Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rising waters

Hurricane Sandy struck home for me this week, making landfall on the Jersey shore near the beach house where I used to spend summers and weekends as a kid, and causing unprecedented devastation in New York City, where I lived for quite a few years.

It's sad to look at pictures of the destruction that has been visited on these familiar places. But the beautiful beaches on the Jersey shore will survive. These barrier islands and beaches are meant to shift around to some extent, and people who build on those precarious places assume a certain amount of risk.

In New York City, on the other hand, people have generally felt they are living on solid ground where they have every right to feel safe. Now they are learning that their existence might be a bit more precarious than they thought. For a few days, the nightmare scenario of the latest Batman movie, in which millions of people living on this tiny island are cut off from contact with the rest of the world, came to pass. The subway system, which is the lifeblood of New York City, ceased to function. And New Yorkers are now fully alerted to the dangers of living a few feet above sea level in a world where the seas are rising.

If this storm was a message from God, perhaps it was a message that we had better get used to paying more attention, and more money, to take care of our infrastructure. The entire coastline is going to need major investment to repair roads, tunnels, bridges, power lines, and all sorts of other essential investments. That is true on the Jersey shore as well as in the affected cities on the East Coast, even though there are a few places on the shore where it would make sense to restrict re-development and decline to make large public investments that only serve to protect the private property of a few people. But New York City in particular must be better protected in the future. If they haven't done so already, teams of engineers will undoubtedly be making trips to the Netherlands to study the enormous dikes and pumps they have built to keep reclaimed land from sliding back into the sea. New York City is going to need similar protections. Like New Orleans, it serves vital economic needs, and must be rebuilt and maintained. Like Venice, it contains irreplaceable history and art that must be protected. Not to mention millions more people than either of those places.

The sad thing about our dysfunctional political system, however, is that it will probably be easier to gain approval for the investments needed to protect a few people's beach houses than to spend the necessary billions to build the massive floodgates and pumps that probably must be constructed to protect New York City's millions of residents and the financial capital of our nation in the future. This has to change.

This storm can serve as a great reminder that what government spending actually means is protecting people's lives and homes, providing for people's essential needs, and building the kind of infrastructure that is essential for our economy to thrive. Hurricane Sandy could also be thought of as a metaphor for the economic storm that hit our country a few years ago. The solution in both cases is not to retrench and allow our productive capacities to deteriorate. It is to get to work and re-build. Has anyone noticed that as soon as this storm hit, the solutions offered by the opposition started sounding false and hollow? And that we all started looking to the federal government to deal with relief and re-construction? Hopefully, we will have the political will to recognize what needs to be done to move forward.

Cheers to Governor Christie

Note how all the Fox News hosts are concerned about is trying to get Governor Christie to say something helpful to their candidate Mitt Romney. Note how all Governor Christie cares about is getting help for his state. Christie praised Romney before the first debate and correctly predicted that Romney's performance would shake up the race. He doesn't hesitate to praise President Obama for his outstanding response to a disaster. This is what a no-bullshit artist looks like.

It's over.

I just completed my absentee ballot, so I'm immune to further campaign ads or anything else that might change in the next week. My election is over. And I'm far from alone. More than 14 million people have already taken advantage of voting by mail, or in-person early voting. So when the media reports that there is an election coming up next week, what they often fail to note is that this election is already in full swing. In Florida, for example, more than 2 million people have already voted either by absentee ballot, or in-person early voting, and a slight majority of those early ballots have come from Democrats. (That is significant because traditionally absentee ballots tend to skew Republican.) In Ohio, the majority of ballots cast so far have come from precincts that President Obama won in 2008.  In Iowa, North Carolina and other battleground states, the president is ahead by every measure in early voting.

Whatever the campaigns do in the next few days, whatever happens in the news, whatever polling trends show, all of that is meaningless to people who have already voted. The poll that counts is already over for us. From all reports, that poll is going quite well for President Obama.

The idea that these early voting trends are going to be counter-balanced by some kind of Romney surge on election day seems implausible. What would cause such a shift? The devastating storm on the east coast is only going to slow down the pattern of early voting for a few days, but the president's strong response is likely to drive wavering voters into his camp. We can expect the advantage that the Obama campaign retains in getting out the early vote to continue through "election day." The campaign's task of identifying supporters who have yet to vote, and pestering them to get to the polls, will get easier as time passes.

I'm not an expert on polling, but it seems to me that every poll taken over the next week might suffer from the possibility of taking an unrepresentative sample. The inclinations of voters who are sampled in the coming days become less and less relevant every day, as those prospective voters represent a dwindling share of the actual electorate. What I think that means is that if the polls show a trend towards Romney in the next week, that trend is less important than it might be otherwise, because early voting has already built in an advantage for the president. And if the polls show a trend towards Obama, that will seal his victory, because those who have yet to vote are more likely to break towards the president.

