Saturday, September 29, 2012

Laugh the Vote

It bothers me that there are no big Obama songs this time. (Dancing and rapping Obamas don't count.)  That the youth vote in particular is in question.

But on the other hand, there's this video.  Samuel L. Jackson doesn't sing, but he rhymes.  Funny, yes.  And right on.

Perils of the Free Enterprise Campaign

Mitt Romney is the candidate of predatory capitalism so it is fitting that the way his campaign is organized reflects that approach.  It may be the only non-hypocritical aspect of it.  But it also may be the source of its doom.

We've learned that true to the higher management practice in predatory capitalist firms, Romney awarded generous bonuses to fellow executives of his campaign, even though they are failing.  We've also learned that he fields half the number of campaign workers than the Obama campaign does for the same amount of money, because he pays them twice as much.  It's about profit for everybody, it seems.

But the privatized and outsourced campaigning made possible by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and embraced by the Romney campaign, apparently has the same fundamental flaws as military contractors and other privatized public functions.

It's been kind of a mystery why all the millions that his billionaire backers have chipped in haven't worked to either demonize President Obama or make the voters like Romney.  We got one answer this week when it was revealed that superpacs pay several times more than campaigns do for the same airtime for their ads.  It's a quirk (or I guess they and the Supremes would say a flaw) of the law that actual candidates get preferred rates.

But here's another factor that really rings true to me: when you privatize the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars for campaigns, the folks doing the spending may not have the candidate uppermost in their consideration.  No, like good predatory capitalists, they're fixated on Number One.

Writes Bruce Bartlett in the Fiscal Times: "Another dirty secret about independent PAC spending is that it is often guided more by what makes money for the managers than what’s best for parties and candidates. They typically direct TV advertising toward agencies they themselves own and where they get a 15 percent commission; direct mail campaigns are conducted by companies they own as well on which similar commissions are paid; polls are conducted by polling firms they own or are affiliated with; and of course the managers of PACs are paid well in the form of salaries and bonuses. Those who fund super PACs are often political neophytes who have no idea that they are being ripped off and taken advantage of."  (Hat Tip to The Dish.)

When the Campaign Will Change

How the campaign will change is unknown, but when it will change is not: on Wednesday, or Thursday at the latest.

Wednesday is the first presidential debate.  It is widely viewed as Romney's last chance.  If he is judged to do well--a judgment that the media will probably solidify by the end of Thursday--then the contest between Romney and President Obama becomes more tightly engaged.

If he is judged to have done not well enough, then the campaign changes in a different way: while the GOPers fight among themselves over whose fault Romney is, the Romney donors find other things to do with their millions.  The Obama team probably won't risk expanding the content (the issues, themes) of the campaign, but they may very well expand the playing field, by going into states that might be newly in play, and/or into states where they can help other Democratic candidates.

How well must Romney do?  There is no answer to that question that doesn't involve guessing the judgments that media will make, at least until the first polls undercut them (if they do.)  The usual reaction, as I've noted here and as others said on Friday, is if Romney does okay, there will be a big temptation to declare him back on track, the winner, etc.  "We're about a week away from the Mitt Romney comeback - or at least the Mitt Romney comeback story," writes Rick Klein. " The race can't be over yet because it's not over yet, and Romney is primed to be the beneficiary of that dynamic."

On the other hand, a bunch of pundits are on the record saying that Romney is so fundamentally screwed that only a clear victory (meaning a Romney transformation, and an Obama collapse) can alter the dynamic.

Well then, what could Romney possibly do?  There are the usual prescriptions, typically obvious and unconvincing.  But there is this--a description by Slate's Kara Brandeisky of how Romney won the governor's race in Massachusetts:  "In his gubernatorial race in 2002, Romney was trailing his Democratic opponent Shannon O’Brien by 6 to 12 points in mid-October. His own polling had him 10 points behind. Romney was losing among women by 18 points... But with four weeks to go, Romney hit O’Brien with ads attacking her for $7 billion in state pension fund losses, with images of a watchdog sleeping on the job. On Nov. 5, he became Massachusetts’ Comeback Kid and won the election by 5 percent."

