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“Christie’s Creepy Misogyny”: Behold His Despicable “Blame Bridget” Strategy

Gov. Chris Christie’s million-dollar taxpayer-funded self-exoneration in the Bridgegate scandal certainly found a bad guy — and it’s a gal.

Randy Mastro’s report put the blame squarely on two fired staffers, David Wildstein and deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly. But its treatment of Kelly was mind-blowingly mean, describing her as “emotional,” “erratic” and as a liar; confirming Trenton gossip that she was “personally involved” with chief of staff Bill Stepien, and that Stepien apparently dumped her; alleging that she asked an aide to delete an incriminating email when the investigation began, thus implicating her not only in the plot’s execution but its coverup.

It even recommended that Christie abolish the department Kelly headed and fold it into another office. Mastro stopped just short of suggesting the state torch Kelly’s office and salt the earth it once stood on. That may be what Christie plans to announce at his press conference this afternoon.

Christie’s lawyers’ treatment of Kelly was so shoddy that Stepien, formerly the governor’s former right-hand man, was forced to release a statement denouncing the report’s “gratuitous reference” to his “brief” relationship with Kelly as “a regrettable distraction.”

Blaming the woman goes back to Eve, so it shouldn’t be particularly surprising. But I still find this story bizarre: Why is Christie so determined not only to blame his former allies, but to shame them? He himself called Kelly “stupid” in his two-hour pity-party last January, while he depicted Wildstein as a high-school loser to his student-athlete-president demigod. Now his lawyers have used Stepien to smear Kelly – and that’s pissed off not only Stepien but Kelly’s friends, who took to the New York Times to denounce the report’s heaping dose of sexism in its depiction of Christie’s once fiercely loyal aide.

Mastro’s report maligns Kelly’s competence from the beginning, noting that she was promoted to Stepien’s old job “though she lacked Stepien’s expertise and background.” It even resorts to inaccuracies to heap blame on Kelly, the New York Times reports, accusing her of canceling meetings with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop after he declined to endorse Christie, when documents show others in the administration canceled the meetings.

Mastro’s report has done the seemingly impossible: It cost Christie the affection of the guys at “Morning Joe,” which has been Christie’s clubhouse throughout the scandal. As Taylor Marsh details (I missed it), Mark Halperin called the attacks on Kelly “sexist and gratuitous,” while Scarborough compared Mastro to “Baghdad Bob.” Of course, they’re still protecting Christie by blaming the sexism on Mastro, when it’s unthinkable that the million-dollar report would have dumped on Kelly without Christie’s say-so.

Knowing Christie’s M.O., if the Mastro report becomes a new liability for him, he’ll probably throw the former prosecutor under the bus with Kelly and Wildstein. But he won’t do it with the textbook misogyny he broke out for Kelly. Christie is delusionally headed to Las Vegas to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting this weekend, still believing he has a chance to run for president in 2016. Good luck courting the women’s vote, Gov. Christie! Bridgegate is turning into Bridgetgate, another story about Christie’s bullying sexism.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 28, 2014

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Will The Press Let Chris Christie Clear Himself?”: The Beltway Press Has A long History Of Showering Christie With Adoring Coverage

The starting point for any allegation of executive office cover-up, like the one surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is always the same: What did he know and when did he know it?

Eleven weeks after Christie held a marathon press conference to address questions about the bridge scandal that has enveloped his administration, we still don’t know the answer to the central question in the case: When did Christie find out that the city of Fort Lee had been brought to a four-day stand-still when at least one senior member of his staff teamed up with his appointee at the Port Authority to purposefully clog traffic lanes?

The release today of a self-investigation undertaken by Christie’s handpicked attorneys, and at a cost of at least $1 million to New Jersey taxpayers, does little to exonerate Christie on that question.

In fact, the report confirms that David Wildstein, the Christie appointee at the Port Authority who remains at the center of the scandal, insists he told the governor, in real time, about the lane closures on Sept. 11, 2013, and had detailed that meeting to one of Christie’s aides in December. Christie claims he doesn’t recall that conversation and from that he said/he said stand off, the internal probe generously declares Christie version is be believed and that he didn’t find out until weeks later about the Fort Lee fiasco.

Miraculously, in a scandal that brought weeks of relentlessly bad news for Christie in January and February, as revelation after revelation painted a picture of a deeply corrupt administration, his new paid-for investigation couldn’t find much bad news for the governor. The report, according to Christie’s attorney Randy Mastro was “a search for the truth.” It just so happens the reports is also “a vindication of Gov. Christie,” as Mastro stressed to reporters today.