A reminder, however. People who haven't voted yet still need to vote!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Romney on FEMA

Here's what Mitt Romney said about FEMA during a Republican presidential candidates' debate last year:  
"Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?"
When the moderator (John King) reminded Romney that the question asked specifically about federal disaster relief programs, Romney responsded:
"We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all."
What makes no sense at all is to suggest that the states can do the job of disaster relief more efficiently than the federal government. How would 50 little FEMAs manage to coordinate disaster relief in response to an event like Hurricane Sandy? Common sense tells us that having one agency able to direct resources to the places they are needed has to be less wasteful than putting those resources under the control of fifty different state agencies. The idea of dismantling federal agencies like FEMA and sending those operations to states doesn't seem like a good way to save money at all. It's troubling that Mitt Romney seems willfully blind to the reasons we decided to concentrate resources into federal agencies like FEMA in the first place.

Even worse is the idea that government functions like disaster relief can be performed better by the private sector. In Mitt Romney's world, however, I suppose that works just fine. If the Romney mansion were blown down by a hurricane, his insurance would take care of the damage, and even if it didn't, the Romneys could afford to stay in a nice hotel, or one of their other houses, until repairs were completed. The private sector is not about to provide that kind of disaster relief to most of the victims of a hurricane, however. There is no profit in it.

There is a world view at work here that considers it immoral to rely on the government to help victims of natural disasters or other unfortunate circumstances. Imagine a President Romney responding to hurricane victims who can't afford to help themselves, or to state governments, who don't have sufficient resources to deal with these problems: "Sorry, the federal government can't help you either. The federal government is going to do less, knowing full well that the gap is never going to be made up by strapped state and local governments, or by private companies." That is a kind of morality we can't afford.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Zombie Apocalypse

From Joss Whedon, a perspective on the prospect of a Romney presidency that I had not previously considered. Are you ready? Here's hoping you won't have to be.

California propositions

For those who haven't had time to read through the lengthy and confusing pamphlet the state sends voters describing the flurry of propositions on the ballot this year, my friend Sabrina Kemeny has compiled this helpful summary. I have previously posted an analysis of proposition 30, which is probably the most important proposition on the ballot, and my only disagreement with Sabrina on that is that I am not suggesting that if people vote yes on proposition 30 (and we must vote yes on 30 to avoid disastrous cuts to education funding), they should vote no on the competing proposition 38. In my view, it's fine to vote yes on 38, or abstain on 38, just so long as voters vote yes on 30. Sabrina's other recommendations are generally in line with what most progressive organizations are suggesting: 

YES on Prop 30 Taxes earnings over $250,000 for 7 years and imposes 1/4 cent sales tax for 4 years raising ~ $6 billion/yr to mainly fund schools (89% to K-12, 11% to community colleges).
NO on Prop 31 Establishes 2 year budget.  Gives local gov't enormous powers to not comply with state laws.
NO on Prop 32 Stops payroll deductions for politics.  Actually an assault on unions cleverly disguised to seem even handed.          
NO on Prop 33 Allows insurance companies to set prices based on whether driver continuously had insurance for past 5 years. 
YES on Prop 34 Replaces death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole
NO on Prop 35 Increases prison sentences for trafficking, broadens definition of sex offenders and requires sex offenders to disclose all internet usernames (Note many organizations liberal or otherwise are Yes on 35).           
YES on Prop 36 Revises 3 strikes law to only impose life sentences if the third strike is a serious or violent felony conviction (with some exceptions).
YES on Prop 37 Requires genetically engineered foods to be labeled.
NO on Prop 38 Munger's  tax proposal uses sliding scale increases to raise ~ 10 billion/year.
YES on Prop 39 Requires multistate businesses to pay income taxes based on their percentage of sales in CA, as opposed to the current tax code where they pay the smaller of: either sales or a percentage based on number of employees, facilities etc. in state.
YES on Prop 40 Approves the recently drawn districts enacted by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.  The No on 40 has suspended their campaign.

YES on A This is an advisory vote (it's just looking for voter opinion) that indicates whether you would support changing the CA constitution and the LA County Charter to make the position of LA County Assessor an appointed position instead of an elected position. 
NO on B Requires adult films to obtain a public health permit, have performers use condoms, provide training courses and a written exposure control plan.
YES on J Extends the 1/2 cent sales tax that was approved by Measure R in 2008 for an additional 30 years, (from the current end in 2039 to ending in 2069).


Why I came to these decisions and some endorsements

YES on Prop 30 This is Governor Brown's tax proposal, most of which will go to fund schools  and the only one which will stop the 6 billion spending "trigger cuts" from being enacted later this year if this proposition does not pass.  (5.8 billion of the trigger cuts are to schools.)  Prop 38 won't kick in until 2013 which will be too late to offset the cuts.    Prop 30 will increase taxes on incomes between $250,000-$300,000 by 1%, $300,000-$500,000 by 2% and over $500,000 by 3% for 7 years, thereby affecting only the top 1% of voters.  It will impose a 1/4 cent sales tax for 4 years.  The money goes into the general fund and will increase the minimum guaranteed amount that goes to schools, however some of the money will not go to schools.  It also requires the State to pay local government for increased costs associated with implementing laws in 2011 but closes the wasteful State reimbursement to local governments for posting meeting notices.    Our schools have been decimated by 20 billion in cuts during the last 4 years.  We must pass this proposition.  Between prop 30 and 38, only the one with the most votes will go into effect.

