2012 - %3, November

Obama 1, Catholic Bishops 0

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 7:13 PM EST
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan

For the past two years, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has been on the warpath against the Obama administration. The bishops have lashed out at the White House for requiring employers to give workers with insurance health plans that provides free contraception. (Catholic institutions including Notre Dame have filed suit against the mandate.) The bishops have also fumed over the Department of Health and Human Services' decision not to renew its contract with the USCCB to provide services to the victims of human trafficking. The bishops had refused to allow its subcontractors to provide abortion or contraception counseling or referrals, even when it was clear that many of the victims they served really needed those services.

These fights prompted the bishops to mobilize during the presidential campaign. They staged a two-week "religious freedom" campaign over the summer that was only a thinly veiled attack on Obama. Throughout the election season, priests across the country were heard urging their congregations to vote against Obama.

Despite all the protests and occasional polls suggesting that Catholics would vote against Obama by a 3 to 1 margin, American Catholics ended up supporting Obama over Mitt Romney by two percent, according to exit polls analyzed by the nonprofit Faith in Public Life. Obama did see a drop in his share of Catholic supporters, but mostly among those who also fall into the "white male" category that represented Romney's strongest base.

"A diverse coalition of social justice Catholics, especially Latinos, helped tip the scales this year," said John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life in a release. "While bishops doubled down against same sex marriage and demonized President Obama as an enemy of religious liberty, they were clearly out of touch with many Catholics. If the GOP has some reflecting to do about its inability to reach an increasingly multicultural country, Catholic leaders could benefit from similar soul searching when it comes to their own diverse flock."

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The Republican Party Needs to Ditch Fox News If It Wants to Win

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 6:43 PM EST

With President Obama's victory over Mitt Romney, many pundits are already engaging in clichéd talk of "soul-searching" for the GOP. What they mean by this phrase differs depending on who says it: Pundits on the left as well as moderate, reform-oriented Republicans are claiming the party needs to move back to a pragmatist set of policies; tea partiers and others on the right, talk radio, and Fox News are claiming that Mitt Romney, like John McCain before him, was simply too moderate to win, and that only a true, principled conservative can lead the charge to victory.

But what Republicans really need to learn from Romney's defeat is not that their candidate was too weak or too moderate. They need to learn that their candidate was forced to adopt far more extreme policies than he previously held due to a primary process that enslaves pragmatism and electability to a rigid ideology. And at the heart of this rigid ideology is a conservative movement that's become the creature of the right-wing media.

Fox News is often described as little more than a mouthpiece for the Republican Party. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the reverse is the case, with the Republican Party serving as unwitting puppets of the self-serving right-wing controversy machine. Fox News and the talk radio shock jocks across the country win whether or not conservatives are in power; these purveyors of political entertainment thrive under a Democratic president, perhaps even more so than under their preferred candidates. There's big money in controversy, and controversy is what the Glenn Becks of the world do best.

At some point, Republicans will need to wake up to the current state of affairs and realize they're being held hostage to a powerful, self-sustaining entertainment industry and that the interests of the party and the interests of Fox News are not one and the same.

Indeed, the spinoffs of this conservative movement/media behemoth can be seen far and wide as bloggers like Dean Chambers take up the mantle of "true conservatism" and begin telling Republicans only what they want to hear—even if that means twisting the polling data beyond anything remotely recognizable as the truth.

Nor'easter 'Athena' Bombards Areas Hardest Hit by Sandy

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 6:39 PM EST
Satellite photo from NASA's GOES-E of the Nor'easter hitting the Northeast.

Parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic battered by Hurricane Sandy last week are now getting clobbered by a Nor'easter, unofficially dubbed Athena. The National Weather Service predicts that the storm will last until Thursday and could bring 6-12 inches of snow to southeastern New York and New England, as well as 3 inches to Philadelphia. The storm has reportedly already caused 22,000 new power outages in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and in western Connecticut the Capital Weather Gang is reporting that as much as 4.5 inches of snow has already fallen.

Wind gusts up to 60 mph are expected, and coastal flood warnings are in effect for the tri-state area. Airlines have cancelled more than 1,500 flights, mostly around NYC, and Bloomberg encouraged residents in low-lying areas to evacuate. New Jersey has ordered mandatory evacuations of some communities on the shore. Meanwhile, the impact of last week's hurricane still remains—approximately 270,000 homes and businesses in New York remain without power, as well as about 370,000 in New Jersey.

