Thursday, November 29, 2012

"A complex exegesis"

As Josh Marshall accurately describes:
official Washington is now deep in a complex exegesis of the Norquist anti-tax pledge. Is it eternal? Is it limited to a single term? If a tax rises in the forest but no one voted to rise it, did it really rise?
If only there were some way to ask the voters about their opinion on the matter!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Baby you can drive my car

This image is from the huge wreck in Texas last week.  There was thick fog, and drivers couldn't see the wreck ahead and added their vehicles to the destruction.  This is just one of many ways that mistakes and shortcomings of human drivers.  Google's driverless cars have logged hundreds of thousands of miles driven without any computer-caused incidents.  We spent around $1.4 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan to maybe have stopped a 9/11-sized attack or two, if you accept the neoconservatives' view.  3,000 Americans die on the road every month in the summer.  How many of these fatalities could be prevented if we figured out a way to replace human drivers with computers?

Of course, putting the $150,000 worth of equipment needed for the Google driverless car into each of the roughly 250 million cars on the road would cost $37.5 trillion.  There could probably be some economies of scale to bring that number down pretty significantly.  At the very least, some sort of mandatory in-car device that could pass along important bits like "WARNING: HUGE FUCKING CRASH AHEAD" seems like it might be worth the cost.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Quick hits

I'm still enjoying a little post-election holiday from posting, so here's a few interesting bits from the last few days:

-Obamacare is still in danger, apparently.  According to some, a strict reading of the law indicates that individuals' subsidies and employer mandates cannot be accomplished in states whose governors refuse to set up insurance exchanges.  Another challenge focuses on the mandate's status as a tax, and taxes aren't allowed to start in the Senate, as Obamacare did.

-Florida Senator and possible 2016 GOP Presidential nominee Marco Rubio refused to say how old he thinks the Earth is, saying "I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow."  While the actual fact of the age is irrelevant, it clearly matters to our economy and society if 46% of the population is incapable of recognizing indisputable scientific facts.

-What is Hamas' goal in indiscriminately firing rockets into Israel?  Randomly killing civilians is no way to build sympathy.  In an age where 90.6% (.pdf) of Palestinians have cell phones, and 22% have smartphones/cameras, wouldn't a Gandhi/MLK approach be worth a shot?

Friday, November 16, 2012

By GOP's fruit you will recognize them

It's a sure sign of the failure of our system that we have not managed to pass a tax cut extension for 98% of taxpayers.  Just about everyone, left or right, says they're in favor of extending these cuts.  In July, Senate Democrats passed a bill  to do just that, but it has stalled in the House.  Republicans are apparently trying to use the possibility of middle class taxes going up to extract deeper spending cuts and tax cuts for the wealthy.

By not bringing the Senate bill up for a vote, Republicans are revealing their true goals.  Strictly considering the proper tax rate for the bottom 98% of taxpayers, of course Republicans would vote for the lower rates.  If they wanted to do so, they could pass the tax cut, Obama would sign it into law, and then they could argue the merits of tax cuts for the wealthy and of spending cuts.  But instead they choose to say that if the rich don't get their tax cuts, then the GOP will refuse to let the middle class keep theirs.  It clearly shows the relative values placed by Republicans on each group's tax treatment.

There was a peculiar discussion of this issue on CNBC today involving billionaire investor  Wilbur Ross.  Ross said "The trade-off the president proposed is not a trade-off.  To say give me what I want, which is the middle-class relief, and I'll give you a framework for negotiations, that's a sucker's game.”

How is middle-class tax relief suddenly something Republicans have to begrudgingly, and with negotiations/concessions, give to Democrats?  They should be happy that their opponents have come around to their side on this one, but instead they're demanding concessions before they'll vote for the things they supposedly support.  But they (correctly) realize that a tax cut for the wealthy would never go through on its own, so they're forced  to use whatever leverage they have to force the lower top tax rates through.  One of the few sources of leverage they have is the expiration of the Bush tax rates for the middle class.  They are willing to risk middle class tax cuts to try to get tax cuts for the rich.

