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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

A Quick Note for Those Ordering Through Amazon . . .



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So, good news and bad news. Amazon.com has sold all of its copies from its initial shipment of “The Weed Agency,” so people who are ordering now are getting messages that it will take 3 to 5 weeks to arrive. I’m told by my publisher that a new printing was ordered recently and is on its way to Amazon, so the delivery should just be a matter of days, not weeks.

Thank you so, so, so, so much to everyone who has ordered today. While I make no endorsement on which bookseller you choose, if you find the Amazon delay intolerable, Barnes and Noble still has it at $9.94. The book is $9.99 on Nook, and as of last night, $7.99 on Kindle. For you Canadians, it’s $9.99 on Kobo.

Kathryn Lopez and I chat about the book, and the old dot-com and wire-service days, over on the homepage.

Tags: Something Lighter

Looking Ahead to Today’s Actually Thrilling Primary Battles



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It’s quite possible the Mississippi GOP Senate primary will go on for another three weeks. If neither incumbent senator Thad Cochran nor challenger Chris McDaniel gets 50 percent tonight, they’ll advance to a runoff. There’s a third candidate on the ballot, Thomas Carey, and none of the four most recent polls put either man at 50 percent. Hope you can stand another three weeks of mudslinging, Mississippians!

In Iowa, Joni Ernst is the clear frontrunner in the GOP Senate primary, but she may not quite clear the threshold required to end the primary. In that state, a candidate must receive at least 35 percent of the vote in the primary to win the nomination. If no candidate receives 35 percent in the primary, the nominee is chosen by the state convention of the party. She’s been polling right around that level; with her rivals Mark Jacobs, Sam Clovis, and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker significantly behind, would the state convention select any of the other candidates?

In California, Jerry Brown is looking like a safe bet for reelection in the governor’s race, but there’s a giant contrast in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Neel Kashkari, an assistant decretary in the treasury department of the George W. Bush administration, vs. state assemblyman Tim Donnelly. One’s a child of immigrants, solar-car-builder, MBA Wharton, lots of connections in Silicon Valley . . . 

. . . and the other is different:

A senior California Republican on Thursday angrily denounced fellow GOP member Tim Donnelly’s attempts to link gubernatorial rival Neel Kashkari to fundamentalist Islamic law.

“There is no place in any public discussion for this type of hateful and ignorant garbage,” Rep. Darrell Issa said in a statement. “As far as I’m concerned, this type of stupidity disqualifies Tim Donnelly from being fit to hold any office, anywhere. Donnelly is no longer a viable option for California voters.”

On Facebook and Twitter this week, Donnelly, an assemblyman from San Bernardino County who announced his candidacy for governor last year, said Kashkari — also a Republican — condoned the strictures of sharia law because he once participated in a U.S. Treasury conference about Islamic finance.

Tags: Thad Cochran , Chris McDaniel

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An Ominous Deal, Looking Worse With Each Passing Day



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From the Tuesday Morning Jolt, we have no choice but to start the day with the worsening details of the Bergdahl deal . . . 

New Revelations About the Bergdahl Deal So Awful, It’s Hard to Understand . . . 

Some days, you read the news, and find yourself asking, “is this real?”

Massive Problem Number One: Apparently a lot of our intelligence guys didn’t want these five captured Taliban released under any circumstances.

A report that will leave a sick feeling in your stomach, from Eli Lake:

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, according to three U.S. intelligence officials, flat out rejected the release of the five detainees, saying there was too high a risk these Taliban commanders would return to the battlefield and orchestrate attacks against Americans.

Clapper was not alone. Leon Panetta, who was then the Secretary of Defense, declined to certify that the United States could mitigate the risk to national interests of releasing the Taliban commanders.

A lot has changed since 2012. To start, President Obama won reelection. Panetta is gone, and in his place is Chuck Hagel, a Republican former senator who has been much more in sync with Obama’s views on the war on terror than his predecessors.

But current U.S. intelligence and defense officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on Monday say the process for exchanging Taliban for Bergdahl this time was rushed and closely held, in some instances leaving little room for any push back against a policy clearly favored by the White House.

For what it’s worth, Clapper’s spokesman said he is on board with the deal now.

Massive Problem Number Two: The whole deal wasn’t legal.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin declared on Monday that President Barack Obama “broke the law” when his administration failed to give Congress notice of at least 30 days before releasing five ranking Taliban members from Guantanamo Bay. Toobin said that a presidential signing statement did not absolve Obama from culpability for failing to abide by the law mandating congressional notification.

“I think he clearly broke the law,” Toobin said. “The law says 30-days’ notice. He didn’t give 30-days’ notice.” Toobin added that Obama’s opinion expressed in a signing statement “is not law.”

“The law is on the books, and he didn’t follow it,” Toobin added.

Massive Problem Number Three: Fresh off violating our national obligation to take care of our veterans when they return, our government is violating its national obligation to the families of fallen soldiers. Or at least stirring fresh pain anew:

Robert Andrews believes his own son might still be alive if U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl had not gone missing from his Afghan guard post on June 30, 2009.

As Bergdahl emerges from five years of Taliban captivity, former comrades are accusing him of walking away from his unit and prompting a massive manhunt they say cost the lives of at least six fellow soldiers, including Andrews’ 34-year-old son, Darryn, a second lieutenant.

“Basically, my son died unnecessarily, hunting for a guy that we shouldn’t even have been hunting for,” Andrews told Reuters.

What on earth can anyone say to these families?

Sondra Andrews’ son, 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews, is one of six soldiers killed reportedly while searching for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The sergeant’s return to captivity has stirred “very raw emotions.”

“It gets really hurtful when I think, this guy was worth my son’s life? My son who was patriotic? Who was a true soldier? Who defended his country with his life?” Andrews told Army Times via phone on Monday. “That guy was worth that? I don’t think so.”

Massive Problem Number Four: Meet the guy we rescued, before he disappeared from his post:

“The future is too good to waste on lies,” Bowe wrote. “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”

The e-mail went on to list a series of complaints: Three good sergeants, Bowe said, had been forced to move to another company, and “one of the biggest s*** bags is being put in charge of the team.” His battalion commander was a “conceited old fool.” The military system itself was broken: “In the US army you are cut down for being honest . . . but if you are a conceited brown nosing s*** bag you will be allowed to do what ever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank. . . . The system is wrong. I am ashamed to be an american. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.” The soldiers he actually admired were planning on leaving: “The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”

Massive Problem Number Five: Here’s a disturbing report of the captivity:

A captured American soldier is training Taliban fighters bomb-making and ambush skills, according to one of his captors and Afghan intelligence officials.

