2010 - %3, January

The Myth of the Independent

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 12:35 PM EST

John Sides is annoyed at yet another outbreak of "independent" fever: the obsession of political pundits and analysts with the supposedly growing and influential group of nonpartisan independents in the electorate. So today he links to a post on the subject that he wrote a few months ago:

Here is the problem: Most independents are closet partisans. This has been well-known in political science since at least 1992, with the publication of The Myth of the Independent Voter (here).

When asked a follow-up question, the vast majority of independents state that they lean toward a political party. They are the “independent leaners.”....The significance of independent leaners is this: they act like partisans. Here is the percent of partisans and independent leaners voting for the presidential candidate of their party. There is very little difference between independent leaners and weak partisans. Approximately 75% of independent leaners are loyal partisans.

Bottom line: only about 10% of voters are true independents, and that number hasn't changed much over the past three decades. Independents matter, but they don't matter nearly as much as pundit mythology would have you believe.

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An SOTU Tradition: Blame Your Predecessor

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 12:23 PM EST

Some excerpts of the first State of the Union address of a new president:

Today marks my first State of the Union address to you, a constitutional duty as old as our republic itself. President Washington began this tradition in 1790 after reminding the nation that the destiny of self-government and the "preservation of the sacred fire of liberty" is "finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." From this podium, Winston Churchill asked the free world to stand together against the onslaught of aggression. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke of a day of infamy and summoned a nation to arms. And Douglas MacArthur made an unforgettable farewell to a country he had loved and served so well. Dwight Eisenhower reminded us that peace was purchased only at the price of strength and John F. Kennedy spoke of the burden and glory that is freedom.

When I visited this chamber last year as a newcomer to Washington, critical of past policies which I believe had failed, I proposed a new spirit of partnership between this Congress and this Administration and between Washington and our state and local governments. In forging this new partnership for America we could achieve the oldest hopes of our republic's prosperity for our nation, peace for the world, and the blessings of individual liberty for our children and, someday, for all of humanity.

It's my duty to report to you tonight on the progress that we have made in our relations with other nations, on the foundation we've carefully laid for our economic recovery and, finally, on a bold and spirited initiative that I believe can change the face of American government and make it again the servant of the people.

Seldom have the stakes been higher for America. What we do and say here will make all the difference to auto workers in Detroit, lumberjacks in the Northwest, to black teen-agers in Newark and Chicago; to hard-pressed farmers and small businessmen and to millions of everyday Americans who harbor the simple wish of a safe and financially secure future for their children.

To understand the State of the Union, we must look not only at where we are and where we're going but where we've been. The situation at this time last year was truly ominous....Late last year, we sank into the present recession....This time, however, things are different. We have an economic program in place completely different from the artificial quick-fixes of the past....If we had not acted as we did, things would be far worse for all Americans than they are today. Inflation, taxes and interest rates would all be higher.

A year ago, Americans' faith in their governmental process was steadily declining. Six out of ten Americans were saying they were pessimistic about their future. A new kind of defeatism was heard. Some said our domestic problems were uncontrollable that we had to learn to live with the-seemingly endless cycle of high inflation and high unemployment. There were also pessimistic predictions about the relationship between our Administration and this Congress. It was said we could never work together.

Actually, that's not what President Barack Obama is going to say on Wednesday night. It was the start of Ronald Reagan's first State of the Union speech. (I tweaked just a few words to not give it away, but only a few.) What's notable is that Reagan began that address by playing up the problems of the past—essentially pointing a finger at Jimmy Carter. With Republicans and conservative poised to jump on Obama for daring to note that he's still dealing with profound problems bequeathed to him (and the nation) by the Bush-Cheney administration, fair-minded observers should recall that the Great Gipper was also a pretty good blamer.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

Email From the Base

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 12:20 PM EST

Email from a reader my age in the the Midwest:

Trouble with the base comes and goes for a variety of reasons. Even in the troubled periods, there are people (like me) who will work hard. I stumped hard in 1984 — of all years — and actually ran for the state legislature against an incumbent Republican in 1994 (duh).

Last weekend after the [xxx], I gave up my County Central Committee seat (which was hard because no one wanted it) for the first time in fifteen years. And before that I was on the Central Committee from a different precinct and before that in two different [xxx] counties. And that decision was based on my reaction to the health care nonsense. The spending freeze is actually dumber. Now I’m just one guy, but I’m one of the ones traditionally telling Democrats not to give up. In 1984, I was door knocking before the polls closed to get people out for Mondale. If the party loses a bunch of me’s, it is in trouble. If they have to spend time motivating me the party is in bigger trouble.

