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December 17, 2014 8:20 PM Does Jeb Bush have a Mitt Romney problem?

By John Stoehr

That was the question leading up to the former Florida governor’s soft announcement this week that he was exploring a run for the presidency in 2016. The question came from Bloomberg reporters Joshua Green and Miles Weiss, who on December 11 wrote about Bush’s new and intricately entangled financial dealings with private equity funds that, among other things, help foreign and domestic investors avoid paying U.S. taxes.

Green and Weiss argue that with these ventures, revealed by November 27 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jeb Bush shares “a number of liabilities with the last nominee, Mitt Romney, whose career in private equity proved so politically damaging that it sunk his candidacy.”

If Bush does indeed share such liabilities, he was sharing them long before this year.

In July, Lou Dubose reported on Bush’s role as spokesman for a Miami firm that bilked millions from investors, and whose founder, Claudio Osorio is now serving time in federal prison. Osorio was a known fraud before Bush came on board, and Bush stayed on board even as Osorio was under investigation. As Dubose wrote in The Washington Spectator, the evidence suggests at least “an ethical blind spot that led Bush to ignore the fact that the book value and returns reported by InnoVida executives were impossible under any reasonable set of financial assumptions. … Bush endorsed a company that defrauded its shareholders and the government while failing to deliver its product to market.”

But there’s reason to believe Bush does not have a Romney problem. Not in the way we currently think. Business is a natural part of the Bush family experience. With them, business and politics go hand in hand to such a degree that there’s no distinction between them. As Jeb noted in his announcement, he had a great time over the Thanksgiving weekend, watched a lot of football with the people he loves, and they all talked about the future of the country.

I suspect voters, especially Republican voters, don’t mind Jeb Bush’s business history, even if they are fodder for attack ads. That history is easily overshadowed by his coming from a long line of venerated public servants that goes all the way back to Prescott Bush of Connecticut (who was a wealthy and well-connected banker and a U.S. senator). In contrast, Republican Mitt Romney was a one-term governor of the most liberal state in America who made millions almost exclusively through a private-equity firm that cannibalized other firms. Sure, former Republican Governor George Romney of Michigan was Willard Mitt Romney’s dad, but old George was a civil-rights warrior and a liberal beloved by the likes of Nelson Rockefeller. In other words, long before Mitt Romney ran for president, he was persona non grata among movement conservatives.

Which I think is the proper context in which to compare Jeb Bush to Mitt Romney: not as a context of labyrinthine financial deal-making, but as two variants to the competing factions that make claims to conservatism, especially the ascendent libertarian faction from which anti-abortion conservatives and neoconservatives have kept a distance. As Sean Trende reminded us some time ago, the Republican base—and he means specifically those who aligned themselves under the banner of the Tea Party—is furious with the GOP establishment especially over what it sees as betrayals during the George W. Bush years in which the biggest Republican majority since the 1920s was squandered on attempts at immigration reform, bank bailouts and the biggest single act of nation-building (Iraq) since the launch of the Marshall Plan. He writes:

“The icing on the cake for conservatives is that these moves were justified through an argument that they were necessary to continue to win elections and take issues off the table for Democrats. Instead, Bush’s presidency was followed in 2008 by the most liberal Democratic presidency since Lyndon Johnson, accompanied by sizable Democratic House and Senate majorities.”

So the Bush brand is far from robust. And this just the start.

December 17, 2014 10:24 AM Congress Finally Acts to Prevent Police Killings, But Will it Make a Difference?

By Blake Fleetwood

Last week, in a rare bipartisan vote just before they adjourned for the year, the House and Senate passed a bill called the Death in Custody Reporting Act. The bill which is slated for a presidential signature, calls for all police departments to report all people killed in custody or during an arrest.

“You can’t begin to improve the situation unless you know what the situation is,” said Rep Bobby Scott in an interview with the Washington Post.

Good Luck.

The bill was originally passed in 2000, but expired in 2006. During those years not much data was collected, according to the FBI and most criminologists. Since the law expired eight years ago, Scott has unsuccessfully attempted to reinstate it four times.

