Thursday, December 18, 2014


The U.S. government has reportedly concluded that North Korea is behind the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, and now Sony has canceled the Christmas Day release of The Interview -- which has led to a lot of chest-thumping, quite a bit of it by people I usually agree with. Here's John Cole:
... I find this over-reaction to be completely and totally absurd and yet entirely predictable after the American public has spent the last several decades being trained to be terrified of every damned thing. This is the logical conclusion of the War on Drugs and the War on Terror- a pants wetting population that soils it britches at the slightest hint of danger that even baseless threats will keep us from doing what we do best, which is sit on our fat asses eating candy and popcorn while watching tv. So ingrained is our newly created tradition of cowardice that corporate America, the sociopaths who will rob your pension and ship your jobs oversees while ignoring work safety issues and sell you faulty ignition systems for your car and processed food created in unsanitary conditions, all without so much as batting an eye in the chase of the almighty dollar, is now basically shutting down a sure money winner because they know when the cattle are truly spooked.
First of all, we don't really know what the public was thinking. Maybe only a small percentage of moviegoers would have been scared away. I haven't seen any surveys.

Sony has been getting all the blame for the cancellation, but the biggest movie chains were refusing to screen The Interview, so how is it Sony's fault that it's decided not to release a movie when there are no theaters to release it to?

Part of the problem is the nature of the movie itself. Would the reaction have been different if, a couple of years ago, an America-hating terrorist group threatened screenings of Lincoln? Or if, this year, the threats were directed at American Sniper, a movie with a likely audience of conservatives, middle-of-the-road heartlanders, and even some cineasts, many of them liberals, who admire Clint Eastwood's filmmaking? Or what if a racist group threatened screenings of Selma?

With any of those movies, maybe the nation would have decided to close ranks. It would be easier for politicians and other prominent figures to portray moviegoing as an act of patriotic courage and defiance of fear. But a Seth Rogen movie? You want to risk death for that?

And while there's absolutely no evidence that people capable of this hack have any capacity for terrorist violence, much less a second 9/11, we've seen enough smaller attacks (in Sydney and Peshawar just this week) to not be crazy or pathetically weak-willed if we think we'd prefer to make other plans.

And remember, most movie theaters have multiple screens -- if you own a theater and you scare even 5% of your audience away by screening The Interview, you're probably scaring that percentage of your audience away from all your movies.

And, probably, from the mall where your theater is located. How many theaters that were going to screen The Interview are in malls in modest-size suburbs? I see, in the New York Daily News, the argument that law enforcement should just reassure the public that every theater is safe:
North Korea's Kim ... emerges victorious even though there is no evidence that the hackers actually have the capability of wreaking mayhem, as the NYPD intelligence chief John Miller noted on Tuesday when saying that the department was fully prepared to provide whatever security was needed.
Yeah -- the NYPD is prepared. The NYPD has been intensely focused on terrorism since 9/11, and regularly dealt with terror threats before that. At most movie theaters, however, you'll literally be dealing with mall cops, alongside suburban law enforcement. Maybe they have a lot of military surplus these days, but do you trust their expertise on terrorism? Or even on garden-variety lone-nut mayhem, a la James Holmes in Aurora?

I want to remind you that I'm no pants-wetting suburban coward. I've lived in Manhattan for more than thirty years. I lived through 9/11. On the morning of 9/12, I got up and went to work as usual.

Not long after 9/11, the building where I worked began to receive bomb threats. They came twice a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon. At first, when the threats were called in, we were evacuated each time, and not allowed to return until building security gave us the all clear. But the threats went on for weeks. After a while we were told, informally, that we weren't required to leave our desks.

I chose to stay, because what was going on seemed didn't seem like the work of someone who actually intended to set off a bomb. Why would you delay the detonation? Every day you put it off increased the risk that you'd get caught before you could blow people up.

But a lot of my co-workers left the building for every bomb scare. Remember, they weren't cowards either -- far from it. They came to work every day despite post-9/11 anxiety; they came to work even as other companies in midtown were hit with anthrax letters; they came to work despite these bomb scares. A number of them would later march against the Iraq War. And most, I'm sure, voted for Kerry in '04 and Obama after that, rejecting the warmongering of the GOP.

But what was the specific risk-reward calculation for each of these bomb scares? Get an extra half-hour or hour of work done, at the risk of possibly dying a horrible death, even though colleagues (like me) were arguing that the threat seemed remote, and that the "terrorist" seemed like just a crazy person with no goal in mind except to call in bomb scares?

That turned out to be the case. Someone was caught, and we were told it was a person who'd worked in the building and lost his mental moorings after 9/11. The bomb threats stopped.

If moviegoers think the reward of seeing The Interview isn't enough to offset the risk of being a victim when there's a specific, if unlikely, threat, I get that. It's not the same as seeing illegal-alien Ebola-infected ISIS knockout gamers funded by ACORN and George Soros under every bed based on vague rumors. So I'm not going to accuse people of cowardice in this case.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


On today's radio show, Rush Limbaugh quoted a 2009 story about Jeb Bush from The Washington Times:
"Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it’s time--" this is May 3rd of 2009, so five years ago, admittedly, but it fits nicely with yesterday. "Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it's time for the Republican Party to give up its 'nostalgia' for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward, even if it means stealing the winning strategy deployed by Democrats in the 2008 election. 'You can't beat something with nothing, and the other side has something. I don't like it, but they have it, and we have to be respectful and mindful of that,' Mr. Bush said."
The Times story went on to say:
The former president's brother, often mentioned as a potential candidate in 2012, said President Obama's message of hope and change during the 2008 campaign clearly resonated with Americans.

"So our ideas need to be forward looking and relevant. I felt like there was a lot of nostalgia and the good old days in the [Republican] messaging. I mean, it's great, but it doesn’t draw people toward your cause," Mr. Bush said.

