It's only February, but I have a pretty good idea about how the election is going to proceed from this point forward. Mitt Romney is going to struggle through the primaries, eventually dispatching Rick Santorum. But unlike many nominees, instead of being strengthened by the primary process, he will have been weakened by it, demonstrating his persistence, but not much else. As the economy slowly improves, President Obama's approval rating will continue to inch up, and the Obama campaign will begin its assault on Romney's character, one that will be largely successful. The Romney campaign, meanwhile, will struggle in the face of that improving economy to come up with a compelling critique of the President, trying in vain to alter opinions about the incumbent that have been formed and solidified over the past four years. Obama will lead the tracking polls pretty much throughout, culminating in a win that is fairly close, but not uncomfortably so. In this it will resemble the 1996 campaign more than, say, the 2004 campaign, when the outcome was in doubt much of the way.
Of course, there will be twists and turns along the way?campaign gaffes, unforeseen events, maybe an international crisis. But there's a very good chance that those will be minor ups and downs in an election that will end up looking fairly predictable. And throughout this process, conservatives will shout that the liberal media is trying its darndest to make sure the Democrat wins, because that's what the liberal media does. I promise you, they'll be saying this. The closer we get to election day, the louder and more bitter the complaints will be. As is often the case, the volume of those complaints will have absolutely nothing to do with the actual content of coverage. But when they do talk about the content, look closely: they'll be arguing that coverage driven by the horse race is actually driven by bias.
The horse race bias is a real and consequential one, structuring how stories are framed and which questions get asked. When your starting point is the latest poll, the next step is to ask "Why?", which means that the question to ask about the front-runner is, "Why is he doing so well?" and the question to ask about the trailing candidate is "Why is he doing so poorly?" In order to answer those questions, you focus on everything the front-runner is succeeding at (and ignore the things he's not doing well), and focus on the things the challenger is failing at. The result is coverage that is very favorable to one candidate and very unfavorable to the other.
This is how it has been for decades, and ideology has nothing to do with it. But that won't stop Republicans from complaining about it. I offer this now as a heads-up, because this issue is going to be raised a lot once the GOP convention is over and it's truly a two-person race. So be prepared.
One last thing: Why am I so sure this race is going to proceed this way? The trajectory of the economy is one reason, but the other big one is that it seems that the more people get a look at Mitt Romney, the less they like him.
Elizabeth Warren on the campaign trail in New Bedford, MA (Elizabeth Warren/Facebook)In dueling Boston Globe op-eds on President Obama's birth control rule, Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Scott Brown continue to lay out the stark choice Massachusetts voters will face come November. Elizabeth Warren continues to cut straight through to the extremist core of the Blunt amendment:
Washington is so out of touch with what?s happening to families across this country that the Senate is about to vote on an amendment that would allow any insurance company or any employer to claim a vague ?moral conviction?? as an excuse to deny you health care coverage. Here?s the really astonishing news: Senator Scott Brown is not only voting for this amendment, he is fighting to get it passed. [...]Warren points out that President Obama's measure includes a significant exemption for religious institutions, and that the head of the Catholic Health Association is fully satisfied with the accommodation?so under no reasonable standard is this about religious freedom.
It is shocking that in 2012, Brown and his Republican colleagues would try to pass a law to threaten women?s access to birth control and other health care. Women all across this Commonwealth should have the right to use birth control if they want to. Giving corporate CEOs and insurance companies the power to dictate what health care women can and cannot get is just wrong. Those decisions should be up to women and their doctors.
Scott Brown, of course, tries to keep us in the dark about what the Blunt amendment actually does, because that's the only way to sell it. So if you listen to Brown, this is about "religious hospitals and charities." But the Blunt amendment isn't about religious hospitals and charities. It's about all employers. Brown calls that fact "a red herring."
