Trying to made sense of it all

I think I may be ready to retreat to my cocoon to read trashy books and watch baseball and reruns of NCIS before my head explodes from trying to make sense of what is going on out there.

Yesterday, Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker had a little anecdote from my Congressperson, Mike Capuano.

…Capuano said he was in an airport last weekend flying home from Washington when a TSA screener stopped him and said, “You really need to cut our taxes!” Capuano was incredulous to hear that from a federal employee, though he probably shouldn’t have been.

“I asked him, ‘Do you know taxes pay your salary?’ ” Capuano said with a laugh.

I wish I knew what the silly TSA screener said then.  It is an example of how divorced from reality so many people are.  Maybe we should expand the shut down to include furloughs for half of the screeners.  This would cut flights so many of the members of Congress would have trouble getting home.  I don’t think this would be a bad thing.  Maybe if they stayed in Washington more, they would figure out how to talk to each other informally over a beer.  That could only help.  Maybe some of them would get a grip on reality.

As I was getting ready to write this, I Googled  both “Republican Alternate Reality” and “Republican Alternate Universe”.  Turns out people have been writing about the topic for a number of years now.  It is one thing to talk sans facts, but another to act.  And what is happening now is the action that they have all wanted:  a government shutdown.  I think they are hoping that a few weeks without government will show people they can live without it.  Maybe a good plan except that there are already Republicans complaining that monuments in Washington are closed so veterans can’t visit them.  Duh!

Back in August 2012 (2012 not 2013), Michael Cohen wrote a piece in the Guardian about the Presidential campaign.  If you recall, they had a slogan “You didn’t build that”.

On 17 July, President Barack Obama spoke at a campaign rally in Roanoke, Virginia. It was a typical event for an incumbent president who is seeking a second term. In his remarks, he offered his vision of government’s role in spurring entrepreneurship and creating jobs in the United States:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all the companies could make money off the internet.”

This is all fairly boilerplate rhetoric – a basic recitation of how Democrats view the role of government and its interplay with the private sector. But in this statement, there was one phrase that Republicans have grabbed on to like a famished dog with a new bone:

“You didn’t build that.”

That single phrase, taken out of context by Republicans, has become the GOP’s symbol of Obama’s supposed contempt for the free market and entrepreneurship, and for his socialist assault on America.

The Affordable Care Act is a prime example of government overreach and socialism even though it is built on private insurance companies.

“You didn’t build that” became “We built that”

And so, the Republicans made “We built that” the theme of Tuesday’s convention proceedings. Speaker after speaker hammered on this theme, accusing Obama of disrespecting small business. But they did so with almost a wilful sense of hypocrisy. For example, Delaware lieutenant governor candidate Sher Valenzuela attacked Obama for the line despite the fact that, just a few months ago, she gave a detailed speech to a business group about how they could do a better job getting government contracts.

Cohen goes on to detail a number of instances where the speakers at the Republican Convention ignored facts and concludes

But all of this is at pace with a conservative worldview that considers government to be nothing more than malevolent interference with the smooth operation of the private sector – except when it’s not. “Jobs don’t come from government,” said Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz last night, a view that basically sums up GOP economic thinking. But if you listened to Republican governors on Tuesday, you might have found yourself surprised to discover that, in their states, the government has played an oddly integral role in spurring job creation. If you listened to Mary Fallin, governor of Oklahoma, extol the virtues of the energy industry in her state and bemoan “more government, bigger spending and more regulation”, you might never know that the oil and gas industry is deeply reliant on – and spends millions lobbying for – tax breaks from the federal government.

One can believe that government should play a less direct role in the workings of the private economy – clearly, this is a defensible notion. But to listen to Republicans harping on Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line is to hear a party that views “government” in the most simplistic imaginable terms. This isn’t a governing philosophy; it’s a caricature of how the economy actually works.

To be sure, it’s hardly unusual for political rhetoric to take liberties with the truth, or to stretch an argument to breaking-point, but with Republicans today, the issues runs much deeper. Very simply, the way they talk about what the federal government does or should do, and about the role of spending, taxation and regulation, is more than just a compendium of lies: it describes an alternate reality.

