Monday, December 31, 2012

The Yearly Sift of 2012

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

-- T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

review all the Sift quotes of 2012

This week everybody was talking about ...

The last two weeks will get a very abbreviated treatment so that I can use the space to review the year. I'm sure the gun debate will still be going on next Monday -- probably the stand-offs on the fiscal cliff and the debt limit too -- so I'll catch up then. But I wanted to share this Clay Bennett cartoon.

There were also countless end-of-the-year top ten lists. The most ambitious is Time's Top Ten Everything of 2012. Time's #8 Viral Video of the Year was the best marriage proposal ever.

But let's get on with reviewing the year.

This year, everybody was talking about the election

Like my imaginary typical reader, I struggled not to obsess and not to let my fears get ahead of the facts. But just about every week, something election-related was a major focus.

Looking back, I feel like the Sift mostly got the election right. True, the weakness of the Republican field surprised me. (So much for my April, 2011 prediction that Romney wouldn't be nominated.) And I also failed to predict Obama's sleep-walk through the first debate, which let Romney get back into the race. But I decided early to trust Nate Silver's poll-consolidation model, which turned out to be right. All in all, I think a regular Sift reader went through the campaign focused on the right things: the right issues, the right narratives, the right swing states.

The election also turned out more-or-less the way I wanted, which has left me feeling more relieved than triumphant. Watching congressional Republicans run scared from the most extreme part of their base, I can only imagine what we'd be looking at if President Romney and a Republican Senate were about to take office. So I'm not seeing the dawn of a new era, but we did dodge a bullet.

A more detailed look at the Sift's election coverage is in Looking Back at the 2012 Election: Relief, not Triumph.

... and I kept writing about privilege

The Theme of the Year always sneaks up on me; I never start out with one in mind. But all year, the news kept pushing me to write about various sorts of discrimination and/or prejudice: against blacks, Hispanics, women, Muslims, gays, students, retireesthe working class ... almost everybody, when you total it up.

In each of those apparently separate stories, I kept finding the same thing: a privileged group so oblivious to its privileges and so clueless about what life is like for everyone else that it imagines itself as the true victim. So the rich feel "punished" by the prospect of paying Clinton-era tax rates or admitting that their businesses are built on the foundation of a healthy public sector. Christians feel "persecuted" when they aren't allowed to control the public square or dictate how their employees use health insurance. The Trayvon Martin case caused whites to obsess about violence by blacks. And countless Americans believe that we are the great unappreciated benefactors of the countries we invade or bomb or exploit for cheap labor. (Why aren't the Iraqis grateful for all we've done?)

Like most liberals, my first impulse was to write this off as posturing -- meaningless noise meant to drown out any discussion of genuine unfairness. But the deeper I looked, the more sincere these voices sounded. And if you listen to them, you'll hear reasons: examples where change has robbed them of privileges they had come to expect, or inflicted inconveniences on them that (in their minds) loom as large as Jim Crow or the Trail of Tears.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that you can't just ignore their distress, because it feels so real to them. If you do, they conclude that "empathy" is some kind of pan-handler's con -- because here they are, suffering, and you don't care. So my new strategy is to acknowledge their distress, and then put it in context. As in: "I'll bet that sunburn really hurts. Hey, look -- that guy over there is bleeding out. You think maybe the doctor should see him first?"

In September all that came together for me in a post that has become the most popular Weekly Sift article of all time: The Distress of the Privileged. (172,000 page views and still going.)

... and some other stuff

The Sift reviewed, recommended, or based an article on 21 different books this year. I've collected the links. (In general, if you're ever looking for a Sift book review and can't remember where it is, check the Yearly Sifts at the end of each December.)

Religion is one of the lesser themes just about every year. I've always paid attention to the bad public policy pushed by the Religious Right, but this year I started taking the battle to them rather than just responding to their latest outrage: The Religious Right isn't just bad policy, it's bad religion. They do a bad job following their own holy book.

So, for example, if they're going to take Leviticus seriously on social issues, why don't they also promote The Economics of Leviticus, which is decided liberal? How about a Jubilee Year, where we cancel all the debts?

In a related post, I pointed out how incompatible certain conservative philosophies are with the message of Jesus in Jesus Shrugged: Why Christianity and Ayn Rand Don't Mix.

I addressed abortion from a personal point of view in What Abortion Means to Me, and I honored Natural Family Planning Awareness Week by reading the papal encyclical at the root of Catholic condemnation of contraception, Humanae Vitae. I concluded:
So yes, Catholics, use this week to educate yourself about the Church’s teaching on contraception. You will find it based on shoddy thinking. To attribute these ideas to God is blasphemous.

And I responded to Senate-candidate Richard Mourdock's opinions about rape and God's will by explaining the vision of the Founders in Government Theology is Un-American.
If Congressman Mourdock wants to interpret the will of God to the People, he should move to a country where government officials do that, and leave my country alone.

Both that post and Five Takeaways from the Komen Fiasco wound up talking about ensoulment, noting that ensoulment-at-conception is not at all Biblical. Sometime in 2013 I plan to focus an article on this point rather than have it in footnotes of other posts: Ensoulment-at-conception has zero Biblical support; it's a theological interpretation invented purely for political reasons.

Economics is another perennial theme. This year I made the personal political in What Shaving Taught Me About Capitalism, corrected previous mistakes in Peak Oil? Maybe not, made a liberal case for capitalism in Take a Left at the Market, and filled in a piece of the puzzle I had previously been missing in Monopoly's Role in Inequality.

A new issue I started covering this year is food policy: See Food-eaters are not a special interest group, When the food industry inspects itself, and my review of Bet the Farm.

A few articles didn't fit into any larger theme, but I want to call them to your attention anyway:

I went out on a limb with a long-range prediction: Everybody Will Support Same-sex Marriage by 2030.

If you came out of Lincoln wondering why the Republicans were the Northern progressive party then, but the Southern conservative party now, it's all laid in A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System.

And finally, the best post nobody read was The Republic of Babel.

And what do the numbers look like?

Not much different from last year, but the blog weathered a storm to get there. The lack of viral posts (explained below) made for dismal numbers in the spring.

Last year, the Sift received 137K page views in the 6 months after I moved it to This year it got 240K in a complete year. Once again, it was a story of viral posts. Last year, five posts got over 2,500 views each, totaling 107K -- everything else split the remaining 30K page views. This year, only one post (The Distress of the Privileged) went over 2,500, but it's gotten 172K views and counting, with everything else splitting 72K views.

