Kevin Drum

Will America's True Conservatives Please Stand Up?

| Mon Oct. 26, 2015 9:58 AM EDT

Here is America's conservative movement in action:

Things may never be the same for the Freedom Caucus after most of its members moved last week to support Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as the next House speaker. Suddenly, they may not be conservative enough for some in the party.

....The anger over Ryan’s ascent has been fueled by voices across the conservative media landscape. On the Internet, sites such as and the Drudge Report have pumped out a steady stream of anti-Ryan stories casting doubt on his record, while such prominent commentators as Erick Erickson, Ann Coulter and Mickey Kaus have sharpened their teeth and urged conservatives to contact lawmakers and tell them to spurn Ryan.

Particularly brutal have been the syndicated talk-radio hosts who have helped foment the anti-establishment outrage that has kept Donald Trump atop the GOP presidential race and forced Jeb Bush, a well-financed mainstream conservative, to undertake a campaign shake-up.

First, the Republican conference in the House wasn't conservative enough, so it moved to the right and put Newt Gingrich in charge. Then that wasn't conservative enough, so the real conservatives restarted the Republican Study Committee. Then that wasn't conservative enough, and the Tea Party was born. Then that wasn't conservative enough, so we got the House Freedom Caucus. Now, even the HFC isn't conservative enough. Only the small band that voted against Paul Ryan are true conservatives.

So that's where we stand. Former conservative darling Paul Ryan is now a crypto-RINO squish, and there are only about a dozen true conservatives left in the House. Maybe they should split off and form the House Super-Duper Freedom Caucus.

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The Very Best of the Benghazi Hearing

| Sun Oct. 25, 2015 11:46 AM EDT

Congressional hearings are partisan by nature. In the abstract, there's nothing wrong with that: the strongest oversight is often performed by political opponents who are motivated to find problems.

So on Thursday, when Republicans on the Benghazi committee peppered Hillary Clinton with questions about why she didn't respond to requests for more security in the months before the 2012 attacks, that was fair game. We can argue about whether they harped on it too much or spent too much time grandstanding, but basically there's nothing wrong with it. Like it or not, grandstanding is part of what politicians do.

But Republicans insist that the committee is solely about Benghazi and a search for the truth, not about attacking Hillary Clinton. So when the questioning and the grandstanding veer off into areas that clearly have no motivation except to smear Clinton, it gives the game away.

Every single Republican on the committee went there on Thursday. What's especially remarkable about this is that they had just endured weeks of criticism on exactly this point. They had a strong incentive to stay tightly focused on Benghazi and how to prevent future attacks on diplomatic facilities. But they didn't. They couldn't help themselves. And with that, they exposed what they really think this committee is about.

Here are each Republican member's greatest hits: the obsessions and lines of questioning that unmask their true purpose. Enjoy.

CHAIRMAN TREY GOWDY was desperate to tie Clinton to her longtime friend and confidant Sidney Blumenthal. Why? Blumenthal is a Clinton loyalist who was a particular thorn in the GOP's side during the scandal hunts of the 90s. So tying Hillary to Blumenthal offered obvious political benefits, despite the fact that he plainly had nothing to do with either diplomatic security in Benghazi or the attacks themselves:

Madam Secretary, regardless of where he ranked in the order of advisers, it is undisputed that a significant number of your e-mails were to or from a Sidney Blumenthal....He worked for the Clinton Foundation....He worked for Media Matters....He worked for Correct the Record.

....And Madam Secretary, he had unfettered access to you....I have this contrast in my mind. A ambassador newly in place. It's a day after an attack on our facility. Your deputy chief of staff is sending him an e-mail from Sidney Blumenthal, asking him to take time to read and react to it. And then to the best of my recollection, that's forwarded to you.

So help us understand how Sidney Blumenthal had that kind of access to you, Madame Secretary, but the ambassador did not.

MICHAEL POMPEO also jumped on the Sidney Blumenthal bandwagon. For obvious reasons, Blumenthal used Clinton's personal email address to contact her, while security professionals in the State Department used official channels. Email records simply tell us nothing about who Clinton did and didn't talk to. But Pompeo was nonetheless determined to accuse Clinton of caring more about her shady friend than she did about security in Benghazi:

Madam Secretary, Mr. Blumenthal wrote you 150 e-mails. It appears from the materials we've read that all of those reached your desk. Can you tell us why security requests from your professionals, the men that you just testified — and which I agree, are incredibly professional, incredibly capable people, trained in the art of keeping us all safe — none of those made it to you.

But a man who was a friend of yours, who had never been to Libya, didn't know much about it, at least that was his testimony, didn't know much about it, every one of those reports that he sent on to you that had to do with situations on the ground in Libya, those made it to your desk. You asked for more of them. You read them. You corresponded with him. And yet the folks that worked for you didn't have the same courtesy.

