The problems facing North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan next fall are pretty straightforward. She is a Democratic incumbent in a state where Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governor's mansion and Mitt Romney won by 100,000 votes last November. She is a top target of Senate Republicans and conservative super-PACs, and when she comes up for re-election next fall she will have to contend with a midterm electorate that's more conservative than the one that elected her—partly because the midterm electorate is whiter and older, and partly because of soon-to-be enacted laws restricting voting rights.
That's not an ideal electoral climate, but all things considered, it could be worse—North Carolina Republicans could settle on an opponent. Fifteen months before the 2014 election, GOPers in the state are faced with a dilemma. Their only declared candidate has serious baggage—the now-infamous "Motorcycle Abortion Bill," which snuck a set of strict abortion restrictions onto an unrelated provision on motorcycle helmets. The candidates who voters tell pollsters they prefer aren't much better.
"The Republicans have handed Hagan some levers to assist her in [mobilizing] voters," says Ferrel Guillory, the director of the University of North Carolina's Forum on Public Life.
The map doesn't leave much in the way of ambiguity. Over the last century, the coasts and wetlands of South Louisiana have eroded at an alarming rate, largely due to human factors. Barring dramatic action, this isn't expected to change any time soon—rather, it's expected to get worse, with devastating consequences for agriculture, hurricane response, and the environment. So on Tuesday, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East, a state board that was formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, took a dramatic action: It filed a lawsuit against nearly 100 oil, gas, and petrochemical companies it alleges bear collective responsibility for the sinking of South Louisiana.
"Racing to extract the region's resources, it has created an extensive network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals that slashes the coastline at every angle," the petition contends. "This canal network is a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction."
The board's demands for the companies, which include giants like BP and Exxon, are extensive: They'd like the energy industry to essentially hit Control-Z on their past activities, including land restoration projects, re-vegetation, and reef creation. "What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner."
But that leaves open the question of whether a massive lawsuit is the best way to go about stopping erosion. On Twitter, Garret Graves, the head of Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, dismissed the suit as the work of a "greedy trial lawyer" who "[h]as no business litigating coastal issues" and ignores the culpability of the Army Corps of Engineers. (Ironically, John Barry, the flood board's vice president, authored one of the great deconstructions of the Corps' legacy in South Louisiana.):
All things considered, the relocation of the Segway Polo World Cup from Lebanon to Washington, DC, ranks pretty low on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's list of crimes. "The polite way of saying it—the PC way of saying it—is the situation with the Syrians," explains Kelly Davies, chief operating operator for Ijma3, the Arab technology firm that's sponsoring the event, when I ask how the world's most prestigious tournament for people playing polo on Segways ended up on a solitary patch of field turf at Gallaudet University, the nation's leading institute of higher learning for the deaf.
"The issue is Syria."
Segway polo works a lot like regular polo, except instead of riding horses, the players are on Segways, and instead of evoking glamorous images of a centuries-old aristocratic tradition, the players are on Segways. Billed as the invention that would change the course of mankind when it was unveiled in 2001, the Segway has instead fallen into more of a niche market, used primarily for tour groups and the tech-obsessed. It's also been hampered by a string of bad publicity. President George W. Bush famously fell off of one, and three years ago, James Heselden, the company's owner, died after he lost control of his scooter and fell off a cliff.
The Segway Polo World Cup features nine teams from five countries—Germany, Sweden, the United States, Lebanon, and Barbados. The winner receives a trophy called the Woz Cup, in honor of the sport's creator, former Apple computer guru Steve Wozniak. Although notably absent, Wozniak, who is known simply as "The Woz," is referenced in almost every conversation I have at the world cup, sometimes in the first sentence. Segway polo players tend to describe their attachment to the game in terms of degrees of separation from the Woz.
On the field, the action is spirited. "I'll be honest, when I saw the Segway was invented I thought, 'Wow, this will make lazy people lazier,'" admits Jennifer Sandserson, the event coordinator, on Monday evening. (Segways polo players typically work up a sweat over the course of the game, but to Sanderson's point, upon the conclusion of a Sunday evening game, one of the American players did yell "Nap time!") But Sanderson has been won over in the last few days. "Oh my God, the European players and the Lebanese and the Barbados players they take this so seriously as if it's their whole career!"
New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich's new book, This Town, is in many ways a story about Washington, DC's obsession with itself. So it shouldn't come as a total surprise that one of the book's biggest targets, Politico, has been both its biggest critic and its biggest promoter. Since April, the outlet has published, by my count, 17 stories and items on the book, ranging from video segments to photo galleries to stinging critiques of This Town's cultural critiques.
It started in April, when Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei launched a preemptive salvo against Leibovich, whom they characterize as "at once a supremely confident and strangely self-conscious writer." The duo known as VandeAllen wrote: "we thought we'd have some fun and do some reporting on his reporting on our friends, sources and subjects to find out who else should worry most about his book." The story was accompanied by a video segment featuring the two reporters discussing Leibovich's "incest book*," with Vandehei noting that "if someone chronicled all the silly things I've said in the last 15 years, it would be a hoot!" There was also a slideshow of the suspected main characters of This Town, which included five people, one of whom was Leibovich. Their article was featured in Allen's daily tip-sheet, Playbook—"Not out till July, but everyone's talking."
