Taibbi on Benghazi hearings

I had a recent email conversation on Matt Taibbi.  He’s not always the most analytical or insightful writer, but when it comes to writing about the bad things conservatives, corporations, etc., do, there’s nobody more entertaining to read.  And in his analysis of the Benghazi hearings, I really like the way he gets to the subtext to point out how utterly absurd the Republican case is.  Good stuff:

With Thursday’s interminable, pointless, haranguing, disorganized, utterly amateurish attempt at a smear job, the Republicans and their tenth-rate congressional attack schnauzer, South Carolina’s Trey Gowdy, got people feeling sorry for Hillary Clinton. Over the course of 11 long hours, they made the most eloquent argument for a Hillary Clinton presidency yet offered by anyone, including Clinton herself…

The overriding implication of the Benghazi hearing seemed to be that Hillary Clinton was so crass, unfeeling and politically self-involved as to not care if members of her State Department were massacred. Again, Hillary has a lot of flaws, but we’re supposed to believe that she doesn’t have a problem with dead Americans? Seriously? …

Gowdy went to places like this over and over again Thursday. At one point, he was giving Hillary a hard time for responding too quickly to an email from Huma Abedin pointing out that the Libyan people “needed medicine, gasoline, diesel and milk.”

“Do you know how long it took you to answer that email?” Gowdy ranted.

“Well, I responded very quickly,” Hillary replied.

“Yeah, four minutes,” Gowdy chirped. “My question, and I think it’s a fair one, is the Libyan people had their needs responded to in four minutes. And there’s no record of our security folks ever making it to your inbox.”

The look on Gowdy’s face at this moment was priceless. He was proud, like a 3-year-old who went potty all by himself. But what was he even talking about? That Hillary Clinton cares more about the lives of Libyan strangers than she does her own employees? Was that seriously the idea?

And plenty more good stuff like this on the other questioners.  In conclusion, Taibbi broadens back out:

The Republicans at the Benghazi hearing made Hillary a proxy for an aspect of this phenomenon that virtually every blue-state American has seethed at in the last decade or so: being accused of treason.

We’ve been told that we hate veterans, that we sympathize with terrorists, that we long for a UN takeover or Soviet rule. It’s said all the time that it makes us happy to see cops shot or soldiers killed in battle. Not only do we hear this on right-wing TV, we see the amazing spectacle of millions of conservatives believing it. To believe this stuff, you’d have to believe we aren’t even people.

Hillary was forced into that same narrative Thursday. In this hearing she wasn’t really being accused of mismanaging just the latest of thousands of logistical screw-ups by the U.S. government over the years.

On a deeper level the Republican committee members were accusing her of not caring about martyred American lives, because, well, “liberals” only care about the victims of torture or police brutality or other special interest groups they can exploit for political gain. In conservative legend, they don’t care about “regular” Americans.

Yep.  Good stuff.


Is Jeb toast

It sure seems that way.  NYT:

A beleaguered Jeb Bush slashed his campaign spending. Donald J. Trump lost his lead in Iowa. And a surging Ben Carson galvanized his support among social conservatives…

Mr. Bush cut salaries, fired consultants and laid off or reassigned many campaign workers. It was the latest sign that  contenders vying for support from moderates and the party’s establishment are all but running on fumes — exhausting their cash, or the patience of their supporters, but barely moving in the polls.

I do find it interesting that Jeb is drawing inspiration from McCain 2008.

In New Hampshire, meanwhile, Mr. Bush is drawing inspiration from another candidate who also struggled with money troubles — Senator John McCain of Arizona. Several times in recent weeks, Mr. Bush has recalled an encounter with Mr. McCain at the Atlanta airport during the 2008 presidential primary campaign.

“He’s carrying his bag, he has no aide, he’s running for president, he has no staff,” Mr. Bush said in New Hampshire last month. “The campaign was basically over. Everybody said it. All the pundits said, ‘It’s over; why waste your time?’ ”

But Mr. McCain persisted, Mr. Bush said, implicitly making an analogy-cum-prediction for his own predicament.

I remember thinking McCain was perhaps being written off prematurely in 2007.  That said, I just don’t see Jeb pulling off what McCain did.  Jeb strikes me as a weaker candidate (John Cassidy is all over that) with a stronger field than McCain faced.  Furthermore, I find this analysis in the National Review focusing on Jeb’s lack of grassroots/small donor support to be pretty interesting and compelling:

Candidates who cannot win the support of major donors ultimately lack the qualities to be competitive in a general election. Influential votes and voices matter, and not just for their money. This is why candidates such as Bernie Sanders are extremely unlikely to be president, no matter how much money they raise.