"From the conservative side, it's time for us to listen first, to learn a little bit, to upgrade our message a little bit, to not be nostalgic about the past because, you know, things do ebb and flow."
This story was published after a meeting with voters at a pizza restaurant in Arlington, Virginia; the meeting was attended by Bush, Eric Cantor, and Mitt Romney, and it was under the banner of something called the National Council for a New America. The Times story carried the headline "Jeb Bush, GOP: Time to Leave Reagan Behind."

Now, as Steve Benen noted at the time, there's no evidence that Jeb actually mentioned Reagan by name. But there was fury on the right, and Cantor in a subsequent appearance on CNN, felt the need to walk back the nonexistent Reagan-bashing remarks:
"I don't think it's giving up Ronald Reagan," Cantor said on CNN Monday morning when asked if the GOP needed to move past Reagan. "I think the brilliance of Ronald Reagan's leadership was his ability to identify the challenges that really were impacting people's lives back in the day that he was elected in 1980."
But Republicans hear what they want to hear. If Fox tells them that President Obama said "You didn't build that" and meant that entrepreneurs played no part in their own success, they believe that. If talk radio tells them that Hillary Clinton said "What difference does it make?" because she was indifferent to the four deaths in the 2012 Benghazi attack, they believe that.

So Jeb really may have to explain repeatedly why he said in 2009 that it was "time to leave Reagan behind" -- even though he didn't actually say that. You know those mythical words are fighting words on the right.


By the way, Limbaugh is -- to put it mildly -- not a Jeb Bush enthusiast. In fact, he thinks Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton should run as one ticket:
The ideal, the perfect ticket for the 2016 election: Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush. Now, they can figure out who's on top of the ticket on their own. But when you compare their positions, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, on the key important issues, they are two peas in the same pod....

This is made to order the way both parties want amnesty. Jeb Bush wants it; Hillary wants it. Both parties want to win the nomination, Hillary by running away from the Democrat base, Jeb by running away from the Republican base. This is an ideal combination.

When it comes to Obamacare, national health care, both parties are signed on, both parties care about their donors more than their voters. And both parties have the exact same donor class. Mayors, stockbrokers, elite entertainment industry types, you name it. Folks, this is a ticket made in heaven. I can't recall a time in my life where a presidential candidate and a vice presidential candidate are so close to each other on the issues, where if one of them was unable to serve, we wouldn't know the difference if the vice president had to take office.

If Jeb's at the top of the ticket and they win and something happens and Hillary has to take over, nobody'd know the difference. Same token, Hillary is elected president, Jeb's veep, Hillary can't make it for some reason, her husband being the white Bill Cosby, might come up, you never know, then Jeb becoming president, nobody'd know the difference. Wouldn't skip a beat....

Bipartisanship, crossing the aisle, united government, no more gridlock, key agreement on all the important issues that people vote on. Clinton-Bush '16. You choose the top.
From Limbaugh's Facebook page:

I think you'll see this a lot in the wingnuttosphere. This run is not going to be easy for Jeb.

Pretty big news:
The United States and Cuba will start talks on normalizing full diplomatic relations, marking the most significant shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades, American officials said Wednesday. The announcement comes amid a series of new confidence-building measures between the longtime foes, including the release of American Alan Gross and the freeing of three Cubans jailed in the U.S.

President Barack Obama was to announce the policy changes from the White House at noon Wednesday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said the U.S. and Cuba were moving toward normalized banking and trade ties. He also said the U.S. was poised to open an embassy in Havana in the coming months.
Remember how Republicans responded to election victories in November by insisting that they were going to prove they can govern? And remember how President Obama put them in an awkward position with an executive action on immigration, which forced them to choose between placating their base (by shutting down the government over immigration) or wussing out in order to reassure the center (by not grinding the government to a halt)?

Well, we're here again. There are two Cuban-Americans in the Senate who desperately want to be president, and there's a former Florida governor already effectively in the presidential race who's claimed to be an honorary Cuban-American. One of the senators is already flipping out:
"This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba," Rubio said in an interview. "But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come."

(Clip here.)

Oh, and of course the Cuban embargo fills right-wingers with a massive amount of nostalgia for the good old days of the Cold War. So Obama's going to have these guys angrily demanding the preservation of policies that are now rejected not only by most Americans, but by most Cuban-Americans, because they can't help themselves.

Smooth move, Mr. President.

The Washington Post's Jaime Fuller reports on a statistic that's led to some snickering:
In June, Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared on the cover of People magazine for the first time in more than a decade....

According to a report from AdWeek on Monday, the June 16 issue of People featuring the former first lady and senator was the magazine's worst selling of 2014 with 503,890 copies sold.
Hillary's star power may have faded somewhat, but it's not as if she's going to be running against George Clooney in 2016. A few days ago we had Rick Perry mocking her book sales:
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was unsparing in his critique, citing lackluster sales of Mrs. Clinton’s latest memoir as evidence that Americans have tired of her. "She's had a hard time selling books and filling auditoriums," he observed to a table of campaign contributors....
But even her "flop" book, Hard Choices, sold approximately 250,000 copies -- more than nine times as many copies as Rick Perry's Fed Up!, which sold 27,260 copies.

(Figures are from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 85% of U.S. hardcover sales.)

When Barack Obama was elected, he was a rock star with a couple of million-copy bestsellers under his belt. Hillary Clinton used to be that kind of rock star -- her previous book, Living History, sold a million copies in its first month.

But it;s not as if the Republicans are likely to nominate someone who sells large numbers of books -- Nielsen says Scott Walker's Unintimidated has sold 16,156 copies, Rand Paul's Government Bullies has sold 10,261, Marco Rubio's An American Son has sold 35,906, and Jeb Bush's Immigration Wars has sold 4,599. And no one's putting any of those guys on the cover of People.

Republicans do have one bestselling author in the presidential field: Ben Carson. His book One Nation has been declared a rip-roaring success by the right because it's sold ... a few more copies than Hillary Clinton's latest. Bad numbers for her are great numbers for him.

Oh, and if you're wondering, Elizabeth Warren's book has sold about 65,000 copies -- pretty good, though not at the Clinton/Carson level.

