Thursday, October 29, 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

I Hope He’s Right

Upyernoz on Paul Ryan deigning to accept the mantle of leadership:

That’s one less raising star in the Republican Party we have to worry about. Sure he will make himself a pain in the ass as speaker, but this pretty much guarantees that he won’t ever be president. And if history is any guide, he will probably end his tenture [sic] either completely disgraced or merely wildly unpopular.

Being third in line for the presidency — as dictated by the Constitution — is as close as Mr. Ryan will ever get to the White House.  I can’t think of any Speaker of the House that ever went on to become president; at least not in the last 100 years.

He also didn’t win any friends with his demands that he not be held to the regular rubber-chicken routine that the Speaker has to go through for his party — campaigning, fund-raising, and traveling — so that he could spend more time with his family.  That’s a noble thought and thoroughly in keeping with the GOP “family values, but it would have a little more meaning if Mr. Ryan was inclined to think that other people were entitled to the same need.  But he’s not.

In 2009, for instance, Ryan voted against the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which would have allowed federal employees to substitute up to four weeks of available paid leave to take parental leave. The bill passed a then-Democratic House with 24 Republican votes, but the legislation never made it to the Senate floor.

So I hope my pal ‘noz is right; that by Paul Ryan picking up this bagful of bobcats and starting out by alienating both the far-right House “Freedom” Caucus by being cast as a RINO and the advocates for sane family values will bring a swift and merciless end to any rise in the Republican Party.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Invitation to the Dance

There’s going to be live coverage on cable TV of the testimony from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the Benghazi! committee today.  You can probably stream it, too, on your computer if you so desire.

So how will the Republicans convince viewers that they really aren’t out on a partisan witch hunt when everyone and their dog knows that they are?  They’ve said as much both publicly and privately, and there are certain quarters in the GOP that are urging the House committee to come across as oh so fair but to really nail Ms. Clinton and thereby put an end to her run for the presidency.  A delicate dance indeed.

It’s not like this is the first time we’ve heard the tune.  Congress has spent more time and more separate formal hearings investigating the attack in Benghazi! than all the other high-profile terror attacks in the last twenty years combined.

An analysis of Congressional attention to previous high-profile terror incidents suggests that significantly more emphasis has been placed on Benghazi than other terrorism acts. The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the 1996 Khobar Tower bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and even the attacks of September 11, 2001 — all received less Congressional attention than Benghazi in the form of formal hearings and investigations into their respective causes.

The chart below shows the number of congressional committees dedicated to investigating facts about each respective attack. For the purposes of this analysis, committee investigations are defined as efforts that produce written reports.

House investigations chart 10-22-15

What have they produced?  Nothing more than what was said at the last one.  But since it didn’t get the desired result — Hillary Clinton in jail — they had to try again.

We have not heard the last of this.

The Kool Kidz and The Prom King

The House Freedom Caucus is not pleased with Rep. Paul Ryan’s requirements for their endorsement of his run for Speaker, but some of them will let him get the job.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus — the conservative hardliners who have been roiling GOP leadership in recent weeks — emerged from a meeting Wednesday on Rep. Paul Ryan’s speaker candidacy willing to give him their “support” as a group. In a caucus vote, about two-thirds of the members said they were comfortable supporting Ryan as speaker, according to those present. However, they did not reach the 80 percent support line that the caucus requires to give its endorsement. After the meeting members also said the group would not concede to the conditions Ryan has given publicly to accept the speakership.


While caucus members said they would not be giving Ryan their endorsement, they said they believed he now had the votes to win the speakership both in the conference and on the floor.

“We are not meeting all his demands,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) told reporters.“But if he wants to be speaker, he has the votes as of tonight.”

Later they will vote on his application to sit at the Kool Kidz table in the cafeteria, and they agreed that the theme of the prom should be “My Way or the Highway.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Call Me Maybe

Paul Ryan plays the reluctant hero.

Ryan spoke to the House GOP behind closed doors Tuesday and said if all factions can share his vision and he can get the endorsement of the major caucuses, then he will serve as speaker.

The news was confirmed by his spokesman Brendan Buck, who said according to reports, “If he is not a unifying figure for the conference, then he will not run.”


Ryan held a brief press conference after the meeting to lay out his vision for the speakership, if he were elected.

He said Republicans needed to move from being “an opposition party to an proposition party.” He also said he would seek updates to the House rules — a common demand by the conservative hardliners that roiled Speaker John Boehner’s tenure — “so everyone can be a more effective representative.”