On the other hand, this year 8 posts got 1000-2000 views, compared to none last year. The difference seems to have more to do with changes at Facebook (which I don't completely understand) than anything I'm doing differently. This year, not everything you "like" is seen by all your friends; last year it was. So it's now much harder for a post to go viral. Last year, 800 views was a launching point; if a post got there, it stood a good chance of running to 5K or 10K. Not so this year.

Other numbers: The Sift's Facebook page has 183 Likes and its Twitter feed has 123 followers. The blog has 504 followers via WordPress, and 280 subscribers via Google Reader. I wish I had recorded those numbers last year so I could give some context, but I believe they are all significantly up.

Monday, December 24, 2012

No Sift on Christmas Eve

Celebrate whatever holiday makes you happy, then come back next Monday for the annual Yearly Sift, in which I almost always discover (retrospectively) that what I’ve been writing during the year has a theme.

Monday, December 17, 2012


As a country we have been through this too many times. 

-- President Barack Obama responding to the Newtown school shooting

This week everybody was talking gun violence

We had two mass shootings: the Clackamas Town Center Mall shooting just outside of Portland, Oregon on Tuesday, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.

I'm not going to compile my own account of either event; that's something the mainstream media has done at great length. I do want to make a few one-step-back comments.

1. Don't put too much stock in early accounts and explanations. A review of Dave Cullen's book Columbine. observes:
Cullen goes into extensive detail about just how wrong the news reports were, not only in the immediate aftermath but for months and years afterward. ... [M]ost of the inaccuracies sprung from the nature of on-the-spot, live, eyewitness reporting. The massacre itself lasted barely an hour, but news helicopters circled overhead with no information all day. That’s a lot of time to fill.

Already by Thursday, Slate's William Saletan was debunking early Clackamas reports:
Thanks to mobile phones, Twitter, and instant publishing, you can read all about the latest mass shooting within minutes. But much of what you’re reading, even days afterward, is false.

There's no shame in carrying a bunch of false information in your head. Everybody does. But before you use events like this to support your Big Theory of Everything, double-check that the details you're relying on are real.

2. This is becoming normal.

The Nation lists 16 mass shootings in 2012, about one every three weeks. That list includes the Dark Knight massacre in Aurora, Colorado and the Sikh Temple massacre outside of Milwaukee. Mother Jones provides a map, the graph above, and a list going back 30 years.

3. "Let's not politicize this tragedy" is itself partisan rhetoric.

This point became a separate post. (And Ezra Klein made the same point: "Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not.") Let me also combine it with the previous point: If we can't discuss gun control in the wake of a shooting, and if shootings happen every three weeks, then we can never discuss it.

4. Gun violence isn't just a legal problem, it's a cultural problem.

Think about cigarettes. When I was a kid (in the Mad Men era), smoking had a glamorous, sophisticated image. Cigarettes never became illegal, but a considerable amount of effort went into making them unfashionable. It worked, and I think that has had a lot to do with smoking's overall decline.

Now envision a future America where owning a military-grade arsenal isn't considered manly. Even with the same laws, I'll bet it would have a lot fewer guns and a lot less gun violence.

5. Gun violence is also a mental health issue.

Dave Cullen believes that about half of mass shooters have depression problems. (Literally true at Columbine: One shooter was a sociopath and the other depressed.) Screening high school students for depression and getting treatment for the ones who need it could prevent a lot of future violence.

Unfortunately, the cut-government-spending drumbeat pushes in exactly the opposite direction. Detecting and treating teen depression is easily branded a "nanny state" policy.

... and this is also is worth your attention

Jonathan Chait explains Why Republicans Can't Propose Spending Cuts.
When the only cuts on the table would inflict real harm on people with modest incomes and save small amounts of money, that is a sign that there’s just not much money to save. It’s not just that Republicans disagree with this; they don’t seem to understand it. The absence of a Republican spending proposal is not just a negotiating tactic but a howling void where a specific grasp of the role of government ought to be. And negotiating around that void is extremely hard to do. The spending cuts aren’t there because they can’t be found.

They need Obama to propose the cuts, so they can accuse him of protecting all the real waste, which their propaganda says has to exist.

How can a humor magazine cover tragedy? By telling the unvarnished truth that the rest of the media varnishes, as the Onion did after the recent mall shooting: "Fuck Everything, Nation Reports: Just Fuck It All To Hell". How many people do you think had that thought this week? And did anyone else report it?

A humanist cadet resigned to protest the unconstitutional Christian evangelism that West Point condones.

Dan Froomkin: The media missed "the biggest story of the 2012 campaign":
the [Republican] party's most central campaign principles -- that federal spending doesn't create jobs, that reducing taxes on the rich could create jobs and lower the deficit -- willfully disregarded the truth.

A Unitarian Universalist minister responds to Lindsey Graham's insistence that same-sex marriage should require a constitutional amendment:
The Constitution does not state that anyone has a right to marry. ... Men and women have been marrying each other in this country for over 200 years without the Constitution saying a word about their right to do so.

... and finally

If you have a tradition of giving money away during the holidays, think about adding journalism to your list of good causes. I'm planning to send a donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, whose Wikipedia I use many times every day. Also Grist, where most of the Sift's environmental coverage comes from.

Journalism's broken business model means that a lot of advertising-accepting publications are essentially charities now, even if they look like businesses. The Nation is a consistent money-loser that couldn't survive without Nation Builders, a voluntary association of its readers. Mother Jones is published by the Foundation for National Progress and accepts donations.

DailyKos, the largest liberal online community, is free to use and accepts advertising, but would also like to get voluntary subscriptions or donations.

If you want to promote a possible future for journalism, take a look at the Banyan Project, which was started by my friend (and former editor) Tom Stites.

The Weekly Sift itself falls on the hobby side of the job/hobby line I defined last spring, so I'm not looking for donations. It just costs me time, and I enjoy doing it.

Monday, December 10, 2012


People say that reducing inequality is radical. I think that tolerating the level of inequality the United States tolerates is radical.

-- Thomas Piketty

This week everybody was still talking about the fiscal cliff

Personally, I’m bored with the conversation. I know the outcome is important, but the process is happening behind closed doors, so we don’t really know anything about it. Unfortunately, you can’t fill a news cycle with: “It’s important, but we don’t know anything”, even if that’s the Truth. So instead we’re treated to endless speculation and tea-leaf reading.

Ezra Klein thinks he can project the outlines of a deal. Paul Krugman hopes he’s wrong, because Obama ought to be able to do better than that. They’re both smart guys that I respect a lot, but neither of them actually knows anything about the negotiations.

