Joe Biden for Vice President (Again)

There’s a lot of talk going around about a Joe Biden presidential run. From Mareen Dowd’s column detailing his son’s last plea that his father run to rumors cropping up about big wigs being tested for support, it appears there is a fairish chance Biden will run.

That may cause trouble for Clinton. It may not. Certainly Biden could more easily build a broad coalition than Bernie Sanders and he’s got the reputation and recognition that Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley dream of. He polls around 15 percent, which is not bad for a guy who isn’t running. He has Sanders’ authenticity, Clinton’s experience, and the best claim on being able to continue the Obama years.

But he’s also known for bumbling his lines, saying impolitic or offensive things like his boss being “articulate.” Given enough time on the mic, he’s sure to utter something downright stupid. That’s a massive mark against him in an election where Democrats worry the Obama legacy on the line.

And then there’s his age. At 72, he’s younger than Sanders but would still be the oldest president ever to put his hand on the Bible on inauguration day.

There’s no need to worry, though. There’s a better position for Joe Biden in the government: the one he already has.

He is a perfect vice president. Earnest, knowledgable, personable and humble enough to do what’s required. And as VP, the arguments against him quickly disappear. His age is no longer a factor. Even his gaffs make him better, showing he is human and unscripted. You can’t go off script as a president — too much relies on not rocking the boat unintentionally — but it is a good characteristic to have somewhere high up in the administration.

And Biden is perhaps the perfect answer to all of Clinton’s problems. His down-to-earth qualities make him very trustworthy. His lack of riches makes him an obvious hero for the working class, a proof of Clinton’s real desire to take on Wall Street. His past in the region probably sows up the rust belt states.

At the same time, he would provide consistency, a promise that Clinton won’t back down on the fights Democrats care about, like the environment and healthcare.

His positives as a running mate are extensive. His negatives minimal. Biden probably won’t ever be president, but that is because he is too good at what he does. Democrats are right to push Biden to run, he should just run for what he’s already got.

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What Did Bill Clinton Accomplish?

Bill Clinton Speech

Increasingly, Bill Clinton is making a habit of disowning his achievements. On Wednesday, he admitted the laws on crime he helped put in place have made the country he used to run worse.

He’s also had second thoughts on financial deregulation, DOMA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the genocide in Rwanda he ignored. The list may expand from there. It isn’t hard to imagine him coming out against NAFTA if the polls sway too far against Obama’s planned trade agreements with Europe and Asia.

In some ways, this is refreshing. Certainly, there are other public figures it would be nice to hear have a little regret over their choices. Those figures did undeniably more damage to the country than Clinton. Most of what he has renounced recently were compromises he should have fought harder against and policies he didn’t do much to overturn. We’ve been deregulating since the ’80s, after all, and the drug war and mass incarceration were hardly his ideas either.

Still, it is a little odd to see a former president turn against his entire legacy like this. There is political expediency in jettisoning some baggage as his wife hits the gas on her campaign, but if he isn’t careful, people will start wondering why they’ve regarded him and his family so well for so long, especially if all he did was make mistakes over his eight years as the most powerful person on the planet.

To date, there are still some positives to be taken from the (first) Clinton presidency: the NATO campaign in Bosnia still looks pretty good and the Family and Medical Leave Act was a good, if incomplete, step to the kind of job protections expected of a first world country.

Most of the rest, though, seem to come down to the benefit of the strong ‘90s economy, something Clinton gets some —but sometimes perhaps too much — credit for.

That economy, though, is likely to be what keeps President Clinton in the good graces of the American public. Whether he deserves it or not, his name is directly attached to positive remembrance of that decade. History may be less romantic and nostalgic, but Clinton can count of the current electorate to keep idealizing his tenure, even if it continues to become little more than wasted chances and regrets.

European Disunion: Merkel Has Lost

Merkel looking eternally disappointed. Courtesy of the Telegraph.
Merkel looking eternally disappointed. Courtesy of the Telegraph.

The Greeks are in revolt. Despite the pressure of the most powerful economic forces on the continent, they voted OXI on Sunday: No. No to the austerity Europe demands of them, and no to the conditions on their bailout loans.

Although Greeks want to stay in the EU and with the euro by a large margin, they may have revoked their membership despite themselves. The consequences could be dire for the country that gave the euro its name, but another country may suffer alongside them, the leaders of the opposition: Germany.

In the negotiations over Greece’s debt, Germany has been inflexible. Their belief is simple: Greece must pay.