He also said he would not sacrifice his time with his family and young children, a concern that had been raised by his allies as the speaker often spends weekends fundraising for members. He said he was still worried about the toll the role would take on his family, but added, “My greatest worry is the consequences of not stepping up.”

The 45-year-old Ryan, under intense pressure to seek the post, gave his colleagues until Friday to express their support.

That’s it; play hard to get.  That’s how Newt Gingrich got the job.  (Or was it his third wife?)  Anyway, Mr. Ryan is making it extremely easy for the hard-core right wing to flip him off and stick with Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), who thinks that subservient wives and flogging is the American Way.  So this whole “unity” thing; good luck, Paul.  The only time the GOP has ever been unified is when they’re determined to blow something up.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I Always Think There’s A Band

Paul Krugman on Paul Ryan:

How will the chaos that the crazies, I mean the Freedom Caucus, have wrought in the House get resolved? I have no idea. But as this column went to press, practically the whole Republican establishment was pleading with Paul Ryan, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, to become speaker. He is, everyone says, the only man who can save the day.

What makes Mr. Ryan so special? The answer, basically, is that he’s the best con man they’ve got. His success in hoodwinking the news media and self-proclaimed centrists in general is the basis of his stature within his party. Unfortunately, at least from his point of view, it would be hard to sustain the con game from the speaker’s chair.

To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality.

The nutsery have been looking for the Savior — the man (and it’s always a man, preferably white and Protestant but Catholic will do in a pinch) — who can be the one to recapture the glory they had in Ronald Reagan, only this time in a permanent position such as Speaker of the House.  They thought they had that in Newt Gingrich, but he turned out to be a charlatan, so he had to go and the search goes on.  But no one has risen to the heights of expectation they have; even Ronald Reagan on his best day couldn’t be “Ronald Reagan” any more because the real one raised taxes and had drinks with Tip O’Neill.

Paul Ryan is their next hope, their answer to their prayers.  He’s relatively young, Midwestern, white, good-looking, and he talks a great game; he could sell a Volkswagen diesel to those grannies in the mercifully-terminated ads.  As the chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, he can talk budgets and policy until your eyes glaze over, and since he’s never been in the position when he could actually enact legislation that will get signed into law, he can sell something without actually having to deliver.  He can cut taxes to zero and the economy will boom; health insurance will pay for itself and we will all bask in the glow of Republican Prosperity.  The fact that his numbers don’t add up doesn’t mean anything; he will charm us to Utopia.

Which brings us back to the awkward fact that Mr. Ryan isn’t actually a pillar of fiscal rectitude, or anything like the budget expert he pretends to be. And the perception that he is these things is fragile, not likely to survive long if he were to move into the center of political rough and tumble. Indeed, his halo was visibly fraying during the few months of 2012 that he was Mitt Romney’s running mate. A few months as speaker would probably complete the process, and end up being a career-killer.

Predictions aside, however, the Ryan phenomenon tells us a lot about what’s really happening in American politics. In brief, crazies have taken over the Republican Party, but the media don’t want to recognize this reality. The combination of these two facts has created an opportunity, indeed a need, for political con men. And Mr. Ryan has risen to the challenge.

I’m reminded of the last scene of The Music Man.  Prof. Harold Hill has been exposed as the con man that he is and the townspeople of River City have dragged him to the center of the stage and demanded that he actually conduct the boys’ band that he promised to produce.  Covered in tar and feathers, he raises the baton and [spoiler alert] out wheezes a cacophony of sound that makes banshees get out of the business.  But the townspeople, seeing their little darlings fart out this noise, are enthralled and think it’s Mozart, Prof. Hill is reunited with his librarian love, and it’s all a happy ending.  As the Professor says, “I always think there’s a band.”

The Republicans and Paul Ryan think so, too.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Reality or Snarkery

I can’t tell if Ross Douthat is serious or sarcastic in his column suggesting that since there’s no one in the GOP leadership in the House who will make the Tea Party faction happy, they should reach out and appoint the junior Senator from Utah, Mike Lee, a Tea Party hero, as the next Speaker of the House.  There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the Speaker has to be a member of Congress.

If he’s suggesting that the 200+plus Republicans who aren’t members of the “Freedom Caucus” should capitulate to the 40 slavering whack-jobs, then it really doesn’t matter who fills the job because it’s gone from being a body of government to a hostage situation.