Private Bowe Bergdahl disappeared in June 2009 while based in eastern Afghanistan and is thought to be the only U.S. serviceman in captivity.

The 24-year-old has converted to Islam and now has the Muslim name Abdullah, one of his captors told The Sunday Times.

A Taliban deputy district commander in Paktika, who called himself Haji Nadeem, told the newspaper that Bergdahl taught him how to dismantle a mobile phone and turn it into a remote control for a roadside bomb.

Nadeem claimed he also received basic ambush training from the U.S. soldier.

’Most of the skills he taught us we already knew,’ he said. ‘Some of my comrades think he’s pretending to be a Muslim to save himself so they wouldn’t behead him.’

Massive Problem Number Six: This graphic spread far and wide Monday, claiming to depict six U.S. soldiers killed in the course of the years-long search for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released over the weekend by his Taliban captors:

Hmm.

Asked about the claims, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said it’s “impossible” to confirm right now whether anybody’s death was directly linked to the hunt for Bergdahl.

But the Pentagon will look further into the circumstances of the deaths being associated with the search, he said.

Not something you usually see on Jake Tapper’s program:

“He is at best a deserter, and at worst a traitor,” says former U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Korder. Korder served with Bergdahl in Blackfoot company, 2nd platoon in Afghanistan, and was recently discharged from the military.

Tags: Afghanistan , Bowe Bergdahl , James Clapper , Leon Panetta

What You Missed at TXOnline, Part One



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From the Morning Jolt, arriving in e-mailboxes moments ago…

What You Missed at TXOnline, Part One

This weekend, Americans for Prosperity hosted the “TXOnline” conference, and they were kind enough to invite me and a lot of my favorite bloggers, podcasters, Tweeters, and other denizens from the conservative media world’s Island of Misfit Toys. Before we go any further, thanks so much to Kemberlee Kaye and her team for putting it together.

Dana Loesch kicked off the festivities by contending that the tea parties are dead, but not in the sense that the gloating media usually does. She suggested the Tea Party’s original form is dead, or ought to be, because they were a catalyst, spurring people to pay much closer attention to local government — sheriff’s races, town and city councils, etc. The fact that the tea parties aren’t in the rallies-and-town-halls mode of 2010 is natural, because a catalyst can’t go on forever. “The Sons of Liberty dumping tea in the harbor wasn’t designed to be a long-lasting movement.”

The panel on writing about policy featured Guy Benson of TownhallWilliam Upton of Americans for Tax Reform, and Avik Roy, who you know from NRO and Forbes. I realize Avik Roy’s role in the conservative movement for the past year can be summarized like this:

[Obama administration announces some sudden change to Obamacare]

Most of us: This is terrible! This change is ridiculous! They’re changing this law every five minutes! By making this change, you’re . . . you’re . . . it’s going to…

[We log online, go to check what Avik Roy has written on the subject, find a torrent of statistics, data, anecdotes and examples]

Most of us: Ah-ha! Just as I thought! This is a terrible change because [quotes Avik]!

On a panel on the state of First Amendment rights, the Franklin Center’s Erik Telford dismissed the ridiculous notion that legal protections for journalists should only apply to “official” journalists, and not bloggers and others who aren’t part of larger organizations: “In Iran, they pick the three people who are allowed to run for president. We don’t get to elect our reporters and journalists who ask questions on our behalf. I don’t think the government should get to pick who has the responsibility hold them accountable.”

Melissa Clouthier and our Charlie Cooke, among others, launched a fascinating discussion of whether the conservative movement has too eagerly embraced scalp-hunting of liberals by using their own standards of political correctness against them — think of Alec Baldwin, or Martin Bashir, or any other time a prominent Democrat finds themselves in trouble with their liberal brethren over a controversial statement. The room seemed pretty divided on that; Charlie argued that we ought to stand for an America where the First Amendment means something, where individuals can speak one’s mind without retaliatory economic threats and efforts to get someone fired.

I pretty much agree with Charlie, but I think — and hope — there’s a difference between “this person said something I disagree with, and I denounce the statement” (or the person!) and “you must fire this person for making that statement.” (Ahem.)   But one reason people think and express appalling ideas is that they’re largely oblivious to how much others are appalled by those ideas. If you walk around in circles where it’s perfectly okay to say the sort of thing that Martin Bashir said about Sarah Palin . . . once you say it for public consumption, everybody’s got the right to react, and the negative reaction is designed to discourage further statements in that vein.

Fingers Malloy and Thomas LaDuke of FTR Radio did a presentation on podcasting, and offered a positive thought on the future of radio — as you probably know, the talk-radio audience is aging rapidly. As Internet radio gets more common — after all, you can surf the web on your phone in your car — people aren’t going to care whether your show is broadcast on the Internet or on radio. In terms of sound quality, Internet podcasts are increasingly on par with regular terrestrial radio.

I spoke on a panel on polling and data analysis, moderated by PJ Media’s Bryan Preston, the Tarrance Group’s Logan DobsonDan McLaughlin — whose head is not, in fact, a baseball, as his avatar would suggest. My co-panelists expertly dissected what they look for when evaluating a poll — sample size, timing, wording of questions and so on; I noted how much polls are used to tell stories and stir a particular emotional response in the intended audience — oftentimes, to boost confidence in one side and dispirit the other.

On a panel discussion about how to make stories, arguments, and other concepts “share-able” — i.e., likely to go viral on social media, Jon Gabriel offered this stunning statistic: “A YouTube video has to make an impression in the first two seconds.”

The most contentious and most interesting panel was entitled “Culture Is Upstream of Politics.” Larry O’Connor began by noting that while we mocked President Obama for appearing on wacky morning shows such as Miami’s The Pimp with the Limp, that’s where the voters are.

Bill Whittle said the inevitable and discomfiting conclusion was that Barack Obama spoke a language to Americans that Mitt Romney didn’t, and thus, by this standard, Barack Obama was in fact more “American” than Romney was. He contended that the vast majority of Obama voters, particularly the young ones, “don’t sit through Obama speeches from start to finish. But Lady Gaga, George Clooney, Katy Perry everybody that they do watch votes for Obama — it saves them the step of having to think things through for themselves.”

Emily Zanotti objected. “People between 18 and 35 aren’t political idiots. We don’t just vote a certain way because celebrities do.”

