Saturday, August 04, 2012

Golden Gabby

I haven't been following the Olympics, but the triumph of Gabby Douglas reminds me that what first fascinated me about the Olympic games were the women gymnasts, beginning in the 1976 Olympics and the young Russian Nadia.  Now Gabby Douglas, a member of the U.S. team that won the Gold Medal, has won her individual Gold Medal.   "Douglas is the first African-American and first woman of color in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion, and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics."  Congratulations! 

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Persuadables

Polarization is the rule in 2012 it seems, and the conventional wisdom is that relatively few voters in Ohio, Florida and Virginia are likely to decide the presidential election.  Several billion dollars will be spent trying to persuade voters, one way or another.  All that is certain about this process is that if you own a media company, your ad revenue this fall is going to be very, very good.

But I believe there are persuadable voters, and they can best be persuaded by information provided by their friends.

Political arguments over hot button ideologically- defined issues are fruitless, as are most arguments over the relative merits of a party or a candidate.  But polls typically show that most political information (the facts as well as the lies and effluvia) is just being ignored.  This provides an opening into which information can be received from an informal source, especially on a few key topics that concern everyone.

Greg Sargent in the Washington Post writes about a Hofstra University poll which supports what other polls have shown: a lot of people who take different positions on general issues and propositions wind up agreeing on specifics important to their lives.  In this case, the study was of suburban voters:
"* More than seven in 10 suburban residents say they favor cutting federal spending in general. But when you get specific, 87 percent oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits. And 65 percent support increasing government spending on infrastructure and public works projects.

* A majority, 51 percent, says government regulation of business usually “does more harm than good.” But when you get specific, nearly two thirds of them say the environment should be protected by doing ”whatever it takes.” Even when you add into the equation that regulation might cost jobs, a bare majority still says strict environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost."

These seem to me to be persuadable voters.  They probably do not know that the Ryan plan that Romney promises to follow will turn Medicare into a voucher program and end Medicare as Americans have known it, used it and liked it.  They probably don't know that the Ryan budget also threatens the integrity of Social Security.

They probably don't know that the Ryan plan and Romney himself promise to cut vital environmental regulations that safeguard communities and resources from predatory corporations.

And by the way, they probably don't know that the Obama administration has cut their taxes, or that Obamacare is responsible for the check they might be getting next month from their health insurance company, compensating them for the money the company spent on p.r. instead of providing care.

But it may not be necessary to go beyond Medicare and Social Security.  These are such vital programs and of such non-controversial longstanding that people simply assume them.  It should be remembered that an early Tea Party demonstration featured the sign "Keep government out of my Social Security."  People don't necessarily relate the program with the government, or with the political danger it is in.

There are some people who honestly believe that voucher programs, stock investments and other forms of privatization are not just methods for corporations to make easy and huge profits but as the only way these programs can be saved.  But even without getting into the details, it may be something of a revelation to many people that these programs may be threatened if Romney is elected.  Even Tea Party people get sick, and there's no ideological qualification for getting old. 

By the way, the Hofstra poll shows that President Obama has made up 8 points among suburban voters and is now essentially tied.  Another story quotes "Roslyn political consultant Brad Gerstman, who has worked with both major political parties, said swing voters "do not want to see fringe ideology on either side. They want to see pragmatic ideas that move the country forward."

Why the RomneyRove Carpet Bombing May Not Work

It's August, and the decisive phase of the presidential campaign begins: the conventions, the debates, the last few days when the last undecideds decide.  Sometimes it doesn't matter how things look at this point--but sometimes it does.  So while President Obama's lead (10 points nationally in the Pew poll, and ahead in most of the swing states, with the top vote nerd giving him a 70% chance of reelection) could change, there are a couple of possibilities for why July may have been more decisive than usual.