But his bill was stalled until last week when Republican Senator Rand Paul called on a couple of colleagues and persuaded them to remove their holds, no doubt motivated by the national uproar following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

If we can ever get accurate data, adoption of best practices and procedures might result in hundreds, if not thousands, of lives saved annually as a result of a reduction in police shootings of unarmed persons. Neither the federal government, nor anyone else, has ever managed to collect reliable figures that might help bring this about.

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.

Wilfrado A Ferrer, the United States attorney for South Florida, studied police shooting incidents in Miami and noted the high rate of Miami shootings when compared to New York. In 2010, there was one fatal shooting for every 4,300 officers in New York, compared to one for every 220 officers in Miami.

If all police enforcement departments used the best practices of New York and Boston, which came in first place, the figures indicate that well over half of police killings might have be avoided. More than 3,000 lives could have been saved during that five-year period.

Lowering the Rate of Police Killings

Lowering the rate of police killings and shootings is certainly possible. For example, police in NYC killed an average 71 people per year from 1970-72. After a number of highly publicized killings, the NYPD instituted stricter guidelines and more professional training. Police were banned from shooting at moving vehicles. The drop in police killings was dramatic. Only an average of 11 people were killed annually in 2011-2013.

Police shootings in NYC have also dropped dramatically since 1991: from 332 to 105. This may be related to overall dropping crime rates (an 85% drop in murders from 1990 to 2013) as well as better training and procedures. Los Angeles police recorded 164 shootings in 1990, and that number dropped to just 65 shootings in 2010.

Much of this comparative city data is incomplete and some years are missing (e.g. there is no data for Chicago for 2007.) But working with the best numbers available for police homicides (2007-12), see below:

The lack of a national data for fatal police killings is beset by systematic problems and “is a national embarrassment,” says Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina.

The figures for people killed by police vary widely from 2007-2012. FBI reports show 1,242 police killings in those years. The WSJ findings, reported recently, indicate the true number should be higher than 1,800. Including police killings in rural areas and small towns, the total might well be over 3,000 and possibly higher, according to a Wikipedia page on the subject. Real national figures do not exist on this, but local compilations from municipalities and local papers give some idea of what is going on.

The last time data of this kind was compiled was more than fifty years ago in an article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology in 1963. In that study Boston was the safest city and Miami was one of the most deadly.

More Utah citizens have been killed by police than by gang members, or drug dealers, or from child abuse in the past five years,, according to a recent report in the Salt Lake City Tribune.

Through October of this year, 45 people had been killed by law enforcement officers in Utah since 2010, accounting for 15 percent of all homicides during that period. If you narrow the number killed to those killed by a stranger, then almost 50 percent of the firearm homicides are attributable to police shootings. Most people, of course, are killed by their family and friends.

In 2013, only 29 people were killed by a stranger in NYC (8.7 percent out of some 334 overall murders). The numbers suggest that if you are killed by a stranger with a firearm, one third of the time your killer will be a policeman.

An NYPD analysis of police killings several years ago noted that police reports in the past had been based on “the mistaken assumption that in the majority of cases where a policeman uses his weapon to fend off an assault upon himself the perpetrator is attacking with a firearm.”

“This is not true,” the study went on to say. “Reports indicate that in excess of 60 percent of these situations, the weapon used was other than a firearm.”

Most Citizens Killed by Police Are Not Carrying a Firearm

A Washington Monthly review of NYPD Firearms Discharge reports from 2010 to 2012 shows that more than half of the 33 people killed during this three-year period were not armed with a firearm. Only 15 guns were found, eight knives, two fake guns, one cane, and one frying pan.

In 2012, of 16 people shot by police, seven were armed with a firearm. In 2011, nine citizens were killed and only four guns were found. One person, killed by mistake, was a policeman. In 2010, eight people were killed and only four had guns.

One private nationwide report says that of the 739 justified shootings in 2012, 44 percent of civilians killed, or 136 total, were unarmed. Twenty-seven percent of them (83) were claimed by law enforcement to have a gun at the time of the shooting, but according to news reports, that could later not be confirmed, or the “gun”, in fact, was a toy or other non-lethal object according to “Operation Ghetto Storm.”

