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The 10 Best Months For Presidential Election Poll Accuracy, Ranked

Jason Linkins   |   January 23, 2015    5:37 PM ET

This week, you probably saw some headlines that said things like, "Poll: Clinton clobbers potential GOP foes." Which sounds pretty definitive. But! You may have also noticed that the Republican National Committee did not publish a press release that read, "Piss it, we're conceding the race and regrouping for 2020." Why is that?

Well, there's a quirk in the science of polling, which holds that leading up to any presidential election, there will be months in which the head-to-head polling of the race is very accurate and other months in which it's very inaccurate. I've prepared a little guide here, ranking the 10 best months for polling accuracy for the next presidential election, in order from least to most accurate:

10. March 2016

9. April 2016

8. June 2016

7. May 2016

6. July 2016

5. August 2016

4. September 2016

3. October 2016

2. November 2016

1. December 2016

As you can see, if you're a reporter and you want to obtain the most accurate possible snapshot of who is going to win a presidential election from a pollster, the best time to call him up is between twenty and fifty days after the election. You will ask, "Who is going to be the next president?" and he will say, "The guy who won the election last month." You can't go wrong.

You may have also noticed a trend, in which the nearer you are to Election Day, the easier it gets to predict an outcome. And, indeed, past experience bears this out. A week before the 2012 election, most pollsters were uncannily predicting that the winner was going to either be Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

But the further back you go, the murkier it gets. And look, here's some math from political scientists Christopher Wlezien and Robert Erikson, helpfully provided, with zen-like patience, by Brendan Nyhan of the Columbia Journalism Review. Think of this as my ranked list in chart form (you'll note I've accounted for the odd quirk that seems to hold that May polls are slightly more accurate than June polls):

wlezian and erikson

The bottom line, as Nyhan notes, is that "polls conducted even 300 days before an election have virtually no predictive power."

From there, we can extrapolate. How accurate are 2016 head-to-head polls in November 2015? They are zero accurate. What about July 2015? They equal "not accurate." April of 2015? They are wholly antipodal to accuracy. And thus, in January 2015, these polls will be the null set of accuracy.

I bring this up because "political science Twitter" -- one of the few Twitter subcultures that do not essentially promote deleting your Twitter account as the path to a better life -- is hard at work calming people down about the polls that generated all these hot, hot, headlines. Listen to the nice political scientists, you guys! I promise that unlike virtually everyone else who writes about politics (including on occasion myself), they mean you no harm.

At this point, you may be wondering, "Well, if polling is so inaccurate until you get very close to an election, why do they continue to do it?" The short answer is that pollsters ask many questions that are more interesting than "Who would you vote for in this head-to-head matchup?" The answers just don't make for banner headlines.

We will know more in 20 months than we do now. Feel free to relax.

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

RNC Announces New, Vastly Less Insane Primary Debate Schedule

Jason Linkins   |   January 16, 2015    6:26 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- The Republican National Committee, in its after-action report on the 2012 election (known by its nickname, the "RNC Autopsy"), made it a goal to do something about the long-winded primary process that its leaders believe did their efforts more harm than good. The process of "de-suckifying" the presidential primaries has been long developing -- the broad strokes came to light back in December 2013, in a report from CNN's Peter Hamby -- but are now beginning to find form. The RNC has already decided to stage an earlier convention, and to run a disciplined primary calendar. On Friday came news of the third prong of these reforms: making the debate schedule less insane.

There is, perhaps, no worthier goal. If you can bear to recall the last time there was a GOP presidential primary, the debate season was baffling and horrible to all living creatures. When I look back on the schedule from that cycle, I still feel the dread, deep in my bones, lurking like a Korean water ghost.

Look at this nonsense! If you include all the various forums and stunt appearances, the number of debates (or debate-like pseudo-events) add up to 27 occasions in which candidates had to meet and spar with one another. There was a debate on May 5, 2011. May 5, 2011! CNN, which is bad at debates, staged seven. In one particularly idiotic period, there was an ABC News debate on the night of Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, followed by an NBC News debate on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 8. What could possibly happen overnight to necessitate such a thing? "Question to Rick Santorum, followed by a one-minute rebuttal from Jon Huntsman: What did you dream about last night? Did you sleep okay?"

That was a clown debate schedule, bro. The good news is that the RNC has actually maybe found a way to de-clown it. Per Politico's James Hohmann and Alex Isenstadt:

The Republican National Committee will announce Friday that it has sanctioned nine presidential primary debates, starting this August in Ohio and continuing through March 2016, with the potential to add a few more.


A committee within the RNC and top staffers have been working for nearly a year on an effort to cut the number of debates roughly in half from the 2012 cycle. There have been high-level conversations between party leaders and executives at the nation’s broadcast and cable channels.

What they've come up with makes a lot more sense. The schedule, as outlined, features nine debates, with the option to add three more if a competitive primary persists into the month of March. The earliest debate is August 2015, which is still too early, really, but at least it's not May. The RNC is going to limit the debates so they are more geographically diverse -- no state will host more than one debate. And CNN is only getting two debates (three if the race extends into March), thus reducing the role that Wolf Blitzer will play in all of this.

What of the other networks? Fox News will get the first crack at the candidates in the aforementioned August debate. In the nine-debate scenario, Fox News (or Fox Business) will get two more debates. CNBC, CBS, ABC, and NBC News (in partnership with Telemundo) get one each. Should the primary season roll into March, Fox and CNN would host additional debates, with the 12th debate being advertised as a "Conservative Media Debate."

Back in March 2014, the RNC was talking about imposing a greater amount of control over who gets to moderate the debates. According to Politico's Katie Glueck, RNC officals were mulling the demand to "hand-pick" the moderators. At the time, it wasn't clear what sort of role the big news networks would play in this process, as RNC chairman Reince Priebus seemed inclined to feature only ideological allies as debate moderators. As Hohmann and Isenstadt report, it's more clear that the RNC is pushing for a "partnership" between "mainstream media organizations" and "more conservative commentators and outlets."

What's to stop a candidate, thirsty for additional attention, from breaking with the RNC's plan and attending an unsanctioned debate? Here's where the RNC wields the stick. According to Hohmann and Isenstadt, "any candidate who participates in a non-sanctioned debate will not be allowed to participate in any more sanctioned debates."

What are the ramifications here? Well, there will be fewer opportunities for candidates on the fringes of polling, or who are short of money, to use these free media appearances to generate momentum. That likely means that this cycle won't become the wild tilt-a-whirl of flash-in-the-pan frontrunners for which the last GOP primary cycle is best known. However, it probably limits the ability of a candidate to do what Rick Santorum did -- slowly punch his way to relevance over the course of a long and varied debate season.

From the standpoint of the media, this process may be one step on a slippery slope. Good people can debate (though, please, not 20 times) whether seeking to have your candidates confronted by moderators that are more ideologically inclined in their direction smacks of smarts or cowardice. Speaking only for myself, I don't see any reason why conservative moderators in a GOP primary debate wouldn't ask substantive, hard-hitting questions, but I'm prepared to find out that I'm wrong. As far as this issue goes, the Democrats can't claim purity -- back in 2007, the Democratic candidates, by dribs and drabs, backed out of a debate on Fox News.

What's more concerning is the fact that this debate schedule's been set with memories of Priebus making broad threats about various outlets' editorial decisions still fresh in the memory. Back in 2013, Priebus -- angry about a Hillary Clinton miniseries in production at NBC, and a Hillary documentary by Charles Ferguson coming from CNN -- threatened to sanction the two networks. The punishment? Refusing to allow them to stage a sanctioned primary debate. (Worth noting again: It completely eludes me why Priebus thought that Charles Ferguson was going to do a Hillary hagiography, given his past work. Clinton's allies were, if anything, even more eager to get the documentary canceled than Priebus was.)

