Archive for the ‘Clinton’ category

I’ll Take Journalism I Disdain For $1,000, Alex

March 7, 2016

This, in today’s Grey Lady, got my goat:

While Mr. Sanders’s direct rhetoric is an enduring source of his success, Mrs. Clinton has a way of meandering legalistically through thickets of caution and temporization.

Asked whether she would fire the head of the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to remedy water problems in Flint, Mrs. Clinton gave a nearly 200-word response emphasizing the need for a full investigation to “determine who knew what, when.” Mr. Sanders’ 16-word response drew enormous applause: “President Sanders would fire anybody who knew about what was happening and did not act appropriately.”

On the one hand, fine:  as a performance critique, that’s a perfectly understandable distinction to draw (though in this case even the stated critique is patent BS, about which more in a moment).  But there’s more to political journalism than amateur theater criticism.


Some interest, even a glimmer of curiosity in the quality of the content of the answer would be welcome.

So, let’s take a look.  When asked if she would fire people at the EPA over the Flint crisis, here’s what Clinton actually said:

CLINTON: Well, I think that the people here in the region, who knew about this and failed to follow what you just said, rightly, the law required, have been eliminated from the EPA.

COOPER: So far, one person has resigned.

CLINTON: I don’t — well, I don’t know how high it goes. I would certainly be launching an investigation. I think there is one. I was told that — you know, some of the higher-ups were pushing to get changes that were not happening.

So I would have a full investigation, determine who knew what, when. And yes, people should be fired. How far up it went, I don’t know. But as far as it goes, they should be relieved, because they failed this city.

But let me just add this, Anderson. This is not the only place where this kind of action is needed. We have a lot of communities right now in our country where the level of toxins in the water, including lead, are way above what anybody should tolerate.


We have a higher rate of tested lead in people in Cleveland than in Flint. So I’m not satisfied with just doing everything we must do for Flint. I want to tackle this problem across the board. And if people know about it and they’re not acting, and they’re in the government at any level, they should be forced to resign.

So — yes, she’d fire people when and as they were found to be culpable, but such actions, she argues, are not enough.  I’d go further, and say that they’re cosmetic, unless the same duty of care that Flint deserves is applied across the board.

And I don’t know about you, but to me, the demand to take the lessons of Flint on the road is hardly a legalistic detour into “thickets of caution and temporization.”  The gap between that characterization and what was actually said (and not quoted in the offending thumb-sucker) is, shall we say, interesting.  Given the Times‘ history with Hillary, I’d even say, suggestive.

I know it’s a lot to ask (it isn’t, actually. It’s merely impossible for current practitioners to answer — ed.) but I’d like to see even a hint of acknowledgement that what Clinton said may have been less dramatic than Sander’s reply, but, just maybe, contained something worth thinking about.  Even more, some recognition that two hundred words is not too much to spend on the problem of failed infrastructure, the abandonment of governmental responsibility, and poisoned kids.

Just for perspective — the average speaker takes roughly 80 to 90 seconds, maybe a skosh more, to utter two hundred words.  I’d have thought a hero of the English language like a New York Times reporter might have the stamina to stick it out that long.

Color me grumpy.

Image:  William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment from the Humours of an Election series, c. 1755

Old Folks Boogie

June 30, 2013

Most folks realize that we are all heading for our second taste of non-existence at a constant rate of one day per day (don’t give me none of those event horizon/Protoss portal/twins paradoxical time bending maundering, either  you denizens of  ‘con and SciFi channel) .


What’s more — and I’ll admit this may be the fifty-something me talking, so feel free to challenge this presumption in the comments — I’m guessing that most of us recognize certain rewards that accrue as we successfully complete each circuit ’round the sun.  Losses too, of course, and more of them as the decades past (I’d love to reacquaint myself with my knees of twenty years ago, and certain summers, and the people now gone always and most of all).

But I wouldn’t want to give up what I’ve learned, the stuff I now know how to do, the way I come at the world with enough understanding to help me act each day with at least a bit more capacity than I had in my happy, high energy, dumb 20s (or 40s).  What’s more I value evidence of that kind of accumulated judgment in folks who seek to lead me and my country (and world).  I don’t think I’m entirely alone in this.*

Which is why I read this in today’s NYT with such…well…


Jonathan Martin’s piece on the GOP’s emerging strategy for dealing with the presumptive Hilary Clinton juggernaut is in fact a masterpiece of subtle knife work.  I join with many here in frustration with the Grey Lady’s op-ed page, and its lean towards unexamined establishment assumptions in some of its journalism, and the Style page and all the “trends” crap that shows up there, in the magazine and elsewhere can go DIAF. But the paper still boasts the deepest bench of journalists and some very smart observer/analysts (to compensate for the BoBos and the MoS’s), and Martin here shows what can be done with artfully presented absolutely straight reporting.

