Tag Archives: Newsweek

Choo Choo Canned Heat Collectivism

George Will in Newsweek:

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Time was, the progressive cry was “Workers of the world unite!” or “Power to the people!” Now it is less resonant: “All aboard!”

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

One way of looking at high-speed rail systems is that they are a means by which distant communities get connected, economic development and jobs are fostered, and workers with a diverse array of marketable skills can improve their mobility and thus their employment prospects. But another way of looking at high-speed rail is that it’s some nonsense that came to a bunch of hippies as they tripped balls at a Canned Heat concert. That’s my takeaway with George Will’s latest grapple-with-the-real-world session, in which he attempts to figure out “Why liberals love trains.” It’s “Matrix” deep, yo

Sarah Goodyear at Grist:

In case you’re wondering about the provenance of that “collectivism” word — well, collectivism was a favorite demon of Ayn Rand, right-wing philosopher and the Ur-mother of libertarianism in the United States. Here’s a typical usage, from The Objectivist Newsletter of May 1962 (via the Ayn Rand Lexicon):

The political philosophy of collectivism is based on a view of man as a congenital incompetent, a helpless, mindless creature who must be fooled and ruled by a special elite with some unspecified claim to superior wisdom and a lust for power.

“Collectivism” also recalls some of the very worst communist ideas, including the “collectivization” of farms in the Stalinist Soviet Union — among the great atrocities of the 20th century (a crowded category).

Which makes it a pretty strong term to be throwing around when it comes to funding different modes of transportation in 21st-century America. But Will persists with his formulation:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they — unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted — are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

A couple of things here. First off, automobiles are not the only vehicles capable of encouraging “delusions of adequacy.” Bicycles, one might argue, are a lot more capable of encouraging such delusions — fueled as they are entirely by the body of the “unscripted” individual. Which is perhaps why they seem to enrage people in cars, who have to worry about gasoline and the like, so very much.

Second, let’s talk about modern air travel. What mode of transport is more capable of sapping the human sense of possibility, more confining of the untrammeled human spirit? Perhaps before Will goes after high-speed rail, he should call for the defunding of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Paul Krugman:

As Sarah Goodyear at Grist says, trains are a lot more empowering and individualistic than planes — and planes, not cars, are the main alternative to high-speed rail.

And there’s the bit about rail as an antiquated technology; try saying that after riding the Shanghai Maglev.

But anyway, it’s amazing to see Will — who is not a stupid man — embracing the sinister progressives-hate-your-freedom line, more or less right out of Atlas Shrugged; with the extra irony, of course, that John Galt’s significant other ran, well, a railroad.

Matthew Yglesias:

But I do think this is a good look into the psychology of conservatives. Maybe high-speed rail is a waste of money and maybe it isn’t. I think it’s plausible to say we should just spend the cash on better regular mass transit or whatever. But I’ve long struggled to explain the right-wing’s affection for status quo American policies that amount to massive subsidization of the automobile. A small slice of that is spending on roads. A much larger amount is minimum lot size rules, parking mandates, the whole shebang. It’s a bit odd, and my instinct had been to say that this just goes to show that conservatism has nothing to do with free markets and everything to do with the identity politics of middle aged white suburban conformists. But Will offers another explanation here. Automobile use is not a sign of the free market, but an actual cause of it. Driving inculcates habits of freedom, and thus coercive pro-car regulations are, in a way, freedom-promoting.

More Krugman:

A bit more on this subject — not serious, just a personal observation after a long hard day of reading student applications. (My suggestion that we reject all applicants claiming to be “passionate” about their plans was rejected, but with obvious reluctance.)

Anyway, my experience is that of the three modes of mechanized transport I use, trains are by far the most liberating. Planes are awful: waiting to clear security, then having to sit with your electronics turned off during takeoff and landing, no place to go if you want to get up in any case. Cars — well, even aside from traffic jams (tell me how much freedom you experience waiting for an hour in line at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel), the thing about cars is that you have to drive them, which kind of limits other stuff.

But on a train I can read, listen to music, use my aircard to surf the web, get up and walk to the cafe car for some Amfood; oh, and I’m not restricted by the War on Liquids. When I can, I prefer to take the train even if it takes a couple of hours more, say to get to Boston, because it’s much higher-quality time.

Yes, your choices are limited by the available trains; if I wanted to take a train from beautiful downtown Trenton to DC tomorrow, I’d be restricted to one of 21 trains, leaving roughly once an hour if not more often, whereas if I wanted to drive I could leave any time I wanted. Big deal.

And don’t get me started on how much more freedom of movement I feel in New York, with subways taking you almost everywhere, than in, say, LA, where you constantly have to worry about parking and traffic.

So if trains represent soulless collectivism, count me in.

Atrios:

As Krugman says, trains really are the best way to travel, at least for travel times that are roughly competitive with air travel. That fact doesn’t automatically mean that therefore we should spend huge amounts of public money on it, but, you know, it does mean that people like trains for more reasons than their insidious collectivist promotion.

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Manypeoplehave, for good reason, taken their knocks at syndicated columnist William F. George’s ludicrous column about trains, with particular emphasis on the substantial amount of government subsidies that facilitate “individualistic” car travel.    In addition, I’d note that the flying experience is a good example of Republican “freedom.”   For some distances flying is of course necessary and useful, although a good high-speed train network would reduce the number of routes that make flying more practical. For the ordinary person, however, flying is a miserable experience — more waiting in line than a Soviet supermarket during a recession, the potentially humiliating security theater, and incredibly cramped and uncomfortable travel.     But — and here’s the rub — people as affluent as Will can buy their way out of the worst aspects of flying, with separate security lines, private lounges, and first-class seating.   With trains, on the other hand, the experience for the ordinary person is infinitely superior but the affluent can obtain an only marginally better experience.   So you can see why Will hates it.   The fact that trains might represent more meaningful freedom for you isn’t his problem.

More Krugman:

Some of the comments on my various pro-train posts have been along the lines of “Oh yeah, try taking the train to Los Angeles.” But that, of course, misses the point.

I think about the trains/planes comparison something like this: planes go much faster, and will continue to go faster even if we get high-speed rail; but there are some costs associated with a plane trip that can be avoided or minimized on a rail trip, and those costs are the same whether it’s a transcontinental flight or a hop halfway up or down the Northeast Corridor. You have to get to the airport at one end, and get from it at the other, which is a bigger issue, usually, than getting to and from train stations that are already in the city center. You have to wait on security lines. You have to spend more time boarding. So if we look just at travel time, it looks like this:

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Suppose that I put those fixed costs at 2 hours; suppose that planes fly at 500 miles an hour; and suppose that we got TGV-type trains that went 200 miles an hour. Then the crossover point would be at 667 miles. It would still be much faster to take planes across the continent — but not between Boston and DC, or between SF and LA. Add in my personal preference for train travel, and I might be willing to train it to Chicago, maybe, but not to Texas.

Now, if we got vacuum maglevs

More Yglesias:

I endorse Krugman’s analysis, but in some ways I think the fact that you can’t get to LA on a train actually is the point. You can’t take the train from New York to Los Angeles. You can’t drive from New York to Los Angeles. You need an airplane. But LaGuardia Airport has limited runway capacity and many daily flights to Boston. Clearly, though, you can take a train from New York to Boston. So money spent on improving the speed and passenger capacity of NYC-Boston train links is, among other things, a way to improve New York’s air links to the West Coast.

Now a separate question is whether there’s any feasible way to actually do this in a country that doesn’t have a French (or Chinese) level of central political authority empowered to build straight tracks through people’s suburban backyards. The answer seems to be “no,” but the potential gains from greater rail capacity in the northeast are large and would (via airplanes) spill over into the rest of the country.

More Goodyear:

In the dark days immediately after 9/11, Will seems to have had a revelation about how a certain mode of transportation could help our nation be stronger and more secure. In an Oct. 1, 2001 column syndicated in the Jewish World Review, Will recommended three steps in response to the attack that the nation had just sustained. First, buy more B-2 bombers. Second, cut corporate taxes. And third? Let Will speak for himself (emphasis mine):

Third, build high-speed rail service.

