Kevin Drum - November 2012

Gears Turn, Lights Blink, and Mitt Romney Tells Us His Favorite TV Shows

| Sun Nov. 4, 2012 1:01 PM EST

For their final pre-election issue, TV Guide asked President Obama about his favorite TV shows. You've probably read about this: he likes Homeland, Boardwalk Empire, and Modern Family. And SportsCenter. Lots and lots of SportsCenter. But what about Mitt Romney? Has even TV Guide succumbed to liberal Hollywood bias, refusing to give him equal time? Is Walter Annenberg rolling in his grave?

No. TV Guide asked Romney about his favorite shows, but apparently he spent too much time focus-grouping his answers to make their deadline. Wouldn't want to accidentally offend any key voter demographics, after all! However, once the Romneytron 3000 finished its calculations, it turned out that he likes Modern Family, Justified, 30 Rock and NCIS. A perfect blend of critical favorites and middlebrow taste. I'd expect no less from him.

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Obama is Bad on Civil Liberties, But Romney Would Be Much Worse

| Sun Nov. 4, 2012 12:40 AM EDT

Like a lot of liberals, I'm not very happy with President Obama's handling of national security and civil liberties issues. Just to name a few of them, I think drone strikes are overused; U.S. citizens overseas shouldn't be targeted for assassination without judicial oversight; surveillance rules should be considerably stricter; and the state secrets privilege ought to be reined in. At the same time, I recognize that a lot of this stuff is dictated more by public and congressional opinion than it is by Obama himself, so I tend to be a little more tolerant of Obama's poor record than some.

In any case, Mark Kleiman reminds us all today that Mitt Romney would be even worse. Last year Romney was asked whether he thinks waterboarding is torture. Here was his extremely matter-of-fact answer:

I don't, but I don't....I'm not going to lay out the list of what is and what is not torture....We will have a policy of doing what we think is in our best interest. We'll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now.

Obama's track record on civil liberties is poor. At the same time, Obama at least tried to close Guantanamo; Romney wants to double it. Obama and Eric Holder at least made an effort to hold civilian trials for terrorist suspects; Romney is contemptuous of them. Obama banned torture; Romney wants to bring it back. And Obama has been restrained on intervention in Syria and Iran; Romney is eager to set red lines and begin directly arming rebels.

Anyone whose vote is based on civil liberties and national security issues ought to be aware of what it means to do anything that makes a Romney victory more likely. As bad as you think things are now, it means implicitly supporting the election of someone who would make them appreciably worse. It's sophistry to pretend otherwise.

Conspiracy Theory Update: Chip Implant Edition

| Sat Nov. 3, 2012 11:18 PM EDT

Apparently Obama plans to implant chips in all of us. Really. 

Good News and Bad News for Obama Supporters

| Sat Nov. 3, 2012 4:11 PM EDT

Are you an Obama supporter who's worried that your guy is going to lose? Actually, I guess that's redundant, isn't it? I should have just asked if you're an Obama supporter. In any case, if you're looking for concrete reasons to be worried about Tuesday's election, Robert Wright has you covered. All the reasons to be a worrywart are here.

Sam Wang, on the other hand, isn't worried a bit:

President Obama is peeling away. As you can see from the electoral vote (EV) estimator, he is the candidate with the momentum, not Romney. In terms of EV or the Meta-margin, he's made up just about half the ground he ceded to Romney after Debate #1. And the indicators are still headed straight up....A few days ago, the word was that Team Romney was buying ads in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. If he wins either of those states I will eat a bug. Ohio...a really big bug. And yes, I will post a photo.

So there you have it. This is a full service blog: we give you reasons to worry and reasons to hope. The rest is up to you.

Friday Cat Blogging - 2 November 2012

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 2:58 PM EDT

When I sat down on the floor to take a picture of Domino this morning, she immediately made a beeline for the camera and started smooching it. Needless to say, this didn't result in very much high-quality catblogging photography. But once she got bored and backed off a few inches I managed to get a few shots of something that was recognizably a cat.

In any case, this is it: your final catblogging before the election. Try not to let the next few days drive you too crazy.

