‘We R in Control’ Category Archive


Atlas derped

According to the NFL rulebook, a touchdown may be scored when your opponent has possession of the ball in your end zone, and you subsequently touch the ball. Also, if I give you a hug, your wallet is officially in my possession.

If you’re a sports fan, or if your social networks include sports fans, you probably know about what happened last night. If you don’t, the short version is that the NFL has locked out its regular referees and has been using replacement refs (from low levels of college football, high school football, and other places such as the Lingerie Football League); an astonishing display of incompetence by the replacements gave a win last night to the Seattle Seahawks, which they shouldn’t have gotten. The lockout is largely about the refs’ defined-benefit pensions, which the NFL wants to replace with defined-contribution 401(k)s, and fund at a lower level. Reports put the difference between the two sides at about $2 million per year, which sounds like a lot until you realize that the NFL has annual revenues totaling more than $9 billion. No one disputes that the NFL could afford the roughly $62,000 per team per year that it would take to close the gap.

The replacement refs have made plenty of high-profile mistakes during the first three weeks of the regular season; however, observers have noted that the league has no incentive to move in negotiations as long as viewership, ticket sales and merchandise revenue remain in place. If a tipping point were to come based on on-field performance, it would have to be a game being decided by a blown call, which is what happened last night. To their credit, ESPN — a close league partner and an organization that depends on access to league resources — minced no words and spent quite a bit of coverage last night framing the event as a debacle for the league. As it so often does, Twitter “blew up.” People are talking about quitting the NFL until the regular refs are brought back. More broadly, an enterprise that has put considerable effort into image management and control over the year — “protecting the shield” — and which made the pursuit of New Orleans Saints players and coaches involved in “Bountygate” the biggest story of the offseason, in the name of protecting the integrity of the game, has shown that image and integrity must fall in line behind union-busting.

Hall of Fame quarterback, ESPN analyst and Brigham Young University JD Steve Young summarized the situation well last night when he said that the league (and it should be noted that “the league” is really the 31 owners of the non-Green Bay franchises, not Commissioner Roger Goodell) views officiating as a commodity. So much the way they recently switched from Reebok to Nike as their uniform supplier, why should they find themselves beholden to some bunch of refs that don’t like the deal that’s on offer? After all, people follow and support the franchises, and the resources that go into maintaining those franchises (uniforms, refs, players) are just the cost of doing business. Plus, pretty everybody else has already had their pensions stripped away and replaced by the 401(k) guessing game, and not doing the same for refs is just going to distort the futures market for football officiating services. Indeed, attacking defined-benefit pensions is explicitly what the league is doing:

“From the owners’ standpoint, right now they’re funding a pension program that is a defined benefit program,” said Goodell, who was in Washington on Wednesday attending a luncheon hosted by Politico’s Playbook. “About ten percent of the country has that. Yours truly doesn’t have that. It’s something that doesn’t really exist anymore and that I think is going away steadily.”

There’s a reason that doesn’t really exist anymore, of course; it’s part of multi-decade war on labor that has ratcheted up significantly in the last few years. And while it has manifested in 2012 as a fairly broad disdain for workers, it would be ironic if a labor dispute at the high end of the income range, in a sport so often associated with a caricature of midwestern industrial labor, was what finally moved a significant chunk of public to action, or even awareness. Other than the liability for a significant injury that can be connected to shoddy officiating, the public changing the channel is the only thing that will get the NFL’s attention.

Filed: We R in Control || 8:58, September 25 || 1 Comment »


Twitter as a micro-targeted mobilization tool

Higher rates of Twitter usage for blacks and for sub/urban dwellers, but neither category is anywhere near as strongly predictive as age. (Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project)

Yesterday I mentioned the turnout uncertainty of Barack Obama’s young and black supporters, built at least partly on the perception that their votes aren’t needed to get Obama over the top. These aren’t people who need to be persuaded to vote for Obama, but they do need to be persuaded to vote. We know that simply being asked to vote does a surprisingly good job of getting people to the polls, which suggests that the Obama campaign to target these would-be voters with a GOTV message. Traditionally, this is the domain of the campaign’s ground operation, but is that still the best or only thing to rely on?