Folks are once again taking to Twitter to document the storm, as the snow begins to fall:

 

 

Some of the areas hit the hardest by Sandy, are feeling the brunt of this storm as well:

 

 

 

California Is No Longer Your Crazy Deadbeat Uncle

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 5:53 PM EST

This is what happens when you let Democrats govern. . . California's credit rating has been slashed to junk-bond status, and citizens are advised to stock up for the not-too-far-off day when cigarettes and Botox become the hard currency of choice. At this stage, we couldn't give California back to Mexico.Ann Coulter, 2003

For the past few decades, making fun of California has been a favorite pastime of conservatives and, for that matter, just about everybody. We're either the Libertine State (Ganja! Gays!), the Nanny State (Eat your fruit before you get your Happy Meal toy!), or a redoubt of ecofascism. (AB 32: the horror!) But more than anything, we're just perpetually broke—the governmental equivalent of Annie Liebovitz or Mike Tyson. And regarding that Ann Coulter actually speaks the truth. Well, except for the part about blaming government by Democrats.

How 2012's Biggest Ballot Measures Played Out

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 5:26 PM EST

Last month, we took a look at 23 ballot measures worth watching in yesterday's election, from same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization to a voter ID amendment and anti-Obamacare initiatives. Here's a look at how those, and a few others, fared last night:

Same-sex marriage
For the first time ever, voters legalized same-sex marriage at the ballot box in Maryland, Maine, and Washington, as MoJo's Kate Sheppard and Adam Serwer report. The night was a huge loss for antigay groups led by the National Organization for Marriage, which also saw a ballot measure in Minnesota for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage go down in flames.

Pot legalization
As Josh Harkinson reports, Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana outright last night, followed an hour later by Washington. The question now is how far the federal government will go to crack down on the historic new laws. Another legalization measure in Oregon failed, in large part due to concerns that the law would have been overly broad. Meanwhile, voters legalized medical marijuana in Massachusetts but rejected it in Arkansas, and in Montana approved a measure that tightens restrictions on the state's existing medical marijuana laws.

Obama Voters More Likely to Encounter Voting Troubles

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 4:37 PM EST

Reporting from the Election Protection Coalition's phone center Tuesday, there were many sobering tales of long lines at polls, malfunctioning machines, and eligible voters being disenfranchised. Our own voter suppression map documented more than 50 trouble spots around the country. Those problems, magnified by Republican-led laws mandating government issued-photo ID, restricting voter registration and curtailing early voting, didn't swing the election to Mitt Romney as his Republican colleagues hoped

Nevertheless, the spectacle of long voting lines lasting late into the night because of problems at the polls is a shame in the wealthiest democracy in the world. There is no justifiable reason for elections being administered so poorly. But make no mistake, the impact of those problems fall disproportionately on voters of color, who are more likely to vote Democratic. A survey conducted by the AFL-CIO shows that black and Hispanic voters were more likely to enounter voting problems than whites:

This isn't just a problem of logistics: It's a moral issue. When someone has to step out of a voting line because they can't afford to take three or four hourse off of work just to go vote, they are being disenfranchised. The election may be over, but this is a problem that still needs to be solved. 

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Raul Ruiz Ekes Out Victory Over Rep. Mary Bono Mack in California

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 4:27 PM EST

The race in California's 36th congressional district shouldn't have been close. Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack hung onto the seat for six terms (after gaining it in a special election when her husband Sonny Bono, who had previously held the seat, died). Her Democratic opponent, emergency room physician Raul Ruiz, is a political neophyte; plus he was recently confronted with a politically unsavory bit of his past: a tape of him reading a letter of support of Leonard Peltier, a Native American convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1977.

But Ruiz won, by three percentage points, after counting went into overtime last night and today.

The district, which includes Riverside County and Coachella Valley, was reconfigured this year and now officially has more Democrats than Republicans. Almost half of the district's residents, and about a quarter of its voters, are Hispanic. Apparently these folks were not fond of Bono Mack's Romney-ish positions and style.

The Soda Tax Lost. Now What?

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 4:10 PM EST

Measures in Richmond and El Monte, California that would have taxed sugar-sweetened beverages at a penny-per-ounce rate failed to pass in either city yesterday. In Richmond, 67 percent of voters said no to Measure N, striking down an attempt by councilmembers such as Jeff Ritterman, the main champion of the tax, to raise funds in hopes of curbing high rates of childhood obesity in the area.

Measure N recieved opposition from some Richmond councilmembers, such as Nat Bates, who told the Contra Costa Times that the tax was an overreach. Fierce campaign spending may have also played a role in quashing passage of the tax; as I reported yesterday, soda and food industry groups, such as the American Beverage Association, poured $2.5 million to defeat the campaign, outspending supporters at a ratio of 35 to 1. That $2.5 million on campaign spending against the tax is almost as much as the $3 million Ritterman was hoping could be raised by the measure to be put towards addressing some of the city's health issues. The tax fared even worse in El Monte, where only 23 percent of voters favored the tax. There, the soda industry spent $1.3 million to counter the measure.