I’m no constitutional scholar, but I don’t think that this is what the Framers had in mind: the entire House of Representatives being run by ten percent of the entire body.  If they cave in to them, what’s next?  No passage of the debt limit or budget reconciliation until they’ve impeached Barack Obama for not being an American and started yet another investigation in to why Hillary Clinton didn’t certify that secret communication from the Nigerian Minister of Banking as classified?

Frankly I can’t tell if Mr. Douthat is serious or not, but it really seems like we’ve gone pretty far into Cloud Cuckooland when we can’t tell reality vs. snarkery.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Roosting Chickens

Charles P. Pierce is in the House.

There are all kinds of chickens coming home to roost. This development – which, I would point out, leaves Jason Chaffetz (R-Zygote) as the “moderate” choice for Speaker of the House, and third in line to be president of the United States – is the final justification for all of us who have been saying for a while now that there is no “extreme” wing of the Republican party any more. The prion disease has taken full hold of the party’s higher functions. It is already being bruited about the monkeyhouse that Chaffetz may not be pure enough to satisfy the Freedom Caucus, the claque of angry gossoons who sank McCarthy the moment that McCarthy told the truth about what the House is up to with its hearings on Benghazi, Benghazi!, BENGHAZI! ​Let us have a look at some of the folks in the Freedom Caucus, shall we?

Louie Gohmert: Padishah Emperor for life of the Crazy People.

Raul Labrador: Wanted to run for Majority Leader the moment he walked in the door. Led an unsuccessful putsch against John Boehner in 2013. Who’s the sap now?

Mark Meadows: Wants to send the president back to Kenya. Has a bit of a staff problem on his hands at the moment.

Dave Brat: Upside—Rid the Republic of Eric Cantor. Downside—Thinks this was founded as a Christian nation. Is wrong.

Barry Loudermilk: Wants all immigrants to pack up and leave the country. Stalwart foe of Agenda 21, the secret UN plan to steal all our golfs.  Was elected over noted liberal favorite Bob Barr.

Jim Bridenstine:  Thinks he’s Patrick Henry. Thinks the Supreme Court is not the ultimate judge of what is constitutional. Thinks Mark Levin is.

Tim Huelskamp:  Made no friends. Influenced no people. Is from Kansas. Res ipse loquitur.

I could be googling forever here, but you get the point. The balance of power in half the national legislature now seems to be in the hands of the crème de la crazee.  (This is such a mess at this point that Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny starver from Wisconsin, and a man whose ambition makes Satan look like Uriah Heep, has done everything except hire a skywriter to say he’s not interested.)  Is this finally enough for the elite political press to notice that half the American political process is in full-blown dementia? Or does Jason Chaffetz have to lose, too?

Allow yourself as much schadenfreude as you can muster, then remember that the debt ceiling needs to be raised by November 5 or we default, and the budget deal hammered out at the end of September expires on December 11.  Do these look like the kind of people you want making those kinds of decisions?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

House Republicans Go Bananas

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) dropped out of the race to replace Speaker John Boehner thanks to a lack of support from the Tea Party.  Hilarity ensued.

Dent, a moderate, spoke to MSNBC after McCarthy announced that he was ending his bid to replace Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) just minutes before House Republicans were set to pick a nominee for the job.

“Well it’s pretty obvious what happened,” Dent said. “The same members who wanted to take down John Boehner, I always said would try to frag the next guy. Well, they just fragged Kevin McCarthy.”

Dent said he thought McCarthy’s concern was that he didn’t want to be “embarrassed” or “humiliated” if he didn’t get enough votes.

There’s no obvious choice to replace Mr. McCarthy, and no one really seems to know what’s going on.  One representative compared it to a “banana republic,” and I don’t think he was talking about the clothing store.

Banana Republic Tweet 10-08-15

Bananas 10-08-15Photo by CLW.

Mr. Speaker…

Today is the day the Republicans will vote for their choice for the new Speaker of the House.  It’s somewhat of a foregone conclusion that Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will be the chosen one, but there’s rumbling on the right (as if there’s any other noise from that side of the room) that Mr. McCarthy isn’t radical enough because he’s been working with that commie pinko John Boehner all these years, and besides, he’s backed down from his truth-blurt that the Benghazi hearings were all about taking down Hillary Clinton.  (Now he’s telling the Democrats to “stop playing politics” with the hearings.  Sorry, we’re fresh out of irony today.)

