Given my earlier whining about the whiners who don't like NBC's tape-delayed coverage of the Olympics, Matt Bruenig tweets that I should be interested in a new Gallup poll on this subject. And I am! But maybe not for the reason he thinks. Here are the results:

First of all: why do people who aren't watching the Olympics at all even give a damn? And second: why wouldn't you want everything broadcast both live and on tape delay? Granted these aren't big numbers, but why do about a quarter of Americans actively prefer that they be broadcast only one way or the other?

Beats me. However, there's more to this, which should interest anyone eager to see me proven wrong about something. I chastised NBC's critics for being a bunch of overeducated elitists who can afford to watch TV during the day. "Try an 8-to-5 factory job that gets you home at 6 and done with dinner by 7," I said. "Then tell me if you still think it's ridiculous that the Olympics are tape delayed."

Well, Gallup did just that. And it turns out that among college grads, only 9% want events televised live. Among high school grads, 22% want live coverage. You see the same split among high and low-income viewers. Needless to say, it's possible that this is an artifact of high unemployment (and underemployment) among high school grads during the recession. It's also possible that college grads are just smarter, and realized there was no downside to wanting both. Either way, though, my theory is in tatters. I hereby apologize to all my fellow overprivileged couch potatoes.

UPDATE: Hold on a second. NBC Olympics honcho Dick Ebersol says I'm not so wrong after all:

As for the tape-delay controversy, Ebersol offers another example: In Beijing, in one of the more remarkable negotiations in sports television, he convinced the IOC to schedule the swimming finals for the morning. This was a Herculean achievement, and with the time difference it put live swimming on smack in the middle of prime time in the U.S. And, of course, this wasn’t just any swimming competition, this was Michael Phelps going for eight gold medals, and it included one of the closest finishes in Olympic history and one of the greatest relay comebacks.

These London Olympics — with the swimming all on tape delay — beat the ratings for Beijing on every single one of the first seven days.

“It amazes me that we are still talking about this,” Ebersol says. “If someone wants to watch the Olympics live, they can do that online. That’s a very small percentage of people. We’ve done study after study where we ask people when they want to watch the Olympics. They say ‘after dinner.’ Every study, I’ve never seen it less than 80 percent, and it’s usually a lot higher than that.

So there you have it.

A few years ago, Congress passed a tax credit for companies that agree to mix some kind of alternative fuel into their fossil fuels. In theory, this reduces greenhouse gas emissions and is good for the environment. But the paper industry found a loophole: they already use an alternative fuel called black liquor in their plants, so they mixed in some fossil fuels in order to qualify for the tax credit. That's not what Congress had in mind, but hey — a mixture is a mixture. The result was a boom in papermaking because the tax credit was so lucrative.

Today, the New York Times tells us about an international version of this. The UN has a program that provides carbon credits for reducing greenhouse gases, with especially dangerous gases earning more credits. Coolant manufacturers spied an opportunity:

They quickly figured out that they could earn one carbon credit by eliminating one ton of carbon dioxide, but could earn more than 11,000 credits by simply destroying a ton of an obscure waste gas normally released in the manufacturing of a widely used coolant gas. That is because that byproduct has a huge global warming effect. The credits could be sold on international markets, earning tens of millions of dollars a year.

That incentive has driven plants in the developing world not only to increase production of the coolant gas but also to keep it high....Since 2005 the 19 plants receiving the waste gas payments have profited handsomely from an unlikely business: churning out more harmful coolant gas so they can be paid to destroy its waste byproduct. The high output keeps the prices of the coolant gas irresistibly low, discouraging air-conditioning companies from switching to less-damaging alternative gases. That means, critics say, that United Nations subsidies intended to improve the environment are instead creating their own damage.

As it happens, this has been a known problem for about five years (see here and here for more). So why hasn't anything been done about it yet? Blackmail, basically:

The manufacturers have grown accustomed to an income stream that in some years accounted for half their profits. The windfall has enhanced their power and influence....And each plant expects to be paid. Some Chinese producers have said that if the payments were to end, they would vent gas skyward. Such releases are illegal in most developed countries, but still permissible in China and India.

Nice atmosphere you got there, pal. Be a shame if anything happened to it. If you want to know why global warming is going to be so hard to address effectively, this is the answer in a nutshell.  James Inhofe is a pussycat compared to these guys.

