Oct 082013
 
Goposaur_xlg

Republicans, as has been widely recognized, have painted themselves into a corner on funding the government and raising the debt ceiling.

They’re not going to get any of what they’re demanding. Instead, they’re going to be humiliated after having been revealed as incompetent fanatics. A Continuing Resolution will be approved, the debt ceiling will be raised, and—because, thankfully, even in what has become the Party of Crazy-Stupid there are still enough marginally reality-tethered people to understand that crashing the world economy might be a wee bit bad—the hostage (meaning, all of us, at a global scale) will not be shot.

The result will be the worst possible outcome for them: the Republican Party as a whole has crashed in the polls, and there is now a legitimate possibility that they could lose the House instead of sewing up both houses of Congress as they had hoped. That’s in the swing districts. In the safe ones, members of the Evil Semi-Lunatic Caucus risk primary challenges from the Batshit Caucus, meaning we could see more of this down the road if they do retain the House.

I said this was coming ‘way back, and I am certainly enjoying it now that it is here, despite the fact that I, like everyone else, happen to be sitting atop the powder keg over which these idiots are waving matches.

Today, though, I just want to make one brief observation, which is about True Believers and effectiveness:

They do not go together in the slightest.

Zealotry is about insistence on How The World Should Be. Typically, it is built on axioms about How The World Is. These are generally simplistic, absolutist, and without nuance. If you’re on the right, it’s Jesus the Mean-Spirited Fascist, and Obama the Kenyan Muslim Antichrist, and sociamalism causing Teh Gay and feminazism and science and other Bad Things, and the War on Christmas. Oh, and Tax Cuts Create Wonderland.

When you believe stuff like that, you are incredibly hampered in your ability to get anything done. No effective path—even one that moves things in the direction of your goals—can be charted that doesn’t involve some aspect of soft-pedaling, deferring, or deprioritizing some of your agenda in order to advance some other part of it.

Which is why we have the spectacle of the House sending a ransom note to the White House consisting of a demand that basically every hard-right wet dream that was repudiated by voters in the last Presidential election and could not possibly make its way through Congress be surrendered  before the GOP will agree to fund the government.

Because, to hell with the legislative process in the Constitution, right? What we want is The Right Thing, To Be Had By Any Means Necessary.

It’s a losing strategy, and they’re going to rue the day they decided to let Ted Cruz use them as tools for his imaginary ascent.

My point, though, isn’t so much about that as it is about the zealotry. The noisiest grief I get from friends on the left (supposedly) is rooted in exactly the same kind of black-and-white oversimplification and fanaticism. If it wasn’t single payer health care, it was Obama and the Democrats being corporate stooges and selling out to the insurance industry. If it involved the possibility of killing anybody, it was off the table as a military/diplomacy strategy…even though that’s exactly what it takes to force an enemy to stand down.

You’ve heard something like this from me before, but I’ll say it again: principles are easy. Principles, in fact, are like opinions, which are like…

Well, in any case, everybody has them, of one sort or another.

The hard part is in making something happen in reality that conforms to some degree to your principles. And very frequently, that happens at the cost of something dear.

That’s why great progressive leaders are often criticized in some quarters because of the deals they had to make in order to achieve the strides they did. FDR’s salary cap on Social Security taxation, for example. Or Gandhi’s agreement to allow India to be partitioned in order for both of the resulting parts of it to be independent. Or Brower’s deal on Glen Canyon Dam.

Those actions, painful as they are to examine, weren’t outliers or aberrations. They were the cost of progress.

You cannot solve problems if you start from the standpoint of insisting on only one acceptable outcome and one acceptable path to get there.

100% or nothing really just means “nothing” here on Planet Earth. “No compromise!” is the motto of someone throwing himself into the wood chipper of history. It ain’t heroic. It’s just dumb. It doesn’t work.

The nutjobs holding the world hostage right now won’t learn the lesson even as they go over the cliff of their own making, because they are mentally ill.

But the lesson holds both for right and left: it isn’t True Believers that make things happen in the world. It’s problem-solvers with values, heart, and creative flexibility.

At publication, the Dragon was STUFFED WITH POPCORN

Dec 202012
 

keep-calm-and-stfu-127The Zeitgeist at Daily Kos is so annoying right now that I can’t stand to read it. Yet another iteration of Chicken-Littling about “OBAMA SELLING US OUT OMG OMG OMG OMFG!!!!!!!” Just like all the previous times…when, in the end, it has turned out he’s done nothing of the kind.

