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Jason Linkins   |   July 30, 2015    1:30 PM ET

So, that happened. On this week's podcast, we game out the survival strategy for the 17 GOP candidates who hope to succeed in August's debate, check in on the progress Congress has made on the highway funding bill, and note the irony of Phil Gramm returning to Washington to testify against Dodd-Frank. 
 
Listen to this week's "So That Happened" podcast below:

 * * *

Some highlights from this week:

"I don't think they'll ever make it past this cut-off. ... It establishes them as being underdogs, but they're not even underdogs at the big table debate." — Lauren Weber on the tremendous disadvantage that participants in the GOP's "losers bracket" debate will face on the road to the 2016 nomination

"The [Society] of American Civil Engineers said that it costs the economy $101 billion by just having people sitting on the roads all the time in congestion ... that's just money lost because of how poorly the roads are and the constant congestion." — Laura Barron-Lopez on the back-of-the-envelope costs of not having an adequately maintained highway system

"The reason AIG [failed] is that ... regulators were prohibited from taking a look at these things called credit-default swaps. And the man who wrote the legislation saying you couldn't do that was....?" —Zach Carter prompts the panel for the correct answer, Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), who came to Washington this week to complain about financial regulation

* * * 

This podcast was produced and edited by Adriana Usero and engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you're there, please subscribe, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost Podcasts here.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience!

Jason Linkins   |   July 28, 2015    5:10 PM ET


Over at The Hill, Mike Lillis has the story on how the proposed $15 minimum wage is dividing Democrats, in a piece auspiciously titled, "$15 minimum wage divides Democrats." The article describes how the hike to $15 is being pushed hard by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), even as many prominent party leaders, fearful of the warnings from some economists that such an increase would have an adverse effect on unemployment, are pushing for a more modest boost. Hence, the division.


One of those voices, stoking those fears of unemployment, is presented in the piece like so:



A former CBO director said this week that a hike to $15 per hour would eliminate “many more jobs … because it would cut much further into the distribution of wages.”


 “The effect is not linear, it rises much faster,” said the ex-CBO chief, who requested anonymity.



Wait a minute. A former Congressional Budget Office director requested anonymity? That's all well and good, but the problem is that there are only 13 humans on the planet who can lay claim to the title of "former CBO director." Which means we get to play, "Who is this anonymous human: the fun process-of-elimination game," and find out which former CBO director maybe forgot to request to be referred as an "anonymous former government economist" instead.


It's very possible that Lillis even wants someone to try their hand at this, so why not?


We'll start by making a couple of generous, speculative assumptions. First, we're going to assume that Lillis would not attempt to pass off a former "acting" director of the CBO off as a "former CBO director." While this does sort of seem like something some media organizations might do, it would be a little inaccurate and a slight disservice to readers. Proper CBO directors are appointed by the speaker of the House and the president pro-tempore of the Senate, in consultation with the House and Senate budget committees, so there's just more meaning to the title when its earned by appointment.


We'll also basically assume that the two former CBO directors who are quoted on the record in the piece (Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Alice Rivlin) are not the former CBO director who has been granted anonymity. Though this happens sometimes! Often enough, in fact, that I considered it as a possibility. But here's Holtz-Eakin:



Conducted by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who headed the CBO from 2003 to 2005, the report found that a wage hike to $15 would transfer an additional $105 billion to low-wage workers, but less than 7 percent of the money would benefit those living in poverty. Meanwhile, 6.6 million jobs would be eliminated.


 “The CBO said this was a misdemeanor,” Holtz-Eakin said Monday by phone, referring to the CBO’s 2014 report. “Why would you commit a felony? It’s just not a good idea.”



And here's Rivlin:



Alice Rivlin, the CBO’s founding director, suggested the cautious approach from Democratic leaders is well advised.


 “I think $15 is too big a jump,” she said, though emphasizing her “excitement” with the move toward a $15 wage in certain high-income localities such as New York, Seattle and Portland. Those experiments, she said, will give Congress a better idea how to move on the federal level, and that, along with a hike in the earned income tax credit, would help improve the post-recession economy.


Sanders, Rivlin added, is “doing a service being out there” promoting the $15 wage hike, which might make a smaller wage hike easier to accomplish.



It would be weird for Rivlin to be cheering the politics of the $15 minimum wage hike in one breath, while characterizing it anonymously as a job-killer in the next. That sort of disassociation would be too much for most reporters to just allow to pass without interceding -- it's essentially allowing a source to lie to one's readers.


As far as Holtz-Eakin goes, usually what happens in the "on-the-record one minute, off-the-record the next" game is the source says something temperate while on the record, and drops bombs under cover of anonymity. In this case, Holtz-Eakin's quoted criticism of the wage hike is stronger than the anonymous criticism, so there'd be no real point to for Holtz-Eakin to play that game.


Like I said, these are some generous assumptions, but let's eliminate Holtz-Eakin and Rivlin. Let's also eliminate Douglas Elmendorf and June O'Neill, because both are already on the record in supporting the notion that raising the minimum wage adversely affects employment. O'Neill said as much on a 2006 broadcast of "PBS Newshour," and Elmendorf was the focus of a grueling political fight after his CBO's analysis of a $10.10 hike in the minimum wage would "lead to a decrease in total employment." Neither have any real reason to be coy about their position now.


If all of this speculation is correct, that leaves us with four possible contenders for the anonymous "former CBO director": Dan Crippen, Peter Orszag, Rudolph Penner, and Robert Reischauer. And here's where we have to start considering why someone would choose to be cited anonymously in this piece, for making what could be considered in the context of this debate to be a fairly innocuous evocation of a fairly standard position among some economists. And the general reason you'd be off the record in this situation basically boils down to, "It would be something of a controversy/embarrassment if my name were attributed to this statement."


Penner and Reischauer both have worked for the Urban Institute (Reischauer was its president for 12 years), a think tank that has fostered a lively and accepting debate on the minimum wage. It's fairly unlikely that either man, having ascended to the Kennelly–Heaviside layer of obscure wonks at this stage of their careers, would be reticent to put their name to their opinions. Who's going to be offended or embarrassed?


It's possible that Crippen, who is the current executive director of the National Governors Association, would want to be anonymous on this matter, if only to keep his personal opinion from being attributed to the association. But it's worth pointing out that Crippen has, in the past, been only too happy to cut against orthodox opinion -- he's a Reagan appointee who's alienated supply-siders by taking a dim view of dynamic scoring.


That's why my money is on Orszag, the Citigroup chairman and Bloomberg columnist from the plutocrat wing of the Democratic party, who probably subscribes to the idea that a $15 minimum wage increase would be bad, but who'd rather not have his name attached to headlines that might inject something screwball into the contest to determine his former boss' successor.


Also, it's just more likely that Lillis, having covered so many stories that intersect with Orszag's policy career -- like Obamacare implementation! -- would have Orszag's phone number at the ready, as opposed to a bunch of obscure bureaucrats from the '80s and '90s.


But, as this is purely a game of speculation, I'm prepared to be wrong about all of this! The one guy who is officially off the hook in this regard is former acting CBO head Edward Gramlich, who died in 2007. Of course, if this quote was from Gramlich, what a buried lede: The Hill opens up metaphysical communication with the afterlife. (Wow, of all the questions to ask Gramlich, too!)


UPDATE: 7:55 p.m. -- And Peter Orszag says I lose all my money!


 




 

I was feeling pretty good about that one, alas. Okay then, my next guess is Dan Crippen. We'll get through all the remaining plausible possibilities in fairly short order, I imagine.

Jason Linkins   |   July 23, 2015    4:11 PM ET

So, that happened. On this week's podcast, we look back on Elizabeth Warren ripping apart a rip-off artist from Primerica, break down the latest effort to pass a highway funding bill, and explain why a former NSA chief is talking to a bunch of fruit growers. 
 
Listen to this week's "So That Happened" podcast below:

 * * * 

Some highlights from this week:

“If you’re a financial professional and you’re making $6,000 a year, something is wrong. If you are a client of a financial professional who makes $6,000 a year, that is probably not the right adviser for you.”  Zach Carter on the lose/lose nature of Primerica 

 

“It’s a bit rocky. There are some roadblocks.” — Laura Barron-Lopez on the fate of the Highway Trust Fund 

 

“So if we’re not gonna raise the gas tax, how are these guys creatively coming up with ways to even fund the trust fund?" 

"They went into their offices in the Senate and started looking under the cushions of their couches. "

"Don’t they mostly find hard candy and parts of their old dentures?"

"That’s basically what they put in the legislation.” — Jason Linkins and Arthur Delaney on the Highway Trust Fund legislative process 


“I was actually talking to some people about this. They were saying how their jobs are a lot harder with John Brennan, ‘cause John Brennan just looks like he wants to take you into a room and rip your fingernails off.” — Ali Watkins on current CIA Director John Brennan's sunny disposition 

* * * 

This podcast was produced and edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta and Adriana Usero.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you're there, please subscribe, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost Podcasts here.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience!

Jason Linkins   |   July 23, 2015    3:03 PM ET


Back in 2005, Jim Webb -- the former Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan -- was urged to take part in a new mission: enter the Virginia Senate race, dispatch the Democratic Party's bland establishment hopeful Harris Miller, and ride on to vanquish incumbent Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). At the back of this play was a coterie of progressive Virginia activists and bloggers who rolled out the first "Draft James Webb" website and offered fulsome encouragement from perches like the state's widely read Raising Kaine blog.


