Mike Huckabee is talking like he wants to get the band back together and run for president in 2016.
And by “get the band back together,” we mean the bare-bones campaign staff that helped him win the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and finish second to GOP nominee Sen. John McCain in the delegate count – not Capitol Offense, the Arkansas rock band for which Mr. Huckabee has occasionally played bass guitar.
“I’m keeping the door open,” Huckabee told a New York Times reporter Thursday in regards to another White House run. “I think right now the focus needs to be on 2014, but I’m mindful of the fact that there’s a real opportunity for me.”
The ex-Arkansas governor’s quasicandidacy throws a new element into the early positioning for the Republican presidential nod.
First off, he’s genial in a way that other semi-declared maybe-candidates aren’t. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie can be sharp; Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas can be cutting, as an ex-debater. Huckabee, in contrast, is a smooth ex-pastor and talk-show host. Make that ex-talk-show host – he quit his daily show, heard on 200 stations, on Thursday, saying it was taking as many as nine hours a day for him to prepare.
As for his next endeavor, “Stay tuned, there’s more to come,” he told listeners on his final day.
Second, Huckabee has a deep well of support among evangelical Christians, who may not otherwise have an obvious candidate to back in 2016.
On Friday, Huckabee is speaking at a “Pastors and Pews” event in Little Rock, Ark., run by David Lane, an evangelical leader who urges followers toward more participation in the political process.
Huckabeee plans to appear at four more “Pastors and Pews” events in coming months, in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas, according to a report in the Washington Examiner.
“Huckabee is obviously gearing up to run. This is the most aggressive I’ve seen him since 2007,” Mr. Lane told the Examiner’s Paul Bedard.
Third, as a former Arkansas governor, Huckabee has a geographical credential that might match up well against former Arkansan and possible Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton. Huckabee was born in Hope, Ark., as was Bill Clinton, so expect the inevitable appearance of “Real Man of Hope” bumper stickers, or something like that.
Huckabee’s current residence, a large house on Florida’s Gulf Coast, admittedly might complicate this narrative.
Weighing against him is a reputation as a politician who can’t raise money, notes left-leaning pundit Ed Kilgore, in the Washington Monthly. His 2008 campaign sputtered when it basically ran out of campaign contribution fuel. If he were to run again, Mr. Kilgore notes, Huckabee might have to rely on a few deep-pocketed backers and a "super PAC," as opposed to many individual donors.
Also, he’s an economic populist in the Southern vein, and that doesn’t necessarily sit well with the antitax and the corporate wings of the Republican Party. In 2008, the antitax Club for Growth criticized him for not opposing state tax increases while serving as Arkansas governor, for instance.
Huckabee has supported the Common Core initiative for a national educational standard and has sparred with rival talk host Rush Limbaugh over the more aggressive tone of the latter’s show. That’s earned him enmity from some on the right.
“Rush-bashing, Common Core-peddling Huckabee fails at radio, readies another presidential bid. #trygolfinstead,” tweeted conservative pundit Michelle Malkin on Friday.
Of course, it’s also possible that what Huckabee really wants is not the GOP presidential nomination, but redemption.
His 2008 run ended with a thump as the money ran out, and he feels he never got credit for his populist-tinged warnings that Wall Street was going to drag down Main Street, as pretty much happened at the beginning of the Great Recession later in the year.
“A lot of things I said that I was sneered at about turned out to be prophetic,” Huckabee told the Times’ Jonathan Martin. “A year later I looked like a genius, but nobody ever said, ‘Huckabee was right.’ ”
In fact, Mr. Carney almost lost control of the daily briefing – often a staid exercise of precooked responses to predictable questions – as reporters piled on over the latest of many perceived slights toward White House press photographers.
During Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, none were allowed on the platform where Mr. Obama and his two immediate presidential predecessors sat during the service, unlike official White House photographer Pete Souza. And none were allowed into the front of Air Force One to snap any shots of the Obamas and their guests – including former President Bush and wife Laura – during the long flights to and from South Africa.
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Mr. Souza captured many choice images of the Obamas, Bushes, and Hillary Rodham Clinton hanging together on Air Force One, admiring Mr. Bush’s artwork, and generally kicking back – as revealed in this Policymic.com photo essay.