Noah Rothman, who’s joining that web site Warmer-than-Warm Air, noted that with increasing frequency, Democrats and their allies prefer to shift the conversation to cultural topics and the culture wars. (This may reflect the fact that the economy continues to stink and the world beyond our borders looks increasingly unstable.)

The Democrats’ approach in the culture wars is to tell groups — particularly minorities, women and young people, “the Republicans/conservatives hate you” and they latch onto anyone they can use as an example — regardless of whether or not that person is actually a Republican or outspoken conservative: rancher Cliven Bundy, Clippers owner Donald Sterling, TV chef Paula Deen, former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. This is cynical and divisive, but it is also effective.

Clearly the catalyst for much of the panel’s debate was the bold, uncompromising viewpoints of Matt Walsh, a fascinating guy with strong opinions on everything from divorce to the indisputable menace of people who leave their shopping carts in the middle of the supermarket parking lot. The unexpected directions of this conversation may warrant a separate discussion in a future Morning Jolt. A key takeaway is that conservatives and Republicans usually have two simultaneous goals, and those goals sometimes clash. One goal is to stand for “the Truth”, or a particular viewpoint of what constitutes a good life well lived. The other is to persuade people to vote for their candidates. Oftentimes there’s a tension between the two priorities and sometimes they’re in all-out conflict. We want people to minimize their dependency on government assistance . . . but we have to persuade “the 47 percent” that we don’t look down on them and that they ought to vote for our guys.

After Walsh’s comment that pop culture was frivolous, our Kevin Williamson responded that “pop culture is only frivolous in that it runs the world.”

In tomorrow’s Jolt, I’ll briefly cover the discussion of whether Texas could become a swing state and the unparalleled, hysterical whirling dervish of entertainment chaos known as “Tracked and Targeted” — as well as a bunch of other folks from the Island of Misfit Toys you probably ought to follow on Twitter.

Tags: Something Lighter , Tea Parties , Texas

Criticism of Shinseki Was a ‘Distraction’ From What, Exactly?



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President Obama announced he accepted Shinseki’s resignation today, but you read the easily-predicted tone of his statement on this blog Wednesday:

The next act of this play is predictable: Within a few days or weeks, Shinseki will offer his resignation, not over the widespread failures at the VA but citing fears that he has become “a distraction from the real work that needs to be done.” Obama will accept the resignation, give Shinseki a thank-you ceremony similar to the one for former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, thank him for his service, and make remarks that somehow Washington’s “finger-pointing” and “blame-game” is the real problem here.

Because if Shinseki admits he was a part of the problem, it means the man who appointed him is part of the problem, too.

Despite what you just heard from the president, Shinseki is not resigning because he fears he is becoming a distraction. He is resigning because he failed to do his job well.

Tags: Eric Shinseki , Barack Obama , VA

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Hillary Serves Up Implausible, Illogical Benghazi Defenses



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Politico obtains the Benghazi-related chapter of Hillary Clinton’s forthcoming memoir, and describes it here.

You are unlikely to be surprised to learn that she attacks the motives of her critics, contends the intelligence community believed the attack started as a protest — even though she was the one who first issued a statement declaring the attack video-related, while it was still going on — and contends the government did everything it could to rescue those under attack.

She also “points out that she ordered an investigation into what happened nine days after the attacks” — it’s unclear why this is considered exculpatory or laudatory, instead of a strangely delayed absolutely necessary duty – and that she “agreed with and implemented all 29 of the recommendations made by a review board” — a review board that so thoroughly preemptively rejected the notion of her responsibility that they never bothered to interview her.

The point of this…

… is to remind people that Hillary Clinton is willing to lie, quite dramatically, boldly, and shamelessly, even in ways that can be easily checked and refuted, when her political aspirations are at stake. 

Tags: Hillary Clinton , Benghazi

Beyond Politics, America Enjoys an Era of Amazing Innovation



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From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Is America Depressed?

Okay, so America’s seen some bad news lately. The economy stinks, and no one is confident. Mediocre economic numbers are greeted as a triumph. Obamacare’s a mess. The federal government is one cluster-you-know-what of venality and incompetence after another. The Millennials seem spoiled, self-absorbed and incapable of achieving in the modern workplace. Trouble is brewing from Ukraine to Syria to Iraq to Libya to the South China Sea to the Korean peninsula. Our allies are unnerved, our enemies acting bolder.

There’s a particular gloom among a lot of conservatives lately, too: The country has more takers than makers. Everybody’s addicted to “Uncle Sugar.” Too many Establishment Republicans just want to replace the Democrats’ crony capitalism with their own crony capitalism. Our popular culture makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like Mayberry. Time to start putting our savings into gold and shopping for real estate in Belize.

We can’t let our perspective of our fellow Americans get defined by every idiot on Twitter or the comments section. We’ve always had idiots. We’ve always had loud idiots. The good folks working hard, taking care of their families, and living the American dream don’t spend a lot of time arguing on the Internet.

This is still a country packed to the gills with innovative, driven, hard-working, ingenious, generous, kind-hearted folk of every race, creed, and color.

Don’t believe me? Here are some bits of good news you may have missed:

Faith in the future is returning; we’re making more new Americans – a.k.a. “babies” – again.

The newest child birth rate numbers have just been released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the report indicates that there were 4,736 more births in 2013 than there were the year before, which shows an increase that America hasn’t seen in five years.

We’re doing this while reducing teen pregnancy, births, and abortions:

In examining birth and health certificates from 2010 (the most recent data available), Guttmacher Institute found that approximately 6 percent of teenagers (57.4 pregnancies per 1,000 teenage girls) became pregnant—the lowest rate in 30 years and down from its peak of 51 percent in 1991. Between 2008 and 2010 alone, there was a 15-percent drop.

At 34.4 births per 1,000 teenage women, the birthrate was down 44 percent from its peak rate of 61.8 in 1991. The abortion rate is down too: In 2010, there were 14.7 abortions per 1,000 teenagers, which is the lowest it’s been since the procedure was legalized.

According to the CDC, the numbers are going in the right direction for life expectancy, heart disease, and cancer death rate:

Americans are living longer than ever. According to the report, in 2010, life expectancy at birth for the total population was 78.7 years — 76.2 years for men and 81.0 years for women. Between 2000 and 2010, life expectancy at birth increased 2.1 years for men and 1.7 years for women. The gap in life expectancy between men and women narrowed from 5.2 years in 2000 to 4.8 years in 2010.