Those two projects, having been scuttled, no longer loom over the landscape as matters of concern. Still, if past is prologue, it's not hard to see how being extended the opportunity to stage a debate might color a news organization's editorial decisions. How much criticism of the candidates can, say, CBS News induge in before Priebus tells the network it's no longer allowed to join in any reindeer games?

Also at issue is the role of local news organizations and newspapers, whose involvement in the debate process is unclear at this time. It's very possible that future announcements will bring state-based media and publications into the fold as partners -- there's certainly a longstanding precedent for it. This is something Priebus should consider carefully: I consider it near-axiomatic that if you want a media that's disinclined to fixate on the Hot Gaffe Of The Week, look to the locals.

So there's no guarantee that this process won't, in the end, prove to be problematic. Still, not having 20-some-odd debates is something that we can all get behind. And here's hoping that the RNC will hand down strong sanctions on anyone who confuses a lectern for a podium.

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

IRS Budget Cuts Plus Tribal Politics Will Make Tax Season A Customer Service Hellscape

Jason Linkins   |   January 15, 2015    2:47 PM ET

As the Washington Post's Lori Montgomery reports, the Internal Revenue Service typically "handles nearly 160 million tax returns each year and more than 100 million phone calls, interacting with more members of the public than any other federal agency." Is there a chance that you might be among those who could find yourself in need of guidance come tax time this year? Because the news, it is not good.

Not that anyone particularly thrills to the prospect of calling up the IRS for assistance, but the agency has, in the not-too-distant past, enjoyed a peak period of decent customer service. As Montgomery notes, as recently as 2004, the IRS was handling "87 percent of calls and taxpayers had to wait on hold only about 2 and a half minutes." By 2009, this had slipped, but not to an unreasonable margin: "In the teeth of the financial crisis ... the IRS was still answering 70 percent of its calls after average wait times of about 9 minutes," reports Montgomery.

Sadly, as the Post warns, this year will be a grim new low for the IRS:

Taxpayers will face the worst levels of service in more than a decade from the Internal Revenue Service this filing season, with as few as 43 percent of callers getting through to an agent and then only after waits of 30 minutes or more, according to a report released Wednesday.


In addition to being unable to answer the phone, the IRS will be unable to provide answers to anything but “basic” tax-law questions. After the filing season, it will answer no tax-law questions at all. And the agency has halted its longstanding practice of preparing returns for elderly, disabled and low-income taxpayers.

That's the takeaway from a report from National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson, presented to Congress. In that report Olson describes the IRS as an agency that's been slowly "crippled by five years of budget cuts," leading to this looming, Comcastian customer service nightmare. Especially harmful was the infamous sequestration, wrought by the misguided Budget Control Act of 2011, which dinged the IRS' budget to the tune of $597 million and led to this gradual degradation in services. President Barack Obama's 2014 budget sought to repair much of this damage by "proposing an increase of $1.2 billion compared to 2014 and returning the agency to roughly its 2010 funding level in nominal (non-inflation-adjusted) terms." But what we ended up with, as a result of the recent Cromnibus monster, was an additional $350 million cut to the agency's budget.

As further noted by Montgomery, one effect of these cuts, beyond the customer service impediments, is a sort of mini revenue death spiral, as degrading the IRS' ability to enforce the law could result in "the government losing $2 billion in taxes that would otherwise have been collected."

It will probably come as no surprise that all of this is destined to become, as the Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon reports, "a political battleground, with Democrats blaming the problems on GOP budget cuts, and Republicans pointing to confusion about President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul." Though, deeper in the piece, we learn that some GOP members of Congress are of two minds on the matter. Apparently, while some believe the agency can and should deliver service successfully by being more cost-effective and innovative, others are just glad to see taxpayers squeezed in this way, purely out of spite:

Republicans contend the IRS can make better use of its funds due to improved technology, but some believe the agency deserves to be squeezed because of its alleged targeting of tea-party groups for scrutiny as they sought tax-exempt status.

Right, let's not forget the long-running psychodrama that is the IRS/Tea Party scandal, and how that plays in the amygdalae of some lawmakers, who -- having not yet managed to pin that scandal on the White House to their satisfaction -- shall now burden taxpayers with the consequences. It seems an odd choice to make, given that so many of those taxpayers voted to ensure a GOP majority. But, (to borrow from Jonathan Chait) as Nelson Muntz might say, "Gotta nuke something!"

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

Mitt Romney Will Have His Revenge

Jason Linkins   |   January 14, 2015    6:13 PM ET

There was a moment when it appeared that the next presidential contest was simply going to lumber into existence. A slowly emerging field would pace their way through the so-called invisible primary, sides would be chosen, teams selected, camps erected, and at the end, a kind of pecking order would emerge. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush surely played his part, dipping a toe in, letting the world know that he was sniffing at the brass ring, but not demanding an inappropriate amount of our time and attention. But that's over now. The trickle became a flood, and suddenly we're drowning.

And the man who loosed the blood-tide upon us? Mitt Romney. He's back, for backsies.

If you can find some kind of calm purchase to examine what the 2016 race -- at least, on the GOP side of the affair -- has become in just a matter of days since Romney, suddenly and (let's face it) unexpectedly opted to stake a claim for himself, you might be able to appreciate what Romney's done: unleashed a narrative-savaging, surrealist fever dream of pure Discordiana. Romney 2016, conceptually, seems like a hot lather of high, campy weirdness. It's a thing that cannot be. The Manic Pixie Dream Campaign. It gets you wondering if there's something to the fact that Romney looks a lot like the corporeal manifestation of the Church of the SubGenius' prophet, J.R. "Bob" Dobbs.

Romney's self-injection into a race from which most everyone had presumed he'd remain comfortably self-deported has had all of the effects of Eris' apple from "The Judgment of Paris." He's pushed other would-be candidates into a more aggressive space. He's awakened a faction of his own party, now determined to stop him, that couldn't have imagined one week ago that it would be necessary. And he's forced the abject chroniclers of the petty pacings of the election cycle to question what they are observing, and to wail at the seeming nonsense of a man, twice defeated, courting a third defeat amid conditions that will be even more difficult to surmount than they were the last time. "Where is the rationale for this?" they ask. "What's he playing at?" they wonder.

Maybe the truth is clearer if you stop wondering about what Mitt Romney is seeking to be, and focus on what he is: a bored, rich dude who, having been wronged, will now have his revenge.

Truth be told, on one level, I sort of enjoy the chaos. Romney is doing something genuinely unfathomable, and I'm embracing it. Elsewhere, that doesn't seem to be the case. The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein doesn't understand what Romney is doing here, and to make that clear, he titles his piece on the matter, "I can't believe I have to write this post on Mitt Romney." I can't blame Klein for feeling that way, and everything he puts under that banner pretty much adds up to what we conventionally refer to as "sense." For example:

The real question is how Romney 3.0 would do against a field of stronger candidates than just Bush. If Romney’s whole pitch will be that he’s a better combination of conservatism and electability than anybody else, how would he do against, say, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker? Romney’s claim to fame as governor was working with Ted Kennedy and Jonathan Gruber to pass a healthcare bill that provided the model for Obamacare. Walker is known for taking on unions to push conservative tax, spending, collective bargaining and education reforms. Romney lost three out of four of his political campaigns. Remember, he was too chicken to run for reelection as governor in Massachusetts in 2006, because he knew he would lose and it would kill his chances of winning the GOP nomination — which he lost to McCain anyway. Walker, in contrast, won three gubernatorial elections in four years in a blue state with the entire weight of the organized national Left lined up against him.

It's really hard to resist the comparison between Walker and Romney, given that Walker's the one who's been proving the maxim, "If you come at the king, you best not miss," while Romney's last campaign is the one that ended with the "RNC autopsy."