OK, I know what you’re thinking: There goes the spoiled press corps, whining again about how it can’t have whatever it wants.
But this is actually a serious issue, one that the director of photography for the Associated Press opined on in Thursday’s New York Times, in an article called “Obama’s Orwellian image control.” Santiago Lyon called the Obama administration “undemocratic” and “hypocritical” in the way it has “systematically tried to bypass the media by releasing a sanitized visual record of [Obama’s] activities through official photographs and videos, at the expense of independent journalistic access.”
In October, a delegation from the White House Correspondents’ Association visited Carney to complain about photographers being shut out of events photographed by Souza. Times photographer Doug Mills slapped down a stack of Souza photos for emphasis.
“You guys are just like Tass,” the Russian news agency, Mr. Mills said to Carney, according to National Journal.
Ouch. Carney was a Moscow correspondent for Time magazine during the Soviet era.
Last month, the correspondents’ association weighed in.
“As surely as if they were placing a hand over a journalist’s camera lens, officials in this administration are blocking the public from having an independent view of important functions of the Executive Branch of government,” said the Nov. 21 letter to Carney.
On Nov. 5, this reporter had her own brush with the Obama administration’s limits on press access. It was the first day of renewed public tours of the White House, and president and Mrs. Obama decided to greet the visitors themselves. But the press “pool” in which I was serving that day – the small rotation of reporters, photographers, and TV cameras that follow the president – was not invited.
Instead, the event was live-streamed at WhiteHouse.gov. Maybe that’s good enough? White House reporters say no. When the president is performing his official duties in public, the pool should be there – even for just a minute or two.
On Thursday, when the Times op-ed appeared, Carney was ready for the questions.
“Let me tell you at the start here that from the president on down, everyone here believes strongly in the absolute necessity of a free and independent press to cover the presidency, to cover the government, to cover Washington,” he said.
Carney insisted that the press office went to “great lengths” to secure access for press photographers at the Mandela service – and that, in fact, they got “exceptionally more access” than they thought would be possible.
The press corps didn’t seem convinced. Some photographers who had gathered to watch looked bemused. And Carney didn’t exactly endear himself to them when he pointed out that the Internet has made it super easy to go around paid media and distribute photographs. He said he was “very sensitive” to the pressure on media business models.
In the end, Carney relented, kind of, on the issue of access during the trip to South Africa – and in general: “I would say broadly that in retrospect I think we can always find occasions where I would agree that we should have or could have or might have found a way to provide more access.”
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Has Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin just lowered his chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016? That’s what some pundits are saying now that Representative Ryan, House Budget Committee chairman, has co-authored a modest compromise budget deal with his counterpart Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington.
Their argument goes like this: Tea party conservatives hate the deal, in part because it lifts some sequester budget cuts in return for future trims in entitlement programs – reductions which may or may not come to pass. Serious contenders for the GOP crown need strong support from the tea party faction, since its supporters make up a disproportionately large percentage of primary voters. Thus Ryan’s competitors for conservative votes, such as Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, may benefit from the Ryan/Murray deal, since they oppose it.
“Mr. Ryan is taking a risk he has previously shied away from, putting what party leaders see as a crucial need – ending the debilitating budget wars in Washington that have crippled the Republican brand – over his own self-interests with the conservative activists that dominate the early Republican presidential primaries,” writes Jonathan Weisman, summing up this line of thought in The New York Times.
We’re skeptical. We think there are reasons why the budget deal per se won’t hurt Ryan much in terms of 2016, if it all.
The first is that many grass-roots conservatives appear inclined to cut Ryan some slack. His long advocacy for deep budget cuts and turning Medicare into a voucher program have earned him some goodwill on the right. Plus, he’s reached out to tea party groups since their beginning. As former National Review reporter Robert Costa tweeted on Wednesday, conservative talk radio hosts – a power in the party – are unlikely to hit Ryan hard in personal terms.
Second, Ryan has enough of a cushion of support to be able to withstand some deterioration in his position with tea party groups and still be a top 2016 contender.
A Pew Research poll from earlier this year found Ryan rated as the favorite candidate of GOP voters overall, with a favorable/unfavorable split of 65 to 15 percent. Among self-described tea party Republicans his support was even stronger, with an 81 to 7 favorable/unfavorable ratio.