Two months ago this columnist wrote: “A government study concludes that for trips of 500 miles or less — a majority of flights; 40 percent are of 300 miles or less — automotive travel is as fast or faster than air travel, door to door. Columnist Robert Kuttner sensibly says that fact strengthens the case for high-speed trains. If such trains replaced air shuttles in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, Kuttner says that would free about 60 takeoff and landing slots per hour.”

Thinning air traffic in the Boston-New York-Washington air corridor has acquired new urgency. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker essay on the deadly dialectic between the technological advances in making air travel safer and the adaptations to these advances by terrorists.

“Airport-security measures,” writes Gladwell, “have simply chased out the amateurs and left the clever and the audacious.” This is why, although the number of terrorist attacks has been falling for many years, fatalities from hijackings and bombings have increased. As an Israeli terrorism expert says, “the history of attacks on commercial aviation reveals that new terrorist methods of attack have virtually never been foreseen by security authorities.”

The lesson to be learned is not defeatism. Security improvements can steadily complicate terrorists’ tasks and increase the likelihood of defeating them on the ground. However, shifting more travelers away from the busiest airports to trains would reduce the number of flights that have to be protected and the number of sensitive judgments that have to be made, on the spot, quickly, about individual travelers. Congress should not adjourn without funding the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

Now that it’s a Democratic administration advocating for rail, Will sees it not as a sensible solution for moving people from one place to another, but instead as a tool to control an unsuspecting populace:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they — unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted — are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

In his recent screed against rail, Will explicitly dismissed arguments that it would be good for national security. He also didn’t mention air travel. Maybe that would have reminded him of what he himself wrote nearly 10 years ago.

David Weigel:

Good get, but if we’re going to be talking about stupid ideas people had right after 9/11, we’ll be here all day. Will’s rail fetish was a passing fancy, and since then he’s come around to the conservative consensus that rail can never, ever work as a replacement for air travel, so rail projects are essentially boondoggles.

This is an odd discussion to have as the Atlas Shrugged movie comes out. The book and the film absolutely fetishize rail; the film makes it clear that rail will become necessary once gas starts to really run out. And this is something liberal rail adherents point out, too. But I don’t see conservatives coming around to HSR, which needs a massive manpower and financial and land commitment to get going, outside of that sort of crisis thinking.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

This isn’t to play “gotcha,” as much as it is to note a simple fact about our world: We’re all partisans, whether we admit it or not. Reason’s opposition to the individual mandate has almost nothing to do with the substance of what is truly a center-right policy and everything to do with current political circumstances. The mandate was implemented by a Democrat. Reason, as a right-libertarian institution, is part of the conservative opposition to the liberal president. Likewise, Will’s opposition to high-speed rail is purely a function of partisan politics.

This isn’t a bad thing. Yes, partisanship can be taken too far and veer into ideological blindness, but, in general, it is a useful way of organizing our thoughts on policies and politics. Indeed, it’s how most voters process political information. Political commentary would be much more bearable if pundits were willing to accept the partisan origins of their biases and skepticism, instead of playing a game where we pretend to be open-minded observers.  Most are anything but.

Gulliver at The Economist:

Mr Bouie might be overstating the influence of partisanship a bit, and it’s hard for people to know exactly what is driving others’ opinions—or even one’s own. Still, partisanship is certainly a useful frame through which to view both the most ardent opponents and the most passionate defenders of HSR. There is political science research that shows that a president weighing in on one side of a given debate (as Barack Obama has with high-speed rail) dramatically increases political polarization on that issue. Of course, if Mr Bouie’s theory is correct, we should be able to point to some lefty supporters of HSR whose support seems to be driven primarily by partisanship—or even a few who, like Mr Will, have switched positions on the issue. Anyone have a nomination? Let us know in the comments.

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There’s Something About Mittens

David Frum at Frum Forum:

There is an old joke that Wagner’s music is not as bad as it sounds. Something similar can be said of Romney’s campaign economics. Concealed within the triangulation are some very smart ideas. I remain convinced: this man could be a very good conservative president – if conservatives will permit it.

Mickey Kaus at Newsweek

Ross Douthat:

I hear similar things from Romney supporters (or people trying to convince themselves to be Romney supporters) with remarkable frequency. Yes, the argument runs, Romney seems serially insincere, and nearly every position he stakes out comes across as a blatant (and often inconsistent-looking) pander to a conservative electorate that regards him with suspicion. But there are good ideas concealed within the pandering — you just have to know where to look! And in your heart, you know he’s a smart guy who’d make a solid center-right president — wonkish, detail-oriented, sensible on policy, all the rest of it. He’s just a prisoner of the process! And heck, maybe his transparent insincerity is even a virtue: It shows that try as he might, he can’t give himself over completely to the carnival of a primary campaign, because he’s fundamentally too sober and serious to be a carnival barker. (He’s no Palin, is the implication …) Even when he’s mid-pander, you always know that he knows that it’s all just a freak show, and you can always sense that he’d rather be at a policy seminar somewhere, instead of just forking red meat. There’s a highly competent chief executive trapped inside his campaign persona, in other words, and the only way to liberate him is to put him in the White House!

This is an … unusual argument. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong: There were probably people who said the same thing about George H.W. Bush during his lackluster 1988 race — and he did turn out to be a reasonably good president, all things considered. But there’s still an element of absurdity about it. I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins. In the last couple years, Romney has taken high-profile positions that I agree with (opposing the G.M. bailout), high-profile positions that I disagree with (opposing the START Treaty), and high-profile positions on issues I’m uncertain about (the current tax deal). But because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.

Frum responds to Douthat:

I sometimes imagine that Romney approaches politics in the same spirit that the CEO of Darden Restaurants approaches cuisine. Darden owns Olive Garden, Longhorn steakhouses, and Red Lobster among other chains. Now suppose that Darden’s data show a decline in demand for mid-priced steak restaurants and a rising response to Italian family dining. Suppose they convert some of their Longhorn outlets to Olive Gardens. Is that “flip-flopping”? Or is that giving people what they want for their money?

Likewise, the “pro-choice” concept met public demand so long as Romney Inc. was a Boston-based senatorship and governorship-seeking enterprise. But now Romney Inc. is expanding to a national brand, with important new growth opportunities in Iowa and South Carolina. A new concept is accordingly required to serve these new markets. Again: this is not flip-flopping. It is customer service.

You may say: But what does Romney think on the inside? Which of his positions is the “real” Romney? I’d answer that question with another question. Suppose an Olive Garden customer returns to the kitchen a plate of fettuccine alfredo, complaining the pasta is overcooked. What should the manager do? Say “I disagree”? Explain that it’s a core conviction to cook pasta to a certain specified number of minutes and seconds, and if the customer doesn’t like it, she’s welcome to take her patronage elsewhere? No! It doesn’t matter what the manager “really” thinks. What matters is satisfying each and every customer who walks through the door to the very best of the manager’s ability.

Ross Douthat fails to understand that meeting customer expectations is itself a principle!

Ezra Klein:

I enjoyed this analogy, but it doesn’t work. The presidency carries a four-year lock-in, while the Olive Garden doesn’t. Put it this way: If going to the Olive Garden meant only eating at the Olive Garden for the next four years, it’d be a real problem if they lured you in with pasta and breadsticks and then, three months later, turned the place into a hookah bar that served only salmon burgers. Some people might find that to be an improvement, and some people might not, but that’s not the point: A fishy hookah bar isn’t what you signed up for.

Frum is right that customer service can be a principle in and of itself. And I’d be really interested to see a presidential candidate promise to better represent the people by explicitly using polls to steer his or her presidency. But that’s not what Romney is promising. He’s promising to do certain things, and uphold certain values, when in office. If he’s lying about that, it’s not customer service. It’s betrayal yoked to a four-year contract.

Matthew Yglesias:

Ezra Klein points out some problems with this line of thought. But I think the real issue here has to do with character. The executives of Darden Restaurants are basically trying to make money. And so are the owners of the firm. And that’s fine. Most of us aren’t so distressed by the idea that the firm is, on some level, a soulless money-making machine. But on this view, Romney is . . . what? A soulless power-seeking machine?

