Monthly Archives: November 2012

Remembering Occupy

It’s been about a year now since the big Occupy camps were all shut down.  I remember the feelings of anger and impotence when the mayors began to say “Okay, you’ve exercised your First Amendment rights long enough; it’s time to go now.”  But I also remember the energy and camaraderie that permeated Occupy LA the day I visited.  I took many pictures, but I didn’t write about it at the time.  I do now.

It was a special day when they were encouraging people to visit; they had a stage (second photo) and a street closed off. It was sort of like a music festival with a couple hundred tents.

While it wasn’t very well-organized, it was very chill, clean, and safe-feeling. There was laundry service (16th photo), a first aid tent, and plenty of port-a-potties. There were a few baskets of free toiletries and snacks; take what you need, leave what you can. Some people were doing a yoga group. There were four or five cops, I think, but they were just hanging around and not hassling anyone. Within a few weeks they would be moving in at midnight and arresting everyone, but right then, things were calm. Villaraigosa said that if people needed to camp outside City Hall to exercise their First Amendment rights, then they could. (He changed his mind.)

One guy was silk screening red and blue “99%” onto clothes for free. He had a pile of thrift store clothes but he would also do any clothes you gave him; guys were just taking off their shirts and handing them to him. I got a brown T-shirt and gave him two gold dollars as a donation. (If you ever do this, go home and iron the shirt right away or else it’ll just fade out.)

Being a true grassroots movement, it had a homemade feel. Aside from the shirts, there was an area where people were making their own signs and stickers, mostly out of recycled materials. People were painting over old pieces of cardboard, many of them signs from previous protests, with light brown paint and then adding new messages (11th photo). I made myself a 99% sticker to put on my shirt. There were buckets of chalk and all available surfaces were getting chalked; I added a bit of my own (last photo, with my husband standing nearby).

Though the core message–economic injustice–was omnipresent, it was a big group of probably a thousand people or so and there were many other messages. There were anti-war protesters, immigration reform protesters, and a Filipino band talking about something in the Philippines that I couldn’t hear (9th photo). Anonymous was there (3rd photo). A guy with a video camera interviewed me for his news blog. He asked me about the common media narrative that Occupy protesters don’t know what they want. I told him that I knew why I was there and what Occupy was about and I thought just about everyone else knew, too. There’s a guy with a “Reinstate Glass-Steagall” sign (13th photo); how much more specific can they get? I didn’t note the name of the reporter’s blog, though, so I don’t know if I was on it.

The funny thing about the Occupy movement was that neither the movement nor the message was what vaulted it to prominence. It was the police brutality. If the cops in Wall Street and Oakland could have behaved as well as the cops in LA were at that time, the message of economic justice might never have spread as far as it did.

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The Trouble with Courting the White Male Vote

Opening blog posts and other informal writing can sometimes be a challenge.  Like this post, for instance: Do I really need to begin with “The Republican victory strategy revolved around the votes of white men,” as if that was new information?  The white dude vote has been the sum total of the Republican strategy for a good while now, though this election cycle was unusually extreme in that respect.  What is new information, at least to Republicans, apparently, is just how ineffective this strategy is.

The problem here is not that a party shouldn’t try to get white men to vote for them.  White men are a big demographic (although slightly outweighed this year by white women); presumably a candidate needs to capture some amount of it to secure a win.  The problem is how.

Since the white male voter has been entrenched in our political consciousness as the “default” voter, there aren’t any issues that are coded as white or male in the same way that, say, immigration is primarily a Hispanic issue or reproductive rights are primarily a women’s issue*.  If an issue were to disproportionately affect men or white people, it would be treated as an American issue that affects everyone.  The mortgage crisis, for instance: 75% of white people own their homes, as opposed to 60% of Asians and less than 50% of African-Americans and Hispanics, and spiraling rent prices don’t grab media attention as a national crisis.  And, for the most part, the populace goes along with this.

