• Quote of the Day: CO2? What CO2?

    From Les Woodcock, a former professor at the University of Manchester’s School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science, explaining why he thinks climate change is a crock:

    There is no reproducible scientific evidence CO2 has significantly increased in the last 100 years.

    There are many things that a climate skeptic could say. Some are more ridiculous than others, however, and on a scale of 1 to 10, this one is an 11. There are no complicated computer models involved in calculating atmospheric CO2. You just measure it. For pre-modern data, you use ice cores. That’s it. Two centuries ago, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was about 280 ppm. Last year it crossed the 400 ppm mark. This is about as controversial as germ theory. Here’s the chart:

    Now, it’s fair to ask why you should care about the fact that some random elderly former professor is badly confused about a simple and uncontroversial measurement. Answer: because there are plenty of people who don’t care about evidence one way or another and are willing to glom onto anyone who tells their audience what it wants to hear. “Professor Woodcock is the latest scientist to come out against the theory of man-made global warming,” crows Breitbart.com. “Former NASA Scientist: Global Warming is Nonsense,” tweets tea party hero Erick Erickson. “Another Scientist Dissents!” screams Climate Depot.

    “I literally cannot imagine a statement that would be more scientifically incorrect and humiliating than the one Professor Woodcock made,” says Ryan Cooper, from whom I learned about this. “It’s like saying you don’t believe in the existence of cheese….It’s no wonder that only six percent of scientists are Republican.”

    Nonetheless, there you have it. In the tea party precincts of the conservative movement, even the simplest version of reality doesn’t matter. If cheese denial is how you demonstrate you’re part of the tribe, then anyone who denies cheese is a hero. The fact that you happen to be happily munching away on a slice of pizza at the time doesn’t faze you at all.

  • An Awful Lot of People Seem to Have Fibbed About Responding to the Heartbleed Bug

    Via Hayley Tsukayama, check out this question about the Heartbleed bug from Pew Research:

    That’s pretty impressive, no?

    “I think it’s a pretty striking number,” said Lee Rainie, the center’s director, in an e-mailed statement….Rainie added that the urgency of the coverage likely prompted people to act quickly to address the issue. “We didn’t ask people how they’d heard about Heartbleed, but I’d guess that it was a combination of media coverage plus chatter in users’ networks via social media and e-mail,” he said. “And much of what we were seeing was the basic message, ‘This one is really serious and you need to respond.'”

    I too think this is a pretty striking number. But I don’t believe it for a second. If you had security consultants make personal house calls to every internet user in the United States, I don’t think 61 percent would change their passwords. I would frankly be surprised if 61 percent of internet users even know how to change their passwords.

    Am I being too cynical? Maybe. But what I’m curious about is where this number comes from. Since I doubt that the real number of password changers is even half of the Pew number, why did so many people fib about it when a pollster called them? And what does that say about how people respond to pollsters in general?

  • Here’s the Easiest Way to Fund the Interstate Highway System: Just Restore the Damn Gas Tax

    With a few exceptions, the interstate highway system is blissfully toll-free. That may be about to change:

    With pressure mounting to avert a transportation funding crisis this summer, the Obama administration Tuesday opened the door for states to collect tolls on interstate highways to raise revenue for roadway repairs.

    ….The question of how to pay to repair roadways and transit systems built in the heady era of post-World War II expansion is demanding center stage this spring, with projections that traditional funding can no longer meet the need. That source, the Highway Trust Fund, relies on the 18.4-cent federal gas tax, which has eroded steadily as vehicles have become more energy efficient.

    ….With the trust fund about to run into the red and the current federal highway bill set to expire Sept. 30, Congress cannot — as its members often note — keep “kicking the can down the road.”

    Hold on. It’s true that we’re using a bit less gasoline than in the past. But that’s not why the Highway Trust Fund is in dire shape. It’s in dire shape because the federal gas tax has been cut nearly in half since it was last changed two decades ago. In 1993 dollars, it’s now about 11 cents per gallon. If it had just kept up with inflation, highway funding would be in fine shape.

