Tuesday, October 30, 2012

And Now a Political Announcement

So the election is now just a week away. Some of us have voted already. New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire don't have early voting. Perhaps they'll reconsider that in their next legislative sessions. County clerks' offices are going to be scrambling, but if they're like the organization in Santa Fe County, they'll do fine.

Mitt Romney has finally figured out that silence can be his friend, and we haven't heard from him...yet. I'm sure that his campaign will be able to find something they can blame President Obama for. Maybe something happened in one of the communities from which those convoys of utility trucks headed toward the northeast. Or perhaps he will see nothing really awry, since Goldman Sachs seems to have come through with generator and sandbags intact, and those rumors that the trading floor of the stock exchange was flooded turned out not to be true.

But, of course, he did say something earlier, the usual endorsement of states and private action. I really am looking forward to Florida's and Nevada's launch of weather satellites, or maybe it'll be Bain itself, when the satellites that tracked Sandy go down.

The New York Times recognizes that a storm like Sandy requires a coordinated national effort by an organization that isn't interested in its own profit. Mitt Romney is playing to that testosterone/adrenaline-fueled fantasy that accompanies the rising music of a superhero flick. Yes, it's fun. But when you come out of the theater, there still are meals to be cooked, trees to be removed from the road, power plants to be maintained, cars to be built, and families to be raised.

The greatest generation speaks. (I couldn't figure out how to embed the video.)

Update: Looks like Romney will too.

The Day After

We were all adrenalined up waiting for the storm yesterday, but today it's just a deep sadness and the heavy feeling of much to be done.

Here in Santa Fe, it's been nonstop sun for a very long time. That's been broken a little by smoke from controlled burns in the Jemez Mountains, where the Forest Service is hoping to head off the burning of everything that's left after the Cerro Grande and Las Conchas fires. But I once lived in New Jersey and experienced many hurricanes, with trees down and power out. Sandy was worse.

I've had my own little upset - broken hot water heater - to share some inconvenience. But my heart goes out to everyone who is waking up to flood and fire damage, injuries, and the death of loved ones.

The New York Times is putting storm coverage outside its subscription wall, and The Record (Bergen Evening Record when I lived there) is also making its electronic edition available. I see that there was some flooding in Rochelle Park; I'll bet it was where my family lived through a flood once.

Today the assessment will begin: the subways in New York City, the bridges to and from, the trees and power lines down everywhere, coming back to evacuated homes, some of which won't be there.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

America's Crazy Uncle in the Attic

Something has been bothering me about the presidential polls. Well, a lot of things. But one in particular has stirred up my mathematical senses.

President Obama has been ahead in a enough states to give him a wide electoral vote victory, but the popular vote across the country has been close. For these reasons, the punditocracy has been concern trolling about a possible disparity in the election between an electoral vote victory for Obama and a popular vote victory for Romney. Here’s one example.

The margins by which Obama has been ahead have ranged from small, say 51-49, to as much as ten points. My mathematics says that, in order for the popular vote to be close, there have to be some big margins for Romney in a few states. But where? The media , for the most part, haven’t said.

Last week, Kevin Drum provided the answer. He was talking about the white working class vote in particular, but I’ll bet the overall margins reflect these numbers.

It was much the same in 2008: Democrats are going extinct as national elected officals in the South, white as well as black; it’s not just Obama’s race, but that hardly can be a positive in that region.

There is very little about this enormous regional disparity in the national press. You can find it if you search hard enough*, but the preferred media narrative is of the possible electoral-popular split. That’s a both-sides kind of story: Bush and now Obama. Nothing to see here.

But when so much of that popular vote margin is concentrated in so few states, the electoral college begins to make a bit more sense. It’s too bad that the South still has not come to terms with the outcome of the Civil War. It’s too bad that one section of the country is so badly out of step with the rest of the country, and the rest of the world. This is where much of the anti-science, the refusal to support public schools, the fear of immigrants is centered as well.

It’s too bad that the media won’t recognize this disparity. They’re acting as though the South is our electoral equivalent of the crazy uncle in the attic. But most of us don’t treat our crazy uncles that way any more, either.

*Thanks to Steve Hynd at The Agonist for help with this on a busy day.