This mentality ought to be a godsend for a campaign looking to court the white male demographic because you can focus on the issues that most directly affect them while still appearing and presenting yourself favorably to everyone.  Yet this is insufficient for Republicans; they are under the impression that white male voters will only turn out for them if they help white men and nobody else.

Consequently, to appeal specifically to white male voters, Republicans have to (or think they have to) actively not appeal to other demographics.  Want to show that you support men?  Oppose women’s issues!  Courting the straight vote?  Snub the gay vote!**  Casting yourself as the candidate for people born in the US?  Make life miserable for those who weren’t!  And so on.

This choice is puzzling in the first place because it doesn’t actually help the white male voter base.  How does denying birth control to women, for instance, help men?  It only works if you can convince people that social policy is a zero-sum game where helping one person necessarily hurts everyone else and vice-versa.  There’s a whole conservative cottage industry that revolves around trying to convince people of this (NOM, for one).

But the really odd thing about this strategy is that was so obviously going to backfire.  How could it not?  Every time Republicans try to court one demographic by marginalizing another, they’re outright telling the other demographic not to vote for them.  Republicans are a party for men; women have no reason to support them.  Republicans are a party for white people; minorities shouldn’t vote for them.  And every time Republicans try to strengthen their core by undermining someone else, they add a new demographic to the list of people who shouldn’t vote for them.  Students.  Retirees.  The poor.  The list goes on.

Here we see the stark contrast to the typical Democratic strategy of appealing to minority demographics.  Instead of shutting people out of their party, they generally invite people in.  So Democrats define themselves as a party for minorities, for women, for GLBT people.  Each such definition doesn’t contain any implication that other people shouldn’t support the party, only that there are particularly good reasons to if you belong to one of those groups.  (Naturally, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Democrats are always good for those groups, only that they present themselves that way.)

Republicans have just learned a painful lesson: If you’re going to define your base by exclusion, you’d better be very, very sure that you don’t exclude more than 49% of the country.

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Women for Mitt found on Manboobz.

*Say affirmative action and I will smack you.

**The most egregious case came last December, when a gay Republican asked Newt Gingrich why gay voters should support him and Gingrich told him to vote for Obama.

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Reality

So.  The election is over.

Image from Wikipedia

For inveterate poll-watchers like myself, it’s fascinating–if a bit anticlimactic–to see a years’ worth of wild speculation finally replaced with one single, incontrovertible set of data–the final electoral map.  No more speculating on whether polls oversample certain demographics or how voter-ID laws will affect the outcome; the outcome is now known.  This abrupt switch from entirely abstract guesswork to entirely concrete fact is seen practically nowhere except elections and sports; as such, it provides an interesting glimpse into the difference between reality and peoples’ perception of it.

By which I mean, we now have proof that conservatives are completely disconnected from reality.

I’m not talking here about ideology and values; what you believe to be right or wrong can’t be proven or disproven (although, if you believe something to be wrong because of its consequences, then whether those consequences really happen can be subject to proof).  So, for instance, the election doesn’t prove that conservatives are wrong about gay marriage.  It does, however, prove that conservatives are wrong about the general population’s opinions towards gay marriage, since common conservative wisdom stated that gay marriage would never be legalized by popular vote; Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins still claims that “contrary to what the Left will say, the narrow margin for victory in these four states offers plenty of evidence that a solid majority of Americans still opposes same-sex ‘marriage.'”  Losing four out of four proves that you have popular support?  It sounds like any result would convince Tony Perkins that people agreed with him.

But let’s return to the presidential election.  Sabermetrician-turned-psephologist (there are two words you don’t get to use very often) Nate Silver, whose blog, FiveThirtyEight, rose to fame through his accurate prediction of the 2008 election, faced some harsh criticism near the end of this cycle from conservatives who balked more and more as his estimate of Obama’s win chance rose from around 60% after Denver to a final value of 90%.  At the end of October, when Obama had picked up the momentum that would carry him through to Election Day, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough railed that Silver’s current estimate of 73% was ridiculous:

And anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they’re jokes.

