Longtime Eat The Press readers know that our official position on 2016 speculatin' in the year 2014 is that we'd love it if there was far, far less of it. But that doesn't mean we'd like none. As Jonathan Bernstein wrote two days after the last presidential election, the 2016 contest has long been on like Donkey Kong. The only question is, is it going to be covered sensibly or not?
There are some examples of sensible coverage. Why, just this week I had the pleasure of reading Patrick Caldwell's story, "The Huge Campaign Finance Loophole Hillary Clinton Isn't Using -- Yet," describing how Clinton might interact with the various super PACs that ally themselves with her presidential ambitions. And I have to say, Caldwell's article serves as a great counterpoint to all the pundits who intone some variation on the "Hillary won't say it, but of course she's running for president" theme while smirking down their noses at you. It's as if it says, "You know what? There actually is a useful and substantive distinction to be made between the things Clinton can do now (publicly coordinate with super PACs whenever she wants) and the things she'll have to do as an official candidate (make sure no evidence of coordination comes to light)."
That's the sort of coverage one should likely file under "useful." Somewhat controversially, perhaps, I also would include in that category the recent coverage leading from a Washington Free Beacon scoop involving Clinton's time as an attorney, during which she defended an accused child rapist. It's an early indicator of what opposition researchers will try to do to Clinton if she runs: undermine her reputation as a champion of women and girls. (Don't fret, I have no worry that the people flogging this story are going to start championing reforms to a criminal justice system that is stacked against rape survivors. This is modern American politics, where histrionic displays of concern run in inverse proportion to sincerity.)
Unfortunately, you can't have a signal-to-noise ratio without the noise. And since Clinton looms the largest over the 2016 landscape right now, coverage of her proto-campaign is full of it: "Why hasn't Clinton performed this banal task? What is Clinton going to do about this thing about which she can do nothing? When will Clinton wander onto this rug, so that it can be pulled out from under her?" The debate rages on, because if the raging ever stopped, people's brains might start working -- and then what? A bunch of reporters would learn they've wasted their youth on nonsense, that's what!
So when it comes to the most frequently heard noise, let's take a trip down the well of diminishing returns, shall we?
Hillary Clinton is very wealthy, which could become a (first-world) problem.
As you may have heard, Clinton is a world-famous political celebrity with a world-famous political celebrity husband and a daughter who -- well, let's face it, it's hard to fathom her not becoming a world-famous political celebrity nepotism beneficiary even if she didn't want to, but she's surely turning into the skid. Clinton gets paid insane amounts of money to make speeches, and she gets book deals as easily as most people put on socks in the morning.
Clinton's life is good. And frankly, it's a little weird, compared to rest of ours. It's especially disconcerting to hear her say, for example, that she and Bill were "dead broke" when she left the White House, because that's just crackers. It's given rise to a persistent question: "Is Hillary Clinton out of touch with America?" (Which is hilarious, considering it a question that mainly issues from the word-holes of teevee pundits and columnists who have heretofore shown no evidence that they themselves have actually met a single unemployed person or member of the rapidly-shrinking middle class.)
This all comes at a time when Thomas Piketty's Capital In the Twenty-First Century is a sales smash, and income inequality is being discussed in all quarters. And there are useful questions that can and should be put to Hillary Clinton, considering that it was during her husband's presidency that many decisions were made that set the stage for the 2008 financial crisis (Commodity Futures Modernization Act ring a bell?). In terms of Clinton's policy proposals, it would be useful to gauge how much she has reflected upon the hard choices her husband now rues.
Unfortunately, the next time someone asks that sort of question will be the first time. Income inequality is not going to be solved by reforming the paid-speaker circuit or by expanding access to it. And I can conceive of no presidential candidate emerging from either party as a nominee who won't be from the hyper-affluent, "me and my family will want for nothing for the rest of our lives" class of super-duper-lucky ducks. The possibility of getting a presidential candidate who is "in touch with America" is precisely nil. (But the possibility of getting a presidential candidate in touch with Sheldon Adelson is an entirely different story !)
So, write this down: The longer the media stays focused on asking about speaking fees and whether someone pumps their own gas, the better the chance they entirely bypass the income inequality issue during the election, setting normal Americans back years.
There doesn't seem to be much of a "Clinton campaign" yet. This is a huge concern!
No, it's not. But that doesn't stop the waste of pixels. Here's Politico:
For all the talk about how 2016 will have to be different from 2008 in terms of staffing and advisers, Clinton is still subsisting on a tiny infrastructure. The press team is small, and she has few paid advisers. She outsourced the work of managing surrogates during the book tour to longtime allies. But she has no polling operation to test what she’s saying and no raft of campaign advisers instructing her answers.
Clinton is trying to delay being treated like a candidate as long as possible, and hiring people would only trigger new scrutiny. And the book tour was a large undertaking to go through with a relatively small team. That can only last for so long.
Oh no, that can only last for so long, everybody! Good thing it's July of 2014, the very definition of "you have a super long time to build a campaign infrastructure." Right now, it would be unbelievably stupid for Hillary Clinton to have a huge campaign staff. You have to pay all those people! (Jeez, no wonder campaign reporters don't understand the economy.)
This is an especially odd concern considering the fact that during the 2008 campaign, the same sorts of reporters were extremely concerned about how huge Clinton's campaign staff was, how much money they were spending, and how quickly they were spending it.
Wow, guys, is Hillary Clinton "moving away" from Obama, that's significant, OMG.
Well, it's significant in that we can now declare the era of "Hillary Clinton should switch places with Joe Biden to set herself up for a run in 2016" thought-farts to be over. Time of death: whenever it was that this Wall Street Journal editorial was published:
Mrs. Clinton hasn't repudiated Mr. Obama, who made her secretary of state in his first term, and comments aimed at highlighting her differences with Mr. Obama are often implied rather than stated bluntly.
But in tone and substance, the presumed presidential candidate has made clear in recent public appearances that she wouldn't be running for a de facto third Obama term in the White House. The strategy could help Mrs. Clinton tackle one of her biggest challenges if she decides to run: how to separate herself from Mr. Obama without alienating Democrats and Obama supporters.
This is a significant challenge for Clinton, but the more logical thing to say is that this is the significant challenge for any Democratic nominee, all of whom will have to navigate the terrain of Obama's presidency and decide which points of similarity and which contrasts they want to play up.
There’s an assumption by many longtime Clinton watchers that she will do what she can to distance herself from Obama, but so did George H.W. Bush in 1988 (re: Reagan) and Al Gore in 2000 (re: Clinton). Every eventual nominee having to run while their own party has held the presidency for two terms or longer has to strike that balance of finding ways to be different than the person they want to succeed without alienating the political base that obviously was responsible for delivering a two-term presidency in the first place.
One would-be candidate, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), has decided to distinguish himself from Obama by suggesting that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sounds like he is gay, thus proving that just because you can "move away" from Obama, it doesn't mean you necessarily should.
Hillary Clinton has to "move away" from Bill Clinton.
Like I said before, it would be really enlightening to know how her husband's presidency has informed Hillary Clinton's policy choices. But, hey, what if she just straight-up stuck Bill Clinton down in some root cellar instead? That would be even better, right? Well, this is something that Margaret Carlson got actual money to write for Bloomberg View:
Bill Clinton didn’t help her become president in 2008, and he won’t be much help in 2016, except as a warm, supportive presence who, in our imagination, will inhabit the East Wing as a benign elder statesman, giving gentle advice only when prodded.
