2012 - %3, November

Friday Cat Blogging - 2 November 2012

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 1:58 PM EDT

When I sat down on the floor to take a picture of Domino this morning, she immediately made a beeline for the camera and started smooching it. Needless to say, this didn't result in very much high-quality catblogging photography. But once she got bored and backed off a few inches I managed to get a few shots of something that was recognizably a cat.

In any case, this is it: your final catblogging before the election. Try not to let the next few days drive you too crazy.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Riding the Storm: Messenger on a Bike From the Entrails of Hurricane Sandy

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 1:30 PM EDT

 

 Hurricane Sandy on Bikes in NYC from Casey Neistat on Vimeo.

"No city authorized filming will take place," announced New York Mayor Bloomberg as Hurricane Sandy approached. But that didn't stop filmmaker Casey Neistat from getting out on his bike and shooting this crazy awesome scary footage during the storm.

The Republican War on Reality Continues

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 1:25 PM EDT

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service concluded that cutting taxes on the rich had no correlation with higher economic growth rates. This is hardly surprising. Outside the right-wing think tank bubble, that's been the conclusion of practically every economist who's looked seriously at the evidence.

Nonetheless, congressional Republicans were shocked, and made their displeasure known. Shortly thereafter the report was withdrawn. Jared Bernstein calls this "existentially scary," because it means that nonpartisan analysis is becoming more and more impossible. Say something that contradicts a Republican talking point, and you'd better retract it. There's a budget markup coming soon, after all.

However, Steve Benen reminds us that this is hardly new:

This was consistently one of the more offensive hallmarks of the Bush/Cheney era. In 2005, for example, after a government report showed an increase in terrorism around the world, the administration announced it would stop publishing its annual report on international terrorism. Reality proved problematic, so rather than addressing the problem, the Republican administration decided to hide the reality.

Soon after, the Bush administration was discouraged by data about factory closings in the U.S., the administration announced it would stop publishing information about factory closings.

When Bush's Department of Education found that charter schools were underperforming, the administration said it would sharply cut back on the information it collects about charter schools.

And Bruce Bartlett emails to remind us that this attitude goes back even farther than that. Earlier this year, Newt Gingrich called the CBO "a reactionary socialist institution," a statement that came as no surprise to anyone who knows his history. After the Republican landslide of 1994, Gingrich did more than most to destroy congressional access to analytical information:

When he became speaker in 1995, Mr. Gingrich moved quickly to slash the budgets and staff of the House committees, which employed thousands of professionals with long and deep institutional memories.

....In addition to decimating committee budgets, he also abolished two really useful Congressional agencies, the Office of Technology Assessment and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The former brought high-level scientific expertise to bear on legislative issues and the latter gave state and local governments an important voice in Congressional deliberations.

And Bartlett points out that the current GOP routinely attacks not just the CBO and CRS, but also the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Government Accountability Office. They just don't like having anyone around that might mess with their preferred version of reality.

Frum: The GOP Will Destroy America If We Reelect Obama, So We Must Let the GOP Win

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 12:00 PM EDT

David Frum has a very odd endorsement of Mitt Romney today. The endorsement itself isn't odd: Romney's a conservative and Frum's a conservative, so you'd pretty much expect Frum to support him. But what a peculiar bunch of reasons he gives. First, he figures that Obamacare will survive no matter what, so he'd rather have a Republican in charge of implementing it. This is....not consistent with reality. Obamacare will be effectively wiped out if Romney is elected. Frum also has a peculiarly hostile reading of Obama's Osawatomie speech from last year, which he thinks is an indication that Obama wants to vastly expand government employment. As Keith Humphreys points out, Obama sure has a funny way of showing this:

Frum also believes that if the federal government needs new revenue, it shouldn't come from higher income taxes. Instead it should come from carbon taxes and consumption taxes. Fine by me! But surely he knows that Romney and the Republican Party are, if anything, more hostile to those taxes than they are even to income taxes?

