bookmark_borderWhat Is At Stake

There are a lot of issues to be decided in this election, and the differences between the major-party candidates have not been starker in recent times, but there is one question that stands out for me: can a “post-truth” candidate win the Presidency?

This has implications down the ballot for the foreseeable future. If Romney can pull it off, the sky is the limit for future campaigns. We’ll see the same tactic down-ballot. Eventually, Democrats will adopt the same tactics – adapt or die – and we will all be the worse for it.

If Romney pulls this off, I will blame the American voters. We will get what we deserve.

It may already be too late. That the race is as close as it is means running a “post-truth” campaign can get you within striking distance of office. Who wouldn’t want to run a strategy with an end result like that?

bookmark_borderHostage Negotiator In Chief

Shorter Romney: Nice country you have there. Sure would be a shame if something were to happen to it.

This has been the GOP’s modus operandi in Congress, but now Mitt Romney is embracing it as what is campaign is calling his “closing argument:”

Romney said that Obama “promised to be a post-partisan president, but he became the most partisan” and that his bitter relations with the House GOP could threaten the economy. As his chief example, he pointed to a crisis created entirely by his own party’s choice — Republican lawmakers’ ongoing threat to reject a debt ceiling increase. Economists warn that a failure to pass such a measure would have immediate and catastrophic consequences for the recovery.

If he pulls this off — if Romney manages to get elected running a fact-free, post-reality, dada performance art campaign — we’re in for a wild few decades. If candidates believe they can win without having to engage with peksy things like the facts, one can only begin to speculate about the claims that will be made in the next election. This is cynical, nihilistic politics at its worst.

bookmark_borderRomney Could Win Florida?

Romney could win Florida. Let that sink in a bit. The Republican candidate, whose running mate advocates turning Medicare into a voucher system, is essentially tied with President Obama in Florida. How? He’s closed the gap on Medicare.

It is easy to see how.

I posit that older Americans are more selfish than the general population. Romney’s divide-and-conquer plan – promising that his drastic changes to medicare will only hurt those under age 55 – reassures older voters that they can continue with their excellent healthcare. This essentially takes Medicare off the table as an issue. They’re then free to vote their other concerns (and prejudices).

I’d like to think today’s 55-plus crowd would care enough about their children and grandchildren to consider the impact of changes in Federal earned benefit programs on the next generation, but they’ll mostly be dead and gone by the time the rest of us are ready to collect. Sadly, pulling up the ladder behind you is something of a dark and deadly tradition. These poll numbers unfortunately bear out my thesis: older Americans are a selfish lot.

bookmark_borderFine! Don’t take my advice!

Earlier today I proposed a plan for the Romney/Ryan campaign: donate to the Red Cross.

Specifically, I suggested they pull their advertising for the remainder of the week and donate their entire advertising budget to the Red Cross. Call on the SuperPACs to do the same, and challenge the Obama/Biden canpaign to follow suit. I didn’t expect them to do it, but they’re clearly flailing around, looking for a way to capitalize on Sandy politically. So why not get some good publicity the old-fashioned way: buy it?

Romney has a huge hole to dig himself out of. He’s on record advocating the privatization of FEMA:

And his performance as Governor of Massachusetts during the Green River flood in 2005 was less than stellar..

Instead, the R/R camp has done the opposite. They’ve doubled down on the “Jeep is leaving Ohio for China” lie Romney first voiced in a speech and later made into an ad. They’re spending $100k to run a radio version of it in the Toledo market.

It is so bad, Chrysler’s CEO Sergio Marchionne felt compelled to respond.

They’re also starting to air commercials attacking Obama for the closure of coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania:

Here in PA, we have a love/hate relationship with coal. The mines have been good to us employment-wise, and the power plants have been a cheap source of electricity for decades, but we also have a history of mine fires, Black Lung, and acid rain.* Fortunately, the recent boom in natural gas is allowing us to replace our coal-fired electricity generation capacity with cleaner-burning natural gas plants.

