Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Preserve the Union

I didn't know that this bears saying in our nation's third century, but I'm a strong Unionist. I believe that the United States of America is greater than the some of its constituent states, and even greater than the sum of its constituent citizens.

My loyal friends, you need not suffer these secessionist scoundrels, traitors, and scallywags. If they want to leave our Union, they are free to go. However, they cannot drag any of our land, friends, or investments out of our country by fiat. The secessionists may go; that which is American will remain.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Running on Fumes: Romney Momentum

Have you noticed that the whole "Romney is going to win" argument suddenly disappeared? The GOP is back to latch ditch potshots against a popular and well trusted President who has presided over 32 months of straight job growth and a strengthening economic recovery.

Karl Rove is already making excuses for his SuperPAC's inability to buy the election. The Sunlight Foundation's preliminary study finds that "dark money," political spending from undisclosed donor, 81% has supported Republicans. A loss poses an existential threat to Karl Rove's votes-for-cash business. If Team GOP can't win this election on a red tide of capital, there is no earthly reason for plutocrats to hand him million dollar checks.

Rove has now announced that Superstorm Sandy is to blame; the news and a competent government response reminded Americans that the federal government should be muscular, agile, and smart in how it responds to disasters. That is the record of the Obama administration in crises from the automaker rescue, the Bin Laden Raid, and the destruction along the Eastern seaboard. You can compare that record to "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," the idea that America should ask permission before a raid into Pakistan, or Romney's record of denying funds to emergency preparedness in Massachusetts.

This weekend, Team Red blogs are no longer championing their lost cause candidate. They stopped advocating for an alternative and are arguing for a critique of the President's verbiage.

Rove is filling an important role in the party, however. He's at least attempting to direct the inevitable firing-squad outward. It's in his self interest; after squandering millions of dollars, he's a pretty big target if it goes circular.

*Correction - 81% of 'dark money' has gone towards Republican candidates. This post originally cited 83%. We regret the error.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Empty Gesture

What's going to happen to all the Romney Victory Rally token donated goods? The Red Cross doesn't accept donations in goods; moving and storing food, used clothing, and shoes are complicated logistical challenges. The Red Cross wants to use emergency resources in the most efficient way possible, and receiving donations isn't efficient.

So what will happen with these donations that the Romney campaign solicited to camouflage today's campaign rally in Ohio as a disaster relief effort? The Red Cross doesn't want them. The Romney campaign doesn't have the field resources to distribute the goods themselves. To what charity are these being given?


Jonathan Chait posts a persuasive argument explaining Why Democrats Are Right to Politicize Sandy

Funding for FEMA is something the parties wrangle over, with Republicans pushing to limit the agency’s budget, and Democrats pushing back. FEMA has to fight for its share of a constricted pot of money for domestic non-entitlement spending, a pot of money that the Republicans propose to radically constrict. How radically? Romney’s budget promises require shrinking domestic non-entitlement spending as a share of the economy by about two-thirds.
We should be a little careful with the language. I'm not seeing a lot of Democrats politicizing Sandy. I'm seeing a lot of Americans calling for common sense government that takes pragmatic steps to ensure the welfare of all of its citizens.

There is a choice in the 2012 election between a party that believes in this kind of cooperative effort and a party that wants to put a profit motive behind disaster response. Democrats generally believe that government is by and for the people of the United States to accomplish common goals. Republicans see government as something by other people and against their interests. Romney as a candidate said he would abolish federal emergency management and put it in the hands of security contractors. Romney as a governor vetoed funding for flood prevention.

The Republican party loudly complained that the government brought a halt to deep water oil exploration after the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Mitt Romney relied on oil company talking points during the second debate. When he claimed that oil production was down on 'federal lands,' the root talking point was that there was a drop in oil exploration in 2011 while the Administration finalized new rules to prevent repeating catastrophic failures. Romney has campaigned for the  last six years as the candidate who will put American corporate interests before the American people.

Romney said he doesn't support Federal emergency management, and implied it would be better handled if a profitable firm took over. The idea that Delaware or Louisiana even New Jersey should have to recover from a big storm without federal help is bad enough. The idea that they might contract out to Haliburton is terrifying.

It's no wonder that this sharp contrast between parties becomes evident when there is already a widespread mobilization of political forces before an unprecedented disaster. This is an historic storm. Republicans at large have been showing some awfully ambivalent attitudes toward FEMA and disaster aid this week, a sign of the tension between the tenets of the Republican Party and the need to avoid criticizing life saving operations.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

GOP Intelligentsia Announce Fishing Expedition

The Republican hack train is in full panic mode. The media narrowly avoided buying the Romney momentum storyline (and accompanied remorse). The New York Times published an unequivocal endorsement of the President's reelection.

The Republican case for Romney has always been based on a mushy anxiety. In the debates, Romney failed to make the case for Republican policies, instead opting for personal advancement. In non-answer after non-answer, Romney evaded the plans he hawked in the Primaries and his own running mate's budget. Romney has attempted to run as a vague alternative to the status quo instead of offering any specific plans for a Romney administration--after Day 1 anyway.

The shallow draft of the Romney campaign is best illustrated by the campaign's concerted attempt last week to spread the false narrative of Romney momentum. Jeremy Bird (Obama for America National Field Director) linked the Republican field reported field numbers failure to add up to the Governor's failure to create realistic and arithmetically sound policy proposals. The Romney campaign's media strategy of focusing on horserace statistics while eliding substance reminded pol-watchers that the Romney campaign case has boiled down to:

  1. The President is a loser
  2. Don't vote for a loser

This has been the central point of most of Romney's talking points: 'apology tour,' Benghazi coverup allegations, birth certificate jokes, etc... It also explains why Boston invested a week of media contacts into touting a run of polls that showed Romney stalled just below 47 percent of the electorate and behind President Obama.

Back to the drawing board, Republican thought leaders: Billy Kristol announces his Ten Questions for the White House. Donald Trump announces his new haircut. David Brooks will just quit.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Windsor v. US

I'm glad that the Second Circuit trashed the Defense of Marriage Act today (pdf), but I'm a particular fan of how they did it. A little secret about the law is that outcomes in court cases matter a lot less than how the outcome is reached. Ok, I admit; that's less of a secret and more of a wildly controversial claim. After all, who really relies on stare decisis outside of confirmation hearings?

But I digress. Edith Windsor's long term partner and spouse under New York State law passed away, leaving an inheritance to her widow. The IRS taxed the estate, leaving Ms. Windsor a tax bill of roughly $383,000. Had Ms. Windsor's spouse been of the opposite sex but all other facts concerning their union been similar, the inheritance would have been exempt from the estate tax.