Senator Paul was second among tea party favorites in this survey, with 70 percent of group members seeing him positively and 12 percent negatively. Senator Rubio lagged in third with comparable numbers of 59 to 23. It’s possible the Florida lawmaker has been hurt on the right by his past advocacy of comprehensive immigration legislation.
Finally, 2016 is a long way away in political terms. Yes, that’s obvious. But it’s easy to forget amid the blaring trumpets of the daily news. Remember a few weeks ago, when the government shutdown meant Democrats were going to retake the House. Gee, what’s happened to that scenario?
We do have one final question here, though. Does Ryan want to run in the first place? As Beth Reinhard points out in National Journal, this budget deal might be just one symbol of a larger problem. It’s hard to run for president when you’ve got a day job as a Washington legislator.
“Just ask Bob Dole, who resigned at the peak of his power in the Senate in 1996 to focus on his presidential campaign,” Ms. Reinhard writes.
But maybe Ryan wants another job. Rep. John Boehner has had a pretty draining few years. Now he (Boehner) is the one who's getting hammered by Heritage Action and other conservative groups over the budget deal.
Is it possible Ryan, with his well of conservative support, is waiting patiently in the background for his chance to replace Boehner as speaker of the House?
Right now the numbers look bad for President Obama. Two new national polls show disapproval of his presidential performance at record highs.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released Wednesday found that 54 percent of respondents did not approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing as US chief executive. Forty-three percent approved, putting the president’s rating underwater by 11 points. That’s his worst showing ever in this poll.
Similarly, Quinnipiac on Tuesday released a survey that put Obama at 57 percent disapproval and 38 percent approval, for a negative spread of 19 points.
Quinnipiac also found the GOP ahead in the generic congressional ballot, with 41 percent of respondents saying they would vote for a Republican candidate for Congress and 38 percent opting for a Democrat.
“A rousing chorus of Bah! Humbug! for President Barack Obama as American voters head into the holidays with little charitable to say about the president,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.
“President Obama could be pretty lonely during his last two years in office if voters decide they want Republican majorities in the House and Senate,” Mr. Malloy added.
Remember, individual polls don’t really make a trend by themselves. It’s best to look at them in the context of other surveys to get an average of US attitudes.
When you do that, things look a bit better for Obama – but only a bit. Maybe not even a bit. Just a smidge.
According to the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls, Obama’s numbers bottomed out a week ago, with 56 percent disapproval and 40 percent approval, for a spread of negative 16 points. He’s recovered a bit since then, to a negative spread of 11 points.
But the RCP rolling average of the generic congressional ballot shows how far and fast the Democratic Party has fallen. In late October, Democrats had a seven-point advantage on this measure. Now the Republicans have pulled ahead and opened a three-point edge, their biggest this election cycle.
It’s easy to infer what’s driving these numbers by just looking at a graph of the rolling averages. Obama and the Democrats were doing OK until mid-to-late October, when things suddenly turned bad and their disapproval ratings rocketed up. That’s about the time that the full extent of HealthCare.gov’s problems hit the news media.
The new NBC/WSJ poll reflects this dynamic. Asked which issue has been most important in shaping their opinion of Obama, 58 percent said the health-care law. Twenty-five percent said the economy, 23 percent the government shutdown, and 16 percent issues in Syria and Iran. (These add up to more than 100 percent because respondents were able to list two answers apiece.)
Quinnipiac found the same thing: By 34 to 62 percent, Americans disapprove of Obama’s job on health care.
Unsurprisingly, the recovery or nonrecovery of Obamacare from its rocky start will probably have the most profound effect on the president’s numbers and whether Democrats hold or lose the Senate.
“As health care goes, so goes the Obama presidency for next year,” says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Fred Yang.
That is what Senator Cruz’s office says occurred, in any case. “Senator Cruz very much hopes that Castro learns the lessons of Nelson Mandela,” said Sean Rushton, his communications director, according to the National Review. “For decades, Castro has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents. Just as Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Castro should finally release his political prisoners; he should hold free elections, and once and for all set the Cuban people free.”
