Tuesday, July 07, 2015


Today's David Brooks column is about Clemantine Wamariya, a 27-year-old Rwandan -- Brooks calls her "my friend." As a small child, she survived the genocide in her country, along with her older sister, Claire. The two sisters now live in America.

What Clemantine and Claire endured, as Brooks tells it, was horrific:
To escape the mass murder, Clemantine and her older sister, Claire, were moved from house to house. One night they were told to crawl through a sweet potato field and then walk away -- not toward anything, just away.

They crossed the Akanyaru River (Clemantine thought the dead bodies floating in it were just sleeping) and into Burundi. Living off fruit, all her toenails fell out. She spent the rest of her young girlhood in refugee camps in eight African nations.

Claire kept them on the move, in search of a normal life. Clemantine wrote her name in the dust at various stops, praying somehow a family member would see it. One day, they barely survived a six-hour boat ride across Lake Tanganyika fleeing into Tanzania. Their struggles in the camps, for water and much else, were almost perfectly designed to give a sense that life is arbitrary.
Brooks seems to understand how extraordinary their suffering was -- but he's David Brooks, and he just can't help turning every story he tells into a cozy little homily suitable for his comfortable, cosseted readership. Today's column is worse than most, because he acknowledges precisely this trap, then falls into it anyway.

Claire gets work in America. Clemantine, in high school, wins an essay contest, and the two sisters appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Winfrey surprises them by reuniting them with their parents, brother, and sister.

Brooks writes:
Clemantine’s story, as I knew it then, has a comforting arc: separation, perseverance, reunion and joy. It’s the kind of clean, inspiring story that many of us tell, in less dramatic form, about our own lives -- with clearly marked moments of struggle and overcoming.
My thought when I read this was: What kind of upmarket narcissist do you have to be to even imagine a link between this story and your own? Yes, we all suffer at times. Some suffer a lot. But I know that nothing I've experienced compares to what a six-year-old refugee from genocide would have experienced. I don't think this is the sort of "story that many of us tell" -- at least not many of us in the Times audience. It's far worse.

Brooks at least understands one thing, or seems to: that Clemantine's story isn't "clean" and doesn't have a simple, "comforting arc." He grasps this because of an essay Clemantine has written for Medium (which he inexplicably calls "Matter") Matter:
... the reality is not so neat. For one thing, Clemantine never really reconciled with her family. After the “Oprah” taping they returned to Claire’s apartment. “My father kept smiling, like someone he mistrusted was taking pictures of him. Claire remained catatonic; I thought she’d finally gone crazy, for real. I sat on Claire’s couch, looking at my strange new siblings, the ones that had replaced me and Claire. I fell asleep crying.” The rest of the family flew back home to Africa the following Monday.

At every stop along the way, the pat narrative of Clemantine’s life is complexified by the gritty, mottled nature of human relationships. The refugee worker who married Claire and fathered her children turned out to be more a burden than a savior. The sisters’ psyches were not unscathed. “Claire made a hard, subconscious calculus: She could survive, and maybe enable me to survive, too, but only if she cast off emotional responsibility, only if she refused to take on how anything or anybody felt.”

Clemantine struggled to reconcile her old life with this one. A teacher she had at the Hotchkiss School gave a class a thought experiment: You’re a ferry captain on a sinking boat. Do you toss overboard the old passenger or the young one? Clemantine lost it: “Do you want to know what that’s really like? This is an abstract question to you?”

At Yale, she couldn’t understand her own behavior. “Why did I drink only tea, never cold water? Why did I cringe when the sun turned red?”
So does Brooks, who loves to tie things up with neat little bows, now realize that he can't tie a bow around Clemantine's story? He does seem to have grasped that he shouldn't do that in this case -- but then he ties up her story with a new bow, and turns it right back into a metaphor for his comfortable readers' own lives:
Clemantine is now an amazing young woman. Her superb and artful essay reminded me that while the genocide was horrific, the constant mystery of life is how loved ones get along with one another.

We work hard to cram our lives into legible narratives. But we live in the fog of reality. Whether you have survived a trauma or not, the psyche is still a dark forest of scars and tender spots. Each relationship is intricacy piled upon intricacy, fertile ground for misunderstanding and mistreatment.
That's what Brooks derives from this story? That if I'm a comfortable middle-class American and I'm impatient with my mother, it's really pretty much the same as what takes place between a refugee from slaughter and the parents she didn't see from ages six to eighteen? That happy and unhappy families are all alike? That (to paraphrase one of his op-ed colleagues) the emotional world is flat?

I have no words. Brooks really is awful.


Donald Trump has published a new open letter doubling down on all his previous claims about undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and adding a new claim:
Likewise, tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border.
What is he talking about? The Washington Post's Philip Bump has annotated Trump's statement, but I think Bump misses Trump's point:
The idea that "tremendous infectious disease" is coming across the border is questionable. Undocumented immigrants don't undergo the same sort of health checks that documented immigrants do. There was an apparent outbreak of scabies -- caused by mites -- during last year's immigration crisis, and an incident of chicken pox halted processing at another center. Immigrants were blamed for a recent measles outbreak, but that was likely unfounded. The good news is that if "tremendous infectious disease" is crossing the border, it doesn't seem to actually be infecting anyone.
Yes, wingnuts have blamed immigrants for those cases of scabies, chicken pox, and measles -- but Bump overlooks another disease outbreak that inspired a lot of right-wing rage last year. I think it's the outbreak that Trump principally has in mind -- even though no one's found any actual evidence that links it to immigration. (Not that that would ever stop a wingnut.)

I'm thinking of the outbreak of enterovirus EV-D68 infections. The virus usually causes illnesses that resemble colds or the flu, but it's sometimes linked to polio-like paralysis and muscle weakness, as in several cases in the U.S. involving children last year. A number of children died after exposure to the virus.

