Monday, October 29, 2012

Parsing The Political Polls & Predicting The Outcome: What Do You Think?

How is it that with one week to go, Barack Obama has a slight lead in about half of the national polls and Mitt Romney has a slight lead in the other half of the national polls?  How is this possible when Obama is going to get most of the African-American and other minority votes, and a big share of the independent women and young adult/college graduate vote?

My view is that Obama voters are generally underrepresented in polls, and nail biting aside, Obama will win the popular vote on November 6 by a few percentage points and win the Electoral College in a landslide.

What is your view?  Do you think that the polls are accurate?  If not, why?  And what is your prediction for the popular and Electoral College vote results?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Contrasting Obama & Romney On Foreign Policy: Restraint Versus Bellicosity

There are plenty of reasons why Mitt Romney would be a lousy president, but the biggest is that he is a hothead and a dullard. This was on display when, flying in the face of protocol and common sense, he excoriated President Obama for being soft on terrorism mere hours after the U.S. ambassador to Libya was slain in Bengazi last month. And then did the same thing all over again in the second presidential debate.
Expect a course correction -- or at least a toning down from Romney on Libya -- during the final presidential debate tonight, which will focus on foreign policy, because his attacks have not resonated with voters and focus groups, let alone Honey Boo Boo.  Kind of like that binder filled with women thing.  Or perhaps he'll just try a new line of attack.
Foreign policy is a minefield for Romney to begin and unexpectedly a big positive for Obama.  This is because his administration has shone so brightly in a world that could not be more different than the Cold World with myriad hotspots, while Romney maintains a Cold War view and has been hypnotized by saber-rattling neocons as was George W. Bush with the catastrophic consequence of the Iraq War.  Romney also doesn't have a scintilla of foreign policy experience unless you consider going door-to-door as a Mormon missionary in France as counting. .
To the surprise of the punditocracy, Obama has seized the foreign policy high ground long held by the Republican Party and because of this Romney has not been able to lay a finger on him.
Obama has been able to do in three and three-quarter years what Bush could not do in eight: Destroy the leadership of Al Qaeda, get the last U.S. troops out of Iraq, and assist in toppling two Middle Eastern dictators and the bad guys who had long held Burma hostage. Were it not for the albatross of Afghanistan bequeathed by his predecessor, and bumbled early on by Obama himself, he would pretty much have a clean sweep.
These successes are a result of patient consensus building between the White House, Pentagon and State Department and carefully calibrated responses rather than massive troop deployments. The emphasis has been on multilateralism not unilateralism, and diplomacy over breast beating while avoiding the kind of triumphalism in which the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis reveled.
* * * * *
If there was a pivotal moment in the second debate -- and perhaps the  presidential campaign -- it was when Obama termed "offensive" Romney's accusations that his administration was politicizing the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomats in Bengazi on September 11.  Obama looked presidential; Romney looked cheap.
There was no "Mission Accomplished" moment after the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Qaddafi regime last year, and no American lives had been lost in bringing a tentative sort of democracy to Libya until the deaths of the four. Libyans have been so grateful for Obama's steady if understated role, and God knows the U.S. needs allies in the region, that they took to the streets in protest over the deaths and attacked the Islamic militias thought to be responsible.
Meanwhile, Obama and his allies are playing a patient game over Syria, where the Assad regime has killed tens of thousands of rebels and their families, and disappeared an estimated 30,000 people in what will be a protracted civil war unless there is an effort to try to replicate the Libyan experience, something that would not occur until after Election Day.
Obama was candid going into the war to topple Qaddafi: It had risks and with risks come responsibilities, including an instability that still has not been completely exorcized. A component of Romney' balls-to-the-wall plan for Syria includes, believe it not, arming women and children, a neocon wet dream and recipe for even more bloodshed.
* * * * * 
Iran is likely to dominate tonight's debate, and the prescriptions offered by Obama and Romney to curb the Islamic Republic's nuclear program are starkly different.
Obama has led the international community in advocating tougher sanctions that have exacerbated Iran's economic woes and squeezed the country's emerging middle class, the upshot of which could be negotiations that would save face for the regime while it dials back its nuclear program. Many Middle Eastern analysts see that outcome as increasingly likely, while Teheran said over the weekend that it would agree to post-election talks.  Romney, on the other hand, has said that if elected he would support Israel in air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities that would plunge an already volatile region into full-scale war involving the neighbors of both countries, as well as Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.
Obama has been firm but restrained. And presidential.  He has refused to play politics whether it be Libya, Syria, Iran or anywhere else, while Romney has displayed no restraint, let alone a sense of perspective, good sense and evidence of a steady hand when it comes to these hotspots.
For this reason, Romney is a particularly unattractive choice for a nation that has been at war for 11 years, the longest in its history.  It speaks volumes that unlike Obama, his foreign policy outlook has devolved and not evolved in the six years that he has been running for president.