Was this behavior appropriate? After all, the day was supposed to be a celebration of Mr. Mandela’s life, not a forum for debating US-Cuban relations. Democrats complained that Cruz was attempting to upstage South Africa’s planned proceedings.
Yes, President Obama shook hands with Mr. Castro when the two crossed paths in the VIP seating area. But that was simple courtesy, according to the White House, given that the encounter was inevitable. Cruz’s walkout, in contrast, was an act of active protest that in the view of Democrats was not necessary.
Hmm. We’d say that’s going a bit far. Cruz’s behavior was not intended for the worldwide audience of the memorial so much as for Cruz’s own supporters, wouldn’t you agree?
And there are a few aspects of US politics that might provide some context for Cruz’s stroll.
Cuba is still an issue. Fifty-three years since Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, its fate remains a hot button for its giant neighbor to the North. It’s not just something that sways an important Cuban-American constituency in South Florida. Cuba also remains the pea under Washington’s mattress. The Castro brothers have survived the efforts of 11 US presidents to push them from power. They’re a bit of unfinished business from the cold war, a way for Republicans to telegraph that they’re the party that Americans generally rate as stronger on national security in polls.
Cuba unites the GOP. And Fidel and Raúl Castro unite the GOP. You’ll notice that Republicans of all party factions complained about Mr. Obama’s handshake, not just hard-right conservatives. Sen. John McCain of Arizona equated the moment to Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Hitler. Senator McCain has also called Cruz a “wacko bird.”
So if you’re running for the 2016 GOP nomination – and who thinks Cruz isn’t? – then the walkout is smart positioning for the primaries to come.
Cruz is not a cartoon. Look, Cruz’s push this fall to shut down the government in an effort to defund Obamacare was a disaster for the national GOP’s image. Lots of establishment Republicans dislike him personally and don’t trust him, which is not good for his presidential aspirations.
But it would be a mistake for Democrats to treat Cruz as a caricature tea party conservative. His rhetorical skills are far superior to, say, those of Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. His academic achievements early in life were considerable. He was just announced as one of the finalists for Time's "Person of the Year."
Democratic lawyer and crisis consultant Lanny Davis makes that point in The Huffington Post. Democrats, he says, should remember that many in the party dismissed Ronald Reagan as an actor whose extreme views rendered him unelectable.
“So fellow Democrats: Let’s debate the issues with Ted Cruz and win the election on the issues. If we think it’s better to engage in personal attacks and ridicule, and not take Cruz seriously, think again,” writes Mr. Davis.
President Obama took a selfie with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt while seated in the audience at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa on Tuesday.
Yes, you’re right, that’s a lead sentence that we did not really envision writing when we got up this morning, but we go where the news flows, and there you are.
Photos of the smiling trio taking their self-portrait are all over the Internet at the moment. Many of them show Michelle Obama looking off to one side, as if she can’t believe the misbehavior of her seatmates.
Some critics thought that the world leader photo-op was in poor taste given the context. “So Obama & Cameron & Danish PM displaying similar levels of gravitas today as 14 yr olds on the school bus,” was a typical Twitter comment.
Some journalists thought the mass coverage of the photo event was worse than the event itself.
“You guys know this makes the media look bad, right?” tweeted Politico’s media columnist Dylan Byers.
At the risk of looking bad, though, we’ve got these thoughts.
It was a memorial, not a funeral. The massive event was meant to celebrate the great life of Mr. Mandela. There was singing, dancing, jumping throughout the crowd. When Mr. Obama spoke, spectators swayed and clapped behind him. The atmosphere was anything but stiff and funereal.
Leave Michelle out of it. Look, it’s impossible to really tell if she’s peeved, not paying attention, or (most likely) just got snapped at the micro-second she was looking in another direction. We’ve seen enough photo meetings to know it’s easy to construct a narrative where none exists. We don’t really have any idea what the first lady is thinking at the moment.
The president is always on stage. For those who think the shot irrelevant, we’d say the US president is always in the public eye. His every public move is captured on film, his every public action surveyed for possible meaning. Look no further than Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro at the memorial; was he too friendly to a repressive Cuban leader? Was he just he trying to put Mr. Castro off-balance? Was it just a handshake? Inquiring minds want to know.
