Kevin Drum - October 2012

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

| Mon Oct. 29, 2012 8:40 AM PDT

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?

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Why Mitt Romney Wanted to Shutter FEMA

| Mon Oct. 29, 2012 8:06 AM PDT

Everyone is having fun today with a clip from an old Republican primary debate in which John King asks Mitt Romney about federal handling of disaster relief. Romney makes a general statement about how it's always better for states to handle things, and King then follows up:

KING: Including disaster relief, though?

ROMNEY: We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all.

WTF? Is Mitt Romney really opposed to federal funding of disaster relief? What was going on here?

It's worth remembering the context. This debate was held in June 2011, just a few weeks after the disastrous tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri. At the time, FEMA was close to running out of money and Republicans were busy holding the country hostage over extension of the debt ceiling. This meant that, yes, FEMA funding really had become controversial. Democrats wanted to pass a supplemental spending bill to keep FEMA going, but on May 30, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor went on Face the Nation to say that he had conditions: there would be no money for Joplin unless something else was cut first.

"I know that America is just stunned by the scope of devastation and loss and the horrific tragedy that the people of Joplin and other places across the country really are experiencing this tornado season," Cantor said. The federal government typically pays for disaster relief, but Cantor has said repeatedly that the government must maintain fiscal discipline. On Sunday, he compared the situation to that of a family putting off buying a new car when a family member became ill.

"When a family is struck with tragedy — like the family of Joplin ... let's say if they had $10,000 set aside to do something else with, to buy a new car ... and then they were struck with a sick member of the family or something, and needed to take that money to apply it to that, that's what they would do, because families don't have unlimited money. And, really, neither does the federal government."

So a week later, this was the background for King's question. Republican orthodoxy that demanded spending cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling had infested everything, even emergency spending. Sure, Joplin might be suffering, but by God, America was out of money and there was nothing left for them. Romney, who was still in his severely conservative phase back then, went along because he didn't dare cross Eric Cantor. This is the real problem here. There's no telling if Romney really believed what he was saying or not, but as president he probably wouldn't dare cross Cantor either.

For more, see Tim Murphy's explanation of how Paul Ryan's budget plan would affect disaster response and funding.

Mitt Romney Gets Desperate in Ohio

| Sun Oct. 28, 2012 12:04 PM PDT

Last Thursday, Mitt Romney told a group of Ohio autoworkers that Chrysler was planning to move Jeep production to China. Chrysler very quickly explained the real story: they're thinking about opening new plants in China to sell Jeeps into the Chinese market. No American plants are going to be shuttered.

But the Romney campaign decided none of this mattered. They want to win Ohio, so they're running ads that say this:

Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy, and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.

Technically, every word of this is true. Obama did force GM and Chrysler through a managed bankruptcy. Fiat did end up buying Chrysler. And Chrysler is thinking about building Jeeps in China. But remember my three-part test to judge how deceptive a statement is?

  1. What was the speaker trying to imply?
  2. What would it take to state things accurately?
  3. How much would accuracy damage the speaker's point?

On this scale, Romney's ad rates about 9 out of 10 on the deceptiveness scale. He's obviously trying to imply that American jobs will be shipped overseas; stating things accurately would require wholesale revisions; and doing so would completely destroy Romney's point. But he doesn't care. He's got an election to win, and if scaring Ohio autoworkers is what it takes, then that's what it takes. It's truly nauseating.

Why Does Chrome Suck on My Android Tablet?

| Sat Oct. 27, 2012 12:35 PM PDT

I might blog this in more detail later, but for now I'll just do something quick. I'm now the proud owner of an Android Tablet, an Asus Transformer Infinity, and overall it's a pretty nice device. But I've sure had trouble finding a decent browser for it. The basic problem, as near as I can tell, is that Android browsers are all designed for phones, and haven't really been rewritten to make sense on a device with more screen real estate. Presumably this will get fixed over time. Beyond that, though, the performance is pretty sucky on all of them.

Opera's rendering performance is actually pretty good. Unfortunately, it doesn't work with MoJo's famously finicky back-end blogging software, so it's out. Firefox has so-so rendering performance, but also doesn't work with MoJo's back end. The stock browser is so-so too. And then there's Chrome.

I didn't even try it at first, because even the desktop version doesn't work with MoJo's back end. But finally I gave it a whirl, and it turns out to be 100% compatible with our blogging software. Hooray! Their bookmark system is a little wiggy, but also OK. Double hooray! But performance. Oh my. I swear, the rendering engine looks like it was written by a five-year-old. It's slow and jerky on most sites, really slow and jerky on other sites, and so bad that it renders other sites all but unusable. (Including, ironically, Google Groups.)

