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Recap

You could have had a V8.

Update: I don’t agree with Digby’s latest post that it’s all the Republicans fault that we’re stuck at 8.2% unemployment.  Yes, all of the things she lists the Republicans definitely did.  They’re bastards and they have a vested interest in seeing that Obama is a one term president.

The problem with her argument is that in the first two years of the crisis, it was Democrats who had the power to ram through any damn thing they wanted to.  They could have played hardball and stuck together and presented a united front.  I’m even betting that Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman could have been leaned on to get their asses into line.  But there was no political push to do this.  It was an emergency and yet, the incoming Obama administration had no plans when it came into office.  It didn’t do its homework.  There has been plenty of evidence that Obama and Geithner totally blew it in the first two years and that’s why we’re stuck.

But the worst thing is that they seem to have just thrown up their hands and are are like, “Well, what do you want us to do about it now??  This shit is getting old.”  Let me just remind you that this is the same campaign tactic that Jon Corzine took and it didn’t work for him.

Let’s face it, the Democrats did this to the country when they decided to put a complete novice, bought by Wall Street, who had almost no legislative experience, in charge of the most important nation in the world in the midst of the worst economic downturn in 80 years.  There is no getting around it.  Obama’s lack of legislative progress reminds me of JFK’s and that was primarily self-inflicted because the Kennedy crew refused to use LBJ to muscle arm people into line.

Obama wasn’t dealing with a 100% hostile Congress in 2009.  He had almost a mandate and he could have used his political capital at that time to demand just about anything.  Instead, he spent an awful lot of time preening for the camera during the first two years and I know this because his face was on TV in the company cafeteria every fricking day during lunch.

I don’t know what is wrong with this batch of Democrats but I don’t trust them.  They’re too friendly to bankers, too dismissive of working people and they don’t do their homework.  Obama and his crew did not come to Washington with a plan to save homeowners and preserve jobs.  They just didn’t, Digby.  There is no evidence that they even made those items a priority and plenty of evidence that they bent over backwards to save the financiers from the consequences of their bad behavior.  You can blame the other side all you want but the lack of plans is very telling and you can’t blame that on Republicans.  No one should get blamed for the lack of planning but Obama and the Democrats.  They let us all down and this particular batch does not deserve four more years.

As long as the Democrats refuse to change their lineup, that leaves us with Mitt, who we also don’t want.  I’d like to think there was a difference between the parties but I’m looking at a party of almost criminal incompetence vs a party of insanity.  As far as choices go, this is as bad as it gets.  We can’t do anything to change the crazy Republicans and as long as Obama is on the ticket, we will have to expect more of the same lassitude for four more years.  It is only by changing out the top of the ticket do we push the election into a new energy state and have a hint of a possibility of recapturing a mandate.  At this point, working people on both sides need something to look forward to.  There’s only one person who could potentially pull this off.

Otherwise, we continue on in our lost decade, the rich get stronger, the voters continue to be disenfranchised and any hope that we will regain our footing will be lost for a long, long time.

*************************************

Let’s recap where we are leading up to this election, shall we:

The economy added a lousy 80,000 jobs last month.  The unemployment rate is stubbornly stuck at 8.2%.  Expect the assholes who are sitting on the money to stay sat until they get what they want, whatever that is.  In Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men, he describes a proposal by Christina Romer, chairwoman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors, that $100 billion would go a long way to putting many unemployed people back to work.  There were still Democratic majorities in Congress at the time. Obama passed on it.

Frankly, I’m finding this election to be really boring.  I don’t care how many frogs Mitt Romney blew up when he was a child or that Ann likes dressage.  I. Don’t. Care. Please don’t waste my time telling me how awful Republicans are, as if I didn’t already know.

Tell me why the Democrats aren’t just as awful from the standpoint of the unemployed.  You know what?  You can’t.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is on a marathon trip around the world putting out multiple fires, likely without much help from the National Security advisors who seem to like putting her in tight spots and then hanging her our to dry all by herself on the world stage.  Nice way to support the State department.  Way to go, Obama administration. Oh, and we haven’t gone to war with Iran yet, which all of the anti-Hillary Democrats were *convinced* she was going to do.

So, you know, there’s that.