SUSAN BROOKS spent nearly an entire round of questions asking Clinton why there were so few emails about Libya in 2012. Clinton explained over and over that she conducted very little business via email, but Brooks didn't care. She had spent a lot of time putting together what she thought was a devastating personal attack on Clinton's priorities and personal character:

This pile represents the e-mails that you sent or received about Libya in 2011, from February through December of 2011. [Points to pile of paper.] This pile represents the e-mails you sent or received from early 2012 until the day of the attack. [Points to another pile of paper.] There are 795 e-mails in this pile. We've counted them. There's 67 e-mails in this pile in 2012. And I'm troubled by what I see here.

....When I look at this pile in 2012, I only see a handful of e-mails to you from your senior staff about Benghazi....And I can only conclude by your own records that there was a lack of interest in Libya in 2012.

JIM JORDAN spent an entire round of questioning obsessing about why, in the first few days after the Benghazi attacks, Clinton and others in the Obama administration mentioned a scurrilous anti-Muslim YouTube video as one of the motivations for the attack. The short answer is (a) it was mentioned only briefly during the first week after the attacks, and (b) it really was one of the motivations. But Jordan didn't care. This was his entree to outline his theory of Hillary Clinton as a serial liar:

If there's no evidence for a video-inspired protest, then where did the false narrative start? It started with you, Madam Secretary.

....Here's what I think is going on....A key campaign theme that year was: "GM's alive, bin Laden's dead," Al Qaida's on the run. And now you have a terrorist attack, and it's a terrorist attack in Libya, and it's just 56 days before an election.

You can live with a protest about a video. That won't hurt you. But a terrorist attack will. So you can't be square with the American people. You tell your family it's a terrorist attack, but not the American people. You can tell the president of Libya it's a terrorist attack, but not the American people. And you can tell the Egyptian prime minister it's a terrorist attack, but you can't tell your own people the truth.

PETER ROSKAM had prepared a long line of questioning that turned out to be a tortured attempt to somehow get Hillary to concede that there was such as thing as a "Clinton Doctrine." She never did, but Roskam soldiered on anyway. He'd spent a lot of time on this, and he just had to get it off his chest:

Two months before the end of the Gadhafi regime and you're already planning on how to make your statement dramatic to maximize political gains, isn't that right?....Let me tell you what I think the Clinton doctrine is. I think it's where an opportunity is seized to turn progress in Libya into a political win for Hillary Rodham Clinton, and at the precise moment when things look good, take a victory lap, like on all the Sunday shows three times that year before Gadhafi was killed. And then turn your attention to other things.

MARTHA ROBY was bound and determined to string out a long line of obviously immaterial questions designed solely to establish what a calculating, uncaring person Hillary Clinton is. She started by insisting that Clinton help her individually name each and every person who was still at work when Clinton left for home on the evening of 9/11/2012. Then she moved on to whether Clinton had personally spoken to the survivors of the Benghazi attacks:

ROBY: Your surviving agents were evacuated to Tripoli the morning of the 12th. Did you talk to the survivors either that night or once they arrived in Tripoli?

CLINTON: We did not speak to them directly. We obviously made arrangements for them to be safely evacuated, and then to be transported to a hospital facility that we thought was safe from any potential attacks.

ROBY: Did you talk to them the next day?


ROBY: Did you talk to them later that week?

CLINTON: No, I did not.

ROBY: Did you talk to them when they first got back to the United States?

CLINTON: I did not talk to them until they had had an opportunity to be debriefed and to provide information that would help us understand what happened; help the intelligence community and help the FBI as they were trying to build their case.

ROBY: How would it have harmed the case that they were trying to build for you, secretary of state, just to check in on their well being?

CLINTON: I did check on their well being.

ROBY: No, personally.

CLINTON: Well, I did personally talk with the people who were taking care of them, transporting them....

ROBY: Again, the survivors — when did you talk to the survivors?

CLINTON: I talked to the survivors when they came back to the United States. And one who was for many months in Walter Reed on the telephone.

....ROBY: Your people were on the ground in harm's way and you never had a conversation with them....I think, Mr. Chairman, there's two messages here. I think the first message is the message that you sent to your personnel the night of the attack that you went home. They all stayed there and you didn't go back until the next morning.

I think the second message that is sent is that you used the FBI's inquiry as an excuse not to check in with your agents who were on the ground who survived that horrible night just to ask them how they were.

LYNN WESTMORELAND thought it was damn suspicious that other Secretaries of State had also used private email accounts when they were in office. After all, that conveniently helps Hillary make the case that she wasn't doing anything very unusual. None of this has anything to do with Benghazi, but Westmoreland really, really wanted to offer up his home-brew theory about how that happened:

In August, the State Department met with your attorneys to talk about the lack of the e-mails that they had....Let me tell you what I thought. I think that your attorneys sat down with the State Department and they said, we got a problem. And so, we got to come up with something that this is not just the Secretary having these e-mails in a private server.