One of the most striking findings emerged from a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union a few years ago: in 77 percent of total shooting incidents (572), police officers were the only ones firing weapons.

Only 23% of the time (131 incidents) were the police officers fired upon with an exchange of gun fire.

A report of violent deaths by the CDC in 16 states indicates that 3.4% of violent deaths are caused by police, and only 4.6% are caused by a stranger. The chances of an average citizen being killed by a policeman or a stranger are remarkably similar.

American police answer their critics by claiming that a moment’s hesitation endangers innocent civilians. But the no-hesitation policy that cops traditionally use has killed more innocent people, including fellow police officers, than could ever be endangered by a little temperance. Finally, police say that guns are necessary for their own protection.

The fact is that being a policeman is one of the safest jobs you can have.

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.

Almost every major civil insurrection that occurred in the United States in the past century was initiated or accelerated by the perception that the police had misused their right to use deadly force, according to a report in the American Journal of Public Health. These incidents frequently cause large numbers of injuries and deaths, and they disrupt the social and economic relationships through which essential economic, health, public safety, and social services are provided to communities.

Two interesting statistics run counter to most media reports and widespread public perceptions:

1) The year 2013 had the fewest police deaths by firearms since 1887 nationwide.

2) Conversely, the number of citizens killed by police has been on a sharp downtrend for the last fifty years. This does not match FBI statistics, which show that show police homicides are rising. But the FBI has been underreporting police homicides for a long time. Hopefully, the Reporting Act will change this.

It is likely that more accurate reporting of late has led to rising FBI police homicide numbers. Reports from major police departments themselves show rapidly decreasing police killings of citizens. For example, New York City reports indicate that police homicides have fallen from 50 to 60 killings per year 50 years ago to 9 to 11 in recent years.

Keep in mind that 99.9 percent of all police arrests do not result in a fatality.

The lack of an accurate national database is intentional, according to Dr. Brian Burghart, who has been building a national database of police homicides. No government—not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force—wants you to know how many people they kill.

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 16, 2014 3:43 PM Attorneys General Immigration Lawsuit is About Cheap Labor

By John Stoehr

Congressional Republicans have run out of options in countering President Barack Obama’s decision to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” in the enforcement of federal immigration law. Such discretion means Obama’s administration, like all administrations, is given the leeway to choose which methods of enforcement work best, and in this case, the result is that as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants will not face deportation. His order, announced on national TV, does not cover the approximately 7 million illegal residents that remain, but it is in keeping with actions taken by previous chief executives. According to the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit in Washington, every single president in the postwar era, whether Republican or Democrat, has acted independently of the Congress on immigration.

The Republicans could pass reform legislation to override Obama’s immigration order but that’s unlikely given the sway of the party’s Know-Nothing faction, which is peerlessly led by the ambitious Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. The Know Nothing are a nativist throng that refuses to back reform of any kind even though the U.S.-Mexican border has never been more secure and even though the president has deported more aliens than all previous presidents combined. The Republicans could, moreover, press for impeachment on the grounds that Obama exceeded his authority in expanding a previous order (Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals). However much that might warm the cockles of the Republican base, impeachment is neither practical nor smart. It wouldn’t revoke the order, only the executive who decreed it, and even more than the 2013 shutdown of the government, any Republican attempt to impeach Obama, especially if it’s successful, would be politically suicidal.

So Obama beat Republicans inside the beltway. But the fight is far from over. From a tactical view, this is where having control of a majority of governorships comes into play. On Dec. 3, attorneys general from 18 states filed suit in federal court in Brownsville, Texas, in a bid to stop the administration from implementing Obama’s immigration order. By filing in Brownsville, a small city that’s more than 93 percent Hispanic, the Republicans found in Andrew S. Hanen a sympathetic judge with a dim view of the administration. This effort, which has been joined by six more attorneys general since the initial filing, is doomed to fail. The complaint won’t bear scrutiny. But the point isn’t failure. It’s to never cede ground to the enemy. The utter nihilism of this lawsuit should elucidate what shouldn’t any longer require elucidation. Politics to the modern-day Republican Party is total warfare.