YES on 30: Every progressive organization as well as most newspapers throughout the state (LA Times. San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News,  etc., ACCE Action, AFSCME Council 57, APEN (Asian Pacific Environmental Network), Bend the Arc:A Jewish Partnership for Justice, CA Democratic Party, CA Labor Federation, CA Partnership, CA Federation of Teachers, Courage Campaign, CREEDO Action, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of CA, PresentePAC+, Working Californians

NO on Prop 31 Totally misguided "reforms" that: establish 2 year budget cycle, prevent spending of more than $25 million unless offset by identified revenue or other cuts, requires performance reviews of all state programs and allows local governments to override state law.  Two of these "reforms" are especially problematic.  The first is the $25 million spending cap that would make it difficult to restore funding to programs decimated by previous budget cuts, for instance in education, and in general will make it more difficult for the legislature to pass anything.  The second is that it transfers authority to local counties and cities if they have approved plans  (as well as $200 million to develop those plans)  to administer state-funded programs.  This could lead to local governments overriding environmental laws with no effective way to prevent abuse.  Also the rebuttal argument points out that the proposition is so vague and contradictory, it will lead to years of expensive court battles instead of the reform it's looking for.

NO on 31: ACCE Action, AFSCME Council 57, Bend the Arc:A Jewish Partnership for Justice, CA Democratic Party, CA Labor Federation, CA Partnership, CA Federation of Teachers, Courage Campaign, PresentePAC+, Working Californians

NO on Prop 32 Stops payroll deductions for political purposes.  Since businesses do not collect payroll deductions for political use, this proposition primarily affects unions who do  collect dues from payroll deductions.  The unions would in essence no longer be able to contribute to candidates.  At the same time corporations can give as much as they want as long as the money doesn't come from payroll deductions.  This is an assault on the working class dressed up as finance reform.

NO on 32: League of Women Voters of CA, Common Cause, CA Clean Money Campaign, ACCE Action, AFSCME Council 57, APEN (Asian Pacific Environmental Network), Bend the Arc:A Jewish Partnership for Justice, CA Democratic Party, CA Labor Federation, CA Partnership, CA Federation of Teachers, Courage Campaign, CREEDO Action, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of CA, PresentePAC+, Working Californians

 NO on Prop 33 Allows insurance companies to set prices based on whether the driver has had continuous insurance for the last 5 years.  (Basically the same Mercury Insurance initiative that was rejected in 2008.)  This will end up raising insurance rates on drivers who have not had continuous insurance even if they are new drivers, haven't owned a car, were too sick and weren't driving for a while, etc.  It is 99% financed by Mercury Insurance chairman George Joseph who has spent $16 million on Prop 33.

NO on  33: almost all the papers including the San Jose Mercury News and LA Times, ACCE Action, Bend the Arc:A Jewish Partnership for Justice, CA Democratic Party, CA Labor Federation,  CA Federation of Teachers, Courage Campaign, CREEDO Action, PresentePAC+, Working Californians

YES on Prop 34 Replaces death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Applies retroactively to persons already sentenced to death.  Also requires convicted killers to work while in jail with earnings going to their victims and earmarks $100 million for police grants to solve rape and murder cases.  I am morally against the death penalty especially when we consider that innocent people are also killed.  Since 1973, 141 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. There were 3 exonerations in CA.  There is also tremendous racial disparity.  Even though blacks and whites are murder victims in nearly equal numbers of crimes, 80% of people executed have been for murders involving white victims.

Besides the moral issues, there are practical benefits.  The biggest is cost.  The measure would result in a cost savings to state and local governments of approximately $100 million/year growing to $130 million after a few years.  These result from lower court and litigation expenses as well as reducing prison costs. 

YES on 30: ACCE Action, AFSCME Council 57, APEN (Asian Pacific Environmental Network), Bend the Arc:A Jewish Partnership for Justice, CA Democratic Party, CA Labor Federation, CA Partnership, CA Federation of Teachers, Courage Campaign, CREEDO Action,  PresentePAC+, Working Californians

NO on Prop 35 Increases prison sentences and fines for trafficking, broadens definition of sex offenders and requires sex offenders to disclose all internet ISPs, usernames and screen names.  (NOTE that many groups on the right and left are yes on PROP 35). Although increasing prison sentences for labor and sex trafficking may seem fair, there are several major problems with this measure.  First, it broadens the definition of human trafficking to include crimes related to the creation and distribution of obscene materials depicting minors.  For example, an offender who is simply selling magazines could be considered a trafficker even if they had no contact with the minor depicted.  Someone receiving financial support from normal consensual prostitution such as a son, friend or landlord could be labeled a human trafficker. The measure also requires all sex offenders (which will now include any kind of trafficking) to provide the names of their internet providers, and identifiers (email addresses, usernames, screen names) to police.  Unlike other crimes in which you do the time and then regain a place in society, sex offenders are punished for life, having to register with their address, employer address and other information annually (or every 30 days if homeless).  Unfortunately some of these sex offenders are punished for very minor infractions or worse, innocent people have plea bargained to a lesser offense to avoid trial but still must register as sex offenders.  Rather than working with sex worker communities to stop real human traffickers , Prop 35 unjustly sweeps too many people into the criminal system. This is a great article written by 3 legal experts who have worked with victims of human trafficking who argue that Prop 35, a laudable effort  to address sex slavery, will actually set back existing efforts to fight the trade.

