2012 - %3, November

Deciphering Fox News

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 7:35 PM EST

Just reading wall posters here, but the talking heads on Fox are not sounding very energized tonight.... 

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WATCH: On Long Island, Sandy Victims Vote—Or Not

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 7:20 PM EST

Oceanside High School in Oceanside, Long Island, has long played host to national elections. But this morning, it opened its doors to a whole new raft of voters: Those whose original polling places nearby had been disabled by Hurricane Sandy.

Even as intersections remained without traffic lights, and piles of water-destroyed household furnishings lined the streets, many in the steady stream of voters here made it clear that weighing in on our next president was still a priority. They were also adamant that in this traditionally Republican-leaning neighborhood, President Obama's efforts to address the storm wouldn't be enough to pull votes away from Mitt Romney.

Closer to the water's edge, where ocean debris still litters sidewalks and many remain without food or heat, the polling station seemed a lot further off. "I've been living in the cold," Kathleen Basler says. "There is no way, shape, or form that I could even get to a voting booth."

Leader of the Free World Barack Obama Weighs in on Korean Dance Sensation "Gangnam Style"

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 7:14 PM EST
Obama-endorsed.

As the Obama reelection campaign wound down, the campaign committed him to a string of radio interviews noted for their focus on the big issues of our time, such as collateral damage resulting from the administration's controversial drone program, spicy food, football teams, singer-songwriter Flo Rida, singer-songwriter Pitbull, his friendship with George Clooney, and Carly Rae Jepsen's hit single "Call Me Maybe."

And on the day he will find out if he will serve a second term, the president taped a segment with radio station WZID-FM in New Hampshire.

Via the AP, an election-day quote from the president:

During a radio spot with WZID-FM in New Hampshire, the commander in chief was pressed on whether he and first lady Michelle would do a rendition of the South Korean rapper PSY's hit ["Gangnam Style"], which has hundreds of millions of views on YouTube.

"I just saw that video for the first time," Obama replied. "I think I can do that move. But I'm not sure that the inauguration ball is the appropriate time to break that out."

"Maybe," he concluded, "do it privately for Michelle."

So if Obama loses his reelection bid, one of the last things he will have addressed before his defeat will have been "Gangnam Style."

That is the way history will be written.

Will Big Soda Beat the California Soda Taxes?

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 6:52 PM EST

Should sugary drinks be taxed to discourage people from overconsuming them? That's the question California voters in Richmond and El Monte are asking as they head to the polls today to decide on what could become the first penny-per-ounce taxes imposed on sugary beverages by cities in the US.

As I reported in June, some economists and public health researchers think that soda has enough price elasticity that its consumption rates would be shaken up by such measures. And growing research about diabetes and other health problems associated with the overconsumption of sugaras discussed in the recent Mother Jones exposé "Big Sugar's Sweet Little Lies," for instance—has convinced some it may be time for the government to help regulate its consumption.

Just in time for today's election, a new study presented at a conference last week underscored the potentially positive role such excise taxes could play in problems plaguing minorities and low income communities. When researchers from the University of CaliforniaSan Francisco and other universities projected the impact of a 20 percent drop in consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in California, they found that incidence of diabetes and heart disease would drop up to 5.6 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively.

But more importantly, the researchers found, incidence would decrease more significantly for certain groups who struggle with these issues the most: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and poor people. For these groups, a soda tax could decrease diabetes incidence by around 8 percent, and heart disease by around 2 percent. Total savings associated with avoiding these health issues in California? As much as $1 billion for diabetes, and an extra $130 million for heart disease.

Richmond's councilman Jeff Ritterman, who proposed the city's soda tax, or "Measure N," called these research findings "the smoking gun" in an email in early November, especially considering two-thirds of the city is black or Latino, and 32 percent of school kids are obese. The city also suffers from an 11 percent unemployment rate and high rates of poverty. As California Watch reported, the lead researcher of the study thinks the findings are significant because they show that some groups that in general drink more soda and are at a higher risk of diabetes may also benefit most from a tax on SSBs.

The taxes are by no means universally popular. Many in the Richmond area, including some black and Latino leaders, feel they were left out of the soda tax discussion and worry that a tax could slow sales at local small businesses. As the debate heated up over the summer and fall, these opponents were encouraged by the likes of, who else? Big Soda. 

