Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't Panic

It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words "DON'T PANIC" in large, friendly letters on the cover.

-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

This week everybody was talking about looming disaster

It’s been a tough week to sift, because I’m inclined to get frantic and obsess over exactly the same things everybody else is: the home stretch of the election and Hurricane Sandy.

By this point, the candidates’ messages are about as fleshed out as they’re going to get. There’s not really any new insight to gain about Romney’s math-challenged tax plan or whether the economy is really in recovery or not. You probably made up your mind long ago, and if your state allows it, you may even have voted already.

(I have. Funny story about that: New Hampshire doesn’t have early voting, but I was headed back out to Illinois to deal with the aftermath of my father’s death and didn’t know if I’d be back by election day, so I voted absentee. As I got my ballot, the clerk informed me that if anybody sees me in New Hampshire on election day, my absentee ballot could be challenged. So I’m essentially in exile until November 7.)

So I’m done voting, and I’ve got stuff to do in a non-swing state (plus, I’m introverted enough to hate face-to-face electioneering). So my useful role in this election is more-or-less over, leaving me with no way to work out my pre-election tension other than to obsess over polls.

This puts me in a position I don’t like to be in: preaching what I’m not practicing.

Here’s the text of my sermon: Don’t obsess pointlessly. Figure out how much effort you’re going to put into this election and do it. Volunteer. Or babysit for your friends so they can volunteer. Or make one last pitch to the persuadable people in your life. Or decide not to do any of that. Then forget about it until it’s time to vote and watch the returns. I guarantee that when you look back on your life from a ripe old age, the time you spent fretting over whether Gallup’s likely-voter model is skewed will not seem well-spent.

Isn’t that good advice? You’re not going to follow it either, are you?

BTW, if you do plan to make one last pitch to the persuadable people you know, I wrote this article to help:

Convincing friends to vote for Obama.

Here's why the campaigns are making me crazy

The final messages of the two campaigns are oddly complimentary. As they come down the stretch, it looks like both campaigns (no matter what they're saying) believe that President Obama has a slight advantage. (Nate Silver's model bears this out. He's giving Obama around a 3/4 chance of winning -- an advantage, but hardly prohibitive.) Which means: Romney is still looking for undecided voters, while Obama is focused on turning out the voters he already has.

And that leads to this perverse result: Romney wants the undecided voters to see him as a winner, so his campaign is exaggerating his chances of victory. Meanwhile, Obama is motivating his supporters to get out the vote by exaggerating Romney's chances of victory. So the message I'm hearing from both sides is: Romney can win this.

Meanwhile, doom approaches from the sea

Other than NASCAR crashes, there are few things that our news media covers worse than a hurricanes. Every few years a truly disastrous storm hits, and once in a great while something like Katrina comes along. But every year, sometimes more than once in a year, there's a storm that could be historically bad. Factors are converging, and they could all come together into the Perfect Storm.

There's something pornographic about the coverage. Of course no reporter can root for the Big Disaster. But if it comes, careers will be made, and if it doesn't, then they're all just standing on windy beaches getting wet.

As with the election, make your plan and carry it out. But don't keep looking at weather-service maps saying "Where is it now? Where is it now?"

And once the clean-up is well in hand, isn't it time to start talking seriously about whether climate change has something to do with all this extreme weather? The insurance industry already is.

... but I wrote about abortion

Richard Mourdock’s comment that rape pregnancies are “something God intended” seemed to call for a stronger reaction than just “I disagree”. What bugs me isn’t just that he’s wrong, but that America isn’t supposed to work this way: Congressmen aren’t supposed to be interpreting the will of God for the rest of us. So I wrote:

Government Theology is Un-American.

Even if you don’t follow the link to that article, you should see the Clay Bennett cartoon I used to illustrate.

... and you might also find this interesting

When I heard that Joss Whedon had endorsed Romney, I thought “That can’t be serious.” But oh, yes. It’s as serious as a Zombie Apocalypse.