You know how this story ended. With a lot of work -- and, let's face it, a little luck in the form of a video of Allen enunciating his own career epitaph by saying "macaca" -- Webb prevailed and joined the Senate in the autumn of the Democratic Congressional takeover. Webb would serve one term before making way for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).


Now, nearly 10 years after Webb was drafted to embark on his political career, the former senator has set his sights on a larger prize -- the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. But some of the people who helped pave the way for Webb's electoral career won't be joining up for his presidential campaign.


"I don't support it in any way, shape, or form," says Lowell Feld, a Democratic political activist who maintains a kinetic presence on Blue Virginia, one of the state's most popular blogs for progressive politics. As recently as 2013, Feld was describing his work with the "Draft Webb" movement as the thing that made 2006 the best year of his career. As he put it, it was "undoubtedly the most wild, crazy, exhilarating, fun year I've ever had in politics." A year and a half on, whatever exhilaration he once felt working with Webb has fully diminished.


Feld's disaffection with Webb begins with a concise set of issues: "My focus is heavily on climate and clean energy," Feld says. "Webb just mostly doesn't talk about it. When he does, it's not in a compelling way. And I'm surprised he's not open to discussing it. To me, it's not an 'issue,' it's something that's game over for humanity."


But as Feld discusses Webb's recent campaign, his dissatisfaction over Webb's environmental stances -- or lack thereof -- inevitably leads to the discussion of an even deeper inconsistency with Webb as a presidential candidate: Webb's pointed break with the Democratic party at a time when the party's economic policies are seemingly swinging into greater alignment with the ones Webb articulated during his Senate run.


"One of the first things he said to me when I met him," says Feld, "was when I asked him why he had become a Democrat, he told me that the GOP had gone off the deep end, and that the Democrats were the only party with a set of viable economic policies. Now he's saying that the Democrats have gone too far to the left. In what way? This economic populism -- this is stuff you've been talking about."


Feld offers a wry chuckle, "Hey, correct me if I'm wrong here, but to run for president as a Democrat, you have to first win a Democratic nomination, right? Don't know how you get there insulting Democratic voters." (According to HuffPost Pollster's latest polling average, Webb is polling at 1.4 percent -- 57 points behind Hillary Clinton and 16 points behind Bernie Sanders.)


Lee Diamond, another veteran of the "Draft Webb" movement, echoes Feld's sentiments -- from his unhappiness with Webb's stated stances on the environment and energy ("I've prodded him on global warming, he hasn't taken it up"), to a confusion with Webb's seeming reluctance to embrace a party that has, if anything, moved in his direction on economic matters. "There is a consistency between [Elizabeth] Warren and Sanders and Webb, but he's keeping it vague," Diamond tells me. "But I don't know where he wants to go."


"Look, Jim is not a fan of class warfare," Diamond says, "I get that. I'm not either. But it's reality: Class warfare is being waged against the American people."


There was a time when Webb seemed perfectly capable of making his stance on the working class and their economic straits a lot more explicit. Take, for example, this passage from his 2004 book, Born Fighting: How The Scots-Irish Shaped America:



The ever-hungry industrialists have discovered that West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia sat atop one huge vein of coal. And so the rape began. The people from the outside showed up with complicated contracts that the small-scale cattle raisers and tobacco farmers could not fully understand, asking for "rights" to mineral deposits they could not see, and soon they were treated to a sundering of their own earth as the mining companies ripped apart their way of life, so that after a time the only option was to go down into the hole and bring the Man his coal, or starve. The Man got his coal, and the profits it brought when he shipped it out. They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land. ... Coal made this part of Appalachia a poverty-stricken basket case while the rest of the mountain region remained mired in isolation.



 


All this talk of "raping" and "sundering the earth" so that "The Man" (capital T, capital M!) might cart off profits, leaving Appalachia "desecrated" suggests that at one point, Webb at least was more florid in his class-war condemnations than either Warren or Sanders, if not bolder.


And there are certainly those who were with Webb when he launched his 2006 Senate run who remain convinced he hasn’t changed. Webb's former deputy field director, Josh Chernila, is keeping the faith. "I love Senator Webb," he tells me. "I think he is a unique and powerful presence in American politics. He once said that a revolution in American politics would take place if working class whites and working class African Americans could put aside their differences and find common cause. Truer words were never spoken."


But asked for his take on when Webb might start vocalizing the urgent need for this common cause on the campaign trail, Chernila suggested that it was something that was going to slowly and subtly reveal itself: "His strategy there has not been to talk directly about institutional racism in the judicial system, but to focus on the uniform abuses in for-profit prisons and sentencing.  He's not explicitly talking about race there, but everything there is about race."


"So, I don't think he'll actually speak directly to race," says Chernila, "even if it is likely he could be a powerful leader for bringing justice to communities of color."


But Webb is already off to a rough start on the common cause front. Earlier this month, while discussing his discontent with the Democratic party in an interview on "Fox News Sunday," he suggested that the reactions of those who sought to remove the Confederate flag from Southern statehouses in the wake of the Charleston shooting were not dissimilar from reality-TV star Donald Trump's comments on Mexican immigrants.


"This kind of divisive, inflammatory rhetoric by people who want to be commander in chief is not helpful. And we have seen from the liberal side as well this kind of rhetoric as it goes to Southern white cultures,” said Webb, enshrining this bizarre comparison.


This didn't sit well with some of Webb's former allies. As Feld reported in the comments of Blue Virginia, Conaway Haskins, who served as Webb's state director from 2007 to 2011, took to his Facebook page to condemn his former boss: "Making false equivalencies between people who oppose Confederate nostalgia and Donald Trump's anti-Mexican comments and insulting as 'far left' the very Democrats who fueled your 2006 Senate campaign surely is a curious way to run for the Democratic presidential nomination." (Haskins could not be reached for comment.)


Feld was left similarly unimpressed. "We saw some of this in 2006. We knew Webb had Confederate ancestors and a fondness for the heritage.” 


“But what does this have to do with Democrats being 'too far left?'” Feld said in exasperation. “It was [South Carolina Governor] Nikki Haley and Republicans who took down those flags."


Wherever Webb goes from here, he'll go without many of the supporters that first took his "Born Fighting" persona and fashioned it into a viable political candidate. The Huffington Post reached out to many of the people who worked prominently on Webb's campaign, but didn't hear back from many of them. One source with familiarity of the situation, however, tells The Huffington Post that a number of "people who were absolutely critical to Jim Webb's U.S. Senate run don't want anything to do with him."


"He seems to be serving as his own strategist," jokes Diamond, who adds, "I don't see him as presidential material. He has an impressive resume, but he lacks the necessary broad grasp of the issues."


"My understanding," says Feld, "is that a number of [Webb's early supporters] may have been helping early in his exploratory period, but they're mostly all gone now."


"He's lost me," Feld continues. "I can't follow him anymore. I don't know where he's coming from, don't know where he's going. Jim is a complicated guy, but this is beyond complicated -- it's just incoherent."


The Webb campaign did not reply to our request for comment.


________________________________________________________


Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?


 

Jason Linkins   |   July 17, 2015    3:37 PM ET


Hillary Clinton's campaign has an office. It's in Brooklyn, a New York City borough famed for its high rents, like all New York City boroughs. People work in that office, at desks, with laptops, doing campaign stuff. When asked, those people all express a willingness to be there.


That's basically the "too long; didn't read" version of this week's important race to chase the big story, in which Bloomberg and Politico competed to be the first organization to get "exclusive" access to Clinton's campaign digs. The race ended in a draw. Why was the existence of a campaign office, and the need to be temporarily embedded within its prosaic confines, of such importance to these institutions? Therein hangs a semi-boring story!


See, a few weeks ago, a great hue and cry was raised after reporters at a Clinton campaign event in New Hampshire were corralled by Clinton campaign staff in an actual rope, held by those staffers for the purpose of keeping the press at arm's length from the campaign. This was, justly, a moment of marginal embarrassment for the Clinton campaign, as it reinforced an already existing meme about Clinton as a politician: that she is press-averse, and that this aversion has led to a toxic relationship with the media.


All of this happened over the Independence Day holiday weekend. Also happening that weekend: Hillary Clinton was meeting with the New York Times reporter and This Town author Mark Leibovich, a gifted profiler of public figures and media professionals. Leibovich's piece, which was published in the New York Times Magazine less than two weeks later, specifically burrowed into this meme, capturing Clinton as a veteran politician striving for a fresh start both with voters and with the media.


I think that part of the fun of being Mark Leibovich is getting to see what part of his article becomes the thing that everyone decides is "the big takeaway" and being amused by this decision. This time out, he was surely not disappointed. Upon the profile's publication, the hive mind of the political media, which broadcasts its collective unconsciousness on Twitter, decided there were two things worth remembering about Leibovich's story. The first thing was that Hillary Clinton had once eaten moose stew. And then there was this part:



In June, I visited Clinton’s Brooklyn Heights headquarters to interview Robby Mook, her 35-year-old campaign manager. The meeting had been arranged through Jesse Ferguson, a campaign press minder, who in advance of my arrival sent me an email that said the following: "The ground rules we’ve had with others in our office is that the office itself is OTR," meaning off the record. "I don’t want to get into a contest of people tweeting pic from our office to show they were there."


I wrote back that I was not abiding by any "office is off the record" provisions and that it was not clear to me how you could declare a 40,000-square-foot space off the record. I did agree not to tweet.


Ferguson came back asking me if I would "embargo" anything that I saw in the office until the time my article was published. He made it sound as if I were gaining access to the Situation Room. "Regardless when the story runs," he wrote, it "still means you’re the first reporter who can report anything from the office."