I’m much more fascinated by something that’s not being talked about. If you watched Chris Hayes’ discussion of energy policy Saturday morning on Up – which was a whole lot more interesting and informative than a TV-talk-show discussion of energy policy has any right to be – you heard energy experts say this: Everybody in the industry takes for granted that eventually the government will put a price on carbon, either through a carbon tax or some kind of cap-and-trade system. (It makes sense: Climate change has very real costs – like storm damage – that you aren’t paying for when you buy gas or get electricity from a coal-fired plant. If you had to pay the real costs of fossil fuels rather than just the costs of mining, refining, and shipping, you’d see that renewable energy is actually cheaper.)

So: The government needs more long-term revenue. And a major market is working inefficiently because some of its products are unrealistically inexpensive. This is the perfect time to start phasing in a carbon tax.

But that’s not on either party’s wish list.

… and the debt ceiling

which isn’t technically part of the fiscal cliff, but winds up in the same conversation because it’s another part of the overall fiscal struggle between President Obama and the House Republican majority. The fiscal cliff was created by the agreement that resolved the debt ceiling stand-off in 2011.

The current debt ceiling will probably be sufficient until March or so, at which point House Republicans can hold the world economy hostage again.

I don’t think they’ve thought this out very well. The 2011 crisis wounded everybody involved. Obama, Congress – everybody’s poll numbers went down. Undoubtedly the public’s reaction will be even worse if it happens a second time. But here’s the difference: Obama never has to face the voters again.  He’s worrying about the judgment of history at this point, not the polls. Republicans who want to be re-elected in 2016 will blink first.

The most fun part of the debt ceiling speculation involves all the ways that Obama could try to defy the debt limit, including the trillion-dollar-coin gambit. Chris Hayes explains.

… and the Robot Menace

A series of posts about technological unemployment erupted on the liberal blogosphere, for not much apparent reason. I mean, it’s an important topic, but it’s not really … topical. Anyway, I summarize and add my two cents in Two Observations on the Robot Menace.

… and Republican reform

which really isn’t happening, no matter how many pundits wish it would. The example that sums it all up is the Senate’s rejection of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Crazy grass-roots groups fabricated death-panel-like theories to stampede their members to pressure their senators. 38 Republican senators gave in to the pressure, so the treaty didn’t get the 2/3 majority it needed for ratification. See: Repainting the Bubble.

… and Jim DeMint

DeMint resigned from the Senate, even though he has four more years on his term and is popular in his home state. He isn’t facing a scandal or a health problem. He isn’t even claiming that he needs to spend more time with his family. He just got a better offer: President of the Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank.

On the surface, that doesn’t seem to make any sense. It’s like resigning from the School Board to become president of the local PTA. You had a position of power, and you give it up for an outside position where you either support or nag people with power.

But it does make sense, and the sense it makes points out how big money has changed our political system: Elected office has become only part of a politician’s career path, the way the glass of orange juice is only part of the complete breakfast in the Cocoa Puffs commercials. Consequently, the voters are only one of the special interests a politician needs to please.

If you ever wonder why it’s so hard to pass laws that polls say are popular (like, say, taxing the rich), that’s the reason. If a congressman votes against what his constituents want, possibly money from rich special interests will get him re-elected anyway. And even if it doesn’t, he’ll just move on to the next (and more lucrative) phase of his career.

But if he votes against the big-money interests, he’ll face a well-financed primary opponent in the next election cycle. And after losing, his career won’t have a next phase. The million-dollar jobs in think tanks and lobbying firms won’t be available any more.

This has been true for a while, but DeMint’s move shows that the game reached a new level: Even senators are just pawns now. Steve Kornacki lays it out:

What DeMint has apparently figured out is that in today’s Republican universe there’s less of a relationship than ever between holding office and holding power. This is what the rise of insular conservative media has done. News is interpreted, talking points are developed and agendas are set on Fox News, talk radio and in the right-wing blogosphere. Republican members of Congress, by and large, take their cues from conservative media, rather than shaping it.

If they all met in the same room, which conservatives do you think would be calling the shots: officeholders like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner? or people who never face the voters, like Rupert Murdoch, David Koch, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, and Rush Limbaugh?

DeMint is trying to move up in the real power structure, the one with no visible org chart. And that means leaving the Senate behind.

… and you might find this interesting

Beyond parody: Mitch McConnell just filibustered himself.

The same nonsense I talked about in Repainting the Bubble inspired AlterNet to compile The 5 Dumbest UN “Conspiracies”.

An open video-letter to President Obama about the high school physics curriculum.

Great moments in propaganda: The 2001 Heritage Foundation study predicting that if the Bush tax cuts were passed “the national debt would effectively be paid off by FY 2010.”

Thailand has the best anti-smoking ad ever.

Tis the season to celebrate the re-birth of Crist.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Where the Votes Are

The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are.

-- Kevin Phillips, Republican strategist (1970)

This week everybody was still talking about the fiscal cliff

President Obama apparently shocked Republicans: His opening proposal in the fiscal-cliff negoations is more-or-less the plan he ran on, which the voters endorsed by re-electing him last month.

I'm beginning to see what the lines-in-the-sand are: Democrats don't want to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits (though they are willing to consider other spending cuts, including Medicare cost reductions that don't affect benefits). Republicans don't want to raise tax rates on the rich (though they are willing to consider other unspecified revenue increases).

Here's the difference: The Democrats' line is popular and the Republicans' isn't. Democrats will happily go to the mat defending Medicare. But if Republicans have to go to the mat defending low taxes for millionaires, they're in trouble. That's why Obama can make a proposal and Boehner can't. No way Boehner can look into a TV camera and say, "These are the Medicare cuts I want."

Still, Boehner won't move forward without a majority of his caucus, even if there is a plan that a bipartisan majority could support. A majority of the Republican House caucus lives inside the Fox News bubble, so we're probably going over the cliff, at least for a little while.

... and filibuster reform

OK, I'm lying. Geeky poly-sci types were talking about filibuster reform while everybody else either ignored us or rolled their eyes. But it's an important topic. Fortunately, just about everything I want to say about it came up on Saturday's Up with Chris Hayes.