First is the possibility that Romney has been defined, definitely.  His record of sending jobs overseas, his evading releasing his taxes while his tax plan is shown to benefit the rich at the literal expense of everyone else, etc. are showing up in strong negatives--the lowest favorability rating of any presidential candidate in recent decades.  His negatives increased in the past month, according to Pew and other polls.

I've suggested here that the only way Romney's seeming indifference to his image, the need to disclose his taxes, the call for more specifics on the issues, etc. as well as the unforced dumbness of a host of decisions large and small, makes any sense (like his handling of the appearance of the Romney horse in dressage competition in the Olympics--instead of putting those who criticize it on the defensive, he's expressed complete disinterest, says it's his wife's thing, he won't watch the competition--making his sound like an idiotic husband as well as a rich elitist)--is because he's relying on a strategy of carpet bombing the airwaves with a billion dollars or so of strident anti-Obama ads in the last two months.

But that leads to the second possibility: it may be too late already for that to work.  Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein is among those who suggest that President Obama has already taken most of the hit he's going to take on the state of the economy, and unless the economy changes dramatically one way or another, voters have already factored in this weak economy in their assessment.  Bernstein writes: "We all know what we're looking at by now: an economy which is far too weak to assure Obama of an easy re-election, but strong enough that it doesn't make him a sure loser."  He is specifically arguing that the monthly jobs reports--like the one coming today--aren't going to matter much, absent a big change.  But the larger point may also pertain.

Of course, the RomneyRove carpet bombing is still going to happen, and indeed is happening now.The Romney forces have outspent the Obamas 2-1 in the last week.  By the third week in July, GOPer outside groups had spent $188 million but Obama groups "only" $20 million.  But the Obama forces are aware of the coming deluge and are preparing for it--with $30 million in reserved time in swing states for the last two months of the campaign. 

That's still far less than the Romney forces will likely spend but so far, the Obama candidacy is clearly winning on effectiveness of their ads.  They are defining Romney and perhaps making people more receptive to what President Obama has to say about what he wants to do in a second term.

It may be that by now, voters know the incumbent President and they've heard every negative thing about him and his administration.  They don't know Romney as well, so they are paying attention to what he says and what's being said about him.  So RomneyRove's negative barrage may fall on deaf ears.  And if Romney was himself defined in July, anything that supports that narrative will solidify that identity.    

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Happy birthday to Mike! He's the one in the cap.  This photo taken by his lovely (and much younger) wife Alice on their recent cross-country trip.

Here's an even more recent photo, with our mutual friend Clayton.  He's the youngest of the three of us (but not by much.)

Free Advice to the Obama Campaign

Hello Chicago!  You're doing a great job and you certainly don't need my two cents, but --hey, I've got a blog!  So here are a couple of ideas (and excuse my ignorance if you're already doing this stuff...)

1. Make the economic argument for the Affordable Care Act.  Romneyoids like to say President Obama didn't concentrate on jobs and the economy and instead wasted a year on health care.  But apart from the benefits for health in general and specifically for those who couldn't afford insurance, health insurance reform was an economic program.  Health insurance is a huge burden on businesses, especially small businesses.  It's a huge burden on middle class paychecks.  By controlling costs, reforming the system and making long-term health better through preventive care, lots of money is saved in the economy and in particular by state and federal governments.  It's a big help for deficit reduction.  And so on.

2.  President Obama makes the case that the Romney economic plan is the same prescription for economic growth that the Republicans preached and tried, and which failed--spectacularly.  Elaborate that argument with video of key Bush administration Republicans making exactly the same argument as Romney, and tie their words to what actually happened.  Somebody like Rob Portman would be a real plus.  But show it---this can't be taken out of context, because it's their faces.  

3. Brag on the Obama tax cuts.  Don't describe each kind, just the amount that the non-rich are saving every year.  You might start out with some Romneyoid talking about President Obama having raised taxes, and then hit the numbers, in a half dozen different ways.  That approach does double duty: points up the lack of credibility of the Romneyoids, and brags on lower taxes.

