“The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.”
There’s a really great piece in the NYT by economist Richard H. Thaler who explains that the really big winners were numbers geeks last week. I would also argue that the really big losers are the folks at FOX News, the Romneys of the world, and the religious and republican right who basically rely on old world views, religions, and reality denial. These are people who don’t rely on data. These are people that continually criticize intellectuals and folks that study the way things are. They are numbers deniers.
There is a limitation to forecasting things. You can’t predict the inevitable black swans, but you can identify trends, normality, and average. You can also–by systematically studying things–comprehend basic truths about the life, the universe, and eventually everything. Republicans have learned one small piece of this since they’ve decided on chasing the Hispanic vote. But, that’s a small take away compared to the big lesson. Most things are comprehensible if you drop the dogma, the sense of entitlement based on your frames, views based on ideology and your sense of intrinsic rightness. Those of us that work with data–not with wishful thinking and intransigent dogma–did win the day as Thaler suggests. A lot more Republicans would do well to learn the Law of Large numbers.
So it may come as a surprise that, collectively, polling companies did quite well during this election season. Although there was a small tendency for the pollsters to overestimate Mr. Romney’s share of the vote, a simple average of the polls in swing states produced a very accurate prediction of the Electoral College outcome. Notably, the most accurate polls tended to be done via the Internet, many by companies new to this field. That’s geek victory No. 1.
This relatively accurate polling data provided the raw material for the second group of election pioneers: poll analysts like Nate Silver, who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times, as well as Simon Jackman at Stanford, Sam Wang at Princeton and Drew Linzer at Emory University.
What do poll analysts do? They are like the meteorologists who forecast hurricanes. Data for meteorologists comes from satellites and other tracking stations; data for the poll analysts comes from polling companies. The analysts’ job is to take the often conflicting data from the polls and explain what it all means.
Worry about the reliability of the polling data led to widespread skepticism, or even outright hostility, toward poll analysts. The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” was one of the more polite criticisms bouncing around the Internet in the days before the election.
Because the polls were not, in fact, garbage, the first job of a poll analyst was quite easy: to average the results of the various polls, weighing more reliable and recent polls more heavily and correcting for known biases. (Some polls consistently project higher voter shares for one party or the other.)
Republicans live in a world of data denial. They cling to ‘trickle down” economics and the idea that taxing the “job creators” ruins economic growth even though decades of research show this to be untrue. Many deny the theory of evolution even though molecular biology and the ability to map genomes and identify the structure and particulars of DNA have pretty much made this theory as close to the iron clad truth as other science theories like gravity, magnetism, and Hawking Radiation. The same crowd denies climate change. The Republican base lives in a world of anti-intellectualism and continues to be left behind. It’s no wonder that they’re all freaked out about the election results. They embrace propaganda and superstition. They do not follow the data. They react like primitives who see fire or air planes for the first time.
Pundits making forecasts, some of whom had mocked the poll analysts, didn’t fare as well, and many failed miserably. George F. Will predicted that Mr. Romney would win 321 electoral votes, which turned out to be very close to President Obama’s actual total of 332. Jim Cramer from CNBC was nearly as wrong in the opposite direction, projecting that the president would win 440 electoral votes.
There is a lesson here. When it comes to assessing the chances of some complicated combination of events, gut feelings are pretty much useless. Pundits are no better at forecasting election outcomes than they would be at predicting the final path of a hurricane. Smart pundits should consider either abandoning this activity, or consulting with the geeks before rendering their guesses.
The deal is that that folks like Cramer and Will get face time on TV and print time in the press. This is too bad. Most numbers geeks live in a room with a database and a good stats program. They never get to meet the press or face the nation. Data mining and number krunchers helped the Obama team identified what was what on the way to the win.
The third set of folks who deserve recognition in this election cycle were a group of young people working in a windowless room at Obama headquarters, affectionately known as the cave. They were part of the effort by the numbers-oriented campaign manager, Jim Messina, to maximize turnout.
THERE are two basic parts of an election campaign. The first comes under the category of messaging — deciding what a candidate should say and what ads to run. Most of the commentary we read about elections focuses on this component.
The second part is turnout, and in some ways is even more important. Here is a simple bit of math that you don’t have to be a geek to understand: It doesn’t matter which candidate a person prefers unless that person shows up and votes.
Pundits will debate for eternity which campaign did a better job of communicating its message, but there is no doubt which campaign won the turnout contest. Young, black and Hispanic voters all turned out in higher numbers than expected, and they often supported President Obama.
