What is Your Electoral College Prediction?

In response to my last post about the statisticians v. the pundits, a commenter said that the pundits were right that the race would be decided by a razor thin margin in the Electoral College.

My prediction is Obama – 303 to Romney 235. (56.3% to 43.7% in the EC).

Link to my map.

Anyone else care to share their predictions? The winner will get a can full of jack squat. You can generate your own map at: http://www.270towin.com/2012_election_predictions.php

Thoughts on Presidential Debate #2: Binders Full of Women Edition

The candidates’ debate performance in Presidential debate #2 was a lot different than in #1. The dominant story of the first one was that Obama came off as low energy and Jim Lehrer was about as useful as a potted plant. Mitt Romney’s performance was still high energy but maybe his aggressive hard-sell doesn’t work in that format or against people who don’t let themselves be pushed around.

The underlying messages were fairly familiar. Romney has to convince us that we are living in a dystopian hellscape because of Obama’s policies and America desperately needs to change. Obama has to convince us that things aren’t so bad so muddling along as we’ve been doing for the past 4 years; and that he knows about dystopian hellscapes because that’s what America was after Bush and will be if Romney takes over. When you’re running from a bear, you don’t have to be fast. You just have to be faster than the other guy. Running for the Presidency as a Republican or Democrat seems a little like that.

Fortunately, we live in the future; which includes Twitter. And, during the debates, Twitter turns the Internet into a political Mystery Science Theater 3000, cracking wise at the TV and feeding on one another’s comments.

The meme of the night had to be: binders full of women – a bizarre phrase used by Romney during an anecdote about his time in Massachusetts designed to assure people that he wasn’t anti-woman. He had binders full of women qualified to work in his administration. Or something. I stopped listening after the phrase came out. I think he also commented on his efforts to make work schedules more flexible for women in his administration so they would be able to go home and cook dinner.

The digression from a question about limiting the availability of AK-47s digressed into commentary about marriage so fast it was disorienting. Romney was saying, I guess, that kids from stable households don’t commit crimes. Kind of a guns don’t kill people; people kill people riff. But, again, it was awkward; sounding like guns don’t kill people, single mothers kill people. My contribution to the Twittersphere: “AK47s make me think of marriage too.” But, Obama’s answer on this question made it clear that gun control is dead. He barely admitted to being against the mentally ill and criminals owning high powered firearms.

The “gotcha” moment of the night had to do with Benghazi. Obama was being indignant about Romney, saying that Romney was accusing him of not taking the safety of diplomats seriously. Romney got up and was almost giddy about trapping Obama in a gotcha moment, trying to say that Obama never – as he had just asserted – called the attack in Benghazi an “act of terror.” He was smarmy and went all-in pushing the line of attack. Unfortunately, Obama had used the phrase “act of terror” in the Rose Garden the day after the attack. Obama knew it. The moderator knew it. And when Romney insisted on making a big deal of it, both of them stood firm on that. Later video of the President confirmed that Romney was wrong. If you’re going to come off as smarmy about something, make sure you’ve got the goods. This backfired against Romney in a big way.

One of the pitches Mr. Romney seemed to make about his tax plan was a glorious future of tax free interest and dividends. How much interest does the typical middle class bank account yield? Ten bucks? Maybe I didn’t hear him right, but if that was meant as an appeal to the average voter, I don’t think it connected. “Good news poor people: tax free dividends!”

Romney’s tax plan still doesn’t add up. I don’t buy that Obama is going to balance the budget, but he has a track record that makes some sense. Huge deficits when the economy was in free fall, lesser deficits more recently. And imposing some tax increases on incomes over $250,000 per year at least sounds like a rational way to cut into the deficits somewhat. By contrast, Romney is pretty clear on big tax cuts but a lot less clear on where he gets the money to pay for those cuts, let alone get out of the hole we’re already in. Reminds me of the Bush campaign in 2000. We had finally started making some headway on the national debt, then this guy comes along proposing enormous tax cuts. I was howling at the time. “Things are fine. Pay the debt. Forget tax cuts until the debt is paid off.” No, no; I was told. Paying off the debt too fast is dangerous! The dotcom bust came and went along with the real estate bust, 9/11, and the Iraq war. But the tax cut remains, along with deficits and the debt. Romney’s proposed tax cut strikes me as more of the same only with even worse timing.

