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Don’t look now, but there’s a campaign going on

September 23, 2015

2/26/15 4:58:37 PM -- National Harbor, MD, U.S.A -- Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. Photo by H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY Staff ORG XMIT: HB 132665 CPAC 2/26/2015 [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

The Republican presidential campaign — as it has existed on the debate stage and in the press, at least — has largely been the Donald Trump show. Considering I quit watching The Apprentice when season two launched back in 2004, I haven’t found this a particularly interesting state of affairs. Donald Trump will not be the Republican nominee and as entertaining as his circus is, his popularity doesn’t do much more than demonstrate that when the media gives attention to someone saying outrageous things, a certain number of people who aren’t really thinking about an election yet will tell pollsters they like him.

While Trump has been exploring new avenues of obnoxiousness and offensiveness, however, Republicans have been trying to focus on picking a presidential candidate, and, yesterday, they made a major step towards doing that. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a major contender; he has now suspended his campaign.

Walker’s announcement follows declining polling numbers, fundraising dollars, and public interest in the Wisconsin Governor. He looked good on paper: an ideological conservative who had taken on public sector unions, survived massive protests and a recall election, and then won a second term in a state Democrats have held in the Electoral College since 1988. He could credibly claim to unite the disparate factions of the Republican Party, appealing to the religious right, economic conservatives, and Tea Partiers. Yet when it came to running an actual campaign, in the words of Centre lecturer David Smith on ABC Radio National last night, “It turned out he was completely devoid of charisma and nobody liked him.”

As such, despite the apparently vast field of fifteen contenders remaining in the Republican race, only a few of these have a genuine chance of taking the nomination next year. I think Marco Rubio, even with his apostasies on immigration, is currently best placed, but the as-yet lacklustre Jeb Bush and the conciliatory dark horse John Kasich are also well positioned. The remainder are either not in serious contention (Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina) or need a major change in fortune over the next few months (Chris Christie, Rick Santorum) to be placed anywhere near the top tier.

So why did Scott Walker drop out now when politicians with far less promise like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz remain in the race? I’d suggest that when the Governor saw diminishing returns from the significant effort and great deal of money he was expending, he accurately determined that his party wasn’t interested in nominating him. There are plenty of candidates in the race who are in the same situation and either don’t realise they’re not wanted or don’t care, but Walker has more incentive than most of them to make a dignified exit.

Scott Walker looks as good on paper as he did the day he declared his candidacy and his current gubernatorial term extends until January 2019. He will turn 54 in 2020 and is still a realistic chance for the Republican nomination then if he wants it. But what sort of candidate has he been in this cycle? We don’t know. He might have been like Tim Pawlenty in 2012 — a conservative Midwesterner who proved too bland for the big stage. Or has his early exit excused him from Rick Perry status — a high-profile contender whose gaffes in 2012 severely diminished his 2016 hopes? But maybe he could actually be Mitt Romney in 2008: a first-timer who made a decent effort that readied him for a much more successful run four years on. If so, better to leave now, while he’s only uninteresting, not unwelcome.

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American Daily: September 22, 2015

September 22, 2015
  • Scott Walker is suspending his campaign for the presidency.
His four-minute statement invoked his political hero, Ronald Reagan, and then his nemesis, Donald Trump. Walker said the Republican front-runner threatens his party and nation, while calling on other candidates to also exit the race so voters can coalesce behind someone who can beat the billionaire.
The Democratic Party is embroiled in an increasingly loud argument over the schedule of presidential debates, one that flared up in New Hampshire over the weekend when DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz got heckled by audience members. Senior Dems such as Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean have criticized the DNC. Hillary Clinton’s rivals have charged that the DNC has only scheduled six debates to deny them airtime and protect front-runner Clinton, who has subsequently said she’s open to more debates but won’t say whether she actively wants more of them.
  • Batman takes on police brutality.
The latest issue of DC Comics’ flagship Batman series throws itself headfirst into the agonizing conversations roiling America more than a year after Ferguson officer Darren Wilson killed 18-year old Michael Brown. The globally iconic superhero confronts racialized police brutality and its intersection with urban poverty and gentrification — problems Batman comes to realize he exacerbates in his secret identity as billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne.

