• The Case Against the Case Against Obama


    Jon Chait practically reads my mind today:

    I decided to support Barack Obama pretty early in the Democratic primary, around spring of 2007. But unlike so many of his supporters, I never experienced a kind of emotional response to his candidacy. I never felt his election would change everything about American politics or government, that it would lead us out of the darkness. Nothing Obama did or said ever made me well up with tears.

    Possibly for that same reason, I have never felt even a bit of the crushing sense of disappointment that at various times has enveloped so many Obama voters. I supported Obama because I judged him to have a keen analytical mind, grasping both the possibilities and the limits of activist government, and possessed of excellent communicative talents. I thought he would nudge government policy in an incrementally better direction. I consider his presidency an overwhelming success.

    It took me longer than Jon to decide between Obama and Hillary Clinton, but otherwise this mirrors my reaction precisely. In a way, though, all it shows is that both Jon and I missed something in 2008. I simply never took seriously any of Obama’s high-flown rhetoric—Hope and change, Yes we can! You are the solution, etc.—dismissing it as nothing more than typical campaign windiness. From the first day, I saw Obama as a sober, cautious, analytic, mainstream Democrat: a little to the left of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, but fundamentally right smack in the middle of American liberalism. He’d get a bunch of good stuff done, but on other stuff he’d either never support a progressive position in the first place (Afghanistan, cramdown, etc.) or else he’d support it but fail to get his program through Congress (Guantanamo, cap-and-trade).

    Apparently, though, a lot of lefties really did buy the hype. Or so it seems. To this day, however, I wonder just how many of the people who are disappointed in Obama are liberals who took the campaign oratory seriously vs. moderates who are simply worn down by the long economic downturn and hesitant to give Obama another four years. Somebody ought to do a poll….

  • Chris Christie Probably Really Doesn’t Give a Damn About Presidential Politics Right Now


    Why has Chris Christie suddenly embraced President Obama as a long-lost brother in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy? This joins many other great questions of the universe. Who is John Galt? Who promoted Peress? Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? What did he know and when did he know it? What is the meaning of life?1 But today Dan Amira takes a crack at it anyway:

    Some might conclude that Christie is looking out for his own political future (again?), either as a Republican governor running for reelection in a blue state or as a straight-talking Republican presidential candidate hoping to win the support of independents. Or it may be that Christie, as he told Fox & Friends this morning, just doesn’t “give a damn about presidential politics” right now. But Romney surely still does, and he probably wouldn’t mind if Christie toned it down a bit.

    I find this oddly fascinating. I sort of give Christie the benefit of the doubt here. Partly this is because he does seem to be a genuinely emotional guy and may simply be reacting to the moment. But the other reason is that I find it hard to believe that Christie truly thinks he has a chance of winning the Republican nomination in 2016 regardless of what he does. We’ve been through this all before, but he’s (a) kinda sorta pro-choice, (b) thinks climate change is real, (c) is in favor of gun control, and (d) when someone asked him about tea-partyish concerns over Sharia law he famously said, “It’s just crazy. And I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.” I know people can convince themselves of all sorts of things, but you’d really have to be living in la-la land to think the Republican Party is going to nominate anyone like that sometime soon.

    But regardless of whether I’m right or wrong, Christie’s comments have been over-the-top enough that I doubt they’re solely a product of being overcome by emotion. Christie, I’d guess, has pretty much given up on the prospect of Romney winning next week. I wonder if he knows something the rest of us don’t?

    1In case you’re actually interested: (1) a pissed-off genius inventor, (2) bureaucratic inertia, (3) it depends, (4) probably quite a bit and rather a long time ago, and (5) 42.

  • America’s Recovery Looks Pretty Good If You Compare It to Everyone Else’s Recovery


    If you want to evaluate Barack Obama from a progressive point of view, you have to ask, “compared to what?” Or, as Matt Yglesias puts it today, “compared to whom?” He concludes that if you compare Obama to actual Democratic presidents of the past half century, he comes out looking pretty good.

    I agree, but more interestingly, he also makes a similar argument for how well Obama did steering the United States out of the Great Recession:

    A better comparison class might be to ask “how’s Obama doing compared to other leaders steering their country through the Great Crash of 2007-2008”?

