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One Hillary Clinton Think Piece To Rule Them All

Jason Linkins   |   April 17, 2015    2:29 PM ET

This week, we were faced with the daunting prospect of having to make sense out of all the Hillary Clinton think pieces that were microwaved into existence after she decided to formally enter the 2016 presidential race. And there were so many pieces of "think" to go through! Millions of microscopic particles of thinking! It was all way too tiresome.

So, in lieu of adding to an already crowded canon, what follows is a Frankenstein's monster of everyone else's hasty Hillary musings. It is one brutal Hillary Clinton think piece to rule them all -- here presented with apologies to Jason O. Gilbert, whose joke we have stolen.

eye of thinkpiece

HERE IS A WRY COMMENT ABOUT A THING THAT HAPPENED

The wait is over. Well, the longest tease in American politics is officially over. There is no breaking news here.

It comes as no surprise to most but with a video released Sunday afternoon -- delivering what might be the least surprising news of the political season to date -- Clinton made it official. Ending two years of speculation and coy denials, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced on Sunday that she would seek the presidency for a second time, immediately establishing herself as the likely 2016 Democratic nominee.

For all the months of quiet and careful planning, however, her campaign's rollout did not come off as smoothly as envisioned. The moment was thrilling -- OMG she's doing it! -- as well as anticlimactic. The afternoon's blown; what's for dinner?

MY ATTENTION SPAN WAS SUFFICIENT TO WATCH A BRIEF VIDEO

The slick, two-minute video shows quick cuts of a carefully diverse collection of Americans explaining what they are getting ready to do over the next year, talking about the challenges they face. Maybe a bit too much stock footage. It could have been for auto insurance, or soap, or anything. The video was relentlessly, insultingly vapid -- a Verizon commercial without the substance. Adding insult to vacuousness was the demographic box-checking nature of the video, however beautifully filmed.

Hillary Clinton is almost the Zelig of this rather upbeat video. She shows up at the end of a very peppy video, outside a suburban home, with her voice sounding like she's trying to strike a positive note. "I'm running for president," she said with a smile near the end.

A friend just messaged me that he had watched the video and thought at the beginning that it was paid advertising content.

I REMEMBER SOME STUFF THAT HAPPENED BEFORE

Hillary Clinton has spent more than a quarter-century in the public eye as first lady, senator and secretary of State, and her life has been scrutinized, investigated and dissected. The biggest concerns now, by contrast, are internal: Can she avoid the managerial and strategic dysfunction that plagued her campaign in the 2008 primaries?

When Clinton first sought the presidency eight years ago, her most memorable words were "I'm running for president, and I'm in it to win it," a phrasing that critics viewed as reflecting a broader sense of entitlement. That announcement began a downward trajectory in which she went from being considered the inevitable nominee to finishing in third place in the Iowa caucuses, behind Mr. Obama and John Edwards.

Remember: cattle futures, the White House travel-office firings, and the missing Rose Law Firm files. Unethical or just paranoid? That could be a distinction without much difference. Doings of HRC's younger brothers, Hugh and Tony Rodham, will come in for scrutiny.

Above all, however, Hillary Clinton will struggle against the inevitability of her own campaign, the messianic pull of an office that has long eluded her and could once again be out of reach. But the truth is that this country is 230 years old and has had 43 presidents and not a single one of them has been a woman.

TIME FOR SOME FACT-FREE ASSERTIONS

Hillary Clinton has loomed so powerfully in the American consciousness for so long that it's hard to remember how delicate, how combustible, how ultimately improbable the project of electing her president is likely to be. Her longtime coziness in the ritzy Washington-to-Wall Street Acela corridor could drive away many voters. The lesson learned from 2008: Clinton isn't as comfortable going big -- a la Barack Obama or even her husband. Using social media, rather than a big balloon drop and confetti-laced rally, was a wise choice.

And then, there's the fact that the public is hungry for someone new, she is not somebody new. She is old. She is not the new.

I think people want to see change, want to see something new and Hillary Clinton is just not that person.

Above all, can she represent the future more than the past? I think she's going to try to run away from foreign policy.

Regardless, if Ms. Clinton stays in the race, she may want to eat at a Pizza Ranch at some point.

WHO IS "GEORGE H.W. BUSH?" FOR $200

It would be hard to name another politician who has her varied experience.

KATE MCKINNON DID A THING

The characterization of Clinton in popular culture also often holds her to be inauthentic and ruthless. This was emphasized one more time on the evening before her announcement, when NBC's "Saturday Night Live" began with Kate McKinnon playing Clinton. In some ways there was more substance in this week's "Saturday Night Live" skit on the making of the video, in which Hillary, played by Kate McKinnon, struggles to record herself on her phone, than in the actual finished product. It's an auspicious beginning for what could end up a 20-month run of SNL politics hall of fame sketches.

I WILL PAD OUT THIS PIECE WITH AS MANY EMPTY PLATITUDES AS I CAN COME UP WITH

The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign wants you to know one very important thing about the former First Lady, New York Senator and Secretary of State: She's just like you! She will also look for ways to demonstrate that, after more than three decades in public life, she understands the ways of modern campaigns and can appeal to younger voters. There's a final takeaway from everything we now know: Hillary wants to send the message that she's taking NOTHING for granted.

But she has yet to show she can marry her brand to this universe to mobilize voters or raise big money. It's all too clear she's acting at being down-to-earth rather than truly inhabiting her chosen role. Unscripted Hillary still feels scripted. That reality speaks to the fundamental truth of this race for Hillary: Her greatest attribute is that she's Hillary Clinton. Her greatest weakness is that she's Hillary Clinton.

So what could possibly go wrong? Everything. Anything. Anything and everything. Regardless of the outcome, Mrs. Clinton's 2016 campaign will open a new chapter in the extraordinary life of a public figure who has captivated and polarized the country since her husband, former President Bill Clinton, declared his intention to run for president in 1991.

THE OBVIOUSNESS OF THIS SENTENCE ESCAPED MY BARELY-WITH-IT EDITOR'S ATTENTION

Where Clinton's candidacy is likely to rise or fall is on how the American people respond to her personally.

USING SOME CLICHES, THE PIECE BUILDS TO AN ERSATZ CLIMAX

As Hillary Clinton prepares to end months of speculation, a new mystery is emerging: just what kind of president does she want to be? What does she stand for? Why does she want to be president? Clinton's early rollout is answering the process question (how the announcement will go down, etc.), but it isn't answering the message question (what her campaign will be about). Clinton cannot sustain this sort of aspirational politics in the more than 18 months between now and November 2016 without getting very specific.

She lacks: A clear rationale for her candidacy. What is Clinton's rationale for running? The bigger problem, in fact, is that she lacks a rationale for running. It's a cliché these days to say that the question hovering over Clinton's campaign is about its "rationale." Did Hillary Clinton talk about her rationale for running? I don't feel now that I know much more about her rationale or ideas for a candidacy than I did an hour ago. What is her rationale for running?

A FINAL THOUGHT IN A PIECE CONTAINING NONE

No one will remember or care weeks from now, if they do even now.

A Celebration Of The Professionalism Of Campaign Reporters

Jason Linkins   |   April 14, 2015    3:59 PM ET

What are the first words that come to mind when you think about campaign reporters during an election cycle? For me, those words are dignity and distinction.

These are some of the qualities you'll see in abundance in the video above, which depicts reporters coming to grips with the arrival of Hillary Clinton's van. The traits manifest themselves in myriad ways: the serene certainty of knowing what really matters because you've been there before, the graceful bearing that comes from being a calm professional, the obvious outward projection of self-respect and poise ... they're all there.

No one is acting at all as though someone just shouted, "OH NO SOMEONE STRAPPED A LIVE GRENADE TO THIS JACK RUSSELL TERRIER EVERYONE SCATTER SERPENTINE SERPENTINE!" Everyone is comporting themselves in a way that makes you think, "Why, I think the next five hundred some-odd days of campaign coverage will be something I'll look forward to, rather than pray daily for a quiet aneurysm to transport me from this mortal plane to a place where there are no cares, just a restful peace."

If our campaign reporters have any flaw, I think you'll agree that they are almost too mannered ... too noble in their bearing, so much so that it can be pretty intimidating for the rest of us.

Look at Orange Pants. Run, Orange Pants. Run forever.

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Paging Hillary Clinton And The Media Covering Her: Could You Please Climb Out Of Plato's Cave?

Jason Linkins   |   April 12, 2015    7:30 AM ET

Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall convene every Sunday and attempt to decode and defang in a way that will hopefully leave you feeling unharmed and less confused. We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

***

Former senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to finally make official her intentions of running for president this Sunday, and on this occasion, we'll note -- as we and everyone else have noted many times before -- that her past will hang over the entire proceedings.

By now, we're familiar with the story. Clinton is part of a "political dynasty," and she'll carry that baggage whether she likes it or not. Her long career, while providing her with plenty of political experience, will nevertheless challenge her to find ways to be "new" at a moment when, we are told, the "people" are ready for "change." And of course, there is Clinton's long and rocky relationship with the media, a tale that's been told and retold in so many different ways that we're genuinely surprised DC Comics hasn't optioned it for a gritty reboot.

This week, New York magazine's Jason Zengerle replowed another one of these old rows in a piece titled "Is Hillary Clinton Any Good At Running For President? (And How Much Does It Matter, Anyway?)" Once again, the past puts the first stamp on the present. After all, Clinton did once do this thing (running for president), and we remember how that thing went (doubleplusungood), and damned if this new thing (running for president again) doesn't remind us of that other thing that previously happened.

There was a little sparring on the Internets over this piece. Gawker's Hamilton Nolan referred to it as "The Platonic Ideal Of Horse Race Journalism," and in case you aren't getting the irony, it's that the Platonic Ideal of horse race journalism is actually something much less than the Platonic Ideal of journalism itself. Trivial nonsense tends to rise up in the news cycle at these times, creating opportunity costs for more substantive explorations of important issues. Per Nolan:

Team A has a new strategy! Team B made a mistake! Team C has a new manager! This style of "horse race journalism" has the effect of completely obscuring the issues underlying these political campaigns. So why do reporters do this? Because it is easy. It is easier to cover campaigns like this, and it requires less thought, and it leaves journalists less prone to being attacked by one side or another, and it is, in general, purely speculative rubbish which cannot be truly refuted. So it is what we get.

Zengerle raised mild objections on Twitter, saying that while he agrees "that horserace journalism is a scourge," it's also "reality" and thus "important to try to understand the ways it does -- and does not -- effect elections [sic]." And in fact, Zengerle's piece makes an honest attempt to explore this, at times reading like it was written to arm its author against the tendencies Nolan reviles.