This outbreak coincided with a refugee crisis on the southern border involving children from Central America (and also with the arrival of Ebola in America) -- so, naturally, Wingnuttia blamed the enterovirus outbreak on the refugee kids. Prominent among the blamers was Sharyl Attkisson -- yes, the Benghazi obsessive who blamed a malfunctioning backspace key on her laptop on clandestine administration operatives. Attkisson is also a disease conspiratorialist -- she's a vaccine skeptic (as is Trump) -- and, on her website last October, she irresponsibly speculated about a link of enterovirus to immigrants:
Link to Illegal Immigrant Children?

... The CDC hasn’t suggested reasons for the current uptick or its origin. Without that answer, some question whether the disease is being spread by the presence of tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children from Central America admitted to the U.S. in the past year.

... Though the U.S. government is keeping secret the locations of the illegal immigrant children, there are significant numbers of them in both cities in which the current outbreak was first identified, Kansas City, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois, according to local advocates and press reports.
Except that, as even World Net Daily acknowledged, in the course of breathlessly retransmitting Attkisson's scaremongering ("Mystery Virus Found Where Illegal-Alien Kids Sent"), the disease was showing up in places far from where the undocumented children were, and it wasn't showing up in the border state of Arizona:
While not proving the Enterovirus outbreak originated with the Central American children, the CDC reports on its website confirmed EV-D68 cases in 44 states and the District of Columbia since mid-August. That includes states, such as Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, which have very few illegal minors. Meanwhile, Arizona, a common crossing point and holding ground for illegal aliens, is one of the six states that have not had a confirmed case of EV-D68.
Prior to that, as Media Matters noted at the time, enterovirus and immigration were linked on radio and TV by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Pat Robertson, and others. This is from Limbaugh's website on September 8:

Here's the thing: No one's found any evidence to link the enterovirus outbreak to immigrants. The wingnuts don't have any evidence and responsible scientists don't know why the disease flared up. In fact, scientists aren't even sure that enterovirus caused the severe symptoms seen last year; a report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says,
As yet, an epidemiological link has not been established between EV-D68 and the neurological illness clusters reported in several States across the US....
Between 2008 and 2010, the CDC reports, there were enterovirus outbreaks in the Philippines, Japan, and the Netherlands; in recent years enterovirus has been detected in France, the U.K., Finland, and Germany. Hard to imagine how those outbreaks could be caused by immigrants crossing the southern border of the United States.

But that hasn't stopped the right. And I'm assuming Donald Trump is an avid consumer of at least some of the wingnut media sources I've cited.

Monday, July 06, 2015


I've read Jonathan Allen's three-million-word Vox article about why the press is obsessed with trying to bring down the Clintons ... and I keep getting tripped up by the first three paragraphs:
The reporter's job is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" -- a credo that, humorously, was originally written as a smear of the self-righteous nature of journalists. And so the justification for going after a public figure increases in proportion to his or her stature. The bigger the figure, the looser the restraints.

After a quarter of a century on the national stage, there's no more comfortable political figure to afflict than Hillary Clinton. And she's in for a lot of affliction over the next year and half.

That's generally a good way for reporters to go about their business. After all, the more power a person wants in our republic, the more voters should know about her or him. But it's also an essential frame for thinking about the long-toxic relationship between the Clintons and the media, why the coverage of Hillary Clinton differs from coverage of other candidates for the presidency, and whether that difference encourages distortions that will ultimately affect the presidential race.
So wait -- "the more power a person wants in our republic, the more voters should know about her or him," Allen writes, which would suggest that anyone who wants to be president ought to get the highest level of attention from reporters. Let's amend that in a common-sense way: The rule probably should be "the more power a person wants in our republic, assuming the person has a reasonable chance of attaining that power, the more voters should know about her or him."

But in that case, why is it that "the coverage of Hillary Clinton differs from coverage of other candidates for the presidency"? Why is it that there's more Clinton coverage than coverage of Jeb Bush, or Scott Walker, or whoever smart people think has a decent shot at being the GOP nominee? In fact, why isn't there more coverage of the Republicans than of Clinton? After all, a Republican who's elected president in 2016would have more power than a Democrat would, because there'll almost certainly be a Republican House, and probably a Republican Senate. We've seen what radical changes Republicans have managed to enact in states where they've gained total control of the government -- Wisconsin, North Carolina, Kansas. President Hillary would have power, but President Jeb or President Walker could have extraordinary power. Radical ideas motivate Republicans right now, even the Republicans we consider "mainstream." So why aren't Jeb and Scott being "afflicted" like Hillary?

Allen's article lists some of the reasons why: "the Clintons are the equivalent of America's royal family," so news about them is sexier than news about even a Bush; also, the Clintons don't like the media, so the media is motivated to attack. I'd add another reason: reporters get brownie points from conservatives when they go after Democrats, and get attacked for "liberal media bias" when they go after Republicans.

But the ultimate answer is that going after the Clintons is easy. They conceal stuff from the press in a way that suggests that what they're concealing is sinister; they telegraph that they're concealing it. The press digs and and digs and, more often than not, discovers that what's being concealed isn't sinister. But the press gets many, many stories. Republicans get many, many talking points. And the Clintons get to claim they're being persecuted. Lather, rinse, repeat. Everybody wins.

And Clinton stories are clickbait, in a way that Jeb Bush and Scott Walker stories aren't. We'll see if that means we don't find out enough about the eventual Republican nominee until it's too late.