If judged on the merits, Obama’s immigration order is clearly within the constitutional limits of his authority. In any case, executive orders are temporary. They can be reversed by future presidents, Republican or Democrat, or they can be outlawed by Congress (Obama has come close to pleading with the Republicans to please, pretty please, pass immigration reform, please). More relevant to the Brownsville lawsuit, however, is that American jurisprudence is preponderantly acquiescent to the duties of the chief executive. Courts are exceedingly cautious and reluctant to say a president broke the law in the process of executing it. This is no secret. GOP lawyers know this. Consider the latest from John Yoo.

You’ll recall that John Yoo wrote the so-called torture memos while serving in President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice. Those memos in essence rationalized the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Apropos to the Brownsville suit, the memos argued that any action taken by the Bush administration in the name of national security is in and of itself legal. Say what you will, but Yoo is consistent. In a paper co-authored with a faculty colleague at the Berkeley School of Law, Yoo wrote there is no legal or political “remedy” to Obama’s executive actions on immigration, because “the prevailing standard of review of challenges to executive non-enforcement decisions is extraordinarily lenient.” In other words, if the president does it, it’s de facto legal, because there’s no way to stop it.

Like many Republicans, Yoo believes Obama’s immigration order is a “constitutional wrong,” but unlike fellow Republicans, he recognizes the main obstacle to suing the president over non-enforcement is something called “standing.” That’s a legal term meaning that I must show I have been harmed in some way to have grounds on which my legal complaint “stands.” The 24 attorneys general certainly believe they are poised for a world of hurt. Their states will suffer “dramatic and irreparable injuries” thanks to Obama’s “unilateral exercise in lawmaking.” But that’s not entirely clear. For one thing, as Yoo writes, it’s doubtful any “individual litigant could show the particularized harm necessary for … standing.”

For another, who’s being harmed? States have lived with illegal immigration for a long time, something that Republicans have claimed is itself a source of “dramatic and irreparable injuries.” More likely is a specific class of people fears “harm”: large corporations and agribusiness firms that rely on cheap labor. Obama’s immigration order in effect puts a floor under wages so immigrants formerly fearful of deportation can now demand at least the federal or state minimum, whichever wage is higher. That, economists say, puts upward pressure on wages, notably at the bottom of the labor market. And that helps everyone.

So this lawsuit isn’t about “amnesty” or “rewarding lawbreakers” or the integrity of the Constitution. Not at all. The longer Obama’s immigration order is delayed, the more time there is to exploit cheap labor. It makes sense when you think about. Big Business is, after all, the Republican Party’s base—it’s real base, to paraphrase George W. Bush. There is virtually no downside, short of impeachment, to waging all-out war against the Obama administration. Even if you lose in the end, there is honor—and profit!—in fighting the good fight. The real question is whether national Democrats are prepared to meet power with power, or are they content with merely being the most reasonable people in the room.

December 16, 2014 9:21 AM Living Well With Breast Cancer By Choosing Wisely

By Harold Pollack

Over at Wonkblog, I checked back in with one of my favorite people, Amy Berman.

AmyBerman_1x1 5 (1)

Amy is a program officer at the Hartford Foundation. She is on my real-life Madden team. She has been living with stage IV breast cancer for several years now. By the judicious use of palliative care, she is living well despite the challenges of a spreading cancer. It is a strange experience yucking it up over Skype sipping diet soda and discussing metastatic cancer. Life is funny like that.

We spend so much time debating what a good death might look like in end-of-life care. She has had a good life for the past several years despite an incurable cancer, because she has sought and received excellent care.

More here.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

December 15, 2014 11:03 AM The Danger of Lowered Standards

By Martin Longman

Sometimes I wish we could magically take the partisanship out of our political disagreements long enough for people to make objective determinations about who, if anyone, has the better of the argument. One of the dangers of the Conservative Movement is that it attracts team loyalty first, and then once its fans are on board they will defend virtually anything their side does on the moral plane, regardless of whether or not it violates their previous standards and code of ethics.