The truth is that not all horse race journalism is created alike. Some of it is alive in the present moment and displays an understanding, on the author's part, of which things matter and which things do not. And some of it is empty-headed doggerel completely free of any signs of self-awareness. We can recognize the latter version when we see it -- like when 20 reporters assign themselves the task of "guessing" when Clinton's launch date will be, or when the news of Clinton's having procured office space leads journalists to treat Brooklyn as some kind of previously undiscovered Xanadu.

Andrew Gelman at The Washington Post recently pointed out one particular "tell" of bad horse race journalism: Its "wheels" are "greased" with "empty platitudes." Gelman cites a recent New Yorker piece in which David Remnick wrote: "The 2008 Democratic race was not just good sport; it also made Obama and Clinton better."

Gelman's response:

Huh? Where did that come from?

It sounds reasonable, kinda, and it fits in with [Remnick's] expressed desire that Hillary Clinton have serious competition in the 2016 Democratic primaries. But... is that how political reporting has to be done? You have an opinion and then you say fact-free, reasonable-sounding things that line up with that opinion?

Similar platitudes show up in Zengerle's piece. The 2008 race was "the campaign as soap opera"! The 2012 election was "Nate Silver's world." It's possible that Zengerle is offering these fact-free assertions as a way of critiquing them, but it's hard to tell, because these are the kind of sad, lightweight ideas that show up in political reporting like nitrogen shows up in the planet's atmosphere. There's a sort of truth to these assertions, sure, but they tend to feel like placeholder sentences, something that a pundit or a reporter ended up including because they felt like the paragraph had to be a certain length. Rarely do these declarations feel like the product of an engaged, analytical mind.

Moreover, this lorem-ipsum style of political journalism tends to be shaped by the peculiar media obsessions of the moment, rather than by how people are living their actual lives and making actual political choices. This is how Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who will not be running for president, nevertheless gets cast as Clinton's foil. The media believes that "foils" make "candidates" better, and in this case, one needed to be invented. From there, the story runs away with itself -- and it escapes so quickly that no one takes the time to explore why the differences between Clinton and Warren may actually be significant. It's enough for most political reporters to note that Warren is "against the banks" and would "challenge Clinton from the left" and leave it there.

Just because I've centered this discussion on Hillary Clinton doesn't mean that this stuff only happens when she's involved. It happens everywhere and to everybody. Clinton is important here, though, for two reasons. One is, let's face it, trivial: She's newsy at the moment. (See, I'm not immune from this either.) But what's really unique about Clinton is that she, like no other political figure, seems to be particularly locked in an embrace with the political press, somewhere deep inside Plato's cave, informed only by the lights and shadows that each is casting at the other. (The New York Times, probably unintentionally, illustrated this on its most recent Clinton campaign piece by using a photograph, seen here and above, that depicts Clinton encased in dark, amorphous shadows.)

Over at The New Republic, Elspeth Reeve has written an utterly wonderful exploration of this, noting that the media's perennial demand for Hillary Clinton to be more "authentic" always backfires on everyone, because the media doesn't really understand what "authenticity" is, and whenever Clinton actually evinces any of it, the media recoils in disgust and confusion.

I fear that this whole "Hillary has got to be new!" thing is the same soup, just reheated. What evidence is there, after all, that political reporters understand "new"? How do they define what is and what isn't a cutting-edge policy idea? When President Barack Obama talked at great length about climate change during his second inaugural address, political pundits called it "bold." But for people who'd already been involved in the science of climate change and the policy prescriptions to combat it, talking about climate change was anything but "bold." It just seemed bold to the media, because it hadn't been what they expected.

Reeve lists a number of occasions when Clinton's expressions of authenticity caused a backlash, but the one that sticks out in my mind is what Reeve refers to as Clinton's "most famous feminist moment," this sound bite from 1992: "I suppose I could've stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life."

As Reeve notes, "history has mostly forgotten that Clinton was responding to Jerry Brown’s claim that her law firm benefited from Arkansas state business, and not speaking about stay-at-home moms." That's probably because Clinton got pilloried for saying this. It was authentically her, speaking a truth that was authentically felt by an untold number of women, but the media treated it as if she'd leached something radioactive into the groundwater. As The Boston Globe's Joan Wickersham recalled back in January 2013:

She got slammed. The cookie-baking reference was seized upon as evidence not just that Hillary wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, but that she had contempt for women who had made this choice. (What she really had contempt for was the assumption that, for a politician’s wife, this was the only choice.)

The press and the public chose to misunderstand her, and they made her atone. “Family Circle” magazine ran a contest pitting Hillary Clinton’s cookie recipe against Barbara Bush’s. Barbara, with her usual patrician who-the-hell-cares? insouciance, turned in a recipe essentially copied from the back of the chocolate-chip package. Hillary’s entry was hipper: modernized with oatmeal. It was a canny, good-humored response to a situation both ludicrous and covertly hostile. Here was a supremely talented and accomplished woman who had made a verbal blunder, and we punished her by making her put on an apron. I’m embarrassed now to see that I copied down the recipe. (Although the cookies, as I remember, were excellent.)

This is an actual, objectively crazy thing that really happened. And there's no guarantee that minds won't be similarly lost in this election cycle. That's why Reeve offers this advice:

To become more “authentic,” Hillary must become even more fake, set us at ease by playing to all the dumb tropes of the popular portrait of the everywoman -- one who is devoted to slopwave food (premium juice, premium oatmeal, kale slurry) but is a little embarrassed about it. A wacky career gal who is unlucky in ... something. Clinton should consider tripping publicly, perhaps while eating yogurt. Then laugh really loud, but not inauthentically loud. The only thing worse than being fake in politics is being real.

That is 100 percent correct.

But I can't just beat the media about the head, here. This cuts both ways. Clinton and her camp have nurtured their own grievances with the media to such a degree that their every move now seems to be hyper-informed by the cameras. They're like a jumpy cat that's convinced itself that any minute now, someone's going to tromp on its tail because they love to watch it yelp.

Take, for example, all of the news leading up to Clinton's announcement. It's been prefaced by breaking stories of new staff hires, the fundamental message being that there will be a more sunny, optimistic campaign disposition and a complete image makeover coming down the pike. We're also told that the launch will be noteworthy in its intimate approach to voters, and that it will intentionally de-emphasize the woman at the center. As CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Dan Merica describe it:

As she and a coterie of advisers prepare to launch her presidential campaign, their work is guided by a new set of humble principles: No big crowds. Few soaring rallies. Less mention of her own ambitions. And extinguish the air of inevitability propelling her candidacy.

That's all fine and dandy, but you have to understand that this story only exists because the Clinton campaign took pains to provide it. So mindful of their old story, they are now telling the story about how they intend to tell a new story. Every campaign puts a lot of effort into spin, of course. But it seems like in Clinton's case, there's a great deal of fear that the media is so informed by everything that's come before that this current moment will go unremarked upon if Clinton's team doesn't intercede.

Clinton can't possibly run for president if she's constantly looking over her shoulder, watching for the gremlins of the past. She will face a lot of tough questions from people focused on the present, who will be trying to do right by the public they serve. It's going to be important for Clinton to be able to distinguish what matters now, and not to reflexively assume that every difficult moment that arises is steeped in some ancient enmity.

Clinton's history, her successes and her failures are, of course, fair game for anyone seeking to assay her chances of winning this election, and what sort of president she might be. All of the changes to her campaign staff, and the themes she's targeting as she formally enters the race, demonstrate that she's as aware as everyone else that it has to be this way. The thing that needs to happen, if we're going to avoid an onslaught of the thoughtless "rubbish" Nolan warned about, is not for the parties involved here to give passes to one another, but rather for them to make a game effort to stay focused on what matters to people right now. It's time for everyone to step away from the shadowplay in the cavern's depths and ascend back into the world.

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2016ers Are Launching Campaigns Left And Right, And Political Reporters Are On It

Jason Linkins   |   April 8, 2015    6:43 PM ET

It's campaign-launch season, and our country's political reporters are on the scene, giving you the analysis you need. "Hey, a thing seems to be happening!" they are saying. "We should find out some stuff, about this thing," they add. And so we now have, not one, but two lengthy explorations of Presidential Candidates Giving Speeches And Stuff, in The Washington Post and Politico.

In The Washington Post, Robert Costa and Philip Rucker take on the heady matter of "how presidential hopefuls try to create magic with campaign launch events." The short answer is, they do it the same way you would throw a surprise birthday party for your great-aunt Marjorie, except at the end of it, secretive donors nod and give you dark money. Basically, hired guns choose a date and a venue, and then add what brand marketers call "zazz." So I think we can all agree that this is magical.

This is all stuff you could have surmised simply by being alive, though, so the bulk of Costa and Rucker's article is spent demonstrating just how many campaign events the two men can remember, and who they can get on the phone to talk about those events. The answer, it turns out, is: a lot! Obscure names, too -- we're talking B-sides, not just hit singles. Why, they even get former John Edwards aide John Davis into the piece to suggest that Hillary Clinton "launch" her campaign at a diner. "That could serve as an anchor to reintroduce herself yet again," Davis says. And let's be honest, it would probably be a lot easier to reintroduce Clinton to America than it would be to reintroduce Edwards.

Eventually, Costa and Rucker grow confident enough in their knowledge that they get into the game themselves:

Could New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie begin his bid this summer on a Jersey Shore boardwalk rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy?

Might former Texas governor Rick Perry stage an announcement in his childhood home of Paint Creek, highlighting his rural, impoverished roots, or in a military setting as an homage to his time in the Air Force?

Will Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, campaigning as a suburban Midwestern everyman, wear one of his treasured Kohl’s shirts or ride in on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle?

Could they? Might they? Will they? The answer is probably: Yes, unless no. At any rate, Costa and Rucker's spitballing sure gives the impression that anyone could be in charge of this campaign-launching stuff if they really wanted to.

But Politico's Todd Purdum would probably disagree, at least judging by his recent story, whose headline asks a question -- "Do splashy campaign kickoffs matter?" -- that the sub-hed then answers: "Yes, say the experts." ("You only get one chance to make a first impression," the sub-hed continues, in what I'll guess is an unintentional echo of an old shampoo commercial. Fun fact -- Politico could also have gone with "Because you're worth it.")

Purdum explains that a successful campaign event involves a lot more than picking a scenic locale and sticking your candidate on a motorcycle. There's actually a deeper, hidden set of signs and signals that are handpicked to evoke very specific ideas and put the launch in a larger thematic context.

