered the country illegally. It’s quite another to harbor a deep-seated, personal antipathy for people who were born into misfortune and are only trying to give their kids a better life. That is as un-Iowan as it gets. Yet paying respectful attention to Steve King types is what most Republican candidates believe is required to win the caucus.

Look, I am a big fan of Iowans. A friend of mine has gone so far as to dub me an “honorary Iowan” for my close attention to Iowa politics and enthusiasm for traditions like the State Fair. But sorry: Steve King is not being imposed on Iowa by some alien force. He’s been elected to Congress seven times, with his closest race being an eight-point win in 2012 over an exceptionally well-financed and well-regarded opponent, former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack. He represents a fourth of the state. And while yes, he’s anathema to most Democrats and many independents, among Iowa Republicans he walks very tall, and would if the Caucuses did not exist. Had he chosen to run for the Senate last year, he would have been given the GOP nomination by acclamation, and we might never have gotten to know Joni Ernst (yes, King could have lost the general election, but we’re talking about Republicans here).

Beyond that, the aspects of the Caucuses that give people like King disproportionate power nationally are not some sort of accident. It’s the labor-intensive nature of that contest that draws in the money and time of campaigns (not just in presidential years, but in midterms when they are expected to support state and local candidates in Iowa with money and staff and expertise). A mere primary would not do so. If, as Salter gently suggests, Iowa Republicans are misrepresenting themselves through the abattoir of the Caucuses, then it’s something they have chosen to do.

Yes, as Jim Newell argues at Salon, it’s unfortunate for the rest of us that King is from the First-in-the-Nation-Caucus state, because otherwise “[h]e would be a Tim Huelskamp, a highway tourist trap that’s not worth the lost driving time.” But while few would tout him as an example of Iowa Nice, he is an example of Iowa Conservatism in all its feral glory. We, including Salter, just have to live with it.

January 27, 2015 12:11 PM Obama Can’t “Fix” Obamacare if SCOTUS Screws It Up

In case you were hoping another “executive action” could save Obamacare if the Supreme Court rules the statute excluded purchasing subsidies for people buying insurance on federally-created exchange, it doesn’t look like that’s a lively option, per Sam Baker at National Journal.

If the Supreme Court tears apart Obamacare this summer, the president won’t be able to put it back together all by himself.
Executive action is all the rage in the White House these days, and it’s hard to imagine a better candidate for unilateralism than fixing the Affordable Care Act in the wake of a crippling Supreme Court decision. That scenario would check every box: Republican intransigence; a top priority for Obama; and severe disruption in real people’s lives.
There’s just one problem: A good administrative solution might not exist.
“There are no administrative fixes that are realistic,” said Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Center for American Progress. “We don’t believe there’s any administrative fix.”

If Neera says so, I’m inclined to believe her. So that means Congress must “fix” it, or the 36 affected states must do so. In theory, it wouldn’t be hard at all; Congress could simply add a sentence to ACA making the subsidies available to all buying insurance under the Act; states could “deem” the federally-created exchanges as their own. The problem, of course, is getting Republicans at either level to go along, even though this time it’s going to be a lot of their people, not those people, who are affected. As a starting point, as I keep insisting, conservative opinion-leaders are going to need to begin educating “the base” that a SCOTUS decision killing the subsidies but leaving the rest of ACA in place is not grounds for wild celebrations of joy. And I’m not seeing a lot of evidence of that happening.

January 27, 2015 11:11 AM No, the Victims Did Not Cause the Recession

Here’s some important news via Wonkbook’s Max Ehrenfreund (a name some of you may remember from his Weekend Blogging days here at PA).

Irresponsible lending might have been one of the many causes of the financial crisis — but not just irresponsible lending to poor people, according to a new study.
“The large majority of mortgage dollars originated between 2002 and 2006 are obtained by middle- and high-income borrowers (not the poor),” the authors write. “In addition, borrowers in the middle and top of the distribution are the ones that contributed most significantly to the increase in mortgages in default after 2007.” Rich people tend to take out larger mortgages, of course, but the fact is that the amount of money poor borrowers failed to pay back was just never that significant, as this chart from the paper shows. In case you have a hard time believing that so many larger mortgages could have gone into default, The Washington Post just published a series of stories on subprime, sometimes predatory lending in relatively affluent places such as Prince George’s County, Md., outside Washington, D.C.
The findings undermine criticism of recent modest efforts by the Obama administration to make housing more affordable for low-income borrowers by loosening federal credit standards. It’s important to lend responsibly, even for the federal government, but the risks in this case might be exaggerated.