And that's how "visiting Hillary Clinton's Brooklyn campaign office" suddenly took on paramount importance with some campaign journalists. Which is weird! As Leibovich warned in his piece, "the office ... basically resembled a large insurance company." There's a great irony there, because political reporters could probably learn a lot more about contemporary American life and the people living it if they actually did visit the offices of a large insurance company.


Unfortunately for everyone involved, Bloomberg and Politico visited the Clinton campaign office instead, where they learned that "campaign offices" are full of eager people who come ready to dispense pleasing bromides about civic duty and the importance of playing a part in a big presidential campaign. Or, as Bloomberg's Mark Halperin enthused as he began a broadcast of his show "With All Due Respect" live and exclusive from Clinton HQ, "They've got it all ... computers, telephones, partial wall dividers."


Maybe I'm wrong to say that this battle of who could care the most about something insignificant ended in a draw, because I suppose that it is objectively "cooler" to get to broadcast your Internet television show from a previously well-guarded aerie than it is to merely tour the office and shoot still photographs, as Politico did. On the other hand, no one at Politico has to work for Michael Bloomberg, who is rumored to have taken a very dim view of Halperin's antics. So I guess it's a wash either way you look at it.


Politico's Annie Karni, who drew the assignment of wandering through Clinton's office, looking for meaning, comes home with a slideshow of images, documenting the existence of several offices and three sets of cubicles into which varying "teams" of the Clinton campaign have settled themselves. Clinton's communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, tells Karni that everyone who heard that reporters were not welcome at the office just got the wrong idea:



“We want to make sure people can do their work, but otherwise we’re happy to have people come check it out,” Palmieri said.


The original policy of prohibiting journalists from reporting on the campaign headquarters, she said, was misinterpreted as overly controlling. “When people come in for meetings, you want the operation to continue to function and that if something is overheard, or a memo is seen, it’s not going to get reported on,” Palmieri said. “It seems like that was received the wrong way.”



There is very little of interest that Politico discovers in the Clinton campaign office. Maybe the only interesting thing is that in campaign chairman John Podesta's office, there is "a dark painting of two suited men holding plates and silverware in preparation to eat another man, who appears to be dead."


"POLITICO was not allowed to document the memos and papers on his desk," Politico reports, in case anyone out there thought that this sort of thing would ever be tacitly allowed by anyone working in any office, anywhere.


Karni describes this visit as "part of a new effort [from the Clinton campaign] to engage with the national media that follows on the heels of Clinton’s first national television interview last week." Considering that this was just a guided tour of an office, conducted by Clinton's communications director -- the only person quoted in the piece -- this would seem to be an exercise in low-bar clearance.


Halperin seems to fare better in his foray into the Clinton office, as he and his cohost Margaret Talev at least get to speak to a number of fresh-faced Clinton campaign workers (including former Winter Olympian Michelle Kwan), all of whom seem to be well-prepared (probably because they were specifically prepped) to offer cheerful homilies about working on the Clinton campaign.


The centerpiece of the "With All Due Respect" broadcast is a sit-down interview in which Halperin and Talev talk shop with Clinton political director Amanda Renteria and campaign "director of states" Marlon Marshall, each of whom capably responds to each question with an array of safe platitudes. Asked about the "ethos of this particular campaign," Renteria offers, "It's interesting, it's creative, we really are trying to push the envelope of 'give us your ideas and let's try it out.'" They "work together, not in silos." They are "very deliberate about culture."


I'll say! When Halperin asks if they require the younger members of the campaign team to follow any specific "political rules," Renteria says that everyone is told, "Don't forget why you're here" and "Look around and breathe in and enjoy it." This probably goes without saying, but these aren't "political rules" -- they're "stuff people put on motivational posters."


Halperin asks about the success Sen. Bernie Sanders has had, making headway in the primary race while Clinton's other Democratic rivals haven't. "Can he beat Clinton in either Iowa or New Hampshire or both?"


Clinton campaign states' director Marlon Marshall responds: "First of all, we always expected a competitive primary --"


Halperin cuts him off: "I've heard that line."


"I'm repeating it," said Marshall. "It's a true line."


OK, well, we're really making headway now.


Here are other things I learned, thanks to Bloomberg and Politico:



  • The Clinton volunteers "work hard."

  • They have a board that lists who rode around on the campaign bus.

  • "Each team has come up with its own slogan, which flies above the team’s seating area. The communications team, for instance, calls itself 'sources close to the campaign.' The policy team is known as 'wonks for the win.'"

  • They have an old, brown refrigerator.

  • When asked, the people who work on the Clinton campaign can briefly summarize their particular jobs.

  • Campaign manager Robby Mook's office has a "standing desk" and a "cheerful flowering plant," in case you thought he maybe had a really sulky flowering plant.

  • That brown refrigerator is apparently "infamous."

  • There is one "off-message" moment, in which Renteria seems to imply to Halperin that she'd punch Donald Trump if she ran up on him in the streets. Should that happen, The Huffington Post will cover it in our Entertainment section.

  • This one guy made an edible arrangement with berries that looked like the Clinton campaign logo and put it on Instagram, and this is "social media."

  • Halperin works really hard to get to the bottom of the whole berry thing. Where did they come from? Why berries? A dogged pursuit of the truth, about berries.

  • The brown refrigerator was donated, maybe?

  • "It's like a family."

  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the "Brooklyn of the Midwest."


Per Politico, this is the most important thing I learned:



Clinton herself does not keep an office at the Brooklyn HQ -- she typically works out of a separate Midtown office and so far has visited the Brooklyn office just once.



So, that brown refrigerator has actually been a greater presence in this office than the candidate. Good thing all this effort was made to gain access to it. And yes, we have to thank Mark Leibovich for all of this:





Anyway, this was a nice trick. Candidate wants a fresh start with the press. The press sets terms: Let us into your office. This turns out to be the easiest, no-risk thing in the world for the candidate. So after a bit of prep and spit-shining (but not too much spit-shining -- that old brown refrigerator stands in testament to the campaign's middle-class frugality, after all!), the reporters enter, gather their quotes and depart, firm in the knowledge that they have done something special.


So what if the reader is left with no insight into the candidate or her policy preferences? So what if the content generated from these escapades ranges from poll-tested platitudes to annotated interior decoration? The point of this exercise is that the campaign press believes that they have a sacred role to play and that the Clinton campaign had sinned by not honoring that role with sufficient solemnity.


In the end, everyone got what they wanted. Quite cheaply, at that.

World-Historical Deadbeats Demand Greece Pay Up, To Which Thomas Piketty Says 'LOL'

Jason Linkins   |   July 10, 2015    7:36 AM ET

So that happened. On this week's podcast, we examine the austerity battles in Greece, break down the latest stage of the Iran nuclear talks, and get a real world account of what happens when Congress cuts off your access to food. Plus, the Daily Caller's Tucker Carlson is a huge Grateful Dead fan. Who knew? He joins us to talk about it.

Listen to this week's "So, That Happened" podcast below:

* * *

Some highlights from this week:

"I think Americans should care, even if we don't have economic skin in the game, because this is about the future of social democracy everywhere." -- Daniel Marans on why the U.S. should be tuned in to Greece's debt crisis and its outcome

"There is literally no economic theory, no neoclassical theory, no neoliberal theory which says that after six years of crippling depression, more austerity is the way out. No one says that." -- Zach Carter on the EU's justifications for more austerity in Greece

"Is there imminent nuclear war with Iran?" -- Jason Linkins
"Ask Tom Cotton." -- Jessica Schulberg

"[Iran] doesn't claim it wants nuclear weapons, which is an important thing to say, because I think that gets lost in this debate. It would sort of legitimize any claim that they might want to have to nuclear weapons. They would say, 'We're right next door to Israel, they have nuclear weapons. They're not subject to any type of inspections or oversight on their nuclear program. They're backed by the U.S., which has the largest nuclear arsenal. And they're both extremely hostile to us. Why the hell should we not have nuclear weapons?'" -- Jessica Schulberg on what might follow a military excursion to wipe out Iran's nuclear capabilities

"Are you telling me you're totally resistant to the allure of the Grateful Dead? You're like that weird anomaly, like the Kenyan prostitute that never got AIDS? Like there's just something in you that won't allow the Grateful Dead to penetrate?" -- Tucker Carlson on Arthur Delaney's aversion to the notorious jam band

* * *

Links about things mentioned in this episode:

Thomas Piketty: ‘Germany Has Never Repaid its Debts. It Has No Right to Lecture Greece’ (The Wire)

* * *

This podcast was produced and edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta and Adriana Usero.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you're there, please subscribe, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost Podcasts here.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience!

Former Virginia Gov. Might Also Run For President Because Why Not?

Jason Linkins   |   July 8, 2015    3:43 PM ET

If you were worried the GOP presidential field was going to top out at a measly 17 candidates, never fear: Jim Gilmore is going to be the next Republican to maybe run for the White House. This news comes to us by way of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, to whom Gilmore evidently spilled the beans in "an exclusive telephone interview."

Cool, cool.

But back up a minute! Who is Jim Gilmore, this potentially electric new entrant into the 2016 race? As a matter of fact, Gilmore is the former governor of Virginia. No, not the "macaca" guy. That was George Allen. And not the guy who was sentenced to federal prison earlier this year -- that was Bob McDonnell. Gilmore is the guy who succeeded Allen and who in turn was succeeded by Gov. Mark Warner (D), serving between 1998 and 2002.

