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“Hey Cass, why don’t you just go ahead and take a long vacation. You’ve earned it, good buddy!”

The Obama Administration went to unprecedented lengths to avoid policy controversies in 2012:

The White House systematically delayed enacting a series of rules on the environment, worker safety and health care to prevent them from becoming points of contention before the 2012 election, according to documents and interviews with current and former administration officials.

Some agency officials were instructed to hold off submitting proposals to the White House for up to a year to ensure that they would not be issued before voters went to the polls, the current and former officials said. […]

The number and scope of delays under Obama went well beyond those of his predecessors, who helped shape rules but did not have the same formalized controls, said current and former officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Those findings are bolstered by a new report from the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), an independent agency that advises the federal government on regulatory issues. The report is based on anonymous interviews with more than a dozen senior agency officials who worked with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which oversees the implementation of federal rules.

The report said internal reviews of proposed regulatory changes “took longer in 2011 and 2012 because of concerns about the agencies issuing costly or controversial rules prior to the November 2012 election.”

I’m somewhat conflicted over this. I mean, anyone could see what these folks were up to at the time, and I was none too happy about some of these decisions. In early 2012, another Obama term seemed a narrow thing indeed, so refusing to do literally anything controversial when the chance might not have been there later. In retrospect, though, what’s inarguable is that Obama is one of the few world leaders who wasn’t ousted after the financial crisis/recession kicked in. Iceland’s already gone through two governments in the meantime. The UK, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Mexico, all saw power switch hands, and most of those countries’ new governments are already embattled. Aside from Merkel of Germany, Obama is one of the few who’s hung on through it all. All this caution might not have helped in 2012, but it is understandable. I’d be willing to cut the guy some benefit of the doubt.

All the same though, it’s an interesting reminder of the evolution of the Obama Administration. Its first two years could be summed up as working entirely on policy and ignoring the politics. The results were some good policy and the 2010 midterm disaster. So in the next two years we got this ridiculous, across-the-board rule hiatus, the apparent dictum never to mention climate change and instead to say we need an “all of the above” energy strategy on the bizarre impression that coal country had lots of getable votes, nonstop grand bargaineering because David Plouffe thought policy polling was just like general election polling, and so on. In essence, the White House shifted from diffident to up in your face, only this shift occurred after the quality of presidential advisers dipped radically after the good ones left in 2010. The irony is that some diffidence might well have kept 2011 from being such a disaster for Obama, especially on the debt ceiling. Given how deeply that event has shaped the economic policy of the Obama Administration (and, most likely, beyond), a bit less time fixated on the “best” political path to take could only have led to a better outcome.


Remaking The Naked Gun. Because who doesn’t still love the detective shows of the 1960s, and furthermore want to see their conventions lovingly parodied! Also, Ed Helms seems like a disastrous choice as a lead. I have no idea what he brings to the table as an actor or a funny person.

Probably the best way to look at this is generationally. Police Squad!/The Naked Gun were products of the 1980s, but remaking them now reminds me of the ill-begotten remakes of Get Smart and I Spy. All of the originals hold up pretty well. However, all are in a context parodying the popular entertainments of the 1950s and 1960s. Too far back for the millennials that Hollywood usually bends backwards trying to win over. While it might seem a great idea to revive these properties that are, after all, just sitting there, the context does in fact matter to their appreciation. It is no surprise to me that the most recent success on this sort of project, 21 Jump Street, was essentially a parody of the popular entertainments of the 1980s. While specific parodies can withstand the test of time (both Don Quixote and Madame Bovary are both parodies of popular entertainments of the day, after all), it’s lunacy to think you can just pick up and parody the same musty set of conventions that have, after all, already been shredded by their own namesakes.

