Archive for February, 2010

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Question time

February 26, 2010

James has a few questions for me. I’ll try to come up with some answers.

  • I describe the Washington Post article in question as having “may” misrepresented some of Newt Gingrich’s comments regarding civil rights because the Post’s correction is based only on emailed “clarifications” from Gingrich himself. The paper makes no indication that it concedes the reporter in question, Dan Balz, misrepresented Gingrich. Nor does Balz, in his post on the matter on the paper’s 44 blog. Neither Gingrich nor Balz, to my knowledge, have offered the relevant quote in full, so it is impossible to know whom to believe; one, either, or both could be dishonest here. However, I cannot see how this squabble could justify James’ sweeping condemnation of Krugman, an opinion writer who used a quote from a report that has been disputed after the fact. I do believe, though, that reading the top line results of a poll and reporting them with a link to an ideological blog suggests insufficient inquiry at best, particularly when further exploration reveals a data set contradictory to the narrative at hand.
  • Republicans will gain a lot of seats in November because American voters currently loathe incumbents, and Democrats are more likely to be incumbents at the moment. This year, that loathing of incumbents looks like it will overcome the public’s disenchantment with Republicans, though Republicans can undo that by reminding the public why it does not like the them. I will note that polling guru Nate Silver seems far less impressed by the post-pass bounce than I do, though he thinks it exists. He calls the data “decent, but not great” for Democrats, and speaks approvingly of a Quinnipiac poll. The Quinnipiac poll finds that voters disapprove of the health care reform 49-40 per cent. It does not indicate why they disapprove of it. It also finds that voters disapprove of attempts to challenge the constitutionality of the reform, but are more likely to vote for politicians who opposed the reform. Significantly, however, it finds that gigantic chunks of voters say a representative’s vote on health care will not make them any more or less likely to vote for them in November. In fact, most voters will not be less likely to vote for a representative because of their health care vote. Americans right now, above all else, care about the economy, and the economy is still looking pretty awful.
  • The Rasmussen poll James links to does show that 55 per cent of likely voters favor repealing the bill. It may well be right, even though Rasmussen has a noted tendency to elevate Republican numbers. In America, because voting is optional, likely voters and “Americans” are very different things. As Silver says:

    Rasmussen, for instance, is one of the few pollsters to already be employing a likely voter model at this point. It’s not uncommon for likely voter polls to have comparatively better results for Republicans, since Democrats rely on votes from groups like young voters and minorities who turn out less reliably in midterm elections. (And, indeed, Republicans appear to have an especially significant enthusiasm advantage in this cycle.)

    Rasmussen may indeed be a better predictor of events in November. Congress, however, governs for all Americans, not just likely voters, and if evaluating policy approval, I see no problem with referring to a poll that includes people who are considered less likely to vote next November.

  • I take polls seriously because, as my previous post demonstrated, they can drive narratives, and if interpreted incorrectly, drive them in a direction contrary to the public’s actual point of view. If the only poll that mattered were indeed the one on election day, James should cast his mind back to the most recent national poll, and recall that Democrats won the Presidency, as well as increased margins in the House and Senate. And if he finds discussion of polls uninteresting, he should endeavour to quote polls less often in his posts.
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Burn on, big river, burn on

February 20, 2010

Apparently the Drew Carey Show and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame aren’t enough: Forbes has declared the city of Cleveland, Ohio, to be the most miserable town in the United States of America. The misery index is a real thing — the unemployment rate added to the inflation rate — but Forbes has got a bit creative and decided to analyse “unemployment, taxes (both sales and income), commute times, violent crime and how [the city’s] pro sports teams have fared over the past two years.” Because it doesn’t matter how nice your job is if you can’t go watch the local basketball team win a game every now and then.

Anyway, Cleveland boosters can take comfort from the fact that Forbes‘s index is a bit more airy-fairy than the cold-hard economic scale (which holds that America is more miserable today than it was at any time in 2009, except for the month of December), but from the sounds of things, Forbes might have made a good call with this one. MSNBC is brutal:

Cleveland nabbed the top spot as a result of poor ratings across the board. It was the only city that fell in the bottom half of the rankings in all nine categories. Many residents are heading for greener pastures. There has been a net migration out of the Cleveland metro area of 71,000 people over the past five years. Population for the city itself has been on a steady decline and is now less than half of it what it was 50 years ago.

Cleveland ranked near the bottom when looking at corruption. Northern Ohio has seen 309 public officials convicted of crimes over the past 10 years according to the Justice Department. A current FBI investigation of public officials in Cuyahoga County (where Cleveland is located) has ensnared more than two dozen government employees and businessmen on charges including bribery, fraud and tax evasion.

