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Jason Linkins   |   August 26, 2015    5:46 PM ET

Is CNN about to screw up its upcoming GOP primary debate by screwing over one of the candidates? At least one aggrieved Republican contender, Carly Fiorina, is angry today about the criteria the venerable cable news network will use to choose its debate participants, and her campaign has taken to the medium of Medium to air its grievances. Well, guess what? Fiorina's right, and CNN is wrong.

But let's take a step back. During the midsummer run-up to the first GOP primary debate -- hosted by Fox News in Cleveland on Aug. 6 -- one big topic of conversation was the unwieldy size of the pool of contenders and how they could all be accommodated at one debate. And the novel solution that Fox hit upon was to not solve it at all: Instead of jamming 17 people on the stage, Fox -- using data from the five most recent polls -- would give those averaging in the top 10 the primetime debate slot. The unlucky seven that didn't make the cut would get a seat at a smaller table.

For those seven candidates -- which, along with Fiorina, included Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum -- sequestration at this minor debate meant they were really only going to get one shot at getting into the top tier. Realistically, there was only ever going to be one winner -- one candidate who'd ascend to the more rarefied air of the next mainstage debate, to be hosted by CNN on Sept. 16th in Simi Valley, California.

Here's the thing, though! I thought that we were all basically in agreement about who it was that won that first undercard debate. Let's take a look at the headlines from the day after:

Slate: "Carly Fiorina Won the Preliminary Debate. It Wasn’t Even Close."

Washington Post: "Carly Fiorina won the ‘Happy Hour’ debate. By a lot."

NBC News: "Carly Fiorina Wins Buzz After 'Happy Hour' Debate"

New York Post: "Carly Fiorina surging in polls after ‘winning’ GOP debate"

Vox: "Carly Fiorina was the clear winner of Fox News's first debate"

The Federalist: "Carly Fiorina Easily Wins Early GOP Debate"

Reuters, as rendered by Business Insider: "Everyone's saying Carly Fiorina won the early Republican debate today"

So -- from online to print, national to local, left-leaning to right-leaning, to "Everyone" -- we sort of had a clear consensus: the winner was Carly Fiorina. And more importantly, voters quantitatively agreed:


Here, via HuffPost Pollster, you can see how everyone stuck at the "happy hour" debate has fared since the lights went down that night. The only candidate whose fortunes are diverging in the right direction is Fiorina. This is how this was supposed to work! Seven candidates were going to have one opportunity to move up, and -- as with Highlanders -- there could be only one. Fiorina was that one, plain and simple.

Obviously, the Fiorina campaign agrees with this point of view, and over at their outpost on Medium, Deputy Campaign Manager Sarah Isgur Flores has compiled even more compelling data backing up their case:

In the three national polls that have been released since the debate, Carly is between 4th and 7th place. Her name ID and net favorability have risen by double digits. And she has continued to impress crowds during her most recent trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Nevada.


The state polling since the first debate is even more stark — and relevant, since that’s actually how we pick presidential nominees in this country. Here’s how Carly ranks in every state poll since the first debate: New Hampshire: 3rd; South Carolina: 4th; Wisconsin: 5th; Florida: 5th; Ohio: 6th; Pennsylvania: 4th; Nevada: 2nd; North Carolina: 6th; Arizona: 3rd; Iowa: 5th; Michigan: 2nd; Missouri: 7th; New Hampshire: 5th; Iowa: 5th; Iowa: 5th.

I mean, this all checks out. So what's the problem here? Well, in this post, Flores accuses "the political establishment" of "rigging the game to keep Carly off the main debate stage." I don't think the problem is that ornate. I just think CNN is using some perplexing standards to determine its top 10, by which I mean it's going to use poll data from polls dating back to July 16. Per Flores:

Carly would easily make this debate if there were a consistent number of polls from one week to the next, but that’s not the case. In the three weeks before the first debate, CNN will be counting nine polls. In the three weeks since the debate, they will only be counting two. By simply averaging these polls together, CNN will be weighting the three weeks of polling before the debate more than three times as heavily as the three weeks of polling after Carly won the first debate.

Yeah, that's stupid. At this point, polls from mid-July have no salience. The beginning of the debate season marked an escalation in voter engagement and truly opened the competitive period of the nominating contest. By giving such weight to polls from what is, for all intents and purposes, a bygone age, CNN is making it much harder for Fiorina to capitalize on the momentum she's earned -- a phenomenon that Philip Bump demonstrates in great detail at The Washington Post.