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I’d never heard of Michael Schaus, who is a conservative financial writer and the writer of a minimum wage piece that’s actually not all that crazy when you…just kidding, it’s awful. I’d just as soon prefer to skip all the obvious rage-bait that he includes in his column in an obvious attempt to keep people distracted from his main arguments (for a taste: “The economically challenged protestors of market driven wages are asking the profit-driven businesses to increase that wage to $15 per hour. Heck. Why stop there? Let’s kick it up to 25, or 40 dollars per hour.” Because…nobody’s asking for that?). Schaus’s entire article is really just speen directed at the poors. Just take this point:

Which brings us to the often repeated (in this column anyway) difference between careers and jobs. The Current Walmart CEO started his career as a part time (minimum wage) employee… But notice that he wasn’t satisfied with remaining in that position. Upward mobility, and ambition, does far more to increase the living standards of any given employee than petitions, protests, and government mandates.

The jobs at the center of the minimum wage discussion are jobs that are not designed for the average American worker to make into a career. Flipping a burger is a job for a part time teenage worker. It can even be a stepping stone for someone who fell into hard times, and is actively looking to increase their skill set (in hopes of obtaining more gainful employment). It is even a great job for someone who is looking for some supplemental income while they job hunt for better prospects.

This is something you occasionally hear from Republicans. Sure, the minimum wage sucks, but that’s what teenage burger-flippers are supposed to earn. It’s only for entry-level jobs, they say. Better workers will move up the ranks! Of course, not every single sales associate at Walmart is going to become the CEO. Most are going to either leave the company or remain roughly in the same job. And, obviously, having educational credentials and connections become increasingly more vital every step of the way. Schaus’s argument would be entirely valid if there were a huge number of CEO positions just there for the taking, with the only qualification being hard work. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t very many at all. So the question is, what do the average checkers of the world deserve? Schaus’s answer to that seems to be minimum wage salary, underinsurance and poverty. 

Now, of course, I predict that Schaus would strongly object to this interpretation of his argument. It might seem uncharitable to describe it that way. But that is the basic argument here. His column isn’t a solution, or even an insight, so much as stale lecturing that’s not even going (or meant) to be heard by the subjects. The fact is that working a very hard job at very long hours for minimum wage is not something I’ve experienced personally, but I can easily imagine that it must suck, and historically the best way of making it suck less has been by working to form a union. Also, Schaus like many conservatives believes in the Upward Mobility Faerie, which assumes that hard work/some intrinsic quality of America/some extrinsic force liberated by an American commitment to “freedom” (as pertains to employment laws) is all we need, certainly not organized labor. Unfortuantely, upward mobility is used here as a catchphrase rather than as a social science concept that has actually been calculated and mapped out, and the US in particular has been found wanting. Which is another reason why the associate-to-CEO path is rarer these days than it once was.

Essentially, the Michael Schaus argument is that, since your fast food clerk or Walmart checker is not a CEO, they have not passed his test and essentially deserve desperate poverty. It’s about time we started calling this sort of thing out.

This TNR piece proves it:

It wasn’t just Reagan. Moral Majority leader Jerry Fallwell called Tutu a “phony” who didn’t speak for South Africans blacks. He even urged Americans to support the Pretoria government.  North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms filibustered the sanctions bill. Strom Thurmond and Phil Gramm likewise opposed it. And future vice-president Dick Cheney called Mandela a terrorist, saying in 2000 that he didn’t regret his position. Pat Buchanan called Mandela a “train-bomber.” The Heritage Foundation said America should stop calling for Mandela’s release from prison. Pat Robertson, Grover Norquist, future Tea Party leaders, and current Republican Senators—all were on the books supporting the Apartheid government. When 35 House Republicans broke with the Reagan administration, the National Review called them “uppity,” and Human Events called them a “lynch mob.”

That last bit in particular is charming. The right, sad to say, still manages to regularly work violent rhetoric about race into topics both humdrum and climactic, and wonders why virtually everyone who isn’t a white person sees them as having unacceptable baggage on race. Every couple of days some conservative pundit or other makes some gratuitous offhand comment about rape (most recently El Rushbo), and the right wonders why women are an ever-elusive voter target. Even putting aside the overall presentation and content of your policies, peppering your communication with references to things that have incredibly negative connotations for specific groups of people is going to put you at a bit of a disadvantage in reaching out to them, and shows just how ingrained certain kinds of attitudes are, how hard to change. I mean, they said all this stuff over twenty years ago and none of it sounds much different than their rhetoric now.