Not candidate specific, but I find it disturbing that networks regard fact checking as extra special bonus coverage

Finally, Barry Green’s tough questions aren’t. One of the questioners prefaced his question as being a little tough then asked a question of the “if you were a tree, what kind would you be” variety. Something along the lines of “what misconceptions do people have about you?”

Romney Confused on Emergency Room Funding

Joe Vardon, Darrell Rowland, and Joe Hallett, writing for the Columbus Dispatch have an article entitled Romney in Central Ohio | Health care called ‘choice’. Among other things, Mr. Romney says this:

Romney minimized the harm for Americans left without health insurance.

“We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack,’??” he said as he offered more hints as to what he would put in place of “Obamacare,” which he has pledged to repeal.

“No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.”

(Emphasis added)

Maybe sometimes. But lots and lots of times, it’s paid for by collection agencies dragging you into court, freezing your bank accounts, and attempting to garnish your wages. I know because I’ve been the attorney working for those collection agencies on thousands of cases. I don’t apologize for it or feel bad – the people who provide services are entitled to be paid. But let’s not gloss over the fact that it’s a pretty awful process for the people who received the services. It’s not like they were, in most cases, frivolous. I’m not collecting against them because they bought a big screen TV or a fancy car. They got sick, and they went to the hospital.

And, it’s horribly inefficient. Getting treatment only after you’re sick enough to go to the ER is like not working to make sure houses have fire extinguishers because, after all, they can call the fire department. This pretty much guarantees that the house is going to be a lot more damaged than it needed to be; and the fire department visits are more expensive to the government than providing the fire extinguishers would have been.

Romney’s position in this matter is uninformed and unnecessarily destructive.

Federal Income Tax: A Real Tax for Real Americans

I have posted about this before, but I just don’t get the fetish some people have for the federal income tax where paying it magically makes you an upstanding citizen in a way that other kinds of taxes don’t. You hear a lot of rhetoric about how many people “don’t pay taxes,” but when you look at the stats, what they’re referring to is federal income tax. Most folks are paying other kinds of taxes: prominently – sales taxes, payroll taxes.

Romney has taken that a step further, apparently. Saying that 47% of Americans don’t pay federal income tax and, therefore, they are “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

To state the obvious, lots of people don’t pay federal income taxes because they don’t have much money. More interesting is the question of why they don’t have much money. This Romney quote gives us insight into why he thinks 47% of the population doesn’t make enough money. They’re lazy and dependent on the government.

You know what? There are lazy people out there. I’ve seen them. Able bodied deadbeats who just can’t be bothered to work and who aren’t dead because they mooch off of family, the government, whoever is stupid enough to give to them. But, you know what else? Nowhere near 47% of the American population is like that. Most folks either bust their ass or are willing to bust their ass to provide for themselves and their families. However, our national mythology notwithstanding, hard work is no guarantee of prosperity.

But, just because a person’s work or willingness to work hasn’t made them rich doesn’t mean they ought to be denigrated as a moocher who casts a vote based on a calculation about who is most likely to give them a handout.

Wherein I Defend the Romney Campaign A Little Bit

Judith Grey, writing for the Daily Beast has a column entitled Ann Romney’s Big Boo Boo. She goes to columnist trick #14: reflexive contrarianism and says, “oh, you think Ann Romney was the best part of the RNC and Clint Eastwood the weakest? WRONG! Ann Romney was the weakest.”