Plus more people are losing their homes, yada-yada-yada…

There’s still time.  If the impending catastrophe in November is starting to look like the end of the world as we know it, and more voter suppression and internet censorship will surely follow, NOW would be the time to register your concern with your local Democratic party apparatus.

It ain’t over until the balloons drop in Charlotte.

Trust me, Democrats, you do not want to bore your voters.  And right now, there are a lot of us out here who are less likely to vote for your candidate with each new revelation about his administration.  The peer pressure tactics may not work nearly as well this year.  What makes me furious with the Democratic party is their insistence on ignoring voters and acting all parental about what candidates we are allowed to choose from.  Then comes the pressure tactics where you’re made to feel guilty if you don’t choose one of these horrible people.  You know, f^*( that sh^&.  It’s not up to me to make this right for the Democrats.  It’s up to the Democrats to make this right for me.  I’m sick of voting for the lesser evil, especially because I can’t tell anymore who that person is.  Don’t roll your eyes at me.  It’s not obvious to those of us who are losing our standards of living, watching Obama stand by while Rome burns.  He doesn’t take any pains to disguise his ennui for people losing their houses and everything else they worked so hard for.  And his crowd suppression tactics of the Occupy movement tells me all I need to know about whether he intends to do anything about our grievances.

So, shove it, D’s.  Get him the f&(* out of there or YOU will be responsible for what happens next.  The authoritarian strain is strong in this one and I refuse to participate in the destruction of the Democratic party any longer.

***************************

Here is the current Obama attitude as interpreted by Lilly Von Shtupp:

DNC to Arkansas Voters: “F%^& you”

Following West Virginia’s primary vote example, Arkansas voters are fixin’ to deliver a message to the Democratic party today.  Tennessee lawyer, John Wolfe, was running a mere 7 points behind Barack Obama in recent polls of the Democratic presidential primary there.

Oh, I know that a lot of people are going to call the voters of Arkansas racists or, even worse, conservatives.  But in 2008, Arkansas voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton and, well, we saw how that turned out at the convention.  So, maybe, they’re not racists or conservatives.  Maybe they’re just pissed that their primary votes last time meant absolutely nothing to the DNC and they are trying to communicate their extreme displeasure with the suck ass job that Barack “I would give myself a B+” Obama has done in the intervening four years.

The DNC has told Arkansas straight out that it doesn’t matter who it votes for in the Democratic primary, Barack Obama is getting all of the delegates.  Yep. They say he hasn’t complied with the delegate assignment rules.  I’m not sure the voters really give a flying f^&* what the delegate rules are. They just want to register their discontent and be counted.  As I recall, it was the DNC’s robotic adherence to The RULZ!, while feverishly working to undermine them, that lead to Obama’s nomination in the first place, voters for the other candidate be damned. But that’s the official decision.  Which leads me to wonder why states all over the country spend millions of taxpayer dollars to stage a primary where the results have already been determined by the party.  That’s money that could be used to hire some teachers or pave some roads or repair bridges or pay for some poor kid’s asthma medication.

It’s also just hints at what Katiebird has been saying about how the party could make a change in the lineup if it wanted to.  If primary results are meaningless and the party has decided who will get the delegates, then that means that if they get enough of these messages from primary voters who are disgusted with Obama, they could have a serious discussion with their candidate and maybe even bring in a relief pitcher.

Nothing is certain, not even Obama’s name on the ticket, until the balloons drop at the convention.  That’s not being a fantasist or crazy.  That’s seeing an opportunity to put pressure on the party that most other activists seem to have missed.  You don’t have to settle.

But one thing is for damn sure, if the party ignores its voters during primary season this year, they may not have a chance to make amends before the general election in November.  And there’s no amount of bad mouthing Romney you can do to make them ignore their anger at the party and Obama.  If I were the party, I’d get out front of the problem early and find out exactly what it is that voters want.  Because Arkansas is not an isolated example.  Kentucky is also having a primary today and while Wolfe isn’t on the ballot there, voting “uncommitted” is an option.  Then there’s Texas next week where Wolfe is on the ballot, and New Jersey in June where write in candidates are allowed.  Guess who I’m writing in? So, there are plenty of opportunities left for voters to slow the party down from rolling right over them.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

*************************************

I read this post yesterday at Digby’s about how the Democrats have made themselves a party of special interests and now the rest of the country is rejecting it.  While I understand the hypothesis, I disagree with it.  It just gives progressives an excuse to whine that no one understands them and all the good stuff they are trying to do.