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Or don’t. It’s entirely up to you.

Up to this point, the discussion on Chris Christie’s ability to become the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 has focused around questions of tactics and strategy. I’ve found this conversation boring because you can on-the-other-hand it to infinity. Sure, he comes from the Northeast, which is not a region that produces many Republican presidents these days. Then again, Mitt Romney was the last nominee. His record is problematic in the attempt toward getting the nomination, but not in any way that has kept a Republican from getting a presidential nomination before. And Christie has shown a great talent at creating political narratives about himself, coming up with useful ones and summarily discarding ones that no longer serve him. Remember when the guy was considered a Tea Party hero? Romney, by contrast, was a terrible narrative-weaver. His 2008 campaign theme was basically, “Hey, I used to be a businessman!” and his 2012 theme was the same, except with “And isn’t Obama just the worst!” added in. This probably accounts for the lack of conservative enthusiasm for him during the primaries, among other things. Christie having this skill could be meaningful, though Christie is hardly going to be able to control the narrative if he runs in 2016: FOX News and the conservative media will. As I said, you can go back and forth without getting anywhere.

What’s more interesting is looking at the math. Seriously! Let’s go through this. There’s a concept that election junkies like to use, they say that “So and so is from the wrong part of the district.” What this means is that the candidate is from a part of a district that has few voters and thus has a small base, or is from part of the district that is dissimilar from the rest of it (think of a politician representing a heavily Obama precinct running for Governor of Alabama). This concept finds some applicability in presidential elections–notice how we haven’t had very many Idahoans or people from the Dakotas occupying the Oval Office recently?–and certainly in the Republican nominating contest. If you recall, Hillary Clinton won many of the big, blue states while Obama managed to lock up enough superdelegates and red-state caucuses to more than make up the difference. In the Democratic nominating process this is a strategy that could work. In the Republican equivalent it cannot, because the system is deliberately weighted to give the most Republican areas of the country the most influence. Utilizing this table of 2012 Republican National Convention Delegates paints the picture. Each state gets a proportional amount of delegates, but there are bonuses for the state having gone red in the past election, and whether the governor, representatives and state legislators tilt Republican. So essentially winning every delegate in New York, the #3 state in the nation populationwise, and one that Christie would most likely win in in a GOP nominating contest, has about as much impact as winning Kentucky and Louisiana, which combined have a bit more than 1/3 of NY’s population. Given that Christie is dominant with Northeast Republicans but tepid everywhere else, cleaning up in the Obama-won Northeastern states alone would not even get him all that close to the nomination. By my calculations (and I am ignoring penalties imposed by the RNC for states that scheduled their primaries outside of when they were allowed, though it’s worth noting that one of those penalized states was New Hampshire, a must-win Christie state), if Chris Christie wins every single delegate in the Northeast–and this in and of itself would be a herculean task since that number also includes superdelegates–Chris Christie would have 442 delegates, which would give him about a third of what he needs to have in order to clinch the nomination. That’s it. And this is already very much the best case scenario for Christie in the Northeast. If he were to lose a primary or two–perhaps Pennsylvania might succumb to Rick Santorum’s irresistible charms–then his task would be incredibly harder. And there are other reasons to think that Christie would have a tougher time than Romney did. For one thing, Maine and New Hampshire both had legislature flips in 2012, and the Republican governors of Maine and Pennsylvania are among the most vulnerable for re-election and it’s likely that neither one is around come 2016. All these things will cut back on the bonus delegates those states get and make Christie’s job that much harder, and it’s hard already.