In the GOP’s defense: at least they can argue they built that.

So now they have shutdown the federal government which was a goal all along.  They built it.  And in their alternate universe, President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership should negotiate with them.  Nancy Pelosi has tried to explain what she calls “regular order”:  The Senate passes a bill.  Then the House passes one.  Then there is a conference committee.  Budget bills were passed back in March, but the House declined to appoint members to a conference committee.  Contrary to what some members of Congress seem to believe there are rules and conventions as to how to proceed.

Gail Collins has a response in the New York Times.

On Wednesday, House Republicans pushed to refund bits and pieces of the government that the members particularly like, such as veterans and the National Guard. Also anything that lends itself to a dramatic press conference, such as national parks and cancer treatment for children. Since the House proposals are never going anywhere in the Senate, there’s a limit to what you want to know about what went on during the debate. Let’s summarize:

Democrats: “Meaningless political theater!”

Republicans: “Come to the table!”

Coming to the table has now replaced strangling Obamacare as the most popular G.O.P. war cry. There is a longstanding political rule that when all else fails, you demand more talking. If you’re running for office against a guy who’s got 70 percent in the polls, it’s time to call for a debate. If you’re already having four debates, it’s time to call for six.

“Why don’t we sit down and have a conference committee about how we’re going to fund the federal government?” demanded Representative Ander Crenshaw of Florida. Republicans have posed this question a lot, and it would be an excellent one if they were not the same folks who have spent the last half-year refusing to sit down and have a conference committee about the federal budget.

Representative John A. Boehner, the House speaker, arrived at the Capitol on Thursday with his security personnel on the third day of the government shutdown.

Representative John A. Boehner, the House speaker, arrived at the Capitol on Thursday with his security personnel on the third day of the government shutdown.

I’ll give the final word on reality to Elizabeth Kolbert in her New Yorker posted this morning.

…Shuttering the government is a dumb idea under pretty much any circumstances. Still, the objections that Republicans in Congress raise to the health-care law might be worth considering if they bore any relationship to the law in question. Rarely do they.

Some lawmakers’ comments have been so off the wall that they defy parody. A few months ago, for example, Representative Michele Bachmann announced on the House floor that Obamacare needed to be repealed “before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

“Let’s not do that,” she added helpfully. “Let’s love people.”

“All of this would be funny,” President Obama noted the other day, after bringing up the Bachmann line, “if it weren’t so crazy.”

The crazy list goes on and on. As the economist Paul Krugman has repeatedly pointed out in his Times column, congressional Republicans these days seem to think that they can override not just the laws of physics but also the rules of arithmetic. They insist that the federal budget is so bloated it could easily be cut by hundreds of billions of dollars. But when a transportation bill was drafted this summer that would have actually reduced spending, they refused to vote for it. (The bill had to be pulled from the floor.) It’s hard to cut the federal budget if you’re not willing to reduce the amount of money the government spends. “What Republicans really want to do,” Krugman wrote recently, is “repeal reality.”

It’s been so long since reality has made much of a difference on Capitol Hill that it sometimes seems it genuinely has been repealed. But the thing you can always count on with reality is that it has staying power.

I hope I can hold out until reality and fact make a comeback.

Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

Looking back at 2012 progressively

2012 was a pretty good year for those of a progressive/liberal political point of view and Winning Progressive has compiled a good summary.  You can read the entire article here, but I’ve pulled out some of my particular favorites – in my own order of significance.

First I have to talk about Mitch McConnell who not only lost his effort to make President Obama a one-termer, but last night voted to increase taxes.  (Although since it happened after we technically went off the cliff  at midnight, he will probably spin it as a decrease.)  I think he an John Boehner were the big losers last year, not Mitt.  Mitt is done with politics, but McConnell and Boehner have to continue to try to herd their Republican members and get re-elected.

President Obama re-elected

So now to some accomplishments.