The shorter: Clinton is old. She’s oldy-oldy-sere-ancient-and-by-the-way-did-I-mention-she’s-an-antique?-old is the new line of attack that that the usual-suspects GOP choir seem to think will propel one of their new, fresh faces to the top prize.

Apparently those new faces are Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Bobbie Jindal (no, really! Don’t laugh) and Chris Christie.  And the case being made for these stalwarts (in order: Mr. bring back apartheid lunch counters, bundle o’nerves reaching for his water bottle, Kenneth the Page, and the fanboi of that Demo-Socialist Bruce Springsteen and unofficial 2012 Kenyan Usurper running mate) is that such youth and vigor will so contrast with Hilary Clinton’s wrinkles and general decreptitude so as to sweep away any niggling doubts on substance.

It’s the branding problem again, of course:  if you believe that, then there’s no need to attend to any doubts about what the party would sell with any of these pitchmen — and here’s where Martin’s piece turns into such a nicely thrust stiletto.  He mentions in passing the fact that if anyone views Obama’s relative youth and lack of experience as a negative, that won’t enhance the chances of  anyone less seasoned still, and I think that’s fair enough.  But the real wounds come from simply his straight reporting: these guys ain’t got nothing.  Those that aren’t already roadkill (Bobbie Jindal? Aqua Buddha, please) have no more than Rand Paul’s claim that he’ll ride to victory powered by marijuana farmers and those for whom electoral politics begin and end with the NSA.  That’s some folks, I’ll grant you…but I don’t think they’re enough to withstand that portion of the electorate mobilized by the quote with which Martin ends his article:

The radio host Rush Limbaugh, echoing his commentary from her first presidential run, asked his audience in April whether the American people “want to vote for somebody, a woman, and actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”

Yup, says Rush. American ain’t gonna vote for a non-hawt female.  Just can’t happen. Nope, no way, no how.

Did I mention how happy I am that the Republicans are already letting their freak flag fly on this one?

Just to recap:  The current Republican party’s strongest demographic is older white folks.  Some of those will be pissed off at the dismissiveness of age, experience, accumulated knowledge and competence acquired over a long haul.  Younger people too, I’d guess; the idea of letting someone four years into playing senator on C-span after a career as a self-accredited eye doctor anywhere near the launch codes is, frankly, pretty scary to a lot of folks up and down the demographic ladder.

Now add this thought:  the Republican party is desperate to overcome its gender gap.  And here it seems to be making  its case by asserting that the presidency shouldn’t go to a women it views as getting less attractive by the day — because she grows older one day per day.


What can I say?

Proceed gentlemen.*

*What about Obama v. McCain, then?  Well, just to get this out of the way…(a) actual policy choices are what I look at first, and if one soundly beats another there, that’s the game, for my vote at least.  And (b) to paraphrase a quote from James Michener’s DFH novel, The Driftersthere’s a subset of old farts who may say they’ve got fifty years of experience when what they really have is one year, repeated fifty times.  McCain in a nutshell, IMHO.

Image: Titian, St. Jerome, betw. 1570 and 1575.




Clinton, Canute, and a Certain Gravity.

May 6, 2008

Parts of the blogosphere is having (a) some fun with Senator Clinton’s sudden self-discovery as the scourge of experts or (b) a collective WTF at her continued attempt to reorganize the space time continuum in which we live into one that suits her better. (Not to mention this gem of a solution to high gas prices that apparently neither Clinton nor McCain considered.)

But the jump the shark moment — or perhaps the most recent leap in the 400 meter shark hurdle race — has to be this. Senator Clinton, perhaps recently bitten by a radioactive spider, has decided that she now has the mojo to break up OPEC.

Great idea! Why didn’t anyone think of that before?

Plenty of folks have already had their way with this one too. The most succinct that I have seen so far comes from Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. The basic take is, in essence, that Clinton is playing King Canute, without that monarch’s self awareness. (Or perhaps she’s Glendower in Henry IV: She can call spirits from the vasty deep, but with Hotspur we may reply, “Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?”)

But to pick up on Josh’s take, I’m given to understand that the next target of the growing anti-elitist lobby will be the law of gravity. However, even were Senator Clinton to add her voice to the chorus of disdain for Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and other such out of touch eggheads, this issue has in fact already been put on the table.

Ah well. It will all be over soon.

Image: J.W.M Turner, “The Sea at Egremont,” 1802. The work of art depicted in this image and the reproduction thereof are in the public domain worldwide. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

The Science Primary is…

May 4, 2008

….now over.

The blogosphere has been all over Hilary Clinton’s bizarre, preposterous, and just plain awful defense of the gas tax holiday nonsense to which she has, seemingly, attatched the last shred of her hopes of winning the nomination. See John Cole for his customary clarity and — how to say this…– precision guided rhetoric. The Carpetbagger (Steve Benen) is on the case; so is Matthew Yglesias … and best of all, Brad Delong channels Robert Reich to drive a stake through the heart of Clinton’s latest.