To a large extent our political system is already biased toward promoting power-crazed sociopaths into positions of authority. The public’s aversion to people who appear to have this quality to a greater extent than other high-profile politicians seems very understandable to me. Meanwhile, at the end of the day Ross Douthat is right to say that this still leaves you necessarily puzzled by the question of what a Romney Administration would actually do. Is it so crazy for political activists and pundits to be curious about this?

Daniel Larison:

Something that helps make sense of Romney’s positioning is its largely reactive quality. Despite his past claims that he understands leadership, he never leads on any issue. During the presidential campaign, Romney endorsed granting Detroit a huge subsidy when he thought it might help him in the Michigan primary. Later the same year, he fiercely opposed bailing out Detroit, because he perceived that support for the auto industry was not useful to him. He supported the TARP when that was the default Republican leadership position to take, and has since become a fierce critic of the management of the TARP once he realized that being identified as pro-TARP was politically toxic. The candidate who famously said that he “liked mandates” and has endorsed a mandate as the “conservative position” when he wanted to brag about his achievements cannot abide the individual mandate when it positions him against the health care bill. In other words, he has the ability to position himself for short-term political advantage rather well, but seems to have no notion of how to take one position–whether he “really” believes it or not–and stand by it for more than a year or so if there is some brief advantage to be had in changing positions in the meantime. This is what creates the impression that he has no enduring goal or vision other than the acquisition of political office and influence. All the while, he has the insufferable habit of embracing each and every new position with the zeal of a convert, convinced that he now has the moral authority to denounce anyone who disagrees, and then casually abandoning or neglecting the issue when something else shiny catches his attention.

My guess is that Romney doesn’t “really” have a stand on any of these issues, but what is annoying is not simply Romney’s lack of principle. Many and possibly most politicians are not that deeply committed to principles, and that’s to be expected, but Romney attaches a degree of smugness and sanctimony to the exercise that is genuinely obnoxious. What should be bothersome to his supporters is that his pandering is so impermanent and fleeting that he inspires no confidence that he will be in the same place a year or two from now. Very simply, he can’t be counted on and can’t be trusted.

Andrew Sullivan

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

You may not believe this, but I know how Douthat and Frum feel.

Notwithstanding my liberal beliefs and general affinity for Democratic politicians, I once had very high hopes for Romney as a presidential candidate. He had raw intelligence and management acumen, as his tenure at Bain Consulting demonstrated. In Massachusetts politics, he’d staked out moderate positions, pledging not to interfere with a woman’s right to abortion (in part because a family friend had died after an illegal procedure) and criticizing conservatives like Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson in interviews with gay community newspapers.

Most important of all, Romney had accomplished something meaningful in office, signing the Massachusetts health care reforms. In a profile for TNR, here’s how I described that episode:

Romney’s subsequent work on the health care bill showcased his best qualities–reminiscent, in many ways, of his days at Bain. For advice, he tapped some of the state’s top minds on health–even those, like MIT’s Jonathan Gruber, who had traditionally advised Democrats. For political support, he reached out to traditional champions of expanded coverage, such as former House member John McDonough, turning these would-be adversaries into allies. And, above all, he went into negotiations with an open mind. The result was a bill that had enough support to get all the way through the legislative process. Romney ended up signing the bill in a grand public ceremony on the steps of Fanueil Hall. Standing at his sidewas his old nemesis, Ted Kennedy–who, it turns out, had worked closely with Romney on sealing the deal. “I’m a partisan Democrat, and, in a lot of ways, I think he was a terrible governor,” says one high-ranking legislative staffer who worked on the measure.”But I do give him credit for participating in the health care debate and helping to advance that agenda.”

All of this made me think that Romney was the heir to the tradition of moderate Republicanism that his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, had once championed. During the 1960s, the elder Romney had fought the good fight against the Republicans’ Goldwater wing, urging the party to distance itself from John Birchers and other conservative extremists. The elder Romney never made it as a presidential candidate but maybe the younger Romney would.

Mitt wouldn’t be getting my vote, obviously: He was still pretty conservative, particularly on economic issues. But I thought his problem-solving instincts and apparently sincere interest in public service would serve him well and that, when it was all over, he might end up doing good things in office.

But by early 2007, when I began the reporting of my profile, Romney was in full pander mode–saying whatever it took to win over the Republican base, even if that meant campaigning as precisely the sort of conservative ideologue his father had once disdained:

…if any one moment epitomized the new Mitt Romney, it was his speech before the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in February. There, gathered in one place, were the intellectual and ideological heirs to the conservative movement that first captured control of the Republican Party in the 1960s. But Mitt Romney had not come to carry on his father’s fight against the right wing. He had come, instead, to do what every other aspiring Republican presidential nominee was doing: beg for the group’s approval. After being introduced by Grover Norquist, the conservative activist perhaps most responsible for the radical makeover of government economic policy in the last decade, Romney began his speech by suggesting it was a “good thing” the crowd would soon hear from Ann Coulter, who was next on the speaking agenda. From there, he fed the crowd red meat–attacking Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, and the press; promising to fight the liberal social agenda, to close U.S.borders, and to never, ever raise taxes. “This is not the time for us to shrink from conservative principles,” Romney thundered. “It is time for us to stand in strength.”

Romney’s latest panders make me wonder not if those of us who believed in Romney were wrong about him from the beginning. After all, it was Ted Kennedy, back in 1996, who first zeroed in on Romney inconsistencies on abortion with the devastating line: “He’s not pro-choice, he’s not anti-choice. He’s multiple choice.”

Ezra Klein

Mori Dinauer at Tapped:

I think Ross Douthat is essentially correct when he says that Mitt Romney‘s policy dexterity is so extreme that it renders judgment on his hypothetical presidential administration all but futile. I used to think that because Romney will bend in any direction he could be reasoned with, and thus could be a reasonable president. Not any more. The fact that we have no idea what he would do strongly suggests that he is no longer qualified for the office in the first place.

Cynthia Tucker:

Mitt, you old chameleon, you

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Filed under Political Figures

Elizabeth Edwards: 1949-2010

The Week

Michael Tomasky at The Guardian:

How bizarre that it was just two days ago that word came that Elizabeth Edwards’ doctors recommended against further treatment, a step that suggests the person’s time is short, but still measured in weeks, usually; and then boom, it was just yesterday that she passed away at 61 from breast cancer.

I always feel a poignancy about people like this who didn’t ask for the spotlight but were thrust into it. The one false step I felt she made was that time she stood there with her husband in March 2007 to announce that though her cancer had returned, John’s campaign would continue. That was mostly on him of course, and it was one of many signs that made me really suspicious of the guy: your wife’s cancer starts attacking her again and you’re not suspending your campaign? It’s quite possible that she was complicit in this against her will, in that way political wives often have to be.

But far overwhelming that, she handled many difficult public stresses with grace in the last few years. Can you imagine being humiliated by a jackass spouse in front of the world and having to fight cancer; having to leave him while knowing that it meant that your life partner wouldn’t be there with you for the end of the battle? And then still working in the public arena for the things she believed in. And on top of all that, she had to bury a child, which is clearly the worst thing that can happen to a person in this life (I know; my parents had to).

Meghan O’Rourke at Slate:

In 2006, after my mother was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer at the age of 52, I felt a weird connection to Elizabeth Edwards. In some ways she reminded of my mom. They looked a little alike, they seemed to share a kind of pragmatic idealism and the gift of natural authority, and they both had advanced cancer in their 50s. So I felt warmly toward Edwards, and I rooted for her in her struggle, and I defended her when friends thought she was foolish to go on the campaign trail while ill. She should be at home with the kids, they said. Why? I wondered. The strange truth of cancer is that it both doesn’t transform you and does; it lifts you up, but it cannot make every moment holy, or perfected, or ideal. My mother chose to keep running a school, though it arguably might have been “better” for her health if she hadn’t. So who were any of us to say that Edwards shouldn’t devote her time to helping her husband become president? What did we know of the strange internal transactions that the ticking timer might produce?