The most obvious recent example of this was the way the right felt compelled to defend the selection of Sarah Palin to be John McCain’s running mate. Palin’s shortcomings were so glaring and overwhelming that, in order to defend her, conservatives had to devalue all the things that they previous thought were absolute prerequisites for holding such a high office. This list here is long: familiarity with history and current events, a basic working knowledge of global geography, some minimal level of intellectual curiosity, the ability to face the media and answer tough questions, the ability to conduct oneself appropriately during a formal debate without resorting to beauty queen tactics, basic family stability and rectitude, competency in the office one already holds, some basic regard for facts over blatant fabrication.

These values were eroded during the Bush administration, but they still existed to one degree or another on the right when Palin was selected. They were all weakened dramatically during the sixty-some days of the McCain-Palin campaign, and they never even came close to recovering their previous standing among Republicans, whether on television and radio, in print, or just with people in their living rooms.

Karl Rove certainly played his own part in lowering the standards previously held by people on the right. The U.S. Attorneys Scandal was staggering in this regard. But he’s dragging his political movement down to depths that almost no one could have been pessimistic enough to predict:

In an interview on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace pointed out that the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s use of torture had revealed techniques including a “series of near drownings,” sleep deprivation, and unnecessary “rectal feedings.”
“Isn’t that torture by any definition?” Wallace asked.
“No,” Rove insisted. “Let’s get the rectal feedings out. In this report, there are nine references on 14 pages to rectal feedings. And four of those five, it is the result of a hunger strike by the detainee.”
Rove asserted that waterboarding, slapping detainees, and solitary confinement were also “carefully designed.”
“The tests were, do they involved severe pain or suffering or do they involve severe and prolonged mental pain or suffering?” he opined. “And in each instance, these procedures were designed so that they would not pass those barriers.”
“Take, for example, waterboarding,” Rove continued. “In waterboarding — unlike World War II, where the Japanese attempted to drown people by basically pouring water in their mouths — here the feet were elevated so there’s little or not chance of any fluid getting into the lungs. And very careful standards set in place so these would help break the the resistance of the detainee without placing their life in danger.”

It seems wrong to even lower myself to respond substantively to these remarks, but it should be obvious that the Imperial Japanese Army killed those it wanted to kill and tortured those it wanted to torture. They did not use waterboarding as a long and entertaining way to kill people they could have just bayoneted. What distinguishes the actions of the CIA under the Bush administration from the Japanese army under Emperor Hirohito is not how they conducted their waterboarding.

As for his defense of so-called rectal rehydration, Physicians for Human Rights have an opinion on its use to deal with hunger strikes.

“Contrary to the CIA’s assertions, there is no clinical indication to use rectal rehydration and feeding over oral or intravenous administration of fluids and nutrients,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s senior medical advisor. “This is a form of sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment. In the absence of medical necessity, it is clear that the only purpose behind this humiliating and invasive procedure is to inflict physical and mental pain.”

The effect of Rove’s defense of these tactics can be seen easily simply by watching any CSPAN program that deals with this controversy and listening to the opinions of the conservative callers. Almost to a person, they are calling in to dismiss the seriousness of torture, to justify it, to attack the Democrats who produced the report, and to even call for more brutal treatment of our “enemies.”

These people may have troglodytic tendencies to begin with, but they wouldn’t be defending this behavior if it had been carried out under the leadership of the “other team.” They are following two basic instincts: the instinct to follow their leadership, and the instinct to defend their team from attacks originating primarily on the left.

And once the train leaves the station, it is gone forever. These people do not go back to holding their previous standards. Their standards are just lowered, and lowered for good. The vanguard of the GOP now holds that brutal, repellent abuses of human rights are not really a problem, and that, if anything, our government should be more harsh in the future.

This is how the banality of evil works. Once people are led to take up a side, they are highly susceptible to following the leadership regardless of where it takes them.

The conservatives have already led their flock away from science or any reasonable standards about their candidates’ fitness for office.

Now they are leading them as fast as they can away from any minimal sense of human decency.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

December 15, 2014 8:58 AM The Eurozone: Something’s Gotta Give

By Keith Humphreys

The turmoil in Greece is but one instantiation of the broader crisis in the Eurozone. I chart below the latest jobs data to illustrate that the zone’s unemployment rate is worse than that of any non-zone European country. That big red bar on the far right reflects substantial human misery.

