First Amendment Center gets it wrong on Montana political money

In an amusingly-entitled post about “What was right” about the SCOTUS ruling on Montana’s political donations limit, they offer this nugget of wisdom:

What was right about high court’s Montana ruling | First Amendment Center – news, commentary, analysis on free speech, press, religion, assembly, petition

Far better to seek remedies that respect the First Amendment while powering a near-automatic disinfectant to the potential corruption of “big money”: Transparency. In an age when deposits and debits to individual bank accounts are nearly instantly recorded, there’s no reason — except a lack of public pressure and political will — to make all campaign contributions immediately visible to all. As connectivity and data management improve exponentially each year, contribution information could be logged, organized and made available to everyone in real-time — instead of using the months-later system we have now, mandated by old-fashioned campaign regulations.

Indeed, transparency is a good thing. But free speech also includes the right to privacy, as has been long-established in our code of law. That is, unless we’d like to undo that law as well?

Journalists and news fans will be familiar with this law as the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. We generally think of it as protecting the citizen’s right to information from the government, but between its passage in 1966 and the subsequent amendments in 1974, the bill is actually our framework for both our right to information and our equal right to privacy. And its hard to imagine how – if indeed money is considered free speech – it isn’t also considered speech that is protected under these same privacy laws?

This isn’t one of those areas where you get to give easy answers. Political speech is, as noted in the article, the most protected of all speech in America. But the needs of political discourse are sometimes at odds with the guileless literal reading of the Constitution, which is why thinking is so important. I wish they would have put a little more thinking into this article.

Journalism Media Politics Science

Brown University Confirms: You’re Not an Idiot

A new study conducted by researchers at Brown University concluded that while the endorsements of Presidential candidates did affect voter support, the bias of the newspaper in question affected the endorsement “bump.”: – Voters saffy to newspaper bias:

The least credible endorsements were for Al Gore from The New York Times and for George W. Bush from the Dallas Morning News, which convinced less than 1 percent of their readers to switch allegiance to the endorsed candidate.

By contrast, the endorsement with the largest effects came from the Chicago Sun Times and the Denver Post, both of which had surprising endorsements. The Chicago Sun Times was predicted to endorse Gore with a probability of 58 percent, but instead endorsed Bush, while the Denver Post endorsed Gore even though it was only predicted to do so by a probability of only 35 percent.

This study only concerns itself with Presidential elections. That makes sense because an election has a specific outcome, which makes interpreting the results of an experiment easier. The study also seems to concern itself only with party switching at election time. While this can be an important indication for a segment of the population, is not by itself determinative of how we might react to endorsements as a whole. For example, what about those who chose to sit out an election?

But the presumption is that the basic principle demonstrated in the study can extend itself to all facets of politics and policy. We know who is biased and who is not and we act on that information accordingly. This brings me back to a point I make often about media bias: not only do we as readers not require the opinions of journalists, but we’re also not so weak-willed as to require them or be overly-influenced by them. We’re not going to abdicate our sovereignty to just any dick with a job at the local newspaper.

This is of course different from a daily bombardment of propaganda such as is the norm on cable news nets. But the problem as I see it has been that mainstream media outlets in modern times have been so quick to cover any sense of bias up that they’ve turned themselves into bland and ultimately uninformative pablum. Cable news provides the color and flavour people want – albeit largely empty-calorie viewing with not much in the way of facts.

In an era when we find ourselves very divided on big social and economic issues, we don’t need more firebrands, certainly. But perhaps if journalists were more trusted to provide us the opinions they’ve formed over years of covering their specific niches, our culture would be less-inclined to listen to the uninformed opinions of demagogs with a financial interest – not in policy or social good, but in the opinions themselves.


Time to Think 2012? No, But Let’s Do It Anyway.

Nauseating, I know. But the pollsters are out in force today, testing the pulse of Americans – those willing to sit on the phone and answer survey questions, at least – for the likelihood of a second Obama term. Pew and Quinnipiac both have polling data released today, both showing roughly the same thing, but with remarkably different editorial conclusions.