Of course, I was hardly alone in my attachment to Edwards. One of the most distinctive things about her wasn’t just how much she suffered and survived—in addition to her cancer, she witnessed both the death of her son, Wade, in 1996, and of course her husband’s infidelity with Rielle Hunter—but how much of this suffering took place in public, where every move was analyzed and judged. Despite all this Edwards frequently acquitted herself with an aplomb and equanimity that led Arianna Huffington to speak of Edwards’ having “suffered multiple setbacks with so much grace” on CNN’s Parker Spitzer Tuesday night. Inarguably, Edwards did have what my colleague Hanna Rosin called an “ability to seem, in the same moment, invincible and also vulnerable and exposed” that appealed to many people, especially women.

But defending Edwards’ choice to soldier on in politics got a lot more complicated when it became clear that she’d known of her husband’s affair and yet continued to campaign for him. Women who had lionized her were crestfallen to find that she had believed (or that she’d pretended to believe) the affair was a mere one-night stand. Who was this credulous Elizabeth? Where had the straight-talking pragmatist gone? The revelation, as Rebecca Traister put it when Edwards appeared on Oprah in 2009 and let it be known that her husband had persuaded her he should stay in the race, was “crushing to anyone with an idealized view of Elizabeth Edwards.”

Ezra Klein:

The first time I came to Washington as an adult, I came to visit Elizabeth Edwards. It was May 2005, and a few weeks earlier, I’d gotten an e-mail inviting me to dinner with her and her husband. The invitation came from Elizabeth, but the one I was excited to meet was John. I was, after all, a young political junkie, and John Edwards was — or at least just had been — a real live presidential candidate.

There were a couple of bloggers invited that night, and when I rang the doorbell, it was John Edwards who answered and ushered me in. Behind him was a woman I didn’t recognize. She was heavyset with short gray hair, and she was setting the table. I assumed she was staff or perhaps an older relative. Then, of course, she came and sat down.

Edwards was then being treated for cancer, and she’d decided against wearing a wig that night. There was a sweet moment when John Edwards tried to rally the bloggers to convince Elizabeth she didn’t need to wear a wig at all, not ever, but she didn’t want to talk about that.

I wish I had a clearer memory of exactly what she did want to talk about that night. I remember the dinner. Lasagna and steamed broccoli and baked-meats-in-sauce that Edwards had made herself and that she shuttled back-and-forth from the kitchen while making complicated points about national security. I remember how impressed I was with her mind and how the excitement of meeting her husband was quickly overshadowed by the pleasure of meeting her. But what I really remember is what we talked about on other nights: Health-care reform.

The video atop this post is from a 2008 event I moderated on behalf of Campus Progress. It was Edwards’s first public event after the 2008 campaign and the subsequent revelations of her husband’s infidelity, and this was what brought her back into the public eye. Health-care reform. When she showed up, she was carrying a 50-page journal article that used survey data to connect foreclosures to health-care costs. She was the real deal, as you can see from her blogging on the subject.

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

Edwards took her advocacy seriously and, fittingly, she was a serious advocate. A lawyer with a degree from the University of North Carolina, Edwards studied the health care system closely. Having interviewed her a few times, I can tell you that she understood the policy debate better than most politicians and, yes, quite a few journalists. But it was her passion for the issue that really stood out. She thought that making the health care system more decent and humane was a moral imperative. And she didn’t shy away from talking about it in those terms.

Following the revelations of her husband’s infidelity, which happened just as her cancer was returning, the media started describing her as a tragic figure. But she had come to know the true meaning of tragedy many years before, when her son, a teenager, died in a car crash. That she rebuilt her life and spent so much of her life advocating for others was truly admirable.

Edwards will not be forgotten. But she will be missed.

Jonathan Alter at Newsweek:

The scandal involving John Edwards’s affair with Rielle Hunter broke only days after my wife and I had dinner with Elizabeth and her brother in New York. I thought much of the coverage was gratuitous; after all, John Edwards wasn’t even in politics anymore and his wife was sick. Couldn’t we give it a rest? But I was appalled enough—and chagrined enough by my own inability to see beneath the surface of things—that I made no effort to contact her. Not long after, she sent me a one-sentence email apologizing for letting me down. It was cryptic and sad.

Elizabeth (not to mention her husband) had reason to apologize, especially to the scores of campaign workers who had uprooted their lives to work for Edwards. She had known of the affair before the cancer recurrence and should have taken that moment to make sure John withdrew from the race. Their decision to move forward anyway—a product of her fierce ambition as much as his own—was selfish and unfair to the millions of people committed to electing a Democratic president.

I later heard that the danger of nominating a candidate who could easily be blown out of the water in the fall campaign was perhaps not as great as it seemed. Had Edwards won Iowa, a few Edwards aides who knew of the affair were prepared to go public, destroying his chances. Or they might have chickened out.

Elizabeth handled the aftermath of the scandal badly. She used interviews for score-settling and wrote a second book, Resilience, that had Too Much Information. It seems she did eventually realize that. “There are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human,” she wrote on her Facebook page on Monday.

Americans love nothing more than to build up their politicians and other celebrities before ripping them to pieces. And so it bears repeating that these people are people, too. The culture kicked Elizabeth Edwards when she was already down. Now everyone is sad and sorry, but it’s too late.

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That’s My Chocolate Cake Recipe, Dammit!

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with the round-up. Hayden:

When Chuck Schumer reintroduced the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act in Congress, industry insiders hailed it as a breakthrough for high-end fashion designers looking to protect their work from the copycats and ripoffs that inevitably appear after a trend comes into vogue. But as opinion begins to trickle in about the proposed legislation, some critics are bit more skeptical about the merits of the bill.

Rather than encouraging innovation, skeptics argue that fashion copyrighting could ensure certain designers maintain a monopoly on fashion trends and stifle the need for constant reinvention.

Matthew Yglesias:

Oftentimes, discussions of copyright policy hinge on hypotheticals. What if you couldn’t copyright recordings of songs? What would happen then? Maybe nobody would record new songs. Or maybe the quality of new recordings would be abysmally low. What would we listen to then? Won’t somebody think of the children?

Fortunately, in the realm of fashion we don’t need to speculate. We know what a world without fashion copyrights would look like, because we live in one today and we’ve always lived in one. It’s a world full of innovation in the field of design, and also full of various kinds of knock-off. Fashion leaders introduce new concepts, and cheaper imitators come along and follow the pack. In order to remain distinctive, the leaders are driven to further imitate. Meanwhile, everybody has plenty of clothes and styles in tie-width, skirt-length, etc. oscillate around. Yet somehow fashion designers and the members of congress who love them keep coming back to Washington looking for government-sponsored monopolies. The latest version of legislation to allow fashion copyrights has Senators Boxer, Feinstein, Hatch, Graham, and Hutchison as co-sponsors along with lead author Chuck Schumer.

Ezra Klein at Newsweek:

We’re used to the logic of copyright. Movies, music, and pharmaceuticals all use some form of patent or copyright protection. The idea is simple: if people can’t profit from innovation, they won’t innovate. So to encourage the development of stuff we want, we give the innovators something very valuable—exclusive access to the profit from their innovations. We’ve so bought into the logic that we allow companies to patent human genes.

And companies love copyright. They love it so much they persuaded Congress to pass the Sonny Bono Act, which extended individual copyright protections to the life of the author, plus another 70 years; and corporate copyrights to 120 years from creation, or 95 years from publication, whichever is earlier. That’s an absurdly long time, and it belies the original point of patents: does anyone seriously believe that a 40-year-old with a money-making idea is going to hold back because someone can mimic it 20 years after he dies?

At a certain point, copyrights stop protecting innovation and begin protecting profits. They scare off future inventors who want to take a 60-year-old idea and use it as the foundation to build something new and interesting. That’s the difficulty of copyrights, patents, and other forms of intellectual protection. Too little, and the first innovation won’t happen. Too much, and the second innovation—the one relying on the first—will be stanched.