But perhaps even more appalling than referring to an accurate characterization of what the bill he supports would do as "a red herring" is that Brown tries to wrap himself in the mantle of Ted Kennedy:
The legislation borrows language directly from Senator Kennedy, who in 1995 sponsored a bill that that provided an exemption to health care workers and facilities so they would not be required to provide ?an item or service under a certified health plan?? they found objectionable based on ?religious belief or moral conviction.??It's true! The words in quotation marks are included in both bills. But Kennedy's bill (PDF) said "A health professional or a health facility may not be required to provide an item or service under a certified health plan if the professional or facility objects to doing so on the basis of a religious belief or moral conviction." The Blunt amendment (PDF) exempts health plans from required "coverage of specific items or services" because:
??providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or
??(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.
Stephen Colbert on Thursday tackled the practice of posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims into the Mormon church. MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell had an interview last week with Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, who called on Mitt Romney to denounce the practice.
"What business is it of yours, Elie?" Colbert asked. Colbert, as a television's "most famous and important Catholic" doesn't condone the posthumous baptisms. So he decided to balance everything out "by converting all the dead Mormons to Judaism."
But "Jews don't baptize, so instead I will now proxy-circumcise all the dead Mormons," Colbert said. Watch the video:
Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) says an FEC investigation exonerated him from any campaign finance wrongdoing. The FEC didn't actually quite go that far. But now Buchanan might have bigger things to worry about: a federal grand jury.[...]
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Ever strike you that every time the weather gets hot we fall into a kind of forgetful Twilight Zone vortex of cynical political posturing about gas prices? Well, here's why.[...]
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What if Mitt Romney tried to wriggle away from embracing Arizona's harsh immigration laws, but nobody noticed?[...]
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So the unions of course picked the steady "drip drip drip" of Blue Dog and New Democrat policies that weaken unions and the right of working people, versus the chainsaw massacres of the Republican party. Understandable, but this is one of the reasons why unions have so little power - they're no longer willing to sacrifice anything in the short-term to build their long-term movement. Oh well! Business as usual:
Washington ? Last May, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stood a few blocks from the White House and issued a stern warning: Union members could not be counted on as the Democrats' foot soldiers anymore.
"If leaders aren't blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families' interests, then working people will not support them," he said in a speech at the National Press Club.
Flash forward to today: Labor appears squarely back in the Democrats' corner for the 2012 election ? pushed there in large part by Republican attacks on collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Those and other anti-union measures are rallying organized labor to the side of its longtime Democratic allies, and not just in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, where they are battling efforts aimed at curbing union organizing.
The country's biggest unions also have played a central role in helping a network of federal pro-Democratic "super PACs" get off the ground, pouring more than $4 million into those groups in 2011, even as many wealthy liberals kept their checkbooks closed.
And some major labor groups have even inserted themselves into the Republican presidential primaries with ads that take aim at White House hopeful Mitt Romney.
The decision by unions to act again as an early firewall for Democrats speaks to how stepped-up hostility by Republicans has curtailed labor's hope to be an independent political force.
Across the country, state GOP lawmakers ? many of whom were swept into office by the tea-party-fueled wave that dominated the 2010 midterm election ? are aggressively pushing right-to-work laws that would make it harder for unions to collect dues. And in the presidential campaign, Romney has taken a particularly antagonistic posture against what he calls "big labor."
"I think we'll be more engaged in 2012 than certainly in the last 20 years," said Mike Podhorzer, political director for the AFL-CIO, a federation of 57 unions. "Working people realize in a way they never have what a threat the current Republican platform is to their well-being."
Organized labor is now expected to match or slightly exceed the estimated $400 million that unions spent to help elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats in 2008, according to Marick F. Masters, a business professor who studies the labor movement at Michigan's Wayne State University.
Mother Jones? Kevin Drum has determined that building a Star Wars Death Star would be a steal at only $5bn a year per country per planet, assuming there are 10,000 planets in the empire (it gets a little tricky). That's the equivalent of $852 quadrillion, or 13,000 times the world's GDP. It's a fun analysis.
Kevin also links to a fun Death Star PR page, written as though it's a pitch from a defense contractor in favor of the Death Star, and why it's good for America:
TOTALLY WORTH IT.
It pays for itself.