But success in one area doesn't really guarantee success in another. AdWeek tells us about a couple of other flop magazine covers this year:
And suggesting that Queen Bey is no Princess Kate when it comes to moving magazines, Beyoncé sold poorly for both OK and Life & Style.
Anyone think Beyoncé is unpopular? But put her on the cover of the wrong magazine and the magazine doesn't sell. So I wouldn't look at those People numbers for Hillary and conclude that she's doomed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


There are a lot of why-Jeb-sucks lists on right-wing sites right now, but item #8 on this list reminds me of a rarely discussed fact: that Jeb Bush is on the board of directors of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and has been praised by Mike Bloomberg himself for his work on education when he was Florida's governor. (Bloomberg and Bush coauthored a 2006 Washington Post op-ed on accountability and standards in education.)

The right hates Mike Bloomberg, primarily for his anti-gun activism, and secondarily for his attempt to restrict the sale of large sodas in New York City. (Sarah Palin has greatly enjoyed mocking that.)

Some of the work of Bloomberg Philanthropies does focus on obesity prevention, but the group doesn't focus on guns. However, it does focus on this:

If it's an old-fashioned energy source that generates significant pollution, members of the Republican base are all for it. So this is not good for Jeb.

Now, maybe this won't be an issue for him -- after all, Mitch McConnell successfully ran for reelection to his Kentucky Senate seat this year depite the fact that his wife, Elaine Chao, is also a member of the Bloomberg Philanthropies board of directors. When McConnell's Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, put out an attack ad citing Chao's affiliation with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Wells Fargo, which stopped extending credit to companies engaged in mountaintop removal, the ad backfired, winning four Pinocchios from a Washington Post fact-checker. Still, I think Bloomberg is enough of a bogeyman on the right that Jeb was crazy not to resign from the board if he wanted to run for president as a Republican. Someone's going to use this against him.


But what I keep thinking about Jeb is that he actually believes what the mainstream media says about the GOP: that it's just fine, really, that it hasn't gone stark raving mad, and that its rank and file are capable of listening to reason. Ben Shapiro reminds us that Jeb really thinks the base has a high tolerance for moderation:
Jeb has refused to sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge not to raise taxes. In 2012, Bush was asked by the House Budget Committee whether he would trade $1 in tax increases for $10 in spending cuts. He replied that he would.
And bipartisanship:
... last year, Jeb gave an award to [Hillary] Clinton, stating, "We recognize the commitment of someone who has devoted her life to public service," and handed her the 2013 Liberty Medal for "her ongoing efforts to advocate for the rights of women and girls worldwide." Hillary returned the love:
Today, Jeb and I are not just renewing an American tradition of bipartisanship, we're keeping up a family tradition as well. We also share something that is far more important than any of our political differences. We both love this country and we believe in the wisdom of our founders and the constitution.
How does that strike the typical wingnut? Just read what Shapiro writes next:
The event fell one day before the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed the American ambassador.
Good luck with your quest, Jeb. You'll need it.

On Facebook today, Jeb Bush announced that he's "decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States." He wants to run and a lot of big donors and party insiders want him to run. They want to repeat their success in 2014, when, in addition to getting a lot of new Republicans elected, they protected a lot of GOP incumbents who were vulnerable to primary challenges from the extreme right. Jeb has never run for president, but the establishmentarians seem to regard him as similar to one of those non-teabaggy incumbents. They see him as safe and electable.

But here's the thing: some of those establishment incumbents (Thad Cochran in Mississippi, Pat Roberts in Kansas) struggled to survive the primaries. The ones who won fairly easily make a habit of expressing crowd-pleasing hate for Democrats: Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell. The problem for Jeb is that the 'baggers are going to be gunning for him and he clearly doesn't plan to give a lot of red-meat speeches, nor does he plan to tack rightward on litmus-test issues:
This past weekend, Bush gave an extensive interview to a Miami television station....

In the interview, he sketched out the philosophical approach he would take in a campaign....

The former governor indicated he would not back away from his support for Common Core education standards or a comprehensive immigration overhaul -- two hot-button issues that have raised the ire of conservative activists.

Bush said that he believes Romney was hurt in the 2012 primaries when he "got sucked into other people's agendas" and moved too far to the right....

The only way to succeed in the end, he added, would be to run a positive campaign and not to run down other Republican candidates.

"You don't do well in bringing people together if you're carpin', criticizing, turning around and saying, well, you're not as good as me," he said. "You have got to stay above the fray and be respectful of good fine, people that will be running, as well."
Mitt Romney was able to win the nomination in 2012 because he'd get mean and tear down an opponent when necessary, and also because he knew how to bash President Obama with glee. John McCain had anger going for him, too, and he also was utterly in sync with the base on the #1 litmus-test issue of 2008, support for the Bush administration's wars. On the subject of litmus tests for 2016, Ben Shapiro has tweeted this:

But at least Romney was an unswerving opponent of Obamacare in 2012, however suspect his opposition may have been to the base. On immigration, as Paul Waldman notes,
Bush doesn't just support comprehensive immigration reform, he talks about the subject in a very different way from most other Republicans. In a speech earlier this year, he described undocumented immigrants this way: "Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony. It's an act of love, it's an act of commitment to your family." And there's no question that Bush feels this sincerely. He wrote a book on immigration reform (which his opponents' aides are no doubt scouring for quotes that can be used against him). His wife is an immigrant from Mexico. He speaks Spanish. His kids look Hispanic. He’s not going to suddenly change his position on immigration.

What this means is that by being one of the top-tier candidates in the race, Bush instantly changes the immigration debate in the primaries. It isn't that any of the other candidates are going to move to the left, but the discussion will not just be about who wants to build the highest border fence. There will be at least one person talking about immigrants in human terms.
Yup -- but Bush will struggle to defend his tolerant statements.