While we’re talking about endorsements, here’s Lena Dunham’s endorsement of Obama.


I can’t fathom why anyone found this “controversial” or even “astoundingly tasteless”. It’s a time-honored trick in advertising to make people think you’re talking about sex and then reveal that you’re really talking about something else. I thought it was done very cleverly this time.

I wonder what Dunham’s humorless critics thought of this Andy Borowitz satire.

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, there is a deep divide among Republican leaders over whether to emphasize misogyny or racism as the campaign’s closing theme.

In Florida, the Republicans’ transparent efforts to suppress minority voters may have backfired.

New evidence that Romney’s private-insurance-with-a-Medicare-option plan will ultimately kill Medicare completely.

The Medicare Advantage program sort of does that already. And the private companies do exactly what health-insurance companies always do: compete to attract the people they don’t expect to get sick.

The study’s conclusion: healthy seniors tend to gravitate to private plans and sicker seniors gravitate to traditional Medicare. That’s because private insurers craft their plans to attract lower-cost patients and leave sicker, more expensive ones for traditional Medicare — a process known as favorable selection.
If that happened on a larger scale, Medicare would go into a death spiral: It would have to keep raising its premiums to cover an ever-sicker client base. And the death spiral would have nothing to do with the efficiency of the health-care it delivered.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Women's Issues

I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.

-- Gloria Steinem

This week everybody was talking about binders full of women

This endless campaign needed a good laugh, so thank Mitt Romney for providing one in Tuesday's debate. Asked what he would do about gender pay inequity (women making less than men) in the workplace, Romney instead talked about gender diversity (hiring women) in his administration in Massachusetts. He apparently didn't meet any women at Bain Capital, so ...

We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? And they brought us whole binders full of women.

It was a typical Romneyism: equating people with objects, like viewing companies as spreadsheets of assets to be captured and liquidated, rather than seeing American workers and the communities where they live. (Also typical: Mitt’s story is complete fiction.)

The Internet lit up immediately with biting satire and more biting satire. But we shouldn’t let the unintentionally humorous form of Romney’s answer hide the fact that the content is truly hideous:

I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for – making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women.

So if you’re going to have women in the workforce, you need to let them go home to cook dinner for their kids, because job flexibility is a women’s issue, not a family issue. (God forbid Dad should tell his boss he has to come home early and order pizza.) And (unless the Man in Charge is as magnanimous as Mitt Romney) employers will hire those less-flexible women only in boom times when they’re “anxious” about finding enough qualified men.

That’s the Romney vision for working women and their families.

President Obama struck back with his “Romnesia” speech, which I thought was hilarious.

… and why the polls don’t make sense

At the same time that Gallup’s tracking poll showed Romney opening up a huge lead nationally, state polls had Obama moderately ahead. Nate Silver grappled with the conundrum, while his model shows Obama with a 68% chance of victory – up from 63% last Monday.

Two x-factors could lead to Obama doing better on election day than the polls (or Nate’s model) predict. (1) Likely-voter models don’t really know what to do with young voters, or anybody else who doesn’t have a voting history. And (2) most polls interview only in English, so they might miss the size of the Hispanic vote.

Obama typically leads in polls of all registered voters, while Romney does better in polls that restrict themselves to likely voters. But if turnout is high – and early-voting numbers hint that it might be – then a lot of unlikely voters are going to cast ballots.

… but I wrote about liberals and capitalism

The debate question that struck me was:
What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate?

President Obama addressed the misperception that he believes in a government-centered economy rather than free enterprise. That gave me a news-hook for an issue I’ve been wanting to discuss for a while: Why do liberals sound so inauthentic when we defend capitalism, and what can we do about it? Hence this week’s main article: Take a Left at the Market.

… and you might also find this interesting

Romney still hasn’t made his budget numbers add up.

