Saturday, November 06, 2004
Fear and loathing in Florida
I've held off writing a postmortem of the election—first, because I'm far from certain of what has just occurred, and second, because other writers are already busy at the task. But I have picked up on something that seems worth sharing.
When I looked at CNN's exit poll for Florida, two statistics leapt out—
Respondents were asked what was the most important issue. Of the choices presented, "terrorism" won by a 24% plurality, followed by "moral values (20%).1
So what's so strange about that, you wonder. The Bush campaign promoted terrorism as the most significant concern of the election, right?
True enough. But that doesn't explain this—Florida has never suffered a terrorist attack, not even a little one, yet terrorism was the most important issue. But a percentage less of New Yorkers, living in the state that experienced the greatest terrorist attack in U.S. history, thought "terrorism" was the most important issue of the election.
This makes no sense. Not only has New York actually experienced an attack, it is a natural target. Just last August the financial district of New York City went on a heightened security alert. Tom Ridge was pumped up as he described the threat—
"This is the most significant, detailed piece of information about any particular region that we have come across in a long, long time, perhaps ever," Ridge said during his appearance at the Citigroup tower in Midtown Manhattan, named Sunday as one of several East Coast sites terrorists have scoped out as potential targets for explosives-laden trucks.
If a realistic evaluation of threat had anything to do with it, terrorism should have been a top priority for New Yorkers and of minimal concern to Floridians. There are two ways to take this—either New Yorkers are strangely unworried by a real threat, or Floridians are strangely alarmed by an unlikely threat.
The Florida native
Because Florida has been among the fastest growing states for decades, a Florida native is about as rare as a manatee to most people. That's because the population growth was along the coasts—primarily the east coast—and in South Florida, which also happens to be where the tourists visit.
But from Central Florida northward and west throughout the Panhandle, you'll find the native Floridians, the descendants of the Confederacy. A truely native Floridian is either black or a white anglo-saxon Protestant, and of the latter, most are Southern Baptists. The whites are the "Florida crackers," a term that used to be used freely, with no pejorative sense.
Though Southern Baptists predominate in the area, the fundamentalist and pentecostal groups—the Church of God, the Assemblies of God,2 and any number of independent congregations—have grown enormously. Fifty years ago these were the churches of the poor; the Baptists looked down on them. A half century later many of these churches have become wealthy and influential, and it is certainly not a negative for a politician to belong to one of them.
Meanwhile, the Southern Baptists have actually become more like their formerly poor cousins. The church that used to tout the phrase "the priesthood of all believers,"which meant it was for every person to decide what the Bible means, now has established a dogma to which everyone is expected to adhere—a development that has created a split in the denomination. Now you have your new-style dogmatic Baptists and the old-style "Jimmy Carter Baptists." My impression is that the latter are in the minority.
So what makes me such an expert? I have to confess—I am a native Floridian.
Halloween, only a few days before the election, was celebrated in many churches by holding a "Hell house." The children are brought in to be entertained by lurid tales of torture—a torture that is visited upon homosexuals, abortionists, witches and while we're at it, "anybody who doesn't accept Jesus Christ as their Savior." While hellfire and brimstone were always a part of Southern preaching, the volume has been
Half a century ago, very few children would have even known such words as "abortion" and "homosexual," much less heard them preached against. Now several generations of adults have been raised in this environment. Whatever the bugaboo of the moment, the heart of this religion is fear. And the people who feel it will do whatever it takes to be relieved of it.
In old Florida, terror is not an abstraction but an inculcated emotion. Fear is normal, these people are told. Fear (the "fear of the Lord") is good, because it's what motivates you to get "saved." And if you are saved, it is your responsibility to spread the fear around, so more people can be saved.
It must have been but a moment's work for Karl Rove to realize how easily these people could be manipulated—how easily the notion of terrorism would be linked with the terror of Hell, how easily the hope for a savior could be projected onto a Bible-quoting con-man.
For those not brought up in this culture—and thankfully there are quite a few left—such thinking must seem as remote as a tale told by an anthropologist—a bit like reading Margaret Meade on the Samoans. But, my friends, these are not Samoans; these are our fellow Americans. How do we deprogram a culture?
Friday, November 05, 2004
Other ways to skin a cat
Tuesday's Republican sweep of the South will reshape the next Senate, replacing moderate Democrats sometimes willing to cross party lines with ardent GOP conservatives who will press their leaders for a more right-leaning agenda, according to analysts.