Fact: Mastro served as a New York City deputy mayor under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been perhaps Christie’s most public defender since the scandal broke in January.

Christie aides are hoping the new report, which reads more like a legal brief on the governor’s behalf and which failed to interview key players, represents a political turning point for Christie who has aspirations to run for president in 2016. But whether that strategy works depends a lot on how the national press treats the new report and the public relations push behind it. (Fact: The Beltway press has a long history of showering Christie with adoring coverage.)

For the first time since the scandal broke in January, Christie sits for a one-on-one interview with a national media figure, Diane Sawyer, which will air on ABC’s World News With Diane Sawyer tonight. The interview will be a good indication of how the Beltway press treats the new report and if it’s willing to allow Christie to clear himself of any wrongdoing before the U.S. Attorney’s office and New Jersey lawmakers in Trenton complete their own investigations.

A key to the ABC interview will be if Sawyer presses Christie on when he knew that roadways were being jammed, which remains the central point. Over time, Christie has given an array of answers to that very simple question.

From NJ.com:

But a review of the governor’s public statements on the controversy shows he has never said precisely when he first heard about the closures, giving slightly different explanations on three separate occasions and at one point describing his knowledge as “an evolving thing.”

What Christie does now when asked about his knowledge of the lane closings is to stress he wasn’t involved in the implementation of the plot.

This has probably been the most important strategic move Christie’s office has made since January: convince the press that the key question of the scandal is whether the governor planned the lane closures, not whether he knew about the wrongdoing in real time. Time and again this winter when asked, Christie has been very careful, and very emphatic, in insisting he was not involved in the plotting of the dirty tricks scheme; he had no advance knowledge.

From a February appearance on a radio call-in show:

“The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close these lanes, did I authorize it, did I know about it, did I approve it, did I have any knowledge of it beforehand. And the answer is still the same: It’s unequivocally no.”

But again, that’s not really the question at hand. Think back to Richard Nixon. The pressing, constitutional question wasn’t whether Nixon himself had drawn up the harebrained scheme to break into Democratic Party offices inside the Watergate apartment complex in 1972. It was whether Nixon knew his underlings were running a criminal enterprise from inside the executive offices.

The same holds true for Christie today. And the fact that his paid legal counsel could not produce a report that erased doubts about the governor’s knowledge of the dirty tricks campaign poses a political problem.

Meanwhile, will the new initiative be enough the rekindle the love affair that had blossomed between the Beltway press and the N.J. governor? During that media romance, Christie was relentlessly and adoringly depicted as a Straight Shooter; an authentic and bipartisan Every Man, a master communicator who was willing to cut through the stagecraft and delivers hard truths.

Following Christie’s reelection last November, the admiration reached a new, sugary high. “Chris Christie is someone who is magical in the way politicians can be magical,” Time’s Mark Halperin announced on Meet The Press that week. Added Time colleague Michael Scherer in a cover story later that month, “He’s a workhorse with a temper and a tongue, the guy who loves his mother and gets it done.”

We’ll soon see if the press uses the new, one-sided report to return to its days of glowing Christie coverage.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, March 27, 2014

March 28, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Death Panels Are Coming”: Conservatives Are Going To Have To Turn Somewhere, And I’m Guessing “Rationing” Will Be On Their Lips

Now that Healthcare.gov seems to be working reasonably well (at least on the consumer end), Republicans are going to have to find something else they can focus on in their endless war against the Affordable Care Act. So get ready for the return of “death panels.”

They never really went away. Those who aren’t immersed in the fantasy world in which conservatives move were reminded of that last week, when chronicler of changed games Mark Halperin, the embodiment of most everything that’s wrong with contemporary political journalism, did an interview with the conservative news organization Newsmax. When the interviewer mentioned “death panels, which will be coming,” Halperin responded, “I agree, it’s going to be a huge issue, and that’s something else about which the President was not fully forthcoming and straightforward.” Halperin didn’t explain what lie he imagines Obama told about death panels (perhaps he thinks that when Obama said the government wouldn’t declare your grandmother unfit to live and have her murdered, he wasn’t telling the truth), but what matters isn’t Halperin’s own ignorance of the law (after all, understanding policy is for nerds, right?), but the fact that it came up in the first place. Which, if you pay attention to places like Newsmax, it still does. A lot.

But wait, you say. Wasn’t this all debunked years ago? Yes, it certainly was. But why should that matter?

