Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launched his presidential campaign on Monday at Virginia's Liberty University, a private Christian college founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Liberty has become a mandatory stop for aspiring Republican candidates—and it's not just for the campus museum exhibit of the taxidermied bear that Falwell's father once wrestled. Liberty is perhaps the premier academic institution of the religious right, and Cruz's choice of venue sends a clear message that he's trying to position himself in 2016 Republican field as a social conservative crusader—and that he's counting on evangelicals for support.
But Liberty University and its controversial founder have additional significance to the 2016 presidential race. During the 1990s, the anti-gay pastor did more than anyone to popularize the so-called "Clinton Body Count"—the notion that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been responsible for dozens of murders during and after their time in Arkansas. This conspiracy theory was the centerpiece of a 1994 film called the Clinton Chronicles, which Falwell helped distribute to hundreds of thousands of conservatives across the country.
Despite Falwell's best efforts, though, President Bill Clinton won his 1996 re-election campaign, and the episode helped reinforce the pastor's reputation as a bigoted crank. Republican candidates will find it hard to avoid Falwell's institution as the 2016 campaign heats up. We'll see if they've learned from his mistakes, too, when it comes to taking on the Clinton political machine.
On Tuesday, I reported on the newly public diary of retired Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), the longtime Clinton ally, which is included in the 89-year-old's personal papers at the University of Arkansas. In entries penned during the 1980s, Bumpers was highly critical of the Clintons, dishing on the future First Couple's "obsessive" qualities and alleged "dirty tricks" by Bill Clinton's gubernatorial campaign. Bumpers, who gave the closing argument for the defense in President Clinton's impeachment trial, became a close friend and confidante of the president later in his career. But the previously unreported entries revealed a more tense relationship in the early going, as Clinton vied for political elbow room with the Democratic icon.
In response to the Mother Jones piece, the University of Arkansas library has pulled the diary from its collection at the request of Bumpers' son, Brent. Per the Arkansas Democrat–Gazette:
Brent Bumpers of Little Rock, son of the former senator, said he was "shocked" by the diary. He has questioned its origin and authenticity, saying nobody in the family had ever heard anything about Dale Bumpers keeping a dairy.
Brent Bumpers said his father, who is 89 years old, doesn't remember keeping a diary. He said Dale Bumpers always admired the Clintons and wouldn't have written the things the diary contains.
Brent Bumpers said he wants to review the diary, but he won't have the opportunity for several days.
Although Dale Bumpers hasn't personally requested that the diary be pulled, Laura Jacobs, UA associate vice chancellor for university relations, said Brent Bumpers is speaking and acting on behalf of his father regarding the Dale Bumpers Papers.
But the Bumpers diary could not have been written by anyone but Dale Bumpers. When not commenting on the various politicians he interacted with, it is filled with personal musings on his wife, Betty, and three kids; the strains of the job; can't-miss events such as the annual Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival; and the trials of a first-time candidate at an Iowa presidential cattle call—all interspersed with the thoughtful reflections of a lawmaker who was generally regarded as such.
This is the second time in the last year that the University of Arkansas has made news by restricting access to a political archive in its special collections. Last year, the university's library blocked the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet, from accessing its collections because of a dispute over publishing rights. (The library ultimately backed down.)
With Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush both running for president, reporters (and opposition researchers) will have more access to archival records than perhaps ever before. The two candidates have nearly a century of public life between them; that's a heck of a paper trail. This may not be the last time a little-noticed archive makes news.
A copy of Contingencies—the official magazine of the American Academy of Actuaries—came in the mail on Monday. I don't know why—I'm not an actuary; I'm not even in a celebrity death pool. But there's some interesting stuff in there. AAA president Mary D. Miller, in a column titled "It Takes an Actuary," boasts that "our world will be more vital than ever" in the era of drones and Big Data, as people find more and more innovative ways to die; the puzzle columnist is retiring.
With the legalization movement racking up victory after victory, the writer, Hank George, seeks to correct a misunderstanding among his actuarial colleagues—that marijuana "conferred the same relative mortality risk as cigarette smoking." To the contrary, he writes, "recreational marijuana users enjoy better physical fitness and get more exercise than nonusers" and "have even been shown to have higher IQs." He concludes: "The tide is turning—life underwriters would be wise to be at the front end of this curve, and not stubbornly digging in their heels to the detriment of their products."