This sex-based divergence in outcomes forms the basis for Ms. Windsor's equal protection claim. The Southern District of New York decided in Ms. Windsor's favor, but did so on a 'rational basis' test. The rational basis test requires that a law be "rationally related" to a "legitimate government interest." Poll taxes could meet this level of scrutiny. Almost any law can meet a rational basis test, which is why it is considered the lowest standard of scrutiny for Equal Protection and Due Process claims. However, the Defense of Marriage Act was not able to meet this standard at the trial court level, and was dismissed.

The danger of allowing sex and gender discrimination to be decided at the rational basis level is that "rationally related" and "legitimate government interest" are innately squishy phrases. If there were a consensus view in a particular region among cultural  and judicial elites that solidifying a specific set of gender norms constituted a "legitimate government interest," it would follow that legalizing sex-based pay disparities would be a "rationally related" method of incentivizing behavior.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Romney's invocation

"Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs."

Not if you close your eyes and refuse to look at data.

Outsourcing - Part Obama

President Obama: We would make the tax code support American businesses instead of letting multinationals unfairly repatriate taxes.

"The way we're going to create jobs here is not just to change our tax code. We're going to double our exports. We're on pace to do that."

"In the private sector, Governor Romney's company invested in companies called 'pioneers of outsourcing.' That's not my phrase. That's reporters' phrase."

Outsourcinng - Part Romney

Mitt Romney: Let's pretend that outsourcing history began on January 1, 2009. Does Mitt Romney really think that "Trickle down government" doesn't just remind everyone of the Republican "trickle down" talking point? I'm sure it's focused tested, but come on.

Now he's explaining currency manipulation. He'll label China a Currency Manipulator and start a trade war.

He's about to get sucker punched on "Pioneer of outsourcing" and he knows it.

Romney admits that he would start a company in Canada if he weren't running for President.

Actually, the rate of new regulations issued is vastly lowered in the Obama adminsitration than any administration in the last 20 years, but that's ok.

Assault Weapon Control

President Obama: "We're a nation who believes in the second Amendment... but there have been too many instances during the last four years where I have had to comfort the families of people who have been wounded in these tragedies."

"I share your belief that weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don't belong on our streets."

Candy Crowley:

Mitt Romney: "I'm not interested in new pieces of legislation on guns," to 'we of course don't want automatic weapons, that that's already illegal.'" to "We have to enforce the laws that we have."

Fast and Furious, "How it worked precisely, we don't know exactly." "I can't imagine." I couldn't even cast aspersions!

We were sitting around and talking about Libya

President Obama: My plan is (1) Beef up security (2) investigate (3) Bin Laden those bitches. Romney's plan is to profit politically. I have a track record in National Security. We left Iraq. We defeated Al Qaeda. We are transitioning out of Afghanistan.

I am the responsible one here.

Mitt Romney: It's his responsibility for that security failure. I'm going to stumble over some apologies for politically pandering before doing it again and prating on about how awful the Middle East is.

Candy Crowley: Does the Buck stop with Secretary Clinton?

President Obama: "I'm always responsible. That's why nobody is more interested in finding out exactly what happened than I am. We're going to hunt down those who committed this crime."

"The idea that anyone on my team would play politics or mislead is offensive. That's not what we do. That's not what I do as President or as Commander and Chief"

Mitt Romney: "It took the President 14 days before he said it was an act of terror."

President Obama: "Get the transcript."

Candy Crowley: "He did in fact call it an act of terror."

Undocumented Immigration

Mitt Romney: How many times can I make sure I get your name right?

Ok, great. "We welcome legal immigrants into this country." "Amnesty" "Employment verification" "The kids of those who came here illegally, I think should have a pathway to legal status." 

Barack Obama: Let me squander the awkwardness gap that Mitt Romney built up.

People want to come to the United States. We're a nation of immigrants, and also a nation of laws. First thing we did was to streamline legal immigration. We made it easier, simpler, and cheaper for people to come here. 

Barack Obama is explaining the Romney record better than Romney did. Linked him to the Arizona law. Explained self-deportation. Explained Republican intransigence.

Candy Crowley: "Let's speak to the idea of self-deportation"

Mitt Romney: "No." Let me PIC out of the Arizona law. Mitt Romney explains that he isn't a leader in the Republican party, reminds everyone he lost to John McCain. Ok, now I'll talk about self-deportation. "I'm not in favor of rounding up people and taking them out of the country."

President Obama using all the skills of a litigator in getting Romney's last word to be "Chinese investments."

What have you done for me lately?

President Obama:

Middle class tax cuts
Ended the war in Iraq
Killed Bin Laden
Affordable Care Act
Wall Street Reform
Crated 5 million jobs
Saved Auto Industry

There's a lot more to do:

Reducing the deficit.

I've kept my promises, and I intend to keep the rest of them. Mitt Romney is going to keep his promises too:

Backwards on Pell Grants
Backwards on Medicare
Backwards on Affordable Care Act

Mitt Romney: You know what you're going to get with President Obama. We can't afford another 4 years like the last 4 years.

We didn't get there; let's stop where we are.

Social Security/Medicare
Limiting insurance premiums

"The unemployment has not been reduced in this country." Food stamps. "Economy growing more slowly this year than last year, and that was slower than the year before."

Reagan recession. 

How are you not President Bush?

Mitt Romney: "I think I was supposed to get that last answer." What an asshole.

Ok - I'm going to ignore this question about how I'm not President Bush. "Every women should have access to contraceptives."

"President Bush and I are different people and these are different times." That's the biggest bullshit answer. More free-trade agreements. Make a magical balanced budget. Champion small business. But these aren't policies; these are aspirations.

President Obama: "When he says he has very different policies, the center piece of his economic policy is tax cuts, which got us into this mess."

"Keep in mind that Romney invested in companies that pioneered in outsourcing jobs to China... Mr. Romney, you're the last person who will go after China."

"George Bush didn't turn Medicare into a voucher. George Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform. George Bush didn't recommend defunding Planned Parenthood." Day-umn.

Equal Pay for Equal Work

President Obama: I was raised by a single mother. My grandmother worked her way up to become a Vice President in a local bank. She hit the glass ceiling. "This is one of the reasons why one of the first bills I signed was the Lilly Ledbetter bill." Then uses the phrase "brings suit." "This is not just a women's issue. This is a family issue." Administration expanded pell grants by giving directly to students. "We have to enforce the laws, which is what we are doing... in every walk of life, we do not tolerate discrimination."

Mitt Romney: "Important topic, and one that I learned a great deal about." I only hire men. Flexibility in the workplace. Not the worst answer he's had this evening.

President Obama: There's a lot here that Mitt Romney won't tell you. Romney is letting Congressional Republicans dictate women's healthcare. "That's not the kind of advocacy that women need." Planned Parenthood. "That's a pocketbook issue for women."

Tax policy

Great Question!