More importantly, CNN is making it harder for its readers and viewers to obtain an accurate picture of where the GOP race has gone in the past month and what the state of play is now -- and an accurate picture would place Fiorina squarely in contention and in the conversation.

I don't necessarily think that CNN is purposefully putting its thumb on the scale, here, because the network would really have nothing to gain by intentionally excluding Fiorina. But from the campaign's point of view, you may as well go out and make the accusation of a "rigged" system. Out here in the real world, where real voters have registered their newfound appreciation for Fiorina in appreciable ways, any decision to exclude her just doesn't square. Let's just look again at the current HuffPost Pollster polling average, with the entire field included:

We have Fiorina in a safe seventh place at the moment, which would comfortably get her into the mainstage debate. Besides, can it credibly be said that she belongs with her former competitors from August's smaller debate? Right now, if those six candidates and their polling numbers combined to form Loser GOP Presidential Candidate Voltron, they still couldn't overtake Fiorina.

This is dumb and CNN needs to fix this. Carly Fiorina earned promotion from the smaller table, and the next debate should reflect that. Putting her back in the also-ran division will send the message to voters that there's no point to tuning in to that lesser competition, and that overcoming that interesting and daunting challenge -- which Fiorina did! -- is meaningless. Fiorina is seventh. Let her debate, and don't worry about the other six contenders who couldn't get out of the lower division. You surely aren't going to see Rick Perry or Bobby Jindal writing a blog post on Medium about how they "won" that debate, anyway. Though it would be highly entertaining.


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Jason Linkins   |   August 24, 2015    4:20 PM ET

As we noted a few days ago, Scott Walker's been having a hard time doing this whole "running for president" thing, and people are starting to notice and wonder. What's a Wisconsin governor to do to "turn the page" and "change the conversation"? How about making an empty gesture of some sort?

Ehh, that'll do nicely, I guess! Monday afternoon, Walker  decided to call for President Barack Obama to cancel a state dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping, on the grounds that the stock market had a bad day today, or something. As the Wisconsin governor said in a statement:

Americans are struggling to cope with the fall in today's markets driven in part by China's slowing economy and the fact that they actively manipulate their economy. Rather than honoring Chinese President Xi Jinping with an official state visit next month, President Obama should focus on holding China accountable over its increasing attempts to undermine U.S. interests. Given China’s massive cyberattacks against America, its militarization of the South China Sea, continued state interference with its economy, and persistent persecution of Christians and human rights activists, President Obama needs to cancel the state visit. There's serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance. We need to see some backbone from President Obama on U.S.-China relations.

Yes, there's serious work to be done, so let's do it some other time, after you've had time to sit and think about what you've done, China. You can just see how all of the problems Walker enumerates are going to get solved by snubbing China's leadership.

Is this, perhaps, the "Trump effect" (or as the Germans call it, "der Trumpeffekt") messing with Walker's message? Maybe so. After all, it was just two years ago that Walker was making his own flamboyant journey to China, to break bread with that nation's business leaders on a trade mission he gladly self-promoted. Walker palled around with Chinese fans of Milwaukee's own Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and waxed enthusiastically about the fundamentals of the Chinese economy. Per Forbes' Russell Flannery:

China’s slowing economic growth weighed down stock markets in Asia last week but one influential first-time visitor to the country views it as still holding plenty of business promise.


“In a lot of states in America, we’d like to have that kind of slow growth they are projecting” even in some of China’s slower-expanding regions, said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in an interview in Shanghai last week. “We’re still very big on doing business in Shanghai in particular, but throughout the country, “ said Walker, expressing confidence that commerce between China and his state would increase quickly in the future. “I just see it taking off,” he said.

Such backbone! Well, a lot has changed since then. For instance, Walker has fallen into the third tier of polling for the 2016 Republican primary! Also, he's said to be "struggling" in Iowa, a state whose governor, Terry Branstad, has worked hard to establish a good relationship with -- umm...China.

So perhaps this is about keeping up with the Trumpses, and using the reality-teevee mogul's trademarked anti-China rhetoric to do so. Or maybe this is just garden-variety desperation mixed with inexperience. Either way, it boils down to Walker demanding a president he's not running against do something that Walker himself wouldn't dare do if he became president himself -- a prospect that's lately dimming.


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Jason Linkins   |   August 24, 2015   11:41 AM ET

Over the past few months, the slate of GOP presidential candidates has gone from glowing reviews of the Republicans' "deep bench" compared to the scant participation of rival Democrats, to recognition of how big that bench actually is and the sight of Fox News struggling to accommodate all comers at the first important debate. One would imagine that what most party leaders and conservative pundits are hoping for now is some kind of winnowing of the field from the pretenders to the contenders.