    Now, there’s arguably a good reason to allow tolls. Basically, it makes driving on interstates more of a pain in the ass, which probably means marginally less driving on interstates. And less driving is good for the planet. So if you think that making it less convenient to drive is a good idea, tolls might help.

    But you know what else would cut down on driving? Gas taxes restored to 1993 levels. So what’s the point of dicking around instead with tolls and corporate tax reform and all that? The answer, of course, is Republicans, who have sworn a blood oath never to raise taxes, even if “raising” actually means “keeping them at the same level.” So instead of just bumping up the gax tax by a dime or two and then indexing it to inflation—no muss, no fuss—we’re going to play a bunch of idiotic and annoying games merely to keep our roads in decent repair.

    Thanks, Republicans. I appreciate it.

  • Anger at the Plutocracy Isn’t Strong Enough to Make a Big Difference in November

    Greg Sargent writes today that the Democratic strategy of going after the Koch brothers isn’t about the Kochs per se, but “a gamble on what swing voters think has happened to the economy, and on the reasons struggling Americans think they aren’t getting ahead”:

    Dems are making an argument about what has happened to the economy, and which party actually has a plan to do something about it. Today’s NBC/WSJ poll finds support for the general idea that the economy is not distributing gains fairly and is rigged against ordinary Americans….The Democratic case is that the all-Obamacare-all-the-time message is merely meant to mask the GOP’s lack of any actual affirmative economic agenda, and even reveals the GOP’s priorities remain to roll back any efforts by Dems to ameliorate economic insecurity.

    ….I don’t know if the Dem strategy will work.

    I think Sargent’s skepticism is warranted. The problem is that the NBC/WSJ poll he mentions doesn’t find an awful lot of evidence for seething anger. Here are the basic results:

    Those are not really huge margins. The first question in particular is one they’ve been asking for two decades, and 55-39 is a very typical result, especially during times of economic weakness.

    Given this, and given the extreme difficulty of a party in power taking advantage of economic discontent, will the Democratic strategy of bludgeoning Republicans over their plutocratic leanings work? I doubt it. Specific agenda items like a higher minimum wage, health care success stories, and universal pre-K seem more likely to work. At the margins, a bit of Koch bashing and a few high-profile Wall Street indictments might help a bit too, but only as an added fillip.

    Oh, and a nice, short, decisive war against some minor global bad guy would also do wonders. In October, maybe.

  • No, the New Benghazi Emails Don’t Demonstrate a White House Cover-Up

    Wait a second. Is a National Review editor allowed to say this about Benghazi?

    On the totality of the evidence we have so far, the White House took the intelligence community and diplomatic community’s estimate, which was relatively uncertain, bereft of much detail, and turned out days later to be quite wrong, and played up certain parts of it to avoid questions about their counterterror strategy and the situation in Libya. That isn’t being as straightforward with the American public as they could or probably should have been; it’s also not a lie or a cover-up.

    This is a response to Charles Krauthammer’s bombastic insistence yesterday that newly released Benghazi emails had revealed “a classic cover-up of a cover-up.” But as Patrick Brennan says, they show no such thing.

    You know, if conservatives had stuck to a reasonable line like this one in the first place, they could have caused President Obama a lot more damage. Did the White House “play up certain parts” of the Benghazi story in order to “avoid questions about their counterterror strategy”? I’d quibble over some of the details here, but that’s fair enough. And there are certainly legitimate questions—although they cut a bipartisan swath—about how security was handled in Libya before the attacks.

    Stick to that stuff and you have a story that resonates—and not in a good way for Obama. Take the Krauthammer route, and you get cheers from the Fox News faithful but not much else. That’s why no one but a hard core of loons and fanatics cares about Benghazi anymore.