Which is why we have to be careful when one industry or another demands more copyright protection for itself. “Intellectual property is legalized monopoly,” says James Boyle, a professor at Duke Law School. “And like any monopoly, its tendency is to raise prices and diminish availability. We should have a high burden of proof for whether it’s necessary.”

Drug development probably meets the burden of proof. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a drug to market. If Pfizer could just copy the drugs Novartis develops, Novartis wouldn’t have much reason to develop drugs.

Recipes don’t. You can’t patent dessert. Just ask Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Years ago, he created a chocolate cake with a molten core of liquid chocolate. The recipe became a sensation. Which meant it appeared on menus all across the country, with no credit to JGV. That’s a bummer for its creator, but a boon to all of us who don’t live in New York. We get to eat it anyway. And yet innovation continues apace in the food world. JGV is still a rich man. We can have our cake and eat it, too. (Sorry, sorry.)

Mike Masnick at Techdirt:

We’ve discussed over and over and over again how the fashion industry absolutely thrives without copyright protection. In fact, much of the research shows that it thrives because of the lack of copyright. The lack of copyright in fashion does a few useful things: (1) it actually helps disseminate concepts faster, creating important trends that drive the industry forward (2) it helps create important customer segmentation in the market, which actually increases the value of top designers (3) it drives fashion designers to be more innovative and to keep innovating. And all of it works. The fashion industry is highly dynamic, rapidly innovating and highly competitive. So it seems absolutely contrary to basic common sense to introduce a copyright law aimed at adding copyright to fashion.

So, of course, fashion designers and politicians keep doing it. Pretty much every year Chuck Schumer trots out just such a bill, and this year is no different. Reader Steve Phillips points us to the announcement of the bill being introduced and ReallyEvilCanine points us to a celebratory post by a professor who was involved in drafting the bill. This time around the bill has Senators Boxer, Feinstein, Hatch, Graham & Hutchison as co-sponsors, so there’s quite a bit of firepower, as they seek to build up protectionist policies that may benefit a few top designers, but will significantly harm up-and-comers. Just as we’ve seen throughout history, intellectual property protections lag innovation, rather than cause it. That’s because the top players in the space use those laws to reduce, not enhance, competition. This is no exception.

Of course, Schumer’s been unable to shove through this disaster-in-waiting the past few times he’s tried, so hopefully it goes nowhere again, but if you want to see regulatory capture in action, here you go. In the meantime, if this should actually go through, we eagerly await the first major supporter of the bill getting caught copying someone else’s design.

Reihan Salam:

In my opinion, copyright protection is a bad idea in general, but I recognize that this is not a widely shared view. It is, however, fashionable. (Drum roll, please.) Ezra Klein adds a more sober perspective in his Newsweek column:

“Intellectual property is legalized monopoly,” says James Boyle, a professor at Duke Law School. “And like any monopoly, its tendency is to raise prices and diminish availability. We should have a high burden of proof for whether it’s necessary.”

We should agree on that at the very least.

If you’re interested in these issues, I strongly recommend checking out Against Intellectual Monopoly, a book by economists Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine. You can read it for free. To get a hint of the myth-shattering that follows, the following is from the Introduction:

In most histories, James Watt is a heroic inventor, responsible for the beginning of the industrial revolution. The factsabove suggest a different interpretation. Watt is one of many clever inventors working to improve steam power in the second half of theeighteenth century. After getting one step ahead of the pack, heremained ahead not by superior innovation, but by superiorexploitation of the legal system. The fact that his business partnerwas a wealthy man with strong connections in Parliament, was not aminor help.

And it was only after the expiration of Watt’s patents that the steam engine really took off.

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Real Good News? Really? No, Not Really

Nancy Cook at Newsweek:

The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week by 31,000, to 473,000, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Although the national unemployment rate remains high, the numbers come as somewhat of a relief. The previous week, new filings hit 500,000 (and have since been revised higher to 504,000). Last week’s news sent the stock market tumbling and caused even more chatter about the possibility of a double-dip recession.

Since then, each day has brought more sour economic news. Sales of existing homes dropped by 27.2 percent for the month of June, the lowest level since 1995, according to Tuesday’s data from the National Association of Realtors. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that businesses were no longer spending as much on durable goods or large items such as equipment, and on Friday, the Commerce Department will release the revised estimates for the second-quarter gross domestic product. Like all of the economic data this week, those numbers also should be bad. Economists have estimated that the numbers will show the economy is growing at a rate of only 1.4 percent, when initially it was reported as growing 2.4 percent.

Mike Taylor at New York Observer:

Hooray?Not exactly, since economists tend to think a “good” rate of weekly initial claims is somewhere between 400,000 and 450,000. On the other hand, almost everyone agrees that 473,000 welfare slobs is better than last week’s half a million, a nine-month high.

Sort of. The Labor Department’s count of people who continued to file for government assistance came in at 4.46 million, 62,000 less than a revised figure for the previous week and below analyst expectations of around 4.5 million.

Mike Shedlock at Favstocks:

Weekly claims fell 31,000 from the last week’s total total of 504,000 (revised up by 4,000). Nonetheless, 473,000 can hardly be considered encouraging. It is solidly in territory that suggests the economy is shedding jobs.

Once again the pile of overoptimistic economist estimates continues to mount. Today, weekly unemployment claims hit 500,000 exceeding every forecast. This is (at minimum) the 4th time since March every economist was overly optimistic regarding unemployment claims. Nicely done guys.

James Picerno at Seeking Alpha:

The case for expecting jobless claims to meander at an elevated level looks compelling, short of arguing that something’s about to intervene and provide relief in the way of material improvement in the labor market. Never say never, but there’s no obvious catalyst waiting in the wings for the near term. What’s more, there’s a case for wondering if the labor market is set to weather greater challenges before it enjoys better news. As Bloomberg News reports today:

A slowdown in U.S. business investment may soon hit the job market, further hindering a recovery in the world’s largest economy.

Capital spending, one of the few bright spots in the recovery, declined in July, according to Commerce Department figures released yesterday in Washington. Sales of new homes fell to the lowest level since data began in 1963, another report from the same agency showed, indicating a lack of jobs is crippling housing.

The next round of confirmation (or not) arrives next week, when the government releases the August payrolls report on September 3 (Friday). Meantime, there’s still enough of a gray area in the economic numbers overall to see almost anything you want. The safe assumption is that the future looks likely to bring more water torture as the economy remains technically in a recovery that otherwise feels like a recession. Minds will differ, of course, but more of the same appears to be heading our way.

Scott Grannis at Seeking Alpha:

By next week, we’ll probably see the adjusted number fall a bit further, to show that claims are about where they’ve been on average since January. In short, all the hoopla over claims has been an exercise in futility, because there has been no real change in the underlying fundamentals of the labor market so far this year. The much-anticipated double-dip recession is still a no-show in the data.

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Robert Gates Resets His Clock

Fred Kaplan at Foreign Policy:

The interview was conducted July 12 in Gates’s office at the Pentagon, several weeks before he announced a sweeping series of cuts to key programs, including the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Excerpts:

Fred Kaplan: You may remember the last time I was here, which was late in 2007. You had one of these countdown meters. And I asked you at the time — I said, you know, there are some people on the Hill who would like you to stay for whatever the next term is. And this line of yours has been quoted a fair amount. You said, “Well, I never say never, but the circumstances under which that would happen are inconceivable to me.” “Inconceivable” is a pretty absolute word. So what happened? Why are you … here? Why did you stay?

Robert Gates: Once there started being speculation around that time that I might be asked to stay no matter who was elected, I confess that I started what ended up being eight- or nine-months-long covert action. And it was to try and build a wall of clarity that I did not want to stay high enough that nobody would ever ask me.

FK: (Laughs.) Well, “inconceivable” goes quite a ways up there.

RG: And I, you know, I was very consistent for a long period there in saying that, because I really didn’t want to be asked, knowing that if I were asked, I would say, “Yes.” For the same reason I never hesitated — you know, I wrestled with the [director of national intelligence] job a couple of weeks back in January of 2005. The instant [National Security Advisor Stephen] Hadley called me about taking this job, I said, “Yes.” I just — in the middle of two wars, kids out there getting hurt and dying, there was no way that I was going to say, “No.”