But there is one obvious exception: Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, who -- for some reason -- wants more candidates to enter the race. And by "more," I mean nine additional dudes.

What is it about the current field of 17 candidates that doesn't cut it for Kristol? Well, in this week's piece, "An October Surprise for the GOP" (in which the "October Surprise" comes one year sooner than a traditional "October Surprise"), Kristol doesn't actually get around to laying out any specific reasons. He can't say that "the GOP isn't on course to nominating their very own Dukakis," and he suspects Donald Trump has forced a "distorted view of the quality of the field," but that's about it. Kristol just ... isn't sure, man.

But there is one thing that he suspects to be true. "Well," writes Kristol, "it's not as if every well-qualified contender is already on the field."

O RLY? Per Kristol:

Mitch Daniels was probably the most successful Republican governor of recent times, with federal executive experience to boot. Paul Ryan is the intellectual leader of Republicans in the House of Representatives, with national campaign experience. The House also features young but tested leaders like Jim Jordan, Trey Gowdy and Mike Pompeo. There is the leading elected representative of the 9/11 generation who has also been a very impressive freshman senator, Tom Cotton. There could be a saner and sounder version of Trump -- another businessman who hasn't held electoral office. And there are distinguished conservative leaders from outside politics; Justice Samuel Alito and General (ret.) Jack Keane come to mind.

Won't some of these guys run for president? After all, if they don't get in the race and start competing, Bill Kristol might never get around to identifying the five or six people he really, REALLY wants to see run for president. Although maybe we're learning that Kristol's true dream ticket is "Diazepam/A Long Nap 2016."

(Sidebar: You have to feel a little bit bad for Carly Fiorina here, whom Kristol would pass over in favor of some "saner and sounder ... businessman who hasn't held electoral office." Gotta be one of those out there somewhere!) 

But look, this is old hat. Kristol's uncertainty about the quality of the GOP field is basically a return to the column-stuffing schtick he regularly deployed four years ago. As you may recall, Kristol spent most of the latter half of 2011 inside his Glass Case Of Emotion, constantly lamenting Mitt Romney's status as front-runner and constantly writing regular articles about how no one was inevitable, how better candidates were always available to join the race, and how there was always -- ALWAYS! -- enough time for a savior to make a late bid for the Republican nomination. 

On Sept. 23, 2011, Kristol reacted to that week's primary debate by saying, "Yikes ... maybe the GOP presidential boat needs rocking." In an Oct. 25 dispatch, he bragged that "81 percent of the GOP primary voters" were "in play" and that the "race seem[ed] to be more open and fluid than conventional wisdom has it." Kristol's post-Thanksgiving tryptophan hangover led to a brief screed denying that Romney was "inevitable" and insisting that "a late January entry by another candidate isn't out of the question." Come Dec. 8, Kristol was endorsing a Rhodes Cook piece about how it wasn't "too late for a candidate to enter the race" and suggesting there was a "window of opportunity" for such a candidate to get in around Valentine's Day. On Dec. 19, Kristol wrote a piece begging for some "non-Hughes, non-Dewey, non-Nixon, non-Dole Republican candidate to present himself" by Presidents' Day weekend to save the GOP from Romney. By December's end, Kristol was suggesting that the GOP's only hope was a brokered convention

During that time, Kristol never ran out of potential game-changing dark horse candidates, offering Rudy Giuliani, John Thune, Mitch Daniels, Mike PencePaul Ryan, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie as the certain rescuers of the GOP's White House ambitions. And throughout it all, Kristol was inspired by the illustrious voices of history's specters, like the "ghosts of Lincoln and FDR" or Harry Truman or Alexander Hamilton or Geoffrey Chaucer or William Butler Yeats.

In fact, this ground has been so well trod by Kristol that poor Yeats is being conscripted into his second "Please, please somebody else run for president" tour of duty. This week, Kristol draws on Yeats' "The Second Coming" to wonder, "But what if come October all we have is Bushies lacking all conviction, Trumpers full of passionate intensity, and a bunch of uninspiring also-rans?" Now, let's flash back to Sept. 23, 2011:

A third e-mailer Thursday evening, watching the debate, was reminded of Yeats's "The Second Coming:"

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity."

There's some truth to that. But I can't help wondering if, in the same poem, Yeats didn't suggest the remedy:

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Sounds like Chris Christie.  