The problem with this argument is that in 2008, the party had a humongous opportunity to break out of the perception that it is beholden to special interests but it passed on it.  By electing Clinton, they would have gotten back all of the working class people (by the way, that would include everyone not working on Wall Street).  The biggest pull they had was that millions of women from both sides of the aisle would have voted for her.  And this is why what happened to the party in 2008 was a self-inflicted wound that has festered: women are NOT a special interest.  Women are 53% of the population.  By electing Hillary, they would have acknowledged that fact.  By electing Obama, they aerosolized their base into a bunch of competing factions and then proceeded to gleefully neutralize the power of those factions.  The party has now become exactly what Digby fears it is.  It is perceived as being the refuge of the culturally disenfranchised groups who have no power and are completely at the mercy of the party fundraisers.  Those fundraisers have all the real power to direct policy, and they have- for their own benefit.  Without the money, Obama and the party is left to pander for the support of the groups it has gone out of its way to weaken in the past four years.  And the rest of the country, under stress economically is just tired of the austerity, unemployment and their dismal future prospects.  Republicans have seized on this situation by pouncing on those disenfranchised groups making it necessary for Obama to go after them, albeit weakly, and that makes him look even more beholden to them while paradoxically not being able to offer them much more than lip service.  It’s a fricking disaster.

The struggle is not between the liberal Democrats and the rest of the country.  The struggle is between the liberal Democrats and the moneyed interests that have taken control of the party.  The rest of the country *loves* liberal policies like Medicare and Social Security.  They’d love a modern New Deal initiative too, if only the party had a candidate who would put one together.  That’s never going to happen as long as one weak president is beholden to the guys who funded his campaign the first time.  With Obama, we get the worst of all worlds.  He’s a moderate Republican disguised as a liberal Democrat.  Karl Rove couldn’t have designed it better.

It could have all been avoided if the DNC had actually allowed a real roll call and floor fight at the convention in 2008 instead creating the false illusion that one candidate was soooooo far ahead of the other that there wasn’t a contest.  Too late to redo 2008 but 2012 is still available, and as we have seen above, primary votes are fungible to the Democrats…

As for whether African Americans would have abandoned the Democrats, I have my doubts.  *Maybe* the party might have lost the male portion but African American females would have won with either candidate. I think they would have come around. Then there were all of the Republican women I met when I was canvassing and phone banking who couldn’t cross lines in a closed primary but were determined to vote Democrat in the general.  That would have been more than historic.  That would have been a complete cultural shift and we missed it.

Oh well.

And Gallup says that Hillary Clinton is incredibly popular.

Sunday: Ok, I think we’re on to something here

We few, we happy, happy few Conflucians might be a shrieking band of paranoid holdouts, or some such Kossakian nonsense, but we have something the rest of the left blogosphere doesn’t have with few exceptions (corrente, Ian Welsh and Avedon Carol, for example): The pain of independence.  What the heck does that mean?

Well, it’s just a single point right now and I need to collect more data.  (“fricking scientists”, they mutter)

The term “pain of independence” is what psychologists say  people experience when they refuse to conform to peer pressure.  Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” cites a psych experiment where a group of people are shown a couple of 3D objects and are asked to decide whether the first object can be turned into the second.  Think of it as an exercise in group mental paper folding.  You have to turn the object around in your head and look at it from all angles.

There were a couple stand out features of this experiment.  First, the subject didn’t know that the group was seeded with people who knew the right answer but deliberately gave the wrong answer.  The other thing was that everyones’ brains were being monitored. The experimenters already knew in advance that a certain percentage of people were going to go along with the group and give the wrong answer too.  The question that the experimenters were asking was, did the subjects choose the wrong answer because they knew that it was wrong but consciously decided to go with the group to fit in (pointing to the prefrontal cortex) or were their perceptions changed unbeknownst to them (pointing to the parietal and occipital lobes)?