Mitt Romney reveals how little of a clue he has about the middle class. He promises to get rid of carried interest taxes for the middle class, as if the taxes on middle class savings, investments, and bonds were keeping middle class workers up at night. That was unbelievably tin-eared for people who have lost their savings, for whom their stock portfolios took a beating.

President Obama stands on his record of cutting taxes for the middle class and small businesses. Why isn't he hitting Romney here?

Talks about deficit reduction. Talks about Republican hostage taking.

Turns to Romney and revamps 60 Minutes ad, "Yes, I think that's fair. I think that's what grows the economy." What grows the economy is tax credits for small businesses for hiring veterans or sending kids to college.

Mitt Romney: "You heard what I said about my tax plan. The top 5% will continue to pay 60% of the income tax paid." It's no secret that Romney wants to cut the amount taken through income tax and pay for it by gutting tax credits for the middle class. It's also no secret that he wants to cut non-income tax rates to 0%. "I know why jobs come and why they go."

President Obama: Let's do the math. It costs about $5 Million. Plus $2 Trillion in unnecessary defense spending. Plus $1 Trillion for Bush Tax Cuts. Hasn't been able to wrap the math into a coherent story besides, "This is a sketchy deal"

Mitt Romney: "Of course they add up." I've balanced budgets, then he adds that he didn't do anything in Massachusetts. Romney is straining credulity when he sidesteps his plan.


Mitt Romney calls oil "a massive new resource we have." It's time we enter the oil age, Mr. President!

Also, someone should tell Romney that he doesn't need to continue to pander to Iowans about ethanol. He already lost that primary twice.

"I'm getting North America energy independent." "I'll get America and North America energy independent." Romney is running for the Canadian vote.

Candy Crowley asks about whether $4 per gallon is the new normal. This is a surprisingly good debate question.

The President describes the basic facts of energy demand, but leaves out that it's largely caused by growth in the third world. "A large part of that wasn't true." President Obama reminds Mitt Romney that he has a record. I wonder if that will stop the lying.

Mitt realizes the debate is slipping away, demands that President is answering a question that he's already answering.

So much for stopping the lying about checkable facts. The President's strategy in this debate can't rely on Romney being shamed into not lying; he's seen that it's never worked.

Mitt Romney admits he's in a hole at the end of Question 1

If you have to try to interject at the end of the question, you're conceding you lost the debate on that question.

What Can You Do to Make a College Education Worth It?

Romney talks about education and ends with a vague pander, "I know how to create jobs... and when you graduate, I'll make sure you can get a job."

The President touts the 5 million jobs created in the last 5 years and lays out the educational plan, tax plan to pay for investments in Pell grants. President Obama ties the college kid's fate to the fate of the nation.

Candy Crowley hijacks the question and asks Romney, "What's wrong with the economy right now?" Romney hits hard on economic numbers, which media will be too lazy to factcheck. Responds to "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt and that's right." Tries to tie his plan and attack the President "for letting Detroit go bankrupt"

President hitting hard on "5 point plan." President Obama: "Mitt Romney doesn't have a 5 point plan; he has a 1 point plan." Ties Romney's Bain experience with the decades of loss for the middle class.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pathetic and Misleading

The President's campaign is out with a new ad focusing on Mitt Romney's tax rate. Judge the effectiveness for yourself:

The Romney campaign's response is to call the ad "pathetic and misleading."

That's all well and good, but if it's misleading in any way, shouldn't the Romney campaign fight to get the full interview in front of voters? After all, the antidote to misleading speech is more speech, which is why federal campaign financing law tilts towards funneling more money into ad buys.

So I'm sure we can expect the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove to buy ad spots featuring the full, unedited interview. What are Romney and his band of billionaire backers waiting for? Call the President's bluff!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Quality of Media Analsysis

After a 90 minute debate, why is even NPR discussing how 'active' people look on their side of the screen?

Washington Free Beacon reporter (read: Republican hack) is saying that he felt "tired" by the end of it. I suppose he is worn out by any substance. That may also be why he is shilling that Congressman Ryan "Fought to a draw."

When the Washington Free Beacon is arguing that a Republican "Fought to a draw," it means he lost handily.

"They keep misquoting my running mate"

One of my favorite lies from Congressman Ryan tonight was "They keep misquoting my running mate." So let's look at the tape:

Mitt Romney: Let Detroit Go Bankrupt

Friday, August 3, 2012

Romney: 'I paid taxes, trust me'

This may be Romney's "I'm not a crook" moment.

The problem for Romney is that, unlike Nixon, there is documentary evidence that would prove him right. Why in the the name of Romney's Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Islands tax dodges doesn't he just release his tax returns?

AEIdeas Blog: Bush Recession still Haunting the Economy

The American Enterprise Institute is a right-wing think tank campaign organization. So why are they calling Buh's recession a "labor department depression?" That has got to weigh down the chances of Mitt Romney, whose policies return to the Bush golden days of welfare for the wealthy and deregulation for Wall Street.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Seattle PI Complicit In McKenna Doubletalk

I sent this letter to the PI staff today about their coverage of the Washington Governor's race. They botched their Inslee, McKenna offer ideas for Maritime industry article. It's a nice snapshot of what's wrong with the coverage of the Inslee/McKenna matchup:
It is disappointing that the PI is letting Rob McKenna get away with his double talk. The article "Inslee, McKenna offer ideas for maritime industry" quotes McKenna as saying that Washington corporations can't grow because they pay too much for insurance. The cost of hiring a new worker is a lot higher than the wages that the corporation pays to the employee. Insofar as his logic is concerned, he's right; we could encourage job growth by taking insurance burdens away from corporations. Bringing down the marginal cost to higher a worker will mean more jobs created in good times and fewer people laid off in lean times. That's what Rob McKenna says.

What Rob McKenna has done, however, is the opposite. The highest non-wage cost of hiring is by far health insurance. In 2010, health insurance cost employers an average of $3.35 per employee hour according to this study by the Kaiser Family Foundation: http://www.kff.org/insurance/snapshot/Employer-Health-Insurance-Costs-and-Worker-Compensation.cfm That surcharge grew four times as faster than wage growth over the previous decade. Yet Rob McKenna has obstructed, litigated, and lobbied against the only national means of reducing that burden on employers. His decision to fight against the Affordable Care Act may have been good politics for his gubernatorial campaign, but it's terrible policy for Washington workers and businesses.

The Affordable Care Act introduces competition into small group markets into which the majority of Washington businesses fit. It's a market-driven approach that will bring prices down and service quality up. Rob McKenna has fought against this common sense measure. While Rob McKenna's 'solutions' point to small potatoes "unemployment insurance, high workers compensation cost and burdensome taxes," any business owner knows that he's distracting from the bigger picture. Rob McKenna's opposition to more affordable, flexible, and reliable health insurance for Washington business owners and employees is the elephant in the room in the economic debate.