So if you care about this sort of thing — watching the Republicans do what the Democrats used to be famous for — we’ll find out what kind of train wreck they’re in for all the while proclaiming that they are ready to govern and will get things done.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Leave It To The Boors

Digby has a profile of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who is vying to become Speaker of the House.

Chaffetz is a well-known figure on Capitol Hill but the average member of the public, if they know him at all, probably remembers him mainly as the guy who sleeps on a cot in his office rather than spring for a room somewhere. But he’s been marked for stardom since he was a college football star: In the words of Dave Weigel in this 2010 article, “when [Chaffetz] started to make it in politics, his teammates would recall how, after successful kicks, he would remove his helmet to reveal a perfect head of hair for the TV cameras.”

The son of a man once married to Kitty Dukakis, wife of 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael, Chaffetz started off as a Jewish Democrat, then converted to Mormonism during his last year of college in Utah — and Republicanism when former President Ronald Reagan was hired as a motivational speaker for Nu Skin, the “multi-level marketing” company (think Amway) which employed Chaffetz for a decade before he entered politics. He worked as chief of staff for the famously moderate Gov. Jon Huntsman and then beat the very conservative Representative Chris Cannon by running against him from the right in the 2010 Tea Party electoral bloodbath. On Election Night, Cannon said, “the extremists who don’t want to win elections have taken over the party. We don’t want that to happen in Utah. Politics is way too important to leave to the boors.”


And despite his politically eclectic past, Chaffetz has stuck to his arch-conservative guns during the five years he’s been in Congress. He wants to slash Social Securityban gay marriage and look into impeaching President Obama. Still, he sees himself as a sort of mediator between the hard-core Tea Party insurrectionists and everyone else — perhaps because he’s been everything from a liberal Democrat to a moderate Republican to a hard-right zealot, depending on where the opportunities lie at any given moment.

He is good communicator, except for the fact that he seems to have a tiny problem with the truth, which he perfectly illustrated in the Planned Parenthood hearing, when he offered up a chart so misleading that it caused Politifact to call it not only misleading, but, quoting one expert, “ethically wrong.” And while he may have a point that Kevin McCarthy screwed the pooch on Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee, his own history of being loose-lipped and excitable puts McCarthy’s little faux pas to shame.

Far be it from me to question the motives of someone who converts from being a Jewish Democrat to a Mormon Republican when you’re looking for a job in politics in Utah, but this guy sounds like an opportunistic and shameless self-promoter that makes Donald Trump take notes.  Now he wants to be Speaker of the House.  Third in line to the presidency.

He’s going to lose to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), but if I had any advice to Mr. McCarthy (other than to keep on talking about whatever pops into your mind), it would be watch your back around Mr. Chaffetz.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Short Takes

Floods batter South Carolina.

Doctors Without Borders pulls out of Kunduz after strike on their hospital.

Coast Guard renews search for missing freighter in Hurricane Joaquin.

F.D.A. approves new immune therapy drug for lung cancer.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announces his bid for Speaker.

The Tigers ended the season with a win over the White Sox.  Thank you, boys.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Reading

You Got A Problem With That? — Fareed Zakaria on the Pope and Christians.

I am not a Christian. But growing up in India, I was immersed in Christianity. I attended Catholic and Anglican schools from ages 5 to 18, where we would sing hymns, recite prayers and study the Scriptures. The words and actions of Pope Francis have reminded me what I, as an outsider, have always admired deeply about Christianity, that its central message is simple and powerful: Be nice to the poor.

When I came to the United States in the 1980s, I remember being surprised to see what “Christian values” had come to mean in American culture and politics — heated debates over abortion, abstinence, contraception and gays. In 13 years of reading, reciting and studying the Bible, I didn’t recall seeing much about these topics.

That’s because there is very little in there about them. As Garry Wills points out in his perceptive new book, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis,” “Many of the most prominent and contested stands taken by Catholic authorities (most of them dealing with sex) have nothing to do with the Gospel.”

The church’s positions on these matters were arrived at through interpretations of “natural law,” which is not based on anything in the Bible. But because those grounds looked weak, conservative clergy sought to bolster their views with biblical sanction. So contraception was condemned by Pope Pius XI, Wills notes, through a pretty tortuous interpretation of a couple of lines in Genesis that say Onan “spilled his seed on the ground” — since it involves ejaculation without the intent of conception.