Once, and only once, in 2011, have I attended the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, D.C., on the grounds, as I explained then, that Voltaire is said to have cited when he declined a second invitation to an orgy: once a philosopher, twice a pervert. Luckily for the philosopher in me, it turned out to be an auspicious night. Not only, as we did not know then, was President Obama in the midst of the operation that would lead shortly to Osama bin Laden’s killing; it was also the night when, despite that preoccupation, the President took apart Donald Trump, plastic piece by orange part, and then refused to put him back together again.

  • Australian live-tweets NFL debut of Jarryd Hayne; Americans are enthralled.

Former Australian rugby league star Jarryd Hayne made his NFL debut for the 49ers on Monday and thank god we had an Australian there to help us make sense of it all.

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American Daily: September 16, 2015

September 15, 2015

Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the analysts claim.

  • Have women lost the “War on Women” when it comes to abortion rights?

This is what 2015 looks like: Abortion providers struggle against overwhelming odds to stay open, while women “turn themselves into pretzels” to get to them, as one researcher put it. Activists have been calling it the “war on women.” But the onslaught of new abortion restrictions has been so successful, so strategically designed, and so well coordinated that the war in many places has essentially been lost.

For The Times, Bernie Sanders’s entry into the presidential race was almost a nonevent. Although many candidates’ declarations were treated on the front page with considerable fanfare, Mr. Sanders’s was tucked inside the paper on Page A21.

Since that time, the Vermont senator has received considerable attention from The Times, but for his supporters, not nearly enough. And the tone of the coverage, many complain, has sometimes been derogatory or dismissive, and has been focused on personality, not issues.

DJ DV One (Seahawks): I’ve been DJing for them since probably the 2004-2005 season — so, ten years at least. When Pete Carroll came on, things changed. I was DJing in Touchdown City, an event center where people go before the game starts. Pete Carroll realized there was a DJ there, and he was like, “We need this energy at our practices.” One of the upper management guys came to me and said, “Are you available for three weeks in the summer to do our public practices?” I came and I would do those gigs — he sort of used me as a tool to motivate and get the players pumped up for the public practices. Then, after that, he was like, “This shit works — we need you on the field before the game starts.”

paintwithtrump

[artwork by Max Halden]

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American Daily: September 10, 2015

September 10, 2015
The decisions come on the day lawmakers are reassembling after a month-long break, with the Iran deal at the top of a high-stakes list of September business. Six Democrats remained undecided at the close of the holiday weekend. With 38 senators already publicly in favor of the deal — enough to sustain a presidential veto — none of those senators was expected to derail it. But the question of whether Democrats would cobble together enough support to prevent a disapproval resolution from reaching Obama’s desk has been closely watched on Capitol Hill.

But this is not an argument for Trump as a serious presidential candidate. It is really no argument at all. It is catharsis masquerading as principle, venting and resentment pretending to be some kind of higher argument. Every principle used to defend Trump is subjective, graded on a curve. Trump is like a cat trained to piss in a human toilet. It’s amazing! It’s remarkable! Yes, yes, it is: for a cat. But we don’t judge humans by the same standard.

  • What the Fed should remember about the 1990s before it lifts interest rates.

Well, consider the situation in 1997, when the unemployment rate dropped through 5 percent. The Fed did raise rates a quarter point, but then stopped, waiting for inflation to become a problem — which it never did, even though unemployment continued to fall, eventually to 4 percent.

What should we make of the closely related — though not identical — compromises sought by the federal judge and by the county clerk? Should we be satisfied in the long run if gay couples are able in practice to marry as easily as straight couples, but certain public officials recuse themselves from issuing the licenses or performing the ceremonies on grounds of religious objection?

  • Should NBC release its raw footage of Donald Trump from The Apprentice?

In the interest of giving the public as accurate an understanding as possible of a leading presidential candidate, NBC’s news division should upload all of the raw footage from The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice to the web. Let voters see what Trump was really like while the show was being filmed, for better or worse; let them judge if the hours that they spent with the billionaire left an accurate impression or constituted a false portrayal of someone less presidential than he seemed.