Of a similar mind is New York magazine's Jonathan Chait, who joins Klein in the first-person headline: "I Refuse To Believe Romney '16 Is Real." Chait's rationale is fairly ironclad. He notes that the GOP base, having "grudgingly submitted to a Romney nomination in 2012" has plenty of better alternatives this time around, and the desire to ensure the nomination doesn't fall to a squish. He observes that Romney has not "learned to suppress the traits that made him a figure of ridicule" last time out. Most damningly, Chait points out that one of the central pillars of Romney's campaign -- that the failure to elect him would inevitably lead to "fiscal calamity" -- has, in the ensuing years, collapsed.

"Nothing could convince me that Romney will actually run for president, not even Romney taking the oath of office," Chait writes, "My reasoning here is that another Romney candidacy would be insane, and Romney is not insane."

Sure, but Mitt Romney is still a super-rich guy with nothing better to do right now. So why not? What can he possibly lose from a third attempt at this? Failure means he returns to a lifetime of wealth and a family that clearly loves him dearly. Sounds good to me. Not doing anything means sitting back and watching all those candidates -- your Christies, your Jebs, your Rubios, your Walkers -- run for president. Those are the guys who the GOP's established pundits were begging to jump into the 2012 race, even as Romney was working hard to become the frontrunner. Those are also the guys who, apparently, didn't have the stones to face Romney at the time.

If you had nothing but time, and all the money you could want, why wouldn't you troll those clowns?

Let's talk real: Romney running a third time isn't insanity. Joe Biden might run for president a third time. Ronald Reagan did run for president, three times. A third Romney run isn't something that defies sanity, it simply defies convention. It stands apart from an accepted wisdom that suggests that the public, having rejected Romney twice before, would do so again. And yes -- that position makes eminent logical sense.

But here's the thing: what have Mitt Romney's critics, for as long as I can remember, begged him to do? They've begged him to be less robotic and less technocratic. They've filleted him for his aversion to risk. They've demanded that he "show his human side." Well, this is it, folks! Mitt Romney's human side is that he's a bored rich guy who wants to be president. A third run from Romney would be as pure an act of humanity as we've ever seen from Mitt -- it's gloriously illogical, impetuous, hubristic, and foolhardy.

So Mitt Romney is here to mess with your narrative, tip over everyone's tidy paradigms, and send those who had antagonized him into fits of apoplexy and fugues of confusion. Yes, this probably won't work out, but why should that trouble him? Mitt had strings, but now he's free, to become a real human boy at last.

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

So That Happened: 2015 Offers No Respite From 2014's Misery

Jason Linkins   |   January 10, 2015    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, radical militants from a pseudo-Islamic death cult murdered 12 members of the staff of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in their Paris office, ending any hope we had that 2015 would be a respite from 2014's garbage and misery.

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

* * *

Some highlights from this week:

"There is a need for information that comes with showing what the cartoon was. By republishing these cartoons, you're not trying to provoke people. You're trying to inform people about what it was that tipped off this type of extremism." -- Sam Stein

Meanwhile, the new year has ushered in a new Congress ... which is bringing us the same old stories so far: a leadership fight for House Speaker John Boehner, a rift over budget policy and the perennial question, "Can our government govern?"

"Boehner's like the most unique individual in Congress. And I'll be honest with you. One day, years from now, when Barack Obama and John Boehner are out of politics, I expect them to spend a lot of time together sitting on a porch, reminiscing of times gone by." -- Jason Linkins

Finally, the 2016 presidential race is officially underway, and right off the bat we have one of those silly, unserious rows between two rivals. Is there any chance that we might actually raise the bar in this election? L-O-L

"They have nothing to do. They haven't been doing anything really. It's just a treading water situation for them." -- Arthur Delaney

* * *

We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving and as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go under-reported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We'd also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print" and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

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

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

In Solidarity With A Free Press, I Put Some Objectionable Content On The Internet

Jason Linkins   |   January 9, 2015    4:25 PM ET

In the wake of the brutal killings of the satirists of French weekly Charlie Hebdo, the people of the Internet are having a national -- actually, I guess it's an international -- conversation on the role of satire, the importance of free speech and the need to defend free expression, no matter how objectionable that expression might be. One unique thing that's emerged in the past few days is a sudden outpouring of affection and support for people who regularly pursue the dissemination of cross-the-line content and repugnant ideas.

This shock to our sensibilities, doled out so cruelly by terrorists, has resulted in a new environment where all of us are encouraged -- if not urged! -- to take to our content management systems and go for broke in the act of ruthlessly producing content that ruffles feathers, impales our sacred cows, offends widely, and leaves no target immune from our LULZ. And to do so wantonly.

Slate's Jacob Weisberg put it like so: "The best response to the Charlie Hebdo attack -- other than catching and punishing killers -- is to escalate blasphemous satire." His call has been echoed by others. The New York Times Ross Douthat urged, "The right to blaspheme (and otherwise give offense) is essential to the liberal order." New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait let it be known that "one cannot defend the right [to blaspheme] without defending the practice."

Of course, as of this writing, none of these defenders of blasphemy have actually chosen to offer up any blasphemy themselves. I guess that was meant to be someone else's job?

Oh, well: challenge made ... challenge accepted, by First Look Media's Glenn Greenwald, who today has published a raft of virulently anti-Semitic cartoons. He didn't ask for anyone's permission, folks ... he just "went there."

It's a brand new day in terms of free expression. We're blowing past boundaries. We're pushing envelopes. We're monetizing content that normally would curdle the souls of our readers and advertisers. But not everyone is excited about this new world. Earlier this week, Rusty Foster of "Today In Tabs" wondered if we maybe shouldn't try to "chart a course in between 'cause maximum offense at all times' and 'murder people for cartoons.'" Well, nuts to that. The Thought Leaders are urging us to dispense with the labor-intensive activity of probing our own work in deference to the considerations of others, because this is a war on all of us, and it needs to be won by, say, close of business Friday, Pacific Time. And I want in.

So, having been called to this duty, I am now going to republish some of the most vile and objectionable content available on the Internet, in this forum. I will warn you up front that this is going to be brutal and offensive material -- stuff that only a ragtag fringe of leprotic minds would cheer to see disseminated. Nevertheless, it must be done, and I'm not going to apologize for the hurt that this is about to cause many of you.

This video's content launched the world on a path of ruination with which we're still grappling.

Simply stated: a pure distillation of unrelenting hate.

There are fewer things in this world more disgusting in nature than what's depicted above.

The ideas contained herein have been thoroughly denounced, discredited and defamed. Look upon them again ... if you can take it.

Much like ISIS was deemed by al Qaeda to be horrifying, this video's contents even seared the souls of this world's most flaboyant hate-merchants.

I'll admit it. This is where I wavered. This is where I thought I might be going too far. But I screwed my courage to the sticking point.

When the world first saw this, we all found it so easy to say, "Not in MY name!" And yet when you think about it, we are ALL responsible for this.

I know. you'd rather not live in the same world as this. Consider it my bitter reminder that you don't get a pass.

There you have it. Now, some of you scolds might still have the temerity to ask me, "What was the point of this?" The first thing I'll tell all you politically correct pukes is that you just don't get it, man. We're well past the point where the need to account for a "point" is required. But if you must know, I'll say simply this: If it's really our conviction that there's nothing and no one who is so sacred that it is beyond the bounds of lampoon, then -- in the truest spirit of Charlie Hebdo ("...its creators would be dumbfounded to find themselves memorialized," writes Arthur Goldhammer) -- the most courageous act of satire right now is to satirize everybody's endless goddamned sanctimony.

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

If It's Sunday Morning, Is It Sexist?

Jason Linkins   |   January 8, 2015    5:27 PM ET

If you've spent any length of time watching the Sunday morning political talk shows, as I once, regrettably, did, you've probably noticed that the on-air proceedings are -- how to put this? Let's say, a bit of a sausage-fest. (You know, just the wurst, ha ha.) Male guests consistently outnumber their female counterparts.