  • Pope Francis Convenes Vatican Synod on Family and Sex

    Hmmm. Is Pope Francis about to convene Vatican III? Not quite, but we’re getting something along similar lines later this year:

    On Pope Francis’ orders, the Vatican will convene an urgent meeting of senior clerics this fall to reexamine church teachings that touch the most intimate aspects of people’s lives….The run-up to the synod has been extraordinary in itself, a departure from usual practice that some say is a mark of the pope’s radical new leadership style, and a canny tactic to defuse dissent over potential reforms.

    ….Within a few months of his election last year, Francis directed every diocese in the world to survey local attitudes on family and relationships and report back to the Vatican, a canvassing of a sort that few of the faithful can recall previously….The exercise reflects Francis’ desire for less centralized and more responsive decision-making, mirroring his own self-described evolution from a rigid, authoritarian leader as a young man into one who consults and empathizes.

    ….Taking the public temperature also brings tactical advantages. Nobody at the Vatican will be surprised to learn that vast numbers of Catholics disobey its ban on premarital sex and birth control, or that some are in gay partnerships. Setting down those realities irrefutably on paper, however, could strengthen a bid by Francis to soften the church’s official line and put pressure on bishops inclined to resist, including some in the United States and many in Asia and Africa, conservative areas where the church has been growing.

    The story is careful to say that no one expects any large doctrinal changes from this synod. Catholic teaching on gay marriage, divorce, women priests, and contraception will likely remain unchanged. Still, even baby steps would be welcome. Stay tuned.

  • US Economy Tanks Completely in the First Quarter


    The economy took a huge dive in the first quarter. It grew at such a slow annualized rate, 0.1 percent, that I had to enlarge my usual FRED chart just so you could see the tiny bar on the far right. The full BEA report is here.

    So what happened? Consumer expenditures actually increased reasonably well. Government consumption was about flat, which isn’t too unusual these days. But fixed investment—including housing—tanked, inventories shrank, and exports plummeted. That was enough to swamp the strong gains in consumer spending.

    It’s hard to draw any positive conclusions from this. Cold weather is getting some of the blame, but I always take weather-based excuses with a big grain of salt. Basically, the economy is still really sluggish. Job growth is OK but not great and wage growth is positive but only barely. Despite that, here’s what the Wall Street Journal has to say:

    The latest figures come as Federal Reserve officials conclude at two-day meeting Wednesday. The numbers aren’t likely to have a large influence on policy, given the expectations for improved growth later in the year. Officials, however, are closely monitoring inflation measures. Persistently low inflation could complicate the Fed’s decisions about how to wind down its bond-buying program this year and when to raise benchmark interest rates from near zero.

    Yeesh. Crappy GDP growth, sluggish job growth, and persistently low inflation “aren’t likely to have a large influence on policy.” Then what the hell would have a large influence on policy? Needless to say, a GDP report like this is music to Republican ears, so we certainly can’t expect Congress to react in any productive way. That means the Fed is all we’ve got. But apparently we don’t have them either.


  • Here’s Why Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law Got Struck Down

    Judge Lynn Adelman, a federal district judge in Wisconsin, struck down that state’s voter ID law today. This was despite the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion County that Indiana’s voter ID law was justified. So what was different this time?

    In a word, better arguments from one side. In Crawford, the state presented virtually no evidence that in-person voter fraud was a problem in Indiana—but neither did the plaintiffs provide much evidence that a voter ID law presented a serious obstacle to voting. Given this, the state’s interest in preventing voter fraud—even if that interest was more speculative than real—carried the day.

    This time, the state once again produced virtually no evidence that in-person voter fraud was even a potential problem. But the judge was presented with loads of evidence that the burden of obtaining a photo ID was, in fact, quite high for low-income voters in particular. Since Crawford mandated the use of a balancing test to assess whether a photo ID law was justified, that made the difference and Wisconsin’s law was struck down.

    The full opinion is here. Below are a few excerpts that explain Adelman’s reasoning. It’s worth a read because I wouldn’t be surprised if another photo ID case makes it to the Supreme Court sometime in the next few years. If it does, better arguments about the burden imposed by ID laws will be key to any reconsideration of Crawford.