Is that starting to ring some bells? Hey, if not, don't feel bad. I had a hard time remembering much of Gilmore's term, and I lived in Virginia for its entirety. Here's a refresher: Gilmore's big thing was trying to get rid of Virginia's personal property tax on automobiles. He nearly succeeded, until the state legislature balked at how costly the move would be. Gilmore also implemented a statewide education reform program called Standards Of Learning, a major legacy of which is that every teacher in Virginia now has one or two jokes involving the acronym S.O.L.

Gilmore is also the governor who gave Martin Luther King Jr. his own holiday in Virginia. Prior to that, the state had honored King as part of a thing called "Lee-Jackson-King Day," in which the famed civil rights leader was celebrated alongside noted Confederate guys Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, because you can't spell "Virginia" without several of the letters in "irony."

"Gilmore... Gilmore," you're saying. "The one who sort of looks like Ed Asner?"

Yes! Yes, yes. That's the one. Good job!

Actually, Gilmore has run for president before. The year was 2007: Apple was set to unveil the first iPhone, the Police had announced plans for a reunion tour and Jim Gilmore was filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to create the Jim Gilmore Presidential Exploratory Committee. He made his candidacy official in April of that year, saying, "That's why I'm in this race, as a consistent conservative that the American people can count on, someone who won't waffle, waver, change or pretend they're someone else to get this nomination." He even had a pretty good quip, referring to the three GOP front-runners at the time -- Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney -- as "Rudy McRomney."

Unfortunately, Gilmore never polled much higher than 2 percent in that campaign, and he eventually dropped out of the race owing to health complications from a detached retina. Not long after, he got waxed by Mark Warner in Virginia's 2008 Senate race.

What's he been up to since then? I don't know and won't check, but I'll update this story if anyone at his office feels like emailing me a condensed version. At the very least, it's safe to say that Gilmore hasn't spent the past few years being camera-hungry or seeking out opportunities to interject himself into the news cycle. He's not (yet!) associated with any of our country's various billionaire dandies who like to collect pet politicians. And while his previous run for president was accompanied by a groundswell of support, there doesn't appear to be any such thing this time around. (Here's how the website draftgilmore.org looked on Jan. 9, 2007, three months before Gilmore declared his candidacy. Today, draftgilmore.org appears to be a sad spam blog nominally dedicated to "Strong Booze, Fast Cars and Cool Stuff" -- which wouldn't be the worst presidential platform, actually.)

So, why is this happening? Per the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

He said he does not think any other Republican candidates have addressed what he considers the vital national security and economic concerns facing the nation.

"I don't think we're addressing the threat to the country," Gilmore said. He added: "I bring to the table experience that others don't have."

... The former governor said he is particularly concerned about "the emergency internationally," citing not just the so-called Islamic State, but Russia's ventures in Ukraine and China's moves in the South China Sea.

He also said he believes President Barack Obama's economic policies have undermined what should be a "foundation of strength" for the nation.

At last, we'll have a Republican candidate who will talk about Russia, terrorists and how much they hate Obama's economic policies. Truly, these have been hitherto unaddressed matters.

For some reason, Gilmore will wait until the first week of August to make his "formal announcement," the Times-Dispatch reports. University of Virginia political science Professor Larry Sabato predicts that Gilmore's candidacy will be "short or ineffectual."

Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because, as Jim Gilmore would say, why not?

Don't Be The Dope Who Gets Roped: A Handy Guide For Campaign Journalists

Jason Linkins   |   July 7, 2015    2:27 PM ET

So it's come to this. Over the weekend, a Hillary Clinton campaign appearance in Gorham, New Hampshire, turned into a wonderful visual metaphor for the modern relationship between presidential candidates and the attendant traveling press corps when the Clinton campaign used a literal rope to keep members of the media from venturing too close to the candidate. This all led to The New York Times' Maggie Haberman capturing the indelible image of this dude with a camera straining at the border of his faux feed pen:

High dudgeon, as you might expect, ensued, as people attempted to scandalize this moment on Twitter, using the hashtag #ropegate. It was all very pitiable, sure. But I didn't feel all that bad for the corralled reporters. This was, to my mind, what they deserved and I had a good laugh at their expense. But now I'm here to help out, because that's what I am: the champion of the downtrodden and hero to the dispossessed.

Oh, traveling political press corps, what are we going to do with you? Measured in terms of pure activity, few except those working in active war zones exert more effort, work more tirelessly, or log more hours and miles in pursuit of their quarry. And yet, when it comes time to measure your achievements, your trophy cases are bare and dusty. It's not for want of effort or industry or creativity -- by all appearances, these reporters practice solid tradecraft, are readily adaptable and demonstrate an enviable amount of endurance.

I respect that! But do candidates? If this weekend's exploits are any indicator, the answer is no.

Obviously, what you saw in New Hampshire -- where reporters were literally forcibly cordoned off by Clinton campaign functionaries -- was surpassingly unambiguous evidence of an abusive relationship, but it exists in other presidential campaigns. It exists in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) made a fervent effort to scuttle the state's open records law. It exists on Twitter, where former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) communications director laughed off the notion that his boss would answer media inquiries directed toward a publicly offered email address (which I'm sure will be used to sell Bush as being more "transparent" than the average politician, nonetheless):

timodc tweet

People who stay in abusive relationships tend to tell themselves lies. The traveling press corps is no different in this regard. The reporters keep telling themselves that a relentless pursuit of presidential candidates from campaign stop to campaign stop is going to earn them key insights. They keep telling themselves their constant presence -- whether it's behind the grandstand or in the scrum -- constitutes a regular dose of pressure and scrutiny from dedicated overseers. They don't understand they are the ones who are actually being led by the nose.

But that's about to change, because I'm going to explain how to make all of this better, both for the traveling campaign media and -- more importantly -- for America.

Change The Geography

Right now, it's clear that the traveling press corps' conception of what constitutes "successful campaign reporting" involves a two-step process that begins with "achieving the closest possible geographic position to the candidates" and ends with "hoping that something happens." Maybe the candidate will incorporate a new sound bite into the mix. Maybe the reporter will get close enough to ask a question. Maybe a flock of crows will attack the crowd. The good news is that if any of these things happen, the reporter will be there. The bad news is that if none of these things happen ... well, the reporter will be there, too.

To typical campaign reporters, candidates are the alpha source of "information." Without "information," there is no story. And so their focus is on the stage, at the candidates' performances. But if the candidates have it their way, they are going to roll into the venue, adapt their rigorously rehearsed stump appearance to the proceedings, and leave unscathed. Everything will be very tightly scripted, and the candidates will be aided by a small army of professionals who work diligently to keep surprises and deviations -- those things the gathered press is hoping for -- from occurring.

(When you think about it, it's no surprise that "gaffe" reporting has hit new heights in recent cycles. With all this well-funded, professionally manned infrastructure built to eliminate unexpected moments on the trail, one of the few variables that can't be accounted for is the candidate's performance itself. Given enough time and repetition, the sort of complacency and fatigue that causes a misstatement is inevitable. So it's no surprise when a starved media pounces on these morsels as rabidly as they do. It's equally unsurprising when these moments -- essentially the documentation of a cheap shot -- fail to alter the candidates' fortunes.)

This method of campaign reporting places the participating journalists at a double disadvantage. First, it takes many of the qualities reporters spend years of their lives perfecting -- knowledge, judgment, creativity -- and subordinates them to the grim game of access and proximity. Second, this by extension makes them overdependent on the candidates themselves. After all, they're the ones who exert near total control over access and proximity! When a candidate understands they've got the press corps over a barrel, no one should be surprised that they act accordingly.

There is another way. It begins by rethinking this whole notion of geographic proximity. Right now, campaign reporters see the campaign stop as the place the story begins and where the information starts flowing. Instead, they need to view the campaign stop as the place the story ends. They need to start realizing that if they don't have a story by the time the candidate rolls into town, they're late to the story.

So, where is the story? Think about it. You know what the candidates need: to persuade voters. And you know where they have to go to get what they need: a short list of states that factor heavily in the primary season, and a short list of swing states that matter in the general election. And because of the modern, tightly scripted campaigns, you have a good idea where and when the candidates intend to travel to get what they need. All you have to do is get there first.

Congratulations! You're about to "change" the "game."

Change The Polarity

Candidates want to find themselves in proximity to voters, the better to tell them the story they want told. They'd prefer that reporters just serve as facilitators of that process: document their big sound bites, note the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, and help perpetuate the idea that their campaign is succeeding. The way they conceive your role, you're at a distance from where the action really is, observing the interplay between their campaign and their would-be constituents.

Regardless of whether they use a literal rope, you're roped off -- caught in a dependent relationship where you need the access and information that the candidates dole out to you, sparingly and according to preference.

What the reporters in this situation need to do is reverse the polarity of this relationship, placing the onus of dependence squarely on the candidates. To do this, you have to exploit the fact that they need to craft a relationship with voters, and you need to enter into an intimate relationship with the voters before they have a chance.

There's a term for this that I would not ordinarily use willingly, but I'm going to use it now because I'm worried that many of the people who actually own and run your organizations won't understand this tactic -- let alone get enthusiastic about it -- if I don't invoke this dreaded word. Here goes: You need to disrupt the conversation between candidates and voters.