No on 35:  LA Times, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Cindy Liou, a staff attorney at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, located in the Bay Area. Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach works with trafficking victims, Perla Flores, a program manager at Community Solutions in Morgan Hills, Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club,California Council of Churches, San Francisco Rising, Bernal Heights Democratic Club, California Association for Criminal Justice, Peace and Freedom Party 

YES on Prop 36: Modifies three strikes law such that if the third strike is a non serious, non-violent felony, then the prison term will be twice the usual term for the offense as opposed to the currently required 25-life sentence.  Allows judges to resentence existing felons if third strike not serious or violent. Maintains life sentence if prior strikes were for rape, murder or child molestation.  Other exceptions to the shorter sentence for some drug, sex and gun related felonies.  This measure is a step in the right direction to reverse the abuses that have happened since 1994 where people have received life sentences for possessing small amounts of drugs or petty theft.   Make the punishment fit the crime and save $90 million/year in prison and parole operations.  It will help unclog overcrowded prisons and reduce the number of severe cases of injustice.

Yes on 36:  Most newspapers such as Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News, La Opinion, San Diego Union Tribune,etc., Most law enforcement officials such as Steve Cooley District Attorney of Los Angeles County, George Gascón District Attorney of San Francisco City and County, Charlie Beck Police Chief of Los Angeles, Jackie Lacy Chief Deputy District Attorney of Los Angeles County, Bill Bratton Fmr. Chief of Police of Los Angeles, Civil Rights Organizations, Labor Organizations  Progressive Organizations and Faith Based Leadership, just too numerous to list separately. (see

YES on Prop 37: Requires labeling on raw or processed genetically engineered (GE) foods.  Prohibits labeling of such food as "natural".  Exempts foods that are: organic, unintentionally produced with genetically modified organisms (GMO), made from animals that are fed with GMO food, restaurants and alcohol. Unfortunately some organic foods can contain GMO due to GM seeds and pollen blowing onto their farms, especially getting in to feed stock for organic diary.  Due to this, I wish that the measure did not exempt organic food.  However this is a good step in the right direction that will lead to the giant agro companies using less GMO foods and/or educating the public more about GMOs  and perhaps finally sponsoring some studies to look into their effects on humans.  In Europe which has required labeling since 1977, most companies prefer to not use GE ingredients rather than label.   The measure will not increase food prices per se because food suppliers routinely change their labels and there is a reasonable phase-in period.  However, the fact that they may start using non GMO ingredients may lead to higher prices (maybe up to $300 or $400 per family per year).   As expected, No on prop 37 is being financed by Monsanto, Dupont, and some of the large food corporations such as Kellog, PepsiCo, Nestlé, ConAgra Foods and Coca-Cola.

Yes on 37: California Nurses Association, California Democratic Party, California Labor Federation, United Farm Workers, American Public Health Association, Consumers Union, Sierra Club, Whole Foods Market, California Church IMPACT, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Mercola Health Resources, Public Citizen, MoveOn and Food Democracy Now and over 3000 other organizations

NO on Prop 38: Prop 38, funded almost exclusively by its proponent, wealthy civil rights attorney Molly Munger is the alternate tax proposal to Prop 30.  It increases personal income taxes on a sliding scale from 0.4% for lowest earners to 2.2% for those earning >$2.5 million for a total revenue of ~$10 billion/year.  For the first 4 years, 60% of the revenue goes to K-12 schools, 10% to early childcare and 30% to pay down the debt. Thereafter 85% to schools and 15% to early childhood.  My main problem with this measure is that it will not prevent the $6 billion trigger cuts to our schools that are scheduled for later this year.  It also does not help the state community colleges.  Between Prop 30 and 38, only the one with more votes will be enacted.  Although I like many things in this proposition, particularly money for early childcare and education, I worry that its complexity could lead to unintended consequences.  It allocates funds based on number of students, what grades they are in and if they are low income and also specifies certain restricted uses on some of the funds.  The measure would shift spending decisions to local districts and make them more accountable which may or may not be helpful. It also requires the State to implement a rating system and training program to evaluate the early childhood programs. Anyway, I wish we could have some of the good things from this proposal but I think Gov. Brown has held us hostage and we need to support his Prop 30.

No on 38: Most newspapers such as Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News,  San Diego Union Tribune, ACCE Action,  APEN (Asian Pacific Environmental Network), , CA Democratic Party, CA Labor Federation,  Working Californians

YES on Prop 39 Requires multistate businesses to pay income taxes based on their percentage of sales in CA, as opposed to the current tax code which requires that they pay the smaller of: either their sales in CA, or a percentage based on number of employees, facilities etc. in state.  This closes a gigantic corporate tax loophole enacted at the end of 2009 which incentivizes companies to keep property and employees outside of CA since they can then get favorable tax treatment.  This also gives those multistate companies an unfair advantage over CA companies who pay full freight.  It would bring back ~ 1 billion in revenue/year and grow over time.  Of this amount, half of the revenue, capped at $550 million, would be spent to fund projects that create energy efficiency and clean energy jobs in CA for the first 5 years.  This measure would bring both dollars and jobs back to CA.