The report also notes a 30% decline between 2000 and 2010 in the age-adjusted heart disease death rate, from 257.6 to 179.1 deaths per 100,000 population. But in 2010, heart disease was still the most lethal disease in the US, with 24% of all deaths, the report says.

The age-adjusted cancer death rate decreased 13% between 2000 and 2010, from 199.6 to 172.8 deaths per 100,000 population. Still, in 2010, 23% of all deaths in the US were from cancer, close behind heart disease. In 2012, 18.1% of adults aged 18 and over were current cigarette smokers, down from 23.2% in 2000.

The Mayo Clinic just scored “complete remission” of a form of previously-untreatable cancer using an engineered measles virus in a human being. Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute recently announced that adult stem cells from bone marrow tissue can specifically target and kill brain tumors.

The hunt for a cure for AIDS continues, but treatments have become effective and widespread in ways that were simply unimaginable a generation ago. It is a much less deadly disease:   “The age-adjusted HIV death rate has dropped by 85% since its peak, including by 14% between 2009 and 2010.” There are indications that some people can be “functionally cured” of HIV.  There are other beautiful anecdotes: A Vancouver, Canada hospital repurposed its AIDS ward because the number of cases dwindled so rapidly.

The scale of the U.S. energy boom is jaw-dropping: “According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of new jobs in the oil and gas industry (technically a part of mining) increased by roughly 270,000 between 2003 and 2012. This is an increase of about 92% compared with a 3% increase in all jobs during the same period. The BLS reports that the U.S. average annual wage (which excludes employer-paid benefits) in the oil and gas industry was about $107,200 during 2012, the latest full year available. That’s more than double the average of $49,300 for all workers.”

We’re on the dawn of the era of private spaceflight: “SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada are building new manned spacecraft with the goal of restoring U.S. human spaceflight capability by 2017.”

Yes, it’s a dangerous world. But our men and women in uniform, the companies that supply them, and the researchers that equip them regularly produce breakthroughs that sound like science fiction. The Pentagon is developing a hypersonic missile that can hit anywhere in the world in 30 minutes.  They’re developing brain chips to treat PTSD. There’s some mysterious plane – allegedly a stealth transport  — flying over Texas. University researchers may be on the verge of developing functional invisibility. And, as Kevin Williamson notes, brainwave-driven exoskeletons may help the paralyzed rise and walk.

As David Plotz lays out, there has never been more news published than there is today; web sites of media organizations from the New York Times to Fox News publish literally hundreds, sometimes thousands, of new items a day. Sure, you can say a lot of it’s crap. A lot of anything is crap. But the barrier to entry in the news world is obliterated. We’re no longer in an era where the number of pages and column-inches in the New York Times, and the time limits of the nightly news, set the limits for what the public sees and reads. Despite the commencement mobs and the political-correctness enforcers, this is a golden age for free speech.

In fact, things are going so well in the apolitical or non-political aspects of American life… all that talk about a second American Century may not just be happy talk or tired campaign rhetoric. We just have to get our government to work better – and in many circumstances, do less, and get out of the way! – and our best days may indeed be ahead of us.

So cheer up, conservatives!

Tags: Technology , Innovation , Politics

Ritual Begging and Pleading, This Time With Transformers



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Because no day is complete without asking people to buy my book just one more time…

Today’s Ritual Begging and Pleading, This Time With Transformers

Today’s update on The Weed Agency: My publisher told me some updated pre-order numbers. They’re . . . okay. Not bad. Not that good, though. I’m a bit unnerved because in terms of reaching potential book buyers, you kind folks are the lowest-hanging fruit. You already read me and, hopefully, you already like me. And a healthy number of you already have ordered, paper and e-book versions (about even, interestingly enough) and for that I thank you, and I thank you, and I thank you again.

Unfortunately, this is the part where I beg and plead for you to order a copy for your friends. You see, a week after my book is released, Hillary’s Hard Choices hits the shelves. (The most recent “hard choice” she’s blown was selecting that title.) You know that in the coming weeks, Hillary’s book will be devouring column-inches in the book-review sections, occupying the front tables at the big bookstores, and dominating the cable news airwaves — all the spots that a book like mine needs for exposure.

Macintosh HD:Users:jimgeraghty:Pictures:Devastator.jpg

Above: the five major pieces of Hillary’s P.R. machine have combined to form a giant robot called “Devastator.”

I see Hillary’s promoting her masterpiece by doing the tough interviews:

Hillary Rodham Clinton hits Chicago for a speech on June 10 — the day her new book “Hard Choices” is released — and at the Chicago Ideas Festival the next day, she will be interviewed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is helping raise money for a group encouraging her to run for president in 2016.

So, she’s got Rahm, the Clinton machine, MSNBC, David Brock and company, and the whole gang helping her out.

I’ve got you.

Can I count on you to help me out? Can we show that there’s an audience out there for a funny little satire that exposes how the bureaucracy-laden federal government is very rarely an effective, efficient, fast-moving tool to solve national problems?

And it’s a pretty cheap way to send that message: $13 cover price, $10.09 on Amazon — don’t ask me why it shifted up a few cents in the past few days — $9.99 on Nook, and as of last night, $7.99 on Kindle. For you Canadians, it’s $9.99 on Kobo.

Tags: Something Lighter

How Much Can Our Popular Culture Warp Someone?



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Also in today’s Jolt, an examination of where the traditional conservative critique of a decadent, morally-inverted popular culture meets the twisted mind of mass shooters…

How Much Can Our Society Warp Someone?

There’s lot to chew over and digest in this essay by SM over at The Wilderness, contemplating the role of Hollywood and our modern society’s values in shaping, or more specifically, warping that lunatic shooter out in California. Before we dive in, two personal rules: I don’t think we should spend much time trying to figure out the motivations and mental logic of an insane person, because there’s no logic to be found there.  Secondly, I don’t think we in media should print the names of mass murderers, since it seems some unhinged types seek out the fame that comes with infamy.