Slide2

Charting economic growth adds insult to injury. The Eurozone is dead last here, generating not even a third of the growth of the best performers, Britain and Hungary.

Slide1

Numbers like the above, both in themselves and relative to other European countries outside the Eurozone, create enormous pressure and something’s gotta give. But what will it be?

Will it be a massive stimulus package? European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker announced an impressive sounding 315 billion Euro investment package, but upon close inspection it turns out to be quite puny, and in any event Juncker’s future is unclear as revelations emerge that he may have helped wealthy corporate friends evade taxes. Meanwhile, Germany ordoliberals remain committed to spending restraint, suggesting that the Eurozone isn’t likely to go on a spending binge in order to avoid a deflationary spiral.

Another alternative is that the pain continues to mount until populist movements gain control of member governments and start taking radical action, for example defaulting on their debts, or, exiting the Eurozone entirely. The Euro doesn’t have a well of democratic legitimacy upon which to draw. It was always an elite project designed with little regard for (or understanding of) the man and woman on the street. The elite commitment to not owning up to the basic flaws of the system will therefore not count for much if the suffering masses get their hands on the levers of power.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

December 15, 2014 12:36 AM The Divisive Presidency

By Julia Azari

Richard Skinner’s work on the partisan presidency has been getting some well-deserved attention in the last few days, most recently from Brendan Nyhan and then here from Hans Noel, who provides useful context about the development of parties and ideologies.

Richard’s research provides a terrific framework that’s been really helpful in making sense of the data I’ve gathered on how presidents interpret election results. The era he identifies as that of the partisan presidency coincides pretty closely with what I’ve termed the “age of mandate politics,” although the polarization/sorting of the party system isn’t the only contributing factor.

In his post, Hans points out that the partisan conflict that shapes presidents’ opportunities and limitations is “in sync with the ideological conflict.” The research in my book suggests that there’s been a systematic shift in how presidents invoke party and ideology in their post-election rhetoric. In the middle of the twentieth century, presidents would invoke the idea of a mandate for their parties - if their parties had, in fact, won big in some demonstrable way, or if they were addressing groups of fellow partisans. FDR and Eisenhower referred to their respective party platforms when talking about the elections of 1932 and 1952, which delivered both solid presidential victories and unified party government. When addressing a group of fellow Democrats at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, Truman talked about the Democratic Party platform as a factor in his 1948 victory.

In contrast, contemporary presidents have claimed victory for their policy positions even after elections that brought narrow victories or divided government. Even in more decisive contests, presidential communications about the meaning of the election have referred less to party labels and platforms, and more to issues and ideological commitments. Reagan and his aides talked about their “conservative” mandate. George W. Bush spoke about “the reasons I was elected” when promoting tax cuts in 2001 and Social Security privatization in 2005. Obama spoke in 2009 about theories of economic growth, noting on several occasions that conservative ideas about economic growth, like tax cuts, “had been tested, and had failed,” had been “rejected” by the electorate, and called them a “losing formula.” These comments were delivered in a variety of contexts, not just at partisan events (perhaps reflecting the fragmenting media environment).

Why does this shift from party to ideology matter? Parties - even ones that are ideologically sorted - are collective enterprises. They’re organizations and coalitions. Leading a party involves brokering among interests and distinct groups. Articulating an ideology does not. To the extent that presidential rhetoric shapes public expectations about what leaders will be able to accomplish, laying out an ideological agenda makes compromise even more difficult to achieve. As Hans points out, “Speaker Boehner has to placate a Tea Party faction that mostly differs with mainstream Republicans over how much they should compromise with Democrats.” When the president tells the nation that the election was a contest between highly distinct governing visions, it’s even harder for members of Congress to defend compromise to their constituents. When presidents cast themselves as the vessels of new political visions, they contribute to the idea that the right leader, with the right words and enough political will, can simply cut through the “mess in Washington” - i.e., the organized interests of the people of the United States, and the Constitutional checks and balances - in order to bring about wholesale change and costless problem-solving. (Nyhan has smartly labeled this the “green lantern theory of the presidency,” and president scholars like George Edwards and the late Richard Neustadt have long noted the gap between expectations and actual presidential capacity.)