The disturbing answer is that the subject’s perceptions were changed and they weren’t even aware of it.  Yep, peer pressure affects your sense of space.  Maybe this is not entirely mysterious.  A sense of space would seem to be important to how you fit into a group of individuals.  Think of herds or flocks of birds.  People presumably once travelled in such pods before, hundreds of thousands of years ago.  So maybe this is an artifact of that.

The question that next occurred to the experimenters is: what was happening to the brains of the people who didn’t go along with the crowd?  Ahhhh, this is interesting.  It turns out that their amygdala was activated.  The amygdala is the small almond shaped structure located near the middle of the brain that processes emotions.  If you were a holdout, your amygdala lit up indicating the emotion of knowing you were alone on this one.  Sending this signal to the prefrontal cortex is too cold and logical.  No, to be a dissenter means you know the emotional pain of not fitting in.

And that, my friends, appears to distinguish the dissenters from the joiners.  The dissenters appear to be able to tolerate that pain better than the joiners.

If you were a Hillary holdout in 2008, because you had used the rest of your brain to process the information about the candidates, you likely knew the pain that comes with resistance to peer pressure.  And it *is* painful.  No one likes to be left out from that emotional tug that enveloped everyone else.  That’s why love bombing is so effective.  It alleviates the pain of being alone and drops your resistance to peer pressure.  If you attempt to dissent later in the indoctrination process, the love is withdrawn and you know the pain of independence.  It is not pleasant.  Ask the many former Hillary supporters who changed their allegiance in 2008 because they didn’t want to be ostracized.  Oh, yes, the emails I got during that summer when the pain got to be too intense for some people.  Talk about embarrassing.

Cain reports that something like 40% of the people in peer pressure experiments will go along with the group.  It’s hard to believe that there are 60% of us who won’t because we always seem to be on the losing end.  On the other hand, our elections have been really close over the past 12 years.  Gore actually won, Kerry probably did, we know that Hillary beat Obama in the primaries by a slim margin in spite of the horrific peer pressure tactics.  So, there are more people resisting than it appears but the bad guys keep winning anyway.  I suspect that’s because there are a lot more people who experience the pain of independence than care to admit.

According to Cain, the reason why democracies exist is because  of the dissenters.  That would be the 2008 PUMAs who were mocked and humiliated, and the Occupiers who were treated like radical, lice ridden troublemakers.  And maybe I shouldn’t be surprised to have counted myself in both groups’ numbers.  A Jehovah’s Witness child knows all too well the pain of independence from the group.  We have been brought up to be isolated.  Our very first day in the classroom is a lesson in dissent when we are instructed by our parents to not salute the flag.  (when I think about it, it’s a shitty thing to do to a 5 year old, but I digress.)  Our amygdalas have been exercised so much throughout our childhoods that we are used to the sensation, even if it is still unpleasant.  We realize that we aren’t going to die of embarrassment or ridicule if we don’t go along with the crowd.  I’ve said in the past that my purpose here at The Confluence is to give people a place where it is safe to be unpopular.  I knew it was important but until today, I didn’t know why.  Same with Lambert, Avedon and Ian.

The left blogosphere might want to think about that for awhile.  If it thinks that nothing it does makes a difference to the powers that be, maybe it should try dissenting and allow the pain of independence work its magic.  DON’T say you’re going to vote for the bastards even if they treat you like shit.  And then mean it. They’re counting on you to go along with the crowd in order to alleviate that pain and fear.  Peer pressure only works if you let it.  And those of us who have resisted from the beginning can’t reason with you to make you see our point of view.  Resisting peer pressure is something you need to come to grips with on an emotional level your own.  It *is* painful but worth it when your thoughts are your own. It’s sometimes physically disorienting and nauseating, I won’t lie to you. People aren’t going to like you.  They’re going to call you stupid or mentally ill.  They’ll say they were wrong about you and you’re not as sexy and smart as they thought you were.  They’ll tell you that you will bring Armageddon down on everyone’s head if you let the Republicans win.  They know how the brain game works because they’ve read the studies and it’s always worked this way.  If you give in to them, they win and they can do whatever they like because they know you will go along in order to feel good about yourself.