“It doesn’t make sense…I do everything I can to appear attractive to you. I dress nice. I’m sophisticated. I’m magnificent. I have a nice car, a BMW. Nicer than 90% of the people at my college.” [the shooter] laments to a video recorder he’s placed on the car dashboard. He’s somewhere in the canyons, alone, where no one will hear him or see this performance – and it is a performance. In his manifesto, he describes his inability to approach girls going back to high school, even terrified to go to parties or talk to one in class. Spoiler alert: Every guy is terrified of talking to girls. Not every guy manifests this terror into a homicidal monster. Somewhere along the twisted timeline of his life he became wired to believe that simply showing up would be enough to experience joy, sex, love and happiness. He believed that just by walking into a room he would somehow have a part to play in Scarlett Johansson’s life. This is Hollywood culture, not gun culture…

Excessive narcissism as a result of severe social anxiety and depression combined with almost unlimited financial resources. He followed the “E! Entertainment Bible of Fame and Fortune” to the letter. It was enough to get him onto red carpets but not into bed with Paris Hilton.

This is what was intolerable to him. He was a narcissistic celebrity in his own mind wondering why no one was worshiping him. He believed he did everything right to attain celebrity idol perfection and couldn’t handle it when it didn’t start raining Lohans. He couldn’t take it out on the Kardashian sisters who go everywhere with armed security, so he directed his rage at those who were defenseless.

Elsewhere on Fox News, Jonah offered somewhat similar thoughts: “We live in a culture that creates certain expectations for young people, for men and for women, and that has consequences… I don’t think that asking what kind of culture we’re creating for our kids is nearly as stupid a reaction as, say, blaming Sarah Palin’s Facebook map for the Gabby Giffords shooting, which liberals jumped all over themselves to do.”

Here’s the thing. Almost all of our cultural consumptions are conscious choices, whether we want to admit it or not. All of us have an enormous range of options when it comes to what values we want to embrace. If you want to completely ignore the Kardashians, the Lohans, the Paris Hiltons of the world, you can. You don’t have to watch TMZ or “Entertainment Tonight,” and you don’t have to buy the magazines that put them on the cover. None of us are required to watch Judd Apatow or Seth Rogan movies.

Yes, we have cultural forces that encourage materialism, a desperate craving for fame, self-absorption, extreme entitlement issues, a belief that all women ought to be perpetually-enthusiastic sex objects, and so on.  But we also have cultural forces that encourage spirituality, humility, generosity, dedication, compassion, respect for others, and kindness. Most of us can just as easily watch EWTN as MTV, the History Channel as E!, Mike Rowe as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, or read something inspirational or self-improving as browsing through Us Weekly.

We make choices on what we choose to ingest, both physically and psychologically.

And we are shaped by a lot more than just our cultural consumption. If children grow up in loving homes, with lots of people who care about them, exposed to role models, mentors, and people who take their well-being seriously and who put time and effort into cultivating that character, conscience and empathy — then they have good odds of surviving exposure to just about any media image or program and emerging with good heads on their shoulders.

It’s when all of that family-and-neighbors stuff is lacking, then the images and sounds on the screen fill the vacuum. Perhaps it’s that we need someone – flesh-and-blood, in person, not via a screen or a phone – telling young people that the images on the screen are just that – images. Television is not real. Movies are not real. You don’t really know what a celebrity is like. You should never take advice from celebrities.

The catalyst for much of this conversation was Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday asking, “How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, ‘It’s not fair’?”

Okay… how many? No, really, I’m asking. Is this a major national problem? Ladies, fill me in. I don’t hang around that many young, unmarried men. If there are a lot of them as Hornaday suggests, then they probably missed the point of most of Apatow’s movies, because the shlubby arrested adolescent almost always has to grow up and be responsible before he can get the girl.

If indeed these Hornadaydreamers exist in large numbers, they need to read and/or hear this profane advice from Cracked. One key point is to stop telling yourself and everyone else that you’re a “nice guy”:

It’s up to you, but don’t complain about how girls fall for jerks; they fall for those jerks because those jerks have other things they can offer. “But I’m a great listener!” Are you? Because you’re willing to sit quietly in exchange for the chance to be in the proximity of a pretty girl (and spend every second imagining how soft her skin must be)? Well guess what, there’s another guy in her life who also knows how to do that, and he can play the guitar. Saying that you’re a nice guy is like a restaurant whose only selling point is that the food doesn’t make you sick. You’re like a new movie whose title is This Movie Is in English, and its tagline is “The actors are clearly visible.”

Being a “nice guy” is the bare minimum in attracting a wonderful woman to be your mate. You need to figure out what you are extraordinary at – which may relate to your career, or it may not — and you need to dive into it. You need to have well-earned pride in yourself and confidence, and figure out where that line is before you enter “egomaniac” territory.

Is our society manufacturing young people who are “wired to believe that simply showing up will be enough to experience joy, sex, love and happiness”? Doesn’t life metaphorically pick up a tire iron and beat that out of most of us early in our lives? And aren’t all of us who aren’t deeply mentally disturbed capable of growing up and adopting a more mature perspective on what it takes to get what we want out of life?

Tags: Culture

Oh, Hey, The Economy Is Contracting Again.



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President Obama, speaking to donors at a DSCC fundraiser, May 22: “Over the last four years, we’ve created 9.5 million jobs. The unemployment rate has come down and housing has recovered.  The auto industry has come back. The deficits have been cut in half.  We have dug our way out of the rubble of that crisis.”

The news today:

The U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter of 2014, the latest stumble for a recovery that has struggled to find its footing since the recession ended almost five years ago.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, contracted at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.0% in the first three months of the year, the Commerce Department said Thursday. It was the first time economic output contracted since the first quarter of 2011, when it declined at a 1.3% pace.

Government economists had previously estimated GDP slowed to a 0.1% growth rate in the first quarter as harsh winter weather disrupted work sites, curtailed foot traffic at retail stores and snarled transportation networks across much of the U.S. The newly revised estimate incorporates additional economic data released in recent weeks. Higher-than-expected imports and slower-than-expected inventory growth dragged the economy into negative territory.

Reuters, May 12: “Better economic data could help persuade voters in November to look past President Barack Obama’s weak approval ratings and his unpopular healthcare law and give Democrats enough lift to hold onto the Senate and limit their losses in the House, political strategists said.”

 

Tags: Barack Obama , Economy

No, Really, the VA Scandal Found a Way To Get Even Worse.



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The lead headline from today’s Morning Jolt, hitting e-mailboxes mid-morning, may represent a bit of wishful thinking:

By the Time You Read This, Eric Shinseki May Already Be Gone.

For many, many good reasons:

A Veterans Administration health clinic in Phoenix used inappropriate scheduling practices and concealed chronically high wait times, according to an independent report released Wednesday — igniting a wave of outrage and prompting a new flood of calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.