For the past few months, Europe has fallen in line. Threats from ECB, IMF, and leaders in of all Europe’s powers claimed a reckoning is coming for Greece if they voted No on Sunday.

But now the vote has been cast, the cracks that have always run through the consensus have begun to show. Reports suggest German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains intransigent, but others are breaking away. Belgium’s finance minister made an early call for negotiations to begin again. Italy also seems keen on getting Greece back into the fold.

Germany’s biggest partner, France, has never been entirely convinced that the German strategy is the right one, and even as the Germans continues to threaten Greece with visions of an economy straight from a Bosch painting, the French are reconsidering giving the Germans the lead on this one.

Merkel has lost. Germany has lost,” says Benoit Hamon, an ally of Hollande.

Britain also seems less than eager to see Germany tighten the screws, although it remains typically aloof from the issue.

According to the Washington Post, Greece’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, has been trying to engineer this sort of uprising since he took office. He “has been scrambling to win the support of Europe’s leaders. Together, he argues, they can ignite a revolution against Merkel’s fiscal tyranny, which is also crimping spending from Lisbon to Rome, Paris to Dublin.”

Up to now, he’s had little success. But perhaps that is changing.

Spain or Portugal may be the first to outright break ranks.  The Spanish government has been vociferously against Syriza and Greece in recent weeks, but main rivals Podemos made gains in local elections this year, and they are all about congratulating their comrades around the bend of the Mediterranean, saying the election was “good news” for Greece and Europe.

Podemos and its twin out-of-power anti-austerity party, the Socialists in Portugal like what they see in Greece. Both parties are gaining in the polls and both countries have elections later this year.

As Europeans increasingly  become dissatisfied with German economic leadership, politics on the continent continue to drift away from the consensus towards extremes. In Greece, Syriza has warned that their failure is likely to lead to a neo-Nazi government under Golden Dawn. Similar parties are nipping at the heels of major governments everywhere.

As Europe wakes up to the possibility of a Greek exit, that carefully stitched consensus is increasingly coming apart at its seams. Many of the leaders around the continent, prominently Italy, want to see a move towards more integration, meaning at least some accommodation for Greece. Others, led by Germany, seem to have thrown up their hands over the whole thing.

Which is bad, because without better leadership, time may be running out on the European project. The crisis in Greece is not just serious for Greeks, the fear of spread is significant enough that Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal have come out and said there is 100% nothing similar about their situations.

But investors may not believe them. And even if the Mediterranean states can reassure the money, those anti-austerity parties are gaining in the polls. 

Germany and France have agreed to an EU summit on Tuesday where Tsipras will reveal his new proposal for a deal. But the damage may already have been done. Greece is most likely to be the loser of whatever agreement or disagreement comes out of Paris. But it may have someone to share its misery with.

Tsipras has been trying to rally other nations against the German leadership for months. He’s unlikely to help his cause Tuesday, but the signs are there for more to follow his lead farther down the line.

On the grander stage, whether Greece stays or goes at this point may be unimportant. Germany has staked out its position on countries that can’t make their payments: suffer or get out. That has worked well this time around, but Merkel may find herself with far fewer friends than she thought soon enough. Once business is done with Greece, Germany may be the next country to find itself isolated. 

Stop Censoring the Duke Boys

Cars! Girls! Symbols of centuries old oppression!
Cars! Girls! Symbols of centuries-old oppression!

TV Land has just announced it is pulling old-timey, car-jumpy, Confederate-lovey Dukes of Hazzard from its schedule. This comes on the heels of Walmart and other retailers pulling all images of the Stars and Bars from their shelves and further on the heels of many southern states mulling taking the flag down, just about 150 years late.

On the face of it, TV Land’s decision is almost reasonable. The Confederate flag is seeing its lowest poll-numbers as a symbol of government since it was, well, the actual Confederacy, and no major company wants to be caught promoting such a divisive symbol.

The country seems pretty resolved on removing the flag in any official capacity. Amazingly, after decades as a third-rail issue, every side of the political spectrum seems to be in agreement the flag is at very least in bad taste, and that it has no place flying over a statehouse.

And no one seems that torn up about Walmart and its compatriots removing the symbol from their wares (although decorating ISIS cakes on the other hand…).

But Dukes of Hazzard is a different story. That has sparked more than a little indignation. And for good reason. This isn’t a fight over flags or racism. It’s a fight over American culture.