Remember when a new version of Windows was a big deal? Windows 95 was like a million years ago. And while we’re talking about Bill Gates: It’s hard to keep a straight face while writing about his quest for the toilet of the future.

Rosie Perez answers Romney’s “joke” that he’d “have a better shot at winning” if he were Latino.

One inevitable consequence of manufacturing horror stories about your opponents: The people on your side start doing horrible things to “catch up”.

I think that’s why we’re seeing such outrageous voter-registration fraud among Republicans. Up and down the line, Republicans have talked themselves into believing that Democrats are doing worse.

E. J. Dionne has put his finger on something important: Romney isn’t running as a candidate, he’s marketing himself as a product. What seems like flip-flopping in the political arena is just normal advertising for products like Coke or Tide. As Tom Waits puts it: “It’s new. It’s improved. It’s old-fashioned.” Why not?

If only there were such a network of celebrity super-heroes.

Lately I’ve seen a slew of articles from progressives that I characterize as: “I can’t condone what Obama’s done, but Jesus! The Republicans have gone out of their minds!”

In the recent Harper’s article “Why Vote?” (which you can’t see unless you subscribe) Kevin Baker explains that “your vote counts for nothing”, and complains that “what we are witnessing right now in America and throughout the Western world, is not compromise with the opposition but something else entirely: the use of democratic institutions to disassemble democracy itself.”

So he thinks you shouldn’t participate in this farce, right? Not exactly:

Go vote for Barack Obama, and whatever other Democrats or progressives are running for office where you live. To vote for a Mitt Romney – to vote for the modern right anywhere in the West today – is an act of national suicide.
Daniel Ellsberg says: “I don’t support Obama, I oppose the current Republican Party.” He elaborates:
a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better – no different – on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.

Antiwar activist Tom Gallagher titles his column: “Vote for the War Criminal – It’s Important!

Noam Chomsky agrees. He believes that Obama’s targeted assassinations (i.e. drone strikes) are “war crimes”. But:

If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney-Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Retro Campaign

We should not be fighting about equal pay for equal work and access to birth control in 2012. These issues were resolved years ago until the Republicans brought them back.

-- Elizabeth Warren

This week everybody was talking about the VP debate

[video and transcript here. Or punt on all that and watch the SNL version.]

Initial reports were mixed: Biden dominated the conversation, but Ryan seemed to defend his position well enough, and maybe Biden's aggressive style turned off some voters. Democrats were happy with their guy and Republicans were happy with theirs, so the pundits called the net result a draw.

But it soon became clear that the debate's most memorable moment didn't go well for Ryan, who was denouncing "pork to campaign contributors and special interest groups" in the stimulus when he ran into this buzzsaw:

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: He sent me two letters saying, by the way, can you send me some stimulus money for companies here in the state of Wisconsin? We sent millions of dollars. You know why he said he needed —

MS. RADDATZ: You did ask for stimulus money, correct?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Sure he did. By the way — (inaudible) —

REP. RYAN: On two occasions, we — we — we advocated for constituents who were applying for grants.


REP. RYAN: That's what we do. We do that for all constituents who are — (inaudible) — for grants.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I love that. I love that.

Then the fact-checkers weighed in. As in his convention speech, Ryan was making stuff up right and left: No, there wasn't $90 billion of "green pork" in the stimulus. No, six studies didn't prove Romney's tax-plan arithmetic works.  (Even Fox News isn't buying that one.) And how can Mr. Obstruction Himself criticize the Obama administration for its unwillingness to work with Republicans?

After a few days, Republicans were still claiming Ryan did well, but they were behaving as if he had lost: blaming the moderator and complaining about how "mean" Biden was to their boy wonder.

Ryan absorbed another barb when he defended Romney's tax math:

REP. RYAN: You can cut tax rates by 20 percent and still preserve these important preferences for middle-class taxpayers —

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Not mathematically possible.

REP. RYAN: It is mathematically possible. It's been done before. It's precisely what we're proposing.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: (Chuckles.) It has never been done before.

