2012 - %3, November

Time to Put an End to the Exit Poll Charade?

| Thu Nov. 15, 2012 10:34 AM PST

Michael Kinsley is tired of the exit poll charade. TV analysts, he says, almost certainly know the results of the election early in the evening, but aren't allowed to say so until the polls close. So they engage in a weird dance:

Exit poll data is supposed to be used for demographic insights only, not to predict the result. You can say, "Republicans are doing well tonight among upper-middle class white men aged 35 to 45, wearing red sweater vests and answering to the name of 'Champ.'" But you can't say, "Chances are better than even that Obama's got it in the bag."

You can learn a lot from tiny samplings by comparing them with past results. By 6 p.m. Eastern time on election night, CNN undoubtedly knew that President Obama was almost certain to win reelection. And it pretty much knew the electoral college count. But it thought it best to deny this information to its viewers.

I happen to agree that the exit poll charade is a little wearying, even though the motive behind it is reasonable. But in this case, I'm not sure Kinsley is right. If the nets really knew who was going to win Ohio and Virginia by 6 pm, they would have called them at 8:01, when the polls closed. But they didn't. They didn't call Ohio until after 11 pm. Sure, it was obvious before then that things were trending in Obama's direction, but the timing of their calls suggests that, in fact, they weren't "almost certain" until well after 6 pm. The election may not have been a "tossup," as so many folks pretended, but it was still pretty close.

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BP and DOJ Reportedly Reach Settlement on Deepwater Horizon Disaster

| Thu Nov. 15, 2012 10:34 AM PST

The Department of Justice, the Securities & Exchange Commission, and BP have reportedly reached a settlement agreement over the criminal charges related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, with the oil giant agreeing to pay $4.5 billion in fines.

The Washington Post reports that the BP will pay $4 billion over five years to settle with the DOJ, and another $525 million to settle SEC complaints:

"We believe this resolution is in the best interest of BP and its shareholders," said Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP’s Chairman. "It removes two significant legal risks and allows us to vigorously defend the company against the remaining civil claims."

To reach the settlement, the company pleaded guilty to a handful of criminal complaints:

BP agreed to plead guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect of ships’ officers relating to the loss of 11 lives on the drilling rig that caught fire and sank; one misdemeanor count under the Clean Water Act; one misdemeanor count under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and one felony count of obstruction of Congress.

BP could still face enormous civil penalties for Clean Water Act violations based on the number of gallons of oil released, and for damage to natural resources. The settlement with the DOJ and SEC does not include a deal with cleanup workers and local residents impacted by the spill and does nothing to end private lawsuits filed by investors.

Benghazi: A Conspiracy Theory With No Conceivable Motive

| Thu Nov. 15, 2012 9:19 AM PST

Matt Steinglass makes a point about the whole Benghazi "coverup" narrative that I didn't have space to make in my post yesterday. He agrees that Susan Rice did nothing wrong, but says there's more to it:

This is absolutely right as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. At the most fundamental level, the reason it is absurd to suspect the existence of a "cover-up" over the Benghazi attack is that such a cover-up could not have had any conceivable goal. Back to the beginning: the underlying accusation about Benghazi is that the Obama administration deliberately mischaracterised the terrorist attack there as having grown out of a spontaneous demonstration because that would be less politically damaging. Such a cover-up would have made no sense because the attack would not have been less politically damaging had it grown out of a spontaneous demonstration. The attack on the Benghazi compound would not have been any less politically difficult for the administration if it had grown out of a riot, nor would any normal voter have expected it to be less politically damaging, nor would any normal campaign strategist have expected any normal voter to have expected it to be less politically damaging.

As best I can tell, the suggestion from the right has been that Obama didn't want to admit that Benghazi was a terrorist attack because....well, I'm not sure, exactly. Something about how this would blow a hole in his claim to be decimating al-Qaeda via drone attacks. Or maybe it would remove some of the luster from being the killer of Osama bin Laden. Or something. But one way or another, the story is that Obama was deeply afraid of admitting that terrorists are still out there and want to do us harm.