This finding, of course, undermines more than fresh criticism of less restrictive housing credit. It undermines the whole Tea Party myth of the Great Recession: that it was the product of socialist bureaucrats, greedy bankers and those people to let the latter buy houses they could not afford or would not make payments on with every intention of dumping the debts on the hard-pressed taxpayer—and creating a “crisis” for which the “solution” would be more socialism.

If loose credit was a less important source of the housing “bubble” than we’ve been led to think, and if defaults were not concentrated among “those people,” then as Max suggests there’s no reason to act as though underwriting rules that exclude huge portions of the population came down from Mt. Sinai.

And you know what? If we are going to decide homeownership is simply going to have to be beyond the reach of those people, then how’s about a more balanced housing policy that offers some assistance to renters? That’s what the University of Texas’ Mechele Dickerson argues at TNR in a piece that is well worth your time.

January 27, 2015 10:12 AM Christie the Outlier—and Not in a Good Way

It doesn’t quite matter how much evidence stacks up that Chris Christie is very unlikely to become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee; some folk just think he’s too “logical” a rival to Hillary Clinton for those ever-rational rank-and-file Republicans to pass up (and/or that they have little to say about it, and “elites” will somehow force Christie’s nomination).

But just for the record, FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten offers a graph showing the historical pattern of presidential candidates going back to 1980 in terms of name ID and net favorability. And Chris Christie just stands out like a sore thumb:

Since 1980, two types of candidates have won presidential nominations when an incumbent president wasn’t running in their party: those who were unfamiliar to voters early in the campaign, and those who were both well known and well liked.
Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, is well known but not particularly well liked….
Some nominees, such as Democrats Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, weren’t well known at this point in the campaign. Some, such as Republicans Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan, were very well known and popular. There was George W. Bush in 1999, who was particularly well liked, even if he wasn’t universally known. But no prior nominee had a net favorability rating more than 10 percentage points below where you’d expect given his name recognition.
Christie is 25 percentage points off the pace. His net favorable rating among Republicans in an average of YouGov polls so far this year, a December Monmouth University poll and a late November Quinnipiac University poll is just +19 percentage points. That was despite 77 percent of Republicans being able to form an opinion of him. Given his high name recognition, you would expect him to have a net favorable rating of +45 percentage points.

Another way to put is that Christie’s already blown his first impression on a lot of voters,a and has no natural source of “growth” in his appeal. He’ll have to change minds, which isn’t the easiest thing to do when you’re running in conservative-dominated caucuses and primaries and you’ve expanded Medicaid and mocked Islamophobes and praised Barack Obama and don’t have the best reputation for veracity. According to Enten’s numbers, Christie’s rivals for big-donor love, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, are in significantly better (though in Bush’s case, not great) shape with Republican voters. And as we know, these voters are going to have an awful lot of choices. It’s increasingly unclear why they’d settle on Christie.

January 27, 2015 9:39 AM Hoosier Pravda?

There’s probably more smoke that fire in the insta-controversy that’s broken out over “Just IN,” an initiative by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to set up a primary source for state government news. The Indianapolis Star’s Tom LoBianco looks on it unhappily as a government effort to compete with the Fourth Estate:

Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star.
Pence is planning in late February to launch “Just IN,” a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery….
One target audience for the governor’s stories would be smaller newspapers that have only a few staffers. But not everyone thinks the approach best serves the public interest.
“I think it’s a ludicrous idea,” said Jack Ronald, publisher of one such newspaper, the Portland Commercial Review. “I have no problem with public information services — the Purdue University agriculture extension service does a great job. But the notion of elected officials presenting material that will inevitably have a pro-administration point of view is antithetical to the idea of an independent press.”

LoBianco is undoubtedly correct that this kind of “service” is intended to supply content that will simply be reprinted or read over the air in low-budget news outlets—especially rural and small-town weekly newspapers and radio stations—that have no resources of their own to cover state government. But this is a very, very old story. Virtually everywhere state agencies have long had media operations of their own. Back in Georgia we called agency media contacts “public information officers” (I was one for a while with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs); they are apparently called “state communications directors” in Indiana. It may be that the main purpose of “Just IN” is to exert control over these people (in Tennessee back in the day, I recall from a briefing there in the 1990s, agency PIOs were actually appointed by and reported to the governor’s press secretary, in an overt form of centralized press relations management), or to glean their content for the greater glory of Mike Pence. It appears it will on occasion preempt agency releases so as to “break” news under the aegis of the administration. That could well reduce rather than increase the official flow of propaganda—excuse me, I mean news—from the state.

