Politics and Whatnot

Just another liberal political blog

Monthly Archives: January 2012

Romney’s massive corporate hate machine strikes again in Florida

An interesting thing has happened in the polls since South Carolina’s primary.  First, Newt Gingrich’s numbers nationwide have soared, turning a double-digit Romney lead into a 9 point Gingrich lead in about a week.  However, in Florida, that hasn’t happened.  Actually, Gingrich did erase Romney’s lead and was on top for a short time, but his numbers then dropped sharply in the last few days, which did not happen in the national poll.

What can explain the drop in Florida but not nationwide?  This article can:

According to NBC/Smart Media Group Delta, which tracks ads, Florida spending so far includes: Romney, $5.7 million; Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney “super” political action committee, $8.7 million; Gingrich, $145,000; Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich super PAC, $1.8 million

In other words, that’s $14.4 million in ads favoring Romney, and about $2 million in ads favoring Gingrich in Florida.  I also think that Romney’s ads get an effectiveness boost because Gingrich is particularly vulnerable to attack.  All you really have to do is remind voters that he’s Newt Gingrich. Furthermore, I’ve often wondered whether Republicans might be particularly prone to being swayed by ads – I get this from the large number of scams I hear advertised on conservative talk radio.

So I think that Republican voters are more favorable to Gingrich overall, but Romney’s strategy of doing massive hate-spewing advertising blitzes on a state-by-state basis may pay off.  I’m not sure if it will have as big of an impact on the general election because it may allow Obama to hit back by questioning the sources of the ads, which moderates may be less trusting of.


Three races in, Republican primary is in a state of chaos

Not that long ago, it seemed almost certain that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee – although I decided not to give up yet on my long-held belief that Romney is unable to win because he’s an intelligent Mormon from the North.  How certain did it seem?  Romney was briefly considered to be over 90% likely to be the Republican nominee on Intrade.

But over the last couple of days, all hell has broken loose.  First, Gingrich’s popularity soared after he delivered a standing-ovation-prompting defense of his plan to legalize child labor during the debates.  Second, the Republican Party announced that after some recounting it considers Santorum, not Romney, the winner of the Iowa debates.  This led to the third shock – a Gingrich victory in South Carolina, which now looks certain.

So as it stands now, there have been three races, and three winners.  Santorum in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, and Gingrich in South Carolina.   Gingrich is the one with the momentum, but Romney has a clear lead in Florida (votes Jan 31) according to the most recent polls, which were taken before the events of the last few days.  Romney’s current numbers reflect a surge he experienced after his then-apparent win in Iowa and clear victory in New Hampshire, but now he’s looking a bit less like a winner and a bit more like somebody who was more of a loser than you thought.  I would hypothesize that Republicans, due to their authoritarian nature, particularly gravitate towards those they see as powerful winners, and away from powerless losers.  That probably explains at least part of Romney’s sudden decline in South Carolina after the Iowa revelation.   Point being, Florida’s going to be a close fight, and Romney will not get a clear enough win to put away the competition.

None of the races after Florida have really gotten much attention, and there is very little polling data of any use.  These later races also come pretty rapidly – Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri are all within a few days of each other in early February.  Then there’s a couple weeks break – with a few more races in late February/early March, and then Super Tuesday on March 6.  Many of the Super Tuesday states are pretty red bible belt states and bad news for Romney, with the notable counterexample of Massachusetts, which is almost certain to go in Romney’s favor.   What this means is, until Super Tuesday is over, it will be very difficult for Gingrich/Santorum to get knocked out.  If they clearly get ahead of Romney – which seems unlikely based on Romney’s solid 20-30% base of support – they will still have to fight each other.  The result, I anticipate, will be many months of a three-way race, depletion of Republican finances, and an unclear winner by the time of the convention.  In other words, as I have projected already, the winner of the Republican nomination will be Nobody.

What happens after Nobody wins?  Well, then we have a general election where one of the two main candidates is not anointed by a political party, but is instead picked by the voters as a whole.  If that were to happen, hopefully voters will see the folly of supporting a particular party, and bring about non-partisan, true democracy in America.

The White House finally responds to anti-SOPA petition

I previously encouraged readers of one of my previous posts to sign a petition on the White House’s “We the People” site that someone had set up opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and similar legislation.  After the petition got the most signatures on the site, surpassing even marijuana-related petitions, the White House…sat on it for a bit.   But today, they finally released a response.