So he's going to run with a Mitt Romney level of financing but a Jon Huntsman approach to the issues -- a belief that if he defies litmus tests, he'll be respected for that. (Ask Huntsman how well the latter worked out for him.) But meanwhile, he's likely to clear the field quite a bit -- if he's in, Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney are almost certainly out, Chris Christie will struggle to get funded, and Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Pence, Rick Snyder, and other potential fresh faces will probably have second thoughts about running. Paul Ryan will probably decide he'd rather pursue power in the House. We really might be down to a top tier consisting of just Jeb, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz, with Ben Carson punching above his weight until the big-money primaries start, in the Huckabee/Santorum role.

If the race comes down to Jeb and Rand, you're going to have one group of Republicans disgusted with Jeb on immigration and Common Core and another group disgusted with Rand on foreign policy -- nobody's going to be happy. And then the GOP has to take on Hillary -- yes, I still think she'll breeze to the nomination -- who still beats all challengers in nearly every poll. Clearing the field for an establishmentarian ultimately worked for the GOP in 2014 in Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Kentucky because those are deeply red states -- once you got to the general election, the Republican candidate was pretty much a shoo-in. But this isn't a deeply red country. I'm not sure the GOP can win the presidency with a candidate a lot of the base loathes.

David Brooks thinks Elizabeth Warren can win a Democratic presidential primary against Hillary Clinton. Here are his reasons:
Her chances are rising because of that word "fight." The emotional register of the Democratic Party is growing more combative. There's an underlying and sometimes vituperative sense of frustration toward President Obama, and especially his supposed inability to go to the mat.

Events like the Brown case in Ferguson and the Garner case in New York have raised indignation levels across the progressive spectrum. Judging by recent polls, the midterm defeat has not scared Democrats into supporting the safe option; it's made them angrier about the whole system. As the party slips more into opposition status, with the next Congress, this aggressive outsider spirit will only grow.

In this era of bad feelings, parties are organized more around what they oppose rather than what they are for. Republicans are against government. Democrats are coalescing around opposition to Wall Street and corporate power. In 2001, 51 percent of Democrats were dissatisfied with the rise of corporate power, according to Gallup surveys. By 2011, 79 percent of Democrats were. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month, 58 percent of Democrats said they believed that the economic and political systems were stacked against them.
Yes, but that last poll result doesn't mean much -- in the same poll, 51% of Republicans said they believed that the economic and political systems were stacked against them, as well as 55% of whites. If Warren does somehow get the Democratic nomination, does anyone seriously thinks she'll get a massive Republican crossover vote in the general election? Does anyone seriously think she'd be the first Democrat in decades to win a majority of the white vote? That question just isn't a litmus test for liberalism.

As for the rest of what Brooks says, I think it's a mistake to see a rise in progressive activism as a sign of big changes in the Democratic Party. Progressives are outraged at what the Senate's torture report revealed; overall, however, 46% of Democrats think CIA treatment of prisoners was justified, according to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, as opposed to 45% of Democrats who don't. Progressives support gun control -- but a recent Pew poll says that a majority of African-Americans think gun ownership does more to protect personal safety than it does to put safety at risk, as do 47% of moderate and conservative Democrats. Progressives believe business is inadequately regulated -- but a September Gallup poll shows that only 39% of Democrats overall think that there's "too little" regulation of business, while 22% think there's "too much" and 35% think the amount is "about right."

Progressivism, alas, is still a niche viewpoint. Except on gay marriage and, lately, weed, progressives seem incapable of broadening the appeal of their (our) message. Whatever Sean Hannity or Megyn Kelly is ranting about on Fox tonight has the potential to become a mainstream point of view; that's not true for Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes.

Except in the most general terms, I don't think Warrenism is the ideology of the majority of Democrats -- I wish it were otherwise, but I don't see it. The forty-plus-year backlash against the dirty-hippie sixties taints progressivism, even in the eyes of many Democrats. So does having a Democratic president who hasn't been able to bring about a broad-based economic recovery -- progressives can say all we want that more rather than less should have been done, but most people think progressivism got a fair test and failed.

And no, a potential Warren campaign won't be a rerun of the 2008 Obama campaign. The Obama campaign confuses a lot of people, because Obama in 2008 was progressive in his general rhetoric of movement-based change, but not noticeably more progressive than Hillary Clinton in his specific policy positions. He rallied progressives, but he didn't scare the more moderate Democratic base. Warren will be noticeably to the left of Clinton. I think that will turn off a lot of Democrats.

I think Warren, as a senator and maybe as a presidential candidate, can start the process of moving the party to the left. Eventually, maybe she can make being a progressive seem, to the heartland, like an acceptable way of being an American. But there's still a big selling job to do. For now, if she runs for president against Hillary Clinton and is seen as the progressive candidate, I think voters will retreat to Hillary as the safer choice. There's progressive unrest out there -- there just isn't enough yet.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Funny, he just so happened to show up yesterday:
Former President George W. Bush paid an unannounced visit to the 9/11 museum Sunday evening, and spent an hour somberly looking at the exhibits.

"He was clearly moved by the museum and its contents," said a law-enforcement source.

Bush arrived at 6 p.m. with his security detail while the museum was still open to the public.
Yes, so he could just so happen to appear in social media posts like this:

And this:

Dick Cheney played the bad cop yesterday, responding to the torture report by angrily insisting that everything the U.S. did in the aftermath of 9/11 was justified, including torture (in fact, including the torture of innocent people), because 9/11 was awful for Americans. The former vice president was in prince-of-darkness mode on Meet the Press; a few hours later, Bush was at the memorial trying to play good cop to Cheney's from-the-pit-of-hell cop. I don't think that was by accident.

The quote above is from the New York Post's story on Bush's appearance; here's more:
... "He views what happened on 9/11 as the defining moment of his presidency," the [law-enforcement] source said, adding that it was obvious to everyone there that his visit was not a photo op.
Oh yeah -- it's so obvious that it wasn't a photo op. (Here's a local news slideshow of the visit.)

And why does Bush always talk about 9/11 as his presidency's defining moment? Why, for Bush, is 9/11 all about him? Why is it all about how 9/11 shaped his write-up in the history books?

"You could clearly see that this was something he had wanted to do for a long time," the source said.

It was Bush's first visit to the museum.
Um, the museum opened in May; the memorial on the grounds opened in 2011. What took him so long? It's not as if he has a job.