    Is there any serious evidence of in-person voting fraud that could be prevented by a photo ID law?

    The evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past. The only evidence even relating to voter impersonation that the defendants introduced was the testimony of Bruce Landgraf, an Assistant District Attorney in Milwaukee County….The most Landgraf’s testimony shows is that cases of potential voter-impersonation fraud occur so infrequently that no rational person familiar with the relevant facts could be concerned about them. There are over 660,000 eligible voters in Milwaukee County, and if the District Attorney’s office finds two unexplained cases each major election, that means that there is less than one questionable vote cast each major election per 330,000 eligible voters. The rate of potential voter-impersonation fraud is thus exceedingly tiny.

    How heavy a burden is it to obtain a state-issued photo ID?

    In light of the fact that a substantial number of the 300,000 plus voters who lack an ID are low income, Act 23’s burdens must be assessed with reference to them rather than with reference to a typical middle- or upper-class voter….For almost all low-income voters who lack an ID, the easiest ID to obtain will be the free state ID card, which is issued by the DMV….To prove name, date of birth and United States citizenship, most people will need to produce a birth certificate. The evidence at trial showed that a substantial number of eligible voters who lack Act 23-qualifying IDs also lack birth certificates.

    ….Assuming the person is able to determine what he or she needs to do to obtain an ID, the person must next consider the time and effort involved in actually obtaining the ID. This will involve at least one trip to the DMV. There are 92 DMV service centers in the state. All but two of these close before 5:00 p.m. and only one is open on weekends. So, it is likely that the person will have to take time off from work. The person will either need to use vacation time if it’s available or forego the hourly wages that he or she could have earned in the time it takes to obtain the ID….The person will also have to arrange for transportation.

    ….A person who needs to obtain a missing underlying document is also likely to have to pay a fee for the document. For some low-income individuals, it will be difficult to pay even $20.00 for a birth certificate.

    ….Given the obstacles identified above, it is likely that a substantial number of the 300,000 plus voters who lack a qualifying ID will be deterred from voting. Although not every voter will face all of these obstacles, many voters will face some of them, particularly those who are low income….In light of the evidence presented at trial, it is also clear that for many voters, especially those who are low income, the burdens associated with obtaining an ID will be anything but minor. Therefore, I conclude that Act 23 will deter a substantial number of eligible voters from casting a ballot.

    How does the burden of obtaining ID balance against the state interest in preventing voter fraud?

    There is no way to determine exactly how many people Act 23 will prevent or deter from voting without considering the individual circumstances of each of the 300,000 plus citizens who lack an ID. But no matter how imprecise my estimate may be, it is absolutely clear that Act 23 will prevent more legitimate votes from being cast than fraudulent votes….Thus, Act 23’s burdens are not justified by the state’s interest in detecting and preventing in-person voter impersonation. Moreover, because the state’s interest in safeguarding confidence in the electoral process is evenly distributed across both sides of the balance—a law such as Act 23 undermines confidence in the electoral process as much as it promotes it—that interest cannot provide a sufficient justification for the burdens placed on the right to vote.

  • Religious Conservatives Tend to Be Pretty Old

    There’s nothing surprising here, but Brookings has a new report out about the fate of religious progressives in the political arena (short version: things don’t look too hot), and it includes the data on the right about the demographics of religion in America.

    Bottom line: religious conservatives are old. Nearly two-thirds are over 50. Conversely, the unaffiliated are young: two-thirds are under 50. But what does this mean? There are two possibilities:

    • Religious conservatives are a dying breed. Once the boomers start dying off, so will the Christian Right.
    • Religious folks get more conservative as they get older, so these demographic numbers won’t change much over time. When the Gen Xers pass 50, they’re going to start attending megachurches too.

    Take your pick.

  • A Short Primer on American Preferences in Foreign Policy

    The American public largely seems to approve of President Obama’s specific foreign policy choices. They want to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan; they don’t want to go to war in Syria; they don’t want troops on the ground in Ukraine; and they support serious negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.