It’s important to remember the switcheroo conservatives pulled on the “death panel” issue. They started off complaining that one provision in the law constituted “death panels,” then when their unequivocal lie was exposed and condemned roundly even by neutral observers, they switched to asserting that all along they had been talking about an entirely separate and unrelated provision, and when they say “death panels” they aren’t talking about death, or panels for that matter, but about health care “rationing.”

Here’s how it happened. The ACA originally included a provision allowing doctors to get reimbursed by Medicare for sessions in which they counseled their patients about their end-of-life options and how to make sure their wishes were properly carried out. The problem is that most of the time, when a patient shows up in the hospital in crisis, the staff has no idea what the patient wants if they can’t communicate. Do they want to be resuscitated, or intubated, or have every heroic measure taken until the moment they expire? All of us have different ideas about this, and it’s important that we think about it beforehand. So the ACA said, if a doctor spends a half hour talking to a patient about it, they’ll be paid for their time. It didn’t say what they had to tell them, it just said they could get paid for doing it, because right now if they do that counseling, they’re doing it for free, which makes it much less likely to occur, which is not only bad for the system but bad for individual patients.

So that part of the law said simply that doctors can bill Medicare for the time they spend doing that kind of counseling, just like they do for a physical exam or performing a procedure. To the people who supported it, the idea seemed commonsensical. Wouldn’t you want doctors and patients to have those kinds of conversations? You’d think. But turning that into the “death panel” lie began, as a remarkable number of health care lies have in the last couple of decades, with policy fraudster Betsy McCaughey, who went on Fred Thompson’s radio show in 2009 while the law was being debated and told his listeners, “Congress would make it mandatory—absolutely require—that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” That would be terrible! It would also be terrible if our beloved elders were then hurled from hot air balloons hovering over volcanoes, but the law doesn’t require that either.

Unlike most deceptions in politics, which can be justified by pleading that there was some misinterpretation of ambiguous language, or that what the speaker meant just got garbled in the articulation, this was a clear and specific lie—or two lies, in truth—that McCaughey simply made up in her attempt to subvert the law and then repeated multiple times. There was nothing mandatory or required about counseling, every five years or ever, for any patient, and the counseling was not about “how to end their life sooner.”

To continue our story, then Sarah Palin took things the next step, turning a blatant lie (but at least one with some connection to what the law was about) and spinning it out into an extravagant fantasy one can only imagine came from some obscure 1970’s dystopian sci-fi movie she saw at four in the afternoon one day while the snow fell gently in Wasilla. “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel,'” she wrote on her Facebook page, “so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.” 11 The quotation marks were a nice touch, since we in the English-speaking world use them to denote actual quotes from a specific person or document, not just something you make up. For instance, I could write, “I wouldn’t like to go to Sarah Palin’s house, where ‘heroin is given to children’ and ‘homeless men are hunted for sport.'” But that would be extremely misleading, since as far as I know, no one has said those things about Sarah Palin’s house, least of all Palin herself. And thus “death panels” were born.

And of course, the charge was picked up by Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh, and all the other far-flung outlets of the conservative media universe. But then the existence of any such panel was debunked and debunked and debunked again. The fact that the evocative phrase originated with Palin probably made it more difficult for conservatives to make it stick beyond their own self-contained world, since Palin is widely understood to be one of America’s most celebrated nincompoops. In addition, cowardly Democrats removed the provision on end-of-life counseling from the bill (to their unending shame) so even the entirely worthy provision of the law was gone. In response, conservatives cast about, and decided that the “death panels” they so feverishly warned of never referred to end-of-life counseling, but to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which did end up in the final bill and which has the benefit of resembling an actual panel.

In brief: the IPAB is a group of 15 health-care experts appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate who will make recommendations on how Medicare could save money. Those recommendations are due at the beginning of each year, and Congress has until August to overrule them. If Congress doesn’t, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will implement the recommendations. But the IPAB only makes the recommendations if Medicare’s growth exceeds certain target rates.

Now listen to this part carefully: the text of the ACA prohibits the IPAB from recommending that care be rationed. It also prohibits them from recommending other things, like increasing premiums or cutting benefits. And perhaps most importantly, if Medicare’s growth is modest, IPAB won’t make any recommendations at all. And if things go the way they’ve been going and the way they will if many of the other reforms contained within the ACA succeed (including steps to transition from a purely fee-for-service model in which sicker patients means more revenue for providers to one in which they have incentives to keep people healthy), the IPAB might never have to make cost-cutting recommendations. Although things could change of course, the Congressional Budget Office believes that for the next decade Medicare’s growth is unlikely to be large enough to trigger any IPAB recommendations.