    Here I think he looks pretty good but not great. The United States is doing better than Japan or the eurozone or the United Kingdom. On the other hand, we’ve done worse than Israel or Sweden or Australia or Canada. You can say maybe that small countries just have it easier, and maybe that’s right but I think it’s hard to test. Certainly Japan and the UK don’t seem to have it much easier than the US in virtue of being smaller. The comparative approach leads you, I think, to what’s more or less the intuitive conclusion that under Obama the American economy has done okay considering the circumstances but not nearly as well as it might have done. And so since swing voters mostly vote retrospectively based on macroeconomic performance, you wind up with a close election.

    No big argument here, though I’d actually be a little more charitable towards America on this score. Japan and the UK are pretty big countries, so if anything, I think their difficulties suggest that things really do get harder as you get bigger. In some ways a global behemoth like the United States has maneuvering room that, say, Switzerland doesn’t, but in other ways it’s hemmed in in ways that Switzerland isn’t.

    Given that, the truth is that the United States looks pretty good despite all the half measures from Obama and the endless obstructionism from Republicans. Russia has done better than us thanks to its booming resource sector, but aside from them I’d say we’ve probably done better than nearly all the other big economic zones in the world, including China, Europe, Japan, the UK, and India. There are lots of reasons for this that aren’t related to fiscal and monetary policy, but you still have the raw fact that, when you ask “compared to what?” America’s economic recovery looks surprisingly good.

  • Are Obama’s Good Polling Numbers Hurting Him?


    A couple of days ago, after I posted a bunch of poll models showing Obama with a fairly sizeable electoral college lead, a friend wrote to me:

    Rs vote no matter what, rain, shine, or submerged subways. And the aggregators are putting the fear of God into them, firing them up even more. In contrast, lots of lefties see the odds and plan to do something else on election day.

    As much as I’m not surprised to see the recent attacks on Silver, et al., I welcome them. There needs to be a lot less confidence in those numbers, regardless of how strong they are.

    Dems look for reasons not to vote and Silver and others — or “reality” — serves that up. Some superstitious fear now would be a good thing. I think Palin scared the bejeezus out of the left in ’08, but they lack that oddball character on the right these days.

    This is a fairly common sentiment. And it makes sense. It’s entirely reasonable to think that projecting an air of confidence might make your supporters overconfident and decrease turnout on Election Day. Better to keep them running scared.

    But there’s an odd thing about this: professional politicians apparently don’t believe it. At all. Oh sure, they’ll keep sending out the scary emails all the way through November 6. “Folks, there are a bunch of races that are simply too close to call,” screams the latest plea in my inbox from Dick Durbin. “Contribute $7 now, before time runs out.” (Really? $7?) Publicly, though, presidential campaigns pretty much never do this. In fact, they usually go to absurd lengths to demonstrate that their campaign is a juggernaut that will sail to victory. They apparently believe—and so do I—that people are energized by being associated with a winner. Confidence in victory boosts turnout, it doesn’t suppress it.

    Question: is this true, or is it just old-school conventional wisdom with no real basis in reality? I wonder if there’s any actual research that’s on point here?

  • Niall Ferguson’s Slow Road to Oblivion


    Dan Drezner tips me off today to an essay by the soon-to-be irrelevant Niall Ferguson in the soon-to-be defunct Newsweek. In it, Ferguson decides to go public with his fever dreams of what an Obama White House might do to swing the election over the next couple of days:

    If the White House could announce a historic deal with Iran—lifting increasingly painful economic sanctions in return for an Iranian pledge to stop enriching uranium—Mitt Romney would vanish as if by magic from the front pages and TV news shows. The oxygen of publicity—those coveted minutes of airtime that campaigns don’t have to pay for—would be sucked out of his lungs.

    ….[There is] an alternative surprise—the one I have long expected the president to pull if he finds himself slipping behind in the polls. With a single phone call to Jerusalem, he can end all talk of his being Jimmy Carter to Mitt Romney’s Reagan: by supporting an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

    “Could this be the worst international affairs column of 2012?” Dan asks. I’d put it a little differently: I suspect that future generations will use Ferguson as the archetypal example of a perfectly decent scholar inexplicably deciding to pursue a career as an egregious hack. Personally, I’d rather be a decent scholar, but I don’t really have that option any longer, so here I am. Ferguson’s case is more mysterious. Why would anyone knowingly trade what he used to be for what he’s so rapidly morphing himself into?