There's a special irony there. The New Jersey governor is one of a handful of 2016 candidates whom Kristol desperately wanted to run in 2012. Now, Kristol isn't sure that Christie -- along with Rubio, Bush and Huckabee -- is worthy of seeking the nomination at all. The man is like Prince's mom: never satisfied.

One can only wonder how Kristol is going to hold it together this time out. Here he is, standing at the threshold of his mid-autumn anxiety attack and it's only August. But maybe it's not too late for Kristol to find some way to chill, if only for a few months. After all, the way he ends his piece suggests that he's not chosen the path of panic just yet.

It may seem odd to suggest that the solution to an already unprecedentedly large field is to expand it further. But politics is full of oddities. And what would be truly odd would be to go into battle in 2016 with a candidate we settle on rather than a nominee the country can rally behind. The presidency would be a terrible thing to waste.

One thing's for sure: I believe Kristol when he says that the presidency would be a terrible thing to waste because he ended his Dec. 19, 2011, column the exact same way.

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Jason Linkins   |   August 21, 2015    4:40 PM ET

At the outset of the 2016 election season, the conventional wisdom on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was that he was in a fairly unique position among the Republican Party’s presidential contenders. He was a favorite of both major donors and grassroots activists. His appeal was broad enough that one could easily imagine a coalition of tea partiers, evangelicals and mainstream conservatives. Best of all, Walker was a survivor: The Democrats and the unions had come at the king, and they'd missed. Repeatedly and dramatically. Which is, like, the one thing you're not supposed to do.

In other words, there was a time not so long ago when a lot of folks thought the nomination was Walker’s to lose. Lately, however, the question has become whether Walker is about to go and do just that.

One of the latest moments of uncertainty came on Friday, when Walker, in conversation with CNBC’s John Harwood, declined to offer an opinion about whether children of undocumented immigrants (or, if you’re Jeb Bush, “anchor babies”) should get American citizenship -- as is currently their right under the law.

"I'm not taking a position on it one way or the other," he told Harwood. "I'm saying that until you secure the border and enforce the laws, any discussion about anything else is really looking past the very things we have to do."

All well and good... unless you happened to be paying attention on Monday, when the issue of birthright citizenship came up in an interview with MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, and Walker said explicitly that the right should be stripped from children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants.

Here's what Walker told MSNBC's Kasie Hunt on Monday:

Hunt: Do you think that birthright citizenship should be ended?

Walker: Like I said, [Sen.] Harry Reid said it's not right for this country. I think that's something we should -- yeah, absolutely, going forward --

Hunt: We should end birthright citizenship?

Walker: Yeah. To me, it’s about enforcing the laws in this country. And I’ve been very clear, I think you enforce the laws, and I think it’s important to send a message that we’re going to enforce the laws, no matter how people come here, we need to uphold the law in this country.

(That reference to Reid, a Nevada Democrat and currently the Senate minority leader, is one that conservatives like to pull out frequently, even though Reid made the statement in 1993 and has since said it was a mistake.)

So what happened between Monday and Friday to make Walker -- pardon the expression -- walk back? The evidence suggests that his troubles arise from having to please the GOP’s nativist primary base while also keeping his big institutional donors happy. According to a report by The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson and Sean Sullivan, the person responsible for Walker’s backtrack may have been Stanley Hubbard, "a conservative billionaire who oversees a Minnesota broadcasting company,” who's “donated to Walker’s campaign” and who “had lunch on Tuesday with Walker and other campaign supporters.” Per the Post:

Hubbard strongly opposes one immigration measure pushed by [Donald] Trump this week: a call to stop giving citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants who are born in the United States. Walker said in an interview Monday that he would support ending birthright citizenship, then said other reforms might make that unnecessary.

Hubbard said that he “might really quickly change my allegiance” if Walker pushed for such a repeal, and that he “did not get a real straight answer” from the candidate at his Tuesday lunch. But Hubbard, who came away ready [to] write more checks to help Walker, added: “I got the feeling that he is not at all anxious to talk about taking away those rights.”

It was just a day earlier that Walker had stood on the famous Iowa State Fair soapbox, sparring with a protester: “I’m not intimidated by you, sir, or anyone else out there.” Well, maybe not. But that doesn't mean that nothing intimidates Walker -- a fact that's becoming more and more clear the longer he spends on the national stage.