This has never made a lick of sense. If anything, the continuing existence of terrorists justifies his drone attacks. And it certainly wouldn't do him any harm in an election. The American public routinely rallies around a president responding to a terrorist attack.

Dave Weigel has more here, responding to Sean Higgins, who manages to read all the transcripts of Rice's Sunday show appearances and still claim that she somehow misled the public. "There is considerable evidence that they knew even the day of the attacks that there had in fact been no protests and that the attacks were planned," says Higgins. "Who knew what when and whether the administration was trying to cover it up is precisely what Congress is trying to determine."

Actually, there's considerable evidence that on September 15, when Rice taped her appearances, the CIA told her there had been protests in Benghazi earlier in the day. The CIA turned out to be wrong about that, but it simply makes no sense for them to have made this up. If it does anything at all, it only makes their response look worse. This whole thing is a conspiracy theory with no conceivable motive. It's  a wild, scattershot attack hoping to take down someone, somewhere, just to claim a scalp. It's disgusting.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 15, 2012

Thu Nov. 15, 2012 8:50 AM PST

Infantrymen assigned to the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, stack before clearing and securing a building, one of the final tasks of Hammer Strike, a brigade level exercise conducted at the Udairi Range Complex near Camp Buehring, Kuwait. US Army photo.

Walrus Without Ice

| Thu Nov. 15, 2012 4:18 AM PST

Polar Cruises via FlickrPolar Cruises via Flickr

During my trip through the Arctic Ocean last month (Arctic Ocean Diaries) we saw a few walrus streaming south through the Chukchi Sea towards the Bering Strait. Winter was on their tails. Or at least soon would be.

There's a lot of urgency just now to figure out exactly where Pacific walruses are feeding and traveling off Alaska. That's because their world is changing so unbelievably fast. 

Sea ice extent in the Chukchi Sea as of 12-16 Nov 2012: National / Naval Ice CenterSea ice extent in the Chukchi Sea as of 12-16 Nov 2012: National / Naval Ice Center

Sea ice—the mobile platforms where walruses haul-out to rest and give birth—is in rapid decline throughout the Arctic. This summer broke the record for lowest ice extent ever seen. There was little to none in the US Arctic—the Chukchi and Beaufort seas—for most of the summer and fall.

The map above shows how little ice is in the Chukchi even now, midway through November. Red, orange, and yellow mark sea ice extents of between four-tenths coverage and ten-tenths coverage. As you can see from the amount of white in the map, there's still a whole lot of open water up there.

Tracks of 40 tagged walrus in the Chukchi Sea during summer 2012: USGS Alaska Science CenterTracks of 40 tagged walrus in the Chukchi Sea during summer 2012. Star marks approximate position of Shell oil well: USGS Alaska Science Center

As part of an ongoing effort towards an Endangered Species listing for Pacific walrus, researchers with the United States Geological Survey have been tagging walruses to see where they're traveling and how they're managing in the presence or absence of sea ice. From this will come a designation of critical habitat.

The map above shows the tracks of 40 walruses tagged this summer. You can start to see which areas are important to them. (For an animated track map that includes the dwindling sea ice margin go here.)

I added the black star on the map to show the approximate position of Shell's well in the virgin seafloor of the Chukchi Sea, Burger Oil Field. (See my earlier post on Shell's drilling efforts and errors.)  Sadly, there look to be a lot of walruses using the dangerous waters around that well.

 

The video explains the USGS research efforts underway, with some gorgeous footage of walruses on ice and off.

Millionaires to Washington: More Taxes, Please!

| Thu Nov. 15, 2012 4:03 AM PST

A pack of millionaires descended on Washington, DC, Wednesday to tell Congress to take more of their money. The Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, a group formed in 2010 to push Obama to allow the Bush tax cuts on millionaires to expire, are back, and lobbying for the same thing as Congress faces the looming fiscal cliff.