  • Public Service Announcement re: Election Day


    We don’t know who will win Tuesday’s election. That is all. 

  • A Case Study of Republicans vs. Democrats on FEMA


    Mitt Romney apparently still thinks that downsizing and privatizing the functions of FEMA is a good idea. After all, everyone knows that federal bureaucracies are cesspools of incompetence.

    Except….it turns out that they’re only cesspools of incompetence during certain eras. See if you can spot the trend here:

    George H.W. Bush: Appoints Wallace Stickney, head of New Hampshire’s Department of Transportation, as head of FEMA. Stickney is a hapless choice and the agency is rapidly driven into the ditch: “Because FEMA had 10 times the proportion of political appointees of most other government agencies, the poorly chosen Bush appointees had a profound effect on the performance of the agency.”

    Bill Clinton: Appoints James Lee Witt, former head of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services, as head of FEMA. The agency is reborn as a professional operation: “As amazing as it sounds, Witt was the first FEMA head who came to the position with direct experience in emergency management….On Witt’s recommendation, Clinton filled most of the FEMA jobs reserved for political appointees with persons who had previous experience in natural disasters and intergovernmental relations.”

    George W. Bush: Appoints Joe Allbaugh, his 2000 campaign manager, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh explains that his role is to downsize FEMA and privatize its functions: “Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level. We must restore the predominant role of State and local response to most disasters.” Once again, the agency goes downhill: “[Allbaugh] showed little interest in its work or in the missions pursued by the departed Witt….Those of us in the business of dealing with emergencies find ourselves with no national leadership and no mentors. We are being forced to fend for ourselves.”

    Allbaugh quits after only two years and George W. Bush downgrades FEMA from a cabinet-level agency and appoints Allbaugh’s deputy, Michael Brown, former Commissioner of Judges and Stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association, as FEMA’s head. A former employer, Stephen Jones, is gobsmacked when he hears about it: “Brown was pleasant enough, if a bit opportunistic, Jones said, but he did not put enough time and energy into his job. ‘He would have been better suited to be a small city or county lawyer,’ he said.”

    Barack Obama: Appoints Craig Fugate, Florida’s state emergency management director, as head of FEMA. Fugate immediately revives FEMA, receiving widespread praise for the agency’s handling of the devastating tornadoes that ripped across seven Southern states last year: “Under Fugate’s leadership, an unimaginable natural disaster literally has paved the way for a textbook lesson in FEMA crisis management….Once the laughingstock of the federal bureaucracy after the bumbling, dithering tenure of director Michael Brown, FEMA under Fugate prepares for the worst and hopes for the best rather than the other way around.”

    The lesson here is simple. At a deep ideological level, Republicans believe that federal bureaucracies are inherently inept, so when Republicans occupy the White House they have no interest in making the federal bureaucracy work. And it doesn’t. Democrats, by contrast, take government services seriously and appoint people whose job is to make sure the federal bureaucracy does work. And it does.

    More on this subject from Jon Cohn here and Ed Kilgore here.

  • Romney Doubles Down on Deceitful Jeep Ad in Ohio


    Earlier this morning I said I was skeptical that being called a liar by a bunch of Ohio newspapers outweighed the benefits of running deceitful ads aimed at scaring Ohio autoworkers about their jobs getting shipped to China. Obviously the Romney campaign agrees with me, because they’re now gleefully expanding their ad buy:

    A Dem source familiar with ad buy info tells me that the Romney campaign has now put a version of the spot on the radio in Toledo, Ohio — the site of a Jeep plant. The buy is roughly $100,000, the source says.

    The move seems to confirm that the Romney campaign is making the Jeep-to-China falsehood central to its final push to turn things around in the state. The Romney campaign has explicitly said in the past that it will not let fact checking constrain its messaging, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it appears to be expanding an ad campaign based on a claim that has been widely pilloried by fact checkers.