The report, a 35-page interim document in advance of a full independent probe, found that 1,700 veterans using a Phoenix VA hospital were kept on unofficial wait lists.

Equally damning is the Inspector General’s examination of 226 veterans’ appointments in Phoenix during 2013. While the facility reported that only 43 percent of those veterans had to wait more than 14 days for an appointment, the report found that it was really 84 percent. The average wait for a veteran’s first appointment was 115 days, the investigation found in the sampling.

And those details, the inspector general warned, could be just the beginning.

We are finding that inappropriate scheduling practices are a systemic problem nationwide,” the report concluded.

Wait, it gets worse than the unofficial wait lists: “At least 1,700 military veterans waiting to see a doctor were never scheduled for an appointment and never placed on a wait list at the Veterans Affairs facility in Phoenix.”

Wait, it gets even worse: “It also appears to indicate the scope of the investigation is rapidly widening, with 42 VA facilities across the country now under investigation for possible abuse of scheduling practices, according to the report.”

Don’t worry, America. The President is on the case: “The President found the findings of the interim report deeply troubling,” says Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken.

This morning, Shinseki writes in USA Today that he’s on the case as well.

The findings of the interim report of VA’s Office of Inspector General on the Phoenix VA Health Care System are reprehensible to me and to this department, and we are not waiting to set things straight.

I immediately directed the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to contact each of the 1,700 veterans in Phoenix waiting for primary care appointments in order to bring them the care they need and deserve.

In short, the guy who completely missed an appalling scandal’s emergence and spread, and who remained oblivious to it until very recently, is insisting to us that he’s just the guy to solve the problem. 

Tags: VA Scandal , Eric Shinseki , Barack Obama

The Predictable Next Act of the VA Scandal



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Over in the Corner, Andrew Johnson notes Democratic Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and John Walsh of Montana called on Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to go.

It’s likely that other Democratic senators will follow, and with a bipartisan calls for a firing or resignation getting louder, at some point in the not-too-distant future, Shinseki will step down. 

Keep in mind, May 19, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters, “The president has confidence in Secretary Shinseki.”

Then on May 21, President Obama said:

Ric Shinseki has been a great soldier. He himself is a disabled veteran, and nobody cares more about our veterans than Ric Shinseki. So, you know, if you ask me, you know, how do I think Ric Shinseki has performed overall, I would say that on homelessness, on the 9/11 GI Bill, on working with us to reduce the backlog across the board, he has put his heart and soul into this thing and he has taken it very seriously.

But I have said to Ric, and I said it to him today, I want to see, you know, what the results of these reports are, and there is going to be accountability. And I’m going to expect, even before the reports are done, that we are seeing significant improvement in terms of how the admissions process takes place in all of our VA health care facilities.

So I know he cares about it deeply. And, you know, he has been a great public servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America. We’re going to work with him to solve the problem, but I am going to make sure that there is accountability throughout the system after I get the full report.

The next act of this play is predictable: Within a few days or weeks, Shinseki will offer his resignation, not over the widespread failures at the VA but citing fears that he has become “a distraction from the real work that needs to be done.” Obama will accept the resignation, give Shinseki a thank-you ceremony similar to the one for former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, thank him for his service, and make remarks that somehow Washington’s “finger-pointing” and “blame-game” is the real problem here.

Because if Shinseki admits he was a part of the problem, it means the man who appointed him is part of the problem, too.

Tags: Eric Shinseki , VA , Barack Obama

Apparently, Big Executive Raises During Mass Layoffs Are Cool Now.



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Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal Constitution comes to the rescue of Georgia Democratic Senate nominee Michelle Nunn, responding “so what?” to Nunn’s dramatic salary increases as her nonprofit and the other nonprofit it merged with shed more than half their staffers.

This is how he describes her salary changes, “Her paycheck grew, shrank, then grew again – all with the rhythms of the economy.” In 2010, her salary was $197,506; in 2011, $322,056 in total compensation, with a base compensation of $285,533.

Do you remember the a giant booming economy and huge wage growth of 2011? Me either. 

The Nunn campaign claims this week’s post was a “distortion,” even though all of the figures come from the organization’s official Form 990 documents. 

So increasing executive pay while laying off staffers is cool now, huh?

 

Tags: Michelle Nunn

Rick Scott Gaining Ground in Florida?



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Florida Republicans continue to emphasize that incumbent Gov. Rick Scott has no easy task before him in his reelection bid. But one poll, Survey USA, is starting to see some movement in the right direction for Scott:

Is it an early indicator of things to come? Or is it just statistical noise? For the first time, the WFLA-TV poll that is tracking the Florida Governor’s contest shows Republican Rick Scott in front — Scott at 42%, Democrat Charlie Crist at 40%, according to SurveyUSA data gathered as voters get ready for the Memorial Day weekend. Compared to an identical SurveyUSA poll 10 days ago, Scott is up 1 point, Crist is down 4 points, a 5-point shift to the right.

Here is where there is movement: in Central Florida, which includes 19 counties surrounding Orlando, Scott has gained ground in each of 4 tracking polls and today leads there 47% to 34%. You can see it here. Among moderates, Crist had a 25-point advantage 10 days ago, now a 12-point advantage. You can see it here. Among males, Crist has been steadily losing ground, and now trails by 14 points; the Gender Gap is today 26 points. Crist’s support is down among whites, down among blacks. Among Cubans, Scott now leads 2:1.

 

Tags: Rick Scott , Charlie Crist

Where Do Our Ideas Come From?



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Also in today’s Jolt, a discussion of where ideas come from . . . 

Where Ideas Come From

Since I started writing the novel, friends asked how I came up with my ideas, characters, story, and so on. I always liked how Gary Larson, the brilliantly twisted cartoonist of “The Far Side,” described it:

“Where do you get your ideas?” has always been the question I’m most often confronted with. (“Why do you get your ideas?” is a close second.) I’ve always found the question interesting, because it seems to embody a belief that there exists some secret, tangible place of origin for cartoon ideas. Every time I hear it, I’m struck by this mental image where I see myself rummaging through my grandparents’ attic and coming across some old, musty trunk. Inside, I find this equally old and elegant-looking book. I take it in my hands, blow away the dust, and embossed on the front cover in large, gold script is the title, Five Thousand and One Weird Cartoon Ideas. I’m afraid the real answer is much more mundane: I don’t know where my ideas come from. I will admit, however, that one key ingredient is caffeine. I get a couple of cups of coffee into me and weird things start to happen.