Does Romney have a new attack up his sleeve, with a huge ad campaign ready to go for October?  A long-planned October Surprise would explain his general lethargy and apparent disinterest in doing anything but raising money, and his characterizing late September polls as "early."

  If he has such an out of left field attack primed and ready, the place to introduce it would be at the first debate.  To catch President Obama totally by surprise.  (Of course if it is a lame and desperate charge, allowing Obama to shoot it down immediately wouldn't be helpful.)  But right now that possibility seems the last gasp for the Romney campaign.

In voter suppression and registration news:  The PA judge holding the fate of the Commonwealth's voter suppression ID law said on Thursday that he wasn't going to be issuing an injunction today.  But signs are still good that by Tuesday, he will.  Since he's following the state Supreme Court's instruction, I don't see how an appeal is even possible if he does. 

But the big story on the voter fraud front is just beginning:  fraud in Florida conducted by a company working for the Republican party in that state and other battleground states, as well as the RNC.  It started in one county of Florida and now involves nine or ten.  Falsifying GOPer registrations is the charge.  Stay tuned for this getting bigger next week.

And while Florida had successfully stifled voter registration drives, the Obama campaign has been very successful in registering new voters in North Carolina.  They've registered a quarter of a million new voters in a state that Obama won in 2008 by 14,000 votes. 

The next poll I'm really interested in seeing is the Massachusetts Senate race.  Scott Brown seems to have risked everything with his racist attack on Elizabeth Warren--he's refused to apologize in response to the Cherokee Nation statement and he's released a second attack ad.  The next debate is Monday.  How has this attack affected the race?  My feeling for that particular Commonwealth is based on my residence many years ago now, but while I recognize completely the smug and vicious racism that existed in certain Boston neighborhoods (and Cambridge households) more strongly than any place else I've personally encountered, I can't believe that the state as a whole is going to respond well to Brown now.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The 47%

You've heard the words and seen Mitt Romney saying them.  Now hear them again with images of the 47% they are about.  This is the ad that the politicos were talking about on Thursday as the clincher.

Economic Patriotism

As voters line up for early voting in Iowa, President Obama talks for two minutes about his plan for economic patriotism.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Uncontrolled Damage

Some campaign questions have been answered.  Do conventions really change anything?  Most professionals said no, but the evidence is that this year they did.  Was the Obama bounce just a bounce?  Maybe, but Romney errors came on so quickly that it's uncertain why, but the bounce clearly became a trend.

How damaging were Romney's 47% remarks?  On Wednesday the first polls taken since then show: very.  Not just the widening leads President Obama shows in the New York Times poll and the Washington Post poll, and even the Gallup tracking poll, but within the polls, to the questions specifically about those remarks In general they show that a lot of people are aware of them, and most people did not like them.

What they also reveal is that Romney's core support is down to about a third of likely voters.  So that's the next big question to be answered: is the Obama lead going to settle back down or keep growing?  An item repeated in various political precincts on Wednesday was that the Obama campaign was exploring the possibility of spending some resources on Arizona, where internal polls show a much closer race, though with Romney still slightly ahead.  Arizona has been considered a safe Romney state.  Is Arizona in play?  Are there other states outside the "battleground" that are now within reason for Obama?  If so, the House may also be in play (And Nancy Pelosi makes a good argument that it is anyway.)

Then of course the next big question is: will the debates matter?  In general, the professionals are again saying that debates don't change things.  But that's what they said about conventions.

The Romney campaign is pinning its remaining hopes on the first one.  After his Ohio swing, Romney goes back to not campaigning and reportedly preparing for the debate.  President Obama has scheduled weekend debate prep, but what he really seems to need is some rest.  He's starting to look ragged out there.  If he's rested and relaxed, he'll handle Romney.

Charles Blow adds a few other questions to be answered, which I've also mentioned here before, but since he's a New York Times columnist and I'm not, it's probably worth noting that he asks them: the extent to which voter suppression works and how many of these likely voters are unlikely to be allowed to vote; the media's need to have a different narrative, a turnaround for Romney that could be declared on the slightest pretext: "The media loves a comeback." 