While Rob McKenna's job is to distract Washington from his record, the Seattle PI's responsibility is to hold him to it. Please do a better job in the future.
You can let the PI know how you feel by email too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lying Through Your Teeth: Rob McKenna edition

I'm beginning to get the sense that Rob McKenna is not the political wunderkind that Washington political reporters have been waiting for. He's made a continued campaign to highlight his own discrepancies on issues. He has consistently done one thing and said another on women's health, biased ballot initiative language, and protection against health insurance company abuse. McKenna is making a pattern of saying one thing and doing the opposite.

This has been an open secret of the Inslee-McKenna campaign so far, but it's rare to see an acknowledgement of the McKenna duplicity in print. I was shocked to see this in the Spokesman-Review, the flagship East of the Cascades paper.
McKenna did support a maneuver by all 22 Republicans and three breakaway Democrats late in the regular session that pushed through an alternative budget. Murray questioned how McKenna, who has called for increased spending on education, could support a budget that cut public schools and colleges.
McKenna later said he “wasn't thrilled” with the education cuts in that alternative budget, which later was revised in the House. At a campaign press conference during the third week of the special session, he said if he'd been involved in discussions over that alternative Senate budget “I would've gone to them and said 'Let's not make the education cuts.'”
 The thing about "I would have" quotes is that they are proof that McKenna is saying one thing and doing another. He "would have" supported a budget that didn't cut the education budget, but he did support a budget that cut $74 million in education funding next year. It appears that McKenna's staffers was actively involved in whipping votes for the Republican education-gutting budget. He

When it comes to the Washington marriage equality ballot initiative, Rob McKenna was responsible for drafting the language of the initiative that would appear in front of voters. Rob McKenna inserted right-wing talking points into the ballot title. A state judge had to straighten out the mess McKenna made. I bet the judge feels better knowing that McKenna "would have" not used "anti-gay" language if only Rob Mckenna had any common sense.

And then there's the Affordable Care Act, which McKenna decided to sue along with the other Republican Attorneys General, and then claimed that he supports the popular provisions in the law. A gap of that size between behavior and self-proclaimed values borders on a psychological disorder.

This is beginning to show up around the fringes of the Washington establishment media. This Spokesman-Review piece appeared first in a blog post. McKenna has been getting off easy from state media, but that tide may be turning.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Self-reinforcing Bias

Every now and then, I read a Megan McArdle blog post. It's never truly an accident. Her masthead is a caution to all who read below that they will encounter tepid thoughts drowned in muddy analogy.

She is illustrative of self-reinforcing bias, in her case, one born of ideology:
Other readers will likely differ, but while the advice parts may generate more lifetime utility for me, the history and economics lessons in the book captured my interest more. In particular, Cowen's history of how American food came to be so mediocre is a strong counterargument to those who look to blame the phenomenon on commercialization, capitalism, and excess of choice. In contrast to the usual narrative, Cowen tells us how bad laws have played an important role in shaping our food ecosystem for the worse over time. This includes prohibition's negative and long lasting impact on restaurants, and the government aggressively limiting one of our greatest sources of culinary innovation: immigration. This is not to lay the blame entirely on the government. Television and a culture that panders to the desires of children have also incentivized poor culinary trends. 
There's a nice dodge in here that speaks either to how McArdle views the world, or how she manages to self-censor her thoughts to support libertarian outcomes. See the last sentence:
Television and a culture that panders to the desires of children have also incentivized poor culinary trends. 
Americans have a culture that panders to childish tastes in food? That's an awfully squishy claim. I don't know how McArdle arrived at this conclusion, and she doesn't attempt to provide any evidence or logic to lay this at the feet of Culture. Let's try an alternate hypothesis:
Television and a market that panders to the desires of children have also incentivized poor culinary trends. 
I'll leave it to you to decide which hypothesis has more intuitive appeal. I think that deep down, however, McArdle believes that the "poor culinary trends" were "incentivized." That origin story sounds more like capitalism to me than cultural development.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Why So Racist?

Why have there been a string of racist articles in prominent conservative news outlets by prominent conservative pundits saying prominent conservative things?

Bueller? Bueller?

Meanwhile, George Zimmerman has launched a PayPal account to collect bounties for killing black teens. The money will be spent on "living expenses and legal fees." Now you can directly subsidize hate crimes!

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Most Painful Irony

Critics of the investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin have engaged in a struggle to cast the shooter George Zimmerman as the hero and victim of a crime. It's no surprise that if you desperately believe that people should be able to kill other citizens with impunity that you'll do anything to a notorious killer. The defenders of Zimmerman are asking for armed vigilantes to roam the streets, and for us to pretend that they are above the law.

But you know that already. What you may have missed was the article "Roseanne Barr Twitter Joins Vigilante Crew" courtesy of The Smoking Gun. Image capture as of 2:30pm EDT on Friday.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Romney's Silver Lining

ABC released a poll that is either bruising or reveals a very bruised Republican frontrunner. Mitt Romney's favorability rating is 34/50 (or -16). The poll finds that he is weak in his base, and has an unfavorable of 52% among self-identified independents.

I promised you a silver lining in the title, so here it is: President Obama's favorability among independents is also fairly poor. It's 46%. There's probably some overlap between the independents sour on Obama and Romney (after all, 16% of Americans are yet to form an opinion of Mitt Romney). The upshot is that independents may sit out the 2012 presidential election. If they do, the electorate will look more like 2004 than 2008, where President Obama brought a lot of new independent voters under the Democratic tent.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Daily caller engages in Murdochism

Debbie Wasserman Shultz's communications director received a threatening email the other day, which read, "I'm giving you until 10 am tomorrow morning to answer this question, [sic] then I'm reporting that [The chairwoman of the DNC] is not supporting Eric Holder." The staff cried foul and forwarded the email to Buzzfeed, which published the accompanying story. It reads like blackmail, but there may be a more innocent motive at work here.

Perhaps there is some precedent to using this sort of tactic. A pivotal story scene in All the Presidents Men unfolds along this tactic. (Disclaimer: I don't have a copy of the book handy, so I'm describing the film, which will tend towards more dramatic but factually inaccurate sequences).

Woodward and Bernstein published their biggest mistake of the Watergate story. Their source was refusing to speak to a certain question, and they attempted to work out an impromptu code: 'if you're still on the phone in ten seconds, that's a yes?' The source hung on the line for ten seconds, and the Washington Post published unconfirmed reports about the Nixon administration's coverup, alleging more than they could prove. So what went wrong? The source reversed the code; he was trying to tell Woodward that the story was not quite right.

