Weekend Links

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Actual tortillas made by the author’s actual wife.
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Yum.

We invited one of the students in my adult class and her husband over for dinner tonight. This student, who goes by the English name Dana, is really impressive in her dedication to learning English. She teaches full time at a local high school. This year, Dana is the lead teacher for a class of high school seniors who are preparing for university. Since during this academic year the students focus relentlessly on the gaokao, China’s high-stakes university entrance exam, Dana often has to report to school on Saturdays and Sundays in order to help and coach her students as they prepare for the grueling exam. Faced with six and seven day work weeks, she still somehow makes the time to come to my class that meets from 7 to 9 pm on Mondays and Fridays. She always does her homework, and manages to study and practice her English nearly every day. Students like Dana really make teaching rewarding.

We ended up making a southwestern style pulled chicken in our slow cooker, served with flour tortillas, tortilla chips made from some of those tortillas, salsa, and a side salad. Our guests seemed to like the meal, though they probably wouldn’t have told me the chicken was a little overcooked even if they thought it (it was).

Anyway, this is a good excuse to link to the tortilla recipe we use. My wife made them this time, and they turned out very well as usual. This recipe is adapted from some other person’s recipe, which is a topic I wrote about here recently.

Some links for the weekend:

  • Charlie Pierce on Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. For an asinine take, go read the Washington Post editorial board’s piece. This opinion manages to hit all of the both-sides-do-it sweet spots while somehow managing to miss the real story: people of different political persuasions working together to kill a dumb, short-sighted project. The Post is too caught up in its Democrats-are-just-as-much-to-blame-as-are-Republicans narrative to see that the fight over this pipeline was not only about climate change, but also about midwestern farmers who didn’t want their lands seized under eminent domain or their water supply poisoned. Five minutes searching online and I’m better informed than the Washington Post editorial board.
  • I wrote about Ben Carson this week. Josh Marshall walks us through the latest developments in the Ben Carson-is-a-lying-liar saga with a series of posts here, here, and here. Marshall also links to a (subscription required) hit piece in the Wall Street Journal. The appearance of this article means that Carson’s rise to the top of the polls is inviting backlash from his opponents and the Republican establishment. It will be interesting to see if his poll numbers suffer. So far, similar oppo research pieces have not seemed to hurt Carson’s chief competitor for frontrunner status, Donald Trump.
  • My wife pointed me to her friend Daniel Denvir’s piece in Salon about Hillary Clinton’s past support for welfare reform. I guess this piece has generated a bit of backlash. Denvir argues that Clinton’s camp is accusing Bernie Sanders’ camp of sexism in order to deflect criticism of her own (bad) record. He raises good points about Clinton’s record and where she stands now, but he doesn’t do himself any favors by dismissing accusations of sexism out of hand, or by labelling Clinton’s past policy preferences “sexist” and “racist.” I honestly don’t know what to say here, since it’s true that Clinton’s past record is problematic, and it’s also true that Clinton is often the victim of sexist remarks. Both Clinton and Sanders, or Martin O’Malley for that matter, are infinitely preferable to any Republican on almost every issue. I’d prefer to see their campaigns and their surrogates refrain from mudslinging. But politics ain’t beanbag.

Enjoy the weekend!

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The Republican Nomination Contest: Ben Carson, Really? Really? Edition

Really? Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Famed pediatric neurosurgeon and crackpot pyramids theory enthusiast Ben Carson is now challenging Donald Trump for frontrunner status in the race for the Republican nomination for president. As mentioned previously, this new development could really complicate Trump’s core message, which seems to be that he’s a winner and winner’s win so vote for him if you want to win and be a winner. It might be difficult for Trump to overcome any stench of loserdom.

Two months ago, Trump had double Carson’s support. Actually, Trump’s numbers are only down slightly from then. So Carson is gaining support but so far not at Trump’s expense.

Ed Kilgore, in his weekly column at Talking Points Memoexplains why Carson could have more staying power than previous candidates who seemed to be running for president in order to promote their personal brands. Carson is spending his impressive amount of funds in exactly the ways you’d expect a grifter to spend them. The differences between Carson and his 2012 versions, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, are that Carson may have a broader base of support and he does not reek of failure and personal scandal (though as Kilgore notes, Carson’s connection to a shady nutritional supplements firm could snowball if it’s truly bad or not handled well).

It’s not clear if Carson’s surge is a significant development or not. What’s clear, though, is that the Republican establishment’s preferred candidates are still stuck in the mud. If anything, they are in worse position than they were two months ago.

(So we’re clear on our terms, the ‘Republican establishment’ refers to the Republican National Committee, Republican officials who mostly care about winning elections in order to keep taxes low and regulations limited, and their donors. Any candidate likely to get killed in a general election, like Trump, Carson, or Ted Cruz, make the main goals of low taxes and limited regulations less achievable, and are therefore anametha to establishment figures.)

FiveThirtyEight‘s Nate Silver tries to understand what’s going on and finds that the Republican Party might really be in disarray, making previously thought impossible outcomes, like the nomination of a Trump or a Carson, possible. Among Silver’s many interesting insights is this one: Republicans in Congress, one of the three main pillars of the GOP establishment, have been extremely, and historically, hesitant and slow in bestowing endorsements on the candidates for president this cycle. If the Party establishment is not deciding, as it did with George Bush in 2000, John McCain in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012, then the ‘Invisible Primary’ theory of how a party’s establishment chooses the candidate may not adequately explain the Republican contest.

Knowing all the usual caveats about polling this far out from the actual contests, a look at the polling averages compiled by RealClear Politics shows just how dire the situation is at the moment for establishment candidates:

  • Non-establishment candidates (Carson, Trump, Cruz, and Mike Huckabee) combine for 60.8% support nationally, 62.9% in Iowa, 48.5% in New Hampshire (Carson, Cruz, and Huckabee’s religion on their sleeves schticks don’t play as well in New England) and 62.3% in South Carolina (the third state to hold nominating contests).
  • Establishment “frontrunner” Marco Rubio has enjoyed a 2% “surge” in the wake of the last Republican debate, but that still puts him at only 11% nationally (good for third place), 12% in Iowa (fourth place), 10.3% in New Hampshire (third place), and 8.3% in South Carolina (third place).
  • Nationally, establishment candidates (Rubio, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, and Chris Christie) register a robust 25.6% combined.

When your current hope, Rubio, is a guy that 89 out of 100 Republican voters don’t want to vote for, you’re in trouble. This can still turn around, but analysts are starting to sound like broken records: yes, they say, the Republican base is flirting with crazy, unelectable candidates, but they always do that, and they’ll come around and hold their nose and pull the lever for Rubio or Bush by March 2016. Silver’s point is that something could really be different this time around.

Another interesting consideration here is a dirty secret of Republican presidential politics: liberal states that send zero or few Republicans to Congress or rarely vote for Republicans for president anymore hold a lot of power in the nominating contest. Many Republican voters in these states, still attached to the party and pining for the long gone days of the moderate northeastern Republican, want to make sure the Republican nominee is a person that can win the general election. This voter wants a nominee that he or she knows will never win in Massachusetts, but might be able to win one of the swing states, like Florida, that the Republican party needs in order to win the general election. Establishment types are hoping that liberal states will perform their role as firewall against the candidacies of Carson, Trump, and Cruz. We’ll see.

Frankly, I hope they nominate Carson (or Trump or Cruz, for that matter). The country needs to see clearly the beast that the Republican Party has become. What better way than to nominate a crazy guy who is crazy.