He also mentions the external events that could change the trajectory, but those aren't unanswered questions, they are just potent possibilities. Still, just how steep a hill Romney has to climb just to become relevant becomes clearer every day.  Remember that President Obama won handily in 2008 with a majority of popular votes, but numbers as we're seeing in the swing states--up to 54%--are extraordinary.  But there is that possibility that we'll know more about in the coming week: you ain't seen nothing yet.

"Clearly She's Not" Continued

Statement of the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation regarding MA Senator Scott Brown and his staff:

"The Cherokee Nation is disappointed in and denounces the disrespectful actions of staffers and supporters of Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. The conduct of these individuals goes far beyond what is appropriate and proper in political discourse. The use of stereotypical 'war whoop chants' and 'tomahawk chops' are offensive and downright racist," said Bill John Baker, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, in a statement. "The individuals involved in this unfortunate incident are high ranking staffers in both the senate office and the Brown campaign. A campaign that would allow and condone such offensive and racist behavior must be called to task for their actions."

"The Cherokee Nation is a modern, productive society, and I am blessed to be their chief. I will not be silent when individuals mock and insult our people and our great nation," Baker said. "We need individuals in the United States Senate who respect Native Americans and have an understanding of tribal issues. For that reason, I call upon Sen. Brown to apologize for the offensive actions of his staff and their uneducated, unenlightened and racist portrayal of Native peoples."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gilligan, "The Stench" and Other Campaign 2012 News

This morning a New York Times/CBS poll shows President Obama widening his lead in the swing states of Ohio and Florida--and well above 50% in both.

President Obama leads in Ohio among likely voters by 10 points, 53-43, and in Florida by 9, 53-44.  In PA he is at 54% to Romney's 42. President Obama has added older voters to the groups he is winning.

Late Tuesday another national poll showed President Obama holding his lead of 6 points, and now beating Romney on handling of the economy by 9 points.  Other battleground state polls in the past two days  haven't changed the trajectory, with Obama holding or extending his leads.  The pressure on the Romneyryan campaign is reportedly now dividing Romney from Ryan.  Romney snapped an answer to 60 Minutes on the Ryan Kill Medicare plan that he was the presidential candidate, not Ryan.  Now there's this Politico report that among his staffers Ryan has fairly openly been referring to Romney as "The Stench," and after being booed at AARP, has decided to go rogue.  Meanwhile, Romney staffers reportedly call Ryan "Gilligan." 

Update: The Politico report referenced above was by Roger Simon, who now claims it was meant to be satiric--that is, it did not happen.  Simon needs a few lessons in writing satire, and it's unlikely that anything he writes in future that has the hint of levity in it will be taken at face value.  However, the Romney distancing himself from Ryan is true, and he has since had to instruct a crowd chanting "Ryan Ryan" that the words to the song were actually "Romneyryan."  Which is so close to satire itself that it's clear why the Simon story was believed.

There's also more evidence that the millions being spent by and for Romney are not having the desired effect.  Also that the Obama campaign has twice as many staffers on the ground than Romney, though both are spending pretty much the same amount.

Josh Marshall writes that the latest polls show that Ohio may be a done deal for President Obama.  Two other observers agree, noting that the Romneyryan bus tours this week must "move the needle" or it's over.  Without Ohio, Romney doesn't have much of a chance.  Early voting begins there next week.

 What we can actually say about all of this is that the Obama bounce is now a solid Obama lead.  If things continue as they are going, Romney is toast, big time.  But I won't be comfortable with the lead until a few days after the first debate.  It's Romney's last chance to change the game himself.  It's highly unlikely he will, but one way he might is by giving totally unexpected answers, becoming the ultimate etch-a-sketch candidate.  Even then it would depend on how adroitly President Obama handles it.  But realistically, the polls show his negatives have hardened.  Switching positions would play into what people already think about him.

In voter suppression news, it now looks more likely that by the end of the week, the Pennsylvania voter suppression law may be null and void. (The NYT poll has Obama up by 12 points in PA.)  However, the Florida situation is so screwed up now that I fear Latino voting will be greatly suppressed.  Fortunately, President Obama has more paths to winning that don't depend on Florida, though he may still win it by a margin well under what the polls suggest.