On the housing front Cleveland is dealing with thousands of abandoned homes. The city contributed to its foreclosure problem by providing down payments to many people that could not afford homes through the federally funded Afford-A-Home program. Cleveland led by Mayor Frank Jackson sued 21 large investment banks in 2008 who he felt were complicit in the subprime and foreclosure crisis that hit Cleveland hard. A federal judge dismissed the suit last year, but the city is appealing the ruling.

At least the river’s no longer on fire, right?

I’m trying to organise a visit to Cleveland, and my friends in the city are protesting life round those parts actually ain’t so bad. If I make it up there, I’ll let you guys know. And to be fair to Cleveland, I was in Chicago, Forbes’ 10th most miserable city, a couple weekends back, and things didn’t seem so sorrowful round there, even with temperatures that failed to rise above freezing the entire duration of my stay.

But less flippantly, it’s little surprise to see Cleveland on the Forbes list. Though the article’s a year old now, this New York Times Magazine article gives a glimpse into how hard the housing crash hit cities like this one, and some of the problems holding back recovery.

But an even worse sign for Cleveland? These days, unlike the ’90s, it doesn’t even have local rap groups recording tributes to the day the government distributes welfare cheques:

Bone Thugs N Harmony – “1st of tha Month”

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Taft, you old dog!

February 17, 2010

taft

William H. Taft — The 42nd Sexiest President of the United States of America

In the best confluence of Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day since The Simpsons’ coupled the two American celebrations in the 1993 episode “I Love Lisa,” (You remember, it featured a Tribute to the Lesser-Known Presidents?) the Nerve Web site counts down the 43 sexiest American presidents. A sample regarding the rotund head of state above:

There’s not much to say about Taft, except that out of all the presidents, he definitely bore the strongest resemblance to Garfield the cat. He ended the Progressive Era and later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but we’re guessing the only thing you know about him is that he once got stuck in the White House bathtub.

Read the rest here. (h/t Ezra Klein)

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If you’re going to San Francisco, put a battery in your car

February 17, 2010

I’ve said before that the United States isn’t actually as environmentally unfriendly as many onlookers believe, and a bit of news arrived yesterday that backs me up. According to the New York Times, the city of San Francisco is requiring that new structures be built wired with car chargers. This, of course, greatly reduces the practicality of owning and running a car from a rechargable battery, as drivers won’t have to wait until they return home to recharge.

And it’s not just San Francisco that will see an influx of green vehicles:

As automakers prepare to introduce the first mass-market electric cars late this year, it is increasingly evident that the cars will get their most serious tryout in just a handful of places. In cities like San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and San Diego, a combination of green consciousness and enthusiasm for new technology seems to be stirring public interest in the cars.

The first wave of electric car buying is expected to begin around December, when Nissan introduces the Leaf, a five-passenger electric car that will have a range of 100 miles on a fully charged battery and be priced for middle-class families.

Several thousand Leafs made in Japan will be delivered to metropolitan areas in California, Arizona, Washington state, Oregon and Tennessee. Around the same time, General Motors will introduce the Chevrolet Volt, a vehicle able to go 40 miles on electricity before its small gasoline engine kicks in.

It’s a welcome reminder that the United States is not a homogeneous mass, and on many issues, acts regionally or locally. And that’s ust the way the founders intended the country to work. And true, a selection of businesses and city councils does not an environmental revolution make. But it’s not insubstantial either. Cities like San Francisco are major metropolitan centres that can have a significant effect beyond their boundaries, and if their actions prove to be successful, they are often repeated in other locales around the nation, particularly if they help provide a leg-up to a nascent industry.

And out West, where many of the cities the Times article mentions are located, they’re used to government actions like this providing an economic boost to private industry. The railway industry spurred a rapid growth of the region in the 19th century, while in the late 20th, investment in computer and Internet technology laid the groundwork for the innovative success that is Silicon Valley. If local governments, by providing simple, city-based infrastructure, can incentivise American automakers to produce cleaner vehicles, America could get a whole lot greener without the world noticing much at all.

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The man with his hand on the button: A week in the life of a DC intern

February 12, 2010

Here’s something a little trivial, but highly illustrative of my life as a Capitol Hill intern this past week:

snow-whitehouse

Photo by the USSC’s Erin Riley

I was fascinated to see in the New York Times a story that’s been affecting us D.C. interns this week. See, those of us in the D.C. area have been experiencing a bit of snow lately; in fact, this winter has been the snowiest on record. And so, like thousands of others who live and work in the D.C. area, each night, as the TV networks report on the day’s Dupont Circle snow ball fight, online vendors pitch Snowmageddon 2010 t-shirts, and the plows putter pathetically into service, we fire up the Internet and see whether work will be cancelled the following day. The routine of checking the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and D.C. Metro Web sites has become a regular routine, and while neither can predict with complete certainty whether our offices will be running in the morning, we Australian interns have grown reliant on their capacity for clairvoyance.