In other words, the relationship between party and ideology has certainly shifted, as Hans’ scholarship shows. And the work on the presidency that Richard and I have both published suggests that this shift has in turn changed the relationship between the presidency and the political parties. But party and ideology are still analytically distinct. Furthermore, what presidents say and do isn’t just a function of the state of party politics. Presidents - and the people they employ to craft their communications - have choices they can make about how they present choices and priorities in politics. Their words may not have magical powers to change the political landscape, but they can provide clues about the ideas that shape it.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

December 14, 2014 10:26 AM Sunday Pylon Blogging

By James Wimberley

In the High and Far-Off Times (2008 and 2011) I blogged some photos of modern French and other designs for high-voltage electricity pylons that look like well-designed pieces of engineering, not a child’s failed Meccano project. I told you that the British Department of Energy and Climate Change had launched a competition for pylons for the British grid, then forgot about it. Rather late, here are the winner and the five others that made the shortlist. This was actually announced – ahem – in October 2011. There hasn’t exactly been a rush anywhere to phase out the old lattices, so it’s still a good idea to publicise them. The assessment included National Grid, the operator of the transmission network, and an eminent academic engineer served as one of the judges, so we can assume all the shortlist met engineering standards.

Winner: T-pylon from Bydstrup of Denmark

Pylon T-pylon
This clean but not very exciting design won in part because of its low height, making it less intrusive in the landscape: it cuts 35 metres off the existing lattices. National Grid are committed to this to the extent of building a line of six at their training centre in Nottinghamshire, and will offer the design as an option to communities affected by new lines.

Also-rans below the jump.

National Grid said they would work more on the next two with the designers.

Silhouette by Ian Ritchie

Pylon P12

Totem by Christopher Snow

Newtownstudio_Pylon_Totem_1

Flower Tower by Gustafson Porter

Pylon P82

AL_A by Amanda Levete

Pylon P113

Y-pylon by Knight Architects

Pylon P197

Several of these incorporate advances on insulators. The ingenious suspended diamond frames of the winner are made out of mechanically strong insulators. Two designs go further and cut out separate insulators entirely. The arms of Knight Architects’ Y-pylon are silicon-sheathed so the cables can be directly attached. In Totem the projecting side-struts are made out of high-strength insulating composites.

Totem is a Fuller-style modular lattice, with thicker elements at the base. It could presumably be assembled on site in hard-to-access environments. You could even get the pieces in by mule.

My personal favourite is the Flower Tower, though it looks expensive to make. Any of the shortlist, or those I blogged earlier, would be a great improvement on current practice. There really is no excuse any more for utilities to continue to inflict cheap-and-nasty lattices on our landscapes. Though if you want to reinforce your view that civilisation is doomed, you only need to look through the complete gallery of entries.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

December 12, 2014 11:34 AM On Torture, How Much Proof is Enough?

By Bonnie Tamres-Moore

The heavily redacted synopsis of the 6,800 page Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA and torture came out on December 9, 2014. It’s available for everyone to read. It’s important to note what we are learning that’s new.

  • We already knew that Gul Rahman froze to death in the “The Salt Pit,” referred to as “Cobalt” in the report; we didn’t know that the man who ordered him chained naked to the floor and left there received a $2,500 bonus for his “superior work.”
  • We already knew that the CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohamed (KSM) 183 times; we didn’t know that his torturer could snap his fingers and KSM would “come like a dog” to be waterboarded.
  • We already knew that the CIA tortured innocent people; we didn’t know they tortured two of their own informants.
  • We already knew that we forced prisoners to defecate on themselves, or into a container; we didn’t know there was actual behavior they could exhibit to “earn the bucket.”
  • We already knew what “enhanced interrogation techniques” were (the government has provided helpful lists); we didn’t know one was anal rape.

It is these small details in the report that perform the greatest public service. They grab us in the most fearsome part of our imagination. The cumulative depravity of the CIA’s treatment of unnamed prisoners in unnamed places points us towards a larger set of now indisputable truths.

We tortured people; we lied about it.

We tortured people we thought were innocent; we lied about the numbers of people we tortured and the way in which we tortured them.

The CIA lied to congress. President Bush, when he said “we don’t torture,” lied to us.