The latest attack ad from the Priorities USA Action, the biggest Obama-linked Super PAC, is basically a 60-second sequel to "King of Bain," the mini-documentary that Newt Gringrich unloaded against Romney during the Republican primaries. In a nutshell, Bain bought a company called GST Steel, loaded it up with debt, then declared bankruptcy and laid off all its workers. One of those workers was Joe Soptic, who lost his health insurance when he was laid off. A couple of years later his wife got laid off from her job, and then a few years after that she was diagnosed with cancer and died. "I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone," Soptic says at the end of the ad as a blighted industrial landscape rolls by. "And furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned."

That's pretty rough, and the Romney campaign could have attacked back in a number of ways. But oddly enough, they chose this line:

A Mitt Romney spokesperson offered an unusual counterattack Wednesday to an ad in which a laid-off steelworker blames the presumptive GOP nominee for his family losing health care: If that family had lived in Massachusetts, it would have been covered by the former governor's universal health care law.

"To that point, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney's health care plan, they would have had health care," Andrea Saul, Romney's campaign press secretary, said during an appearance on Fox News.

Say what? Their response is, basically, that shit happens, but Soptic and his wife would have been OK if only Missouri had offered universal healthcare to its residents? This from a guy who's all but renounced the universal healthcare he introduced in Massachusetts because the tea party hates it? I feel like I've suddenly been transported into some alternate universe where Mitt Romney thinks every state should offer subsidized healthcare to everyone. I'd sure like to hear more about this.

POSTSCRIPT: On a related note, I continue to be surprised that Romney doesn't seem to have a very effective answer to these kinds of attacks. After all, they've been used against him in every campaign he's ever been in. It's odd. Maybe there's just no good response.

Missouri senator Claire McCaskill has long seemed like a goner: Missouri is getting redder all the time and even McCaskill's brand of centrist liberalism is just too far to the left for her to win reelection. But last night brought her some good news: the winner of the Republican primary was the wingnuttiest of the three wingnuts in the race. Steve Benen summarizes:

Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was running third in the three-way primary up until fairly recently, but McCaskill started running ads intended to boost the right-wing congressman with the GOP base in advance of his Senate primary. As the dust settled last night, the scheme worked surprisingly well: Akin won a surprise victory, winning by six points over his next closest challenger.

....What is it, exactly, about Akin that makes him so unappealing to the voting mainstream? The congressman believes the very existence of the federal student-loan program is a "stage-three cancer of socialism." He's also eager to eliminate the minimum wage, believes liberalism is based on "a hatred of God," believes the Bible should be a "blueprint" for American government; and wants to impeach President Obama because, in his mind, the president is "a complete menace to our civilization."

Akin also has a highly attackable voting record, which Greg Sargent documents here.

In the last election cycle, the tea party nearly kept the GOP from winning control of the Senate by nominating unelectable ideologues like Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Christine O'Donnell. They might be doing the same thing this year. Every seat is likely to count, and McCaskill was probably a sure loser against anyone relatively normal. But she has a chance to beat Akin. Three cheers for the tea party!

UPDATE: Andy Kroll has a great review of the Missouri Senate race today and the role that tidal waves of secret money are playing in it. "Dark Money's Top Target," it turns out, is Claire McCaskill.

Mat Honan describes how hackers managed to destroy his entire online life:

Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.

There's much, much more to the story, and it contains all sorts of valuable lessons for both users and corporate storehouses. At a minimum, follow James Fallows' advice: (a) use Google's 2-step verification system, (b) use different passwords for all your accounts, and (c) always keep your cloud-based data backed up locally (or, possibly, on a second, separate cloud).

Personally, I've chosen not to use Gmail and not to use the cloud extensively, partly because of security concerns. (Other reasons too, though.) But I religiously follow (b). It's a pain, but if you owned an apartment building you wouldn't use the same key for every apartment, would you?

Matt Yglesias tells me something I didn't know today:

If they gave out awards for dumb new policy ideas, President Obama and Republican rising star Sen. Marco Rubio would both be medaling this week. Their achievements? Rubio’s completely pointless bill offering a tax break to recipients of Olympic medals and—even worse—the president’s decision to hop on the bandwagon rather than show the country he has a firmer grasp on the issues than his adversaries do.