In July, as the book's publication date neared, Politico flooded the zone. On July 3, media reporter Dylan Byers wrote that a bookstore had mistakenly begun selling copies of the "highly anticipated book about the way things work in Washington, D.C." two weeks early. Later that day, he scooped that the Times would excerpt a portion of the book, which "is expected to unearth some unsavory details about key Beltway players, including super-lawyer Robert Barnett, media-insider Tammy Haddad, various former Obama aides and POLITICO's own Mike Allen." Byers' review that night noted that "Leibovich is quoted as referring to [Politico] in the book as 'the caffeinated trade site,' 'the emerging company-town organ for Political Washington,' and 'an organization of healthy self-regard.'" The following day, Allen covered the same ground, while quoting generously:
Politico often gets blamed for defining down and amping up political news today. The 'haters,' as Politico's editors call their critics, are often the same Washington insiders whom the publication reports on – and who read the thing religiously… Politico is an organization of healthy self-regard.
On July 5th, Allen quoted 985 words of Leibovich's forthcoming New York Times Magazine excerpt (previously reported in Politico), and colleague Mackenzie Weinger compiled a guide to "Who's up, down in 'This Town'" which notes that Allen "is cast as an 'enabler' of journalistic groupthink, according to the Post's review." Another story that day flagged a list of talking points produced by the White House on top aide Valerie Jarrett. Byers took on a New York Times review which had generated controversy in this town for its suggestion that Washington has neither good pizza nor delicious sandwiches (it has both, but let's not do this again). After a long weekend, he revisited the subject, concluding that This Town demonstrates the need for another Tim Russert "not just to make The Club feel better, but to improve its standing with the rest of nation."
Tuesday was a new day, which meant a new video of Leibovich discussing his book with reporter Lois Romano, who pressed him on whether he'd broken any "unspoken code" by reporting on the people he rubbed elbows with in social settings. On Wednesday, Allen flagged a piece by the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone, which noted that "VandeHei is mentioned 16 times in the book, more than the aforementioned 17 Times editors, reporters and columnists combined." By Thursday, Romano's interview had been converted into a think piece, excerpted in Playbook, about the chilling effect of This Town on the social scene of "a town that shuns wannabes and impostors"—a previously unknown stereotype of Washington, DC.
Lest you think Politico has reached peak self-obsession, though, consider this: the book just came out on Tuesday.
Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry has spent much of the last year convincing companies to relocate their businesses to the Lone Star State on the promise of low taxes, few regulations, and tens of millions of dollars in incentives (provided he likes your product). First he targeted Californians, prompting Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to dismiss the ad campaign as a "fart." Then he traveled to Illinois, where one state business leader likened him to a Roman emperor. His newest target is New York:
According to Perry, the state's crimes are plain: "Higher taxes, stifling regulations—bureaucrats telling you whether you can even drink a Big Gulp," he says, referencing Mayor Michael Bloomberg's scuttled regulations on soda serving sizes. And indeed, Texans feel passionately about their Big Gulps. In 2011, the Austin American-Statesman profiled Paul Sunby, an environmental consultant who was raising awareness of what he had concluded was a creeping reduction in the size of super-huge sodas, from 44 oz. to 40.
Perry is not alone when it comes to Republican politicians and Big Gulps. At the Conservative Political Action conference in March, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin drank from a 7-11 Big Gulp from the stage to demonstrate her party's commitment to freedom: "Bloomberg is not around, our Big Gulps are safe. We're cool. Shoot, it's just pop with low-cal ice-cubes in it."
In April, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer posted a Facebook photo of herself sipping a Double Gulp in Manhattan: "After walking around New York City today, I stopped to enjoy a refreshing and extra large Double Gulp from 7 11. Cheers Mayor Mike Bloomberg! #freedom"
In March Texas Sen. Ted Cruz introduced the "Bloomberg Big Gulp Amendment" to protect the sanctity of super-huge soda. In February, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul reflected on his visit to New York City in an interview with Sean Hannity: "I was more worried about the Big Gulp—it was a 16 ounce drink and afraid your mayor is going to arrest me."
Here's the thing, though: Big Gulps are still perfectly legal. So are regular Gulps, Super Gulps, and Double Big Gulps—which, ironically, are only equivalent to about 1.6 Big Gulps. This is America after all. And they were never banned in the first place, because Bloomberg's restrictions on the size of soft drinks only applied to certain venues, like movie theaters. You could always buy a Big Gulp, provided you were willing to deal with the consequences of consuming one, which is, let's face it, kind of gross. Good God, that's a lot to put your body through just to make a weird political point your staff could have just fact-checked first.
So, invite New Yorkers to move to your state if you want. (Although you might want to deregulate vaginas first.) But for the love of God, stop talking about Big Gulps.