But on last Sunday's "Meet The Press," three of the District of Columbia's highest-ranking public officials appeared -- all women. It was a bit of drastic, if temporary, change, and precipitated political scientist Gail Baitinger's post on The Washington Post's (excellent) "Monkey Cage" blog. In the post, Baitinger delves into the question: "Why are there so few women on the Sunday morning talk shows?"

Her answer?

I find that women tend to appear infrequently on the shows because of journalistic norms – such as the desire by the networks to create balance and conflict or to interview the sources they believe possess political power. Because women are less likely than men to possess these characteristics, they are less likely to appear on the Sunday shows.

In other words, it's not that the Sunday show producers are acting from some bias against women underpinned by structural sexism, they're acting from a bias toward perceived power. Which is also ... uhm, underpinned by structural sexism?

Right, I know that at first blush, this seems like it maybe is something that comes from a recent issue of the Journal Of Obvious Studies, but this is all worth talking about.

Baitinger took an inventory of all of the guests who found their way onto the sets of "This Week," "Face The Nation," "Meet The Press," "Fox News Sunday," and "State Of The Nation" from January 2009 to December 2011. "After accounting for repeated appearances," she writes, "women comprise approximately one-quarter of the guests." That propotion was fairly consistent for the five shows broken down individually.

She concludes that "journalistic norms, not sexism, appear to determine which political actors appear on these programs." Those norms are, essentially, a preference for perceived "expertise and credibility" and high ranks on the pecking order of parties and committees. Women, as Baitinger notes, tend to run for office less often than men, retire sooner in their careers, and for a variety of reasons, not ascend to the heights of this pecking order during their careers.

"This does not mean that sex is irrelevant," she writes. "Instead, it highlights the fact that women in the pool of potential guests are less likely than men to have the attributes and experiences that make them seem newsworthy."

Right, well, this is still sexism, it's just a sexism that the Sunday shows have decided lies outside their responsibility to respond to or correct.

Anyone who's examined the issue of basic workplace diversity recognizes the phenomenon depicted above: There is a pipeline that brings personnel or talent to your doorstep, and out of that pipeline comes mainly men. The person manning the delivery end of the pipeline might prefer a more diverse mix of people, but what can they do, other than point back down the pipe and lament that there is some problem at the source? If only that problem could be corrected, then the pipeline would function in a more equitable way. "Someone should really get on that," the person at the spigot end says.

And that, my friends, is simply a pernicious little shrug. Because if your bathroom sink was pouring out nothing but cold water, you would do something about it. You would formulate a plan of action, and you would act upon it. You would not sit back passively and hope that the balance you'd prefer arrives one day.

So, you have to take some chances, leave your comfort zone, dip into unfamiliar networks and miss the bar you've raised again and again and again and again until you get over it the first time. It is, as Buzzfeed's Shani Hilton recently put it on a related topic, "work." Work at which you will often fail. But that pipeline won't be fixed if you just sit there, waiting.

To move on to a second point, here's some potential good news for the Sunday shows. If the networks corrected the bias that Baitinger identifies -- in which only the most highly-proclaimed elites with the most perceived merit are favored over people who lack the shallow decorations and trappings that the ersatz eyeball tells us constitute "power" -- they'd go a long way toward resolving the gender diversity problem and make for a better Sunday show in general. Because I have to tell you, I watched those shows from 2009 to 2011 too, and the dirty little secret about the overwhelming majority of those guests during that time is that they really weren't that interesting. I know this might sound radical in some circles, but the fact of the matter is that the McCains and Durbins and Grahams and Schumers ... they just aren't that great. They're predictable talking points dispensers who bring all of the vigorous perspective of a tape recorder.

What's the point of five Sunday shows booking a similar array of bland-but-high-ranking guests when the end result is something that could have just been summarized by a reporter in a three-paragraph news brief? (Which, by the way, is precisely how most Americans these days are finding out about what transpires on the Sunday shows.)

This favoritism toward elite power also structurally deforms the way the Sunday shows cover the news, sabotaging their supposed role as concerned chronicles of public affairs. This is the very bias that undermined the talk shows' ability to properly grapple with America's various financial crises, instead rendering "the economy" as something that primarily impacted affluent political celebrities, as opposed to normal human Americans. In the confines of the Sunday salons, the 2008 downturn was never properly depicted as a thing that caused people to lose jobs, homes, health and wealth. Instead, what was at stake was that one permanently well-to-do politician or another might be forced to give up their electoral seat and, you know ... become a gainfully employed lobbyist instead.

So, for a number of fairly compelling reasons, not the least of which would be altering the male-female ratio of the guests, it would be worth undertaking the effort to redefine things like "expertise" and "power" and -- good Lord -- "credibility."

Why does this bias toward the perceived-to-be-powerful (and thus a bias toward men) persist? In all likelihood, it's because the producers of the Sunday shows fear that not having the proclaimed top dogs of the Beltway scene on their shows on a regular basis would imperil their ratings. From there comes the subsequent admission that actually challenging these guests would result in their refusal to appear on these shows -- which would also imperil their ratings.

I guess I've got to drop another bit of secret knowledge here, for the benefit of the Sunday shows. Guys? You are well past the point where your ratings might be imperiled. As I've pointed out before, your ratings are garbage right now. The thing in your hand that you think is a life preserver is actually the dead weight that's sinking you. You should go ahead and challenge your powerful guests. You should go ahead and book more interesting people. Maybe this is a thing that more people would like to watch. Trust me when I tell you that you have very little currency to risk in this gamble.

Read the whole thing on The Monkey Cage at The Washington Post: Why are there so few women on the Sunday morning talk shows?

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Headline Of The Day Takes Huge Chance With Hillary 2016 Prediction

Jason Linkins   |   January 8, 2015    4:57 PM ET

Here's your 2016-related headline of the week, courtesy of MSNBC's "The Rundown with Jose Diaz-Balart":

hillary clinton

So, Hillary Clinton will make her campaign announcement soon, unless she makes her campaign announcement later. Really risky limb you've crawled out on there, guys.

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Jim Webb's Old Novels Re-Emerge As 'Oppo' In Latest Sign That 2016 Will Be An Unrelenting Storm Of Garbage

Jason Linkins   |   January 7, 2015    2:49 PM ET

The thing about any presidential election is that it could be an event in which sober and intelligent men and women stage a thoughtful and serious debate on the high-stakes issues of our time, guided by the principle that the American people, if nothing else, simply deserve it. On the other hand, it could also be a welter of low-blow stupefaction and soul-exsanguinating venality that leaves you with the feeling that this American experiment should be mercifully drowned in a bucket of ranch dressing. What path will 2016's looming civic pseudo-event take?

Well, let's consider the strange controversy that recently embroiled the nascent proto-campaigns of former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as an amuse-bouche before the meal to come. On Dec. 30, the U.S. News and World Report's David Catanese published a lengthy profile of Webb, seeking to elucidate the Democrat's possible motivations for jumping into the 2016 race. Well down in the piece, Catanese reported that "Clinton loyalists are keeping an eye" on Webb, and that in the days before the Thanksgiving holiday, "staffers of Philippe Reines, Clinton’s longtime communications guru, pitched talk radio producers on the racy, sexually charged writings in Webb’s novels, according to a source."

There was, as you might suspect, some immediate pushback. Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill told Catanese that his source had told "an unmitigated lie." Catanese granted his source both anonymity and the final word on the matter, reporting that he or she "stands by the account." This week, the contretemps ended up as the basis for a Media Matters post. In large part, Media Matters simply took Merrill's denial at face value and declared the matter to be closed -- which, when you think about it, is a strange position for a media watchdog organization to take, and one that I have severe doubts will be applied in consistent fashion going forward. (Catanese, by reporting that his source stood by the earlier claim, stands accused by Media Matters of "doubling down," proving once again that the term "doubling-down" has become tragically untethered from it's original meaning.)