Pew has a poll showing that less than fifty percent of the public would like to see the president elected to a second term, but points out that previous presidents have faired little better. Quinnipiac, for its part, has a poll showing that about fifty percent believes the president does not “deserve” a second term. Note that this is not what the question asked, exactly, its just what the editor chose to use in the summary. They point out that this is his lowest number since they’ve been tracking it and also that he loses by a slim margin to an Unnamed Republican Candidate.

So the numbers are around fifty percent with almost two years left to decide. My expert opinion is that “these numbers are likely to change.”


Rochester’s Mayoral Race: Why do Strong Personality Types Make Us Crazy?

There are two major parties in Rochester: the Democrats and the Republicans. No other party has won a mayor’s race here that I know of. At least, not in my lifetime. And really, its just the Democratic Party if we’re being honest. Republicans don’t seem to have run very good candidates and they’ve failed pretty miserably.

So, when into the confusion left in the wake of Mayor Duffy walks former Mayor Johnson, the outcome should be simple: split the party, even if he gets the nomination, and the Republican wins. Hell, there might even be a shot for an entirely different party to win. But that’s probably not going to happen: with Mayor Johnson’s strong personality and connection to his constituency, he’s very likely going to win.

And that just makes me wonder about personality types in politics in general, how they affect the voters and how they affect the opposition parties. And by “strong personality,” I don’t mean “good candidate” or “good at the job given,” though we can fairly say Mayor Johnson was both of those. I mean that whether we’re talking about Bush vs. Clinton, Bush vs. Gore, Bush vs. Kerry, Lazio vs. Spitzer or I am sure many other examples, it seems like not only does the electorate respond favorably to a personality that leaves them with a strong opinion – even a negative one – but the opposition party always seems to react to that personality, ending up with sort of a Bizzaro Candidate that leaves the voters flat.

In the case of the opposition party, I think maybe they feel the need to run a candidate who answers the questions Type A Candidate raises. If Type A spends too much, Candidate B talks about fiscal responsibility. If Type A has rough sex with hookers, Candidate B has to raise a moral flag. That is, of course, in reference to Spitzer, who didn’t run for reelection. But the Republican candidate Paladino was I think more of a response to Spitzer than to Patterson.

What about the electorate? Political parties make decisions based on political tactics, even if they’re losing ones. But what drives us to vote for someone we distrust over someone who, I presume, seems a little flat? Bill Clinton’s sexual appetite was already pretty established by 1992 and we didn’t care. It was still an issue – though the Lewinsky thing hadn’t broken yet – in 1996 and we still didn’t care. His poll numbers remained relatively high even after the scandal, while his personal approval rating dipped.

I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Is it just calculation? Was it really just the economy (“stupid”) that buoyed Clinton, or something else?

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5 Reasons Democrats Will Be Just Fine in November

Far be it from me to deprive the national news media their ability to drum up hysterical psycho-drama every waking moment of the day, but I thought that I might offer a few good reasons to cast a bit of doubt on the dire predictions of the smarmy, gossipy Washington press corps so eloquently embodied in Dana Millbank and others. And while I fully understand that I have no voice on the national level, I thought I’d give you a few good reasons to be less amazed than they will profess to be come the end of this latest election cycle:

#5: Just because your “agin” one Party does not make you “fer” another:

Its hard to believe I actually need to say this out loud, but I will: just because I’m pissed at a Democrat does not mean I will vote for a Republican. There has to be a reason to believe that the Republican will do better, which as I will address below, is dubious at best right now. As fun as the media finds it to refer to the people who watch their shows and pay their salaries as “pitchfork-wielding,” knuckle-dragging thugs, the fact is that most of us do not even own pitchforks in the first place. Those of us who do probably have better uses for them. You know, because we think for ourselves.

#4: The Republican capacity to self-immolate.

Republicans had things pretty locked up in Nevada. That is, until Sharon Angle won the nomination there. Now Reid is up by 7. That is, despite a completely upside-down approval rating for Reid in his state. With other winners like Rand Paul and the rest of the Katzenjammer Kids, we can have at least some faith in the Republicans ability to mess this up. And indeed, it is a standard trait of the non-incumbent party that they tend to play Keystone Cops until such time as they simply cannot help but be more attractive than the incumbent party.

