2012 - %3, July

Friday Cat Blogging - 27 July 2012

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 3:04 PM EDT

I'm afraid I have heartbreaking news today. On Tuesday night I left the back door open and apparently Inkblot slipped out during the night. He never returned.

We've scoured the neighborhood, put up flyers, and checked with the local shelter, but there's no sign of him. It's inexplicable. It's not the first time I've failed to close all the doors at night, and never in his life has he ever strayed more than a couple hundred feet from home. I don't know what happened this time. I just can't figure it out.

I kept hoping he'd come trotting through the door any moment, sporting his usual quizzical expression, wondering what I was so worried about and asking when dinner was going to be served. Then he'd go back to stealing my chair out from under me and demanding to be held upside-down so he could suck on my armpit. I kept hoping I wouldn't have to write this post. But he hasn't come back, and if he were anywhere nearby he'd have returned long ago. We haven't given up hope entirely, but at this point I'm afraid we've lost him for good. As you can imagine, it's been a very sad week around here. He was the best of cats.  

I have two pictures today. The top one is the first picture I took of Inkblot after we brought him home from the shelter on July 10, 1999. He was about two months old at the time. The second one is from Sunday. It's the last picture I ever took of him. He was 13.

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Modern Music is Tedious and Unimaginative

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 2:27 PM EDT

I'm not going to pretend to understand this, but a group of Spanish scientists say they now have empirical evidence that modern pop music is boring:

We find three important trends in the evolution of musical discourse: the restriction of pitch sequences (with metrics showing less variety in pitch progressions), the homogenization of the timbral palette (with frequent timbres becoming more frequent), and growing average loudness levels.

Basically, musicians are using fewer and simpler note sequences, less variety in timbre, and then making up for it by cranking up the volume. The chart on the right, which is really the only comprehensible one in the paper, shows the evolution of timbral variety, peaking in the 60s and then dropping off dramatically every year since.

Later, during a Q&A with neighborhood kids, the researchers added, ¡Quítese mi césped!

Presidential Race is Too Close to Call

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 12:33 PM EDT

Earlier this morning I predicted that it wouldn't be long before political scientists began plugging second-quarter GDP numbers into the election models to figure out who's going to win in November. I predicted correctly! First out of the gate — first that I've run across so far, anyway — is Seth Masket, who provides us with the chart on the right. I've added the horizontal dashed red line to show exactly where the latest numbers put us, and the news is slightly bad for President Obama: Masket's regression shows Obama winning about 49.7% of the popular vote. Masket provides all the proper caveats:

This isn't the strongest correlate with presidential vote shares. Real disposable income does a bit better, as do measures that incorporate third quarter growth. But still, by itself, this measure explains 39% of the variation in vote shares.

You'll notice that there's a red dotted line projecting the 2012 presidential vote based on GDP growth this year (an average of 1.75%). It basically hits the trendline right at 50%, continuing to indicate a really, really close contest. Notably, we're experiencing slower economic growth than George W. Bush had to contend with in 2004 or his father faced when he lost reelection in 1992.

Of course, I'm not making a forecast (political scientists are apparently terrible at that). I'm just suggesting that what we've seen so far this year from the economy is consistent with a very close election, and that things with more modest influences on the vote (campaign spending, voter turnout efforts, new voter ID requirements, etc.) could end up making all the difference.

Well, maybe Masket isn't making a forecast, but that won't stop the rest of us. Unfortunately, the numbers really are too close to be meaningful. It's not as if Obama is winning or losing by five percentage points or something. Given the limits of the model and the tightness of the numbers, Masket is right: it's still anyone's race. This year, at least, it looks as if the economic fundamentals are so evenly balanced that all the other campaign stuff really is going to make the difference. Just the way the media likes it.

POSTSCRIPT: Do you want my prediction? Sure you do! My guess is that the economic fundamentals really are on a knife-edge this year. However, voters usually keep parties in the Oval Office for two terms and toss them out after that. So if your party has held the presidency for one term, you have about a two-point built-in advantage. If your party has already held the presidency for two terms, you have about a two-point disadvantage.