Very illuminating.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

GOP out on a limb over the cliff

During one of the early Republican debates, Mitt Romney indicated he would not accept a budget deal of $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue.  It is widely accepted Republican dogma that any tax increase is terrible and will likely mean a serious primary challenger for any GOPers who vote for more revenue.

A new Gallup poll shows just how out-of-step this foundational belief of the Republican Party is.  Voters were asked if the deficit should be reduced entirely by spending cuts, mostly cuts, entirely by raising taxes, mostly taxes, or equally between the two.  Since the question was last asked, an equal plan has taken the lead, moving from an 18% deficit to one that is mostly/entirely spending cuts to a 5% advantage.   That doesn't count the 11% who think the solution is entirely tax increases, plus whatever portion of voters who would be happy with the 10:1 split Romney/Republicans rejected.

The Republican Party is far to the right of the voters on this issue.  Obama must be far to the left of the voters, n'est-ce pas?  Actually, the plan he proposes envisions $4 trillion in deficit reduction, with $1.6 trillion, or 40%, coming from increased revenues and the other 60% coming from spending cuts.  A plan with more spending cuts than tax increases puts Obama to the right of the 56% of Americans who told Gallup they want a balanced or tax-heavy plan.

It's a perfect microcosm of the last four years.  Republicans take a far-right stance, Obama goes past halfway to try to make a deal, and Republicans refuse to budge.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sexting while driving off a cliff

Our economy is hurtling toward the fiscal cliff.  Without action, we could face a recession.  To avoid it, trillions of dollars will be moved around, causing fundamental changes in the lives of many/most Americans in the process.  And yet, instead of focusing on constructive debate or skilled deal-making, our political system has spent the last 4 days falling over itself to dig up every lurid detail of a sex scandal which, so far has been discovered, hasn't actually affected anything real.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Republican denialism

Here's a very illuminating panel discussion with Republicans from across the spectrum (for Republicans, anyway).  The most interesting/important statements came from Cathy McMorris Rodgers, whose position as Vice Chair of the House Republican Caucus makes her the highest-ranking female Republican.  At around 1:13 of the linked video "What I saw, largely, was a status quo election.  The voters decided to keep things basically the same, with the Republicans in the majority in the House."  She says later, at 11:00, when asked how the Republican party can succeed, that "We saw in the House, the Republicans kept the majority.  We had been bold, we had been putting forward our solutions whether it was on the economy, the fiscal cliff, how to get Americans back to work.  We've been putting that forward and we got re-elected."

She seems to think that a "status quo" election as the minority party when unemployment is at 7.9% is an indication to just keep on keepin' on.  A status quo election is a disaster for the minority party in this kind of environment.  Does she think that they'll do just as well next in 2016 when unemployment is around 6% (.pdf)?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The party Republican voters want, deserve

Grover Norquist has a majority of the House of Representatives under his thumb.  219 representatives have signed his pledge (.pdf) to never raise taxes on anyone ever, and that's enough to keep a deal from happening.  Of course, Norquist himself actually has no official power.  He doesn't decide who is on the ballot.  But, as demonstrated in the GOP primary defeats of relative moderates like Richard Lugar and Bob Bennett, any Republican who shows any hint of being insufficiently conservative is not long for this political world.  A Republican who breaks a pledge to Norquist would certainly face a primary challenger supported by Norquist and Co., and that Republican would almost certainly lose.

Republican voters have shown no inclination to encourage compromise or moderation.  It would take an act of political courage for a Republican to challenge his own constituency to change their stance.  GOP voters have so routinely purged legislators capable of legislating that there is no one left foolish enough to fight the status quo.

So now we have a 219 representatives who would be committing career suicide if they led the nation away from the fiscal cliff.  With a majority of the House sworn to never raise taxes, along with a president who's said he will veto a cliff-avoiding bill that doesn't raise taxes on the rich, I'm not optimistic that we can avoid a Washington-induced recession.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Which House party has more support?