So that's my three cents, in addition to the real money I sent you last month (and the month before...and..)

P.S. Oh, and one more thing: you're doing a great job nailing Romney on his tax plan.  The import of it for the future of the campaign is that the middle class (broadly speaking) includes most Republicans, most of all demographics that currently aren't polling predominantly for Obama.  So this is an opportunity to dramatize the breadth of the impact of a lot of policies Romney favors.

Here's what I mean: beginning with his 2004 convention speech, Barack Obama made a name for himself talking about how we're not blue states or red states but the United States.  This theme can be fleshed out to talk about how these policies affect everyone.  Because Polish American workers in Pennsylvania get sick and need medical care they can afford.  Tea Party activists get old and need Social Security and Medicare they can count on.  Farmers in Iowa who have voted Republican all their lives still need dependable power and jobs, and they can see wind energy is helping.  And so on.  

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Happy Women's Health Day

It's not an official day of celebration yet, but maybe soon it will be, because today--August 1, 2012--eight different provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect that benefit women's health, including a range of preventive services that insurers must now offer, for free.  These "Obamacare" provisions immediately affect some 47 million women.   

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kiss My Ass, America

"Let's face it, Romney can't win, but Obama can lose."
That's not just the opinion of GOP consultant Ed Rodgers.  That's the Romney campaign strategy.

Maybe lost in the gaffe-fest of Romney's overseas trip is what he actually did and didn't do.  What he did was raise money from billionaires at fundraisers with bankers in London and very wealthy American Jews in Israel, including Sheldon Adelson.  I don't recall this being on the itinerary for previous presidential candidates or certainly Presidents when overseas.

What he didn't do was answer questions from the media.  In Poland, his press aide told clamoring reporters very simply, "Kiss my ass," and that's a quote.

With his priorities on this trip, Romney's intentions are very clear: he's going to stonewall and otherwise just survive this period until he can unleash the many millions he's collected to carpet bomb President Obama with scurrilous negative ads in the last month or months before the election, with some cash also devoted to voter suppression and bullying voters on election day.

Still the real Romney comes through.  His arrogance in stonewalling, in refusing to release his tax returns, his and his campaign's persistent lyingHis campaign's xenophobia and racism became more obvious on this trip right at the start, when an aide was quoted as saying that President Obama doesn't understand the Anglo-Saxon connection between the UK and the US.  But the candidate himself revealed his own racism (in the words of a Palestinian spokesperson) when he repeated (from remarks in one of his own books) that Palestinians are poorer than Israelis because of their inferior culture.  He said the same is true of Mexico.

It's more than a strategy to link unfettered capitalism and white cultures, and socialist cultures to non-white cultures (even though it's highly inaccurate--witness the "socialized medicine" of the UK and Israel)--it is a belief within the Romney campaign.

As less than dogmatic wild-eyed GOPers drop away and say their party is too extreme to govern, while the most extreme GOPers (backed by Club for Growth and other billionaire money) take over, the country is in peril of careening quickly to a new Dark Age.  But Romney and his ilk will do their best to obscure what will happen if they take over.  Romney will hide behind his lies and racist dog whistle campaign against Obama, without ever saying what he actually will do if elected.  Because you peons exist only to be manipulated by money.  Because according to Romney, America you can kiss my multimillionaire ass.   

America Inside Out 2012

This has been my thesis since the mid-1990s: America has its inside out, and its outside in.  It internalizes external problems while it acts out its inner struggles, or more briefly, it acts as if its unconscious were its conscious (rational) self, partly as a way to avoid acting on the dangers of the outside world.

This plays out in all sorts of ways, but its function at the moment is explaining the utter madness of the Rabid Right.  It's more than being convinced of an alternate reality proposed by institutions and media promulgating the fossil fuel industry line, or even by the sense of belonging to a mad as hell talk radio fan club/tea party. 