For The Weed Agency, the structure of the story came from the initial outline, beginning with the plan that each chapter would cover a certain time period in the life of the characters. (The story stretches from 1981 to 2012.) The simplest way of explaining how the scenes came about is that I’m watching a movie in my head. The characters enter the set, and start doing things. And then I rewind if the scene isn’t going anywhere, and then go in another direction.

Sometimes a scene clicks instantly; sometimes it sputters and has to be scrapped entirely. Every once in a while, the light bulb goes off, and it feels like I’m tapping into some rear corner of the brain’s synapses where all the good stuff is lurking that is all-too-frequently out of reach.

In a story that examines the frustrating aspects of working within the federal bureaucracy, I felt I needed to explain why people choose to work there — besides the benefits and all. I felt like I needed a short sequence that showcased the contrast with the private sector, for good and for ill.

One of my key characters is Ava, a young woman who comes to Washington, D.C. in the early 1990s. It’s been deeply satisfying to hear from the women who have read it so far that they identified so strongly with Ava — smart, driven, idealistic, and, as she enters the working world, perhaps a little naïve about how the world works.

Ava’s career includes a ride on the dot-com roller-coaster, working out in Silicon Valley for a tech start-up, EasyFed, that builds a site designed to help people when they need something from government agencies. Life at the dot-coms is initially lavish, but increasingly tense as everyone begins to realize they haven’t quite figured out how their company is actually going to make money. (Any resemblance to my past employers during those years is strictly coincidental.)

Ava’s company, not quite enjoying the instant success it expected, blows a big chunk of its remaining budget on a Super Bowl commercial, featuring their spectacularly ill-conceived mascot and icon, a half-chicken, half-squid creature named “Squiggy,” and the result was the one scene in the book that pretty much wrote itself:

January 2000

A gigantic chunk of the advertising and marketing budget for EasyFed.com — $1.1 million — was spent on the air time for a 30-second nationwide ad during the broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIV on January 30.

The ad began by showing a harried Ernest Borgnine at his desk with a computer, his tables strewn with paper, and lamenting, “File my taxes online? Apply for a small business grant through the Internet? I can’t understand any of this stuff!” At no point did the ad-makers feel any particular need to explain why the star of McHale’s Navy and Airwolf was applying for a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

A computer-generated Squiggy, about the size of a traffic cone, popped out of Borgnine’s coffee cup, and immediately began waving his tentacles towards Borgnine’s computer keyboard.

“I can help, Ernie!”

Instead of immediately beating the strange, pinkish-purple, one-eyed beaked cephalopod to death with his shoe, as most people’s instincts would suggest, Borgnine exclaimed, “Squiggy the Squicken!” in joyous recognition. Apparently it had taken the actor several takes to get the portmanteau correct, and the director had to keep explaining it wasn’t a “Squidge-ken.”

“Have government web sites got you seeing red? Try EasyFed!” chirped the unnervingly happy squid, with an eye that the Taiwanese computer animators had depicted with perhaps a bit too much realism. “EasyFed.com helps you get the information you need, and fast! Simple, easy, and quick!” as the tentacles typed with blurring speed.

“GRANT APPLICATION APPROVED!” appeared in giant letters on Borgnine’s computer screen in a font no government web site had ever used. Underneath the actor’s beaming face, fine white print clarified, “Results not typical. EasyFed.com is not responsible for the results of any interaction with any agency on its customers’ behalf, and government response times vary greatly.”

“Thanks, Squiggy!”

“Remember, there’s no need to dread! Try EasyFed instead!”

The squid did a cartwheel on its tentacles off the desk and past a window, where an aging Michael McKean and David Lander appeared as their characters from Laverne & Shirley. “I remember when I was everyone’s favorite Squiggy,” lamented Lander.

Across America, roughly 88 million Super Bowl watchers, previously enjoying the Saint Louis Rams build a 16 to 6 lead over the Tennessee Titans, all simultaneously turned to each other and asked, “What the hell was that thing?”

The USA Today ad-meter reviewing the ads the following morning suggested that test audiences and online respondents graded the ad medium-to-bad, suggesting that the audiences liked its protagonists and remembered it, but found it bizarre and were vague on the actual product being sold. But the ad scored off the charts with the advertising professionals, who praised its humor, creativity, and unpredictability.

The ad garnered a lot of mockery from the likes of Dennis Miller, Dave Barry, and James Lileks. George Will declared, “It is long past time for mandatory drug testing of Madison Avenue’s creative staff.”

But in the following days, traffic at EasyFed.com was up considerably, almost as much as at the web sites devoted to Ernest Borgnine and Laverne & Shirley.

If that scene freaked you out, rest assured that’s about as surreal as this satire gets.

You know the drill: $13 cover price, $10.09 on Amazon — don’t ask me why it shifted up a few cents in the past few days — $9.99 on Nook, and as of last night, $7.99 on Kindle. For you Canadians, it’s $9.99 on Kobo.

Tags: Something Lighter

The Obama Administration Is Investigating Itself Again.



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I could write a whole morning newsletter just about Obama administration scandals and incompetence.

Obama Administration: We’re Investigating How We Could Make Such a Dumb Mistake

Good news. The Obama administration is investigating itself again:

The White House is investigating how the name of its top CIA officer in Afghanistan was mistakenly divulged to the press during President Barack Obama’s surprise visit to the troops over the weekend.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough has asked White House counsel Neil Eggleston to look into the matter — and “to figure out what happened and to make sure it won’t happen again,” Obama’s deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken told CNN.

What’s the consequence for the inadvertent leaker going to be — since we know this president never fires anyone? Fifty lashes with a wet noodle? A letter of reprimand in their permanent record? Double secret probation? Staying after work to write “I will not reveal the CIA station chief in Afghanistan” 100 times on the blackboard?

This follows the Justice Department’s investigation of itself in “Fast and Furious, the U.S. State Department’s review of its own actions before, during, and after the Benghazi attacks, President Obama picking his own people to examine his own NSA policies on domestic surveillance, and Eric Shinseki investigating wrongdoing at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

UPDATE: Jeryl Bier reminds us of the Department of Health and Human Services’ investigation of its own Healthcare.gov debacle, and that the position of “chief risk officer,” announced in December . . . remains unfilled.