Cross-posted at The Agonist

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bits and Pieces - October 18, 2012

The empty chair that keeps me awake at night  - by Christopher Benfey

More speech is better - by David Cole. This is the best statement I have seen about freedom of speech and provocateurs like the makers of that anti-Islam video.

How emphasizing religious freedom divides people.

Some rich moron pours fertilizer into the sea in contravention of the law and good science.

My next vacation.

Increasing numbers of Americans think global warming is real, and that we are causing it.

Walter Pincus has some questions for the next debate.

The Second Presidential Debate

There's plenty of commentary out there now that I don't need to repeat. Obama won. Romney looked like death warmed over by the end, and his family Were Not Amused.

So I'll go with a few comments I haven't seen in other places yet. It seems strange to me that some commentators are only now seeing Romney's bullying. It seemed quite clear to me in the first debate. Perhaps it's that he was bullying a female moderator, or maybe it's easier to see through when it doesn't work. 

The big loser so far of the debate series has been Jim Lehrer. Martha Raddatz and Candy Crowley had very different styles, perhaps the result of the different formats, but they both took their jobs seriously. Bob Schieffer has a lot to live up to in the last debate.

It's hard to tell what effect the "binders full of women" meme will have on the election. It's not a good thing to have people laughing at you. The phrase was part of Romney's disarray in a question he didn't answer directly. More here on what he did wrong. The put-downs of women - full employment will force employers to hire the undesirables, and single mothers cause gun violence - may have accounted for part of the realization that he really is a bully. Here's the Binders Full of Women Tumblr.

I didn't say it, but I was worried that there would not be room between responding to Romney's lies and actions that would provoke the media's Angry Black Man reaction. OTOH, I was contemplating the possibility that we, collectively, might be ready for a little Presidential anger from the current occupant of that office. It looks like that was the case, and I haven't seen any commentary that tips over into the ABM category. I don't read rightwing blogs.

Like a number of others, I would like to see more discussion of climate change and anthropogenic global warming. But the politics just won't support it. Republican obstruction has made Obama's job so difficult that I can see why it hasn't made it to the top of the agenda. It will be necessary to prepare the ground for action in that direction, and that hasn't been possible. I like to think that we will see more of it in Obama's second term.

I'm fairly baffled at the indications in polls that women are moving toward Romney, although I haven't taken much time with the polls. We should start seeing reaction to the debate in polls soon.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Shape-Shifters

Like Jared Bernstein, I think that part of what flummoxed President Obama in the first debate was the sheer chutzpah of Mitt Romney's claim that he never called for a $5 billion tax cut or $2 billion more for defense. You could see it in Obama's face the first time Romney did that.

Bernstein calls it shape-shifting and notes that Biden managed to stop some of Ryan's doing it, although the only way to do it seems to be to grab the shape-shifter in the act, which in these debate formats means interrupting.

Which somehow reminded me of a song from long ago. Its intent was quite different, but most of the lyrics could be the property of R&R:

Lyrics here.

Cross-posted to The Agonist.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Just Blurt It Out

Dana Milbank catches Republican House members blurting out classified information.

Through their outbursts, cryptic language and boneheaded questioning of State Department officials, the committee members left little doubt that one of the two compounds at which the Americans were killed, described by the administration as a “consulate” and a nearby “annex,” was a CIA base. They did this, helpfully, in a televised public hearing.
One of the first rules about classified information is "neither confirm nor deny." Either provides information. Depending on the setting, "I can't say anything about that" can also provide information. Better to stay away from certain topics altogether or change the subject when they arise.

So, when a publicly-available overhead photo was shown in yesterday's Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) should have just kept his mouth shut. Instead,
“Point of order! Point of order!” he called out as a State Department security official, seated in front of an aerial photo of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, described the chaotic night of the attack. “We’re getting into classified issues that deal with sources and methods that would be totally inappropriate in an open forum such as this.”
Another rule: don't identify classified material as such in public.

Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) helpfully added
“In this hearing room, we’re not going to point out details of what may still in fact be a facility of the United States government or more facilities.”
Um, you just did. And there was more, which Milbank documents.

The hearing probably should have been held behind closed doors, but the Republicans wanted to make an example of the administration's handling of the Benghazi situation. And then they didn't have sense enough to deal properly with what they knew. They should also have known that the State Department witnesses would have known how to handle classified information, but they may have wanted to score points by pointing out what they thought was classified.