But by the time you wrote that you had never been more embarrassed to be a Democrat, I had already said similar things, though less eloquently and using terms that my children should not hear.

This is a very big mess. And I feel like I’ve wasted thirty-two years of political work. We are the majority party for crying out loud. In the prophetic words of Bugs Bunny, “What a bunch of maroons!”

No comment. I'm just sharing.

Filipino Prisoners vs. Michael Jackson, Part 2

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 11:33 AM EST

The King of Pop is gone, but the Filipino prisoners who became an online hit with their faithful recreation of his "Thriller" video are back. Michael Jackson was reportedly a fan of the Cebu Provincial Detention And Rehabilitation Center dancers, and now his choreographer has taught them the routines from his posthumous concert flick, This Is It. It's pretty slick, but not real exciting unless you like giant human peace symbols made up of guys half-assedly fist pumping. Compared with the exuberant original, the thrill is gone.

Are the Swift Boaters Mounting a Stealth Climate Attack?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 11:10 AM EST

Creative Response Concepts, the public relations firm behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smear campaign, appears to be mounting an under-the-radar attack on climate action via Twitter. They just don't want me to know what they're up to.

Staffers over at CRC have been tweeting furiously on global warming issues for the past few months—attacking not only climate legislation but climate science.

A few examples, from CRC senior vice president Michael Russell:

UN Scientist admits issuing phony climate data to put pressure on world leaders http://bit.ly/7s6ezP #tcot
SF Chronicle on Copenhagen climate summit - many arrived in carbon burning private jets and limos http://bit.ly/4ZNvok #tcot cap and trade
Economist, author,Thomas Sowell writes on the "Science Mantra" of global warming and its hysteria. http://bit.ly/90D5kz #tcot cap and trade

CRC president Greg Mueller and account associate Marianne Brennan have also been hyping up stories about the "ClimateGate" hacked emails and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's inaccurate glacier data.

So who is CRC working for? It's not clear if their Twitter efforts are independent or on behalf of a particular client, though their list includes many players seeking to undermine climate science. The firm's clients have included the National Republican Congressional Committee, National Taxpayers Union, Republican National Committee, Free Enterprise Foundation, American International Automobile Dealers Assoc., Corn Refiners Association, and the creationists at the Discovery Institute. CRC also has close ties with the conservative media machine, using avenues like the Drudge Report and Cybercast News Service to push the Swift Boat story. I called CRC headquarters to find out more about their climate campaign, but Russell didn't return calls—and then blocked me from following him on Twitter. Of course, like anyone else I can still access the CRC staffers' Twitter page. Is there something that CRC wants to hide?

Spending Freeze Kabuki

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 11:10 AM EST

So what's the point of Obama's spending freeze proposal? Noam Scheiber wrote about this back in December and offered up this precis of budget director Peter Orszag's thinking:

There is a logic to Orszag’s gambit, which runs roughly as follows: It’s almost certain that Congress will pass, and the president will sign, a jobs bill early next year, probably in the neighborhood of $100 billion to $200 billion. Given that, and given the difficulty of doing anything about the long-term deficit next year, the administration needs some signal to U.S. bondholders that it takes the deficit seriously. Just not so seriously that it undercuts the extra stimulus.

The Orszag approach just might accomplish that. Given the amount of domestic discretionary spending in the federal budget — about $700 billion this fiscal year — we’re talking about cuts of, at most, several tens of billions of dollars if Orszag holds the line on spending (and probably less once Congress weighs in). Which means the cuts wouldn’t come close to offsetting the likely stimulus. But they just might buy some credibility in the bond market, which could defer the day when the real deficit cutting has to start. “It’s a little bit of form over substance,” says Michael Granoff, a money manager who served on the advisory council of the Brookings-based Hamilton Project when Orszag ran it. “But, if you show resolve, that you care about this stuff, it gets into the psychology of bond traders.” The laws of psychology may prove easier to finesse than the laws of economics.

I guess anything is possible. But this sure doesn't sound very likely. It's true that market traders haven't proven themselves very bright over the past couple of years, but does anyone really think they're this dim? Proposing a discretionary spending freeze is one of the oldest chestnuts in the book; the amount of money at stake is paltry; and the whole reason it's called "discretionary" in the first place is that Congress is highly unlikely to let it stand over the long term. Bond markets would have to be remarkably credulous to react positively to this announcement.

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Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday January 26

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 8:14 AM EST

Bowl Ban: Nothing says Superbowl time like anti-abortion commercials. Go team!

Pitch Lesson: Want to stop climate change? Stop talking about it, says one ad man.

Pay More: The Chamber's record-breaking anti-climate lobbying spending.