Republicans are implying that the Democrats who are left in the Senate will be more gutless than usual, a prediction that is hard to refute—
Senate Republicans are still five votes shy of the 60 needed to cut off Democratic filibusters, but some said Bush's victory and GOP gains in Congress may give Democrats second thoughts about blocking as many Republican initiatives -- including judicial nominations as well as legislation -- as they blocked during the last two years.
"With 55 Republicans in the Senate and especially with the defeat of Senator Daschle, judicial nominations will be an area where [Democrats] will have to reassess their obstructionism," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).
But the Republicans have their own problems, which the writers scarcely mention—
"Regrettably, we have seen an erosion in the Senate of centrists on both sides of the aisle," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a Republican moderate whose leverage may drop substantially in the next Congress. She said she hoped Bush will push for cooperation between the two parties.
Another GOP moderate, Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), expressed even deeper disappointment, telling the Providence Journal he would not rule out switching to the Democratic Party.
If Senator Chafee is already hinting at a switch, Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine may not be far behind. After all, Maine did vote for Kerry, so the senators shouldn't have to worry about punishment from the voters if they decide to switch. What they will have to worry about, of course, is the Republican goon squad, which will do everything and anything to destroy anyone they consider to be a traitor to the party.
Senators Snowe and Collins have shown more independence from the Repug leadership than most, and they have both been firm supporters of abortion rights. Any radical anti-abortion moves in the Senate could be the solvent that dissolves their association with the party.
A party switch by all three Senators would not put the Democrats back in the majority, but it would return them to a position much closer to parity. And there will be other Senate seats to fight for in just two years. If Bush and the right-wing perform as we all expect—piling disaster upon disaster—the voters may be ready for a switch when that day rolls around.
Leon Holmes confirmed by the Senate
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Consumer news for Iraqis
A military hearing officer recommended that a Navy SEAL not be court-martialed for allegedly abusing prisoners in Iraq, including one at Abu Ghraib prison who died after a beating....
Problems with evidence presented at a pretrial hearing that concluded Monday led Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Henderson to recommend the unnamed sailor receive a lesser nonjudicial or administrative punishment, defense attorney John Tranberg said Wednesday.
Under military law, a hearing officer serves much the same function as a civilian grand jury, recommending whether there is enough evidence in a case to prosecute.
The SEAL was accused of kicking and punching Iraqi Manadel al-Jamadi, a suspect in the bombing of a Red Cross facility who died at Abu Ghraib prison in November 2003. A military pathologist said Al-Jamadi died after being beaten - a conclusion disputed by defense attorneys.
The SEAL also allegedly posed for a photo in which the prisoner allegedly was subjected to degrading treatment. The photo has not been released publicly.
A rear admiral in charge of the Navy's special warfare branch will make a final decision on whether charges should be filed....
The recommendation could signal problems in the Navy's efforts to prosecute seven members of a Sea, Air, Land unit known as Seal Team-7 accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners. Charges were dismissed last week against one SEAL. [emphasis added]
The Kansas City Star is running the story under "consumer news." I've decided to wait for next year's model.
A sensible solution for a divided nation
John Kerry's last flip-flop
In my Inbox yesterday (and probably in yours) was an email from "John Kerry." The second paragraph stated,
In America, it is vital that every vote counts, and that every vote be counted. But the outcome should be decided by voters, not a protracted legal process. [emphasis added]
What to make of that? Its internal contradiction brings it damned close to nonsense. If it is "vital" that every vote be counted, then count the damned votes. And if it requires a protracted legal process to get it done, then do it. Does anyone believe that a reversal of the vote outcome would have resulted in such a supine response by the Republicans?
Indeed there are a number of reasons why the slough of lawsuits around registration and balloting should have gone forward.
- We have the confusion of court rulings in several jurisdictions asserting that provisional ballots must be cast in the proper precinct, while at least one court has ruled that they must be cast only in the proper county. And there are many questions surrounding voter registration. Wouldn't it have been a service to the voters, to the country to have the rules made clear?
- By abandoning the vote count, John Kerry has guaranteed that the next election will be plagued by the same unresolved questions. That group of ninnies on Capitol Hill, of course, should make some clarifications of the voting laws. But they couldn't do it after the 2000 election, and I see no evidence that the quality of the legislators has improved.