Purdum supplies plenty of examples. He notes that Ted Cruz's decision to begin his campaign at Liberty University served as "an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual campaign he will wage for the conservative soul of the GOP." Rand Paul's launch event, meanwhile, featured an "intergenerational audience and notable black figures on the stage," a sign of the Kentucky senator's intent to build a newer, more inclusive base than other candidates'. And Clinton, Purdum suggests, will have to put an important thematic stamp on her own launch event, one that demonstrates "that the most familiar analog figure in either party still has some fresh digital moves to bust." (The concept of "busting a move," by the way, was at its funky freshest in the late spring of 1989, so this might not be as heavy a lift for Clinton as many are making it out to be.)

So who, then, are the "experts" Purdum speaks with to convince us of the theory that these events "matter?" Well, they are:

1. "Carter Eskew, a veteran Democratic media strategist."

2. "Bill Carrick, a longtime Democratic strategist in Los Angeles."

3. Ted Van Dyk, a former aide to Hubert Humphrey.

So, if you were hoping that "experts" meant, say, some political scientists like Lynn Vavreck or Brendan Nyhan, doing a deep, scholarly analysis of how voters have responded, over time, to campaign pageantry, I'm afraid you are bereft. Instead, you get a former Humphrey adviser and two guys whose lives depend on convincing would-be electoral candidates to give them large sums of money for their secret guru knowledge. What would you expect them to say about this? Surely not Oh, you know, these things are all mostly ephemeral nonsense!

Actually, Van Dyk's involvement in this piece is my favorite thing about it. Per Purdum:

The most chaotic announcement season in modern times was probably 1968. President Lyndon B. Johnson did not drop out of the race until March 31, and the April 4 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King froze other prospective candidates in place. Vice President Hubert Humphrey finally declared on April 27, in a luncheon speech at Washington’s Shoreham Hotel written largely by Labor Secretary Willard Wirtz and edited by Humphrey aide Ted Van Dyk. [...]

But Humphrey could not manage to extricate himself from Johnson’s unpopular Vietnam policy -- or even win the unstinting support of the president himself. The traumas of that year -- Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California primary in June -- and his own sense of loyalty kept Humphrey from doing what today’s candidates take such pains to do: Stake out his own identity and claim to his party’s support early enough to make a difference. He won the nomination but lost the White House to Richard M. Nixon.

“These many years later,” Van Dyk added, “it still hurts to recall the events of 1968.”

It's sort of hilarious that in the same piece that stresses the need for Hillary Clinton to scrape off the barnacles of a long career in order to show that she's still got some cutting-edge, modern "moves" to "bust," you get some walking historical relic's dusty observation: 1968 -- wow, man... I don't know.

In the end, we may not have answered the question "Do campaign kickoffs matter?" But the answer to a different question -- do articles like these matter? -- is, I feel, just about within our reach.

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20 Campaign Reporters Wasted A Year Trying To Make A Useless Prediction About Hillary Clinton

Jason Linkins   |   April 8, 2015    1:51 PM ET

Sometimes it's almost possible to feel sorry for campaign reporters during a presidential election cycle. Take, for example, this report in Politico about the staggering waste of a score of people's short time on this earth:

In the past year, at least 20 journalists from as many news organizations have tried to put a date, rough or specific, on when the former secretary of state would announce her highly anticipated presidential bid. That guessing game came to an end last week when the Clinton team signed a lease on campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, all but guaranteeing an announcement within the next two weeks, in compliance with federal law.

The shifting timeline, which ranged at times from January to October, was almost certainly the result of changing plans within the nascent Clinton campaign, as well as the conflicting interests of various Clinton confidants and sources. Nevertheless, the changes likely left readers doing a double take.

Twenty news organizations essentially spent a year attempting to guess when Hillary Clinton would announce her intentions to run for president, an exercise that is pointless for two reasons:

1. Clinton has obviously been a candidate during that entire time.
2. It's actually not a public service to guess an announcement date. If any "readers" were doing a "double take," it was probably because they kept wondering, "Why does this reporter seem to think I give a fig about any of this?" It's like 20 reporters were competing to become the next "Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic."

No one who managed to guess the answer to the question of "What time is Hillary Clinton?" will be remembered for this feat of journalistic derring-do. In fact, the only thing you get for having spent a year on obtaining this unnecessary information is the knowledge, in the hour of your death, that you wasted a substantial portion of your life and will now die alone and unremarked upon.

Meanwhile, Clinton will probably announce in a couple of weeks or whatever, unless she doesn't. It doesn't matter. When it happens, you'll know it.

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Drexel Law Professor's Email Mishap Touches Off Idiotic Freakout With University Administration

Jason Linkins   |   April 8, 2015    1:47 PM ET

As much as our fancy technical gadgets and devices allegedly make life easier, anyone who's spent any time mashing keys and closing tabs knows that modern life is filled with its own perils. The accidental reply-all, the direct message sent to all of Twitter, the occasional sending of a malformed link that takes the recipient where no one intended them to go -- most of us have found ourselves on one end or the other of these pitfalls. This week, a Drexel University law professor became the latest person to become Internet famous for this kind of routine error. Unfortunately for her, her higher-ups in higher education have reacted with all of the aplomb of a decapitated chicken.

According to Above The Law's David Lat -- who both broke the story and was the first to attempt to inject some sanity into it -- Drexel University professor Lisa McElroy, while trying to share a link about legal brief-writing to her students over a network called TWEN (The West Education Network), accidentally included a link to a Pornhub video. And not just any Pornhub video -- a Pornhub video prominently featuring anal beads. Which is sort of appropriate when you think about it, considering that finding some kind of pleasure from pulling something out of your ass is practically a prerequisite for a legal career.

It seems like it was no more than a very mortifying accident, similar in many ways to what befell then-Fox News White House Correspondent Major Garrett back in January of 2010, when he inadvertently tweeted out a shortened link to the website of a Las Vegas call girl.

Garrett apologized for sending the link, telling his followers that it was an "innocent mistake." And even if Garrett was sizing up Nevada entertainment options and forgot what was on his Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V clipboard, an innocent mistake is precisely what it was. Garrett is a grown-up and he can do what he likes. Most of the world, properly recognizing this, moved on swiftly. As Lat reports, however, McElroy isn't getting the same break: "But this being legal academia, of course a mountain had to be made out of a molehill."

As Lat goes on to report, rather than being a chill-ass adult about this, Kevin Oates, the law school's senior associate dean of students, instead sent an email to all of Drexel's law students, obliquely referencing an "erroneous" email containing "inappropriate material" that was sent to some students. Way to get the titillated tongues -- of a universe beyond the few students who were originally involved -- wagging, super-genius!

From there, according to Lat's source, McElroy was put on leave, "pending an investigation" into whether she violated Section 9 of Drexel's sexual harassment and misconduct policy -- which deals with specifically with "concerns about [the] personal safety and physical and emotional well-being" of students.

"According to federal law and the University’s policies and procedures, Drexel is required to initiate fact-finding for all reports of inappropriate behaviors of a sexual nature that may impact members of our community," the school said in a statement. Which... what?

Let me go ahead and conclude this investigation for Drexel. It seems more than reasonable to assume that McElroy did not intentionally seek to discomfit, harass or harm anyone and that she accidentally pasted the wrong link. There could be any number of reasons she had that link on hand. Maybe McElroy, like so many normal humans, is into kink. Maybe she watches erotic videos. Know what? She's allowed.

However this link made its way into the message, it's clear it was not intended for public consumption. Given how desperate, unhappy and repressed the typical academic is, anyone being honest about this is obliged to recognize they could have easily made the same mistake. As Lat writes, "Now her students know that 'law professors are just like us' — they watch online porn."

Compounding all of this is the fact that McElroy suffers from a "severe anxiety disorder," which she wrote about for Slate back in July of 2013. So all of this needless pearl-clutching from her superiors probably can't be good for her. The best thing for everyone here is to recognize this as an unhappy accident, definitively in the there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I zone (as Lat also points out), and move on as quickly as possible. To be honest, the way Drexel's administrators have gone to ridiculous extremes in this matter makes me wonder what twisted stuff, exactly, they get off on.

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Yet Another Hopeless Plea For Some Fresh Perspective On Sunday Morning

Jason Linkins   |   April 6, 2015    3:52 PM ET

As more and more Americans continue to follow my example and find something better to do on Sunday mornings than slog through the network television chat shows, the people in charge of these ratings-starved programs will have plenty of opportunity to wonder why they've been abandoned.

For an answer, you could do worse than to look at this past weekend's offerings. In a news cycle dominated by the knotty Iran deal and the many unanswered questions associated with it, the Sunday shows served up a demonstration of one of their most frustrating problems: the unwillingness or inability to provide viewers with any points of view that weren't completely, boringly predictable.

Anyone who tuned into these shows during the last presidential election probably understands this problem all too well. Given the opportunity to delve into any of the issues that animated normal Americans, or invite the sorts of guests who could rile the candidates from their comfort zones and force them to go off-script, the Sunday shows, with alarming regularity, steered instead into the fluff. Again and again, Well-Known Romney Spokesperson and Well-Known Obama Spokesperson would be invited on to the Sunday shows to assure America that they really, really thought the man who was paying them to dispense prepackaged campaign idioms was a super-swell guy.

These are shows that require no spoiler alert. You can't spoil what's visible from a mile away. And when everyone knows what everyone is going to say the moment the booking is announced, why tune in? These shows' producers are hung up on the idea that only a certain, narrow range of guests can possibly bring in high ratings -- and they don't realize that this is a big reason why ratings are hopelessly in decline. Edward R. Murrow's "wires and lights in a box" are forever projected on the wall of this particular dreary cave.

The Iran negotiations have been presented in much the same way. Take CBS' "Face the Nation," for example. This past Sunday, viewers were treated to the sight of Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz playing the role of Obama administration dogsbody, followed immediately by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sunday morning futility infielder extraordinaire. Sending Moniz into the rut was, perhaps, an inventive idea from the White House, as he came to the table with science-community cred and academy sheen, but the show still ended up resembling nothing so much as two opposing teams' cheerleaders running through their rah-rah routines. (Not that Moniz and Graham ever directly confronted each other, or even appeared on screen at the same time. These shows are too averse to friction of any kind to allow that to happen. Mustn't leave anyone with the idea that maybe one guest or the other could have "won" the debate.)