Conversely, candidates whom big donors love but who do not excite the base can sometimes be lifted by the establishment to the nomination but have no hope in the general election. This why candidates such as Rudy Giuliani, despite his enormous major-donor fundraising totals, went absolutely nowhere in the GOP primaries. Ultimately, it is candidates who — e.g., Obama and George W. Bush — excite the grassroots and do well with major donors who win.

That strikes me as about right.  Suffice it to say, that Jeb is not exactly lighting the grassroots on fire:

This perspective is instructive when analyzing the candidates’ latest quarterly financial reports in the 2016 GOP presidential primary. I have compared the cumulative fundraising data from the election to date with the data through the same quarter of the 2012, 2008, 2004, and 2000 election cycles to see what we can learn about which candidates are likely to do well and which candidates are almost certain to fail. From examining the data, several striking patterns emerge, and if fundraising history is any guide to the present, all of the following assertions will prove true.

Jeb Bush has almost no chance of being the GOP nominee, owing to a near-complete lack of support from the GOP’s rank-and-file donors…

Second, Jeb Bush cannot win. I don’t say this because I dislike Jeb. (On the contrary, I think he has virtues as both a candidate and a person.) But the numbers don’t lie. It’s not just that his ratio of big-donor to small-dollar donations is vastly out of sync with the rest of the GOP and Democratic fields today. (Even Romney’s ratio of small-donor to big-donor dollars was more than twice Jeb’s.) Jeb’s big-donor to small-donor ratio is 15:1. No candidate has ever won the nomination with such a heavy reliance on big donors, even at a time when big-donor money made up a much larger percentage of total fundraising. For the rest of the GOP field, the ratio of big-donor to small-donor money is 1:1.6. Furthermore, Jeb ranks just third in total fundraising. For reasons I examine below, that seems unlikely to improve.

We certainly have seen that you cannot win a primary election just based on rich people’s willingness to give your campaign a lot of money.  That’s pretty much all Jeb has going for him.  I strongly suspect that a bunch of these millionaires were wishing they could get their money back about now.

If Republican primary party voters are smart, the establishment support will coalesce behind Rubio (just don’t see Kasich happening, though that would work, too).  That said, I’m increasingly disinclined to believe that Republican primary voters are smart.  Can’t wait for the voting to get going and find out.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Jeb had brought his brother and 9/11 back into the news.  Just to be clear, GWB was president for almost 9 months before 9/11 happened and he certainly could have done more to prevent it.

2) More evidence for quantum entanglement.  It is a crazy universe we live in.  And if that’s not cool enough, how about this.  Birds may use quantum entanglement for navigation!.

3) Polarization in action.  Used to be pretty small differences in how Democrats and Republicans viewed Planned Parenthood.  Not any more.

4) It’s a small but absurd injustice what we make inmates (and, really, their families) play for phone calls.  Fortunately, that’s about to change.

5) Canada’s new PM is promising larger deficits.  We should be doing this, too:

Given the state of the world economy, it is absolutely insane that more rich countries aren’t running larger deficits.

How come? Because this is an incredibly inexpensive moment for governments to borrow money. In fact, it may be the best time in recorded history for sovereigns to load up on debt. Interest rates have been hovering around zero more or less since central banks cut rates during the recession, and given the many economic headwinds before us, it may be a long while before they rise much higher. At points this year, countries have issued bonds with negative interest rates—meaning investors are literally paying governments to hold their money because they can’t think of anything safer to do with it. In circumstances like that, when the global bond markets are basically shouting “treat yo’self” at just about every finance minister in the developed world, the only reasonable move for a government is to borrow and use the free or nearly free money to make investments that might help the economy grow long-term, like building or fixing up roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.

6) Restaurant tipping is stupid and profoundly unfair.  Hopefully, more restaurants will follow the path of this prominent restaurant group.

7) A Republican takes Ben Carson to task for his absurd use of Nazi analogies.

8) We really, really, should be having our kids moving more in school.  Good to see some places are figuring this out.

9) Interesting piece on how friendships change in adulthood.  I liked this simple definition of what we really want in a friend.

“I’ve listened to someone as young as 14 and someone as old as 100 talk about their close friends, and [there are] three expectations of a close friend that I hear people describing and valuing across the entire life course,” says William Rawlins, the Stocker Professor of Interpersonal Communication at Ohio University. “Somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy. These expectations remain the same, but the circumstances under which they’re accomplished change.”

10) Interesting interview with our local TV meteorologist about how he finally got past his Rush Limbaugh love and accept the science of global warming.

11) Really interesting piece in the Economist on the difficulties of recruiting for the US armed forces.

12) Yes, “Back to the Future” is a damn near perfect movie.

13) Political Science research on angry Republicans.