They need you more than you need them.  They still need the momentum of the crowd, the frenzy of the mob, the mounting pressure as the election gets nearer.  They need your vote.  If you refuse it, you monkeywrench their entire peer pressure apparatus and then they have to start paying attention to you and addressing your demands.  They’d rather not have to do that.  They have other people to win over.  It’s easier for them to know that they have checked you off their list so they can move on to tougher nuts.  Don’t make it easy for them.

Accept the pain of independence, learn to dissent and triumph over them.  Think of it this way, dissenting is the best way to preserve our democracy.  That’s an idea that is worthy of the pain.

********************************

The dissenter’s theme song since 2008:

 

Wednesday Morning News

Good Morning Conflucians!!!

Election day seems to mostly be over. Let’s take a look at some results. First up in California, Both Whitman and Fiorina win their GOP primaries:

Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman, who ascended to the top of the business world before turning to politics, prevailed in their respective battles for the G.O.P. nominations for the U,.S. Senate and Governor in California, setting the stage for costly general election fights this fall.

Ms. Fiorina, a former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, beat Tom Campbell, a former congressman, and Chuck DeVore, whose candidacy has drawn the backing of many Tea Party activists. She will face the incumbent senator, Barbara Boxer, in the fall.

Ms. Whitman, the former chief executive of eBay and a billionaire, had invested a small share of her personal fortune to prevail in the governor’s race over Steve Poizner, the state insurance commissioner, who put up $24 million of his own money into his primary campaign. She will challenge Jerry Brown, the state’s attorney general, who was first elected governor of California three decades ago.

So two GOP women win. It’s the GOP, so generally speaking they’re not on our side. Then again, who is. The general in both of those elections should be interesting. I’m definitely on the side of moonbeam (Jerry Brown), but then I’m a bit of a fan. Boxer, that’s a tough one. Any of the prominent Democrats that helped push Obama over the top in his ill gotten gains in the primaries, and then continued to support such things as a Heritage Foundation designed, Insurance Industry authored health insurance bailout bill isn’t anyone’s friend. But then likely neither is her competition. We’re screwed either way.

Next is Arkansas with Blanche Lincoln edging out her Kos/SEIU/Obot backed Bill Halter helped by some last minute Bill Clinton backing and campaigning. Yep, the Clinton’s still have it. It’s Arkansas, what idiots thought big dawg wouldn’t have a big impact (from the same NYTimes article):

Ms. Lincoln prevailed in the run-off over Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, despite millions of dollars spent on his behalf by organized labor and other special interests, setting up a general election race with Representative John Boozman, the Republican chosen late last month.

Although it’s kind of cool that Lincoln beat the one the Obots backed, she was against the public option. You know, exactly like the President and the entire Democratic party in the end. So she’s not necessarily our friend or a real Democrat either. Then again… Bill called Lincoln the comeback kid though, so there’s that.

And back on the GOP side over in South Carolina, Nikki Haley won, but not by enough. So she will face a run off election:

The Arkansas result came after a bruising Republican primary race for the South Carolina gubernatorial nomination was forced into a runoff of its own after Nikki Haley overcame accusations of marital infidelity. Ms. Haley will face U.S. Representative J. Gresham Barrett.

Ms. Haley, a state legislator, fell just short of claiming an outright majority of votes and now faces a June 22 primary with Mr. Barrett, a four-term congressman.

“We had the kitchen sink thrown at us,” Ms. Haley said in an interview on Tuesday. “We are a state of great people. We are a state of dirty politics.”

In recent weeks, she had been twice accused of infidelity by men allied with her opponents. She fiercely denied the suggestions. She rose in the polls by promising to break up an entrenched network that has dominated state politics for decades and she portrayed the unsubstantiated charges of extramarital affairs as retaliation for taking on special interests.

In my district, the fighting 5th, Robert Hurt won on the GOP side to go up against Democrat Tom Perriello for congress. Tom unfortunately, like most freshmen congressmen, sucked up and did what Obama told him too on every vote. Maybe he has more too him. Hard to tell. I think he will have a very tough fight in November.