    In 2004, Ohio was ground zero for the Swift Boat smear campaign. In 2008 Ohio was ground zero for all things related to Joe the Plumber. In 2012 it’s already been ground zero for Mitt Romney’s fraudulent welfare ad and is now ground zero for a flatly dishonest ad about Jeep assembly being moved to China. At some point, you’d think that Ohio voters would get tired of Republicans treating them like chumps. Maybe this is the year.

  • Is It Time to Start Adapting to Climate Change?


    Andy Sabl has kinda sorta given up on the prospect of collective action to head off climate change:

    A few minutes ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a press conference (no video or transcript yet, but I’ll be happy to provide it later if I can find it) again gave a version of the line I’ve been hearing from him since last night: “We have a new reality, in terms of weather patterns, but we have an old infrastructure….I don’t think anyone can sit back any more and say, ‘well, I’m shocked by that weather pattern.’”

    ….The governor has said he’ll keep pushing this. I hope he does. Against my inclination, I’m starting to side with Matt [Kahn] on this: given how far climate change has already gone, and how many interests stand against quick action, we can’t assume a climate future that resembles the past. But the reward to acknowledging climate reality will be (where local politicians aren’t climate deniers, and only there) urban areas that are far better designed to accommodate the new reality than they have been up to now.

    If you were teaching a graduate seminar in public policy and challenged your students to come up with the most difficult possible problem to solve, they’d come up with something very much like climate change. It’s slow-acting. It’s essentially invisible. It’s expensive to address. It has a huge number of very rich special interests arrayed against doing anything about it. It requires international action that pits rich countries against poor ones. And it has a lot of momentum: you have to take action now, before its effects are serious, because today’s greenhouse gases will cause climate change tomorrow no matter what we do in thirty years.

    I have to confess that I find myself feeling the same way Andy does more and more often these days. It’s really hard to envision any way that we’re going to seriously cut back on greenhouse gas emissions until the effects of climate change become obvious, and by then it will be too late. I recognize how defeatist this is, and perhaps the proliferation of extreme weather events like Sandy will help turn the tide. But it hasn’t so far, and given the unlikelihood of large-scale global action on climate change, adaptation seems more appealing all the time. For the same reason, so does continued research into geoengineering as a last-resort backup plan.

    I’d like someone to persuade me I’m wrong, though.

  • Supreme Court Might Deliver a Tiny Victory for Common Sense


    The FISA surveillance act had its day in court yesterday, but the subject was solely whether the act would ever have a real day in court. Adam Serwer explains:

    Here’s what the civil libertarians and human rights activists are upset about: The FISA Amendments Act authorized the warrantless surveillance aimed at targets abroad, including correspondence where one of the points of contact is within the United States. That means the government could spy on American citizens without a warrant or probable cause. Surveillance in cases targeting suspected foreign agents previously had to be approved by a special court. The FISA Amendments Act allowed the government broad latitude to spy without ever needing to ask a judge’s permission, even if that means picking up Americans’ emails and phone calls.

    The arguments before the Supreme Court on Monday weren’t about whether this kind of surveillance violates Americans’ constitutional rights. Instead, the justices are deciding whether or not the lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists involved in the case can sue at all. To move forward with their case, the plaintiffs need to prove they have what lawyers call “standing”—they have to prove that the law will affect them. That’s hard because who the government spies on is by definition a secret.

    David Savage tells us how things went:

    Supreme Court justices were surprisingly skeptical Monday about arguments by a top Justice Department lawyer who in a hearing sought to squelch an anti-wiretapping lawsuit brought by lawyers, journalists and activists.

    ….[Elena] Kagan said lawyers who represent foreign clients accused of terrorism-related offenses cannot speak to them on the phone. They said they had to fly overseas to speak to them in person. That suggests these plaintiffs have suffered some harm because of the prospect of their calls being overheard, she said….Kennedy said he too found it hard to believe that the NSA is not engaged in broad monitoring of international calls.

    “The government has obtained this extraordinarily wide-reaching power,” he said. “It is hard for me to think the government isn’t using all of the powers at its command under the law.”

