Subscribe via RSS Feed

Author Page for Scott Lemieux

rss feed

The BENGHAZI!!!!!!! Scam

[ 31 ] October 13, 2015 |


In a rational universe, as Bouie says, the House Benghazi committee would be a punchline:

Republicans have consistently denied that this is a partisan fishing expedition. “My interest is in the past, not the future. I’m trying to figure out what happened to four Americans in Benghazi,“ said South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, who leads the committee, in reply to further criticism from Cummings. But it’s not hard to understand Democratic frustration. Three separate investigations—from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, from the House Select Committee on Intelligence, and from the Senate Select Committee—cleared Clinton and the State Department of particular wrongdoing. There were no warnings and there was no cover-up. At most, the agency and its leaders were negligent in the face of danger.

Despite this, Republicans pressed ahead. In the 17 months since the committee was formed, investigators haven’t found anything to contradict earlier assessments. Then, as now, there’s no evidence of a cover-up from Clinton or the administration.


But that was before Boehner announced his retirement, and before his assumed successor—House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy—said too much about the actual purpose of the committee. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable,” McCarthy said to Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

This connection—between the committee, the email scandal, and Clinton’s declining numbers—was debatable. But the words were there: The committee wasn’t about finding the truth behind the attack in Benghazi; it was about tanking Clinton ahead of the election.


This weekend, another shoe dropped for the Benghazi committee. “A former investigator for the House Select Committee on Benghazi says he was unlawfully fired in part because he sought to conduct a comprehensive probe into deadly attacks on the U.S. compound instead of focusing on Hillary Rodham Clinton and the State Department,” reported the Associated Press.

The New York Times followed with a major story that detailed the degree to which “the focus of the committee’s work has shifted from the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack to the politically charged issue of Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.” What’s more, according to the Times, this was a particular preoccupation for Boehner, who pushed the committee to focus on Clinton’s emails.


At this point, the House Select Committee on Benghazi is a dead letter. Democrats will dismiss it entirely, Hillary Clinton—in her upcoming testimony—will likely treat it with contempt, and the media will disregard its claims. Indeed, there’s a chance this could spread beyond the committee to Clinton’s email controversy.

I hope that the optimism at the end is warranted. I fear that it is not. The media rule that governs all Clinton “scandals” from Whitewater on seems to be “where there’s enough flatulence, there’s fire.” I suspect that the press can pretend that the Benghazie and especially email servers are real scandals for a while yet.


“That Word Extremism, I Do Not Think….”

[ 25 ] October 13, 2015 |


Michael Kinsley is, in 2015, being paid to write a column, and this month’s insight is that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president. You can’t get that kind of analysis from just anybody! You would think that pursuing this line of argument wouldn’t be much a challenge, but he manages to step into a rake or ten along the way:

A while back in the Times, Josh Barro started a debate about whether Trump is really a “moderate” who merely acts like an extremist because it sells. You might say that he isn’t an extremist but he plays one on TV. Barro’s argument was that if you take all of Trump’s extreme views on Social Security, immigration, and so on, some of them classified as extremely right-wing and some extremely left-wing, they average out to be more or less down the center. Ezra Klein replied in Vox, essentially, that extreme views are extreme views, no matter how they average out. But looking for some kind of ideological thread in Trump’s various positions is a fool’s errand (and another victory for Trump). The appeal of Trump’s alleged views on every issue is their extremeness. That, and their seeming simplicity. The fact that he hasn’t thought them through and has more or less pulled them out of the air (or out of his ass, as Trump himself might put it) is a feature, not a bug, as they say in Silicon Valley. Trump stands for the proposition that you don’t need to know much to run the government. You just need to use your common sense and to grow a pair, as Sarah Palin so memorably advised.

Wait, what was that again?

