A soldier from the Michigan National Guard, is welcomed home by his daughter after a year long tour in Afghanistan on Sept. 28, 2012. Photo by Staff Sgt. Helen Miller/US Army.

Black Marble
A Different Arrangement
Hardly Art

The first time you hear Black Marble's debut album A Different Arrangement, which comes out this week, it sounds both instantly familiar and not quite like anything else you're listening to. The Brooklyn darkwave duo, made up of Chris Stewart and Ty Kube, have earned frequent comparisons to the paradigmatic post-punk band Joy Division due to the ever-present synths, dark basslines, and general moodiness, all anchored by Stewart's deep, morose voice—and to be sure, if a vocoder had an Ian-Curtis-underwater-on-codeine setting, this is what it would sound like. But in Black Marble's hands, those elements are made smoother and poppier, filtered not through the jagged screen of punk rock but the softer lens of '80s-era shoegaze and modern electropop.

Country songs, dysfunctional families, Southern accents, sex, and big-city politics.

That could be the elevator pitch for Nashville, a nighttime soap opera debuting this Wednesday (10 p.m. Eastern) on ABC. The show jumps right into the Tennessee-fried swagger and sleaze in its first hour. The pilot, directed by political documentarian R.J. Cutler and penned by Thelma & Louise screenwriter Callie Khouri, introduces the swelling feud between 40-something music icon Rayna James (played by the fantastic Connie Britton), and 20-something country-pop seductress Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, returning to television).

From Nancy Heinen, Apple general counsel until 2006:

When patent lawyers become rock stars, it’s a bad sign for where an industry is heading.

Yes it is. And from the same article, here's your factoid of the day:

Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings.

The whole piece is worth a read.

Though you may not find it highlighted on the front pages of many papers in the US, this happened 11 years ago Sunday morning:

WASHINGTON (AP) – Forty U.S. and British warplanes and an armada of warships and submarines pummeled strongholds of the al-Qaeda network and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan on Sunday with Tomahawk cruise missiles, 500-pound gravity bombs and computer-guided bombs. The targets included five Afghan cities, which housed early warning radars, surface-to-air missiles, airfields, aircraft, military command and control installations, and terrorist camps.

So began Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) on Oct. 7, 2001. It continues to this day, albeit with a different objective. Osama bin Laden lies at the bottom of the sea. His Afghanistan-based Al Qaeda terror syndicate, which killed 2,997 people in the September 11 attacks, has been dismantled and scattered, replaced by local warlords and terror clans like the Haqqani network. The Taliban government in Kabul, which harbored bin Laden and his cohort, has been replaced with a weak, corrupt central government that appears at turns unable or unwilling to stanch the flow of violent extremism throughout the country. And participants in the American-led military coalition there continue to make the ultimate sacrifice: Authorities last week confirmed the death of the 2000th US service member in Afghanistan.

Lowry Heussler asks:

Have you ever heard the term “disruptive physician”?

Why no, I haven't. Please go on:

The term “disruptive” means doing things that would get you fired on the spot if you were a less exalted person than an M.D....When analysts began looking closely at negative patient outcomes, we were all astonished to learn that disruptive physicians were firmly linked to morbidity and mortality. Put in simplest terms, if Dr. Frankenstein has a habit of verbally abusing the ICU nurse who calls him in the middle of the night about a patient who is not doing well, sooner or later that nurse’s subconscious causes her to start taking a more rosy view of the patient’s symptoms. Dr. Frankenstein arrives fresh and rested in the morning, but the patient lost too much ground over the night, and oops! there you have it, a negative patient outcome, also called “death.”

So here’s how the problem was addressed. Malpractice insurance underwriters and accrediting bodies require hospitals to have disruptive physician policies that clearly define the prohibited behavior, and to train all staff – right down to the parking-lot attendants – every year about what the policy says. What makes it work is the mandatory-snitch rule. If said parking lot attendant happens to witness a physician in violation of the policy, the incident must be reported or the attendant’s job is on the line.

It sounds ridiculous: threaten to fire the victims of an abusive bastard if they are too intimidated to stand up for themselves? But on closer inspection it functions exactly as a good policy should....

Heussler suggests that hundreds of people might be unfairly behind bars in Massachusetts because of faked drug tests that would have been prevented with a mandatory snitch rule. If, like me, you've never heard of this before, the whole thing is worth a read.

Barack Obama.

With his latest fundraising haul, Barack Obama will almost certainly set a new campaign finance milestone, becoming America's first $1 billion candidate.

By the end of August, Obama's campaign and affiliated Democratic groups had raised $762 million for his reelection effort, according to the Campaign Finance Institute. Then, on Saturday morning, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina announced that the president and the groups supporting him had raked in a huge amount of money in September: $181 million, the biggest one-month haul of the presidential election. That sum pushes the overall fundraising total for Obama's reelection machine—his campaign and the Democratic affiliates backing him—well past $900 million. Even a modest fundraising month in October means Obama and the Democrats will reach the $1 billion mark.

Obama's September total beat his August haul by $67 million, and it easily outpaces any of the monthly fundraising totals recorded by Mitt Romney's campaign and the affiliated GOP groups backing him. The Obama campaign tweeted on Saturday that 1,825,813 donors gave money to reelect Obama last month; 567,044 of those were first-time donors. The average donation in September, Messina said, was $53. "The people and the stories behind these numbers are what make this grass-roots organization so powerful," Messina wrote in an e-mail to supporters. Overall, the Obama campaign said more than 10 million people have donated to reelect the president.