REP. RYAN: It's been done a couple of times, actually.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: It has never been done before.

REP. RYAN: Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates, increased growth. Ronald Reagan —

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Oh, now you're Jack Kennedy.

REP. RYAN: Ronald Reagan — (laughter) — (chuckles) — Republicans and Democrats —

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: This is amazing.

And lest you think "now you're Jack Kennedy" was a cheap shot, New Republic's Timothy Noah takes the time Biden didn't have to explain why Romney's tax cut bears no resemblance to Kennedy's.

In short, Biden made good on my prediction from August:

The Republican rank-and-file ... believe Ryan is really, really smart and expect him to wipe the floor with that doofus Joe Biden.

I think they’ll be surprised.

BTW, from my point of view (and Grist's David Roberts'), moderator Martha Raddatz's questions favored conservative frames and talking points: Social Security is going bankrupt. The abortion issue is about religious values rather than individual rights.

And why were there no questions about climate change or increasing economic inequality?

Many people were moved by Ryan's story about seeing "a little baby ... in the shape of a bean" on his wife's ultrasound. The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik said what I was thinking:

Ryan’s moral intuition that something was indeed wonderful here was undercut, tellingly, by a failure to recognize accurately what that wonderful thing was, even as he named it: a bean is exactly what the photograph shows —- a seed, a potential, a thing that might yet grow into something greater, just as a seed has the potential to become a tree. A bean is not a baby.

... it isn’t life that’s sacred—the world is full of life, much of which Paul Ryan wants to cut down and exploit and eat done medium rare. It is conscious, thinking life that counts, and where and exactly how it begins (and ends) is so complex a judgment that wise men and women, including some on the Supreme Court, have decided that it is best left, at least at its moments of maximum ambiguity, to the individual conscience

... and the continuing tightening of the polls

Nate Silver's model is designed not to over-react to the current headline, so the tightening has showed up gradually. Before the first debate, Nate was giving President Obama an 86% chance of victory, but now it's down to 63%.

There's always a lag between events and polls about the public's reaction, partly because it takes time for people to figure out what they think, and partly because it takes time to assemble meaningful poll results. So we don't really know yet whether Biden's performance Wednesday stopped the slide. (This morning's ABC/WaPo poll, where Obama has a 49%-46% lead, hints that it did.)

Kevin Drum adds an interesting bit of hindsight: If you look carefully at the polling, Romney's comeback started before the debate. Possibly it began as a bounceback from the public's pro-Obama reaction to the 47% controversy.

Here's some wild speculation: I think maybe 2-3% of voters are deciding purely on optics; they don't want to vote for a guy who looks like a loser. After Romney's 47% video, they swung to Obama, but after the first debate they swung to Romney.

The fate of the country may hang on those fickle 2-3%.

Meanwhile, the Republican hope to take the Senate is quietly fading. But they're on course to retain the House.

One reason Democrats might retain the Senate is this hard-hitting ad from Claire McCaskill.

... and the campaign in general

So, Romney voters, which of these two guys are you voting for?

Speaking to the Columbus Dispatch, Mitt Romney repeated one of the "five pretty lies" I identified in August. #2 on that list was "The uninsured can get the medical care they need in the ER." Here's Romney's version:

We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, "Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack." No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.

By focusing on heart attacks, Romney avoided a direct lie and instead was just grossly misleading. A more illuminating example is high blood pressure: An ER may diagnose you with treatable hypertension and write you a prescription to control it. But if you can't pay for those drugs, you won't get them. If that non-treatment leads to a stroke, once again the ER can help you. But (assuming they save your life), if you need post-crisis rehabilitation to regain your ability to speak or walk or use your hands, you're on your own again.

In short, if Romney convinced you that the uninsured are doing fine, you've been tricked. TPM linked to a variety of studies that estimate the number of Americans who die each year for lack of insurance. The estimates vary depending on the technique, but they are all five-digit numbers.