I encourage reading the response yourself and forming your own opinion,  but a few observations might be noted:

  • The response does not explicitly come out against SOPA and similar legislation.  It’s clear throughout the response that the White House thinks online piracy is a serious problem that the federal government should be working harder to stop.  Now I’m someone who believes, crazily enough, that SOPA is there to fix a problem that neither can nor should be fixed.  Despite widespread piracy, successful artists and entertainers still make the easiest money, and they get plenty rich doing it.  It should go to show how easy it is by the fact that many content-providers, especially online, are in fact creating content for free because they enjoy it (ahem).  Say what you will about bankers, lawyers, doctors, etc. – they all work hard for their money.  Entertainers are the only ones among us that get to play for money.  Why do they need to make more than they make now?  Moreover, those of us in the Napster generation understand that trying to stamp out online piracy is as futile as trying to stamp out the drug trade.  It’s just not going to happen, there are a million ways of doing this other than how its being done now.  That being said, the above is still seen as an “extreme” position by the corporate-owned media (though not among the people), so it’s not surprising that the White House would take a different position (although this poll shows 99+% opposition to SOPA – the 19 supporters being well within the margin of error).
  • But the White House does seem to be opposed to some overbearing measures, demanding “strong due process” and perhaps most significantly, that the law “must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law.”  I take this as a demand that sites within US jurisdiction, (who can be sued in civil court) be excluded from the law’s reach.  However, it’s not clear if that’s what they mean.  In addition, the response opposes “overly broad private rights of action” against intermediaries, and tampering with the domain name system in a manner that compromises security.
  • The response does not deal with shared-content sites like Youtube and Wikipedia.  This is surprising because the effect on such sites was one of the most controversial parts of the bill.  I would have expected the White House to have explicitly demanded that such sites be excluded from the bill’s reach, but I guess not.
  • The White House invites petitioners to share their views.  The White House took an encouraging step in inviting the petition creator and a random sample of signers to a conference call to discuss the petition.  This is important because internet users (the 99% who oppose SOPA) don’t have any other lobbying organization or way to reach the White House directly.  The Obama Administration deserves at least some credit for coming up with an innovative way to solve this problem.  However, I have to wonder whether this will be taken seriously, my experience with doing things by phone is that they get rather impersonal.

In case you need another reason not to smoke opium…

Apparently, about 90% of the world’s opium supply comes from Afghanistan.  Frontline’s Najibullah Quraishi has a gut-wrenching documentary regarding exactly what you’re funding every time you smoke opium.

The documentary seems to blame this horror on the counter-drug operations in Afghanistan.  True, it could have been done better.   But I think it’s also important to blame the drug smugglers, of course, and those who provide a market for their product.  So stay the hell away from opium.  And cocaine too, while you’re at it.

Happy 10th Birthday, Gitmo

It turns out that the passing of the NDAA which was completed last week, which represents a resounding defeat for those of us who wanted to eliminate the military detention system at Gitmo rather than expand it, was especially timely.  January 11, 2012 is 10 years since the first detainees arrived at Gitmo.

For the detainees, it’s a reminder that they have spent 10 years in prison, partly while being tortured, without any criminal charges against them. A list of the known detainees can be found here – that’s right, after 10 years, we still don’t even know exactly who is being held at Gitmo.  We’re just supposed to trust the military that names are being withheld for good reason, presumably the well-established military doctrine that we can’t handle the truth.  But even with the names that are there, it’s easy to notice some extremely disturbing facts that the media simply hasn’t reported:

Owning this watch can be very, very harmful to your freedom.