The demographic make-up of the “unlikely” supporters makes Twitter a potentially attractive venue in which to build a new kind of targeted messaging strategy. Looking at the most recent available data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project (from August 2011, unfortunately), the familiar Twitter usage pattern emerges. Overall usage is about 9.3% of the population — that’s the entire population, not just Internet users, which is the denominator Pew generally uses in their reports. But there’s a clear racial difference, with blacks using Twitter at an 18.4% rate and non-blacks at 8.0%, and an even stronger age relationship. Of those in the 18-24 group (who were mostly not old enough to vote in 2008, keep in mind), 14.4% use Twitter; for 25-34-year-olds, it’s 16.4%, and after that it drops off considerably.

But the big finding for a social messaging campaign is that race and age interact — blacks in those youngest two age groups use Twitter at rates of 33.3% and 22.6%, respectively. Not surprisingly, the division between urban/suburban and rural somewhat mirrors the racial division. The two youngest age groups respectively have 20.3% and 17.2% usage among urban and suburban residents, but just 8.3% and 10.2% among rural residents. Compare this all with Facebook, which sees no race or community type relationships — only age — across its 60% overall usage rate.

The greater prevalence of Twitter in cities suggests something of a geographic bias to its structure, and that’s something that could be leveraged in a GOTV campaign — after all, the “get out” outcome is a pretty key part of such an operation. But its social messaging structure would also be key, allowing the campaign to create starting point messages that could be retweeted and shared throughout a trust-driven social network. Twitter’s differences from Facebook come into play here, as well. Because Twitter is just a message-sharing platform (as opposed to a game/calendar/affinity/etc. platform), it could encourage the spreading of GOTV messages, particularly to individuals who might use it primarily for non-political purposes (e.g., following celebrities or talking with friends).

These messages would be received not by a representative part of the population, but disproportionately by young city-dwellers, meaning they could be targeted with that audience in mind. In fact, once the network is built up, individuals could potentially be targeted with messages tailored either for themselves or to be spread out to their networks. In a way, this approach is the opposite of what they did in 2008 with the My.BarackObama.com site, which facilitated connections within the context of the campaign, and only between those already committed enough to come in and sign up for another social network site. Targeting existing Twitter users and their extended, potentially local networks would bring the campaign to the doorstep of the loosely affiliated voter.

Filed: We R in Control || 8:38, August 21 || No Comments »


Ground and pound

Interesting fact I learned while researching this post: West Virginia is less black than Wisconsin. (Photo by Matt Dell)

I spent the summer busy with travel and research, and let the blog go on hiatus. Well, fall classes start today, so now’s a great time to get back to procrastinating thinking out loud.

USA Today and Suffolk University released an interesting survey of “unlikely” voters a few days ago, which has gotten quite a bit of attention. It’s worth noting that their methodology is unclear in the report — they’ve got a sample of 800, but was that simply culled from a larger, general sample that also included some number of likely voters? At any rate, the big takeaway is that unlikely voters strongly favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, though about one-fifth say they would vote for a third-party candidate if they were to vote. This is perhaps the strongest evidence yet for the importance of turnout to Obama’s chances. In 2008, he got much bigger than usual turnout from traditionally low-turnout groups, most notably young adults and African-Americans. Many of these voters are probably still turning up as “unlikely” in typical polling models.

But a deeper look inside the data shows just where the Obama ground campaign is needed the most: convincing overconfident supporters that their vote is needed. Three-quarters of “unlikely” black voters expect Obama to win, but almost all say they would vote if they felt it could swing the election. Now, this probably shouldn’t be taken too literally, since no one really expects the election to come down to one vote, but it is worth thinking about how and where energized black turnout to have the most impact. Of the ten states with the highest proportion of African-Americans, six are solid red, two are solid blue, and North Carolina and Virginia are up for grabs. These were big Obama takeaways in 2008, in part because of black turnout. Florida is number 11 on that list, and carrying those three swing states would basically clinch the election.

The assumption in 2008 was that the Obama campaign had a great turnout operation, but I’m not sure if anyone knows whether that’s true or not — his candidacy certainly energized a lot of black voters on its own, but that doesn’t mean the campaign necessarily did anything extra-special to get them out to vote. If the campaign has data similar to what this poll shows, they would be well served by targeting black voters now, not with persuasive appeals that are largely unnecessary, but with sobering reminders that the election isn’t over until it’s over.

Filed: We R in Control || 10:12, August 20 || No Comments »


Rick Santorum’s home turf is blue

This crazy blue football field is home to as many national championships as Republican nominations that Rick Santorum will win.