I think some other things were coming into play, too. Congressmen may not have the same training in how to handle classified information that others are required to have, or they may feel that they are important enough to ignore it. They may not have thought about the tactics that can avoid disclosing classified information. I have also seen people talking about their clearances to make them a status symbol. There's some difference in opinion on that, but it would seem to me that having a clearance should be something that isn't generally known. And too much information is classified, which makes it easier to believe that none of it is really truly important. But they're talking about operational details here, people and places, and those are important.

I guess the State Department and "other agencies" are rethinking their Libya operations anyway.

Cross-posted at The Agonist.

Bits and Pieces - October 11, 2012

On the theme of trying to get outside our own heads:
The blindness of privilege
How Jim Crow worked
Voter registration, Mississippi 1960
The last two are particularly excellent in evoking a time and place that must be utterly alien to today's college students.

Continuing that theme, one of the distinguishing characteristics of libertarianism seems to be an inability to understand that other people have interests that may not align with one's own. So a group of libertarians can't get together on forming one of their isolated paradises where they can enjoy only the company of the, er, like-minded. Via Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice.

Sunnis in Iran

This month is the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Lots of material coming out that refutes some of the common wisdom about that incident. Kennedy didn't back Khrushchev down; it was a trade of missiles out of Cuba for missiles out of Turkey, and the Soviet Union kept the bargain over their client's protests. Khrushchev put the missiles in Cuba out of a feeling of the Soviet Union's weakness, not America's. Nice summary by Fred Kaplan. But I suppose Mitt will keep rolling with the chest-pounding his base loves so dearly. 

And, speaking of anniversaries, this is one year for Nuclear Diner, my other enterprise with two partners who have their own areas of expertise in such things. Go on over and check it out!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Bits and Pieces - October 9, 2012

Ignorance about ignorance, or don't believe everything you read.

What if there's real change in the Middle East?  Like different borders, new countries.

I agree with Kevin Drum - Democrats (and Chris Matthews and Andrew Sullivan in particular) should not share their angst with the world quite so freely. As I noted, initial reactions were fairly neutral until Matthews roiled up the MSNBC commentators. If you need a change from the hysterics, check out Drum. He's been posting on this all day - here's the latest.

Here's one of the origins of the myth of strength in foreign relations that Romney is perpetuating. It didn't happen the way he'd (and others would) like to believe.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

My Two Debate Cents

I'm sorry, but I disagree with the cable pundits. I don't watch television much, but this week I'm in a situation where I can. The development of group-think has been interesting to watch. (I've been watching mostly MSNBC and CNN.) The instant reaction to the debate was mostly "Eh." Some good, some bad on both sides. But then the narrative developed: Obama looked like he didn't want to be there. Romney had refound his mojo. And the pundits built on each other.

I thought Obama was dignified, perhaps not as dynamic as he should have been. But I tend to have a similar reaction when the person I'm talking to is winding himself up and getting loudly repetitive. I thought Romney looked like a bully, and that strange little smile that seems to be his idea of a listening expression was still there, although he was also jutting his brow in a way that suggested he was trying to look more like a normal human being.

Romney lied a lot. He's not going to have a $5 trillion tax cut, he's going to provide tax relief. Read that sentence again if you didn't get it. A number of his sentences just didn't track in any way that allows an evaluation of their content. And, as Kevin Drum pointed out, he responded, over and over again, in the same way, with the same few numbers he had managed to memorize, to every single one of President Obama's points.

I also didn't like Romney's bullying, his talking over both Obama and Jim Lehrer. I've been subjected to that kind of treatment far too often; it's what big men who think they've got all the answers do to women and blacks all the time. 

Jim Lehrer really is getting too old for this sort of thing. His voice is no longer strong, and he just looks old. On the other hand, there's little you can do with a bully.

I think that the word debate means different things to different people. The teevee rules have long been disputed in that context. But I think the teevee context has thrown the concept into a realm that is far from my expectations: the verbal equivalent of a knock-down, drag-out brawl, the kind of thing you see on the shows with the opposing sides shouting at each other.

That was the debate Mitt Romney held, Jim Lehrer and Barack Obama be damned. And the pundits liked the alpha-male show. But a president needs a different skill set.

Cross-posted at The Agonist.