  1. Many, if not most detainees lacked a remotely sufficient reason for detention:  The reasons for detention are often comically silly, such as wearing a Casio digital watch (which might be used as a detonator, were it not already being used as a watch).   That detainee is far from alone.  Kafka would never have dared to write about such a ridiculous bureaucratic nightmare as being detained and tortured in a distant foreign prison because of wearing a watch.  Another detainee hung himself after being force fed via a tube to end a hunger strike, but a government investigation found “no credible information” that linked him to terrorism or Al Qaeda. This is just what I’m finding in a few minutes of reading the list.  It’s much easier to find horror stories like these than known terrorists at the secret prison.  Most of those with concrete links to terrorism simply attended an Al Qaeda training camp or were low-level Taliban foot soldiers engaging in ordinary combat.  Only a very select few are even accused of having been associated with terror attacks against civilians.
  2. There are many people held at Gitmo who were detained when they were children (again, these are only the known child detainees), the youngest being a 12-13 year old named Muhammad Ismail Agha (freed over a year later after being tortured) who was accused of being a “Taliban sympathizer.”  For three months after he was disappeared, his father believed him dead, finally hearing where he was from the Red Cross.  I have never heard a single media outlet report on this, I’m just finding it on Wikipedia.  But after searching I was able to find a few major media reports – including one Fox News, which uses him as an example in its “Too Many Inmates Freed” article in 2005, citing an unspecified memo said he was later arrested with a letter supposedly “confirming his status as a member of the Taliban in good standing.”  It also points out that he was educated at Gitmo (implying that we actually did good for him).  It does not mention his specific age (calling him a “teenager” – which is debatable because he may have been 12 when arrested) or the acknowledged fact that he was also tortured with stress positions.  Fair and balanced?
  3. Prisoner abuse probably has occurred/is occurring on a large scale:  Former detainees describe and “Initial Reaction Force” which beats and abuses detainees on a regular basis.  Detainees claim that they even gave one prisoner severe brain damage, requiring permanent hospitalization – although the military claims it was due to a suicide attempt.  Given the military’s secrecy and incentive to deny that it resulting from beating, I think the detainees are no less credible.  Other difficult to verify claims allege worse abuse reminiscent of Abu Gharaib.

It just goes to show what happens when people are put under the control of others in place that is unseen.  We as Americans should never settle for a black hole justice system like that which exists at Gitmo.  Unfortunately, most Americans either aren’t aware of it or just don’t care.  So we now have the NDAA, which would make it easier, and in some cases almost mandatory, for terrorism suspects to be put into the military detention process.  If there is another terrorist attack any time in the near future, Gitmo will likely see a massive increase in the number of detainees and a corresponding boost in the ridiculousness of the reasons for detention.

Forget the fact that the war on terror seems to be less and less relevant every day.  Gitmo was never really about the war on terror.  It’s about doing away with the expensive “inefficiencies” of the justice system, like a trial and having the right to know what you’re accused of.  The Republican party and some collaborators among the Democrats have decided that the military system that led to the results above is superior to the justice system advocated in the Constitution by the Founding Fathers.   After all, the civilian justice system sometimes lets the powerless go free and finds the powerful guilty – what’s the point of that?  Those anti-due process politicians currently hold a strong majority in government, and no one seems to want to vote them out. Since they’re here to stay and their numbers are swelling, there isn’t much to do but sit back and watch our freedoms erode.

Happy 10th birthday, Gitmo.

Iowa – big win for Romney in many ways, but small base remains an issue

I feel its almost obligatory to post something regarding the Iowa caucuses last night, though I’m still struggling to make something of the results and am presently at work.  So here’s what I’m concluding at the moment:

1.  This is a huge win for Romney: Many commentators are focusing on Romney’s extremely narrow margin of victory over Rick Santorum, of all people, but the win itself really is a big deal.  Romney is dominating the polls in New Hampshire, which means that by all appearances, Romney will be the winner of the first two primary contests.  Much of the GOP base may seem to hate Romney, but it’s human nature to be fair weather fans, and this primary has shown that the GOP voters quickly attach to winners and quickly detach when it appears that they are falling, causing several sharp peaks in candidates’ poll figures.  Maybe if Romney is a winner twice, Republicans will start to think more highly of him.

2. Romney is further helped by the lack of a single anti-Romney frontrunner: Though Santorum won a big second place finish in Iowa, his numbers nationwide are still at a measly 4-6%.  Moreover, it appears that he owes much of his success to a lack of scrutiny (like all the former short-term frontrunners before him) so his success may quickly become a liability as the spotlight shines on him and he faces attacks from the Romney Hate Machine.  Meanwhile, Gingrich is still popular in the South for the time being, though I can see Santorum stealing his votes away.  However, for right now, it looks like Santorum and Gingrich may end up splitting votes in South Carolina to Romney’s benefit, much the same way that each and every candidate in Iowa (and even Herman Cain, who had 58  votes) helped Romney’s 8 vote win by splitting the anti-Romney vote.  If Romney gets a third win in South Carolina, it’s game over.

3. BUT, Romney still has a lot of trouble getting his numbers above 25%: Even while winning in Iowa, Romney had less that a quarter of the vote, with just 24.6%.  His average polling numbers have typically stayed a bit below that number, suggesting that he has a strong base of support around 15-25% of the GOP, but very little support beyond that.  This fits with my general perception that Romney really is supported by Mormons and the business community, but has no strong support among ordinary dumb vote-against-interests Republicans.  As the field narrows, that can be a problem for Romney.  At some point, he will have to stop relying on his opponents’ incredible failures and start convincing more people that he is the one they want.  In other words, he may need to develop a good southern drawl, hate on Muslims a bit, talk more about the bible, and frankly, start saying stupider things.  Whether he can do that convincingly is a big question.