Most presidential moments are predictable, preplanned. The selfie moment was not. It was a bit of genuine ad hoc get-togetherness among world leaders. It’s interesting to see that such powerful people can act like three friends at a sporting event. The media’s not going to cover that? Right.
It's all about us. However, we will note that the US media is (unsurprisingly) US-centric, so wherever the president goes, the story is framed through their experience. At Mandela’s memorial that means Obama’s speech and action will be the central aspect of many American stories.
This provincialism can be seen in the fact that some US broadcasters at first said the woman in the selfie shot was unidentified. Then some expressed surprise the Danish PM was a woman.
Ms. Thorning-Schmidt has in fact been the head of government of Denmark, a NATO ally, since 2011. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg is also a woman, by the way. Then there’s Angela Merkel, German chancellor.
So perhaps a northern European leader who is a women shouldn’t be, you know, a shock?
“We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace,” said Mr. Obama.
But it was Obama’s own action that produced a flurry of quick news reports back in the US on Mr. Mandela’s memorial service. As he made his way down a line of world leaders gathered to honor the great anti-apartheid leader, Obama shook hands with Cuba’s Raúl Castro.
The cold war history of strained relations between the US and the communist island to its south remains potent more than half a century after Raúl’s brother Fidel seized power. Many conservatives in the US reacted quickly and harshly to the handshake. Some noted that the taller Obama even seemed to bow to the shorter Raúl Castro.
“For those who believe in human rights and liberty, the sight of our president bounding up some stairs to energetically shake hands with Raúl Castro, dictator of Cuba, was more than a little unsettling – regardless of the circumstance,” wrote John Nolte on the right-leaning Breitbart.com.
Others noted that the handshake might not go over well in south Florida, where Cuban-Americans remain a dominant political force, and that Mr. Castro himself seemed pretty pleased with the moment.
“From Reuters report: ‘Castro smiled as Obama shook his hand’.... And yet Obama declined to attend [conservative British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher’s funeral,” tweeted Fox News host Todd Starnes.
Democrats replied that a handshake with no policy change equals mere protocol. At this point, there is no sign the Obama administration is planning sweeping changes in its Cuba policy.
The White House has allowed cultural trips to Cuba and other means of personal engagement, but the overall framework of the US embargo and travel restrictions remains in place.
This policy itself is counterproductive and immoral, according to Slate economic writer Matt Yglesias. That’s what people should be focusing on, he writes, instead of a handshake.
“Everyone knows this policy doesn’t work, but nobody wants to admit it,” Mr. Yglesias writes Tuesday.
Liberals even laughed at the uproar with some saying (sarcastically) that the handshake was a secret sign signaling the socialist takeover of the US.
But for better or worse, presidential protocol remains a powerful symbol easily used for partisan purposes. Conservatives opposed to Obama have long complained that he seems too deferential to some foreign leaders. This is just the latest in a line of perceived missteps that include Obama “bowing” to Saudi King Abdullah and former Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Whether Obama actually bowed in these instances – both of which involved shorter foreign leaders – is open to interpretation, noted Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler in 2011 after the Mitt Romney campaign made the kowtow charge.
And Republican presidents have had their own greeting controversies, noted Mr. Kessler. Richard Nixon gave a bit of a bow to Emperor Hirohito of Japan in 1971, despite the fact that Hirohito had served as his nation’s monarch in World War II.
And in 1972, Nixon shared smiling handshakes with Chinese communist dictator Mao Tse Tung. Of course, that was part of his famous visit to China, which announced an about-face in US policy toward normal relations.
We’d like to make two final notes about the Castro handshake. First, Bill Clinton preceded Obama here, as he did in the Oval Office. President Clinton shook hands with Fidel Castro himself in 2000 after a United Nations luncheon in New York City. Second, perhaps Raúl Castro was listening closely to Obama’s speech on Tuesday, and was stung by a line that could well have been aimed at him.
“There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with [Mandela’s] struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people,” said Obama.
More than 70 world leaders, and three American ex-presidents, are expected to attend the service for the late anti-apartheid crusader and former South African president, who died last Thursday. But for Mr. Obama, this is especially personal. Mr. Mandela is one of the president’s heroes, a man he credits with inspiring him to become politically active – a turn that put him on a path to becoming his nation’s first black president, like Mandela.