Her argument is that Ann should have talked more about her battles with MS and, particularly, about how Mitt stood by her.

Ann Romney was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998, and so had the unique opportunity to speak in graphic detail of the crippling disease and the qualities her struggle illuminated in her husband. She should have spoken of the prospect of spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair and how Mitt’s unwavering support, love and perseverance helped her prevail.
. . .

If he stayed up with her through the night, she should have mentioned it. If he had to carry her upstairs, she should have said so. If he emptied her bedpans, she should have shared that too.

Why, asks Grey, did Ann choose to speak with less detail and more generally about love instead of speaking specifically about the Romneys’ very difficult qualities, and Mitt’s admirable love for and loyalty toward his wife? Grey speculates maybe it would have come off as manipulative or that, by being specific, it would be difficult for those who didn’t share similar challenges to relate.

I think it’s a little easier than that. Mitt isn’t running against Newt Gingrich, against whom Mitt’s love and loyalty would be devastating. But, he’s running against Barack Obama who has a pretty solid family story of his own to tell. So, the personal aspect probably cancels out. The problem Mitt has is that the approach to health care he had to take to survive the primary is at odds with his personal story. It’s admirable to do whatever it takes, spend whatever it takes, and be there whenever necessary to tend to the health of a family member. Thing is, everybody would like the ability to do that for themselves. Everybody would like to know they can go to a doctor and get treatment for their spouse if they are struck down with an illness. Everybody would like to have the flexibility of schedule to go to the doctor with their sick spouse. But, not everybody can. No matter that they’re loyal and loving. In fact, I expect being loyal and loving but unable to provide care to a loved one is a special kind of hell.

So, the picture of Mitt being a loving and loyal spouse with the wherewithal to care for his wife on one hand but trying to repeal health care reform on the other hand, would feed into the narrative that Mitt Romney is out of touch and doesn’t know how normal people live. All in all, powerful and commendable as the Romney/MS story is, I have to disagree with Ms. Grey for faulting the Romney campaign for not getting so specific.

Ryan Budget Tells The Hard Truths About Big Rock Candy Mountain

There’s a lake of gin we can both jump in and the handouts grow on bushes. In the new-mown hay we can sleep all day and the bars all have free lunches.

–Big Rock Candy Mountain

Here is a fairly wonky discussion looking at what kinds of programs the Ryan Budget has to cut if they’re honest about balancing the budget instead of increasing the deficit. It calls for almost a trillion dollars in unexplained and unspecified cuts. “Mandatory and Defense and Nondefense Discretionary Spending” has to go from 12.5% of GDP to 3.75%. After accounting for the amount of that Ryan has said will still go to defense, that leaves approximately nothing for anything else, including:

Veterans Benefits (Function 700); the administration of justice, including the F.B.I. (Function 750); Education, Train and Social Services

I believe it also includes roads, farm supports, national parks, and a ton of other things we take for granted. And, in fact, when asked about the impact on veteran’s benefits, the Romney-Ryan campaign said that, of course they don’t want to cut veteran’s benefits; in fact, they want to give veterans more than President Obama does in his budget.

The way the Ryan budget is structured, not specifying cuts, it gives proponents of the budget a sort of plausible deniability to say that this or that particular budget item is safe. “Don’t worry Individual Voter, it’s not your vital government service at risk or causing the budget problems; it’s all that wasteful stuff that all those Other People get that we’ll be cutting.” This plays into the general ambiguity of the average voter’s position – they want cuts in the abstract but when you get down to specific items, there is not a lot of agreement or clarity of thought.

This is similar to Mitt Romney’s approach to Obamacare, apparently. When asked about getting rid of it, which he previously pledged to do on “Day 1″ of a Romney presidency; Mr. Romney backtracked. Now, he’s apparently committed to just keeping the popular stuff. (Specifically, prohibiting exclusions by insurers based on pre-existing conditions and allowing young adults to keep coverage under their parents’ policies.)