A dozen or so 1-percenters, representing the group's total membership of about 200, are meeting with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle this week to deliver the message that "we care as much about our country as we do about our money," and that any budget agreement Congress cobbles together in the coming weeks should include fat taxes on the rich.

At a press conference to kick off the campaign Wednesday, Frank Patitucci, CEO of NuCompass Mobility, explained why the group is seemingly advocating against its own interests. "We believe we've been able to achieve our circumstance in life because of the vibrancy of the American system we live under," he said. "Right now we're in danger of losing some of what has been valuable to us." He noted that Americans like him often pay lower tax rates than, say a middle-income single mom with two kids. "We're losing the opportunity to achieve the American dream the way we have."

Garrett Gruener, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur from Oakland, California, laid out the specifics of their demands: allow top tax rates to return to Clinton-era rates of 39.6 percent, and create a new tax bracket for those who make over $10 million; let taxes on capital gains return to Clinton-era levels of between 20 and 28 percent; tax dividends at the same rate as ordinary income; bring back a hefty estate tax; and limit itemized deductions for the wealthiest Americans.

The millionaires are quick to point out that they are not just a bunch of bleeding-heart libs. They're a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents who see upping taxes on the rich as a practicality, not charity.

"I'm acting out of selfishness," said Woody Kaplan, a businessman from Boston (who incidentally voted for Gary Johnson for president). "With every business I've owned, customers have been terribly important. If we give the middle class a break, then we're much more likely to grow the middle class, and that will make all of us stronger."

That sounds nice, but what about all that GOP grumbling that higher taxes on the rich will curb job creation? Balderdash, says Gruener. "Their theory is by reducing my tax rates, I'll do more to create jobs. It just isn't true. If I thought they were right about that I'd be on their side of this negotiation. But my own experience as a venture capitalist is that this sort of investment they're talking about, in fact, has nothing to do with marginal tax rates."

T.J. Zlotnitsky, chairman and CEO of iControl Systems, agreed. "When it's time for my company to hire someone, I don't make a decision based on my personal tax rate. It's based on what my customers need. It's whether we see a new opportunity, a new concept."

The Patriotic Millionaires are meeting with nine Dems and three Republican legislators over two days. When asked how exactly they planned to convince the GOP to include the millionaires' plan in a budget compromise, Zlotnitsky appeared almost offended by the idea that their proposal was partisan. "There's an assumption that everyone here is of one political persuasion," he said. "I don't think it's about that. I think it's about putting Americans first. Putting country ahead of our party. The message is that people who are fortunate in this country such as ourselves are prepared to do more for our country. Now it's up to [the GOP] to be patriotic as well."

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How the Israeli Army Used Social Media to Brag About an Assassination

| Thu Nov. 15, 2012 4:03 AM PST

On Wednesday, the Israeli Air Force took out a car carrying Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, head of the military wing (the Al-Qassam Brigades) of Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that governs the Gaza Strip. Shortly after, the Israeli military started going to town on Gaza, again.

And like that, the Israel Defense Forces took to social media to promo the assassination.

The IDF quickly posted a 10-second, black-and-white video of the killing to its official YouTube page. It was titled, "IDF Pinpoint Strike on Ahmed Jabari, Head of Hamas Military Wing," and vividly shows the moment of impact. By Wednesday night the video had been taken down "because its content violated YouTube's Terms of Service." (UPDATE: On Thursday, the video was reposted to YouTube in full.) Here's a screenshot:

Via YouTubeVia YouTubeThis image went up on the IDF's official Facebook timeline, with random Facebook users tagging the picture with names like "dead idiot":

Via FacebookThe update also read, "We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead." Via Facebook

And with a message identical to the one on their Facebook update, the Israeli military began smack-talking via Twitter, setting off this feud with the official account of Hamas' Al-Qassam Brigades:

Keep in mind that Twitter feuds are . Via Keep in mind that Twitter feuds are typically what happen between G-Unit and Game, not armies with huge geopolitical stakes attached. H/t Alex Yudelson

Another IDF spokesperson tweet, from earlier:

There was the obligatory live-blogging, with regular updates on the offensive:

viaidfblog.comAlso, updates through the IDF Flickr stream:

More can be More pages of IDF pics here. It seems the only thing missing was Instagramming the air strike, or possibly hashtagging the assassination (the IDF did, however, hashtag the general military operation with #PillarOfDefense).