Main points:
  • The filibuster isn't in the Constitution, which just says: "Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings."
  • Traditionally, though, the Senate has been a clubby place that gave its members a lot of rope, but kept them in line with social norms rather than rules. (That was easier back when there were just 26 senators.)
  • Filibusters were rare until recent decades. (In the Hayes clip, they discuss how President Johnson's people didn't even consider the possibility that Medicare would be filibustered.)
  • The rule changes on the agenda for new Senate in January are pretty tame: You'd have one point in the process where you could filibuster a bill rather than several, and you'd actually have to stand up in public and talk, rather than put an anonymous hold on a bill as can happen now.
  • But the parliamentarians on Up are still worried about the precedent: If 51 votes are enough to change the filibuster rules, then the way is paved for a later 51-vote majority to regiment the Senate in a way similar to the House.

... but I wrote about the history of racial politics in America

When the first two people I talked to about the Lincoln movie both commented on how jarring it was to see the Republicans as the party of racial justice, I knew I had a research project to do. The result is "A Short History of White Racism in the Two-Party System". Even shorter version: After Reconstruction, only whites could vote in the South, and they were Democrats. The national Democratic Party started moving away from the Southern Democrats in 1948, and broke with them decisively in 1964-65. Republicans had a decade-long debate about whether to soft-pedal civil rights to appeal to Southern whites, which by 1980 they had decided to do.

... and you might find this interesting

For a view of life inside the conservative bubble, you can't beat the election night liveblog that Kevin DuJan did on Hillbuzz. He's watching the election on MSNBC because he can't wait to see the liberal meltdown when Obama loses. All evening, he's finding signs of panic in the demeanor of the liberal hosts and the Democrats they interview. He's explaining away anything that smacks of reality, even if it comes from the Right -- Drudge's leak of the pro-Obama exit polls is "fear porn" meant to drive up his site traffic. Fox News is only saying Virginia and Ohio are close because they're trying to increase the drama.

It isn't until the networks call Wisconsin for Obama at 8:30 CST that the illusion starts to crack. Over the next two hours DuJan and his commenters struggle to keep their fantasy world together, until at 10:14 CST DuJan folds:
Barack Obama has won Ohio, and with it reelection.

This is stunning.  Absolutely stunning.

Yes, delusional people are often stunned when everything goes the way rational people said it would.

DuJan's liveblog ends there, but his devoted commenters continue far into the night and the next morning, hanging on to the hope that the Ohio call is wrong, that Obama can be impeached over Benghazi, that Democratic vote fraud will be exposed ("Is it possible that Obama’s team is cheating again at this magnitude??"), or that finally Congress will look into Obama's birth certificate and declare him ineligible to be president.

Then comes an eruption of anger at the country and the voters: "America is over as we know it." "My country is finished." "65% of this country feeds off the remaining 35% ... it's us against them" "There’s nothing worth saving. Nothing. I’m going to join the lefties and take as much as I can while it’s still there for the taking." "Look, the bottom line is that this country is a piece of shit. I’ve spent 24 months in Iraq defending what I thought was the country of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. But that country is gone. We gave it away because of white guilt." And much more like it.

One of the week's more remarkable pieces was the WaPo op-ed by Romney strategist Stuart Stevens, who demonstrated the kind of thinking that gets you beat by 4 1/2 million votes:
Romney carried the majority of every economic group except those with less than $50,000 a year in household income. That means he carried the majority of middle-class voters. While John McCain lost white voters younger than 30 by 10 points, Romney won those voters by seven points, a 17-point shift. ... Yes, the Republican Party has problems, but as we go forward, let’s remember that any party that captures the majority of the middle class must be doing something right.

In other words: Everybody voted for us except the people who didn't -- mostly young non-whites and people who can't even make $50K a year. And who cares about them? Why should their votes even count?

Good luck with that strategy. Don't change a thing.

The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg compares how the Wall Street Journal's editorial page characterized President Obama's re-election (65 million votes at last count, 51.8%, 4 1/2 million vote margin, 332 electoral votes) to President Bush's re-election in 2004 (62 million votes, 50.7%, 3 million vote margin, 286 electoral votes).
In 2004, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, conservatism’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, congratulated President Bush for “what by any measure is a decisive mandate for a second term” and exulted, “Mr. Bush has been given the kind of mandate that few politicians are ever fortunate enough to receive.” This year, examining similar numbers with different labels, the Journal came up with a sterner interpretation. “President Obama won one of the narrower re-elections in modern times,” its editorial announced.

The world needs a cardboard bicycle.

It's time for your annual ego deflation: The NYT's 100 Notable Books of 2012 is out. I thought this year might be different when the first book on the list (Alif the Unseen) was one I had actually read and enjoyed. But no. You are illiterate. We are all illiterate.

Rugged individualism:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Absence of War

Of a commonwealth whose subjects are but hindered by terror from taking up arms, it should be said that it is free from war, rather than that it has peace. For peace is not mere absence of war, but is a virtue that springs from force of character.

-- Baruch SpinozaPolitical Treatise (1676)

This week everybody was talking about Gaza

But an unusual number of commentators couldn’t figure out what to say about it, including me. Since I was making Thanksgiving plans while the latest round of conflict was playing out, I was reminded of those old family arguments that come up year after year. The first year or two, you might be tempted to figure out who’s right and take a side. Then for several years you try to work out a middle position and get the combatants to compromise. And then, finally, everybody just shouts down whichever uncle tries to bring the old conflict up again.

Having passed into that third phase, Hullaballoo’s David Atkins explains why Gaza got so little coverage on progressive blogs:

The fact is that it’s impossible to say anything substantive about the Israel-Palestine conflict without being called a hateful anti-Semite, or a hateful bloodthirsty imperialist … often for the same post.

… There are no good guys here. Bibi Netanyahu is a horrible person, and Likud is filled with horrible people. They’re basically the Israeli version of Dick Cheney and John Bolton, but with a religious belief in their right to steal land that belongs to others.

Hamas, meanwhile, is a murderous organization of cutthroats who refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist and want to drive every Jew out of the land they believe their God owes them.

I used to run into a lot of people who put forward a partisan timeline: Everything was fine until Deir Yassin Massacre in 1948 or the Hebron Massacre in 1929. Since then, the victimized side (whichever one you think that is) has done a series of perfectly reasonable things to try to defend itself from the greedy or bloodthirsty lunatics on the other side.

People are still making those arguments, but nobody I hang around with or read regularly. I’m also not hearing the legalistic arguments I used to hear all the time: The Balfour Declaration of 1917 or the U.N. partition of 1947 justifies Israel’s claims, or U.N. resolution 242 justifies Palestinian resistance by whatever means necessary. Or the argument that there are already so many Arab countries; why does the world need another one? Why can’t Israel have it’s little strip of land and the Palestinians go to some other Arab country?