Quick, which party's House candidates got more votes this election?  The Republicans, of course.  Right?  Chief anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist points to Republicans' holding their majority in the House as validation of their anti-tax zealotry and encouragement for them to hold the line during the upcoming "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

Actually, Democratic candidates won more votes than their GOP counterparts.  But thanks to extensive gerrymandering, many of the Democratic House voters are all crammed into the same mostly-urban districts, handing them huge victories while Republicans win closer races elsewhere.  I am represented in the House by Marcia Fudge, who was unopposed in 2012 and who has never received less than 80% of the vote in a general election.  Meanwhile, my area's previous representative, Betty Sutton, lost her bid by a margin of 52.2% to 47.8% after her district was eliminated in Republican-run post-Census redistricting.

Ohio has 16 congressional districts.  Pennsylvania has 18.  Obama won both states, so one might expect that Democrats might at least be competitive in the House delegations.  Unfortunately, thanks to how the lines are drawn, they only managed to win 9 of the 34.

Why should tactics matter?

A Romney campaign volunteer details the complete failure of Romney's GOTV effort, which was based on a web app that didn't work for shit.  They tried to use a centralized online system to replace local volunteers keeping track of who's been contacted and who hasn't.  The system massively failed, thanks to a number of technical glitches like not having "http://www.url" automatically go to the actual site at "https://www.url", or on the night before the election e-mailing a 60 page pdf that volunteers were expected to print out and take with them on Election Day.

I appreciate that the ability to organize a large organization capable of running a quality GOTV effort might be a positive indicator for one's ability to be President.  But things like whether abortion is legal or if 45 million people can have health insurance should not be decided based on some idiot web developer somewhere forgetting to set up a website properly.

Avoiding a high-stakes election process where such tactics and mistakes are so important would be healthy for our democracy.  It's yet another reason that expanded early voting procedures are worthwhile.  In this case, Romney's team would have had more time to work out the kinks in their system and prevent a situation where their side in the battle of ideas has to start from a deficit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The path forward for the GOP

There is no way to read last night's results as anything other than a rejection of the Republican Party.  Romney was clearly their most electable candidate; I doubt there's anyone out there thinking "If only we'd gone with Newt..."  He was running against a weak incumbent with a still sky-high 7.9% unemployment rate, but he lost, and by kind of a lot.  Assuming Obama holds on in Florida, he will win by 126 electoral votes and about 2.6-3 million popular votes.  That's a ton of ground to make up if they want to win next time.  Ongoing demographic changes and a (presumably) improving economy will make 2016 a huge uphill climb for Republicans.

Who exactly is waiting in the wings to lead them in that struggle?  Young guns like Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio have a chance to take over the party, but their Republican generation is more conservative, and this election's outcome demonstrates that "more conservative" likely isn't the way to go.  Romney's standing clearly improved after he Etch-a-Sketched away his conservatism at the first debate, and the most conservative Senate candidates lost in places like Indiana and Missouri.  Turning to the right would seem to only hurt their chances.

Of course, if the economy still stinks, Democrats would not be able to blame it on Bush eight years hence.  I suppose it's possible that Republicans would double down on obstructionism and let us fall over the fiscal cliff.  If they try that tactic and the economy still grows, like it should, Democrats would get all the credit.  Their only real hope is that the economy is still sputtering along for four more years.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Night live blog

7:29 - Stop the presses; Obama's up 77%-22% in South Carolina.  Blue landslide!

7:56 - Must be the red parts of Virginia that have reported so far, with Kaine and Obama way behind with 8% in.  Weird that NBC isn't remarking on it, since it sure looks remarkable on the screen.

8:01 - NBC says "too early to call but we are showing an Obama lead" for Pennsylvania.  Romney just about has to win Ohio to have any real chance.

8:15 - says exit polls show party ID in Ohio was at D +7, which is a great number for Obama and in line with the polls that showed him up in the state.

8:32 - Brian Williams commented that it's a bad sign for Romney that places like North Carolina haven't been called yet.  First global statement I recall hearing.

9:04 - Still no surprising results in terms of who won what, but a quick call of Michigan for Obama, along with still no call for North Carolina or Florida point to trouble for Romney.