It's more than believing and (in the case of certain increasingly craven politicians like Tim Polenta) repeating the vile Romney lies, although it does explain why the Romney people feel no pressure to stop lying even when the usual news media arbiters call them on it. 

It's the complete refusal to believe what a marginally sane society regards as proven facts.  This is willed ignorance, with a substructure of reasons (as all unconscious shadows produce) but coming from those unconscious dark depths.

The most important example is the dogma that the climate crisis isn't happening, that it isn't caused by greenhouse gas pollution, etc.  This in the face of an overwhelming scientific consensus, which now includes one of the more respectable (former) skeptics.

But there is that additional and very powerful factor of fossil fuel money and power--from companies (including 7 of the top 10 largest) that have most of the money in the world.  This however is not the case when it comes to simple biographical facts about Barack Obama.

A new poll shows only half the Americans surveyed "know" that Obama is a Christian.  Some of that (some part of the 31% who 'don't know') is attributable to nonexistent attention ( only 40%  know how many Supreme Court Justices there are.)  But there is a persistent set that refuses to accept all the evidence concerning Obama's birthplace, his education and so on. 

And it is refusal.  David Maraniss recently published a biography of Obama that included original research, naming sources and quoting people all along the line.  But he keeps getting resistance from people who claim the opposite from the facts he carefully presents.

There is enormous appetite for the lies however.  Another purported biography, by Edward Klein, has been widely denounced as scurrilous and scandalous tripe.  Klein is well known for this in recent years.  Even when he seemed to be legitimate, as the editor of the New York Times Magazine for instance, he had the contempt of the people who worked for him.  I was told by someone who was in the room that when it was announced to the staff that he was leaving the Magazine, they stood up and cheered.  That, believe me, is (or at least was) very unTimesian behavior.

But Klein's diatribe is #1 on the Times best seller list.  Klein was interviewed by C-Span as if he is a legitimate author.  And as Political Wire noted on Monday, his book has sold 137,000 copies, while Maraniss' has sold 19,000.

So what's on the outside, masquerading as rationality, is hate.  And there's no fact that can change it.

This clearly has the legitimate media flummoxed.  Because without an agreed-upon standard of fact, the whole rational system collapses.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Weekend Update

Dept. of Corrections:  CNN says using the song Stupid Girls "to introduce a segment on Sarah Palin was unintentional and not meant as a commentary on the former Republican vice presidential candidate," The Wrap reports.

Baseball Update (Monday): The SF Giants got a power hitting outfielder, Hunter Pence, from Philadelphia, where he led the team in hitting.  That's a damn good move.  Meanwhile,  the Dodgers got another Phillies outfielder, Shane Victorino, to lead off.  Both teams got help from these trades, the pros are saying the Dodgers overall made the best trades.  Meanwhile, the Pirates got an all-star first baseball (Gaby Sanchez) and some pitching.  
The Olympics have started but I only have eyes for baseball.  My Pittsburgh Pirates are still going strong in a tough division (though fans in Pittsburgh are despairing over a recent rough patch.)  But my San Francisco Giants stumbled badly by losing a 3 game series to the LA Dodgers, and losing first place to them in the process, while revealing their comparative (and probably fateful) weaknesses: they don't have the depth, especially in bringing hitters off the bench.  They were without Pablo Sandaval and may be for awhile, their other best hitters have cooled, their first baseman has been in a deep slump (as has one of their formerly dependable best pitchers.)  The season starts grinding about now.  Their one trade wasn't all that impressive.  They are a close team, though, so they might still make a run.  Unfortunately for them, the Dodgers matched their latest winning streak, and now are back at full strength--with Matt Kemp hitting homers again--and they acquired a good new hitter (who beat the Giants himself) and just acquired more pitching.  I believe both the Pirates and Giants are three games out of first place, to highly touted teams.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Level of Concern

So cable TV has a function after all.  I caught a talk on public access given this past spring here in Arcata--the kind of event I never take the trouble to attend or even know about--by a scientist for the Forest Service, Michael Furniss, talking about sea level rise and its impacts, especially locally but elsewhere, too.  I learned a lot in several different ways.