No, he wanted to wait until now because of the torture report. Oh, and because he hopes it will occur to some people that his new book about his father would make an excellent Christmas gift. Oh, and Jeb's clearly running for president -- gotta polish up the Bush brand on his behalf.

Am I really so cynical that ascribe ulterior motives to this uncomplicated man? You bet.

I agree with the notion that torture is unambiguously immoral, therefore it's no more appropriate to debate whether it's an effective interrogation technique than it is to debate whether slavery is an effective economic system. But those of us who feel this way are a dirty-hippie minority of Americans; to our right, the torture debate we're having focuses to a disturbing degree on effectiveness. Even a majority of moderate and conservative Democrats (53%) think CIA torture provided intelligence that prevented terror attacks, and nearly all of those people (48%) think torture was therefore justified, according to a new Pew poll.

But the attacks we've been facing in the West these days simply aren't hatched in melodramatic meetings of international terrorists who then send the operatives off on transcontinental jets so they can execute elaborate plans for mayhem. What we're seeing instead are mostly solo attacks -- the Boston Marathon bombing was a two-man job -- that don't involve terrorist cells or centralized brain trusts. Inspiration comes from terror groups overseas via the Internet, but there aren't conspirators per se -- angry locals just seem to answer the online call, working on their own.

In the case of Man Haron Monis, the hostage-taker in Sydney, it's not clear whether there was any particular call for terrorist activity that he was answering or whether this was just the latest in a series of sociopathic acts on his part, some of them of a jihadist nature, others allegedly just garden-variety violent criminality, and all of them none of them part of a bigger conspiracy, as far as we can tell.
Monis was charged in 2013 as an accessory before and after the fact to his ex-wife's brutal murder; Noleen Hayson Pal was stabbed and set on fire. He was also charged in 2002 for sexual assault. Some reports say he is facing up to 40 sexual and indecent assault charges....

Monis previously achieved minor infamy in Australia for sending letters to the families of soldiers who had died fighting in Afghanistan, telling the families that their loved ones were murderers. He sent a similar letter to the family of an Australian trade official killed in a Jakarta hotel bombing.
He arrived in Australia in 1996 as a political refugee from Iran, and since the he's set himself up as a jackleg preacher -- a phony "sheikh" and "ayatollah." The sexual assault charges involve a victim who sought him out in this capacity:
His alleged victim, who was 27 at the time, allegedly saw an advertisement for "Spiritual Consultation" in a local newspaper and contacted Monis. He told her he was an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic and advised her to visit his clinic.

The woman visited the clinic twice within a week. On the first occasion it will be alleged that Monis indecently assaulted her. A week later he is alleged to have indecently and sexually assaulted her. "The assaults are alleged to have been undertaken under the guise of a spiritual healing technique, and the man warned the woman not to tell anyone about them," police said in a statement.
Since at least 2007, when he began sending those hate-filled letters, he's been known to Australian Muslims as a fraud and an unstable individual; see the collection of story excerpts here, at The American Muslim.

The point is, he's a bad guy, and he's been on the radar of Australian authorities for a while -- and yet there's no sign that he engaged in a deep, subterranean conspiracy that intelligence services need to get to the bottom of, any more than he did when he allegedly raped a spiritual advisee, or when he and his girlfriend allegedly plotted the murder of his wife. We may find deeper ties to organized groups, admittedly -- but that hasn't been happening in the case of other recent "lone wolf" attacks.

And yet we're reopening the debate on torture. Already, Fox's Elisabeth Hasselbeck is linking this attack to the torture report:
"Meanwhile, the actual individuals here at home who have been looking into and trying to stop attacks like this, and perhaps future hostage situations -- we are still at war, indeed, with ISIS and terrorism -- are the CIA," she explained. "And have been painted as the bad guys at home."
But, morality aside, even if torture were effective, it wouldn't stop attacks like this. This is DIY terrorism.

The torture of the Bush years was morally abhorrent and provided evidence of dubious reliability. Both of those things are still true of torture -- but now torture (even as described by its biggest cheerleaders) doesn't even fit the plots we're facing. Yet we'll probably do it again someday.


The New Yorker's Amy Davidson watched Dick Cheney on Meet the Press yesterday. As she notes, it's futile to argue with him about torture on the basis of morality:
Basically, in Cheney’s world, nothing Americans do can be called torture, because we are not Al Qaeda and we are not the Japanese in the Second World War (whom we prosecuted for waterboarding) and we are not ISIS. "The way we did it," as he said of waterboarding, was not torture. In other words, it was not really the Justice Department that "blessed," or rather transubstantiated, torture; it was our American-ness.
Cheney is clearly not alone in this. Bill Kristol was so delighted by one exchange on Meet the Press that he declared Cheney's words the "2014 Answer of the Year":
I hereby nominate Dick Cheney's answer to Chuck Todd's question about a United Nations official who's called for the criminal prosecution of U.S. interrogators, as the 2014 Sunday Show Answer of the Year:

CHENEY: I have little respect for the United Nations, or for this individual, who doesn't have a clue and had absolutely no responsibility for safeguarding this nation and going after the bastards that killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

Short and sweet.
Power Line's Steven Hayward agrees with Kristol and wishes Cheney would run for president:
So what if Cheney has a bad heart. He's obviously better than the clown show we have in the White House right now. Cheney 2016!
Cheney's not going to do anything like that, but I suspect he could clear the primary field if he ran. Nobody makes liberals angrier, and nothing pleases Republican voters more than the ability to make liberals angry. And, as a recent YouGov poll notes, no one likes torture as much as Republicans:

Back at The New Yorker, Davidson portrays Cheney and CIA director John Brennan as a matched set of torture denialists, and speculates that torture is just on hold in America:
On "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Dick Cheney, the former Vice-President, made it clear that he, for one, given the chance, would seize waterboarding paraphernalia, and get to it. "I'd do it again in a minute," he told the host Chuck Todd. John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, made it just as clear, in a news conference on Thursday, that the C.I.A. would not stand in the way of future White Houses: "I defer to the policymakers in future times when there is going to be the need to make sure this country stays safe if we face a similar type of crisis." Neither man would call what the C.I.A. did torture. Each, in his own way, suggested that American torturers have not faced a reckoning so much as a lull in their business.