14) The general awesomeness of breast milk is pretty well known.  What’s really sad is in developing nations with high infant mortality that don’t seem to know it.  Kristof.

15) On free markets and human weakness:

Just as free markets can serve the public good “by an invisible hand” (asAdam Smith saw more than two centuries ago, and is the foundation of the field of economics), free markets will do something else. As long as there is a profit to be made, they will also deceive us, manipulate us and prey on our weaknesses, tempting us into purchases that are bad for us. That is also a fundamental feature of market equilibrium, in which supply and demand balance each other out.

My fellow economists, while they recognize such behavior in individual instances, fail to see this as a general principle. And thus a lot of bad things happen, such as the candy at the checkout counter.

Just as free markets can serve the public good “by an invisible hand” (asAdam Smith saw more than two centuries ago, and is the foundation of the field of economics), free markets will do something else. As long as there is a profit to be made, they will also deceive us, manipulate us and prey on our weaknesses, tempting us into purchases that are bad for us. That is also a fundamental feature of market equilibrium, in which supply and demand balance each other out.

My fellow economists, while they recognize such behavior in individual instances, fail to see this as a general principle. And thus a lot of bad things happen, such as the candy at the checkout counter.

16) Apparently overt racism is alive and well at NC State.  This was written by one of my students.

17) People don’t actually want equality.  They want fairness.  I’ll buy that.

18) Good to know that Obama, etc., are catching on to the fact that our kids take way too many standardized tests.  This desperately needs to change.

19) Drum on IRS and email “scandals.”

Kadzik said that their investigation found evidence of mismanagement and institutional inertia, “But poor management is not a crime.” I guess that’s what they call this kind of organized oppression in Obama’s America.

Anyway, I urge everyone to consider this outcome when thinking about Hillary Clinton’s email server. Both are “scandals” pushed relentlessly by a right wing that’s infuriated over everything related to the Obama administration. Both had some surface plausibility. And both were kind of sexy.

But as usual with these kinds of things—Solyndra, Fast & Furious, Benghazi, Sharyl Attkisson’s computer, etc. etc.—there’s really nothing there. Sometimes some bad judgment, sometimes not even that. The fact that Republicans are outraged and have large megaphones to spread that outrage doesn’t change this and doesn’t justify 24/7 news coverage. So maybe a more temperate approach to these endless manufactured right-wing outrages would be appropriate. Just a thought.

20) Great piece from Yglesias on how success in presidential elections and helpful demographic trends are letting Democrats ignore the deep structural problems the party faces.  (I put this here so DJC would actually read it).

Missing something here

I’m no believer in genetic determinism.  But surely one’s genetic endowment matters.  A lot.  It’s kind of preposterous that this article on the struggles of adopted kids doesn’t even bring it up:

Being adopted can be one of the best things to happen to a kid. People who adopt tend to be wealthier than other parents, both because of self-selection and because of the adoption screening process. Adoptive parents tend to be better-educated and put more effort into raising their kids, as measured by things like eating family meals together, providing the child with books, and getting involved in their schools.

And yet, as rated by their teachers and tests, adopted children tend to have worse behavioral and academic outcomes in kindergarten and first grade than birth children do, according to a new research brief from the Institute for Family Studies written by psychologist Nicholas Zill…

Adoptive parents go to great lengths to do a great service. Why are their young kids’ behavior and test scores nonetheless worse, on average?

One clue might be attachment theory, which holds that a strong bond with at least one nurturing adult—usually the mother—is essential to a child thriving. That adult can be the adoptive parent, but the adoption itself might mean that the bond with the birth parent was disrupted or never formed, Zill writes. In the worst cases, these children might have experienced a traumatic event prior to their adoption. Early trauma can affect the parts of the brain that control mood and learning.

Actually, early childhood issues may very well be a lot of it.  But to completely ignore the fact that adopted kids probably come from less smart and/or disciplined parents and go to more smart/disciplined parents seems to me missing a potentially significant portion of the equation.  Lots of good research on this in my favorite parenting book.

Quick hits

1) Great Rolling Stone article on the Freedom Caucus.  Gives a really full and nuanced picture of these radicals.

2) Will Saletan with among the better takes on the Benghazi hearings.  And a good take from John Cassidy.

3) Not only most powerful hurricane ever measured, but reaching the theoretical limits of hurricane strength.  Amazing.

4) And a good Politco piece on the Freedom Caucus:


There hasn’t been a bloc like the Freedom Caucus for at least a century, one that refuses to work with its own party leadership while being steadfastly unwilling to reach across the aisle. “There have been groups that often broke from the party, but in doing so, they didn’t stand as a third force,” says former GOP Rep. Mickey Edwards. “This group is very different.”