    And yet, paradoxically, they don’t think much of Obama’s foreign policy in the aggregate. Overall approval ratings for his foreign policy are stuck at roughly George W. Bush levels. What’s going on?

    With the benefit of my vast experience reading the mood of the American public, I’d like to explain what’s going on. This should save our nation’s pundits millions of windy words trying to invent sophisticated explanations that make them look smart. Here it is:

    The American public really likes short, decisive wars that the United States wins conclusively. A couple of weeks is good. A month or two is pretty much the outside limit.

    That’s it! Now you understand foreign policy. Grenada: good! Panama: good! Gulf War: not bad! Kosovo: pushing it. Iraq: horrible. Syria and other places where we fail to intervene at all: massive cognitive dissonance. War is bad! But we want to kick the bad guys in the butt! Does not compute! President is failing….failing….failing….

    This has been a public service announcement. Are there any questions?

  • Kill the Penny, Save the Economy!

    Ryan Cooper is annoyed by coins. They’re too much trouble, and they just pile up in the penny jar at home. I used to feel that way, but now that my local supermarket has a Coinstar machine, I don’t care anymore. I throw my coins into the machine every few months, and within a minute I get an Amazon gift card or something for the full value of the change. No muss, no fuss, no more rolling up coins.

    Still, Cooper thinks we could do better if we not only got rid of the penny, but got rid of all our other small change too:

    Here’s my solution: multiply the face value of every U.S. coin by 10. A penny will be worth 10 cents, a nickel 50 cents, a dime one dollar, a quarter $2.50, and a dollar coin 10 bucks. (We could also reinvent the half-dollar, which is barely produced now, as a nice $5 coin.)

    This will have several beneficial effects: first, it will make change real money again….Second, it will be easy to accomplish. We won’t have to have a big fight with the zinc lobby or Abraham Lincoln fans over whether to stop production of a particular coin, or rebuild all the vending machines around differently-shaped coins.

    ….Third — and this might be the most contentious part of this proposal — changing coins could be a nice piece of badly-needed economic stimulus. Effectively, we’d be printing up a bunch of new money and handing it to whoever has coins on hand. We’d have to think carefully about the details, but the idea would be to allow people who have old coins to hand them in for fresh new versions worth 10 times as much….How much money are we talking about? According to the Federal Reserve, as of 2010 there was about $40 billion worth of coins in circulation, which constituted 4.3 percent of the U.S. currency stock. We’d be increasing that by $360 billion at a stroke, which would actually be a pretty powerful economic stimulus.

    I like this kind of out-of-the-box thinking! Unfortunately, I suspect the biggest beneficiaries wouldn’t be coin hoarders, but banks, which probably own about 90 percent of all circulating coins. (I’m just guessing about that.) Plus, you’d better do this in secret. If you don’t, you’re going to have the damnedest run on Sacagawea dollars ever. You can sign me up for a ton or two right now.

  • Obamacare Now Widely Accepted As Here to Stay

    The latest Kaiser tracking poll on Obamacare is out, and there hasn’t been a lot of movement since last month. Unsurprisingly, most people believe the rollout was botched; that enrollment failed to meet expectations; and that the law isn’t working as planned. I expect that these attitudes will soften over time as horror stories start to recede and evidence of Obamacare’s success begins to percolate into the public consciousness—though, needless to say, that might happen slowly while the Kochs and their allies are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into their campaigns to persuade voters of exactly the opposite.

    However, attitudes have already softened in one key area: repeal. In December, sentiment for keeping the law was slim: keeping and improving Obamacare beat out repeal by only 43 to 42 percent. Today, Obamacare commands substantial support, 58 to 35 percent. The public may still harbor some doubts, but they’re increasingly tired of the debate and accept that the answer to Obamacare’s problems is to improve it, not to burn it to the ground.