Alas, there’s no sign he would go along with the script, and any ad-libbing would hurt. We elect one person, not two, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton’s high White House profiles notwithstanding. Bill Clinton is now beloved -- achieving a comeback no one thought possible. If he meddles in his wife’s 2016 campaign the way he did in 2008, he could lose his hard-won halo. If she lets him meddle, she will go down with him.
The thing about "The Political Narrative" is that it's often just a silly bit of sophistry constructed to allow for future empty-headed shenanigans. Obviously, there is no way for Hillary Clinton to become sufficiently separated from Bill Clinton, unless there is some tragedy looming about which I have no knowledge.
But suffice it to say, if Hillary Clinton succeeds in pushing Bill Clinton so far into the background that everyone agrees he's been sufficiently faded, then at the first sign of trouble -- a slipping approval rating, a weak stump appearance, a bad swing-state poll -- everyone will castigate Hillary Clinton for not having her husband sufficiently involved in her campaign. (Carlson will probably write that piece, too. That's just how presidential campaign coverage works.)
Where's the "big campaign idea" in this book she's written, I can't find it! Doesn't she know she needs to have a big campaign idea?
Oy. Back to Politico:
The “Hard Choices” book tour has had all the trappings of a warm-up for 2016, and even though Clinton insists she hasn’t decided yet, she keeps dropping hints that she has ideas for the future of the country. “You’ve got to ask people who want to run for anything, but particularly president, what’s your vision? What is your vision for our country, and do you think you can lead us there?” Clinton said at a CNN “town hall” forum.
But if Clinton has a big idea for 2016, the book — all 596 pages of it — is not the place to look for it. Policy experts in the Clinton orbit say that’s not the right way to read the former first lady’s latest tome — it’s mostly a foreign policy memoir, and any hints of other themes, like the advancement of women and climate change, are there to wrap up the issues she has already worked on throughout her career.
But any campaign has to have a big idea it’s wrapped around, and that means Clinton still has to spell one out — assuming she has one in mind.
Okay, calm down. It's actually not necessary for Hillary Clinton to have a big idea to run on yet, because if we recall, she does not have a campaign at the moment. Yes, she still needs to "spell one out," but that's something she has many months to accomplish.
More to the point: Think about what you are writing. The "big idea" is not in her book? Well, no kidding, genius. If there is to be a "big idea," then Hillary Clinton is going to want this subsection of the population called "normal human American registered voters" to know about it. So this is not going to be a thing she puts in Hard Choices. The demographic for Hard Choices is not "normal human American registered voters." It is "people who are huge, huge Hillary Clinton fans" and "reporters who were forced by their editors to read this book." The former group won't need any further "big idea" from Clinton. The latter will have ample opportunity to ridicule it. So all in good time.
Naturally, we have that trademarked Politico moment where the premise of the article is refuted by the reporting of the article:
She may be able to resolve that tension by nodding to both camps, as she did at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week. Clinton sounded a populist tone, saying Americans should “feel they have a stake in the future and that the economy and political system is not stacked against them.” But she also spoke to more general, middle-class anxieties: “Of course, you have to work hard. Of course, you have to take responsibility. But we’re making it so difficult for people who do those things to feel that they’re going to achieve the American dream.”
Dunno guys, but if you're searching for some "big idea," then that seems to be what's colloquially referred to as a "clue."
Of course, that's not the only significant question that's resulted from the book tour. Let's go back to the "First Read" gang, here found going off the rails a wee bit by asking if Clinton should have "delayed her book tour and political re-entry":
One thing is pretty obvious when you look at Hillary Clinton’s fav/unfav scores in our NBC/WSJ poll: Her numbers have come back down to earth since leaving her secretary of state position. In Jan. 2013, her fav/unfav was 56%-25% (+31); in April 2013, it was 56%-29% (+27); in June 2013, it was 49%-31% (+18); in Sept. 2013, it was 51%-31% (+20), in March 2014, it was 44%-34% (+10); in April 2014, it was 48%-32% (+16); and last month after her book tour began, it was 44%-37% (+7). That slight but steady erosion begs the question: If she’s planning a 2016 run, should Clinton have delayed her book tour and political re-entry, given that her numbers would start declining as soon as she was viewed as a more political actor (see the book tour) than as a non-political actor (secretary of state)? On the one hand, that erosion has taken place maybe a bit faster than many had anticipated. On the other hand, with all the early attention on 2016 -- book tour or no book tour -- the numbers were probably going to go down, since the erosion is primarily coming from GOP respondents and right-leaning independents. There’s one other potential plus to the 2014 book tour: She’s answered every question, and has had everyone kick her tires. If you’re going to run, don’t you go ahead and get that out of the way?
Hey, First Read, you guys seem to have not really made up your mind on the matter and have confused your readership for a therapist. But let's break this down: There has been wild speculation about a Clinton run dating back to what, 2011? Even before that? (Like, say, 1996?) And the media has been straight fiending for a taste of what's to come? And now you're worried that it's come too soon?
In other words, this food is bland, and the portions are too small! Well, you guys are the ones who cooked and served it.
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As America has become used to the new landscape of money in politics -- now featuring rampaging, steroidal super PACs running amok in every corner of the country -- you've probably been told one nice little story that's supposed to make you feel better about what would seem to be a campaign finance system shot through with suppurating vice: Candidates and campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with these super PACs because of some awesome legal "firewall." So some purity remains, right?
Ha, well, no. Let's take the once-nascent, now burgeoning Ready For Hillary super PAC, shall we? Back when Ready For Hillary launched, the only concern to be found was among a bunch of unnamed Beltway chatterers who anonymously raised counterintuitive alarms about the Clinton-backing super PAC getting too big, too soon and creating an "air of inevitability" (which was supposed to be bad ... somehow).
But as Mother Jones' Patrick Caldwell reports today, there is a legitimate concern that's actually worth fretting over regarding a "huge campaign finance loophole" that could end up decimating the fiction of the "firewall."
And as it turns out, the "huge campaign finance loophole" in question is a pretty amazing loophole. Its greatness comes from its obviousness: Sure, super PACs cannot nominally "coordinate" with candidates, but what about people who aren't actually candidates yet, huh? What then?
But the situation is worse—or looser—when a super-PAC is assisting someone who is still making up his or her mind about whether to wage a campaign. "How can you issue judgment on whether super-PACs are coordinating with a candidate, when there's not a candidate?" says Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation. "There's nothing, to my knowledge, that prevents [the potential candidate and the super-PAC] from getting together and strategizing and sharing understandings and whatnot." A politician who has not yet declared his candidacy could help a super-PAC round up million-dollar donations to help his future campaign and dodge limits that will apply to contributions made after he officially enters the race.
Despite a book tour that is operating as a proto-presidential campaign, Clinton isn't officially running for president, still claiming that she's making up her mind. "She's not a candidate right now," Noble says, "so if they did coordinate with her right now it wouldn't really matter."
Caldwell goes on to note the example of Ryan Zinke, "a GOPer running for Montana's sole US House seat." See, Zinke actually founded his own super PAC (a generic anti-Obama affair), got it up and running, and then abruptly quit. Shortly thereafter, this super PAC seamlessly shifted its focus to supporting his candidacy. Pretty neat trick, actually!
Ready For Hillary has made a public show of going to extremes to avoid looking like they are in close contact with Clinton. From the beginning, its co-founder, Allida Black, has talked about their "kryptonite firewall" and her willingness to stay at arm's length from the former Secretary of State. All of this is reiterated in Caldwell's piece. The super PAC's communications director, Seth Bringman, shows up in Caldwell's piece insisting that "none of Ready for Hillary's paid staff communicate with Clinton's office." Of course, Caldwell goes on to note that Bringman "couldn't offer the same guarantee for the group's outside advisers, who include many Clinton vets with close ties to Hillaryland."