... if this past week has proved anything, it's that the legacy of torture is not quiet repentance but impunity. This President has told his agents not to torture, and Brennan says he can work with that, while the C.I.A. waits for instructions from the next one.
An article in The New York Times today portrays Brennan differently -- as someone who, like Obama, sincerely opposes torture, but who feels he needs to walk on eggshells when dealing with the CIA:
"The quandary that Brennan faces is similar to the quandary that Obama faces," said David Cole, a national security scholar and law professor at Georgetown University. "Both are personally opposed to what went on and deeply troubled by what went on and agree that it should never happen again. And both are ultimately dependent on the C.I.A. for important national security services."

... Current and former colleagues said Mr. Brennan had an institutional responsibility to guard his building. "If John were retired and had a few drinks in him, he might have a different tone to him," said William M. Daley, Mr. Obama's former chief of staff.
The career agents are defiant, and are ready to do this again if asked. A lot of Republicans would be delighted to give them the opportunity. I don't know if the gloves are going to come off again on the first day of the next GOP presidency, but if we have a Sydney siege with a Republican in the White House and any of the perpetrators are captured alive, it seems likely to me that the waterboarding equipment is coming out of mothballs.

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Among the ways Dick Cheney defended "enhanced interrogation" on Meet the Press today was by saying that it's categorically impossible to imagine our enemies doing what we did, as the Free Beacon reports:
While being interviewed by Chuck Todd Sunday, former Vice President Dick Cheney fervently defended the CIA's enhanced interrogation program, particularly waterboarding.

"So if an American citizen is waterboarded by ISIS, are we going to try and prosecute them for war crimes?" Todd asked.

Cheney responded bluntly, "he is not going to be waterboarded, he is going to have his head cut off. It's not a close call."

Todd put forward another scenario in which the Iranian regime captured an American and planned on waterboarding him, to which Cheney responded swiftly.

"Chuck, you are trying to come up with hypotheticals, but waterboarding, they way we did it was in fact not torture, Cheney said. "When you dealing with terrorists the likes of Al Qaeda or the likes of ISIS, I haven't seen them waterboard anybody. What they do is cut their heads off and what they did to three thousand Americans on 9/11, that was brutal bloody murder. It absolutely can't be compared with what we did in the enhanced interrogation program."

Is Cheney right? Well, I saw this a few days ago:

I have no idea if this is true. But what if it happens? What if ISIS waterboards or rectally feeds a U.S. hostage -- and then just holds on to the hostage instead of killing him, the way we have?

Oh, but it wouldn't matter -- if ISIS tortures a U.S. or other Western hostage following the script of the Senate report, right-wingers and centrists, including those in the mainstream media, will agree that Dianne Feinstein and the other Intelligence Committee Democrats deserve 100% of the blame, for telling the world that we did this (as if the world didn't already know the truth, at least in broad outline). The Americans who actually did the torturing and who ordered it will avoid all blame. And no one will remember this Cheney clip.

And if the waterboarder or rectal feeder is somehow captured alive by Americans, the right will say that he should go to Gitmo and be waterboarded -- the virtuous, humane, appropriate response to the non-torture act of waterboarding.

It's often said that, while Republicans done very well just defining themselves as the anti-Obama party and not developing a governing agenda of their own, that will have to change if they're going to win in 2016.

Today The New York Times reminds us that the GOP field respectfully disagrees:
At political fund-raisers and party conferences, over intimate dinners and in casual telephone calls, top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination are constructing an image of Mrs. Clinton that is relentlessly unappealing: as rusty and unloved, out of step and out of date, damaged and vulnerable....

For a candidate to be taken seriously, said Rick Wilson, a Republican consultant, “party leaders need to know that you have a game plan and a path to victory against Hillary.”

So to an unusual degree, given that she holds no office, Republican White House hopefuls are pitching their potential candidacies in relation to Mrs. Clinton's, building their message around her strengths and weaknesses and making the case for why they are best suited to challenge her, according to those who have spoken to them. These people -- donors, operatives and advisers -- talked on the condition of anonymity to avoid publicly betraying the confidence of powerful officials who may seek the presidency.
But obviously they're happy to inform the Times that their preferred candidates are planning to go substance-free in 2016.

Rand Paul calls her a bloodthirsty neocon warmonger; Ted Cruz calls her a moderate. But mostly the candidates' critiques are of the Mean Girl variety:
Gov. Chris Christie offered a cutting assessment of Hillary Rodham Clinton's electoral weaknesses recently, telling a group of energy executives that she lacked her husband's political talents and personal appeal. To punctuate the point, the New Jersey governor mischievously quoted President Obama from a 2008 campaign debate. "You're likable enough, Hillary," Mr. Christie said, according to two participants.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was unsparing in his critique, citing lackluster sales of Mrs. Clinton's latest memoir as evidence that Americans have tired of her. "She's had a hard time selling books and filling auditoriums," he observed to a table of campaign contributors, recalled a guest who heard him.

And Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has mocked the wealthy Mrs. Clinton as out of touch with working-class voters, calling a country music video produced on her behalf recently so contrived that "I almost fell out of the chair laughing."

... [Marco] Rubio, among the youngest potential candidates in the Republican field, takes a generational swipe, arguing that Mrs. Clinton is a relic from a different era. In a meeting with donors recently, he wryly observed that when the Clintons arrived in Washington two decades ago, "cellphones were the size of bricks," said a person told of the conversation. In his forthcoming book, to be published in January, Mr. Rubio refers to Mrs. Clinton as a "20th century politician."
And here's my favorite bit:
In dissecting Mrs. Clinton's personal appeal, or lack thereof, Mr. Christie has posited that the more likable candidate almost always prevails in a general election. The implication: his swaggering New Jersey personality would outshine hers.
Yes, you read that right: Chris Christie regards himself as very likable.