You may wonder why conservatives, who are constantly saying we need to control the cost of Medicare, are so vehemently opposed to the existence of a panel of experts whose job it is to come up with ways to control the cost of Medicare. That just shows how little you understand. IPAB, they will tell you, will ration care, which will kill your grandmother, no matter what the law says. 22These kinds of claims, and a general feeling of hysteria around end-of-life issues, circulates relentlessly throughout the conservative world. You may remember that during the 2012 presidential primaries, Rick Santorum told an audience that in the Netherlands, which has a tightly regulated system of physician-assisted suicide, “people wear different bracelets if they are elderly. And the bracelet is: ‘Do not euthanize me.’ Because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized—ten percent of all deaths in the Netherlands—half of those people are euthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick.” This was about as true as if he had said that all Portugese people have ESP or that Mongolia is ruled by a parliament made up of dogs and cats. But he didn’t get his fantasy bracelets and fantasy statistics from nowhere—the idea surely arrived to him via the cretinous version of the “telephone” game that is the conservative information bubble, where such things circulate and mutate until they come out the mouths of candidates for president. Just as a for instance, go on over to National Review and search for IPAB, and you come up with articles with titles like, “AARP Betrays Seniors By Supporting IPAB,” and “IPAB, Obama, and Socialism,” and “New England Journal of Medicine Supports Unamerican Expansion of IPAB.” As I said, once they can no longer complain about healthcare.gov, and once those people who had their junk insurance cancelled turn out to be getting much better insurance, conservatives are going to have to turn somewhere, and I’m guessing “rationing” will be on all their lips.

So what started as “Obama is forcing doctors to encourage their patients to die,” then became “Obama’s death panel will assess individuals one by one and withhold treatment from those they find unworthy, leaving people like Sarah Palin’s kid to plead for their very lives,” ends up as “Obama’s IPAB death panel will force health-care rationing on us.”

I do think that the chances that renewing the “death panel” scare will successfully undermine the ACA are slim. The fact that they don’t exist does matter. If you’re a reporter wanting to write a story about someone who lost their junk insurance and will have to buy real coverage, at least there are individuals you can focus on, even if you do a poor job of telling their stories. But there’s no one you can interview who went before a death panel, or whose relative went before a death panel. Because, to repeat myself, they don’t exist. So this whole discussion is likely to remain very abstract. Eventually, conservatives will find something else to cry wolf about. Did you know that under Obamacare, if you kiss a person with herpes, you could get herpes? That’s right: Obamacare will give you herpes. Pass it on.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 2, 2013

December 3, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“End Times For Obama?”: Just Another Round Of The Media’s Trumped-Up Crises That Turn Out To Be Wrong And Overheated

It’s damn near end times for Barack Obama, to hear some tell it.

There’s a new Pew poll that has him at 41 percent approval, 53 disapproval, which Pew notes ominously is only five percentage points better than George W. Bush’s at this point in his term. (Hurricane Katrina had happened in August of Bush’s fifth year.) Conservative columnists are chuckling and clucking and tweeting to beat the band. Centrist journalist Mark Halperin, on MSNBC yesterday, declared that Obama had lost the media, which was now cheering against the success of the Affordable Care Act and just wants to see… well, people go without insurance, I guess. If everything—everything!—isn’t fixed by Nov. 30, we’re looking at a presidency that is going to collapse into utter disaster.

It’s obvious enough why conservatives would be saying this. They’ve wanted Obama to fail from the start, and they’ve certainly wanted the health-care bill to fail from the moment of its passage. Journalists like Halperin say these things not for ideological reasons, but temperamental ones: In this Halperinesque/Politico-esque world view, politics is less about people’s lives than it is about who is displaying mastery of the game and who is being mastered at any given moment (of course, seeing politics so insistently through that lens is a kind of ideology of its own, but we’ll let that pass). To that group of mainstream journalists, how Obama handles the current crisis will determine whether the administration will survive or whether he might as well just resign now.

I don’t deny that the current situation is a crisis, and one of the administration’s own making. Obama misled people. It’s a small percentage of people. They’re at the mercy of the most horrible end of the private-insurance market, and the vast majority of them are going to be better off after everything shakes out and they see that their new plans are largely better than their old ones were. But even so, they’re people, and they’re getting termination notices, and he misled them. Combine it with the website chaos, and it’s bad, there’s no sense in denying it.

What I do deny, vigorously, is that this is a make-or-break moment. Yes, I know that Obamacare is his signature initiative and all that. And I know that if problems persist after Nov. 30, pressure will mount on Harry Reid to let some kind of tinkering legislation be debated. This is a very important three weeks for the administration, and the 30th is an extremely important deadline.