And then there was Dean Chambers.  Like many other conservatives, he believed that Silver’s model introduced bias by weighting different polls to produce the result he wanted.  And how do we know that Silver wanted to influence the election for Obama?  Quoth Chambers*:

Nate Silver is a man of very small stature, a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice that sounds almost exactly like the “Mr. New Castrati” voice used by Rush Limbaugh on his program.  In fact, Silver could easily be the poster child for the New Castrati in both image and sound.

You just can’t trust those skinny guys.  Luckily, Chambers runs his own, bias-free election model, Unskewed Polls.  Let’s see how his model fares against Silver’s.  Their final November 5 predictions are shown at left.  I’ve labeled the graphs, although I doubt I really need to.

As poll watchers already know, election night was a triumph for Silver and statistics nerds everywhere, as he correctly predicted 50 out of 50 states (his electoral college prediction, being an aggregate, was actually 20 points short).  Meanwhile, Chambers was off by a humbling 69 electoral votes.

But there’s more to this than “Silver was right, Chambers was wrong.”  Silver made a careful prediction, using a logical algorithm to weigh the different factors and laying out his reasoning every day on his blog, noting any changes from the previous day’s prediction and explaining why it happened.  Meanwhile, Chambers only gives a vague description of a variety of factors without any indication to where or how much each factor came into play.  Chambers’ map, in fact, doesn’t look like a prediction at all; it looks like a calculated effort to create a plausible-looking win for Romney while giving him the fewest necessary swing states.

The best evidence for this is Unskewed Polls’ previous prediction, from October 25, when Chambers produced the truly remarkable map shown here.

Nobody could possibly mistake that map for an actual prediction, right?  It has Oregon going for Romney.  Oregon, which hasn’t been won by a Republican since 1984, and which Obama won by 16 points in 2008.  Romney wasn’t even campaigning there!  This is obviously just partisan cheerleading.  Then, the day before the election, Chambers published the map shown above to maintain some credibility while still promoting Romney.  Theoretically he could pass the second map off as a revision based on recent polling data, similar to Silver’s procedure, but curiously, he doesn’t even try to.  The methodology instead only notes that there are 11 disputed swing states (still including some long shots like Michigan) and 39 states where the results are agreed upon…including Oregon, New Mexico, or Minnesota.  I couldn’t find any explanation for his choice to award those states to Romney in the first prediction or to subsequently change his prediction.  He seems to have just realized that his first prediction made him look ridiculous and attempted to sweep it under the rug.

Chambers had to know that his prediction was ludicrously wrong; likewise, at least some the many conservative pundits who predicted a Romney landslide had to realize what a long shot it was.  But some–most infamously, Karl Rove–really seemed to believe it, right up until it became mathematically impossible on election night.  Why?  What motivates people to cling to a prediction they know to be wrong?

I believe there are two primary reasons.  First, there’s the obvious effort to influence the election via the bandwagon effect.  Second, I think we’re seeing the effects of the ever-more-stringent Republican demands for party loyalty.  Suggesting that Romney might lose, after all, is tantamount to an attack on him as a candidate, since it suggests that he lacks the chops to actually win the vote.  There’s a degree of pride in statements that the results would be a surprise, or in predicting that Romney would win a state that most projections gave to Obama.  For instance, Dick Morris was clearly trying to set himself above other predictors when he said about his prediction of a 325-213 Romney victory:

It will be the biggest surprise in recent American political history.  It will rekindle the whole question on why the media played this race as a nailbiter where in fact Romney’s going to win by quite a bit.