9:44 - Indiana goes for the Democrats.  When will Republican voters learn that they can't nominate crazy people and expect to take over the Senate?  And Elizabeth Warren won in Massachusetts.  It's still early, but things are going well.

9:52 - New Hampshire for Obama!  Now even if he loses Ohio but wins Iowa, Nevada, Minnesota and Colorado (all favored to win), he wins!

10:00 - CBS moves Ohio to "lean Obama".  That would end it, if it becomes official.  NBC just said Iowa and Nevada both "too early to call" with Obama in the lead.  Current states already called plus Ohio plus Iowa and Nevada + sure wins on the coast and Hawaii = win.

10:13 - Fuck superstition.  If this were a baseball game, they'd be putting up plastic in the Democrats' locker room right now.

10:17 - Let me tell ya, if you're a fan of schadenfreude, you have to head over to the blog on The National Review.

10:31 - Drudge is already trumpeting the popular vote totals.  Golly I sure hope Obama gets a clean win.

11:17 Victory!

12:14 - If Republicans can't win with unemployment at 7.9%, when could they ever win ever?

1:08 - who's the GOZp leader tomorrow?  Boehner and Cantor are fighting over the House, McConnell just lost seats, Romney and Ryan just lost to a weak incumbent.  Who decides the next Republican strategy?

Election Day live blog

0748 - Voting has occurred.  I was there within a few minutes of polls opening at 0630, and it took just under an hour.  Long lines.  Neither of the vote counting machines at my precinct were working, so they just had us put the ballots into a locked box to be counted later.  Since I was waiting in line with lots of rich old white folks, I'm pretty sure Ohio's Republican Secretary of State and well-known vote manipulator Jon Husted will make sure my vote is counted.

0751 - FiveThirtyEight gives Romney an 8.4% chance of winning.  This is almost exactly the odds of rolling two six-dice and totaling exactly a 4.

0755 - Races to watch include Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.  Obama's leading in all of 'em but Florida and North Carolina.

Senate races include Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, Indiana, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Florida.

1250 - Looking at the schedule of poll closings, we should get a pretty good idea early on what kind of night we're in for.  North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Ohio all close by 2000.  If Obama wins North Carolina and/or Florida, turn out the lights, the party's over.  Winning Virginia +/- New Hampshire makes Ohio not matter all that much, as Obama'd probably still get to 270 even without it.

1832 - Drudge's headline:
Seems like the sort of mixed result that will keep people coming back to Drudge's website all night.

1846 - OK, I kind of expected more action during the day today.  At 7, network coverage starts, so there should be some motion soon.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Stakes

A brief review of some of the many things to be decided tomorrow:

-45 million more people would have health insurance under Obama's plan than Romney's.  Health insurance makes it much easier to see a primary care provider (such as myself) and to afford whatever treatments one's PCP would suggest.
-$2 trillion potentially wasted by a Romney Pentagon on nuclear missile submarines and tanks we don't need, all to try to scare people hiding in caves and in populated cities.  $2 trillion is enough money to buy a $529 iPad 3 for each of the 2.2 billion children in the world and have $836 billion left over to hook 'em all up to the internet.  Buying an iPad for each of the roughly 130 million people born every year would cost about $68 billion, which is way less than the annual difference between Romney's plan and Obama's.
-I'd like to have a line in here about taxes, but who the hell knows the effects on taxes of a Romney win.
-An Obama win would mean government would continue to be run by people who think government's important, which helps with things like disaster relief.
-A Romney win rewards complete, automatic refusal to compromise with the other party, as well as blatant voter suppression.
-Roe v Wade likely wouldn't survive a Romney win.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Process matters

If anyone out there's still undecided, please consider the effect of a Republican victory would have on each party's approach to governance.