What about outside perspectives on the matter? Well, most of the Sunday shows woke up this weekend with the same idea: Let's hear from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu! The only problem is that Netanyahu's opinions on the Iran deal have long ago been set in amber. There's actually no reason in the world to have Netanyahu go through the rote exercise of moving air across his vibrating vocal cords and using his lips, tongue and teeth to shape the sounds into words. At this point, one need only look back over the massive body of previously expressed Bibi-opinions and cut a video mashup for all future use. Making Netanyahu take time out of his day to go through the motions was unnecessary, and probably a little unkind, to all involved.

"Face the Nation," to its credit, did just this -- leave Bibi on tape and let Moniz offer the Obama administration's already well-practiced responses. NBC's "Meet the Press" let Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) follow Netanyahu as the White House's chorale leader. ABC's "This Week" gave Netanyahu a few minutes of air, and then moved on to the story they should have just spent the entire show covering -- the horrific California drought. As for "Fox News Sunday," well, they deserve some credit for booking Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), whose positioning in the Iran debate is at least interesting. A nominal Iran skeptic, Corker has thus far held off from joining either the White House's hallelujah chorus or the GOP's hothead squad, in an effort to try to be "the adult in the room."

Still, beyond the Beltway, there's a world of outsider perspectives to be had. Why can't these shows find any?

This is not a phenomenon unique to the Iran story. Last year, with the annual mens' college basketball tournament occasioning a debate about the NCAA's labor-cartel arrangements, "Meet the Press" endeavored to pretend as if it deeply cared about the issue. But the results were as timid as they come, and critically, the same lack of unique outsider perspective was to blame. As The Nation's Dave Zirin wrote:

To discuss this issue, Gregory secured three people for the Meet the Press table, including NCAA President Mark Emmert. That's good start! Mark Emmert, is a man who makes a $2 million annual salary defending the status quo. The people Emmert could have been in discussion with is tantalizing. Maybe we would see civil rights author Taylor Branch, whose piece on the NCAA rocked the sports world. Perhaps one of the other guests would be New York Times columnist William Rhoden, whose book $40 Million Slaves examined the social position of African-American athletes. Or we could get USA Today’s Christine Brennan, who has written extensively about equity for women in college athletics.

Instead, according to David Gregory’s twitter feed, the Meet the Press team wanted to bring in some former jocks. That is a great call! There are numerous ex-college players who have been actively organizing to wrest a degree of justice from the clutches of Mark Emmert. Maybe they booked former All-American Ed O'Bannon, who has led a lawsuit against the NCAA’s use of player’s likenesses without their permission. Or perhaps they would bring on Ramogi Huma, a onetime UCLA football player who started the National College Players Association. We could hear from a former NCAA athlete who is a woman, like Kate Fagan, who could speak to issues of Title IX and how paying certain athletes could affect others. Or best yet, Northwestern University quarterback Kain Colter, who led his team to actually organize a union. America could hear from the young man who said, “Right now the NCAA is like a dictatorship. No one represents us in negotiations. The only way things are going to change is if players have a union.”

As you might surmise from Zirin's lengthy setup, all of those useful voices went unheard, as "Meet the Press" instead, confusingly, opted to book former Duke basketballer and famed former Obama "body man" Reggie Love. Also present, for some reason, was Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, whose agency's current stance on its contract debt collectors running buck wild is basically just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. There was no real reason to think that Duncan would offer any challenge to Emmert, or to the NCAA's status quo.

And, indeed, as Zirin went on to note, Love was a complete non-entity and Duncan's bold solution to the NCAA's problems was to find some way to ensure that its athletes are properly fed and allowed to travel home for family emergencies. "Emmert just sat back like he was getting a spa treatment," wrote Zirin, a description that could really be applied to anyone appearing on the Sunday morning salons.

As helpful as the P5+1 negotiations have been to everyone who makes their bones being loudly for or against stuff on camera, what would truly serve the public right now are some different points of view. Israel is not the only country in the Middle East currently looking askance at Iran. With the terrifying rise of the Islamic State, and the swelling instability in Yemen casting a bloody pall over the diplomatic politesse we've seen in Switzerland, it might be interesting to see whether some future arrangement between Iran and the West is currently at the forefront of everyone's minds over there, as it seems to be here.

We could use some Iranian perspective on the matter, while we're at it. Someone like Meir Javedanfar, the Iranian-born/Israel-residing co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran, could provide a unique look at what's happening in Iran as the diplomatic efforts proceed to the next act. Even now, while Javedanfar looks favorably upon the deal's potential, he's nonetheless sounding an alarm about how the Iranian government is communicating the details of the deal to its citizens. Javedanfar recently called on the U.S. State Department to "translate the text of the agreement on their site into Persian, so that the Iranian public are left with no doubt as to what has been agreed and what has not been agreed." It might be interesting to hear from someone who can speak about the diplomatic arrangement with a sane level of both optimism and skepticism -- and who might have insight into the specific ways these efforts could be waylaid.

Or, we could hear from the other mostly voiceless party to this pageant of statecraft -- the Iranian people. Why not book someone like British-Iranian journalist Ramita Navai, author of City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran? Few writers have offered as detailed a look at what passes for normal life in Iran's capital, where ordinary Tehranians are forever navigating the perils of a paranoid, fundamentalist authoritarian state as they attempt to act upon their intimate desires and longings. Navai's work sows a deep distrust of Iran's rulers and a deep sympathy for the people most directly oppressed by it. In that, there's probably no better way of viewing our own dilemma with the nation -- a state that's hard to trust, ruling over a citizenry that no one wants to see harmed.

If there's one rule of thumb I would urge the world's Sunday-show producers to keep in mind, it would be this timeless piece of advice from Paul Waldman, which I reckon I'll keep mentioning until someone recognizes it for what it is -- the path to fortune and glory. "As a first rule," Waldman wrote at The Washington Post last year, "the people you bring on should 1) know as much as possible about the things you’re going to discuss, and 2) have little if any interest in spinning."

Following that advice would immediately make any Sunday show stand out from its competitors. Someone, anyone, please take the chance. The 2016 presidential election is looming, and I can already script the voiceover: "This morning! A debate between Jeb Bush's campaign spokesperson and Hillary Clinton's campaign spokesperson! We will finally determine which one thinks their candidate is more awesome, and who believes it the hardest!" In a terrible burst of precognition, you, the viewer, will be able to see how the entire next hour will unfold. And chances are, you'll go looking for something else instead.

[CORRECTION: This post originally depicted Zirin's post on "Meet The Press" as having been written in 2015. This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that it was written in 2014. We regret the error.]

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Some Atlanta Educators Just Learned A Cynical Lesson About Accountability In America

Jason Linkins   |   April 3, 2015    5:20 PM ET

It isn't every day that people who abuse their positions of authority are held accountable for wrongdoing. Actually, to be statistically precise about it, it isn't any day that happens, really. But there is some good news on that front, for a change: This week, in an Atlanta courtroom, some malefactors finally got nailed.

Per the Associated Press:

A group of former Atlanta educators convicted in a test cheating scandal were locked up in jail Thursday as they await sentences that could send them to prison for years.

In one of the nation's largest cheating scandals of its kind, the 11 defendants were convicted Wednesday of racketeering for their roles in a scheme to inflate students' scores on standardized exams.

Yes, that's right, in the most recent scandal of its kind, a group of educators, including one principal and a number of school administrators, were caught altering the results of one of those daffy standardized tests that now subsume the lion's share of all pedagogical opportunities in America's public schools. Only this time, some are saying that this is a huge story and the biggest development in American education law since forever.

From AP again:

"This is a huge story and absolutely the biggest development in American education law since forever," University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson said. "It has to send a message to educators here and broadly across the nation. Playing with student test scores is very, very dangerous business."

There's really no doubt that those convicted did a Very Bad Thing -- like, you know, The Worst Thing "since forever" OMG -- if for no other reason than that their actions will scandalize other public school educators, who are currently described so frequently in media accounts as "embattled" it's like their homeric epithet. The only people more demonized by political elites from either party are sadists who attempt to set up demented death-cult caliphates.

And sweet fancy Moses, did they ever lay the wood to those folks they convicted! Per the AP: "Over objections from the defendants' attorneys, Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter ordered all but one of those convicted immediately jailed while they await sentencing. They were led out of court in handcuffs."

They took them out in chains! That's hardcore. That's humiliating. That's a sight that will make other people think twice before committing similar crimes -- it's what real accountability looks like.

Or at least that's what a horrifyingly unequal justice system looks like when it plays out right before our eyes. Last year The New Yorker took a close look at the teachers and administrators involved in this scandal and, well, read the story for yourself and decide whether these are people who should be shackled; or if, rather, society should apologize for creating the terrible circumstances into which they and their students were thrown.

So while an Atlanta judge somehow found the courage to lock these educators up even before they've been sentenced -- again, not a thing that happens to white-collar criminals (with an emphasis there on "white") -- the justice system typically has little appetite for such accountability. These educators stumbled into one of the few areas of American life where a willingness to lower the proverbial boom on a corrupt actor actually exists.

Let me give you a blueprint for how this sort of thing would have gone down if the scofflaws were high-flying bankers. What if you had a situation where, say -- I don't know -- a big bank laundered money for drug cartels and aided and abetted the transfer of funds between rogue nations and terrorist organizations.

This is an actual thing that an actual bank -- HSBC -- actually did. They broke the sort of laws that, had someone like you or I done the same, we would be lucky to avoid being flayed alive in the town square for it.

But when an organization like HSBC gets caught engaged in these sorts of crimes, what happens next is that the authorities tasked with meting out accountability invoke something called "collateral consequences."

Collateral consequences is an idea that Attorney General Eric Holder laid out near the end of a famous memo that everyone initially thought was going to be a new, punitive guideline to disciplining bad banks. But "collateral consequences" encapsulates this notion that the state has much more important things to consider than "holding people accountable for their actions."

From that memo:

In the corporate context, prosecutors may take into account the possibly substantial consequences to a corporation's employees, investors, pensioners, and customers, many of whom may, depending on the size and nature of the corporation and their role in its operations, have played no role in the criminal conduct, have been unaware of it, or have been unable to prevent it.

As a theoretical construct, this is fairly reasonable -- don't wreck the innocent on your way to punishing the guilty. But the way this precept has been applied has been much different. As Dealbook's Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenberg reported, it's the principle that got HSBC largely off the hook: "State and federal authorities decided against indicting HSBC in a money-laundering case over concerns that criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world's largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system."