Much was made of the big Obama advantage in field offices in swing states. But those field offices would have been little good to the campaign without modern tools to find potential voters, have them register and encourage them to vote. In the weeks leading up to the election, the Obama canvassers had accurate lists of potential voters and field-tested scripts for their contacts with voters. This explains in part why Democrats were such heavy users of early voting.
I’ve spent my life in a land of data and I can tell you that I’ve told quite a few clueless CEOs like Romney that their view of their business is wrong and unsupported by the numbers. I’ve been in two corporations where the senior management was making bad decisions on gut feelings and wishful thinking. I came in with data, showed them what was what, and that they were basically running the company into the ground and that their companies were going bankrupt. In both these cases, bankruptcy happened. They looked at reality too late for it to be of any use. I’ve also done research that’s been passed over–later to be proven true–simply because folks don’t want to believe that banks would be so stupid as to systematically give increasing numbers of bad loans. People deserve information. Republicans tend to spew propaganda and sermons.
Numbers denial runs strong with folks that would rather believe what they want to believe than look at patterns, trends, and information that would be right under their noses if they’d only allow it. What I’m hoping–more than anything else–is that this election shows how dangerous magical thinking can be. I’m not too hopeful because human history is littered with bad, destructive magical thinking.
The earth is flat. The earth is the center of the universe. The earth is 8000 years old.
People that embrace magical thinking should not be making decisions for the rest of us. That should really be the take away from this election. There are still people leading the Republican party that embrace the idea of Dinosaurs living in the Garden of Eden. These people are working on the way they deliver the message but they are not changing their actual beliefs.
A prime example of this is Gov Bobby Jindal whose 2016 campaign for the president is on full throttle. He’s already calling for immigration reform. He’s called for the Republican Party to stop being the “stupid party”. Yet, look at his record as Louisiana Governor. His education reform initiative includes teaching creationism and draining public funds for private schools that will have no education requirements or accountability. He pushed through some of the harshest measures restricting women’s access to reproductive health care. He has refused to implement necessary health care reforms and has turned down funds that would help the state’s many poor. He has been selling state assets--including hospitals and jails–to private corporations. He’s earned the name Dr. Destructo here. He’s also well known for his college writing on exorcism. He’s interfered in Iowa politics by supporting groups that want to take down a judge because of his findings on gay marriage. The man is a walking nut job with endless ambition and ruthlessness.
Jindal’s got the Republican mentality of reworking the message while still doing the crazy stuff down pat. The Republican party and Republican Leaders like Bobby Jindal believe that they really don’t have to drop the crazed, magical thinking for reality and data. Jindal just believes in delivering the right message and the opposite policy. Until the Republican party reforms its core values, voters will have to watch their actions. Again, that’s a form of data gathering isn’t it? You can’t deny there’s been a war on women if you look at the number of anti-women laws that have come up at the national or state level. You can’t deny there’s an anti-science bias in the party when you actually look at the number of things they fund and defund at both the national and state level. They all really need to just wake up and look at the data for a change. After all, that’s really why they lost the election.
I’ve spent all my professional life drenched in numbers and statistics so Nate Silver’s numbers fascinate me. It’s probably the same reason they drive Republicans and pundits to distraction. Unraveling trend is easier with numbers than hateful, wishful thinking motivated by political piety. So, Karl Rove got on TV–probably trying to save what’s left of his credibility–saying that Romentum was stopped by Sandy. Romentum was a bit of canard and it turns out so is Sandy. Silver tries to discern the possible factors behind the recent numbers and looks at the Sandy Factor. That’s a relatively simple task for any one with a database and a background in trend analysis.
When the hurricane made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, Mr. Obama’s chances of winning re-election were 73 percent in the FiveThirtyEight forecast. Since then, his chances have risen to 86 percent, close to his highs on the year.
But, while the storm and the response to it may account for some of Mr. Obama’s gains, it assuredly does not reflect the whole of the story.
Mr. Obama had already been rebounding in the polls, slowly but steadily, from his lows in early October — in contrast to a common narrative in the news media that contended, without much evidence, that Mr. Romney still had the momentum in the race.
Moreover, there are any number of alternatives to explain Mr. Obama’s gains before and after the storm hit.
- Mr. Obama was adjudicated the winner of the second and third presidential debates in surveys of voters who watched them.
- The past month has brought a series of encouraging economic news, including strong jobs reports in October and last Friday.
- The bounce in the polls that Mr. Romney received after the Denver debate may have been destined to fade in part, as polling bounces often do following political events like national conventions.
- Democrats have an edge in early voting based on states that provide hard data about which party’s voters have turned out to cast ballots. Some voters who were originally rejected by the likely voter models that surveys apply may now be included if they say that they have already voted.
- Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have been running lots of advertisements, which could have some effect, especially in the swing states.
- Mr. Obama’s voter-targeting operation may in fact be stronger than Mr. Romney’s and may have begun to show up in the polls.
- Mr. Obama’s approval rating is at 49 or 50 percent in many surveys, a threshold that would ordinarily predict a narrow re-election for an incumbent.
- Some elections “break” toward one or another candidate at the end as undecided voters tune in and begin to evaluate their decision.
Each of these hypotheses could merit its own article. But the point is that the causes for Mr. Obama’s gain in the polls are overdetermined, meaning that there are lot of variables that might have contributed to the one result.
If I had told you in January that Mr. Obama’s approval rating would have risen close to 50 percent by November, and that the unemployment rate would have dropped below 8 percent, you likely would have inferred that Mr. Obama was a favorite for re-election, with or without a hurricane and what was judged to be a strong response to it.
Whatever the causal factors, Nate’s numbers look good for the President. Sam Wang–a Princeton number kruncher–says it not only looks like the President will hold his office but that the US Senate might see a Democratic Pick up of two. This is an important firewall for those of us that care about things like Supreme Court appointments and getting rid of the filibuster silliness that has allowed the Republicans to basically thwart governing. Dems may pick up Nebraska and Pennsylvania.
Rather than responding to the analysis, the Republicans continue to attack Nate Silver the man. You may recall this Krugman piece last week about The War on Objectivity.
Brad DeLong points me to this National Review attack on Nate Silver, which I think of as illustrating an important aspect of what’s really happening in America.
For those new to this, Nate is a sports statistician turned political statistician, who has been maintaining a model that takes lots and lots of polling data — most of it at the state level, which is where the presidency gets decided — and converts it into election odds. Like others doing similar exercises — Drew Linzer, Sam Wang, and Pollster — Nate’s model continued to show an Obama edge even after Denver, and has shown that edge widening over the past couple of weeks.
This could be wrong, obviously. And we’ll find out on Election Day. But the methodology has been very clear, and all the election modelers have been faithful to their models, letting the numbers fall where they may.
Yet the right — and we’re not talking about the fringe here, we’re talking about mainstream commentators and publications — has been screaming “bias”! They know, just know, that Nate must be cooking the books. How do they know this? Well, his results look good for Obama, so it must be a cheat. Never mind the fact that Nate tells us all exactly how he does it, and that he hasn’t changed the formula at all.
This is, of course, reminiscent of the attack on the Bureau of Labor Statistics — not to mention the attacks on climate science and much more. On the right, apparently, there is no such thing as an objective calculation. Everything must have a political motive.
This is really scary. It means that if these people triumph, science — or any kind of scholarship — will become impossible. Everything must pass a political test; if it isn’t what the right wants to hear, the messenger is subjected to a smear campaign.
Any kind of scholarship has become challenging under Republican fanaticism as witnessed by the attacks on evolution, climate change, and the economic analysis that shows there is no such thing as an economic benefit created by low marginal tax rates for the rich. Just ask scientists trying to get grants to study things like stem cell research. Fox gets people to believe anything. Science causes them to retreat to their medieval churches and scream about intervention by celestial beings. (So, if gawd caused Sandy to take out NJ and NY because of Gay Rights, does this mean gawd caused Sandy to give Obama momentum? Ask Grand Inquisitor Pat Robertson about that one.)
Yes, Nate’s numbers took another upward tick this morning. He also believes that Obama will take the popular vote which should be dismaying to all those journalists that keep wanting to turn this into a white knuckle election.
Silver also added to Obama’s likely number of electoral votes on Monday. He now sees the president winning 307.2 to 230.8 for Mitt Romney, a tiny tick higher than he saw the race on Sunday.
He also sees Obama capturing the popular vote, taking 50.6 percent to Romney’s 48.5.
Rachel Maddow insists the Republicans see the numbers and actually believe that their man Mittster is a goner. The blame game has already begun. Haley Barbor blames Sandy. Lindsey Graham is actually looking at numbers and notices that that demographics are not in their favor.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: ”If I hear anybody say it was because Romney wasn’t conservative enough I’m going to go nuts. We’re not losing 95% of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”
– Politico quotes Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), saying that demographics would be the only reason for a hypothetical Mitt Romney loss Tuesday.
Yeah, the blame game has begun and the election isn’t even over. Funny he should bring up Hispanic and black voters. Latino Decisions found that Hispanics support President Obama in historic numbers — 73 percent. They believe that’s enough to carry President Obama to victory in four swing states and ultimately to win re-election. Those four swing states are Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, and Florida.