The journalistic precedent for 'if you don't respond, we have an understanding' is terrible. It led to the paper publishing a calamitous story. It's from an at least partially fictionalized universe. And of course the technology difference means that even if it had been a legitimate practice at that moment, it no longer is; telephone conversations are cooperative enterprises. Email that demands a response, 'or x will say y about you' is certainly more threatening than asking a question and using a silent code. The explanation that this was a poor imitation of a bad practice is a weak one.

Boyle did not appear to go that route. Instead, he pushed the bounds of self-awareness and severely crippled his eventual civil defense by attempting to normalize his email:
Boyle, in an email, defending his warning.

"I've sent several inquiries to the DNC on this," he said. "They've had ample opportunity to respond with an indication that they support the attorney general. I wanted to give Brad plenty of time to respond before we reported, correctly, that the DNC would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support for Eric Holder."
This is a common practice rooted in the culture of the Daily Caller, it would seem. Boyle describes a routine of borderline extortion and drumbeat of inaccurate reporting at the Daily Caller, ostensibly supported by the the editorial staff. It's an ethics-free zone. This must be what working at the Sun or News of the World was like before the arrests. Rupert Murdoch may not own the daily caller, but they sure emulated his management style.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom is a term that has been thrown around a lot recently, and typically, the side throwing it around has been Team GOP. It was recently invoked in a political fight against the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Religious Freedom been a canard in the fight against teaching science in public schools, and is a plank of the modern Home Schooling movement. Indeed, it seems that Religious Freedom is a fairly sophisticated dog whistle for Republican voters who want to believe that the President does not share their religious beliefs.

Religious Freedom is a common theme in the courts, as well. In February, a federal judge struck down an administrative rule from the state pharmacy board requiring pharmacies to stock and provide prescription contraceptives on the grounds that the rule prevented pharmacists from the free expression of religious beliefs, if those religious beliefs included a prohibition on providing contraceptives to people with prescriptions. The judge believed that this was a violation of the first amendment free exercise clause, but failed to consider or weigh patients' constitutional rights, see Griswold v. Connecticut. Regardless, I want to highlight a more recent judicial decision over 'religious freedom' that elucidates the slippery nature of the phrase.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"I'm not a doctor..."

Every time someone asks me for medical advice, I always start off with the phrase, "I'm not a doctor." The implication is that I'm not entirely trustworthy on the subject, and that what information I offer (or fail to offer) may be a serious error. The logical inverse, of course, is 'I'm a doctor, so you can trust that you'll be getting the full story,' barring highly unlikely scenarios.

Right wing legislators are assaulting faith in medical professionals this year. A number of bills have required that doctors provide inaccurate information to pregnant women regarding the developing fetus. Now the Arizona Senate has passed a bill that would immunize doctors against malpractice suits for failing to tell women about known pre-natal abnormalities. This would include obvious damage to the fetus, or even problems that can prove fatal to the woman.

It's about time that Republicans put down their toy stethoscope and religious props and utter four simple words: "I'm not a doctor." And even if they do hold the requisite training and certifications, "I'm not your doctor" would suffice.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Libertarian Palace Intrigue- Koch v. Cato

Last week, David and Charles Koch launched a lawsuit against their best known puppet organization. The billionaire brothers are suing their libertarian Cato Institute for full control. The Volokh Conspiracy has the full details about the history of the takeover from inside Cato.

It seems that the "libertarians" working there object to being bought out by their sponsors during an election year for the primary purpose of "defeating President Obama."

It's quite a reflection of the modern Republican party. What genuine activism and intellectual effort goes into propping up the more serious aspects of Republicanism is a cheap trapping to the actual owners of the party. They neither respect nor value the work of their underlings. Party insiders, truly the core of the modern conservative establishment, get the wool yanked from their eyes; Cato scholars suddenly recognize that they are not employed in an intellectually honest venture. Their only purpose is to serve the interests of Koch Industries.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Michigan CD breakdown - part 1

Returns are coming in from Michigan, and it looks like Romney has won Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, and Macomb counties fairly handily. I'll award him all the Metro Detroit congressional districts based on the county-level returns: the 9th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th CDs go to Romney. Looks like the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th, go to Santorum. That's five districts for Romney and 5 for Santorum. The remaining 4 are difficult to project just by looking at county level data. Romney is now the statewide projected vote winner, so he gets the extra 2 at-large delegates. We'll have to wait to get a data set broken down by CD to project the last 4 districts.

Crossover Vote Strategy a Double Failure

The political news of Primary Day in Michigan today was that Rick Santorum sent out an automated call targeting Democrats. The robocall asked Democrats to vote in the Republican primary. Exit polls are finding that very few Democrats are answering his call: 10% of the primary electorate identifies as Democrats. That number is in line with Michigan primaries where there was minimal crossover voting.

This was a terrible strategic decision in the first place. Even if Santorum's call to Democrats had driven a few into the voting booth for him, the election would become suspect. As much as a couple of extra delegates would have helped Santorum in the mathematical race to 1,144, the media environment is what matters in Michigan. The news that the campaign relied on Democratic voters who will turn out for Barack Obama in November for a victory would have negated any positive news from a win in the Motor State. We'll see what happens tonight, but we already know that Santorum's campaign shot itself in the foot today.

Map of the Night

Michigan's 14 Congressional Districts

This is the single most important thing you'll need to understand the Republican primary tonight: a map of Michigan's 2012 congressional districts. The 29 delegates in Arizona are pure winner-take-all at the state-wide level, so Romney should walk away with a relative gain in delegates assuming he wins even one of the Metro Detroit districts in addition to Arizona. Each of Michigan's 14 congressional districts is worth two delegates. Winning the popular vote of the whole state is worth an additional two delegates as well.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rare Topic of Conversation

Americans, by and large, are loathe to talk about race and socio-economic circumstances. It rarely comes up in media posts, especially when authors could instead talk about individual talent, distinguishing characteristics, or work ethic. So why is it that whenever a non-white person wins an award, race and socioeconomic explanations are all that authors think of?

The article linked is itself a fruitful discussion of our political context while viewing The Help. But the phrase, "we can’t avoid recognition of the obvious socio-political dimensions attached to [Octavia Spencer's] win," should give us pause. After all, we avoid recognition of the obviou socio-political dimensions attached to every white actor's oscar nomination and win. Race is only invisible to American society when we're talking about white people.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Post-Semiotic Law

I worry for judges. Their jobs are getting increasingly difficult as legislatures are working to undo 50 years of administrative-made law making. Around the country, Tea Party candidates elected in 2010 are unwinding the administrative balance struck by regulatory agencies on state and local levels, substituting the will of one-term legislators for the judgment of career civil servants. That is the platform that they ran on: "smaller government," less technocracy, and a revolt against expertise.