Instead, I’m seeing much more of a willingness to look at the lives of individuals on both sides and say, “Life shouldn’t be this way.” Slate’s legal writer Dahlia Lithwick is in Jerusalem to visit her parents and finish a book that isn’t about Israel or Palestine:

You want to hear about what it’s like here? It’s fucking sad. Everyone I know is sad. My kids don’t care who started it and the little boys in Issawiya, the Arab village I see out my window, don’t care much either. I haven’t met a single Israeli who is happy about this. They know this fixes nothing.

Her advice is to stop justifying your side, stop writing those ten-point-plans-to-solve-everything, and just listen.

Counting and photographing and tweeting injured children on each side isn’t dialogue. Scoring your own side’s suffering is a powerful way to avoid fixing the real problems, and trust me when I tell you that everyone—absolutely everyone—is suffering and sad and yet being sad is not fixing the problems either.

One good lesson I am learning this week is to shut up and listen. Because the only way to cut through the mutual agony here is to find people who have solutions and to hear what they have to say. Bombing the other side into oblivion is no more a solution than counting your dead children in public. The best thing about shutting up and listening? You eventually lose the impulse to speak.

Please don’t judge. Work toward solutions. Because everyone on every side of this is desperate. This isn’t a way to live and we all know it.

I know that the-people-I-hang-out-with doesn’t constitute any kind of random sample or significant power bloc. But the shift in attitude seems significant to me, because it’s the only way these things ever eventually resolve: The old wrongs don’t get righted and the old wounds don’t get avenged, but eventually people get tired of hearing about them. The significant question stops being “What were we promised?” or “What do we deserve?” or “What was taken from us?” and instead becomes “What do we need to do to make the present tolerable and the future a place where we will want to live?”

And once you arrive in that tolerable present, with turkey on the table and pies cooling on the counter, you need a consensus that tells the bitter old uncles to shut up. Don’t start that again. Nobody wants to hear it.

… and the fiscal cliff

Back in the 19th century, a trader compared watching the fluctuations of the wheat market to watching a wrestling match that is happening under a blanket – you can see that something is going on, but you can’t tell what.

The fiscal cliff negotiation is like that. I haven’t said anything substantive about it because none of the publicly available information means anything. One day John Boehner sounds conciliatory; a few days later he takes a hard line. Ditto for President Obama.

It’s all posturing. Right now, polls say the public will blame the Republicans if no deal gets reached, and that makes President Obama’s negotiating position stronger. If the Republicans can defuse that by making reasonable noises in public while Obama sounds inflexible, then their position improves. That’s all that’s going on.

So far there’s been only one public concession: Republican have backed off the utterly ridiculous position they took in 2011 that tax reform should be revenue-neutral. (In other words: Any money generated by closing loopholes and eliminating deductions should go back to the tax-payers as rate cuts.) They’ve allowed that a fiscal-cliff deal might generate new revenue somehow. How much revenue? From where? Nobody’s saying.

All along, President Obama has allowed that a deal would include some spending cuts. But again, the specifics are a little sketchy. Is Social Security on the table? Medicare?

As soon as there’s something real to report, I’ll be all over it. But I’m not going to get excited about the posturing on either side. All I see is the blanket moving around. Something is happening, but saying any more than that is just speculation.

… and you might find this interesting

Compare two issues: the federal debt and global warming. Both involve predictions of a future apocalypse if we don’t change our ways. In the Debt Apocalypse, trust in the United States’ economy fails, people stop buying our government bonds, interest rates soar, inflation rages, and so on. In the Climate Apocalypse, storms get more violent and more frequent, droughts and heat waves ravage crops, more wildfires break out, glaciers and polar ice caps melt, rising seas inundate coastal cities, and so on.

Here’s the difference: The Climate Apocalypse stuff is starting to happen. The Debt Apocalypse stuff isn’t: Demand for government bonds is high, interest rates and inflation are low. And Paul Krugman points out that a Debt Apocalypse has never happened to a country like the U.S.:

Still, haven’t crises like the one envisioned by deficit scolds happened in the past? Actually, no. As far as I can tell, every example supposedly illustrating the dangers of debt involves either a country that, like Greece today, lacked its own currency, or a country that, like Asian economies in the 1990s, had large debts in foreign currencies.

So which problem is getting front-page coverage and eliciting daily comments from our leaders? The debt. There isn’t even a proposal on the table – from either Party – to do something about the climate.

One problem is that scientists hate to sound like Old Testament prophets, so they let themselves get diverted into detailed explanations and fail to sum up. So David Roberts sums up for them: “Our present course leads to certain catastrophe.”

Occasionally you hear about a “skills gap”. (President Obama has even talked about it.) The idea is that there are actually lots of unfilled jobs in America, but our workers don’t have the skills to fill them.

Adam Davidson looked at this in the NYT Magazine, and wasn’t impressed. Employers say they “can’t fill” jobs, when actually they just aren’t willing to pay the market wage.

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. … In a recent study, the Boston Consulting Group noted that, outside a few small cities that rely on the oil industry, there weren’t many places where manufacturing wages were going up and employers still couldn’t find enough workers. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates,” the Boston Group study asserted, “is not a skills gap.”

It’s like the “jobs Americans won’t do” that supposedly make it necessary to bring in workers from low-wage countries like Mexico. There jobs Americans won’t do for a Mexican wage.

It’s exactly analogous to the importing-prescription-drugs-from-Canada phenomenon. Nobody says that there are “drugs American companies won’t sell”. Of course they’ll sell them; they just want a higher price.

Interesting bit of data: Even though Android smartphones and tablets have been outselling Apple products by a fairly wide margin for the last two years, Apple-users seem to do a lot more online. Many more Black Friday online purchases came over Apple’s iOS operating system than over Android. And it’s not just purchases: TPM notes that it gets almost four times as much iOS traffic as any other kind of smartphone or tablet traffic. Nobody has offered a compelling explanation yet, but you have to wonder if a bunch of Android devices are sitting in a drawer.

Nicholas Kristof observes that post-Sandy, back-up generators are the newest must-have device for the East Coast elite. And then he makes a very important point:

It would make more sense to invest those resources in the electrical grid so that it wouldn’t fail in the first place.

Public consumption is way more efficient than private consumption. A few rich people can have big yards, or the community can have a park. Everybody can buy their own books, or we can have a public library. A few kids can learn in expensive private schools, or we can fix the public schools for all kids. We can buy bottled water, or we can make the public water system clean and safe. What makes more sense?

But increasingly, we’re opting for private consumption.

Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds. … I’m used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country.