This is closer to the truth. Republican policy statements as expressed by “severely conservative” Mitt have driven off the young, hispanics, blacks, and women. I had MSNBC on mute most of the weekend when they were following the candidates around. All you have to do is look at the people used as back drops for candidates’ speeches to realize who really is on the losing side of US demographics. This is part of the numbers game. You can’t build momentum or fantasize a trend based on capturing an ever decreasing slice of the American Pie.
Which brings me to the post election deconstruction that should occur in the Republican party. When will the actually give up on the Southern Strategy? We’ve seen more race baiting in this election that I’ve frequently wondered if the ghost of George Wallace is running the Romney campaign. We’ve seen attacks on women’s rights that make me wonder if Republicans know that women got the right to vote. We’ve seen support of policies that are based on show us your papers that remind me of old NAZI movies. You can’t attack and demonize the majority of the electorate and expect the numbers to come in for you. You also can’t build policy on attacking scientific models and theories. The Republican party has definitely shown that its plan for America is to try to recreate the past no matter what the cost.
All I can say is go Nate go! Win one for Ada Lovelace and the country. There are easy ways to figure out which events contribute to trend and what’s just random. People should pay more attention to Nate Silver and a lot less attention to the likes of Karl Rove and Haley Barbour. Nate Silver bet Joe Scarborough $2000 that his analysis was right saying “Occam’s Razor: Pundits are useless”. That’s something I completely grok.
“I think I get a lot of grief because I frustrate narratives that are told by pundits and journalists that don’t have a lot of grounding in objective reality,”
Morning, news junkies. Note: You’ll have to read all the way to the bottom of this one for the tie-in to “Jeannette” and “Perditta.” There’s also some comic relief from the Onion waiting there at the end as a reward for making it through. My Saturday reads are often on the ‘heavy’ side I know, and this weekend is no exception.
I’d like to start with a story I touched on in a roundup about a month ago. You may recall that I linked to Glen Ford/BAR’s commentary on the pogrom-like massacre against sub-Saharan black migrant workers in Libya, at the hands of so-called anti-Gaddafi rebels. The Western media has virtually blacked this story out–or if they are covering it in any substantive or sustained way other than in passing, I must have missed it over the past month. Leave it to the WSWS (World Socialist Web Site) to have one of the few informative pieces I’ve seen covering the story at all (h/t paperdoll for pointing me to it.) The WSWS piece references a March 22nd article, in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by Gunnar Heinsohn (which cites as its source a report by Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker Farai Sevenzo).
From the WSWS link:
The article states:“Because mercenaries from Chad and Mali are presumed to be fighting for him [Gaddafi], the lives of a million African refugees and thousands of African migrants are at risk. A Turkish construction worker told the British radio station BBC: ‘We had seventy to eighty people from Chad working for our company. They were massacred with pruning shears and axes, accused by the attackers of being Gaddafi’s troops. The Sudanese people were massacred. We saw it for ourselves.’ ”
The zombie in place of the fourth estate, our corporate US media, has either glossed over or omitted the massacre altogether. Meanwhile, Al Jazeera, unsurprisingly, has had more to say on the killings than I’ve seen from CNN or Fox over the last few months combined. Again, from the WSWS link:
On February 28, the Arab TV station Al Jazeera reported the racist massacre of black African workers by so-called “freedom fighters” as follows: “Dozens of workers from sub-Saharan Africa, it is feared, have been killed and hundreds are hiding because angry opponents of the government are hunting down black African mercenaries, witnesses reported…. According to official reports, about 90 Kenyans and 64 people from southern Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Burundi landed in Nairobi today.
One of them, Julius Kiluu, a 60-year-old construction manager, told Reuters: ‘We were attacked by people from the village. They accused us of being murderous mercenaries. But in reality they simply refuse to tolerate us. Our camp was burnt down. Our company and our embassy helped us get to the airport.’“Hundreds of black immigrants from the poorest African countries, who work mainly as low-wage day labourers in Libya, have been wounded by the rebels. From fear of being killed, some of them have refrained from going to a doctor.”
I went digging for the Al Jazeera report:
“But why is nobody concerned about the plight of sub-Saharan African migrants in Libya? As victims of racism and ruthless exploitation, they are Libya’s most vulnerable immigrant population, and their home country governments do not give them any support,” Hein de Haas, a senior fellow with the International Migration Institute, writes in his blog.
In clicking on the link to de Haas’ blog and perusing the comments, I stumbled upon a link to this February blog post at the Independent by Michael Mumisa: Is Al-Jazeera TV complicit in the latest vilification of Libya’s Blacks?