* President Obama Re-Elected With A More Diverse and Progressive Congress– The November elections saw the re-election of President Obama and the election of four new progressive U.S. Senators – Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).  In addition, Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is finally leaving the Senate!  On the House side, the Democrats elected in November will be the first major party caucus in US history that is majority female and people of color.  New House progressives will include Alan Grayson (FL-09), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Dan Kildee (MI-05), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Grace Meng (NY-06), Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Rick Nolan (MN-08), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Mark Tacano (CA-41), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), and Kyrsten Simena (AZ-09).  On the flip side, tea party conservatives Allen West (FL), Chip Cravaack (MN), Bobby Schilling (IL), Roscoe Bartlett (MD), Ann-Marie Buerkle (NY), Francisco Canseco (TX), and Joe Walsh (IL) were all defeat and, hopefully, will never be heard from politically again.

* LGBT Equality– 2012 was, of course, a banner year for advancing LGBT equality.  For the first time in US history, equality was supported by a majority of voters facing ballot proposals approving marriage equality in Maine, Washington, and Maryland, and refusing to ban equality in Minnesota. The first openly lesbian U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) was elected in November as were a record seven openly-gay House members.  President Obama publicly supported marriage equality, and anti-equality forces in Iowa failed in their effort to recall a state Supreme Court justice who declared that state’s ban on marriage equality unconstitutional.  In February, a federal appellate court ruled California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and two federal courts in 2012 did the same with the Defense of Marriage Act.

* Health Care Reform – In a decision that surprised many commentators, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka “ObamaCare.”And while the GOP-controlled House has voted at least 33 times to repeal ObamaCare, President Obama’s re-election in November virtually guarantees that will never occur.   In implementing ObamaCare, the Obama Administration, standing up to strong opposition from conservative religious organizations, finalized rules requiring that contraception be included as a preventive health service that insurance policies must cover with no co-pay.  This will help millions of women afford access to birth control and also save money by reducing unintended pregnancies.

Those are my personal big three.

Yes, there is a lot left to do and a lot that happened that I didn’t particularly think was terrific, but on the first day of a new year, we should celebrate our successes!

The electoral college votes

The Electoral College voted on Monday.

As the Washington Post pointed out

President Obama hasn’t officially secured a second term in the White House. Technically, that won’t happen until the electoral college casts its ballots Monday — presumably in favor of the winner for each state.

Even then, Congress has to formally declare Obama the victor after counting the electoral votes on Jan. 6.

Other than saying that every state has an elector for each senator and representative, the Constitution provides little guidance.  Federal law provides the framework.

Federal law requires state electors to meet in their respective state capitals every four years to cast their votes for president and vice president on the Monday after the second Wednesday of December. Otherwise, states largely set their own rules. In most states, an equal number of electors pledge themselves to each candidate, and the popular vote dictates which team of electors casts its votes.

So how did the voting go on Monday?  The Boston Globe had two stories:  One on the voting generally and one on Massachusetts.  I quote from both.

Ceremonies around the country had their share of pomp and electors in red, white and blue ties. Wisconsin’s electors donned pin-on buttons with headshots of the president. A bit of controversy erupted in Arizona, where a few electors voiced doubts that Obama was ‘‘properly vetted as a legitimate candidate for president’’ by raising debunked claims about his birth certificate.

In New Hampshire, electors supporting Obama signed their four ballots and then certificates that were sealed in envelopes with wax that has been in the secretary of state’s office for more than 70 years.

Vermont’s meeting of three electors was witnessed by a fifth-grade class.

Connecticut’s electors convened in the state Senate chamber and solemnly remembered the victims of last week’s school shooting before carrying out their task.

In Mississippi, which Romney carried comfortably, six men chosen earlier as electors met in a small committee room in the state Capitol and cast their votes for the GOP candidate. Well aware they were doing so in a lost cause, they opted for humor. The state’s Republican governor, Phil Bryant, joked that Billy Mounger, an 86-year-old elector, probably wished to vote for Calvin Coolidge, a renowned small-government conservative president in the 1920s.

And is Massachusetts

The electors, who are chosen by the respective state party committees, entered the chamber  dressed in formal attire to a standing ovation.