Republicans who don’t want their party to change have been arguing that they just need to turn out the base better. FreedomWorks’ Matt Kibbe wrote this in the NYT:

Possibly the most stunning number coming from the 2012 presidential election is the fact that Mitt Romney actually drew 3,488,911 less votes than John McCain in 2008, and a staggering 5,579,198 less than George W. Bush in 2004. Obviously fiscal conservative voters were not inspired to turn out on Election Day.

You can get stunning numbers when you compare one election’s partial returns to the final returns of the previous election. But as we get closer to having all the votes counted, that talking point dissolves. Romney has at least 350,000 more votes than McCain got. But he still lost to Obama by about 4.2 million votes.

That, BTW, is significantly bigger than President Bush’s 3 million vote margin in his 2004 re-election bid, the one that led him to say: “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.”

The guy whose “un-skewed polls” predicted a 3% Romney victory has found a new way to avoid reality: Obama won Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia by fraud. His evidence? Inner-city precincts in Cleveland and Philadelphia where Romney got zero votes. So it should be easy to go there, find some Romney voters, and get them to testify that they voted for Mitt, right? So why hasn’t anybody done that?

And I just can’t give President Obama a pass on this: Defending Israel’s bombing of Gaza, he said: “There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”

As if he weren’t launching drone attacks on Pakistan or Yemen. Of all the meanings of “American exceptionalism” that I explored back in 2011, this is the one I deplore: We’re morally exceptional. Things that would be evil for other nations to do are OK for us.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Symptoms and Causes

The beating heart of modern conservatism is its visceral appeal to anxieties and fears of white Christians. ... Once you understand this, you can see that the Republican Party's problems are deeper than, say, opposition to comprehensive immigration reform. ... Policy opposition is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. The deeper issue is that for conservative politicians and conservative networks and conservative web sites, there is simply too much to be gained by feeding the sense of persecution and siege that many white Christians feel down to their toes.

-- Chris Hayes,
Up with Chris Hayes, November 10

This week everybody was talking about the election aftermath

Democrats were happy with the election, but mostly we just got what the polls had promised us (plus toss-up senate races in North Dakota and Montana). Republicans, on the other hand, were shocked, because they had convinced themselves that the polls were biased (just like they've convinced themselves that climate scientists are part of some global leftist conspiracy).

So the really interesting thing to watch this week was how Republicans started dealing with this world they unexpectedly find themselves thrust into. That's the subject of this week's main article "W(h)ither the Republicans?".

This week's other article asks "Why Didn't Money Talk?". Citizens United was supposed to unleash an avalanche of money that would bury Democrats. It sort of did unleash that money, but Democrats won anyway. Does that mean it's not a problem, or that Republicans just haven't figured out how to take advantage yet?

One question lots of people have been asking: How did the Republicans hang onto the House? Answer: Gerrymandering. Democratic House candidates received more total votes than Republican House candidates, but the Republican state-legislature victories in 2010 allowed them to redraw the congressional districts to their advantage.

Incidentally, that points out how complicated it would be to make the Electoral College more fair. On the surface the Maine/Nebraska system of awarding each congressional district one electoral vote looks fairer than winner-take-all state elections. But that would raise the stakes on gerrymandering even higher. Romney might have won under such a system, even as he lost the popular vote by more than 3 million.

If you missed Karl Rove's election-night craziness, watch Jon Stewart's coverage of it. And if you missed President Obama's thanks to his volunteers, watch it now.

All in all, I'm pleased with my hour-by-hour election guide. It anticipated states like Pennsylvania coming in faster than they did, but the overall story it told -- Romney jumping out to an early electoral lead, but Obama pulling even around ten and winning by midnight -- played out pretty well.

... and the fiscal cliff

Obama and Boehner fired their opening shots, but I'm not paying too much attention yet, because this is bound to stay unsettled for a month or more. Both sides want to sound reasonable while using codewords to reassure their supporters that they really aren't compromising. It's hard to tell what it all means or where it's headed.

The liberal pundits and blogs are urging President Obama to call the Republicans' bluff and let January 1 pass without a deal.

The Republican spin is that raising taxes for those making more than $250K will affect half of small business income. But on Face the Nation John Boehner had to admit that this comes from only 3% of "small" businessmen. In other words, they've miscategorized some big businessmen as small businessmen, and their income swamps the statistics. Your local florist or barber shop is not making its owner $250K.

Whenever conservatives defend low taxes for rich people, they always invoke the icon of small business, even though the real beneficiaries of their policies are the very, very wealthy.

I'm waiting for liberals to counter: The dire threat to small business isn't government, it's big business. It's WalMart and Amazon crushing the shops on Main Street. It's the giant seed corporations putting the squeeze on family farmers. It's monopolized supply chains that give small businesses take-it-or-leave-it prices. It's Apple and Microsoft defining a marketplace that funnels most of the profits on software to them. It's a venture capital system that ends up owning 90% of any new idea before it gets to market.

To the extent that government is the problem, it's government as manipulated by big business. I don't care what their PR says, big business loves complicated regulations that you need a team of lawyers to understand. They already have a team of lawyers; small businesses don't.

If Democrats come up with a program that favors real small businesses over big business, Republicans will block it.

... and General Petraeus

But I don't know any more than you do about that.

... and you might find this interesting

So, Senate Republicans doing Wall Street's bidding, you kept Elizabeth Warren from running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. How'd that work out for you?

Voter suppression hasn't worked for Republicans, so it must be time for the Supreme Court to undo the Voting Rights Act.

National Organization for Marriage on its four losses: "We are not defeated." Yes, you are. I stand by my long-term prediction.

Best web site I found this week: We Occupy Jesus.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tomorrow Night

Everyone's a libertarian until their state is under 10 feet of water.

-- Top Conservative Cat

This week everyone was talking about the weather, but no one was doing anything about it

Maybe Hurricane Sandy will finally blow all the climate-change deniers to Crankland, and we can start talking seriously about what to do. In this election, Democrats found the courage to talk about abortion, but climate change has still been off the agenda.

It's one of those focus-group feedback loops: If neither party pushes an issue, the public either loses interest in it or thinks that nothing can be done. Then focus groups don't react to it, so candidates are afraid to mention it. But nobody knows whether the issue would catch fire if somebody fanned it.

This never happens to conservatives. There's always one billionaire or corporation ready to push an issue even if the voters seem not to care.

Remember how the Republican Convention laughed when Mitt Romney reminded them that Obama wanted to do something about rising oceans? That's just hilarious now if you're from Atlantic City or Staten Island.