The upshot is that Christie would not only have to absolutely dominate the Northeast, but he’ll have to win a lot of other states as well. But which ones? As mentioned before, he’s tepid everywhere outside the Northeast. The Midwest would seem to be an absolutely inhospitable region for his style of politics and rhetoric, given its tradition of “nice” politicians and (to me anyway) staid political culture. It’s impossible to see him winning over much of the South, especially if Ted Cruz–that perfect embodiment of rejectionist extremism–runs as is likely. His record would be a special liability there. The Interior West seems like ripe territory for Rand Paul, and as for the West Coast…well, it’s hard to imagine Republican regulars being satisfied by a candidate replicating a Democrat’s general election map, but even if he were to win all the legacy U.S. territorial possessions and the West Coast states he’d still only be around 2/3 there (819 to be exact, and I’m including Nevada). And a special note on the West Coast states, it’s important to remember that the Republican parts of those states tend to be extremely conservative indeed, and in California he’d have to bet on the Republican suburbs in OC and Southern California to beat the beet-red inland counties. Decades’ worth of Republican moderates pinned their hopes on that bet going the right way–going back to Nelson Rockefeller, if not before–and have often been disappointed. Probably even less of a chance of that now given that the state has trended strongly Democratic, and many of those moderate suburbs are much less red now. So it’s a dicey proposition. But there’s no way to see this working where Christie doesn’t dominate the West Coast. There’s not likely to be a strong candidate with a base in the region, and given the likelihood of a huge field of competitive candidates and the presence of at least some population of moderate suburbanites on the West Coast, he’d be a fool not to center his strategy around them. Meanwhile, there are 869 delegates along the Sunbelt, and Ted Cruz would be in a fine position to win the lion’s share of those without exhausting all his opportunities.

So, essentially, Christie would have to put up a perfect record in the Northeast, or near enough to it, he’d have to dominate a region that isn’t very passionate about him, and he’d have to pick off a substantial number of red states from other candidates who have a stronger base in them than he does. Additionally, since many Republican primaries shifted from winner-take-all to a proportional system in 2012, it’s entirely possible that Christie could win all the primaries he needs to win and still be far off from where he needs to be. Obviously, anything can change in politics, but Christie is already a well-known public figure and a known quantity, and has probably already peaked in terms of getting favorable media for himself. In other words, this might well be as good as it gets for him. If Chris Christie finds himself in a new job come 2017, that job is much more likely to be U.S. Attorney General (or, even more likely, something like Transportation Secretary) than President of the United States.

Another fantastic Honest Trailer:

It is a really bizarre kids’ movie in retrospect. It doesn’t impart any kind of desirable social values to children, or model any kind of desirable behavior. I do remember my mother telling me after watching it that I definitely should not try to behave like Kevin and should just call the police and run to a neighbor’s house if anyone tried to break into the house, which is sensible advice. Booby-trapping your house in ways that could just as easily destroy it–and yourself–is not so sensible. It’s pretty much the opposite of what a kids’ movie ought to be, and yet it’s not really subversive. It’s not like, say, Rebel Without A Cause, which sets out to show that following the rules and going with the flow can be an unsatisfying, immoral outcome. Home Alone is just kind of a dumb movie. Though subsequent sequels make it look smart if only by comparison…

9583305If someone ever came up with a device that shocked Republicans when they engaged in hypocrisy, contradiction or bad faith, we’d have a big mess of charred a-holes in Washington:

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) … argue that the nuclear agreement reached last month between the P5+1 and Iran … allows the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium to low levels, which they claim violates past U.N. resolutions that say Iran is not allowed to enrich.  Corker … criticiz[ed] the Obama administration for “allowing [Iran to] do the things that the world community through the U.N. Security Council has already said they cannot do.”

However, no U.N. resolution has said that Iran is not allowed to enrich uranium, only that it temporarily “suspend” its uranium enrichment program while negotiations take place.

As we all know, there is no past and no internet from which to draw forth hypocrisy:

Led by Republican opposition, the Senate on Tuesday rejected a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled that is modeled after the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.  With 38 Republicans casting “no” votes, the 61-38 vote fell five short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify a treaty.

“I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

… which John Stewart deftly lampooned:

Jon Stewart hammered Senate Republicans for voting against a United Nations treaty that seeks to protect the rights of disabled people around the world.  “What is wrong with you people?” Stewart said. “I guess it’s time for our new segment: ‘Please tell me this is rock bottom.’ How did this happen?”

“It’s official. Republicans hate the United Nations more than they like helping people in wheelchairs,” Stewart said.