2012 - %3, January

Stormy Obama Attack Ad Resurfaces in Wake of Sandy

| Thu Nov. 1, 2012 6:03 AM EDT

After being sequestered in his northern Virginia apartment for the duration of Hurricane Sandy, 32-year-old journalist Haroon Moghul woke up Tuesday morning to find something odd poking out underneath his doorframe. As Moghul wrote in online magazine Religion Dispatches, it was a photocopied flier of the president's face superimposed against a turbulent, stormy backdrop. "We've seen storms in Virginia, but none like this…" it read, then proceeded to accuse the president of summoning financial disaster.

As the Houston Chronicle, and subsequently Buzzfeed reported Tuesday, the original mailing had been paid for by Americans for Tax Reform, conservative operative Grover Norquist's "anti-tax" group. It's unclear who redistributed the flier in the wake of Sandy. Moghul says that neither he nor his building's front desk manager saw anyone handing them out, though both discovered them on the floor and under doors Tuesday morning. "It seems like they were on every floor," Moghul says. One neighbor told Moghul that he saw the fliers on cars as early as Saturday.

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7 Prognosticators With Good News for Nervous Obama Fans

| Thu Nov. 1, 2012 6:03 AM EDT

Freaking out about the supertight presidential race and the near-daily barrage of polls suggesting that Obama—no, wait, Romney—could, maybe, possibly, eke out a narrow victory? Sick of empty punditry and craving data-driven electoral analysis? Are you unafraid of mysterious nerdy things like math

If you answered yes to any of the above, check out these seven guys who crunch mountains of polling data so you don't have to. They don't have crystal balls, but they might just have the next best thing.

1. Nate Silver

(Referring to this.)  ; quickmeme.com(Referring to this.) Nate Silver; quickmeme.comThe New York Times' statistics big shot has established himself as the gold standard for electoral prognostication. Romney fans are very upset with him for saying Obama has a strong chance of winning (and for being a sissy-man or something). Nail-biting Obama supporters hit his site for daily (or hourly) doses of reassurance. Both sides tend to ignore that Silver's model doesn't write off possibility of a Romney win.

Track record: Silver has built his reputation on the accuracy of his "Political Calculus": In 2008, his model correctly predicted the electoral outcome in 49 of 50 states, and long before the 2010 midterms, he forecasted a Republican sweep.

Current prediction: Silver's FiveThirtyEight gives the president a 77.4 percent chance of winning, with a estimated total of 299 electoral votes.

 

2. Sam Wang

Wang runs the Meta-Analysis model for the Princeton Election Consortium. Wang, who made a name for himself in neuroscience and biophysics, took the statistical analyses he'd applied in those fields and transposed them to the mess of electoral politics. He developed the model in 2004 initially to help predict the most strategic way to allocate of campaign donations. The model, based on a slew of state polls, calculates each candidate's probability of winning in the Electoral College if the election were held today.

siteElection.Princeton.eduTrack record: The group behind Meta-Analysis stakes out their election prediction street cred like so: "In 2004, the median decided-voter calculation captured the exact final outcome. In 2008, the final-week decided-voter calculation was within 1 electoral vote."

Current prediction: As of October 30, Wang gives Barack Obama a generous 92 to 98 percent chance of reelection, and an estimated 303 electoral votes.

 

3. Drew Linzer

VotamaticVotamatic.org

Linzer, an assistant professor of political science at Emory University, runs the polling analysis and forecast site Votamatic.org. It tracks public opinion trends for the two presidential candidates in each state, and also "forecasts ahead to Election Day" using a unified model.

Track record: This is Linzer's model's first real election, but he vouches for its reliability. "I validated the model with state-level pre-election polls from the 2008 presidential campaign, using the benefit of hindsight to evaluate model performance," he writes. "In a simulated run-through of the campaign from May to November, the model was able to steadily improve the accuracy of its forecasts, ultimately mispredicting the winner of only a single state. By Election Day, the average difference between the model forecasts and the actual state election outcomes was just 1.4%, with more than half of states projected to within 1%."

Current prediction: As of October 30, Votamatic is predicting an Obama victory, with 332 electoral votes.

 

4. Andrew S. Tanenbaum

Electoral-Vote.comElectoral-Vote.comSince 2004, this noted computer scientist and professor at Amsterdam's Vrije Universiteit has run Electoral-Vote.com, which analyzes US federal elections. Also, the site has the option of watching the election with "Rasmussen-free maps."

Track record: Click here for a self-evaluation and breakdown of the website's commendable track record since the 2004 election. Initially anonymous, Tanenbaum revealed his identity after rampant speculation that he was, among other things, "a Clinton administration official, [or] a bored retired statistician." Tanenbaum describes himself as "a libertarian [who leans] towards the Democrats."

Current prediction: With a week to go, Tanenbaum's analysis has Obama up with at least 280 electoral votes.

 

5. Josh Putnam

FHQFHQPutnam, a visiting assistant professor of poli sci at Davidson College in North Carolina, runs the Frontloading HQ blog on state polls.

Track record: Putnam was an ace at delegate math during this year's particularly messy Republican primaries. (He teamed up with The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza to count delegates).

Current prediction: Putnam's model has Obama leading with 332 electoral votes.

 

6. Scott Elliott

Elliott (who goes by the nickname "The Blogging Caesar") runs the Republican-leaning ElectionProjection.com, a site featuring his electoral vote formula and his own edition of "unskewing" the polls. He is a conservative political junkie who views "Jesus [as] my life and my purpose."