    This is obviously a tiny victory, but it’s a victory nonetheless. The government has been playing this card for over a decade, claiming that literally no one has standing to sue over its secret surveillance programs because no one can prove they’ve been surveilled. It’s an absurd Catch-22, and the court is right to be skeptical of it. One way or another, there should always be somebody who has standing to challenge a law in court. Even if the Supreme Court eventually rules that FISA and its amendments are all constitutional, it would be nice to at least get a ruling that no law is entirely unassailable merely due to technicalities of standing.

  • Ohio Press Slams Romney Over Jeep Ad


    Greg Sargent scans the Ohio media for coverage of Mitt Romney’s ad claiming that Obama is helping Chrysler ship jobs to China, and finds that it’s mostly pretty scorching:

    This is hardly a comprehensive look at the local coverage, but it does suggest the possibility that Romney’s Jeep-to-China gamble may be backfiring. Polls have shown that large numbers of Ohioans don’t think Romney cares about their needs and problems. And the Obama campaign views the auto bailout, and Romney’s dishonesty about it, as central to their closing case against Romney’s character, integrity, and true priorities. So these are exactly the headlines the Obama team wants.

    I’d like to believe this. But I wonder if it’s true. In terms of reach and effectiveness, how does a bunch of indignant newspaper coverage compare to a gut-punch of a TV ad that airs a few thousand times in the course of a week? I’m not sure. I guess we’ll find out next Tuesday.

  • Will Romney Try to Exploit Hurricane Sandy?


    A friend and I were just emailing about Hurricane Sandy:

    Friend: This may be the election right here. If Obama can look like he’s handling this competently and in control he should be okay. But I’m sure Romney’s people are all in a room trying to figure out how to make this Obama’s Katrina.

    Me: Benghazi didn’t work for them, so Sandy is their last hope. But I do think this is a challenge for Romney. Any criticism will look nakedly opportunistic unless there’s really a good reason for it. I think the press is probably waiting for Romney to say something obviously excessive.

    Friend: I’d watch Drudge for the cues. He should have a picture of a stranded black person up at some point tomorrow.

    The wingers will certainly be looking for some kind of Sandy-related incompetence to hang on Obama, but I really do think the press will be on the watch for this and ready to pounce. It’s such an obvious thing for a desperate campaign to do, and exploiting a tragedy like this a week before an election would be a little too raw even for our conflict-loving media. Unless Obama really screws up something badly, Romney would probably be best served by quietly telling his surrogates to cool it on Sandy.

  • David Brooks Says We Must Allow the Hostage to be Killed


    Shorter David Brooks: congressional Republicans are such implacable assholes that they’ll flatly refuse to support big legislation that’s good for the country as long as Barack Obama is president. But congressional Democrats are more reasonable, so if Mitt Romney wins, he’ll be able to get some big stuff passed. Therefore you should vote for Romney.

    Shorter shorter David Brooks: the only way to deal with terrorists is to give them what they want.

    If you think I must be characterizing Brooks unfairly, I urge you to click on the link above. Then come back and tell me what I got wrong.

  • Election Update: What Four Different Models Say About November 6th


    It’s a week until Election Day, so here’s an update on the status of the four most popular presidential forecasting models. On the top are Drew Linzer and Nate Silver; on the bottom are Sam Wang and Pollster. Obama has been widening his lead since about October 10, and is now the favorite in all four models. The average of the models gives Obama 301 electoral votes. Accordingly, you should expect much mud to fly from the Romney campaign over the next seven days.

  • The Real Real Story Behind Benghazi


    Having pretty much failed to persuade the country that the Obama administration misled the American public about Benghazi while cravenly refusing to call it an act of terrorism, conservatives now have a new conspiracy theory. It revolves around the notion that Obama basically had a real-time video feed of what was happening; knew that embassy staffers were requesting help; knew that a fast-response team could get there in time; but ordered them not to go in, thus making himself personally responsible for the deaths of four American diplomats. Charles Woods, the father of Benghazi victim Tyrone Woods, has been retailing this story all over right-wing talk radio, and conservatives are up in arms that the mainstream media is ignoring it.

    But I guess that’s old news. The latest latest conspiracy theory is that General Carter Ham, the head of AFRICOM, is being sacked because….well, let’s let James Robbins tell the story that he heard from “someone inside the military that I trust entirely”:

    General Ham immediately had a rapid response unit ready and communicated to the Pentagon that he had a unit ready. General Ham then received the order to stand down. His response was to screw it, he was going to help anyhow. Within 30 seconds to a minute after making the move to respond, his second in command apprehended General Ham and told him that he was now relieved of his command.

