Michigan GOP Rep. Justin Amash, a Ron Paul acolyte and leading NSA critic whom I profiled for the magazine last fall, was supposed to be on the ropes. Amash was one of a handful of tea party congressmen to earn primary challenges from members of the party who believed they had gone too far in their obstructionism with little to show for it. In November, a group of former Amash donors publicly backed his challenger, Brian Ellis, arguing that the congressman "and others have effectively nullified the Republican majority in the U.S. House" by driving a wedge through the party.
But things are looking up for Amash, and by extension the political movement he refers to as "the Rebel Alliance." A new poll released this week from Basswood Research showed Amash with a 60–12 lead over Ellis. Most voters still hadn't heard of Ellis, but those who had overwhelmingly didn't like him. That might be a product of the $200,000 that the conservative Club for Growth, whose ads helped Amash win the seat in the first place, has already poured into television spots hammering Ellis.
Now, per the New York Times, Amash is about to get some more help: Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-backed political operation, is launching a $230,000 ad buy to bolster the incumbent's credentials as an opponent of the Affordable Care Act. It's still early—the primary isn't until August. But Amash and his allies have thus far sent a firm message to his Republican critics: their money might better be spent elsewhere.
Russian President Vladimir Putin calls Sochi, site of February's Winter Olympics, "the biggest construction site on the planet," and for good reason. Since being awarded the games in 2007, the subtropical Black Sea city has built 442 miles of fiber-optic cables, 200 miles of roads, 55 bridges, 13 train stations, nine hotels for media outlets, six post offices, five schools, a new airport, a $265 million ski jump, a bobsled track, a ski course, two Olympic villages, an 815-acre floating archipelago, and a partridge in a pear tree.
But one item on local residents' wish list was met with a pocket veto—a request to build a mosque for Sochi's 20,000 Muslim residents, many of whom have migrated to the city over the last decade to take jobs building the Olympic facilities.
The wars of the future will be fought over clichés.
Last week, WonkBlog's Brad Plumer took aim at one of the soundbite industry's most pernicious crutches—describing a good-but-not-gamechanging thing as "not a panacea." Plumer was right to criticize "not a panacea," but "nondescript office park" and "nondescript office building," are just as common—and just as bad. Office buildings and office parks are as a rule architecturally bland, so there's no reason to point it out. Moreover, there's nothing counterintuitive about an interesting project that's housed in a boring building. If news reports are any guide, interesting projects are often housed in boring buildings.
In the interest of killing this cliché, here is a comprehensive list of all the things the New York Times has reported are housed in a "nondescript" office space:
Wednesday is "Big Block of Cheese Day" at the Obama White House, an homage to two episodes of the television series The West Wing in which senior staffers were forced to spend a day dealing with constituents who don't normally get an audience with the president. (That idea, in turn, was inspired by an enormous block of cheese housed in the Andrew Jackson White House.) The implication of the episodes is that the people who want to talk about these issues are kind of crazy, but a Mother Jones analysis of the projects presented to Sam Seaborn et al. reveals more nuance. On further examination, the dismissive tone with which Big Block of Cheese Day activists were greeted (or embraced) says more about the smallness of the Bartlet administration's aides than it does about the issues at hand.
Here is the official Mother Jones ranking of Big Block of Cheese Day ideas, from best to worst:
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Society: It's never fully explained what the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Society wants, but we can probably guess. According to National Geographic, the Kemp's ridley is "the world's most endangered sea turtle" and according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, there are somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 nesting females left. Their greatest threat is shrimp trawlers, which snare the tiny turtles in their nets. But the turtles are also vulnerable to man-made disaster. Most of the 156 turtles that died as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill were Kemp's Ridleys, because the spill interfered with the creatures' nesting habitat. It's a tragedy that these turtles can only get the government's attention on "total crackpot day."
Wolf highway: The plan: "1,800 miles from Yellowstone to the Yukon Territory complete with highway overpasses and no cattle grazing." Badass! The price: "With contributions and corporate sponsorship, the cost of the taxpayer is only $900 million." Damn. We have no idea why it costs that much, though, and it seems like something that can be scaled down. Montana and Washington state have already built natural bridges to help animals cross highways at a considerably cheaper rate.
New York GOP Rep. Michael Grimm's outburst after last night's State of the Union was problematic because members of Congress (or anyone, really) aren't supposed to threaten to throw reporters off balconies—at least not when a camera is rolling. But Grimm's aggressive confrontation with NY1's Michael Scotto also complicates an already difficult re-election campaign. Although the 11th district is New York City's most conservative, it still voted for President Barack Obama by a 51–47 margin in 2012, making Grimm one of just a handful of Republicans representing blue-leaning districts. To that end, he was already one of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's top targets heading into 2014, even before he threatened to "break" Scotto "in half. Like a boy." And unlike last cycle, when the Democratic nominee was dismissed as a former actor who lived with his dad, Grimm is facing a viable challenger in the form of former New York City council member Domenic Recchia Jr.
On Wednesday, Recchia was quick to pounce, issuing a statement blasting the incumbent:
Michael Grimm's behavior last night was disgraceful, completely unacceptable, and unbefitting of a United States Congressman. Using threats of physical violence to intimidate the press from doing their jobs is against everything our country—and our government—stands for, and is a shameful abuse of power.
Michael Grimm owes Michael Scotto and the NY1 team an apology. He also owes the people of Staten Island and South Brooklyn an apology. The people of this district deserve leadership that in the wake of the President’s State of the Union is focused and committed to restoring the promise of the American Dream for all Americans. They deserve leadership that is focused on creating jobs, stimulating the economy, investing in transportation alternatives, and strengthening the middle class. Instead they’ve got Michael Grimm, who is clearly part of the distractions plaguing Congress, not the solutions. It’s time the people of this district had a representative focused on working for them.
Grimm already delivered on one of those apologies—on Wednesday he called Scotto to apologize.