Though disappointed that the initiatives will have to wait for another election, Ritterman says just getting the measures on the ballot doesn't have much of a downside for cities. "If you win, you get millions of dollars to address childhood obesity," he told me. But either way, "you get a very spirited conversation about the health impacts of sugar-sweetened beverages that you didn't have before." Ritterman says he has seen less soda consumed at public events around the city because of the debate the tax raised, and thinks young people's soda drinking habits may have been changed by the coversations the proposed initiative sparked.

Ritterman says he believes that a statewide or nationwide soda tax would be more effective than a local one. With the Obamas' emphasis on healthy eating, he's holding out hope for national movement towards taxing soda. In the meantime, he plans to encourage 14 California cities to propose soda taxes in 2014. He also hopes people will start paying more attention to the science behind the overconsumption of sugar: in this campaign, "it was really treated as a political issue by people not taking on the science."

In the meantime, though people in Richmond and El Monte won't pay a bit more to consume sugar-sweetened drinks, the health costs of dealing with high diabetes and heart disease rates will continue to add up. Says Ritterman: "We're actually paying more money by not having the tax, but people weren't aware of that."

Beware of Beguiling Explanations for Obama's Victory

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 3:52 PM EST

One more quick thing: before everyone starts getting too enthralled with demographic time bombs and other in-the-weeds explanations for why Obama won last night, just remember this: most of the political science models, based on little more than a few economic fundamentals, predicted a modest Obama victory six months ago. Maybe Hispanics mattered, and maybe Benghazi and Sandy and 47% and the first debate and Jeeps in China all mattered too. But if they did, they sure seem to have conveniently canceled each other out and left us exactly where we thought we'd be back in the dog days of summer. Some coincidence, huh?

The US Senate Just Got a Lot More Progressive

| Wed Nov. 7, 2012 3:48 PM EST
Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate, couldn't have asked for a better night. Every incumbent Democratic senator up for re-election won; the party picked up a seat in Massachusetts (and perhaps another in Maine); and, assuming the results stand, won a race it had no business winning in deep-red North Dakota. But the big news from Tuesday isn't just that the Democrats held onto the majority, it's what that majority now looks like—much more progressive.

Four of the five most most liberal candidates in contested Senate races won on Tuesday (only Arizona Democrat Richard Carmona fell short), according to ideological ratings compiled by University of Chicago political scientist Boris Shor. Per Shor's rankings, Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy was the most liberal candidate in any contested race to win a Senate seat—more liberal than the progressive icon Elizabeth Warren, even. And Murphy replaced a centrist Independent Joe Lieberman. That's a big boost. Right behind Murphy is Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a member of the House Progressive Caucus who seems a sure bet to become something the retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl never was—a loud voice for progressive causes. Warren, the fourth-most liberal Democratic challenger (behind Hawaii's Mazie Hirono, who won easily) replaced Sen. Scott Brown, a moderate Republican. A political celebrity even before she entered the race on account of her work monitoring TARP, Warren will likely be handed an oversized role for an incoming lawmaker on issues like housing and banking. Here's a chart, by way of the Washington Post's Ezra Klein:

Ezra Klein/Washington PostEzra Klein/Washington Post

The biggest win for liberals came in Missouri, where Sen. Claire McCaskill, never a liberal favorite, managed to take down Rep. Todd Akin, the second-most conservative candidate on the ballot (only Wyoming's John Barrasso outdid him). Elsewhere, Democrats replaced a moderate Republican Sen. Richard Lugar with Rep. Joe Donnelly, whom Shor gives an ideological score of .03—just about dead-center. That's a slight shift, but it's something. The only real reversal of the trend came in Nebraska, where centrist Dem Ben Nelson was replaced by Deb Fischer, the most conservative challenger to win on Tuesday.

The Senate's shift to the left is consistent with two other notable developments on Tuesday night. As my colleague Adam Serwer noted, liberals scored big wins at the state level, going 4-for-4 in gay marriage initiatives (legalizing it in Washington state, Maryland, and Maine), decriminalizing marijuana in Colorado, and giving undocumented kids in Maryland in-state college tuition. And as a whole, Congress took a few steps closer to resembling the nation it serves—Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard will be the first practicing Hindu to serve in the House; Baldwin the first openly-gay Senator; Hirono the first Asian woman. For the first time, women comprise an entire state delegation (New Hampshire's), and a record number of women will join the 112th Congress.