The Republican War on Reality Continues

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 2:25 PM EDT

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service concluded that cutting taxes on the rich had no correlation with higher economic growth rates. This is hardly surprising. Outside the right-wing think tank bubble, that's been the conclusion of practically every economist who's looked seriously at the evidence.

Nonetheless, congressional Republicans were shocked, and made their displeasure known. Shortly thereafter the report was withdrawn. Jared Bernstein calls this "existentially scary," because it means that nonpartisan analysis is becoming more and more impossible. Say something that contradicts a Republican talking point, and you'd better retract it. There's a budget markup coming soon, after all.

However, Steve Benen reminds us that this is hardly new:

This was consistently one of the more offensive hallmarks of the Bush/Cheney era. In 2005, for example, after a government report showed an increase in terrorism around the world, the administration announced it would stop publishing its annual report on international terrorism. Reality proved problematic, so rather than addressing the problem, the Republican administration decided to hide the reality.

Soon after, the Bush administration was discouraged by data about factory closings in the U.S., the administration announced it would stop publishing information about factory closings.

When Bush's Department of Education found that charter schools were underperforming, the administration said it would sharply cut back on the information it collects about charter schools.

And Bruce Bartlett emails to remind us that this attitude goes back even farther than that. Earlier this year, Newt Gingrich called the CBO "a reactionary socialist institution," a statement that came as no surprise to anyone who knows his history. After the Republican landslide of 1994, Gingrich did more than most to destroy congressional access to analytical information:

When he became speaker in 1995, Mr. Gingrich moved quickly to slash the budgets and staff of the House committees, which employed thousands of professionals with long and deep institutional memories.

....In addition to decimating committee budgets, he also abolished two really useful Congressional agencies, the Office of Technology Assessment and the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The former brought high-level scientific expertise to bear on legislative issues and the latter gave state and local governments an important voice in Congressional deliberations.

And Bartlett points out that the current GOP routinely attacks not just the CBO and CRS, but also the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Government Accountability Office. They just don't like having anyone around that might mess with their preferred version of reality.

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Frum: The GOP Will Destroy America If We Reelect Obama, So We Must Let the GOP Win

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 1:00 PM EDT

David Frum has a very odd endorsement of Mitt Romney today. The endorsement itself isn't odd: Romney's a conservative and Frum's a conservative, so you'd pretty much expect Frum to support him. But what a peculiar bunch of reasons he gives. First, he figures that Obamacare will survive no matter what, so he'd rather have a Republican in charge of implementing it. This is....not consistent with reality. Obamacare will be effectively wiped out if Romney is elected. Frum also has a peculiarly hostile reading of Obama's Osawatomie speech from last year, which he thinks is an indication that Obama wants to vastly expand government employment. As Keith Humphreys points out, Obama sure has a funny way of showing this:

Frum also believes that if the federal government needs new revenue, it shouldn't come from higher income taxes. Instead it should come from carbon taxes and consumption taxes. Fine by me! But surely he knows that Romney and the Republican Party are, if anything, more hostile to those taxes than they are even to income taxes?

But all this is just a warmup. Here's the head slapper:

The question over [Romney's] head is not a question about him at all. It's a question about his party — and that question is the same whether Romney wins or loses. The congressional Republicans have shown themselves a destructive and irrational force in American politics. But we won't reform the congressional GOP by re-electing President Obama. If anything, an Obama re-election will not only aggravate the extremism of the congressional GOP, but also empower them: an Obama re-election raises the odds in favor of big sixth-year sweep for the congressional GOP — and very possibly a seventh-year impeachment. A Romney election will at least discourage the congressional GOP from deliberately pushing the US into recession in 2013. Added bonus: a Romney presidency likely means that the congressional GOP will lose seats in 2014, as they deserve.

Holy cats. First of all, this is almost certainly wrong. A Republican win would embolden congressional Republicans. They'd take it as a sign that they were right all along, that America really is a conservative nation and really does want to be governed according to tea party principles. They'd be over the moon with faith in their own righteousness and would demand absolute fealty from Romney. Sure, they'd ease up on things like debt ceiling hostage taking, but not on much of anything else. The tea party wing of the GOP would be reenergized and in no mood to feel like they had to compromise their principles even a little bit.