In other words, lack of insurance has a death rate comparable to a major war.

Paul Krugman combines this with Romney's tax cuts and draws the obvious conclusion:

a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.

Some "job creators" have announced their plans to be job destroyers if Obama is re-elected. But if we do what they say, nobody gets hurt.

About those "six studies" that supposedly back up Mitt Romney's claims about his tax plan ... Bloomberg columnist Josh Barro got the Romney campaign to list them.

Guess what? They aren't studies. (Some are newspaper op-eds or blog posts.) There aren't six of them. (Marty Feldstein gets counted twice; once for an op-ed and then again for a follow-up blog post.) And none proves that Romney's numbers add up. Barro comments:

Finally, I would note one item that the Romney campaign does not cite in support of its tax plan: Any analysis actually prepared for the campaign in preparation for announcing the plan in February. You would expect that, in advance of announcing a tax plan, the campaign would commission an analysis to make sure that all of its planks can coexist. Releasing that analysis now would be to the campaign's advantage, helping them put down claims like mine that their math doesn't add up.

Why don't they release that analysis? My guess is because the analysis doesn't exist, and the 20 percent rate cut figure was plucked out of thin air for political reasons without regard to whether it was feasible.

Bad talking point: Obama doubled the price of gas.

Average retail gasoline prices have more than doubled under President Obama, according to government statistics, rising from $1.84 per gallon to $3.85 per gallon.

True? As far as it goes, but look at the graph:

Gas prices are pretty much exactly where they were during the Bush administration's final summer. They crashed with everything else in the fall of 2008, hitting their low in December. But as the economy recovered, people started driving again and gas prices went back up.

So gas prices are a perverse measure of the success of the Obama economic policy, not its failure. If we had gone into the Second Great Depression that seemed to be looming on Inauguration Day, I'm sure gas would be much cheaper now.

... but I wrote about food safety

Or, more accurately, Bloomberg News did. "When the Food Industry Inspects Itself" is a short note that overgrew its space. (It's still a lot shorter than the original article.)

Free-market dogma says that the market provides all the motivation companies need to keep their products safe and high-quality: A company depends on its spotless reputation, it needs repeat customers, and so on. So government regulators, inspectors, and testers just get in the way.

You may not realize it, but the U.S. has been running a massive experiment to test that notion, and you're the guinea pig. Over the last 30 years, the government has been withdrawing from its food-inspection role, leaving the job to contractors and to the food companies themselves.

How's it working? Not so well, actually.

... and you also might find this interesting

I'm considering making "What did Chris Hayes talk about this weekend?" a regular part of the weekly summary. Sunday's edition of "Up" had a great discussion of polling; not just "Who's going to win the election?", but "What is polling about and how does it enlighten or mislead us?".

The biggest problem with polling is that it can make public opinion seem real when it really isn't. On a complex issue like cap-and-trade as a way to mitigate global warming, the honest majority opinion might be "I don't know what that is." But that's not what the headline is going to say when poll is published.

Another persistent issue is that questions tend to be abstract, when many people think in specifics. You'll get one response if you ask "Do you support same-sex marriage?" But you might get a different one to "If two women or two men want to get married, should the government stop them?", and a different one yet in real life, when the two guys have names and live next door.

SNL skewers geeky critics of the iPhone 5.

The WaPo reports on a follow-up to one of the classic psychology experiments, the Stanford marshmallow experiment. In the original, children got a choice between eating a marshmallow now, or sitting in the marshmallow's presence for 15 minutes to earn two marshmallows. Years later, researchers determined that the kids who had successfully delayed their gratification were more competent young adults than the others.

The experiment is widely discussed among non-psychologists because it verifies a piece of folk wisdom: There is such a thing as self-control. Some people have it, others don't, and it determines a lot about how successful you'll be.