Paul Waldman argues that Donald Trump is turning out to be a net plus for Republicans:
... one after another, [the other Republican presidential candidates have] been asked about Trump and (with the exception of Ted Cruz) have condemned his remarks. And while some just expressed their disagreement briefly, others have taken the opportunity to present a more inclusive face of the GOP. "Hispanics in America and Hispanics in Texas, from the Alamo to Afghanistan, have been extraordinary people, citizens of our country and of our state," said Rick Perry on ABC's "This Week." Mike Huckabee called immigrants from south of our border "some of the most conservative, family-oriented and faith-based people I have ever witnessed." "Politically, we're going to win when we're hopeful and optimistic and big and broad rather than errrrr, grrrr, just angry all the time," said Jeb Bush....

Think about it this way: Trump's remarks were so vulgar that any candidate who wants to look like a reasonable person has little choice but to reject them. And if they all do it (or almost all), then at least for a while they've sidestepped what many of us expected to see during the primaries: a competition for who could talk the toughest on immigration. If they can maintain that mutual agreement to be as far from Trump as possible on the issue, then they might not dig themselves as big a hole as Mitt Romney and John McCain did with Hispanic voters.
And as Ed Kilgore adds, they can do this without changing their positions on immigration a bit:
... Trump has also made it easy for candidates whose objective positions on immigration policy are quasi-nativist to seem “moderate” so long as they aren’t blaming immigrants for half the country’s problems. Indeed, the “premature pivot” on immigration Waldman is talking about could preempt a more meaningful pivot that transcends mere rhetoric about the moral qualities of Latinos and the overall impact of legal and illegal immigration on American society.
Both Waldman and Kilgore question whether Hispanic voters will welcome the more tolerant rhetoric if there isn't a policy shift to go along with it. I think Hispanics do pay close attention to candidates' immigration policies, not merely their pronouncements -- they'll know who's faking a change of heart. But I wonder whether moderate voters who aren't Hispanic will hear the softer rhetoric and give the GOP, apart from Trump and Cruz, undeserved credit for reasonableness. If that's the case, Trump might be making the rest of the field look good by comparison.

On the other hand, it's possible that soothing words about Hispanics and immigrants will alienate the GOP base. Maybe we'll see Cruz start to rise in the polls as well as Trump. Or maybe we'll hear Scott Walker and Rick Santorum talk more about their desire to curb legal immigration, just to pick up some of that rage vote.

And who knows whether this will be the general election in which a minor-party candidate picks up conservative voters alienated by the GOP, the way Ralph Nader won liberals skeptical of Al Gore in 2000. A party that's now speaking well of Hispanics (even undocumented Hispanics) and not defending the Confederate flag and not actively resisting same-sex marriage really might lose a few votes come November 2016. We'll see.


The Obama administration may soon cross another item off the to-do list:
Advocates for better end-of-life care expect Medicare to soon announce that it will start paying physicians for having advanced-care planning conversations with patients -- reviving the widely misunderstood provision that gave rise to “death panel” fears and nearly sank the Affordable Care Act.

The new policy could be part of an annual Medicare physician payment rule, which could be released any day.....

Such a policy shift would come six years after former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s wild charges of “death panels” triggered near-hysteria that bureaucrats might begin to withhold medical care from older Americans. Polls showed that the charges stuck, and the ongoing uproar in the summer of 2009 almost derailed Obamacare. The same fears have shadowed the law ever since.

It’s not clear whether a decision by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to pay Medicare physicians for those difficult and time-consuming discussions with patients and families would spark another round of recriminations.
I like the way we've decided in retrospect that this was all the fault of that awful Sarah Palin, someone we now universally realize was a ridiculous person. Please recall that even before we started to hear "death panels" talk from the likes of Palin and Senator Charles Grassley ("You have every right to fear. ... [We] should not have a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma"), we were being told to worry about government-mandated deaths of the elderly by quite a few other folks, including John Boehner and the Republican leadership of the House:
Sean Hannity believes it. So does House Minority Leader John Boehner. Talk show host Fred Thompson calls it “the dirty little secret” of the health care reform debate.

The focus of their ire is a provision tucked deep inside the House bill that would provide Medicare coverage for an end-of-life consultation once every five years. If a person falls ill with a life-threatening disease, more frequent sessions would be allowed.

Republicans are now using this language as a wedge between senior citizens and Democrats. Boehner and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) issued a statement last week saying it “may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia” -- even though the concept behind the provision has been embodied in federal law since 1990 and has been promoted by Republicans and Democrats for years.
There's a lot being done for the elderly at the end of life by health care providers that the patients and their families don't want done. It's expensive and very often does nothing to improve quality of life. We always should have been covering these completely voluntary discussions of end-of-life plans. If this is finally going to become law, I applaud the Obama administration for its quiet persistence.


Meanwhile, I see that the right has a very important bit of unfinished business, too, and that's not going quite as well:
In a radio interview broadcast Sunday, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio affirmed he is “pretty well convinced” President Obama’s birth certificate, as released by the White House in 2011, is a “fraudulent, fake document.”

“I’ve been in law enforcement 55 years,” stated Arpaio. “I think I know a fraudulent, fake document. I’m not a computer expert. I rely on my people. But I’m pretty well convinced it’s a fake document.”

The famous sheriff was being interviewed for “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio” ...

During the interview, Arpaio brought up the birth certificate....

Arpaio’s statements prompted Klein to ask for an update on his team’s investigation into the long-form birth certificate document, posted April 27, 2011 as a PDF file on the White House website.

Arpaio told Klein that “once again nobody wants to look at it right now.”

“So it’s not my problem. I did my job.”
Awwww -- he's this close to revealing the truth, but no one's interested anymore. Poor guy!

Well, maybe fellow birther Donald Trump can reopen the debate now that he's doing so well in the polls. Really, Donald, go right ahead.