In other election news: Jerry Brown wins the Democratic nomination for CA governor. Duh. Californians vote to change to open primaries. It looks like the Tea Party candidate, Sharron Angle, will win the GOP slot to go against Harry Reid. Of course Harry is happy. I’m not so sure Harry can win even if he was running against Elmer Fudd. In a slight bit of comedy, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s first ballot in the election was rejected because he voted for two senate candidates. So many jokes to be made of that, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader:

Did California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have trouble making a decision in his state’s competitive GOP Senate primary today? The Associated Press is reporting that a scanning machine rejected Schwarzenegger’s ballot because he had selected two candidates for Senate.

Poll worker Keta Hodgson tells the AP that the Republican governor was given a choice of filling out a new ballot or not having his Senate choice count. He chose to cast a new ballot.

All in all it was most definitely a day for women. The only question is, are they women who are on the side of the people or on the side of the corporations. Since it’s pretty much a given that both parties are 100% in the tank for corporations, it probably doesn’t matter. To that end, why not go for women when possible. Just because. Well, except if they’re completely wacko like the “birther queen”:

Orly Taitz is an Israeli émigré who has spent the past two years filing lawsuits challenging President Barack Obama’s right to be president on the grounds that he was born in Kenya. In the process, she has earned herself $20,000 in court fines.

Now she’s running for the GOP nomination for secretary of state, and with her establishment-backed primary opponent mounting a less-than-stellar campaign against her, operatives say there’s a chance she could win.

“It’d be a disaster for the Republican party,” says James Lacy, a conservative GOP operative in the state. “Can you imagine if [gubernatorial candidate] Meg Whitman and [candidate for Lt. Gov.] Abel Maldonado — both of whom might have a chance to win in November — had to run with Orly Taitz as secretary of state, who would make her cockamamie issues about Obama’s birth certificate problems at the forefront of her activities?”

There are a lot more races out there. Chime in with your local races and any interesting stories.

Meanwhile Obama is out campaigning for the healthcare reform bill (I shit you not):

On Tuesday, Obama held a town hall meeting on health care at a Maryland senior center. He talked about the $250 check the newly-passed legislation will send to seniors who fall into Medicare’s “doughnut hole” gap in prescription drug coverage, and answered questions about the bill’s general impact.

Polls show Americans remain split in their opinion of Obama’s health care effort, so the administration is trying to quiet voter doubts in advance of fall mid-term elections. Since many of the bill’s major changes don’t take effect for years, officials are highlighting those things that happen soon – such as the “doughnut hole” rebate – in their attempt to garner favorable public opinion.

“We’re moving quickly and carefully to implement this law,” Obama told the crowd at the Holiday Park Multipurpose Senior Center in suburban Wheaton.

It’s been easy to overlook with all the attention devoted to events in the Gulf of Mexico, but health-care reform remains a contentious issue in Washington. Republicans are convinced that the relative unpopularity of the health-care bill will help them make big gains in November.

I guess if you’ve failed at everything else, go out and campaign for something already done with. Makes sense. Hmm, maybe he could hang around with the birther queen. They may have a lot more in common that I originally thought.

The Wall Street Reform bill is making the rounds again. A memo from Volcker pointing out exceptions to his rule making banks less risky:

White House economic adviser Paul Volcker, in a letter obtained by Reuters, said he firmly opposes exemptions to his rule being sought by banks that say they make only small investments in private equity and hedge funds.

At the same time, some Senate Democrats were moving to toughen the Volcker rule by reducing the latitude given to regulators in implementing it once it becomes law — a prospect now widely seen as all but certain, likely within weeks.

Conflict over the rule — which threatens the profits of banking giants such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — came as a congressional conference committee prepared for its first meeting on merging House and Senate reform measures into the biggest bank regulation overhaul since the 1930s.

After days of behind-the-scenes talks among conferees, the committee will hold its first public meeting on Thursday, with the goal of completing its work by June 26, Representative Barney Frank, the committee chairman, said on Tuesday.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will appoint Democratic members from that chamber to the joint Senate-House committee on Wednesday, Frank told reporters.

Frank and other conference committee leaders will have the difficult job of balancing Democrats’ desire for a hard-hitting bill with the need to retain some support from Republicans who have generally sided with Wall Street in resisting changes.

That last paragraph cracked me up. Like there’s a difference. Such theatre.