It doesn't always work out that way, but take a look at all the outliers at the top right of the chart: they're all candidates running for second terms. Now take a look at the outliers below the green line. They're all candidates running for third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth terms (poor old Adlai in 1952).

Obama is running for a second term. So I'd add about two points to Masket's number and forecast a popular vote majority of around 51% to 51.5%. That's my current guess, unless something really huge happens between now and November.

UPDATE: Using a similar methodology to mine, Alan Abramowitz's model gives Obama about 50.5% of the popular vote.

Yesterday's Romney Gaffe Was Real, Not Fabricated

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 11:47 AM EDT

Mitt Romney's verbal stumbles in London yesterday probably won't have much long-term impact on the presidential campaign. Still, Dave Weigel points out something interesting about them. The best-known gaffes of the past few months have been mostly fabricated by the opposing campaign trying to make hay out of something that only barely exists. But not this time:

Compare this to what the British press has termed the "Romneyshambles." By chance, I was in a BBC studio yesterday morning to do a radio interview with another outlet. Non-reporter staff — people who did not cover the campaign, much less work on it — were chattering about Mitt Romney. The general tone was that, yes, they'd had some problems staging the Olympics, but that was up to them to talk about, not some American who'd run his own Olympics 10 years earlier. As I waited, I saw Prime Minister David Cameron — who is, remember, the first Conservative PM since 1997 — make a backhanded slap at Romney. "Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere," he said. Later, like everybody else, I saw London Mayor Boris Johnson — also a Conservative! — make fun of "some guy named Mitt Romney" in front of a massive Olympics crowd.

There was no rival campaign cooking this up. There was no social media director making sure people tweeted it, or hashtagged it, or Google+'d it, if Google+ is still a thing. British Conservatives and media actually got pissed off at what they heard as an unhelpful insult. We've suffered through so many phony gaffes, we'd forgotten what a real one looked like.

That's an interesting point. As interesting as we're likely to get, anyway. And who knows? The fact that it's real, and that Romney followed it up with a series of other odd, Palinesque gaffes, has the potential to make a small dent in Romney's only real strength as a candidate: the notion that he's smart, disciplined, and well-briefed. Not so much, it turns out.

But for my money, if you're looking for a classic "gaffe," the kind that reinforces what everyone thinks of a candidate already, it was this cringe-inducing response to a question about the dressage competition:

I have to tell you, this is Ann’s sport. I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it, I will not be watching the event. I hope her horse does well.

This was painful to hear. I mean, what would any normal husband do if his wife were involved in an Olympic competition, even one he personally found boring? He'd attend! He'd cheer! That's what married people do. But Romney has been taking some flak for being a rich dude lately, and he's obviously calculated that being associated with a multimillion-dollar sport — and an obscure, sort of prissy one at that — wouldn't do his campaign any good. So he threw his own wife under the bus. Mitt Romney is willing to be whatever the electorate wants him to be, and apparently he crunched the numbers in his head and decided that America's heartland voters didn't want him to be associated with his wife's sport.

It's a trivial thing, but still, in its own trivial way it's really contemptible behavior, even for a guy who long ago decided he'd do anything to become president. The first time I read that quote I recoiled, and I still do a day later even after I've seen it a dozen times. What a gutless little weasel.

Later Today We'll Finally Know Who's Going to Win in November

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 11:04 AM EDT

GDP was up 1.5% last quarter. That's not so good. On the other hand, it's better than expected. And first quarter GDP was revised upward.

Later today people will all start diving into the numbers and trying to build detailed narratives around the housing sector or the tradeable sector or the state of the household appliances market or whatnot. But you know what this really means? We now have numbers for all the political scientists to plug into their election models so they can tell us who's going to win in November. Isn't that exciting? 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 27, 2012

Fri Jul. 27, 2012 10:25 AM EDT

A Paratrooper from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, searches for improvised explosive devices along Highway 1 in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. Dismounted troops are often better at finding wires leading to IEDs. US Army photo by Capt. Thomas Cieslak.