I’ve never had any particular interest in the Duke boys or their hijinks associated with the General Lee, and I doubt many people bother to regularly show up for reruns of a program that’s been off the air for thirty years, but it is in its own small, humble way, a part of American cultural history.

Not only did it inspire a mass of pop-culture jokes and references (as well as a moderately successful movie), it also represents its time, a period of American television that was particularly guilty of white-washing and idealizing various corners of the culture. Is Dukes that different from Leave It to Beaver with its feel-good, no-issues, happy-ending weekly viewing? The actor who played Cooter on Dukes has come out and said there was no racism in Hazzard county. Undeniably true, of course, because there was no reality there either.

Compare that to the modern popular comedies like Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother, where the complicated background of the culture is regularly on display. Yes, the shows are almost as white-washed, but religious fundamentalism, women’s role in the workplace, the housing crisis, environmentalism, and other issues still make it into the sunny, spotless American scripts regularly.

That just shows where we are as a culture, and where we were. Nowadays, you can’t have even the stupidest show without a little of the changing American landscape leaking in. Back then — ten years after the end of the turbulent ‘60s, on the doorstep of the Reagan revolution — a group of white men could ride around the South with the Dixie flag on a car named after Robert E. Lee and try to embarrass Jefferson Davis Hogg every week without a thought about what all that meant.

That may seem outrageous, but that was the time. What we lose when we shut up our past is the context for our change: a view of our growth and mistakes, our malign and benign choices.

Hollywood has been tinkering with these alterations for decades now. Try to find a Speedy Gonzales cartoon on TV or DVD. Even rarer are the WB cartoons from the WW2-era called the Censored Eleven that sketched out racist depictions of African Americans.

The editors of our cultural history don’t have to look for the particularly egregious mistakes to go to work. Look for a cigarette or an alcoholic drink in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. Or a gun in a recent edition of E.T. Those are walkie-talkies now. Why are the kids scared of walkie-talkies?

In an episode of Jon Lovitz’s old show, The Critic, titular critic Jay Sherman’s boss (coincidentally named Duke) creates a machine that lets him edit all the classic Hollywood tragedies into happy endings.

Casablanca, Spartacus, Citizen Kane: all end with smiling faces and a satisfying, ridiculous conclusion (Spartacus hops off on his crucifix, resulting in a loopy Smoky and the Bandit chase).

Satisfying though they may be, the new endings don’t really offer much. Jay Sherman runs on stage to take Duke’s remote away, telling him “you simply can’t do this.”

Taking Dukes of Hazzard off television is nowhere near the slight of changing Citizen Kane, but the point is the same. You can’t change art (of any quality) just to make it less upsetting, and hiding something away doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Taking the flag down from the South Carolina statehouse is a good thing, but no one should be under the impression that hiding the flag from sight makes the problem go away.

The Dukes of Hazzard is a document of a certain time. Looking at it through modern eyes, the flag is inappropriate. But we shouldn’t as a culture destroy or ignore it for that reason.

Removing the past doesn’t cease to make it relevant, it ceases to let us learn from it.

Greece Should Grexit

Greece's preferred outcome to negotiations.
Greece’s preferred outcome to negotiations.

Just in time for the season of sequels and reboots, we are in the middle of yet another “will they-won’t they” moment between the Greek government, the EU (specifically Germany), and the International Monetary Fund (IMU). In the typical mix of bluster and honesty we see in every rehashed release, each party appears to be ready to walk away from the table but is thoroughly confident their unreasonable, unrelenting partner will bend in the end.

We’ve all seen this script; we know how it ends: Greece accepts a little more humiliation, Germany grumbles at a few minor concessions, money changes hands, and the world moves on.

Or maybe not this time. Maybe everyone has finally caught on that the best way forward is to blow up the franchise and move on.

For the first time, some people are refusing to tow the line that Greece will remain in the Euro and friendships will remain strong between nations. Members of the EU and IMU have become increasingly vocal, and yesterday, Greece’s national bank outright predicted the doom and gloom apocalypse summer blockbusters are supposed to narrowly avoid.

In truth, we’ve probably reached and passed the chance for a Hollywood happy ending. Compromise seems more and more impossible, and without the ability to write in a deus ex machina solution, we may be staring at a very real breakdown in relations.