4. Bachmann’s votes are likely to help anti-Romney challenger: Michelle Bachmann also looks like she will drop out today, leaving her 6% for the others to fight over.  It’s hard to say who these votes will go to, but chances are it won’t be Romney.  Bachmann is the most batshit-crazy conservative possibly ever to serve in Congress, and I don’t think her voters will be going to the candidate mostly perceived as a moderate.  However, I have noticed that she’s been more reserved in her attacks on Romney than on other candidates – could a strategic endorsement of Romney be in the works?  Could we be looking at Secretary of State Bachmann in 2013?  (shudder)

So I’m not yet ready to give up on my long-held theory that Romney cannot possibly win the nomination, but this win definitely puts some dings in it.  I think the big question is whether the anti-Romney wing of the Republican party can get its shit together and pick a candidate before South Carolina votes on January 21.

The amazing global warming denier

As a liberal with an interest in science, you can pretty much guess that I’m a believer in global warming.  The argument seems pretty basic:

1. As carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, it causes the global temperature to increase (because carbon dioxide absorbs more infrared radiation than oxygen, the gas it replaces).

2. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is steadily increasing.

Therefore, global temperatures are increasing.  Done.

But of course, that’s not good enough for everyone.  For example, I have a friend who’s a smart guy, but he’s not a science dork like me and he spends a lot of time hanging around with conservatives.  Result?

“You know, I’m not convinced that global warming is being caused by human activity…”

Now there are many arguments used by global warming deniers, but the “not sure it’s caused by human activity” thing is a common complaint, and the one that I find the most baffling.  Okay – so you accept that carbon dioxide causes global warming, but somehow we’re not causing it?  You do realize that what comes out of our car tailpipes is carbon dioxide, right?  You know that burning coal and all other fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide?

“Yeah, but I’m just not sure that’s what’s really causing the rising temperatures.”

What else is causing the rising temperatures?  “I don’t know, maybe the sun’s getting warmer.”  Then shouldn’t the other planets be getting warmer?  Shouldn’t that be the easiest thing to prove ever?  Here’s some easily-findable data clearly proving that wrong.

But you know what?  Who cares what’s making it warmer?  If the world is getting warmer for some unknown reason and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also makes it warmer, then maybe we should stop releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere whether global warming is our fault or not.

“Ok, but I’m just not sure it’s our fault.”

It’s a frustrating experience.  You get the sense the denier is going to forget this entire conversation within minutes.  Then tomorrow he’ll go back to yupping it up with his other conservative buddies about how global warming is natural/not happening and plutocratic scientists are cooking up some scheme to raise energy taxes and further oppress the downtrodden fossil fuel industry.

The problem with confronting this irrationality is that global warming deniers don’t have a single, well-thought-out, competing theory.  Instead, they jump at the first hint of a reason not to worry about this troublesome idea that they’re contributing to a massive global disaster so they can feel powerful in their big vehicles.

Therefore, you get these shape-shifting denialist arguments.  Among global warming believers, the theory is simple: carbon dioxide released by burning substances we pull out of the ground causes global warming. But among deniers, it’s all the fuck over the place.  The sun is getting warmer.  No wait, global warming is a massive completely made up conspiracy by scientists.  No wait, global warming is real, it’s just not going to be that bad.  No wait, some other shit.  In fact, a website devoted to disproving the deniers has collected no less than 173 of these doubts-du-jour, all debunked (and those are just the mainstream ones).

Fighting this swarm of ridiculous theories is like trying to wipe out malaria by swatting individual mosquitoes.  Killing a single one will just make room for another.  As long as these theories have suitable hosts with their intellectual defenses down, they will continue to thrive in whatever form they take.

So can we, the global warming believers, win when no one wants to listen to us?  How can we win when it’s so much easier to just say “not convinced” and be comfortably oblivious?  I’m not confident.  More and more, I’m getting the sense that we’re just not smart thoughtful enough to solve this problem, and that we have to start quantifying the impact and learning how to cope with it with as little suffering as possible.  How that can be done isn’t something I have a good answer for, and chances are, I’ll be close to dead before the real problems begin anyway – sometime around 2050 or so.  So sorry about the problems we’re giving you, future people, just be aware that there were some of us who gave it a shot.

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