Friday, October 05, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Unbeknownst to you, the world nearly ended one day recently. I won't snark, because I'm practicing my telepathy, so you should already know the joke I'd tell.
2) Your tin foil hat: Ur doin' it rong.
3) I meant to post about this earlier in the week: we lost a great one in Barry Commoner. More than Rachel Carson, I think, Barry Commoner made me sit up and take notice about the world around us, specifically the environment. He was holistic before that was even a word, understanding that the world around us is interconnected and interdependent, right down to the flap of butterfly wings in South America. His legacy was brought to a startling end by none other than the Koch brothers. Shame on them. We have to fight now to regain ground we already won.
4) Or, perhaps Gaia will now join us.
5) Number 10 with a bullet.
6) Does Billboard still use bullets to indicate a fast rising record? I sure hope not.
7) History is very much against him. After the first debate in 2004, John Kerry actually led the presidential race by 8 points in the Gallup poll. Didn't do him much good, and Kerry won a clean win, as he had Bush frothing about Poland. Romney's soundbite from Denver: he wants to kill Big Bird. Buhbye, Mitt!
8) Obama is officially re-elected: the benchmark for re-election was always an 8% jobless rate (as in "No President has ever been re-elected with..."). This now puts Obama on a par with Ronald Reagan.
9) It's hard to believe it's been a year.
10) Speaking of's been fifty years for those.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Mass Debaters

I think its safe to say that the reason President Obama seemed so disengaged last night is...BORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRING!

Was it the natural tendency of old campaigners to play it safe in the opening quarter? Or the tendency of longtime adversaries to score points off each other rather than illuminate their differences?

Or was it that the issues on which the presidential campaign will turn are so complicated — the economy, taxation, healthcare — that it’s a challenge for anyone to make them accessible for average listeners?

Whatever the reason, Wednesday night’s initial debate between President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, provided red meat for wonks, but perhaps not so much for voters.

Now, I consider myself to be a little wonky, but even I glazed over (and ultimately fell asleep) in the firs thalf hour.

That could be a good thing for the President or not, and vice versa for Romney. I'm betting most people felt the same way I did and tuned out quickly, missing first hand the President's lackluster, almost disinterested performance. That could be good.

Or bad, since that means most people are catching up to it the way I did: watching a replay after catching some of the "analysis" or worse, watching just the Monday morning quarterbacking.

Romney was surprisingly good in my book, altho to be fair to me, I didn't see a single primary debate so I have no basis to judge. Too, when you have five months to absorb and memorize talking points, it's easy to come off as well-prepared and informed.

Even when you lie like a cheap rug, as Romney did so often.

Many liberals chided Obama for not being more forceful, like mentioning the 47% or bringing up Bain Capital. He did contrast what Governor Romney's definition of "small business" was, however.

I think this was a deliberate tactic. He knew Romney was going to try to get in some zingers and it was more likely those zingers would be tossed when he was on the defensive. There's plenty of time to talk about "presidenting half the nation."

Besides, the economic performance of the country is clearly weighing heavily on Obama's mind, as was evidenced by his body posture. If anything, he was the stronger for being patient, not defensive. He made Romney look like an adolescent on stage, voice rising, arms flailing, fingers pointing.

Obama stood and took notes, much like a trial judge would do while the prosecution levelled charges and brought evidence. He reacted even while he took notes (here's a tip for the next debate: do not watch the speaker. Instead, watch the other guy) and showed he was taking Romney seriously, even if Romney and his party were not.

I mean, really, when a network puts Larry The Cable Guy out as a morning after pundit, how seriously can we take them?

Obama may have overplayed this, to be sure, but letting Romney win the first debate could also end up being masterful stroke. Remember 2004? Kerry pretty much mopped the floor with Bush ("He forgot Poland!" he whined) and won that debate handily.

Didn't help him much, did it?

Romney will get a bump out of this, maybe five points nationally and possibly place himself in a statistical tie with the President.