?But that astronomically large figure doesn?t even factor in energy and labour costs, to name but a few. How could something that expensive possibly pay for itself?? we hear you ask. EASILY, that?s how, imaginary question-asker. Once you?ve built yourself a Death Star, you travel around the galaxy and point your $852 quadrillion megalaser at other people?s planets. You?ll be surprised how quickly and COMPLETELY OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL they offer to help cover your costs.
Is there a cooler, more bad ass, more famous super weapon in the entire universe? No. Can you really put a price on cool? Yes, probably. But for the purposes of our argument? NO. Absolutely not. Unless the price you?re talking about is $852 quadrillion dollars. Plus, you get to say, ?We blow up planets now. Blowing up planets is cool.?
Everybody else is doing it.
As the caring utterly merciless totalitarian space dictatorship that we are, it would be quite remiss of us if we didn?t give you Earthlings some perspective: it?s all giant planet-destroying doomsday weapons out here in space. It?s Science Fact that literally every alien race ever has one and THEY WANT TO KILL YOU WITH IT. Daleks? Reality bomb. Romulans? Black hole-generating mining vessel. Vogons? Constructor Fleet. Why? Who knows? Maybe it?s for Earth?s natural resources. Or MAYBE it?s to prevent Nickelback from making more albums. Okay, it?s almost definitely the Nickelback thing.
Indiana Republican Rep. Bob Morris has become the butt of late night jokes and ridicule after he wrote a letter to colleagues claiming that the Girl Scouts was a ?radicalized organization? that supports abortions and the homosexual agenda. Morris initially stood by his remarks, saying on Tuesday, “My family and I took a view and we’re sticking by it. … My girls are no longer Girl Scouts. They’re now going to join American Heritage Girls.” But now, as the pressure has mounted, Morris is apologizing for the tone of his comments, even as some pro-life groups are rallying to his cause.
In a written statement to The Journal-Gazette of Fort Wayne on Thursday, Morris said, ?I realize now that my words were emotional, reactionary and inflammatory. For that I sincerely apologize. ? I certainly should not have painted the entire Girl Scouts organization with such a wide brush.” He explained, ?Had I known this letter would have gone to a wider audience, I would have cited further evidence for my position,? adding that he still stood by his decision not to sign on to a resolution honoring the organization.
But conservative groups like Indiana Right to Life and the American Family Foundation are coming to Morris’ defense, claiming that a Planned Parenthood sexuality educator “developed programs for young Scouts”:
Specifically, the group, which opposes abortion rights, cites a link from the city of Bloomington?s website where a woman was nominated posthumously for a lifetime achievement award in the community.
?(She) started with Planned Parenthood in Bloomington where she worked for many years as a health and sexuality educator, and helped initiate the Family Life Education program for Girl Scouts ages five to 18 throughout a twelve-county area,? the website read.
Mike Fichter, Indiana Right to Life president and chief executive officer, said the ties between the groups could not be clearer.
The American Family Association also attacked Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma “for mocking the controversy surrounding Morris” by buying 278 cases of Girl Scouts Cookies and distributing them to fellow lawmakers. In an email sent to its members, the group asks them to contact Bosma and question his actions. ?It appears as though Speaker Bosma has more zeal for bad behavior than he does for doing what is right,? the association?s email read. ?Or perhaps it is just that he seems to be more interested in mocking a conservative more than he is fighting his true ideological opponents on the political left.?
Last month, a Catholic parish in Virginia banned local Girl Scout troops from parish facilities over its alleged ties to Planned Parenthood. “St. Timothy Catholic Parish in Chantilly says Girl Scouts will not be permitted to meet or wear uniforms on church property, including at St. Timothy School, which covers preschool to grade 8.”
Both the Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood deny any affiliation.
Barry Bickmore, a geochemistry professor, Mormon, and active Republican, draws a line on climate science between the “wishy-washy” Mitt Romney and the “conspiracy theorist” Rick Santorum. “I can?t put someone like that in charge of the most powerful military force on the planet?no matter what a second term for Obama might mean for the economy or the make-up of the Supreme Court. This is where my loyalty to the Republican team ends. I encourage like-minded Republicans to show up to the primaries and Just Say No to Conspiracy Theorists.”