But neither the politicos nor the science blogging world have picked up on what seems to me one of the central implications of Clinton’ s statement that

I’m not going to put my lot in with economists, because I know if we get it right, if we actually did it right, if we had a president who used all the tools of the presidency, we would design it in such a way that it would be implemented effectively….You know, it’s really odd to me that arguing to give relief to the vast majority of Americans creates this incredible pushback…..

We’ve got to get out of this mindset where somehow elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans.

(You can check out the whole transcript here.)

There are two things that jump out of the quote. First, it is incredibly muddled or rather, actually more than a muddle. Clinton here depends on an obvious contradiction: she doesn’t trust elite opinion, but she will need elite-level policy design and implementation to give the idea even a remote chance of working.

Sorry — it’s one or the other; expertise or failed policy…but not both.

That’s one. The other, broader implication is that we actually just held the long hoped for science debate — and the winner is clear.

I’m going to blog this week on what John McCain’s publicly announced budget plans mean for science (nothing good, and actually worse than that) — and I’ve already taken whacks at a few of his more obvious gaps and loopiness on more or less scientific topics. There is nothing in his record or in the statements McCain has made on the campaign trail that suggests that he has made the connection between scientific research or the critical thinking scientific training inculcates and the economic health and national security of the United States. He lost the science debate long ago.

But what of Hilary? Up until recently, she hadn’t been doing too badly. She, like McCain and Obama, have wavered on some things – all three have fallen into the peculiar trap of waffling on the autism/vaccine issue, for example — and all the criticism I and many others showered on McCain on this one falls to the other two as well.

But broadly speaking, judging by the issues papers on her website, Clinton has maintained a fairly sophisticated approach to global warming and applied research, with the implication that the policies near and dear to scientists’ hearts — more money, and even more important, respect for the real knowledge developed within by scientific process, would flow under a Clinton presidency. What Clinton provided for public consumption may be boilerplate, but it has been good boilerplate.

But now, what she said at the Indiana interview this morning changes the game. She said, in effect, if the smart boys and girls don’t agree with her, then to hell with them.

That is, of course, precisely the anti-rational madness that has dominated the George Bush years. It is inimical to science or a scientific world view. If we are to pick and choose the facts we like, it is a very short step, quickly taken, to making them up. And that way lies an ever more rapid collapse of the American republic.

Science won’t care. Nature doesn’t care. People will still do the work, because it is interesting; it is useful; it satisfies personal needs and passions and responds to a seemingly universal human eagerness for knowledge.

It’s just that there is no natural law that requires that the leading edge work be done here. Even if it does, if we can coast on the accumulated intellectual capital we still possess, there is no guarantee that it will be allowed to inform the way we live here. We can lose the extraordinary benefits of generations of world scientific leadership surprisingly quickly — and announcing that you will ignore the advice of experts when it pleases you is a pretty good way to grease the skids for such a decline.

Barack Obama is no perfect paragon — the vaccine stuff is a relatively minor demonstration that he can pander too, soothing a passionate pressure group despite overwhelming expert advice. He is, after all, a politician, a very good, a very compelling one. I’m willing to bet that he’ll find times when the inherent uncertainty in science gives him useful cover for the lesser but more popular choice.

But on the gas tax holiday he has been exemplary. He recognized the flaws in the idea — from the fact that it won’t work, to the realization that even if it did work precisely as designed it’s still the wrong policy to pursue if you take the issues of energy independence and global warming seriously.

He’s said so in a range of ways and places, and he has taken the trouble to explain the subtleties of his position.

That’s the way a president who can hear advice talks. And that capacity is what American science needs more than any particular policy stance.

We may not have had our science debate in any formal sense — but on the gas tax issue, our candidates have managed to perform a reasonable simulation of one. And as I said at the beginning, there is one clear winner.

Image: Nar Singh, “Jesuits at Akbar’s Court” illustration for the Akbarnama, c. 1605. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Really Stupid Ideas: Hillary update.

April 24, 2008

Matthew Yglesias has a more subtle take on Hillary’s “me too” on McCain’s gas tax holiday folly.

He points out that Obama’s principled rejection of the obviously stupid idea is correct on the merits, but bad politics in an arena where the religion of tax cuts still holds sway.

His close reading of Hillary’s apparent support for McCain’s environmentally and economically foolish proposal  suggests that she does not in fact have any desire to see such silliness turned into law.  Rather, he points out that she includes a careful, devastating qualifier in her support:  that the holiday should only be enacted if the money thus lost to the Highway Trust Fund could be made up.  As she (and everyone else) have suggested no way the funds could be magicked from some other source, this amounts to a rejection of a proposal she can get the credit for supporting.