Yes on 39: Many newspapers such as Los Angeles Times,  Sacramento Bee, San Jose Mercury News, La Opinion, All environmental groups, Many social justice groups, Labor and even some business organizations.  See

YES on Prop 40 Approves the recently drawn districts enacted by the Citizens Redistricting Commission (created by 2008's Prop 11).  This proposition had been sponsored by politicians unhappy with the redistricting.  However since they lost in the State Supreme Court, they have suspended their campaign and are no longer asking for a NO vote.

For other progressive voter guides and other info:

Los Angeles County Measures

YES on A This is an advisory vote (it's just looking for voter opinion) that indicates whether you would support changing the CA constitution and the LA County Charter to make the position of LA County Assessor an appointed position instead of an elected position.  A friend pointed out that both appointed and elected positions in government are prone to influence, either by those who give campaign money or by being indebted to those that appoint them.  This seems to be the case with the current LA Assessor, John Noguez, who is on an indefinite leave while the District Attorney’s Office looks into allegations that tax bills were slashed for the assessor’s campaign contributors. It would be better if this position was just a civil servant position for someone rising through the ranks.  That being said, I would rather have an appointed Assessor, as I think that is less susceptible to corruption, so I am Yes on A. 

NO on B Requires adult films to obtain a public health permit, have performers use condoms, provide training courses and a written exposure control plan. Violation of the ordinance would be subject to both civil fines and criminal misdemeanor charges.  This measure will drive porn either out of LA (at least part of the industry will go) with a huge economic toll or underground where there is no testing or industry regulations.  Currently porn actors are tested for HIV monthly.  This is a colossal waste of taxpayer money that will actually send health inspectors to porn shoots instead of dealing with actual health threats.  Here is a  No on B ad and this is a Huff post article that contains a cute No on B spoof

No on Measure B: LA Times

YES on J Extends the 1/2 cent sales tax that was approved by Measure R in 2008 for an additional 30 years, (from the current end in 2039 to ending in 2069).  This would allow transit managers to borrow money on the bond market in the near future to be repaid from anticipated tax revenues that would roll in after 2039, which should allow them to accelerate construction on at least some of the 15 projects that are already in the works.  It should also add local construction jobs now.

Yes on J: LA Times, Daily News, Pasadena Star News and other tiny papers

Sabrina and I also both suggest Jackie Lacey for LA County District Attorney. Oh yes, and for president, Barack Obama! You know he has earned a second term.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Re-writing history

A desperate Romney campaign is going after President Obama for one of his most important accomplishments--rescuing the American auto industry. The key fact that is being overlooked here is that only the administration was willing to risk substantial taxpayer dollars to save Detroit. Republicans--including Romney--fiercely opposed the administration plan, claiming that it was a waste of federal money, and that the necessary financing could have been obtained in the private sector. The Romney campaign is hoping voters will forget that back in 2009, there were no such funds available. Credit was still frozen, and nobody was willing to bet on the American auto industry, except for President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Their plan was roundly criticized by conservatives at the time--including Mitt Romney. But the administration's plan worked, and was in fact essential to saving perhaps millions of jobs.

In his latest scurrilous ad campaign, Romney also repeats the lie that Chrysler is now planning to move existing American Jeep operations to China. This statement was based on an inaccurate report by Bloomberg, which has been thoroughly discredited. Nevertheless, the Romney campaign continues to repeat the lie, and refuses to comment on Romney's inaccurate use of the false Bloomberg story in a speech on Thursday.

Once again, we have to rely on the American people's good sense and memory of recent history, because we cannot trust the Romney campaign to tell the truth.

Early voting, part 3

Early voting kicked off yesterday in Florida, and judging from this photo, people seem anxious to take advantage of it.

The Obama campaign reports that they have nearly closed the gap in vote-by-mail applications in Florida, which have traditionally favored Republicans. Further, new registrations seem to substantially favor Democrats.

Why is early voting so important? Apart from the convenience of allowing people to vote on the weekend or at other times that enable them to avoid the congestion and pressures of election day, early voting also allows people time to correct errors. If they go to the wrong polling place, they learn where they should go and still have time to get there. If there are errors in their registration information, they might be able to fix them. Also, the campaigns learn who has voted, and who has yet to vote, making their get-out-the-vote calling much more efficient. All of these factors favor the campaign with superior ground organization and more committed volunteers. In this election, that is the Obama campaign. By far.

I witnessed these impacts firsthand this weekend, poll-watching in Nevada at early voting locations.People really seem to appreciate the opportunity to vote at more convenient times in a more relaxed atmosphere. No doubt those who benefit from making it more difficult for people to vote will continue to try to restrict early voting or create new obstacles to people's ability to exercise their most important right. But, owing to its popularity, early voting seems more likely to be here to stay.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Your first time

For first time voters, or those wondering whether they are even ready to vote for the first time, here is a reminder that not only is it important to vote, it's also important to think carefully about the kind of person the country is about to get in bed with for the next four years.

How anyone could think this video is anything but adorable is beyond me. But since it has gotten some criticism from conservatives who think it's tasteless to compare voting to sex, I was happy to find, courtesy of TPM, that during the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan made exactly the same "first time" analogy when he was urging working class Democrats to consider voting for a Republican for the first time:
“I know what it’s like to pull the Republican lever for the first time, because I used to be a Democrat myself, and I can tell you it only hurts for a minute and then it feels just great.”

