2012 - %3, November

Watch: Obama Blasts GOP Attacks on UN Ambassador Susan Rice

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 5:51 PM EST

During a White House press conference on Wednesday, President Obama took a few minutes to push back on a burgeoning media narrative.

ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl asked the president about the likely nomination of UN ambassador Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, as well as the determination of certain Republicans to block her nomination.

Here's video and a transcript of the president's response:

Let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace...If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the UN ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous...I don't think there's any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that's a problem. And we've got to get to the bottom of it, and there needs to be accountability...But when they go after the UN ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me. And if I think that she would be the best person to serve America [at the] State Department, then I will nominate her.

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"You'll Hear More": Obama Backs National Climate Debate

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 5:17 PM EST

In his press conference today, President Obama not only broke the much discussed "silence" on climate change—he also showed he's been giving serious thought to how to move forward on the issue over the next four years.

In response to a question from New York Times White House correspondent Mark Landler, the president confirmed his belief that climate change is real and driven by humans, and implied that it has something to do with recent extreme weather. He went on to say that an "education process" is needed to get Americans on board with long term solutions to climate change—a "conversation across the country" that, he suggested, he would be leading.

At the same time, the President also mentioned that more "short term" solutions may be in the offing, perhaps referring to a variety of potential regulatory steps by the Environmental Protection Agency. Notably, President Obama also promised any long term climate solution would be bipartisan.

But, most of all, he promised a lot less climate silence. "You'll hear more from me in the coming months and years" on the issue, he said.

Top Georgia GOP Lawmakers Host Briefing on Secret Obama Mind-Control Plot

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 5:11 PM EST

President Obama is using a Cold War-era mind-control technique known as "Delphi" to coerce Americans into accepting his plan for a United Nations-run communist dictatorship in which suburbanites will be forcibly relocated to cities. That's according to a four-hour briefing delivered to Republican state senators at the Georgia state Capitol last month.

On October 11, at a closed-door meeting of the Republican caucus convened by the body's majority leader, Chip Rogers, a tea party activist told Republican lawmakers that Obama was mounting this most diabolical conspiracy. The event—captured on tape by a member of the Athens-based watchdog Better Georgia (who was removed from the room after 52 minutes)—had been billed as an information session on Agenda 21, a nonbinding UN agreement that commits member nations to promote sustainable development. In the eyes of conservative activists, Agenda 21 is a nefarious plot that includes forcibly relocating non-urban-dwellers and prescribing mandatory contraception as a means of curbing population growth. The invitation to the Georgia state Senate event noted the presentation would explain: "How pleasant sounding names are fostering a Socialist plan to change the way we live, eat, learn, and communicate to 'save the earth.'"

Watch:

Agenda 21 Full Video from Bryan Long on Vimeo.

The meeting consisted of a PowerPoint presentation followed by a 90-minute screening of the anti-Agenda 21 documentary, Agenda: Grinding America Down. It was emceed by Field Searcy, a local conservative activist who was forced out of the Georgia Tea Party in April due to his endorsement of conspiracy theories about the president's birth certificate and the collapse of World Trade Center Tower 7. The presentation also featured a special video cameo from conservative talking-head Dick Morris in which the former Clinton aide warns that Obama "wants to force everyone into the cities from whence our ancestors fled."

About 23 minutes into the briefing, Searcy explained how President Obama, aided by liberal organizations like the Center for American Progress and business groups like local chambers of commerce, are secretly using mind-control techniques to push their plan for forcible relocation on the gullible public:

They do that by a process known as the Delphi technique. The Delphi technique was developed by the Rand Corporation during the Cold War as a mind-control technique. It's also known as "consensive process." But basically the goal of the Delphi technique is to lead a targeted group of people to a pre-determined outcome while keeping the illusion of being open to public input.

How perilous is the situation? Here's a slide from the presentation comparing Obama's record to that of Mao and Stalin:

Slide TKCourtesy of Better GeorgiaObama, of course, has taken no steps to bring the United States under the control of a United Nations sustainable-development-themed dictatorship. (Environmental groups complain that he hasn't even taken sufficient action to combat climate change.) But that hasn't stopped state legislatures and local conservative groups from taking aim at the perceived threat. In May, the Kansas Legislature approved a resolution blocking Agenda 21 from being implemented in its state, following in the footsteps of Tennessee. Rogers, the Georgia Senate majority leader, introduced legislation in January that would have blocked the nonbinding UN resolution from being applied to his state. Among other things, the resolution noted that, "according to the United Nations Agenda 21 policy, social justice is described as the right and opportunity of all people to benefit equally from the resources afforded by society and the environment which would be accomplished by socialists and communist redistribution of wealth."