The example in the news this week is the Virginia Republican Party's attempt to force women to undergo invasive ultrasounds before receiving an abortion. Though this bill likely won't become law, thanks to fantastic organizing among opponents in Virginia as well as the national spotlight from the Daily Show and Saturday Night Live, a costly modification to it is still on its way through the legislature. In this case, the law is taking a hatchet to the judicial-made rule that women must have access to reproductive health care without "undue burden." An unnecessary and costly ultrasound, is at best an undue burden. Of course the original version of the bill, requiring unnecessary vaginal penetration, was substantially larger of a burden and even more inappropriate.

The legislator who introduced the bill, and the governor who championed it, have both admitted that they did not know that the language would have required OB/GYNs to insert a plastic instrument into a woman's vagina. In fact, they had shut out testimony from doctors and experts in health who would have explained that detail to the lawmakers. The bill was fast-tracked to avoid such a discussion, and it was only derailed by effective protest and mockery.

This bill came close to becoming law. One chamber of the legislature had passed it, and other other was days away from sending it to the governor's desk for his signature.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Howes v. Fields Quick React

Howes v. Field No. 10–680, decided yesterday, is another update to a long line of Miranda cases. Michigan police interrogated and extracted a confession from Fields on sex crime allegations without informing him of his Miranda rights. The Michigan Supreme Court declined to review the case, so Fields appealed for habeas relief from the Federal Sixth Circuit. The appellate court granted review, and yesterday, the Supreme Court reversed the Sixth's decision.

First Reaction: The Michigan Supreme Court declined to review the case? Let's go to our checklist:Case closed.

Monday, February 20, 2012

New York Post to Clear Charlize Theron's North Korea Problem

This headline came to me in a dream, and it seemed to capture the crisis in hit-focused website journalism. Headlines have become overblown, journalist-centric, and lacking useful information. At the same time as it obviously focuses on a celebrity, this headline attempts to masquerade as related to world news. My favorite aspect of the headline is that the New York Post is the subject of the sentence. It just seems appropriate.

Update:The post has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I'm getting above-average traffic on this one post, largely from URLs containing "Charlize+Theron."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Veto Override Watch

Both chambers of the New Jersey legislature approved a marriage equality law this week, sending it to the governor's desk. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill. The legislature has the opportunity to stand up for the equal rights of its gay and lesbian citizens by overriding the veto; a two-thirds majority of both houses is required for a veto override.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Catholic Healthcare Logic

Catholic bishops have decided that Department of Health and Human Services rule for women's preventative care just isn't good enough. The US Conference of Bishops led a fierce fight against the rule because it required Catholic hospitals and other non-church institutions to provide contraceptives to their employees. On Friday, the Obama administration announced a tweak to the rule to accomodate institutions with overriding religious blocks:
The new policy announced today ensures that if a woman works for other types of religious employers with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage.

Instead her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care at no additional charge.
If a religious institution wants to avoid the rule requiring them to provide free preventative healthcare for female employees, the burden of providing contraceptives is shifted to the insurance companies, who will have to reach out to the employees to provide preventative care. An institution that feels bound by dogma to neglect their employees' health can arrange for this extraordinary service from the insurance company.

The US Conference of Bishops, however, were not satisfied, stating to the New York Times:
“In the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns.”
As long as any Catholic institution has a hand in providing preventative medical care, it's too much for the Bishops' conscience. As long as Catholic non-church institutions contribute to their employees' health care, however, it seems that they are in the same bind. The bind can be summarized in three bullet points:
  1. Insurance companies cover contraceptives in whole or in part.
  2. Insurance coverage is a typical benefit of employment, and one that Catholic hospitals, schools, etc... are economically coerced into providing to employees to compete in the labor market.
  3. The US Conference of Bishops is dissatisfied if Catholic institutions are financially or logistically connected with providing contraceptives.
The conflict with the president's plan is that there is a link between employer and health care. If you agree with the vast majority of Americans that women should have safe, effective, and affordable contraceptives, and you also agree that religious institutions shouldn't have to be involved in paying for, arranging, or managing access to contraceptives, the only way to avoid the Catholic church's logic is to ditch employer-centric health care. Single-payer, Medicare-for-all, or a predominately individual market would be the obvious ways to remove the burden of managing healthcare from religious institutions' shoulders. Of course, then again, wages that Catholic hospitals or schools pay their employees might still go towards contraceptives; the US Conference of Bishops might only support fully socialized health care.

Could someone please ask the Catholic church to describe their preferred health care model?

Dangling Infinitive

The New York Time's lead paragraph in its contraceptive coverage features a dastardly sentence structure:
The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have rejected a compromise on birth control coverage that President Obama offered on Friday and said they would continue to fight the president’s plan to find a way for employees of Catholic hospitals, universities and service agencies to receive free contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans, without direct involvement or financing from the institutions.
Did you spot it? I read the paragraph without any hesitation as "Bishops... said they would continue to fight the president's plan[. The President's plan finds a way] for employees of Catholic hospitals, universities and service agencies to receive free contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans, without direct involvement or financing from the institutions..."

An alternate reading is that they will "continue to fight the president's plan [in the hopes of creating an alternative plan wich would create] "a way for employees of Catholic hospitals, universities and service agencies to receive free contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans, without direct involvement or financing from the institutions."

Later down in the article, there appears to be more support for the latter reading. I'm breaking off the Bishop's logic, because it deserves some analysis in the context of the overall healthcare debate. See you on that post in a couple minutes.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Unpacking Colorado and Minnesota Results

On Tuesday night, the Republican parties of Colorado and Minnesota held precinct level caucuses to select delegates for their district and county conventions. These conventions will then meet to select the delegates that the state party will send to the national GOP convention. The make-up of these delegations will help to determine the Republican nominee in 2012. At the same time, every caucusgoer indicated their preferred national presidential candidate by casting a ballot. These balloted results were reported to the media, while the actual delegate results were not.

The problem is that there is no reliable information about the make-up of these intermediate county and district conventions. A few media organizations have decided to allocate "soft" approximations of delegates based on proportionally splitting the delegates at stake along the preference poll. This is a lazy way to estimate the actual delegate total, and one that's fairly misleading to boot.

It should not be terribly difficult to estimate the actual delegate totals, but we need to know a few things first.
  1. How many delegates to county and district conventions are assigned at each precinct
  2. How many delegates go from the county convention to the state convention
  3. The outcome of the preference poll at each precinct caucus
These pieces of information would make it very easy to create a good-enough prediction about the actual delegate outcome from the state conventions.

I'm having a bit of trouble finding this information directly from either Colorado or Minnesota. The Colorado GOP seems to have lumped together the preference poll at each of the caucus locations, which are each comprised of several distinct precincts. The Minnesota GOP seems to have reported each separately, but I'm having trouble locating the raw data. Neither are making the number of delegates allocated to each precinct readily available.