Even Al-Jazeera TV has based most of its news coverage of bands of marauding savage Africans on information posted via tweeter, facebook, and other social networks. That there may be African mercenaries operating in Libya is very possible but there are also credible reports from Serbian military sources as well as other Western agencies that Serbian mercenaries are fighting to protect Muammar Gaddafi. Yet nothing has been said about Gaddafi’s Serbian and Russian mercenaries.
Black Africans have always been a ‘visible’ and persecuted minority in Libya. By giving credence to potentially dangerous and unverified reports and rumours posted on social networks without taking into consideration the racial context of Libyan society Al-Jazeera and other foreign media outlets are complicit in the latest vilification and scapegoating of Libya’s Black minorities and its African migrant workers.
I don’t claim to be an expert on what’s happening on the ground in Libya, but I would like some answers on the deaths of these migrant workers. I would really love to hear someone put this humanitarian issue to Madame President Hillary Clinton for comment.
Switching gears now… because yep, you heard me correctly…
I just called her Madame President Hillary Clinton.
If the aliens visiting for the upcoming royal wedding were to observe what was going on right now, what else would they conclude? Hillary’s leading, Obama’s not, and everyone knows it.
Nothing new there, of course, except for the part about everyone knowing it. If Obama is the Where’s Waldo president, our media was the Where’s Waldo fourth estate in 2008, as well as during the entire past decade. That Where’s Waldo media, by the way, very much included left blogistan, guilty of its own version of the “Village” insularity and hegemony in the traditional media that the prog blogs cut their teeth railing against.
In 2008, access was more important than our country’s future to journalists and bloggers, and I have no reason to believe in 2012, the story will be any different.
Which brings me to my next set of links…
Hillary, Obama, Polls, and 2012/The Donald Goes Birther week-in-review
- Hillary’s Gallup favorables rating (March 25-27) is back to her all-time high in December of 1998 (give or take a point):
The latest results are from a March 25-27 Gallup poll conducted while the United States was actively involved in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, a policy Clinton reportedly advocated. The same poll finds Clinton rated more positively than other top administration officials. Obama receives a 54% favorable rating, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, 52%, and Vice President Joe Biden, 46%.
- A CNN/Opinion research poll from March 11 to 13 yielded pretty much the same results: 2 in 3 Americans have a favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton, with 92% of Democrats, 64% of Independents, and 35% of Republicans (or 83% of liberals, 80% of moderates, and 42% of conservatives) giving her a thumbs up. (That’s nearly identical to the Gallup findings from the end of March: 92% of Dems, 62% of Indies, and 40% of Repubs.) How’s that for “likeable enough” and “polarizing”? Agree or disagree with her, what people have for Hillary–which Obama can’t win with his empty speeches and voting “present”–is respect for her substance, diligence, and commitment. You not only know where she stands on Libya, you know she won’t half-ass it, she won’t vote present like Obama and she won’t cut Bush-like corners either–it’s clear that she’s giving it her all and she’s all in, even if you disagree with her.
- Meanwhile… Quinnipiac (March 30th release): Obama Gets Lowest Approval, Reelect Score Ever.
- And, look at where Obama currently stands with Independents in this Pollster/Huffpo aggregate: as of Friday morning when I drafted this post, only 41% of Indies, on average, approve of the job Obama is doing. The Quinnipiac number there is only 39.
- The latest from PPP’s state-by-state polling shows Obama doing better with Independents in Florida, who give him a 49% approval, with 48% of ALL Floridian voters approving and 47% not so much:
It doesn’t look like Florida will be losing its status as one of the most competitive states in the country at the Presidential level next year- voters in the state are almost evenly divided on Barack Obama’s job performance and although he leads all six of the Republicans we tested him against, some of the margins are quite close. [...] Mitt Romney does the best, trailing Obama 46-44. [...] former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who trails Obama 48-45 in the state. Obama would start out in a slightly healthier position against four other Republicans we tested. He leads Rudy Giuliani by 6 points at 48-42, Mike Huckabee by 7 at 50-43, Newt Gingrich by 8 at 50-42, and Sarah Palin by 13 at 52-39.
- Along with the Florida snapshot above, take into account PPP’s polling release last week from Michigan:
Obama’s not likely to win Michigan by his blowout margin of 16 points in 2008 again but if the state voted today he would have an easier time taking it than either John Kerry in 2004 or Al Gore in 2000 did. Mitt Romney does the best of the Republicans against Obama, but still trails 48-41. [...] Obama could be vulnerable in Michigan for sure. But consider this- despite that weak 78% approval with Democrats, he gets 85-90% of the Democratic vote against each of these five Republicans. There are enough Democrats who don’t like Obama that a Republican could get the support necessary across party lines to win the state- it’s just far from clear that any of these Republicans could get the support necessary across party lines to win the state.