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Does America need to do more in the Middle East?

September 10, 2015

07.02.2009 - Elliot Abrams,former deputy national security adviser to president George W. Bush, currently Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Photo:Ariel Jerozolimski

Yesterday, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Elliott Abrams visited the US Studies Centre for a roundtable. Afterwards, I sat down with him for an interview where we discussed the US and Australia’s increased military efforts against Islamic State, the refugee crisis emanating from the Middle East, and the Iran nuclear deal. 

Prior to joining the CFR, Abrams was a member of the George W. Bush administration, serving most recently as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for global democracy strategy. Abrams also served as an assistant secretary of state in the Ronald Reagan administration. This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Jonathan Bradley: We’ll start with the news of the day: Australia will be making air-strikes in Syria with US support. Is this what needs to be done to properly degrade and attack ISIS? 

Elliott Abrams: I think it is what needs to be done, in two senses. First, you can’t allow them to have a safe haven in Syria, so that when things get rough in Iraq, if they’re under attack in Iraq, they go across the border and they’re, in a sense, magically now immune, so it just doesn’t make sense. They’ve obliterated the border between Syria and Iraq; we have to be realistic about that. Secondly, their popularity, their expansion, is based partly on the idea that they’re replicating, in a sense, the life of the Prophet, they are building an Islamic State — a caliphate. We have to defeat that militarily. That is, we have to shrink the territory that they’re able to control, because that underlines the fact that it’s a false story and they’re not replicating the life of the Prophet at all; they’re losing, not winning. So I think that this is the logical extension of what Canada, the UK, the United States, and Australia have been doing.

Is it going to succeed?

I think they’re vulnerable militarily and I think in that sense in can succeed. I think that there is another piece of this that we have to think about, which is that the a lot of the killing is being done by the Assad regime, and we need to question of What about that regime? — the barrel bombs, chlorine being dropped on residential neighbourhoods. But I think the idea that you can’t deal with the Islamic State military is wrong. You can’t deal with it politically unless you deal with it militarily.

You mention the Assad regime, which brings us to the larger refugee crisis from the region. Is the solution to Islamic State going to be a solution to the refugee crisis, or are there two  different issues there?

They’re clearly related, but I think there are two separate issues. Most of the refugees are fleeing not the Islamic State but the Assad regime. It’s the Assad regime that has driven so many Sunnis from Syria by attacking them. It’s an Alawite regime, supported by Iran and Hesbollah, viewed by the people of Syria as essentially a Shiite regime. So the refugee problem isn’t solved merely by dealing with Islamic State. I think the Assad regime, as President Obama and many other people have said, really must go. I think the Assad regime is, in a sense, a refugee manufacturing machine and a jihadi manufacturing machine, because of its incredibly vicious attacks on the population of Syria, and, here we are, now, with about eight million refugees and about three hundred thousand dead. So we have to deal with the Islamic State and I think we also have to think of ways of dealing with the Assad regime, which is so much at the centre of these problems.

If you were advising President Obama, what would you tell him needs to be done?

First, to do what we’re doing with respect to the Islamic State. Indeed to do more. But, second, to begin to think of a plan for getting rid of the Assad regime, which means helping non-jihadi rebels a lot more than we’ve been doing, and it means sitting down with, at least, the Jordanians, the Turks, the Gulf Arabs, and starting to think through what’s a replacement regime? You don’t want to collapse the state: you saw what happened when that was done in Iraq and in Libya. You don’t want chaos because there’s Islamic State ready to move in. And I’m not suggesting these are simple questions — they’re unbelievably complex — but if we’re serious about dealing with the terrorist threat and the humanitarian problem, then I think the Assad regime really cannot remain in place.

Turning away from Syria, I wanted to ask you about the Iran deal. Is it going to work? Should Congress pass it?