Atypical of most sequels, the answers are not black and white. There are no villains in this piece who only need to be defeated or convinced of their errors for it all to work out well. Germany very rightly wants a return on its investments and stringent proof the Greek government will continue on the road to EU standards (to avoid this situation in the future). Greece equally rightly wants a reduction in its debt burden so it can feed its people and end a devastating six year depression.

Both sides are right from their perspectives and both appear to be unshakable in their rightness. The problem is both sides feel they’ve given as much as they can give. Greece feels it has suffered enough and needs relief. Germany only has to wave its receipts in the air to make their point.

Even if both sides are negotiating in good faith, it seems increasingly impossible for a long-term solution to happen.

So, Greece, perhaps it’s time to take the storyline in a new direction. Perhaps it’s time to leave the Euro.

Giving up on the same old scenarios and the same old outcomes would really work out best for everyone. It will be painful all around for a while. Stocks will go down, the Euro and the new Drachma will struggle for a while to regain any confidence in the market. Money will holiday outside of Europe for the summer.

But beyond its apocalyptic beginnings, the Grexit holds a lot of promise on all sides. Greece can write off its debt, adjust its economy on its own terms. The initial struggles will be severe, but a weaker currency means more exports and more tourists. Most importantly, it means the freedom to set its own future. 

Germany too benefits. It’s hard to see them getting back all their money at this point, so reworking the debt could at least get some of their investment back. It also cuts away some of what the Germans clearly feel is deadweight in the EU. Greece represents the worst of several nations not living up to the responsibilities of a modern European economy. Meanwhile, they are holding audience with Putin and are rumored to be taking Russian money. That’s an ugly situation Germany would likely rather be clear of. Cutting Greece loose means cutting off the infection before it spreads, a sign of what can happen to countries that don’t play by the rules. 

Greece and Germany seem to have taken a wrong turn in their rom-com. They’re such a dysfunctional couple, it’s hard to see how either one can be happy if they manage to stay together.

So, perhaps it’s time to break Hollywood convention and let a little reality into the relationship. Divorce might not make for good cinema, but it could go a long way to creating a couple happier and healthier countries.

The Failed Almost-Candidacy of Jeb Bush

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Jeb Bush doing his best W impression

It’s been a tough few months for the assumed candidate and once-assumed frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Jeb Bush. As the Washington Post recently detailed, the sheen of inevitable dominance has been corroded away by a million little incidents, leaving the conservative world far less eager for him to officially make it official.

The list of Bush’s mistakes is long for a campaign that theoretically doesn’t exist. For a man who says he doesn’t like hypotheticals, he has hypothetically been running for six months, making sure to always add “ifs” and “woulds” in appropriate places to avoid infringing campaign laws.

All that extra time was meant to coalesce support, but instead Bush has seen it eaten away by missed goals, mismanagement, and stupid remarks.

To begin with, the money isn’t there like it was supposed to be. He set out to raise $100 million in donations and has reportedly fallen short. He may still set a record for his fundraising, but it is certain to feel less miraculous if it has less than eight zeroes in front of it.

Perhaps more pressing than arbitrary dollar marks, he’s had trouble really getting his pseudo-campaign off the ground. Difficulties setting up a campaign base and struggled through internal friction within the campaign have left Bush reorganizing his organization only days before he is set to announce his true and honest candidacy.

His messaging and meet-and-greets have not endeared him to new voters. There is that viral video of a college students chewing out the former-governor with Bush hardly managing a reply. And there are plenty of examples of his brusk and less-attractive side coming out whenever he finds himself pushed to give an answer he doesn’t feel like giving.

And then there’s Iraq: the quagmire his brother started, the one question he knew would be coming from now until November 2016. His faulty hearing, his flubbed answers, his awkward hostility to legitimate questions: it certainly doesn’t send the message of a man ready for the biggest spotlight in the world.

All of these issues have conspired to make Bush into the one thing he must surely dread the most: not his father or his brother, but Mitt Romney.

Not president
Good-looking Not-President Mitt Romney

Like Mitt Romney, he is watching every new candidate get a shot at the spotlight. There’s a growing sense of an “anyone but a Bush” movement within the party as the less-qualified and even unqualified rise up to meet him in the polls.

But remember, this is only an almost-candidacy. Perhaps Jeb Bush is holding back the good stuff until he announces. Perhaps things will click into alignment by primary season. Mitt Romney may have struggled to hold anyone’s attention or to coalesce much sincere support before the primaries, but he did finally see off his opponents one by one in the slog to nomination.