The ban of women in the Catholic clergy is a similar stretch. When the Anglicans decided to ordain female priests in 1976, Pope Paul VI presented a theological reason not to follow that path. Women could not be priests, he decreed, because Jesus never ordained a female priest. “True enough,” Wills writes. “But neither did he ordain any men. There are no priests (other than the Jewish ones) in the four Gospels. Peter and Paul and their fellows neither call themselves priests nor are called priests by others.”

Wills even takes on abortion, opposition to which some Catholics have taken as fundamental to their faith. “This is odd,” Wills writes, “since the matter is nowhere mentioned in the Old Testament or New Testament, or in the early creeds. But some people are convinced that God must hate such an immense evil and must have expressed that hatred somewhere in his Bible.” In fact, Wills points out, the ban is based on a complex extrapolation from vague language in one verse, Psalm 139:13.

If you want to understand the main message of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to search the Scriptures. He says it again and again. “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.”


Commentators have taken Francis’s speeches and sayings and attacked him or claimed him as a Marxist, a unionist and a radical environmentalist. I don’t think the pope is proposing an alternative system of politics or economics. He is simply reminding each of us that we have a moral obligation to be kind and generous to the poor and disadvantaged — especially if we have been fortunate. If you have a problem with this message, you have a problem not with Pope Francis, but with Jesus Christ.

Boehner’s Last Deal — Molly Ball in The Atlantic on the Speaker’s failure to lead.

…There are two rules of John Boehner, John Lawrence, a former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi, told me recently: One, he always wants to make the deal; two, he can never deliver the votes for the deal. That was apparent even before he became speaker. In 2008, with the nation’s economy melting down, Boehner, then the House minority leader, worked with Democrats to craft a bailout bill for the financial industry. But when it went to the floor, he couldn’t get Republicans to vote for it. The bill failed, and the stock market plunged nearly 800 points. (A second version of the bill passed a few days later.)

After the Tea Party wave of 2010 elevated Boehner to the speakership, the White House saw him as someone it could deal with, and Boehner and President Obama set about trying to craft a “grand bargain” that would increase government revenue while cutting long-term spending. The deal fell apart—the two sides still disagree on what happened, with Democrats insisting Boehner couldn’t sell a deal to his caucus while Republicans say it was the White House that made unreasonable demands at the last minute. The result, in July 2011, was a debt-ceiling crisis that brought the country to the brink of default and resulted in a credit downgrade.

This pattern—failed dealmaking, crisis, a last-minute (or post-last-minute) patch—would repeat itself. Boehner was backed by a large Republican majority, and was himself quite ideologically conservative. But he believed in compromise, in incremental progress toward conservative goals in the long term. And as a congressional lifer, he’d been around long enough to know what was realistic—given a Democratic Senate and White House—and what was not. Several dozen members of his GOP caucus, elected from overwhelmingly Republican districts, often in race-to-the-right primaries, disagreed with this analysis and viewed compromise as capitulation. (This is also the view of the majority of the party base.)

Thanks to this conservative rump caucus, Boehner couldn’t reliably get the 218 votes he needed to pass legislation through the House. He suffered a series of humiliating failed floor votes; he repeatedly had to rely on Democratic votes to get bills through. The situation came to a head two years ago, when conservatives, led by Senator Ted Cruz, refused to vote for a funding bill to keep the government up and running unless a measure to defund Obamacare was included. With Boehner unable, again, to muster the votes for a compromise, the government shut down for two and a half weeks.

It reopened again just in time to raise the debt ceiling. Boehner was convinced he had taught the conservatives—one moderate GOP congressman termed them “lemmings with suicide vests”—a lesson. And indeed, 2014 saw a marked thaw, with a budget passing both houses for the first time in five years and some minor outbreaks of comity. At the same time, Boehner couldn’t convince his troops to move forward on immigration, an issue dear to the speaker’s base in the business lobby.

Why was Boehner so weak? In part, he was simply a man with an impossible job. Republicans are divided between their nihilist and governing wings. Having banned earmarks, Boehner couldn’t use pork-barrel spending to win votes. And with his naturally easygoing temperament, he wasn’t an enforcer—unlike the former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, no one would ever nickname John Boehner “the Hammer.” Boehner’s efforts to punish those who defied him—by stripping committee assignments, for example—were only met with more defiance. In the vote to reelect him speaker in January, 25 Republicans voted against him, the greatest number of defections any speaker has faced in the last century.