As punishment for directly aiding some of the world's most noteworthy sociopaths, HSBC was forced to pay $1.9 billion in restitution. That sounds like a big number! But bear in mind that this penalty amounted to "little more than half of the $3.5 billion in pre-tax profits the bank earned in the third quarter of 2012," and just a sliver of the $16.8 billion the bank netted in 2011. HSBC also earned a deferred prosecution deal (where you don't get prosecuted as long as you super-duper promise to stop laundering money for drug cartels and terrorists), and was made to apologize. "Our bad," said the bank's spokesperson, probably.

As Reuters reported, former U.S. Treasury official and University of Notre Dame Law professor Jimmy Gurule said that this settlement made "a mockery of the criminal justice system," and recommended that HSBC be subject to the same sort of treatment as these Atlanta educators:

In his view, the only way to really catch the attention of banks is to indict individuals.

"That would send a shockwave through the international finance services community," Gurule said. "It would put the fear of God in bank officials that knowingly disregard the law."

But the way we prosecute banks is actually designed to prevent such shockwaves. Matt Taibbi, whose book The Divide offers a thorough filleting of the way "collateral consequences" has become a promiscuously dispensed "Get Out Of Jail Free" card, explained how this works in an interview with Amy Goodman, "Of course it makes sense to not always destroy a company if you can avoid it. But what they've done is they've conflated that sometimes-sensible policy with a policy of not going after any individuals for any crimes."

And so you get Lanny Breuer, the Obama administration's alleged point man in holding Wall Street's feet to the fire, telling the New York City Bar Association that he adheres to a strict, "sit down, you're rocking the boat" principle:

We are frequently on the receiving end of presentations from defense counsel, CEOs, and economists who argue that the collateral consequences of an indictment would be devastating for their client. In my conference room, over the years, I have heard sober predictions that a company or bank might fail if we indict, that innocent employees could lose their jobs, that entire industries may be affected, and even that global markets will feel the effects. Sometimes -- though, let me stress, not always -- these presentations are compelling. In reaching every charging decision, we must take into account the effect of an indictment on innocent employees and shareholders, just as we must take into account the nature of the crimes committed and the pervasiveness of the misconduct. I personally feel that it's my duty to consider whether individual employees with no responsibility for, or knowledge of, misconduct committed by others in the same company are going to lose their livelihood if we indict the corporation. In large multi-national companies, the jobs of tens of thousands of employees can be at stake. And, in some cases, the health of an industry or the markets are a real factor. Those are the kinds of considerations in white collar crime cases that literally keep me up at night, and which must play a role in responsible enforcement.

Being too big to jail "is a good thing," to borrow a phrase of Martha Stewart's (who apparently wasn't big enough). Meanwhile, Breuer now works for the people he was supposed to punish, a fine reward for a job well (not) done.

In the case of the fraud committed by these Atlanta educators, dogged investigators and prosecutors were allowed to make their case and are now hailed public guardians of justice. In other words, they weren't treated as shabbily as former SEC investigator Gary Aguirre was by his own agency.

Once again, here's Taibbi:

Aguirre joined the SEC in September 2004. Two days into his career as a financial investigator, he was asked to look into an insider-trading complaint against a hedge-fund megastar named Art Samberg. One day, with no advance research or discussion, Samberg had suddenly started buying up huge quantities of shares in a firm called Heller Financial. "It was as if Art Samberg woke up one morning and a voice from the heavens told him to start buying Heller," Aguirre recalls. "And he wasn't just buying shares -- there were some days when he was trying to buy three times as many shares as were being traded that day." A few weeks later, Heller was bought by General Electric -- and Samberg pocketed $18 million.

After some digging, Aguirre found himself focusing on one suspect as the likely source who had tipped Samberg off: John Mack, a close friend of Samberg's who had just stepped down as president of Morgan Stanley. At the time, Mack had been on Samberg's case to cut him into a deal involving a spinoff of the tech company Lucent -- an investment that stood to make Mack a lot of money. "Mack is busting my chops" to give him a piece of the action, Samberg told an employee in an e-mail.

One would imagine that an SEC investigator, provided with evidence of brazen insider trading, would be given the opportunity to make a case. But what happened next will probably not astonish you. Aguirre was sandbagged by his superiors at the SEC and pressured by Morgan Stanley's lawyers -- among them several who'd spun through the revolving door between regulators and the regulated -- to drop the case. When the still-undaunted Aguirre continued anyway, he was dismissed from his job. The happy ending, I guess, is that the government was finally compelled to fork over $755,000 after Aguirre successfully sued for wrongful termination. (Mack was finally deposed by the SEC, conveniently "days after the five-year statute of limitations on insider trading had expired in the case.")

These Atlanta teachers were, astonishingly, prosecuted under Georgia's version of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the theory being that their actions were not some hasty, sloppy, misguided attempt to save their school from closing, but actually an elaborate criminal enterprise concocted for the purpose of securing teensy bonuses. The invocation of RICO -- which is more often used to bring down dangerous mafia families and much less often on dodgy schemes cooked up in a teachers' lounge with a busted microwave oven -- means that these educators face the prospect of decades-long jail sentences for crimes in which little money was at stake and resulted in the death of nobody. It really is something of a legal coup that prosecutors found it so easy to convince a judge that RICO was appropriate here.

Would that RICO could be successfully applied in banking cases! The very proposition is essentially treated as something of a fantasy. Prosecutors are currently attempting to apply RICO to a case in which Bank of America stands accused of "effectuating a captive reinsurance scheme that defrauded plaintiffs ... and compelled them to fund illegal kickbacks and referral payments in the form of purported reinsurance premiums to Bank of America," but it looks like the bank will dodge this on a technicality.

It's a pity the prosecutors in that case are unlikely to be as successful as bringing the RICO sledgehammer to bear as those who prosecuted these Atlanta teachers. And those teachers probably rue the fact that they were much easier to prosecute, as well. As ProPublica's Marian Wang describes, standard operating procedure for cases in which regulators actually put together iron-clad cases against Wall Street criminals looks something like: 1) go after the scofflaws with all the skittishness of a newborn kitten, 2) if at all, and 3) at best, secure financial settlements so teensy-tiny that the judge presiding over the case stands up in court and calls you a disgusting, quivering coward.

Yes, that happened, too. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, who presided over the 2011 case Securities and Exchange Commission v. Citigroup, spent a sizable part of his opinion -- in which he refused to endorse the negotiated settlement -- lambasting the SEC regulators for their long-form imitation of an invertebrate.

But while such prosecutorial performances may stand out as gutless in the Southern District of New York, anyone who's spent time near Capitol Hill recognizes it as bog standard. As we've recently learned, if someone like former Rep. Aaron Schock commits the sin of fraudulently applying for a higher mileage reimbursement than that to which he is entitled, suddenly everyone in Washington becomes infused with the courage of Eowyn facing down the Witch-King at the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

And yet many of the same, serious people who talked so tough about the representative from Downton Abbey and his misdeeds, also consider it an open question as to whether skeevy financial advisors should be brought to heel for systematically defrauding their clients to feather their own nests. Why, such a move could imperil the entire financial sector of the economy! There could be collateral consequences!

In the end, I think that these Atlanta teachers have learned a lesson: Be a banker. Or a polluter. Or run a for-profit education scam. Or snooker people with predatory mortgage agreements. Or rip off people with penny-stock schemes. Or run a college sports cartel. Or create a super PAC. Or "torture some folks."

Just don't ever change the answers on a standardized test.

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What Would Rand Paul Do About A Discriminatory Indiana Pizza Shop?

Jason Linkins   |   April 2, 2015    3:54 PM ET

What's the public to do, in a world where the state allows a private business owner to discriminate against the LGBT community? In the minds of those who create and support such laws, the public is probably just supposed to sit back and endure the poke in the eye.

But what if the overarching sentiment of the public leads rather in the direction of a vigilante form of consumerism, which can drive bad business practitioners perilously close to the brink of going out of business? Well, they'll have the support of at least one Kentucky senator and presidential aspirant, based on what we know of his views.

On Wednesday, the ongoing controversy over Indiana's new take on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act veered suddenly into territory that seemed tailor-made for April Fools' Day, when the proprietors of Memories Pizza, a Walkerton, Indiana, pizza shop, publicly announced to a reporter (for reasons that elude understanding) that while anyone is welcome to eat in their restaurant, they "would have to say no" to a gay couple seeking their catering services for a same-sex wedding. (It's important to note that, at the moment, there's no evidence that Memories has actually acted on this position.)

The mere existence of this news story raises some fascinating questions. For instance, what was the reporter's plan here? Just walk door to door asking people whether they'd service gay weddings until they found someone who said they wouldn't, and then make that single instance of theoretical pizza-denial the story of the day?

Also, why didn't anyone learn more about the genuinely strange tenets of these pizza-makers' theology, which seems to hold that all manner of sinner -- the liar, the philanderer, the criminal, the pedophile -- could receive wedding catering services, as long as they are not part of a gay couple planning a same-sex wedding? I could have spent all day learning about the underpinnings of this pizzeria's curious moral code.

Alas, these are topics for a slower news day. Instead, we got a story about a single business publicly proclaiming its discriminatory business practices. As noted elsewhere on these pages, the main problem with publicly proclaimed discriminatory business practices is that -- as a natural consequence of that proclamation -- those practitioners lose a competitive edge in the marketplace. This is something that the state of Indiana is discovering, as benefactors who once made wide practice of spending their money in the Hoosier State are now looking to take their business elsewhere.

For Memories Pizza, these natural consequences were similarly and swiftly felt, as the community reacted harshly to its public declaration. In many instances, those protesting the pizza shop didn't exactly cover themselves in glory -- the proprietors reported that the adverse reaction included "threatening phone calls and disturbing social media messages" that included inane death threats. (One thing that should not be at stake here is any human being's continued survival.) All of this led to a backlash-to-the-backlash, summed up by Fox News' Megyn Kelly, who declared that the story had "set off a new debate about which side is intolerant."

Perhaps in the short term this is true, and the hasty and stupid have contended to see who can make their hasty and stupid versions of public protest ring out the loudest. But once all the inglorious rage has burned off, we return to a larger debate as to whether the public at large has any recourse against a business that openly proclaims itself to have discriminatory business practices. It also raises a secondary debate over how the public, acting in legitimate protest against a business that mistreats consumers, should be viewed when it mounts a campaign against such a business. This is a thought exercise in which I've already engaged:


But memory leads to a past controversy involving Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and his views on the Civil Rights Act.