Only one person interviewed for this story expressed any skepticism about this Hillary-bashing approach -- a guy with a checkered past but decades of campaign experience:
Two years before the election, some Republicans have already tired of the topic. Fred V. Malek, a major Republican donor and fund-raiser, said that after eight years of Democratic reign at the White House, his party should be drawing up elaborate plans for taking the country in a new direction.

"They shouldn't," he said, "be thinking about running against Hillary."
But what are they going to do? Thee Republicans have elaborate plans -- but they're plans they can't describe to the voters and expect to win. Their plans involve rejiggering the tax code to make the rich even richer, drastically reducing the regulation of industry, repealing Obamacare without replacing it, ripping other huge holes in the social safety net, curbing the ability of the federal government to stimulate the economy in recessionary periods by putting limits on deficit spending, attacking unions, taking voter ID national, and, as a sop to their base, passing red-state gun and abortion laws at the national level. Basically, their agenda is to do to America what Republicans have done to Kansas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

But you can't say that and expect to win. So their announced agenda is going to be: "Hillary sucks." And the worst thing is, it may work for them.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


I this this Fox News moment featuring Dick Cheney reveals a lot about the right-wing psyche:
The host, Bret Baier, asked Cheney about Bush's reported discomfort when told of a detainee's having been chained to a dungeon ceiling, clothed only in a diaper, and forced to urinate and defecate on himself. "What are we supposed to do? Kiss him on both cheeks and say 'Please, please, tell us what you know'?" Cheney said. "Of course not. We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack, and we were successful on both parts."
Let's ignore the fact that Ali Soufan, who conducted non-"enhanced" interrogations for the FBI, has asserted for years that he got Abu Zubaydah to reveal key information about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla without torture (some of it after Zubaydah asked him for a Coca-Cola). And let's ignore the fact that the Bush administration wasn't "successful" in its efforts to "catch those who were guilty," if success is defined to include getting Osama bin Laden.

What's revealing about this is that Cheney is asked about brutality and asserts that the only alternative is indulgence. Right-wingers can't imagine any possible middle ground.

Over the years, right-wingers have been obsessed with the notion of post-9/11 prisoner-coddling. It alternately appalls them and confirms their sense that we're being much nicer to the bad guys than we need to be. The most famous manifestation of this has been Rush's Limbaugh's portrayal of the prison facilities at Guantanamo as "Club G'itmo."

That's from a 2006 right-wing polemic titled America's Victories, written by Larry Schweikart, co-author of the conservative favorite A Patriot's History of the United States. Schweikart added:

On January 22, 2009, just after President Obama signed the executive order that was meant to close the Guantanamo facility, Jon Perr tracked some of the history of this meme:
At a press conference today, [John] Boehner rejected the notion that Guantanamo had given the United States a black eye. To Boehner, the accommodations at Gitmo are figuratively, if not literally, to die for:
"I don't know that there's a terrorist treated better anywhere in the world than what has happened at Guantanamo. It is - we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a facility that has more comforts than a lot of Americans get."
... That jaw-dropping assessment [has been] standard fare from the mouthpieces of the right.... Vice President Cheney announced, "I think people there are being treated far better than they expected to be treated by any other government on Earth." Just how well was explained by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA):
"The inmates in Guantanamo have never eaten better, they've never been treated better...the idea that we are somehow torturing people in Guantanamo is absolutely not true, unless you consider eating chicken three days a week is torture."
While Hunter was distributing menus from Guantanamo to reporters as proof, his Florida colleague Mel Martinez worried the U.S. detention facility had "become an icon for bad stories and at some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio." Still, as Fox News reported:
Martinez has said, however, that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are treated better there than those in Florida's Orange County jail.
The prison envy American inmates would experience was a point hammered home repeatedly by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. During the Republican presidential primaries ... Huckabee declared that prisoners in his state wished they had it so good. After announcing in June 2007 that "most of our prisoners would love to be in a facility more like Guantanamo," Huckabee that December fawned over the creature comforts at Gitmo:
"The inmates there were getting a whole lot better treatment than my prisoners in Arkansas. In fact, we left saying, 'I hope our guys don't see this. They'll all want to be transferred to Guanatanmo.' If anything, it's too nice."
This never gets old. Here's an editorial cartoon from 2012:

This impulse even manifested itself after the Abu Ghraib revelations, which were visual and thus much harder to downplay. Here's a parody news item that made the rounds in 2004:
Contrite US Soldiers Atone for Torture by Taking Iraqi Prisoners to Disney World

Feeling just terrible about the whole alleged torture fiasco, a group of US reservists put down their batons this week, and escorted a jubilant group of Iraqi prisoners to Disney World.

"People think we’re such monsters," said Pvt. Kenny Stepelkovich, "But we have a soft side too."

"The time I am having is good!" screamed Samir al-Mashhadani, while posing for photos in front of Cinderella's Castle. Samir kept his legs pressed tightly together as he shuffled hurriedly towards Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, barking German Shepards in tow.

"It gives me quite a kick to see him having such fun," laughed Pvt. Stepelkovich, running off after Samir and the dogs.

"Splash Mountain was more fun than Mecca during the Haj!" giggled Husam Tawfiq al-Tikriti, as he toweled water off his hood....

"Let’s go visit The Frontierland Grill for some pork sausage!" joked Staff Sergeant Carl Morse, playfully swatting Samir in the head. "Heck, I’m just having some fun with ya! You need sunscreen, big guy?"
What a kneeslapper!

In the same way that they believe every liberal or moderate alternative to their economic ideas constitutes hardcore socialism, right-wingers think you can either treat prisoners their way or turn their prisons into spas. If you disagree with them, pampering is what you're advocating, according to the right. Cheney's, who's Limbaugh's pal, may as well have invoked "Club G'itmo" in his remarks to Bret Baier. I strongly suspect that's what he had in mind.