These models are going to be more valuable than simple proportional splitting because they'll take into account the geographical intensity of support for each candidate, and they'll apply the iterative filtering of support that typically drains delegates from poorly organized campaigns. If you have the data that I'm looking for or anything you think would help, please contact me on twitter at @sillyseasonblog.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Santorum's Night

Big night for Rick Santorum, who crushed in the preference poll of Minnesota Caucusgoers and the state-wide straw poll of Missouri. He's also doing well in Colorado, winning Adams County, which includes the Northern suburbs of Denver. Arapahoe, Jefferson, Douglas, and El Paso Counties, which will report the lions share of the votes tonight (and have a large number of delegates at stake in the caucuses) are yet to report.

This is obviously a terrible night for Mitt Romney, who is coming in third behind Ron Paul, and Gingrich, who is dead last among the four major candidates, and isn't even on the ballot in Missouri. Tonight will reshape the Republican race with a lot of money and enthusiasm going towards Santorum. There's been a pervasive anybody-but-Romney sentiment in conservative media, and for a brief period, that had embodied itself in a resurgent Gingrich campaign. Since South Carolina, Gingrich's myriad negatives have been on display, from his lack of discipline on the campaign trail, to comedians describing the race as "a race in which the Mormon is running against the polygamist."

Santorum has been willing to make the case that Romney is indeed a weak candidate. Last Saturday, from Colorado, Santorum pointed to depressed turnout being a hallmark of a Romney win. Tonight's turnout in Minnesota may actually surpass the 62,800 caucus goers in 2008. It's also worth noting that Rick Santorum is the first Republican candidate this year to win a state with more than 50% of the vote

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nevada Caucuses Liveblog

Image Credit: David Rumsey Map Collection

The most important thing to know about tonight's Nevada Caucuses is that the 28 delegates at stake will be split proportionally to the vote total. Results are trickling in but we'll expect most of them around 7pm local time. I'll mostly be interested in seeing if Romney can beat his 2008 numbers in the state, which was one of the handful that he won before bowing out of the race.

One big number to watch out for tonight is the overall turnout. The Florida primary attracted 300,000 fewer voters this year than four years ago, a shocking drop when you consider that there wasn't a competitive Democratic primary this year. Caucus goers tend to be more active partisans, so a drop in caucus attendance may be more worrying for the GOP.
In the 2008 Nevada Caucuses, Mitt Romney won 22,646 votes for 51% of the caucus goers' preference votes. Republican turnout totaled 44,315. An interesting note: in 2008, Nevada's caucuses followed a more traditional caucus process of proportional representation through tiers of conventions. This year, the preference vote is binding on the state's eventual national party delegation.
9:12pm Washoe County, the second largest in Nevada, is now 100% in. Romney won with 42.3% of the vote with 2,836 supporters coming out tonight. That's a pretty big problem for him. In 2008, he won Washoe county with 4,032 votes. That's nearly 1,200 supporters he lost in that county in the last four years.
8:42pm The lack of actual returns at this point is disgusting. Most caucuses began at 9am this morning, but there hasn't been any effort to report them. There have been literally no results reported from Clark County, the most populous county in Nevada, and also the largest contributor to Mitt Romney's win in 2008. I'll be back tomorrow with the delegate allocation totals once the results are in. Currently, with 18.7% of results in, Romney has 38.4%, Gingrich 27.6%, Paul 18.6%, and Santorum 14.7%. These numbers will almost certainly change when Clark comes in. If these percentages were to hold up, Romney would gain 11 delegates, Gingrich 8, Paul 5, Santorum 4. Goodnight.
8:39pm Gingrich suckered into getting back onto podium to announce he's rooting for the Giants to win the Superbowl. The press boos the announcement.
8:34pm "It's a fight, and if you're not willing to fight, you might as well get out of the race." Gingrich decries that campaign has had relentlessly negative tone, especially with unregulated tv ads. Of course, he doesn't support any reforms of campaign finance laws.
8:32pm Gingrich backing up his arguments by appealing to Larry Sabato, Jack Kemp, John McCain, etc... Not a winning rhetoric when the base is energized by anti-elitist and Gingrich is trying to cast himself as anti-establishment.
8:29pm Gingrich makes the numbers argument that Santorum should have made:
When you look at Florida, I won every county that had increased turnout. Mitt Romney won every county that had decreased turnout [relative to 2008]. I think that Republicans won't be comfortable with a candidate who wins by suppressing turnout.

8:26pm Gingrich inadvertently telegraphs when he'll concede:
I've run a national campaign that his twice made me the frontrunner so far, and I believe will again by the time we get around to the Texas Primary.
Gingrich must believe that he has enough financial backing to compete until Texas votes.
8:23pm No obvious 'new strategy' from Newt. Is anyone disappointed that Gingrich bluster turned out to just be self-promoting joke?
8:20pm New Gingrich attack on Romney's economic record: Romney had the third-worst record of job creation as governor while he served.
8:17pm CNN cuts away from the Ron Paul caucus-goers speaking for 45 minutes to cover Gingrich. "Unlike Governor Romney, I care very deeply about helping America's poor."
7:51pm What's with CNN's delegate bar? They have Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum all with the numbers they had earlier in the week. Maybe they didn't figure out that Nevada is a proportional system?
7:46pm To be fair, it's hard to fit in new focus groups on such a compact calendar. Maybe he'll put in some new buzzwords in February when there's a 3 week gap.
7:44pm Same Romney stump speech he's given after every primary and caucus. But he's still surprised by applause.
7:42pm Romney effectively conceding that the end of 'tough times' is in sight, but claims the President's policies "made them longer." It's a rare if half-realized capitulation to reality that the economy has improved under the Obama administration's tenure.
7:40pm Romney's speech: He is gifted at lying that the President is responsible for anything that a state doesn't like. In this case, he's blaming President Obama for the backlash against racist anti-immigrant bills signed by Governor Brian Sandoval. The President never commented on the boycott.
7:30pm Santorum has been getting all of the face time in the last two hours on cable tv. Not many viewers tonight, but enough conservative activists. He has to convince them that he can beat Romney, that he can do better than Gingrich, and that he can win in November. So far, he's done a pretty good job in his interviews, but and his speech was passable. The one thing he isn't doing is making the hard case with quick talking points. Still, he's done a great job dominating the message to the audience he really needs to reach tonight.
7:23pm Douglas county is 100% reported now, and Romney is also down from his 2008 support by about 10%.
7:18pm CNN has video of Paul delegate trying to get into 'religious exception' caucus. It looks bad for both the Paul campaign and the Nevada GOP.
7:17pm Google and CNN seem to be counting very different races.
7:07pm So far, the real winner of the night is Matt Strawn and the Iowa Republican Party. Nevada GOP is making them look competent by comparison. Via Nate Silver:
Nevada GOP has reported results of 29 precincts in 23 minutes, putting them on pace to report all results by 8:38 PM. Tomorrow.