Sunday, July 05, 2015


Maureen Dowd got The New York Times to send her to Paris so she could write an unenlightening column about that city's Uber protests, a column that could easily have been written stateside with a few Web searches and a transatlantic phone call or two. (Dowd traveled to the Quai d'Orsay and interviewed a Foreign Ministry spokesman who said -- I hope you're sitting down for this earth-shattering news -- that he really likes America, a country he think is beautiful and whose residents he found very friendly when he visited. He doesn't like our gun laws, though. Hard-hitting, insightful journalism! Well worth the plane and hotel expenditures!)

Forgive the sarcasm, but I can't count the number of times I've read something similar in American journalists' interviews of French officials. But before Dowd gets to that, she gives us this, which is the journalistic equivalent of traveling to Paris and choosing to dine at McDonald's:
PARIS -- THE turquoise tranquillity of the Côtes d’Azur was rocked a couple of times during the Cannes Lions Festival, the advertising world’s rosé-soaked answer to the Cannes Film Festival.

Al Gore snubbed Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky, who was giving a speech for Ogilvy & Mather about how she became “patient zero” in the cyberbullying epidemic, was slated to sit in a V.I.P. box with the former vice president, who got an award for being a good brand.

But her invite got yanked.

The contretemps was a reminder that Gore’s prissy attitude toward l’affaire Monica helped cost him the election, because he was so angry at Bill Clinton that he leashed the Big Dog, curtailing the president’s campaigning, even in the South. If Al had been less eager to put baby in a corner, there would have been no phony action on Iraq and plenty of action on melting glaciers.

Monica’s main bullies were not of the cyber variety. The Internet was just getting up and running. Her chief bullies were flesh and blood, a raffish president and feminist first lady who are now vying to be a feminist president and raffish first lad. They’re the ones who tried to paint her as a “narcissistic looney toon,” as Hillary put it to her friend Diane Blair.

Sidney Blumenthal, Hillary’s Doberman and email correspondent, led the sliming of Monica as a fantasist and stalker. Hillary’s friends do not regard Monica as a victim, but a predator. They think she let herself in for trouble when she took up with a married president who was a magnet for right-wing bullies.
Okay, a few things. Lewinsky wasn't a "predator," but she did pursue the affair, as a lawful adult, albeit a young, naive one. Do Hillary Clinton's friends believe Lewinsky "let herself in for trouble when she took up with a married president who was a magnet for right-wing bullies"? Well, they're right. I'm not saying she deserved what she got, but she took a foolish risk.

And if we're arguing about who "Monica's main bullies" were, are our choices really limited to the digital media and the Clinton camp? How have, um, the Republicans disappeared from this contest? The GOP Congress that pursued impeachment to the bitter end? The so-called friends who used Lewinsky to get to Clinton? And, of course, the inquisitor, Ken Starr?

All this leads me to ask: Why is Maureen Dowd still at The New York Times? Why hasn't she joined the likes of Dick Morris and Judy Miller and become the regular Fox contributor she's obviously qualified to be?

Her fixation on the Lewinsky scandal would make her perfectly at home in Wingnuttia, where old scandals are endlessly rehashed and grievances are nurtured for decades. What's more, Dowd's specific focus on the moment when Team Clinton tried to tarnish Lewinsky's reputation is strikingly similar to the right's obsession with the relatively brief timespan when Hillary Clinton's State Department downplayed the true nature of the Benghazi attack. In both cases, it just doesn't matter. The truth about Benghazi became obvious very quickly in the fall of 2012, and was soon acknowledged by the administration. In early 1998, the public wasn't fooled by Bill Clinton's denial of an affair, and didn't care -- a CBS poll taken within weeks of the Lewinsky revelations, in February 1998, showed that nearly three in four respondents thought Clinton was hiding something, and yet he had a 66% job approval rating. Seventeen years after the fact, Dowd is still fixated on a coverup, that didn't work.

That's the kind of never-say-die thinking that would make her an ideal right-wing pundit.

But we're stuck with her, because the Times not only continues to back her but presumably foots the bill when she wants to jet off to Paris. Also, she retains a vestigial anti-GOP (or at least anti-Bush) skepticism, which might manifest itself between now and November 2016 if she can overcome her Clintonophobe monomania.

Give it up, MoDo. Go over to the dark side. We're sick of you here.

Saturday, July 04, 2015


Ted Cruz seems very eager to persuade voters that he's from the Donald Trump wing of the Republican Party:
Sen. Ted Cruz defended Donald Trump on immigration and called out “the Washington cartel” he says is ignoring the issue, in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration,” Cruz said of his rival for the 2016 GOP nomination, adding that it “seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans.”

“I’m not interested in Republican on Republican violence,” he told host Chuck Todd, adding that “bold … brash” Trump “has a colorful way of speaking.”

The Texas senator’s comments were similar to his defense of Trump during Fox & Friends on Tuesday.

“When it comes to Donald Trump, I like Donald Trump,” Cruz said on the show. “I think he’s terrific.”
Hey, I thought Cruz really believed he could become president. Does he just want to be Trump's running mate?

I'm joking, of course. I imagine that what Cruz is thinking is that Trump is peaking now, and that when Trump drops out of the race, probably early in the process, Cruz will be in a position to pick up his voters.

Except that Trump is nine points ahead of Cruz in the latest CNN national poll of Republicans. Trump is seven points ahead of Cruz in the two latest polls of New Hampshire, from Suffolk University and CNN/WMUR. Trump is one point ahead of Cruz in the latest Quinnipiac poll of Iowa (and they're both well behind Scott Walker). Trump is nine points ahead of Cruz in the latest PPP survey of Michigan.

If Cruz thinks he can just bide his time until Trump drops out, I think he has the wrong strategy. It looks as if Cruz will be the one to drop out first, and then Trump will get his votes.