Back in 2010, anonymous Democrats and GOP strategists suggested that Obama could be the first $1 billion candidate. Campaign staffers quickly shot down that idea; they said they hoped to raise "north of $750 million," on par with Obama's 2008 total. Now, however, the billion-dollar mark is very much within reach.

Obama is also certain to outraise Romney and directly affiliated Republican groups. Through August, Romney's overall reelection effort had raised $669 million, according to the Campaign Finance Institute. In all, Romney's reelection effort could raise as much as $900 million this election cycle. That would beat the campaign's own bullish goal of $800 billion.

These totals, to be clear, don't include the super-PACs and dark-money nonprofits spending heavily in 2012. Karl Rove has said his American Crossroads super-PAC and Crossroads GPS nonprofit will spend $200 million to elect Romney. Charles and David Koch and their donor network are expected to marshal as much as $400 million to defeat Obama and elect more Republicans to the US House and Senate. On the Democratic side, the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action hopes to spend between $75 million and $100 million to reelect the president.

This isn't the first super September for Obama. In September 2008, his campaign raised a record $191 million. That cash advantage proved crucial in the final weeks of the 2008 race, when Obama blitzed the airwaves with ads and pulled ahead of Republican candidate John McCain.

Obama has set a blistering fundraising pace during the 2012 election cycle. On September 28, Obama attended his 147th fundraiser of 2012, and his 214th since officially launching his reelection campaign in April 2011, according to CBS News' Mark Knoller. In other words, Obama has, on average, attended one fundraiser every 61 hours for the last 18 months. (Mitt Romney has raised money at a similarly feverish clip.)

Though his campaign has emphasized the outpouring of support from small donors, Obama has relied heavily on deep-pocketed contributors as much as grassroots supporters chipping in $30 or $40. Through June, the Obama campaign had 638 super-fundraisers, or "bundlers," who'd collected donations ranging from $50,000 to millions of dollars for the campaign. Bundlers include Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Hollywood executive Jeff Katzenberg, and actress Eva Longoria. According to the New York Times, bundlers had raised or given more than $200 million for Obama's reelection effort through May.

The road to $1 billion for Obama and the Democrats, then, is paved both with small donations and big checks brought in by some of America's biggest celebrities and business moguls. Obama wouldn't be the most successful fundraiser in history without them.

There's exactly one month left until the November election, and that means it's time for predictions. As usual in a presidential cycle, there are three categories this year:

  • Winner and total electoral votes for president.
  • Composition of the House. Current composition is 190 D, 240 R (5 vacancies).
  • Composition of the Senate. Current composition is 53 D/I, 47 R.

This year, instead of giving my own projections, I decided to provide an official line as forecast by Sam Wang, this blog's semi-official election forecaster (and winner of the 2008 election pool). Here it is:

The links take you to Sam's posts, which include error bars and other details. Can you do better than Sam? His presidential forecast sure seems optimistic to me. I'm thinking Obama wins something in the neighborhood of 300-310 electoral votes. In any case, put your guess in comments. The winner gets a one-year subscription to Mother Jones and the adulation of your peers.

So I open up my LA Times this morning, and the front page of the business section greets me with this headline:

Steep drop in jobless rate has some Obama foes crying foul

And I thought: This is amazing. One tweet from Jack Welch sets off a wingnut firestorm that actually makes the front page of the Times. The power of these guys to set the news agenda is pretty spectacular.

But there may be an unappreciated irony at work here. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) didn't cook the unemployment books, there's no question that the headline number, which is derived from a telephone survey of households, can be fairly noisy from month to month. There was a big spike upward in September's employment figure, and that could be real or it could be a statistical outlier.

Or there might be a third option: In a little-noticed part of yesterday's report, BLS announced that it had systematically undercounted jobs by 386,000 from April 2011 through March 2012. So maybe it's continued to undercount jobs since then, as Karl Smith suggests here. If so, then not only is the September number accurate, it's making up for an undercount over the past six months. That's the shaded portion under the red line in the chart below, which is a simple trend line that runs through the revised March 2012 figure and extends it through September. It suggests that the September employment number is right where you'd expect it to be if the economy were continuing a steady but modest recovery — which seems like a reasonable bet.

So here's the irony: If BLS really has been undercounting, it means that the jobs picture has looked overly gloomy during the first half of the year, which is exactly when it hurt President Obama the worst. What this means is that the wingnuts might be more than merely wrong. They might have things 180 degrees backward. It's quite possible that far from being unfairly favorable toward Obama, the BLS numbers have been unfairly hurting him. September's spike corrected that, but probably too late to do him very much good.

Enthusiasm gap? What enthusiasm gap?

President Obama's campaign and Democratic allies raised a record $181 million in September, his campaign manager said today....The Obama campaign manager said the average donation was $53, with 98% of the contributions at $250 or less.

In the end, I wonder if the Republican focus on Super PACs will end up hurting them? Team Blue might be raising a bit less money overall than Team Red, but the Obama campaign is raising more than the Romney campaign. If you're Karl Rove, I suppose you might argue that Super PACs have more freedom to launch nasty (but effective) attack ads than the campaigns themselves, so it's a good thing that a big chunk of conservative money is going to Crossroads GPS and their ilk. If you're Jim Messina, you'll probably argue that, in the end, it's better to have most of your money under central control, where you can use it precisely the way you need to.

I have no idea which is the better argument. Either way, though, Obama certainly doesn't seem to be having any big problem raising money from the folks who supported him in 2008. I continue to think that Mitt Romney lost a real chance to eat into that support when he decided last spring that he had to continue placating the tea partiers instead of immediately moving to the center.