- If it is vital that every vote be counted, why not count them? The people who took the trouble to go to the polls in Ohio, waited in line, stood in the rain, put up with the bureaucratic impediments to voting and ended by casting a provisional ballot deserve to see those ballots either tossed or validated, and if validated, counted. In Ohio alone we're talking about as many as 200,000 votes.1 And these votes represent voters. Guess what! Two hundred thousand voters have just been "dissed."
- Counting the votes would have given heart to those people who worked so hard—not just for John Kerry but for the right of all people to vote. What can he say to those individuals and organizations that invested so much time and money in the voter registration drives?
Kerry's email continues,
I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail. But it is now clear that even when all the provisional ballots are counted, which they will be, there won't be enough outstanding votes for our campaign to be able to win Ohio. And therefore, we cannot win this election.
Shorter version: I'm only interested in winning, and if I can't, I quit.
Not much principle in that, is there? And this attitude, which was there from the beginning, is among the reasons that John Kerry is about to become an historical footnote.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, John Edwards came before a group of supporters to say,
"John Kerry and I made a promise to the American people that in this election every vote would count, and every vote would be counted.
"Tonight we are keeping our word, and we will fight for every vote. You deserve no less. Thank you," he said to a roar of approval from the crowd.
I take the quote from South Africa's Independent. The article's title, as given by Google: Kerry surrenders after vowing to fight. That should be his last flip-flop.
In 2000, even before the new federal law, about 100,000 people cast provisional ballots in Ohio under the state's existing procedures, representing about 2 percent of all 4.7 million votes. Ninety-one percent of the ballots were held valid. [emphasis added][back]
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Quote of the Day
I haven't written a novel, I wrote an orgy. But it is set in a way that should remind us all that even on the slopes of an erupting volcano, there still may be everyday life. There still may be desire and loneliness and longing and death and desolation. These are the everlasting materials of life and they will be with us, I assure you, long after both Sharon and Arafat and Bush and bin Laden are forgotten histories.
—Amos Oz, Israeli author, speaking of his novel The Same Sea
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Kerry swoops past Bush in electronic futures
The futures markets have been touted as the best predictors of an election outcome. Until today these indicators favored Bush. But this afternoon the numbers changed.
Kerry led Bush by 18.1 percentage points in trading on the Iowa Electronic Markets, a not-for-profit political betting system run by the University of Iowa, as of 3:40 p.m. New York time. Kerry held a 16 percentage-point lead on Intrade, an electronic betting exchange based in Dublin known by its Web site TradeSports.com.
Ninety minutes earlier, Bush had a 3.8 percentage-point advantage over Kerry on the Iowa market and a 13.5 lead on Intrade. In Iowa, Bush futures last traded at 38.7 and Kerry was quoted at 56.8. On Intrade, Bush futures were quoted at 42, down from 57 at 2 p.m. Kerry was quoted at 58, up from 43.
Betting on Michael Moore
Nader a non-issue in Florida
In Florida, 30% of registered voters said they already had cast their ballots, using early voting sites and absentee ballots. They supported Kerry 51%-43%.
And Ralph Nader?
The independent candidate who helped swing the 2000 election to Bush isn't much of a factor this time. Among 1,573 likely voters, he was backed by 9.
On polls and the election outcome: Jimmy Breslin
When published reports showed a million new voter registrations in Florida and about 800,000 in Ohio, I made the election a lock. They were not rushing out for George Bush. And these poll takers were ignoring them. Any part of a million votes in Florida, most of them of color, would sweep the state.
The reporters said the nation was divided. They were afraid to say anything that might upset this view. You've been had by the news industry. Not once, even after the first debate when Kerry scored a technical knockout, did they take a step and call it as it happened. "War of Words" was the closest they could come.
So you were getting CBS/New York Times polls proclaimed as most important and real. One hundred seventy million cell phones and you don't poll one of them. The polls they are pushing at you in the news magazines, on the networks, in the big papers, are such cheap, meaningless blatant lies, that some of these television stations should have their licenses challenged. [emphasis added]
Monday, November 01, 2004
1. Add a comment to this post and include your email.
2. Enter the number of EC-votes for Kerry vs. Bush.
3. Enter the number of states for Kerry vs. Bush (Don't forget the District of Columbia!)
4. Enter the post-election make-up of the Senate (For example, Dem. 55, Rep. 44, Ind. 1)
5. Entries must be posted by 7 pm EST tomorrow.
6. Contest will be decided when either one of the candidates concedes or when the Supreme Court announces the winner, whichever comes first.
Prize: An authentic George H.W. Bush T-shirt from the Bush-Clinton election.