If it seems as if Rogers is just repeating John Birch Society conspiracies, he is—literally. As in Tennessee, large portions of his 2012 bill, SR 270, were lifted word-for-word from draft legislation prepared by the Birchers.

But as Seth Clark, the Better Georgia volunteer who filmed the Capitol conspiracy bash, points out, Rogers' warning extended well beyond the actions of liberal politicians. According to one slide that was featured at the presentation, "Smart Growth and Sustainable Development are often promoted by NGO's, Chambers of Commerce and [public–private partnerships] that are unelected and unaccountable to the people." In August, when the Georgia Chamber of Commerce handed out its official grades for state legislators, Rogers got an A+.

Apparently the conspiracy is coming from inside the Capitol.

Update, 11/15/12: Rogers defended the presentation in an email to the Cherokee (Ga.) Tribune, noting that the meeting had been requested by constituents. "This is not the first time our office has facilitated this type of request and won’t be the last, I am sure," he said.

Update II: That was quick. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jim Galloway reports that Rogers has withdrawn his name from the Senate majority leader race.

Today in Good News: Obama Vigorously Defends Susan Rice

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 4:49 PM EST

At his press conference today, President Obama got pretty heated when he was asked about threats from Lindsey Graham and John McCain to block the nomination of Susan Rice to be Secretary of State. Here's his response:

Let me say specifically about Susan Rice: She has done exemplary work....If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador? Who had nothing to do with Benghazi? And was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? To besmirch her reputation is outrageous.

Graham doubled down as soon as he heard this:

Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi. I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack....Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.

The insanity over this has become positively Clintonian. Here's what Susan Rice actually said on the Sunday talk shows about the Benghazi attacks of September 11:

  • Early in the day, there were demonstrations in Cairo inspired by a hateful YouTube video.
  • This in turn appeared to have inspired a "copycat" protest in Benghazi.
  • That protest was then "hijacked" by extremists, who used it as an excuse to storm the consulate and murder four Americans.

That's it. That's the formulation she used on Face the Nation, Meet the Press, This Week, and State of the Union. She was very cautious, too, emphasizing that an investigation was ongoing and this was the "best information" available at the time. And it was: this was what the intelligence community told her in briefings before she taped those interviews.

Out of all that, the only thing she got wrong was her suggestion that there had been a copycat protest in Benghazi. "The facts are there was never a riot," Graham said, and he was right. But he said that a month later. By then, everyone knew there hadn't been any riots. Back on September 15th, when Rice's TV appearances were taped, we didn't.

Berating Rice, who had nothing to do with Benghazi aside from representing the administration on these talk shows, is nuts. The intelligence community was wrong about one relatively unimportant fact, and Rice passed along that mistake. That's it. There's no coverup, no conspiracy, no incompetence, no scandal.

And one more thing: mainstream press outlets that report on this need to start being more careful. No breezy summations suggesting that "Rice blamed the attacks on a video." She didn't. If you're going to report on this, you need to report on what Rice actually said, and you need to make clear why she said it. This is real life, not a video game.

Obama Refuses to Get Tough on Taxes

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 3:04 PM EST

How committed is President Obama to letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire? At his press conference today, he gave a fuzzy answer, so Chuck Todd followed up and asked him if he's absolutely committed to repealing the Bush tax cuts for the rich, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Obama declined to say yes. He said he wouldn't accept revenue increases that come from dynamic scoring magic or from vague loophole closing, but he's committed to compromise. The American people demand it. Blah blah blah.

This is not a very promising start. Getting Republicans to support an extension of the middle-class cuts without an extension of the high-end cuts was always going to be hard. Without a rock-solid commitment to veto any bill that maintains a 35 percent top marginal rate, it's even harder. Unless I'm missing something, Obama just left the door wide open to some kind of kludgy compromise that keeps top-end rates at their Bush-era levels.