And how could he? After all, as Maggie Haberman reported back in January, advisers in Clinton's orbit had to step in and help sort out the conflicts between Ready For Hillary PAC and the Priorities USA super PAC, which was then "in discussions to reinvent itself as a pro-Hillary Clinton endeavor." The sorting-out resulted in a peaceable redefinition of everyone's roles, but I guess none dare call this "coordination" (because of the tidy loopholes involved).
Still, let's not get caught in all the 2016-specific michegas. As Caldwell notes, there is a larger problem looming here:
A new study by Daniel Tokaji and Renata Strause at Ohio State University examines what happens behind the scenes with campaign staff, super-PACers, and politicians; it notes that there are already numerous ways campaigns and super-PACs collude. "At the end of the day," one anonymous campaign operative told them, "it's all just kind of a fiction—it's just kind of a farce, the whole campaign finance noncoordination thing."
And that's really how everyone should proceed -- by acknowledging that all the talk of "firewalls" and "noncoordination" is just a bunch of hogwash. Between the "lax enforcement" of the rules and the eternal difficulty inherent in trying to prove a negative, there's no reason in the world to believe that intimate coordination isn't happening. As long as no one makes the mistake of leaving evidence of coordination laying around, no one will get caught.
But your baseline assumption should be that coordination is happening on all levels, especially between parties that aren't meant to be coordinating. That's why Eat The Press' official position on the matter has long been and will continue to be that super PACs and candidates coordinate all the time, and that candidates and their campaigns are always responsible for whatever low-road nonsense their allied super PACs generate. I'm at a complete loss as to why all political journalism doesn't hew to these perfectly obvious assumptions, but there you go.
Naturally, I am girding my loins for two years of super PAC machers angrily emailing me for corrections, all of which I shall gently rebuff with a "¯\_(ツ)_/¯".
READ THE WHOLE THING:
The Huge Campaign Finance Loophole Hillary Clinton Isn't Using—Yet [Mother Jones]
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It's not often that I have the opportunity to read something sensible about deficit mania and the terrors that have followed in its wake, but when I do it's a real relief to the soul. So, in case you missed it over the holiday weekend, here's The Week's Ryan Cooper with an explanation about how the "rapidly falling deficit" has been "an absolute disaster" and President Barack Obama's "single greatest failure."
Cooper's not the first to note that the rapidly falling deficit has been a huge drag on economic recovery. His summation, though, is wonderfully concise: "It means that millions of Americans were kept out of work, that trillions in potential output was flushed down the toilet, and that the American economy was very seriously damaged, probably permanently, for no reason at all."
The big takeaway, however, is that chasing the affections of the Beltway elite is bad for America:
Of course, the situation is not entirely Obama's fault, given the pressure he was under from all sides to lower the deficit. His major failing was threefold: underestimating how dangerous undershooting the stimulus would be (despite being warned at the time), banking on a Grand Bargain to shore up his bipartisan credentials in the run-up to the 2012 election, and failing to understand how irresistible austerity would be to Washington insiders. Think of austerity as a big shiny bag of crystal meth, and D.C. elites as a bunch of jittery speed freaks who haven't had a fix in weeks.
I think that it's safe to say a fourth thing belongs in that mix: blind faith that Congress would do everything in its power to avert disaster when given the choice to make a budget deal or enact the sequestration -- which was designed to be as psychotic a budget remedy as possible, in the hopes that the pure animal fear of doing something so demented to America would guide our Congresscritters on the path of genteel sanity. Guess what, though?
But I digress.
As Alex Pareene is fond of pointing out, the anger of Beltway elites at Obama for not doing more to secure the fabled "Grand Bargain" was one of the most terrifically hilarious phenomena in American politics, because most of the time it seemed like Obama was the only "person in Washington who legitimately, seriously [wanted] one." And Obama chased their favor with the same zeal as the U.S. men's World Cup team chased a second goal against Belgium. Ultimately, 'twas GOP intransigence that killed the Bargain that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nearly wrought, proving that GOP intransigence is, at least, good for something.
Nevertheless, as sure as I know anything, I know this: the austerity meth freaks will never let up in their desire to get some of that sweet, sweet ice in their veins. If you want to know what I'm looking for in a presidential candidate, someone willing to repudiate the Washington Post's editorial board as a danger to humanity would be a pretty good start.
READ THE WHOLE THING:
Obama's greatest failure: The rapidly falling deficit [The Week]
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They said it couldn't be done. Or rather, that it shouldn't be done. But someone went and did it anyway. And now, they are frothing with incandescent anger.
That's the situation we're left with in the aftermath of the runoff election in the Republican Senate primary in Mississippi, where the perceived problem was that long-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran reached out to Democrats and black voters. And the angry parties? Everyone who supported the campaign waged against him by Mississippi state Senator and tea party darling Chris McDaniel, who was defeated in Tuesday's vote.
McDaniel and his camp are still seething over the tactics that Cochran deployed to win the election, which basically amounted to him extending a "For Your Consideration" plea to voters outside the traditional Republican base.
Here's the basic backstory for everyone who quite rightly decided to go on with their lives while everyone in politics was losing their minds over which rock-ribbed conservative was likely to serve in the Senate next year.
Cochran and McDaniel have been involved in one of the most bizarrely venal primary campaigns in recent memory -- and not just because it represented one of those "establishment Republican versus tea party insurgent" sort of races. The peak moment of awfulness came in late spring, when McDaniel "supporters were arrested in connection with allegedly photographing Cochran’s infirm wife in her nursing home room." Why did they do this? Apparently, their brilliant idea was to allege that Cochran was having affairs while his wife lay in a nursing home, suffering from dementia. It wasn't a particularly glorious moment in American politics.
The race proceeded to the primary, and after all the votes were counted, McDaniel took home 49.5 percent of the vote to Cochran's 49.0 percent. It was the presence of a third candidate, telephone installer turned realtor Thomas Carey, that determined the fate of the race. The 4,789 votes he earned were enough to deny anyone a majority, and so by rule, Cochran and McDaniel were headed to a runoff.
McDaniel was heavily favored to win the runoff -- the lion's share of post-primary polling found McDaniel holding 50 percent or more of the respondents. That's when Cochran remembered that the key to winning the election was to have more votes than his opponent, and made the perfectly logical decision to try expanding the electorate. Central to that strategy was to reach out to Mississippi's black voters.
This was an odd fit, to be sure. We're talking about a senator who voted for welfare reform and against the Affordable Care Act. But as Jamelle Bouie noted, the outreach nevertheless made sense, and Cochran wasn't entirely without a case he could present to those voters:
At the same time, Cochran isn't an ideologue, and—during his six terms—has funneled tens of billions in earmarks and funds to Mississippi, propping the state's economy and creating jobs for thousands of his constituents. As the Times notes, Cochran has secured funds for "health centers, historically black colleges and infrastructure," directly and indirectly boosting black communities in the state.
To make a long story short, the strategy worked. And now McDaniel and his supporters are acting as if what went down in Mississippi was some sort of dirty trick.
One thing that does need to be accounted for is that there is a law on the books governing Mississippi's open primary, which reads, "No person shall be eligible to participate in any primary election unless he intends to support the nominations made in which he participates.” The letter of this law may be clear enough, but the spirit of the law is a complete hash. Surely it's not unreasonable for the voters who backed the losing nominee of the GOP primary to vote for the winner. And surely it's not unreasonable for a voter in the GOP primary to approach the general election with an open mind and a willingness to allow the Democratic candidate to make a persuasive case. To say otherwise would be to impale the heart of what campaigns and elections are really all about.