But look, I'm not interested in doing a twelve-part podcast investigating who was shopping Jim Webb oppo to whom back in November. What I am interested in pointing out is that using the contents of Webb's novels as some sort of brickbat in 2016 is stupid as hell. I am astonished and bewildered to have to confront even the potential that this could be a thing that gets litigated as a part of 2016's festival of nonsense.

Or, to be more precise, re-litigated, because Jim Webb's novels were the subject of desperately dumb political horseplay back in 2006. Let's take our wayback machine to this Oct. 27, 2006, CNN report:

The bitter Senate campaign in Virginia turned uglier Friday when the Republican incumbent pulled up sexual passages from novels written by his Democratic opponent, who called the move baseless character assassination.

In a news release and list of quotes posted Friday on the Drudge Report Web site, Sen. George Allen accused his opponent, former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, of "demeaning women" and "dehumanizing women, men and even children" through his fiction writings. At least two of the listed passages include children in sexual situations.

Allen's campaign did not include the press release and list of passages on its Web site, where press releases are generally posted.

There was, however, a Thursday statement from Chris LaCivita, general consultant for the Allen campaign, saying some references in Webb's novels are "disturbing" and "portray women as servile, subordinate and promiscuous."

At the time, Webb defended his fiction writings, to what should have been to the satisfaction of anyone who's ever read a pulpy potboiler. But let's consider the first reason why dredging anything like this up in 2016 is well beyond idiotic: This was the desperation play run by George Allen, for Pete's sake. To be more specific, a play run by a post-Macaca George Allen. It staggers my mind that I find myself having to point out that going to George Allen's October 2006 playbook for some hawt 2016 strategery is just not a good look for anyone.

But even if Allen had never existed, this is still garbage politics. Diming out Jim Webb on the sex scenes from his novels? In a world where middle America is content to contemplate a full "Fifty Shades Of Grey," concern-trolling over Webb's books seems to be hardly of the moment. Anyone dishing it around looks like a prudish scold -- a throwback creep cultural prosecutor from a half-century ago. And unless you're authentically a cultural conservative -- like, say, Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum -- then you don't even really harbor genuine grievances with novelised erotica. If the person in Catanese's original report is telling the truth, then they have painted themselves as an unserious and insincere person.

Again, I can't speak to the authenticity of Catanese's original source on all of this mishegas; neither do I want to cast aspersions on his reporting. But in terms of distant, early warnings of disasters to come, I take the mere fact that this past-its-sell-by-date "oppo" even came up in the discourse at all as a sign of an impending crap-aclysm. There's still time for everyone to resolve to do better, of course. Surely the voters deserve some seriousness. Still: Better get used to the dust in your lungs, my little canaries.

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Maryland Lawmaker Thinks Journalists Need His 'Authorization' To Use His Name, 'Kirby Delauter'

Jason Linkins   |   January 6, 2015    1:59 PM ET

Got a little story this morning about the Streisand Effect -- which, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is that thing where an inept attempt to censor information leads to that information being disseminated far more widely than it otherwise would have been had the person who wanted the information censored just let it go ... let it goooooo!

(The Streisand Effect got its name when Barbra Streisand attempted to sue a photographer, who while documenting California coastal erosion also snapped her beachfront domicile -- which the singer-actress viewed as a breach of privacy. Ironically, it was her lawsuit, and not the photographer's compendium of visual research, that ended up drawing attention to the photos of Streisand's home, as well as getting this "effect" named after her. See also: Dan Snyder.)

Today's story of the Streisand Effect and its discontents takes place in Frederick County, Maryland, where a man named Kirby Delauter is the county councilman elected to represent District 5. Seems that Delauter took umbrage at a story that appeared in the Frederick News-Post on Jan. 3, concerning -- of all things! -- the assignment and availability of parking spaces to county council members.

Delauter is actually just a bit player in this story, which largely concerns the parking space grievances aired by another councilman named Billy Shreve, with whom Delauter agrees. But Delauter apparently has nursed a grudge with the reporter of the parking space story, Bethany Rodgers, and he decided that the time was ripe for him to flip his lid on Facebook, in full view of the world.

In so doing, Delauter made one of the most idiotic demands I have ever heard in my life: "Shame on Bethany Rodgers for an unauthorized use of my name and my reference in her article today. She contacted me by phone yesterday, I did not return her call and did not authorize any use of my name or reference in her article."

Nah, son, that's not how this works. Let me kick it to UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh for a brief legal explanation, because he's making the best fun for all of us with his comment: "Uh, Council Member: In our country, newspapers are actually allowed to write about elected officials (and others) without their permission. It’s an avantgarde experiment, to be sure, but we've had some success with it."

Rodgers jumped into this Facebook thread to attempt to explain journalism to this poor, lost, parking-space bereft lamb and earned this response from Delauter: "Use my name again unauthorized and you'll be paying for an Attorney. Your rights stop where mine start."

On Tuesday, Rodgers' paper responded with an article about this Facebook thread, in which the name "Delauter" appears 13 times. The story quotes the paper's managing editor, Terry Headlee, like so:

"Kirby Delauter can certainly decline to comment on any story," Headlee said. "But to threaten to sue a reporter for publishing his name is so ridiculously stupid that I'm speechless. It's just a pointless, misguided attempt to intimidate and bully the press and shows an astonishing lack of understanding of the role of a public servant."

The article then goes on to document some sort of localized outbreak of stupidity among area county council members, with Billy Shreve making a cameo appearance:

Shreve, R-at large, told The News-Post in a phone interview he supported Delauter taking legal actions.

"I did not see his post, but I think The News-Post is extremely biased and someone should sue them," Shreve said.

Forget parking spaces -- I'm not sure these men have the intellectual depth to handle driving.

At any rate, the news about Delauter's bizarre Facebook meltdown is now trending on Digg and being shared on Twitter, and the Frederick News-Post story about it is outperforming the original, anodyne story about the parking spaces. And thus did the Streisand Effect yield unto the world one more cautionary tale.

UPDATE, 2:33pm: The editorial board of the Frederick News-Post ups the ante and published an editorial response to the news, titled "Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter," in which the name "Kirby Delauter" appears 28 more times. "Legally," the editors write, "Kirby Delauter has no case." Eagle-eyed readers will spot an Easter egg in the first letter of each paragraph!

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Ben Carson's Camp Disputes Union-Leader's "Hefty Fee" Story [UPDATED]

Jason Linkins   |   January 6, 2015   11:58 AM ET

UPDATE, 1/7/2015: Carson's camp, as well as the New Hampshire Union-Leader's original source for the story, now dispute the Union-Leader's original account. The Granite State newspaper carries this development in a staff report, following on the previous article. From that report:

Dr. Ben Carson was unable to speak at a New Hampshire dinner later this month due to a previously scheduled event, and it had nothing to do with any speaker’s fee, according to his business manager.

Armstrong Williams said Carson, a possible Republican presidential hopeful, was in the process of being booked for a live town hall event at Howard University on Jan. 19 and was unavailable to speak at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dinner celebration in Manchester on that day.

All of which would have made perfect sense at the outset. In reporter Dan Tuohy's original, the MLK event's organizer, Wayne D. Jennings, explained that the "barrier" to Carson's participation was a "hefty" speaking fee. The Union Leader's follow-up addresses that like so:

Williams shared an email exchange between the speakers’ bureau and Carson’s office, which refers to the Jennings’ inquiry for a speaking engagement as a “pro-bono request.”

Jennings, in a follow-up interview Tuesday, said he recalled being told there was a fee. In any event, Jennings said, he has great respect for Carson. He said he has watched a biographical movie of the famous, retired neurosurgeon several times and he looks forward to hearing him speak at some point in New Hampshire.