  • People Trust Democrats, But That Doesn’t Mean They’ll Vote for Democrats

    The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows a precipitous drop in President Obama’s job approval rating. That’s likely to prove a bit of an outlier, but it’s still not good news for Democrats. And it gets worse. The pair of charts below shows the Democrats’ real problem. On virtually every issue, voters prefer the Democrats, sometimes by wide margins. And not just on small issues, either. When it comes to helping the middle class, voters trust Democrats over Republicans by a whopping margin of 52 to 32 percent.

    As usual, though, this does them no good. As the bottom chart shows, Democrats are in a dead heat with Republicans in congressional vote preference. People may say they trust Democrats, but that doesn’t mean they plan to vote for them.

  • The Annual Medicare Doc Fix: Not as Bad as You Think!

    Here’s a bit of contrarianism for you today: Austin Frakt says that the much-maligned Medicare “doc fix” actually works pretty well. This is Congress’s annual charade in which it overrides the formula for Medicare reimbursements to doctors, resulting in doctors getting paid more—but without ever changing the formula itself. (Why? Because changing the formula would cost money, and they’d have to figure out how to pay for it. Better to just kick the can down the road each year.)

    So from one point of view, the formula is just a joke. However:

    From another point of view, the formula — as flawed as it is — has helped keep Medicare spending lower than it might otherwise have been. Instead of cutting physician payments by the large amount the S.G.R. demands, Congress has increased payment rates, but typically by only tiny amounts — at an annual rate of just 0.7 percent. That pace does not keep up with the typical cost of care.

    The gap can be seen in the chart below. The bottom line illustrates how Congress has permitted Medicare physician payments to grow. The middle line shows an index of medical spending — spending at a typical physician’s practice over time — that is a proxy for the change in price for a typical, or average, medical treatment.

    ….The relatively gentle increases in Medicare payment rates makes clear that the formula is not the problem. I think that the formula has actually helped Congress be more fiscally responsible than it otherwise might have been. To physicians who fear a double-digit decrease in payment rates called for by the formula, a 0.5 percent or a 1.5 percent increase that Congress passes looks like a great deal.

    So there you go. Two cheers for the Sustainable Growth Formula!

  • Anti-Obamacare Hysteria Almost Killed Dean Angstadt

    Robert Calandra of the Philadelphia Inquirer tells the story today of Dean Angstadt, a guy who listened to Republican hysteria about Obamacare and almost paid for it with his life:

    “I don’t read what the Democrats have to say about it because I think they’re full of it,” he told his friend Bob Leinhauser, who suggested he sign up….From time to time, Leinhauser would urge Angstadt to buy a plan through the ACA marketplace. And each time, Angstadt refused. “We argued about it for months,” Angstadt said. “I didn’t trust this Obamacare. One of the big reasons is it sounded too good to be true.”

    January came, and Angstadt’s health continued to decline. His doctor made it clear he urgently needed valve-replacement surgery. Leinhauser had seen enough and insisted his friend get insured….Leinhauser went to Angstadt’s house, and in less than an hour, the duo had done the application. A day later, Angstadt signed up for the Highmark Blue Cross silver PPO plan and paid his first monthly premium: $26.11.

    All of a sudden, I’m getting notification from Highmark, and I got my card, and it was actually all legitimate,” he said. “I could have done backflips if I was in better shape.” Angstadt’s plan kicked in on March 1. It was just in time. Surgery couldn’t be put off any longer. On March 31, Angstadt had life-saving valve-replacement surgery.

    Roger Ailes must be so proud.

  • Quote of the Day: If We Don’t Like Your Gun, You Should Not Be Allowed to Sell It to Anyone

    From Lawrence Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for gun manufacturers:

    They tried to put the product on the market, and the market reacted.

