2012 - %3, October

Anti-Obama Texts From Last Night

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 12:26 PM EDT

On Tuesday night, many people in the DC area received anti-Obama text messages from a cryptic email address. Here's what came to my phone, from sms@voteett.com: "If Obama is re-elected, taxes on the middle class will be raised significantly."

Other people took to Twitter to report the messages they received, which included: "Re-electing Obama puts Medicare at risk," "Obama denies protection to babies who survive abortions," and "Obama endorses the legality of same-sex marriage. Say No to Obama at the polls on Nov 6!" The Atlantic has a good run down of messages. Clearly, the group or groups behind the spam isn't targeting very well; a bunch of reporters in the DC metro area don't seem like the best audience for poorly sourced and outrageous claims.

IT World reported Wednesday morning on the company that owns the domain names tied to the spam texts:

According to GoDaddy, these domains belong to a Centreville, Virginia, company called ccAdvertising. According to its Web site, "ccAdvertising uses unique interactive technology to conduct personalized telephone surveys and messages with great results and service."

Our own Daniel Schulman reported on ccAdvertising—which also operates under at least eight of other names—in February 2007. Its president, Gabriel Joseph III, is one of the "kings of the political robo-call," and he has done work on behalf of a number of Republican candidates and causes. The Hill reported Wednesday morning that GoDaddy has suspended the domains tied to the texts.

The Los Angeles Times had a good piece last month explaining why this type of text spam is technically legal, since the companies behind it are using a loophole:

Although the Federal Communications Commission has clearly stated that unsolicited automated text messages are against the law, some political advertising firms have found a way around the ban.
Instead of sending text messages the traditional way -- from one phone number to another -- these firms send emails to people's cellphones, which produce messages that appear much like text messages.

Plus, you still have to pay for them like any other text message.

If you received a similar anti-Obama text, you can submit the info here, where reporter Philip Bump is attempting to track them.

Hope no one paid the company too much money to send the spam texts, considering their targeting doesn't seem to have been very, er, targeted.

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America's Recovery Looks Pretty Good If You Compare It to Everyone Else's Recovery

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 11:49 AM EDT

If you want to evaluate Barack Obama from a progressive point of view, you have to ask, "compared to what?" Or, as Matt Yglesias puts it today, "compared to whom?" He concludes that if you compare Obama to actual Democratic presidents of the past half century, he comes out looking pretty good.

I agree, but more interestingly, he also makes a similar argument for how well Obama did steering the United States out of the Great Recession:

A better comparison class might be to ask "how's Obama doing compared to other leaders steering their country through the Great Crash of 2007-2008"?

Here I think he looks pretty good but not great. The United States is doing better than Japan or the eurozone or the United Kingdom. On the other hand, we've done worse than Israel or Sweden or Australia or Canada. You can say maybe that small countries just have it easier, and maybe that's right but I think it's hard to test. Certainly Japan and the UK don't seem to have it much easier than the US in virtue of being smaller. The comparative approach leads you, I think, to what's more or less the intuitive conclusion that under Obama the American economy has done okay considering the circumstances but not nearly as well as it might have done. And so since swing voters mostly vote retrospectively based on macroeconomic performance, you wind up with a close election.

No big argument here, though I'd actually be a little more charitable towards America on this score. Japan and the UK are pretty big countries, so if anything, I think their difficulties suggest that things really do get harder as you get bigger. In some ways a global behemoth like the United States has maneuvering room that, say, Switzerland doesn't, but in other ways it's hemmed in in ways that Switzerland isn't.

Given that, the truth is that the United States looks pretty good despite all the half measures from Obama and the endless obstructionism from Republicans. Russia has done better than us thanks to its booming resource sector, but aside from them I'd say we've probably done better than nearly all the other big economic zones in the world, including China, Europe, Japan, the UK, and India. There are lots of reasons for this that aren't related to fiscal and monetary policy, but you still have the raw fact that, when you ask "compared to what?" America's economic recovery looks surprisingly good.

The Inside Story of MoveOn's Secret "Silver Bullet" to Deliver Victory for Obama

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 11:41 AM EDT

The Orange County Register/ZUMApress.comThe Orange County Register/ZUMApress.com

Danny Oran knows a bolt of inspiration when it strikes. As a Microsoft designer in the early 1990s, he thought up the Windows "Start" menu after seeing a test subject—a rocket scientist from Boeing, no less—struggle with an early version of Microsoft's ubiquitous operating system. Oran also created the handy taskbar at the bottom of every Windows screen, stopping users from opening ten versions of the same program and crashing their PCs. After decades in tech and entrepreneurial circles, Oran moved to MoveOn.org, the massive progressive organizing network. This summer, he set his mind to tackling a glaring problem he'd observed in American elections: registered voters who don't vote. In 2008, for instance, 38 percent of registered voters didn't cast a ballot in the presidential election.

So Oran cast around for ideas. One day in August, he found his solution—in an unlikely place.

Are Obama's Good Polling Numbers Hurting Him?

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 11:05 AM EDT

A couple of days ago, after I posted a bunch of poll models showing Obama with a fairly sizeable electoral college lead, a friend wrote to me:

Rs vote no matter what, rain, shine, or submerged subways. And the aggregators are putting the fear of God into them, firing them up even more. In contrast, lots of lefties see the odds and plan to do something else on election day.

As much as I'm not surprised to see the recent attacks on Silver, et al., I welcome them. There needs to be a lot less confidence in those numbers, regardless of how strong they are.

Dems look for reasons not to vote and Silver and others — or "reality" — serves that up. Some superstitious fear now would be a good thing. I think Palin scared the bejeezus out of the left in '08, but they lack that oddball character on the right these days.