- And, in more “coming home to Obama” news… according to a Harvard survey, the “Waiting on the World to Change” generation has fallen back into their Obama-Hope coma (via TPM). If you read the fine print, though, the survey was taken from February 11 to March 2, i.e. before Obama’s (non-)war in Libya. Regardless, it’s not like younger voters are going to vote for whatever horrific candidate the GOP nominates anyway. But, will they show up with the enthusiasm of “being part of something historic and cool” that they did in 2008? I officially left the under 30 demographic last week, and one of the saddest things to watch about US politics over the last three years is how Obama crushed some pretty earnest, if misplaced, idealism on the part of many of my and my kid sister’s peers. I’m sure they’ll still vote for him, but it will be out of fear of the Republican being worse, not out of hope. Obama 2012 is all about cynicism. So was Obama 2008. Again, people just didn’t know it yet.
- Also buried in the Harvard survey under the headline is this finding: 42% of young voters approve of Obama on the economy, while 55% disapprove. So, it’s not like “kids today” are completely oblivious to their own destruction under this president. There’s just no meaningful alternative.
- Speaking of which.. Donald Trump on a birth certificate publicity stunt is not a meaningful anything, let alone alternative. The Root’s David Swerdlick pretty much summed it up with the following:
There’s a good chance that Trump’s flirtation with the GOP will be over as soon as this season of Celebrity Apprentice ends, and that his real motivation is jealousy that Obama is starring in what he sees as the world’s highest-rated reality-TV show: President of the United States. But if you think there’s any chance he’ll actually throw his hat in the ring, consider this: The only consistent position Trump has taken so far is that in 2011, he’s against whatever Obama is for.
- This one is a bit of a ‘where foreign policy meets domestic policy’ read…[USAID's Rajiv] Shah: GOP budget would kill 70,000 children. Josh Rogin at FP’s The Cable has the details at the link. Once again, I must point out that we have a Madame President Hillary Clinton on the global stage at a time when her strength, stature, and ‘smart’ power on the domestic stage could have been very well-utilized. (As, Jon Corzine let slip at a party in the summer of 2010… “She would have been able to handle this Congress.”) Still, Hillary and her people at the State Department are doing everything they can from within their foreign policy context to push back on the GOP’s fiscal irresponsibility.
- Check out Hillary’s statement on the bipartisan coalition of the 17 women currently in the US Senate introducing a resolution renewing the call for Women’s Rights in North Africa and the Middle East. It’s a bit short, but I understand she’s busy, and I’m glad she took the time for the show of solidarity with her former sisters in the Senate. I’d still like to hear Hillary and her State Department say something directly about the “virginity tests” and other torture/abuses of women going on in Egypt and elsewhere. I am also keeping an eye out for any comments out of Foggy Bottom specifically on Eman al-Obeidi. Hillary’s statement, while I am glad for it, seems to be an oblique sort of response to what is going on. I’m sure she has her reasons for not speaking publicly on these developments at this time, but it is frustrating as hell having to basically go by Amnesty International’s statements alone (see Amnesty International’s latest to Libya: End campaign to discredit Eman al-Obeidi), when who knows how much time Eman (and others who have been disappeared like her) have left if she/they are even still alive.
- The problems just keep piling up… Christian Science Monitor — Japan nuclear update: Where will they put the radioactive water? Peter Grier at the CSM reports:
Japanese authorities on Friday were struggling with a new problem at the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant: where to put tons of radioactive water.
- The Terry Jones ugly Qur’an burning stunt coming back to haunt: ABC NEWS (video report at the link) — U.N. Staffers Killed in Afghanistan Over Terry Jones Koran Burning, U.N. Says. I remember watching this “pastor” and his psycho press conference back in September, and it was one of the creepiest live television “events” I’ve seen.
This Day in History (April 2nd)
- In 2007, the UN designated April 2nd a very special day. Four years later–today is the fourth annual World Autism Awareness Day. Here is a list of some events. I also saw this article about military families and autism, which brought up an angle that I had not thought about before:
Stressors the general public typically don’t have to deal with such as deployments, temporary duty assignments, permanent change of station assignments every few years or less, exercises and so many other requirements can take a toll on these families, since autistic kids have such a hard time adapting to change.