The follow-up undermines that explanation. In this case, the marshmallow offer is preceded by interactions with an adult. Some of the kids interact with a reliable adult, who keeps promises and is organized enough to make things happen on schedule. The others interact with an unreliable adult whose promises and predictions may not pan out.

Well, guess what? The first group of kids are much more likely to wait for the two-marshmallow payoff than the second group. And that suggests an alternate interpretation: Some kids grow up in reliable, predictable environments where the future is worth strategizing over, and some kids don't. Maybe that reliable environment is what predicts success, rather than a some-got-it-some-don't quality of a child's character.

What's America's fastest-growing major religion? None of the above.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has been studying religious trends for a long time. Recently the trend towards religious non-affiliation has accelerated:

"Nones" went from 15% of the population in 2007 to nearly 20% only five years later. They now outnumber white evangelicals and are gaining on Catholics. To a certain extent individuals are leaving their churches, but the bigger story is that increasing numbers of young people never develop a religious affiliation to begin with. As their church-going elders die off, young adults are not filling the ranks.

It's striking how much more political deference white evangelicals get, even though there are fewer of them. Six Supreme Court justices are Catholic, but I can't imagine a nominee sailing through Congress as a confessed None.

Maybe someday, Nones will develop a sense of identity and demand equality.

And finally, remember to protect your cats this Halloween. Jack-o-Lanterns love cats.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The West Wing and other fantasies

When the Left wanted to escape from the Bush administration, they watched "The West Wing". They didn't stop believing that Bush was president or stop believing that any numbers were true, or create their own polls in which John Kerry was up by 15 points. ... The Right, I think, has retreated into their own universe in which they are winning, they are the majority, and Barack Obama was never elected president.

--  Joy Reid

This week everybody was talking about the debate Romney won

Or maybe the one that President Obama lost. The New Yorker's cover expressed the situation pretty well.

The short version is that Romney finally shook the Etch-a-Sketch and brought back Moderate Mitt, who hadn't been seen all year. Obama seemed unfocused and didn't make Romney pay a price for either his sudden about-face or his mis-characterizations of both the president's policies and his own.

Obama's passivity and moderator Jim Lehrer's unwillingness to enforce discipline allowed Romney to dominate the debate, getting the last word on every segment. CBS' snap poll indicated that 46% of undecided viewers believed Romney won the debate, compared to 22% who thought Obama won.

Aside from a pervasive depression about an election that had seemed in the bag before the debate, liberals like me were left with a series of questions:

  • What was wrong with Obama? All kinds of theories cropped up: overconfidence, the altitude, bad strategy, and so on. To me, none of them seem more compelling than the explanation that he just had a bad day. The most optimistic explanation is that he has a four-debate strategy, and that the whole point of the first debate was to get Romney to commit to either Moderate Mitt or Mr. Conservative. Maybe.
  • What are the facts about Romney's tax plan, pre-existing conditions, and other disputed points? I'll cover Romney's tax and budget proposals (such as they are) in a separate post. Once again, Romney claimed to cover pre-existing conditions on national TV, only to have his staff walk it back later. In short, all Romney promises is not repeal the legal protections that have existed since 1996.
  • How big a difference will the debate make in the election? As much as everybody likes a winner, I don't think anybody goes into the voting booth thinking: "I'm going to vote for this guy because he won the debate." Rather, winning the debate means creating a moment that will change people's minds. It's not clear that happened. Romney's performance, IMO, will cause viewers to take another look at him. Whether they'll like what they see is another question. Nate Silver believes Obama's lead has shrunk from around 4.5% to between 1% and 2%, but sees signs that Romney's momentum has already faded.
  • Would conservatives let Romney get away with moving to the center? The answer seems to be Yes. Chris Hayes had this absolutely right: "The thing that conservatives care the most about is pissing off liberals. ... If you can infuriate liberals by moving to the left and confounding their beloved president, [conservatives] are going to love you. They don't care. One more thing: They don't really worry that [Romney] would  actually do what he says."
  • If his sudden pivot to the center wins the election for Romney, which Mitt will take office in January? My money is on the "severe conservative". Particularly if the Republicans retain the House and make gains in the Senate (as they probably will if the climate changes enough to elect Romney), only "severely conservative" bills will come to his desk. Can you really picturing him vetoing them?