Let's use the Eat The Press telestrator to give you a visual representation of the way campaign reporting is right now, and the way it needs to be:

the role of the press

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, in a piece written in May that all but prophesied that a reporter at a Clinton event would soon be bound by actual ropes, laid out this alternative approach like so: "Figure out what the voters want the candidates to talk about ... Persuade the voters that in your coverage you’re on their side -- so many of them that the campaigns have to take notice. Then leverage your superior connection to the people the candidates want to reach." And he points to an example where the approach worked. As chronicled in his book What Are Journalists For?, The Charlotte Observer successfully pulled this off back in 1992. That paper's editor at the time, Richard Oppel, explained to Rosen:

Voters were intensely interested in the environment … So our reporters went out to senatorial candidates and said, “here are the voters’ questions.” Terry Sanford, the incumbent senator, called me up from Washington and said, “Rich, I have these questions from your reporter and I’m not going to answer them because we are not going to talk about the environment until after the general election.” This was the primary. I said, “Well, the voters want to know about the environment now, Terry.” He said, “Well, that’s not the way I have my campaign structured.” I said, “Fine, I will run the questions and leave a space under it for you to answer. If you choose not to, we will just say ‘would not respond’ or we will leave it blank.” We ended the conversation. In about ten days he sent the answers down.

Who has the access now? And who needs it? By entering into a relationship with normal human Americans, and figuring out what really mattered to them and their lives, this newspaper both successfully rebuffed the candidate's attempt to set his own favorable terms and forced him to offer a response to an issue that wasn't part of the scripted campaign pageant.

This is how journalists become the "alpha" in their relationship with political candidates -- you identify what they need and when they need it, and then get there first and possess it for yourself.

What's stopping you political reporters from doing the same? Nothing, that's what. The only impediment that needs to be surmounted is one of identity correction. Instead of serving as a passive witness to events, you become the prosecutor that precipitates events. Instead of accepting the stakes as defined by a campaign's army of advance staff, you get to set them. And instead of attempting to assay every campaign event according to "optics" -- that view of reality through ersatz eyeballs that you're stuck with when the only voters you've consulted are the imaginary ones that live in your head -- you get to assess the candidates based on real world information that you obtain from real people.

This all boils down to a simple question: Who is the dope who's going to end up tangled in a rope? It doesn't have to be the campaign journalists. But until they start using their abilities to actually earn themselves a place on the campaign trail, entangled they shall remain.

Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?

Civilized Nations Don't Put Children In Brutal Prisons, So Why Do We?

Jason Linkins   |   July 2, 2015    5:45 PM ET

So that happened. On this week's podcast, Dana Liebelson joins us to discuss her recent exposé of the prison system in Michigan, where children -- commingled with adult criminals -- are being broken, not rehabilitated. Plus: We discuss last week's marriage equality ruling and this week's new overtime regulation, and we talk to Laura Bassett about England's heartbreaking loss in the Women's World Cup.

Listen to this week's "So, That Happened" podcast below:

* * *

Some highlights from this week:

"It's devastating." -- Laura Bassett on Laura Bassett's own goal during the Women's World Cup semi-final match

"It's one thing to say, OK, we've separated kids and adults. It's another thing to say we're treating them the same as adults in every other facet of the prison system." -- Dana Liebelson discussing her investigation into Michigan's troubling prison system

"Basically the reigning powers of the EU, which are being really run by Angela Merkel and Germany, who are calling the shots, don't want to have to admit that the austerity regime that they've imposed on Greece has been a terrible failure." -- Zach Carter on the European Union trying to save face while their austerity policies in Greece fall apart

* * *

Links about things mentioned in this episode:

Cruel And All-Too-Usual: A Terrifying Glimpse Into Life In Prison -- As a Kid (The Huffington Post)

Soccer Fans Everywhere Rally Around A Heartbroken Laura Bassett (HuffPost)

Puerto Rico's Dance With Default Embraces A Fickle Partner: Wall Street (HuffPost)

* * *

This podcast was produced and edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta and Adriana Usero.

To listen to this podcast later, download our show on iTunes. While you're there, please subscribe, rate and review our show. You can check out other HuffPost Podcasts here.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on "So, That Happened"? Email us at your convenience!

Say Goodbye To Another Ridiculous June On The 2016 Campaign Trail

Jason Linkins   |   July 1, 2015    7:37 PM ET

Well, kids, another month of presidential electioneering is in the books. We've made it to July of 2015, and what a frabjous day it is for our nation. At this point, just about everyone who is going to try to run for president in the 2016 election cycle is in the race. The lone holdouts are basically one guy who's been a presumed candidate since November of 2012 (Scott Walker) and two guys (John Kasich and Jim Webb) who are waiting to announce, probably because they think that after a sufficient amount of time passes, we'll all be nostalgic for that period of time when everyone was making announcements. And they'll probably be right.

Think about it. Just one year from now, the vast majority of these people will be just like George Pataki -- not their party's nominee. These are the halcyon days when it feels like anything is possible, including terrible, stupid things. This week, I woke from a fitful sleep, having dreamt that eight or nine GOP candidates were still going after the Iowa caucuses, having each taken about 8 or 9 percent of that vote. Everyone's a winner! Everyone gets a delegate! The state convention is an orgy of feverish backbiting and fisticuffs. I turned to Frontloading HQ's Josh Putnam to help me with these night terrors, and his assurances about this thing called "winnowing" are doing the trick for the time being.

Still, what a country we live in. It's a place where running for president is a thing that an ostensibly rational person does because he's desperate and has no other choice. It's an honest land in which a child might be more excited about a passing turtle than his father's impending presidential candidacy. It's a nation of dreamers, forever striving, knowing that if a Cheeto-colored bag of dead slugs and bluster can, even briefly, top the primary polls, so can they.

Who knows what marvels lie ahead? All I know is that it's time to say a fond farewell to June of 2015 and the things that made this month the Very Best Month of the 2016 Election Cycle.

Thus Endeth The "No Michael Bloomberg" Speculation Portion Of The 2016 Election. Much like Christmas or thoughts of your own impending mortality, the day that a bunch of people start grandly pontificating on how former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the answer to a question that's never been asked seems to come earlier every year. This time out, it's June of 2015, paced by a weird, rationale-free USA Today op-ed from Michael Wolff and a New York Post piece that describes how "New York Dems friendly to Bloomberg have approached him to gauge his interest" in running for president.

The "President Bloomberg" fantasia is pretty old hat by now, but it's worth pointing out how this time something fundamental has changed. In times past, Bloomberg was floated as some kind of independent alternative to another round of Republican-versus-Democrat, a truly "centrist" candidate with gobs and gobs of crossover appeal. Some of our most failed political institutions (unless the point of them was to separate members of the private equity/hedge fund set from their money, in which case they were successful), like Americans Elect and No Labels, exist solely because the alluring force of President Bloomberg fan fiction is, for some, stronger than most designer drugs.

What's unique to this new swelling of Bloomberg mania, however, is that no one's even pretending anymore that the mayor has crossover potential. There's been a modicum of succumbing to reality, in that Bloomberg is now a punchline in conservative circles: He's the guy who is coming for your guns, or your cigarettes, or your trans fats, or your sodas. That truly "independent, centrist" dream is over.

What's been substituted in its place is that he's now an appealing candidate for the Democratic base, in the event that it becomes significantly less besotted with Hillary Clinton, as the Democratic base currently is. That leads to some weird contortions. Take, for example, Michael Goodwin's New York Post report, in which he wrote:

A dirty secret behind Hillary Clinton’s lead in the Democratic presidential race is the lack of a credible challenger. Despite rising voter disgust over sordid revelations about the Clinton Foundation, there is no appealing alternative.

The situation led some disgruntled Democrats to push Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run, an effort that folded [a month ago]. But now comes word of a bid to entice another big-name challenger, and this one is far more intriguing.

It aims to get former Mayor Michael Bloomberg into the race.

You aren't going to find many Democrats whose hearts' desire shifts seamlessly from anti-Wall Street crusader Elizabeth Warren to anti-Elizabeth Warren crusader Michael Bloomberg, unless you're somehow imprisoned with them in their homes on the Upper West Side or, maybe, Tribeca.

Wolff, to his credit, did not equate Bloomberg with Warren. His mistake was equating Bloomberg with someone who could compete in, and hope to win, the Democratic Party nomination. Except Wolff seemed to think that Bloomberg would somehow convince the aforementioned crossover voters, who are now alienated by Bloomberg's policies, to not just vote for him en masse but to do so as supporters of a Democratic presidential ticket. But those crossover voters have alternatives, colloquially known as "Republican candidates."

"Here is a counterintuitive take," wrote Gawker's Alex Pareene. "Given a choice between a conventional Democrat and Michael Bloomberg, Democratic primary voters will select a Democrat." Dunno, man, that sounds pretty out there.

Goodbye, "Run Warren Run"! In June, at least one of the various efforts to draft Elizabeth Warren as a presidential candidate conceded to the reality that she is just not going to run for president in 2016. In a piece in Politico, Ilya Sherman and Charles Chamberlain explained "Why We're Suspending the 'Run Warren Run' Campaign," but "still declaring victory" despite having failed to "achieve our central goal."

Cool, cool, only how does that work? They wrote, "Although Run Warren Run may not have sparked a candidacy, it ignited a movement." OK! How does that work? According to Sherman and Chamberlain, the organization engaged voters in early primary states on the issues central to Warren's policy brief, succeeded in getting Warren's message out to a wider audience, and "sent a message to Democrats: Take on the special interests rigging the system, and we'll have your back." (Since then, fast-track authority to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership passed, so I guess we'll see this back-having put to the test.)

At some point, one of the Draft Warren movements might consider whether Warren's popularity, and the readiness of Warren fans to fund these sorts of organizations, might provide the means by which other people who share Warren's point of view are identified and encouraged to run for state and local political offices, thus forming a deep bench of Democrats who think more like the Massachusetts senator and less like, say, Larry Summers. This is just an idea I had!