On Ohio and other midwestern states, a survey of white working class voters (made in August before the conventions) shows that President Obama even then was holding his own or doing better in all regions except the South.  This is largely due to white working class women.  This study also shows that outside the South the white working class is not all in the tank for the Tea Party and doesn't vote on the basis of "social issues."  However, racial appeals of the type we're seeing from GOPers do have some resonance.  (Graph from Mother Jones.)

What happens in the campaign from now on is less consequential due to the spread of early voting, which this year could mean that a third of votes are cast before election day.  It's begun in Iowa, and the Obama campaign has been on it:

For months, staffers and volunteers at the Obama campaign’s more than five dozen Iowa field office have worked relentlessly to encourage Democrats to request absentee ballots, which any registered voter in the state is allowed to fill out and submit before the polls open officially in six weeks.
As of Monday, registered Democrats had requested 109,709 such ballots in Iowa, while Republicans there had requested less than one-fifth of that total (20,458).

The extremism of GOPer Senate candidates in Missouri and Wisconsin (where a tape has surfaced of Tommy Thompson saying he would end Medicare and Medicaid) also make it more likely that Dems will hold the Senate, though regaining the House remains a mathematical stretch.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

With Eyes on the Future

Excerpts from President Obama's speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, that Joe Klein at Time called a "masterful address:"

"The impulse towards intolerance and violence may initially be focused on the West, but over time it cannot be contained. The same impulses toward extremism are used to justify war between Sunni and Shia, between tribes and clans. It leads not to strength and prosperity but to chaos. In less than two years, we have seen largely peaceful protests bring more change to Muslim-majority countries than a decade of violence. And extremists understand this. Because they have nothing to offer to improve the lives of people, violence is their only way to stay relevant. They don’t build; they only destroy.

It is time to leave the call of violence and the politics of division behind. On so many issues, we face a choice between the promise of the future, or the prisons of the past. And we cannot afford to get it wrong. We must seize this moment. And America stands ready to work with all who are willing to embrace a better future.

We know from painful experience that the path to security and prosperity does not lie outside the boundaries of international law and respect for human rights. That’s why this institution was established from the rubble of conflict. That is why liberty triumphed over tyranny in the Cold War. And that is the lesson of the last two decades as well. History shows that peace and progress come to those who make the right choices."

As for the Israel/Iran/U.S. situation, the New York Times has this admirable summary.

Racism in 2012: "Clearly she's not"

This is Republican Senator Scott Brown.  He's running for reelection to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.  Several times in his first debate with the Democratic candidate, Elizabeth Warren, he attacked her for claiming "she was a Native American, and clearly she's not."

 So Scott Brown is an expert on who and who is not Native American.  He can tell just by looking.

This is Elizabeth Warren.  As you can see, she's as white as the pure driven snow.  Can't possibly be of Native American heritage.  Apart from no feathers and buckskin, she's clearly white.  Clearly.

Oh wait.  That isn't Elizabeth Warren.  It's Louise Erdrich.  She's the author of more than 20 books: novels, short stories, poetry, non-fiction, many of them about Native Americans.  She was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2009.  She's universally known as a Native American author.  She is the daughter of Ralph Erdrich, a German-American, and Rita Gourneau, whose father served as tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.  Louise is an enrolled member of that band. 

This is Elizabeth Warren.  She grew up in Oklahoma (where Cherokee and Delaware Indians were among those relocated in the Trail of Tears), and was told as a child that her parents had to elope because her father's family was wary of her mother's family having Cherokee and Delaware ancestry.  No documents have yet surfaced that trace this ancestry, but that doesn't prove it isn't so.  Warren noted her ancestry on a few registries but says--and all her employers agree--she never called herself Native American on an application. 

There are a whole lot of issues and tons of disagreement within American Indian communities over who is and who isn't entitled to call themselves Indian.  But there is little or no disagreement that how you look--how white you look-- is no guide at all.  There are very few American Indians who don't have a European ancestor, and many have several.

Some Native leaders I know tend to see this in cultural rather than racial terms. It is all very complicated.  But the point here is that claiming that Elizabeth Warren "clearly" is not Native American based on how she looks is ignorant at best, and racist in its implication.  Yes, you can be blue-eyed and blond and be Native American.