I think Trump has, as the saying goes, limited upside potential -- a lot of Republicans still don't like him and never will. In this way, he's like Ron Paul -- and, like Ron Paul, he'll probably stay in the race way past the point at which he's mathematically eliminated, just for the adulation.

But in the meantime, he's going to make Ted Cruz irrelevant (a process Cruz is abetting with his me-too-ism). I think, in the early states, he'll help drive Cruz out of the race.


UPDATE: Looks as if it's a mutual admiration society:
On Saturday, Trump ... praised what he considers fellow candidate and Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s tough immigration stance, calling him “very brave.”
I think this is a ticket.

Friday, July 03, 2015


Kingmaker-wannabe Mitt Romney is up to something again:
Mitt Romney is hosting Christie and his wife, Mary Pat, at his waterfront compound on picturesque Lake Winnipesaukee on Friday night, people familiar with the plans said....

On Friday night, though, Romney will have the Christies as overnight guests. But they won't be the only non-family members in the house. Fellow GOP hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and his wife, Jeanette, are also joining the Romneys for Friday night's slumber party.
This isn't the first time Romney has extended invitations to multiple establishment-friendly candidates -- last month, he and Sheldon Adelson had a gathering in Utah that was attended by Christie, Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Carly Fiorina. As I said at the time, that event seemed intended as a show of support for candidates with an Adelsonian foreign policy (i.e., not Rand Paul).

But notice who didn't attend the Utah event -- Jeb Bush. Jeb's also not sleeping over on the lake in New Hampshire tonight.

Romney seemed to be deferring to Jeb when he decided not to run for president this year, but I'm starting to wonder whether he's looking for a way to help Jeb's rivals at Jeb's expense.

I just found myself rereading the story Mark Halperin wrote the day he thought Romney would announce his candidacy; Halperin was embarrassed, of course, when Romney announced he wouldn't run. Nevertheless, the story includes this still-interesting nugget:
Public comments from both Mitt and Ann Romney suggested that the Romneys thought Jeb would make a strong candidate and an able president -- and that his presence in the contest would remove any obligation Romney felt to seek the office himself.

But those familiar with Romney’s thinking as he's been contemplating a run and over the years say that he has held a jaundiced view of the former Florida governor dating all the way back to his handling of the Terri Schiavo case, and has come to see Bush as a non-entity in the 2016 nomination contest. Romney is said to see Bush as a small-time businessman whose financial transactions would nonetheless be fodder for the Democrats and as terminally weighed down with voters across the board based on his family name. Romney also doesn’t think much of Bush’s political skills (a view mocked by Bush’s camp, who say Romney is nowhere near Bush’s league as a campaigner). Romney also considers Bush the national Republican figure who was the least helpful to him during his last run for the White House, a position that has darkened Ann Romney’s view of Bush as well.
I'm guessing that that last sentence tells us what's really responsible for the Romneys' disdain of Jeb. The rest is just Mitt persuading himself that his dim view of Jeb is based on careful and dispassionate analysis rather than raw emotion.

Establishment Republicans should probably settle on somebody who seems safe -- Bush, Rubio, whoever -- and just try to get that candidate elected. But if it's Jeb, I sense that Romney won't want to play along. I continue to believe Romney is a Nixonian resentnik, and that he doesn't realize this about himself. Let's see if there's more evidence that he's trying to undermine Jeb in the future.


Jeb, by the way, is holding "two intimate campaign events" (a dinner and a staff briefing) in Kennebunkport this weekend, according to theNew York Post's Page Six.


UPDATE: And now:
Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, will travel to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Me., early next week for a private lunch meeting with Jeb Bush, according to a person briefed on the plans who was not authorized to discuss the meeting.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Bush, who have had a strained relationship for years, last met in January in Utah, when Mr. Romney was considering running for the White House for a third time.


Several of the reasons given by National Journal's Lauren Fox for Donald Trump's surge in the polls make sense: In a crowded field, it doesn't take more than low-double-digit support to get into the top tier (although tell that to Carly Fiorina and George Pataki); also, as pollster Geoff Garin tells Fox, " there is a segment of the Republican electorate that is strongly anti-immigrant and there is an overlapping piece of the Republican electorate that is anti-politician."

But I'm tired of reading this about Trump's good numbers:
Several pollsters consulted for the story say the recent bump may reflect the entrepreneur's high name ID more than it shows genuine voter support.
Excuse me -- did Trump not have high name ID before he announced his candidacy? I'm pretty sure America knew who he was -- he was on television and everything -- and yet, in nine polls released before (or just after) his announcement, his numbers were between 1% and 5%. Since then? 11% and 12%. That's nationwide; results in Iowa are similar. He got an announcement bump, and name recognition has obviously helped him, but it's crazy to pretend that he instantly polled well because people knew his name -- he didn't initially poll well.

It's possible that he polled poorly prior to the announcement because admirers didn't think he'd really run. But I think a portion of the GOP electorate simply loves what he's saying. They always knew who he was.


I spotted this yesterday:
Republican presidential candidate George Pataki is hoping to grab some of the spotlight fellow candidate Donald Trump is occupying, by pressuring the rest of the field to denounce Trump's inflammatory comments on immigration.

Pataki, the former Republican governor of New York, sent a letter to the more than a dozen other GOP candidates asking them to join him in calling out Trump for calling illegal immigrants to the U.S. "rapists" and "killers."

"The last week of news coverage over the language used by Donald Trump to describe Mexicans has left me and a lot of other sensible people wondering what century we are living in," Pataki said in his open letter....
Let's see -- how would that work out for the other candidates? Let's take a look at the response to Pataki's own denunciation of Trump:

How'd that go over with Pataki's followers?

So yeah, good luck with this, George.

