Ringside

Ringside Seat: Obama's Plan B on Plan B

Although one can argue that the American culture war dates all the way back to the days before we were even our own country, these days we can trace most of our hot-button issues to the 1960s, when the hippies and the squares faced off. Eventually, most of the particular issues about which people argued were resolved, and in the liberals' favor. The occasional dissenter not withstanding, there's a broad agreement that the South was wrong about civil rights, the Vietnam War was a bad idea, and women deserve the same rights as men. But the cultural resentments still burn, and they can still be expressed in our policies, not only by Republicans but by Democrats afraid of Republicans. Consider, for instance, the Obama administration's position on whether Plan B, the "morning after" contraceptive pill, should be sold over the counter to any woman or girl who needs it. Today, the administration announced that after suffering multiple defeats in the courts, it is finally dropping its effort...

Ringside Seat: USA Patriot Capitalists

If you read the 2012 annual report from Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that used to employ Edward Snowden, now the world's most famous leaker, you'll see that good news abounds. The company made $240 million in profits on a healthy $5.86 billion in revenue last year. Though "[t]he United States federal government is in a period of significant uncertainty, characterized by funding challenges and budget cuts," rest assured, investors, because "demand remains high for Booz Allen's capabilities and expertise across our diverse portfolio of clients." Granted, "diverse" may be a bit of an overstatement, since a reported 98 percent of the company's revenue comes from federal-government contracts. Booz Allen is just part of a huge and enormously profitable industry that has grown up in the last decade or so, a period that saw the passage of the USA Patriot Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the expansion of the National Security Agency's powers, and a move to...

Ringside Seat: Frankie Muniz's Career Is Dead, Susan Rice's Is Alive

Fortunes can change fast—just ask Susan Rice. Nine months ago, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was perfectly situated and considered next in line for secretary of State. Then, after attacks in Benghazi left four dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Rice found herself persona non grata. Her crime? Going on the Sunday morning talk show network to run through her understanding of the events as caused by a mob, rather than the work of terrorists. Republicans argued she was complicit in a cover-up to help the president’s re-election. Since then, an abundance of evidence has shown that Rice had almost nothing to do with the debate between the CIA and the State Department over how to characterize the attacks. But when Rice publicly rescinded her name from consideration for secretary of state, the GOP claimed victory. But Rice’s prospects are suddenly looking up—way, way up. Obama announced today that he would be appointing her as his National Security Agency advisor. The...

Ringside Seat: Following the Law Is an Impeachable Offense

Today, President Obama continued his reign of terror with an act of tyranny that would have made old Joe Stalin blush. If you can believe it, he nominated three people to fill the vacant seats on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, often called the second most important court in the land. The gall! You might say that it's the president's duty under the Constitution to appoint judges, but that's not how Republicans see it. These appointments are just part of Barack Obama's sinister scheme to remake this great country according to his twisted socialist vision. "It's hard to imagine the rationale for nominating three judges at once for this court given the many vacant emergency seats across the country, unless your goal is to pack the court to advance a certain policy agenda," said Iowa senator and increasingly crotchety grump Chuck Grassley. Yes indeed, "pack the court," by appointing people to fill vacant judgeships. Just like every president has before him. Obama has...

Ringside Seat: With Young Voters, GOP Pedals Backward

When a party suffers electoral losses, it often engages in a particular kind of internal debate. On one side are those who say, "We have to come up with some new policies to appeal to the voters who are rejecting us." On the other side are those who say, "The policies aren't the problem—we need to communicate better." Maybe it's the substance, or maybe it's the packaging. But what if it's both ? What if voters dislike you not only because of what you're advocating, but of how you talk to them and who you are to boot? That may be what Republicans are facing. The Winston Group, a prominent GOP polling firm, just released a focus group study of millennial voters to see what they think about issues and how they view Republicans. "The young 'winnable' Obama voters were asked to say what words came to mind when they heard 'Republican Party.' The responses were brutal: closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned," the report said. Not exactly a shock, but nor is it something Republicans will...