From apologies to BP to declaring the inscrutable “Repeal and Replace” agenda for both HCR and now Fin Reg, to describing the financial crisis as an “ant,” to telling the unemployed to just “get a job,” its hard to imagine how Democrats could do a better job of painting the Republicans as out-of-touch. Worse for Republicans, the outlandishly misguided behavior is not atypical, but rather reinforces classic stereotypes of the Republican Party that have traditionally hung their chances out to dry when the issue is the economy. That makes a lot of people’s stomachs hurt when it comes time to actually vote for Republicans.

#3: The Low Turnout Myth

There is no doubt but that turnout can be expected to be lower than it was in the last election. Count on the media to point that out relentlessly, regardless of who wins what, as proof that their analysis is right. But if the last election was a record-setting election – it was – and if turnout in mid-terms is generally lower than in presidential elections – it is – then predicting that turnout will be lower is not exactly the stuff of sages. And I fully expect that the turnout, while lower than the presidential election of 2008, will likely be higher than it was in the previous mid-term election.

Because while we know that mid-terms get less attention, generally, this is not one of those general years. This is not a year when people get to just kick back and be happy with their jobs and wrap Christmas presents. Things are serious and serious-minded people will come out to vote.

Another classic canard of the national news media – one which on its face is self-negating – is that because turnout is low, mid-term elections are both dominated by Conservative voters and also an opportunity for a “protest vote.” The extent to which this concept is true is the extent to which Conservative voters “protest” Liberal and Democratic administrations and no farther. One or the other has to be true, or they’re both false.

Finally, while there’s every reason to think that some people who are angry over the current state of the economy – as distinct from Conservative voters who are just extra angry for their own reasons – will want to “protest” the current administration and Congress, they’ll have to step beyond the blogs, the comments, the FaceBook posts, the cameras, the televisions, the radios, the brave talk at the water cooler and step into that curiously quiet and disquieting space known as a voting booth and actually pull the lever. Which leads me to the next point:

#2: No plan, no vote.

Protest is one thing. But no one disputes the fact that our nation is in a precarious spot right now. This is not the time to simply throw the lever against the incumbent party and feel better about yourself. Polls are showing that Americans generally favour experience over fresh faces – a fact that works better for Dems *after* the 2008 than before it. People are paying very close attention to the news and election politics right now because they need to make what most anyone sees as a very important decision at a very risky time. And when they’re in that booth, what good reason is there to vote in a Republican?

Because the Republicans have shown no new messages, no plan and much worse, absolutely no leadership in the last year and a half. There is absolutely no reason to think that we will do anything other than return to the exact same position we were in on November of 2008 if we put the same party back into power.

#1: America digs a winner

To complain about the “obstructionist” non-incumbent party is a means of applying political pressure. To complain about an incumbent party that “won’t listen to our ideas” is just whining. That was as true for Democrats as it currently is for Republicans. In order to show that you can lead, you have to win something. Right now, Republican wins are few and far between whereas the Democrats are on fire with some of the biggest legislation ever passed in my lifetime. You don’t have to like it to see that they’re winning. And winning is a powerful thing in American politics.

Democrats were able to bring the Bush Agenda to a slow, creaking halt around 2005. And they won big in 2006. By 2008, it wasn’t just that the country was in a dire situation, but rather that Republicans seemed completely ill-equiped to provide an answer that did them in. So far, Republicans have yet to have the same types of successes with the Democratic agenda. If anything, they’ve whipped up a lot of nasty, racist, belligerent protest to the Democratic agenda that dragged the HCR debates well past their welcome… and then lost, anyway.

No plan, no wins, a nasty case of foot-in-mouth and a lot of hasty assumptions about how people will vote do not necessarily add up to a winning strategy. Plan on hearing the phrase “The Republicans snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” quite a lot by December. That’s not because they really did so badly, but because pundits so completely and intentionally misjudged what is about to happen. Certainly, Democrats will loose seats. Certainly, Republicans will crow about the victories. But the needle won’t have moved appreciably in this next election.