As you may recall, Paul got famously bogged down a while back in a sticky controversy of his own when, during an appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show," he asserted that private business owners have the right to run their businesses as they see fit -- an abstract idea that conflicts in practical terms with the Civil Rights Act. Paul expressed no fellowship with racist lunch-counter operators, and he lauded the Civil Rights Act's beneficial effect on ending discrimination in public accommodations, but he stuck to his absolutist take on private property ownership: If a private business owner wants to discriminate against people, that's their right.

But that's not to say that the public at large had to sit back and accept it. Indeed, Paul did assert that consumers had a recourse available to them and a role to play in these situations -- and it resembles a more civilized version of what the public has already meted out to Memories Pizza. Paul laid all of this out in precise detail in an interview conducted by the editorial board of the Louisville Courier-Journal (emphasis mine throughout):

PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.

INTERVIEWER: But?

PAUL: You had to ask me the "but." I don't like the idea of telling private business owners -- I abhor racism. I think it's a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant -- but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that's most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about, in my mind.

[...]

INTERVIEWER: But under your philosophy, it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworth's?

PAUL: I would not go to that Woolworth's, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but the hard part -- and this is the hard part about believing in freedom -- is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example -- you have to, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things and, uh, we're here at the bastion of newspaperdom, I'm sure you believe in the First Amendment so you understand that people can say bad things. It's the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people who have abhorrent behavior, but if we're civilized people, we publicly criticize that, and don't belong to those groups, or don't associate with those people.

A lot of things that have already happened in the case of Memories Pizza that Paul, rightly, would not sanction. But in this interview Paul clearly recommends that the public should stand up in their community, publicly criticize those with "abhorrent" business practices, and convince others to end their association with those businesses.

In other words, let the market decide. This was the natural theoretical position of many defenders of Indiana's RFRA. Surely a gay couple seeking a wedding cake could go to another baker. Surely some businesses would benefit, as public sentiment attached itself to more inclusive consumer alternatives. Surely, in some strange way, this law actually creates entrepreneurial opportunities for gay business owners!

That's the pretty story you tell yourself if you support the rights of private business owners to discriminate against significant swathes of the community. The problem, which supporters of the law may not have foreseen, is that in our modern, social media-engaged world, a wronged customer can do a lot more than tell a few close friends about the shabby treatment they've received somewhere. They can potentially mobilize a sizable portion of not only the local community, but a national audience, and if their claims are credible, push those businesses to the brink of going out of business.

Is that intolerance? Is that bullying? Nah, son, that's just capitalism in its most Hobbesian form! This is why it's probably preferable to have a law that deters discriminatory business practices: It protects customers and proprietors from each other, and from themselves.

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Mike Pence Dodges Criticism By Calling Critics 'Intolerant.' That Dog Won't Hunt.

Jason Linkins   |   March 31, 2015    7:36 AM ET

This weekend, on ABC News' "This Week," host George Stephanopoulos rather conscientiously attempted to elicit a "yes" or "no" answer from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who was invited to clarify the unique language of his state's recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

That "yes" or "no" question, "Can a florist in Indiana refuse to serve a gay couple without fear of punishment," was dodged by Pence, as were additional iterations, ranging from whether the law's general intent was to enshrine the right of private business owners to deny service to customers for religious reasons, to whether Pence personally believed that such discrimination was lawful.

Stephanopoulos insisted that the question was relevant, because one of the law's supporters, Eric Miller of Advance America, specifically cited the ability of private business owners to refuse service to members of the LGBT community as one of the Indiana law's major, and particular, selling points. Stephanopoulos offered Pence multiple chances to either correct Miller's contention, or to publicly confirm that it was true.

Pence never answered one way or the other. Instead, showing an Ed Milliband-like flair for repeating one's talking points, Pence largely stuck to his script, insisting that the Indiana law was in no relevant way distinct from similar laws -- including the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed decades ago and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. (This is not, in fact, true.) At a point, though, you can see the patience drain from Pence's face, as he offered one intriguing deviation from his flash cards:

PENCE: George, look, the issue here is, you know, is tolerance a two-way street or not? I mean, you know, there’s a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today having to do with people on the left. And a -- but here Indiana steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion for people of faith and families of faith in our state and this avalanche of intolerance that’s been poured on our state is just outrageous.

Here, Pence is retreating to a rhetorical fortress of sofa pillows that some conservatives often crawl behind when the sentiments of the vox populi bend in the direction of calling them out for bigotry. You liberals want everyone to be tolerant! But you're not tolerant of us! Gotcha!

There is so much confusion tied up in that defense, it might seem senseless to even try to untangle it. In terms of the ever-growing national support for LGBT rights, especially, the argument sounds like the death rattle of an old way of thinking that's quickly going extinct. But given how often people like Pence deploy this argument, it's worth giving disentangling it a shot. Let's start at a basic level: To be tolerant does not mean that one must be tolerant of intolerance. Okay? If you tolerate intolerance, you have, well ... promulgated intolerance. That would seem a self-affirming point, but it clearly is not obvious to the Pences of the world, so let's peel it back further.

When a person says, "Hey, let's please be tolerant of others, even if they are of a different race or gender or creed or religion or sexual orientation," what is typically meant is that such people should be treated equally by society. They should have the same legal rights and opportunities as everybody else. The same fair shot at carving out a decent life. That's what most people mean when they talk about being tolerant. Critically, what is not being demanded is universal agreement, or even universal acceptance. Indeed, the ability to countenance our occasional disagreements and allow for criticism in a tolerant manner is something that makes our society stronger.

What Pence is doing, unfortunately, is confusing criticism for intolerance. Right now, the wide world is learning about Indiana's law, discovering that it is in many meaningful ways different from previous Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, and reacting with a collective "Duh fuh?" This reaction, as much as Pence would prefer to believe otherwise, is a thing that's well beyond the coordination and control of a monolithic "Left." But even if it were, the simple fact of the matter is that criticism of the law is absolutely legitimate. There's nothing distinctly unfair or intolerant in debating or critiquing the actions of lawmakers or the laws they pass. That's just the price of doing business in politics.

And speaking of, there is a price of doing business in business as well. A law that forbids discriminating against customers based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or et cetera -- that, my friends, is the real two-way street. What is a "two-way street" after all, if not a promise to everyone traveling upon it that bright yellow lines, illegal to cross, run right down the center? What Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and its unique statutory language has done is remove those sensible yellow lines. Gone is a world in which people walking into private businesses can be assured they won't be discriminated against. Now, in this new Indiana, business owners face the undue burden of having to publicly proclaim themselves to be practicing fair and equal customer service. What was once automatically assumed -- the neighborly, amicable relationship between business and customer -- has become something that everyone now has to double-check and newly ensure.

Part of what Pence describes as an "avalanche of intolerance" is the reaction from those recognizing that a line has been crossed, who are now resolved to withhold their custom from the state of Indiana until such time as the previous, two-way street regime is restored. Pence is incorrect to describe this as "intolerance." What Pence needs to understand is that this reaction is simply the natural consequence of the actions he took as governor.

The assurance of fair, non-discriminatory business practices is, as it turns out, pretty essential in a competitive marketplace. And when you take away that assurance, you imperil your ability to compete. Just as an openly discriminatory florist opens itself up to the risk that not enough people will want to continue doing business with it to maintain that business, so too does an openly discriminatory state endanger its ability to maintain itself economically.

Those are the consequences. And consequences have nothing to do with tolerance. All the states that Indiana competes with for economic benefactors will happily tolerate Indiana's law all the way to the bank. Anyone who tells you that "tolerance" is supposed to provide everyone with the means of living a consequence-free existence has badly lost the thread.

If there's something meaningful to be learned here, however, it's that talking about tolerance is much easier than building and maintaining a tolerant society. It should be acknowledged that this Indiana law exists because of a tension between differing communities of people, and different schools of thought. Resolving this tension will take hard work. But it's precisely hard and conscientious work that everyone deserves. To be tolerant is to acknowledge this, and to seek reasonable reconciliations and accommodations in instances like this. Were Pence a more conscientious governor, he'd recognize that the solution that's been crafted is neither sufficiently reasonable, nor sufficiently accommodating, and he'd resolve to work harder at achieving something that is.

His protestations of intolerance aside, Pence is fully entitled to believe that gay people are icky, or Godless, or whatever he wants. He just can't -- without criticism -- enshrine the right to discriminate into the law. No one is stopping anyone from having these opinions, coming on television to express that opinion, or even holding office while possessing these views. You just can't have a whites-only lunch counter, or a straights-only bakery. Or, perhaps in Indiana, you can, but if you do, then people who are being discriminated against have a right to encourage people to take their business elsewhere and criticize those business practices. And those on the receiving end of that reaction will, unfortunately, have to tolerate that.

Ted Cruz Signs Up For Obamacare Is Your Short-Sighted Media Fixation Of The Week

Jason Linkins   |   March 29, 2015    7:30 AM ET

Every election cycle can be considered, first and foremost, a monument to hype. With every passing week, the political world is a blizzard of brash predictions, bold pronouncements, and bad advice. This year, your Speculatroners shall convene every Sunday and attempt to decode and defang in a way that will hopefully leave you feeling unharmed and less confused. We hope this helps, but as always, we make no guarantees!

***
ted cruz act

As you may have heard, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) this week officially joined the 2016 GOP primary scrum (or, if you've a yen for parsing narrow legal definitions, leaped past that scrum), in a fancy to-do at Liberty University -- a fitting venue for Cruz to lay down the foundation of his pitch to the conservative base, in which he adopts the persona of Jesus H. Reagan. Or, if you prefer, Ronald H. Christ -- it's essentially the same concept, and I am not a picky man.

But what Cruz did next was very puzzling: He signed up for Obamacare. A loud chorus of "Duh fuh?" ensued.

It couldn't go unnoticed that Congress' leading antagonist of the Affordable Care Act had gone out and voluntarily enmeshed himself and his family in Obamacare's loving graces. And don't worry -- it didn't. The political press got right to work, etching the narrative -- the tale of a man who'd gone out and faffed something up, produced a wincing gaffe in the hours after his much-hyped announcement.

The headlines tell the tale. ABC News went with "Ted Cruz Will Sign Up For Obamacare, the Law He Hates." Politico made sure to mention that Cruz was "one of the Affordable Care Act's harshest critics" in a report headlined, "Ted Cruz says he's going on Obamacare." The Washington Post's James Downie penned a piece titled, "Yes, Ted Cruz is a hypocrite for going on Obamacare." Slate's Jamelle Bouie disagreed, writing, "Cruz slipping on a political banana peel doesn’t make him a hypocrite," in a piece titled, "It’s Hilarious That Ted Cruz Is Signing Up for Obamacare." Vox took Cruz on a shopping trip for an Affordable Care Act plan. Life was full of laughs. (Or, if you prefer, laffs.)