Like I said, I never expected R/R to take my advice. But just about anything would be better than this: Mitt Romney attends storm relief event. In Ohio. Sponsored by his campaign. You can’t make this stuff up!

And who is coming out looking the best in all of this? Chris Christie, the Republican Governor of New Jersey. By all accounts, he’s acquitted himself quite well in the disaster. He’s praised the Federal response in general, and President Obama’s hands-on approach in particular. And he rejected the opportunity to have a photo op with Romney. (I suspect he can smell the stench of defeat on the R/R campaign and is already thinking about 2016.)

*Our acid rain problem was attributed to plants upwind from us. The stuff we burn comes back down in New England.

bookmark_borderAnd Then There Were None!

We made it, people! The 2012 Presidential Debate Death March is over! Congratulations on surviving your various drinking games, meme onslaughts, and spin room prevarications! (There will be a moment of silence at the end of this article for those who didn’t make it to the end, the lightweights.)

I think we saw one Commander-in-Chief on the stage last night. I was looking for consistency from Governor Romney, and I didn’t get it. I don’t expect him to hold the same views he’s had all his adult life, or even for the six years he’s been running for President. I recognize that people can and do change. They learn new things. Circumstances change, and we should allow for that without automatically labeling someone a “flip-flopper.” Governor Romney, unfortunately, couldn’t remain consistent through the ninety minutes he appeared on stage last night.

Not to denigrate the mentally ill, but his positions were positively schizophrenic. On one issue, he seemed eager to reassure the public he wasn’t afraid to strike first, hard, and with vigor. On others, he was trying to project calm and reasoned reflection before acting. Neither position was convincing, and I think he pretty much reversed when each was appropriate.

A lot of political hay (and memeage) will be made of the “horses and bayonets” moment, but I don’t think it was that significant. Very few voters – outside the shipyards of Virginia – are going to make their decision on how many ships the government procures over the next four years. That being said, it was a devastating take-down of an unprepared candidate by a Commander-in-Chief who clearly knows his stuff.

I was hesitant about Obama in 2008. I wasn’t sure he was ready to be President, primarily for foreign policy reasons. I’m glad to say he’s proven me wrong. I disagree with about 75%-80% of his foreign policy positions, but I can’t deny that he knows what he’s doing and that he has a vision for the future of the world and America’s role in it. I wish I could say the same about Romney. Perhaps he will grow into it, but on balance I’m not willing to take that chance.

All in all, it was a good debate. Nowhere near as good as the second one, which really was one for the ages, but still a good example of the genre. Onward to November 6th!

[insert moment of silence here]

bookmark_borderBinders Full of Libya

I have been quiet about the second 2012 Presidential debate for several reasons. First, I agree with Lawrence O’Donnell that picking a winner is difficult. That being said, I do have some thoughts on the debate and what it means.

I thought it was a good debate. I certainly enjoyed watching it. The questions could have been better, but you can only work with what you get in a forum like this.

Romney let his inner asshole out to play, and was a bit too aggressive with the moderator, but sometimes that plays well at home with voters. It comes across as asshollery to most of us, but to a substantial minority it looks like strength. “He made the President sit down and wait his turn.” “He didn’t take any guff from the moderator.” “He caught the President in a lie about calling the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi a terrorist attack.” (Even though everyone agrees he lost that point when he got bogged down in the word used.)

Professor Obama showed up. If you believe in 11-Dimensional Chess, which I don’t, then you can see the first debate as the ultimate rope-a-dope approach. The same Romney showed up for the second debate. Against a real opponent – Professor Obama instead of Uncle Fluffy – his approach was much less effective.

This was a make-or-break moment for the President. He needed to reassure his base that he still wanted the job. I think he did that. He also needed to reframe Romney as an out-of-touch Plutocrat. The jury is still out on whether he managed this or not.

On the topic of Libya and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, I thought Romney had a good point. The Administration dropped the ball on this, and the President is rightly criticized for his handling. The argument that Congress cut funding for embassy security holds no water for me. If it is a priority, you have to fight for it. the Administration did not. In the aftermath, it was several days before it was clear that the reports of demonstrations at the Consulate preceding the attack were incorrect. The Administration is rightly criticized for either not knowing this or for not being clear about it.