Trump’s extreme views on Social Security

Trump has “extreme” views on Social Security, or at least views that Josh Barro considers “extreme”? That doesn’t make much sense. Let us consult the original source:

The main way Mr. Trump stands out from the field on economic policy is leftward: While most Republicans favor free trade, Mr. Trump has called for much higher tariffs on imported goods to protect American industries from competition. He has also criticized his opponents for proposing cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “I’m gonna make us so rich you don’t have to do those things,” Mr. Trump said in April.

Barro, you will notice, does not describe Trump’s views on Social Security as “extreme.” While we’re here, you can also read Ezra’s argument, which is nothing like Kinsley describes it as.

And the reason Barro and Klein do not describe Trump’s views on Social Security as “extreme” is that they are about as mainstream and popular as a position can be. The “extreme” position is Kinsley’s view that 1)You can’t have everything, 2)??????, 3)We must cut Social Security rather than raising taxes or cutting defense spending! Pain caucus pundits have been marinating in their own nonsense for so long they just take the soundness of Social Security cuts as being self-evident. Trump, for all his many faults, is performing a useful service in showing that even among the Republican rank-and-file Social Security cuts have very little support.

Turnin’ Mountains Into Oceans Puttin’ Baseballs on the Moon

[ 29 ] October 13, 2015 |

Revenge is a dish best served in the upper deck 430 feet away.

Deep Thoughts, By Christopher Hitchens

[ 117 ] October 12, 2015 |


LGM prides itself on its fairness and balance. It only seems right, then, that Erik’s thoughts below opposing imperialist genocide be paired with the profound views of another important public intellectual, the late Christopher Hitchens:

My old comrade David Dellinger, hero of the antiimperialist movement, telephoned the other day to tell me of the fast he was undertaking to protest the celebration of racism, conquest and plunder that impended on Columbus Day. I am as respectful of my elders as any ancestor-worshiping Iroquois, and David has been to prison for his beliefs more times than I have had hot dinners, but a hot dinner – with steak frites, cheese and salad and a decent half bot. of something, all complete – was what I urged him to go and have. Break your fast, old thing, I beseeched; 1492 was a very good year.

I can never quite decide whether the anti-Columbus movement is merely risible or faintly sinister. It is risible in the same way that all movements of conservative anachronism are risible, and reminds me of Evelyn Waugh’s complaint that he could never find a politician who would promise to put the clock back. it is sinister, though, because it is an ignorant celebration of stasis and backwardness, with an unpleasant tinge of self-hatred.


One need not be an automatic positivist about this. But it does happen to be the way that history is made, and to complain about it is as empty as complaint about climatic, geological or tectonic shift. Not all changes and victories are “progress!’ The Roman conquest and subjugation of Britain was, I think, a huge advance because it brought the savage English tribes within reach of Mediterranean (including Ptolemaic and Phoenician as well as Greek and Latin) civilization, whereas the Norman Conquest looks like just another random triumph of might.

The very dynasty that funded Columbus put an end to Andalusia in the same year, and thus blew up the cultural bridge between the high attainments of Islamic North Africa and Mesopotamia and the relative backwardness of Castilian Christendom. Still, for that synthesis to have occurred in the first place, creating the marvels of Cordoba and Granada, wars of expansion and conversion and displacement had to be won and lost. Reapportioning Andalusia according to “precedent” would be as futile an idea as restoring Sioux rights that are only “ancestral” as far back as 1814. The Sioux should be able to claim the same rights and titles as any other citizen, and should be compensated for past injury. That goes without saying. But the anti-Columbus movement is bored by concepts of this kind, preferring to flagellate about original sin and therefore, inevitably, to brood about the illusory counterpart to that exploded concept-the Garden of Eden.

