Jon Stewart takes on Santorum

A couple of my students told me that Jon Stewart had taken on Santorum’s absurd college comments.  My response, “talk about low-hanging fruit.”  And, of course, Jon Stewart knocks that– as well as Santorum’s even more absurd comments on JFK and separation of church and state– out of the park:
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Well, this is cool

Here’s two potential mock-ups for the cover of my forthcoming book.  Feedback on FB is running about 2-1 for the white cover version:

Just win, baby

Reading the various commentary on last night and I was thinking how it is kind of amazing (and honestly, a little absurd) how much emphasis the press puts on winning.  Especially when delegates (as in Michigan) are awarded proportionally.  Turns out I’m in good company as apparently Nate Silver was actually writing the same thing last night:

Just a quick observation based on what I’m seeing in my Twitter feed tonight: it looks like Mitt Romney’s win in Michigan tonight is producing quite a strong media narrative for him, despite the results having been quite close…

In some ways, Mr. Romney may have benefitted from the late shift in the polls back toward Mr. Santorum, which reset expectations about the race and made Mr. Romney’s victory seem more hard-earned. He also may have benefited from the fact that Michigan counted its vote quite quickly and efficiently (setting a good example for other states). And of course he benefitted from Arizona, where he won by a huge margin tonight.

The point is simply that winning counts for a lot in the way these events are covered, as does exceeding expectations by even a small margin. There isn’t much hedging about the implications of the race based on the margin of victory, unless it is perhaps literally so close that it appears headed for a recount.

But the coverage is fair to Mr. Romney in this sense: Michigan surely would have been portrayed as a terrible outcome for him had he lost the state by 3 points instead.

In my classes I talk about how the media likes to cover politics as a game/sport.  Well, in American sports we don’t accept ties so it makes sense that our journalists don’t want to cover things that way.  Would be interested to see if journalists more steeped in the soccer/football draws are a major part of the game culture would cover things differently.

The Loser last night? Romney.

If I told you a month ago that Mitt Romney would just squeak by Santorum in his home state of Michigan, you would probably conclude his is a campaign in trouble.  Sure, in a narrow win, Romney avoids an absolute disaster, but let us not forget that avoiding disaster is not exactly resounding victory.   If Rojmney was going to win after all, it’s probably even better for him that he looked like he was going to lose there for a while, so that he could actually exceed the most recent expectations.  Again, though, those expectations a month ago were that he should cruise to victory in Michigan.  Romney certainly has to be considered a strong odds-on favorite to win the nomination, and who knows, maybe Michigan will prove to be Santorum’s last stand, but his narrow victory here undoubtedly points to his overall weakness as a candidate.

Ezra on Polarization

Great post by Ezra on polarization of American politics inspired by the retirement of Maine’s Olympia Snowe.  It’s really Ezra at his best– writing with the knowledge of a PhD in Political Science (not that he has one, but he might as well given his knowledge of PS research on American politics) combined with the clarity of a skilled journalist.  Some highlights:

We use “polarization” as an epithet. It’s what’s wrong with America’s politics. It’s what’s wrong with America’s political parties. It’s what’s wrong with America’s politicians. It’s what’s wrong, finally, with America.

And polarization is certainly bad for moderate legislators who want to wield influence by brokering deals between the two parties. But for the political system as a whole, “polarization” is a neutral term. It simply means the two parties disagree, and clearly. It doesn’t mean they disagree angrily or unproductively or in service of extreme ideologies.

To imagine this, consider two political systems. In one, the two parties aren’t polarized, because the Democratic Party is filled with conservative arch-segregationists. In another, the parties are very polarized, but it’s because everyone agrees segregation was a moral blight, and with that out of the way, the conservative Democrats who kept their seats by appealing to racism were replaced by Republicans. Which system is more extreme? Or unproductive? Or hateful?

Polarization doesn’t describe people’s opinions. It just describes how those same people, with those same opinions, sort themselves…

But as the two parties have polarized, we’ve learned that a system built for consensus is not able to properly function amid constant partisan competition…

Polarization is with us now and will be with us for the foreseeable future. The question is whether we will permit it to paralyze our political system and undermine our country or whether we will accept it and make the necessary accommodations.