7:03pm There are massive margins for Romney in the counties bordering Utah. I wonder why that would be?
7:00pm Romney party in Las Vegas was clearly designed by overzealous advance team. Backdrop of supporters in stands is already in place. Also, has anyone checked if Romney placed any $10,000 bets while in Vegas?
6:54pm Newt Gingrich's daughters are deferring details about Gingrich's "new delegate strategy" that he'll announce an hour after the caucus sites close. I suppose his old delegate strategy has been a pretty big failure if he walks away with with the same number of Nevada delegates as Ron Paul.
6:50pm In Storey County in the North West, Mitt Romney wins by a single vote. In second place is Ron Paul
6:46pm Carson City is 100% reported. Romney garners 656 votes there, a 14% decline from 2008.
6:43pm Nate Silver reports that Washoe County is seeing 25% lower turnout than four years ago. Where's the enthusiasm, GOP?
6:06pm Josh Romney says, "My dad is a turn-around guy. That's who he is." Great neologism for "flip-flopper" which always sounded childish to me.
6:07pm Exit pollings are showing 54% of Republicans caucusing tonight have the economy as their top concern. That's good news for Romney tonight, but better news for the President in November. He has a more effective message and has fought for policies that Republicans blocked that would alleviate the largest problem in Nevada's economy.
5:55pm Santorum interviews with CNN, and is pandering to Colorado voters with a bolo tie and a sports jacket. Stick to the sweater vest, Mr. Former Senator. Update: CNN notices the bolo tie and does a 2 minute segment on it at 6:22pm. Hard hitting news, guys.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Marijuana Possession and Incarceration Cross-Post

Police with handcuffed people

Photo Credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy

I was over at the Reality Based Community, as I often am when I'm not here, when I got into an interesting discussion about the nationwide prison population. The big news from Keith Humphrey's original post is that 2010 saw the largest decline in the prison population in the last 40 years. Actually, it was the only decline in the prison population in the last 40 years. It had been on a steady upward trajectory for the last four decades. So what happened?

Mr. Humphreys credits some changes in federal policy:
The president’s administration would have to roll back the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity and end “drug war” rhetoric, creating change at the federal level and also inspiring individual states to re-evaluate their drug sentencing guidelines. The Administration would also have to invest in re-entry programs and highlight more effective methods of parole and probation. Marijuana possession cases make far less contribution to incarceration than Gopnik asserts in his article, but some marginal reductions in the number of people under criminal supervision could come from a White House reversing past practice and not opposing state-level marijuana decriminalization laws in places such as California and Massachusetts.

Current Delegate Standing

Newt Gingrich has 29 pledged delegates to Romney's 65.

A brief update on the pledged delegate numbers before we head into the Nevada Caucuses tomorrow: Mitt Romney 65, Newt Gingrich 29, Ron Paul 9, Rick Santorum 6.

The territory is favorable to Mitt Romney. So far, exit polling has found that Romney overwhelmingly wins the votes of Republicans who say the economy is their top priority, and Nevada has one of the hardest hit housing markets in the country. Add on top of that a sprinkling of Mormon communities around the state, an gambling industry that's less receptive to social conservatism, and Romney's momentum, and he should be good for a win.

That said, there's a good chance that everyone will walk away from Nevada with at least one delegate. The results of the state-wide 'preference vote' tomorrow are binding, so we don't have the uncertainty in delegate count of your typical caucus. Any candidate that garners at least 3.57% of the vote tomorrow is eligible for at least one delegate, the lowest threshold for a delegate in the entire Republican calendar. Most states require either 15 or 20% support before a candidate gets their first delegate, even when they are awarded 'proportionately.'

That's why no matter who wins Nevada, every campaign would be wise to spend a little extra attention on the state. A little extra marginal investment can easily translate into a second or ninth delegate.

New Jersey Marriage Equality Bill Passes Committee

While we're on the topic state discrimination against same-sex couples, I should mention that the Judiciary Committee has approved the New Hampshire marriage equality bill by a 5-2 margin. The vote followed party lines, with the two Republicans dissenting.

The next scheduled stop for marriage equality in New Jersey is the in the Senate, which has scheduled a vote on the companion bill for February 13th.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

State Discrimination in Marriage Licensing

Governor Chris Gregoire. Photo credit: Greater Tacoma Community Foundation on Flickr

Gov. Chris Gregoire. Photo courtesy of Greater Tacoma Community Foundation.

Washington State's legislature will institutionalize gay marriage this week, and I was lucky enough to hear Governor Christine Gregoire discuss the path to marriage equality on NPR.

The Washington Senate last night approved the bill 28 to 21, paving the way for passage through the state House and the governor's signature. Washington will become the seventh state to allow same-sex couples to enjoy the same treatment in marriage as heterosexual couples.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie meanwhile, is ducking gay marriage legislation in his state. He has threatened to veto a marriage equality law, and urged the New Jersey legislators to put the question up to public referendum. Leaving aside from the possibilities that Christie truly is a bigot and wants to continue to discriminate against gay Americans, or is a political coward seeking to avoid a public that he perceives as deeply bigoted, is there a democratic reason to place marriage equality on the ballot?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Margin of Victory: Florida

Polls of Florida Republicans have reverted to showing a double-digit lead for Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich's moment in the state seems to have slipped away, even as he is taking his largest lead in national polls to date. Most of the pundits have only one question left to ask: how big will Romney's margin be?

It's a completely uninteresting question, however. In the end, it doesn't matter whether Romney wins the state by 1 vote or 1 million. The state's GOP decided that it would allocate all of its delegates to the winner of the most votes in the primary. Romney will get 50 delegates from Florida as long as he wins. The margin doesn't matter. Winner takes all.

What does matter is voters' perception who watch Romney's victory speech and see the media coverage. If Romney has a good night on Tuesday and gets to make his victory speech during prime time, that's probably good news for him. Big wins usually produce a bump in polling. However, these bumps are pretty limited time-wise, and will likely dissipate before the next primary. The bump may help Romney secure a couple more delegates in Nevada, where a binding primary takes place on Saturday with 28 delegates at stake. Maine and Minnesota both have preliminary caucuses in the following week. A big win for Romney, again, might motivate his supporters in these caucuses to turn out or deflate Gingrich's supporters. A few more caucus dates are scheduled at the very end of February, but the next big action after Nevada is on March 6th.

There simply aren't enough caucuses and primaries in between Nevada on February 4th and March 6th to keep momentum going for Romney. The winner's bounce will be too short-lived to have much of an effect, Romney will be ahead by at most 50 delegates coming into Super-Tuesday, a lead that Gingrich could vaporize by winning his home state of Georgia with 50% of the vote.

I would be much more curious about polling in Arizona, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington than Florida right now.