Monday, October 08, 2012

America's Most Dangerous Organized Crime Family: The Republican Party

There is no better example of the depths of deceitfulness to which the Republican Party has sunk than its efforts to suppress the vote by ramming through laws based on bogus claims of voter fraud that disenfranchise Democratic voters while it engages in systematic fraud itself.

This outrage was on offer in Florida, where suspicious voter registration forms were found in nine counties, including the county where those infamous hanging chads led to the U.S. Supreme Court to throw the 2000 election for George W. Bush.  The forms were the work of Strategic Allied Consulting, a firm hired by the state Republican Party to sign up new voters.  
Among problems with the forms were incorrect addresses, addresses that don't exist, signatures that don't match the names, signatures in the same handwriting, dates of births that don't match the names, and names that match with names in death records.

Washington, D.C.-based Allied Consulting is owned by Nathan Sproul, who has been involved in GOP voter registration "efforts" since at least 2004, an election in which there were widespread allegations of fraud involving his company that the Bush Justice Department failed to diligently pursue. 
 One aspect of this fraud was fiendishly clever: Sproul's employees impersonated members of Democratic-leaning groups, registered as many Democrats as possible and then destroyed their legitimate registrations instead of turning them over to local canvassing boards.
In addition to Florida, Strategic Allied also was hired by the Republican National Committee to conduct registration drives this year in four other swing states that Mitt Romney must win if he is to oust Barack Obama.

There is no reason to believe that Strategic Allied drives outside of Florida aren't dirty, as well, and officials in North Carolina are looking into that possibility.

Meanwhile, a videotape of an employee of the firm shows her working outside a store in Colorado Springs where she told potential voters that she wanted to register only Republicans and that she worked for the county clerk's office.  The woman was fired, while Strategic Allied itself was canned in Florida after the embarrassing revelations about its true agenda emerged.

Which begs a very big question: How many other fraudulent Republican efforts are ongoing but have not been found out?
Probably a good many, although the lid has been blown off a scheme in the Democratic stronghold of Riverside County, California to register voters as Republicans without their knowledge.