The Gerrymander Effect, Take 2

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 9:38 PM PST

Earlier today I linked to a post from Eric McGhee suggesting that the post-2010 gerrymandering of the House by Republican legislatures had only a modest effect on this year's results. You will be unsurprised to learn that I got a lot of pushback on this, which prompted me to go back and check out other research on the subject. Before I got too far, though, I remembered that Sam Wang had done a bunch of work on this, so I went over to his site to see what he came up with.

His methodology is too complicated to try to summarize, but here are his conclusions:

  • Prior to 2010, there was no systematic, nationwide effect from gerrymandering. (See here for more on this.) There was an incumbency effect, in which the majority party has a tendency to keep its majority, but otherwise no net lean in the direction of either Democrats or Republicans when you account for district lines in all 50 states.
  • The 2010 redistricting was more one-sided than in past years.
  • As a result, there's now a net, systematic, nationwide lean in the direction of the Republican Party. The size of their advantage is calculated as the average vertical distance between the red and black lines in the chart on the right, which turns out to be 6.3 seats.

So the 2010 redistricting really was unusually partisan. But the size of the Republican advantage turns out to be about six seats, very similar to what Eric McGhee came up with. The incumbency effect is about double that, for a total built-in Republican advantage of roughly 20 seats. Accounting for uncertainty, the Republican advantage is 10-30 seats, which is right in line with how much they outperformed the popular vote this year.

I'm interested in further research on this subject, but for now we've got two methodologies that produce pretty much the same result. The Republican gerrymander following the 2010 census has given them a permanent tailwind of about six seats, and they'll keep this for the rest of the decade. Combine that with the incumbency effect, and Democrats are unlikely to regain the majority unless they win about 52 percent of the popular vote.

Romney: Obama Won the Election by Doing Stuff That People Liked

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 6:24 PM PST

Mitt Romney told his donors today that President Obama won last week because of the "big gifts" that he gave to "the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people." According to the New York Times, here's what he said:

With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift. Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.

....You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge. Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.

I'm inclined to cut Romney some slack on this. Sure, it's a little crude and a little defensive, but it's basically right. The HHS decision on contraceptives became a cornerstone of Obama's pitch to women (though it wouldn't have had much effect if Republicans hadn't gone nuts over it). The mini-DREAM Act was explicitly part of his outreach to Hispanics. And Obamacare was certainly an effort to provide big healthcare subsidies to millions of people who aren't currently insured. This is all garden-variety politics.

What's missing, of course, is that Romney played the same game. He appealed to rich people (and the middle class) with his promises of big tax cuts. He appealed to conservative Christians and Roman Catholics with his promise to reverse the contraceptive decision. He appealed to the elderly with promises to restore the $716 billion he claimed Obama had taken away from Medicare. Etc. Again, this is garden-variety politics. I can't really get too worked up about it.

Welcome to the Fever Swamps: Agenda 21 and the Fall of America

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 3:52 PM PST

Of all the inexplicable tea party conspiracy theories that started making the rounds after the 2008 election, perhaps the most inexplicable of all is their obsession with Agenda 21. In real life, Agenda 21 is an earnest sustainable development initiative created by the UN two decades ago, and its impact on the world has been just about as negligible as you might imagine. But down in the fever swamps, it's the thin tip of the spear leading us toward a black helicopter future in which Americans are herded into urban concentration camps and forced to eat tofu.

What's that? You think I'm exaggerating? Well, it is something I might do if I thought I could get a laugh out of it. But no such luck, folks. For a true descent into madness, check out two fine pieces of investigative reporting right here at MoJo. The first is here, starring Glenn Beck, and the second is here, starring the Georgia Republican state senate caucus. Enjoy!