Forget it. As Marx wrote about India, the impact of a more developed society upon a culture (or a series of warring cultures, since there was no such nation as India before the British Empire) can spread aspects of modernity and enlightenment that outlive and transcend the conqueror. This isn’t always true; the British probably left Africa worse off than they found it, and they certainly retarded the whole life of Ireland. But it is sometimes unambiguously the case that a certain coincidence of ideas, technologies, population movements and politico-military victories leaves humanity on a slightly higher plane than it knew before. The transformation of part of the northern part of this continent into “America” inaugurated a nearly boundless epoch of opportunity and innovation, and thus deserves to be celebrated with great vim and gusto, with or without the participation of those who wish they had never been born.

And, hey, I bet David Irving thought 1492 was a very good year too!

As I’ve said before, whatever his merits as a prose stylist and literary critic, as a political thinker he was incoherent and puddle-deep. When he reached the right conclusion his arguments were just as driven by personality considerations and self-consciously “provocative” contrarianism as they were on the many occasions when he reached terrible ones.

[Via Jeet Heer]

“Our Model is the Trapezoid”

[ 109 ] October 12, 2015 |


“Outsider” and “Establishment” alike, Republican candidates support rubes being separated from their money:

Much has been made of the fact that the two leading contenders in the Republican presidential primary, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, lack any experience in elected office. Much less attention has gone to something else the two men share: a history of entanglements with companies that have been rightly criticized for hawking get-rich-quick schemes to the broke and desperate. The business model, which is perfectly legal, is called multilevel marketing.


Of course, common sense would say people realize their chances of achieving millions of dollars in sales via these companies aren’t exactly high. There can’t be that many people who want to buy and sell large amount of vitamins, weight-loss supplements, cellphones, cleaning supplies, energy drinks, and other staples of the MLM business, right? But common sense, never in abundant supply in the best circumstances, all too often flies out the window when people are broke, desperate to get ahead, or simply unhappy with their current work or life situation. And the promises that companies like ACN peddle, sometimes with an extra push from someone like the Donald, can begin to sound pretty good.

So why haven’t the other Republican presidential candidates called Trump and Carson on this stuff? Well, bashing the multilevel marketing business model isn’t good for another business—raising money running for political office. Supporters of Mitt Romney’s presidential runs have included honchos from companies like Amway, Nu Skin, and Xango, yet another health care supplement company. Before Scott Walker withdrew from the 2016 race, Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway, along with two other family members, gave $25,000 apiece to Walker’s political organization Our American Revival. They’ve also provided financial support to Jeb Bush’s super PAC, Right to Rise.

And maybe the other candidates see nothing to criticize here. It’s not like economic magical thinking isn’t rewarded in Republican politics. Remember that thing about raising revenue by cutting taxes?

Have you ever sat through an Amway pitch? I have. It’s a weird experience; I especially liked the bit where the guy told me to write down my expected future expenses and triumphantly noted that my future necessarily depended on me being able to badger my friends and family to purchase inferior cleaning products, purchased by me for only a modest upfront expense.

I have a fascination with all manner of these legal and quasi-legal cons in part because I spend my undergrad and first grad years in Montreal, when the unemployment rate was well north of 10%, and my French was mediocre. I spent a summer selling sports memorabilia over the phone, a morning generating leads for people pitching some sort of worthless but expensive jewelry, and two epically horrible days inside the “salesmen compensated only by commission sell poor people $2,000 vacuum cleaners” racket. I should probably write about that some time. Meanwhile, the Harper’s story about Mary Kay is really good.

Call the Rule

[ 76 ] October 12, 2015 |
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Ruben Tejada #11 of the New York Mets is carted off the field after sustaining an injury in the seventh inning on slide by Chase Utley #26 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in game two of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 10: Ruben Tejada #11 of the New York Mets is carted off the field after sustaining an injury in the seventh inning on slide by Chase Utley #26 of the Los Angeles Dodgers in game two of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

David Schoenfeld on the pivtoal play in game 2:

This is the reward you reap as an industry. Chase Utley’s “slide” that sent Ruben Tejada out on a stretcher with a fractured fibula in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the New York Mets-Los Angeles Dodgers Division Series was within the boundaries of how the game is played and called by the umpires but also clearly dirty and malicious. Just a few weeks ago, everybody fell all over themselves saying Chris Coghlan’s slide that sent Jung Ho Kang to the sidelines for the season wasn’t dirty. So this is what baseball deserves for letting this nonsense linger 45 years after Pete Rose destroyed Ray Fosse 38 years after Hal McRae crushed Willie Randolph and just a couple of years after they actually did move to protect catchers in home-plate collisions: A stinking heap of controversy, angry baseball fans across the country, casual fans turned off by obvious rules lunacy and a crucial playoff game that turned because baseball has been too gutless to call this the right way.

Look, there was a time when this is how baseball was played, when John McGraw and the famous Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s played baseball with spikes up, looking to draw blood whenever possible. Of course, it also was a time when players would frequently fight umpires or even jump into the stands and brawl with spectators. The remnants of those times still exist today, whether it’s that “eye for an eye” mentality in intentionally throwing at batters or runners sliding viciously into middle infielders at second base, even if they’re several feet off the bag, several feet past the bag or barreling in more like Kam Chancellor on a running back than a baserunner sliding into a bag.

A new rule would be easy to write: The baserunner must slide directly into the bag. This is how the game is played at the high school and college level, and nobody suffers their manhood as a result. Slide hard, but slide safe.

Now, I can even say that Utley’s slide did break the rules and that, in fact, not only should he have been called out (Tejada not touching the bag is another issue completely), but the batter should have been called out, as well.


Deliberately and willfully? Again, yes. CALL THE RULE. IT’S ALREADY ON THE BOOKS.

All correct.

Utley, as you probably know if you care about such things, has been suspended. Schoenfeld applauds the decision, and I agree that Torre probably picked the best of his bad options. Still, I can understand Utley and the Dodgers thinking they’ve been given an unfair ex post facto punishment. Utley’s slide was illegal by the letter of the law, but while assertions that the rule is never enforced are obviously false it’s fair to say it’s not called more than it’s called. I personally have no problem with consequences being taken into account in the disciplinary process — a major issue in the NHL in particular — but some people disagree.

Let’s step back and consider the more unambiguous way in which the umpires blew the play. The neighborhood play is, by rule, unreviewable. Utley should have been ruled out. The defense of the umpires is that they’ve developed an informal norm where it’s not a neighborhood play if a throw pulls the pivot man off the bag. In the abstract, there’s a logic to it — it’s not a neighborhood play if the pivot man isn’t able to touch the bag because of a bad throw rather than because he’s trying to avoid a sliding runner. But as applied in this case, it’s absurd — Murphy’s toss wasn’t perfect, but it left Tejada in a situation where he could touch the bag, but in his haste to avoid the runner, Tejada messed up the footwork. If that’s not a “neighborhood play,” the term has no meaning. And, of course, this is why the umpire’s kludge makes no sense. I mean, I’ll never say never as long as Phil Cuzzi is employed by MLB, but in general plays are only going to be challenged when the pivot man is close enough to the bag to make a play, because if a fielder is pulled so far off the bag by a bad throw he can’t get near the bag the runner is almost always going to be called safe. The umpires have just decided not to enforce the rule.

So what we have here is a real mess. Utley’s slide was, by the letter of the law, illegal, but most such slides are not ruled illegal in the field because it’s been decided that in most but not all cases throwing a block to interfere with a fielder while not even making any effort to touch the bag is GOOD HARD CLEAN AMERICAN BASEBALL LIKE THE GAME IS SUPPPOSED TO BE PLAYED. (As a commenter noted, Utley didn’t do something really bad like stay in the batter’s box for an extra second after homering or not run full speed on a pop up in a meaningless game or look excited after a strikeout while being Latin American.) Alongside of this, umpires have developed another norm that second baseman have to be given a sporting chance to avoid contact, so in some but not all cases runners are called out even if the pivot man fails to touch the base while trying to avoid the runner. The replay rules reflect these norms, but it’s been blown up because for reasons I can’t explain umpires won’t apply the neighborhood play to challenged calls.