We can expect that the disapproving scolds who are acting shocked and appalled by the Lena Dunham video will either ignore this Reagan story or say that it's completely different when Reagan does it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Early voting, part 2

Chicago, October 25, 2012: First U.S. President in history to take advantage of early voting. What are you waiting for?

Early voting

A report from Obama national field director Jeremy Bird, on the importance of early voting:

A common misconception about early vote is that both parties have a set number of voters, and all early vote does is let some of them cast their ballots before Election Day. That’s simply not true. What early vote does is help us mobilize sporadic voters by giving them more time and more convenient ways to make their voices heard. It also broadens the universe of voters and frees up more of our get-out-the-vote resources later, especially on Election Day. When you look inside the numbers so far, among sporadic voters it’s not even close.

More sporadic Obama voters are voting than sporadic Republicans in the battleground states. Along with the more than 20,000 people who came out to see the President yesterday in Ohio and Florida after he dominated the final debate, these trends are a sign both of enthusiasm for President Obama and our organizational strength.
Here are some numbers illustrating the progress we’re making:

Non-midtermvoters: Across nine battleground states, Democrats have a 19.7 point advantage in ballots cast among non-midterm voters. More than half (51.5 percent) of non-midterm voters who have voted already are Democrats, while fewer than a third (just 31.8 percent) are Republicans.
  • For example, in North Carolina, 51.5 percent of those who have already voted are Democrats, compared with just 25.1 percent who are Republicans. That’s a major advantage. And among these non-midterm voters who have voted in North Carolina so far, 87 percent of them are youth (under 35), African-American, Latino, or new registrants (registered after the 2008 election).
All voters: Among all voters, Democrats have a 10.7 point advantage over Republicans. Just under half (49.6 percent) of voters who have cast ballots are Democrats, while just 38.9 percent are Republicans. In the only two states—Colorado and Florida—where Republicans lead right now in total ballots cast, Democrats are cutting into traditional Republican leads there; we’re doing better today than at this point in 2008. And once in-person early voting is included (it just started in Colorado on Monday and starts in Florida this weekend), Democrats will take the lead.

The plan we’ve been building from the beginning is modeled exactly for this—to broaden the electorate, and make sure as many Americans as possible have a chance to take part in this historic election. That’s why we’ve spent years building neighborhood teams that are stronger than last-minute, turnkey phone bank operations. Our volunteer leaders will be getting the people in their precincts to the polls because they’ve registered them, called them, went to their doors—because they know them.

Overall, we’re winning early vote in the battleground states that will decide this election—a key part of our plan to get to 270 electoral votes. We’re outperforming our early vote margins in key states compared to 2008, and we’re ahead of where we were against John McCain—and most importantly, ahead of Mitt Romney.

You can’t fake a real ground game, and you can’t underestimate early vote. When more people get to vote, it’s a good thing.

A moving target

Colin Powell says: "I signed on for a long patrol with President Obama and I don't think this is the time to make such a sudden change."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Getting out the vote

A report by Molly Ball in the Atlantic this morning assesses the tremendous difference between the ground organizations of the Obama and Romney campaigns. This reporter actually scouted out what was going on at the field offices of the two campaigns, finding that Romney's offices are mainly operated by the state Republican parties, and mostly focused on local candidates, while the Obama campaign offices are coordinated by the national campaign. But before even getting to that level, we find a huge quantitative disparity reflected in this chart showing the number of field offices operated by each campaign in several battleground states:

Clearly, the Obama get-out-the-vote effort is far superior, and that is probably going to make a big difference in a close election.

It's important to remember that the media in general have a vested interest in making the election seem even closer than it is, simply to sustain interest in their coverage. That is why they are focused on national polls, which show the election as a dead heat, and less focused on polls in the swing states, which show the Obama campaign with more of an advantage. That is why they are under-reporting the quality of the Obama ground game, and instead accepting the general bias in polls of so-called "likely voters," towards Republicans, because historically Republicans do tend to turn out in greater numbers than Democrats. But when Democrats are doing a better job in registering and turning out their supporters, the end result may not be quite as close as the polls are indicating.

And here's some more inspiration to vote:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Final debate

One thing we know about televised debates, from the Kennedy/Nixon debates in 1960, to the series of debates in this campaign, is that most of the content doesn't seem to matter. That is frustrating to supporters of the candidate who gives the most coherent and articulate responses, which in last night's debate was clearly President Obama. Mitt Romney just repeated campaign talking points without seeming to know what he was talking about, and without any kind of strategic foreign policy vision. Surprisingly often, Romney basically agreed with the president's policies in a number of important areas.

But in the all-important battle of tone and facial expression, President Obama projected a focus and intensity that I've rarely seen before. And he was ready to pounce on any opportunity Romney gave him to attack. Romney's face, when he was listening to the president speaking, often seemed pained. Either Romney secretly thinks he has some plan to win the election, and he doesn't think this debate matters very much. Or Romney knows he is beaten, especially when it comes to foreign policy, and he is just going through the motions.