In fact, the performance is so laughably bad that I half wonder if it's somehow my fault. I can't figure out how, though. I'm running the latest version of Android, the latest version of Chrome, the performance setting is on High, the Tegra 3 processor on the Asus is supposed to be pretty fast, and as far as I know, there are no background tasks running that could slow it down.

Anyone else have this problem? Am I imagining things? This just seems really weird. Aside from this, feel free to consider this an open thread on Android, tablets, and computing in general. (Keep in mind, however, that I already own an iPad, so telling me to get a Mac really won't do much good.)

Friday Cat Blogging - 26 October 2012

| Fri Oct. 26, 2012 11:49 AM PDT

This morning Domino was basking in the sunshine playing with her new catnip mouse. (It's the bright blob on top of her paws.) This afternoon will be a little more stressful, featuring another trip to the vet. Hopefully the news won't be too bad.

If you need an additional cat fix, check out this LA Times profile of the guy behind the Henrí videos. I didn't know this, but it turns out Henry is his neighbor's cat. He himself lives alone. It takes all kinds, I guess.

2012 Most Racialized Election in Past Two Decades

| Fri Oct. 26, 2012 10:36 AM PDT

John Sununu, the surrogate the Romney campaign uses to promote crazy uncle memes they can't afford to be associated with themselves, told Piers Morgan yesterday that Colin Powell was endorsing Barack Obama mainly because, hey, Powell's a black guy and endorsing Obama is the kind of thing you do in order to stand with "somebody of your own race." Atrios:

What's "amazing" (horrifying) is that while old white dudes like Sununu instantly jump to the idea that the main thing which drives African-American voting habits (congratulations, Senator Steele) is racial solidarity, but would freak if you suggested white people are more likely to vote for white people.

Funny he should mention that. The Washington Post reports today that this year's election is the most thoroughly racialized in the past 20 years:

The 2012 election is shaping up to be more polarized along racial lines than any presidential contest since 1988, with President Obama experiencing a steep drop in support among white voters from four years ago.

....Nearly half of all of those who supported Obama in 2008 but now say they back Romney are white independents. Overall, whites make up more than 90 percent of such vote “switchers.” Romney’s advantage here comes even as 48 percent of white voters in the tracking data released Monday said Romney, as president, would do more to favor the wealthy....Most whites, with and without college educations, saw Obama as doing more to favor those in the middle, not the wealthy.

Do you think John Sununu was unaware of this when he made that comment? If you answer yes, please contact me immediately. I've come across an exciting opportunity to help a Nigerian widow collect her inheritance and I think you might be able to help.

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BLAME THE UNITED NATIONS FOR ALL CAPS WEATHER SERVICE BULLETINS

| Fri Oct. 26, 2012 9:40 AM PDT

Matt Yglesias is unhappy that the National Weather Service continues to issue its bulletins in all caps, as if they were still using an old-style teletype. I direct his attention to this survey from 2006:

NWS Customer Survey for Official and Experimental Products/Services

Name of Product/Service: Use of mixed case and extended character sets in NWS text products

1. On a scale of 0 to 10 (10 highest), rate technical quality of this product/service (e.g., forecast accuracy, timeliness, problems with display). Etc.

And to this notice from two years ago:

BEGINNING MAY 28 AND CONTINUING THROUGH SEPTEMBER 15 2010...

NWS IS SEEKING USER FEEDBACK ON THE PROPOSAL TO CHANGE ALL NWS TEXT PRODUCTS TO INCLUDE UPPER AND LOWER CASE ALPHABETIC CHARACTERS RATHER THAN ALL UPPERCASE AS IS PRESENTLY DONE. ADDITIONAL PUNCTUATION AND OTHER CHARACTERS THAT ARE PART OF THE INTERNATIONAL REFERENCE ALPHABET NO. 5 WOULD ALSO BE PERMITTED.

And finally to this 60-page document from November, 2010:

2.1 Characters, Case, and Punctuation for Narrative Text. Narrative text uses upper case and only the following punctuation marks in the text: the period (.); the three dot ellipsis (...); the forward slash (/); the dash (-); and the plus (+). Use of other characters may inhibit the proper dissemination or automated processing by certain users’ systems.

The goal of the NWS is to move to mixed case letters with additional allowed punctuation in its text products, while maintaining current text rules in products that are under the purview of the [World Meteorological Organization] requirements listed in the document above or that are required under international or national agreements. Until such changes are officially announced via Public Information Statements, offices will abide by the rules in the paragraph above and in the following sections of this document.