Boehner was said to like being speaker, but most days, he didn’t seem to be having much fun. For years, there have been rumors he would resign. At his press conference Friday, he said he initially planned to depart at the end of 2014, but when Cantor was deposed in a primary last year, he decided to stay one more year, for stability’s sake. Last year’s midterm elections increased the Republicans’ majority and seemed to increase Boehner’s power. But they also increased the ranks of restive conservatives, who helped torpedo another business-lobby priority, the Export-Import Bank, over the summer.

Next week, funding for the government will again expire, and Boehner was looking ahead at another apparently unavoidable shutdown fight, as conservatives demanded that Planned Parenthood be defunded in exchange for any extension. In the end, he realized he had one last bargaining chip—his speakership. Without the threat of an ouster looming over him, he is free to put a “clean” funding bill on the floor, which is likely to pass with a combination of Democratic and Republican votes.

Boehner’s exit Friday was cheered by conservatives, from the halls of the Values Voter Summit to the airwaves of talk radio. After years of struggling against his own party’s rejectors of compromise, he has finally pleased them by giving up. He sacrificed his career for one last deal. This time, he may even have the votes to pass it.

The End of the Myth — Ben Carson shatters the stereotype that brain surgeons are smart; Andy Borowitz reports.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Brain surgeons, long burdened with the onerous reputation of being among the smartest people in the world, are expressing relief that the Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson is shattering that stereotype once and for all.

In interviews with brain surgeons across the country, the doctors revealed the enormous pressure they felt to live up to their profession’s inflated renown for intelligence before Carson entered the race.

“When people found out I was a brain surgeon they would always assume I was some kind of a genius,” said Harland Dorrinson, a neurosurgeon in Toledo, Ohio. “Now they are beginning to understand that you can know a lot about brain surgery and virtually nothing about anything else.”

Dorrinson said that acquaintances used to view him as a source of wisdom on a wide range of subjects, but added, “Ever since Ben Carson said that prisons make people gay, that’s really fallen off.”

The brain surgeon said that he would probably contribute to Carson’s campaign to keep him in the race: “every time he says something, it helps bring people’s unrealistic expectations about brain surgeons back down to earth.”

He said that he was cheered by Carson’s pronouncement over the weekend that Muslims should not be President. “Now you can cross politics off the list of things that people will expect me to be knowledgeable about,” he said. “I think I speak for a lot of brain surgeons when I say, ‘Thank you, Ben Carson.’ ”

Doonesbury — The Big Guy.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Short Takes

Republicans move the goalposts on the Iran deal vote.

Australia joins the air war against ISIS.

The Kremlin tries to organize a “peace” conference for Ukraine.

Apple unveils new products.

Kickback: TV camera person fired for kicking running refugees in Hungary.

Fox and National Geographic announce a joint venture.

Tropical Update: Grace is dissipating; TS Henri is curving out to sea.

The Tigers lost in an 8-0 shutout by the Rays.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Midsummer’s Distraction

Via an e-mail: “Do you think Joe Biden will run?”

No.  The source of all this speculation is a column by Maureen Dowd.  She hates Hillary Clinton, so if there’s the slightest whisper of something out there to derail the Clinton campaign or even get a rise out of it, she’s on it.

Honestly, this whole campaign has the gravitas of a middle-school food fight, and the press, bored with talking about Donald Trump already, is looking for something else to distract them.

Hey, did you hear Al Gore might run?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It’s A Big Deal

If the reaction by the GOP is any guide, the deal between Iran and six nations to control their nuclear arms is a very big deal and will change the way we deal with both that country and the rest of the Middle East.

Before Congress had even begun its official review, Republican leaders vowed Tuesday to kill President Obama’s nuclear accord with Iran, setting up a fierce fight to save the president’s signature diplomatic achievement.

Congress will have 60 days to review the deal, once all documents have been sent to the Capitol, after which it can pass a resolution of approval, pass one of disapproval or do nothing. Mr. Obama would veto a resolution of disapproval, and the opponents could derail the agreement only if they could rally the required two-thirds vote of Congress to override his action.

Republican leaders were denouncing it as a sell-out, a betrayal of Israel, “appeasement,” and in the words of House Speaker John Boehner, “unacceptable.”  The fact that none of them had read the document in its entirety or even if they did, had the cognitive skills to know what was in it, made no matter; they were too busy rushing to get on camera at Morning Joe or Fox News to get their sound bites in and doing very little to restrain their anger and frustration at the fact that once again, Barack Obama had pulled off something against the odds, and, more importantly, had undercut one of the major planks of the party platform, which is, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, “Please, sir, I want some war.”