As with most cases in which the umpires take it upon themselves to unilaterally change the rules, the situation is a complete mess. Runners have no idea what slides are legal; pivot men have no idea when they have to touch the bad when trying to turn the double play. The best solution, as Schoenfeld says, is to forget all of these arbitrarily enforced kludges and just further clarify the rule and enforce it properly. Players have to slide directly into second and cannot start their “slides” as they arrive at the bag. Slides that don’t conform to these rules result in both runner and batter being called out, and in egregious cases an illegal slide can result in a suspension. Pivot men have to touch the bag and if they don’t the runner is safe. If this rule is perceived as resulting in too many double plays, then it’s another excellent reason to institute Bill James’s proposal of limiting unsuccessful pickoff throws to two. This would have the salutary effects of increasing pace by limiting a tedious play and placing more value on speed. Can anyone dispute that it’s better to avoid double plays by having runners try to steal second rather than having them try to injure second basemen?

The Nuisance Suit Problem

[ 44 ] October 12, 2015 |

The ability of deep-pocketed plutocrats to financially punish media organizations that are critical of them is chilling:

The case in question involved the liberal magazine Mother Jones and Frank VanderSloot, a GOP mega-donor (who, judging by his name, may also be a villain in a long-lost Charles Dickens story). You can read MoJo’s recap of the case here, but the quick-and-dirty summary goes like this: In 2012, VanderSloot sued MoJo for defamation over a piece about his company’s support for a pro-Romney super PAC that also happened to mention his history opposing gay rights. MoJo fought back. VanderSloot lost.

Well, he lost technically, that is. Because before MoJo was vindicated by the judge (who made clear in her decision that she was not a fan of the magazine, might I add) it had to spend, in its telling, “at least $2.5 million defending ourselves.” For a guy like VanderSloot, who reportedly is worth something north of $1 billion, that’s chump change. But that is a lot of money not only for normal people but also for most small or mid-size publications, especially ones that focus on somewhat niche topics like public policy.

There’s another element of the story that you should know, too. At first, VanderSloot’s response to MoJo’s post was to simply have his lawyers send a huffy letter that pointed out some minor errors. MoJo made the appropriate corrections and figured that was that. But then MoJo broke Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment, which many people believe sunk the GOPer’s chances of becoming president. It was only then that VanderSloot, who was a national finance chair for the Romney campaign, decided to sue. As they say, you can draw your own conclusions.

There’s a reason inequality reproduces itself.

What Citizens United Hath Wrought

[ 73 ] October 11, 2015 |


The law, in its majestic equality, permits any family to spend a million or three bucks on a political campaign:

They are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy.

Now they are deploying their vast wealth in the political arena, providing almost half of all the seed money raised to support Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Just 158 families, along with companies they own or control, contributed $176 million in the first phase of the campaign, a New York Times investigation found. Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.

But I’m sure this is highly representative of the electorate as a whole!

But regardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too.

But Glenn Reynolds has been telling me that the Democrats are the party of the rich, and when has he ever been wrong about anything?


[ 117 ] October 11, 2015 |

In addition, I think Poochie Cal Ripken must go. His people need him.

Kershaw Isn’t Clutch!

[ 18 ] October 10, 2015 |
Aug 22, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) throws against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 22, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) throws against the Miami Marlins during the first inning at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There will be many #hottakes to this effect tomorrow. (The take reaches scorching status if it mentions the unassailable postseason brilliance of Jack Morris, who had a lifetime ERA in the ALCS of 4.87. Morris, an excellent illustration of the utter stupidity of putting pitchers into “clutch” and “not clutch” boxes based on tiny samples, is often cited for the opposite purpose.) As I observed yesterday, they will without exception be asinine.