Friday, December 12, 2014


The New York Times has a big story today titled "The Vanishing Male Worker: How America Fell Behind." It's a worthwhile story -- but such stories inevitably lead to awful exchanges like this:

I was going to respond to this on Twitter, but the response requires more than 140 characters.

The Times story is about a class of worker that, because this is a majority-white nation, is inevitably going to include a lot of white people. The story and accompanying slide show focus on five men -- four white, one black. They represent a segment of the population that mostly lacks college degrees -- and as a result they're struggling in the current job market:
The share of prime-age men -- those 25 to 54 years old -- who are not working has more than tripled since the late 1960s, to 16 percent.

... it has become harder for men to find higher-paying jobs. Foreign competition and technological advances have eliminated many of the jobs in which high school graduates like Mr. Walsh once could earn $40 an hour, or more. The Times poll found that 85 percent of prime-age men without jobs do not have bachelor’s degrees. And 34 percent said they had criminal records, making it hard to find any work.
The economic policies we needed after the Great Recession hit would have put a lot of these men to work. If we could have done that, it would have been useful across racial lines.

At the same time, what Jonathan Alter says in the tweet above is right: this is why Democrats are getting killed with white male voters. That's because whites are far less patient with Democratic politicians and policies than non-whites are.

Let me say this one more time, so I'm not misunderstood: I'm not suggesting that post-crash economics should have favored whites over non-whites. What I'm saying is that the policies should have focused on blue-collar workers of all races.

The result of that would be that blue-collar whites would have seen themselves as among the beneficiaries of Obama economic policies, in a way they don't now. That might have led them to believe that the overall Obama approach was appropriate and fair. For instance, they might not resent Obamacare now if more of them had been able to obtain jobs after the crash.

I know, I know: I'm imagining an America in which Obama could have gotten a lot more than he did early in his presidency. That's true -- but if that's unrealistic, then Obama should have expended as much political capital as possible on jobs, even at the expense of Obamacare, because if a rising tide could have lifted a lot of boats, the white majority might now be ready to offer backup to him as he pursued goals that whites might regard as less relevant to their interests. It's still a white country, after all, and we still have elections, and in midterm elections especially, whites routinely vote. Like it or not, the Democrats needed the buy-in of white voters. I think this could have been achieved with policies that were trans-racial but class-conscious.

Republicans knew that, of course -- they didn't want a lot of people put back to work. They got the recovery they sought: skewed toward the rich and engendering anti-Democratic resentment among blue-collar whites.

And if you're wondering why it matters that the people in the Times story are all men, well, it's a stratum in which men have traditionally been the principal breadwinners, and in which the best-paying jobs were traditionally male jobs until not that long ago. Maybe jobs that good are never coming back -- but something needed (and still needs) to be done to cushion that shock -- for struggling whites and struggling non-whites.

The progressive revolt against a provision favorable to big banks in the CRomnibus spending bill failed to prevent its passage in the House, but I approve of what the rebels did. Liberalism and the Democratic Party aren't looking very good to the public these days, and it's mostly because the public thinks liberalism and the Democratic worldview consist of whatever President Obama does. It's unlikely that anyone followed the debate of the bill apart from political pros and mavens, but what the opponents did demonstrates a good instinct: show Americans what progressivism is, even when -- maybe especially when -- it contradicts what's coming out of the White House.

I'm looking at this revolt in light of a poll The New York Times published this week on economics and the American Dream.
Despite an improving economy and jobs picture, the public is more pessimistic than it was after the 2008 financial crisis that it is possible to work hard and become rich, according to a New York Times poll.

The poll, which explored Americans' opinions on a wide range of economic and financial issues, found that only 64 percent of respondents said they still believed in the American dream, the lowest result in roughly two decades. Even near the depth of the financial crisis in early 2009, 72 percent of Americans still believed that hard work could result in riches....
Liberalism doesn't come off well in this poll:
Notwithstanding the bleaker view of upward mobility, the majority of those polled said they were more concerned about the possibility that too much regulation in Washington could stymie the economy than they were about the prospect of inequality. Fifty-four percent of respondents said that "over-regulation that may interfere with economic growth" was a bigger problem than "too little regulation that may create an unequal distribution of wealth." Only 38 percent said that too little regulation posed a bigger problem.
This would seem to suggest that Americans don't want the Dodd-Frank regulation the CRomnibus seeks to weaken. But I don't believe Americans grasp the details of any of this. You ask them about "regulation," and they think it means "all that stuff Obama and the Democrats do gratuitously because they like big government." They think this because they keep being told that Democrats are regulating the bejeezus out of the economy, and they know they aren't benefiting. Most Americans are still struggling. So they accept the narrative that regulation must be the problem.

At the same time, they're no fans of big banks:
Still, almost six years after the height of the financial crisis, Americans' wariness about the banking industry that was at its center remains. Only 4 percent of respondents said they had "a lot" of confidence "in Wall Street bankers and brokers," though 31 percent said they had "some" confidence in Wall Street.
Those who had "not much" confidence in Wall Street or "none" totaled 61% of respondents.

So going after the big banks fits the public's mood. What's more, you can't help ordinary American without reducing the rate at which fat cats siphon off America's wealth.

The rebels get this. The president doesn't. His economic progressivism has always stopped at Wall Street's edge.

Apart from Nancy Pelosi, the spiritual leader of this rebellion has been Elizabeth Warren. It's good if Americans identify the Democratic Party increasingly with Warren, because her #1 issue is the mistreatment of ordinary citizens in this economy, and she's better at explaining why economic liberalism is good for ordinary Americans than Obama is. Her agenda doesn't carefully exclude anything that gives Wall Street the vapors, which is why it would be more effective. And when it comes to economic populism, she can be the Secretary of Explaining Stuff. She's good at it.

Does that mean she should run for president? I'm content with her not running (she doesn't seem to want to) if she's a figure to be reckoned with. (Republicans seem to have dozens of figures-to-be-reckoned-with who aren't president; why do Democrats have so few?) If, from the Senate, she can make the case that there are progressive measures we haven't tried, that's extremely valuable. And it's what we need, because Americans are starting to think liberalism is precisely what's failed.