- 1917: Jeannette Rankin assumes office (via history.com):
Following her election as a representative, Rankin’s entrance into Congress was delayed for a month as congressmen discussed whether a woman should be admitted into the House of Representatives.
Finally, on April 2, 1917, she was introduced in Congress as its first female member. The same day, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress and urged a declaration of war against Germany. On April 4, the Senate voted for war by a wide majority, and on April 6 the vote went to the House. Citing public opinion in Montana and her own pacifist beliefs, Jeannette Rankin was one of only 50 representatives who voted against the American declaration of war. For the remainder of her first term in Congress, she sponsored legislation to aid women and children, and advocated the passage of a federal suffrage amendment.
- “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.” –Jeannette Rankin
- Back in January, I wrote about the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll just quote myself:
Today is January 15, 2011… Eighty-two years ago, in 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born. Thirty-nine years later, in 1968, the Jeannette Rankin Brigade gathered in DC to protest the Vietnam War (links go to two great photos). At the end of the march, the 88-year old Rankin–on behalf of a delegation of women that included Coretta Scott King–presented to then-House Speaker John McCormack a petition calling for an end to the war (link takes you to another amazing photo).
Updates and Closing Thoughts on Libya
FP’s latest brief at the time of my writing this post (Friday mid-morning/noon):
A senior aide to Saif al-Qaddafi is reportedly in London for secret talks with British authorities. Following yesterday’s defection of Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa, rumors have swirled of other high-profile defections from the Qaddafi regime. Ali Abdussalam el-Treki, a former U.N. envoy who had also reportedly defected on Thursday, denied the rumors, but said that he is trying to negotiate a ceasefire. Libyan officials have now posted guards to prevent other defectors from leaving.Members of NATO are warning Libya’s rebels not to attack civilians, or they will face the same airstrikes that have been directed at Qaddafi’s troops. The BBC is reporting that seven civilians were allegedly killed in a coalition airstrike near Brega.
More from the BBC link just above:
All the dead were between the ages of 12 and 20, Dr Refardi said. Nato says it is investigating the claim.
The news comes as opposition leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said the rebels would agree to a ceasefire if Col Muammar Gaddafi’s troops withdrew from cities.
“We agree on a ceasefire on the condition that our brothers in the western cities have freedom of expression and also that the forces that are besieging the cities withdraw,” he told a news conference in the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi.
But he said the rebels would not back down on their demand that Col Gaddafi must go.
So it sounds like Gaddafi’s hold is sliding, but who knows how things will be by the time you see this post on Saturday morning.
At any rate, I wonder what Jeannette Rankin and her anti-war brigade would say to this woman (via FP/Blake Hounshell, A Bright Voice from Libya’s Darkness):
What does grief and courage sound like? It sounds a lot like the voice of Perditta Nabbous, the wife of Libyan citizen journalist Mohammed Nabbous, 27, who was shot and killed last Saturday by forces loyal to Muammar al-Qaddafi. Mohammed was the charismatic voice and face of Libya al-Hurra, the online TV station he set up in the early days of the uprising. Mo, as his many fans and supporters around the world called him, was attacked while trying to record footage from Benghazi.
She is 8 months pregnant. “I want Mohamed’s child to live,” she told me.
Her voice growing stronger, she called for the U.S.-led strikes on Qaddafi’s air defenses and troops to continue. Here it is in her own words. I can’t put it any more powerfully than this:
“We started this in a pure way, but he turned it bloody. Thousands of our men, women, and children have died.
We just wanted our freedom, that’s all we wanted, we didn’t want power. Before, we could not do a single thing if it was not the way he wanted it.
All we wanted was freedom. All we wanted was to be free. We have paid with our blood, with our families, with our men, and we’re not going to give up.
We are still going to do that no matter what it takes, but we need help. We want to do this ourselves, but we don’t have the weapons, the technology, the things we need. I don’t want anyone to say that Libya got liberated by anybody else.
If NATO didn’t start moving when they did, I assure you, I assure you, half of Benghazi if not more would have been killed. If they stop helping us, we are going to be all killed because he has no mercy anymore.
Remember Rankin’s warning that “you can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”
I’m torn between Jeannette’s voice and Perditta’s.
I find myself increasingly hoping against hope that things turn out for the best in Libya and the rest of the MENA region and for us all.
That’s pretty much it for me. What’s on your blogging list this Saturday?
If you made it to the end, here you go… as promised… The Onion: American Dream Declared Dead As Final Believer Gives Up…
This is going to be long, but it won’t work well to separate it into two posts. So I’ve divided it up into sections that you can read if it’s too much to digest in one sitting.