Clayton Kershaw took the mound yesterday against a very tough and deep lineup. (OPS+ of the Mets lineup tonight: 129, 128, 137, 113, 128, 132, 95, 94.) He struck out 11 in 6 2/3rds and gave up 4 hits. He left the game having given up one run. He did leave with the bases loaded after giving up 3 of his 4 walks in that inning. But Duda, Tejada and Granderson are all very patient hitters with excellent strike zone judgment, and worked walks with outstanding ABs. (How many players would have swung at the 3-2 pitch a few inches off the plate Granderson laid off? I’d guess way more than half.) It wasn’t his very best game, but he gave his team a good chance to win. A reliever could have gotten him out of the 7th, but gave up a line drive single. His team was facing one of the five best pitchers in the league and were dominated by him getting only one run after he left. Kershaw pitched very well; he wasn’t quite as good as Jacob DeGrom. This says nothing about his clutchiosity.

I should also say that while I don’t think much of Mattingly as a manager, I don’t think he did anything wrong tonight. Leaving Kershaw in against Granderson was the right decision, and after 3 walks it would have been crazy to leave him in to face the lefty-mashing Wright. It was a sound decision; it just didn’t work.

And finally, can we give it up to Mr. Curtis Granderson? It hasn’t attracted much attention, because he signed a big contract and was disappointing his first year, but he was one of the dozen best players in the league this year.

Neyer with more on Mattingly.

MLB Random Notes

[ 79 ] October 9, 2015 |

Paul shamed me out of attempting to predict the inherently not meaningfully predictable MLB playoffs several years ago, but some assorted links and observations:

  • To borrow Hunter Felt’s line, some impressive 3-out hitting by the Rangers today.  I really hope the Royals win because ye gods is an Astros/Rangers ALCS unenticing.
  • While Yankee Elimination Day is always a good day, this year the celebration is attenuated by the fact that I was happy to see A-Rod do well for obvious reasons, and was happy to see Carlos Beltran have a good year because he’s a Hall of Fame player and the “but he didn’t swing at that unhittable Adam Wainwright curveball that one time” thing is the dumbest shit ever.
  • The Pirates losing means there’s plenty of whining about the single-game wildcard playoff, which I find as unpersuasive as ever. Two additional points: 1)a particularly weak argument against the format is the “there should be a three-game playoff” alternative.  The difference between a one- and three-game playoff between two fairly evenly matched teams in terms of reducing the role of chance and ensuring that the “better team” wins is, for all intents and purposes, nothing.  2)Any playoff system that involves divisions has potential inequities, but divisions are necessary in a 15-team league. In addition, even if we got the narrow-minded quantoid’s wet dream and fan’s nightmare of one big 30-team league playing a balanced schedule and declaring the first place team the champion, between injuries and the fact that run sequence luck doesn’t even out in a season sample, the “best” team would not win with any particular reliability.  The goal of sports is not simply to determine the “best” team in some strong sense; a sport in which the “best” team always wins would not even be worth watching.
  • The thing is, Ned Yost is a good manager.  People overrate the importance of tactics.  Evaluating and developing talent is a much more important part of the job, and Yost has shown solid abilities in that area in two jobs now.
  • By the same token, the Mariners did the right thing in firing Llyod McClendon.  When a team underachieves that badly for a manager with a record of no particular distinction, that’s a very strong prima facie case for firing the manager.  It might be a coincidence, but that’s definitely not how to bet.  I don’t see anything that mitigates his performance; indeed, it’s not clear what if anything he does well.  And the Mariners really can’t afford to recycle a hack like Eric Wedge or John McClaren, either.  This isn’t a young team that can afford to be patient; it’s a team with a lot invested in front-line talent whose window is closing.  DiPoto needs to get this right.
  • I really wish that assertions that Clayton Kershaw isn’t “clutch” or whatever weren’t bullshit.

Friday Links

[ 27 ] October 9, 2015 |

Page 1 of 79712345...102030...Last »