Mitt Romney lost two more states yesterday, finishing third in both Alabama and Mississippi. Rick Santorum won both states, which were seen as Newt Gingrich’s last chance at relevance; he’s apparently pressing on regardless, though it certainly seems that doing so hurts Santorum much more than it does Romney. Despite lackluster performances in strongly conservative states, Romney’s still basically on track to secure the nomination at some point, but it’s probably going to take winning some of the big, winner-take-all states later in the calendar. That means there’s theoretically still time for a Santorum miracle — he needs to win a significant majority of remaining delegates to actually secure the nomination before the convention — or that we could be heading for the ultimate Washington press corps fantasy, the brokered convention.

As Ed Kilgore notes, relaying comments from Jonathan Bernstein, party elites retain considerable power in the nominating process. They want Romney, and they have for a long time. Whatever happens in traditional primary states, there are enough delegates chosen at county- and state-level conventions (that is, the later parts of the caucuses that actually matter) to keep things slouching toward Romney if the voters don’t come through. But what happens if the party bigwigs change their minds? What might make Santorum suddenly palatable?

Romney’s big selling point has always been electability, and it’s been especially prominent since he’s had to focus on an opponent whose last election was a 17-point loss. But the more he tries to balance appeals to the far-right of the GOP primary electorate and general-election moderation, the tougher it becomes to secure his own base going into the general election. With the economy picking up and Barack Obama looking like more of a favorite, GOP elites might start thinking not just about who they want as President (it’s still Romney, and will continue to be), but also about damage-mitigation in the event of a loss. I don’t think there’s any question that a Santorum loss to Obama is better than a Romney loss for the future of the Republican Party; frankly, a Romney loss could lead to the kind of intra-partisan shake-up we haven’t seen since the Dixiecrats switched sides. That he wasn’t conservative enough to win would be the rallying cry of the right going into Obama’s second term and the 2014 and 2016 campaigns. A Santorum loss wouldn’t necessarily push the party back toward the center, but it would provide leverage for those trying to pull it there.

But let’s be clear: A flood of elite abandoning Romney for Santorum is the only way Santorum wins the nomination. Romney might not win it cleanly or anytime soon, but if the party chiefs want him, they’ll find a way to get him before the convention. The brokered convention dream is an illusion in modern politics, in much the same way the small-conference national college football champion dream is an illusion pursued by so many sports reporters and pundits. Like the Boise State Broncos, Rick Santorum can only win if the system wants him to win, and right now it doesn’t.

Filed: We R in Control || 16:07, March 14 || No Comments »


TelePrompted

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in HBO’s “Game Change,” a dramatized version of the story of the McCain campaign’s selection of Sarah Palin in 2008. But as someone who spends a lot of time sorting through the mythologies and shibboleths of both the liberal and conservative blogospheres, what most caught my attention was two references to TelePrompters.

If you’re not up to speed on why this would grab me, allow me to lay out perhaps the silliest of the tribal markers currently in vogue on the American right. It is taken as a truism by many conservatives that Barack Obama is dumb and not much of a speaker, and it’s only through the aid of a TelePrompter that he’s able to come off as so eloquent. Without the TelePrompter, he’s just a regular guy, or maybe not even that. This is part of a larger, racially driven narrative that suggests Obama only got into the universities he attended because of affirmative action, or at times that he actually didn’t go to either Columbia or Harvard. Offhand references to TelePrompters have been big laugh lines in conservative speeches for the last several years, despite the fact that every national politician since the invention of the device has used it.

What I hadn’t put together previously, was that this weird obsession might derive from some cockeyed Sarah Palin origin myth. Until “Game Change” got to Palin’s convention speech, I’d forgotten that the TelePrompter supposedly died on her halfway through, meaning she just winged it the rest of the way. I don’t buy this — the Palin portrayed earlier in the film doesn’t seem like the sort to be able to memorize her entire speech, and the Palin we saw in real life doesn’t seem like the sort to be able to string together a coherent 10-15 minutes to fill out her time slot — and Politico disputed it at the time, but a myth is a myth. Later in the film, Palin demands the opportunity to give her own concession speech and orders a campaign staffer to “load it in the TelePrompter,” and of course she and every other national Republican are frequent TelePrompter users.

Several years later, cue Rick Santorum calling for the outlawing of presidential candidates using TelePrompters. Why? “Because all you’re doing is reading someone else’s words to people.” Presumably President Santorum will have no speechwriters.