Besides, for black voters (and Democratic voters) in Mississippi, the GOP primary is really their only realistic opportunity to have a hand in the eventual results of the election. There hasn't been a Democratic senator in Mississippi since John C. Stennis retired in 1989. And while Democrats have a reasonably capable candidate in the form of former Rep. Travis Childers, he's polling well behind Cochran at this point. Realistically speaking, this primary was the best opportunity Democrats had to alter their state's destiny. (Besides, the better, more strategic way to cast a vote, in the "Operation Chaos" sense, was to ensure that Childers faced the looser cannon, McDaniel.)
McDaniel partisans will talk about how Cochran was an avatar of "big government," of pork, of pandering. But the question they really should be asking themselves is this: Why didn't they do the same thing? Why didn't they attempt to start a conversation with potentially persuadable voters? It's not like black voters in Mississippi are radioactive. It's not like there was some barrier in the way of McDaniel making his own case to those voters. As near as I can tell, the McDaniel camp just saw those voters as irrelevant at best, not deserving of a conversation at worst.
Not to belabor this point, but holy crap, this is what it says right in the bloody "RNC Growth And Opportunity Project" report:
Similar to the approach it must take with other demographic communities, the RNC must embark on a year-round effort to engage with African American voters. The engagement must include not only persuasion based upon our Party’s principles but also a presence within community organizations. There are numerous outside groups that are studying the best way for the Republican Party to better reach African American voters. The Republican Party should leverage the best practices identified by such organizations. Investing time and resources in African American communities by leveraging best practices of organizations like the Texas Federation for Republican Outreach (an affiliate of the Republican Party of Texas) is essential.
The African American community has a lot in common with the Republican Party, and it is important to share this rich history. More importantly, the Republican Party must be committed to building a lasting relationship within the African American community year-round, based on mutual respect and with a spirit of caring.
Did the McDaniel camp not have Internet access? Do they struggle to read words? The strategy to win the Mississippi primary is right there. What stopped them?
At any rate, now McDaniel and his supporters are left to howl about how they had to pay the price for their unforced errors, whining about how Cochran managed to exploit his history of constituent service and willing engagement with different voting blocs to win the primary. It's an unseemly end to an unseemly primary, but the simple fact of the matter is that the better politician won. And to be honest, it seems to me that the better man won as well.
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As Michael Calderone noted earlier this week, one of the more astounding things that has happened in the wake of the sectarian deterioration and renewed violence in Iraq is that the people whose actions led to these natural, predictable consequences have been reinvited onto your televisions and op-ed pages to offer their opinions as to what needs to be done. You know, as opposed to offering profuse apologies and the promise of penance.
Now [former Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul] Bremer and others who were largely discredited when it comes to Iraq are back in the spotlight, and they're being treated as credible experts on the growing chaos in the country. Iraq is once again in the news because the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, an extremist group, has taken several major cities and set its sights on Baghdad.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who pushed for the Iraq invasion soon after the unrelated 9/11 attacks, appeared Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, one of the most influential media figures to have promoted the war, could be found talking Iraq across the dial on ABC’s “This Week.”
As Calderone notes, there have been instances of modest pushback, but considering that these people compose one of the biggest gangs of galactic failures to ever draw breath, they deserve to be treated, by the media, with at least a soupçon of skepticism -- if not outright scorn.
But we're here to help! Using the Eat The Press telestrator, we have designed true chyrons for these blackguards, so that cable news purveyors can alert their audiences to the meretricious natures of these disgraced former experts. Feel free to use these, you guys! We shall add to these as more bad pennies turn up.
Working hypothesis: no one who stumped for original Iraq invasion gets to give ‘advice’ about disaster now. Or should get listened to.— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) June 13, 2014
In the meantime: people who got the Iraq War right are out there, media! Find them, for once in your dumb lives.
Paul Wolfowitz: David Corn recalls the famous February 2003 hearing in which Wolfowitz insisted "that the United States will not have to maintain [a] large number of troops in Iraq after the war," because there was "no reason to fear Shiite-Sunni bloodshed after a U.S. invasion." At the time, as Corn notes, Wolfowitz demurred on offering a "cost estimate" for the war. On another occasion, however, Wolfowitz famously predicted that Iraq was "a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."
Bill Kristol: Wrongest pundit in the game, son. Broken clocks talk about Kristol to cheer themselves up. He said the conflict in Iraq was going to be a "two-month war." Of Iraq, he said, "On this issue of the Shia in Iraq, I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq’s always been very secular.” And of course, he's best known for predicting that we would be "welcomed in Baghdad as liberators."
L. Paul Bremer: Here's our man in Baghdad, tasked with running the Coalition Provisional Authority and governing the country in the interregnum between the deposition of Saddam Hussein and the administration of Nouri al-Maliki. Bremer basically planted the seeds of dysfunction everywhere he went. By disbanding the Iraqi army, he sent hundreds of thousands of suddenly unemployed fighters running to the nearest insurgency meetup. His "de-Baathification" of Iraq's government bureaucracy accelerated discontent and magnified already entrenched divisions. And he pissed away billions of dollars on top of everything else. Al-Maliki's dysfunctional government probably learned its tricks by watching Bremer.
Douglas Feith: The "f--king stupidest guy on the face of the earth" quote is from Gen. Tommy Franks, as reported by Bob Woodward. This is objectively true. As Chris Suellentrop wrote back in May 2004, Feith was essentially the Iraq War's Zelig of Cock-Ups: "During the buildup to the war, Feith oversaw the two offices that have since been criticized for politicizing intelligence and for inadequately planning for the occupation." The first office, the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Unit, was the Monsanto of bad intelligence. The second, the Office of Special Plans, was in charge of "post-war planning" ... or the lack thereof.
Judith Miller: She shoveled untold mountains of horse manure onto the pages of The New York Times, much of it whispered into her ear by serial Pentagon misinformers and famed Iraq War confidence man Ahmad Chalabi. Now she critiques the media for Fox News, as part of some sort of infernal welfare program for degenerates. The messes she helped create will likely outlive us all.
Thomas Friedman: Among Friedman's contribution to the Iraq fiasco, there is none more famous than the "Friedman Unit." "It equals six months," writes Greg Mitchell, after Friedman's tendency to declare, over and over again, that "things [in Iraq] would likely turn around there if we just give it another six months." Friedman was almost sadistic in his glee for an intervention in Iraq. In one of his most widely mocked statements on the matter, Friedman told Charlie Rose that what the Islamic world "needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house from Basra to Baghdad," saying, "Suck on this." In one of his latest columns for The New York Times, Friedman's amnesia is almost farcical: "The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them -- when they take ownership of reconciliation. Please spare me another dose of: It is all about whom we train and arm ... I'd be very wary about intervening." (The "Readers Picks" of the available comments on that piece are the best journalism the Times has produced so far under Dean Baquet.)
Dick Cheney: Here's someone who has basically parlayed "Get off my lawn" into a career. (But definitely get off his lawn, as he will probably waterboard you.)
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Hillary Clinton has a book out. It's called Hard Choices. It's about hard choices. Lots and lots of hard choices. I did not read this book. Easy choice, really.
Hillary Clinton should not take it personally that I didn't read this book. (Seriously, she should work hard at not taking it personally.) I didn't read this book because it's part of a sub-genre of literature called "I'm thinking about running for president, guess I should write a book," and I don't read those books as a general rule. I didn't read Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope and I didn't read Mitt Romney's No Apology. I passed on all of John McCain's books, even the ones I suspected were pretty good. Someone gave me John Edwards' book a while back and I didn't read it. (Not gonna read it now, either!) Even Tim Pawlenty wrote a book! I think it's titled, I'm Pretty Cavalier About The Brief Time We All Have Together on This Planet.