Most importantly of all, we’ve been lying to ourselves for 14 years about America’s sad descent into torture.

It seems it doesn’t matter how many facts are revealed. It’s just not enough.

So what exactly would be the proofiest proof about our use of torture ? What exactly would do the trick?

Would it be the Red Cross reports released to Mark Danner, award-winning writer for The New York Review of Books, in 2009? The Senate Armed Services Committee Report on the military and torture released in 2008? The FBI reports from Guantanamo, first published in 2006? Government documents from the Office of Legal Council and the Pentagon, first released in 2004 by (again) Mark Danner in his book Torture and Truth?

Are the 6 million internal CIA documents used to compile the Senate Intelligence Committee report sufficient?

Maybe the 93 tapes of prisoner interrogations destroyed by CIA’s Jose Rodriguez in 2005 would have been enough proof. Were the photographs of broken Iraqi men in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib Prison in 2004 not sufficient? Maybe the tapes of force-feeding in Guantanamo, still, at this point, successfully withheld by the Obama administration will be enough.

Documentation is not the issue here and it hasn’t been for a long time. We don’t need additional facts to convince us that we have tortured people brutally, illegally and immorally.

There has been an endless amount of evidence accumulating in big and little fetid piles for years.

We don’t need the answers about our use of torture. We have them. We just can’t handle the proof.

[Cross-posted at The Washington Spectator]

December 12, 2014 11:19 AM Weekend Film Recommendation: Brief Encounter

By Keith Humphreys

Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long.

brief_encounter2

A few years back I recommended In Which We Serve, the first collaboration between Noël Coward and David Lean. As their partnership evolved, Coward ceded full directorial control to Lean and the two men made a series of films (now available as a boxed set from Criterion Collection) that both reflected and defined Englishness for a generation. This week’s recommendation is the strongest of their efforts, which is truly saying something: 1945′s Brief Encounter.

Expanded from a one-act play of Coward’s, the plot is so simple that it would have been slight in less talented hands. A plain-looking, thoroughly respectable suburban housewife and mother named Laura Jesson is waiting for her regular train on her regular shopping day. A train throws a piece of soot into her eye. The handsome Dr. Alec Harvey comes to her aid and something sparks between them. They meet again by chance, a third time by intention mutually disguised as a trivial convenience, and then, guiltily, on purpose. A forbidden — though by modern standards, extremely restrained — romance develops. But where can it go, for two married parents with a lifetime of British socialization in their veins?

Other than The Browning Version, no British film conveys the nature of quiet desperation as achingly as does Brief Encounter. Coward wisely does not make the choices simple for the characters or the audience. Laura’s husband is gentle and devoted and her children loveable. Alec’s family is never seen, but the audience imagines something similar regarding his own responsibilities and constraints. Alec and Laura are drawn to each other not because they are fleeing violence, hatred or some other overt misery. Rather, they are running from dullness towards passion, which is underscored (pun intended) by perfectly chosen music by Rachmaninoff.

Lean and his frequent collaborators Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan understood the possibilities of film as well as any team in the history of cinema (Not incidentally, they went on to make many classics together post-Coward, including prior RBC recommendation Great Expectations). This movie is one of many times when they hit it for six. The tone, look, pacing and editing are all unimpeachable.

The other undeniable virtue of Brief Encounter is the acting. Trevor Howard, as Alec, is strong, but Celia Johnson tour de force’s as Laura, the more fully developed of the two characters, will stay with you until the end of your days. She might have been an unsympathetic character but Johnson’s evident humanity and emotional turmoil will elicit forgiveness from even judgmentally-inclined viewers. Johnson’s most unforgettable moment: Her character’s realization that her husband loves and trusts her so much that the lie she tells to cover up meeting Alec has no chance of being detected. Johnson deservedly received a 1947 Oscar nomination for her performance. It came that long after the 1945 British release because a movie in which infidelity is not punished was long considered too scandalous to release in a number of countries, including the U.S.

Every moment, every look and every gesture rings true in Brief Encounter. Pour yourself a cup of tea, get out your hanky and watch this truly magnificent film made by a creatively matchless group of artists.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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