Filed: We R in Control || 15:31, March 12 || No Comments »


Who will Huntsman endorse?

Jon Huntsman isn’t going to win the presidency next year. He’s also not going to win the Republican presidential nomination, and he probably won’t even win the primary in his home state of Utah — a July poll gives Mitt Romney 63% to Huntsman’s 10%. He was Barack Obama’s ambassador to China, and he’s spent most of his time in the campaign first meekly and then aggressively declaring his moderate bona fides. So why is he in the race? Some have speculated that he’s just trying to raise name-recognition for a 2016 run, likely against a crowd of lower-profile opponents. Others suggest he’s running for the VP nomination in 2012. Presumably conventional wisdom doesn’t find him cynical enough to think he’s running just to land a book deal in 2013.

As it happens, I don’t really care why he’s running. When his campaign ends, it’ll just be another data-point in the history of failed presidential runs. What I’m really interested in is the question of who Huntsman will endorse. It’s clear that Huntsman is not happy with where his party and most of its presidential candidates are at policy-wise. He’s recently come out of the science closet with strong, counter-partisan statements of belief in both evolution and anthropomorphic climate change. The Republican most like him is Mitt Romney, who’s been running hard to the right of late, but Huntsman has recently gone after him for both his lack of any coherent belief structure and his terrible record on job creation.

Assume Huntsman wins few delegates and Romney cleanly secures the nomination. Romney’s core technocratic self is probably not that different from Huntsman’s, but a President Romney would be seriously indebted to the GOP fringes that Huntsman is trying to reassert the center-right’s dominance over. On the other hand, the next most Huntsman-like candidate will also be on the general election ballot in 2012 — Barack Obama. Huntsman went after Obama recently, as well, but it was a fairly tepid assault, claiming that he should’ve taken to the bully pulpit earlier, that he’s “too far left” and that he ought to quit using teleprompters. That’s some tired, easy stuff, with none of the oomph found in what he’s said recently about Romney, Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry. So what’s the likelihood that he endorses Obama? “President Obama and I have our differences, but he is the only candidate taking our dire economic situation seriously, blah blah blah.” Huntsman’s main constituency is the Washington press corps, and he must know that this is the kind of thing that would make a big splash with them, both at the time and when he does whatever he does next.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think Huntsman’s endorsement will matter, but as the Republican party continues its rightward march, I do think it’s interesting to watch what its few remaining moderates might do to try to regain control. Elite signalling that even a technocratic nominee is too beholden to the fringe would only be a first step, but it’s a step.

Filed: We R in Control || 14:47, August 21 || 1 Comment »


Safe seats

Nancy Pelosi is calling for an investigation into Anthony Weiner’s sexting habits, making a pretty clear show of throwing him under the Democratic caucus bus after his press conference admissions. It presents an interesting wrinkle to the notion that Weiner should just try to ride this out, since he’s in a “safe” seat. This was the same logic that applied to Senator David Vitter, a conservative Republican in conservative Louisiana, who won re-election in 2010 despite being revealed as a prostitute-frequenter. But for Weiner, if Pelosi and the national party turn against him, suddenly his seat may go from safe — in that it’s a strongly Democratic district that is highly likely to elect whomever the Democratic nominee is in 2012 — to dangerous — in that its general election safety allows the party to feel free to support a primary challenge against Weiner, knowing the challenger would likely win the general election. It’s a good illustration that a “safe” seat is simply one in which party power players, rather than unaffiliated voters, have the most sway.

Filed: We R in Control || 21:05, June 7 || No Comments »


Keep talking

For the most part, I’m not interested in giving the Koch brothers legitimate political advice; even if I were so interested, they’re probably not reading this anyway. But I will say that David Koch, in knocking Barack Obama over the Bin Laden raid, is wasting an opportunity:

He just made the decision, it was obvious where the guy is. He was one of the worst terrorists organizing attacks on the United States. I mean, no president in his right mind would not approve that decision to go eliminate him. So he’s getting a lot of recognition and his polls have jumped up, but his decision was the easiest of them all. The real hard work was done by the intelligence and the SEALs.

Never mind that there actually was some significant risk in approving this operation, and never mind that both George W. Bush and John McCain foreswore undertaking such an operation without consulting Pakistan and its unreliable intelligence service — Koch also called Obama a “hardcore socialist” and “scary,” so it’s not like these comments are an example of reasoned public policy thinking. Going after Obama does two things that are both bad for Koch (and the other right-wingers who are doing the same). First, it makes Koch look like a petty whiner. That may not be a super-big deal for him, because he’s not running for anything, but thanks to Scott Walker, Koch is now a fairly well-known figure in ultra-conservative politics and should be thinking about his image.