The more mysterious of these is the OPM, which indicates whether Federal employees, though not necessarily Congressional offices, will be closed the next day. Frequently crashing from excessive demand on its servers, it would flicker into life late each evening to announce that the government has closed, or, in the case of tomorrow, that it had shuddered back into life. (Believe me, having gone to work one day this week, I’m more than pleased by this news.) After the jump, the Times reveals the man behind the curtain:

WASHINGTON — Dressed in flannel-lined blue jeans to guard against the chill, John Berry was in the second-floor bedroom of his Dupont Circle townhouse, about a mile from the White House, when he picked up the phone to make a call, minutes before the Super Bowl kickoff on Sunday evening.

Moments later, the word went out: the bulk of the 270,000 federal workers in and around the nation’s capital did not have to report to work the next day.

It was a decision that Mr. Berry, as director of the Office of Personnel Management, has repeated day after day this week, after methodical consultation with other officials, in response to two blizzards that brought Washington’s total snowfall so far this winter to 55.9 inches, shattering a record set in 1898-99.

At four days on Thursday, the weather-related shutdown — which really began last Friday afternoon, at the start of the first storm, when Mr. Berry dismissed government workers four hours early — is already the longest in the history of the personnel office, which has its origins in the late 19th century.

Mr. Berry decided Thursday evening to allow government workers to come in two hours late or take unscheduled leave on Friday. Either way, the workers will have a long weekend because Monday is Washington’s birthday.

“Shutting the government,” as most people here call it, is probably the biggest decision Mr. Berry faces, and yet he is modest about its significance, noting that only 10 percent to 13 percent of the federal work force lives in the Washington area.

For those of us in the DMV, that’s a little like finding out what’s being kept in Area 51.

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Super Bowl Sunday

February 8, 2010

We’re minutes away from the kick off of Super Bowl XLIV (Remember, I told you that the virtuous New Orleans Saints would be up against the blandly efficient Indianapolis Colts), and it’s good to know that down in the great state of Louisiana, even the politicians are looking out for the home team.

But the evil empire the Big Easy is up against is not the Peyton Manning-led Colts, but the NFL itself, who have tried to stake their claim to the home grown fan chant of “Who Dat?” Check it:

Now, after breaking a 43-year run of bad luck to win a place at this weekend’s Super Bowl, the NFL’s multi-billion dollar corporate machine has taken a sudden interest in the “Who Dat” catchphrase, claiming that it owns the rights to its usage. It has even issued “cease and desist” notices against small-time souvenir vendors for using the words on T-shirts and demanding royalties on their profits.

The move prompted uproar among the Saints’ fan army, known as the Who Dat Nation, and turned into a political crisis when the Louisiana Democratic State Central Committee passed a motion calling on the State Governor, Bobby Jindal, to set his attorney-general on the NFL.

It wasn’t only up-and-coming GOP star Jindal who came to the defence of the home town’s fans. Louisianan Democrats in DC, like Rep. Charlie Melancon, in a true display of bipartisanship, collected signatures for a pro-Saints petition. But the true star was Republican Senator David Vitter, who, in a penned missive, dropped this bomb on the NFL:

“This letter will also serve as formal legal notice that I am having T-shirts printed that say, ‘Who Dat say we can’t print Who Dat?’ for widespread sale in commerce. Please either drop your present ridiculous position or sue me,” wrote the Republican, while the Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon collected thousands of signatures on a petition entitled: “No one owns ‘Who Dat’ except for the Who Dat Nation.”

The NFL caved of course, and today, Saints fans are free to sell their dodgy merchandise to their hearts’ content. And on that feel-good note, it’s time for a great game of football. Or a run of fantastic commercials, interrupted by organised violence, should you prefer. Either way, GEAUX SAINTS.

EDIT: If you’re interested, check me tweeting the game at @jbradleyUSSC on Twitter.

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15 inches of pure white snow

February 6, 2010

373_snowstorm20100205

What you’re seeing there is the USA right now, and D.C. is right in the centre of that great big mass of cloud. We’re expecting 20-30 inches of snow over the next couple days. Capitol Hill has slowed to a standstill, shoppers have stripped supermarkets of stock, and folks are preparing to get snowed in for the weekend. We could be looking at something even bigger than the infamous Christmas storms of last year. I’m headed to the Washington Capitals hockey game tonight, blog-readers, but after that, it’s just going to be you and me. Settle in.