Finally, the most memorable moment of the debate may hurt Romney: his threat to Big Bird. Romney's promises to cut taxes and raise defense spending, while protecting Medicare and Social Security for current and near-future retirees leaves him with a credibility problem on the deficit: What is he going to cut to make the numbers work?

Needing some kind of example, Romney picked PBS, whose subsidy amounts to one ten-thousandth of the federal budget. "I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too" he told moderator Jim Lehrer (from PBS), "but I’m not gonna keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it."

That prompted a huge save-Big-Bird response on the Internet, some serious, some tongue-in-cheek. The visuals said it best.

... and new jobs report

Romney's Wednesday-night momentum was blunted by Friday morning: The new jobs report puts unemployment below 8% for the first time since Obama took office. The drop was not dramatic, but continued the generally improving pattern of the last two-and-a-half years.

Conservatives reacted to the news the way they react to any facts they don't like: It can't be true. Either Obama has a method (which no one identified) for manipulating the Bureau of Labor Statistics (which has no political appointees), or Democrats are lying to the survey-takers about having jobs, or something.

... and you also might find this interesting

A behind-the-scenes battle is going on in news organizations around the country about what to call people who enter the United States illegally and/or stay without a visa or other official documentation. Are they illegal aliens, illegal immigrants, undocumented immigrants, or what?

The argument gained a little attention when it appeared in the blog of the New York Times' Public Editor, who defends The Times' usage of illegal immigrant as "clear and accurate". Jose Antonio Vargas, whose NYT Magazine article "My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant" touched off a furor in 2011, is campaigning for undocumented, which  NYT standards editor Phil Corbett considers a "euphemism".

A good discussion of this topic appeared on Sunday's Up with Chris Hayes.

Illegal vs. undocumented is a very instructive example of framing, which can seem arcane in the abstract. Even if the illegal and undocumented refer to the same people, each term favors a particular course of action. If immigrants are illegal, the obvious thing to do is arrest them. But if they are undocumented, the simplest solution is to issue them papers. A reporter who doesn't want to advocate either approach still has to call these immigrants something.

When I'm trying to be neutral, I think I'm going to use unprocessed, which doesn't specify whether resolution requires a criminal or a bureaucratic process.

Want to reduce the number of abortions? Then you should be advocating for ObamaCare's contraception mandate.

A new study of women in St. Louis found that counseling about contraception combined with free access to the contraception method of their choice led to dramatically lower rates of unintended pregnancies and abortions.

Will anti-abortion activists seize on this new information and demand the contraception mandate be upheld? Of course not. As worked up as the religious right gets about ultrasounds of fetuses, abortion is actually a screen for other issues, most notably promiscuity. The sky will fall if women can enjoy sex without consequences, and even if contraception could eliminate abortion entirely, traditionalists would find the price too high.

In 2010, climate change was a losing issue. Republicans who were on record supporting cap-and-trade or other action had to quickly recant (like John McCain) or lose a primary (like Rep. Bob Inglis). Democrats didn't do much better with it, and most were happy if the topic never came up.

Democrats have mostly stayed silent in 2012 as well, but that may be a mistake. Mother Jones' Chris Mooney (author of The Republican War on Science) argues that public opinion on climate change has shifted recently, and for a very interesting reason.

If you remember the mid-2000s, the icon of global warming was the polar bear. From a public opinion standpoint, this was a disaster: It rendered the issue remote, in both time and space. The fear was about future devastation, in a place where most people have never been and will never go.

The new face of global warming, though, is extreme weather: droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, skipped winters, and so on.