Now, promising all of the goodies and none of the pain is hardly new and hardly unique to the Romney-Ryan campaign. But, when they claim to be the party that will talk to us about the hard truths and be budget balancing deficit hawks, the age old technique is jarring.

The Paul Ryan Running Thing

So, last week, Paul Ryan told Hugh Hewitt this:

HH: Are you still running?

PR: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.

HH: But you did run marathons at some point?

PR: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

HH: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

HH: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…

PR: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.

Hewitt observed, “I was also surprised to hear Ryan has run a sub-3 hour marathon. Add another interest group to the list of groups like Catholics, hunters and Miami of Ohio grads who are going to connect easily with this candidate.”

This apparently caught the eye of Runner’s World – a sub-3 marathon is pretty fast. Call it 26.2 miles in 2:55 – that would be like a 6:40/M pace the entire way. So, they went to look it up and couldn’t find the race. They pressed a little, and, turns out, he never ran “marathons” plural – he ran one marathon in 1990 with a time of 4:01:25.

I wouldn’t make too much out of this. It’s just weird to misremember running multiple marathons at advanced speeds when, really, you ran one in a workmanlike time. Politically, though, you never know what is going to catch on. Remember the “Al Gore lies” narrative? Combine this with the politically calculated false claims Ryan made in his convention speech, and you have to think he’s on thin ice; not too far from people being able to tag him with unfair assertions that he claims to have invented the Internet and whatnot.

Osawatomie

Last December, President Obama gave a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas. He gives a lot of speeches, so I didn’t pay much attention. But, I keep coming across references to that one. Initially, a relative of mine mentioned it over the holidays – the name of the town stuck with me because: a) it’s unusual; and b) the relative said the name of the town in a slightly derogatory fashion. That relative, in all likelihood, got the news from Fox News or talk radio.

But, I keep hearing the name pop up, usually from conservative leaning sources. So, I figured it was a talking point on right wing radio, but never looked into it. What I’d gleaned through osmosis was that Teddy Roosevelt had given a speech there and that both speeches had populist themes.

In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. That is what you fought for in the Civil War, and that is what we strive for now.

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth. That is nothing new. All I ask in civil life is what you fought for in the Civil War. I ask that civil life be carried on according to the spirit in which the army was carried on. You never get perfect justice, but the effort in handling the army was to bring to the front the men who could do the job. Nobody grudged promotion to Grant, or Sherman, or Thomas, or Sheridan, because they earned it. The only complaint was when a man got promotion which he did not earn.

Roosevelt predicted that his detractors would paint him as a Communist agitator. That’s certainly the kind of response Obama has gotten — well, not necessarily “response.” The “socialist” accusations have been flying since Day 1. We’re still fighting Roosevelt’s “central conflict of progress” – the destruction of special privilege; a conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess.

Now, Obama’s detractors as with Roosevelt’s before him, would contend that our system compensates people according to what they earn. But, I don’t figure any man ever earned $57,000 per day (using Romney’s currently disclosed income) unless it was, say, the soldiers storming the beach at Normandy – and we paid them considerably less than that. And, I doubt any single person created value at the sustained rate of $57,000 per day. There may be some few exceptions, but I harbor enormous doubts that Mitt Romney was one of them. What he was doing, I suspect, was breaking up value – liquidating it – and appropriating pieces of that value, created by someone else, while it was being moved about.

Obama’s speech echoed some of Teddy Roosevelt’s themes, highlighted in the person of Romney:

Today, we’re still home to the world’s most productive workers. We’re still home to the world’s most innovative companies. But for most Americans, the basic bargain that made this country great has eroded. Long before the recession hit, hard work stopped paying off for too many people. Fewer and fewer of the folks who contributed to the success of our economy actually benefited from that success. Those at the very top grew wealthier from their incomes and their investments – wealthier than ever before.