Predicting the Electoral College outcome
I see no reason why loyal readers of Simply Appalling should go to bed tonight worried about the election outcome, so I've decided to consult my tea leaves and publish the results. That way everyone can get a good night's sleep.
Well, why not? That's what the media have been doing all along—from the newspapers and network news organizations down to the cable-news trash. Every time they talk about a poll—which is about all they do talk about—they're implicitly telling you the election results. It can be very discouraging for Democrats.
Since I've been following the Rasmussen Electoral College projections all along, I'll use their latest as the basis for a forecast. Their projection is from last Thursday, October 28. They've projected 222 votes for Bush, 203 for Kerry with 113 "toss-ups." The winner needs to take 270 votes.
First, we need to remove some votes from the "Red state" column. There are several that don't belong there.
Let's begin with Arkansas (6). A state poll shows the race tied. The Dems are advertising there. And Bill Clinton is going to bring home the Razorback bacon. That brings Bush's total to 216, Kerry's to 209.
Next comes Colorado (9). This is a toughie. If my tea leaves make a mistake, I believe it will be here. But Ken Salazar for Senate is looking awfully good against Pete Coors. Pete Coors is pro-gay when he's selling beer and anti-gay when he's selling himself. Coloradans trust Coors beer more than they trust Coors politicians. Salazar is leading in the SurveyUSA poll 49% to 47% with 3% undecided. Once Coloradans vote Democratic for Salazar, they're on a slippery slope and could easily vote for Kerry. It just doesn't make sense to do otherwise. Bush 207, Kerry 218.
Now for Rasmussen's "toss-up" states.
First, let me deal with the "big three"—Florida (27), Ohio (20) and Pennsylvania (21). Florida and Pennsylvania are in the bag for Kerry. That's Bush 207, Kerry 266.
Since Ohio is generating the greatest Republican angst (you know, "no Republican has won the Presidency without carrying Ohio"), it is also generating the greatest Republican effort to intimidate the voters. Instead it has pissed them off. Oh, and did I mention too many jobs lost in Ohio? Bush 207, Kerry 286!
That puts Kerry over the top, but let's see if it gets any better.
I've tried everything to drum up a state for Bush, but I just can't do it. So going into the Kerry column will be Hawaii (4), Iowa (7), Minnesota (10), Nevada (5), New Hampshire (4), New Mexico (5) and Wisconsin (10).
So that gives us the final tally:
So get a good night's sleep!
I should mention that my results come very close to those of Princeton professor Sam Wang's "meta-analysis." His predicted outcome, as of noon today, is Kerry 323, Bush 215. Unfortunately, Prof. Wang relies upon polling data rather than my patented tea-leaf method, so you should probably not give his "meta-analysis" too much credence.
Kerry will win the Florida vote
I voted twice. Well, not really. But I have been to the polls twice.
On Wednesday I went to vote early. I also brought along someone who at 40+ had never before voted. He had intended to cast his ballot on Tuesday, but I urged him to come along with me. I warned that the lines could be huge on election day, that he would have to find his polling place (which he didn't know), and that he might be drunk that day and forget. He saw the wisdom of this.
He had registered a couple of years ago when he renewed his driver's license. He was nervous. He didn't know what they would ask him. He didn't know about the actual mechanics of voting—do you mark a box or make X's or touch a screen? He didn't know about the candidates for circuit judge. He didn't understand most of the propositions on the ballot.
Our new voter had heard that a raise of the Florida minimum wage was on the ballot. He wanted to vote for that. But that's not why he was voting. He was voting to throw George Bush out of office. He said that was all he wanted to vote for. He was concerned whether he could just mark his ballot for Kerry and the minimum-wage hike and still have it count. I reassured him.
Since I knew that the seat of his U.S. Representative was unassailable, I didn't confuse him with the small stuff. I got right to the Senate race. I said, "If you want Kerry to win this one, you also need to vote for the Senate candidate who'll help him out." I tried to explain about Supreme Court appointments and the role of the Senate. He said he understood and would vote for Betty Castor.
It took us about 45 minutes from the time we got in line out on the street until we were walking away from the building.
On Thursday I ran into another neophyte voter. He had only voted once before—in the 2002 election—and I know this for sure because I drove him to his polling place. Since he didn't have to be at work till the afternoon, I suggested that he let me take him down to vote early. He agreed.