The most charitable read of all of this is that some sort of breakdown in communication occurred, either between Carson's handlers and Jennings, between Jennings and the Union-Leader, or both. This doesn't fully explain how this became a story in the typically reliable Union-Leader. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Carson cannot be in two places at once, which renders any discussion of speaking fees moot. It also effectively voids the premise of my original post, below.

Should this all require any additional rounds of sorting out, this post shall be updated.


The New Hampshire Union Leader's Dan Tuohy reports that would-be presidential candidate Ben Carson is maybe not the savviest person to ever run for president:

Dr. Ben Carson was briefly considered as a speaker for a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration this month in New Hampshire, but the organizer says a "hefty" speaker’s fee proved a barrier.

Wayne D. Jennings, the organizer of the 13th annual "Keeping the Dream Alive" Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner Celebration on Jan. 19 in Manchester, said he initially reached out to try to line up Carson -- the retired neurosurgeon, author and former Fox News contributor who is mulling a bid for the Republican nomination for president.

Let's enumerate the cock-ups here, folks. First and foremost, GOP opposition researchers spent a goodly part of 2014 trolling perennially-presumed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her exorbitant speaking fees. Clinton's allies could point to a number of plausible mitigating factors -- those fees went to the Clinton Global Initiative, and in some cases her appearances raised money for the events' organizers -- but it wasn't hard to understand the motivation of critics, using Clinton's six-figure speaker fee to paint her as an elite one-percenter at a time where economic populism is a cresting wave.

Now, the GOP has one of its own telling a nonprofit organization that they can't afford him. This blunts those criticisms.

Secondly, you have to show a little bit of character and recognize when you're dealing with an organization for which you should really waive your fee. As Tuohy reports, this is one such case:

Jennings declined to say how much the speaker’s fee was. He described it as "hefty" in the sense that the National Cultural Diversity Awareness Council he founded in 2000 is a non-profit organization that relies on volunteers and corporate and community sponsors.

Yeah, so this organization isn't really in the business of paying anyone, so even bringing up a speaking fee is pretty crass. If you don't want to do an unpaid public appearance in this instance, just say you're busy that day and wish them the best. But look, here's the good news: There are no hard feelings here. Jennings told Tuohy that he's "got nothing but respect for" Carson. Jennings' event is going to be fine.

But that still brings us to the last and most important part of all of this: We're talking about New Hampshire in 2015. If you're running for President, you're itching for these opportunities to get in front of influential primary voters and show them what you're all about. This would have been a great earned media opportunity for Carson. Fox News would have covered it. Carson's remarks would have filtered out over social media. New Hampshire's media would have treated it like a campaign stop. It would have garnered the attention of influential state party elites. And Carson would have earned a few good quotes from locals talking about his presidential timber.

Instead, we have this story in the Union Leader about how Carson's speaking fee was "hefty" and a "barrier." Maybe Carson is just new at this? Maybe you should just not take him seriously as a presidential candidate -- almost as though he's staging a quixotic presidential run to give his speaking fees a nice boost, or something.

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Our Prediction For 2015 Is That Most Economic Predictions Will Suck

Jason Linkins   |   December 31, 2014   10:19 AM ET

The American economy, bolstered by a run of decent employment numbers and a party-in-the-USA third-quarter GDP pop, is finally beginning to show signs of health. While this good news didn't arrive in time to help Democrats retain control of the Senate, it still technically qualifies as good news, because "the economy" is actually not just a thing that determines whether affluent politicians get to keep their seats. American taxpayers have endured much hardship since the 2008 financial crisis, and pretty much everybody, from career politicians to human beings, will be better off if the economy continues to improve.

Speaking of "pretty much everybody": It's worth remembering as we head into the new year that anyone -- officeholders, pollsters, whoever thought it was a good idea to make a spaghetti sauce say "bae" -- anyone at all can make confident predictions about what the economy is or is not going to do. That doesn't mean we have to pay attention each time. Here, we offer a greatest-hits tour of economic forecasts that did not exactly pan out, with a gentle suggestion that in 2015 we leave this kind of thing to the actual economists.


After President Barack Obama took office in 2009, a good way to die of cirrhosis would have been to take a shot of liquor every time the White House made mention of the dire economic circumstances they'd inherited. Because those were some dire circumstances indeed, as they reminded us, constantly. Yet at the same time, the administration strove to persuade the public that these Very Grim Realities were somehow going to be dispelled sooner rather than later.

Christina Romer, then Obama's chief economist, got the ball rolling during the administration's first term by suggesting the fiscal stimulus package was going to keep the unemployment rate below 8 percent. This, the stimulus package did not do -- it was a moment of oracular straining that Romer would come to regret. Vice President Joe Biden, however, was right alongside Romer, claiming in February 2009 that the stimulus was going to "literally drop-kick us out of [the] recession" within 18 months. In a technical sense, the recession did end within that time frame, but not with anything like the momentum of a drop-kick, or even the regular kind of kick.

Still, by June 2010, the White House had declared that "Recovery Summer" had arrived. The ensuing months, however, were more of a recovery bummer. (See, "bummer" rhymes with "summer," and... you get it.) Unemployment remained high, job growth was tepid and the alarming foreclosure crisis continued apace. Economists, meanwhile, were much more inclined to worry about the possibility of a double-dip recession than they were to sift through the whiplashing economic indicators looking for reliable signs of hope.

This is not to say the White House's efforts were for naught -- the stimulus package still deserves credit for arresting the economy's perilous descent. But the administration's repeated assurances of good times ahead wrote a political check that reality couldn't cash. As Dean Baker, co-director of the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research, told The Hill in 2010: "People don't understand what the stimulus is about... [Obama] just really lost that debate. I don't doubt it would be worse without their policies, without their stimulus, but it's hard to put too good a face on that.”

And so in August 2010 -- Biden's original deadline for the drop-kicked end to our economic woes -- there came a New York Times op-ed from then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner titled "Welcome To The Recovery." In it, Geithner touted a number of important, tangible gains, but also repeatedly emphasized that the work of revitalization was just getting underway. "We have a long way to go to address the fiscal trauma and damage across the country," he wrote, adding that "considerable challenges" still lay ahead.

Good thing they didn't print those "Recovery Summer" beer cozies!

Now, years later, we're starting to see signs of what was prematurely promised. In fact, as Steve Benen recently noted at MSNBC, the White House can take some cheeky satisfaction in the way it delivered on many economic promises faster and better than several of the people who sought to unseat Obama in the 2012 election. Mitt Romney promised to have the unemployment rate under 6 percent by 2016; Obama did it two years sooner. Tim Pawlenty said that the key to getting 5 percent GDP growth was to offer the wealthy some generous tax breaks; Obama raised those taxes and hit 5 percent anyway. And Newt Gingrich famously vowed that he'd get gas prices down to $2.50 per gallon (after predicting that Obama would bring America $10-a-gallon gas). The ability of presidents to affect gas prices is highly overrated, but if we're keeping score -- most states currently have prices lower than what Gingrich promised.

Which brings us to our next point -- as little as you could rely on the White House for accurate economic predictions, the opposing side hasn't been much better.


The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a highly overrated indicator of economic health, and I would not recommend that you assign it too much importance when trying to determine whether a nationwide economic recovery is afoot. Having said that, let's have a little fun with the fact that last week, the Dow closed above 16,000 for the first time ever. This is mainly worth noting because so many people have in recent years predicted the incipient demise of the stock market, as well as, like, the very concepts of money and ownership.

In March 2009, for example, Michael Boskin -- a Stanford University economics professor and former economic adviser to President George H.W. Bush -- wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal called "Obama's Radicalism Is Killing The Dow." In this piece, Boskin claimed that Obama, for some reason, wanted to "change the foundation of American capitalism."