    I know that “Orwellian” is overused, but what else can you call this? The product in question is a “smart gun,” which can only be fired by its registered owner. A company called Armatix put one on the market—you know, the market, a place where people can voluntarily buy or decline to buy products depending on whether they want them—and the gun lobby went ballistic:

    Belinda Padilla does not pick up unknown calls anymore, not since someone posted her cellphone number on an online forum for gun enthusiasts. A few fuming-mad voice mail messages and heavy breathers were all it took. Then someone snapped pictures of the address where she has a P.O. box and put those online, too. In a crude, cartoonish scrawl, this person drew an arrow to the blurred image of a woman passing through the photo frame. “Belinda?” the person wrote. “Is that you?”

    Her offense? Trying to market and sell a new .22-caliber handgun that uses a radio frequency-enabled stopwatch to identify the authorized user so no one else can fire it. Ms. Padilla and the manufacturer she works for, Armatix, intended to make the weapon the first “smart gun” for sale in the United States.

    ….The National Rifle Association, in an article published on the blog of its political arm, wrote that “smart guns,” a term it mocks as a misnomer, have the potential “to mesh with the anti-gunner’s agenda, opening the door to a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology.”

    According to Keane, this is the market “reacting.” It’s certainly heartwarming to see such dedication to free enterprise.

  • Forget the Enthusiasm Gap, It’s All About the Money Gap

    As we all know (don’t we?), Democrats have a big problem in midterm elections. The core Democratic constituencies—minorities, low-income workers, and the young—vote fairly reliably during presidential elections but tend not to bother during midterms. Republican voters, conversely, tend to be habitual voters who cast ballots in every election.

    Sasha Issenberg, who is our generation’s Boswell of what science tells us about voter turnout, says there’s an answer for Democrats. But although the details may be interesting and fresh, it turns out the fundamental solution is still the oldest one imaginable:

    Field operations have been transformed from busywork for volunteers into the most rigorously scientized corner of the trade. All the research suggests that the most effective form of outreach is also the most seemingly old-fashioned: a conversation on a doorstep between a potential voter and a well-trained volunteer….Few candidates, however, inspire volunteer corps large enough to sustain such an ideal mobilization campaign, and many voters live behind doors that are simply not reachable….The solution has been direct mail, a relic of twentieth-century electioneering whose economics nonetheless match twenty-first century imperatives.

    ….Experiment after experiment has since confirmed the effectiveness of subtle prods that trigger what Rogers has called a citizen’s “basic need for belonging.”….Added together in a single nonpartisan get-out-the-vote letter, the messages can boost an individual’s likelihood of voting by about one-third of a percentage point without increasing costs. Factoring in printing and postage, new votes can be created this way for $71 each.

    ….In 2010, the America Votes consortium planned to send 800,000 pieces of mail in targeted congressional districts. Rogers, working with his colleague John Ternovski, randomized those letters so that half featured the proven language and half included that message plus an additional sentence in the upper right-hand corner: “You may be called after the election to discuss your experience at the polls.” (A control group received no mail at all.) Rogers and Ternovski were testing the potential of a new concept—self-integrity—by threatening accountability for potential voters who valued civic engagement. Their simple adjustment increased the letter’s impact by more than 50 percent and generated about 1,500 votes across the experiment. The cost of a new vote dropped to $47.

    Such results undercut the popular belief that Unreliable voters are driven to the polls by passion….For Unreliable voters, specifically, it often takes a psychologically potent encounter to jolt them out of complacency.

    If Democrats fail to see midterms as sufficiently sexy, the problem may lie not with the party’s rank-and-file but with its donors and activists….It’s not intensity scores on polls but rather the bustle of field offices and the sums on fund-raising reports that are the best guide to the Democrats’ midterm prospects….For a party populated with Unreliable voters, the midterm imperative is clear: Raise the dollars and secure the volunteer commitments. Then go and turn out those who are already on your side but won’t show up without a friendly nudge.

    So there you go: raise the dollars and secure the volunteer commitments. It’s true that you have to be smart about how you spend the money, but at bottom, it’s money you need. Go forth and fundraise, my children.

  • Meet the Tea Party Grassroots, Same As the Old Grassroots

    “Grassroots” fundraising in the conservative world has long been full of shady operators who raise lots of money but don’t actually spend much of it on actual political activities. The tea party, of course, was supposed to be different. It was a real grassroots rebellion. Honest. This time was going to be different as the tea partiers gave the Washington establishment hell.