So there was never any doubt that Obama and his wife, Michelle, would drop everything to fly across the world to honor, as he put it, “one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth.”
And it was also likely that Vice President Joe Biden would get left behind to tend the home fires – which is what happened. Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, visited the South African Embassy Monday to deliver the nation’s condolences. Monday afternoon, the Bidens hosted a reception for the diplomatic corps at the State Department. Monday evening, the Bidens will preside over the Congressional Holiday Ball at the White House. On Wednesday, Biden will speak at a memorial service for Mandela at the National Cathedral.
That’s not a bad consolation prize for someone whose own presidential campaigns didn’t go far. But to some in the media, it’s another excuse to give Biden a bit of a ribbing.
“Where’s Vice President Joe? Ditched by B.O.” writes Neil Munro of the conservative Daily Caller.
Of the two receptions on Monday, “neither will generate any useful video that would help decorate his expected 2016 run for the presidency,” writes Mr. Munro. “Instead that expensive and unique visual will go on Obama’s trophy wall.”
Munro is famous (in Washington, at least) for interrupting – some said heckling – the president during a Rose Garden announcement last year on immigration policy toward children. So we wouldn’t expect much love from Munro toward Obama’s No. 2.
But the Biden-bashing over being “left behind” seems unsporting. After all, marking the passing of an iconic figure like Mandela easily qualifies as a two-man job. The Obamas go to Johannesburg, the Bidens cover the home front – during an especially social time of year.
"On behalf of the American people, our deepest condolences to the people of South Africa for the passing of Nelson Mandela," Biden wrote in the condolence book at the South African Embassy in Washington. "But more than that, our profound gratitude – for his compassion, his humility, and his courage. Through his unflagging, unflinching commitment to human dignity and his willingness to forgive, he inspired us and challenged us all to do better."
The Congressional Holiday Ball is also important. In fact, it is Congress's consolation prize after the annual summer picnic at the White House was canceled. Maybe Biden, a long-serving senator before becoming vice president, can jolly up the Republicans a bit at a time of intense partisan polarization.
Will he and his creator, the conservative political nonprofit Generation Opportunity, successfully convince Millennials they shouldn’t sign up for insurance via President Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act? The final answer to that won’t be clear until March 31 of next year, the deadline for 2014 enrollment, if then.
But Creepy Uncle Sam’s weird vibe does appear to have irritated Mr. Obama himself. At a White House Youth Summit devoted to the ACA last week, the president said “believe it or not, there are actually organizations that are out there working to convince young people not to get insurance.”
“Now think about that. That’s a really bizarre way to spend your money,” said Obama, presumably referring to the wealthy donors who fund those organizations.
In case you’ve never heard of him, Creepy Uncle Sam is a large-head costumed actor similar in appearance to a college sports mascot. But the frozen expression on his enormous face is ... creepy. There’s no other word for it. As we’ve previously said, he looks like a freaky, patriotic garden gnome.
And Generation Opportunity has employed him in ads creepy enough to be controversial on their own. In one, a young woman is set to have a gynecological exam, when Creepy arises from between her legs snapping a speculum. “Don’t leg government play doctor,” reads the video’s tagline. “Opt out of Obamacare.”
In October, Creepy starred in his own mini-Halloween movie, which ended with him making some kind of triumphant guttural roar over a stash of candy extorted from frightened Millennials.
On Dec. 5, Generation Opportunity dropped a new Creepy ad, titled “Not a Game.” It features a panning shot of a hospital while a female voiceover talks about why Millennials are opting out of Obamacare, interrupted by periodic buzzing.
At a crucial point the voice says her generation is not doing the ACA because, “We have not lost our [expletive] minds.” Her swearing is bleeped out by the buzzing sound, which turns out to be caused by Creepy Uncle Sam playing – and losing at – the old board game “Operation.”
Another ad released last week noted that Creepy will be on Snapchat, where users can share pictures and videos that self-delete after 10 seconds. But it’s not clear how extensive an audience he’ll reach on the site, which is popular with a young demographic, given that users have to request images from particular sources. Millennials that will sign up at creepyuncle.sam may already lean towards Generation Opportunity’s position.