And I felt the same way going into 2008 — that if somebody asked, I worried a lot about the baton getting dropped in the changeover between administrations. And so I knew if the president, whoever was elected president, asked me to stay that I would say, “Yes.” Now, you know, the timing was always sort of vague in my mind: six months, a year, just to provide a smooth transition and so on — [it] ended up being longer than that.

[…]

FK: So what would you hope would be your legacy of all this? I mean, are people looking back at the Gates era or whatever —

RG: Well, as a historian, I’m generally inclined to let the historians think about that. Or writers.

FK: Wait, you just contradicted yourself. If you are a historian, I mean, that makes you perfectly capable of commenting.

RG: (Laughs.) Yeah, but at some distance. You remember the old line [Chinese leader Zhou Enlai gave] when asked about the French Revolution?

FK: Too soon.

RG: Well, first of all, I never forget that the primary task that I was given when I took this job was to put Iraq in a better place. And the nation has been engaged in two wars every single day I have been secretary. So the outcome of those two wars I think will be huge elements people look at. And by the way, if I stay just until January —

FK: January of what?

RG: 2011.

FK: Mm, hmm.

RG: Nice try. (Laughs.) If I stay until January of 2011, I will have been in this job — I’m the 22nd secretary of defense, and I’ll have been in the job longer than all but four of my predecessors. And those four are Robert McNamara, Don Rumsfeld, Cap Weinberger, and Charles E. Wilson. (Laughter.)

I think the toughest thing in public life is knowing when to dance off the stage. And to leave when people say, “I wish you weren’t leaving so soon,” instead of “How the hell do we get that guy out of there?” And the other aspect of this is, like I said, two separate wars for every day I’ve been on the job is very wearing. And there’s a certain point at which you just run out of energy.

[Then there’s] this rebalancing and all these initiatives with respect to the budget, trying to get rid of programs that don’t measure up, aren’t needed, or at least cap them in terms of the numbers. And I suppose a third would be — and I certainly didn’t intend this when I came here — a rigorous reinforcement of the principle of accountability. It’s a very, very rare thing for a senior person to be fired in this town, and I’ve done a bunch.

Alan Mascarenhas at Newsweek:

In the dying months of the Bush administration, a weary Robert Gates took to surreptitiously carrying around a clock. Given by a sympathetic friend, it displayed the days remaining until Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, when he would be relieved of his duties as secretary of defense. Gates’s family has been thought to eagerly await the day the veteran of six presidential administrations could finally step down. The secretary himself scoffed at speculation he might stay on.

We all know how that panned out. Still, with today’s revelations in Foreign Policy magazine that Gates, 66, will retire sometime in 2011, the clock may soon be replaced by a well-earned gold watch.

[…]

The surprise, of course, is not that Gates is leaving, but that he stayed so long. With unfinished wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, he simply couldn’t bring himself to turn down the request he always feared was coming from President Barack Obama. “In the middle of two wars, kids out there getting hurt and dying, there was no way that I was going to say, ‘No.’ ”

Even then, he initially expected to stay only a year. But he has since become an indispensable member of the administration, pressing reforms to the Pentagon budget and implementing Obama’s Afghanistan plan of trebling troop numbers to 100,000 with a view to commencing a drawdown next summer. Yesterday, General David Petraeus, commander of the joint U.S. and NATO effort in Afghanistan, stressed that stabilization would be gradual and refused to rule out requesting a delay in the withdrawal date.

As an expected reshuffle of administration personnel occurs after November’s midterms, Gates may well find 2011 is the best time to depart. Yet as the servant of a president potentially forced to fine-tune his Afghanistan strategy, he may just as easily find himself facing fresh calls to stick around. Of course, this is a man who obviously has changed his retirement plans before.

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time:

Set your countdown clocks to 2011, when Robert Gates, Defense Secretary to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, plans to step down. “It would be a mistake to wait until January 2012,” he tells Foreign Policy, in an exclusive interview. “This is not the kind of job you want to fill in the spring of an election year.”

[UPDATE: Fred Kaplan, the author of the Foreign Policy article, emails to point out that Gates may be bluffing. Indeed Gates has done it before. Writes Kaplan:

Gates did not tell me that he is leaving in 2011. He said that he’d like to leave, and thinks he should leave, in 2011. However, I begin the piece by noting that, in my last interview with Gates, at the end of 2007, I asked him if he’d consider staying on in the next administration. He replied, at the time, that the circumstances under which he’d do that were “inconceivable.” So when I interviewed him for FP last month, I asked him what changed. He confessed that he’d been engaging in a “covert action.” He was telling everybody that he really wanted to go, in hopes that this would discourage the next president from asking him to stay – but all along he knew that if the next president did ask him to stay, he would.

Read the entire Kaplan piece here.]

Considering that the 2012 election season is set to begin at the end of 2010, this may suggest an early 2011 exit for Gates. Gates departure may be felt less on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where there are many cooks in the kitchen, than in his personal crusade to bring some level of rationality to the defense budget. It’s an uphill slog that now depends significantly on Gates own credibility and star power. Fareed Zakaria asks today, “Can anyone seriously question Gates’s ideas on the merits?” Probably not. But with Gates gone, it will be that much easier for the approriators and the lobbyists to gain, once again, the upper hand.

Peter Brookes and Mackenzie Eaglen at The Corner:

In the coming months, lots of people will be cranking up their computers and burning up the airwaves with commentary on the just-announced departure of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sometime in 2011.

Evaluating his legacy as SECDEF when he ultimately leaves next year will be important for the historical record, but the challenges his yet-to-be-named successor will face are more important.

For instance, there’s little doubt that the war in Afghanistan will still be a major focus in 2011 — not to mention the challenge of managing the White House’s mandated drawdown next summer. Don’t forget about Pakistan. Plus, with lots of American trainers likely still in Iraq next year, attention will need to be given to that region as well.

And there’s Iran, which will either be a nuclear-weapons state or darn close to being one by the time Gates leaves the E-Ring for the last time. Unfortunately, the current policy approach just isn’t making headway. The new secretary is going to face the less-than-amusing task of handling Tehran’s atomic ayatollahs.

Frank Gaffney at The Corner:

Secretary Gates has the unenviable task of presiding over the latest “hollowing-out of the military,” as Jimmy Carter’s Army chief of staff Edward C. “Shy” Meyer once described it. Even before the announcement by Gates, the Bush-appointed Republican technocrat kept on by President Obama, of his intention to cut $100 billion from the defense budget over the next five years, the secretary had already eliminated what were arguably each of the armed services’ highest-priority programs: the Air Force’s F-22 fighter, the Navy’s DDG-1000, the Army’s Future Combat System, and the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

What do these have in common, besides their being crucial to the modernization of the sponsoring service? They are all indispensable to the projection of power by the United States. Secretary Gates has made it fairly clear that that’s not his priority; he wants to retool the military to fight today’s counterinsurgency operations and not much more. If history is any guide, the result is going to be a vacuum of power that will be filled by America’s enemies and one-time allies — to our extreme detriment.

Even so, Gates has let it become known that he would like to cut even further. He’s been bad-mouthing the Navy’s aircraft carriers, even though he told Kaplan he wasn’t crazy enough to attack them frontally. On the other hand, he seems to be signaling that he is crazy enough to think we no longer need an amphibious warfare capability or even the U.S. Marines Corps.

Chuckie Corra at Firedoglake:

I first saw this reported by Ben Smith for Politico.com and was a bit surprised. Robert Gates is the current Secretary of Defense for the Obama Administration, and had been for George W. Bush as well. This could be a crucial decision made by Gates as much of the attention in Obama’s presidency is now focused on the two wars started by the Bush Administration, but expected to be finished by Obama.

Robert Gates, pillar of Obama’s national security policy, tells Fred Kaplan he’ll leave some time next year, ensuring that the decision about replacing him is shadowed by Obama’s re-election campaign.

There’s no obvious replacement for Gates, certainly none with the same capacity to silence Republican attacks on the administration’s security policy. The most politically logical replacement may be HIllary Clinton.