Galvin [Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin]  said afterward that each party committee chooses a slate of people to sit on the Electoral College, and the slate from the winning party casts the final vote. Though they are not legally bound to vote for the winner of the November election, all of them have pledged to, Galvin said.

“It was a nice visit to history,” he said of the ceremony, which included classical music from Project Step, a group that provides musical instruction to minority youth, and a rendition of the national anthem from the Boston Children’s Chorus.

Now we wait for Congress to count the votes on January 6.  Then the re-election of Barack Obama will be official.  Until then some historical perspective.

Votes in the Electoral College, 1824.

Votes in the Electoral College, 1824. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The death of the Republican party? Part 2

Maureen Dowd calls them  “A Lost civilization”. likening them to the lost tribes of civilization.

The Mayans were right, as it turns out, when they predicted the world would end in 2012. It was just a select world: the G.O.P. universe of arrogant, uptight, entitled, bossy, retrogressive white guys.

Just another vanishing tribe that fought the cultural and demographic tides of history.

Someday, it will be the subject of a National Geographic special, or a Mel Gibson movie, where archaeologists piece together who the lost tribe was, where it came from, and what happened to it. The experts will sift through the ruins of the Reagan Presidential Library, Dick Cheney’s shotgun casings, Orca poll monitoring hieroglyphics, remnants of triumphal rants by Dick Morris on Fox News, faded photos of Clint Eastwood and an empty chair, and scraps of ancient tape in which a tall, stiff man, his name long forgotten, gnashes his teeth about the 47 percent of moochers and the “gifts” they got.

Instead of smallpox, plagues, drought and Conquistadors, the Republican decline will be traced to a stubborn refusal to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count.

As the historian Will Durant observed, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.”

Who would ever have thought blacks would get out and support the first black president? Who would ever have thought women would shy away from the party of transvaginal probes? Who would ever have thought gays would work against a party that treated them as immoral and subhuman? Who would have ever thought young people would desert a party that ignored science and hectored on social issues? Who would ever have thought Latinos would scorn a party that expected them to finish up their chores and self-deport?

Calvin Trillin puts it this way

Mitt Romney Explains Why He Lost

Obama was clever as clever could be;
To targeted groups he gave gifts that were free:
Say, healthcare for free until age 26,
And free contraceptives (for sex just for kicks).
Debates in the primaries left our team bruised
From harsh accusations the White House then used.
Whatever the reason for losing might be,
Of one thing I’m sure: it could not have been me.
I’m perfect.

But those of us on the other side should remember that the Democrats have also had some near-death experiences – like after the 1972 election – and we have spent our time in the wilderness, too.  The party has had internal struggles and differences, but, correct me if I’m wrong, there has never been a point where the Democratic party was this close to making itself irrelevant.

Trillin again.

Republican Soul Searching   

We’re searching our souls and we’re wondering why
We got beat so badly our rivals are gloating.
It’s obvious now where our campaign went wrong:
We should have prevented more people from voting.

Why did Mitt Romney think he was a winner?

We all know that Mitt Romney was stunned when he lost.  It is said that he didn’t even have a concession speech written thus accounting for the delay between everyone including Fox calling the election and his speech.  And Logan Airport in Boston was crowded with private jets belonging to donors who were there to celebrate at Mitt’s cash bar.  But the party was spoiled because his internal polls were not only wrong, they were garbage.

Last night on Hardball, John Brabender, the Republican campaign official, did not answer Chris Matthew’s direct question as to how the Romney polls could have been so wrong.  This morning, Nate Silver, the man the Republicans trashed but who turned out to be correct, explains what happened.

In this morning’s FiveThirtyEight, Silver writes

Pollsters can expect to take their share of blame when their campaigns lose, and this year has been no exception. Not long after Barack Obama and Democrats had a strong night on Nov. 6, Republicans began to complain publicly that the polls conducted by their campaigns and by affiliated groups implied considerably more optimistic outcomes for them than actually occurred.

Perhaps these Republicans shouldn’t have been so surprised. When public polls conducted by independent organizations clash with the internal polls released by campaigns, the public polls usually prove more reliable.