Doing so would require taking on cherished, consensus-promoting features of the old system, like the filibuster. But in today’s girdlocked world, those features no longer promote consensus. They simply promote gridlock.

Great analysis.

Hockey fighting

You know what I love about hockey?  The amazing speed, power, and skill on display as the players move up and down the ice.  And what I could really do without?  Interruptions so players can awkwardly slug at each other for a few minutes.  Judging by crowd reactions at NHL games, though, sadly, I’m in a real minority here.  When I took David to his first ever hockey game, he was actually amazed at both the fact that it was routine to simply stop the game for this nonsense, but even more so at the fan reaction.  For someone who has grown up watching only basketball and football, it really does seem crazy that this is basically condoned and celebrated.  Anyway, the good news is that at least at the junior league level, they are looking to clean up the game:

Viewing fighting as a safety issue in light of increasing concussion research, and unwilling to wait for the National Hockey League to propose changes, USA Hockey andHockey Canada are seriously considering rules that would effectively end fighting in nonprofessional leagues as soon as next season.

The rules would apply to dozens of leagues stretching from near the Arctic Circle to south Texas. Even the three top junior leagues in Canada, major fight-friendly feeder systems to the N.H.L., are considering immediate ways to make fighting a rarity, not an expectation.

“The appetite is there,” said David Branch, the president of the Canadian Hockey League, which oversees the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. “The time is certainly right to move forward.”

Hockey has long been a rare team sport that widely condones the interruption of a game so two or more players can trade punches. But for boys starting at age 16 or so, from the rough-and-tumble junior leagues to the N.H.L., fighting has usually been minimally penalized (often with five minutes in the penalty box) and thus widely practiced, condoned, even celebrated.

That may change soon. The increased recognition of the long-term dangers of brain trauma, across all sports, has forced hockey’s leaders to consider ways to reduce blows to the head.

Hooray for them.  The article includes speculation about hockey’s ability to “survive” this.  I say, if hockey cannot survive without fighting, it’ s not worth surviving.  Though, in my opinion it is a much better sport without the fighting.

Photo of the day

Interesting set of present day Chernobyl.  As you know, I’m a sucker for post nuclear disaster photos.  Here’s how the control room looks today:

On April 26, 1986, operators in this control room of reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant committed a fatal series of errors during a safety test, triggering a reactor meltdown that resulted in the world’s largest nuclear accident to date. Today, the control room sits abandoned and deadly radioactive. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine, 2005 (Gerd Ludwig/INSTITUTE)

Romney is really consevative

So, I just finished grading a bunch of a papers where my students had to analyze a Republican primary candidate.  Alas, way too many Romney’s and not a single Herman Cain!  Anyway, one interesting thing was how many students wrote about how “moderate” Mitt is.  Of course, if one wants to evaluate him by his record as Massachusetts governor, but this is now the 2nd presidential election in a row where has has run as a distinctly conservative candidate (in large part, disavowing his record in MA).  Many people just seem to assume that the proper ideological placement is current Mitt x former Mitt.  In one sense, that may be fair, but it does seem to me that in running as Republican president, we should take Mitt’s ideology to simply be current Mitt.  And when you do that, he really is not the least bit moderate.  Here’s Jon Cohn comparing him and Santorum:

And yet … are the two candidates really so different? On the issues, particularly domestic policy, they no longer seem to be. Both have called for radical downsizing of government, with Santorum seeking to cap federal spending at 18 percent of gross domestic product and Romney seeking to cap it at 20 percent. Either cap, if enacted, would decimate key federal programs and all but certainly require undermining cherished social welfare programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Both want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, effectively taking health insurance away from 30 million people. Both have called for reducing taxes in ways that will disproportionately favor the wealthy. Both promise the deficit will come down  – and both have sketched out fiscal plans that would, according to a recent report from the Committee on a Responsible Federal Budget, make the deficit go up.