UPDATE: For what it's worth, most of my readers and commenters seem to think I'm wrong about this. The rough consensus appears to be that Obama is indeed firm about letting the high-end tax cuts expire, but it's not smart politics to draw lines in the sand in a major public forum. That could well be true. I might be reading too much into this. We'll see.

Chickens, Beer, Books, Banks, and Glasses: Do You Recognize the Theme?

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 2:35 PM EST

See if you can spot the common theme in three different pieces that I happened to read today. First up is "Obama's Game of Chicken," a piece in the Washington Monthly that tells the story of how small chicken farmers are now practically indentured servants to big poultry processors. The evolution of the industry started in the 50s, when processors changed from an open-market model to a contract model, but things remained OK all the way through the end of the 70s:

If a farmer didn’t like the terms offered by one company, he could, at the end of the contract period, simply switch to another. The basic balance of power between the farmers and the companies remained in place.

The change that finally upended this balance came in 1981. A group of Chicago School economists and lawyers working in the Reagan administration introduced a new interpretation of antitrust laws....Under Reagan, the Department of Justice narrowed the scope of those laws to promote primarily “consumer welfare,” based on “efficiency considerations.” In other words, the point of antitrust law would no longer be to promote competition by maintaining open markets.

....Although the change was strongly opposed by centrists in both parties, a number of left-wing academics and consumer activists in the Democratic Party embraced the new goal of promoting efficiency. The courts also soon began to reflect this political shift....In 1980, the four biggest meatpacking companies in the country controlled 36 percent of the market. Ten years later, their share had doubled, to 72 percent.

Next up is "Last Call," another piece in the Washington Monthly, about the fact that two gigantic multinational corporations now control manufacturing and distribution of 80 percent of the beer sold in America:

Prior to the 2008 takeover, Anheuser-Busch generally accepted the regulatory regime that had governed the U.S. alcohol industry since the repeal of Prohibition. It didn’t attack the independent wholesalers in control of its supply chain, and generally treated them well. “Tough but fair” is a phrase used by several wholesale-business sources to describe their dealings with the Busch family dynasty. Everyone was making money; there was no need to rock the boat.

All that changed quickly after Anheuser-Busch lost its independence....Today, with only one remaining real competitor, MillerCoors, the pressure it can put on its wholesalers is extraordinary. A wholesaler who loses its account with either company loses one of its two largest customers, and cannot offer his retail clients the name-brand beers that form the backbone of the market. The Big Two in effect have a captive system by which to bring their goods to market.

.... So distributors are caught in an impossible bind: they either do the brewer’s bidding, including selling their businesses to favored “Anchor Wholesalers,” or they lose Anheuser-Busch InBev as a client. And if the wholesalers try to push back? Anheuser-Busch InBev will get rough.

Finally, here is Tyler Cowen on how he expects the publishing industry to evolve:

I expect two or three major publishers, with stacked names (“Penguin Random House”), and they will be owned by Google, Apple, Amazon, and possibly Facebook, or their successors, which perhaps would make it “Apple Penguin Random House.” Those companies have lots of cash, amazing marketing penetration, potential synergies with marketing content they own, and very strong desires to remain focal in the eyes of their customer base. They could buy up a major publisher without running solvency risk. For instance Amazon revenues are about twelve times those of a merged Penguin Random House and arguably that gap will grow.

I made it too easy, didn't I? For more to cogitate about here, you might also want to revisit a recent 60 Minutes program about the eyewear market, and also think about how well the consolidation of the financial industry has worked out for us over the past decade or two.

Both parties, but Republicans especially, mostly spend their time protecting not the free market, as they insist, but big business interests. This is decidedly not the same thing, and it might well be that three or four vertically integrated giants in practically every industry isn't really all that good for the rest of us. This is just a thought, but in the long run, maybe competition really is a good thing. 

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Mandate, Schmandate: The Republican View of Elections

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 1:06 PM EST

Paul Ryan, echoing perhaps the most popular GOP talking point of the week, says President Obama doesn't have a mandate because the American public returned a big Republican majority to Congress. As he told ABC News, if the public had really given Democrats a mandate, "they would have put Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House of Representatives."

Yeah, yeah. In 2008, the American public handed Barack Obama a huge victory and gave Democrats massive majorities in both the House and Senate. If you believe in mandates, that was as big as they come. And Paul Ryan didn't care. He opposed everything Obama did from day one. Ditto for the rest of the House Republican caucus.