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GOP Candidate Comes Clean on Gay Bookstore Sting

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
Minnesota congressional candidate Allen Quist (R).

Allen Quist has a LexisNexis problem. In May, I reported on the Minnesota GOP congressional candidate's history of out-there statements (comparing a gay counseling clinic at a state university to the Ku Klux Klan) and actions (like going undercover at bath houses and adult bookstores in order to prove that they had become a "haven for anal intercourse"). Quist, who is seeking the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Tim Walz in a district that leans ever-so-slightly Republican, is hoping support from the Christian Right and an endorsement from Rep. Michele Bachmann can carry him to victory in the mid-August primary.

These days, Quist would prefer to focus on issues like the national debt instead of, ahem, congress. But the questions about Quist's past statements came anyway, and the candidate initially took an odd approach: he pretended none of it ever happened.

At a town hall meeting in Rochester in mid-July, Quist was asked directly about my piece, specifically an anecdote about him comparing a gay counseling center at Mankato State University to the KKK. "I just want you to know, that's a total invention from some lefty that doesn't like me," Quist said. "I mean that is absolute total bull."

But there was a paper trail. An April, 1994 story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that as a state Senator in the 1980s, Quist "alleged that Mankato State University was encouraging the spread of AIDS by sponsoring a counseling center for gays, comparing it to a center for the Ku Klux Klan." That was in 1994; there's no indication Quist sought a correction then, or at any time in the ensuing 18 years.

Quist also denied another story detailed in my piece, in which he went undercover at bath houses in Mankato in an effort to turn up incidents of gay sex. Quist told a Twin Cities talk show earlier this month that the gay bath house story was "a total fabrication." As he explained it, "the thing of it is I was extraordinarily effective in the legislature. Consequently the lefties invented all kinds of stuff that they've said about me, and it's mostly not true or totally taken out of context. And that happened to be one of those."

That was apparently his first attempt to correct the record on his undercover escapades. And once again, Quist might have trouble convincing voters that they never happened, given that there are contemporary news stories recounting his bath house visit and other related inspections. For example, 19 years ago the St. Paul Pioneer Press conducted an interview with Quist where he "revealed that he personally had done some undercover research in an X-rated bookstore and graphically reported to his House colleagues the details of his findings, including booths for 'anonymous multiple-partner sodomy' and 'body fluids' on the floor."

Likewise, Quist was asked at the same Rochester town hall meeting about a famous comment he'd made in an interview with David Brauer of the Twin Cities Reader arguing that women have a "genetic predisposition" to be subservient to men—a claim he later doubled down on. But Quist dismissed that, too, as a "magician's-type trick" designed to distract voters. The problem: Brauer still has the audio. On Thursday, he posted a transcript of the interview and a soundbite at MinnPost. That's some kind of trick.

Now Quist has finally decided to come clean. On Thursday, the farmer and retired college professor wrote a letter to supporters, apologizing for the Ku Klux Klan comparison ("I would not say anything like that today") and attempting to explain the undercover gay sex sting:

The first is the allegation that, twenty four years ago, as a state legislator, I entered the Mankato adult bookstore in disguise to check out whether it included a serious public health risk. Parry’s distortion of my response to an important constituent complaint—that the bookstore posed a serious public health risk—is shameful. All I did was fulfill my responsibility as a Minnesota legislator.

Having first asked the Department of Health to investigate the matter (they did not) and being unwilling to allow an alleged public health risk to continue, I checked it out myself. Not in disguise, as my attackers would suggest, and not in sunglasses that suggests something to hide. (The reporter involved later went to work for the DFL caucus in St. Paul.)

I entered the adult bookstore dressed normally in shirt and blue jeans. The real story that won’t be printed is that I did the right thing. There was in fact a huge public health risk involved—a problem that was immediately remedied because someone had the courage to bring the issue to the light of day.

In fact people may well be alive today because I did my job. Distorting the facts and then attacking someone for having the courage to do what is right is destructive to our nation.