It's a shame most voters don't realize how much foreign policy matters. It's the most important task of the president, the one area over which he has primary control. Voters understandably focus on pocketbook issues when they vote for president, but the president only has a limited amount of control over those problems. In foreign policy, however, our choice of a presidential candidate may mean the difference between war or peace. We should have learned that lesson after the 2000 election. Foreign policy is just as important now as it was then. And we have a president who is a master of foreign policy, facing an amateur who doesn't seem to have thought about these issues much at all. It's downright dangerous to think that choice doesn't matter all that much.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern, 1922-2012

George McGovern was the first presidential candidate I was old enough to vote for. McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign represented the triumph of the peace wing of the Democratic Party over the establishment wing. The party regulars had won the bitter and bloody contest of 1968, after the party split in three factions, but their triumph was short-lived, as the old guard's candidate, Hubert Humphrey, was defeated in the general election by Richard Nixon's law and order campaign. McGovern had picked up the mantle of Bobby Kennedy after Kennedy's assassination in 1968, but did not have time to mount a serious challenge to Humphrey. In 1972, however, McGovern managed to out-organize the regulars enough to win another divisive nominating contest. Those were the days when political conventions were exciting!--a little too exciting unfortunately. (McGovern's acceptance speech, which nobody watched at the time since it did not come on until about 2:00 a.m., is well worth watching today because its theme of restoring government to the people, is still so important.)

McGovern famously went on to a lopsided defeat in the 1972 general election, but had the last laugh when Nixon was forced to resign from office two years later in complete disgrace. When people question whether McGovern would have made a better president than Nixon, one possible response is to suggest that at least he would have finished his term in office without scandal. It's hard to imagine a straight arrow like George McGovern in any sort of scandal.

Anyway, in the fall of 1972, as a college freshman, I was handing out flyers for McGovern in Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan, and canvassing the Washington Heights neighborhood. We had nothing even remotely close to the sophistication of today's campaigns, and nowhere near the amount of information available. On election day, I was poll watching for McGovern in the same neighborhood. News of Nixon's crushing victory came through even before our precinct's polls had closed, lending my efforts a tremendous sense of futility. I have followed politics closely since that time, but never got involved again with the same level of enthusiasm and interest . . . until the 2008 Obama campaign.

George McGovern's passing reminds us that the spirit of hope and change is fleeting and fragile, and must be supported whenever it emerges. Powerful reactionary forces playing to the voters' hates and fears are always ready to stomp that spirit out. They are trying again this election year. They must not be allowed to succeed.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Foreign policy

In preparation for Monday night's debate, here's a preview of Mitt Romney's new five point plan:

Friday, October 19, 2012

What's at stake

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A message from Bruce

Dear Friends:

The election is coming up on all of us and we all have strong feelings about it. I’ve been getting asked a lot about where I stand, so for those who are interested, here goes.

This presidential election is different than the last one because President Obama has a four year record to run on. Last time around, he carried with him a tremendous amount of hope and expectations. Unfortunately, due to the economic chaos the previous administration left him with, and the extraordinary intensity of the opposition, it turned into a really rough ride. But through grit, determination, and focus, the President has been able to do a great many things that many of us deeply support.

Domestically, that record includes working to increase and expand employment for all, protecting our all important social safety net, passing guaranteed health care for most of our citizens, with important new protections for all of the insured, rescuing the auto industry and so many of the American jobs that go with it, protecting and enhancing the rights of women, and bringing us closer to full acceptance of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

In foreign affairs, that record includes following through on the removal of troops from the misguided and deceptive war in Iraq, and vigorously pursuing our real foreign enemies, especially the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Right now the opposition’s resort to voter suppression in so many states is not receiving as much attention as it deserves. I believe that all of us, of whatever views, should be opposing these anti-voter, anti-citizen efforts.

Right now, for the President to be effective in his next term he needs our increased support and he needs support in the Congress, where some sterling candidates, such as current Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, challenger Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, and so many others, are fighting to make their constructive voices heard.

Right now, there is an ever increasing division of wealth in this country, with the benefits going more and more to the 1 percent. For me, President Obama is our best choice to begin to reverse this harmful development.

Right now, there is a fight going on to help make this a fairer and more equitable nation. For me, President Obama is our best choice to get us and keep us moving in the right direction.

Right now, we need a President who has a vision that includes all of our citizens, not just some, whether they are our devastated poor, our pressured middle class, and yes, the wealthy too; whether they are male or female, black, white, brown, or yellow, straight or gay, civilian or military.

Right now, there is a choice going on in America, and I’m happy that we live in a country where we all participate in that process. For me, President Obama is our best choice because he has a vision of the United States as a place where we are all in this together. We’re still living through very hard times but justice, equality and real freedom are not always a tide rushing in. They are more often a slow march, inch by inch, day after long day.

I believe President Obama feels these days in his bones and has the strength to live them with us and to lead us to a country “…where no one crowds you and no one goes it alone.” That’s why I plan to be in Ohio and Iowa supporting the re-election of President Obama to lead our country for the next four years.