There are a lot of reasons to not read these books. First of all, some other reporter without much of a life will do it for me. Second, these books don't actually end up mattering in the subsequent elections. In 2012, Romney's No Apology mattered only briefly because of changes to the text between its hardcover debut and its paperback release.
But the most compelling reason to not read these books is because their authors really don't want to write them in the first place. The authors are just ticking off a box on the list of "Things I have to do to become president." As far as those boxes go, writing a book is pretty inoffensive, except maybe to trees. As Salon's Alex Pareene pointed out, two things many Republicans have to do to run for president are to start doubting that evolution is real and to get "openly hostile to climate science." (The trees take this even harder, according to the trees I've talked to.)
So no, Hillary Clinton in all likelihood didn't really want to write Hard Choices. (And I suppose if you want to get technical about it, she didn't.) But that's beside the point, because Hard Choices doesn't actually exist as a piece of literature. It exists solely to serve as the animating circumstance for a preliminary tour of the political press. It's basically a preseason game for Clinton, allowing her to practice facing reporters on a more regular basis. (I realize this is something you probably already know.)
Hillary Clinton has a fairly tortured past with the media. And yes, this is according to the media, who will keep writing about it over and over again until someone places some other stimulus within range of their five senses. But they're not entirely wrong. And they're not wrong when they say Clinton is showing some rust. I don't know why she deserves to be "slammed" for this. That seems extreme! But whatever, the point is, the rust was showing Thursday, when Clinton had an exchange with NPR's Terry Gross about marriage equality that I would charitably characterize as "inexplicable."
Buzzfeed's Chris Geidner has the whole blow-by-blow, so go check that out. To make a long story short, Gross was interested in knowing how and why Clinton came to support, with full throat, marriage equality. Was it something that Clinton always believed in but didn't feel comfortable enunciating, or did she actually change her mind on the matter? As Gross asked, "So, just to clarify, just one more question on this -- would you say your view evolved since the '90s or that the American public evolved, allowing you to state your real view?"
That's a tough question. If you always supported same-sex marriage but didn't feel comfortable articulating it, that raises questions about courage. If you came to support same-sex marriage late, it's reasonable to wonder whether you regretted the period of time when you didn't. It's a hard choice! But it doesn't have to be a complicated choice. Unfortunately for Clinton, she spent seven minutes attempting to find a third way (or if you will, a Third Way) to answer the question. Gross ended up understandably confused, attested to that confusion, and then the whole exchange devolved into an unnecessary row.
Here's a pro tip. The best answer to this question is, of course, the truthful one. That said, if you need a "politically safe" answer, then you should go with, "Once I got to thinking about the issue, and considering other perspectives, I came to change my mind."
That might be hard for Clinton to admit, because during the period of time from not supporting marriage equality to supporting marriage equality, her husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. But on the other hand, if you want to demonstrate a bit of the old "common touch," this is a fine way to answer the question because this is literally how millions of normal human beings came to support marriage equality: They were uncomfortable about it, maybe even against it, but they came to think about it more and eventually changed their minds. This is how Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) got there, and when he arrived, he did so extremely eloquently.
The good news, for Clinton, is that none of this is ultimately going to matter. Voters aren't tuning in to the 2016 preseason pageantry. The only people who care about this stuff, besides political reporters with little to do, are the people who operate within the "shadow primary" -- big political donors and influential political elites. And they're not seeing anything from Clinton that's going to create a stampede in the direction of, say, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. The worst thing they're seeing is that Clinton needs to get some of that polish back before the stakes get high. From their perspective, this ersatz book tour for this ersatz book is serving a necessary purpose.
Clinton and her affiliated allies and assistants would probably benefit from hewing to that purpose with some amount of zeal before we enter the stage of the election when voters really are paying attention. Then, Clinton will have to be able to not commit unforced errors in interviews with NPR hosts. Media Matters will have to remember to not turn those unforced errors into two-day stories. Clinton spokesman Phillipe Reines is going to have to learn how to calm down and just let some stuff slide. (Like, even just let ONE thing slide.)
These are some easy choices, but hey, we're all a little rusty.
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On October 21, 2011, The New York Times reported on President Barack Obama's announcement that "the last American soldier would leave Iraq by the end of this year." Not everyone agreed with the decision, but it had its supporters. Like, say, this guy:
O decision on Iraq is right one. I was open 2 staying if he made the case it wld help w Iran, but Iraq war is over. It's time— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) October 21, 2011
It was time! And at that time, people fully understood the risks of entrusting the future of Iraq to Nouri al-Maliki's government. (Or at least they should have.) The point is, even some of the hawks were ready to ghost out of Mesopotamia. But let's flash-forward to today, for funsies:
Regardless of what anyone thinks of going into Iraq in 2002, it's a tragedy that the successes of the 2007 surge have been lost & abandoned.— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) June 13, 2014
This just goes to show that it will probably never be time to acknowledge that what's playing out in Iraq right now is only the natural consequence of invading and occupying the country in the first place. At this point, you might as well cue up Ted Leo's "The Ballad Of The Sin Eater" and dance like nobody's watching.
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On Monday, we learned that Washington, D.C.'s National Football League team had hired a group of lobbyists -- specifically, McGuireWoods Consulting -- to help it in its continually inane public relations battle to keep its racist name. The move raised a lot of questions, such as, "Is this a referendum on Lanny Davis' ability as a crisis consultant?" and "McGuireWoods Consulting knows that they don't have to take everybody's money, right?"
Well, perhaps Dan Snyder, who owns Washington's football team, needs all the help he can get. During Tuesday night's broadcast of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, California's Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation will be running a brutally effective ad that unifies a nation of Native Americans and pretty much settles the debate over whether anything that's not a potato would be "honored" to be called a "redskin."
According to The Washington Post's Theresa Vargas, this ad "will air in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Sacramento, San Francisco and Washington." Those in Miami who tuned in to watch Game 2 of the Finals already saw the spot during halftime.
The ad runs at a time when both the pressure being applied to Snyder to change the team's name is intensifying and Snyder's responses are proving to be more hapless. Toward the end of May, 50 U.S. senators sent NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a letter urging him to show some character and endorse a name change. Snyder's crack PR team added to their list of super-genius moves by initiating a hashtag campaign on Twitter against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It did not go as planned!
On top of all that, one of the central myths that had underpinned the idea that "redskin" is an honorific fell apart in recent weeks. As ThinkProgress' Travis Waldron reported at the end of May, a 1933 Associated Press interview with the team's founding owner, George Preston Marshall, revealed that the team did not, in fact, change its name from "Braves" to the slur it currently uses to "honor" William "Lone Star" Dietz. (By the way, Lone Star Dietz: not a Native American!)
As Marshall told AP some 80 years ago, "So much confusion has been caused by our football team wearing the same name as the Boston National League baseball club ... that a change appeared to be absolutely necessary. The fact that we have in our head coach, Lone Star Dietz, an Indian, together with several Indian players, has not, as may be suspected, inspired me to select the name Redskins."
So Marshall actually went out of his way to let people know that he wasn't "honoring" any Native Americans with the team's name. He clearly didn't want any confusion on that regard. Though, let's face it, the fact that he gave his team a racial slur as a name was probably a pretty good clue.