I buy that. I even buy Matt’s view that this is the smart politics.

But at the same time, Clinton is still giving McCain cover:  the underlying fact of the matter is that a gas tax holiday is incompatible with a commitment to take climate change seriously.

To simply ignore the ignorable (as this proposal is, at least for the upcoming summer) allows the ongoing national self delusion to persist.  If we truly think that global experiments with atmospheric change are a bad idea, then we have, among much else, to burn less gas.

When Clinton says “sure — as long as we’re fiscally responsible” — she keeps climate change where it has been for the last eight years:  off the table.  Just imagine, now, the counterfactual:  suppose Clinton had said that she supported the gas tax holiday — as long as we came up with an offset for the carbon thus released.

One can dream.

Image:  William Hogarth, from his series “Humours of an Election,” 1754-5.  The work of art depicted in this image and the reproduction thereof are in the public domain worldwide. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Source:  Wikimedia Commons

More on Really Stupid Ideas

April 22, 2008

Just to provide yet more real-world evidence of the vapid stupidity of McCain’s gas tax, now endorsed by Clinton, here, via Atrios, comes confirmation of the fact (surprise!), that price affects consumption.

Short form: gas consumption and traffic are down. The Feds predict a .4 percent fall in gas consumption this summer (when the proposed gas tax holiday would, if any savings made it to the pump, reverse that long-sought outcome). Money quote:

“Sustained higher gasoline prices are beginning to show up in lower gasoline consumption,” said Tancred Lidderdale, an analyst for the Energy Information Administration.

That’s the market in action, folks. Doing what it should. Is there a problem here?

John, Hilary: pay attention. Good on ya’ Barack for figuring this out.

Image: Lesser Ury, “Hackney in Rainy Weather, (Pferdedroshke im Regenwetter),” 1924. Source, Wikimedia Commons.

Really Stupid Ideas, take two: Hillary Clinton edition.

April 22, 2008

In this post, I tried to lay out why John McCain’s idea (sic) for a gas tax “holiday” (now there’s an Orwellian usage).

Short form: the holiday would save, on average 28 bucks per person; would cost jobs in the construction business (the gas tax supports the highway trust fund, which pays for road construction and repair), damage our infrastructure — and, as a lagniappe, would further damage any US attempt to address carbon pollution and climate change. (See the first post for links).

The point I made below is that McCain has tried to defend his credentials as the one of the few major Republican party figures to take climate change seriously — but that this proposal shows that he ain’t serious. I think the proposal illustrates much that is wrong with the McCain candidacy in general: it reminds us of his deep economic illiteracy; it is a demonstration of his dangerous capacity for holding two incompatible ideas in his head at the same time, with apparently no strain; and it reveals a very risky commitment to a kind of tooth-fairy approach to governance: if there’s a problem, then anything that sounds like a solution becomes one in fact…

except, of course, it doesn’t.

Why repeat all this?

Because today we learn that McCain has company: Hilary Clinton. All the reasons that a suspension of the gas tax is dumb, dumb, dumb apply just as much when the support comes from a me too Democrat as it does when it pops out of a clueless Republican. Barack Obama, to his credit, sees the idea for the harm-causing gimmick it is, and rejects it.

In many ways, Hillary’s endorsement of McCain’s folly is worse than the original silliness. She is not a policy idiot. She has to understand the immediate and long term economic harm that flows from this. (You don’t fix infrastructure, it costs a ton in difficult to measure ways — everything from blown tires and busted shocks from pot hole interactions to the loss of time (money) that comes when deteriorating roads can’t handle the traffic load.) And above all, she says she takes global warming seriously. Check out her proposals here.

She knows better. She does the wrong thing anyway, presumably for a short term political advantage. (Short term — because it is hard to see how trailing along after McCain helps her in a putative general election run.)

She may not mean it, of course, just as McCain quite probably does not. The gas tax suspension has been proposed for this summer when, as you may have noticed, neither of the two candidates will actually wield any executive authority. This could well be one of those “how dumb do they think we are?…Pretty dumb” campaign trial balloons, to be forgotten the moment real governance begins.

Strangely, that doesn’t make me regard either John McCain or Hillary Clinton more kindly.

For further comment, see Virginia Postrel’s on point asperity here. (h/t Andrew) You can follow her link to Stephen Postrel’s quickie analysis of carbon tax vs. cap and trade economics here. S. Postrel falls into a familiar smart guy trap of opining about stuff he doesn’t actually know when he sneers at the state of climate science. (See Eric Roston’s incredibly generous review essay about my twenty year old book on the subject for context). (And hey — if we couldn’t blather about stuff we barely understood, where would the blogosphere be?) But that aside, he’s put together as clear a brief primer as I have yet seen on the economics of carbon regulation.

Update: John Cole can’t stand the idiocy any more either.  Shorter and funnier than me.

Image: Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.