Markos himself has posted the same nonsense (here is one example diaryhe’s posted about five of them in recent days). Maybe he’s just stirring up the pushback, but the language he is using about what a lousy negotiator Obama iswhich flies in the face of historyis personal, insulting, and highly emotional. Also, baseless: it flogs a narrative that can only be considered true if you think failure to screech purist talking points while eating the Republicans’ lunch in policy face-offs is “weak”.

If you don’t think so, cast your eye back to the Republicans’ attempted hostage-taking of the debt ceiling in summer 2011.

Remember that one? Where the same Chicken Littles were screeching about “Obama slashing Medicare and Social Security”, because he’s a corporatist closet Republican blah blah yawn?

Remember the actual outcome? The actual outcome was to throw the deficit question to a commission which 1) everyone knew would fail to reach an agreement; 2) did, indeed, fail to reach an agreement; and 3) therefore, resulted in these impending sequester cuts which exempt Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while balancing fully half of the cuts on the military…and don’t take place until after the Bush tax cuts expire, leaving all the leverage to whoever won the 2012 election.

In other words, understanding that anything he would have wanted would be dismantled under a Republican President anyway, Obama made the relatively safe bet that he would have a second term, protected the very things the Chicken Littles were certain he was destroying, and handed the GOP a live grenade with no pin and an achingly strong handle spring.

Yeah, that was weak negotiating, all right. Oh, also a big giant orange and lime green sell-out, let’s not forget that…while we’re tripping balls.

So that brings us to today. The current face-off’s necessary outcomes include

  1. Raising the debt ceiling, so the US doesn’t default on its credit (credit extended by act of CONGRESS, it bears saying…not by the President);
  2. Extending unemployment insurance benefits for millions who will lose them next week;
  3. Doing some kind of deal on the deficit that avoids the draconian cuts to both military and social spending which will happen under the sequester deal unless such a deal is made. That means raising revenue, cutting spending, or both.

This isn’t just a battle over policies. It’s a battle over who gets to own “reasonable” in the eyes of voters, with the 2014 midterm elections hanging in the balance. Context includes the coming sequester and the sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts. So as of Jan. 1, taxes will go up on everyone by quite a bit…improving the revenue situation a lot, but also blowing a hole in our economy, which is still floating barely above the waterline as it is.

Oh…and the election for Speaker of the House happens on Jan. 3.

That election is Boehner’s top priority, make no mistake. And he can’t possibly get a bill with NO expenditure cutting through his caucus–if he tries he’ll either lose that election or win it so narrowly as to become even weaker than he is now. The President has insisted that taxes must rise on the wealthy–his position during the campaign was all incomes above $250K, but he recently offered to reduce that to $400K, and cuts including changing the COLA for Social Security to a chained CPI system, which is actually a more accurate way of estimating cost of living increases, but liberals are squawking about it because it is less generous than the current system.

Obama’s offer includes the requirement that the debt ceiling be raised and unemployment benefits extended as a part of the deal (read: “no more hostage-taking. Ever.”), and that interest payment savings to taxpayers by reducing the deficit through sunsetting the tax cuts on the wealthy be counted as part of the “cuts” side of the equation, which means nearly $300 billion less in actual cutting of expenditures. It also includes a permanent solution to the annual “doc fix”, which, if you don’t know what that is, you can go look up, as it’s a tangent to this post.

Boehner’s knee-jerk reaction to this was to declare a “Plan B” in which he proposed restoring Bush tax cuts for all incomes under $1 MILLION, and nothing else. The White House promptly said it would veto that, and Boehner doubled down, bringing it to a vote today even though he knows it’s doomed. It’s an empty gesture trying to make Democrats oppose a tax cut, but nobody is buying it. No matter what the outcome, Boehner loses.

Isn’t it obvious what’s going on here? Obama has Boehner on a limb, and he is steadily sawing it off.

A time-honored, ruthlessly effective political negotiating technique is to make an offer you know your opponent can’t possibly accept, but which appears to go much farther than s/he had any right to expect in the first place. If the offer appears to appall your supporters, so much the better…clearly, then, you must be trying really hard to find common ground. And then when your opponent refuses this offer, because you’ve poisoned it enough to make that inevitable…guess who’s the asshole?