The campaign of Mike Parry, Quist's rival in an August 14 GOP primary, has been attacking Quist's oddball history. (It was their most recent salvo, on Tuesday, that prompted Quist's apology.)

While Parry may be hoping to distinguish himself from his investigating opponent, his tea party-flavored positions could present an obstacle to his congressional hopes. As Sally Jo Sorensen at the blog Bluestem Prairie notes, Parry recently sponsored legislation to set up a legislative commission on the United Nations' Agenda 21, a non-binding document never ratified by the Senate, that outlines basic principles of sustainable development. (Some conservatives, including Bachmann, believe Agenda 21 is part of a nefarious one-world plot to force humans to return much of rural America to the wildlife.)

Indeed, neither candidate has caught much traction; Parry had just $30,000 cash on hand, according to his July quarterly fundraising report to the Federal Elections Commission—considerably less than Quist's $165,000, though it's worth noting that almost all of Quist's money came from a personal loan.

The clear winner in all of this is, in other words, is Walz, who is looking at an easy re-election campaign in a Republican-leaning district that could very well go to Mitt Romney in November.

4 Ways That Democrats Want to Cut Taxes on The Rich

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

The big debate in Washington right now centers around whether or not to "tax the rich." This week, Senate Democrats passed a plan to cut income taxes on the middle class while increasing them on families that make more than $250,000 a year. Next week, House Republicans will push through a bill to extend (the erstwhile "temporary") Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class and the rich. But scratch beneath the surface of these dueling tax plans, and it quickly becomes clear that the GOP isn't the only party in Congress that wants to help the rich get richer. As Ezra Klein notes at Wonkblog, the cumulative effect of Democratic tax proposals will most likely be a $17,000 tax cut for the top 1 percent of earners (compared to a $75,000 tax cut under the GOP plan). Here are four ways that the Democratic tax plan would benefit the wealthy:

Extending most of the Bush income tax cut

By extending the Bush tax cuts for people who make less than $250,000 a year, Democrats are still giving a tax break to a lot of people who are wealthy by any reasonable definition. As New Republic's Timothy Noah points out, anybody who makes more than $110,000 resides in the top decile (i.e. top 10 percent) of US incomes and probably shouldn't be called middle class. Moreover, Democrats are only proposing to increase the marginal tax rate on $250,000-dollar incomes, which means that if you make a million dollars, you still get a tax cut on the first quarter million. In the chart to the right, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that the biggest winners from the Democratic tax plan are people who make between $200,000 and $500,000 a year.

Extending a major cut in the estate tax

Faced with opposition from conservative members of their own party, Senate Democrats dropped a proposal to restore the estate tax to 2009 levels, when it applied to estates worth more than $3.5 million and maxed out at a rate of 45 percent. (Under current law, the estate tax exempts property worth less than $5.12 million and tops out at 35 percent). The price tag for this gift to the wealthy? A cool $21 billion—almost enough to cancel out the additional $28 billion to be raised by boosting income taxes on high earners.

Patching the alternative minimum tax

The alternative minimum tax, or AMT, is designed to make sure that people who benefit from certain tax loopholes pay at least a minimum amount of tax. The AMT is not popular with rich people, which might be one reason why in recent years Congress has always passed legislation temporarily increasing AMT exemptions. Matthew Campione of Forbes estimates that this year's exemptions will be worth a whopping $100 billion. Citizens for Tax Justice has illustrated who benefited from last year's AMT exemptions (see chart).