Romney screwed this one up, however, by focusing on whether the President said the magic words “terrorist” or “terrorism” in his Rose Garden speech. The real criticism is the handling of the following weeks. Romney missed his chance to raise this issue when he thought he’d caught the President in a lie. Incidentally, I think Paul Ryan in the Vice Presidential debate did a much better job of pinning the issue on the Administration than Romney’s Gotcha! tactic did.

I’m looking forward to the third and final debate. Perhaps the topic of climate change will finally put in an appearance. It is a national security issue, after all.

bookmark_borderCalling a Liar a Liar

Hunter always tells it like it is. He has long been one of my favorite commentators, and he offers up another bit of “what the hell?” today, this time about the Wall Street Journal‘s latest whining about their hurt fee-fees:

Calling a liar out for being a liar is also common and, we must point out, the morally correct response to actual lying, an approach followed by teachers, juries, nuns, our greatest philosophers and most of the rest of the civilized planet. When I catch my child in a lie, I would not be impressed by her declaring that me pointing it out is just like what Hitler would have done. However, my child is also intelligent enough to recognize a non-sequiter when she sees one, which has already permanently disqualified her from working for Fox News or writing a column for the Wall Street Journal.

There’s more over at Daily Kos.

bookmark_borderThe Beltway Debate

The more I think about last night’s debate, the madder I get.

Mostly, I’m mad at Jim Leher. He should join MacNeil in retirement. His befuddled demeanor and lack of stage presence allowed Romney to walk all over him. Romney, for his part, refused to acknowledge that the debate should be moderated at all. He told Leher what was going to happen, and then did it. This may look like bold leadership to some, but it came across as bullying entitlement from where I was sitting.

Obama wasn’t any better. He was listless, his answers were rambling, and he didn’t seem to want to be there. If he’d checked his watch, the transformation would have been complete!

But beyond all that, I blame Jim Leher for asking asinine questions. Here’s a little-known fact about the deficit and the national debt: outside the beltway and local Tea Party meetings, no one cares about the deficit or the debt. It just isn’t a consideration. In the abstract, everyone knows the national debt will eventually be a bad thing (although a growing economy will make it less painful to pay off than our politicians like to scare us into believing). As a practical matter, the deficit and the debt have nothing to do with our everyday lives.

What do people care about?

  • Housing (credit is still effectively frozen for people without pristine credit and/or extensive wealth)
  • A real discussion of gun violence
  • Ongoing, systematic voter disenfranchisement, including voter ID requirements and polling place/time shenanigans
  • Women’s healthcare (birth control and abortion)
  • The rising cost of a higher education
  • The nonexistent job market
  • Climate change

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure you can make your own list at home. Nothing was asked in these categories in more than a cursory way, and yet these are all domestic issues that the American people care about. For some reason, they weren’t even on Jim Leher’s radar. Maybe one of the moderators will ask a question about climate change in the National Security debate, but this was pretty much the only chance to get into these things before election day.

This was a Beltway Debate, pure and simple. The pundits surely slept well last night, with visions of cat food dancing in their heads.

Next Up: A “town hall” style debate, with a room full of people who claim they haven’t made up their minds yet. More on why (or how) someone can still be an undecided voter later…

bookmark_borderSome Things Go Beyond Politics

Just catching up on the news after a busy day. A couple of observations…

I mourn Ambassador Chris Stevens, and my thoughts are with his family, friends, and coworkers. I also mourn for the people of Libya, who will likely bear the brunt of any retaliation or punishment for his death.

By all accounts, Ambassador Stevens was a good man, a career foreign service officer who cared deeply for Libya and for the Libyan people. I fear the reprecussions of his death will be felt for years to come. No one should take this lightly. The death of an ambassador is a mercifully rare thing. The last death was in Afghanistan in 1979, when newly-appointed Ambassador Adolph Dubs died in a gun battle after a thwarted kidnapping attempt. Prior to that, only four other sitting US Ambassadors have been killed. (This in and of itself is a tribute to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, who by all accounts did all they could for Ambassador Stevens.)