But, I don’t think that Roosevelt’s prior populist speech was the only attraction of Osawatomie for President Obama. Not being up on my Kansas history, I hadn’t been aware that Osawatomie was a major site where John Brown fought pro-slavery forces five years prior to the Civil War. President Obama didn’t bring up John Brown, but “Osawatomie Brown” was the reason for Teddy Roosevelt giving his speech there. And, the symbolism of Osawatomie in that context might be useful to President Obama and inconvenient to, at least, the Southern conservatives who oppose him.

The time of John Brown’s activity in Kansas are inconvenient to the mythology of the Lost Cause which we see reflected today in so much of the “state’s rights” rhetoric favored by Southern conservatives. Brown was an abolitionist by inclination before it had much juice in the North. But, the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 fanned anti-slavery sentiment in the North. Mostly content to let Southerners do as they would after the Missouri Compromise, where southern states were admitted to the union with slaves and northern states were admitted free; the apple cart was upset when slave states were committed to allowing slavery north of the Missouri Compromise line, resisting, for example, formation of the Nebraska Territory, necessary to the creation of a trans-continental railroad unless the Missouri Compromise provision restricting slavery in the northern territories was specifically repealed. The Compromise of 1850, furthermore, contained a more draconian Fugitive Slave Act which paid no heed to the “state’s rights” of Northern states, required northerners to more actively participate in efforts to return escaped slaves to their southern owners. Among other things, it nullified northern state laws requiring jury trials before allegedly fugitive slaves would be returned to the south. Law-enforcement officials everywhere now had a duty to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave on no more evidence than a claimant’s sworn testimony of ownership; leading to many free blacks being enslaved and shipped to the South. Far from being state’s rights proponents, a good number of the Southern states’ declarations of secession cite as a reason, Northern states’ failure to knuckle under to this federal law.

On the populist front, the issue of slavery illustrates clearly how the wealthy can use the machinery of the law to appropriate to themselves wealth created by the labor of others. Just because slavery has been outlawed and the mechanics of wealth transfer are necessarily more subtle does not mean that people in our country inevitably earn what they possess and possess what they earn. Obama’s opponents readily, even eagerly, concede that the looters on the low end of the economic scale don’t earn what they possess; but it’s “class warfare” to suggest this might be the case on the high end of the scale.

But, back to Osawatomie in particular. John Brown, along with other abolitionists, had been spurred by the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act to head to Kansas to fight slavery. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had created a sort of land rush where pro-slavery activists and free-soil activists were hurrying to establish themselves in Kansas since the status of Kansas as slave or free would be determined by popular vote. The slavery activists engaged in the more egregious voter fraud wherein 6,000 votes, many of which coming out of the nearby slave state of Missouri, were cast in a population consisting of about 1,500 voters. The pro-slave territorial legislature immediately set about institutionalizing slavery, including draconian penalties for agitating against slavery. Since a lot of the votes came from pro-slave Missourians, the free soilers considered the Kansas Territorial Legislature illegitimate.

Enter John Brown. He stirred other free soilers to militancy after the pro-slave forces sacked the free soiler stronghold of Lawrence, Kansas. About six free-soilers had been killed by the pro-slave activists. On top of this, South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks had beaten Charles Sumner with a cane following an anti-slavery speech given by Sumner. From Brown’s perspective, Southerners were committed to violently imposing their will against their opponents. That such bullying violence should go unopposed was intolerable to Brown. He organized a violent raid of his own. Violence escalated until the “Battle of Osawatomie” where 400 proslavery forces were engaged by a band of about 40 free soilers led by Brown – after the slavers had killed one of Brown’s sons.