Starting Over?: Here's what starting healthcare reform from scratch might look like.

Selling Short: Pelosi doesn't have what she needs to pass Senate healthcare.

Know Nothings: Poll shows Americans know very little about healthcare reform bill.

Adios 2009: Special interest lobbyists stymied healthcare and climate last year. Niiice.

 

 

US To Appeal Blackwater Ruling. Then What?

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 8:00 AM EST

Let's hope this isn't one of Biden's gaffes. 

Speaking at a Baghdad press conference with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani this Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden said that the US will appeal a federal judge's dismissal of charges against Blackwater Worldwide contractors, who stand accused of opening fire on Iraqi citizens in 2007. "The U.S. is determined to hold to account anyone who commits crimes against the Iraqi people," he said.

The 2007 Nisour Square incident, which killed 17 Iraqi civilians, sparked outrage across the region, particularly in Iraq, which eventually demanded Blackwater's expulsion. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates stirred controversy last week when he appeared to acknowledge that Blackwater still has a presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan's interior minister, who has vowed to resign if it is proven that Blackwater is still in Pakistan, dismissed the suggestion this weekend as "part of a conspiracy." 

The Blackwater ire resurfaced last month when a federal judge dismissed charges against five of the contractors involved in the shooting, arguing that the State Department forced them to give incriminating statements, a "reckless violation" of their constitutional rights.  One week later, two contractors employed by Paravant, a Blackwater subsidiary, were indicted for the murder of two Afghan civilians in May. 

Economic Illiteracy

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 7:14 AM EST

On Sunday, Harold Ford, the former Tennessee congressman who's considering a run for the New York Senate seat held by Kirsten Gillibrand, published a column on the New York Times' op-ed page. He didn't explain what his job was at Merrill Lynch the past three years, but he did find space to argue that Democrats should cut taxes and reduce deficits. Unfortunately, Ford didn't identify how, exactly, one might cut the federal deficit while cutting taxes without reducing spending. And although he says that a "bipartisan commission to recommend spending cuts to rein in deficit growth" is a good idea, he doesn't identify any actual cuts he would support. Clearly, Ford has access to a magic deficit wand that will allow us to slash deficits and taxes without cutting spending. Either that or he wants the political benefit of being a "deficit hawk" without the political costs of acknowledging that cutting the deficit without raising taxes means slashing Social Security and/or Medicare spending. 

In related news, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority leader, seems to be ignorant of the fact that cutting government spending in the midst of a recession hurts the economy. Economist Dean Baker vents:

If Senator McConnell really is unaware of such basic economics then it would be appropriate to have a news story highlighting his ignorance. This would be equivalent to not knowing that Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the September 11th attack. Mr. McConnell's gaffe on this issue is certainly far more newsworthy than items like President Obama's comment on how white working class people were "bitter" during the primaries. That comment was the topic of many news stories.

It's a good bet that we will not see a mainstream media story about Ford or McConnell's trouble with economics.

Cute Endangered Animal: Red Wolf

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 7:10 AM EST

While much has been published about the Department of Interior's dealings with the grey wolf, the red wolf has gotten much less attention. The red wolf (canis rufus) has been in North America since the end of the ice age, and is one of only two wolf species on the continent. For most of the last century, the red wolf lived in the southeastern part of the US, feeding on small mammals like mice and raccoons and taking down the occasional deer. Although red wolves are fearful of humans and generally only hunt at dawn and dusk, they did eat some livestock and by the 1960s, predator eradication programs and loss of habitat had reduced the red wolf populations significantly.

Despite being listed as endangered species in 1973, by 1980 there were only 17 known remaining red wolves and the species was declared extinct in the wild. However, captive breeding programs have been successful and there are now about 200 wolves in captivity and 100 individuals in the wild.  In 2008 the red wolf had a major victory as citizens and activists defeated the Navy's plan to construct an airstrip through its protected habitat inside a North Carolina wildlife refuge. Currently, there are about 20 packs of red wolves living in North Carolina, the only state known to have a wild population of the animals.

One of the key threats to the red wolf is interbreeding with coyotes, a problem which biologists have attacked in various ways, such as sterilizing coyote-wolf couples and their hybrid offspring. Another approach is to secure red wolf-only packs, allowing the wolves to defend their own territory (and thus their genetic diversity, the thought goes) from outside predators like coyotes. This program could be modeled after the example of grey wolves: after grey wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, they killed nearly half the park's coyote population in just a few years and will kill any coyotes that invade their pack's territory. If the example of the grey wolf is any indication, wolves are resilient and recovery is possible, but just cause you make it off the endangered species list, doesn't mean you're out of the woods.