Extending a tax cut on stock dividends and capital gains

The main reason that Mitt Romney paid an effective tax rate of just 13.9 percent in 2010 was that most of his income was taxed at the capital gains rate, which Republicans under George W. Bush had slashed from 20 percent 15 percent. He also benefited from a Bush-era reduction in the tax rate on corporate stock dividends to 15 percent from a much higher top rate of 39.6 percent. President Obama wants to partially reverse those changes, applying the higher pre-Bush rates to all capital gains and corporate dividends income that falls into the top two tax brackets. But Senate Democrats wussed out, passing a bill with much smaller increases in those tax rates. Citizens For Tax Justice illustrates how the Senate's changes benefit the wealthy:

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

quote of the week

"We've put the IRS in charge [without the tools it needs]."
—Campaign finance expert Donald Tobin, a witness at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Wednesday. At issue was how the IRS will investigate whether so-called "social welfare" groups are violating their tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status by making political activity their primary purpose. A recent Treasury Department audit criticized the IRS for its poor response to complaints about the groups, but the IRS has said it will consider rule changes to crack down on abuses—just don't expect anything new in time for the 2012 election.

 

attack ad of the week

On Wednesday, the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action unleashed an Olympics-themed ad attacking Mitt Romney for outsourcing jobs and stowing away money in offshore tax havens. But the ad contained a copyrighted image of Romney during his time as chief executive of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and quickly drew a protest from the International Olympics Committee. YouTube pulled the ad, and Priorities USA Action will not be able to air it on TV. Meanwhile, pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future plans to spend $7.2 million on ads during the 2012 Olympics; the Obama campaign (which is formally unaffiliated with Priorities USA Action) plans to spend up to $6.5 million.YouTube via Yahoo! NewsYouTube via Yahoo! News

 

stat of the week

$2 million: Total donations to pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future from the other Koch brother, Bill, who has steered clear of his siblings' shadowy fundraising network. It remains to be seen if Bill, whose net worth is a reported $4 billion, will consider this investment better than the $68 million he spent to win the America's Cup yacht race in 1992. (He later told ESPN about that victory, "Financially, I would say win or lose, it's not worth it.")

 

super-pacs of the week

Over at Politico, Kenneth Vogel reports on the "dawn of the mommy and daddy PACs"—that is, super-PACs funded heavily by the parents of candidates who are often also involved in their children's campaigns. Their relationships, both familial and political, test the limits of campaign rules that ban coordination between candidates and super-PACs. An early example of the phenomenon was the $2.1 million that Jon Huntsman Sr., poured into Our Destiny PAC, which supported his son's ill-fated presidential bid. In Seattle, Democrat Laura Ruderman's congressional campaign aired an ad last week vowing to protect Obamacare that starred Ruderman's mother, Margaret Rothschild, who is a cancer survivor. The following day, Rothschild donated $115,000 to a super-PAC supporting her daughter, who claimed that she "had no idea" what her mom was up to. Here's the campaign ad Rothschild appeared in:

 

more mojo dark money coverage

Super-PACs Can't Give $1 Million to a Congressman. But This One Did: The Republican Governors Association exploits a loophole to drop a giant campaign gift on Indiana Rep. Mike Pence.
Romney's Rainmakers Dump Millions Into His Super-PAC: Together, all super-PACs raised $55 million in June—a record month.
Meet the Front Group Leading the Fight Against Taxing the Rich: Does the National Federation of Independent Businesses really represent small business owners—or billionaires?
CHART: One GOP Super-PAC Has Raised More Money Than Every Democratic Super-PAC Combined

 

more must-reads

• Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer testifies against super-PACs and lobbyists in front of a congressional committee. UPI
• Conservative dark-money group/super-PAC the American Future Fund has sent the Federal Election Commission a request to allow it to "engage in joint fundraising efforts" with candidates. Election Law Blog
• Big business sides with conservative super-PACs. iWatch News
• Ezra Klein calls the DISCLOSE Act "a minor piece of legislation" against dark-money groups; Lisa Rosenberg objects. Sunlight Foundation

PHOTOS: 111 Dogs That Can't Vote in Virginia

| Fri Jul. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Voter-fraud paranoia has been known to drive Republicans to believe nonsensical, sketchy stuff.

Just take the latest installment in the epic, dystopian Dogs Are Voting saga: To hear Matt Drudge and Mitt Romney's campaign tell it, dogs—leftist dogs—are registering to vote in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And it's the Democratic Party's wily foot soldiers who are aiding and abetting.