“This is becoming a big problem for him,” tweeted Republican communications strategist Liz Mair on Tuesday. “Says one thing publicly, then indicates the opposite privately. Needs to quit it.” There's an O. Henryish aspect to this, since Walker at one point might have privately benefited from Mair’s advice: She was set to work with the Walker campaign back in March, only to quit after the governor succumbed to pressure from the digital peanut gallery that Mair be fired for making “frank Twitter criticism of Iowa’s early role in the presidential nomination process.” (What she actually said was, "The sooner we remove Iowa's frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be.")

In Friday’s interview with Harwood, Walker was also forced to discuss Donald Trump, the real estate mogul whose ersatz presidential campaign currently leads the GOP’s primary polls. Walker seemed miffed that Harwood suggested his immigration statements -- which include restricting legal immigration -- had anything to do with Trump. His proposals came before Trump's, Walker said. True enough. In fact, you can argue that some of Walker’s previously enunciated immigration positions, such as his criticism in April of legal immigration itself, give Trump a run for his money in terms of sheer radical audacity.

But as The Washington Post notes, Trump's not the only one throwing Walker off his game. Rather, “his candidacy has become overshadowed by non-politicians such as Trump, [Ben] Carson and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, who have connected with voters who are angry at those in office.” And as The Capital Times’ Todd D. Milewski points out, after years of enjoying steady and consistent public favor, Walker has lately (and surprisingly!) become just another one of those officeholders with whom voters are angry:

Obviously, it would be wholly premature at this point to count Walker out of the running. The election is over 14 months away, and he has plenty of time to right the ship. He remains competitive in the Iowa caucus polls, and he's posting numbers good enough to ensure that he won’t slip down a tier into any future “undercard debates.”

And as of late Friday afternoon, Walker’s team was already working to clean up the birthright citizenship mess. In a statement, the Walker campaign’s national press secretary, AshLee Strong, said: “Despite the best efforts to mischaracterize Governor Walker’s position, he has clearly and consistently stated that we need to enforce the laws on the books, keep people from coming here illegally, and enforce e-verify to stop the jobs magnet before we address the issue of birthright citizenship. By addressing the root problems -- in the right order -- we will end this collateral issue that only exists because we have a border that is not secure and a broken system.”

Of course, as CNN reports, the hits just keep coming:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker stumbled through a question Friday about whether he would meet with representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement.

When asked whether he'd be willing to meet with activists, Walker dismissed the possibility by saying, "Who knows who that is?"

"I meet with voters. Who knows who that is," Walker said, apparently referring to Black Lives Matter activists.

When pressed on the matter, Walker said he would "talk to American voters."

"It's the same way as saying we meet with the tea party. Who is the tea party? There's hundreds of thousands of people," he said.

Ah, well. Practice makes perfect.

Jason Linkins   |   August 17, 2015   11:48 AM ET

As Vox's Todd VanDerWerff noted over the weekend, one of the things that entertainer Donald Trump is using to sustain his ersatz political campaign is his reality-television acumen. "Compared with many of his competitors," VanDerWerff wrote, "Trump seems to be playing at a whole other level when it comes to live television."

And Trump demonstrated his mastery of these skills over the weekend in Iowa, when he brought a helicopter along, in order to give young Iowa State Fair participants a ride above the fairgrounds. Two of the tykes that went along for the ride were ABC News' Martha Raddatz and Bloomberg Politics' Mark Halperin, who took selfies while enthusing, "WOW, HELICOPTER."

To be honest, this was a genius move by Trump, because while he is loathsome, his helicopter is neato-keen-bean. I mean, who could hate a helicopter, right? Wheeeee! But this just scratches the surface of how smart a move this was.

See, any presidential candidate can go to Iowa, eat some stick food, pose next to a cow made of butter, and give some talking point-laden speeches. Trump knows that what matters at this stage of his campaign isn't to come out in public and properly deal with what's at stake politically -- it's to create moments for the media that both exceed their wildest expectations and are easy to disseminate. The helicopter does the trick: even though Raddatz has ridden on helicopters before, in circumstances that come with higher stakes, a helicopter ride at the Iowa State Fair from Trump is so unexpected that she pops out her camera and starts taking selfies...

... which Halperin records on video ....

... and which I'll use to create a series of meta-critical memes about meme creation!

All of the above quotes were taken from the first chapter of The Image: A Guide To Pseudo-Events In America by Daniel J. Boorstin -- a book I highly recommend you read (or re-read) if you want to understand and/or survive the 2016 presidential election.


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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 looked on Jan. 9, 2007, three months before Gilmore declared his candidacy. Today, 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:

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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

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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)

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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!