A loss, on the other hand, might have a salutary effect. It's no sure thing, but it just might start some real grumbling among the business class that bankrolls the GOP and the moderate class that's never gotten along with the tea party in the first place. It's really the only hope there is of provoking the Republican Party to eventually deal with its crackpot wing.

But instead, Frum makes the most overt form of the surrendering-to-terrorists argument that I've seen yet. If Obama wins, congressional Republicans will go completely ape and destroy the country. They will deliberately tank the economy and then impeach the president. Therefore, we have to give into them and turf Obama out of office.

It's appalling that people are seriously making this argument. What's worse, it's the relatively sensible people who are making it. This is simply nuts. No country can survive with this attitude. If congressional Republicans are truly a destructive and irrational force in American politics—and God knows, I agree with Frum about that—the answer is to fight them, not to surrender to them. That way lies madness.

The New York Times Should Run a Betting Market for New York Times Pundits

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 11:25 AM EDT

The New York Times public editor thinks Nate Silver was wrong to offer a bet that his presidential forecast was right. Alex Tabarrok disagrees:

In fact, the NYTimes should require that Silver, and other pundits, bet their beliefs. Furthermore, to remove any possibility of manipulation, the NYTimes should escrow a portion of Silver’s salary in a blind trust bet. In other words, the NYTimes should bet a portion of Silver’s salary, at the odds implied by Silver’s model, randomly choosing which side of the bet to take, only revealing to Silver the bet and its outcome after the election is over. A blind trust bet creates incentives for Silver to be disinterested in the outcome but very interested in the accuracy of the forecast.

Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief. A bet is a tax on bullshit; and it is a just tax, tribute paid by the bullshitters to those with genuine knowledge.

I guess that might work for guys like Silver, who put hard numbers to their forecasts, but how would it work for the less quantitative pundits, who just say stuff like "Obama can win if he makes the case for activist government in the closing weeks"? Beats me. Maybe the Times should require that all predictions be footnoted with clear conditions and firm odds, and then should open its own betting market, which would offer the chance to wager on every prediction made by any Times pundit. That might actually be fun. And if the Times rakes off a small piece for the house, it could even be a money spinner.

It might make it hard to find columnists, though. There probably aren't very many bullshitters who would be happy to see their record of bullshit laid before the public quite so mercilessly.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in October

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 10:45 AM EDT

The American economy beat expectations and added 171,000 new jobs last month. However, about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth is closer to 81,000 jobs. The chart below, which I update monthly, shows net job creation since the beginning of 2008, and the bottom line is that although job growth in October was higher than job growth in September, it was still fairly modest. This is pretty much the same story we've had all year: the economy is improving, but it's not improving very fast. In other news, the labor participation rate was up a hair as more people started looking for work again, and as a result, unemployment ticked up slightly, from 7.80% to 7.88%. Also: revisions added 84,000 jobs to prior months' data.

Politically, this is a wash. It's decently good news, but it isn't something Obama can crow about too much. Conversely, it's nothing that Romney can get much traction with either. If you dig into the weeds, the unemployment rate was up fairly dramatically among blacks and among those without a high school diploma, but in both cases it was just a reversion to the trendline after a flukey low number last month. The number of discouraged workers was up slightly, and the number of long-term unemployed rose a few percentage points. That's pretty much the worst news in the report.

Something to Look at While You Wait for the BLS Jobs Report

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 2:10 AM EDT

Here's something to ponder over while you wait for the BLS to release its final jobs report before the election. Gallup released its monthly unemployment survey on Thursday, and it showed a seasonally adjusted drop from 8.1 percent in September to 7.4 percent in October. The Gallup numbers are quite a bit more volatile than the official BLS numbers, as you can see in the chart below, but in general the two surveys move in similar directions. If that happens again on Friday, the BLS numbers will show a drop from 7.8 percent to.....I dunno....maybe 7.6 percent or so: a smaller decline than Gallup, but moving in the same direction.

Or maybe not. We'll know Friday morning.

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: Nope. Unemployment ticked up to 7.9% according to the BLS report.