Ringside Seat: Worthwhile Canadian Scandal

We Americans tend to think of Canadians as almost exactly like us, except less interesting. They're polite and considerate, they don't start wars, and though they can be rather brutal if you put them on ice and give them a hockey stick, on the whole, Canada is sort of the Ned Flanders of North America. There's a reason many believe that the most boring headline ever to appear in an American newspaper is "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative," which adorned a 1986 New York Times column by Flora Lewis. But that was before we met Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto. Ford is currently embroiled in a scandal that makes our own piddling controversies look about as dull as that headline. Ford was already a somewhat volatile politician who bears a remarkable physical resemblance to the late comedian Chris Farley (or perhaps John Candy, who was himself Canadian). Then reports emerged that there was a video of Ford smoking crack, which he denied, although there are now-famous pictures of Ford posing with...

Ringside Seat: There's a Reason It's the "First" Amendment

Of all the scandalettes currently limping around Washington, the one about the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit of leakers, which some argue has led to a near-criminalization of certain kinds of news gathering, has the distinction of being the least compelling to the public and the most compelling to journalists. When Quinnipiac asked respondents which of the three controversies was most important, only 15 percent picked the seizure of journalists' phone records. Not surprisingly, reporters think it's quite important, yet not all that surprising, given how aggressive the Obama administration has been in prosecuting leakers. Subpoenaing reporters' phone records and tracking their movements was not what people imagined the Obama administration would do when it came into office in 2009 promising a new era of transparency. So Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to mend fences by inviting some elite news organizations to come talk with him about how the Justice Department...

Ringside Seat: There's a Reason It's the "First" Amendment

Why the Justice Deparment needs some guidelines for how to approach leaks and reporters

Of all the scandalettes currently limping around Washington, the one about the Obama administration's aggressive pursuit of leakers, which some argue has led to a near-criminalization of certain kinds of news gathering, has the distinction of being the least compelling to the public and the most compelling to journalists. When Quinnipiac asked respondents which of the three controversies was most important, only 15 percent picked the seizure of journalists' phone records. Not surprisingly, reporters think it's quite important, yet not all that surprising, given how aggressive the Obama administration has been in prosecuting leakers. Subpoenaing reporters' phone records and tracking their movements was not what people imagined the Obama administration would do when it came into office in 2009 promising a new era of transparency. So Attorney General Eric Holder is trying to mend fences by inviting some elite news organizations to come talk with him about how the Justice Department...

Ringside Seat: Virginia Is Not for Governors

There's a plethora of reasons why Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s chances are lousy in Virginia's off-year gubernatorial election. It's not just the fact that demographics and history stand against him . Few people in any state are enthusiastic about voting for dedicated party operators, and McAuliffe is exactly that—a quintessential partisan Democrat with a history in fundraising, the sleaziest part of partisan politics.Which does a lot to account for the latest survey from Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling, in which only 29 percent of Virginia voters have a favorable opinion of McAuliffe and his candidacy, compared to 33 percent who have a negative one. But here’s the rub: Even more Virginians dislike the Republican nominee, Ken Cuccinelli. Forty-four percent have an unfavorable opinion of the attorney general, and among independents—the crucial demographic in Virginia—that number rises to 51 percent. Only 25 percent of independents have a favorable opinion of Cuccinelli, for...

Ringside Seat: McCain Does Syria

On a spring day six years ago, John McCain and some other members of Congress took a stroll through a Baghdad market, showing Americans how stable and secure life in Iraq had become. Noting that he left his helmet (though not his flak jacket) back in the Humvee, McCain waxed rhapsodic to reporters about how safe he felt. His colleague, then-representative Mike Pence, said it reminded him of a "normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime." They didn't mention that they were accompanied by 100 troops, three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships, just in case, one supposes, a rambunctious but good-hearted Iraqi street urchin tried to pick their pockets. Well he's at it again, heading to a war zone for a photo op that can't possibly have anything to do with the senator's desire for self-aggrandizement. Apparently feeling that things are not moving precipitously enough in the direction of another Middle Eastern war for America to enter, over the weekend McCain gathered up a...