And we've all been fixated on tomorrow's election

Up until now, I've been trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to focus on issues and themes, and to avoid letting the pure horserace aspect of the election overwhelm its content. The mainstream media already offers way too much coverage like: "Scores of people are dead in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. How do you think this affects President Obama's chances?"

But the election is tomorrow. You can't ignore it any more than you can avert your eyes from the boxes under the tree on Christmas Eve. Are we going to get that cool RC helicopter, lumps of coal, or a very practical package of socks?

I did so well forecasting the 2008 election that I ought to quit while I'm ahead. I had three advantages then: I was one of the early people to realize how good Nate Silver is at analyzing polls, the message Nate divined from the polls was clear, and I discounted my fear that whites might make a voting-booth decision to screw the black guy. So when the Pacific-coast states put Obama over the top at precisely 11 p.m. eastern time, I looked like Nostradamus.

This year everybody reads Nate in the NYT and the message of the polls is far less clear. Last time, the states that teetered on the knife-edge were long-time red states like Indiana and North Carolina, which only affected the magnitude of the Obama landslide.

This year, the polls say Obama kinda-sorta. If Romney wins, well, stranger things have happened. Ditto for Congress: Probably Democrats keep the Senate and Republicans keep the House, but neither is a sure thing. As for when we can go to bed tomorrow night, who knows? I'm guessing it's not going to cliff-hang on one too-close-to-call state, which probably means it'll be decided by, say, midnight.

As in 2008, I'm splitting my election-night predictions into two parts: the result (for the Senate as well as the presidency), and how it's going to play out hour-by-hour as the night rolls on.

... and you might also find this interesting

In addition to the races for office, there are also some important ballot initiatives. Same-sex marriage is on the ballot in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. In Maryland and Washington, the legislature has already approved same-sex marriage, but the initiative would veto the law before it takes effect. A similar veto-initiative passed in Maine in 2009, and this vote would reverse that one. The Minnesota proposal would codify opposite-sex-only marriage in the constitution.

Polls are close, but generally favor same-sex marriage -- which has never won at the ballot-box before. Recent polls have same-sex marriage proposals ahead 52%-42% in Washington, 57%-36% in Maine, and 52%-43% in Maryland. The Minnesota constitutional amendment is too close to call.

Ballot proposals in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington would legalize recreational marijuana use. That gives a whole new meaning to "high turnout".

The amazing Rick Perlstein (of Nixonland fame) describes a little-explored region: The relationship between the content of conservative publications and the ads that sustain them. Liberals often refer to right-wing liars as "snake-oil salemen". But the goldbugs and multi-level marketers and direct-mail advertisers that prey on the conservative rank-and-file are real snake-oil salesmen.
the con selling 23-cent miracle cures for heart disease inches inexorably into the one selling miniscule marginal tax rates as the miracle cure for the nation itself

Have trouble believing that tax cuts create jobs? Well, the Congressional Research Service doesn't believe it either. So Republicans pressured them to withdraw their report.

Some parodies are so good that they ought to be true. Here, Brad Hicks explains that Atlas Shrugged is just the first volume in a trilogy that would have ended with Anthem, if Ayn had just gotten around to writing the middle volume.

If you vote for Obama, Mike Huckabee says you won't get to spend eternity where he's going. You know, I might agree with that.

There's got to be a Romney: The Musical coming.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't Panic

It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words "DON'T PANIC" in large, friendly letters on the cover.

-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

This week everybody was talking about looming disaster

It’s been a tough week to sift, because I’m inclined to get frantic and obsess over exactly the same things everybody else is: the home stretch of the election and Hurricane Sandy.

By this point, the candidates’ messages are about as fleshed out as they’re going to get. There’s not really any new insight to gain about Romney’s math-challenged tax plan or whether the economy is really in recovery or not. You probably made up your mind long ago, and if your state allows it, you may even have voted already.

(I have. Funny story about that: New Hampshire doesn’t have early voting, but I was headed back out to Illinois to deal with the aftermath of my father’s death and didn’t know if I’d be back by election day, so I voted absentee. As I got my ballot, the clerk informed me that if anybody sees me in New Hampshire on election day, my absentee ballot could be challenged. So I’m essentially in exile until November 7.)

So I’m done voting, and I’ve got stuff to do in a non-swing state (plus, I’m introverted enough to hate face-to-face electioneering). So my useful role in this election is more-or-less over, leaving me with no way to work out my pre-election tension other than to obsess over polls.

This puts me in a position I don’t like to be in: preaching what I’m not practicing.

Here’s the text of my sermon: Don’t obsess pointlessly. Figure out how much effort you’re going to put into this election and do it. Volunteer. Or babysit for your friends so they can volunteer. Or make one last pitch to the persuadable people in your life. Or decide not to do any of that. Then forget about it until it’s time to vote and watch the returns. I guarantee that when you look back on your life from a ripe old age, the time you spent fretting over whether Gallup’s likely-voter model is skewed will not seem well-spent.

Isn’t that good advice? You’re not going to follow it either, are you?

BTW, if you do plan to make one last pitch to the persuadable people you know, I wrote this article to help:

Convincing friends to vote for Obama.

Here's why the campaigns are making me crazy

The final messages of the two campaigns are oddly complimentary. As they come down the stretch, it looks like both campaigns (no matter what they're saying) believe that President Obama has a slight advantage. (Nate Silver's model bears this out. He's giving Obama around a 3/4 chance of winning -- an advantage, but hardly prohibitive.) Which means: Romney is still looking for undecided voters, while Obama is focused on turning out the voters he already has.

And that leads to this perverse result: Romney wants the undecided voters to see him as a winner, so his campaign is exaggerating his chances of victory. Meanwhile, Obama is motivating his supporters to get out the vote by exaggerating Romney's chances of victory. So the message I'm hearing from both sides is: Romney can win this.

Meanwhile, doom approaches from the sea

Other than NASCAR crashes, there are few things that our news media covers worse than a hurricanes. Every few years a truly disastrous storm hits, and once in a great while something like Katrina comes along. But every year, sometimes more than once in a year, there's a storm that could be historically bad. Factors are converging, and they could all come together into the Perfect Storm.

There's something pornographic about the coverage. Of course no reporter can root for the Big Disaster. But if it comes, careers will be made, and if it doesn't, then they're all just standing on windy beaches getting wet.

As with the election, make your plan and carry it out. But don't keep looking at weather-service maps saying "Where is it now? Where is it now?"

And once the clean-up is well in hand, isn't it time to start talking seriously about whether climate change has something to do with all this extreme weather? The insurance industry already is.