Complaints were filed by 133 residents of a Riverside County state Senate district who say they were added to GOP rolls without their knowledge, calling into question the party's boast that Republican membership has skyrocketed 23 percent there.  More than 27,700 residents of the district have become Republicans since January, according to the California secretary of state's office, magically erasing a registration edge long held by Democrats.
* * * * *
The reason that the Republican Party is working so hard to disenfranchise blacks, Latinos, university students and low-income people who vote Democratic and will vote to re-elect Obama, is perversely simple:
Pretty much everyone save for angry white men and their compliant wives are fleeing the Republican Party in droves.  The party no longer has its once considerable clout when it comes to national tickets outside of the South, where antipathy toward racial minorities and uppity women of all colors, remains strong.  And as was the case in the 2008 presidential election, many of the independent women Romney needs to carry the day are repelled by the party's efforts to deny them access to family planning and contraception, deny them abortions regardless of the circumstances, and deny them equal pay for equal work.
So what's the GOP to do?
Rather than moderate its message, it's trying to suppress turnout in the expectation that some Democrats may lack the photo identification cards required by voter laws not coincidentally passed in states with Republican governors and legislatures.  It's tough luck if elderly votes who no longer have photo IDs because they no longer drive, let alone elderly veterans who carry Veterans Administration cards that lack photos, are unable to vote.
Republican operatives well understand that there is very little voter fraud such as someone voting twice.  Therefore, the GOP is concentrating on getting away with voter registration fraud such as registering nonexistent people to vote or signing up legitimate voters without their signatures or permission, while trying to disenfranchise Democrats. 
* * * * *
As it is, efforts to put in place tough voter registration laws have largely been rebuffed by courts with the encouragement of Attorney General Eric Holder, most recently in Pennsylvania.
The Republican-dominated legislature had passed and Tom Corbett, the Republican governor, had signed an especially draconian law. It not only required photo IDs, but state-issued IDs in the case of voters who did not have drivers licenses, passports or other documents with photos.  Voters who did not have certain kinds of photo IDs would be allowed to vote, but only provisionally and might be required to provide further identification after the election if their vote was to be counted.
Laws also have been set aside or held in abeyance in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, while in Florida and Ohio, early voting and voter-registration drives have been restored after legal challenges.
The Pennsylvania law, which a high-ranking Republican state legislator unashamedly boasted was designed to suppress the vote in an effort to give Romney a leg up, was challenged by the ACLU after it was found that upwards of 750,000 people could be disenfranchised.  Robert Simpson, a lower court judge, could have done the courageous thing by declaring that the photo ID requirement was unnecessary and unfair, but he upheld the law although the state executive tasked with enforcing it acknowledged under oath that she knew of no cases of voter fraud in the Keystone State, her department had done little to speed the photo ID authorization process, and to boot she didn't know the specifics of the law, either.

The Democratic-dominated state Supreme Court rode the the rescue, voting 4-2 to require Simpson to show why the law would not hurt potential voters who might not be able to obtain photo ID cards in time to register to vote. Simpson ruled that the state had not done enough to ensure that potential voters had access to the documents required to get photo ID cards under the law, so he delayed full implementation of the law until after the election.  He created an element of confusion, deliberately in my view, in also ruling that voters still could be asked to produce photo IDs on November 6, but if they did not have them still could vote, leaving open the possibility that less informed voters might conclude they won't be allowed to cast ballots.
While Democrats cheered the victory, although it may be a temporary one, it drew venom from the state party's right wing, which accused Simpson of "judicial activism" and overstepping his authority in a ruling "skewed in favor of the lazy," and excoriated Corbett for the law's failure to pass muster. 
Responded Philadelphia City Commission Chairwoman Stephanie Singer:  "There's one thing we can't disagree on, [and] that is that no one can be disenfranchised."
* * * * *
It is sadly unsurprising that there are no voting rights advocates anymore in a Republican Party that once proudly referred to itself as The Big Tent. 
The party's efforts to deny people the right to vote by undermining a cornerstone of our democracy are not merely criminal.  They are treasonous in every sense of that weighty word and part and parcel of an ideological extremism that has manifested itself in the party's blood lust to go to any end to deny Obama a second term.