Maplight.orgMaplight.orgAs my colleague Kate Sheppard reported, the American Beverage Association bankrolled a coalition against the tax in Richmond, framing it as a "tax on poor people." (This coalition also successfully sued the city to not have to disclose its donors on campaign fliers). Data compiled at the end of October by Maplight.org shows that groups like the ABA, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo have outspent supporters of Measure N at a ratio of 35 to 1. The soda industry reportedly spent another $1.3 million to defeat El Monte's soda tax. Whatever the outcome of today's election, the outsize spending reveals just how far the beverage industry will go to protect its product, even if the public health consequences are less than sweet.

Voter ID Chaos in Pennsylvania

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 6:48 PM EST
Misleading flier handed out by a poll volunteer in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is quickly emerging as the national epicenter of voting chaos. In addition to epic lines, voting machine malfunctions, and what voting rights advocates describe as a possible "unreported purge of voters," Mother Jones has received numerous reports of voters being asked to show ID at the polls. In March, Pennsylvania passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, but last month a state judge blocked it from taking effect until 2013.

Nevertheless, voters across the state report encountering signs and election volunteers requesting identification. Even the polling place in Shaler where Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett voted this morning boasted a hand-scrawled sign informing voters to be prepared to show a photo ID, a poll worker at the precinct told Mother Jones

Voter Finds Another Romney-Loving Machine in Pennsylvania

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 5:49 PM EST

County officials have found another Romney-loving robot: A faulty electronic voting machine in Union County, Pennsylvania, has been recalibrated and put back online after it wouldn't allow a vote for President Obama, Mother Jones has confirmed.

Earlier today, MJ reported on another incident this morning in Perry County, Pennsylvania, in which a voting computer's touchscreen ballot converted all Obama votes into votes for Romney. The second machine came to light after a local college professor found he couldn't cast his vote for Obama on it.

"I spoke with a poll worker there and saw her fold up the machine. I also called [a national wattchdog hotline] to report the incident," said Andy Hirsch, director of media communications at Bucknell University, who posted a video of the machine's malfunction on Vimeo after it failed to record his ballot choices.

John Showers, chairman of the board of elections for Union County, confirmed that there was a problem with the calibration of the machine; the problem has since been fixed, and the machine has been returned to service. He said: "In general, there's a calibration issue with one machine in each election here, so we had this one, and it was taken care of," he said.

Hirsch said he'd learned about that previous machine snafu in Perry County, just before he set out for his own polling station. "I watched that video right before I left, and wondered whether or not it was real," he said. "Now I'm not surprised!"

Watch the video here:

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Watchdog: Evidence of Unlawful Voter Purge in Pennsylvania

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 5:14 PM EST

The Election Protection Coalition, which is managing a voter protection hotline, says that eligible voters may have been unlawfully purged from the rolls in major urban areas of Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. 

"We suspect there has been an unreported purge of voters in Pennsylvania," said Barbara Arnwine, head of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights. There are "too many voters being affected by this for us to think it’s voter error or voter confusion," Arnwine said.

The Election Protection Coalition said it had fielded at least five reports, each describing dozens of voters being turned away from their polling places because they were not registered as of this afternoon. Under federal law, states are supposed to purge the rolls only after voters have failed to vote in two consecutive general elections, and only then after notifying voters of their intent to do so. According to the Lawyer's Committee, those calling the Election Protection hotline claimed to have voted in 2008, and so shouldn't have been purged. 

Jon Greenbaum, a former Justice Department attorney who now works with the Lawyer's Committee, said that the only other explanation for the reports was administrative error. Pennsylvania is already facing widespread confusion among poll workers and voters over the impact of a recently passed voter ID law.

Fox's Alternate Reality Election

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 5:13 PM EST

Today I'm embedded at the Election Protection phone center in Washington, DC. The room is filled with the chatter of volunteers fielding thousands of calls from all over the country about troubles at polling places, voters being wrongly turned away because of voter ID, or lack of working voting machines, or prohibitively long lines. This is where you'll the real story of how votes are discouraged and blocked in 2012.

But on Fox News, there's only one story: the New Black Panther Party. Back in 2008, a pair of members of the NBPP showed up at a polling station in a mostly black neighborhood in Philadelphia, one of whom was holding a baton. Then, as now, Fox News hyped the story, at the expense of covering genuine voting problems elsewhere. A Bush administration lawyer, working with GOP activists, tried to file a voter intimidation case but was unable to find any actual intimidated voters. The Justice Department ultimately narrowed the case, acquiring an injunction against one of the two NBPP members—the one who was holding a baton—and barring him from ever carrying a weapon near a polling place again. 