Though the gaffe-chorale was loud, there was little thought to what Ted Cruz might do next. One of those things being: maybe not signing up for Obamacare after all. Or, decline to take a subsidy. That is, an additional subsidy -- as a sitting member of the Senate, it's subsidized anyway, which is something that Cruz himself alluded to at the time:

"We'll be getting new health insurance and we'll presumably do it through my job with the Senate, and so we'll be on the federal exchange with millions of others on the federal exchange," Cruz said.

Asked whether he would accept the government contribution available to lawmakers and congressional staffers for their health care coverage through the ACA, Cruz said he will "follow the text of the law."

But as ThinkProgress' Igor Volsky pointed out, even though Cruz "framed the decision" to join Obamacare "as one of inevitability," this wasn't actually the case:

The Affordable Care Act does not compel members of Congress to enroll in DC’s health care exchange; it simply cuts off the government contribution to their insurance plans if they buy their policies elsewhere. “The final rule extends a Government contribution towards health benefits plans for Members of Congress and designated congressional staff so long as the health benefits plans are purchased via the appropriate SHOP as determined by the Director,” a summary of the final rule says. “Nothing in the final rule or the law prevents a Member of Congress or designated congressional staff from declining a Government contribution for him or herself by choosing a different option for their health insurance coverage.”

In other words, Cruz “could purchase coverage in the outside market but would get no subsidy from the FEHBP program,” Tim Jost clarified for ThinkProgress, referring to the acronym for the federal health care program. “It seems like the primary other option he would have is to take advantage of COBRA through his wife, though he’d be forgoing the employer contribution. He could also buy non-group coverage,” Larry Levitt, Senior Vice President at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said. Cruz could also potentially purchased insurance through his presidential campaign’s presumptive health care insurance. In those instances, however, he would have had to give up his employer’s contribution and likely pay more for insurance than he is now being charged under Obamacare.

So, why then, would a guy with options that he could easily afford -- and that weren't the hated Obamacare: a) not take those options, and b) open himself to this dose of ridicule? Is Cruz unwittingly setting himself up for some Saul-like conversion, if the Affordable Care Act ends up working to his benefit? No, readers, banish that thought. I would submit to you that, far from a gaffe, this is actually a fairly shrewd gambit from Cruz. The part where Cruz likens himself to the "millions of others on the federal exchange," is a key tell. Cruz, having firmly established himself as Obamacare's most ardent philosophical opponent, will now have the chance to oppose the law as a participant.

There are some fundamentals involved that Cruz is no doubt intelligent enough to understand. One of those fundamentals is a structural conundrum that the Affordable Care Act has always faced: The universe of people participating in the law is several orders of magnitude smaller than the universe of people who have opinions about the law. This has bedeviled the law's supporters since its conception -- as poll after poll shows the public does not care for the law. However, it's also proved to be a problem for the law's opponents, whose fishing expeditions for Obamacare horror stories have tended not to yield the desired result. But Cruz will be able to present himself, rhetorically at least (you know: "optics"), as the living embodiment of the thing that squares that circle.

It also assists him in his mission to cut a contrast with other members of the GOP's 2016 field -- like, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who had a direct hand in preventing Obamacare's Medicaid expansion from coming to his state, while Cruz was leading unsuccessful efforts to destroy the law in Congress. Cruz will now be able to say, "I'm in this system, I hate it, and this is why I was leading the way in Congress so that Scott Walker wouldn't have to worry about it." That's what our blinkered Beltway touts refer to as "leadership," in their pundit coloring-books.

And as Dave Weigel points out, Cruz is borrowing a strategy that's already proven successful:

Cruz is deftly using the oddly-enough angle of this news -- Obamacare-hating senator forced into Obamacare -- for a populist cause. He's not the first Republican to do so. In his successful 2014 campaign for Senate, Colorado Representative Cory Gardner repeatedly talked about the family plan he'd held onto until it was scrapped for not meeting the ACA's standards.

"I got a letter saying that my family's plan was canceled," said Gardner in a TV spot. "Three hundred and thirty-five thousand Coloradans had their plans canceled, too."

"At personal cost," Weigel writes, "[Gardner] took a decision that made him more relatable and vulnerable to the insurance market. And now Cruz has done the same." That's likely Cruz's gambit here. Going "on Obamacare" will allow him to deepen his relationship with the people who hate the law out of suspicion, while simultaneously allowing him to claim himself as one of those aforementioned, non-elite Americans "on the federal exchange." That's no mean feat, considering that the only reason he's forced to make a choice in health insurance at all is because his wife is taking a leave of absence from her job at Goldman Sachs.

So Cruz, with the added enhancements of insider credibility and common-folk fealty, will go on excoriating Obamacare with his typical fervor. Naturally, I don't expect any of these criticisms to be non-disingenuous, but remember, this is a "political campaign," not a "be relentlessly honest and have perfect grasp of the facts contest."

_____________________________

Meme of the week.

What's one thing that unites many of the high-profile characters running for president, from top-tier contenders like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, to dark horses like Ben Carson and Martin O'Malley? As Daily Intelligencer's Jaime Fuller points out, it's a lack of expertise. And that's not a criticism or an opinion of the field -- that's the self-professed accounting of the candidates themselves. Per Fuller:

Jeb Bush is not an expert. Last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the former Florida governor even confessed that he wasn't an expert in Washington politics -- though he sure seems eager to take part in them.

Bush is not alone in not being an expert. As you can see below, other 2016 presidential possibilities have invoked this necessary caveat when seeking to comment on things they have no business talking about -- or when trying to avoid subjects they'd rather not comment on.

It might be fun if some reporter asked the candidates, "Is there any field of human endeavor or study that you can, in fact, plausibly claim to be an expert?" Give credit to Carson: He can at least say "neurosurgery," which is an actual thing.

"Draft Warren" winds brow increasingly stale

run warren run

For as long as mankind has known of Elizabeth Warren, a sizable portion has wanted Warren to seek a political office. So, she did. And nearly as soon as she arrived in the Senate, many of those same people have wanted Warren to run for president. Warren has deftly resisted the siren song emanating from those who would unwittingly have her embark on a life-ruining career path, but it is nevertheless a flame that always burns, a desire that remains unquenched, a boundless amount of energy that really could be put to more productive purposes.

Last Sunday, The Boston Globe ran the latest entreaty from Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, whose members launched "Run Warren Run, a major effort to highlight the immense grass-roots support that exists for Senator Warren's vision," and who must, in all honesty, be deemed successful in demonstrating the truth of this claim. But when I heard about this, I immediately thought of so many thus far unsuccessful attempts to convince Warren to run, and I wondered: Is there anything original that can be said at this point that might tip the balance?

The answer is: "LOL, no." Let's take a look.

GALLARD: "Senator Elizabeth Warren has established herself as the country’s leading advocate for working and middle-class families. The Democrat has proven equally adept behind the scenes and in the media spotlight, and has stood up to Wall Street banks and other powerful interests to win changes that are improving millions of Americans’ lives."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Bill Lipton, of New York's Working Familes Party: “We know a champion for working families when we see one ... The only thing better than watching Elizabeth Warren take Wall Street to task from the Senate would be helping her bring our issues to the center of the national debate.”

GALLARD: "Put simply, this moment was made for Elizabeth Warren. With income inequality at its highest level on record, and corporations and lobbyists wielding enormous power in Washington and state capitals around the country, we need a president who is firmly grounded in making government work for regular people."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Gallard's first paragraph.

GALLARD: "And Senator Warren hasn’t just studied the struggles of America’s working families -- she has lived them, having been born and raised in a family she describes as being 'on the ragged edge of the middle class.'”

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Uhm, Warren herself? Who is Gallard trying to convince here?

GALLARD: "Regardless of which candidate they favor, most Americans agree that it’s important to have a vigorous contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. The New York Times’s David Leonhardt recently wrote that without a slate of strong candidates, Democrats 'may conduct one of the least competitive nominating contests in modern political history.'”

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: The New York Times' David Leonhardt.

GALLARD: "It would be unprecedented for a candidate -- Hillary Clinton -- to march to the nomination largely unopposed, as many observers predict could happen if Warren doesn’t run. Such a scenario would be bad for both the party and for our country. A strong competitive primary campaign gives candidates a running start in the general election by giving them experience in articulating a clear vision and responding to crucial issues. Winning a competitive primary prepares the eventual nominee to face a battle-tested Republican candidate."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Literally tens of political pundits and reporters who have questioned whether Hillary running unopposed would be a bad thing for Hillary Clinton. (Also, are we drafting Warren to win this race, or are we drafting Warren to enter the race and make Hillary Clinton doubleplusawesome?)

GALLARD: "Poll after poll has shown that her message of economic justice and standing up to Wall Street resonates not just with liberal Democrats, but across the spectrum of potential voters. In fact, large majorities of likely voters who identify as independent and Republican in battleground states support Warren’s agenda, according to a recent poll commissioned by Run Warren Run."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: That time people reported on that poll.

GALLARD: "Some continue to argue that Senator Warren would be more effective in the Senate than in the Oval Office. That’s just not true ... And those calling for her to stay in the Senate would do well to remember that she doesn’t have to make the choice between running for president and being a senator — she can run for higher office while remaining in the Senate ... If Senator Warren does run, she’ll either become President Warren or continue being Massachusetts’ senior senator. It’s a win-win."

WARREN HEARD IT ALREADY FROM: Never mind that. Pick an argument. How is it a "win-win" if Warren loses and remains in the Senate, from which position she would be less effective, as you argue? It sounds more like a "win-consolation prize," except that Warren returns to the Senate having damaged her brand and with scads of campaign debt.

"To be clear," Gallard writes, "Senator Warren has said she's not running for president, and we take her for her word. But we also believe she's open to persuasion." That is, indeed, plausible. But you're not going to persuade her with the same arguments that have, thus far, proven themselves to be stupendously unpersuasive.

All I ask, at this point, is that somebody who wants this to happen to come up with even one new argument, for funsies. Please, please.

The Week In Predictions

Jeb Bush: Bush is going to fail in Florida. And also in South Carolina. Or neither of those things. But he will have a talk-radio problem. But that's okay, Cruz's entry into the race will be a good thing for him.

Ted Cruz: Cruz is going to be a long shot. Unless he isn't. He could siphon support from Bush. Unless he doesn't.