It's hard not to see the continued sell-off on Wall Street and the growing fear on Main Street as a product, at least in part, of the realization that our new president's policies are designed to radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy, not just mitigate the recession and financial crisis.

This was an odd conclusion to reach from the mere fact that there were a handful of policy prescriptives that Boskin didn't support -- like imposing a cap-and-trade plan (which never materialized), reforming health care (which did happen, but not in the form of the government-provided universal health care option that Boskin seemed to believe was in the offing), and raising taxes on the wealthy (which came about somewhat by allowing some of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts to expire). Obama also didn't manage to make the cuts to earned benefit programs that Boskin called for in his column (though not for lack of trying).

Overall, Boskin wrote a solid piece enumerating his preferred economic policies -- but as the White House didn't actually "radically re-engineer the market-based U.S. economy" after all, perhaps it would be good of him now to acknowledge that he should have rejected that thesis in favor of "Here is my conservative economic policy philippic, you guys."

He never even got around to describing how all of this was going to "kill the Dow," which, again, has done great.

dow under obama

(Hat tip to The Washington Post's Matt O'Brien, whose own thoughts on "the worst op-ed in history" are certainly worth your time.)

Boskin was hardly alone in his weird Dow doomsaying. During a March 2010 episode of CNBC's "The Kudlow Report," Larry Kudlow and Jim Cramer batted around the idea that Obamacare would be a Dow-killer.

KUDLOW: You are saying that Obamacare will topple the stock market. This is a huge issue. Let me get your first take.

CRAMER: It is the single biggest impediment to the stock market going higher. And a lot of this has to do with what's not being talked about, with how it's going to be paid. And also to what it would do to small business formation. This bill is a disaster for both.

As Media Matters was happy to note, the Dow finished up 43.91 points the day after the House of Representatives passed the Affordable Care Act.

What's funny is that anyone interested in critiquing Obama on this issue already had plenty of material available. The slow pace of the recovery, coupled with the White House's habit of overpromising, meant there were more than enough opportunities to point out room for improvement. But often, Obama's critics depicted the economy as if they'd just come from their Young Adult Dystopian Literature class at the Learning Annex. It was not uncommon for people -- most of them in or adjacent to politics -- to suggest that the White House was bent on actually destroying the economy. Former U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) asserted this as fact. Rep. Pete Session (R-Texas) insisted that Obama wanted to "inflict damage on the free enterprise system, if not... kill it," and also that Obama sought to "diminish employment and diminish stock prices" in order to permanently consolidate power. I don't actually understand that's supposed to work, but then again I do not do too much laudanum.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), likewise, offered a characteristically unique reading of the situation in 2009. "If you want to look at economic history over the last 100 years, I call it punctuated equilibrium," she told conservative radio host Bill Bennett. "If you look at FDR, LBJ and Barack Obama, this is really the final leap to socialism." (Anyone tracking corporate profits since Obama took office would have to conclude that this is a different approach to socialism than we're used to.)

corporate profits under obama


It might be fun at this point just to pause and laugh at some people who've offered terrible economic advice to the Obama administration over the years. Go ahead and relive the memories of career pollsters Douglas E. Schoen and Patrick H. Caddell advising Obama not to seek re-election for the sake of the country.

From the faltering economy to the burdensome deficit to our foreign policy struggles, America is suffering a widespread sense of crisis and anxiety about the future. Under these circumstances, Obama has the opportunity to seize the high ground and the imagination of the nation once again, and to galvanize the public for the hard decisions that must be made. The only way he can do so, though, is by putting national interests ahead of personal or political ones.

To that end, we believe Obama should announce immediately that he will not be a candidate for reelection in 2012.

Then proceed to journalist Michael Kinsley's bizarre 2013 assertion that Obama should give in to Republican demands to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in return for a debt ceiling increase -- because that would somehow teach the Republicans a lesson.

The media will no doubt call Obama weak because he gave in. So let them. Sticks and stones. Meanwhile, will the Republicans really take the past couple of weeks as a precedent and push him around on every issue that comes up? Highly unlikely. They are already getting most of the blame. They surely don’t look forward to trying to convince voters it was such a swell experience that they’re going to put us through it again and again.


We've had some fun here, but make no mistake, these are still precarious economic times for most of the 99 percent. It's good that GDP growth is up, better still that unemployment is down. I suspect we're still a couple of years away from being able to fully evaluate whether the Affordable Care Act delivered on its promise to enroll more of America's uninsured while keeping health care costs manageable, but early signs are encouraging. That said, here are two things worth focusing on in the near future.

1. The quality of jobs. Always remember that while it's nice to see the U-4 unemployment rate come down, low unemployment is all for naught if American workers don't actually have quality jobs with decent pay and benefits. If the future of American employment is schlepping around an Amazon fulfillment center as a glorified temp, that's really no future at all. And for all the "innovation" in what we're euphemistically calling "the sharing economy," there's still a lag in critical labor rights for the people who perform the daily IRL work that makes "digital entrepreneurship" possible.

2. Wage growth, or the conspicuous lack thereof.

wage growth under obama

Via Mother Jones' Kevin Drum, this is the real recovery bummer: "This is the basic lay of the land. Yes, the economy is improving and jobs are becoming more plentiful. But most of us have seen our pay stagnate for four years and counting. That's one of the reasons the public mood remains so sour."

I, personally, would venture that this isn't going to change anytime soon. But let me remind you: I am not an economist. And most of the people who will strive to convince you in 2015 that certain things are or are not going to happen will also not be economists. Politicians have their own reasons, obviously, for confidently telling the public that X, Y and Z are in the cards. A great thing we can do, next year and every year, is to keep in mind that just because someone is talking where you can hear them, it doesn't mean they know what they are talking about.

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Antonio Weiss' Supporters Tout His Authorship Of A Liberal Think-Tank's Economic Study. But Why?

Jason Linkins   |   December 29, 2014    3:22 PM ET

Antonio Weiss, the Lazard mergers and acquisitions expert who the Obama administration has tapped to serve as the U.S. Treasury's undersecretary of domestic finance, is facing the prospect of being the first high-profile casualty of the Democratic Party's post-election populist mini-reformation, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) leading the charge against the appointment. But Weiss does have supporters, who typically point to three things that they believe make him an excellent choice for Treasury.

For example, if you're battered-but-unbowed devotee to Wall Street's meritocracy Andrew Ross Sorkin, you rationalize away the nagging fact that Lazard is prepared to drop a $20 million bonus on Weiss for leaving Lazard -- a move that more or less suggests a pending quid pro quo -- by suggesting that Weiss, simply by being a Titan of Finance, is de facto qualified to take the post at Treasury, despite the fact that Weiss' experience and expertise is well outside the realm of domestic economic policy.

If you are a member of Washington's elite, you point to the fact that Weiss is the publisher of George Plimpton's Paris Review, which alone suggests that Weiss has deep and detailed liberal bona fides that will reveal themselves with sufficient illumination at Beltway cocktail parties. Everyone can talk about V.S. Naipaul over canapes content in the knowledge that the machinery of the American economy is being presided over by someone with real erudition.

But if you want to actually point to something in Weiss' past that suggests he's put his hand to the nitty-gritty of economic policy making, you point to the fact that Weiss is an author of a December 2012 report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), Washington's leading liberal policy think tank. You don't mention that he's one of a dozen or so authors, and that crusading populists Larry Summers and Robert Rubin (!) put their names to it as well. Instead, you tout the fact that this report called for the raising of higher revenue (specifically by increasing taxes on "high-income households") and the need for tax reform that simplifies the tax code.

The Treasury practically has an auto-reply that sends the CAP paper to any reporter that asks about Weiss. And in a background document it sent on Weiss to members of Congress, the paper is a central pillar:

Background on Antonio Weiss

Antonio Weiss has served as a business advisor to numerous Fortune 500 companies, including Google, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Honeywell and Kraft Foods.