I’m an opponent of the deal. I think Congress will disapprove it, but the President would veto the resolution of disapproval, so it will go forward. I don’t think it will work in this sense: it may slow down the Iranian nuclear program — may — but in the end it legitimises that program. That program is now an outlaw program, under global sanctions. Under this deal, ten years from now, it comes out from under those strictures and is limitless in size, and meanwhile, this terrible regime, which is a regime that supports terrorism, gets a huge shot in the arm of maybe a hundred billion dollars, a lot more trade, a lot more investment. We’re strengthening the regime. Among the losers here I think are the Iranian people, who do not support that regime, but, of course, are never permitted a free vote against it. So I don’t think it’s a good deal and I wish Congress were able to override the veto, and we’ll see what happens under the next president. Because this is not a treaty. A treaty would be the law of the land and binding on all future presidents. This is just an agreement that President Obama signed, so the next president is free to say, “I don’t like it,” and annul it.

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There is no Clinton dynasty

September 10, 2015

hillary-rodham

Hillary Rodham: daughter of no one in particular

Donald Trump’s meaningless rise in the polls notwithstanding, the prevailing wisdom regarding the 2016 presidential contest is that it’s going to be 1992 all over again: Bush v Clinton. As a result, no shortage of commentators have pointed out the unseemly dynastic overtones such a contest would hold for a nation that birthed itself with a declaration of independence from the British monarchy. But not all dynasties are created equal, and in reality, only one of America’s major parties is looking at nominating a dynastic candidate this election.

Over at Vox, Mark Schmitt argues America has just one true national political dynasty: the House Bush.

Republican donors and supporters of John Ellis Bush, the former governor of Florida known as Jeb!, might well have been betting on the dynastic tendencies of American politics. But while there are many local political dynasties that cross centuries (the Frelinghuysens of New Jersey, for example, or the Chafees of Rhode Island), and many dynasties of wealth, there is really only one true dynasty of national politics: the Bushes. The Clintons, with only one generation and one president so far, barely merit consideration. Measured by electoral success at the statewide or national level, even the names that come first to mind when you think of American political dynasties don’t approach the reach of the Bushes, across four states and now grooming the fourth generation (which includes Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush) and seeking their third presidency. But all dynasties seem to fade by the third generation or so, and even the most successful and deliberate of them eventually lose either the ambition or the luck to get elected. Jeb’s current single-digit standing in the polls could mark the end of this family’s singular success.

It makes even less sense to consider the Clintons a dynasty when you consider that the one most prominent in public life today would, if she were a man, not even be a Clinton. Hillary Clinton was born Hillary Rodham and only began calling herself Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1982 after her husband was subject to political attacks over her name — Bill Clinton’s 1980 gubernatorial opponent Frank White made a point of calling his wife “Mrs Frank White.” When the Clintons first moved into the White House, Press Secretary Lisa Caputo emphasised that Hillary’s name was still Rodham Clinton, despite polls showing Americans would have preferred her to drop her maiden name entirely.

Fun fact: There has never been a President Rodham. And though there have been two presidents called Bush, Harrison, Adams, Roosevelt, and — this pair is unrelated — Johnson, there have been none who have been women, whichever family they might have come from. A second President Clinton would be a break with privilege and tradition, not a continuation of it, and that there might be a second one at all derives only from the curious Western tradition of women taking their husband’s name when they marry.

And, as Rebecca Traister writes, connections, whether by blood or marriage, have been one of the few way women have been able to break into political arenas out of which they’ve been previously excluded:

For generations, the primary path to power for women with any political ambitions (and even some without them) was through those who came to political power easily: men, usually husbands. This has been especially true of “first” women in American politics: The first woman governor, Wyoming’s Nellie Tayloe Ross, was elected in 1925 to replace her husband after his death. The first woman elected to the Senate was Hattie Wyatt Carraway, who filled the Arkansas seat of her dead husband in 1931. Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith, who took her late husband’s House seat in 1940, went on to become senator and the first woman ever to have her name placed into nomination for the presidency at a major party’s convention.

[…]

That doesn’t make Hillary’s current political position dynastic in the way that, say, Jeb Bush’s is. There are big differences between being born into a position of political privilege and marrying someone who becomes politically powerful. Wives have historically provided the support to make presidents’ careers possible; no dynastic configuration has ever landed one in the Oval Office herself.