READ THE WHOLE THING:
Anti-Redskins ad to air during NBA Finals [Washington Post]
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In just a few days, the eyes of the sporting world will be on Brazil, where the world’s finest soccer teams (and also Australia) will gather in the South American nation for the 2014 World Cup. And upon its conclusion in mid-July, Brazil will begin a sprint to make Rio de Janeiro ready to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
But while earning the right to host two of the international sporting world’s marquee events in such rapid succession may seem like a boon for Brazil on the surface, it might make more sense to have considerable concern. After all, that’s an awful long period of time for one nation to spend in the company of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). While these two organizations front as generous cultural elites bringing the light of peace and economic health to the world through athletic competitions, they are actually gangs of blackguards, as corrupt as they come.
In recent months, the long-whispered nature of these organizations is finally, in a number of ways, starting to be spoken of more loudly. And fissures in their relationships to a world of sports fans and the nations in which they reside are starting to form. International sports is having a moment, and it’s not a moment of glory. Unless you imagine a pack of humiliated jackals stewing in their own graft and incompetence to be somehow glorious.
That FIFA and the IOC are vice-ridden gangs is well documented. Back in 2006, Scottish investigative reporter Andrew Jennings shone a harsh light on FIFA’s double-dealing in reporting that went on to form the basis of a 2006 Panorama special titled “The Beautiful Bung: Corruption and the World Cup,” and a book, Foul!: The Secret World of Fifa: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals. Jennings subsequently migrated to exposing the IOC for similar degeneracy. Returning to FIFA in his most recent publication, 2014’s Omerta, Jennings says that “the leadership of FIFA, under Brazil’s João Havelange and now Sepp Blatter, tick all the boxes defining an Organised Crime Syndicate.”
Outside of the media that exists within the Sports-Entertainment-Corporate Branding Complex, no one even questions the notion that these organizations are packed with petty thugs and grifters. In 2012, Chris Lehmann wrote a piece for New York magazine that described the extent to which the IOC had become a “mobbed-up oligarchy” stuck on an infinite loop of defilement:
[Belgian Count Jacques] Rogge was groomed as the successor to the Games’s long-running chieftain Don Juan Antonio Samaranch y Torelló, First Marquis of Samaranch, Grandee of Spain, a former sporting official with the fascist government of Francisco Franco who managed to reinvent himself as a global ambassador of sport with the large-scale financial backing of Adidas shoe mogul Horst Dassler. Mr. Samaranch oversaw a stunning litany of corruption in his two decades on the job -- encouraging influence peddling, arranging sinecures for family members and cronies of committee members, and padding the I.O.C. board with fellow authoritarians and baksheesh impresarios. In his more expansive moments, Samaranch would also grace vicious dictators like Romania’s Nicolae Ceacescu with awards for their alleged contributions to international sport. When an HBO interviewer confronted Mr. Samaranch on this latter trespass, he curtly replied that he was “very proud” of Ceaucescu’s garland, adding that the I.O.C.’s judgment was not to be questioned because “we are more important than the Catholic religion.”
FIFA has always found itself knee-deep in the same brackish waters as the IOC. In Lehman’s piece, he describes how former FIFA head Joao Havelange, having landed with the IOC, washed out with that organization after he became enmeshed in a massive bribery scandal. Also enmeshed: Current FIFA head Sepp Blatter. But as Jennings reported for The Nation earlier this year, Blatter managed to survive that scandal. He shows up in Jennings’ piece posing in a picture with another crowd of “mobbed-up oligarchs,” the current gang running the IOC.
FIFA is back in the news this week due to a Sydney Morning Herald story that described how former President Bill Clinton, the honorary chairman of the U.S. bid for the 2022 World Cup, was so angry at FIFA’s decision to award the cup to Qatar that upon returning to his hotel room, “he reached for an ornament on a table and threw it at a wall mirror in a fit of rage, shattering the glass.”
Clinton, the honorary chairman of the US bid, had wheeled out such big-hitters as Brad Pitt, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Morgan Freeman and Spike Lee to add lustre to the US Soccer Federation bid. Australia and Japan's bids had seemed the biggest threat, but few had seriously entertained the idea that Qatar, a footballing desert, could win.
"Clinton was fuming," said one well-placed source. "He felt humiliated and felt the decision did not make sense."
Obviously, the game has changed from that time that a World Cup-bidding nation could simply flatter FIFA’s ruling grandees with exclusive access to Benjamin Button -- something that obviously caught Clinton by surprise. Also surprising: The fact that the eventual winner was soccer mediocrity and stadium-bereft Qatar, a nation whose standard, desert temperatures stand out as a solid argument against staging an international soccer tournament. According to a bombshell report from the Sunday Times, Qatar managed to secure the cup thanks to, among other things, $5 million in bribes funneled to various officials by former FIFA VP Mohammed Bin Hammam. (The Times piece is subscription-only; here’s a summary from the BBC.)
It’s worth noting that at the time FIFA decided to award the cup to Qatar, the group's 24-member executive committee was down to 22 members because “two members were caught trying to sell their votes to undercover journalists.” And in the wake of the Sunday Times’ allegations, FIFA has floated the notion that it might call backsies: “If corruption is proven,” said the obviously hopeful FIFA VP Michel Platini, “it will take a new vote and sanctions.”
An enraged Bill Clinton going on a tchotchke-hurling rampage over losing the chance to host a soccer tournament is a strange thing to imagine. (For what it’s worth, a Clinton spokesperson has denied the part of this report where he gives a hotel mirror a Dean Baquet-style thrashing.) Of all the places that some international grifters could have established a Marvel Team-Up, international sports would seem to be a fairly safe space. It’s not exactly the flamboyant debauch of the global petrochemical industry that Ken Silverstein describes in his book, The Secret World Of Oil. This is just sports, right? As Grantland’s Brian Phillips remarks about l’affaire Qatar, “there’s something deeply silly about many of the organization’s Machiavellian twists.”
But Qatar’s misadventures in gearing up for the 2022 World Cup are proving to be far from silly. In fact, if the nation's World Cup bid has accomplished anything, it’s been to shine a light on the lives of the migrant workers who toil in destitution in the oil-rich nation. In a pair of stories, the Guardian reports that 400 Nepalese workers and over 500 Indian workers have died in Qatar’s rush to build the infrastructure necessary for the World Cup. Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky follows on:
Together, those two countries provide an estimated 38 percent of the 1.2 million migrant workers currently in Qatar, so you do the math—our headline wouldn't have been out of place in using "thousands."
It is impossible to say how many of the deaths are directly related to stadium construction -- though the Guardian's analysis of official lists suggest that "more than two-thirds died of sudden heart failure or workplace accidents." (Heart failure is a catch-all cause of death that human rights organizations believe is used to cover up more sinister explanations.)
It’s not known if Bill Clinton has destroyed any additional hotel furniture as a result of these reports.
Even if we excuse these circumstances as unique to Qatar, it’s important to remember how things like the World Cup and the Olympics are sold -- as a booming tide of potential restorative economic growth for the hosts. As The Nation’s Dave Zirin told Amy Goodman, “The problem is that first [former President of Brazil Luiz Inácio] Lula [da Silva] and then [current President] Dilma [Rousseff] told the country very explicitly that the World Cup was not just going to be a soccer tournament; it was going to walk hand in hand with even more developments, more money, more employment, more opportunity for people.”
As Al Jazeera reported, the reality is quite different:
Many in Brazil's middle class are unhappy with the effects the World Cup has already had on their lives. The cost of living has risen in the cities hosting the games, traffic jams have worsened, and a construction boom aimed at improving urban mobility has only compounded problems, they say.
But it is the poorest Brazilians who have borne the brunt of the World Cup preparations. According to the Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics, a group opposed to how the games' preparations have been handled, 250,000 people across Brazil have been forcefully removed from their houses or are being threatened with eviction. Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre are the most affected cities, it says.