One final point of purely meta, purely Monday Night Football-ish kind of analysis: this is not 1994 by any measure. In 1994, Democrats had controlled Congress almost consistently for twenty years, were riddled with House scandals, were completely dysfunctional and “suffering” from a perfectly good economy where Republicans could play on greed. Republicans meanwhile had a very organized team and a “Contract With America,” which for all the silliness inherent in that title, was at least a well-laidout set of policy agenda. Democrats currently have no serious scandals brewing, have not had time to become unwelcome as a ruling Party and are very well orga-…. well, bad example.


What Am I Missing?

What the hell is going on in the 23rd? Here we have a district which hasn’t been a Democratic district since the Civil War – when the Democratic Party was the Conservative choice – and we’ve got the whole country up in arms over the results? Trust me: any way the primary turns out, it’ll be a Republican in the 23rd. I’m a big fan of game-day statistics.

So, that’s the big disappointment for Dems. What’s the deal with Republicans? Why is it important to Fred Thompson – whose own presidential aspirations seemed to be such a bore to him – or Sarah Palin – whose gubernatorial responsibilities proved equally tiresome? Is the Baby Jesus scheduled to be born in Watertown? Is Sam Waterson making a movie in Massena?

And the media. The 23rd is a staunch member of the “fly-over” community of which the media is rarely aware. But suddenly, the opinions of residents in sleepy little Speculator are of monumental import. They must be so proud.

Or is the business of reforming health care – and in the case of Republicans, losing that battle – what has become so tiresome?


Anatomy of a Shadow Party

Jo Meleca-Voigt flagged this one on FaceBook. The D&C’s Jill Terreri reports on the Independence Party and its workings. The Independence Party rarely runs it’s own candidates for anything, but rather raises money for candidates whom it endorses as a second party. This is a very lucrative and sought-after endorsement.

Of course these days, candidates aren’t even putting their primary party affiliation on their placards or television commercials, so how’s anyone supposed to know about this secondary endorsement? Seems like the kind of thing that can lead to abuse….


Iran Uprising Blogging: Latest Updates

Huffington Post editor Nico Pitney is live-blogging the newest spark of tension in Iran today. Oh, boy, here we go again. Wish the protesters and the people of Iran a safe, lasting and happy ending to their plight:

Iran Uprising Blogging: Latest Updates.



The governor of South Carolina poked some chick in Argentina. Oh yes. And they’re hacking people up with axes in Iran.

In case it seems important to anyone outside the media.


No, Seriously. You Change Your Principles.

Again, just reacting to what I’m watching on TV this morning. Mitt Romney, the brain trust of the Republican Party, is on This Week. He repeats what so many other Republicans say when posed the question, “you’re losing young people; you’re losing the Hispanic vote; you’re losing well-educated voters. What do you do to change all that?”

His canned response, “well, what you don’t do is change your principles.”

Well, actually, you do. If you’re losing Hispanic votes, you probably want to cool it on the xenophobe tip, encouraging minutemen and advocating for a huge, ugly wall along the border. If you’re losing young voters, you probably want to ease up on attacking their gay friends with whom they grew up. If you’re losing educated voters, you may want to adopt a more rigorous standard for scientific principles and party platform than the current standard, “what does the bible say?”

Seriously. You change your principles.


Iran: The Unanswerable

I just can’t keep my eyes off the Iranian election. It’s fascinating, mostly because it’s hard to know where all the forces at work in this most fascinating of elections come from.

And so, with a profound lack of knowledge on Iranian affairs, I present my unordered list of questions I have no answers to.

Is the clerical power center encouraging the opposition parties in this election? Dissent is not often encouraged in Iran and no Iranian leader has lost his gig as fast as Ahmadinejad might be. Is this an expression of Iran’s leadership’s dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad?

OK, if this is a legitimate social movement – and even if it isn’t – can the leadership pull some funny business with the vote and pull the country from the brink? Would they want to do that? What would be the reaction of all these hopeful young people of Ahmadinejad wins? What would be the reaction if there is a suggestion that the election is rigged?

And I hate to ask it, but is there a possibility of violence at the end of this election? There’s a lot of emotion already in a country where elections are traditionally moments when the leadership legitimizes itself.

I guess we’ll know at least the answers to a few of these questions by lunch time, tomorrow. Richard Engle was on Rachel Maddow’s show this evening saying that the voting and counting is predicted to happen fast. We’ll see.