Regardless of what it means for diplomacy, peace, and the fact that we will not be sending yet another army in to invade yet another sovereign nation over yet more made-up lies and leaving our nation wounded yet again, politics drives this response and Congress’s actions on it.  Not unlike the response to Obamacare, the stimulus, the automobile industry bailout, or even the opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the degree of GOP vitriol tells you how important this agreement is.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Reading

Divide and Conquer — From The Economist, the reason Donald Trump is rallying the base of the GOP.

Because America’s electoral system all but guarantees the irrelevance of small parties, there’s no point to an American version of the Green Party or, for that matter, of UKIP or the National Front, which would absorb the country’s most rabidly anti-immigration white voters. The Republican Party is therefore a very big tent, covering tolerantly wealthy Chamber of Commerce types and upbeat religious conservatives, as well as working- and middle-class whites anxious about their dwindling majority and declining status in an increasingly multicultural America. When it was possible for Republicans to win national elections with only a smattering of support from non-white voters, the occasional venting of xenophobic paranoia about the criminality and infectiousness of immigrants might have helped as much as it hurt. But those days appear to be gone for good. If a Republican is to win the White House in 2016, he or she really must put a serious dent in the Democrats’ advantage with black, Hispanic and Asian voters—which poses a serious problem for the GOP. They’ve got to somehow pack both non-whites and bigots, immigrants and xenophobes, into the same big tent. Mr Trump is now exploiting this tension to his advantage.

A viably inclusive Republican presidential campaign will have to mute the coded and not-so-coded messages of white cultural superiority that have turned Americans of colour into reliable Democrats. But many conservative whites are still twitchy about their waning dominance. And they still matter in Republican politics, and have the power to decide primaries in many states. Perhaps the wariness of their party’s leading lights to cater to them as conspicuously as they once did leaves them feeling jilted. And that spells opportunity for an enterprising Republican candidate who is willing to damage the GOP’s brand, and his own, among Hispanics in order to steal some spotlight and, possibly, an early primary. Presidential politics is the ultimate reality show and, like it or not, Mr Trump knows how to play.

A famous billionaire may seem an unlikely populist champion, but Donald Trump is brilliantly suited to the role. The gaudy Mr Trump has always been a poor-man’s idea of a rich man, cunningly embodying America’s by-the-bootstraps cult of can-do capitalist success. Mr Trump has spent decades assiduously cultivating a public image as an unabashedly prosperous, fearlessly candid, hard-nosed negotiator. He is to millions of Americans more a figure of admiration than ridicule. For conservative whites who also feel that their relative position is slipping in an increasingly multicultural nation, such an unflappably indomitable fighter and audaciously authoritative voice makes a most welcome standard bearer.

Although Mr Trump’s divisive primary strategy, and seemingly inevitable presence on the GOP primary debate stage, is a headache to his more inclusive Republican rivals, it also presents them with an opportunity to prove their political chops and run away from the pack. If a candidate emerges from the Republican field who can manage to win over Hispanics by persuasively denouncing the Donald, all the while maintaining the loyalty of conservative xenophobes, he or she is a unique, high-wire-walking coalition-building talent who deserves to, and very well might, win it all.

You Call It Hypocrisy, They Call It Legislating — Steven I. Weiss in The Atlantic on the deal-making that runs our lives.

Political hypocrisy is so pervasive that it calls to mind Gregg Allman’s objection to the term “Southern rock.” The one has so much to do with the other, Allman said, that one might as well say, “rock rock.” To many voters, the seeming lack of ideological consistency in our elected officials smacks of corruption.

But hypocrisy, suggests recently retired Representative Barney Frank, is less evidence of corruption than evidence of its absence. It is what makes Congress function. It is the only tool legislators have after they’ve rooted out real corruption.

“Legislators do not pay each other for votes, and every member of a parliament in a democratic society is legally equal to every member,” Frank writes in his new memoir, Frank:A Life in Politics From the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage. For legislators, cooperation is a form of political currency. They act in concert with other legislators, even at the expense of their own beliefs, in order to bank capital or settle accounts: “Because parliamentary bodies have to arrive at binding decisions on the full range of human activity in an atmosphere lacking the structure provided by either money or hierarchy, members have to find ways to bring some order out of what could be chaos,” Frank writes. So trading votes is how the business of politics is conducted. “Once you have promised another member that you will do something—vote a certain way, sponsor a particular bill, or conduct a hearing—you are committed to do it.”