Hillary has been working to fix relations with left leaning Ecuador:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reached out Tuesday to one of the left-leaning populist leaders of South America, attempting to edge Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa out of the orbit of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

By all appearances, the charm offensive had an impact. A beaming Correa professed admiration and respect for “dearest Hillary” and for President Obama. He said he and Clinton had discussed tough issues — such as Ecuador’s concern over the U.S. military operating out of seven bases in neighboring Colombia — but said their two countries would have “debate with great openness.”

“The new left that I represent is not anti-anything,” Correa said at a joint news conference after three hours of talks. “We are not anti-capitalist. We are not anti-American. We are not anti-imperialist. We are pro-dignity, pro-sovereignty, pro-social justice, pro-good life for our people. We are in favor of the good things.”

He added that “we love the United States very much,” noting that he “spent the happiest four years of my life with my family in that great country” when he earned a master’s and a doctorate at the University of Illinois.

On the other hand, Nancy Pelosi tried to give a speech but was heckled the entire time by protesters wanting better healthcare (esp. home care vs. nursing care):

The protesters, wearing orange shirts and chanting “Our homes, not nursing homes,” did not let up until Pelosi finished her address and left the stage with security guards. The protesters said they were members of ADAPT, an activist group that advocates for disability rights and is fighting for passage of the Community Choice Act. The bill was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in 2009 but has not advanced out of the Finance Committee. In the House, a similar measure remains in the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The act would allow those who are eligible for care in a nursing home to instead receive similar care in their own homes through community-assisted living.

Many of the protesters were in wheelchairs or otherwise disabled, and they held up banners. One protester shouted at Pelosi: “We supported Obama. We supported you. We supported the campaign . . . But we don’t want to be taken from our homes.”

In a show of grace and charm and understanding, Nancy said:

At one point, Pelosi made light of the protests, saying: “Listen, I’m used to noise. I talk to the Democratic Caucus every day.”

In her speech, Pelosi noted the historic health-care overhaul and outlined a message she hopes will carry Democrats through the November midterm elections.

I don’t think she’s quite right in the head. Whatever you do, don’t look into her eyes. {{Shudder}}

Meanwhile Obama says he’ll get tougher on Oil companies while he moves to reopen offshore drilling:

But President Obama, in some of his strongest statements to date on the April 20 oil disaster, said he wanted to know “whose ass to kick” over the massive April 20 spill.

He said he still supports offshore drilling as BP struggles to contain its gushing well, but said oil companies will face greater oversight.

“I believe that we’re going to need to increase domestic oil production,” Obama told NBC’s “Today” show in an interview.

“But we can’t do these things unless we’ve got confidence that somebody’s looking over the shoulder of these folks because the systems have gotten too complicated for us to simply say, ‘you know what, you can go do what you want.'”

Obama, under pressure from critics who say he is not doing enough to contain the oil washing up on Gulf shores, said he appointed a bipartisan commission to look into the oil spill because he could not expect to get the truth from BP or other oil companies.

“I want them to report back to me because you obviously cannot take the word of oil companies when they say they’ve got a bunch of redundancy and back-up plans when something like this happens, and it turns out they have no idea what they’re doing.”

There he goes again, talking and talking, but what does he do. He’s our drill baby drill president. He never saw a mega corporation he could refuse. Here BP, take Louisiana, with my complements. Do whatever you want. My stupid minions will follow me whatever I do… {{bangs head on table}}

Congressman Nick Rahall (D, WV) is demanding more documents from Transocean that show there were fewer workers the night of the explosion than in preceding weeks:

Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall of West Virginia asked that Transocean, the Texas company that owned and operated the rig, to detail their staffing practices by providing work logs. Documents obtained by Rahall’s committee allegedly show that fewer people worked on the rig the night of the explosion than during anytime in the preceding weeks. Further, the committee says there were no engineers, electricians, mechanics or subsea supervisors on duty the night the rig exploded.

Mother Jones reports that witnesses knew the fire was going to happen and had warned about it:

Tony Buzbee, a lawyer representing 15 rig workers and dozens of shrimpers, seafood restaurants, and dock workers, says he has obtained a three-page signed statement from a crew member on the boat that rescued the burning rig’s workers. The sailor, who Buzbee refuses to name for fear of costing him his job, was on the ship’s bridge when Deepwater Horizon installation manager Jimmy Harrell, a top employee of rig owner Transocean, was speaking with someone in Houston via satellite phone. Buzbee told Mother Jones that, according to this witness account, Harrell was screaming, “Are you fucking happy? Are you fucking happy? The rig’s on fire! I told you this was gonna happen.”