ElectionProjection.comElectionProjection.com

Track record: His track record and methods have been pretty solid—even winning him an endorsement across the aisle from Prof. Tanenbaum at Electoral-Vote.com: For instance, in 2008, his formula projected an easy Obama win, but was off by two states (Indiana and North Carolina). In 2004, his model predicted Bush netting 289 electoral votes (he ended up with 286). 

Current prediction: His math shows a substantial lead for Obama, clocking in at 290 electoral votes, but with 48.9 percent of the popular vote versus Romney's 49.6 percent.

 

7. Thomas Holbrook

.eduResearch.UVU.edu

Holbrook, a professor of government at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, runs the Politics by the Numbers forecast.

Track record: He took his models out for their first spin during the 2008 election, estimating a big Obama win with 349 electoral votes, to McCain's 189 (Obama snagged 365, McCain 173).

Current prediction: Holbrook gives the president an 86.69 percent chance of winning reelection, with 281 electoral votes to Romney's 257.

Is the Junk Food Industry Buying the WHO?

| Thu Nov. 1, 2012 6:03 AM EDT

The US Food and Drug Administration is notorious for bowing to food-industry interests at the expense of public health. Consider the case of trans fats—whose damaging effects the FDA ignored for decades under industry pressure before finally taking action in 2006, a story I told here. Then there's the barrage of added sweeteners that have entered the US diet over the last two decades, while the FDA whistled. This week, Cristin Kearns Couzens and Gary Taubes, who has been writing hard-hitting pieces on the dangers of excess sweetener consumption for a while, have a blockbuster Mother Jones story documenting how the FDA rolled over for the food industry on added sweeteners.

As evidence of harm piles up, the industry is only accelerating its effort to keep government action at bay. Back in April, a Reuters investigative report found that the food industry had "more than doubled" its annual lobbying spending under Obama and had successfully pursued a strategy of "pledging voluntary action while defeating government proposals aimed at changing the nation's diet."

But the food industry isn't satisfied with just keeping the US safe for its junk products. As a new Reuters report shows, the industry is also actively seeking influence at the global level by cozying up to the World Health Organization, the public-health arm of the United Nations. The WHO is most known for its efforts to fight communicable diseases like malaria and AIDS. But the UN has recently charged it with focusing on chronic, diet-related ailments like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Scary Climate Change Stories Aren't Working. What's Next?

| Thu Nov. 1, 2012 2:23 AM EDT

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which he calls "a window into the way ahead," Nick Kristof chides the media and our political class alike for paying too little attention to climate change:

Politicians have dropped the ball, but so have those of us in the news business. The number of articles about climate change fell by 41 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to DailyClimate.org.

HThere are no easy solutions, but we may need to invest in cleaner energy, impose a carbon tax or other curbs on greenhouse gases, and, above all, rethink how we can reduce the toll of a changing climate. For example, we may not want to rebuild in some coastal areas that have been hammered by Sandy.

....Democrats have been AWOL on climate change, but Republicans have been even more recalcitrant. Their failure is odd, because in other areas of national security Republicans pride themselves on their vigilance. Romney doesn’t want to wait until he sees an Iranian nuclear weapon before acting, so why the passivity about climate change?

Let's do something useful here. Yesterday I wrote a discouraged post suggesting that the world was unlikely to seriously respond to climate change in time to prevent catastrophe, so maybe we should spend more time instead thinking about adaptation and geoengineering, the latter as a last-resort option. I got a lot of pushback on this, which I probably deserved, since it sounded like I was giving up entirely on the idea of fighting greenhouse gas emissions. I wasn't, but I was talking out loud about the likelihood that even if we keep up the fight, it probably won't be enough. There are just too many big forces pushing in the opposite direction.

One emailer who pushed back suggested we just needed to keep fighting relentlessly. It worked for Republicans on tax cuts, after all, so it could work for us on climate change. I told him I didn't buy that. Republicans are working with self-interest in the case of taxes. Everyone likes low taxes, so it's easy to convince them that low taxes are worth fighting for because they're also good for the economy. But in the case of climate change, we're working against self-interest. Way against. We have an invisible, far-future bogeyman we want to stop, but to do so requires considerable personal sacrifice right now today. It will cost us money in higher energy prices, force us to do things we don't want (eat less meat, stop using plastic bags, give up our SUVs, etc.), and make us change our habits. Sure, there's low-hanging fruit that's an easier sell, but it's nowhere near enough. There's just no getting around the hard stuff. So I don't think that merely fighting relentlessly will be enough.

But my real gripe, I said, was that the liberal strategy basically amounts to writing scary stories—something I've done my share of. And there's good reason for that: climate change is scary stuff, so merely writing about it accurately is inherently scary. Still, we've been writing these scary stories for more than two decades now, and I think that's long enough to conclude that they don't work very well. So while I agree with Nick Kristof that the press should write more about climate change, that mostly amounts to writing more scary stories. And I just don't think that's going to do the job.

So here's the something useful: if you agree with me that the scary story strategy has proven insufficient, what should we be doing instead? The answer can be either substantive (concentrate more on green R&D, for example) or rhetorical (use something other than scary stories to convince people they should endure a considerable amount of inconvenience in order to fight climate change). In either case, you should assume that Republicans and the fossil fuel industry will continue to fight us tooth and nail. No ponies allowed.

So that's the question: what's next? If scary stories aren't doing the job, what will?