Right now Millennials don’t appear convinced they can gain from Obamacare coverage, given its botched rollout. A much-covered poll released by Harvard’s Institute of Politics last week found that solid majorities of the Millennial generation disapprove of the president’s health reform package, whether it’s described as the “Affordable Care Act” or “Obamacare.” Fewer than 3 of every 10 Millennial poll respondents said they will definitely or probably sign up for coverage through an ACA exchange marketplace.
“Those are not numbers that suggest a population that’s poised to fall in line, do its civic duty, and fell warm and fuzzy in the process,” writes right-leaning New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.
The question will be whether that attitude persists. As a new Gallup survey has found, when it comes to Obamacare, younger Americans know the least. Thirty-seven percent say they are “not familiar at all” with the law’s specifics.
And it’s possible that Millennials just won’t really know what they’re going to do on health care until confronted by the hard deadline of next March, after which they’ll have to pay the IRS a fine if they don’t have health coverage.
Many may remain on their parents’ plans, notes political scientist Jonathan Bernstein on his “A plain blog about politics.” Others don’t realize that state-based exchanges and HealthCare.gov are related to the ACA at all.
“I don’t think the poll tells us anything about what young people are going to do when they get to that point of seeking insurance,” writes Mr. Bernstein.
The National Security Agency and its British equivalent have been spying on virtual elves, orcs, and trolls in massive multi-player online video games such as "World of Warcraft" and "Second Life", according to the latest leak from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Simultaneous stories published Monday by The New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica detail spy agency gamer activity, which appears to have begun in 2007 or 2008. At one point so many spooks and agencies were involved in Second Life that they had to set up a “deconfliction” group to make sure they weren’t duplicating efforts or running into each other, according to these reports.
World of Warcraft and other games involve the use of digital avatars, voice and text communications, and virtual financial transactions. Millions of players participate.
The NSA and its British sister agency GCHQ worry that this environment might be useful for terrorists, according to documents leaked by Snowden. Al Qaeda and others could hide operational discussions and actual money transfers in fantasy worlds.
“The [signals intelligence community] needs to begin taking action now to plan for collection, processing, presentation, and analysis of these communications,” said one April 2008 NSA document cited by Justin Elliott of ProPublica and Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times.
It’s not clear that this spying has paid off. Documents cited show no counterterrorism successes, although the British did bust a criminal group peddling stolen credit card numbers on Second Life.
However, the NSA’s surveillance of World of Warcraft did turn up “accounts, characters and guilds related to Islamic extremist groups, nuclear proliferation and arms dealing,” according to one document. In other words, people linked to nefarious activities may play these games for recreation. That might allow US and British spies to glean personal info such as names, locations, habits, and revealing comments.
As the tech site Gizmodo points out, many use headsets, video cameras, and other tech equipment, which could even provide the NSA with pictures and other biometric information about their targets.
After all, US law enforcement now has the ability to install malware on suspects’ computers which can turn on computer cameras surreptitiously, according to the Washington Post. The tell-tale light meant to show the camera is “on” remains dark.
It’s not clear from these reports how or if gamer privacy was protected. In theory, American citizens should have been shielded from this spying. Foreigners outside the continental US would have been fair game, but it’s not clear how the NSA winnowed out legal targets.
Initial reaction among game players ranged from outrage at the possible invasion of their privacy to amusement that the NSA would spend money and time on something with a remote chance of providing useful information.
“I bet all the NSA found were whining 12 year old,” tweeted one WOW (World of Warcraft) player.
“If it wasn’t disturbing it would be laughable,” tweeted another.
In the end it may reflect nothing so much as the resources available to US intelligence and the scope of spy creativity and interest.
During the cold war, US law enforcement routinely hired people to do little but live across from the grounds of the Soviet embassy and watch coming and goings. Tiny scraps of information, such as who was in the car with whom, snatches of conversation, and apparent moods were combined into a jigsaw puzzle of personal and business relations between embassy personnel.
The NSA game activity might be seen in this context, in which US surveillance activities become a fixed, unblinking stare aimed at every adversary activity imaginable, with unpredictable effects on the privacy of others.