For now, at least, life insurers are still holding the line on pot smoke as a vice on par with cigarettes. But it's a testament to how far the legalization movement has grown beyond its hippie roots that even the actuaries are starting to fall in line.
In 1999, three weeks after retiring from the US Senate, Arkansas Democrat Dale Bumpers flew back to the nation's capital to save his friend of 25 years, President Bill Clinton, from impeachment. Delivering the closing argument for the defense during Clinton's Senate trial, he testified to Clinton's character. "In all of those years, and all those hundreds of times we've been together, both in public and in private," Bumpers said, "I have never one time seen the president conduct himself in a way that did not reflect the highest credit on him, his family, his state, and his beloved nation." His speech was hailed by the press—and by Clinton—as a key ingredient in the president's ultimate acquittal.
But Bumpers, who is 89, cast the Clintons in a far different light in his diary, portions of which are included in his personal papers at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The collection was opened to the public last year. Writing in his journal during the 1980s, as Bill and Hillary Clinton were on the rise in Arkansas, Bumpers was critical of their character and political future, dismissing them as "manic ambitious" and "manic obsessed" and alleging that Bill Clinton's gubernatorial campaign had resorted to "dirty tricks."
Congress' next target: the often-vitriolic online movement known as Gamergate. On Tuesday Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), backed by the National Organization for Women and the Human Rights Campaign, asked her House colleagues to join her in demanding tighter enforcement of cyber-stalking and online harassment laws.
The Violence Against Women Act gives the federal government the authority to prosecute individuals who send violent threats over the internet, but actual convictions are hard to come by—the Department of Justice has prosecuted just 10 people for cyberstalking between 2010 and 2013. (In a long reported piece for Pacific Standard last year, the writer Amanda Hess detailed the near-impossibility of getting any level of law enforcement to investigate online threats.) "If we step up prosecuting these cases and enforce the federal laws that are already on the books, cyber-stalking—and the severity and quantity of threats that are made— we hope will be reduced," Clark tells Mother Jones.
The Massachusetts Democrat, who replaced now-Sen. Ed Markey in a 2013 special election, began looking for ways to take on internet harassment after discovering last fall that Brianna Wu, a video game developer who has become a target of so-called "GamerGate" trolls, lived in her district. Wu has received more than three dozen death threats over the last five months—including one, posted to YouTube, in which a knife-wielding man bragged about getting in a car crash on the way to Wu's house to kill her. Clark got in touch with Wu, and then with the FBI. (Wu had committed the grave sin of suggesting that tech could be a more hospitable place for women.)
In many cases, Clark found that social media networks and private sites were ambivalent about addressing the threats delivered via their platforms too. "When Brianna Wu had to pull out of a gaming conference called PAX East just last month*, the folks who were running the site for that said that a bomb threat did not violate their user policy," Clark says. Her proposal wouldn't have any effect on how private companies police their users, although she hopes companies—and trolls— will take harassment more seriously once law enforcement does. "What we're hoping to do is change the culture around accepting these threats of death, of dismemberment, of great physical harm, as mere hoaxes, and really start to think of them in the violence they’re perpetrating and the economic harm that they're doing," she adds.
As Clark sees it, cracking down on harassment isn't just about public safety and peace-of-mind—it's about dollars and cents. "We are hearing from women that they are losing wages, they are losing opportunities, speaking engagements, they are incurring legal fees, and having to hire online protective services at their own cost," she says. "Now that so much of our commerce is done online and a presence on social media is required for many professions, we really see this as an economic toll for women as well as a personal one."
Right on cue, Clark herself became a magnet for abuse after publishing an op-ed on the subject on Wednesday. (Angry Twitter users told the congresswoman to drink bleach and expressed their desire to attack her, among other things.) But as a member of Congress, she knows she can get an audience with law enforcement if she ever feels truly threatened. "We're really hoping that that is going to be available for anybody who is using the internet," she says.