Ted Cruz, of course, has Trump's back. A few other Republican candidates -- Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, and, surprisingly, Rick Perry -- have actually criticized Trump:
Last weekend, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose wife is Mexican-American, was asked in Spanish about Trump at an event in Nevada. In Spanish, he said that Trump doesn't represent the values of the Republican Party, according to Bloomberg News.

Asked again in English, Bush said, "I don't agree with him. I think he's wrong. It's pretty simple."

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry had a similar response during an appearance at the National Press Club on Thursday: "Let me say, I do not think Donald Trump's remarks reflect the Republican Party. I think the Republican Party is reflected in people like me." Several hours later his campaign sent a press release touting an even stronger Perry response to Trump during a Fox News interview.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, campaigning in New Hampshire this week, said Trump's comments were "inappropriate and have no place in this race." Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said in response to a question at a campaign event in Iowa, "I don't need a letter from Gov. Pataki. I said from day one, when you label a group of people as rapists and drug dealers, says more about you then it says about them.”
Hmmm ... three guys who are struggling in the polls, plus Jeb. Not a word of criticism from Walker, Rubio, Paul, Carson, Fiorina. But look at the tweets above. Do you blame them?

Thursday, July 02, 2015


The donor class just sent a memo about Scott Walker to Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin of The New York Times. Haberman and Martin got the Times to publish it virtually unedited:
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin spent months persuading influential Republicans that he alone had the impressive conservative achievements and mainstream American appeal needed to not only win the party’s nomination but also to recapture the White House....

Now a growing number of party leaders say Mr. Walker is raising questions about his authenticity and may be jeopardizing his prospects in states where voters’ sensibilities are more moderate.

His response to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage most emphatically demonstrated his sharp shift to the right: Mr. Walker called the court’s ruling “a grave mistake” and reiterated his call for a constitutional amendment that would allow states to ban same-sex marriage....

After Mr. Walker moved to support Iowa’s prized ethanol subsidies, abandoned his support for an immigration overhaul and spoke out against the Common Core national education standards, his pointed tone on marriage caused some Republicans to ask publicly whether he is too willing to modify his views to aid his ambitions.
If you read between the lines, it's obvious that flip-flopping is not what's bothering "some Republicans" -- it's the deviations from what the donor class considers Correct Thinking:
The [ethanol] reversal was not well received in the political network led by the industrialists David H. and Charles G. Koch, according to a Republican aware of the reaction who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of sensitivities over the group’s deliberations.

But [Walker's] stance on marriage is what has disquieted people who had counted on Mr. Walker taking a more restrained approach to the culture wars.

For several months, according to four people briefed on the discussions who were not authorized to describe an off-the-record meeting, Republican donors who were advocates for legalizing same-sex marriage had worked quietly to try to build bridges to Mr. Walker....
Yeah, they want a guy who won't make a fuss about marriage.

Further into the article, Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation, who supports immigration reform, assures us that Walker probably isn't really a hard-liner on immigration, despite his recent tough talk -- but based on Walker's words, that's another issue on which he and the fat cats are now at odds.

Meanwhile, Crooks & Liars quotes Chris Matthews, who's probably also parroting the GOP Establishment line:
During a segment on Hardball Wednesday, Chris Matthews ran a series of right-wing freakout statements about President Obama's decision to reopen the embassy in Cuba.... Scott Walker's was crafted for the warmongering nativist right wing.

"President Obama’s decision to establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy there is yet another example of his appeasement of dictators," Walker wrote.

Why this would shock Tweety, I will never know, but it did.

"I'm starting to lose faith in Scott Walker as a reasonable person," Tweety lamented. "He's aping the right wing."
That, I guess, was Walker's rep in the Beltway: He's "a reasonable person," by the Establishment's definition of that term (i.e., merciless on taxes and unionization, but not conservative in any way that threatens business interests).

The Times article is a horse's head in Walker's bed -- a warning that the cash isn't going to flow as freely as he'd like unless he falls into line with the wishes of the fat-cat community.

But what Walker is doing is understandable: He's staking a lot on Iowa, and while he still leads there, his lead is slipping; nationwide, he's now in the second tier. The guy who's gaining right now, Donald Trump, isn't exactly doing it by being sober and moderate.

However, I wonder if the rise of Trump makes the Enraged Conservative lane a bit too crowded, to Walker's detriment. Walker's already competing with Cruz, Paul, and Huckabee in the Angry Refusenik lane. (I'm not going to distinguish between angry social conservatives, angry occasionally neo-Confederate semi-libertarians, and angry ad hoc blowhards, because they're all trying to channel roughly the same Fox/talk radio anger.)

But the donors thought Walker could bring those furious voters along and run as an Establishment guy. If he's choosing not to run as that sort of hybrid, and if the Establishment stops giving him quite so much money, it's going to a very easy race for Jeb Bush in the Not Completely Crazy lane.

Marco Rubio is struggling. Chris Christie is not going to make a comeback. John Kasich probably has more fans at the Aspen Ideas Festival than in the New Hampshire and Iowa electorates combined.

So if Walker keeps trying to sound like Trump (and Cruz and Huckabee), he might cede all the not-quite-crazy voters to Jeb, and that might be enough for Jeb to win. But we'll see.


These poll results are disheartening, and they're going to lead to a lot of smug triumphalism on the right:
American public opinion on the Confederate flag remains about where it was 15 years ago, with most describing the flag as a symbol of Southern pride more than one of racism, according to a new CNN/ORC poll....

The poll shows that 57% of Americans see the flag more as a symbol of Southern pride than as a symbol of racism, about the same as in 2000 when 59% said they viewed it as a symbol of pride. Opinions of the flag are sharply divided by race

Among African-Americans, 72% see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, just 25% of whites agree....
As Zandar notes, this isn't a case of "Oh, the old people are still living in the past, but the young are so much more enlightened": overall, 57% of respondents think the flag is more a symbol of pride than of racism; among Millennials, that number is 58%.