Brown is far from a purely heroic figure, but at Osawatomie, he was badly outnumbered but standing up against the superior forces of future Confederates who were attempting to violently impose their will that some humans should be compelled to have the fruits of their labor stolen from them by the wealthier men who owned them. Bleeding Kansas and the Fugitive Slave Act shows that seceding Southern states were not just seeking to be left alone to do as they would in their own states; rather they were actively seeking to spread their corruption far and wide. The white southerners (I’m sure they didn’t consult the black residents of their States) voted to secede because they didn’t get their way in a Presidential election; the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, having won.

Having become aware of this history, the sounds of southern conservatives grumbling about Osawatomie seems like something larger than discontent over a single speech by President Obama. Maybe I’m giving in to the hyperbole of President Obama’s detractors, where a mere policy disagreement over a small increase in the marginal tax rate becomes “OMG! SOCIALISM!” But, when I now hear discontent over Osawatomie, I’ll likely hear it set to the background of the song John Brown’s Body which became the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
His soul’s marching on

Ron Paul and John Huntsman the Most Honest of the 2012 GOP Presidential Candidates

Micah Cohen at 538 reports on Politifact’s grading of the veracity of 2012 GOP Presidential candidate statements. Probably the most important caveat to note is that it just grades those statements that piques Politifact’s interest; so there is a sampling bias.

That said, Ron Paul and John Huntsman, come off looking best in terms of truthfulness. More than half of what Ron Paul said was graded as “true” or “mostly true.” Huntsman scores 4 of 7 in those categories and without any “pants on fire” or “false” ratings (much smaller sample size, however.)

Michelle Bachmann, on the other hand, came off looking worst. 80% of her grades are “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” Rick Perry doesn’t do well either – about 50% “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” Mitt Romney is in the 36% range for those categories.

By way of contrast, President Obama is at about 29% in these categories

Ron Paul’s “Let Them Die” Question

Hunter at Daily Kos has a post up about the “let him die” moment in the last Republican Presidential debate. Wolf Blitzer posed the question to Ron Paul of an apparently healthy thirty year old who decides not to buy insurance because he thinks he’s healthy; but then something unexpected happens and he requires expensive medical treatment. What should happen to that guy? Rep. Paul responded that a guy should be able to choose their own risks. Blitzer pushed just a bit further, “should we let him die?” The obvious, though unpleasant answer to that — following Rep. Paul’s logic to its conclusion, is yes. Paul hedged on saying, “yes.” But, members of the audience shouted out the answer for him; perhaps with undue enthusiasm.

Hunter’s post mentions that a real life version of this seems to have played out with a former campaign manager of Rep. Paul who died, leaving behind $400,000 in medical bills. Hunter notes that this is not something that can be paid with bake sales and through voluntary charities. He further notes that the people in the crowd yelling to let the hypothetical man die must be aware of this. He says of such people:

It never ceases to amaze me, the emotions that we will wrap up in a flag and call patriotic if it suits us. A large swath of America is made up of very cruel people, people who value their own self-indulgence over the welfare of their neighbors, and they seem uniformly to be the most pompous in their exhortations of both patriotism and godliness. They are here to defend the nation from monsters who would parcel out a modicum of support to all citizens, and not just ones they personally know of or approve of: If they help their fellow man, they want to see the person grovel for it a bit, and helping an anonymous soul is deemed not just a pointless exercise but an insult to their very freedom.

That’s where I disagree with Hunter. I think these people are wrong; but they aren’t cruel; at least not knowingly so. He gets at this a little when he reference the people they “personally know of or approve of.” There are very few actual monsters among us. But, there are plenty of people for whom strangers are little more than an abstraction. And that’s why no sense of empathy stirs them to be concerned about whether the unknown person lives or dies. When confronted with dissonance between their stated logic and the plight of someone they know and care about, there will be some justification about why the person they know is entitled to assistance. But, I suspect social proximity is the determining factor.

As for the “let them die” advocates – and I’m not one of them; I think it does bear mentioning that, until we do let them die, the market is not going to be an effective tool in allocating resources for medical treatment.

Update Following up on this post, Tipsy has some excellent questions of his own.