The Freedom Caucus, rather than breaking from Republican ranks, has forced Republican leaders to break from them. It’s a perverse sort of political jujitsu. One of outgoing Speaker John Boehner’s supposed crimes was that he went begging Democrats for help passing legislation when he couldn’t find the votes within his own caucus. Some rank-and-file Republicans, meanwhile, have made a separate peace with Democrats on reviving the Export-Import Bank. Normally the opposite would happen and it would be the insurgents reaching across the aisle. But that presupposes an interest in governing.

5) Seth Masket on why we should not be asking “who won?” after debates.

6) I must say, I agree with google on this.  I hate the idea of an app for every stupid website you want to go to.  Just give me a goo mobile website.

7) A James Hamblin video on our meatless future.  I really do think this is going to happen.  It’s just chemistry.

8) Weight Watchers might be doomed by all the free weight loss apps, but I still love it for basing it’s diet around choice and actual scientifically-based weight loss principles.  We’ll see if Oprah can save it.

9) Yes, it is time for baseball’s unwritten rules to be re-written, but that is not why the sport is losing popularity.  No, that’s because it’s boring and takes too long:

Baseball has lagged behind basketball and football in popularity for a number of reasons, but primarily because the game is too buttoned down. In many ways, baseball has been the team version of golf.

10) Finally, the truth on what makes for good college teaching.

11) I love Terry Gross.  I already lament whenever she retires because there’s just no other interviewer close.  And I loved this NYT Magazine profile.

12) Best piece I’ve read on explaining the reasoning behind the recent and important (and somewhat complicated) Federal Appeals Court decision on gun control.

13) You know what’s good for poor people, but not bad for rich people?  More poor people living near rich people.

Critics would do well to study Mount Laurel itself, where an affordable housing development that opened in 2000 has yielded benefits that have been chronicled in a study led by the Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey. The study, recounted in the book “Climbing Mount Laurel,” shows that an attractive, well-maintained affordable housing development in an affluent neighborhood can improve the lives of struggling families without jeopardizing local property values, precipitating more crime or becoming an economic burden on the community.

14) And how white children may benefit from integrated schools.

15) I used to think birth order was bunk.  Then I read some research in grad school and thought it was real.  Latest research says it’s basically bunk.

16) Jesus would probably not be such a big Tea Party fan.

17) Enjoyed this post on the Star Wars movies in light of the new trailer:

Coming to the original “Star Wars” trilogy at the right age is a minor blessing: young enough to be confused by the fact that “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” looked like the future, or to be terrified by pretty much all of “The Empire Strikes Back,” or to think that tiny Teddy bears armed with sticks and rocks really might be able to defeat armored professional soldiers. But old enough to recognize the regret and redemption of Obi-Wan Kenobi, squirm at the flirty banter of Han and Leia, and understand just how magnificently terrible it would be to discover that Darth Vader is your father.

18) Those “social welfare” PAC’s that are supposedly about educating the public rather than electoral advocacy are about the biggest, most embarrassing sham in American politics.  Looks like the one supporting NC Senator Thom Tillis has been caught in its fraud.  I doubt anything will happen.  And the N&O on it.

19) The secret to a easy to remember but hard to crack password?  Poetry.

20) If you are betting, Hillary is way under-valued as a presidential candidate.  I really need to put actual money in this some day.  For now, I’ve just got lunch riding on it (in a bet dating back to 2013).



Photo of the day

From In Focus photos of the week:

The remains of a mid-16th century church known as the Temple of Santiago, as well as the Temple of Quechula, visible above the surface of the Grijalva River, which feeds the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir—low, due to the lack of rain near the town of Nueva Quechula, Mexico, on October 16, 2015. The temple, built by Dominican friars in the region inhabited by the Zoque people, was submerged in 1966 when the Nezahualcoyotl dam was built.

David von Blohn / AP

Why we don’t govern by public opinion polls, case MXXVI

Because somehow crime is always going up.  Gallup:



Government statistics show serious crime decreased nearly every year from 1994 through 2010. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, the overall violent crime rate for rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault fell from 80 victimizations per 1,000 persons in 1994 to 19 per 1,000 in 2010. In the first decade of that trend, public opinion followed. While 87% of Americans in 1993 said crime was up, this figure dropped to 41% in 2001. But the percentage perceiving more crime shot up again to 62% in 2002 — around the time of the Washington, D.C.-area sniper shootings — and has remained fairly high ever since, despite actual crime rates falling in most years.

Though serious crime did increase in 2011 and 2012, Americans’ perceptions of crime did not grow in subsequent polls, indicating that actual crime, as measured by federal crime statistics, has not strongly influenced the public’s perceptions of crime in recent years.

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