Whoever was on the other end of the line was apparently trying to calm Harrell down. “I am fucking calm,” he went on, according to Buzbee. “You realize the rig is burning?”

At that point, the boat’s captain asked Harrell to leave the bridge. It wasn’t clear whether Harrell had been talking to Transocean, BP, or someone else.

And finally, Rod Blagojevich’s trial began:

An attorney for Rod Blagojevich declared Tuesday that the former Illinois governor is an honest man who “didn’t take a dime” of illegal money and simply trusted the wrong people to handle his fundraising before he was ousted by corruption allegations.

In a theatrical opening statement, attorney Sam Adam Jr. outlined for the first time how the defense plans to fight charges that Blagojevich tried to sell President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and sought to use his office to line his pockets and those of insiders.

“The guy ain’t corrupt,” said Adam, whose remarks seemed at times more like a tent revival than a courtroom presentation. He said Blagojevich and his wife will both take the stand.

The trial will likely be more sad than entertaining. If there are any dark secrets from Rahm or Barack or others in the WH, don’t expect them to be allowed out in the light of day though.

That’s a small bit of all the things happening. Let us know what’s happening in your neck of the woods, or anywhere else for that matter.

Stealing Iran . . . Stupidly

The statistics don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. The stealing of the Iran’s June 12 election has been obvious from the start. But that’s the nature of statistics; it’s real value is telling you that you what don’t know, it’s eliminating false positives. Walter Mebane of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has done the work to show that this disgraceful event really is a fact. I saw his article (pdf) when it first came out in mid-June, but seeing it again in Science News jogged me to talk about it. From SN:

“[Iranian election data] suggests that the actual outcome should have been pretty close,” says Mebane…. The official results showed Ahmadinejad getting almost twice as many votes as his closest rival.

Mebane cautions that the anomalous statistics could imaginably have an innocent explanation, that limited data is available, and that he is not himself an expert on Iranian politics. Nevertheless, he concludes that “because the evidence is so strikingly suspicious, the credibility of the election is in question until it can be demonstrated that there are benign explanations for these patterns.”

[A couple of paragraphs follow discussing the distribution of numbers in real data, known as Benford's Law.]

When Mebane studied polling station-level data from Iran, he found that the numbers on the ballots for Ahmadinejad and two of the minor candidates didn’t conform to Benford’s Law well at all.

In any fair election, a certain percentage of votes are illegible or otherwise problematic and have to be discarded. When people commit fraud by adding extra votes, they often forget to add invalid ones. Suspiciously, Mebane found that in towns with few invalid votes, Ahmadinejad’s ballot numbers were further off from Benford’s Law — and furthermore, that Ahmadinejad got a greater percentage of the votes.

“The natural interpretation is that they had some ballot boxes and they added a whole bunch of votes for Ahmadinejad,” Mebane says.

Mebane also received data from the 2005 Iran election that aggregated the votes of entire towns…. If Ahmadinejad fared poorly in a particular town in 2005, you wouldn’t expect him to do especially well there in 2009 either. …

The best relationship the model found produced 81 outliers out of 320 towns in the analysis, a strikingly high percentage. Another 91 fit the model, but poorly. In the majority of these 172 towns, Ahmadinejad did better than the model would have predicted.

“This is not necessarily diagnostic of fraud,” Mebane says. “It could just be that the model is really terrible.” But since the first analysis gives evidence of fraud, the cities the model flags as problematic are the sensible ones to scrutinize.

For me, the new bit of data in all that is just how bad they were at faking it. That gives watchdog groups a big opportunity if they can somehow get at the raw data before it’s destroyed.

I only regret that we in the US, with our long string of elections-as-theater, don’t have the Iranian opposition’s fire, and that we do have much more polished cheaters.

Update, Jul 24, 2009. I see today that there was another excellent article on the BBC on this topic, providing yet more examples of voting anomalies.

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