    The mainstream media is, once again, ignoring this bombshell on the pretext that the Pentagon flatly denies it. The real reason, of course, is that they’re in the tank for Obama and won’t do anything to hurt him before Election Day.

    I have nowhere really to go with this, so I’ll turn it into a reader poll. On Twitter earlier, I predicted that no matter who wins, Republicans will completely lose interest in Benghazi on November 7th. What do you think?

    A. Yes indeed. Peddling this nonsense will no longer serve any purpose once the election is over.

    B. No siree. If Obama wins, Benghazi will mutate from election fodder into impeachment fodder.

    Vote in comments!

  • One of These Tax Plans Is Not Like the Other


    Jared Bernstein compliments the Washington Post today for its tough line on Mitt Romney’s evolving portfolio of magical tax plans. Unfortunately, he says, they can’t leave well enough alone:

    But the WaPo then goes unfairly to the “pox-on-both-houses” place when it claims that President Obama has not suggested explicit tax expenditures/loophole closures to pay for his corporate tax rate reduction, from 35% to 28%. In this document that introduced the administration’s corporate tax reform ideas, they explicitly call for eliminating an inventory accounting tax gimmick that costs the Treasury $74 billion over ten, oil and gas subsidies ($27 billion), the carried interest loophole, and a bunch of other cats and dogs that amount to over $140 billion.

    Beyond that, however, they raise significant revenue (another $148 billion), and just as importantly, close down some distortionary incentives to offshore production, by closing international taxation loopholes. Moreover, their document suggests that some big ticket credits and deductions, including accelerated depreciation and tax preferences for debt over equity financing should be on the table.

    How is that anywhere near analogous to the absence of specificity from the Romney campaign on their tax plan? So while I give the WaPo kudos for scrutinizing Romney’s tax math, the double pox formulation doesn’t work here. At the very least, they need to read the administration’s white paper and explain why I’m wrong.

    Also worth noting: the Obama document is actually a serious proposal. It’s not just four or five bullet points, as most of Romney’s plans are. It goes into some serious detail about the pros and cons of various corporate tax reforms and explains what they mean and how much they cost. It’s like night and day compared to the pabulum on the Romney campaign website.

    More generally, Bernstein is right: this kind of editorializing is lazy, and it infects plenty of other subjects. If the Post doesn’t like Obama’s corporate tax proposal, that’s fine. If they think his numbers don’t add up, also fine. But why pretend that he’s done nothing but go after trivial small-dollar pay-fors and hasn’t produced a serious plan? It’s just not true.

  • Why Medicaid Is Important Even to the Middle Class


    Bob Somerby was happy to see Paul Krugman writing about Medicaid in the New York Times today, but thinks he errs in hauling out a bunch of facts and figures that portray Medicaid primarily as a program for the poor without giving equal time to a few other facts and figues:

    As far as we know, none of that is wrong. But what about all the middle-class people who receive (expensive) nursing home care through the Medicaid program, at least in certain states?

    To what extent does Medicaid pay for nursing home care for middle-class seniors? To what extent do middle-class voters understand this topic when they heard that Romney wants to slash spending for this program?

    We don’t know the full answer to that first question. That said, we’ll guess that the vast majority of middle-class voters don’t understand that Medicaid may pay the bills for the future care of their own parents or grandparents.

    Until recently, I would have agreed with Bob. But a couple of months ago the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll asked a question about Medicaid, and it turned out that:

    • 67 percent of respondents supported the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare.
    • Even among middle-class families, 61 percent said that Medicaid was important to them.
    • Of those who said Medicaid was important to them, 49 percent said it was because “you or someone you know” has received long-term nursing care via Medicaid.

    As a matter of pure numbers, total Medicaid spending in 2010 was a little under $400 billion, and of that, $123 billion was for long-term nursing care. So that’s roughly a third of Medicaid spending.