Joe Biden: Biden will be "waiting in the wings" to swoop into the race if Hillary Clinton "falters." It's all part of his "long game."

Bobby Jindal: Jindal will wait until June to make his own announcement for president, because of "the state of his state." Per Charlie Cook: "“I think he could make a judgment that he needs to tend some fences back home ... It sure wouldn’t look good to jump in a race when your job-approval rating back home is 27 or 28 percent.” Sure! By June, I'm sure all of that will be fixed.

Lindsey Graham: Graham "may be the only politician who can stop global warming," so ... sorry about that, Planet Earth!

All The Advice That's Fit To Aggregate

Rand Paul advises Hillary Clinton to return the money Saudi Arabia gave to the Clinton Foundation, because Saudi Arabia has reprehensible policies toward women. Which is true! But surely that makes the case for taking the money, not giving it back, to fund more anti-woman stuff. Hillary Clinton should also get a "
sparring partner
" in the form of a competitive primary.

Mike Huckabee should stop giving Hillary Clinton a hard time about that whole email thing. Chris Christie should be more like Bill Clinton. Rick Perry should get way, way into looking at "data."

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker "should stop comparing themselves to Reagan: it makes them look like a bunch of kids." (Bush, Rubio, Perry, and Huckabee, on the other hand, are in the clear!)

And Bobby Jindal has some advice of his own: The GOP should nominate, you know, a conservative governor, probably. Just spitballing!

We'll Leave You With This, Whatever This Is

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'Rise Of Super PACs' Set To Ruin The RNC's Plan To Avoid A Brutal Primary Season

Jason Linkins   |   March 27, 2015    1:47 PM ET

As I've had the opportunity to write about before, the Republican National Committee emerged from the 2012 election bent on making a series of dramatic changes in the hopes of achieving better results. One major area that the RNC examined was the length of the 2012 primary season itself, which to their mind had become a debate-happy horrorshow that ended up playing a role in imperiling their chances. As The Washington Post's Aaron Blake noted in the wake of the RNC voting to "significantly compress its presidential nominating calendar," the big takeaway from the 2012 contest was that it had become "a long, sometimes nasty primary process that Republicans think hurt their chances of winning the presidency."

So, how are things looking, now that they've made major reforms to the primary calendar and limited the number of debates? Take it away, Patrick O'Connor of The Wall Street Journal!

The race for the Republican presidential nomination is shaping up to be one of the most drawn-out in a generation.

The candidate field looks unusually crowded, with more than a dozen contenders appealing to different slices of the GOP. The rise of super PACs allows candidates to stay in the race longer than before. And nominating rules meant to compress the process may complicate a front-runner’s ability to amass the delegates necessary to win.

The result, some GOP strategists say, is that next year’s contest has the ingredients to be the longest since then-President Gerald Ford prevailed over Ronald Reagan at the 1976 convention.

The most eye-catching thing about this? That whole part about "the rise of super PACs," which threaten to artificially keep primary bids aloft long past their sell-by date. Republican pollster Bill McInturff shows up in O'Connor's report, emphasizing this:

This cycle, because of all these structural rules changes and the advent of super PACs, people are not going to drop out,” predicted Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who advised Arizona Sen. John McCain in both of his presidential bids.

Candidates abandon their bids and unify behind the front-runner when either they run out of money or a rival has gathered a majority of delegates, conditions that won’t materialize quickly this time around, he said. “Republicans have created a system where, because of super PACs, it is hard to project someone winning until late May or early June.”

So, it's our wonderfully new and corrupt system of financing elections that's going to ruin it for everyone? I have to say, that's as deliciously ironic as it was predictable.

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Pity The Poor Multi-Millionaires And Their Waning Political Influence

Jason Linkins   |   March 27, 2015    1:00 PM ET

It probably will come as no surprise to any of you to hear the news that most of you are not making it in America. And one way in which the semi-permanent nature of our not-making-it status has deftly revealed itself is the clear alteration to our political system: It no longer really resembles a citizen-driven democracy, but rather a weird oligarchy in which the would-be leaders of the free world have to schlep around, kissing the rings of dotty billionaires, in the hopes that their favor will propel them forward in their political careers.

Of course, for most Americans, clawing their way down the eroding path of middle-class respectability, there isn't a whole lot of time to pause and stage an aria of self-pitying lamentation. But there is one class of people that apparently do have the luxury of having the time to whine: the not-quite super-rich.

Yes, apparently the political fortunes of the merely astonishingly affluent have taken a nose dive of late, drawing the bottom nine-tenths of the top 1 percent into Thomas Piketty's "r > g" argybargy along with the rest of us. That is, at least from their perspective. They are deeply sad about their diminished political influence, and they are granting interviews to the commoners. Take for example, Terry Neese, a one-time pretty-big-wheel down on the Bush family Ranger ranch, who now tells The Washington Post that she's feeling as if her wealth, no longer able to quite stagger the imagination, doesn't count for much anymore:

At this point in the 2012 presidential race, Terry Neese was in hot demand.

“Gosh, I was hearing from everyone and meeting with everyone,” said Neese, an Oklahoma City entrepreneur and former “Ranger” for President George W. Bush who raised more than $1 million for his reelection.

This year, no potential White House contender has called -- not even Bush’s brother, Jeb. As of early Wednesday, the only contacts she had received were e-mails from staffers for two other likely candidates; both went to her spam folder.

Yes, the indignity of downmarket candidates reaching out through staffers, it is not to be endured. Neese, like many former in-demand toffs, has now become the poor, soot-stained matchgirl, face pressed to the window, looking on as the party to which she was once an invitee now gaily spins without her. And that is not hyperbole. As The Washington Post's Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger explain, at the recent RNC retreat in Boca Raton, would-be presidential candidates passed on flattering the merely very wealthy gathered in attendance, making for the event's version of the VIP room instead:

A number of White House contenders in attendance -- including former Texas governor Rick Perry and Govs. Scott Walker (Wis.), Chris Christie (N.J.) and Bobby Jindal (La.) -- devoted much of their time to private meetings with high rollers, according to people familiar with their schedules. Bush came to Boca Raton after an afternoon super-PAC fundraiser in Miami.

Then on Sunday, the governors made a pilgrimage to Palm Beach for a private Republican Governors Association fundraiser hosted by billionaire industrialist David Koch at his 30,000-square-foot beachfront mansion.

Welcome to class envy, you guys! Don't say you weren't warned. As Annie Lowrey noted in The New York Times last September, recent studies had indicated that while the "total income of the top 1 percent surged nearly 20 percent" in 2012 (as compared to the 1 percent growth experienced by the bottom 99 percent), the incomes of "the very richest, the 0.01 percent, shot up more than 32 percent." And over at Demos, Joseph Hines elaborated further:

That’s just 16,000 Americans that make over ten million dollars a year. And their dominance is strengthening: the share of income controlled by that tiny group of people jumped over a percentage point from 3.7 percent in 2011 to 4.8 percent in 2012. This is the donor class, the same group of people that donate to political campaigns and determine the structure of the market they have so clearly mastered.

As this new, super-exclusive donor class deepens their connection to the policy-making apparatus, their capacity to consolidate their wealth and influence will no doubt continue, in a pattern of rent-seeking and favor-trading designed to ensure high returns on their capital without having to take any of those knotty "risks" that we used to consider a vital ingredient to productive capitalism.

And as this progresses, more and more of the new over/underclass will start to feel like the heroine of this Washington Post story: “Most of the people I talk to are kind of rolling their eyes and saying, ‘You know, we just don’t count anymore,’” says the once influential Neese.

In other news, a number of people in the East Village of Manhattan, paying rents that are prohibitively high for working-class New Yorkers, had their homes explode yesterday.

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This Senator Is Sick Of Europeans And Their Stupid Coins

Zach Carter   |   March 25, 2015    5:59 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The European continent has gifted some of history's greatest cultural icons to the world. The Louvre. The Colosseum. The Cologne Cathedral. Plato, Dante, Gibbon. The Clash.

But Europe has also committed great crimes. In particular, Europeans go around paying for things with coins valued in whole units of currency. Fussy Europeans use 1-euro coins and 2-euro coins, as if a paper note would not suffice. This abomination shall never be replicated in the United States, if Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has his way. Because Charlemagne was overrated, and you know what? Fuck Pericles.

This week, Vitter filed an amendment with the Senate Budget Committee that would "strike out a provision that makes it easier for Washington elites to force Americans to give up their dollar bills and use dollar coins, like Europeans." Go ahead, read the whole amendment. It's only a page long, and it actually says that.

Like any blue-blooded American, Vitter knows that God intended coins to be used only for fractions of a single unit of currency. This is why coins are known as "cents" or "change" in These United States. For whole units -- one dollar, five dollars, what have you -- paper notes have long been recognized as the chosen medium.

But Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has blasphemed against the paper. His latest budget proposal includes a provision (see Section 414), that would require any proposal that contemplates shifting from a paper dollar bill to a dollar coin to note the budgetary impact of such a proposal.

Enzi is really into dollar coins. And according to the Government Accountability Office, moving from dollar bills to dollar coins would create about $5.5 billion in budgetary savings over the course of 30 years, making the bill-to-coin move a way for his committee to open up other avenues for spending.

The GAO has been recommending this switch for years, noting that many of those pesky European nations (and Canada, which, let’s face it, is sort of the same as Europe, conceptually speaking) managed to "obtain a financial benefit."

But the GAO also acknowledged that these gains were kind of fake. Yes, dollar coins last longer than paper money, but this extended durability doesn't actually outweigh the higher upfront costs. The GAO said the budget gains it projected were due solely to "seigniorage" profits: money the government makes by printing new money.

The difference between what a government pays to create its currency and what it can buy with the face value of that currency is seigniorage. If it costs 30 cents to make a $1 coin, the government can make 70 cents in seigniorage off of that coin.

Now, each $1 coin costs more to produce than each $1 bill. But if the U.S. were to replace a lot of its bills with coins, it would need to mint a lot of new coins. And production of this new currency would create the savings (in seigniorage for each coin) that Enzi lauds.

So it's kind of fake. But who cares? Money, after all, is pretty much fake. Even hard-money Ron Paul acolytes are just fetishizing shiny stuff. But it turns out that carrying around coins instead of bills can actually be a burden on the overall economy. It's more sluggish and more expensive, according to a December 2013 Federal Reserve analysis, which means increased costs for the private sector.

The trouble is, neither the Fed nor the GAO considered just how European this whole thing is, which is far more important. Byzantium, shmyzantium.