    Except, um, not so much. The Washington Post reports that if the tea party movement was ever truly a grassroots crusade in the first place (a subject on which you should retain a healthy skepticism), it rather quickly morphed into the usual opportunity to rake in big bucks for the folks at the top:

    Out of the $37.5 million spent so far by the PACs of six major tea party organizations, less than $7 million has been devoted to directly helping candidates, according to the analysis, which was based on campaign finance data provided by the Sunlight Foundation….Three well-known groups — the Tea Party Patriots, the Tea Party Express and the Madison Project — have spent 5 percent or less of their money directly on election-related activity during this election cycle….On average, super PACs had spent 64 percent of their funds on directly helping candidates by roughly this stage in the 2012 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data.

    ….The donation page on the Web site of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund pleads with potential donors to “make the most generous contribution possible” to help fund “the ads, the get-out-the-vote campaigns, the research and the volunteer training sessions we need to take the fight to the big-spending incumbents!”….But of the $7.4 million that the Georgia-based group’s super PAC has spent since the beginning of 2013, just $184,505 has gone to boost candidates, The Post found.

    ….[Jenny Beth] Martin, the super PAC’s chairwoman, oversees all its expenditures, according to Broughton, meaning she sets her own $15,000 monthly fee for strategic consulting — payments that have totaled $120,000 since July. She also draws a salary as president of the Tea Party Patriots’ nonprofit arm — getting more than $272,000 in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the group’s most recent tax filing.

    Her twin salaries put her on track to make more than $450,000 this year, a dramatic change in lifestyle for the tea party activist, who had filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and then cleaned homes for a period of time to bring in extra money….Martin’s cousin, Kevin Mooneyhan, is also on the payroll as a strategic consultant.

    I guess you might as well take the money while the taking is good. But no worries. When the tea party schtick finally goes south, there are always gold coins and reverse mortgages to sell to credulous retirees.

  • Flipping Burgers is the New Black

    From Annie Lowrey of the New York Times:

    The deep recession wiped out primarily high-wage and middle-wage jobs. Yet the strongest employment growth during the sluggish recovery has been in low-wage work, at places like strip malls and fast-food restaurants.

    In essence, the poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones. That is the conclusion of a new report from the National Employment Law Project, a research and advocacy group, analyzing employment trends four years into the recovery. “Fast food is driving the bulk of the job growth at the low end — the job gains there are absolutely phenomenal,” said Michael Evangelist, the report’s author.

    The basic chart is below. Welcome to the new normal. The full report is here.

  • Donald Sterling is a Creepy Egomaniac

    I don’t have much to add about the whole Donald Sterling affair. The appalling nature of his comments is pretty obvious, after all. But for those of you who don’t live in Los Angeles, I thought I could at least acquaint you with a tiny tidbit about the guy’s titanic level of egotism that you might find fascinating. Sterling is a major advertiser in the LA Times. I don’t mean Sterling’s companies. I mean Sterling, himself. He gives away lots of money, and when he does he makes sure everyone knows about it. Ads thanking Sterling for his good deeds simply litter the Times.

    The one below, from today’s paper, is typical. They’re all the same: they have terrible, amateur production values; they all use the exact same cutout portrait of Sterling; and they all feature photos of the people honoring Sterling that look like they were taken with a 60s-era Instamatic. These ads appear multiple times a week. Sometimes multiple times a day. Sterling is constantly being honored for something or other, and every single honor is an occasion for him to advertise the fact in the LA Times. And always with the exact same cutout photo of himself. It’s kind of creepy.

    Sterling’s vanity ad today happens to be on a page facing an ad that features Kobe Bryant pitching Turkish Airlines. The irony was amusing enough that I figured I’d share.

    UPDATE: More here from Franklin Avenue, who’s been tracking Sterling’s ads for years.