And that's the last hurrah.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Tyranny Of The Minority

I've been spending a bit of time this morning wondering whatever happened to American democracy.
What? It's missing?
We never really had it, when you come right down to it. In fact, I think the word "democracy" ought to take offense that America has laid claim to the mantle of being it's most famousest advocate.
Now, I'm not talking about splitting hairs like "republicanism vs. pure democracy." I'm taking it for granted that we live in a republic which is a form of democracy.
Let's face facts: if we had to put every issue up to a vote of 330 million Americans, it would be cumbersome and ultimately nothing would get done. Sort of like Congress only messier.
But in truth, republicanism is a bad form of democracy on its face. Let me throw out a metaphor to explain why I think this.
Let's say you have two digital cameras. One produces pictures 330 million pixels in depth, the other 535 pixels. Which is going to give you a more accurate picture?
Indeed, at the margins, Congress means that close issues are never really going to be decided by a majority vote. See, true democracy means that issues are decided by 50% of the voting population, plus one vote. But winnowing down the voting population from 330 million to 535 people is going to mean an awful lot of decisions are getting lost in the rounding down.
For instance, in one district, let's say 53% of the population agrees with a bill. In another, 60% oppose it. Both districts have equal populations (by definition). In a true democracy, the bill would be defeated. In a representative democracy, the vote is tied assuming the representatives vote according to their constituencies.
We have what I like to call the "tyranny of the minority."
It gets worse.
The Senate, for example, can effectively vote a bill down with the filibuster. The filibuster means that if only 40% of the Senate disagrees with a bill, it's gone. It doesn't matter if 70% of the people would vote for it, all you need are 40 Senators who refuse to even consider it.
Talk about a tyranny of the minority!
Even at the state level, we see this. California, for instance, can't even raise taxes without two-thirds approval by the legislature. That's democracy? That's unAmerican, is what that is: the legislative process is held hostage by a small minority of radicals who legislate strictly on ideology, with no consideration of rationality or even practicality.
Keep that in mind when you cast your vote for President this election cycle. It's about as close to democracy as even America will ever get.

I Love The Smell Of Desperation In The Morning

So Matt Drudge ran a quiet little headline yesterday about a blockbuster video he was going to release on the Hannity show on FOX News. Hannity promo'd it on his website, albeit in a fairly low-key manner.
Both, however, called it a game changer.
The result? This:
On the eve of the first presidential debate, conservative media outlets seized on footage of a five-year-old speech by then-candidate Barack Obama, who argued at the time that the federal government discriminated against Hurricane Katrina victims.

The June 2007 speech at Hampton University in Virginia was widely covered, as Obama was already well into his presidential campaign. However, the conservative news outlets that pushed the video Tuesday night argued the media skipped over portions of the speech.

Speaking to a largely black audience, Obama in the video made the case that race relations still had a long way to go in the United States, claiming the divide most severely has an impact on impoverished parts of the country.

The 2007 event was not a closed, secret gathering. It was open to the press, and CNN affiliate WAVY filmed the full speech. The crux of his speech was reported by CNN at the time.

This same opening was mirrored in nearly every news organization and on every television news program last night and this morning.

Put it this way: this speech was so pedestrian that even FOX News didn't raise a stink about it when it occured. It's not like Barack Obama wasn't already on the radar, as this is three years after his "there are no red states" speech at the 2004 convention, which catapulted him into the limelight for 2008.

The point he raised at the time, the point conservatives jumped on, was an obscure fact of policy known as the Stafford Act, which says the local and state governments must kick in at least 25% against any Federal monies. This was waived after the 9/11 attacks, as well as Hurricane Andrew, but curiously, not for New Orleans and Louisiana after Katrina.

Nutbag conservatives jumped on this observation as an example of Barack Obama's overt racism. Funny thing about the speech, tho...

Obama described this rejection of New Orleans as "colorblind", a point neither Hannity nor Drudge, nor even Daily Caller's Tucker Carlson made in the release of the tape. Daily Caller was the organization that apparently re-edited the speech to suit conservative purposes.

Here's the thing: if you want to defend the Bush administration handling of Katrina, that's a debate I bet President Obama would re-visit in a heartbeat, as there have been any number of global-warming induced natural disasters on his watch that were handled professionally and promptly. Indeed, I bet he'd make almost the exact same speech today if asked to.

As a side note to Tucker: how racist is it to point out Barack Obama's patois? Is it anymore ridiculous than pointing out that Romney suddenly developed a love of grits when he campaigned in the south?



Probably Not The Message He Wants To Send

Here's the thing: you can criticize President Obama for unemployment. That's a bit unfair but it's a criterion we've held past Presidents to, even if Obama has created more jobs in his first term than were lost during the first months of his term (he's a net job creator, in other words.)
To claim some moral authority is a different issue, Mitt. Yes, it would be great if every American had a good paying job, but you raise the question: why did you offshore and outsource so many of them? After all, if the dream you have for America is everyone who wants one can have a job with good wages, then you sort of have to explain why you destroyed so many, don't you?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Keen Tactics

There's an interesting analysis in the usually perfunctorial The Atlantic today:

A National Journal analysis of recent polling results across 11 states considered battlegrounds shows that in most of them, Obama is running considerably better than he is nationally among white women without a college education. Obama's gains with these so-called "waitress moms" are especially pronounced in Heartland battlegrounds like Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Combined with his continued support among other elements of his "coalition of the ascendant," including young people, minorities, and college-educated women, these advances among blue-collar women have been enough to propel Obama to the lead over Republican Mitt Romney in the most recent public surveys in all 11 states (albeit in some cases within the polls' margins of error).