In other words: who cares? Like everyone, Republicans believe in mandates when they win and they don't believe in them when they lose. Can we please stop talking about this nonsense?

Gerrymandering Not as Big a Deal as You Think

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 12:48 PM EST

Democrats won over half the vote in House races this year, but still got blown out by Republicans, who return to Washington with a big majority of seats. Why? The obvious story is gerrymandering: Republicans in state legislatures drew themselves a whole lot of cozy districts last year that made it hard for Democrats to win.

Personally, I've been skeptical of this story for a couple of reasons. First, the research I've read in the past suggests that gerrymandering has only a modest effect. Not zero, but not huge, either. Second, as you may recall, Republicans blew the doors off Democrats in 2010, before any of this gerrymandering was done. That means they were the incumbent party going into 2012, and incumbents have a natural advantage.

But this is just my guess. What does the Science™ say? Eric McGhee brings the analysis:

We’ll drop our regular model and go bare bones. Two steps: 1) identify the relationship between this year’s actual election returns and the 2008 presidential vote in each district (calculated by Daily Kos), 2) use this relationship plus the 2008 presidential vote in the old districts to estimate what would have happened under the old lines. No incumbency, no assumptions about national climate. For the redistricting story to hold, this exercise must eliminate the discrepancy between Democratic vote share and seat share. Otherwise, something else is going on.

....Democrats do gain more seats under this simulation—seven more total—but fall far short of matching their predicted vote share. The point should be clear: even under the most generous assumptions, redistricting explains less than half the gap between vote share and seat share this election cycle.

In other words, even with the old 2008 district lines, Republicans still would have won a majority of seats this year. The new lines gave them, at most, seven additional seats, and McGhee thinks that even this probably overstates things. Bottom line: gerrymandering isn't nothing, but it's not a game changer. It's not the real story here.

Hindsight Bias and Obama's Victory

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 12:04 PM EST

Brendan Nyhan writes today about the metamorphosis of campaign coverage:

The media has undergone a strange change of mindset. Immediately before last Tuesday’s election, many reporters and commentators ignored or dismissed the consensus among forecasters and betting markets that President Obama was very likely to defeat Mitt Romney and acted instead as if the candidates were neck and neck or Romney was ahead. Afterward, however, coverage of how Obama won betrayed far less uncertainty about the outcome of the election, which was frequently portrayed as a fait accompli—an inevitable consequence of how Romney’s image was defined by Obama’s early ads or overwhelmed by the President’s superior ground game.

Brendan says this is a result of hindsight bias, and I suppose that's true, sort of by definition. But there's nothing unique here. Before the Super Bowl, sports talkers chatter about how well the two teams are matched up. After the game, they talk about how the winner managed to win. Why? Because the game is over. They now know what worked and what didn't.

I'm not sure it's really fair to call this "bias." Once a contest is over, and you know who won, you also have a better idea of which tactics won. In the case of the 2012 election, reporters have concluded that defining Romney early worked and that Obama's ground game made a difference. If he had lost, they would have concluded the opposite. They might be wrong in those conclusions—hell, historians are still arguing about why the South lost Gettysburg even after 150 years of study—but there's nothing irrational about it. I happen to agree that reporters tend to overdo this, paying too little attention to things like economic fundamentals and the power of incumbency, but still, once you know how something turns out, it's perfectly sensible to conclude that the winner's tactics were effective and the loser's tactics weren't.

US to Lead World Oil Production…for a Few Years

| Wed Nov. 14, 2012 11:49 AM EST

On Monday, the International Energy Administration released a new report that projects that the US will pass Saudi Arabia as the world's leading producer of oil in 2020. U-S-A! U-S-A!

IEAIEA

"The United States, which currently imports around 20% of its total energy needs, becomes all but self sufficient in net terms—a dramatic reversal of the trend seen in most other energy importing countries," the IEA concluded.

The projection, of course, flies in the face of the allegation that President Obama has destroyed the oil and gas industry in the US with his crushing regulatory agenda. He hasn't. Crude oil production actually increased 14 percent between 2008 and 2011.

Yet the amount of oil we produce is expected to decline again after 2020. Saudi Arabia is expected to retake the global lead by 2030. So maybe we should be thinking about a Plan B.