Republicans have spent the past four years, starting with a meeting on Obama's Inauguration Day, uniformly opposing any Obama initiative, even if it's the Heritage Foundation's health care plan, a stimulus bill whose largest component is tax cuts, or John McCain's cap-and-trade system.  By forcing the majority party to get to 60 votes all on its own to pass any major legislation, we guarantee a perpetually paralyzed government, only able to do anything when one party reaches a rare level of electoral dominance.  Our system can only realistically work if legislators are willing and able to compromise.  Rewarding Republicans for four years of obstruction would encourage the newly-minority Democrats to behave similarly against Romney.

Similarly, the Republican Party needs to be punished for its manipulation of voting laws.  Voter ID laws disenfranchise real voters to combat supposed voter fraud.  Republican legislatures in states Ohio and Florida restrict early voting, leading to long lines and more barriers to voting.  They aren't able to show any real reason to do these things, leaving only partisan advantage as a plausible explanation.

A Republican victory means more of the same, as so often happens when some behavior earns a reward.  But losing an election against an incumbent with a 7.9% unemployment would hopefully be enough of a wake-up call to cause them to re-examine their behavior.  Our system just doesn't work if one party acts like the Republicans have.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Christie '16

Over the past week, Obama's gained about a point in the national polls.  There really hasn't been much news in that time except for Hurricane Sandy.  78% of respondents give Obama positive reviews for his handling of the storm's aftermath.  Much of the positive coverage of the response has centered around Obama's relationship with NJ Gov. and prominent Romney surrogate Chris Christie, who has so repeatedly and effusively praised Obama's response that it has prompted questions like "What's Christie up to?" and "Is Chris Christie throwing Mitt Romney under the bus?"

Romney has been basing his argument on apocalyptic arguments of freedom versus tyranny, posing as the guardian of the free market against the overreaching power of the big bad State.  As one whom prominent conservatives used to openly pine would save them from having to settle for Romney, Christie makes a potent messenger to vouch for the ability of the anti-colonial Marxist to work with Republicans in a moment of crisis.  And Christie has gone out of his way to embrace Obama, praising him repeatedly and touring the damage with him.

Why would Christie choose to undermine Romney's message so completely and repeatedly?  As a GOP governor in a blue state, it's reasonable to think he might want to avoid looking like a hyper-partisan.  But with his national stature, he would likely have no trouble raising vast sums to swamp his opponent in his re-election race.

He must be looking toward a presidential, perhaps making his embrace of Obama is an early bet on bipartisanship and an abandonment of Tea Party absolutism that eliminates anyone who even considers compromise.  Such a stance might be necessary if the GOP in 2016 will face running against an incumbent party that just added 12 million jobs in four years.  If demonizing Democrats doesn't work with unemployment at 7.9%, it certainly won't work next time.  Christie's positioning himself to operate in a less-polarized environment.  EDIT: He's also jabbing the guy who strung him along on the VP thing.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Romney admits to protection-racket politics

Paul Krugman had an interesting column this morning in which he points out that electing Romney because Republicans won't ever work with Obama, while Senate Democrats might work with Romney, would amount to rewarding "protection-racket politics".  From literally the beginning of Obama's term, Republicans decided to oppose him on everything.  They pushed the economy to the brink during the debt ceiling crisis.  Krugman reasonably projects that they would continue to resist any efforts by Obama to do anything, but giving in and just electing Romney so at least something gets done would encourage such obstruction in the future.

While Krugman can sometimes be somewhat over-the-top in his criticisms of Republicans, he was right on in this instance.  His premise was completely and immediately confirmed by the Republican nominee himself today, during Romney's "closing argument" speech in Wisconsin, where he said:
You know that if the President is re-elected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress. He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them. The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy. The President was right when he said he can't change Washington from the inside. In this case, you can take him at his word.
 The debt ceiling crisis was, and perhaps will be, entirely a Republican construction.  Prior to this Congress, the debt ceiling was always increased without controversy.  But because Republicans wanted to pass things for which they didn't have enough votes, they chose to hold the economy hostage to get what they want.  Romney admitted today that the GOP plans to repeat the tactic, once again threatening to drag us all down.  This is no different from a mobster threatening a citizen for protection money.  Give us what we want, or else.

Thursday, November 1, 2012