Democrats say blue-collar women have been the principal, and most receptive, target for their extended ad barrage portraying Romney as a plutocrat who is blind, if not indifferent, to the struggles of average families.

These "waitress moms" have voted Republican in every election since 1980. Except 1996.

Mitt Romney is the ideal candidate to alienate them completely, if you think about it, and nearly every substantive misstep he's made has alienated them further.

For instance, choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate. Now, normally blue-collar workers believe in balancing the budget. Indeed, it is to them that the whole "sitting at your kitchen table, trying to balance your checkbook" trope is directed ("If you can do it, so should the government," conveniently ignoring the fact that the wife/husband/single parent doesn't have to support corn farmers and oil companies and two wars.)

These are the values voters, the people who believe in Jesus and the Bible and who overlap with people who believe them even more than an addict believes in his next fix.

But Ryan has full-throated talked about cutting Social Security and Medicare: these are the very programs that waitress-moms have been paying into for decades because they have to and because they don't earn enough to sock away in an offshore account for retirement.

Faux pas number two -- if you're running for President for a total of 7 years, you might want to think about cleaning up your ledger a bit. That includes the dancing horse, which oddly does not appear on the 2011 Romney return: Faux pas #3.

But I digress...

When you threaten a person's planning, you can expect blowback. It doesn't matter if you buy the car off the lot they were eyeing (in which case the blowback is as mild as a muttered curse) or take away the tens of thousands of dollars they sock away for 50 years hoping to live off at retirement, there's going to be some reaction.

Many of these waitress moms, most of them actually, make less than the median $50,000 a year for a family of four. That means they struggle, sometimes they need help, or they at least know someone who occasionally needs a hot meal and help paying the heating bill.

You know, the 47%? So that tape did Romney no good with this group, either. It may have been red meat to his constituency, but his other supporters heard that, and I'm thinking a goodly number cemented their opinion of Romney.

That's pretty much four strikes, although Rafalca might be just a foul tip, since many of these moms either have had a horse under them at some point, or have neighbors who own.
So no matter what, these voters are lost to Mitt and no amount of "zingers" in the debates is going to turn the tide.
Add to that the entire backdrop of Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood and birth control covered by insurance, and women are pretty angry.
I can't imagine why they'd take it out on the guy who is most emblematic of their issues.

Mitt Romney: Neanderthal


Monday, October 01, 2012


It's a given that Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger changed the New York Times and created the Newspaper of Record that we've come to know.
It's also a given that his decision to publish The Pentagon Papers was a watershed moment in US press reporting and in journalism. It's also a given that he was late to the boat on Watergate.
That he took a local New York City newspaper and made it into a worldwide phenomenon is also indisputable, although one might make the argument that in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, that was likely to happen as the world spotlight centered on the US, and the US was New York City and the other 50 states.
He also took his eye off local reporting, in particular local politics, and focused the lens of the paper on national politics. It sold newspapers, to be sure, but also sold the people of NYC up the river. What had been the most reliable source of hard facts about the city had ceded the field to the sensationalist New York Post (then a liberal rag) and the middle-of-the-road New York Daily News.
So much so that New Yorkers who could have shaped and influenced the direction of events here knew more about President Ford's plan to "Whip Inflation Now" than about the burgeoning financial crisis. To this day, sweetheart deals for councilmembers and borough presidents get very short shrift (e.g. Christine Quinn profting politically off her wife's legal connections)
I blame Watergate, which so galvanized the nation and all but created the Washington Post. That sold papers. That forced Sulzberger to shift his focus. After all, you have 330 million Americans and about 10 million New Yorkers and commuters. Who do you think deserves to be served by a national paper?
As it turns out, both. The advent of the internet and 24 hour cable news made the Times almost an irrelevancy. Where it would break roughly a story a month, it now finds itself on the "analysis" end of the story, backending and summarizing where once it would lead things that bled over the paper.
Sulzberger was long gone (he left the publisher position in 1992, the board in 1997) when all this transpired, but one wonders if Sulzberger could have been a little more prescient and hired thinkers, rather than the David Brooks and Ross Douthats of the world.
Anyway, godspeed, Mr. Sulzberger. You were a giant among giants and for that, you deserve your day in the sun.