Hasta La Vista, Iowa Straw Poll! Iowa, so much to answer for ... the outsized influence on the electoral process, the ethanol pandering, the steak fries at which no steaks get fried. For as long as mankind has walked this earth, we have dreamed of diminishing Iowa's role in our presidential elections. This year, there finally came a breakthrough. The Iowa Straw Poll, which recently propelled Michele Bachmann to nearly eight full hours of game-changing dominance, is no more, a casualty of dwindling returns and overall "meh." Never again will a candidate be able to gain a brief advantage from being able to "buy enough voters" and "put them on buses" and "have the best funnel cake of any major candidate." (Sorry its demise came too late for you, Tim Pawlenty.)

See You Later, People Who Were Staffing Ben Carson's Campaign! Jeezy-creezy! It's only June 2015 and we're already getting our first taste of "campaign turmoil" and "mass staff departures"? In fairness, this has happened before: Back in June of 2011, Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign suffered the same sort of shake-up, with his campaign staff resigning en masse after the former speaker elected "to leave on an overseas vacation with his wife weeks into a fledgling campaign."

But what happened with Carson? As The Washington Post's Robert Costa and Philip Rucker reported, the former neurosurgeon's campaign team ended up crosswise with one another due to "widespread disarray among his allied super PACs." What a mess this was. Per Costa and Rucker:

Two independent super PACs designed to help Carson are instead competing directly with Carson’s campaign for donations and volunteers, while campaign chairman Terry Giles resigned last month with the intention of forming a third super PAC.

Giles said he intends to try to persuade the other two super PACs, called Run Ben Run and One Vote, to cease operations so that all outside efforts can be coordinated through the new group. But with Carson’s brand a galvanizing force on the right, there are potentially millions of dollars to be raised off his name, and the other super PACs are said to be reluctant to shut down.

It's no wonder these competing PAC-men would be hesitant to shut down their operations -- Carson has been, if nothing else, a cash cow for those who lucked into his unexpected success. Now, the Carson campaign is making good on the old Eric Hoffer misquote, "Every great cause begins as a movement and eventually becomes a racket."

This is probably not how the people who originally conceived the Carson campaign thought it would go. Unless, of course, this is exactly how they thought it would go!

We'll Miss The Brief Boomlet Of People Putting Jokes In The Source Code Of Campaign Websites. So, yeah. That was a thing.

We'll Always Remember That Amazing Debate Over The Metric System. As The Daily Beast's Betsy Woodruff reported, no one will be able to claim that Bobby Jindal and Lincoln Chafee failed to leave their mark on what's going to definitely be The Most Important Election In The History Of America:

Adorably optimistic presidential contenders Bobby Jindal and Lincoln Chafee are duking it out over whether or not the United States should move to the metric system.

Chafee, the former Democratic governor of Rhode Island, brought up this key issue when he announced his quixotic presidential bid to a half-empty room in the soulless suburb of Arlington, Virginia. He indicated that moving to the metric system could help right some of the wrongs committed during the Iraq War, as it would be “a symbolic integration of ourselves into the international community after mistakes of the past 12 to 14 years.”

Yes, this would definitely square us with the people of Iraq.

Bobby Jindal rose up, dusted himself off and said, "Yes. This. Here is where I make my stand. For God and country and Fahrenheit, the temperature scale invented by an 18th-century German physicist."

“Typical Democrat -- wants to make America more European,” Jindal spokesman Michael Reed told Politico. “Governor Jindal would rather make the world more American.”

Woodruff wrote the best possible kicker to her piece, commemorating this important debate.

Congratulations To Everyone Who Didn't Write This In June! The past month's big winners in political journalism are "everyone who isn't Alan Rappeport and Steve Eder, who provided The New York Times' readers with the definitive accounting of how Marco Rubio and his wife have accrued 17 citations for "incidents that included speeding, driving through red lights, and careless driving." Which, to the average Floridian, means that the Rubios are some of the Sunshine State's finest drivers.

Reflect, for a time, on why someone -- at The New York Times no less! -- felt like this was a critical piece of information you needed to know about Marco Rubio. Imagine, if you will, a moment where you'd say, "You know, I was having a hard time deciding who to vote for until I learned that Rubio failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign back in 2012."

Now that you've done that, let's just enjoy the worst kicker written this month:

If Mr. Rubio is fortunate to make it as far as the White House, there will be many perks that come with the job. Chief among them, however, might be having a driver.

Pretty bad, right? Alas, I've lured you into a false sense of security, because this story's lede is immeasurably worse:

Senator Marco Rubio has been in a hurry to get to the top, rising from state legislator to United States senator in the span of a decade and now running for president at age 44.

But politics is not the only area where Mr. Rubio, a Republican from Florida, has an affinity for the fast track. He and his wife, Jeanette, have also shown a tendency to be in a rush on the road.

Congratulations to everyone who didn't write that!

Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?

Down In The Email Dumps With Hillary Clinton

Jason Linkins   |   July 1, 2015    3:46 PM ET

Just in time for Canada Day, the State Department has loosed upon the world a trove of Hillary Clinton's State Department emails, forcing reporters across this great land of ours to comb through the cache, searching for ... you know, some stuff. What have we learned from the first pass? Mostly that the exercise was more or less deeply unsatisfying for everyone involved.

Don't get me wrong. Some things in this email dump are worth reporting on. For instance, we now know that members of the Obama administration knew that a personal email address for Clinton existed, to which they infrequently sent correspondence. It's a little less clear whether anyone knew the specifics of Clinton's server arrangement or her philosophy of selective archival. As Real Clear Politics' Andrew Desiderio reported, White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated that "President Obama discussed official matters with Clinton via her private email account, but he insisted the president was unaware of the home server." In a tweet, former Obama aide-de-camp David Axelrod said the same.

There is also the suggestion that the White House perhaps knew that Clinton had eschewed the use of a standard-issue State Department email address. A June 8, 2009, email from Clinton adviser Cheryl Mills informs Clinton that Axelrod wanted her email address. Obviously, if Clinton's got an email address in the "state.gov" domain, that request is never sent.

What else? All kinds of people regularly bring their problems and requests and exciting opportunities to the secretary of State, apparently. Maybe even more so when your husband runs an international philanthropic organization? One highlight from this clutch of electronic correspondence is that Cherie Blair, wife of former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, "repeatedly pressured Hillary Clinton to meet a leading Qatari royal when Clinton was US secretary of state," the Guardian reports.

Additionally, thanks to these emails, we know that while Clinton has managed to pass the "Mark Penn Test," she still has a few hilariously embarrassing (and camera-hungry) people like Lanny Davis and The Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild in her orbit.

Also, that time Clinton and her adviser Huma Abedin heroically battled a fax machine to a draw. Which is good news for Clinton, since now she can point to this episode any time a critic accuses her of being out of touch with ordinary people.

Ahh, the modern email dump! It begins with the alluring promise of revelations and frequently ends with an email chain about a troublesome piece of office equipment. Reporters can't resist the impulse to gorge themselves on what amounts to a pile of fresh, raw information. But, as is often the case, the meal is an empty calorie (though gluten-free!) affair.

Back in 2011, I pulled a double-shift in the salt mines of Sarah Palin's old emails. It was an activity that I predicted in advance would essentially be a waste of everybody's time -- a big dumb media-driven pseudo-event that would, finally, allow Palin to find some satisfaction at the expense of her ancient enemy, the mainstream media.

And I was by and large correct. Yes, I managed to get a story for my troubles -- I used that old email cache to chronicle the electric 48-hour period in which Palin went from near-obscurity to certain celebrity as Arizona Sen. John McCain tapped her to be his running mate. It was an interesting window into a world of close friends and political aides experiencing the shock and wonder of those two days, but it wasn't exactly a story that met the world's expectations for that effort.

Flash forward to 2015, and Palin is of the mind that Clinton, and her emails, should be subjected to the same scrutiny that she once was. Palin is right!

But Palin's not likely to get a full measure of enjoyment here, since this compendium of Clinton correspondence is but a tranche of a (presumably) larger whole. And this tranche has been through both the State Department's standard filter as well as Clinton's own bespoke method of sanitization. As Vox's Jonathan Allen notes, one shouldn't get one's hopes up about this email dump allowing reporters to go all fish-barrel-smoking gun on Clinton's State Department tenure, because "these emails are a distraction, a haystack from which any needles may already have been removed."

Allen continues:

There's another set -- or at least there was -- on a private server at Clinton's house. Clinton unilaterally decided which of her emails belonged in the public domain and which were personal. Then she wiped her server clean. You can almost imagine Clinton having a good belly laugh at the scores of reporters who are now poring through the documents she handed over without a fight. Sometimes, we can't tell the difference between steak and a chew toy.

Of course, it's not as simple as all that. Whatever amusement Clinton may derive from the thought of the media slogging through this relatively boring cross-section of her inbox is likely to be short-lived, because everyone is already aware that another, perhaps spicier, selection either exists or once existed.

For example, as The New York Times reported last week, at least 15 emails were excluded -- either in whole or in part -- from the raft of correspondence that Clinton handed over to the State Department to scrutinize for this particular email dump. (These additional emails came to light after Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal handed over emails of his own, which, as the Washington Examiner's Sarah Westwood reported, pertained to "the scramble for oil contracts in Libya and the shortcomings of the NATO-led military intervention for which she advocated.") For this reason alone, it's unlikely Clinton is having that "good belly laugh" at our expense.