Rachel Maddow did a story on this, and though she got Melissa Harris-Perry to talk about race as a cultural construct, they never got to the racist heart of this.  Yes, claiming that Elizabeth Warren is too white to be Native American--and therefore she is a liar, and has lied for personal advantage because claiming this racial heritage got her special privileges--is just a different version of the racism that Republicans are attempting to use in the 2012 campaign.  It's all about us and them, and creating racial divides.

But to assume that everyone white will agree that "clearly" she's not Native American is racism that's proud of itself, proud of its ignorance.  In 2012.  Unbelievable.  I wouldn't vote for this man for any public office.

Update: And just to make the racism here very clear, this video of Brown staffers at a rally ridiculing Native peoples has emerged.  These Republicans are ignorant and despicable.

Racism in 2012: Lazy

Lazy, shiftless, don't want to work.  It's been what the well-off like to say about the less well-off for a long time.  It's said of identifiable minorities most often, including white ethnics, or just "white trash."  But it is most often said (even or especially by those white ethnics) of racial minorities--principally African American, but also Latino--especially Mexican.

Lazy blacks, lazy Mexicans with their siestas--all part of the racial stereotypes.  Those stereotypes have often been used politically to deny them equal rights.  Being disadvantaged by virtue of policies that went hand in hand with such stereotypes led to new policies that get bunched together under the name of "affirmative action."

But the idea of affirmative action was quickly turned into a new name for taking advantage of race--a form of injustice, and of laziness.  In 2012 this attitude has been exploited through the GOPer primaries, notably in Newt Gingrich's culture of dependence, and the food stamp president.  It blew apart the current general election campaign by being so baldly and boldly stated in those Mitt Romney remarks in the notorious fundraising recording.   There the language was of dependence and feeling justified in dependence by feeling like a "victim."

But the actual vocabulary of laziness has recently emerged in a new context: justifying the GOPer state voter suppression laws, particularly voter ID.

It arose in Pennsylvania in the radio interview I quoted, when state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe said: "I don’t believe any legitimate voter that actually wants to exercise that right and takes on the according responsiblity that goes with that right to secure their photo ID will be disenfranchised. As Mitt Romney said, 47% of the people that are living off the public dole, living off their neighbors’ hard work, and we have a lot of people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need. If individuals are too lazy, the state can’t fix that."

On Monday this was echoed in another state with a voter ID law currently in litigation: South Carolina.  A TPM reporter wrote: "A lawyer for South Carolina said on Monday there are plenty of reasons voters would be able to sidestep the state’s voter ID law if a panel of federal judges allows it to take effect this year, but laziness is not among them."  To be fair, the reporter doesn't quote the lawyer as using the word "lazy," but his statement implied it.

Let's put aside for a moment that obtaining the kind of IDs these states require often means that eligible voters must spend money and lose money from taking time off work in order to prevent the state from taking away their voting rights.  Let's instead think for a moment about the burden of responsibility here.  The state has imposed a barrier to voting, with no actual justification--they haven't come close to proving that a problem exists, or that remedy actually addresses such a problem. But they've added a new requirement anyway.  And so it becomes the fault of eligible voters if their voting rights are violated.

Yes, if those black folks weren't so lazy they could learn to pass the literacy test, and make enough money to pay the poll tax. 

Historically these efforts were used to prevent black Americans from voting.  And sure enough the result of these laws has been widely forecast as preventing black Americans from voting.

But now there's evidence that the impact may be even greater in preventing or discouraging Latino voters from voting.  As many as ten million, or half the eligible voters.  Voter suppression efforts through demanding proof of citizenship just to register have been going on all year and continue in Florida.  According to this study, the effect may be enough to flip the state.

But it's more than politics.  It's racism, once again institutionalized.  In 2012.

Monday, September 24, 2012

If The Election Were Held Today...

The thing is, it is.  That is, it's starting to be held all over the country this week with early voting opening.  Soon half the states will be voting.

If lots of people vote now (avoid the rush!) then today's polls really count.  And changes in the race from now on have to be big to swing enough votes to make a difference.