Ringside Seat: Arrested Governance

The Internal Revenue Service was closed today, as employees were furloughed due to sequestration's budget cuts. Conservatives found this to be an occasion for side-splitting humor; Sarah Palin, for example, tweeted, "The IRS is closed today, feel free to use your phones." Get it, because the IRS was tapping … um … well, never mind. In any case, today is a reminder that this scandal could be an opportunity for reform that clarifies the law on political and non-political groups, leads to a greater professionalization of the agency, and makes future misconduct less likely. Or it could wind up being just the opposite. As Kevin Drum reminded us yesterday, one of the low moments of the Gingrich years in Congress was a series of hearings meant to expose IRS wrongdoing, in which horror stories of the agency's abuse of taxpayers were told to lawmakers eager to hear them. In response, the IRS's authority was curtailed and its budget slashed. The predictable consequence was less enforcement of...

Ringside Seat: App That

In the wake of a report from a Senate subcommittee showing that Apple avoids billions of dollars in taxes by routing a huge portion of its income through an Ireland-based subsidiary that has neither employees nor offices in Ireland, Apple CEO Tim Cook went before the Senate today to explain just why Apple does so well on April 15. The senators barely laid a glove on him. A number of them did, however, explain how much they love Apple's products, and one made a request for some tech support. "What I really wanted to ask is why the hell I have to keep updating the apps on my iPhone all the time?" asked John McCain. Though Cook had no trouble parrying the few tough questions that came his way, Rand Paul, in high dudgeon, rose to Apple's defense. "I'm offended by a $4 trillion government bullying, berating, and badgering one of America's greatest success stories," Paul huffed. "What we really need to do is to apologize to Apple." In fairness, Apple is far from the worst tax-avoider in...

Ringside Seat: Georgia on Their Mind, Causing an Epic Migraine

In the last couple of days, there have been a number of articles (see here or here ) about how Republicans, having finally gotten something that resembles an Obama administration scandal, are already worried about overplaying their hand. The sober ones are concerned they might make more of things than the facts merit, lest their nuttiest colleagues grab the spotlight, and head down a dangerous road as they did in 1998. But if there's anything we've learned in the last few years, it's that party leaders may exert influence, but only to a degree; a political party is more like a herd of wild animals than a single beast that can be roped and brought to heel. Just witness the clown show that is the Georgia Republican primary for a Senate seat coming up next year due to the retirement of Saxby Chambliss. Today it got one more participant, former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel, who came to national prominence when she was reported to be behind the Susan G. Komen Foundation's...

Ringside Seat: NObamacare or Bust

As any parent knows, small children often believe that when you've been denied something you want, repeating your request over and over will eventually produce the result you're after. It works on occasion, if the stakes are low enough, the parents are weak of will, and the child is particularly exasperating. Fortunately, this behavior usually disappears around age eight or nine. Today, President Barack Obama held a joint press conference with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a short breather from their talks on how to deal with a little problem called Syria. Not, however, if you're the Republican caucus of the House of Representatives, a group of people who are, all evidence to the contrary, full-grown adults. Today, House Republicans cleared their schedule for the eagerly awaited 37th vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act (or 38th vote, by some counts—it's hard to keep track). Was 36 not enough? Heavens, no. As Joshua Green wrote , "At this point, repealing the health...

Ringside Seat: Yeah, Functioning Government!

Just this evening, the Senate voted to confirm Marilyn Tavenner as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the many appointed positions in the federal government, this one doesn’t sound exciting. And it isn’t. But it is important. As head of CMS, Tavenner will be responsible for overseeing both programs and implementing large parts of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s health care reform law. It’s a critical position, and it’s the first time since 2006 that it has been filled. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been leadership—Tavenner herself has been acting director since December 2011—but the Senate has not confirmed a director since 2006, when Mark McClellan resigned during George W. Bush’s second term. And it’s not as if the administration hasn’t tried to get a nominee confirmed—President Obama nominated Donald Berwick, and when the Senate refused to act, installed him via a recess appointment which expired two years ago. Why note the Senate’s...

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