Lying to Pollsters

If you ever wanted evidence that Americans lie to pollsters with abandon, I'd say this is smoking gun proof:

That's from the latest Bloomberg poll. More here.

From Conrad Black, once again a free man, writing about Rupert Murdoch:

I have long thought that his social philosophy was contained in his cartoon show, The Simpsons: all politicians and public officials are crooks, and the masses are a vast lumpen proletariat of deluded and exploitable blowhards.

Via E.D. Kain.

Ryan Chittum takes a look at yesterday's sit-down between President Obama and five bloggers and concludes that the bloggers "didn’t exactly cover themselves with glory."

I guess that's true. But I wouldn't really blame the bloggers. Some of their questions were good, some were lame, and some were in between. But who's done better? Who can do better? Pretty much any big time politician — and Obama's as big time as they come — has heard every question before and knows exactly how to answer them. They filibuster, they distract, they offer up platitudes, and they move on. There's pretty much zero chance of anyone getting anything newsworthy out of a guy like Obama unless he feels like making news. This is just life in our modern media-saturated age.

More Stimulus, Please

Like Matt Yglesias, I don't quite get Peter Orszag's opposition to further quantitative easing from the Fed. He'd like to see Congress pass further stimulus, but thinks that's less likely if the Fed eases monetary policy. Why? Because a stimulus package should only be passed if it has an accompanying medium-term deficit reduction package, "and that medium-term deficit reduction package is less likely to be enacted when interest rates on long-term government bonds are so low."

I don't really understand this. But who cares? As Orszag says, the Fed's anticipated QE2 package will probably have, at best, a modest effect. What the economy really needs is "more fiscal expansion (read: more stimulus) now." I helpfully added italics to that quote since that seemed to be his intent. And remember: Orszag was widely considered the moderate deficit hawk in the Obama administration. If he thinks Job 1 is additional stimulus, people really ought to be listening to him.

Compare and contrast. Here is President Obama, asked about whether he thinks he'll be able to work with Republicans after next week's election:

I’m a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to [] trying to get cooperation. I don’t give up just because I didn’t get cooperation on this issue; I’ll try the next issue. If the Republicans don’t agree with me on fiscal policy, maybe they’ll agree with me on infrastructure. If they don’t agree with me on infrastructure, I’ll try to see if they agree with me on education....I don’t go into the next two years assuming that there’s just going to be gridlock. We’re going to keep on working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible because folks are hurting out there.

And here is John Boehner, likely to be the Republican Speaker of the House next year:

"This is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles," Boehner said during an appearance on conservative Sean Hannity's radio show...."I love Judd Gregg, but maybe he doesn't get it," Boehner said Wednesday in a rebuke to Gregg, the top Republican on budget issues in the Senate who's set to retire at the end of his term in January. "We're going to do everything — and I mean everything we can do — to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can."

"It," in this case, is healthcare reform, but I think Boehner made it pretty clear that the same sentiment applies to pretty much everything else too. It's gonna be a long two years.

Voter Fraud, Take 2

Kevin Williamson says I'm wrong to say that voter fraud is practically nonexistent. After all, maybe there really is lots of fraud, but nobody is getting convicted of it so we don't know about it.

Well, OK. That's pretty hard to argue with. But I'd still like to see some evidence that it's actually widespread. And unluckily for me, says Williamson, "Kevin Drum has really, really bad timing, I think." This is based on three examples of voter fraud that turned up just this week. So let's roll the tape:

  • Example #1 is some guy who ran for a seat on the Daytona Beach City Commission back in August and apparently requested 92 absentee ballots under suspicious circumstances. Today he was arrested and charged with committing absentee ballot fraud.
  • Example #2 concerns Patrick Murphy, running for Congress in Pennsylvania, who has done — something. I can't quite tell what. "Flooded" the post office with absentee ballot requests is one version of the story. "Fooled" voters into requesting absentee ballots they didn't need is another version. Created a mailer that looked really official, goes another. But I can't tell what's really going on here. At worst, it appears that Murphy is nudging people to request absentee ballots even though they might not actually be absent on election day. On a corruption scale of 1-100, this rates about a 1.5.
  • Example #3 concerns some felons who apparently voted in Hennepin County in 2008. According to the local prosecutor, "The rate of alleged fraud amounted to about 0.00006 percent of ballots cast....'There was no evidence of any organized effort to enable or promote this activity,' he said."