Tags: Barack Obama , CIA , Veterans Affairs

The Mysterious ‘Only 8 Left in Stock’ Warning



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Has anyone else ever had an “Only a few left in stock!” warning for a book on Amazon pop up on some computers but not on others? As mentioned in today’s Jolt, this weekend, my in-laws’ computer indicated that Amazon was running out of copies . . . but that seems really hard to believe just based upon pre-orders. The same warning didn’t show up on my computer:

I understand Amazon is having some dispute with some publishers — I don’t think Crown Forum/Random House is among those in the fight, but then again, nobody ever tells me anything. Anyway, I hope you are able to get your copy in a timely fashion, and please let me know if you have any issues. (Not that I have that much any leverage over this. Perhaps I’ll just call you up and read you my copy out loud.)

Anyway, considering the storm clouds on the horizon on with this Amazon–publisher thing . . . perhaps it’s best if you order while you can.

You knew this sales pitch was coming. $13 cover price, $10.09 on Amazon — don’t ask me why it shifted up a few cents in the past few days — $10.09 on Nook, and as of late Sunday night, $7.99 on Kindle. For you Canadians, it’s $9.99 on Kobo.

Tags: Something Lighter

Why Are Members of Congress, but Not Obama, Calling for a Criminal Investigation of the VA?



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Also in today’s Jolt:

Congress Wants a Criminal Investigation of the VA. Why Not Obama?

Say, why isn’t the FBI or Department of Justice investigating anyone for falsifying federal records at the VA?

It’s very interesting that we’re seeing this call from congressional Democrats, and not, say, the president of the United States, who keeps telling us he’s madder than anyone about what happened:

The Justice Department should enter the investigation of whether Veterans Affairs employees have falsified records to cover up long waits at VA medical facilities, Democratic and Republican lawmakers said Sunday.

“Only the Department of Justice and the FBI have the resources, the expertise and the authority to do a prompt and effective criminal investigation of the secret waiting lists, potential destruction of documents, falsification of records, in effect, the cooking of books and covering up that may have occurred,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said on CBS’ Face the Nation.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, agreed. The “Department of Justice needs to get involved,” he said on the same program.

The VA’s inspector general is investigating 26 sites to determine whether employees covered up long waits for medical appointments, and the Justice Department is already involved to some extent.

Meanwhile, on Memorial Day, President Obama “made only an oblique reference to the scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and spoke in general about the country’s solemn obligations to veterans, as well as to families of the lost.” Of course.

Back to the question of a criminal investigation — what is Eric Holder doing these days? Oh, that’s right, he’s giving the commencement address at Morgan State University, calling stricter voter-ID laws a “moral failing” . . . 

Until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, African Americans’ right to the franchise was aggressively restricted based solely on race. Today, such overt measures cannot survive. Yet in too many jurisdictions, new types of restrictions are justified as attempts to curb an epidemic of voter fraud that — in reality — has never been shown to exist. Rather than addressing a supposedly widespread problem, these policies disproportionately disenfranchise African Americans, Hispanics, other communities of color, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly. But interfering with or depriving a person of the right to vote should never be a political aim. It is a moral failing.

Ah, I see.

Tags: Barack Obama , VA

Michelle Nunn’s Lucrative Years Running a Nonprofit Organization



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From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Michelle Nunn’s Lucrative Years Running a Nonprofit Organization

Georgia Democrats are quite excited about their candidate for Senate, Michelle Nunn.

Here’s how her campaign describes her work in the nonprofit sector:

Seeing a need in Atlanta for a vehicle by which young people could engage in service to solve problems in their own communities, Michelle and a group of friends got together to create Hands On Atlanta, with Michelle as its first Executive Director. Over the next decade, Michelle grew volunteerism across Georgia, and eventually throughout the country, through Hands On Network, a national outreach of volunteer-service organizations. Michelle was selected for a three year Kellogg Foundation Fellowship that gave her an opportunity to travel the globe and work with civic and religious leaders to help them translate the common ground of their faith and ideals into building better, more productive communities and services.

In 2007, Hands On Network merged with the Points of Light Foundation, President George H. W. Bush’s organization and legacy. After leading a successful merger, Michelle became the CEO and President of Points of Light, now the largest organization in the country devoted to volunteer service.

Sounds good, right? When Nunn was running Hands on Network, she was making $120,000 – a lot of money to most folks, but not that much more than the average of a CEO or executive director of a nonprofit in the Southeast. (In 2012, the average was $111,693.)

Except that when Hands On Network and Points of Light Foundation merged, they eliminated a lot of jobs. A lot. From 2007 to 2010, the staff dropped from 175 to 80 employees. By itself, that would hardly be a scandal; when two nonprofits merge, there are often a lot of duplicative positions and inevitably, some people get let go. The economy took a severe tumble during those years, of course, and so it’s reasonable to conclude the hard times hit the nonprofit as well.

It’s just that after the merger . . . Nunn’s salary went up. A lot.

In 2008, Nunn received $250,000 as CEO of the Points of Light Foundation, according to the organization’s Form 990.

In 2009, Nunn received $197,506 as CEO of the Points of Light Foundation, according to the organization’s Form 990, and the same in 2010. (Form 990)

In 2011, Nunn received $322,056 in total compensation, with a base compensation of $285,533 as CEO of Points Of Light Foundation, according to the Form 990.

Her personal financial disclosure lists her 2012 salary as CEO Of Points Of Light Foundation as $270,770 and her 2013 salary as $214,231.

Who knew there was so much money to be made in encouraging other people to do volunteer work?

The explanation from Nunn to Politico was that she made less than her predecessor.

The public usually yawns at executives making enormous sums while running non-profit institutions . . . 

In its analysis of 3,929 charities, the charity research group found that 11 nonprofits paid their CEOs more than $1 million in annual salary and bonuses in 2011. CEOs at 78 of the charities were paid between $500,000 and $1 million.

But they may not be quite so forgiving of a nonprofit executive who’s laying off staff and enjoying a higher salary simultaneously.

Tags: Michelle Nunn , Georgia

Texas Democrats Aim to Avoid Embarrassment in Tuesday Senate Runoff



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This coming Tuesday, Democrats in Texas will head to the polls for a runoff election to pick their Senate nominee. One of the two finalists for the Democrats is David Alameel, a dentist and immigrant from Lebanon. The other, Kesha Rogers, is a follower of Lyndon LaRouche who has called for the impeachment of President Obama.

Texas Democrats are warning that a Rogers victory would be a major embarrassment.

The winner takes on GOP incumbent senator John Cornyn, a heavy favorite.

Tags: Kesha Rogers , David Alameel , John Cornyn

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