The change that's being registered in the first of today's polls is basically that things are getting worse for Romney, particularly with his core group of older voters.The Reuters/Ipsos poll  "indicates that during the past two weeks -- since just after the Democratic National Convention -- support for Romney among Americans age 60 and older has crumbled, from a 20-point lead over President Obama to less than 4 points....Romney's double-digit advantages among older voters on the issues of healthcare and Medicare -- the nation's health insurance program for those over 65 and the disabled -- also have evaporated, and Obama has begun to build an advantage in both areas."  (Hat tip to Political Wire for isolating these quotes.)

A Gallup poll of 12 swing states confirms that President Obama is trusted more to handle Medicare by a 50% to 44% margin.  Nationally on this issue President Obama leads 51%-43%.

In this respect, Andy Borowitz's comic press release seems especially appropriate:

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—With just forty-three days to go until the election, Mitt Romney is in a race against time to offend the few voters he has not already alienated, his campaign manager said today.
“So far, Mitt’s efforts to make voters dislike him have gone exactly as planned,” said the campaign manager Matt Rhoades. “But let’s not kid ourselves—we’ve still got a few supporters out there and we’ve got to find ways to piss them off.”

On Sunday the TPM Electoral Scoreboard moved to Obama 313, Romney 191.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Baseball Update

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants who won their division with yet another victory on Saturday. 

While my hometown team the Pittsburgh Pirates pretty much collapsed in August and September, they are far enough away from the North Coast that I didn't have to watch it all happening.  On the other hand I could see the Giants every game.  In contrast to their World Championship year of 2010, the Giants this year--and especially for the last month or so--have been fun to watch.

The 2010 team was nicknamed "Torture" because of all the low scoring close games. The tension was too high to be fun. This year's pitching has been almost as good but this team hits, runs, fields and generally plays solid and entertaining baseball.  Plus they seem to being having fun doing it, and the fans in San Francisco are having a great time, too.  Saturday for example was Panda Gnome day--fans got a little garden gnome of Pablo Sandoval (the Panda), blowing bubble gum.  They not only got to see him make a spectacular foul ball catch while tumbling head over heels--and blowing a bubble--but several fans held up three homemade signs which together spelled Panda-Gnome-ium.

(There were even some away games this month where Giants fans outnumbered the local fans, especially towards the end of a game the Giants were winning.  That's something I've seen the Steelers experience but not so much another team.)

This particular Giants team really began to jell in just the past few weeks.  They started the season having lost their closer for the year, and led the league in errors for awhile.  Then after his All Start MVP, their leading hitter, Melky Cabrera, was suddenly suspended for failing a drug test.

Then Magic Johnson and friends bought their closest rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and immediately brought several high profile and very expensive players to LA, making a statement that they wanted it all, now.  The Giants made a few seemingly modest trades before the deadline.  But while the Dodgers faded out of contention (beginning with a 3 game series they lost to the Giants), the Giants jelled.  It took Hunter Pence awhile to start hitting but he's been a solid presence in the lineup from August.  But the sparkplug has really been Marco Scutaro, with clutch hitting and his clubhouse leadership.  Angel Pagan (pictured above), acquired last year, has also emerged as a vital piece of the puzzle in the past month or so.

Last year the team couldn't recover from the season-long absense of Buster Posey, and his presence this year has made all the difference.  He's got to be a leading contender for league MVP.  His hitting (for average mostly, but also timely power) and his game management as catcher have led the team.  Manager Bruce Bochy acts like he finally has the pieces he can work with.  The spark for all this may have been Matt Cain's perfect game.  After that, the Giants started to look like a winner.  They've been winning a lot lately, and they've been a joy to watch.

Meanwhile my Maryland cousins must be pretty pleased with the Orioles, and fans in Washington actually have a winner.  For awhile it looked like the Pirates had the same combination of hitting and pitching as the Giants, but while the Giants jelled, the Pirates fell apart.  Still, Andrew McCutcheon could win the batting title, and for awhile was a strong contender for MVP. 

Anyway, baseball has been fun to watch this year, and there's a lot more to come.