    That’s for everyone, of course, not just middle class folks, but it’s obviously a big chunk of Medicaid spending no matter how you slice it. And judging from Kaiser’s poll responses, most middle-class voters probably do understand that. It’s one reason the Obama campaign may have missed a bet by not making a bigger deal out of Mitt Romney’s plan to slash Medicaid and then dump the whole program on the states.

  • Will Prop. 38’s Micro Appeal Work?


    Here’s an interesting mailer that we got a couple of days ago from the folks supporting Prop. 38, which would raise taxes in California to provide additional funding to schools. It’s personalized to me—or to my zip code—and tells me just how much extra money my local schools would get if 38 passes. Clever!

    And yet…oddly wrong. Of those three schools, only the middle school is near me. The two elementary schools are a couple of miles away even though I have two elementary schools within half a mile of my house. (Not to mention the nearby high school.) Does that mean that my local elementary schools wouldn’t get any Prop. 38 money? Or just that the Yes on 38 campaign uses a really lousy mapping program?

    I don’t know. But I’m curious: does an appeal to such naked local self-interest work? It might! Something about it feels ineffective, though, as if the gameplaying is a little too obvious. Opinions?

  • Why We Have So Many Dumb Rules: A Case Study


    New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has gotten a lot of abuse for his campaign to ban the sale of sugary drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces. There are lots of reasons for this, but among the economically literate his proposal is widely viewed as gratuitously inefficient. Simply taxing sugary sodas would be a lot more sensible, so why not do that instead?

    Well, here’s what’s happening in Southern California, where the city of El Monte has placed an initiative on the November ballot to tax sugary drinks. El Monte has a high rate of obesity and big fiscal problems, so it seemed like a winner:

    But then the beverage industry converged on El Monte, turning the race into the most expensive campaign in the city’s history — and giving it an increasingly David-versus-Goliath feel.

    The beverage industry forces are open about their desire to not just kill El Monte’s proposal but to make the sugary drinks tax politically unfeasible to other cities. They’ve brought together consultants from across the country, including the firm of a Washington, D.C., political strategist whose famous “Harry and Louise” advertisements helped derail the Clinton administration’s healthcare legislation in the early 1990s.

    ….Ads targeting Asians, for example, feature a woman named Stephanie Dang explaining how the tax would hit “boba milk tea.” Ads targeting Latinos show a Mexican American woman talking about chocolate milk….Driving around El Monte last week, [El Monte mayor Andre] Quintero seemed overwhelmed by the opposition. The “No on H” committee has spent close to $1.3 million, compared to his side’s $57,000.

    The same thing happened in New York, of course, where the 16-ounce rule came only after attempts to levy a tax failed. And it explains a lot of other suboptimal policies too. Why do we have CAFE fuel economy standards for cars, for example? Part of the reason is that a more sensible policy — a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade plan — is politically impossible thanks to the anti-tax jihadists in Washington. So instead we implement a hodgepodge of command-and-control rules that don’t fall foul of Grover Norquist’s blood pledge and which the public accepts because it has no idea that these rules end up costing them more than a simple tax would.

    In other words, complicated, hidden costs are always better than simple, open costs. That’s always been the case to a certain extent, but it’s become practically a truism over the past couple of decades. Thanks to conservatives, it’s all but impossible to pass a simple, effective policy these days. So instead we get a morass of obscure, convoluted rules that barely get the job done and have a bunch of terrible side effects.

    And then conservatives complain about how oppressive all our rules are. Pretty nice work if you can get it.

  • Chicago Thugs in Labor Department Already Making Excuses to Delay Jobs Report That Would Sink Obama


    The most important jobs report in the history of the nation (really!) might turn out to be a fizzle:

    The U.S. Labor Department on Monday said it hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to delay Friday’s October jobs report, the final reading on the labor market before next week’s federal elections. A Labor official said the agency will assess the schedule for all its data releases this week when the “weather emergency” is over.

    I’m willing to bet that the report will be released on time. But if it’s not, can you just imagine the level of crackpot conspiracy theories we’re going to have to endure about it? And that’s without even knowing which candidate it putatively helps.

    Personally, I’m all for delaying it. In fact, at this point I think I’m all in favor of modifying the First Amendment to ban all news coverage of any kind for the week before Election Day. Who’s with me?