[…]

So while it is fair to feel critical of the advisors, strategies, and policies deployed by both Hillary and Bill Clinton during the years they have each wielded political power, it is not fair or accurate to suggest their familial circumstances are equivalent to those of the Bushes, the Roosevelts, the Adamses, the Kennedys, or the Cuomos. If you want to compare them to the Tayloe Rosses, the Wyatt Carraways, or the Chase Smiths, that’s cool. But it doesn’t pack quite the same punch. And that’s part of the point.

Her connection to Bill has indeed given Hillary invaluable access to political powerbrokers and party donors, but this is not comparable to the lifetime of access and privilege bestowed upon the scions of genuine political dynasties like the Bushes and Kennedys. And while the passage to political office is assured to no one, in their younger days, Hillary and Bill were both ambitious, talented, and highly educated: it is as likely that Hillary was held back by devoting herself to her husband’s career as it is that her relationship with him opened doors to her.

It’s right to be concerned about political dynasties. (The good news is that there are fewer of them than ever.) America is a nation that would like to believe it can resist the hereditary powers and privileges of the aristocratic Old World, and it should maintain its fealty to this commitment. There are hundreds of millions of American families, and it is silly to suppose that the people best placed to lead the nation belong to a mere handful of them. But the woman born Hillary Rodham was raised — like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter — in a family with no greater political influence than any other. Whatever reasons there are to vote against Hillary Clinton, her last name is not one of them.

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American Daily: September 8, 2015

September 8, 2015
  • Were big Republican donors too quick to donate to Jeb Bush?
Instants after announcing over the winter that he was “seriously considering the possibility of running for president,” Bush and his team set up the Right to Rise PAC and super PAC to serve as cash receptacles for eager GOP establishment donors. The money rolled in, and by July the super PAC announced that it had met its goal of raising more than $100 million in the first six months of the year. The popular former governor of Florida, who hadn’t run for office since his 2002 re-election bid, was able to take it to the bank based on his family’s success at winning presidential nominations and his ability to flatter the right crowds at events like the Wall Street Journal CEO Council. And indeed, he was able to bypass a thorough vetting of his aptitude for a presidential run en route to this fortune.
The pro-Israel lobby was never the shadowy, government-controlling entity portrayed by its most paranoid critics. It was, however, an important influence on American politics. Zionism is to Jews what the civil-rights movement is to African-Americans, a political program organized to protect basic survivalist concerns. Jews participate disproportionately in political life in every way: voting, intellectual debate, donating, and organizing. The pro-Israel lobby organized an important constituency in American politics that shared a relatively unified understanding of its collective self-interest.
If the current trends of the US strengthening while China weakens continue, Citi said the world was likely to experience a significant divergence where the US thrives despite China’s slowdown.
“This is still the outcome upon which our current forecasts are based, however we are increasingly concerned that the probability of this outcome is falling while the risk of moving into the bottom left quadrant is rising,” Mr Schofield said.
  • The Daily Show’s feminism doesn’t extend to its own material.
The lazy, sexist jibes stand in sharp contrast to Stewart’s respectful treatment of his female guests. He champions policies in favor of women’s rights and eviscerates misogyny in other media outlets. He was one of the only critics to ridicule media gawkers for evaluating Caitlin Jenner’s ability to conform to the feminine ideal, noting that the only woman over 65 to ever appear on Vanity Fair’s cover had a penis. All of correspondent Jessica Williams’ appearances are feminist masterpieces, including a takedown of men who catcall.
Why does the show not hold itself to the feminist yardstick by which it measures rest of the world? It is strange that “The Daily Show” can quip that Clinton’s face “is where boners go to die” and then flip just as quickly to criticize other media outlets for a sexist double standard in their coverage of her.
  • What goes into finding a comic suitable to perform on a college campus.

For the comics, the college circuit offers a lucrative alternative to Chuckle Hut gigs out on the pitiless road, spots that pay a couple hundred bucks and a free night in whatever squat the club owner uses to warehouse out-of-town talent. College gigs pay easily a grand a night—often much more—and they can come in a firecracker string, with relatively short drives between schools, each hour-long performance paid for (without a moment’s ugliness or hesitation) by a friendly student-activities kid holding out a check and hoping for a selfie. For all these reasons, thousands of comics dream of being invited to the convention.