As evidenced in the 2012 report he coauthored with Center for American Progress, "Reforming our Tax System, Reducing Our Deficit," Weiss believes we need to reform and simplify our tax code as well as implement policies that help boost economic growth while supporting our middle class.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest made sure to mention this report in the December 11, 2014 press briefing:

Q: On the Antonio Weiss nomination, there’s been (inaudible) Democratic support to approve him. And obviously in another few weeks, there will be a Republican-controlled Senate. Is there going to be a change in strategy to try to get him approved given that you’ve tried to paint him as a liberal to get Democratic support and now you’ll need Republican support? MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't think that we have actually suggested, Angela, that he has any particular ideological point of view. I do think that we have been candid, though, that he shares the President’s view about steps that can be taken to make our tax code more fair. These are actually views that he’s articulated prior to even being considered for a position in the administration. He wrote a report back in 2012 titled, “Reforming Our Tax System and Reducing Our Deficit,” in which he discussed the need to simplify our tax code and implement policies that help boost economic growth for the middle class. So he is somebody who shares the President’s view that our economy will be strongest and will grow fastest when it grows from the middle out. And his support for that kind of philosophy and for that strategy for growing our economy is one of the reasons that the President has nominated him for this position.

All of which puts Weiss at the dead center of leading liberal thought on tax policy over the past decade, and firmly allies him with the Obama White House, which has fought an often perilous battle with its Congressional opposition to raise revenue of any kind -- opposition which has scuttled more than one big budget deal over the past six years.

The need to credit Weiss for the part he played in this report is rather fascinating. First and foremost, the emphasis on Weiss as a guy who's called for raising taxes on the wealthy, and the need for additional revenue, is a strange thing to highlight, considering the fact that it would be inexplicable for the Obama White House to hand out a Treasury appointment to someone who disagreed with these positions. Even Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles recommended the raising of additional revenues. Here, Weiss is getting a lot of plaudits for simply being someone who nominally hews to mainstream Democratic party policy prescriptives.

But wait! That's not what the paper was about! If you actually read the document, which perhaps Treasury officials were hoping no reporters would do, the first thing you notice is its title: "Reforming Our Tax System, Reducing Our Deficit."

Oh, so the paper that is supposed to prove Weiss' progressive bona fides was actually one that pushed the Democratic Party to reduce the deficit. Got it.

"It's one of the least progressive reports CAP has done in recent years," one former CAP staffer told The Huffington Post. At the time, the American Prospect's David Callahan noted that it locked in much of the Bush tax cuts and didn't raise enough revenue.

No surprise then, that just six months later, CAP had gone from "Reforming Our Tax System, Reducing Our Deficit" to "It’s Time to Hit the Reset Button on the Fiscal Debate." That report, penned by Michael Linden (one of the co-authors of the former report), represented an about-face on the central emphasis of its predecessor: deficit reduction. CAP rolled it out with much fanfare, celebrating it as the think tank's break with its deficit-focused past. And with good reason! As CAP came to understand by June of 2013, the central argument of the deficit maniacs had essentially collapsed:

For the past three years, we have been warned that debt levels over 90 percent of GDP are extremely risky and present a debt “tipping point” that we should do everything in our power to avoid. These warnings were based on a paper entitled “Growth in a Time of Debt,” written by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.

In their paper Reinhart and Rogoff used data from dozens of countries over two centuries to investigate the relationship between high debt and slow economic growth. They concluded that, “across both advanced countries and emerging markets, high debt/GDP levels (90 percent and above) are associated with notably lower growth outcomes.” They argued that the relationship between growth and debt is “non-linear” -- meaning that the growth effects were more pronounced at higher debt levels -- and that countries may have "debt intolerance ceilings" -- meaning that there may be a particular level at which debt becomes particularly dangerous.

As we've since found out -- and as CAP acknowledged in June of 2013 -- Reinhart and Rogoff, to use a technical term about miscalculated and misapplied data, seriously boofed it. Linden, quite wisely, proceeds from that knowledge like so (emphasis mine): "Now we know that their paper not only does not support the notion of a debt 'threshold' but in fact shows that high debt is the result of slow growth rather than the opposite. At the very least, this new information should spur those who based their policy preferences on Reinhart and Rogoff’s work to re-evaluate their positions."

And re-evaluate them CAP did, switching its position on emphasizing deficit reduction within six months of coming out in favor of it. Six months, in the life of a think tank, is like the lifecycle of a mayfly.

All of which makes associating Weiss with this old CAP study deeply weird, because even if he was not the primary author of this study, it's still a study that CAP has largely disowned after getting themselves on the correct footing in this post-Reinhart/Rogoff era. Why on earth is the White House drawing on this past-its-sell-by-date garbage in an effort to plump Weiss' nomination chances? Because the real reason he's getting appointed isn't very persuasive. Let's return to Mr. Sorkin for that one: "He has been a staunch supporter — and campaign donation bundler — for President Obama."

UPDATE 12/30 -- In a statement, a CAP spokeswoman defended the report and Weiss' role in it.

The article fundamentally mischaracterizes CAP’s report "Reforming Our Tax System, Reducing Our Deficit" and ignores its central point, which is a significant structural reform of the tax code to make it far more progressive by raising taxes on the wealthy. Antonio Weiss was a central author of this report, including its call for raising revenue from corporations. Our plan would have raised the tax rate for top earners to 39.6 percent, as well as raised capital gains for top earners by 28 percent (almost double the current rate). We also proposed treating dividends as ordinary income and limited the value of deductions for top earners.

By raising taxes for the wealthiest Americans and reforming deductions to make them more progressive, while not raising taxes on the middle class, we proposed to shift the burden of deficit reduction to the wealthy from the middle class. Indeed the plan, ­which would have raised $1.8 trillion more than the 2012 tax policy,­ was more progressive than that put forward by President Obama.

The American Prospect critique cited in the article related to the fact that the CAP plan kept in place lower taxes for middle class Americans because the author argued that the middle class should also have their taxes increased. This meant the plan would have less deficit-cutting impact but CAP believed (at that time as well as when we released Fiscal Reset and our more recent Middle Class Squeeze report) that investments in the middle class would drive economic growth and help middle class families support their families.

The emphasis in the December 2012 plan on raising taxes on wealthy Americans, not increasing costs on middle class families, and not pursuing deficit reduction at expense of economic growth, is very consistent with the direction CAP took in the 2013 fiscal reset report and our most recent Middle Class Squeeze report. In the latter reports, we pointed to changed circumstances leading us to a reduced emphasis on reducing spending in order to reduce the debt level. The article completely ignores our emphasis in Fiscal Reset on those changing circumstances -- dramatic decreases in the deficit due to the budget deal that winter and lower health care costs.

(Amanda Terkel and Jen Bendery contributed reporting.)

Obama's Cuba Plan Turned Some Folks Into Wind-Up-Toys Of Outrage

Jason Linkins   |   December 20, 2014    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would make an effort to normalize relations with Cuba, ending a decades-long policy of distance that had been surprisingly effective in doing nothing in particular. We'll talk about the new plan, and the people who are hopping mad about it.

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

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Some highlights from this week:

"Those two, when they got the news, I don't know. It was like they became weird wind-up-toys of outrage." -- Jason Linkins

Meanwhile, a Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy has been canceled, because North Korea apparently now dictates what movies we watch in our spare time? How did something so simple get so out of hand?

"Films that relate to things in North Korea will not be made now and that is just outrageous. Something has got to give." -- Arthur Delaney

And finally, we're taking a look back at 2014 -- a great year for garbage monsters. What are our least-favorite things about the past year? Well, this is going to take a while.

"2014 has been f*cking terrible and at least in the world of public affairs, there have been almost no redeeming aspects to this terrible year." -- Zach Carter

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We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving and as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go underreported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We'd also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print," and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

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

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