So that's one (alleged) crook in an obscure municipal race, one election mailer that opponents have objected to, and a tiny bit of unorganized (and quite possibly unintentional) fraud two years ago. That's really not a very impressive tally.

But look: the point isn't that there's no voter fraud. Of course there is. It's a big country. If 50 million people vote and 0.01% of the votes are fraudulent, that's 5,000 fraudulent votes. That might seem like a lot, but it would actually be an indication of a really, really clean election system.

In any case, nobody is suggesting we shouldn't police elections. What I am suggesting is that mountains of evidence demonstrate that the actual incidence of voter fraud is minuscule and nearly always freelance. Nonetheless, every two years Republicans whip up a towering hysteria over the specter of massive organized efforts to steal the election from them. Efforts that quite plainly don't exist. And since no party in its right mind would spend gobs of time and money fighting a tiny problem that affects virtually no actual election results, they must have some other motive for doing this. What might that be?

Via Joe Klein, here's a Washington Post poll asking people if they're concerned about making their rent or mortgage payment:

As Klein says, let's concede that there might be some exaggeration here. And that at least a bit of this represents people who knowingly took out mortgages they knew they couldn't afford. It's still a helluva lot, especially considering that about a quarter of all Americans own their homes outright and, by definition, aren't worried about making their mortgage payment. A bit of arithmetic tells us that among people who actually have a rent or mortgage commitment in the first place, something like three-quarters are worried about having enough money to pay it. Yikes.

The Will to Win

Mark Thompson writes about the conduct of war:

When I think of wars I've known, they seem to boil down to a three-legged stool: capability, will and time. The U.S. always has plenty of capability; will and time — not so much. Dollars can buy capability, but not the other two.

I think this is a dangerous misconception. He's talking about Afghanistan, a war that's been going on for nearly a decade. Despite the famous impatience of the American public, the United States has had plenty of time. What it's lacked is capability. It's possible that more resources earlier might have helped, but that's not a sure thing by any stretch. This is not a war that can be won simply by pouring more resources into it. One of these days this is something we have to get straight about.

Jon Cohn writes today about the successful Republican attempt to create enormous opposition to healthcare reform among senior citizens. How? By demagoguing the $500 billion in Medicare cuts contained in ACA, of course. Then he says this:

But even to the extent that seniors hold different views, it's surprising they believe Republicans will keep Medicare sacrosanct. After all, this is the party that opposes government-run insurance (which Medicare is) and has tried repeatedly to privatize the program. Young Guns, the new book by three House Republican leaders, calls for turning Medicare into a voucher program that would dramatically reduce the program's guaranteed benefits — an idea that, as [Marilyn Werber] Serafini points out in a separate story, seniors strongly oppose.

I'd guess that two things are going on here. First, seniors just tend to be more conservative than other age groups and also a lot more resistant to change. So a lot of what we're seeing is Republicans pushing on an open door. Second, seniors aren't reading Young Guns. They're watching Fox News and reading stuff on tea party email lists, something that would turn anyone's brain to mush. What's worse, there's not even any pushback from Democrats to any of this. After all, what can they say? Yes, we cut Medicare spending, but it won't have any actual effect? Good luck with that. They're stuck.

This is one of the reasons why I think moderate conservatives give Democrats way too little credit for their relatively honest funding of ACA. Were there some optimistic assumptions there? Sure. Are some of the cost control measures not going to work as well as they hope? Sure. To about the 80% level, though, Democrats really did insist that ACA be fully funded. By ordinary political standards that's pretty impressive, and by recent Republican standards it's just a plain miracle. And it was a pretty costly piece of fiscal honesty too. A big part of how ACA was funded comes from that $500 billion Medicare cut, and that's just a flat out electoral disaster. It may have been necessary, but there's no question that Democrats are going to pay for it at the polls. They really deserve a little more credit for that.

More Inflation, Please

Would a Fed commitment to higher inflation merely spark capital flight to other, more investor-friendly countries? Yes! But Karl Smith explains why that's exactly the point, and does it with emoticons. Worth a quick read.