Saying that “everything should be on the table” is positioning language, people. It doesn’t mean what it says. Anyone paying the slightest attention knows that. Eliminating the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t on the table. Eliminating the Navy isn’t on the table. Nationalizing the oil industry isn’t on the table.

I mean, c’mon. Take a break from your drama binge for a minute and think, for god’s sake. Boehner does have some leverage. He can prevent unemployment benefits from extending, and we really need for that to happen. Obama wants some infrastructure investments, too. He is going to have to give Boehner something for those, and it may come in the form of backing off somewhat from the $250,000 ceiling for restoring the tax cuts, and some expenditure cuts. I wish it weren’t so, but the Republicans hold the House. That’s just reality.

That said, I’d say it’s pretty much guaranteed that beneficiaries of social safety net programs are not going to see their benefits reduced by whatever comes out of this deal. They may, it’s true, see benefit increases slow a tiny bit, but by no reasonable definition does that constitute a cut.

Medicare benefits won’t be cut. Social Security benefits won’t be cut. Funding for the Obamacare programs won’t be cut. Medicaid won’t be cut.  Unemployment will be extended and the middle class tax cuts will persist, enabling the economy to continue to warm. You can take that to the bank.

The guy you’re smearing has your back. Maybe you can lay off the hyperbolic tarbrushing until there is an actual outcome you can assess, instead of forming up the circular firing squad again. Sheesh.

At publication, the Dragon was GROWLING

Oct 242012
 

As always happens at the end of a high-profile election cycle, the world is a-Twitter (heh) with polls these days. Those of us who concern ourselves with such things breathlessly watch for each new bloc of data, sifting the crosstabs and sampling characteristics in attempts to read which way the trends are going, both nationally and state-by-state.

This post isn’t really about that. If you want good information on the state of the Presidential election, I commend you to Nate Silver at the New York Times and The Princeton Election Consortium as places for a well-reasoned look.

This is more about the limits of polling as an election predictor. Polls are useful tools, but there are people they can’t reach. They have to make guesses about who will vote and who won’t, and sometimes those guesses are wrong. Disparities between the results of different polls are usually a combination of simple margin error (the luck of the draw relating to the particular people they happened to talk with), plus the differences in those guesses made by the various polling organizations.

Elections can have surprising results when more of one group of people turns out than pollsters anticipated. This can happen because of a unique motivating factor (say, African-Americans turning out for Barack Obama in 2008, or women voting in this election out of concern over reproductive and health care rights), or simply because pollsters guessed incorrectly about the interest level of that voting bloc and the capacity of the campaigns to turn them out to the polls.

In this election, all of these factors devolve to the benefit of Barack Obama. Here’s why:

Pollsters need to decide who they think will vote, and who won’t. They do this by applying what is called a “likely voter” screen to their data, selecting a subset of all the responses they received that represents an accurate representative sample, as they see it, of the larger electorate. The problem with this is that there are people who do not meet the criteria pollsters set to define a “likely voter” based on their past history, but who may very well turn out to vote. And there are others the pollsters simply have a very hard time reaching.

This is a real thing. Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 was characterized by a wave of turnout by people of whom the conventional political wisdom was that they simply don’t vote in significant numbers. Likewise, Harry Reid’s retention of his Senate seat in 2010—the wave year of the Tea Party, in a purple state—was unforeseen by pollsters like Silver, whose track record in that election was otherwise sterling, and reflected Latino turnout none of the pollsters had anticipated.

Now let’s take a look at the Invisible Vote. Who are these people?

  • They’re new registrants: pollsters don’t have their contact information yet.
  • They’re the young, who haven’t been old enough to vote for long enough to be seen as “consistent” or “likely” voters.
  • They’re those who have only a mobile phone, but no land lines—which also tends to be younger voters.
  • They’re minorities who may be under-responsive to polling…and whose turnout is consistently underestimated in this election cycle.

Note that all of these constituencies, if they vote, are much more likely to vote for Barack Obama than for Mitt Romney. Romney’s voters tend to be older, white, male, social conservatives, and the affluent. All those groups have a far stronger history of turning out, and they easily meet the likely voter screen of pollsters. They aren’t off the radar: often, they are treated as the “norm” against which other constituencies are compared.

What this means is that Romney doesn’t have a pile of surprise supporters out there. His supporters are being counted in the polls…if anything, they are being overcounted, as the significance of these constituencies as a slice of the overall vote mix is often exaggerated.