[Source: Politico (cited from Foreign Policy Magazine)]

Ben Smith is right. This could be yet another thing brought to the table by Republicans to admonish Obama and his handling of National Security issues, especially if a Democrat is appointed to take Gates’ place. Appointing Hillary Clinton, as Smith suggested, seems to me to be more of a tumultuous effort. This would involve having to find someone else to head State Department. Two crucial changes in two of the arguably most important cabinet positions could be costly politically and as far as his policies are concerned as well.

Robert Gates’s position as Secretary of Defense is about the only thing the Republicans haven’t extensively chastised Obama for in his first two years in the Oval Office. The RNC is certainly looking at this news and salivating.

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Filed under Military Issues, Political Figures

“N” Is For Newtie, That’s Good Enough For Me

John Richardson in Esquire:

She was married to Newt Gingrich for eighteen years, all through his spectacular rise and fall, and here she is in a pair of blue jeans and a paisley shirt, with warm eyes and a big laugh and the kind of chain-smoking habit where the cigarettes burn right down to the filter — but she’s quitting, she swears, any day now.

We’re having breakfast in a seaside restaurant in a Florida beach town, a place where people line up in sandals and shorts. This is the first time she’s talked about what happened, and she has a case of the nerves but also an air of liberation about her. Since he was a teenager, Newt Gingrich has never been without a wife, and his bond with Marianne Gingrich during the most pivotal part of his career made her the most important advisor to one of the most important figures of the late twentieth century. Of their relationship, she says, “We started talking and we never quit until he asked me for a divorce.”

She sounds proud, defiant, maybe a little wistful. You might be inclined to think of what she says as the lament of an abandoned wife, but that would be a mistake. There is shockingly little bitterness in her, and she often speaks with great kindness of her former husband. She still believes in his politics. She supports the Tea Parties. She still uses the name Marianne Gingrich instead of going back to Ginther, her maiden name.

But there was something strange and needy about him. “He was impressed easily by position, status, money,” she says. “He grew up poor and always wanted to be somebody, to make a difference, to prove himself, you know. He has to be historic to justify his life.”

She says she should have seen the red flags. “He asked me to marry him way too early. And he wasn’t divorced yet. I should have known there was a problem.”

Within weeks or months?

“Within weeks.”

That’s flattering.

She looks skeptical. “It’s not so much a compliment to me. It tells you a little bit about him.”

And he did the same thing to her eighteen years later, with Callista Bisek, the young congressional aide who became his third wife. “I know. I asked him. He’d already asked her to marry him before he asked me for a divorce. Before he even asked.”

He told you that?

“Yeah, he wanted to — ”

But she stops. “Hey, turn off the tape recorder for a second. This is going to go places …”

Back in the 1990s, she told a reporter she could end her husband’s career with a single interview. She held her tongue all through the affair and the divorce and even through the annulment Gingrich requested from the Catholic Church two years later, trying to erase their shared past. Now she sits quietly for a moment, ignoring her eggs, trying to decide how far she wants to go.

[…]
ctually, he grew up on a series of Army bases in Kansas, Georgia, France, and Germany. His father was raised by a grandmother who passed off his real mother (Gingrich’s grandmother) as his sister. His mother married his father when she was sixteen, left him a few days later, and struggled with manic depression most of her life. His stepfather was an infantry officer who viewed his plump, nearsighted, flat-footed son as unfit for the Army. By the time he was fifteen, Gingrich dedicated his life, he says, “to understanding what it takes for a free people to survive.” By the time he was eighteen, he was dating his high school geometry teacher. He married her a year later, when he was nineteen and she was twenty-six.It sounds like a complicated childhood, I say.

“It was fabulous.”

Fabulous?

“Lots of relatives, lots of complexity, lots of sugar pies, when I could talk my aunt and grandmother into making them. They had an old-fashioned cast-iron stove where you cut wood…”

Just as Ronald Reagan created an idealized version of an America that never quite existed, so has Newt. And just as Reagan curated a fantasy version of his own life, so, too, has Newt.

Aren’t you sugarcoating it a little bit?

“What do you mean?”

It sounds like a troubled domestic situation.

“It’s troubled if you decide that’s what it is.”

True, you can choose to look at the bright things. But there are also less bright things.

“There are for everybody.”

Yeah, but I’m asking you.

He doesn’t respond.

Both your fathers, the stepfather and the biological one, were angry men.

His expression is flat, and he answers in his scholarly voice, like a professor telling a legend from distant history. “I think by the time I knew Newt, my biological father, he was no longer particularly angry. I think Bob was very tough. But I look back now and I realize that Bob imprinted me in a thousand ways. He taught me discipline, he taught me endurance, he taught me to take the long view, he taught me the notion of teams, he taught me a depth of patriotism, he taught me to be prepared for things not to work — you sleep as often as you can because you don’t know when you’ll be able to sleep again, you drink water when you can because you don’t know when you’ll be able to drink again, you rest as much as you can because you don’t know when you’re going to rest again. If you come out of an infantry, World War II, Korea background, that is how the infantry functions. Well, it turns out that’s pretty good if you’re going to be a politician.”

Sitting in the Florida sun while she annihilates a long series of Benson & Hedges, Marianne Gingrich paints a very different picture. “He didn’t talk to his mother much. He just didn’t have patience with her. And she was pretty drugged up for a long time.”

But he said his childhood was like Norman Rockwell.

She laughs. “You’re kidding. That’s funny. Well, I liked his dad. He was outspoken. He was a down-home, practical kind of guy. But you know, he was a drinker.”

Marianne loves long stories, straight talk, and rueful laughter at the infinity of human foibles. Her eyes go wide when she hears his line about being four to Callista’s five. “You know where that line came from? Me. That’s my line. That’s what I told him.”

She pauses for a moment, turning it over in her mind. Then she shakes her head in wonder. “I’m sorry, that’s so freaky.”

[…]

But other days, Gingrich was bleak and hopeless. He was like a “dead weight” at times like that, Marianne says. You just couldn’t get him to move. The contrast reminded her of his mother and her manic depression, and she told him he needed help.

But Marianne was having problems of her own. After going to the doctor for a mysterious tingling in her hand, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Early in May, she went out to Ohio for her mother’s birthday. A day and a half went by and Newt didn’t return her calls, which was strange. They always talked every day, often ten times a day, so she was frantic by the time he called to say he needed to talk to her.

“About what?”

He wanted to talk in person, he said.

“I said, ‘No, we need to talk now.’ ”

He went quiet.

“There’s somebody else, isn’t there?”

She kind of guessed it, of course. Women usually do. But did she know the woman was in her apartment, eating off her plates, sleeping in her bed?

She called a minister they both trusted. He came over to the house the next day and worked with them the whole weekend, but Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. ” ‘I can’t handle a Jaguar right now.’ He said that many times. ‘All I want is a Chevrolet.’ ”

He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused.

He’d just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he’d given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values.

The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, “How do you give that speech and do what you’re doing?”

“It doesn’t matter what I do,” he answered. “People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”

When they got to court, Gingrich refused to cooperate with basic discovery. Marianne and her lawyer knew from a Washington Post gossip column that Gingrich had bought Bisek a $450 bottle of wine, for example, but he refused to provide receipts or answer any other questions about their relationship.

Then Gingrich made a baffling move. Because Bisek had refused to be deposed by Marianne’s attorney, Newt had his own attorney depose her, after which the attorney held a press conference and announced that she had confessed to a six-year affair with Gingrich. He had also told the press that he and Marianne had an understanding.

“Right,” Marianne says now.

That was not true?

“Of course not. It’s silly.”

During that period, people would come up to Marianne and tell her to settle, that she was hurting the cause.

John Hudson at The Atlantic with the round-up

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

Herewith, the ten most unflattering things in the profile.10. He lives his life based on weird metaphors about cookies:

“There’s a large part of me that’s four years old,” he tells you. “I wake up in the morning and I know that somewhere there’s a cookie. I don’t know where it is but I know it’s mine and I have to go find it. That’s how I live my life. My life is amazingly filled with fun.”