In other words, NWS is on it!  But apparently international conventions are slowing things down. However, last year, a few select NWS offices began using mixed case, and NWS apparently offers a "non-operational product" nationally that also uses mixed case. What's more, they want your feedback, since this will "help the NWS better plan the eventual transition of all NWS text products to mixed case and the expanded character set." I have helpfully retyped this public information statement since it was, of course, originally issued in all caps.

The US Economy Is Kind of Meh

| Fri Oct. 26, 2012 9:02 AM PDT

A couple of years ago, wonky bloggers started really digging into new releases of economic data. When GDP numbers were released, you could find a dozen posts diving deep into the weeds and explaining why the numbers did or didn't really matter: defense spending was artificially up, inventory gains were wacky, the timber industry had an unusually good quarter, etc. etc.

Then that got tiresome, as everyone realized that there are details like that every quarter. Most of the time, the headline number is pretty much the best indication we have of how the economy is doing.

Now we've entered a third phase, in which the fashionable thing is to discount even the headline number because it's just going to get revised next quarter anyway. So who knows?

I have a feeling that people who are new to economic analysis go through these phases routinely, while the wise old hands nod along and wait for them to pass. Now a new generation has done this, and a few years from now we'll all be nodding along with a smile when a fresh batch of kids comes along and discovers that GDP reports and employment reports come with loads of detail to analyze and are always revised once or twice before they settle down.

In the meantime, GDP grew 2% last quarter. That's not terrible, but not great. We need to do considerably better if we want to get unemployment down to acceptable levels. And like it or not, that's about as much as we know: the economy isn't terrible and isn't great. It would be nice to know more, but we don't.

Obama's Ground Game Advantage May Not Be As Big As It Looks

| Fri Oct. 26, 2012 8:07 AM PDT

The chart below has been making the rounds over the past couple of days. It shows how many field offices each campaign has in the top ten swing states, and it's pretty stunning. Obama has twice as many offices as Romney in Virginia. Twice as many in Florida. Three times as many in Iowa. And more than three times as many in Ohio.

What's going on? Our working assumption should be twofold: (a) the Romney campaign has plenty of money, and (b) they aren't idiots. So what's the deal? I've been meaning to mention something about this, but today Seth Masket does it for me. He makes three suggestions, and I suspect the third one is probably correct:

He's counting on field organizational efforts from the parties, church organizations, and other allied groups to do the same sort of things that the Obama offices are doing.

There's been a disconnect in the ground games of the major parties for some time. Democrats tend to rely on paid, professional operations, while Republicans rely more on volunteer efforts, largely from evangelical churches. This is something that actually works in the Republicans' favor, since volunteer efforts from friends and neighbors tend to be more effective at switching votes than professional phone banks. (Also cheaper.) On the other hand, the professional organizations are often more thorough, and are better at the actual logistics of getting people to the polls.

In any case, I wouldn't be surprised if that's what's happening here. This is just a difference in the way the parties handle elections these days, not necessarily an indication that the Obama organization is kicking Romney's ass.

Romney-Ryan's Real Poverty Plan: Soak the Poor

| Fri Oct. 26, 2012 3:03 AM PDT

So what would Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan do for the poor and the working class if they were elected? Let's recap:

  • They would allow the payroll tax holiday to expire. This would immediately raise taxes on everyone, and would hit the working poor especially hard.
  • They would repeal Obamacare, which would immediately kick about 17 million low-income earners and their family members off of Medicaid.
  • In addition, they want to block grant Medicaid and cap its growth. In some states, this wouldn't have a big immediate impact. In other states, conservative governors and legislatures would use their newfound authority to limit enrollments and cut benefits substantially. Over time, all states would have to cut enrollments dramatically, probably by another 15-20 million within a decade.
  • If they pursue the cuts outlined in Paul Ryan's budget plan, they would cut funding for SNAP (food stamps) by more than $100 billion over the next decade. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that this would reduce enrollment in the program by at least 8 million people.
  • They would cut funding for Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health organizations. This would especially hurt poor women, since they don't have the resources to pay for services at full-cost clinics.
  • They would cut the college tax credit, the child tax credit, and the earned-income tax credit. All of these are programs designed to help the working poor.

This is a short post. Sometimes it's better to lay out the facts simply and starkly, because Romney's priorities really are pretty stark: He wants to cut taxes on the rich and cut spending on the poor. That's Romney's real poverty plan.