We got there at midmorning, about the same time as the day before. They had had to move the location of the line. It was now about the length of a football field. I could see his spirits sagging. I said, "Just think—it may be worse on Tuesday" and stood with him in the line. In one day the waiting time had doubled.
There were so many young people. And minorities. These are not your "likely voters." The two people I took to the polls are not your "likely voters." This is why the polls are so wrong. And believe me—they are wrong.
George Bush has no "sleeper" voters. What you see as his poll numbers are the best numbers he can hope for. And I promise you that many of those voters are going to stay home. The sleeper voters are the "No more George Bush" voters. They don't know much about Kerry. Don't want to know. Don't need to know. They know enough—No More Bush!
Because of distortions in the polls, you should be adding from 1 to 3 percent in the Kerry column. This is true even when the polls show Kerry as favored. Every calculation the pollsters make (including "margin of error") is predicated upon past voter behavior. Forget it!
But the Palm Beach Post was reporting some amazing numbers yesterday, especially on the question of whether Bush should be re-elected.
President Bush started last week with Florida voters evenly split about whether he should be reelected: 48 percent supported him and 48 percent wanted someone new.
He ended the week with 52 percent saying they are ready for a change, compared with 45 percent favoring reelection.
The shift in response to a question that did not mention Sen. John Kerry by name — documented in an ongoing Palm Beach Post poll of 600 likely voters in 10 battleground states — suggests movement is afoot in the too-close-to-call presidential race.
For the second day in a row Saturday, Kerry was holding onto a narrow 49-47 percent lead in Florida over the president, according to The Palm Beach Post/Reuters/Zogby International poll.
And in other good news,
In the state's U.S. Senate race, Democrat Betty Castor not only kept her lead over Republican Mel Martinez for a second consecutive day but slightly expanded it Saturday.
Of course, Al Gore really did win Florida in 2000, and not just by a few hundred votes. But the early turnout indicates that even Fox News is not going to be able to spin this into a win for Bush come election night.
Sunday, October 31, 2004
EU Constitution signed; anti-gay candidate backs off
While we've been trying to hold an election, the European Union has been trying to adopt a constitution. Neither is going smoothly.
The EU constitution was signed this past Friday in Rome by the 25 member countries, but it will not be adopted until all EU countries have ratified it—a process that will take several years at best.
In the interim the EU is reducing the number of commissioners from 30 to 25—one for each member state. The commissioners are the executive body of the EU, and each country recommends one commissioner. Commissioners are not to represent their home countries but are to see to the interests of the EU. They are appointed for 5-year terms.
In what appears to be a rather strange way to organize a government,
Each commissioner has responsibility for a policy area, such as agriculture or competition.1
Twenty-four directorates general cover similar policy areas.
So as the new 25-member commission was being set up, Italy's prime minister, right-wing media mogul and crook Silvio Berlusconi, could find no better to appoint than Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's minister of European Affairs. (Please stop tittering; this is serious.)
Buttiglione is a personal friend and confidant of the Pope. The BBC described him as a
philosopher-politician, a man equally at home giving an ethics seminar as discussing practical solutions to Europe's immigration issues.
A father of four, he is a devoted, God-fearing Roman Catholic and a professor of political science in Rome.
Mr. Buttiglione came to the commission with high hopes. An Italian paper quoted him as saying,
I may be a nobody in Italy, but in Europe I will be someone.
Buttiglione was to be the EU minister for Justice, Freedom and Security, which would indeed have made him "someone."
But Rocco got off to a rocky start during the vetting process. Several weeks ago he went before the Civil Liberties Committee and was narrowly rejected for his view that homosexuality is a sin. He also didn't come off too well on immigration issues.
But the Civil Liberties Committee is only advisory to the European Parliament, which must ultimately approve EU commissioners. Now here's another quirk. The European Parliament cannot reject individual commissioners, but must accept or reject all 25 of them.
So the leftists in the Parliament opposed Buttiglione. The right-wing thought he was the best thing since brie. And the matter was to be decided by the liberals at the center, who—as you may imagine—were divided. Prime Minister Berlusconi thought Rocco was a victim of "leftist propaganda," and the Pope himself could hardly have been pleased.
Well, it was beginning to look as if the European Parliament might have to reject the whole caboodle of commissioners in order to get rid of Buttiglione. So in a last-minute capitulation, Berlusconi withdrew Buttiglione's nomination on Friday, and the EU commission was saved—well, sort of. They're supposed to take office on November 1 and they're going to be short one commissioner. But with so many of them, surely one or two could lend a hand.