Marli Nascimento's family and 117 others had been living in the low-income Parque Sao Francisco area in the town of Camaragibe, just outside of Recife, for more than 60 years. Between February 2013 and March 2014, her whole community was levelled to make room for a highway leading to Arena Pernambuco stadium, where Germany, Italy, Mexico, Japan and the US teams will play.
And the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins notes that this is par for the course:
Fifa's claim is that host countries benefit from its blessings. The audit on South Africa's 2010 World Cup showed it cost the taxpayers £3bn for a return of £323m and an economic slump. This month's extravaganza in Brazil, which was pledged to cost the ill-resourced country nothing, has seen state spending on stadiums alone of £2bn, with another £9bn on infrastructure. Qatar is reputed to be spending a staggering £120bn. These sums for a brief sporting festival are obscene, whoever is paying.
It’s even more obscene when you consider that very little of what Qatar is spending on the World Cup is slotted to budget line items like, “keeping construction workers alive.”
The Olympics, of course, are sold in similar “you’ll benefit from our blessings” fashion, and the promises typically prove to be just as false. As Robert A. Baade and Victor Matheson write in their study, “Bidding For The Olympics: Fools Gold?”: “Diverting scarce capital and other resources from more productive uses to the Olympics very likely translates into slower rates of economic growth than that which could be realized in the absence of hosting the Olympic Games.”
Back when Lehmann penned his indictment of the IOC, it looked for all the world as if this lesson would never be learned. In his piece, University of Toronto sociology professor Helen Lenskyj offers this downcast assessment: “The typical pattern in host cities is steep cost overruns ... But the organizations sponsoring the event never learn from that experience.”
That may be changing. Deadspin’s Petchesky reported last week that at the moment, the IOC is having a hard time finding a taker for the 2022 Winter Games, and it would seem that the chief reason is that people have wised up. Voters put the kibosh on Switzerland’s bid back in March 2013. Later that year, voters in Germany did the same. This past week, Polish voters followed suit. And the new governing coalition in Sweden offered a pretty blunt account as to why they pulled out of the bidding process: “Arranging a Winter Olympics would mean a big investment in new sports facilities, for example for the bobsleigh and luge ... There isn't any need for that type of that kind of facility after an Olympics."
Petchesky goes on to note that two of the four remaining bids are “in bad shape.” Public sentiment is shifting quickly against the bid of Oslo, Norway. And the last Winter Games host, Russia, having imposed new stratospheric benchmarks for Olympics-related spending on everyone else, has compounded this problem by -- and you may have heard something about this! -- invading Ukraine, which has pretty well imperiled Lviv’s bid for 2022. That leaves China and Caspian petrochemical dictatorship Kazakhstan as the only two contenders not staggered by circumstance or public opposition. As Petchesky summarizes: “When actual citizens are allowed to have a say, they say they don't want the Olympics.”
In Brazil, something never thought possible is happening: The people there have turned against the World Cup. Demonstrations have been a common occurrence for well over a year. Brazil’s national team has even been the focus of protests. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that no one’s even pretending that the cup is going to provide some sort of economic benefit. How could they? Those empty promises now live on as unfinished infrastructure projects the dot the nation’s landscape.
It’s not like Brazilians have lost their love for the game. In fact, their soccer mania has been put to higher purpose, rechanneled as the fuel for populist demonstration in the form of La Copa Popular (“The People’s Cup”). Featuring players from Brazil’s notoriously destitute favelas, it’s an idea that’s been re-adopted after it was first launched in South Africa.
Here in America, the tipping point reached by these reprobate international organizations has not gone unnoticed. As Simon Jenkins notes, “American soccer authorities, to their credit, have said they will not bid for any tournaments until FIFA is reformed.” And this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Big Apple was not going to bid for the 2024 Olympics. Considering the fact that staging an Olympic Games would have been wholly antithetical to his goal of making working-class New Yorkers more prosperous, it had to have been one of the easiest decisions he’s yet faced.
None of this is to say that the world needs to give up on international sports, or that anyone should disparage the athletes who participate in them. Even Brazil’s La Copa Popular participants plan on watching their national team play. They just won’t be bought off for the slim price of getting to watch Neymar’s heroics up close. Simon Jenkins has urged Britain to lead the way in establishing a new, more virtuous governing body for international soccer. Mark Perryman, in his book, Why the Olympics Aren't Good for Us, and How They Can Be, lays out a way that the Olympics can be truer to their humanitarian rhetoric. And the more that participating officials demand reform from international organizers of these events, the sooner we’ll have athletic competitions in which we can all take pride. Until that day, however, we need to be less innocent to the fact that FIFA and the IOC have simply become havens for scoundrels, and more aware of the fact that their panglossian promise of economic benefit is nothing but a con.
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Earlier this week, we learned that America has a hurricane name problem. Specifically, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that people tend to show insufficient fear in the face of a hurricane if the hurricane has a feminine name. And when people don't take a hurricane seriously because its name reminds them of their nice aunt or that woman at the organic market who you've been working up the nerve to ask out, the consequences are deadly. This is science, folks!
Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to gender, spanning 1950 and 2012. Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities. (The study excluded Katrina and Audrey, outlier storms that would skew the model.)
These researchers also found that really feminine names yielded many more fatalities than very masculine names. As the study says, "[Our] model suggests that changing a severe hurricane's name from Charley ... to Eloise ... could nearly triple its death toll.” This calls out for a solution, one that doesn't put a whole gender on the spot for not being sufficiently scary. What we need to do, as a hyper-connected society, is mine the available zeitgeist for the most unambiguously frightening names possible.
Thankfully for humanity, The Huffington Post's own in-house solutioneers are on the case. In the video above, Zach Carter and I unleash our ids in an effort to generate as many psychological-terror-inducing names for hurricanes as we can in under 60 seconds.
The results were, as they say, "mixed!"
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Dig, if you will, a picture: You're alone, in an unfamiliar place. In your possession, you have something that -- according to what you've heard -- a lot of people enjoy consuming, but of which you are reluctant to partake. Steeling your nerves, you allow yourself a taste and, as it seems to go well at first, you devour a bigger portion. That was your mistake! Suddenly you find yourself experiencing a sensation of vertigo and nausea. You wonder if somehow the world is out to get you, as every memory of yourself and the life you thought you knew is sucked out to sea on a hallucinatory eddy.
For years, this was how one would describe the sensation of reading a Maureen Dowd column. Now, however, it describes the process of actually writing one.
Yes, it seems that Maureen Dowd schlepped out to Colorado back in January to partake of the local, newly legal wares, specifically a marijuana candy bar, and it did not go well for her:
But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn't move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn't answer, he'd call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.
I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.
Oh, my stars and garters! Well, the next day, a nice "medical consultant at an edibles plant" told her that she wasn't supposed to eat the whole thing, and that "candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices." Dowd notes that the label of the candy bar offered no advice to that effect. Of course, Dowd is ostensibly a journalist, so it's hard to fathom why she didn't show more curiosity and ask more questions about the substance she was going to put in her body for the first time.
Had she done so, all of this could have been avoided. Alternatively, a little common sense might have helped as well. As the National Cannabis Industry Association's Taylor West tweeted last night:
If @NYTDowd drank a handle of whiskey and ended up in the ER, would anyone consider a column blaming Jack Daniels credible?— Taylor West (@Taylor_West) June 4, 2014
Nevertheless, her bad experience five months ago was basically all in the service of the column she wanted to write, which frets about the kinks that Colorado's legal weed industry has to work out in order to assure safety standards. These worries are not unfounded -- that's why the Times' Jack Healy wrote a story titled "After 5 Months of Sales, Colorado Sees the Downside of a Legal High" earlier this week.