But that's not the only reason. As history shows, Clinton's been burned by emails before. The history of the fractious, backbiting campaign staff that led to the demise of her 2008 candidacy was told by the Atlantic's Josh Green -- primarily by means of all the intra-campaign emails he managed to ferret out by playing various Clinton aides against one another in a bitter war of blame avoidance. As Green told The Huffington Post's Sam Stein, Clinton was "cc'ed" on all the emails that constituted her campaign's "dirty laundry."

"Isn't it obvious why she [set up her own email server]?" Green said. "If I were coming out of the 2008 campaign, the last thing on earth I would ever want to do is let some asshole reporter like me see an email with her name on it." That would go a long way to explain why Clinton opted to keep all of her email correspondence locked down as tight as possible.

And yet one can't get past just how incredibly short-sighted this strategy was. Had she just used a government email address to conduct some significant portion of routine State Department business, it's likely that she'd have no email scandal dogging her now. And as I previously mused, this has created a problem that is, in all likelihood, impossible to solve.

The Guardian's Megan Carpentier put a finer point on it back in March:

Clearly, Clinton's using a private email account in lieu of an official email was going to come out; clearly the second it did, people were going to speculate that, in said account, she will have been stupid enough to agree to some sort of actionable quid pro quo with Clinton Foundation donors despite that being the singular bone of contention at her 2009 confirmation hearings. And, perhaps even more obviously, a whole bunch of people were going to proclaim that, in using her private email server, she was just proving right the critics who have long said that the Clintons think themselves invincible.

It's just so unfathomably stupid to have nonetheless relied on a private email account to conduct official business that Clinton's supporters and defenders (at least, the ones less stupid and venal than Lanny Davis) should honestly be asking themselves what the fuck she was ever thinking.

Clinton essentially has two options now. The first is to do what Vox's Allen suggests, and "give her server and any other relevant material to an independent third party to review if any of the information can be salvaged and if any of it truly belongs in the public domain." The upside of this option is that Clinton settles the issue of transparency. The obvious downside is that she eats some pain, and she eats it coming or going: either the excluded material contains something damning or embarrassing; or it doesn't include something damning or embarrassing, and we all wonder why exactly she put everyone through all this michegas in the first place.

Her second option is to continue in her refusal to tender her server to a neutral party, and the question of what she might be hiding lingers longer in the campaign ether. In this scenario, maybe nothing new or revelatory seeps out. But on the other side of the cost-benefit analysis, her "honest and trustworthy" polling numbers (which are already upside-down) are going to haunt her presidential run like a creepy troll on New Jersey real estate. This polling tidbit would then basically make its way into every single story about her campaign.

And that matters ... somewhat. It would matter a lot more if said tidbit set Clinton apart from some grand American tradition of trustworthy politicians running in a corruption-free electoral system. That, of course, is not the case: There's a reason it takes zero hands to count the number of politicians who were dissuaded from running for office because the public didn't trust them.

So Clinton will let it ride and go with what's behind door number 2. In the meantime, rest assured, she's taking no pleasure in watching reporters comb through even this antiseptic collection of missives.

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The 'Firewall' Between Campaigns And Super PACs Is Not A Thing

Jason Linkins   |   June 26, 2015    6:17 PM ET

It's early days yet in the post-Citizens United era, and most of the nation is still in a very naive place. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who once warned that "that there will be huge scandals associated with this huge flood of money," is our Tiresias, just kicking back and waiting for his prophecies to be fulfilled. And the machinations between campaigns and their super PAC arms churn ever on.

But maybe everyone is slowly starting to awaken. Take, for example, this Bloomberg story published Friday by Michael C. Bender, titled "Jeb Bush and His Favorite Strategist Try to Win Without Speaking." That "favorite strategist" is one Mike Murphy. Here are the basics:

Murphy is in charge of Right to Rise, a super PAC created to get Bush elected. Because of regulations requiring a separation between candidates and super PACs, they can’t formally coordinate their efforts between now and the election. All the major candidates in the 2016 race will have super PACs working on their behalf, but Bush and Murphy are trying something unprecedented in U.S. presidential elections: building a separate, and better-funded, organization that will in some ways eclipse the official campaign as a vehicle for promoting the candidate. Murphy’s Los Angeles-based team will produce digital marketing, television ads, and opposition research on behalf of Bush, whose campaign headquarters are across the country in Miami. “He’s a good friend, and I’m going to miss him,” Bush says. “I hope to see him on election night and give him an embrace. But from here on out, I won’t be talking to him.”

At first blush, it kind of looks like Bender is succumbing to the same naiveté. But take a closer look at the URL of his article (emphasis mine):

http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-06-26/does-anyone-believe-jeb-bush-isn-t-talking-to-his-super-pac-chief-?

Ha! Nicely played, sir. Sadly, the answer is probably "yes." But hopefully not for much longer.

We've been over this before. Back in April, the Associated Press ran a story about how the Bush campaign was going to enact a substantial "makeover" of the traditional campaign process. In that piece, the AP made it clear that not only was the Bush campaign going to send Murphy, its most trusted aide-de-camp, to run Right to Rise -- it was going to entrust the super PAC with the responsibility of doing the lion's share of the campaign work, and spending the vast majority of the campaign's money.

As I said then: "No credible modern presidential campaign is going to turn over its central functions to an entity with whom it cannot coordinate. No credible modern presidential campaign is going to allow an entity it cannot coordinate with to spend the bulk of its money. It's literally insane to believe that." And yes, I'm 100 percent comfortable with the way I used the word "literally" there.

The official Eat The Press position has been, and shall remain, that no "firewall" between campaigns and super PACs truly exists. Wherever this notion is asserted, remember that it assumes facts that are not in evidence. Indeed, I've yet to read any account that tries to explain how this alleged "firewall" would even work. So this idea that Bush and Murphy are going to spend the next year and a half never talking to one another is a pretty fiction, but -- until proven otherwise -- it must be treated as a fiction nonetheless. And from the point of view of the people who are making large donations to Right to Rise, it had damn well better be a fiction, because no one is exactly investing pocket change in this effort to elect Jeb.

There are two aspects of the modern American campaign system that we'd all do well to keep in mind. First, it unleashes the full force of our political plutocracy, allowing donors to give more money to campaigns while shielding them from public scrutiny and criticism. The hidden nature of these arrangements makes possible the second feature of this system -- the one where the "super PAC" arm of the campaign has the freedom to be the candidate's seamy underbelly, producing all manner of dirty, controversial materiel on the candidate's behalf. For a terrific example of how this stuff works, see "Mitt Romney killed my wife," an ad produced during the 2012 campaign cycle by Priorities USA Action, an Obama-affiliated super PAC run by Bill Burton, who is one of Obama's closest confidants.

Right now, this fig-leaf notion that campaigns and super PACs cannot (and thus do not) coordinate with each other is all that remains as a notional bulwark between this super-corrupt campaign system and our vague concept of "fairness." Every time this notion is articulated in the press, it offers a talismanic promise that our campaign finance system is not, as John McCain might tell you, hell with the lid off. This is not just a harmless delusion, however. The idea that a firm barrier exists between campaigns and super PACs actually serves to enable the worst practices in the system.

So every time a super PAC steps beyond the bounds of tact and taste, the candidate with whom it is affiliated can always make a claim of plausible deniability. "That wasn't us!" they'll say. "We would never have countenanced that thing the super PAC did. Alas, we had no way of stopping it, as we cannot coordinate with them." It was by these means that the Obama campaign -- the official one, that is -- never got stained by the aforementioned Priorities USA ad.

Of course, by now, we've all learned that campaigns do coordinate with super PACs -- sometimes in ways that are cutesy and arcane. There's the old "stockpile high-definition B-roll footage and offer it publicly" plan, favored by several candidates in the 2014 cycle. There are the secret Twitter "numbers stations" that CNN's Chris Moody ferreted out a few weeks after the polls closed in 2014. And Salon's Jim Newell recently documented how Carly Fiorina's super PAC was attempting to use campaign journalists as its go-betweens. Points for creativity!

These wacky little shenanigans more or less operate with the unstated assumption that if the people running the campaign and the people running the super PAC ever directly spoke to each other, terrible consequences would be sure to follow. The thing is, though: Would terrible consequences follow? By whose infinite wisdom are we protected from "coordination?" There are myriad ways that a candidate and their super PAC macher can communicate with one another. Burner phones. Dead drops. The only thing, frankly, that might prevent them from just emailing one another is the possibility that some hacker might to do them what Guccifer did to Hillary Clinton's personal email server: breach it and turn its contents over to the public.

For all we've heard about this "firewall" between candidates and super PACs, we really have no idea how robustly this barrier is enforced, and by what means. At this point, for all we know, it's just an empty promise. At best, it means it will be some time before we're able to photograph Jeb Bush and Mike Murphy in the same room together. (Though how will they manage that without coordinating with each other?)

Jeb Bush's team may be getting all the credit for inventing this new style of campaigning, in which the candidate's super PAC gets the bulk of the campaign's intellectual and financial capital and performs most of the traditional duties of the campaign in return, but this, I suspect, is going to be the way presidential politics get done in 2016. As one anonymous GOP strategist told the Associated Press back in April, "This is the natural progression of the rules as they are set out by the FEC."

In other words, just as "Jurassic World's" Indominus rex probed the pen that served as a barrier guarding the world from its bloody rampage, the strength of the FEC's "firewall" has been tested and its weaknesses identified. Aside from perhaps Bernie Sanders -- whose campaign will test the theory that a candidate can bring a knife to this particular gun fight and win -- this is how all of your 2016 campaigns are going to be run. (And for what it's worth, even Sanders is finding out that even when you don't want the dark money, the dark money is going to find you anyway.)