In other words, constituents might not find their representative’s vote on an environmental bill to be consistent with their ideology, or might think that their senator’s take on the filibuster is dependent almost entirely on which party is in the majority—and they’re probably right. What Frank is revealing is that elected officials understand their votes in the same way, but that there’s no shame in that. As Frank has it, legislators have to act in ideologically inconsistent ways in the short run if they want to advance their larger objectives in the long run, as those larger objectives can only be achieved with teamwork. And the other members of their legislative team are only going to play ball with them if they know that they’ll take one for the team, that they’ll vote for something they don’t like because the team needs it.

And Frank goes further: Instead of seeing political flip-flopping as a necessary evil, he suggests it is inherent to democracy. In an interview for the TV show I host on The Jewish Channel, Up Close, he explained that, “Any legislator is in an essentially compromised position, given the nature of democracy, because your decision about how to vote inevitably is a compromise—our system wouldn’t work otherwise—between your own views and your voters’.” Frank argues that observing a legislator in any single moment or vote can give a false perspective on that legislator. Votes cast in support of apparently contradictory measures on several different occasions offer a more accurate view of a particular representative than any single vote held up to exemplify their approach to legislating.

As legislators are pulled this way and that by public opinion and by their commitments to fellow legislators, there’s also another force at play: the passage of time. Legislatures have a “strong bias against relitigating an issue that has been legitimately decided,” Frank writes. So legislators are left to choose among the available options at the time of the initial vote, and then often unable to revisit the issue later, even as opinions shift. “If every issue is always on the active agenda, if an issue that was already disposed of by a majority can be reopened whenever the side that lost regains and advantage, instability infects not just the body that made that decision but also the society that it is governed by.”


This is how Frank, the first gay member of Congress to come out voluntarily, ended up as an early architect of the policy that would eventually become “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” To head off the prospect of gays being entirely banned from the military in 1993, Frank advocated a middle path that he felt was the best achievable result at the time. Even though Bill Clinton ultimately took the plan in a harsher direction than Frank had hoped for, Frank knew he couldn’t introduce a bill to remove it at every subsequent congressional session. But choosing not to revisit “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at every opportunity didn’t say anything about his desire to see it end, in the same way that the initial proposal didn’t say anything about his desire to see gays serve openly in the military.

Frank’s view of hypocrisy is a self-serving narrative, to be sure, but it’s also a very rare example of a legislator choosing to actually explain such behavior, rather than pretending that such behavior does not exist.

The Perils of Snorkeling — Colin Stokes in The New Yorker explains why it’s better to stay on shore when you come down to the Keys.


When you are in the ocean, you are exposing yourself to the extremely likely possibility that you will be attacked and subsequently eaten by a shark. All fish that are not brightly colored look like they could be sharks, especially against a backdrop of murky water, which is terrifying.

Non-Shark Fish

Fish swim in ways that will make you anxious. If they are swimming toward you, they must logically be swimming away from something that you should swim away from, like a shark. If they are swimming with you, they are probably escaping from a shark that is pursuing you. And the fish are much faster swimmers than you. They are also visibly defecating in the water near your face, possibly out of spite.


This is the thing that you are meant to swim near, but which is apparently lethal if you touch it.

Other Snorkelers

They will be sure to abandon you as they swim on ahead, pretending not to be paralyzed by the fear of being eaten by a shark, leaving you vulnerable to an attack. If they are not too far away, they will be too close, and they will either scare you to death by touching your leg with a shark-like fin or will swim directly in front of you, giving you a perfect view up their swim shorts.


It is extremely salty, unlike the water that comes out of the tap in your apartment in the city, where you are comfortable and things are safe. The water will seep into your mask and make it extremely hard to see where the sharks are in the water. It will also fill your snorkel, giving you a glimpse of what it is like to be waterboarded while you are on holiday, which was not on the itinerary.

The Sun

You will be burned horribly on your exposed back as you snorkel. The only solution is to wear a T-shirt in the water and feel like the fat child at a pool that is filled with sharks who like to eat fat children.


You drank four beers and a Sex on the Beach before making the decision to get in the ocean, and you are now sobering up underwater, worrying about what will happen if you throw up into your snorkel.


You could observe all the tropical fish and coral that you are seeing now from the comfort of an air-conditioned room in Coney Island, with the added bonus of not having to pay the airfare to go to the Caribbean. Plus, there’s a roller coaster. But, on second thought, that might be something you should not do either.

Doonesbury — Through the lens, dimly.

Thursday, June 25, 2015