A second poll shows similar results:
[A] Suffolk University/USA Today poll conducted two weeks after the apparently racially motivated shooting ... found that 42 percent of Americans think the flag is racist and should be removed from state grounds, while 42 percent of Americans think the flag is not racist and represents Southern history.

(Those numbers break down less along regional lines and more along partisan lines, with 63 percent of Democrats calling the flag racist and 61 percent of Republicans saying it's not.)
Well, it's hard to fight 150 years of propaganda accepted as fact:
As historian David Blight writes in his 2001 book Race and Reunion, in the aftermath of the Civil War and Reconstruction, former Confederates and their supporters waged a propaganda campaign to shape American historical memory. The result was a popular understanding of the war and its aftermath that glamorized the valor of Confederate soldiers, downplayed slavery as a cause of the war and cornerstone of the Confederacy, recast Reconstruction as a period of tyranny and “black domination,” and justified the violent disenfranchisement and dispossession of black Americans for decades to come.

Even after the narrative of a benign and honorable Confederacy fell out of favor with historians, it continued to dominate American popular culture in film and literature, from The Birth of a Nation to The Dukes of Hazzard. The damage wrought by this interpretation of history is immeasurable. It is only now unraveling.
Or not unraveling.

Did you read Margaret Biser's recent Vox article about the questions she heard regarding slavery while working at a plantation that's now a historic site? If you did, it won't surprise you that a lot of white Americans are oblivious to the realities of this part of our history. A small sample from that article:
I showed the young mother some of the slaves' names and pointed out which people were related to each other. The mom stiffened up, raised her chin, and asked pinchedly, "Did the slaves here appreciate the care they got from their mistress?"

"These were house slaves, so they must have had a pretty all right life, right?" is a phrase I heard again and again. Folks would ask me if members of the enslaved household staff felt "fortunate" that they "got to" sleep in the house or "got to" serve a politically powerful owner....

The most extreme example of this occurred in my very last week of work. A gentlemen came in to view our replica slave quarter and, upon learning how crowded it was, said, "Well, I've seen taverns where five or six guys had to share a bed!"
But white obliviousness extends beyond slavery and the Confederacy. When allegations of police brutality are in the news, we often hear from black men and teenage boys who report routine police stops for no reason. It seems impossible for whites to be unaware that virtually every black male is stopped by the police repeatedly -- an experience that we white males simply don't share.

And yet:
White people ... are more confident than ever that local police treat black and white people equally, according to the Washington Post.

A poll conducted by NBC News and Marist College ... found that 52 percent of white people have a "great deal" of confidence that local police treat black people and white people equally. That's a higher percentage than many previous polls that asked the same or a very similar question, dating all the way back to 1995.

Or maybe this isn't obliviousness. Whites certainly have a tendency to feel that being asked to feel empathy is a tremendous hardship. Some, I imagine, think it's worse than slavery.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


CBC News reports:
Despite the controversy, American rocker Ted Nugent claims to have hunted with a New Brunswick outfitter that is facing over 60 charges related to illegal hunting and illegal possession of animal parts.

Nugent posted several photos showcasing dead bears on his Facebook account stating he'd recently been on a hunting trip in Plaster Rock.

"At Lawrence Dyer & Sons in New Brunswick Canada," Nugent posted on June 23rd. "With Danny, Dave, Chris and Kim & team for THE best black bear camp anywhere! Rugsteaks are flowing baby!"

Daniel, Christopher, and Kimberly Dyer are three of five people charged under the Fish and Wildlife Act in relation to a seizure of illegal animal parts from the Lawrence Dyer & Sons outfitters lodge near Plaster Rock in January 2015.

Owner Daniel Dyer is charged with the illegal possession of black bear gallbladders and black baculum, the bone found in the bears' penis, as well as the meat, carcasses, and heads of moose and deer.
The bear's penis bone is believed to be an aphrodisiac in various parts of the world. Bear bile is also used in traditional medicine, particularly in Asia.
Wild bears are also targeted, as their bile is considered more potent. As a result, American black bears, whose population is still healthy, are the new target of both legal and illegal hunting and trade of their parts.
The bile is also used as an aphrodisiac.

Well, the Nuge has been known to violate a law or two regarding animals -- he admitted as much to authorities in 2012:
In a plea agreement filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, Nugent will plead guilty to one count of transporting an illegally hunted bear -- an offense that could result in a $10,000 fine.

Nugent, 63, was on Alaska’s Sukkwan Island in May 2009 filming an episode of his Outdoor Channel television show, “Ted Nugent Spirit of the Wild,” which is described on his website as the “ultimate hands-on conservation lifestyle television show.” According to court documents, he was bow hunting near a bait station designed to attract black bears when he fired an arrow that wounded a bear, which then ran off.

Nugent “failed to locate and harvest the wounded black bear,” the plea agreement said, and then four days later, he shot and killed another black bear at one of the registered bait sites and then transported it off the island.

The problem: Alaska hunting regulations say the first wounded bear fulfilled his bag limit; the second one was an illegal kill. Transporting it off the island made it a violation of the federal Lacey Act.
No word as to whether Nugent himself actually uses bear parts as aphrodisiacs. Is it irresponsible to speculate? I think it would be irresponsible not to.


This seems like a match made in heaven:
Chris Christie’s out to prove he’s the bluntest and most straightforward candidate running for president. So it was only natural that the first major endorsement of his bid for the Republican nomination came from the only governor with a brasher and more plainspoken reputation: Maine’s Paul LePage.