As for the “pre-written news story” charge, which seems to be the basis for accusing Indiana of competing with independent media, I’m afraid that’s the whole idea of that hoary instrument for media manipulation, the press release. At least when I was writing them for state agencies and governors in Georgia, releases were written so that they could be immediately appropriated by hard-pressed (or lazy) reporters and editors who would, we hoped, just “rip and read.”

So I don’t know that anyone should be hinting that Pence is setting up some sort of Hoosier Pravda. The bigger question is whether he’s doing anything worth touting.

January 27, 2015 8:53 AM Revisionist History on Obamacare Subsidies

As we drift toward a potentially disruptive Supreme Court decision on the subject of whether Congress in the the Affordable Care Act intended to withhold insurance purchasing subsidies from people in states that declined to set up their own exchanges, the large and ever-increasing evidence that nobody in the states making such decisions thought they were risking subsidies is becoming a potential factor in how the Supremes come down. At the Plum Line this morning, Greg Sargent collects a variety of statements from Republicans involved in state-level exchange decisions, and concludes with this compelling quote from University of Michigan law professor
Nicholas Bagley:

[T]he challengers say that Congress clearly threatened the states with the loss of tax credits if they didn’t set up their own exchanges. But the states read the ACA very carefully, and they didn’t see any threat.
It’s the worst kind of revisionist history to claim that the ACA put states on notice of the harsh consequences of failing to establish an exchange. The states had no idea that tax credits hung in the balance. And the Supreme Court has said time and again that statutes shouldn’t be read to impose unexpected burdens on the states. That basic principle — the idea that states must have clear notice of the consequences of their decisions — protects the rights of the states in our federal system. And it cuts hard in favor of the government.

That’s going to be an argument that only a iron determination to mess up implementation of the Affordable Care Act can overcome.

January 27, 2015 8:00 AM Daylight Video

Another one of those multiple birthdays: Elmore James (1918) and Bobby Blue Bland (1930). Let’s start off with Bobby and “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.”

January 26, 2015 5:48 PM Day’s End and Night Watch

Have multiple deadlines tomorrow in addition to the Blogging Dozen. Wish me luck.

Here are some remains of the day:

* CBO estimates this year’s federal budget deficit will be lowest as percentage of GDP since 2007, and close to 50-year-average.

* S&P downgrades Russia’s debt instruments to junk. Yeah, Romney was a prophet saying these guys were peer competitors.

* U.S. closes embassy in Yemen after Shi’a rebels force resignation of Yemeni president.

* At Ten Miles Square, John Stoehr argues ex-captive Alan Gross, feted at SOTU, wasn’t innocent and arguably isn’t a hero.

* At College Guide, Jill Barshay reports new research debunks the idea that teaching profession only attracting worst college students.

And in non-political news:

* NFL indicates it will probably get to the bottom of “DeflateGate” in “a few weeks.” Breakneck speed.

That’s it for Monday. I’m going to close with the Lucinda Williams anthem that somehow eluded becoming an actual commercial hit: “I Lost It,” performed in Ithaca, New York, in 2011.


January 26, 2015 5:08 PM $889 Million To “Slow Down March Towards Collectivism”

In conjunction with the Koch Network’s little clambake in Palm Springs, Politico’s Kenneth Vogel updates us on that network’s fundraising and spending goals for 2016. The big round number is $889 million for the cycle, or well over twice what these birds spent in 2012, and between four and five times the cost of their 2014 campaign spending.

The willingness of the network’s donors to resume their big giving after Election Day 2012 failed to produce a GOP White House or Senate demonstrated that the Kochs and their donors took a long view unique in American big money politics and would not be dissuaded in their pursuit of their public policy agenda: a smaller government that does not stand in the way of markets.

During a Saturday night welcome speech in Rancho Mirage, Charles Koch took the slightest of victory laps - calling the midterms “an important step in slowing down the march toward collectivism” - but he implored the assembled donors to dig deep headed into 2016.

I don’t know about you, but this sort of rhetoric makes me a bit crazy. The Koch Brothers and presumably most of their donors have done insanely well during this “march towards collectivism,” whether that means the Obama administration, or the the Clinton-Bush-Obama administrations (they probably view Bush 43 as only marginally less socialistic). Engorged with profits, and unencumbered by any real limits on what they can spend, they are determined to shut down progressive politics for the foreseeable future. And it’s yet another reason a lot of Republicans don’t think they need to moderate their policies. Money covereth a multitude of sins, and the people providing it don’t want moderation.

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