I learned more about why this amazing oasis of summer (it's cooler than usual if anything, rarely breaching 65F) will probably remain an oasis for the climate crisis of this century.  That's partly because the big earthquake that is likely to hit in this century will have greater impact than just about anything the climate crisis can throw at us, short of total polar ice loss and a sea level rise of 200 ft.  But it also goes beyond our coastal climate.  We have and will likely have enough water.  We aren't dependent on mountain snow melt, which is declining.  He believes, contrary to some recent studies, that we're not losing moisture via fog, and that there's good reason to believe that fog will actually increase. (High fog--the "marine layer"--is an almost daily feature here, like right now as a matter of fact.)   Which is good for the redwoods (which depend on moisture from fog) and he says since they've probably been here a million years, they're likely to survive.

On sea level rises, he notes that another factor that has to be considered is the land level rising or falling, which it naturally does.  Right now the land is rising in Sitca, Alaska faster than the sea level.  But the land level is lowering in Galveston, Texas.  Like sea levels, land levels are the product of complex interrelationships and forces, but even more locally determined than sea levels along a given coast.

He notes that globally, sea levels have changed a great deal over the Earth's history--responding for example to Ice Ages--but they've been relatively stable for the past 6,000 years: pretty much all of human civilization.  So the idea that it can change is not part of our history. 

In judging sea level rises, one of the factors is that warmer water takes up more space--and this thermal expansion is basically what the IPCC calculated in their initial prediction of about a 1 meter rise by 2100.  They didn't even attempt to figure in ice melt, it was too controversial at the time.  Now others have made those calculations, and that roughly doubles the rise, to over 2 meters.  That's without rapid melt, the kind scientists are worried about now because of this summer's news from Greenland and Antarctica.  That might result in a 10 to 15 meter rise in a few decades.

Sea levels have been slowly rising for the past quarter century, and this is accelerating because of the climate crisis.  At first the impact will be felt only in extreme events--"perfect storms" that involve periodical tidal events--when the extremes are more extreme, leading to greater flooding that seen previously.

But by the end of the century, the impact will be enormous, even with the most conservative estimates (he notes, by the by, that projections for Humboldt Bay don't change very much from a 1 meter to a 2 meter rise.)  The San Francisco Bay area is very vulnerable.  The airport will be under water, for one thing.  Much of Florida will be inundated, and the U.S. East Coast hit pretty hard.

Elsewhere in the world it's even worse, especially in Vietnam, Bangladesh, other southeast Asian countries.  He notes that in Asia there is no debate over the climate crisis.  The discussions are on what to do about it.

As for our neck of the woods, the information is incomplete but is coming.  Some areas that I would have thought were vulnerable turn out not to be, but others really are: like a lot of highway 101, our link to the outside world, and especially Arcata's link to Eureka and points south.

Some solutions involve engineering, but he warns against taking a total concrete and steel approach--you can't build seawalls everywhere (rivers that need access to the sea are a big problem) and a lot of ecological analysis, land analysis, etc. has to be done to protect against unintended consequences.  Even if there is enough money to do it.

Furniss ended on a note of optimism.  The changes will take place over decades, presumably with enough time to respond intelligently.  His last slide said simply, " We are adaptable.  We'll be okay."  But he also noted (without making a big point of it) that financial support for research into what to do is lacking.  Significantly, local scientists are doing almost all the local research on possible impacts as a volunteer effort, and not part of their regular jobs.

So I don't take away the idea that it won't be so bad, in due course things will be okay all on their own.  The disruptions will be enormous, even in much less than worst case scenarios.  They will require concerted and dedicated attention.  But they will occur over time, and so they will be the work of people over the next decades, even apart from responding to particular crises and events caused or made worse by the climate crisis.  But it's really really time to get started in a bigger way.