This is a fairly common sentiment. And it makes sense. It's entirely reasonable to think that projecting an air of confidence might make your supporters overconfident and decrease turnout on Election Day. Better to keep them running scared.

But there's an odd thing about this: professional politicians apparently don't believe it. At all. Oh sure, they'll keep sending out the scary emails all the way through November 6. "Folks, there are a bunch of races that are simply too close to call," screams the latest plea in my inbox from Dick Durbin. "Contribute $7 now, before time runs out." (Really? $7?) Publicly, though, presidential campaigns pretty much never do this. In fact, they usually go to absurd lengths to demonstrate that their campaign is a juggernaut that will sail to victory. They apparently believe—and so do I—that people are energized by being associated with a winner. Confidence in victory boosts turnout, it doesn't suppress it.

Question: is this true, or is it just old-school conventional wisdom with no real basis in reality? I wonder if there's any actual research that's on point here?

Niall Ferguson's Slow Road to Oblivion

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 10:41 AM EDT

Dan Drezner tips me off today to an essay by the soon-to-be irrelevant Niall Ferguson in the soon-to-be defunct Newsweek. In it, Ferguson decides to go public with his fever dreams of what an Obama White House might do to swing the election over the next couple of days:

If the White House could announce a historic deal with Iran—lifting increasingly painful economic sanctions in return for an Iranian pledge to stop enriching uranium—Mitt Romney would vanish as if by magic from the front pages and TV news shows. The oxygen of publicity—those coveted minutes of airtime that campaigns don’t have to pay for—would be sucked out of his lungs.

....[There is] an alternative surprise—the one I have long expected the president to pull if he finds himself slipping behind in the polls. With a single phone call to Jerusalem, he can end all talk of his being Jimmy Carter to Mitt Romney’s Reagan: by supporting an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

"Could this be the worst international affairs column of 2012?" Dan asks. I'd put it a little differently: I suspect that future generations will use Ferguson as the archetypal example of a perfectly decent scholar inexplicably deciding to pursue a career as an egregious hack. Personally, I'd rather be a decent scholar, but I don't really have that option any longer, so here I am. Ferguson's case is more mysterious. Why would anyone knowingly trade what he used to be for what he's so rapidly morphing himself into?

Public Service Announcement re: Election Day

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 9:49 AM EDT

We don't know who will win Tuesday's election. That is all. 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 31, 2012

Wed Oct. 31, 2012 9:25 AM EDT

Lance Corporals Jon Wiseman and Sean Nearing, with Company L, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, provide security from a rooftop during Military Operations in Urban Terrain training, at Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz. Oct. 22, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Steve Cushman.

Can Farms Bounce Back from Superstorms Like Sandy?

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 5:03 AM EDT

Farmers have always lived with what the novelist Henry James called the "imagination of disaster"—the keen sense that there's always something, anything, that can go wrong. In that long interval between sowing tiny seeds and reaping valuable crops, droughts, floods, plagues of pests, tumbling trees, ravaging beasts—all threaten your livelihood and haunt your dreams. But the last seven years have been ridiculous.

In 2005, the sixth-most powerful hurricane ever recorded blitzed into the Mississippi River Delta region, flattening $900 million worth of crops. Just two years after Katrina, a "500-year flood" visited the Midwestern corn belt—which, as the US Geological Survey pointed out at the time, marked the second "500-year flood" in 15 years. In 2011, Texas suffered the most severe 12-month drought in its recorded history, resulting in a stunning $5.2 billion in crop and livestock losses, eclipsing the state's previous record high in crop losses set just five years earlier. Then came last August's Hurricane Irene, which deluged farmlands and destroyed crops from Puerto Rico to Canada, taking a particular toll on farmers in Vermont and New York State. This summer, farmers in the Midwest suffered the worst drought in a generation—which cut into crop yields and sparked yet another global hunger crisis. And now comes unprecedented "superstorm" Sandy.

Watch: Gary Taubes Reveals the Sugar Industry's Secrets

| Wed Oct. 31, 2012 5:03 AM EDT

Mother Jones multimedia producer Brett Brownell and senior editor Michael Mechanic paid a visit to the home of science journalist and best-selling author Gary Taubes to talk about his new article "Big Sugar's Sweet Little Lies." In the piece, Taubes and coauthor Cristen Kearns Couzens use a trove of internal documents to show how the sugar industry set out to counter scientific evidence suggesting that their product may play a role in deadly chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The documents also reveal how the industry influenced agencies such as the FDA and the USDA—whose advisory panels included industry-friendly scientists, and whose conclusions about the safety of sugar leaned heavily on industry-funded studies. Click on the screen prompts in the video to view key documents and read the piece, which is featured in our November/December print issue. (A quick footnote: One question in the video about sugar consumption references the USDA's speculative new figures, while the chart you'll see shows the older "availability" figures, hence the difference.)

VIDEO: Breezy Point, Queens, Reels From Hurricane-Caused Inferno

| Tue Oct. 30, 2012 10:27 PM EDT

"I think we all can agree we're seeing complete and utter devastation," Brendan Gallagher says, standing in front of the charred remains of his childhood home.

Just a short drive from New York City's famous Rockaway beaches, Breezy Point, Queens, is a quaint seaside hamlet where many cops and firefighters come to retire. It's a place known for charming historic bungalows and sweeping ocean views, but on Monday night it quickly became the setting for some of Hurricane Sandy's most terrifying damage.

As a massive storm surge swept in with the gale-force winds, an as-yet-unknown source sparked a fire that, according to New York City Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano, ultimately leveled more than 100 homes—luckily, most residents heeded early evacuation warnings and no one was killed. Today, locals waded back in through still-receding flood waters to assess the damage while firefighters—some off-duty, picking through the wreckage of friends' and neighbors' homes—tamped down the smoldering ruins.