So I tell you what let's do. Let's go back and ask Madeleine Albright, who was Secretary of State in 1997, that never even had an e-mail account. Or let's go back and ask, you know, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and me to find all this information. I'm just telling you, it smells — it doesn't smell right.

Lots of People Still Aren't Aware That Obama Wants to Give Them Cheap Health Care

| Sat Oct. 24, 2015 1:09 PM EDT

Covered California, my state's version of Obamacare, announced some discouraging results yesterday. Among the uninsured, lots of people know about the tax penalty for not buying insurance, but a full third have no idea that subsidies are available to reduce the cost of buying coverage. Here's what they're doing about it:

Based on the survey results, as well as a review of research from a wide range of other sources (including those who have enrolled), Covered California has refined its comprehensive outreach campaign aimed at reaching the uninsured in their communities, through Navigator grants to community organizations; support for more than 18,000 Certified Insurance Agents; and promotion of storefronts where consumers can get free, confidential help enrolling.

The outreach campaign will include a new television, radio, digital and outdoor advertising campaign to reach multi-segment, Hispanic, Asian and African-American audiences. Details about the campaign and television ads, the route of the “Spotlight on Coverage” bus tour and new dental coverage will be released next week.

Meh. I have taken the liberty of creating a punchier campaign. Just running this up the ol' flagpole to see if anyone salutes, you understand. Of course, we'll need to rework the website too if we want to create a disruptive culture that appeals to people who like free money. And TV too. I'm thinking of a micro-targeting campaign that uses big data analytics to reach our SES demo, and impacts eyeballs with maximum penetration at minimal cost. And let's not forget social media either. Those guys love free stuff. Let me know what you think.

There's a Big Untapped Market Out There for Insulting Libertarians

| Sat Oct. 24, 2015 11:26 AM EDT

Ah, the mysteries of blogging. Over on the right, you'll notice that a post of mine has been highlighted: "Here's Why Libertarians Are Mostly Men." But why? It's four months old. It's 200 words long. It probably took about 20 minutes to write. It offers up a theory that I pulled out of my ass.

And it has 161,000 Facebook likes. By contrast, my piece on lead and crime—by far the most important and most popular piece I've ever written for the magazine—has 87,000 likes after three years online. This quick post about libertarians is probably the most widely read prose I've ever written in my life.

Fine. My public has spoken. Less research, more Trumpesque insults aimed at libertarians. I'll see what I can do.

IRS Turns Out to Be Big Bureaucracy, Not Terrorist Organization

| Sat Oct. 24, 2015 11:05 AM EDT

Let's check in on the latest in Obama administration tyranny and lawlessness. Hum de hum — oh, hey, look what's buried on page A12 of my LA Times this morning. The Justice Department has finished its investigation into Lois Lerner and her reign of terror at the IRS against hardworking conservative activist groups:

Assistant Atty. Gen. Peter J. Kadzik, who is in charge of congressional relations, told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that “we are closing our investigation and will not seek any criminal charges.”

....“Not a single IRS employee reported any allegation, concern or suspicion that the handling of tax-exempt applications — or any other IRS function — was motivated by political bias, discriminatory intent, or corruption," Kadzik said.

He said Justice had specifically absolved Lerner, who resigned over the allegations, of criminal liability, and found in fact that she was the first official to recognize the problem and to try and correct it.

Kadzik said that their investigation found evidence of mismanagement and institutional inertia, "But poor management is not a crime." I guess that's what they call this kind of organized oppression in Obama's America.

Anyway, I urge everyone to consider this outcome when thinking about Hillary Clinton's email server. Both are "scandals" pushed relentlessly by a right wing that's infuriated over everything related to the Obama administration. Both had some surface plausibility. And both were kind of sexy.

But as usual with these kinds of things—Solyndra, Fast & Furious, Benghazi, Sharyl Attkisson’s computer, etc. etc.—there's really nothing there. Sometimes some bad judgment, sometimes not even that. The fact that Republicans are outraged and have large megaphones to spread that outrage doesn't change this and doesn't justify 24/7 news coverage. So maybe a more temperate approach to these endlessly manufactured right-wing outrages would be appropriate. Just a thought.

Is Mitt Romney Mellowing on Obamacare?

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 2:53 PM EDT

Tom Stemberg, one of the cofounders of Staples, died today. His company was famously funded by Bain Capital, and Stemberg became good friends with Mitt Romney:

Romney recalled that shortly after he was elected, Mr. Stemberg asked him why he ran for governor. Romney said he wanted to help people, and Mr. Stemberg replied that if he really wanted to help, he should give everyone access to health care, which Romney said he hadn’t really considered before.

