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?