....With the president now on board, there’s a good chance Rubio’s idea will become law. In fiscal terms, the change will be minuscule. In terms of fairness, it seems like a strange slight to winners of other kinds of prizes. Are Olympic medalists worthier than winners of the Nobel or Pulitzer prizes? And of course exempting all prize income from income tax could merely encourage all kinds of people to restructure their income as prizes. The J.P. Morgan Memorial Prize for Achievement in Investment Banking, anyone?

I knew about Rubio's ridiculously panderific bill, but I didn't know Obama had endorsed it. Aren't election years great? And what luck for (summer) Olympians that they're getting saturation TV coverage precisely 90 days ahead of an election framed largely around tax rates! The Nobel prize winners aren't so lucky, but who knows? October isn't so bad either. Maybe they can whomp up a nice PR campaign right around the time of the presidential debates. After all, Nobel prize winners have a much stronger claim to being "job creators" than a bunch of jocks.

Our Hobbesian Future

Jonathan Zasloff thinks I'm wrong. He thinks Harry Reid really does have a credible source for his claim that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for ten years. I find this implausible in the extreme, but if Jonathan really does believe this, then it's fine to defend Reid. Unfortunately, he then goes on to make another point:

Second, let’s think for a moment: what if Reid actually were making up this source? So what? As I pointed out beforehand, Romney has the evidence that Reid or his supposed source is wrong, and it is totally reasonable to ask Romney to release his taxes as have all candidates for the last 40 years.

....What precisely is contemptible? That Reid is using a more specific claim to get Romney to do something that every candidate for the last 40 years has done? That he has made his claim more specific? That instead of saying “I bet Romney paid no taxes” he is saying “someone credible told me that Romney paid no taxes”? When Romney himself could disprove it easily by simply adhering to the same rules of conduct that everyone else does? That is what is so contemptible? In an election being waged over the attempt to create permanent plutocratic/theocratic domination of the country?

This is bad stuff. If we're at the point where both sides publicly hold that it's defensible to simply make stuff up because the stakes are so high, we've abandoned all pretense of caring about the truth. Nor is the idea that it's defensible to make up any charge as long as it's somehow rebuttable much better.

I'm not even sure how to react to my critics anymore. When a bare minimal standard of decency (no flatly invented stories) is widely mocked as pearl clutching and fainting couch-y, there aren't really any standards left aside from "whatever works." All I know is that I want no part of that.

By the way, it's really not true that every candidate for the past 40 years has released all their relevant tax information. John McCain released only a couple of years of returns, and released none of his wife's returns even though that's where the vast majority of his family's wealth lies. Likewise, John Kerry never released his wife's returns, which accounted for the vast majority of his family's wealth. I agree that Romney should release more of his tax returns, and I think it's fine for Democrats to beat him up about it. But let's keep our facts straight.

According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, Mitt Romney still isn't doing well in the "connecting with other humans" department:

Mitt Romney is laboring under the lowest personal popularity ratings for a presumptive presidential nominee in midsummer election-year polls back to 1984....Forty percent of Americans overall view Romney favorably, 49 percent unfavorably....A new high of 30 percent now see him “strongly” unfavorably, nearly double his strongly favorable score

Romney got a nice bounce upward after the primary battles ended in April, but he's started to slide back down over the past few weeks. The only good news for the Romney camp is that although Obama is far better liked than Romney among the general population, the gap is only seven percentage points among registered voters. So there's that to cling to.

This morning I blasted Harry Reid for inventing a story about a mysterious informant who told him that Mitt Romney hadn't paid any income taxes for the past ten years. One reason for thinking that Reid invented this is the sheer implausibility of Romney avoiding taxes for an entire decade. One year, maybe. Two years, still a possibility. But not ten.

I'm sticking to my guns on this, but there's now a sliver of doubt. Today, for the first time that I know of, someone has produced a reasonable-sounding scenario that explains how Romney might have paid either zero or close to zero in income taxes for eight years. It's related to Romney's $102 million IRA, something that's been tantalizing us ever since it showed up in his 2010 tax return. You can read it here.

From Will Wilkinson, on being bored with the news over the past week or two:

Say what you will about the looming risk of total nuclear annihilation, it kept the Olympics interesting.

Will just moved to Houston, so the rest of the post is about the Houston media's frenzied coverage of the Chick-fil-A controversy.