9. Nobody buys the movies he releases through the group Citizens United.

According to Bruce Nash of Nash Information Services, a company that tracks movie sales, these films — some directed by a man best known for a TV show called Bikes from Hell — are spectacular failures. “The most popular appears to be Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, which is most likely selling a couple thousand copies a year through major retailers. Rediscovering God in America sells perhaps two thousand units.”

8. His health-care group doesn’t do what it claims it does:

Then there’s the Center for Health Transformation, another group Gingrich runs. On its Web site, it describes its work in Georgia as a model for all its efforts and says the “cornerstone” of its work is a group called Bridges to Excellence. But CHT “had zero role in creating Bridges to Excellence,” says François de Brantes, the group’s CEO. CHT helped with organization for one year and hasn’t been associated with them since 2008. The CHT Web site also singles out the “Healthy Georgia Diabetes and Obesity Project” as its major diabetes effort, but that was news to the American Diabetes Association. “We were not able to find any information about this,” says the ADA’s communications director, Colleen Fogarty. “The person that was in contact with them is no longer here.” It turns out that the CHT is a for-profit outfit that charges big health insurers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield up to $200,000 a year for access to the mind of Newt Gingrich.

7. He started to act crazy after being fined $300,000 by the House Ethics Committee — “yelling at people,” “slurping his food” during meetings, and just not “functioning.”

6. He steals lines from his ex-wife and passes them off as his own:

“[Current wife] Callista and I kid that I’m four and she’s five and therefore she gets to be in charge, because the difference between four and five is a lot.”….

[Ex-wife Marriane’s] eyes go wide when she hears his line about being four to Callista’s five. “You know where that line came from? Me. That’s my line. That’s what I told him.”

She pauses for a moment, turning it over in her mind. Then she shakes her head in wonder. “I’m sorry, that’s so freaky.”

5. He has no “real principles” except the “pursuit of power,” according to former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards, who’s known Newt for 30 years.

4. He doesn’t care about being a hypocrite: After Marianne questioned how he could give a speech on family values while carrying on an affair with his decades-younger aide (who became his third wife), Newt replied, “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”

3. He wanted Marianne to just “tolerate” his affair, “an offer she refused.”

2. Regardless, he then announced that, though he’d been having an affair for six years, “he and Marianne had an understanding,” a claim Marianne denies. “Of course not,” she says. “It’s silly.”

1. He delivered divorce papers to his first wife — his former high-school teacher — while she was in the hospital recovering from uterine cancer. He broke things off with his second wife seven months after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Ben Adler at Newsweek:

Gingrich is certainly a savvy political strategist, but he has some serious political liabilities. This is a man, after all, who was carrying on an affair with a young aide while pursuing an impeachment of the president for the same thing. Today Esquire is up with a fabulous profile of Gingrich in all of his contradictions: his dark musings with nasty culture-war overtones, his confounding embrace of some big-government interventions, his family-values rhetoric, and his unusual marital history.

And it exposes how some of Gingrich’s demands for fantastical goals cannot realistically be achieved by the means he proposes. Case in point: Gingrich says President Obama should effectuate a regime change in Iran through tightened sanctions and funding for dissidents. Most Iran experts think the U.S. actually deligitimizes the domestic opposition by supporting them. And if sanctions could topple dangerous Middle Eastern regimes, then why did Gingrich say they were insufficient to deal with Saddam Hussein?

Nicole Allan at The Atlantic:

John H. Richardson’s profile of Newt Gingrich in Esquire paints a fragmented, confusing picture of a fragmented, confusing guy. Richardson’s central source is Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, whom he divorced in 1999 to marry a congressional aide 23 years his junior. This is apparently the first interview she’s given about her ex-husband since their divorce, a fact Richardson milks for all its worth.

“Back in the 1990s, she told a reporter she could end her husband’s career with a single interview,” Richardson writes at the beginning of his story, implying that the next seven pages contain ten years’ worth of bottled-up, career-ending revelations.

Gingrich certainly does not emerge from the profile looking good, but then again, he didn’t emerge from his 1990s money laundering scandal and resignation from Congress looking good, either. Richardson’s profile is already generating buzz, but ending careers — probably not.

Justin Elliott at Salon:

Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife told Esquire that the former speaker cares more about getting rich than running for president. So we decided to take a closer look at who is funding Gingrich’s primary political committee, a 527 group called American Solutions for Winning the Future. A significant chunk of its funding comes from oil and gas and coal companies and wealthy real estate evelopers, with the rest raised in $100 and $200 increments from conservatives around the country, according to the group’s IRS filings.

American Solutions doesn’t appear to pay Gingrich a direct salary, but it has spent millions on private jets to ferry him and his staff around the country and generally allow him to promote his books and movies. (There are other groups, like Gingrich’s for-profit Center for Health Transformation, that may be paying Gingrich directly, but such information is private.) So far this election cycle, American Solutions has taken in over $20 million, and poured much of it back into fundraising expenses.

We’ve taken a look at the IRS forms that American Solutions files periodically showing what’s coming in and what’s going out. Here are some of the group’s biggest funders:

  • American Electric Power: Michael Morris, the CEO of this Ohio-based power giant, gave $100,000 last year. Along with generating lots of electricity, the company operates the nation’s largest power transmission network, operating over much of the East Coast and Midwest.
  • Plains Exploration and Production Co.: This Houston-based oil and gas company that operates in the Gulf gave $100,000.
  • Workforce Fairness Institute: A Washington, D.C.-based anti-union pressure group, the institute’s own source of funding is not known. It gave $150,000 to Gingrich’s organization this cycle. Its website says it is “funded by and advocates on behalf of business owners who enjoy good working relationships with their employees, and would like to maintain those good relationships without the unfair interference of government bureaucrats, union organizers and special interests.” Mark McKinnon, the longtime GOP operative and Bush aide, has been a spokesman for the institute.
  • Hubbard Broadcasting: Stanley Hubbard, a billionaire GOP donor from Minnesota, gave Gingrich’s group $100,000. He owns radio and TV stations in several states as well as ReelzChannel, a movie news channels on cable.
  • Devon Energy: A huge Oklahoma-based oil and gas production company, it has given American Solutions $250,000.
  • Arch Coal: Based in St. Louis, Arch boasts it provides 16 percent of America’s coal supply from 11 mining complexes around the country. That makes it the second largest coal producer in the country. It gave Gingrich $100,000.
  • Crow Holdings: A privately held Dallas real estate investment firm, it gave Gingrich’s group a whopping $350,000. Harlan Crow, son of the late real estate investor Trammell Crow, is active in a range of conservative causes including the Club for Growth and the American Enterprise Institute. He is a patron of Clarence Thomas and once gave the justice a Bible owned by Frederick Douglass worth $19,000.

Unsurprisingly, given the contributor list, American Solutions has run national TV ads opposing the cap-and-trade bill. But more than anything, the group is a vehicle for self-promotion for Gingrich, one that he benefits from financially.

Anne Laurie:

Please read the whole article. I’ve been extremely scornful of the idea of Gingrich actually running for President, as opposed to fan-dancing (or stripper-poling) a perennial round of first-class speaking junkets and high-visibility media appearances calculated to preserve the Gingrich™ brand’s valuable shelf-space in the Wingnut Welfare Walmart. But Richardson’s reporting suggests that the person most bedazzled and mislead by the non-stop hustling might just be Newton Leroy Gingrich, and that’s a dangerous thing indeed, because there is much further confirmation here that Gingrich is a bullet point on the Powerpoint timeline of Weirdly Charismatic Rightwing Sociopaths, probably the most significant version between Richard Nixon and Sarah Palin. Richardson includes stories of Gingrich’s unsettling behavior just before he resigned the Speakership that read like an opera bouffe version of Nixon during Watergate, and aggregates details of his personal and professional life that make Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes look like a rough draft

Wonkette:

Interesting! Also interesting: Newt Gingrich divorces his wives when they’re in the hospital with life-threatening diseases. And his organizations and money-making schemes since leaving office are pretty shady. Fun!

Time to give this man our presidency cookie.

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