Anti-intellectualism plays into this, showing up both in the attacks on Nate Silver and in the tendency to base predictions on a gut feeling, rather than poll data, such as Rush Limbaugh’s statement that “common sense tells me this election isn’t gonna be close” (Limbaugh also cited the odd “Redskins rule,” which bases the winner on the outcome of a Washington Redskins game).  So can the right’s ties to evangelicalism, as in Glenn Beck’s assertion that God put Romney behind in the polls so that Romney’s victory would clearly be a miracle.  Either way, though, the core principle remains: Find a reason why Romney will win, and if there isn’t one, look harder.

In other words, party loyalty encourages Republicans to refuse to believe obvious reality.  And, as they have just discovered, this is never worth it.  Because reality intrudes.  It stubbornly insists on happening just as it was always going to regardless of how many equivocations or justifications you make.  The only difference is that you’re unprepared.

XKCD by Randall Munroe

Although I don’t expect it will, we can always hope that the victory of the nerds will cause conservatives to rethink their out-of-hand dismissals of statisticians, scientists, economists, and everyone else who uses data to suggest that common conservative wisdom is wrong.  Maybe global warming is happening.  Maybe fracking does have a negative impact on the land.  Maybe cutting taxes on the highest earners doesn’t grow the economy.  And maybe acknowledging these facts and crafting a platform around them is wiser than clinging to a position contradicted by plain evidence.

We can only hope.

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*This links to a Gawker article, rather than Chambers’ original (which is linked at the beginning of the paragraph), because Chambers later deleted that paragraph and apologized.  After the election.  Almost as if, had Silver been wrong, Chambers would have redoubled the “you can’t trust femmy guys” line of attack.

**I’ve linked this HuffPo article, rather than FiveThirtyEight (linked in the body text), because FiveThirtyEight’s actual prediction maps are shown in a sidebar, rather than in an article, and therefore will probably become unavailable eventually.

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Victory Songs

You can really only play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for a first-term president, so I was trying to think of some good victory songs for the state propositions instead.  I’m not having much luck coming up with money-in-politics songs for California, but somehow I didn’t have much trouble coming up with songs for Washington.

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I hope Oregon is prepared for the slow, hungry northward migration through their territory.

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Why You Should Vote (Even If It’s a Surety)

Don’t disappoint the Avengers.

Doad and I have voted; have you?  If you’re a US citizen over 18, I don’t want to hear any stupid justifications; I’m sick of it.  Don’t tell me that you and your significant other aren’t voting because you’d cancel each other out; you’re not that stupid!  I’m especially sick of hearing that you may as well not vote (or vote for a third-party candidate) because your state is sure to go with one candidate or the other.  There are still good reasons why you should turn out and vote for the candidate you support.

Yes, there are ballot measures and local offices that you should weigh in on; California’s propositions cover everything from money in politics to the death penalty and are going to have a major impact.  Yes, sometimes even an election that seems like a surety can go the other way if the favored candidate’s supporters don’t turn out.  But the main reason, I think, is this: Because voting demographics influence more than the outcome of the election.

Even in a state where the outcome is sure, voting for the favored candidate still adds to the national popular vote.  While the popular vote doesn’t actually decide anything, those of us who were around in 2000 know what a mess you get when the popular vote and the electoral vote don’t align.  Casting a vote for the leading candidate helps prevent that possibility.  On the other hand, if you support the trailing candidate, a giant mess benefits you, so you should still cast your vote and narrow the popular vote.

Additionally, even if it doesn’t really influence the outcome, voting empowers your demographic.  If a state has a high voter turnout, that encourages candidates to focus future campaigns on that state and craft their platforms in a way that favors it; if a certain demographic, like students or retired people, turn out in large numbers for one candidate, then they become an important part of that party’s base and also an important demographic for the other party to try to recapture.  In other words, politicians pander to the people who might affect them, and while your location and demographics might not rank high on that list, by not voting, you’re voluntarily removing yourself from the set of people they ought to listen to.

Also, you can get 20% off at Dog Haus.

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