At a last-minute event organized by Christie’s camp during a weeklong swing through of New Hampshire, LePage became the nation’s first sitting Republican governor to endorse a candidate for president.
LePage really is Christier than Christie:
Infamously, one of the first things he did upon taking office in 2011 was order the removal of a pro-worker mural from the state’s Department of Labor. He said the painting suggested the government had an anti-business bias.

... here’s how LePage tends to talk about his opponents -- who are, in many cases, members of the general public: They’re idiots, liars and spoiled little brats; they’re corrupt, spineless and like the Nazis. He’s attacked Democrats in the state Senate with homophobia; and he’s joked about having his critics shot.

... the governor has responded to his 2014 reelection by trying to ram through an elimination of the state’s income tax; and now that LePage promised to veto any bill that comes his way -- be its author Republican or Democrat -- until Democrats allow a referendum to that end....
And now he's being threatened with impeachment for a Christie-esque act:
But the governmental dysfunction has become a sideshow to an even bigger controversy over Mr. LePage’s actions regarding a charter school for at-risk youths [known as Good Will-Hinckley]. The school had hired Mark Eves, the Democratic speaker of the House and a LePage foe, as its next president, starting Wednesday. Mr. LePage said Mr. Eves was unfit to lead the school, and threatened to withhold more than $500,000 in annual state money unless the hiring was rescinded; the school, a nonprofit fearing the loss could threaten private matching funds and lead to its closing, did so.

Mr. Eves accused the governor of blackmailing the school and threatened to sue him.

The governor’s actions have infuriated many who say he overstepped his executive authority; a group of Democrats and independents in the Legislature is researching how and whether to impeach him. Democratic leaders are taking a cautious approach, but have said nothing is off the table.
It's a Christie-esque act that Christie has specifically endorsed:
Christie also defended LePage’s threat to withhold funding from Good Will-Hinckley if the school hired Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves. Christie said the governor “made a difficult decision he needed to make to benefit the kids.”
Christie won the love of a lot of right-wingers by being an obnoxious Republican loudmouth who insisted that everyone who disagreed with him was an imbecile with malign intent. But Christie lost his mojo when -- mere days after he accused President Obama of "clutching for the light switch of leadership" -- he embraced the president in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (Jon Stewart:"I guess he found that f**king lightswitch, huh?") Then there was Bridgegate, and Christie's statements of contrition after it was revealed (he might have been forced from office, but I still believe if he'd responded with his usual nastiness he'd have a higher approval rating among Republicans right now).

That's Christie. But LePage? I'm not following the Maine news day to day, but as far as I can tell, he's never expressed contrition about anything.

Which is why I think he should be running for the GOP presidential nomination.

You say he could be impeached? That would boost his candidacy! Why is Scott Walker leading in so many polls? In part because he was forced into a recall election. Donald Trump is soaring in the polls in part because Univision went after him. (I assume the severing of ties to Trump by NBC and now Macy's will give him even more of a boost.)

So dump that loser Christie. Run, LePage, run! Be the unchecked id the GOP voter base really wants!

(Christie's endorsement of LePage threat via myopinion on Twitter.)


Hey, hippie -- why are you such a Gloomy Gus about corporations? As Frank Bruni points out, corporations are wonderful:
In the dire prophecies of science-fiction writers and the fevered warnings of left-wing activists, big corporations will soon rule the earth -- or already do.

Fine with me.

They’ve been great on the issue of the Confederate flag....

Eli Lilly, American Airlines, Intel and other corporations were crucial to the defeat or amendment of proposed “religious freedom” laws in Indiana, Arkansas and Arizona over the last year and a half....

And if it were up to corporations, we’d have the immigration reform we sorely need....

Major financial institutions were well ahead of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democratic politicians when it came to same-sex marriage. The leaders of these banks and hedge funds lent their voices and considerable sums of money to its legalization in New York in 2011....
All true, as far as it goes -- but, um, Bruni does realize that the social impact of all of this is secondary to the social impact of the other things corporations do, doesn't he? Really, it's been in all the papers. In fact, it's in his paper just today, in several stories -- like this one explaining that President Obama's decision to raise the threshold for overtime pay of middle-class workers is only one relatively small step we'd need to take in order to reduce inequality:
While a broad range of workers once reaped the benefits of economic growth, the affluent have captured a rising share in recent decades, leaving the wages of everyone else to stagnate....

According to detailed tax data compiled by the economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, the top 10 percent of families captured just under 90 percent of the total growth in income between 2009 and 2014. All other families split the remaining 10 percent.
This might change, Bruni's paper informs us, if we could "improve the bargaining power of workers, so that they could claim more of the wealth generated by productivity gains, which the affluent are keeping primarily to themselves" -- but we read elsewhere in Bruni's paper today that the Supreme Court -- revealed this week as surprisingly socially liberal but still dominated by justices appointed by presidents of our more pro-corporatist party -- will hear a case that could curb unions even more than they've been curbed in recent decades.

Elsewhere in Bruni's paper, we see the U.S. Chamber of Commerce fighting anti-smoking laws around the world. We see homeowners in Oklahoma dealing with so many earthquakes as a result of fracking that they've now won the right to sue oil companies. And, of course, we see debt crises in Greece and Puerto Rico, part of the extended fallout from a financial crash caused by socially tolerant but greed-driven and criminal-minded financial institutions.

We literally have to wait until Bruni's last paragraph for an acknowledgment of any of this within the text of his op-ed, and then it's dismissive:
The list goes on. And while it doesn’t erase the damage that corporations wreak on the environment or their exploitation of workers paid too little, it does force you to admit that corporations aren’t always the bad guys.
No, they aren't always bad guys, Frank. But you didn't say they're a mixed blessing -- you said you'd happily let them rule the earth unchecked. They more or less do already, of course. And for a lot of people, that's not such a great deal.