Take, for example, the gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin earlier this year. Independent polls had the Republican incumbent, Scott Walker, favored to retain his office by about six percentage points. A series of polls conducted for Democratic groups showed a roughly tied race instead.

Mr. Walker in fact won by seven points: the independent polls called the outcome almost exactly, while the internal polls were far from the mark.

Take note any Republicans reading this:  This is a Democratic error.  And, generally speaking, internal polls are not worth much as predictors of the outcome.

But when campaigns release internal polls to the public, their goal is usually not to provide the most accurate information. Instead, they are most likely trying to create a favorable news narrative – and they may fiddle with these assumptions until they get the desired result.

The Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman, who testified under oath in the federal case against John Edwards, put this bluntly, describing the release of internal polls to the news media as a form of “propaganda”:

Hickman testified that when circulating the polls, he didn’t much care if they were accurate. “I didn’t necessarily take any of these as for — as you would say, for the truth of the matter. I took them more as something that could be used as propaganda for the campaign,” the veteran pollster said.

Some reporters make the mistake of assuming that information is valuable simply because it is private or proprietary. But the information that makes it to the reporter’s ears, or into his in-box, may be something that the campaign wants him to hear or see.

During the campaign Republican polling data was released to the New Republic and subsequently to Silver.

Silver explains

In fact, Mr. Obama won all seven states, and by an average margin of 5.7 percentage points based on the ballots counted so far. (Several of the states have yet to certify their results.) Therefore, the polls were biased in Mr. Romney’s direction by nearly five percentage points, on average.

It should be mentioned that most of the independent polls this year were also slightly biased (in a statistical sense) toward Mr. Romney. In the same seven states, the final Real Clear Politics averages overrated Mr. Romney’s standing by 2.5 percentage points. The final FiveThirtyEight forecasts were less biased statistically, in part because our forecast model was designed to respond aggressively to movement in the polls in the closing days of the campaign, which favored Mr. Obama after Hurricane Sandy. Still, our forecasts in these seven states had a one-point bias toward Mr. Romney, on average, compared against the actual results.

The curious, but little known, thing about the Romney internal polls is that it appears they never projected him to win the Electoral College.

Further, the Romney campaign’s polls did not have him winning the Electoral College, as they had Mr. Romney behind in Ohio, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to Mr. Scheiber. Assuming that the campaign also had Mr. Romney trailing in Nevada and Michigan, but leading in Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, then Mr. Romney would have been leading in states containing 261 electoral votes, but trailing Mr. Obama in states containing 271. Mr. Romney’s internal polls implied better chances for him than the public polls did – but if Mr. Scheiber’s reporting is right, they still had him as the underdog.

My husband points out that Mitt the self-described data guy seems to have only looked at his internal polling data.  Did he look at Real Clear Politics?  Or the daily reporting of poll results from the Daily Kos?  Or even FiveThirtyEight?  These were sources readily available to him.  He could just have had staff compile all the public polling these sources used each day in a special report just for him.

Internal polls are used for a lot a purposes other than showing a candidates standing in the race.  They can be used to measure effectiveness of message or standing among a specific demographic.  But they should be taken with caution by the candidate and certainly their public release can be dangerous.  In this case, the campaign also sold all the folks on Fox. Silver concludes

But most important, campaigns would be wise not to have their pollsters serve as public spokesmen or spin doctors for the campaign. Campaigns have other personnel who specialize in those tasks.

The role of the pollster should be just the opposite of this, in fact: to provide a reality check such that the campaign does not begin to believe its own spin.

Mitt didn’t write a concession speech because he believed his own spin.  And there will likely be only one picture of him in the Oval Office.

White House Photo

Photograph from the White House.

What do you mean the election is over?!

It is mostly over.  There are some Congressional races (most leaning Democratic right now) and Florida, but it is pretty much over.   The question to ask now is are you suffering from Post-Election Stress?  Brian McFadden has helpfully given us a list of the symptoms to watch out for.

 

To this I would add:  Still compulsively checking Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.

If  you are a sufferer, you are not alone.  I’m planning on taking a long walk this weekend and resisting the compulsion I have right now to go turn on UP with Chris Hayes.  (sorry Chris)