Cartoon du Jour


Monday, October 01, 2012

Obama Seizes The Foreign Policy High Ground From The GOP & Isn't Letting Go

Today's offering was going to be about the presidential campaign having entered a period of statistical probability; that is, what you see is what you will get on Election Day.  By this measure, Mitt Romney has been toast for the last week or so as swing state after swing state has swung into the Obama column.  That subject seemed . . . uh, a little too predictable, as well as the fact that many pundits are belaboring the obvious these days.  Besides which, I have to save stuff for a day-after election post-mortem, the working headline for which is What Possibly Could Go Wrong?  The Story Of The Historic Romney-Ryan Collapseand muse on what Republicans will do after their drubbing.  Blame everyone but themselves, of course.
Then it occurred to me that the very area where primary candidate Barack Obama was most vulnerable in 2008 was his lack of foreign policy experience and that foreign policy, beyond the first steps toward health care reform, is his signal achievement.
Hillary Clinton, the last opponent standing at the mid point of the primary season, memorably called into question Obama's ability to be decisive on foreign policy in a television ad riffed on so effectively by cartoonist Pat Oliphant that questioned whether voters could trust him to take a 3 a.m. call in the Oval Office about a world crisis.  In the general election, John McCain was no foreign policy slouch even if he did choose a running mate who was moronically inept when it came to what went on beyond her kitchen window, and he too hammered Obama for being a neophyte.
But in an enormous political reversal, Obama has seized the foreign policy high ground long held by the Republican Party, and try as he might, Romney has not been able to lay a finger on him.
For good reason. Obama has been able to do in three and three-quarter years what George Bush could not do in eight: Destroy the leadership of Al Qaeda, get the last U.S. troops out of Iraq, and assist in toppling two Middle Eastern dictators and the bad guys running Burma. Were it not for the albatross of Afghanistan bequeathed by his predecessor, Obama would pretty much have a clean sweep.
So how did he do it?
* Consensus building between the White House, Pentagon and State Department.
The key players in this effort have been Clinton, who has served magnificently as secretary of state; Vice President Biden, who has drawn on his own formidable foreign policy experience, and Robert Gates, the wizened Bush administration holdover, who stayed on as defense secretary until July 2011. 
* Carefully calibrated responses rather than massive troop deployments.
The emphasis has been on multilateralism and not unilateralism, including the involvement of NATO countries, and diplomacy over bellicosity while avoiding the kind of triumphalism in which the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis reveled.
Nowhere has Obama succeeded more than in Asia.

By taking advantage of China overplaying its hand in the South China Sea, he has reconfirmed the central role of the U.S. the region with the opening of a new base in Australia, while the rapprochement with Burma also has long-term strategic implications. 
Obama also has been lucky. 
Iran, despite the usual Islamic Republic bloviating, has pretty much minded its own business as the tougher sanctions pushed by the White House have taken hold.  Israel and Palestine remain stalemated but not at war, and other potential hotspots have not boiled over.
The largest foreign policy setback on Obama's watch is a qualified one.
The administration was unable to work out an agreement with Iraq to maintain a U.S. troop presence beyond the end of 2011, making it more likely that Iraq will continue to unravel into sectarian warfare and further destabilize the region.  Note, however, that this would not be a concern had that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld axis not invaded Iraq in the first place, an action that surely is the greatest foreign policy failure in American history.
It also is a certainty that once the U.S.-led NATO coalition withdraws from Afghanistan the country will further devolve into chaos because of the Taliban and meddlesome Pakistani interests, but the blame here also belongs to the Bush administration. The U.S. appropriately invaded Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks but soon bled that conflict of troops and resources to fight the Iraq war, while giving up on taking out Osama bin Laden.
Navy commandos took out the Al Qaeda leader on Obama's orders, but many of his cadre have perished in drone attacks that despite administration denials exact a level of collateral civilian damage that I find unacceptable.
* * * * *
"Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end," Obama said as he took a muted victory lap after the death of Colonel Moammar el-Qaddafi, the longest surviving strongman. "We've demonstrated what collective action can achieve in the 21st century."
Romney has proven to be profoundly inept if not downright dangerous when it comes to foreign policy. 
Recall that he had the temerity to say Quaddafi's death "did not validate" the president's approach to Libya, which in retrospect makes somewhat less shocking his fact-free rush to judgment denouncing Obama last month after the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others as being "disgraceful." Then there is the statement captured on the infamous 47 Percent video that his response to the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, the most intractable foreign policy issue for American presidents for the last several decades, would be to kick the can down the road.
McCain has been one of the few Republicans to praise the president for his foreign policy chops, although he and others have been critical of the administration's somewhat botched response to the Libya killings.
"I think the administration deserves great credit," McCain has said. "Obviously, I had different ideas on the tactical side, but the world is a better place."

Cartoon copyright 2008 
by Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate


Cartoon du Jour

Walt Handelsman/Newsday