After the charges were trimmed, Republicans accused the Obama administration and the entire Justice Department of being racist against white people, knowing that the prosecution was championed by conservatives at Justice working with outside GOP activists to shore up what they knew was a weak case. An Inspector General's report found no wrongdoing on the part of political appointees at the Justice Department, or the officials who ultimately decided to narrow the charges.

The right's fixation on the New Black Panthers, then as now, is another example of American politics being separated into two distinct versions of reality. While voters all over the country struggle with systemic problems caused by Republican engineered restrictions on voting, changes that were deliberately sought to disenfranchise potential Democratic-leaning voters, the right is fixated on some loser standing outside of a polling place in a silly uniform. My colleague Kevin Drum made a similar point this morning. Unfortunately, it can't be made enough.

Things to Know Before You Instagram Your Ballot

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 3:31 PM EST

It's Election Day! Twitter and Facebook are exploding with snapshots people have uploaded of their completed ballots. But before you Instagram your vote, make sure it's not illegal in your state.

The Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP) reports that seven states explicitly prohibit doing so. Other states also frown upon it:

If you want to take photographs or shoot video inside your polling place, you must be cautious to avoid violating the law. Election laws are serious business – you could be removed from the polling place and even subject to criminal penalties. Some states like Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and Texas expressly prohibit the use of photographic and recording equipment inside polling places. In addition, a majority of states have laws prohibiting the disclosure of your own marked ballot, although the details of these laws vary significantly.

As the CMLP points out, there's a good reason for the rules—they're intended to "protect voters from interference and intimidation." Basically they don't want you snooping on people's ballots, which makes sense.

The laws differ by state, so check here for information relevant to where you live. The CMLP notes, however, that even if you can't film inside the polling station, you can likely film outside:

In the vast majority of states, these laws make a distinction between what you can do inside a polling place and what you can do outside a polling place. The laws are more restrictive when it comes to activities inside and within certain buffer zones around the entrance, which are typically 100 feet from the entrance or interior voting area. Outside of the polling place and these buffer zones, your ability to document your voting experience is much freer.

That said, reporters here at Mother Jones and folks at organizations like Video the Vote are asking voters to send in videos and photos of excessively long lines or any suspected malfeasance at the polls. You can certainly capture things happening outside your polling station, but make sure you check the laws in your state before taking photo/video inside.

And if you see something askew at your voting place, please report it to us as well as your local election officials and the Election Protection Coalition.

It's the Machines, Stupid

| Tue Nov. 6, 2012 3:08 PM EST

Mark Thoma draws my attention today to a paper by Henry Siu and Nir Jaimovich that tries to explain why recent recessions have prominently featured jobless recoveries. They break down jobs into three categories: non-routine cognitive jobs, non-routine manual jobs, and routine jobs. What they show is two things:

  • Most of the job losses during the past three recessions have come from the ranks of occupations coded as routine.
  • And unlike previous recessions, these jobs don't come back during the subsequent recoveries. The chart below shows the permanence of these job losses in the aftermath of our last three recessions.

So why is this happening? Siu and Jaimovich conclude that it's the machines, stupid:

Automation and the adoption of computing technology is leading to the decline of middle-wage jobs of many stripes, both blue-collar jobs in production and maintenance occupations and white-collar jobs in office and administrative support. It is affecting both male- and female-dominated professions and it is happening broadly across industries — manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, financial services, and even public administration.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, and better education can only make a small dent in it. I suspect that over the next several decades, this is going to be one of our most serious economic issues, but it's one that we'll mostly try to deny because the solution is so intractable. So instead we'll make up other explanations and continue to flail around. But like it or not, machines are going to get more and more competent over time, and they're going to perform more and more of the work. Eventually we'll have to face up to it.

UPDATE: A regular reader emails in a comment:

Have you ever watched "How It's Made"? The extent of factory automation, even in places you wouldn't expect, like food production, is mind-boggling. It's impossible to watch even one episode and come away wondering where the manufacturing jobs went. It almost doesn't matter if they went overseas — the bigger issue is that they don't require humans anymore. All that's left is for us to automate the factory automation factory and we'll be all done....

This comment, of course, would have been delivered to me by an actual human being 20 years ago.