Global warming is now ... about something that is just not right in your surroundings, and in the rhythm of your own life.

Mitt Romney played to the old framing in his convention speech: "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family." His audience laughed.

Obama struck back with the new frame: "More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future." Unfortunately, that was a single-news-cycle exchange. So far, there's no indication that Obama or Democrats in general recognize climate change as a winning issue.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Honey, I Shrunk American Politics

Our politics are essentially failing right now. ... Choosing between candidates is supposed to be the way we choose between policies in important things that affect our country or national security. But our politics have been allowed to shrink. If one side doesn't want to talk about it, we're not going to debate it as a country.

-- Rachel Maddow

This week everybody was still talking about the collapse of the Romney campaign

We have no so little patience these days that we can't even wait for a guy to lose before we start debating why he lost. I said what I want to say about that in this article: The Romney Pre-mortems

... so conservatives claimed the polls were skewed

It's a conspiracy to depress the Republican vote, you see. And all the pollsters are in on it, including Fox News. Fortunately, conservatives found one of their own to un-skew the polls, and -- surprise! -- Romney is actually way ahead! A quick explanation of what's going on: Conservatives smelled a rat when they looked into the details of the Obama-is-winning polls: Romney was running strong among Independents, but Obama was winning because the poll showed many fewer Republicans than Democrats. So if you unskew the polls by setting the Democrat/Republican ratio back to, say, what it was in 2008 exit polls, you get Romney ahead! Josh Marshall explains why that makes no sense. The low number of Republicans and Romney's good results among Independents are both caused by the same thing: Since 2008, a lot of Republicans have started calling themselves Independents. (That's what the Tea Party was all about.)

... and liberals started debating whether to vote Green

Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf explained why he can't vote for Obama. I took the online quiz and found that the candidate who best expresses my views is the Green Party's Jill Stein. So who am I voting for? Obama. Sorry, Jill: I'm not voting Green Already, a comment on that article has pointed me to this great video explanation of the problems with our voting system.

And we're also talking about the continuing anti-American protests in the Muslim world

which makes this spoof from the Bush years relevant again

Or, if satire is too subtle, RT's Abby Martin will spell it out for you.


and you might also find this stuff interesting

Republican election officials are looking very hard for the many illegal voters they know must exist, but they're not finding them. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler started out claiming there might be as many as 11,805 non-citizens on the roles, but after some investigating, he's down to 141 (out of 3.5 million total voters). 35 of those 141 have voted. Eight of those 35 are in Denver, so the local Denver officials checked them out. They seem to be citizens. So there might actually be no non-citizen voters in Colorado at all.
Meanwhile, voter-registration fraud has been uncovered in Florida. But the fraud is by Republicans. An organization hired by the Republican Party to do voter registration turns out to have turned in at least 100 "questionable" registrations. The guy behind this company is a long-time dirty-trickster, so while the Party has now distanced themselves from him, it's impossible that they didn't know he was a bad guy when they hired him. In explaining all this, Josh Marshall makes a good point: voter registration fraud is not voter fraud.
To be clear, just because you register Mickey Mouse or Mary Poppins to vote doesn’t mean they’re going to show up to vote. Indeed, they’re not going to. Because they don’t exist. ... This is at the root of what got ACORN in trouble. They were often sloppy and hired people who weren’t reliable. But most of the “fraud” uncovered in their work were fraudulent registrations they themselves discovered when they reviewed the forms and then reported to authorities.
Basically, low-level people in a voter-registration drive sometimes fake registrations to make it look like they're doing a good job. It doesn't affect elections at all. So while this incident does point out how easy voter-registration fraud is, it doesn't support the Republican claim that voter fraud is common.
Homer Simpson is a late-breaking undecided voter who goes for Romney: Obama "promised me death panels, and Grampa's still alive."
A manifesto for the job creators: "I am entitled to provide political support to radical, uncompromising politicians and then complain about how dysfunctional Washington has become."