Dowd actually cites this piece in her column, which is largely given over to re-reporting Healy's piece after the fact -- whilst adding a toxic dose of concern-trolling.
And that concern-trolling is actually well past its sell-by date. Because it turns out, a lot has transpired in the state of Colorado during the five months that it apparently took Dowd to process this experience. Most importantly, the state has begun to implement a lot of regulatory measures to bring safety to this marketplace. Dowd attests to this in her column:
Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Legislature recently created a task force to come up with packaging that clearly differentiates pot cookies and candy and gummy bears from normal sweets -- with an eye toward protecting children -- and directed the Department of Revenue to restrict the amount of edibles that can be sold at one time to one person. The governor also signed legislation mandating that there be a stamp on edibles, possibly a marijuana leaf. (Or maybe a stoned skull and bones?)
The state plans to start testing to make sure the weed is spread evenly throughout the product. The task force is discussing having budtenders give better warnings to customers and moving toward demarcating a single-serving size of 10 milligrams.
Would that governments were as interested in regulating other dangerous industries -- like, say, "coal mining" and "banking" -- as thoroughly!
Also making an appearance in Dowd's column is a man named Bob Eschino, who owns a company that makes THC oil-infused edibles. He tells Dowd that "since pot goodies leave the dispensary in childproof packages, it is the parents' responsibility to make sure their kids don't get hold of it."
Bob Eschino is 100 percent correct! Still, perhaps more needs to be done to protect New York Times columnists from the effects of their poor impulse control. In the meantime, the legal weed industry brought in "nearly $22 million from marijuana taxes, licenses, and fees" so far this fiscal year, so I say praise the Lord and pass the vaporizer.
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Chris Christie's year has been more than a little bit tough, what with "Bridgegate" and its attendant melodramas. But one thing he's got going for him is that, frankly, dude's been looking much healthier lately. A seemingly successful lap band surgery and healthier living have helped Christie shed some of the weight that made him a target of every cheap-shot artist in the pundit-sphere. But precisely how much weight has Christie lost? This wasn't a question I thought anyone would find particularly necessary to answer, at least until this morning, when Politico did this:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appears to have shed as many as 85 pounds since his lap-band surgery last year and looks to be down to a healthier 230-something weight, according to experts.
After a constituent remarked about the governor’s noticeably slimmed-down physique at a town hall meeting last week, POLITICO asked two experts to estimate the governor’s weight loss by comparing several pictures of him from 2011 with recent photos.
Yes, in today's "Huh, what now?" moment in political journalism, Politico actually called up "experts" to do a round of "Guess Your Weight" -- you know, that game that is popular with carnival-folk? The good news, I guess, is that for once, the sources are not anonymous. The bad news is that "Dr. Jessica Barfield, a doctor of internal medicine specializing in nutrition and weight management at Loyal Medicine’s Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care in Melrose, Ill." and "Dr. David L. Katz, a director at the Prevention Research Center at Yale University’s School of Medicine" -- who were literally shown before and after photos and asked to hazard a guess about Christie's weight -- obviously have way too much time on their hands.
Why couldn't Politico just call up Chris Christie's office and ask? I don't know? Maybe they don't know anyone in Christie's office. Anyway, these "experts" are guessing that Christie has lost somewhere around 85 pounds. Scoop, if true! I'm sorry that we don't have peer-reviewed scientific consensus on this issue.
The larger question, however is this: Isn't the "Hey I thought I'd call a couple random doctors and get them to guess how much weight Chris Christie lost" pitch something that an editor is supposed to immediately shoot down? Because I would have shot this pitch down.
As the 2014 midterms approach, the billionaire industrialists and politically conservative uber-donors known as the Koch Brothers continue to loom large in our political discourse. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has famously targeted Charles and David Koch with his ire, and prominent Democrats have labored to cast the pair as the King Bad Boogeymen of the post-Citizens United era. And while this effort has birthed some unintended consequences, it's not been a purposeless endeavor: As Dave Weigel reported back in March, Democratic fundraising emails that mention the Kochs tend to yield a good deal more loot than those that don't.
So, for better or for worse, Koch Industries will continue to be a flashpoint for all manner of political rows. But if it's not too much to ask, can we all make sure that we're talking about the right Koch Industries?
For example, there is a Koch Industries in Golden Valley, Minnesota, and everyone needs to know that this is not the Koch Industries you are looking for, OK? Evidently, confusion with the more famous Kochs has been something of a constant problem for the Minnesota company, to the point where on most of its websites, it's had to publish a disclaimer that reads:
To our valued customers and visitors: In response to numerous inquiries, we wish to advise that we are not in any way associated, related, affiliated nor a part of the much larger "Koch Industries, Inc." located in Wichita, Kansas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koch_industries). We are likewise not associated in any way with its principal owners, brothers David H. Koch or Charles G. Koch, or any of their political activities or entities.
Yes, it seems people call this Koch Industries (which is pronounced "cook," by the way), believing they are contacting the other Koch Industries (pronounced "coke"), all the time. According to my colleague Zach Carter, who was recently one such caller, Koch ("Cook") Industries was even targeted in 2012 by protestors, who had shown up at the wrong place to yell at the wrong people.
Here's a pro-tip: If you're going to rustle up a posse of people to shout "Do you know who you work for?" at a building, you should first make sure you know the answer to that question yourself.
Obviously, it's natural to have some momentary confusion. "Koch ('Cook') Industries" is, after all, a homonym of "Koch ('Coke') Industries." And funnily enough, "Koch ('Cook') Industries," like "Koch ('Coke') Industries," involves a set of "Koch Brothers." But that's where the similarities end. Koch ("Cook") Industries was founded by Randy, Dave and Jim Koch. They make chains and ropes and tarps and tools and farm accessories, some of which you might encounter at your local hardware store. They also run a trucking company and a logistics business. They have a nice thing going on! They provide a lot of goods and services to hardworking people. But they are not a cabal of scary political puppetmasters.
Koch-as-in-Cook Industries is not the only company that people have mixed up with the more notorious Koch Brothers and their corporate concern. There is also an Iowa company named "Koch Brothers Office Supplies," and back in April 2011, Justin Rohrlich at the financial news site Minyanville reported that the Iowa Kochs were being mis-targeted by similarly confused people:
The rich-as-hell Kochs (as opposed to the in-all-likelihood-fairly-well-off Kochs) have inspired deep, feverish emotions on either end of the political spectrum. And [owner Dutch] Koch ... tells the Des Moines Register that, since the beginning of the year, he’s received "at least 20 emails and 15 calls from confused protesters" who do not agree with the other Koch brothers' conservative (and heavily-publicized) political views.
“I initially thought it was humorous to be confused with a multibillionaire,” he said -- but then a death threat was left on his answering machine, which the FBI traced to a California man who has apparently never heard of, much less used, Google, Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine untold numbers of four year-olds have mastered.
I really shouldn't have to say this, but here goes: Don't send death threats to any Koch Brother. Don't send death threats to anyone, in fact. The whole "sending death threats to people" thing is just not a good look, okay?
At any rate -- please, everyone, know your Kochs. Stop calling the wrong ones on the phone. Hit up the Google before you schlep out to protest. Visit these various websites and make a note of everyone's branding and logos. That way, if you encounter Koch Industries hardware or Koch Brothers office supplies in the wild, you won't work yourself into an unnecessary dudgeon. Let's make things easier and nicer for that subset of the world's Kochs who are neither the people at whom you are angry or the people from whom you are seeking tens of millions of dollars in political boodle.
Think we can do that? Okay, great talk, guys.
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