Barack Obama, however, has thick veins of gold just waiting out there for him to mine. He did so in 2008 and his ground game is better this time than last. Yes, some enthusiasm has dropped off, especially among the young who thought he was going to deliver them their every dream. But thanks to Facebook and Twitter, everyone knows who Mitt Romney is now, and even if they’ve soured a bit on the President, they know he is bad news.

The Latino vote will be critical for the President’s chances in Nevada and Colorado, and he is currently polling at 3 to 1 over Romney with Hispanic voters. Special effort is being made both by the Obama campaign and by Latino organizations to register Latino citizens to vote, and to ensure that they do. If, as I believe, Latino turnout is higher than pollsters have projected, it will certainly be to Obama’s benefit.

Thus far, the Obama campaigns efforts to mobilize what pollsters may consider unlikely voters appears to be working. Early voting in places like Ohio and North Carolina show thus far that higher proportions of these constituencies are turning out than projected; higher numbers, in fact, than in 2008…while every pollster has assumed that minority and youth turnout will be lower this year than it was then.

Looking at the landscape today, Obama is still winning. He weathered Romney’s bump, his numbers are rising in the horse-race and, more importantly, extending his margins in most of the battlefield states, while Romney needs to run the table of such states to win. Right-leaning Real Clear Politics (which refuses to acknowledge even Michigan and Pennsylvania as in the President’s pile of safe states, when they certainly are) and the bizarre outlier results of Gallup recently notwithstanding, anyone not directly committed to the Romney campaign acknowledges that Obama is in the driver’s seat now, particularly after Romney’s unPresidential, amateur-hour showing in the foreign policy debate.

There are no grassroots pots of gold for Romney to find to help him win, whereas they are abundant for the President. The Invisible Vote may very well be the factor that tips some states his way, and ushers him to a second term.

On publication, the Dragon was: SEEING VOTERS. THEY’RE EVERYWHERE.

Oct 042012
 

Sorry I’ve been gone for a few days, folks. New content promised is coming, I swear.

Meanwhile, try the new stout. Particularly good barrel, I think.

 

This’ll be brief, but it’s interesting to me, and…well, this is where I write about stuff that’s interesting to me.

Today, in the digesting of the first Presidential debate, we are confronted with the collision of two nearly independent media realms: traditional broadcast, and the newly-risen social media, which have orders of magnitude more penetration, sophistication, and response speed than they did in 2008. And what we’re hearing from those two media realms is, for perhaps the first time ever, sharply divergent in relation to the same single event.

Traditional broadcast media: “Romney won!!!!!”

Social media: “Romney lied like a rug on every major topic he addressed, and here’s documentation.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: Romney swung for the rafters because he had to, Obama played it cautious because he could—but too cautiously, in the end— and so the “optics”, as pols and pundits like to say, were clearly in Romney’s favor. This, too, was noted in the record-breaking avalanche of tweets, liveblog streams and Facebook posts that tracked the debate in real time and continued after it.

But let’s face it: the traditional broadcast media has turned strictly into entertainment, and it needs a competitive horse race. So it was nearly impossible for Romney to lose this debate in their eyes, given how badly they needed him to win it.

What is interesting to me is that the sense I am getting of the emerging gestalt of the debate—the narrative understanding by the mainstream public—is a merging of these two story lines.

In other words: “Mitt Romney won by lying.”

So while Romney’s team feels momentarily invigorated, and the likes of CNN and ABC News happily chatter about a “game changer”, what is percolating into voters’ consciousness is a validation of Obama’s core messages: Romney is untrustworthy. He’ll say anything. He’s Machiavellian, just as he was in business. You’ll never really know what he stands for. You can’t trust him can’t trust him can’t trust him can’t trust him.

It takes awhile for fact-checking to catch up to felt sense. In some ways it never does. But what Romney gave Team Obama last night was a bonanza of tailor-made “after” clips for devastating “before, he said this, but now he says this” spots. Instead of having to reach back to dusty campaign footage no one cares about, now they have Mitt Romney lying his ass off in front of 67 million people…yesterday.

Meanwhile, his “win” doesn’t appear to have moved the needle at all…except among those who were supposed to be his base. And he still has nearly no possible roadmap to 270 electoral votes.

Take a breath, friends.

At publication, the Dragon was NOT WORRYING ABOUT IT