 Bruce Springsteen

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Closing argument

Speaking of great trial lawyer's techniques, here is a video clip of President Obama's final answer in the debate tonight in which he beautifully took advantage of Governor Romney's attempt at the end to walk away from his 47% remark:

And here is a transcript (recall that the question was about misconceptions that people might have about each of the candidates): 
I think a lot of this campaign, maybe over the last four years, has been devoted to this notion that I think government creates jobs, that that somehow is the answer. That's not what I believe. I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world's ever known. I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded. But I also believe that everybody should have a fair shot and everybody should do their fair share and everybody should play by the same rules, because that's how our economy's grown. That's how we built the world's greatest middle class.
And that is part of what's at stake in this election. There's a fundamentally different vision about how we move our country forward. I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about. Folks on Social Security who've worked all their lives. Veterans who've sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country's dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don't make enough income. And I want to fight for them. That's what I've been doing for the last four years. Because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds. When my grandfather fought in World War II and he came back and he got a G.I. Bill and that allowed him to go to college, that wasn't a handout. That was something that advanced the entire country. And I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That's why I'm asking for your vote and that's why I'm asking for another four years.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Mitt Romney is not an attorney, so maybe it's understandable that he botched his attempt to cross-examine the president tonight at the debate. The first rule of cross-examination is that you never ask a question to which you do not already know the answer. That means if you are going to question a witness about an event that is videotaped or transcribed, you had better be thoroughly familiar with the answers the witness previously gave.
ROMNEY: I -- I think it's interesting the president just said something which -- which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.

OBAMA: That's what I said.

ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror.

It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you're saying?

OBAMA: Please proceed governor.

ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CROWLEY: It -- it -- it -- he did in fact, sir. So let me -- let me call it an act of terror...

OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
Here is what the president actually said in his Rose Garden remarks: “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”

Since Mitt Romney was never trained as a trial lawyer, maybe it's unfair to criticize him for his poor technique which allowed an answer to his own question to blow up in his face like that (the trial lawyer's worst nightmare). On the other hand, it does seem fair to criticize Romney for his disrespectful attitude toward the president, for his poor preparation and lack of attention to detail, and for his tendency to make sweeping statements without much regard for the truth.

I want to say something else about this whole Libya controversy, because it strikes me as unbelievably hypocritical for the Republicans in Congress, their party's presidential candidate, and their media allies to be trying to create a scandal out of the tragic murder of our ambassador in Benghazi.

When more than 200 marines were killed in their barracks in 1983 by a terrorist truck bomb, that was viewed as some kind of mishap that just happened, and President Reagan responded by simply turning tail and pulling out of Lebanon. We didn't see the Republicans in Congress calling for an inquiry even though the administration had received warnings that our forces were sitting ducks out in the Beirut Airport. And after nearly 3000 Americans were killed on September 11, 2001, we were supposed to understand that as some kind of out-of-the-blue event, and it's still viewed as almost unpatriotic to suggest that the Bush administration should perhaps have considered beefing up airport security in response to fairly specific warnings about Al Qaeda plans for some kind of action on U.S. soil.

But when our ambassador and others were killed in Libya (in the consulate in Benghazi by the way, not in the embassy), the same Republicans who want to cut funds for embassy security, are ready to charge the administration with criminal negligence for failing to prevent the attack, and for a slightly confused response to it. This is not a dignified response to a tragedy; it is a cheap political attack. And it serves Mitt Romney right that part of his cheap attack blew up in his face.

Obama's re-election argument in a nutshell

For those looking for a list of the president's accomplishments, as well as his vision for a second term, here is a nice succinct answer he himself gave, in response to a question during tonight's debate asking what Obama has done to earn this gentleman's vote: 
We've gone through a tough four years. There's no doubt about it. But four years ago, I told the American people and I told you I would cut taxes for middle class families. And I did. I told you I'd cut taxes for small businesses, and I have.

I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after Al Qaeda's leadership like never before and Osama bin Laden is dead.

I said that we would put in place health care reform to make sure that insurance companies can't jerk you around and if you don't have health insurance, that you'd have a chance to get affordable insurance, and I have.

I committed that I would rein in the excesses of Wall Street, and we passed the toughest Wall Street reforms since the 1930s. We've created five million jobs, and gone from 800 jobs a month being lost, and we are making progress. We saved an auto industry that was on the brink of collapse.

Now, does that mean you're not struggling? Absolutely not. A lot of us are. And that's why the plan that I've put forward for manufacturing and education, and reducing our deficit in a sensible way, using the savings from ending wars, to rebuild America and putting people back to work. Making sure that we are controlling our own energy, but not only the energy of today, but also the energy of the future. All of those things will make a difference, so the point is the commitments I've made, I've kept.

And those that I haven't been able to keep, it's not for lack of trying and we're going to get it done in a second term.
Anybody who says this guy doesn't deserve re-election would have to be making the argument that they were expecting a miracle worker, and what they got instead was a mere human being who keeps his promises, has turned around the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, and has compiled a solid record of landmark accomplishments that compares favorably with any modern president.

The president went on to compare the only available alternative, a prospect that should give any voter some pause:

You should pay attention to this campaign, because Governor Romney has made some commitments as well. And I suspect he'll keep those too. You know when members of the Republican Congress say, "We're going to sign a no tax pledge, so that we don't ask a dime for millionaires and billionaires to reduce our deficit so we can still invest in education, and helping kids go to college. He said, "Me too."

When they said, "We're going to cut Planned Parenthood funding." He said, "Me too." When he said, "We're going to repeal Obamacare. First thing I'm going to do," despite the fact that it's the same health care plan that he passed in Massachusetts and it's working well. He said, "Me too." That is not the kind of leadership that you need, but you should expect that those are promises he's going to keep.
Anyone want to risk our country's future on those kinds of promises?