But much more importantly, the longer the Bin Laden raid is salient in the public mind, the longer Obama’s approval will stay inflated. Krosnick and Kinder produced a seminal paper over 20 years ago on the effects of priming on presidential approval. Back then they looked at data from a 1986 survey that was in the field when the Iran-Contra affair came to light. What they found, not surprisingly, is that Ronald Reagan’s Central America policy played a larger role in his job approval after the revelations than before. In that case it was bad for the president, because the salient new information was negative; in the modern example, it’s good for the president, because the new information is seen as positive by the public. If Koch and the rest would avoid turning this into a confrontation, either by simply congratulating Obama or by just shutting up, the press would lose an easy way to keep the story bigger and more lively, it would fade from salience more quickly, returning the focus to the economic issues on which Obama is vulnerable.

But David, by all means, keep talking.

Filed: We R in Control || 16:34, May 5 || No Comments »


Probably the biggest exaggeration maybe in American history

Condi Rice on George W. Bush’s bullhorn speech:

“But President Bush had at Ground Zero probably the most important moment maybe in American history. It was when this wounded nation watched their commander-in-chief stand on that rubble and say that they will hear us, we are going to avenge this.”

I suppose it could go without saying that this was said on Fox News.

Filed: We R in Control || 18:33, May 3 || No Comments »


What we can’t do

I try to be optimistic about the potential for political and social change, especially in the light of the tremendous democratizing possibilities afforded by the Internet. My optimism is tempered by cynicism, to be sure — I never bought into the Obama hope hype, in part because I did buy into it in 1992 (in my defense, I was only 13 then). But still, this just crushes the soul:

Most Americans know about that budget. What they don’t know is that there is another budget of roughly equal heft, traditionally maintained in complete secrecy. After the financial crash of 2008, it grew to monstrous dimensions, as the government attempted to unfreeze the credit markets by handing out trillions to banks and hedge funds. And thanks to a whole galaxy of obscure, acronym-laden bailout programs, it eventually rivaled the “official” budget in size — a huge roaring river of cash flowing out of the Federal Reserve to destinations neither chosen by the president nor reviewed by Congress, but instead handed out by fiat by unelected Fed officials using a seemingly nonsensical and apparently unknowable methodology.

Now, following an act of Congress that has forced the Fed to open its books from the bailout era, this unofficial budget is for the first time becoming at least partially a matter of public record. Staffers in the Senate and the House, whose queries about Fed spending have been rebuffed for nearly a century, are now poring over 21,000 transactions and discovering a host of outrages and lunacies in the “other” budget. It is as though someone sat down and made a list of every individual on earth who actually did not need emergency financial assistance from the United States government, and then handed them the keys to the public treasure. The Fed sent billions in bailout aid to banks in places like Mexico, Bahrain and Bavaria, billions more to a spate of Japanese car companies, more than $2 trillion in loans each to Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, and billions more to a string of lesser millionaires and billionaires with Cayman Islands addresses. “Our jaws are literally dropping as we’re reading this,” says Warren Gunnels, an aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “Every one of these transactions is outrageous.”

But if you want to get a true sense of what the “shadow budget” is all about, all you have to do is look closely at the taxpayer money handed over to a single company that goes by a seemingly innocuous name: Waterfall TALF Opportunity. At first glance, Waterfall’s haul doesn’t seem all that huge — just nine loans totaling some $220 million, made through a Fed bailout program. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot, considering that Goldman Sachs alone received roughly $800 billion in loans from the Fed. But upon closer inspection, Waterfall TALF Opportunity boasts a couple of interesting names among its chief investors: Christy Mack and Susan Karches.

Christy is the wife of John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley. Susan is the widow of Peter Karches, a close friend of the Macks who served as president of Morgan Stanley’s investment-banking division. Neither woman appears to have any serious history in business, apart from a few philanthropic experiences. Yet the Federal Reserve handed them both low-interest loans of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars through a complicated bailout program that virtually guaranteed them millions in risk-free income.

The rich aren’t like you and me, and we live in a system designed to keep it that way.

Filed: We R in Control || 13:59, April 17 || No Comments »