“Without Tom pushing it, I don’t think we would have had Romneycare,” Romney said. “Without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have Obamacare. So without Tom, a lot of people wouldn’t have health insurance.”

That sure doesn't sound like a guy who's a diehard opponent of Obamacare, does it? I wonder if a decade from now Romney will be taking credit for kickstarting national health care in the United States?

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Friday Cat Blogging - 23 October 2015

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 1:52 PM EDT

In some Eastern religions, we are thought to be trapped in a long cycle of death and rebirth. When you die, you are reborn in another earthly body, moving ever upward as you build up positive karma in previous lives. Eventually, you break free and reach nirvana.

I think this is probably true, and the penultimate state before reaching nirvana is being a housecat that's adopted by humans who mysteriously find themselves compelled to treat the cat as royalty. Proof below. Any being who can attain this much happiness, even for a few moments, obviously has no place to go next but nirvana.

Of Course You Should Go Back in Time and Kill Hitler

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 1:39 PM EDT

For some reason, the New York Times Magazine decided to poll its readers to see if they'd be willing to go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler as a baby. Only 42 percent said yes.

WTF? I assume there are no time travel paradoxes involved here, nor any baroque inventions about how the world actually ends up worse without World War II. Science fiction nerds like me (and lots of you, I assume) love to natter on about stuff like this, but it really doesn't seem like the NYTM's thing. Basically, you get transported back to Hitler's crib in 1889, you shoot him, and a few seconds later you return home. End of story. Would you do it?

I'm not an especially bloodthirsty guy, but hell yes, I'd do it. Sure, maybe World War II would happen anyway, though that's hardly inevitable. Maybe the Holocaust too. But even a reasonable chance of stopping either one of them would be well worth the life of a baby who would otherwise grow up to be a monster. What am I missing here? I wouldn't even hesitate.

Obamacare Can Help Keep People Off Disability

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 1:19 PM EDT

Lydia DePillis tells us today about Paul Khouri, who has a rare and expensive medical condition. After steadily losing hours at his job, he finally lost his health insurance:

So instead of going out and trying to support himself with another job, Khouri took the safer option: Applying for Social Security disability insurance and Medicaid. It was a long process, requiring visits to doctor after doctor. Finally getting approved brought some relief — until he realized that returning to work would bring new complications. If he earned more than about $1,000 every month, he would quickly lose the medical assistance he desperately needed.

“It’s really scary when you’re worried about how much money you can make, because you don’t want to make too much,” Khouri says. “But at the same time, the benefits aren’t enough.” The average federal disability check is about $1,200 a month, which puts people right around the poverty line; Khouri is staying in his parents’ house to save on rent.

The prospect of falling over the “cash cliff,” as the sudden dropoff in disability insurance is known, is part of what’s keeping people with disabilities out of the workforce, despite many programs put in place over the years to reduce that disincentive.

DePillis spins this out as a way of explaining some problems with the Social Security disability program, but this is a little unclear. Khouri was apparently able to get a new job that paid $30,000 per year, but couldn't accept the full salary because he wanted to stay eligible for Medicaid benefits. But he can't be turned down for Obamacare, so why not sign up for that? With an expensive condition, Khouri would likely pay the full $2,000 annual premium plus the $6,600 out-of-pocket max every year, but that would still leave him with $21,400. Even after taxes, this is more than he gets from disability payments, and he wouldn't have to limit his future promotions.

Maybe I'm missing something. It's true that Medicaid is more reliable, since you can't lose it regardless of whether you have any income. More generally, this stuff can be tricky and there are sometimes details that aren't obvious from the outside. Still, while a better, more universal health care system would certainly help here, even Obamacare seems like it would help a lot.

Hurricane Patricia Could Devastate Mexico for Decades

| Fri Oct. 23, 2015 12:21 PM EDT

I'm neither a weather blogger nor a natural disaster blogger, but holy cow: Hurricane Patricia is set to absolutely devastate Mexico in a few hours. Brad Plumer provides the basics:

The storm's current size is shocking. Just 30 hours ago, Patricia was an ordinary hurricane with maximum winds of 60 miles per hour. Since then, Patricia has grown into a monster Category 5 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds nearing 200 miles per hour. The current storm appears to be unprecedented in the historical record.

Naturally, Drudge is going nuts, and with good reason. Plumer directs us to a study of long-term hurricane damage to a region's economy, and Patricia could be unbelievably destructive:

According to the table on the left, a big hurricane can decrease income by 14.9 percent 20 years later. But there's also this: "The largest event in our sample (78.3 m/s) is estimated to have reduced long-run GDP by 29.8%." Patricia is currently running at about 90 meters per second. If it stays this powerful, the chart on the right suggests it could kill thousands and reduce the GDP of the Mexican coast west of Mexico City by 30-40 percent for decades.