Of course, Mitt didn’t prove to have much juice after he got that nomination. The support he tried to build over the years piddled out by the time any votes were cast, with Obama doing just about as well in his second election as he did in his first. This despite the president’s low poll numbers and the unpopularity of his chief accomplishments.

Perhaps candidate Bush can outdo that. Perhaps he’s got what it takes. But so far in his almost-candidacy, he’s not showing any sign of it.

Why Blatter Is Loved

President of  FIFA, Joseph Blatter, attendsthe press conference following the meeting of the FIFA executive comittee in Zurich, on March 21, 2013.  AFP PHOTO / SEBASTIEN BOZON        (Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images)
Former President of FIFA, Joseph Blatter (Photo credit  SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images)

Sepp Blatter is stepping down to a chorus of joyous jeers from the Western press. Across Europe and the Americas, fans are rejoicing and clinking Bud Lite Limes now the man most tied to corruption in world football has finally been dethroned.

But all these celebrations mask the reaction throughout much of the rest of the world. There, Blatter is something of a hero, the old mountain goat who has fought for them against the rich and entitled countries who traditionally commanded FIFA. There, the loss of Blatter is a minor tragedy that may leave them vulnerable depending on who takes over next.

After all, Blatter won resounding reelection only Friday, convincing 60% of the nations in the world to cast a ballot for him even after the corruption scandal broke earlier in the week. Western commentators tend to shuffle that result under the rug as a product of bribery, but surely not every one of those 133 nations had Blatter money in their pockets.

The truth is that rightly or wrongly the poorer and smaller nations felt protected by Blatter. It was Blatter’s insistence that began moving the World Cup out of the OECD world and to the rest of it. The locations of the event since he took office manage to hit all four corners of the globe: South Korea/Japan, Germany, South Africa, Brazil. Add to that Russia and Qatar, and that’s quite a good spread. Certainly far better than what came before: France, the US, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Argentina.

Of course, not all of that was his initiative. He certainly can’t claim sole credit for Korea and Japan, which was planned under his predecessor’s watch. Many would argue FIFA would have widened its tent just as it did under Blatter, simply without quite so distinct a whiff of bought votes, but that will remain forever a hypothetical of history.

After last week, we now know for sure that much of the expansion of the sport came with a price tag. South Africa bribed its way to the World Cup. Allegations about Brazil are likely to be proved true in time, as well as those that have always surrounded Russia and Qatar.

But bribes aside, wasn’t a World Cup in South Africa worth having? Other than the buzz of the vuvuzelas, it was an astounding success, a moment of triumph for a country that has struggled into new prominence after the end of apartheid.

Africa may never have got a World Cup without Blatter. His insistence on moving the Cup around has certainly been his biggest success, and now his ultimate undoing. The world forgave South Africa and Brazil, despite tacit knowledge of bribery. But the choices made in 2010 pushed Blatter’s vision to the breaking point. If Russia was a step too far, Qatar took several leaps beyond that.

Now, with calls to take the World Cup from Qatar and whispers of UEFA and elements of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL breaking away, it’s easy to see why some nations would cling to Blatter. Much ignored in the legitimate cries of corruption is which countries are on either side of that debate. As any American or Brit could tell you, there is plenty of blatant, lawful corruption in Western systems. While it’s simplistic to conflate business dinners and political contributions with $10 million put in a man’s pocket, neither system is clean. And if FIFA only recognizes the Western system as legitimate, it very much limits how much power smaller, poorer countries can have in the global game.

Blatter made a point of counteracting this, weakening Europe’s voice over decades. He funneled Western money into football projects in small countries. He strengthened the hand of Asia and Africa. In a world where those voices are repeatedly quieted, that was a heroic choice to many.

The chief beneficiary of all this was, of course, Sepp Blatter himself. An unforgiving reading of his accomplishments would show him as a man who always worked to maximize his bribes: move the World Cup to nations without qualms about direct money transfers for favors; weakened the hand of countries with strong financial laws; invest FIFA money in enough nations to build an unbreakable coalition to keep the money train coming.

But a more generous portrait is of a man who took power from the rich and played by the rules of the poor in order to let them share in the game.

None of this takes away from the man’s extensive corruption, nor his egregious comments that would have ousted almost any other major figure in the world short of a dictator. On balance, it’s better for football and the world to have Blatter gone. But his reign is not the simple cartoonish grab for money and power that most reports make out. He’ll continue to be a hero to many, and there is more than a little reason for that.