But there’s a certain type of political journalism that so exists in the moment that numerous such moments have been declared to be disasters for Obama, going back to Jeremiah Wright. This kind of hyperventilating approach always turns out to be wrong and overheated. It turned out that all those things were pretty bad, but it also turned out that Obama survived them. And he’ll survive this, too.

What will happen in all likelihood is what usually happens in life and politics—that is, nothing all that dramatic. Nov. 30 will come, and the website will be more or less (though not entirely) fixed up, and life, and Obamacare, will go on. There will be more horror stories, natch, but there will be more success stories too, and sometime between now and next March 31, when the enrollment period ends, the media are going to get a little bored with the whole thing, and it will just go on irresolutely for a while, but eventually it will start becoming clear to the American people that the reform is working pretty well in the states that tried and pretty poorly in the states that didn’t, and people will start to get the point about Republican sabotage.

And then, provided health care survives that initial stage without being altered for the worse by Congress, it’s going to start to work. Well. Resistant insurance companies and even some resistant governors and state legislatures are going to see that it appears to be here to stay, and they will accommodate themselves to that reality.

Obamacare will never be a raging success. This is another error much of journalism is prone to make—looking for it to be an overwhelming success. That won’t happen because at the end of the day we’re still talking about private health insurance, and private health insurance was a pain in the tuchus before Obamacare and will remain one after it. People will always complain about their coverage. But by early 2016, I have little doubt, there will be millions more Americans who’ll be doing the complaining, and they’ll be happy to have the opportunity to do so.

Conservatives are desperate for health care to be Obama’s Katrina. Certain centrist journalists want to see it just for entertainment’s sake or as a test of Obama’s presidential “character.”  I won’t say there’s zero chance of it happening. If Nov. 30 comes and the website is an unmitigated disaster, then maybe that’ll be the case. But I will say that I think the chances of it are very slim indeed. The unfortunate thing is the Republicans have just enough power to gum up the works so that even if the administration does fix up everything on its end, the GOP can keep hauling Kathleen Sebelius up to the Hill and taking other steps to make sure things look worse than they are. But Obama will survive, and more importantly, Obamacare will too.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 8, 2013

November 11, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Journalists, Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mark Halperin, Amateur Meterologist”: Not Even Hurricanes Can Stop Dumb Punditry

Will Hurricane Sandy cause an Electoral College tie and turn Ohio into this year’s Florida 2000? PROBABLY. At least, something along those lines is what political pundits are hoping for today.

The two most important events in the world right now are the presidential campaign and a major East Coast weather event, so obviously “politicos” are trying to figure out how to combine the two things into one convenient and snappy cable television hit.

Mark Halperin, MSNBC political talking guy, Time political writing guy, blogger and amateur meteorologist, has multiple competing opinions about what this storm that actually threatens to destroy much of the East Coast and kill and displace thousands of people means for the president’s reelection bid.

On “The Morning Joe Show” this morning, Halperin said White House adviser David Plouffe was clever to convince the president to cancel his campaign event in Florida today and go to Washington to be the president of hurricane response.

I think the most important person in this election right now is not the candidates, for today at least, it’s David Plouffe, senior White House adviser, ran the President’s campaign last time. Brilliant at understanding the intersection between the campaign and the government. Lots of control over both, and, obviously, was central to the decision to say the President shouldn’t do this event in Florida today, should come back to Washington. And I think you will see David Plouffe doing a couple things. One, the symbolism of the office, making sure they don’t mess up.

Great, great insight. It took a canny political mind to decide to … go manage the storm response, and the No. 1 goal for Obama right now is “manage the storm response well and not horribly.” Incisive stuff.

Then, like an hour later, Mark Halperin decided, on Twitter, that canceling campaign events to do disaster response was a bad idea, probably.

@MarkHalperin : W/Obama nixing events, gotta ask: what happened to constant White House claim POTUS can do job equally well from anywhere?

Just gotta ask!

Will President Obama lose the election if he spends too much of this week running FEMA and not being in Florida and Ohio over and over again? Shouldn’t he take off his coat and roll up his sleeves and direct storm response from … Northern Virginia, maybe? Just one thing is “clear now,” to Mark Halperin: that people who may or may not lose elections next week will think the hurricane is responsible. Fascinating, if true.

(Actual smart people basically agree: There is no way of knowing how this storm will actually affect the election, if it does, which it might or might not.)

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, October 29, 2012

October 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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