In his Bloomberg piece, Bender cannily leads the reader away from the false promise of the "firewall":

In the midterms, candidates and super PACs devised numerous tactics for telegraphing their strategies. One was tipping off mainstream news organizations to ad buys or strategic shifts. American Crossroads, a major Republican super PAC, and other groups used Twitter to share polling data with party committees, posting tweets filled with cryptic strings of data -- in one case from an account named for a West Wing character. Aides to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tweeted a link to ad scripts devised by New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign that were used by Senate Majority PAC, the largest outside Democratic group. “If Bush’s chief strategist is doing conference calls to lay out exactly what the plan is and how that’s part of the campaign, then there is no independence,” says Bill Burton, a co-founder of Priorities USA, a Democratic super PAC created in 2012 to support President Obama’s reelection that’s now working for Hillary Clinton. (Burton is no longer involved.) “That’s not to suggest Mike Murphy and the Bush campaign or anyone is breaking the laws. It’s just that the law is really stupid.”

Ha, well, as previously noted, Bill Burton would know about this stuff better than anyone!

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Bobby Jindal To Fulfill Son's Dream Of Returning To Iowa, Also Is Running For President

Jason Linkins   |   June 24, 2015    1:38 PM ET

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday joined the crowded field of candidates vying for the GOP's presidential nomination, and may even get the chance to appear in one of his party's debates, if he plays his cards right! But the first order of business in this day and age is announcing the plan to make an announcement. Wasn't there a time when American electoral politics was more straightforward? Oh well, campaign consultants gotta get paid, I guess.

Jindal's entree into the world of announcement-announcements comes in the form of this video, in which he and his wife, Supriya, sit down with their three children to give them the big news, "We are going to be running for president." The whole thing is, naturally, shot using the Jindal family secret camera, which is kept trained on the back porch at all times to capture the whimsical reactions of the children.

I had to tell a few people first. But I want you to be next. I’m running for President of the United States of America. Join me: http://www.bobbyjindal.com/announcement/

Posted by Bobby Jindal on Wednesday, June 24, 2015
"Maybe if you behave, you'll get a chance to go back to Iowa," Jindal tells his son. "Would you like that?" he asks.

This is what every young man longs to hear, and the boy nods emphatically. "You like Iowa, don't you?" exclaims Ms. Jindal. Of course: because of the popcorn.

As for their dad running for president, the kids are all, "Sure, that's fine." BUT IOWA! A boy can dream! (About Iowa.)

Minutes later, the same child sees a turtle.

Keeping the attention of an eight year old can be hard. Even when you have a family talk about running for President.

Posted by Bobby Jindal on Wednesday, June 24, 2015
JINDAL/THAT TURTLE 2016!!!!!

(You can watch Bobby Jindal further plumb the depths of his family's enthusiasm here.)

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I Can't Stop Laughing At The 'True Detective' Bar Scene

Jason Linkins   |   June 22, 2015    8:41 PM ET

If you'll grant me an indulgence, I'd like to take a moment to talk about what so many other people are talking about: Sunday's episode of HBO's "True Detective." What a world we live in that this thing was broadcast to the world on television -- an hour of over-sizzled noir angst, played by actors who'd taken leave of their senses, directed into a disconnected pastiche of Lost Generation cliches. And it's all about the aftermath of a proposal to build a light-rail system in southern California. Again: What a world!

Having only watched one episode of the second season, I obviously don't know what might proceed from here. Will it become the "embarrassing television show we deserve," as Washington Post critic Alyssa Rosenberg suggests? Is it going to be a much more fun television series because it's objectively terrible, as Deadspin's Rob Harvilla offers? Will ensuing episodes contain more than 31 "ridiculous moments?" I couldn't tell you. Maybe this show is going to be mostly codswallop!

One thing I do know for sure, however, is that Sunday's episode proves that if you want to make "golden age era" television, the secret is to make super-complicated television.

I'm focused primarily on the bar scene from the second half of the show. If you saw it, you know what I'm talking about. The bar scene that features singer-songwriter Lera Lynn, who was tasked with penning the darkest, saddest song ever given voice, demonstrating that she succeeded in that task. Let's set up this scene, okay? I guess these are technically "spoilers," but I'm not actually sure I can spoil this?

Colin Farrell plays a corrupt cop named Ray Velcoro. Earlier in the episode, he was sent to threaten a Los Angeles Times investigative reporter whose byline appeared on what purported to be a lengthy series of newspaper articles about local corruption. "Journalism" works by different rules in this universe, because apparently you can send a masked-up Colin Farrell to a reporter's apartment to beat him up and steal his notes and his laptop, and the story the next day won't be "Area Reporter Covering Local Corruption Is Beaten By Masked Criminal: 'I Guess We're Onto Something,' Says Editor."

(This part of the plot really doesn't make any sense! Why isn't this reporter's work for this series of stories about local corruption safely on his Google Drive, or something? In fact, surely the entire series is in the hands of his editor, all trimmed up and ready for publication. Right? I guess stranger things have happened at Tribune Co. papers.)

Later in the show, Velcoro meets Vince Vaughn's character, Frank Semyon (standard-issue shady underworld figure tryna go legit) in a bar, to deliver the goods. Now, Velcoro and Semyon have a somewhat complicated backstory that explains why they are bound together in this fashion, but we'll let that go for the moment, to focus on the ordinary logic of the scene itself. This is a scene about two men meeting at a bar, in which one man has important information to give the other, based upon a felonious arrangement the two men made with one another.

Now, if this were me, writing this scene, I'd probably do something like, "EXTERIOR ESTABLISHING SHOT" followed by "INTERIOR: BAR, IT IS NIGHT, A SINGER IS REVEALED MID PERFORMANCE, SHOT PANS TO BOOTH WHERE VELCORO AND SEMYON ARE REVEALED, TOGETHER" and then I'd just get on with the scene. But that's why I don't get paid to make Noir 3.0 for HBO, because apparently the point is to use 15 shots to do the work of two.

Let's go through the insane mise-en-scene!

First, we start with the exterior shot, bridging us from the previous scene into the bar. So far, so good.

true detective one

We cut right to Farrell. He is smoking.

true detecive scene two

He is also brooding, angstfully, as all men must do in this fallen world.

true detective scene three

Let's get a shot of Farrell from the side. Okay, we've firmly established that he is in some sort of bar.

true detective scene four

There's the aforementioned Lynn, lifting the spirits of the bar with her rousing, "This is my least favorite life" song.

true detective scene five

Now we'll establish that Vince Vaughn is there, too.

true detective scene six

Did you forget that Colin Farrell is there, smoking? It's been a few seconds since this was addressed.

true detective scene seven

Let's take a long look at him, actually, so that we remember: He's Troubled! He's Brooding!

true detective scene eight

Let's take a longish look at Vince Vaughn, too. I guess that both actors' agents demanded their clients get an equal amount of screen time in which to stare into the middle distance.

true detective scene nine

Why haven't they started a conversation, yet? Are they at different bars? Maybe they are at the same bar, but sitting apart from each other, and they don't know it? What a comedic situation that would be! And it would explain why these two men don't just start talking about their criminal enterprise.

But now we get a shot that pans across the bar ...

true detective scene ten

...ultimately revealing the two men, seated at a booth, together.

true detective scene eleven

Now, this would have been the shot I would have used to establish the scene, so I guess we can now say that the real circumstances of this meet-up are now firm, and the conversation can begin, right?

Nope! We get another shot of Farrell from the side, smoking.

true detective scene twelve

And another shot of Vaughn.

true detective scene thirteen

Are you impressed with the work that Thomas Friedman's mustache has been doing in this scene? Let's take another close-up of that.

true detective scene fourteen

Back to Vaughn, in close up, his head now cocked to the side, as if to say, "Wasn't something supposed to happen in this scene?"

true detective scene fifteen

Then there is a two-shot of Farrell and Vaughn, two men trapped in a flat circle of never-ending establishing shots, wondering if they'll ever actually get to start "acting."

true detective scene sixteen

Finally, the scene begins, with Farrell handing over the laptop and notes of this poor reporter, who'll never know the satisfaction of winning that Pulitzer for Investigative Journalism, thanks to this cunning plot.

true detective scene seventeen

This scene isn't the most credulity-straining thing last night's episode asked us to endure (that prize goes to Taylor Kitsch's character's insanely fortunate meet-cute with this series' seemingly central murder victim), but it is emblematic of what's driving television critics to hurl pointed WTFs at the show today -- the people on this show do not behave like normal human beings. Normal human beings who find themselves in these circumstances (one man steals a laptop to give to another man) don't sit quietly at a bar, staring at each other anxiously, brooding about existence for minutes on end before initiating a conversation with one another. This scene exists because the people making this show have gotten high on their own supply, and have decided that this season is going to be one long and indulgent session of "screenwritering."

Harvilla puts it well: "A fun thing about prestige TV in particular, for whatever reason, is that in the second season you find out what the showrunners thought everyone liked about the first season, and it makes for high art when they guess right but much higher entertainment value when they guess wrong." Whether this show continues this sudden veer into sure-to-be-hatewatched territory is anyone's guess. Maybe this first episode was just an overstuffed hour building to the point where the major characters are enjoined and the quest is on. Maybe it gets tauter and more sensible from this point forward. All I know is that when you watch that bar scene, you can't help but think, "We in Carcosa now, son."

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