Many seem to be convince that if he won the presidency, we’d see the “real” (if there is such a thing) Mitt take over and be more moderate.  But this “real” Mitt would still be beholden to a Republican base and Republican elected officials for his political power.   I even heard some speculation that he would nominate SC Justices who would uphold Roe v. Wade.  Seriously?!  Not unless he wants his presidency to effectively end at that time (or convert to working with Democrats instead of Republicans).  I just don’t see much reason to believe President Romney would really try and govern all that different than candidate Romney says he would.

Dumbest poll question ever?

From Gallup:

As you may know, the Supreme Court will hear arguments next month concerning a requirement in the healthcare law that every American must buy health insurance or pay a fine. Regardless of whether you favor or oppose the law, do you think this requirement is constitutional or unconstitutional? Among all Americans, by party ID, and by view of healthcare law, February 2012

Seriously?  The average American probably can’t even name 4 amendments of the Bill of Rights, but 92% have an opinion on the Constitutionality of the law that most of them hardly understand?  Anyway, it is interesting that Republicans have been so effective in this when the mandate is, in fact, “Obviously Constitutional.”   Republicans may hate that Democrats passed major health care reform, and sure there are some conservative judges out there willing to blend the Constitution plenty for politics, but this isn’t even really a close case.

Among the most telling facts, you won’t find a single liberal who argues that it is unconstitutional, but there is many a fair-minded conservative who admits, whether they like the law or not, that its constitutionality really isn’t even in question.

Frozen out

In a related note to the previous post, this political buffoon actually represents my former home in Springfield, VA.  What a shame.  A former NCSU student of mine ran the failed campaign of his most recent opponent.  Maybe text time around, NoVa voters will realize what an embarrassment they have elected:

Trans-vaginal ultrasound

Hmmm, I thought I had blogged about all the controversy with Virginia’s new abortion bill.  Well, I read a ton, but apparently never mentioned it here.  Nonetheless, I’m sure you all to what I’m referring.  Anyway, one of my early thoughts on the whole matter was, “but doesn’t NC’s new law require this, too?”  Indeed. One of the interesting features of this story is the way that smart framing by opponents (just keep saying “trans-vaginal ultrasound”) had a massive political effect that was lacking elsewhere.  (Here’s a nice WP Post explaining all this).

Anyway, WRAL’s Laura Leslie finally writes the piece that’s been lacking:

State lawmakers in Virginia have amended a controversial ultrasound bill to remove language requiring women to undergo a “trans-vaginal” ultrasound before an abortion.

The story attracted a lot of national attention, especially from liberal pundits, and even earned a satirical mention on Saturday Night Live…

North Carolina’s ultrasound law, passed last year over the governor’s veto, didn’t provoke the same level of controversy. It doesn’t include the words “trans-vaginal probe,” either. But it effectively requires the procedure for many, if not most, abortions.

The new law requires an ultrasound before any abortion procedure. The woman has to be shown the image of the fetus, have the image described to her, and be offered the opportunity to hear the fetal heartbeat.

In early pregnancy—up until about 8 weeks—the only way a doctor can comply with those requirements is by using a trans-vaginal sonogram probe.

Rex Healthcare’s Rhonda Thomas is president of the NC Ultrasound Society. She says abdominal ultrasounds can’t see much before the two-month mark, especially if the patient has had prior pregnancies or is overweight.

“They’re just more sensitive,” Thomas said of trans-vaginal scans. ”That’s the test of choice.”

So… fascinating how exactly the same law can take a dramatically different political path.  Really makes you wonder what would have happened here in NC and other states had opponents hit upon this tack earlier.  Seems damn effective. Until then, a NC woman who wants an abortion will have a trans-vaginal ultrasound whether she wants one or not.

On a related note, I’m kind of surprised at the number of people who are surprised by this.  As a father of four, I was quite aware that this is how ultrasound is done in early pregnancy.

Quote of the month

Hey, it’s the end of February, I can be pretty confident on a monthly award for this.  My, Mitt Romney’s plutocratic ways are the gift that keeps on giving.  At yesterday’s rained out Daytona 500:

The full quote from Romney, when asked if he was a NASCAR fan, starts with an honest admission that he isn’t one. “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.”  [emphasis mine]

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