But all this is just a warmup. Here's the head slapper:

The question over [Romney's] head is not a question about him at all. It's a question about his party — and that question is the same whether Romney wins or loses. The congressional Republicans have shown themselves a destructive and irrational force in American politics. But we won't reform the congressional GOP by re-electing President Obama. If anything, an Obama re-election will not only aggravate the extremism of the congressional GOP, but also empower them: an Obama re-election raises the odds in favor of big sixth-year sweep for the congressional GOP — and very possibly a seventh-year impeachment. A Romney election will at least discourage the congressional GOP from deliberately pushing the US into recession in 2013. Added bonus: a Romney presidency likely means that the congressional GOP will lose seats in 2014, as they deserve.

Holy cats. First of all, this is almost certainly wrong. A Republican win would embolden congressional Republicans. They'd take it as a sign that they were right all along, that America really is a conservative nation and really does want to be governed according to tea party principles. They'd be over the moon with faith in their own righteousness and would demand absolute fealty from Romney. Sure, they'd ease up on things like debt ceiling hostage taking, but not on much of anything else. The tea party wing of the GOP would be reenergized and in no mood to feel like they had to compromise their principles even a little bit.

A loss, on the other hand, might have a salutary effect. It's no sure thing, but it just might start some real grumbling among the business class that bankrolls the GOP and the moderate class that's never gotten along with the tea party in the first place. It's really the only hope there is of provoking the Republican Party to eventually deal with its crackpot wing.

But instead, Frum makes the most overt form of the surrendering-to-terrorists argument that I've seen yet. If Obama wins, congressional Republicans will go completely ape and destroy the country. They will deliberately tank the economy and then impeach the president. Therefore, we have to give into them and turf Obama out of office.

It's appalling that people are seriously making this argument. What's worse, it's the relatively sensible people who are making it. This is simply nuts. No country can survive with this attitude. If congressional Republicans are truly a destructive and irrational force in American politics—and God knows, I agree with Frum about that—the answer is to fight them, not to surrender to them. That way lies madness.

CHART: In 2012, $8 out of $10 Dark-Money Dollars Supported Republican Candidates

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 10:58 AM EDT

If on November 6 Mitt Romney wins the White House and Republicans retake the Senate, they'd be remiss not to thank dark money in their victory speeches.

That's because $8 out of every $10 in dark money—campaign cash whose source is hidden from the public—spent so far in the 2012 elections went to electing Republicans and defeating Democrats. Through November 1, dark-money groups, including politically active nonprofits, trade groups, and labor unions, spent $213 million on elections, and 81 percent of that money backed GOPers, according to a new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation. US Senate races attracted the most dark money, at $86.4 million; the Senate fights seeing the most dark-money seep in are Virginia ($19 million), Ohio ($13 million), Nevada ($12 million), Wisconsin ($10 million), and Montana ($7.5 million), Sunlight found.

All told, the amount of dark money spent by November 1 accounted for 22 percent of all outside cash in the 2012 elections. Here's a breakdown of dark money spending so far:

Dark-money groups have, to no one's surprise, ramped up their spending in the final weeks before Election Day. But the uptick in dark money is especially true for pro-GOP groups as they dump money into the presidential race and House and Senate campaigns:

And below is a breakdown of the biggest dark-money players in American politics. Shocker: Eight of the top 10 biggest spenders back Republicans. Not only that, but those top five players—Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, the US Chamber of Commerce, Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Job Security, and American Future Fund—account for 64 percent of all dark-money spending.

Sunlight Foundation's entire analysis is worth the read. But as Sunlight's Lee Drutman notes, his report doesn't fully capture the extent of secret spending in US elections. Dark-money groups not only mask their donors; they fail to even disclose all their spending. "Ultimately," Drutman writes, "we will probably never know where this dark money comes from, nor the true spending numbers."

The New York Times Should Run a Betting Market for New York Times Pundits

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 10:25 AM EDT

The New York Times public editor thinks Nate Silver was wrong to offer a bet that his presidential forecast was right. Alex Tabarrok disagrees:

In fact, the NYTimes should require that Silver, and other pundits, bet their beliefs. Furthermore, to remove any possibility of manipulation, the NYTimes should escrow a portion of Silver’s salary in a blind trust bet. In other words, the NYTimes should bet a portion of Silver’s salary, at the odds implied by Silver’s model, randomly choosing which side of the bet to take, only revealing to Silver the bet and its outcome after the election is over. A blind trust bet creates incentives for Silver to be disinterested in the outcome but very interested in the accuracy of the forecast.

Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief. A bet is a tax on bullshit; and it is a just tax, tribute paid by the bullshitters to those with genuine knowledge.

I guess that might work for guys like Silver, who put hard numbers to their forecasts, but how would it work for the less quantitative pundits, who just say stuff like "Obama can win if he makes the case for activist government in the closing weeks"? Beats me. Maybe the Times should require that all predictions be footnoted with clear conditions and firm odds, and then should open its own betting market, which would offer the chance to wager on every prediction made by any Times pundit. That might actually be fun. And if the Times rakes off a small piece for the house, it could even be a money spinner.

It might make it hard to find columnists, though. There probably aren't very many bullshitters who would be happy to see their record of bullshit laid before the public quite so mercilessly.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in October

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 9:45 AM EDT

The American economy beat expectations and added 171,000 new jobs last month. However, about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth is closer to 81,000 jobs. The chart below, which I update monthly, shows net job creation since the beginning of 2008, and the bottom line is that although job growth in October was higher than job growth in September, it was still fairly modest. This is pretty much the same story we've had all year: the economy is improving, but it's not improving very fast. In other news, the labor participation rate was up a hair as more people started looking for work again, and as a result, unemployment ticked up slightly, from 7.80% to 7.88%. Also: revisions added 84,000 jobs to prior months' data.

Politically, this is a wash. It's decently good news, but it isn't something Obama can crow about too much. Conversely, it's nothing that Romney can get much traction with either. If you dig into the weeds, the unemployment rate was up fairly dramatically among blacks and among those without a high school diploma, but in both cases it was just a reversion to the trendline after a flukey low number last month. The number of discouraged workers was up slightly, and the number of long-term unemployed rose a few percentage points. That's pretty much the worst news in the report.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 2, 2012

Fri Nov. 2, 2012 9:11 AM EDT

Pfc. Charles Fox, a forward observer, with another soldier from Chopping Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, provide overwatch during a dismounted patrol in Gorbuz District near Combat Out Post Bowri Tana, Afghanistan, Oct. 12, 2012. U.S. Army photo By: Capt. Erik Alfsen.

A Geneticist's Take on California's Prop 37

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 5:08 AM EDT

Editor's note: This is a guest post by geneticist and author Belinda Martineau, who was a principal scientist at Calgene Inc., where she helped commercialize the world's first genetically engineered whole food, the Flavr Savr tomato.

Genetically engineered (GE) sweet corn is being sold at a Walmart near you. And because that company has said it sees "no scientifically validated safety reasons to implement restrictions on this product," and because US regulations don't require it, it isn't labeled "GE."

Developed by Monsanto, this GE sweet corn is beautiful by fresh corn standards—not a worm hole in sight—since it contains not one, not two, but three insecticides engineered into each cell of every kernel. Having the corn make its own insecticides means that farmers don't have to spray those chemicals out in the environment. The end result is that no earworms or European corn borers will have anything to do with this good-looking GE sweet corn. But, you may be wondering: should I?

2 Swing States That Swing on Felon Disenfranchisement

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 5:08 AM EDT

A new infographic from the Prison Policy Initiative (cropped version below) does a nice job of illustrating the massive vote-suppression tactic we wrote about previously—one that could hand two crucial states to Mitt Romney. While most states forbid people to vote while in prison, and many extend that ban to people on parole, only a handful make it next to impossible to regain your right to vote if you've ever been convicted of a felony. Do the crime, and you'll never vote again.

Among that handful of states are two where Obama and Romney have been running neck and neck—Florida and Virginia. (Nate Silver's model shows Romney leading in Florida and Obama ahead in Virginia.) According to PPI's data, a full 9 percent of Florida's voting-age population is disenfranchised because they have at one time been incarcerated. In Virginia, the figure is 6 percent.

Given that a disproportionate number of disenfranchised ex-felons are people of color, and that Obama polls far ahead of Mitt Romney in the black and Latino communities, the assumption is that a majority of the missing votes would favor Obama—possibly enough to win him these states even if only a fraction of ex-felons voted. The results of this election may therefore hinge on the denial of a basic right to men and women who have long since paid their debt to society, but remain permanently excluded from the democratic process.

Click on image to see the full poster. Prison Policy InitiativeClick on image to see the full poster. Prison Policy Initiative