Part I: Obama’s Truly-Significant-Best-Month-Ever is O-V-E-R
Huffington Post/Chris Weignant, February 2nd:
In January, President Obama’s approval rating went significantly higher, while his disapproval rating continued a trend of dropping with a big spike downward. What both of these meant, taken together, is that Obama is once again “above water” in the polls, with his approval rating beating his disapproval rating. This hasn’t happened since last June. But, in reality, Obama has pretty much erased his past entire year’s slow slide in poll numbers — in a single month. Obviously, he didn’t hit an all-time high in absolute numbers, but still, when taken month-to-month, January, 2011, was Obama’s best month of his entire presidency. Not only did he finally get his bump — but it was a truly significant bump.
Gallup Daily, February 2nd-4th:
Gallup Daily, February 3rd-5th:
I’m not going to waste time putting the Rasmussen tracking chart up, but it shows the same drop. Steve M. over at No More Mister Nice Blog has this to say about it:
Okay, let me interject there for a moment, because I think Obama’s poll numbers dropping off has gotten attention “exclusively from the right”–or at least in terms of what people will cop to paying attention to openly. Since I haven’t seen much discussion in the progressive Village making itself readily available, I’ve been combing through blogs and news outlets trying to find any commentary on the complete reversal of the hyperbolic narrative that was floating just a few days ago–that Obama was King of the Polls again–but almost all of the discussion I’m seeing of Obama’s approvals tanking is coming from the usual wingnut suspects. If you click on Steve M’s “a bit of attention” link, you’ll see an archive of the memeorandum listings under the item on the Rasmussen polling numbers: James Joyner, Gateway Pundit, Hot Air, Scared Monkeys… (the Jennifer Rubin link there doesn’t even discuss the Rasmussen poll.) I don’t see any lefty or even moderate names there, do you?
Anyhow, Steve M continues:
Yeah, yeah, it’s Rasmussen — though, as James Joyner notes, the numbers have worsed in the new Rasmussen poll compared to old Rasmussen polls. Presumably the right-wing bias hasn’t worsened, right? (Call me naive, but I don’t think Rasmussen just makes these numbers up — I think the polls have a right-wing sample bias, and the bias is baked into the data, but that there’s real polling going on nonetheless.)
The reason I take this somewhat seriously is that similar things seem to be happening in Gallup’s daily Obama approval tracking poll – run your cursor over the graph and you see that the president’s approval number was solidly ahead of his disapproval number for much of late January, peaking at 50%-41% in the January 27-29 period. Now it’s down to 45%-47%.
Or, rather, it’s back down to 45%-47%. That’s roughly where Obama was in the Gallup poll pretty consistently from June through early January.
His rationale is that “Obama approval has just returned to baseline”:
So I don’t think Obama’s being hurt by his response to the situation in Egypt (a meme the right would desperately like to spread) so much as he’s not being helped anymore by the three things that met with public favor in the past month and a half or so — the productive lame duck session, the State of the Union address, and (especially) the very well-received Tucson speech.
Wait just a frick-on-a-stickin’ minute there…
Did Steve M just include the president’s SOTU address as one of the three things that met with public favor and had helped his ratings? I’m not so sure about that. In fact, I think it was such a lackluster and forgettable speech that the after-effects of what was left out of the speech damaged his credibility. As Charles Blow noted in response to Obama’s annual address:
President Obama made history on Tuesday.
It was only the second time since Harry S. Truman’s State of the Union address in 1948 that such a speech by a Democratic president did not include a single mention of poverty or the plight of the poor.
And, that’s not all Obama left out. While revolution was erupting in Egypt, with its middle and working class citizens joining together and rising up to demand their human rights and–among other things–an end to persistent unemployment, the president of the United States uttered the words “Egypt” and “Egyptians” not once.
I don’t think in light of what has happened over the last week that Obama’s speech served him well at all. Sure, various instant analysis polls afterward were inflated with happy campers, but that’s out of the people who thought it was important enough to watch the speech in the first place. If you go by the Nielsen numbers, there’s a drop off there too… for goodness sake, even Perez Hilton kept track:
Less people were interested in what President Obama had to say this year.
There was also No SOTU Bump for Obama this year.
I think once Americans had a chance to sit back, forget the words that were in the speech, and observe the events that transpired in their wake, the words that were missing from the president’s address (poor, poverty, Egypt, Egyptians…) have come into stark and stunning relief. Obama is not a “different” kind of politician or president–he is an indifferent one.
If you’re reading this on the frontpage and are interested, there’s a Part II, III, and IV after the fold.