Relatedly, today was a test of Presidential fitness for Mitt Romney. Next to sending American men and women into combat as Commander-in-Chief, how you handle a foreign policy crisis is the most important work a President can do. Mitt failed his test today. Instead of seizing the opportunity to appear statesmanlike and to stand with President Obama, Governor Romney decided to seek political advantage.

I shouldn’t feel the need to blog about this incident in a political context. But we’re in the middle of the election “silly season” and some candidates can’t help but put their worst foot forward – straight into the mouth.

bookmark_borderCold Fusion’s Ignominious Return

(For whatever reason, this December 2011 interview with Mitt Romney is making the rounds of the internet this week.)

Romney sat down for a rare on-the-record interview with a panel of editors from The Washington Examiner. In the course of the interview, he was asked to comment on science policy. Among other statements is this nugget:

Mitt Romney: I do believe in basic science. I believe in participating in space. I believe in analysis of new sources of energy. I believe in laboratories, looking at ways to conduct electricity with — with cold fusion, if we can come up with it. It was the University of Utah that solved that. We somehow can’t figure out how to duplicate it.

What makes this comment so egregious is that it betrays Mitt Romney’s genuine lack of scientific litteracy.

The Science is Clear

This is what University of Maryland Professor Bob Parks wrote in his What’s New newsletter on March 24, 1989, the day after Cold Fusion was announced:

The remarkable report from the University of Utah that researchers had achieved deuterium fusion in an electrolysis cell was initially provided only to the Financial Times of London and the Wall Street Journal. From what little is known, the claim seems to be that deuterium ions from heavy water diffuse into the lattice of a palladium cathode at sufficient concentration to fuse. Palladium is well known for its ability to take up large quantities of hydrogen. Indeed, solid-state storage of deuterium in metals such as titanium and scandium is standard practice in nuclear weapons, where dihydrides and even trihydrides do not result in fusion. Whatever the technical merits of the Utah claim, however, serious questions of scientific accountability will certainly be raised. The press statement is devoid of any details that might enable other scientists to judge the strength of the evidence.

From day one, the skeptics were on to the scam. In the months and years that followed, numerous good faith efforts were made to duplicate the Utah results. None suceded. None even came close. In scientific circles, everyone moved on. The Romney campaign seems to have never received the news.

There’s really no excuse for any educated person to trot out cold fusion as a scientific breakthrough in 2011, when Romney made these comments.  Even if he was just riffing, there is no excuse for floating such claims. No excuse. None. Pons and Fleischmann have been so thoroughly and publicly discredited one would have to live in a bubble and be fed a steady diet of lies to think they accomplished anything other than a mid-range hoax. (I’ve seen more believable perpetual motion machines at antique machinery shows.)

Perhaps more inexcusable is that the editorial board of the Washington Examiner didn’t call him on his bogus claim.

How could this happen?

Unfortunately, Mitt Romney isn’t alone in his scientific illiteracy. In his 1997 book The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan made reference to the American public’s scientific literacy. Presumably relying on the work of Jon Miller, he wrote that approximately 5% of Americans understand enough basic science to make sound policy decisions about it. Looking at Miller’s actual studies, it appears that Sagan was close. The actual percentage in 1988 was 10%. Today, wer’re only marginally better off.

As of 2008, Miller says we’ve managed to raise that number to 28%. An astounding feat, a nearly three-fold increase in less than a generation, but still woefully short of where we need to be.

I have no doubt that Romney meant well, and being able to tout the accomplishments of a couple of scientists from a state he holds near and dear had to have felt good, but he got it wrong. Somewhere along the way, Mitt Romney failed to pick up a basic education in science. This isn’t entirely unexpected. Our last president to be scientifically literate was Thomas Jefferson.

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