... but I wrote about abortion

Richard Mourdock’s comment that rape pregnancies are “something God intended” seemed to call for a stronger reaction than just “I disagree”. What bugs me isn’t just that he’s wrong, but that America isn’t supposed to work this way: Congressmen aren’t supposed to be interpreting the will of God for the rest of us. So I wrote:

Government Theology is Un-American.

Even if you don’t follow the link to that article, you should see the Clay Bennett cartoon I used to illustrate.

... and you might also find this interesting

When I heard that Joss Whedon had endorsed Romney, I thought “That can’t be serious.” But oh, yes. It’s as serious as a Zombie Apocalypse.


While we’re talking about endorsements, here’s Lena Dunham’s endorsement of Obama.


I can’t fathom why anyone found this “controversial” or even “astoundingly tasteless”. It’s a time-honored trick in advertising to make people think you’re talking about sex and then reveal that you’re really talking about something else. I thought it was done very cleverly this time.

I wonder what Dunham’s humorless critics thought of this Andy Borowitz satire.

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, there is a deep divide among Republican leaders over whether to emphasize misogyny or racism as the campaign’s closing theme.

In Florida, the Republicans’ transparent efforts to suppress minority voters may have backfired.

New evidence that Romney’s private-insurance-with-a-Medicare-option plan will ultimately kill Medicare completely.

The Medicare Advantage program sort of does that already. And the private companies do exactly what health-insurance companies always do: compete to attract the people they don’t expect to get sick.

The study’s conclusion: healthy seniors tend to gravitate to private plans and sicker seniors gravitate to traditional Medicare. That’s because private insurers craft their plans to attract lower-cost patients and leave sicker, more expensive ones for traditional Medicare — a process known as favorable selection.
If that happened on a larger scale, Medicare would go into a death spiral: It would have to keep raising its premiums to cover an ever-sicker client base. And the death spiral would have nothing to do with the efficiency of the health-care it delivered.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Women's Issues

I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.

-- Gloria Steinem

This week everybody was talking about binders full of women

This endless campaign needed a good laugh, so thank Mitt Romney for providing one in Tuesday's debate. Asked what he would do about gender pay inequity (women making less than men) in the workplace, Romney instead talked about gender diversity (hiring women) in his administration in Massachusetts. He apparently didn't meet any women at Bain Capital, so ...

We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? And they brought us whole binders full of women.

It was a typical Romneyism: equating people with objects, like viewing companies as spreadsheets of assets to be captured and liquidated, rather than seeing American workers and the communities where they live. (Also typical: Mitt’s story is complete fiction.)

The Internet lit up immediately with biting satire and more biting satire. But we shouldn’t let the unintentionally humorous form of Romney’s answer hide the fact that the content is truly hideous:

I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for – making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.

We’re going to have to have employers in the new economy, in the economy I’m going to bring to play, that are going to be so anxious to get good workers they’re going to be anxious to hire women.

So if you’re going to have women in the workforce, you need to let them go home to cook dinner for their kids, because job flexibility is a women’s issue, not a family issue. (God forbid Dad should tell his boss he has to come home early and order pizza.) And (unless the Man in Charge is as magnanimous as Mitt Romney) employers will hire those less-flexible women only in boom times when they’re “anxious” about finding enough qualified men.

That’s the Romney vision for working women and their families.

President Obama struck back with his “Romnesia” speech, which I thought was hilarious.

… and why the polls don’t make sense

At the same time that Gallup’s tracking poll showed Romney opening up a huge lead nationally, state polls had Obama moderately ahead. Nate Silver grappled with the conundrum, while his model shows Obama with a 68% chance of victory – up from 63% last Monday.

Two x-factors could lead to Obama doing better on election day than the polls (or Nate’s model) predict. (1) Likely-voter models don’t really know what to do with young voters, or anybody else who doesn’t have a voting history. And (2) most polls interview only in English, so they might miss the size of the Hispanic vote.

Obama typically leads in polls of all registered voters, while Romney does better in polls that restrict themselves to likely voters. But if turnout is high – and early-voting numbers hint that it might be – then a lot of unlikely voters are going to cast ballots.

… but I wrote about liberals and capitalism

The debate question that struck me was:
What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate?

President Obama addressed the misperception that he believes in a government-centered economy rather than free enterprise. That gave me a news-hook for an issue I’ve been wanting to discuss for a while: Why do liberals sound so inauthentic when we defend capitalism, and what can we do about it? Hence this week’s main article: Take a Left at the Market.

… and you might also find this interesting

Romney still hasn’t made his budget numbers add up.

Remember when a new version of Windows was a big deal? Windows 95 was like a million years ago. And while we’re talking about Bill Gates: It’s hard to keep a straight face while writing about his quest for the toilet of the future.

Rosie Perez answers Romney’s “joke” that he’d “have a better shot at winning” if he were Latino.

One inevitable consequence of manufacturing horror stories about your opponents: The people on your side start doing horrible things to “catch up”.

I think that’s why we’re seeing such outrageous voter-registration fraud among Republicans. Up and down the line, Republicans have talked themselves into believing that Democrats are doing worse.

E. J. Dionne has put his finger on something important: Romney isn’t running as a candidate, he’s marketing himself as a product. What seems like flip-flopping in the political arena is just normal advertising for products like Coke or Tide. As Tom Waits puts it: “It’s new. It’s improved. It’s old-fashioned.” Why not?

If only there were such a network of celebrity super-heroes.

Lately I’ve seen a slew of articles from progressives that I characterize as: “I can’t condone what Obama’s done, but Jesus! The Republicans have gone out of their minds!”

In the recent Harper’s article “Why Vote?” (which you can’t see unless you subscribe) Kevin Baker explains that “your vote counts for nothing”, and complains that “what we are witnessing right now in America and throughout the Western world, is not compromise with the opposition but something else entirely: the use of democratic institutions to disassemble democracy itself.”

So he thinks you shouldn’t participate in this farce, right? Not exactly:

Go vote for Barack Obama, and whatever other Democrats or progressives are running for office where you live. To vote for a Mitt Romney – to vote for the modern right anywhere in the West today – is an act of national suicide.
Daniel Ellsberg says: “I don’t support Obama, I oppose the current Republican Party.” He elaborates:
a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better – no different – on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.

Antiwar activist Tom Gallagher titles his column: “Vote for the War Criminal – It’s Important!

Noam Chomsky agrees. He believes that Obama’s targeted assassinations (i.e. drone strikes) are “war crimes”. But:

If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney-Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice.