Apr 26

Jennifer Rubin Is Disqualified

Our first source to be disqualified is Jennifer Rubin, who writes a column for the Washington Post. She is not particularly secretive about being a conservative, but, more importantly, she’s really bad at her job. I will never accept her as a source on anything. Here are the 10 examples of violation of the source rules:

1. Lies: “Rubin invented the idea that State Department personnel in Washington, D.C., watched real-time video of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, a claim later debunked by Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple.”

2. Lies: “Rubin claimed in September 2012 that President Obama had not released a corporate tax plan. Obama released his corporate tax plan in February of that year, and Rubin criticized it at the time.”

3. Lies: “Rubin lied about President Obama’s remarks in the Rose Garden the day after the Benghazi attack, saying the president did not use the term ‘acts of terror’ in ‘the same paragraph with Benghazi.’ Obama’s next sentence after saying ‘acts of terror’ was about the four Americans killed in the attack.”

4. Hypocrisy: “Rubin wrote that the Tax Policy Center’s critique of Mitt Romney’s tax plan couldn’t be trusted because the group is “left-leaning” and “very partisan.” Ten months earlier she’d hyped the group as “independent” when it critiqued one of Romney’s primary opponents.”

5. Lies: Rubin claimed that the 2009 stimulus package contained no funding for ‘shovel-ready defense jobs.’ The stimulus allocated several billion dollars for military ‘construction’ projects and ‘operations and maintenance.’

6. Lies: “She invented criticisms of Obama’s second-term Cabinet nominees.”

7. Hypocrisy: “She alternated between describing Romney’s tax proposals as highly detailed and lacking detail, depending on which would better allow her to flack for them.”

8. Lies: “During the campaign she railed against Obama for not having an immigration plan: ‘Where is Obama’s solution?’ That plan was readily available on the White House website.”

9. Lies: She “fabricated the existence of a real-time video feed of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.”

10. Lies: “She falsely wrote that the Obama White House had conspired to shield the New Black Panther Party, a buffoonish black separatist group, from being brought up on voter intimidation charges during the 2008 election.”

Keep in mind, this was all found in a one-minute search on Rubin’s name. She has many, many other examples that could be included here as to why she is not a valid source.

I also want to take a closer look at one of her recent columns that is a really, really bad attempt at anything related to the word “journalism.” It’s basically a love letter to George W. Bush and it is very, very wrong. Renaissance man:

One of the favorite, entirely false nostrums of the left was that President George W. Bush was an ignorant rube. In fact, he was and is a voracious reader.

I know a lot of people who joked about this, but there is little to no evidence this was one of the “favorite” nostrums of the left, but that’s nether here nor there. The logic of the two sentences here is terrible. One can easily be a reader and still be ignorant. If all you read, say, was TMZ and Us Magazine, chances are ignorant would be a great word to describe you. Also, the idea that “Bush is ignorant” is an “entirely false” notion is a ridiculous claim. Watch this video. At a minimum, this compilation, which only touches the surface, shows that Bush had a real ignorance of the English language and/or public speaking. Possibly of basic facts as well. Rubin said that the ignorance claim was “entirely false.” “Entirely” means 100%. Even if this were the only evidence of Bush being less than perfectly smart (which is far from the case), this would be enough to invalidate her claim.

And unlike the current Oval Office inhabitant, Bush has an essential humility that never changed. ( “Look, the signature is more valuable than the painting.”)

Not only is there literally nothing to back up her claim that Bush shows humility and Obama shows arrogant, these talking points come directly from conservative media and fly in the face of known evidence about both men.

Media elites are cultural snobs, but they are narrow-minded and to a large degree prejudiced. They mock, even now, his accent.

First off, Rubin is a media elite. Second off, there is no evidence to back up the claim that media elites are “cultural snobs,” “narrow-minded” or “prejudiced.” She’s completely making all of these claims up. Bush’s accent wasn’t mocked out of “elitism,” it was mocked for the fact that his accent was adopted in order to make him seem more “folksy,” he was born in Connecticut and grew up there and went to Ivy League schools. He also uses a lot of words that don’t exist or messes them up, so much show that there’s a massive website devoted to it.

They roll their eyes at his sincere expressions of faith. (Recall when he said Jesus was his favorite philosopher.)

Not in the slightest. We don’t believe it’s sincere and his expressions of faith seem shallow and totally calculated to win votes. For one, his policies were highly inconsistent with the teachings of his self-professed favorite philosopher. Also, his knowledge of religious topics (as noted by Al Franken) falls far short of his professions of faith. If the media believed him, they wouldn’t roll their eyes.

They can’t quite get their minds around the notion that Bush gobbles up history books. Yet they are taken in by the pose of intellectualism by a president who continually mangles history and whose worldview and economic views are straight out of discredited leftist scripts.

No, we understand that he reads history books. But, based on his words and policies, we aren’t sure that he understands them. The most important basic thing to know about the Middle East is that there are different strains of Islam that have conflict with each other. When he was preparing the invasion of Iraq, Bush didn’t seem to know this basic fact, something that any reading of relevant history books would point out in the very beginning. And nothing in Rubin’s commentary here about Obama is valid. Where are there examples of Obama mangling history? I’m not aware of any. And his economic views (as noted by authors like Bob Kuttner) are most decidedly NOT leftist. Leftist economics does not focus on deficit reduction in time of slow growth. Most leftist economists think that is crazy. We could go on and on, but the area that Obama is MOST conservative is his economics.

The media’s off-kilter assessment is in large part the bias of cultural familiarity: People who sound like them, went to top schools and hold their beliefs are sophisticates. Pomposity is confused with wisdom. Directness is misdiagnosed as simplistic.

Except that the aforementioned George W. Bush went to those same top schools. So how is that the media hates people who didn’t go to elite schools and they hate Bush who went to those elite schools. And none of us confuse “pomposity” with wisdom. We do, however, frequently confuse higher education with wisdom. We particularly think that people who have higher levels of education know more than people who don’t. We think this because it’s a basic fact of life. And we don’t think directness is simplistic, we don’t think people like Rubin or Bush are direct at all. We think they lie a lot. And we think that their outlook on the world is simplistic because it is (“you’re either with us or you’re against us” is a logical fallacy, the either/or fallacy to be specific).

Political karma is quite rich. In his retirement Bush is now well regarded for his artistic sensibility.

Really? By whom? Name one person who isn’t a fan of Bush’s politics that is a fan of his “artistic sensibility.” Again, I’m guessing Rubin just made this one up.

If the media were more honest they might even concede he is deep and philosophical.

We’d concede this if there were any evidence of it. I’ve seen none.

Well, he certainly is more intellectually curious and endearing than the current president.

Similarly, no evidence exists that I am aware of that even remotely suggests that Bush is more intellectually curious than Obama. This is ad hominem attack piled upon uninformed hero worship on Rubin’s part. She doesn’t even attempt to back this up with facts, she just asserts it. That’s not something anyone who is a journalist should ever do, especially a journalist who works for the Washington Post.

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Apr 26

Sources

One of the key things that Political Moneyball will be doing is examining and testing the reliability of sources.  Obviously, most of us don’t have the ability to gather information for ourselves, so we rely upon others to do that for us.  There is a tendency for people to look for sources that agree with their pre-conceived notions and ideology and not adhere to any basic principles of what is a valid source.  I will attempt to remedy this.  First up is a list of principles for what makes a good source or a bad one.  The principles here are, obviously, up for debate, but you’ll have to make a strong argument to get me to change one of these.  Later, I will start examining specific sources to determine if sources are reliable or not and I will track which sources are bad from here forward.

But first, general principles of good and bad sources:

1. Scientific sources are better than journalistic sources.  Journalistic sources are better than non-journalistic sources.  All other things being equal, that is.

2. All sources should show their sources.

3. Footnotes along do not make a source valid or scientific.  They have to be used properly and not, as Ann Coulter uses them, to obscure the truth.

4. Experts actually do know more about topics than non-experts and that should count for something.  It is also not the be-all, end-all of the discussion, as experts are humans and make mistakes, too.  Experts have to prove their point, too.

5. Ideology alone does not invalidate a source.  The source has to lie, distort, or somehow otherwise obscure the truth because of the ideology the hold.  The fact that they did this can’t be assumed, it has to be proven.

6. Potential bias does not equal actual bias.  You can’t just say a source is biased and reject it, you have to use evidence to establish said bias influenced the source to be inaccurate or dishonest.

7. Out-of-date sources are invalid if it is obvious that newer data is different than the referenced data.

8. If you make a claim on my blog or my social media, the burden of proof is on you to back it up, not for me to disprove it.  No exceptions.  If you want further sourcing on something I say, ask me, without insults or pre-rejecting what I say.

9. Wikipedia isn’t acceptable.  Nor is any encyclopedia, almanac or the like.

10. Words have meanings and they will be adhered to based on common dictionary definitions, not your own personal definition.

11. Attacking a source as invalid is not acceptable unless you prove that they are wrong.  An attempt to prove something is wrong doesn’t mean you were successful.  You actually have to convince me in the context of this list and the Principles list.

12. Bad sources will be ignored and deleted.

13. I don’t care if you think your source is valid or awesome or whatever.  My blog, my social media, my conversation.  Follow the source guidelines or don’t waste your time, your comments will be deleted.

Like I said, I will start evaluating sources here, particularly bad sources.  If I discover that a source, on more than one occasion, has violated the below principles more than 10 times, I will label them a bad source and will never accept them as evidence for any claim.  An organization who has at least three different people make a combined total of 20 or more violations will get the same label.  Here are the principles that make me distrust a source and will make me label it as a bad source:

a. Lies: Deliberately saying something that is false.  I will consider it a deliberate lie if someone says something that has been widely reported as false (i.e. Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction at the time we invaded Iraq).

b. Bad logic: I’ll write more about logic later, but there is a pretty clear system that exists for using logic to build arguments.  Violating those rules is not legit unless you prove that the rule itself is invalid.  (i.e. The Boston bombers were Muslims, so all Muslims are terrorists).

c. Insults: Reporting news and providing opinions on the news is not a realm where insults are helpful or appropriate.  I use the word “insult” very broadly.  Whenever your comments are about the person and not about what they have said or done, your comments probably constitute an insult. (i.e. Barack Obama is a nazi, or You have no idea what you are talking about).

d. Hate speech: Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the like are not things said by serious people (i.e. fag, bitch, illegal immigrant, macaca).

e. Conflict of interest: While an apparent bias is not alone sufficient to disqualify a source, quid-pro quo arguments are.  If a source says that “oil is awesome” and they are fully funded by the oil industry, that will count as a violation of the good source guidelines.

f. Frequent citation of disqualified sources: A source that bases its conclusions and evidence on bad sources will be cited as being a bad source.

g. Hypocrisy: Sources that are hypocritical and make varying claims not based on evidence, but based on ideology and party will also be labeled bad sources.  (i.e. someone criticizes Obama for something they said was okay when Bush did a similar thing).

Like I said before, this list is open to discussion and reform, but this is where we are at the start of this conversation…

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Apr 25

Principles

In order to start from a place of clear understanding before I delve more into the lack of knowledge and understanding of logic and science that I mentioned in the previous post, I wanted to get a few assumptions out of the way that I will be constantly using in my posts on this and related topics.  Theoretically, these are up for debate, but only in the context of this post, not in the context of day-to-day posts that are not about these topics.

1. Objective truth exists.

2. We may not be able to fully understand it, but the more facts we gather, the closer we can get.

3. Any claims I make are up for debate, but if they are factual claims, only scientifically-valid research that says they are false will be accepted.  Your belief that something is true or not true is irrelevant.

4. Logic works and will be adhered to.

5. The scientific method works and will be adhered to as much as possible.

6. Ideology and morality are relative.

7. Facts are not.

8. Accuracy and truth are important, “balance” is not.  Something is either true or it isn’t (or we don’t know), both sides cannot have their own opinion about a fact.

9. Saying something is true or not true does not make that thing true or not true, no matter how often or how strongly you say it.  If you make a claim and I refute it with evidence, only evidence will suffice as a response.  I will delete comments that violate this principle or get into circular arguments where you are repeating yourself.

10. Journalism, while more valid than the average person on the street’s word or ideas, is not science and cannot substitute for science.  That being said, journalists from non-partisan/non-ideological sources will be given the benefit of the doubt that what they are saying is accurate unless they have been proven to be dishonest or incompetent or what they are saying clearly flies in the face of available evidence.

11. There are no universals, no situations of “all or nothing,” and no factual litmus tests.

12. Strategy does not equal ideology.

13. Hearsay is not valid.

14. Motives are internal things that are hidden and are difficult to discover.  I have no interest in discussing why you think someone did something unless you have clear evidence for that claim.  I’m not interested in your speculation.

15. Insults, of any kind, implied or direct, are forbidden and will be deleted.

16. Sources matter.  More on this in the next post.

17. These rules are open to changes or additions, based on evidence and/or valid logic.

18. If you can’t abide by these principles, then move along, you are in the wrong place.

19. You do not have the right to free speech on my blog or social media networks.  I will delete comments that do not add to the discussion or are offensive.  Multiple violations will lead to people being blocked.

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Apr 25

Update

This blog is not dead, was just on hiatus. Announcing the new direction I’ll be going in for now.

It seems that the majority of the people (on and off Facebook) need some serious coursework in logic, evaluating evidence, coming to conclusions, and making arguments. That and how to evaluate sources, a basic understanding of constitutional law, and a significant study of history. If only there were a system in place to accomplish this. And if only that system were immune to manipulation by conservatives, businesses, extreme religious influences and the like. Since we don’t have that, I guess I’ll have to do it.

So I will. Starting now.

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Dec 21

Understanding the Real World

Just a quick note:

We don’t have to guess as to whether or not most things will work in the real world. The world isn’t nearly as mysterious as people think. We can look into things like “more guns make people safer,” and find, though research of the real world using the scientific method, what the answer is. And the answer is clearly “no,” but people who have already chosen guns, like any other humans, hate to be wrong, and so they defend their pre-chosen position against all facts and logic to the contrary. I was relatively pro-gun when I was younger. Then I learned the facts. I’m not pro-gun anymore.

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Dec 06

Critical Thinking Reading List

In order to get to where I am in terms of my thinking process when it comes to politics and science and the like, I’ve read a ton of things over the years. I am hardcore when it comes to making sure that when someone says something, that it be factually accurate and logically sound. Below is a list of the key books that I read along the way that got me to where I am.

Critical Thinking

  • Curses! Broiled Again! (1989) – Jan Harold Brunvand
  • Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? (2000) – Martin Gardner
  • Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (2004) – George Lakoff
  • Evolution and the Myth of Creationism (1990) – Tim M. Berra
  • How We Believe (2000) – Michael Shermer
  • I Love Paul Revere, Whether He Rode or Not – Richard Shenkman (1991)
  • Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History – Richard Shenkman (1988)
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me – James W. Loewen (1995)
  • Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric, Seventh Edition (1995) – Howard Kahane
  • The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends – Jan Harold Brunvand (1993)
  • The Borderlands of Science (2001) – Michael Shermer
  • The Choking Doberman and Other “New” Urban Legends (1984) – Jan Harold Brunvand
  • The Demon-Haunted World (1996) – Carl Sagan
  • Thinking Points (2006) – George Lakoff
  • Voodoo Science (2000) – Robert L. Park
  • Why People Believe Weird Things (1997) – Michael Shermer

Philosophy

  • Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do (1996) – Peter McWilliams
  • Brain Droppings (1997) – George Carlin
  • How Democratic Is the American Constitution, Second Edition (2003) – Robert A. Dahl
  • Political Control of the Economy – Edward R. Tufte (1978)
  • Politics and Markets – Charles E. Lindblom (1977)
  • Politics and the Bureacracy – Kenneth J. Meier (2000)
  • The Dark Side of Christian History (1995) – Helen Ellerbe
  • The Politics of Sin (1994) – Kenneth J. Meier
  • The Semisovereign People – E.E. Schattschneider (1975)
  • The Sometime Connection – Elaine B. Sharp (1999)
  • Understanding the Constitution (1994) – J.W. Peltason & Edward Samuel Corwin

Ideology and Party

  • 449 Stupid Things Republicans Have Said (2004) – Ted Rueter
  • Big Lies (2003) – Joe Conason
  • Decline of American Political Parties 1952-1996 – Martin P. Wattenberg (1998)
  • Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (2003) – Al Franken
  • Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot (1996) – Al Franken
  • Secrets, Lies and Democracy – Noam Chomsky & David Barsamian (1994)
  • Stupid White Men…and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! (2002) – Michael Moore
  • Take Them At Their Words (2004) – Bruce J. Miller and Diana Maio
  • Tell Newt To Shut Up – David Maraniss & Michael Weisskopf (1996)
  • The Common Good (1998) – Noam Chomsky & David Barsamian
  • The Emerging Democratic Majority (2002) – by John B. Judis & Ruy Teixeira
  • The Rants (1996) – Dennis Miller
  • The Truth (With Jokes) (2005) – Al Franken
  • Up From Conservatism – Michael Lind (1996)
  • Wait! Don’t Move To Canada! (2006) – Bill Scher
  • We’re Right, They’re Wrong – James Carville (1996)

Issue-Specific

  • 50 Facts That Should Change the World (2004) – Jessica Williams
  • Acts of Aggression (1999) – Noam Chomsky, Ramsey Clark & Edward W. Said
  • Downsize This (1996) – Michael Moore
  • Drugs In American Society, Sixth Edition (2005) – Erich Goode
  • Fast Food Nation (2002) – Eric Schlosser
  • Take the Rich Off Welfare (1996) – Mark Zepezauer & Arthur Naiman
  • The Government Racket – Martin L. Gross (1992)
  • The Political Racket – Martin L. Gross (1996)
  • The Politics of Gun Control – Robert J. Spitzer (1995)
  • The Umbrella of U.S. Power (1999) – Noam Chomsky
  • The War On the Poor: A Defense Manual – Randy Albelda, Nancy Folbre (1996)
  • Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions and Issues, Fifth Edition (1999) – Thomas M. Magstadt & Peter M. Schotten
  • Why Marijuana Should Be Legal – Ed Rosenthal & Steve Kubby (1996)

Media

  • It’s the Media, Stupid (2000) – John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney
  • Mediaspeak (1983) – Donna Woolfolk Cross
  • The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of Error (1995) – FAIR
  • Virtuous Reality – Jon Katz (1997)
  • What Liberal Media? (2002) – Eric Alterman

 

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Dec 05

Changes

So you might have noticed a name change and the elimination of Florida stuff from the sidebar. I’m permanently in Washington, D.C. and the Florida Progressive Coalition blog wasn’t being updated with much in the way of Florida content. There were a few contributors who were posting from time to time, but not sufficiently to maintain the blog. I want to thank the people who helped out with the blog over the years and I wish the Florida blogosphere well, hoping that many of the great people I met throughout the years will continue the work we started back in 2005 and earlier.

This blog is not dead. The focus is going to shift both out of necessity and out of new interests that I have developed in recent years, mostly based on labor issues (my new professional field) and building and educating the progressive movement. That’s what the future focus of the blog will be.

The new title comes from the previous post, which is really one of my main areas of interest these days.

Old information will not disappear from the website. All of the old Florida posts and the Florida wiki will remain and the wiki is likely to continue to be updated in the future.

Thanks, Florida. I wish you the best. Let me know if you need anything.

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Nov 08

Political Moneyball

In 2003, Michael Lewis wrote a book called Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, a book that is probably the best combination ever of good writing and important analysis about the sport of baseball. It went on to be massively popular and was eventually made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill (a very good movie, too). The central premise of the book is that the so-called “wisdom” that has dominated baseball thinking for the last century is deeply flawed. Baseball has always been heavily oriented to statistics and numbers, but the numbers used are a really bad measurement of how good players are and they should be replaced by better numbers, using more scientific analysis to improve results. This seems obvious, but despite the fact that newer, better statistics have been developed (usually under the blanket term Sabremetrics), at the time of the book’s topic, almost nobody was even beginning to look at those better ways of analyzing the facts. In fact, traditional baseball analysts not only reject the new statistics they ridicule them and make it difficult for people who recognize the value of the new statistics to find work or keep a job. Even after teams like Oakland and Boston showed significant success with the new, more scientific approach to the game, most teams still reject the new ways for the old, preferring to rely on the conventional wisdom that really, really has no validity.

While the book is about baseball, it is nearly perfectly analogous to politics, particularly left-wing Democratic politics.

Democratic politics is heavily focused on numbers, but few, if any of the people examining those numbers really have any training in statistical analysis and even fewer of them know what numbers are important or how to study them. Logical fallacies abound in the “study” of elections and policymaking. “Gut feelings” and “experience” hold more sway than empiricism. Hell, people still spend money on yard signs, despite the clear evidence that they are useless.

And the adherents to the old way of doing things, the conventional wisdom, not only staunchly defend their way of doing things — even though they consistently lose — they keep training the next generation of candidates, staffers and consultants and they keep getting paid large sums of money. And they keep losing. They win often enough to claim that their methods work, despite the fact that there are many other factors that determine election outcomes and the obvious fact that even a terrible candidate can win if they have enough money and a favorable enough climate for their party or even bigger incompetence from their opponent (see: George W. Bush). These same people explain away any loss as based on the “specific circumstances of that particular race,” while always claiming it is their own expertise and knowledge that led to victory. They are exactly like the football players who thank Jesus when they score a touchdown but forget to mention his name when they fumble the ball. This is how Democrats consistently lose, despite the fact that they have more registered voters in their party and the fact that the people overwhelmingly support the more liberal position on almost every issue.

You can see some of this on the right, as evidenced by this year’s assault on Nate Silver, the New York Times blogger who has predicted nearly every Senate race and electoral college state in the last two elections. Prior to Tuesday, right-wingers were assaulting him as a partisan (despite the fact that he doesn’t vote and prefers Libertarian candidates) and dismissing his analysis. But scientific research never lies and it is only wrong very rarely (if properly conducted). Democrats were scared to death about this election despite the fact that all the available scientific evidence said, from the beginning, that Obama was very likely to win. But if you reject science — which even most Democrats frequently do — it’s much easier to be scared and it’s much easier to have no idea of what to expect.

But there is a better way. We need to take the lessons from Moneyball and apply them to politics. And it isn’t the case that we have to somehow come up with money to engage in new research or anything like that. This is what political scientists do. And what they’ve been doing for decades. Any serious political analyst needs to regularly be reading the work of political scientists, which can conveniently be found in the political science journals. While these aren’t widely published, they also aren’t very hard to find. Every college library has access to them and Democratic organizations should be making a point to obtain subscriptions, particularly since they aren’t exactly cheap. A great list of political science journals can be found here. If you aren’t reading these journals on a regular basis, then you aren’t up-to-date on the latest research on politics. And if you haven’t read them in the past you really don’t understand how politics actually works in the real world. And you probably lose a lot.

A lot of people like to act like politics is some kind of vague, amorphous thing that we can’t really understand and we just have to get a “feel” for it. This is complete and utter nonsense. While people’s opinions are subjective and often illogical outside of their specific context, the simple fact is we can study those opinions and beliefs and actions and it is clear that there are patterns and that if we know and understand these patterns based on scientific research it becomes really easy to predict behavior. Opinion polls are often seen as this crazy, unpredictable thing that are highly inaccurate, but that’s really not the case. Why has Nate Silver been so accurate? Is he lucky? Is he just really good at having the right gut feeling? Or does he really understand how polling works and has trust in what the polls tell him if they are conducted properly? It is definitively that last one.

To take the polling example a little deeper. Properly conducted polls are highly accurate. For decades, the final polls before election day are almost always within 1-2% of being completely accurate. This is why Silver has been so correct, because he’s paying attention to the polls and using them correctly. Here’s how polling works when it’s done properly. There are two key principles for any scientifically valid poll. The first is randomness. The participants in the poll have to be randomly selected. You can’t just pick your friends and poll participants can select themselves for participation (one of the many reasons online polls like those favored by networks like CNN are meaningless). Second, but equally important, is the fact that the poll has to be representative of the population it claims to represent. If you want to know what “Americans” think and you poll only people who live in Miami, your poll will be invalid, since the population of Miami is not very similar to the overall population of the U.S. The most accurate political polls closely represent the demographic breakdown of the population they claim to represent. While the percentages don’t have to be exact, they should closely represent the population the claim to be representative of — in terms of gender, race, party identification, cell phone vs. landline, etc. The more different these numbers are in the sample compared to the general population, the more inaccurate the poll is likely to be. If you noticed the pattern of more conservative polls being more wrong than the mainstream polls, it was because they oversampled Republicans and undersampled Hispanics and cell phone-only users.

If a sample is representative and random, it only needs to be big enough to be accurate. The larger the sample, the more accurate it tends to be, although after a few thousand, the difference is so miniscule as to make the cost of expanding the sample not worth it. Polls in the 600-800 range tend to be a really good cost-to-accuracy ratio, it seems. And while non-scientists can question how such a small group of people can represent a whole population, suffice it to say that this has been tested over and over and over and over again and found to be highly accurate. Also keep in mind that any individual poll, even if correctly administered, could still be an outlier. This is why everyone looks at the averages of the polls rather than just an individual poll. And, of course, the wording of the questions in a poll can be highly influential on the outcome and can greatly reduce the validity of the poll. Also, polls are a snapshot in time and the farther away you get from the event, the less predictive they become of the event. The overall point, finally, as Nate Silver shows, is that if properly conducted and interpreted correctly, polls are very accurate. Particularly national polls that are taken frequently. The more local the poll gets, the less likely it is to be accurate, because local polling tends to violate many of these principles, often out of necessity, particularly in the lack of money to conduct accurate polls.

The rest of scientific research, even political science research, is just as accurate as the polls are when conducted properly and interpreted correctly. More on this, and Political Moneyball, later.

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Nov 08

Was This The Most Progressive Set of Election Outcomes in American History?

Probably. We’ve had more progressive presidents and Congressional delegations, but has there ever been an election where the voters did more to push progressive outcomes via the ballot. The biggest aspect of this is the fact that the people rejected just about everything that conservatives stood for this year — their candidates, their manufactured “scandals,” their attempts at voter suppression, their issues, their media manipulation, their math, their very understanding of the way the world works. It’s always sketchy to draw a “message” from aggregate votes, but this list of progressive outcomes is unprecedented and seems to have really sent a message about what it is the American people want. Here’s a incomplete list of what happened:

-Democrats have won the national popular vote in every presidential election since 1988 excpet one; during that same time (unless I’m missing something) the combined vote of all U.S. senate seats has been more Democratic than Republican; the U.S. House despite the gerrymandering that gives Republicans the majority, is made up of a combined vote that also favors Democrats. The majority of American voters almost always prefers Democrats and it’s up to tricks in order for Republicans to be in power

-Regardless of whether or not you think that Obama is a progressive, he clearly ran on a progressive agenda. He championed increased regulation of Wall Street, defending Social Security and Medicare, immigration reform and the Dream Act, raising taxes on the wealthy, condeming income inequality for the working class, women’s rights, global warming, equal rights for the LGBT community

-Openly gay candidates had a very good night: Colorado elected openly gay men to both the speaker of the House and Senate presidency, the first time that has ever happened, Tammy Baldwin was elected to the senate, six openly gay House members were elected or re-elected, Florida elected its first two openly gay state legislators

-Six Republicans who minimized or made apologist comments about rape lost — Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Roger Rivard, Joe Walsh, Tom Smith, John Koster

-Pro-working family Maggie Hassan defeated tea party candidate Ovide Lamontagne for governor of New Hampshire

-Other extremist congressional candidates lost, such as Connie Mack, Mary Bono Mack, Adam Hasner, Allen West, David Rivera, Chip Craavack, George Allen, Denny Rehberg, Scott Brown, Linda McMahon, Tommy Thompson, Josh Mandel, Linda Lingle, Pete Hoekstra, Heather Wilson

-Californians defeated a $50 million campaign in support of Prop 32 that would’ve denied working families a voice

-Californians voted to raise $6 billion for education by requiring the state’s wealthiest residents to pay their fair share

-Michigan residents voted out the undemocratic emergency manager law that allowed unelected managers to fire local elected officials, break contracts, seize and sell assets, eliminate services and even eliminate whole cities or school districts without any public input

-Minnesota defeated a voter suppression/identification initiative

-Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Montana and Wyoming voted down assaults on the Affordable Care Act

-Marriage equality measures won in Maine, Maryland and Washington, while Minnesota defeated an anti-gay marriage proposal

-Long Beach, Calif., required a living wage law for hotel workers, Albuquerque and San Jose raised their minimum wages

-Despite being outspent by nearly $200 million, Democrats picked up seats in the House

-Democrats gained new majorities in at least eight more legislative chambers, retained their majorities in eight other chambers that were targeted by the right and gained seats in at least 40 legislative chambers across the country

-Pro-environment, Ocean Champions-endorsed candidates won 41 of 43 races so far (with 3 outstanding)

-Michigan voters rejected a requirement for a supermajority to approve any tax increases

-Oregon rejected a cut to the estate tax

-Maryland voters passed a state-level version of the DREAM Act allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges

-Indiana defeated state school superintendent Tony Bennett, who has worked to increase emphasis on student test scores, blame teachers, implement state takeovers of struggling schools, and rapidly expand charter schools

-Idaho voters defeated the “Luna Laws” that imposed a mandate for online courses for high school graduates, made test scores the measure of teacher quality, provided bonuses for teachers whose students got higher scores, removed all teacher rights, eliminated anything resembling tenure or seniority, turned teachers into at-will employees, and squashed the teachers’ unions

-Florida rejected a constitutional amendment that would have removed the constitutional provision that prohibits the use of vouchers at religious schools

-Colorado and Montana voted against the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United

-Colorado and Washington state legalized marijuana for recreational use, while Massachusetts voters legalized medicinal marijuana; Detroit, Flint MI, Ypsilanti MI, Grand Rapids MI, Kalamazoo MI, Burlington VT all weakened marijuana criminalization laws

-The right-wing assault on Nate Silver and his vindication showed many Americans that science and math actually work, despite political considerations

-Right-wing anti-gay group attempts to vote out moderate or liberal judges in Florida and Iowa all failed

-Most of the Blue Dog candidates recruited by the DCCC’s Steve Israel lost, as did several Blue Dog incumbents

-All five candidates endorsed by the anti-teacher, pro-charter school, pro-standardized testing group Stand for Children lost in Colorado

-The youth vote remained steady at around 50%, providing enough of a margin for Obama to win in numerous states

-A wave of progressive candidates was elected or re-elected: Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Alan Grayson, Joe Garcia, Sherrod Brown, Chris Murphy, Martin Heinrich, Mazie Hirono, Lois Frankel, Mark Takano, Alan Lowenthal, Rick Nolan, Carol Shea-Porter, Ann McLane Kuster, Sean Patrick Maloney,

-Obama became the first Democrat to win the Cuban-American vote in Florida since the Cuban Revolution, which, if it holds, makes it more and more difficult for Republicans to hold onto anything in Florida

-Powerhouse Daily Kos raised more than $3 million and won at least 14 races and 4 ballot initiatives they gave money to

-Despite media claims and Republican attempts to change things, the Jewish vote for Obama held steady

-The Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Linda McMahon and others spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy elections only to come up largely empty-handed

-Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood for the first time

-At least 79 congressional candidates who signed Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge lost elections

-Florida defeated an anti-choice amendment

-Troy, Michigan, voters ousted a homophobic mayor

-Arizona defeated a measure that would’ve allowed the state to seize federal lands

-Florida, Missouri and Arizona rejected proposals that would’ve given right-wing governors or legislatures more power over judicial appointments

-We now have a record number of women in the senate

-we elected our first Asian American female senator

-We elected the first woman war veteran with disabilities to Congress

-New Hampshire became the first state to ever have an all-female congressional delegation

-Reports suggest that tea party members feel vindicated by the election and will push for more and more extreme candidates in future elections that will have little to no chance to defeat more progressive candidates

-Hawaii sent the first Buddhist to the U.S. Senate and the first Hindu to the U.S. House of Representatives

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Nov 06

Election Protection Alert: Voting Trouble In Pinellas County, Florida

This post originally appeared at AFL-CIO

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of robocalls were sent out from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office this morning instructing voters that they could vote tomorrow. After about 30 minutes of the calls going out, they were stopped and the SoE’s office issued a statement saying that the calls were inaccurate.

The office sent out calls on Monday reminding voters who had requested mail-in ballots that had not yet submitted them that they had to submit them by 7 p.m. “tomorrow,” which meant Tuesday, election day. But about 120,000 of the automated calls had not gone out yesterday and were still in the system. At 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, they started going out with the “you can vote tomorrow” message included and it took about half an hour before the problem was discovered by county officials and the calls were stopped. They said they couldn’t tell how many of the remaining calls went out, but it was far short of the total number.

Pinellas County is the sixth largest in the state and is part of the Tampa Bay area, including the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

In a separate incident, 30 valid voters were apparently turned away from a polling location in the same county:

About 30 people trying to cast a ballot at 501 1st Ave. N in downtown St. Petersburg were refused by poll workers who misunderstood the state requirement for identification, said Alma Gonzalez, director of voter protection for the Florida AFL-CIO. Some voters were refused to cast a ballot, others were told they could vote by provisional ballot, which has a higher rejection rate.

Poll workers insisted that the residents have a single form of identification that included a photograph and a signature, such as a driver’s license, Gonzalez said. State law requires only that voters present a photo and a signature, which could be on separate forms of identification – such as a student id with photo and a Social Security card with a signature.

Pinellas County officials stated in a press release that no voters were turned away.

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Nov 05

Obama’s First Term Was A Success

So a number of people I’m friends with — on both sides of the aisle — have argued that Barack Obama hasn’t had a successful presidency. I find that claim highly inaccurate. Now I’m not saying that I love Obama or that I think he’s above criticism, that’s certainly not the case. We could easily spend a lot of time talking about things like drone strikes and the public option and slowness on LGBT rights and a number of other things, but this isn’t a post about those things. This is a post about what being a “successful” president means and whether or not Obama has been one.

A big part of the problem is that most people get their information from the mainstream media. The media has been beating the drumbeat since at least 2010 that Obama’s presidency has been a failure. And, the media, conservatives claim, is biased in favor of liberals. Most people accept both of these claims without questioning them (despite definitive proof that both claims are false), and if the media is biased in favor of Obama, then he must be doing really bad.

So what would it mean for a president to be successful? That’s a vitally important question that nobody is really talking about. Here are the things I think that make up a successful presidency (feel free to suggest others):

1. Things in the country, in general, have to get better
2. The president was successful in getting his agenda passed
3. The president avoided significant scandals

While these are listed in order of importance, we’ll take them in reverse order, since they’re easier to deal with that way. The third one is the easiest — Obama has been the most scandal-free president in my lifetime. Conservatives have tried as hard as they possibly could to manufacture something that would stick, but nothing has. Not because Obama is “teflon” or “slick,” like previous presidents, but because he seems to be a highly moral man in his personal life and it’s just alien to him to do the types of things that recent presidents have gotten in trouble for, such as having sex with interns, manufacturing wars based on lies or trading arms for hostages. There is, in fact, at this point, no scandal that would even get a one sentence line in a history book or encyclopedia, no matter how hard the right tries to turn Bengazi or the “apology” tour or any of that nonsense into a scandal.

Obama has had more of a mixed bag at getting his agenda passed. In the first two years, he had a number of his agenda items stalled by the filibuster and conservative Dems in the Senate and in the last two years, Republicans have blocked almost everything. Some of that is his fault, but the bulk of it, particularly in the last two years, really isn’t. There wasn’t much he could do to persuade this group of Republicans. When Clinton lost Congress, he triangulated by pursuing Republican bills and they joined him. Obama hasn’t tried that as much as Clinton, but even when he has, Republicans have mostly blocked it.

Last, but most importantly, is the U.S. better off than it was four years ago? In almost every possible category, the answer is yes. In most categories it isn’t as good as it could have been or should have been. And there are a few things where things have gotten worse — and I don’t count things that carried over from the previous administration in that. Since we budget a year in advance in the U.S., suggesting that the deficit in Obama’s first year in office is his fault, despite it being a budget from the previous administration, is nonsensical. So, the way to look at this is to say, which things have improved since Obama officially became in charge of them. The list is long…

And, again, this post isn’t even remotely supposed to be about what things Obama has done wrong or what things he hasn’t done well enough, you read about those things everywhere, this is about what he’s done right.

The Economy
-Of 70 economic indicators that Bloomberg News compiles, 51 of them have improved since Obama came to office. A number of the rest of them have improved since Obama’s first budget went into effect the next year
Source
-When Obama came to office, the economy was shedding 800k jobs per month, now we have had 32 straight months of private sector job growth and Obama has now created more jobs in his term than have been lost, despite inheriting a job-killing economy
Source
-The last quarter before Obama came to office, the economy contracted by a rate of 8.9 percent, since Obama’s policies have gone into effect, teh economy has grown at a rate of about 2.0 percent
Source
-Because of Bush’s policies, the unemployment number went up to near 10%, since then, it has fallen to under 8%
Source
-The last year of Bush’s policies, the yearly GDP was $12.7 trillion, this year it is on pace to be $13.5 trillion
Source
-The last year of Bush’s policies, the median home sale price was $208,600, this year it’s over $235k
Source
-In 2009, corporate profits were $1.4 trillion, in 2011, they were $1.9 trillion and are on track to go higher this year
Source
-The last year Bush was in office, inflation was 4.3%, it’s around 2.3% this year
Source
-The last year of Bush’s policies, federal discretionary spending was 8.9% of GDP, this year it is around 8.5%
Source
-The S&P 500 is up 81% under Obama
Source
-The Manufacturing Index is up 48% under Obama
Source
-The Consumer Confidence Index is up $86% under obama
Source
-The number of U.S. Drilling Rigs in operation is up 23% under Obama
Source
-wind and solar power production is up 116% under Obama
Source
-Petroleum imports are down 23% under Obama
Source
-5.4 million new private sector jobs have been created under Obama
Source
-The U.S. auto industry was saved
Source
-U.S. manufacturing has added more jobs than any time since Bill Clinton was president
Source
-Made it more difficult for taxpayers to be stuck with the bill for bailouts
Source
-Banned unfair credit card rate increases and fees
Source
-Set ground rules for risky financial speculation
Source
-Brought discretionary spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy in 50 years
Source
-Under Bush’s last budget, the national deficit was $1.41 trillion, this year it is $1.33 trillion
Source
-Cut taxes for small businesses 18 times
Source
-Food and agricultural exports have reached an all-time high
Source
-Passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Source
-Created recovery.gov to allow taxpayers to track stimulus spending
Source
-Completed Bush’s TARP banking rescue plan, and leaned on the program recipients to make sure that most of the money spent on the program was paid back to the government
Source
-Created the Making Home Affordable home refinancing plan
Source
-GM is once again the top car company in the world, after being bailed out by Obama
Source
-Double funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership
Source
-Signed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, giving the government more tools to investigate and prosecute fraud in the financial system
Source
-Created the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to investigate the economic meltdown
Source
-Signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act
Source
-Increased infrastructure spending
Source
-Signed the Helping Families Save Their homes Act
Source
-Increased funding to help the homeless
Source
-Signed the Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009
Source
-Increased government lending to small businesses
Source
-Increased online collaboration between small businesses and experts in terms of managing businesses
Source
-Got the G20 summit to commit $1.1 trillion to combat the global financial crisis
Source
-Improved minority access to capital
Source
-Increased funding to local housing finance agencies
Source
-Created the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability to assist in financial education for all Americans
Source
-Ordered executives taking bailout money to cut their own pay until they paid back all bailout money
Source
-Passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform bill, the most comprehensive overhaul of the system since the Great Depression
Source
-Created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Source
-Created rules to reduce the influence of speculators on the oil market
Source
-Created rules to limit banks’ ability to use customer money on high-risk financial instruments
Source
-Negotiated deal with the Swiss banks allowing the government to access records of criminals and tax evaders
Source
-Signed the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, making it harder to outsource jobs or move money offshore
Source
-Signed the most sweeping food safety legislation since the Great Depression
Source
-Established the White House Office of Urban Affairs
Source

Environment
-Established the first national safeguards to cut down on mercury and other toxic air emmissions from power plants
Source
-Increased fuel economy standards that cut carbon pollution from cars in half
Source
-Enacted the largest expansion of wilderness protection in a generation
Source
-Established the country’s first comprehensive ocean policy
Source
-Reversed a Bush-era decision to allow the largest mountaintop removal project in US history
Source
-Ordered the Department of Energy to implement more aggressive efficiency standards for common household appliances
Source
-Oversaw the creation of an initiative that converts old factories and manufacturing centers into new clean technology centers
Source
-Ordered the EPA to begin regulating and measuring carbon emissions
Source
-Increased protection of the Antarctic
Source
-Got BP to cough up $20 billion to establish Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, to reduce the need for taxpayer funds to be used for compensation and clean up
Source
-Oversaw and pushed through amendment to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 authorizing advances from Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Source
-Initiated criminal and civil inquiries into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Source
-Barred Texas from authorizing new refinery permits on its own
Source
-Strengthened the Endangered Species Act
Source
-Improved boiler safety standards to improve air quality, and save 6500 lives per year
Source
-Created a pretext for closing the dirtiest power plants in the country, by limiting emissions of mercury and other toxic gasses
Source
-Increased funding for National Parks and Forests by 10%
Source
-Eliminated federal funding for abstinence-only education
Source

Civil Rights
-Signed the Claims Resolution Act, which provided $4.6 billion in funding for a legal settlement with black and Native American farmers who had been cheated out of government loans and natural resource royalties in the past
Source
-Oversaw funding of the design of a new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, which is scheduled to open on the National Mall in 2015
Source
-Focused immigration enforcement resources on criminals as opposed to students, veterans, seniors and military families
Source
-Nominated Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic Justice in the court’s history, and the women represent only the third and fourth women to serve on the court
Source
-Appointed the most diverse Cabinet in history, including more women than any other incoming president
Source

Seniors
-Closed the Medicare doughnut hole
Source
-Eliminated $716 billion in waste, fraud and needless spending in Medicare
Source
-Eliminated $156 billion in wasteful subsidies from the Medicare program to insurance companies
Source
-Retirement fund balances have increased 35% since Obama came into office
Source

Education
-Stopped federal student loan interest rates from doubling for million students
Source
-Capped federal student loan repayments at 10% of income
Source
-Gave states flexibility to meet goals without adhering to restrictive No Child Left Behind mandates
Source
-Increased funding for education and career-training programs
Source
-Under Race to the Top, 46 states have raised standards
Source
-Expanded veteran access to education through the expanded G.I. Bill
Source
-Saved 300k education jobs, including teachers, principals, librarians and counselors
Source
-Increased funding for student financial aid
Source
-Reduced the role of banks in student loans
Source
-Made it possible for students to refinance student loans at a lower rate
Source
-Increased funding for education at all levels
Source
-Expanded broadband availability in K-12 schools
Source
-Expanded funding for school construction
Source
-Increased funding for early education by $5 billion
Source
-Expanded Pell Grants
Source
-Required that for-profit colleges have to prove that their students can actually find work to get federal aid
Source
-Signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act to improve nutrition in schools
Source
-Oversaw and passed increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts
Source

Science and Technology
-Increased funding for non-defense science and research labs
Source
-Increased funding for private sector space programs
Source
-Funded enhanced earth mapping, to provide valuable data for agricultural, educational, scientific, and government use
Source
-Through the Connect America Fund, pushed through and received FCC approval for a move of $8 billion in subsidies away from telephone landlines to assist lower-income rural families in accessing broadband
Source
-Signed an executive order that will speed up deployment of a more comprehensive broadband infrastructure
Source

LGBT Rights
-Repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
Source
-Signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
Source
-Extended hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights to LGBT couples
Source
-Extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees
Source
-Appointed more openly gay officials than anyone in history
Source
-Changed rules to prohibit sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing
Source
-Required hospitals to allow visitation by same-sex couples
Source

Persons With Disabilities
-Enacted policies to promote the hiring of people with disabilities
Source
-Increased funding for students with disabilities
Source
-Improved accessibility standards
Source
-Appointed the first ever Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy
Source
-Signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which provided an extra $12.2 billion in funds
Source
-Signed the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, the first comprehensive attempt to improve the lives of Americans living with paralysis
Source

Energy
-Natural gas production in the U.S. is at an all-time high
Source
-The U.S. is producing more domestic oil than it has in 14 years
Source
-U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history
Source
-Created a fast-track patent approval process for green energy projects
Source
-Fast-tracked regulations to allow states to enact fuel efficiency standards that exceeded federal standards
Source
-Oversaw establishment of an Energy Partnership for the Americas, to create more markets for American-made biofuels and green energy technologies
Source
-Ordered energy plants to prepare to produce at least 15% of all energy through renewable resources like wind and solar, by 2021
Source
-Oversaw doubling federal spending on clean energy research
Source
-Pushed through a tax credit to help people buy plug-in hybrid cars
Source
-Created a program to develop renewable energy projects on the waters of our Outer Continental Shelf that will produce electricity from wind, wave, and ocean currents
Source
-Required states to provide incentives to utilities to reduce their energy consumption
Source
-Created tax write-offs for purchases of hybrid automobiles and electric cars
Source
-Mandated that federal government fleet purchases be for fuel-efficient American vehicles, and encouraged that federal agencies support experimental, fuel-efficient vehicles
Source

Health Care
-Ended the practice of insurance companies putting caps on coverage
Source
-Eliminated the ability of insurance companies to drop people’s coverage when they get sick
Source
-Increased funding for preventitive services via Medicare
Source
-Lowered costs on prescription drugs through Medicare
Source
-Lowered monthly premiums for Medicare
Source
-Ending the practice of insurance companies charging women more for health care coverage than men
Source
-Lifted restrictions on embryonic stem cell research
Source
-Increased funding for biomedical and stem cell research
Source
-Expanded the Nurse-Family Partnership program, which provides home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income expectant mothers and their families
Source
-Increased research ethics standards allowing tests of the effects of chemicals on human subjects
Source
-Allowed the FDA to regulate tobacco
Source
-Required tobacco companies to disclose cigarette ingredients
Source
-Banned the sale of cigarettes falsely labeled as light
Source
-Provided $500 million for Health Professions Training Programs
Source
-Increased funding for community-based prevention programs
Source
-Oversaw a 50% decrease in cost of prescription drugs for seniors
Source
-Began allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies on price
Source
-Signed the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, increasing the number of children covered by health insurance by 4 million
Source
-Expanded health insurance coverage to at least 30 million more people
Source
-Allowed children to be covered under their parents’ policy until they turned 26
Source
-Provided tax breaks to allow 3.5 million small business to provide health insurance to their employees
Source
-Expanded Medicaid to those making up to 133% of the federal poverty level
Source
-Required that health insurance companies disclose how much of your premium actually goes to pay for patient care
Source
-Medicare costs actually declining slightly this fiscal year, for the first time in many years, according to the Congressional Budget Office
Source
-Extended discounted COBRA health coverage for the unemployed from 9 months to 15 months
Source
-Loosened the rules and allowed the 14 states that legalized medical marijuana to regulate themselves without federal interference
Source

Veterans and Current Troops
-Extended rural VA health care access
Source
-Signed tax breaks for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and wounded veterans
Source
-Expanded educational benefits for vets to cover training and apprenticeship programs
Source
-Ended the media blackout on coverage of the return of fallen soldiers
Source
-Provided active combat troops with better body armor
Source
-Created the Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record program to improve medical care for military personnel
Source
-Ended the stop-loss policy that kept troops in combat zones beyond their enlistment date
Source
-Signed the Veterans Health Care Budgeet Reform and Transparency Act
Source
-Signed the largest spending increase in 30 years for the Department of Veterans Affairs
Source
-Increased funding for improved VA medical facilities and for constructing VA nursing homes and extended care facilities
Source
-Created the Green Vet Initiative
Source
-Signed a recruitment and employment plan to get more veterans into government jobs
Source
-Expaned VA funding for mental health by $4.6 billion
Source
-Signed the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act
Source

Taxes
-Cut taxes for 95% of America’s working families
Source
-Tax rates for average working families are the lowest since 1950
Source
-Extended and fully funded the patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax for 10 years
Source

Women’s Issues
-Under Obamacare, more insurance companies are fully covering birth control without co-pays or deductibles
Source
-Fought Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood
Source
-Under Obamacare, health insurance companies now cover mammograms and cancer screenings for women
Source
-Changed rules to prohibit gender-based discrimination in housing
Source
-Established the White House Council on Women and Girls to evaluate all cabinet-level policies to determine their effects on women and families
Source
-Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
Source
-Expanded funding for the Violence Against Women Act
Source
-Rescinded the global gag rule
Source

Workers
-Required all employers to post employees’ rights where employees can see them and online
Source
-Cracked down on companies that were previously denying sick pay, vacation and health insurance, and Social Security and Medicare tax payments through abuse of the employee classification of independent contractor
Source
-Extended unemployment benefits several times
Source
-Signed an executive order pledging support for efforts to end the global problem of violence against women and girls
Source
-Signed a bill that provided $4.3 billion in additional assistance to 9/11 first reponders
Source
-Expanded trade agreements to include stricter labor and environmental agreements such as NAFTA
Source
-Signed national service legislation, increasing funding for national service groups, including triple the size of the Americorps program
Source

National Security and Foreign Policy
-Is drawing down the number of troops in Afghanistan
Source
-Ordered the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden
Source
-Worked to reduce nuclear weapons and secure those that exist
Source
-Helped repair damaged alliances with countries around the world after the division caused by the Iraq war
Source
-The number of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is down 31% in the U.S.
Source
-Provided funding to save thousands fo police and firefighter jobs
Source
-Visited more countries and met with more world leaders in his first six months in office than any president in history
Source
-Closed a number of secret detention facilities
Source
-Appointed special envoys to several Middle Eastern countries
Source
-Pushed for the military to emphasize the development of foreign language skills
Source
-Offered funds to decrease violence in the Gaza Strip
Source
-Avoided potential war against Iran both by the U.S. and Israel
Source
-Made charitable donations to Haiti after weather disaster tax deductible
Source
-Established a new U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue
Source
-Blocked interference in and helping to stabilize Somalia
Source
-Allowed Cuban-Americans to visit their families in Cuba and send them money
Source
-Prohibited the use of torture in interrogations
Source
-Released Bush torture memos
Source
-Brought the U.S. back in compliance with the Geneva Conventions
Source
-Created a rapid response fund to help spur the Arab Spring
Source
-Eliminated the wasteful and unused F22 planes
Source
-Put sanctions on Iran
Source
-Ended the Iraq war
Source
-Ordered mission to resuce hostages held by Somali pirates
Source
-Helped negotiate a peaceful split of Sudan into two countries
Source
-Reduced the useless Star Wars program by $1.4 billion
Source
-Restarted nuclear nonproliferation talks
Source
-Rebuilt nuclear inspection infrastructure protocols
Source
-Signed a new SALT Treaty
Source
-Signed a new START treaty
Source
-Committed to no permanent military bases in Iraq
Source
-Severely weakened al Qaeda
Source
-Signed a nuclear nonproliferation treaty with India
Source
-Through NATO, helped take down Qaddafi
Source
-Helped get Egyptian dictator Mubarak out of office
Source
-Crafted new alliances with Asian countries uncomfortable with Chinese behavior
Source
-Restored funding for federal agencies like FEMA so that they could manage disasters much better than during the Bush administration
Source
-Beefed up border security
Source

Families
-Provided a $20 billion increase for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Source

Government Accountability
-Ordered an audit of government contracts to combat waste and abuse
Source
-Created the Chief Performance Officer, whose job it is to make operations more efficient to save the government money
Source
-Froze White House salaries
Source
-Appointed the first federal Chief Information Officer to oversee IT spending
Source
-Signed the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act, designed to put a stop to wate, fraud and abuse in the defense procurement and contracting system
Source
-Created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform
Source
-Instructed all federal agencies to review all federal regulations and remove any unnecessary or burdensome regulations from the books
Source
-Dismantled the Minerals Management Service, cutting ties between energy companies and the government
Source
-Banned gifts from lobbyists to anyone in the executive branch
Source
-Put strict lmits on lobbyists access to the White House
Source
-Banned anyone from working in an agency they had lobbied in previous years
Source
-Held the first-ever online town hall from the White House
Source
-Streamed every White House event live
Source
-Established a central portal for Americans to find service opportunities
Source
-Provided the first voluntary disclosure of the White House Visitors Log in history
Source
-Increased access to historic White House documents and curtailed the ability to use executive privilege to shield them
Source
-Made the Freedom of Information Act request process more open and transparent
Source
-Signed an executive order creating jobs immediately by instructing them to reduce the time needed for review and permitting of infrastructure projects
Source

Pretty hard to argue with that record. Sure, like I said, a lot more could have been accomplished and most of these things aren’t sufficient and we need more, but to argue that this isn’t a successful list of accomplishments and results is hard to do with any accuracy.

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Nov 05

Committee to Protect Florida Compares Teacher to Convicted Child Molester Jerry Sandusky

This post originally appeared at AFL-CIO.

If awards were given for the sleaziest attack ad used in this year’s election, it’s difficult to see how the Committee to Protect Florida wouldn’t walk away with a first-place finish for its recent mailer against Karen Castor Dentel, the Democratic nominee for Florida House District 30, Think Progress reports.

While Dentel’s opponent, incumbent Rep. Scott Plakon, has denounced the ad, the Committee to Protect Florida is a group largely funded by members of his party’s leadership in the House. The key funders for the group are two of the next three designated speakers of the Florida House, Will Weatherford (R) and Richard Corcoran (R).

The ad is about as extreme as it could get. On one side of the mailer is a picture of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach, who was convicted of molesting numerous children he met through a youth athletic program he ran. The caption reads “Karen Castor Dentel would rather protect bad teachers and the union than…/…young and impressionable students.” The implication is clear that Dentel supports rules that would protect people like Sandusky.

The other side of the mailer has a picture of Dentel and the following text:

Karen Castor Dentel’s priorities are clear:

-Use tenure policies to protect bad, burnt-out, longtime teachers at the expense of younger, better teachers.
-Use the courts to keep all teachers in the classroom—even those who prey on young people.
-The right to use our tax dollars and valuable student learning time to promote her political campaign.

Karen Castor Dentel: Good for the union, bad for kids.

The text refers to the fact that Dentel is a member of the Florida Education Association, which opposed legislation that would’ve eliminated teacher tenure in Florida. The objection is an oft-repeated one by anti-union forces across the nation and relies upon the false notion that union-backed tenure rules make it difficult, if not impossible, to fire bad teachers, even if they engage in criminal activity such as child molestation.

As any number of observers have correctly pointed out, union contracts and tenure rules never prohibit teachers from being fired if there is just cause for the firing. They only prohibit teachers from being fired without cause. Evidence suggests that the rate of teacher turnover is not only higher than the people who argue against tenure suggest, but that it is increasing in recent years. The National Center for Education Information reports that some 26% of teachers in the United States have five years or less of experience, more than four times what the rate was in 1986. Clearly, if tenure rules were keeping teachers in the classroom for life, such turnover rates wouldn’t be evident.

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Nov 03

From the Land of Manatees and Mullet

It can be tough to be a Democrat on the Forgotten Coast of Florida. This election cycle the editor of our county weekly, The Wakulla News, asked the chairs of the local parties to write opinion pieces from our respective partisan perspectives on reader posed policy questions. The following columns, each approximately 300 words, ran in the month prior to the November 2012 election.

September 28 2012 – on the Voter Rolls Purge

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has pledged to drop thousands of suspected non-citizens from voter rolls in Florida. This hunt for non-citizen voters has been proven to be unnecessary, costly, and inaccurate.

The state of Florida first identified 180,000 potential non-citizens to be purged from the voter rolls before the August primary. The state then somehow narrowed the list down to 2,625 names to remove. County election supervisors soon determined that more than 500 names — almost one-fifth of the list — still belonged to legitimate citizens.

Last week, the second round of the voter purge identified only 198 voters statewide with possibly questionable U.S. citizenship by comparing a state database of drivers with a federal citizenship database at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Of those 198, no more than 36 have ever cast a ballot. There is already evidence that the latest list is still not accurate.

Reports of immigrants asked to present citizenship documents for the second time have shown that the same names have been flagged in the latest round of the purge.

The purge represents one strategy in a layered, multi-pronged assault on voters. The voter suppression efforts underway, designed to influence the outcome of the 2012 election, have included such tactics as increased obstacles to discourage voter registration; decreased early vote hours; and the costly, inaccurate purge of the voter rolls.

In Wakulla County, attempts to suppress the vote have included a suspicious “robocall” by a group currently under investigation for voter fraud in other states.

October 7 2012 – On Medicare

The 2012 election cycle has been dominated by rumors and scare tactics that suggest senior citizens will lose their Medicare benefits if President Obama wins a second term. A review of the facts shows that the exact opposite is true.
Mitt Romney’s plan would bankrupt Medicare by 2016, turn the program into a voucher system, and would increase costs for seniors by more than $6,000 a year.
The Republican Party and the Romney Campaign cite a real figure — $500 billion — that is part of the health reform debate. The GOP distorts and spins the figure as $500 billion in Medicare cuts, rather than as decreases in the rate of growth of future spending. And the GOP further piles on the incorrect talking point about “government-run health care. On the Truth-Meter, the claim rates as False.” [Cleveland Plain Dealer, Politifact, 06/09/11]
New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait commented on a speech made by President Obama during a campaign swing through Florida, noting that “President Obama talks Medicare in Florida and argues that Mitt Romney will ‘end Medicare as we know it.’ The claim is undeniably true” [Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, 7/19/12].
Both Reuters and Bloomberg reported that “Ryan’s Budget Bill Also Would End Traditional Medicare By Capping Spending And Offer Vouchers To Buy Private Insurance.” [Bloomberg, 8/13/12; Reuters,8/12/12]. The proposed plan would shift more costs to seniors and increase out of pocket costs by more than $6,000 each year.
As early as 2011, the Romney Campaign released Medicare plan details that outlined the voucher concept, “Medicare Is Reformed As A Premium Support System, Meaning That Existing Spending Is Repackaged As A Fixed-Amount Benefit To Each Senior That He Or She Can Use To Purchase An Insurance Plan.” [Romney Press Release, Spending Plan – “Cut The Spending,” 11/4/11]
Seniors cannot afford the Romney/Ryan Medicare plan.

October 14 2012 – The role of government with regard to economic stimulation and job creation:
The debate over government’s role in economic stimulation and job creation has been a key ideological difference in this year’s presidential election. One particular sound bite, “You didn’t build that” or the inverse “we built this” trope dominated the airwaves and became a pivot point for the economic argument.

As Democrats, we believe the government plays a critical role in economic stimulation and job creation.

From key healthcare policies which ensure a healthy workforce to support for critical infrastructure elements including roads and sewers, government provides the foundation on which a thriving, successful economy is built.

The government’s role in educating a qualified 21st century workforce to meet business demands in the global economy cannot be understated.

Efforts to ensure competitive fair lending practices for small business growth and new mortgage creation drive the economic engine with corporate and residential development.

The key to economic growth rests within a healthy public-private partnership that encourages entrepreneurship and ingenuity. When the founding fathers envisioned the nation that would become the United States of America we know and love today, the fledgling republic was the equivalent of a Silicon Valley start up hatched up in someone’s garage. From such humble beginnings great nations and successful business ventures grow.

Our nation’s founding fathers were not anti-government nor were they even anti-tax. They sought fair representation and fair taxation – not the end of government. President Lincoln would later refer to the Union as government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Such a vision of government and our nation embodies a quintessential “we” – and represents the American bond that unites us as citizens working together to keep the grand vision of the Founding Fathers viable in perpetuity.

I’m a proud American and, as a Democrat, I say “we built this.”

October 21 2012 – Foreign Aid

Charles Dickens wrote that, “charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.”

Charity and justice are flip sides of the aid coin. If charity means volunteering in a soup kitchen then justice means working to end the inequalities that make soup kitchens necessary.

More specifically, foreign aid charity responds to an immediate need – such as hunger. In the foreign aid realm, justice addresses long-term conditions and promotes social change in institutions, policies and systems.

When I think about foreign aid, I think about what makes our nation great and think of my own good fortune to have been born an American.
Then, I consider the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said, “We cannot stop terrorism or defeat the ideologies of violent extremism when hundreds of millions of young people see a future with no jobs, no hope, and no way to catch up to the developed world.”
An oft-quoted axiom originates from Scripture; Romans 3:1-8 tells us that “With privilege comes great responsibility.”

Americans take this phrase to heart. This thinking guides us – regardless of political affiliation – to be a nation that gives, both at home and overseas.

During his administration, President Obama has made foreign aid a priority – as an avenue to ensuring global economic stability and as a national defense strategy.

Foreign aid is a good investment in our economy at home as well as in our domestic security.
A mere 1.4% of the nation’s annual budget is spent on foreign aid.
Known as the International Affairs Budget, that 1.4% equated to $48 billion in 2011. That 1.4% funds the State Dept as well as other aid and assistance programs such as military aid to Israel, a $100,000 grant that led to $61 million of US exports to Morocco, and Counternarcotics programs in Mexico – and funding for budget items such as a $100,000 US Trade & Development Agency grant to a small New Jersey company that created jobs at home.
Ernesto Cortes wrote, “What is owed in justice should never be given in charity.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feed the hungry, however, it does mean we should also address why the people are hungry in the first place. As the ancient Chinese proverb says, “Give a Man a Fish, Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, Feed Him for a Lifetime.”
With foreign aid, America helps teach the world to fish and ensures global security, at home and overseas.

October 29 2012 — Why I am voting to re-elect President Obama

Volumes have been written about the accomplishments of President Obama’s first term. What will be the deciding factor for most voters on election day? The words of Clinton adviser James Carville, said during the 1992 presidential campaign resonate with me in these final days of the 2012 campaign. Those words are as true today as they were 20 years ago – “it’s the economy!!”

The President’s opponents like to throw numbers around as evidence in support of their candidate. However, I’d like to offer a different take on the economy that tells the rest of the story. Let’s talk numbers.

At the close of the 2012 fiscal year, the Congressional Budget Office announced the federal budget deficit: $1.1 trillion. That is a number not to be taken lightly. However, the bigger story and the more accurate telling of the numbers story is that the deficit was cut by $200 billion in the past year. Furthermore, the CBO has issued budget projections that show the 2013 Obama budget, if we return him to office, would shrink the deficit to (OR BY) $977 billion. That is a four year total of close to $500 billion in deficit reduction.

How did this Democratic president accomplish this enormous deficit reduction? President Obama signed the Statutory-Pay-As-You-Go Act in February 2010 that mandates new spending must be offset with spending cuts or new revenue. This visionary act helped reduce the deficit and spurred renewed economic growth in ways unseen since the Clinton Administration.

What does that mean here at home? Wakulla’s unemployment was 6.5% in September, down from 8.7% at the same time last year. Not only is Wakulla’s unemployment rate lower than the state of Florida – at 8.6% in September, but it is also lower than the national rate – which was at 7.6% last month.

The economy is on the rebound. President Obama has successfully implemented deficit reduction. If it is really about the economy, President Obama is the candidate you should support November 6.

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Nov 02

Broward Is Second Florida County to Address Wage Theft

This week, Broward County—one of the most populous counties in South Florida—became the second county in the state to pass a local wage theft ordinance, joining Miami-Dade County. In a 7-2 vote, the Board of County Commissioners voted to create the new law to deal with a significant and growing problem in Florida. Wage theft occurs when workers are not paid overtime, not paid at least the minimum wage, are forced to work off the clock or are not paid at all for work they have completed.

“I was at the meeting yesterday asking commissioners to vote yes for the ordinance, speaking on behalf of my close friends who are victims of wage theft in our county and haven’t been able to recover their wages after months of effort,” says Maria Isabel Fernandez, a resident of Dania Beach in Broward County. “I was thrilled when the ordinance passed! It may be too late for my friends, but it will help other people like them in the future who will now have the possibility of recovering the salaries they earned through their work without having to hire a lawyer and wait months without any income.”

Florida is considered one of the worst states in the country for wage theft, and Broward County is the third worst county in the state. Nearly 5,000 wage theft cases have been reported in Broward in the past three years, totaling more than $2 million in back wages. More than $28 million in unpaid wages have been recovered in Florida. Miami-Dade created a similar ordinance in 2010 and has recovered more than half a million dollars in unpaid wages in that county alone.

Several factors contribute to the problem. Florida does not have a state-level Department of Labor, has a high percentage of workers who are not covered by federal wage and hour laws and has a legislature that is openly hostile to wage theft laws, so much so that it recently tried to ban such laws at the local level.

Cynthia Hernandez of the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University says:

Policymakers need to consider the ramifications of Florida becoming a glaring example of a state that tolerates and even encourages wage violations. Broward County and Miami-Dade’s wage theft ordinances are examples of good government policy addressing this growing issue. These ordinances are critical to maintaining a fairly competitive business environment so critical to Florida’s economy.

Alachua County, where Gainesville and the University of Florida reside, is considering becoming the third county to pass a wage theft ordinance. For more information or to report wage theft in Florida, contact the Florida Wage Theft Task Force.

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Oct 31

Who I Will Be Voting For And Why

Thank you to the FPC for asking me to cross post.

My shit is custom.
What if I told you that when a candidate sways from your ideology by an angstrom, you don’t have to give the proverbial finger to the elections process. A vote doesn’t mean you’re personally endorsing everything a candidate chooses to do.
You, myself or anyone else will probably never agree with a politician 100% of the time and pragmatically I have to exercise the right to elect a candidate who won’t increase the rate of suck.

If you’re familiar to voting in Florida, the current Governor is a nominal example. (Sad to say the link is directed to only his most recent fiasco)…

Don’t even start with the apathetic bullshit that voting is about who is the best of two evils so you can feel better about not taking your lazy ass to the polls. In the words of Patton Oswalt, shit in the voting booth afterward if it makes you feel better, but vote. Or even better, vote early. If you so choose not to, you don’t become part of some liberating protest in the name of idealism. Instead, it means your choices are about to be determined for you and the people who represent you will be picked by, well not you. So grow a proverbial pair and vote.

President: Barack Obama double rainbow all the way.

Obama has been moderately successful, especially considering the inheritance of the economic depression from the prior administration. He adheres to the remarkably significant idea that when the private sector abuses their power or fails to take responsibility for their actions, there’s somejustice to be had. Or to the least degree, a form of intervention. His track record isn’t one to scoff at, either. Does that mean I am batshit crazy about the guy? Not entirely – he’s arguably a moderate in that he has made some decisions which were too compromising. That doesn’t mean voting for Obama won’t be a step forward (or if Romney wins, a backwards fumble). Romney is pursuing more extreme economic policies than Bush Jr., who evidently got us into this fiscal clusterfuck in the first place. I also can’t ignore that if Obama is re-elected we could have a liberal majority in the supreme court for the first time in years, then lasting 15-20 years once the appointments have been ratified.

U.S. Senate: Bill Nelson

Nelson’s Republican contender Connie Mack was one of Florida’s congressman who supported the Iraq surge alongside president Bush. Bill Nelson isn’t as hard pressing as some of our Senate democrats but he still votes progressively 85% of the time. It’s highly understated how consequential it is to lose seats in the Senate and we could really use a Democratic super majority to support the President instead of partisan spoon-feeding.

U.S. Representative: Al Lawson

Al is only slightly more progressively leaning than Alan Boyd was and Boyd was the worst
acting Democrat in the House during his term. So, the choices here aren’t too spectacular. Al is running against Steve Southerland, a co-owner of a funeral parlor and right-wing guy who attacked Lawson on the same Medicare legislation he himself had voted for to pander to his party’s decries against the healthcare mandate.

State Attorney: Pete Williams

I am about to vote for a Republican in this race and here’s why. 1, party affiliation isn’t everything. Steve Stewart, for instance, is running under the guise of a democratic ticket and you will see more about him below. And 2, “Slick” Willie Meggs, along with Larry Campbell, are probably two of the least publicly trusted candidates on the ballot. Megg’s cover-ups and allegations are all over the interwebs, so check him out.

State Senator: Bill Montford

…because I had to. Way ahead of his opponent but a horrible senator in terms of my own left-leaning ethics. Primaries are crucial. Just saying.

Sheriff: Lisa Sprague 

I have worked with Lisa before. I think she has a great background for the job and let’s face it, how long has Larry been Sheriff? 16 years, since 1996. Commonly referred to as Larry “corrupt” Campbell, he hasn’t been doing too well under the public eye. Even the Florida Department of Law Enforcement filed a complaint against him. And oh yeah – he made a cut-out of Lisa to use for target practice in a press release with the media. Classy.

Superintendent of Schools: Jackie Pons

I was iffy about this because Pons and Jon Ausman are close. Ausman is our state committee man who endorsed Jeff Green over Kendrick Meek in the Democratic primary – and accepted a large sum of money for it despite the conflict of interest. However, Pons seems to be doing his job right so far and I can’t think of a significant reason why he shouldn’t be superintendent.

Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

Supreme Court Justices: I won’t be inclined to vote out a justice of the supreme court unless they have done something outlandish. It is of grave importance though that you note one of them is named Ron Swanson :)

County Commission: Akin Akinyemi

Akin has been doing a great job and I am more than happy to re-elect him. Nothing against Mary.

City Commission: Scott Maddox

From the inbox: highly entertaining evidence as to why Steve Stewart should not be elected (click).  And he has had some issues with his business’ taxes, too:

The Florida Department of Revenue filed a lien against the business Feb.
21 totaling $2,664 and a second lien March 19 totaling $10,481,
according to state records. Both amounts include unpaid taxes,
penalties, interest and fees. – Tallahassee Democrat

In the beginning of his career, Maddox had some sponsorship issues I wasn’t elated about but his work in local politics, like expanding state parks and aiding small businesses, are an improvement for Florida and for that I will be voting for him.

Soil and Water Conservation Districts: Ryan Terrell, Tabitha Frazier

*This one is anecdotal plain and simple so here’s your fair warning.

Just to give you an idea of how much I like Tabitha, I last ran into her when I went to see Henry Rollins speak at ruby diamond just this month. She is an acquaintance from when I was active with the democratic party last year and Ruby Diamond was the first instance I ever saw her without a clip board. Her husband is also a lawyer who happened to play drums for my best friends band. Second, my impression of Ryan Terrell is that he’s extremely tech savvy while he knows a lot about redistricting – and the same friend sings karaoke with him on occasion. Anecdotal, boom.

Leon County, Circuit Judge Of Circuit 2, Group 2: Barbara Hobbs 

If you’re in Leon county, I would recommend Barbara Hobbs hands down. She’s been working with juveniles and children as a criminal attorney for over 30 years and has practiced in almost every area of law.

Amendments:
The legislature’s long-lived right leaning majority have approved all of the amendments in place for the upcoming election, which means the potential implementation of these laws immediately tripped my wire. But I still looked into them to make sure and as I suspected, the majority of them (all but one in fact) are a No.

 

Constitutional Amendment 1:

Another ploy against the individual mandate. Federal law guarantees this won’t hold up in court if it passes but healthcare reforms could become stifled in the future. If businesses are not providing healthcare for their employees and the same advocates of this law are saying that government shouldn’t step in either, than who will? A definite No

 

Constitutional Amendment 2:

This sounds peachy at first but there’s no pay-for and in my opinion that just undermines government spending. Other programs and services will be cut instead to make up for this and the state constitution shouldn’t be used for tax policy.  No

 

Constitutional Amendment 3:

The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization, are unanimously against this (I mean really non-partisan, Republican Florida State Senator Evelyn Lynn who wanted to cut the pre-paid college program spoke at their Gala). They explain that Colorado tried similar TABOR legislation and it failed miserably. In fact they had to repeal it, while small business, schools and middle class families had to pay for the damage. I personally don’t think we should close a window on revenue when the economy is lagging. For instance, shouldn’t we be investing in job creation? From a nerdier
perspective you don’t overclock a computer with a limited span of MHz -
instead, you set a high and a low variable for flexibility so you get
efficiency when you need it most. No

 

Constitutional Amendment 4

Out of state residents are going to qualify for the homestead tax exemption which is disagreeable because local taxes should be giving back to the local economy. Florida Trend estimates the amendment could cost our local government $600 million mula. No

 

Constitutional Amendment 5:

The appeals court would be split in two – civil and criminal, allocated by the legislature and potentially immutable since a 2/3rds Democratic majority could only change this, which is nigh impossible thanks to Florida’s slathering of urbanism. The Florida Bar Association among several judges are also in opposition of this amendment. No

 

Constitutional Amendment 6:

If abortion is a legal medical procedure, who’s to say what source of funding is more unacceptable than another? Unprecedented infringement on women, likely instigated by a male majority. No

 

Constitutional Amendment 7: Removed by the Florida Supreme Court

 

Constitutional Amendment 8:

Orwell would give props for their wording of this. They want you to think this amendment is about religious freedom but what the law enacts is taxpayer funding of religious institutions, like churches and schools, particularly conservative ones and without proper oversight. The problem is religious institutions don’t pay taxes, even though they are active with government and influence policies – not the opposite. So I’ll be taking hell-to-the-nizzay on this one (No). And pun intended.

 

Constitutional Amendment 9:

Amendment 9 allows property tax discounts for the surviving spouses of military members or first responders killed on the job. The question is, since pay-for isn’t specified once again, what will be compromised to makeup for this? Anyone else notice how these are new proposals alongside limits to revenue spending? No

 

Constitutional Amendment 10:

According to progress Florida, “Amendment 10 prevents counties, municipalities, school districts, and other local governments from taxing “tangible personal property” with a total assessed value more than $25,000 but less than $50,000.” Personal property should be taxed, hands down and this amendment could become costly if achieved. No

 

Constitutional Amendment 11:

Might sound appealing then again amendment 11 won’t really grant much help to anyone on a significant scale and would instead deprive local governments of much needed revenue. Once again, anyone else notice how these are new proposals alongside limits to revenue spending? No

 

Constitutional Amendment 12:

Unelected bureaucrats appointed by the governor get to take over at the expense of the Florida Student Association. Eff that. No

 

YES on Local Referendum to Maintain .5 cent sales tax to fund education. Some argue this is a regressive tax however it isn’t likely that this revenue will be replaced if the referendum is withdrawn. Worth every ha’penny.

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Oct 30

The Progressive Netroots Is Doing Just Fine

In a blog post on The Daily Beast, blogger David Freedlander writes a long blog post that essentially works out as a long session of concern trolling on behalf of the progressive Netroots, “Netroots Bloggers Mark 10th Birthday in Decline and Struggling for Survival.” He uses some anecdotal evidence to support a narrative, that by all accounts, he wrote in advance and didn’t let facts get in the way. A lot of people have already responded (see below) and some have been charitable in saying that he “gets a lot of things right,” but it seems that isn’t really the case. I disagree with almost everything in the article beyond the specifics of the people he interviewed (and selectively quoted, it seems). The real story is that the progressive Netroots is not only not declining and not struggling for survival, it’s more powerful than ever before.

The biggest problem with the article is that he defines the Netroots almost solely as “bloggers,” which is a terrible definition that was never valid. The Netroots was never just the bloggers. It wasn’t even just the commenters. Taking it even further, it wasn’t even limited to the lurkers or readers who never commented. The Netroots was always — always — all of us who were using the Internet as a tool towards moving politics in a more progressive direction. Even before the blogs took off, e-mail discussions were a massive component of the Netroots and this is still true. Even before that, Newsgroups and IRC and other early venues were creating the proto-Netroots. So when he says that people are abandoning “the Netroots” for Facebook and Twitter. Nonsense. People who are active on Facebook and Twitter, and Pinterest and Tumblr, and any number of other venues, are part of the Netroots. And, often, they are more effective at accomplishing things politically than those same voices were when they were simply posting to the smaller blogs that few people read. It isn’t remotely the case that the Netroots has shrunk — just because people have shifted the format of their Netroots activism doesn’t mean they’ve stopped being active. And if you think otherwise, check out my Facebook timeline or my Twitter feed — things I can’t possibly read all of because there are so many people participating, something that never happened to me as a blogger. This false reliance upon blog reader stats and comments is even more misleading when you take into account the idea that there really is no easy way to discuss the influence a blogger has by simply looking at the number of hits their blog has. There are so many ways of reading blogs that aren’t counted in traditional blog measurement instruments — such as RSS feeds with full text, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, e-mail forwards, etc. — that there is no way to tell how traffic now compares to traffic ten years ago. And if a particular blogger has a small but influential readership, including reporters and politicians, you could have way more impact on the overall conversation than you could with many more readers who are nobodies or who are passive.

Another almost entirely misleading aspect of the way Freedlander defines “Netroots” is he suggests that in the early days, there was some kind of cohesion and one overally community of activists who later got split apart over divides like Obama-Clinton and Obamacare-Public Option. This is incredibly inaccurate, even if some of the bloggers themselves agreed with this characterization. From the very early on, there was a small national blogosphere that was semi-cohesive, but long before anybody knew who Obama was, there really were numerous other blogospheres in existence. In 2003-2004, for instance, there began a massive rise of individualized state blogospheres, most of which were only tenuously connected to the national blogs (by 2007, New Organizing Institute and Blogsunited tried to connect these state level blogs, with only some limited success). Around the same time, there were posts about how Atrios of Eschaton had “jumped the shark” and numerous bloggers were referring to Daily Kos as the “Great Orange Satan” in non-ironic ways. The national progressive blogs were overwhelmingly white and male and straight and non-Hispanic/Latino. And individualized blogospheres in each of those spaces were fully developed before Obama jumped into the presidential race. So to suggest that the first real divide came over Clinton-Obama is total nonsense. And I can give you specific names and specific blogs where these things were well-developed before then. An self-labeled “Afrospear” comprised of African-American bloggers was already in existence in 2007 and Netroots listservs serving various constituency groups were very active then, too.

And while he does a good job of pointing out the key goal of the progressive Netroots: “…the goal was nothing less than to remake the American political system by pushing Democrats leftward,” he totally gets it wrong in describing how this was supposed to be accomplished. Freedlander seems to think that the goal was to do this through a series of independent blogs that stayed outside the system. There were some people in the Netroots who thought this, but very early on the goal for many of us was to use this as a way to influence insiders or replace them if they didn’t move in the direction we thought they should. In that context, many of the things Freelander sees as things that were a negative for the Netroots were actually an incredibly big positive. The fact that megasites like Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, the Center for American Progress and others have so many readers, that hundreds of Netroots activists have taken campaign jobs, party jobs and places of influence throughout the movement, and that so many of those amatuer bloggers and activists now get paid to advocate for the things they used to type about when they were in their mother’s basement in their pajamas while eating cheetos is a series of massive victories.

One more major problem with the article is that it openly states that the reason that Netroots activists, in large numbers, were upset with Obama was that he didn’t reach out to them and was dismissive of their role in politics and policy and the party. There is some truth to the idea that this is what Obama did, but no truth to this being the driving force behind the reason so many progressive bloggers were upset with the president. That is ridiculously nonsensical and it paints the bulk of leftists as petulant children who whine becaue the popular kid wasn’t nice to them. That may be how the media works, but that has nothing to do with why most liberal Netroots people had, and have, problems with Obama. The divide with Obama was somewhat in place prior to the election, but it really kicked up a notch when Obama started choosing people like Rahm Emanuel as key figures in his administration. And it was exacerbated by his failure to fight hard enough for a public option, and his slowness in advancing LGBT rights, and his slowness in ending the war in Iraq, and the surge in Afghanistan and his continuation of Bush policies on civil liberties and the use of drone strikes, and the fact that he didn’t push for a real stimulus package and on and on and on. The divide between us and Obama was 100% about policy and his failure to do not only the things we hoped he would do, but quite a few of the things he said he’d do.

A few other key points that are problematic:

-He claims that the Netroots is 10 years old. I was blogging in 1998, and I was far from the first. Josh Marshall was doing it before me, as were a bunch of others. A few other really key blogs started blogging within a year or so. 10 years isn’t quite right.

-It really, really isn’t the case that Obama hasn’t reached out to bloggers. As a blogger who never really got above C-level at best, I had both the state and national Obama campaigns reach out to me in both 2008 and 2012 and the White House and OFA reach out to me in between elections.

-This quote baffles me: “Earlier this month, liberal websites lit up trying to drive a story that Mitt Romney had brought an illegal cheat sheet to the first debate. The White House dismissed them as ‘the tin foil hat crowd.’” While it is true that a few “liberal websites” pushed this, it isn’t the case that most prominent bloggers or Netroots activists thought much of the story. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it tin-foil hat stuff, and that phrase was unnecessarily insulting, it wasn’t even remotely a story to me because it wasn’t proveable and, more importantly, so what? Even if you could prove that Romney cheated in a debate, it wasn’t the type of thing that was going to move too many voters, so it was a non-story. And I don’t know of too many bloggers that focused on it much because it wasn’t worthy of attention.

-Freedlander claims that a lot of the conversation has moved to Facebook and Twitter and that bloggers “have not been able to keep up.” This is total nonsense. Almost all of the bloggers I know — and many more in the broader Netroots community — have fully adapted to these new tools and use them extensively, often in the same ways they had previously used blogs. Not only that, the number of conversations has grown greatly over the old comment sections and the number of people seeing information from bloggers and Netroots activists has expanded greatly over these new channels.

-He seems to suggest that the Netroots can no longer raise significant money for candidates, but this is certainly not true and I’ve seen numerous candidates make the bulk of their money online and I’ve seen blogs and Netroots groups raise sums that are far from insignificant. We are unable to compete with the money that can be spent by post-Citizens United big money groups, but that’s true of every other traditional group, too.

-He suggests that the Netroots support and success with candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin doesn’t mean much because all of the Democratic establishment got behind them. But why do you think the rest of the Democrats got behind these candidates? Any suggestion that Warren didn’t, in some significant way, get to where she is because of the Netroots is laughable.

-He also says that the protests in Wisconsin were pointless because the “ended up securing the anti-union lawmakers who voted on them in the first place” is totally inaccurate. The state senate flipped hands and numerous recall elections were successful. And Gov. Scott Walker was closer to getting recalled than just about any governor in history.

Finally, the overall point of the article is to suggest that the Netroots doesn’t have much influence anymore. Obviously a lot of that argument has already been addressed, but one last key point relates to campaigns and organizations. I’ve worked with or consulted with dozens of campaigns and organizations in the 2010 cycle forward, and every single one of them was focused on bloggers. They read them obsessively. They give them interviews. The do media outreach to them and treat them like traditional reporters. They do events with them. The provide them with talking points. They obsess over blog posts, too. An example is illustrative. The first time I got in any trouble on my last campaign was the day that I answered a request from a hostile mainstream reporter and ignored a request from a hostile blogger. In this contex, the thing I was supposed to do was to quickly respond to the blogger and give him what he needed and totally ignore the reporter who had been working at the mainstream publication since the year I was born. And in a world where there is a massive decline in local media, bloggers, Facebook, Twitter and the Netroots become the default method of distributing information via mass media for nonpresidential campaigns. How’s that for a “lack” of influence?

Other Responses to the Original Article

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Oct 26

Florida Again Leading the Way in Assaulting the Rights of Voters

Originally posted at AFL-CIO

Recent years have seen an assault on the rights of voters across the country, from stringent identification requirements to the throwing away of valid voter registration applications. While most states are seeing only one or two of the variety of assaults on the rights of voters, Florida, as it has in the past, is leading the way in different ways of denying legitimate citizens their right to vote.

A key tactic is a purge of the voter rolls, ordered by Gov. Rick Scott, that would have removed thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, much as a similar purge did in 2000, when it likely cost Al Gore the presidency. Scott said the purge was necessary to prevent non-citizens from voting, despite the fact that there is little to no evidence of a significant number of ineligible voters attempting to cast a ballot. The U.S. Department of Justice ordered the purge halted, as early reports showed that most of the people on the lists were actually legal voters. The courts later allowed some of the purge to go through, although most local supervisors of elections refused to comply, with the exceptions of Lee and Collier counties.

Since Scott became governor, Florida has had the most punitive rules for disenfranchising former felons, requiring five to seven years without committing any crimes before a clemency hearing can be held to restore the right to vote. Former Gov. Charlie Crist restored the rights of nearly 6,000 former felons in his last year in office. In Rick Scott’s first year, the restorations fell to 200. And while that would be enough to make the state notable in the denial of the franchise, that’s only the beginning of the story.

In 2011, Scott signed a bill that reworked the rules for voting and registering new voters. The new law put severe restrictions upon those who gather new voter registration applications, including fines of up to $1,000 per year for those who did not turn in new applications within an unrealistic 48 hours. A number of activist organizations, such as the League of Women Voters (LWV), decided not to register voters any more out of fear of the new fines. The restrictions were punitive enough that the courts blocked them and the LWV and others began voter registration again afterward.

More significantly, the state reduced the number of early voting days that counties can offer and eliminated early voting on the Sunday before the official Election Day. Early voting is popular in Florida, with more than half of all voters using the option in 2008. The numbers were even higher for African Americans. Defenders of the new law say that the law does not cut back on the total number of hours that early voting can be offered, but since the final decision is left up to individual counties (except five counties that have had historic problems with discrimination and have to get approval from the Justice Department to any changes to voting laws), counties can reduce the number of hours if they so choose. Other than the five counties that need approval, the other 62 counties in the state are allowed to set hours anywhere between a minimum of 48 and a maximum of 96 total hours of early voting. Only 35 of the 67 total counties offer the maximum of 96 hours, meaning the other 42 counties cut back on hours.

“We do have a net reduction in overall early voting hours,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who analyzes state election laws. “That is a concern to me, and it was a concern to the Justice Department, too.”

The Sunday before the election also was notable for the fact that it historically had seen a high turnout of minority voters. According to Dara Lindenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the shortening of early voting hours is significant because it will lead to longer lines and more voters deciding it is not worth the effort to wait to vote, particularly with a long ballot this year that can be as lengthy as six to 10 pages. The longer lines and longer ballot is likely to lead to frustrated poll workers who are more likely to make mistakes. If a line is long at the end of Election Day, anyone in line before 7 p.m. is legally allowed to vote, but there are reports every year of individual precincts who refuse to allow people to vote because they haven’t done so before polls close, even if they had waited in line for hours.

The law also prevents voters who already are registered to update their address at the polls if they have moved to another county. This change now means that those who have moved and did not update their registration in advance will be required to cast provisional ballots, which delays the tallying of ballots. According to Lindenbaum, these votes should be counted as long as the voter is properly registered. If voters have moved, they should be able to easily update their address by calling the supervisor of elections office in their new county. In order to make sure the provisional ballot is counted, she says, voters should vote in their new polling location.

A few other tactics that have been popping up across the state are not directed by government officials. Multiple counties have received reports and copies of fraudulent letters that question the voting status of individuals, warning them that voting when they are not registered could lead to them being put in prison. To date, the local supervisors of elections have been diligent about getting the word out about the accuracy of the letters. A number of reports also mention people calling their home and offering them the option of voting by phone. Lindenbaum said, “One woman who received the call knew it was a scam but said if her elderly parents received it they would have believed it and been thrilled that they didn’t have to wait in line to vote anymore.”

Those who are victims of any of these tactics or who want to check their registration can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report problems or ask questions.

The AFL-CIO My Vote, My Right website offers hands-on information on voter registration, voter ID laws and steps to take to protect your right to vote on Election Day. Find out what you need to know to make sure your vote counts this year. Get information on voter registration, your voting rights by state and more at the AFL-CIO’s MyVoteMyRight.org.

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Oct 22

Florida Leads Race to the Bottom on Unemployment Compensation

Originally published at AFL-CIO.org

Americans faced with a tough economy face significant struggles when they lose their jobs. Since the 1930s, workers who are without jobs through no fault of their own have had the safety net of the unemployment compensation program to serve as a backup plan until they get back on their feet. Under new rules implemented by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and his allies in the state legislature, it is getting harder and harder for working families who have lost their jobs to obtain the unemployment compensation that they have earned.

Florida’s unemployment compensation system was already one of the toughest in the nation before Republicans revised the rules to make it even more difficult for workers who have hit tough times to receive vital financial resources. Unlike any other state’s system, applicants are now required to apply online, with no option available for those who do not have Internet access to complete the application. Historically, applicants could use a call-in system to complete the requirements, but that option has been eliminated. The legislation was originally sponsored by state Rep. Doug Holder, (R).

“Florida’s revised procedures make it just about as difficult as possible for unemployed workers to access unemployment insurance now,” said Valory Greenfield, staff attorney at Florida Legal Services.

The effect is that the state is blocking workers from accessing help they are qualified for and twisting the knife in the state’s ailing economy. Nowhere in the country is it this hard to get help when you lose a job.

The online application also now requires a 45-question skills review, asking questions about applied mathematics, reading for information and locating information. The skills test is not available for review as the governor’s administration claims it is “proprietary.” This means, there is no way to independently verify that the test is a valid measure of worker skills. Scott’s office claims that the review is a “common sense” reform designed to create a more skilled workforce, but in reality, the review serves to discourage Floridians from completing the application. The denial rate for applications jumped more than 66% in the first three months of 2012. Other new rules require those who receive compensation to provide documentation that they have applied to a minimum of five jobs per week. The new rules also reduced the maximum number of weeks of that someone can be in the system from 26 weeks to 23. More dangerously for Floridians, is the fact that the legislation pegs the number of weeks workers can receive compensation to the unemployment rate, dropping the number of weeks all the way down to 12 if the state’s unemployment rate drops below 5%. That could certainly cause problems for workers in any fields that are not in line with the overall employment situation and does not allow for flexibility to deal with the complexities of the state’s diverse economy. The shorter duration of compensation offered by Florida could also diminish federal benefits that workers receive, since the federal benefits are tied to the compensation that states give. Florida’s average payment is $230 a week, with a maximum of $275—both among the lowest in the nation.

Scott renamed the program the “Reemployment Assistance Program” and cut the tax that funds the program by $800,000. The funding cuts have led to a logjam in the system as the call volume for the staff whose job it is to help applicants through the process is very high. There are numerous reports of people calling for assistance and never getting any help as calls go unanswered for days. Reporters who attempted to call into the system for help said that automated messages told them that there were hundreds of calls ahead of them in the queue and that the system hung up on them without them ever having talked to a human being. The cuts to the tax that funds the program have led to a massive deficit where the state borrowed $2.7 billion from the federal government to cover shortfalls.

Applicants also complain that the state’s website contains misinformation about the program and that it is difficult to navigate. Failure to complete any portion of the application or skills test results in delays in compensation or outright rejection of access to the program. Frequently, those who face delays or rejection are not even told that they have failed to complete the full process and they can wait weeks without knowing why they are not being paid. The new rules also allow the state to deny compensation to workers for their actions that take place outside of work and have no connection to any job.

The effect of the new rules has been dramatic—hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers have lost compensation that they have earned at a time when they most need it. Florida now has the lowest rate of unemployed citizens who receive jobless benefits, with a mere 15% of eligible Floridians receiving compensation. That rate is much lower than the national rate of 27%. Only one-third of applicants ever receives any money, despite the fact that the program costs taxpayers no money and unemployment compensation is part of the benefits package that employees receive from their employers. Nationally, 29% of first-time applicants are denied compensation. The rate in Florida is more than 50%.

After a complaint was filed by Florida Legal Services and the National Employment Law Project, the United States Labor Department is investigating the new rules to determine whether or not they are illegal and require an undue burden on the jobless.

“This complaint is not challenging Florida’s right to operate an unemployment insurance program that already pays some of the lowest benefits in the country. Rather, this complaint is saying that no state, including Florida, is free to erect procedural barriers that keep otherwise eligible workers from accessing unemployment insurance,” said George Wentworth, senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.

States receive federal grants to administer their unemployment insurance programs, and one of the conditions for those grants is that they have procedures in place that facilitate the prompt payment of benefits to workers who meet basic eligibility criteria. Florida’s new procedures force workers who already satisfy the basic eligibility requirements to jump through additional hoops in the form of complex online transactions. Thousands of workers are being unfairly disqualified as a result. We are asking the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate and find that Florida’s procedures are in violation of federal law.

Gov. Scott frequently uses the drop in Florida’s unemployment compensation recipients as a talking point about how his policies have improved the economy, despite the fact that the largest reasons for the drop is recipients reaching their maximum number of weeks and being ineligible for further compensation, or people getting frustrated with the system and giving up—not finding new jobs. Florida has a higher unemployment rate than the national average and approximately 800,000 residents of the state are currently without work.

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Oct 17

How I Voted

So today was my last time voting as a Floridian. For those who don’t know, I accepted a job as a senior writer for AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., and I’m leaving the state as a resident for the final time this Sunday. For my final election in the state, I wanted to tell you who I voted for and why. Here goes:

President: This one is easy. There is literally no chance that I will vote for a Republican for president unless we see the kind of sea change in the parties that we saw during the civil rights movement. So, in other words, I’ll never vote for a Republican for president. I also will never vote for a third party candidate while I live in a swing state. I look at elections and politicians in a way that many don’t. I don’t see a vote as an endorsement of every single thing that a candidate does. Nor do I see it as the joining of a movement. I do not now and will likely never look to politicians for leadership and philosophy or perfection or any other big thing like that. A political job is just that — a job. And while I will always do what I can to get the best possible person into office, the reality is that an election is an extended job interview. And like any other job, you don’t hire the ideal candidate except in really rare circumstances. It’s really a decision to take the possible candidates and choose the best of those possibilities. There is literally no question that the person who can possibly be president in 2013 who is best for the job is Barack Obama. He’s been far from perfect and he’s made some significant mistakes, but he’s been moderately successful — or significantly successful if you account for the mess that he inherited. And there is literally no possibility that Mitt Romney could be a good president. While it is theoretically possible that he could be competent in the job (although his campaign suggests otherwise), he’s endorsed an agenda that is so extreme that it has no possibility of doing anything other than making the country worse off. That is 100% likely. If you thought Bush’s economic policies were bad for the country (and the Great Recession proves that he was), Romney would pursue even more extreme policies in that same direction. That’s not just bad for me or the United States, that’s bad for the world. Barack Obama

U.S. Senate: I held my nose on this one. Connie Mack is a horrible right-wing candidate who is one of the more dangerous members of Congress in terms of what he could accomplish long-term. Bill Nelson is one of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, but his voting record (about 85% progressive), is still light years ahead of any Republican. The Senate is so close that we can’t afford to lose a single seat. Judicial appointments and treaties with other countries have to be approved by the Senate, so it is literally the case that we can’t let the Republicans control that process without doing significant damage to the fundamental rights that we cherish. Bill Nelson

U.S. Representative: I don’t love Al Lawson. He seems to be only slightly more progressive than Alan Boyd was and Boyd was the worst Democrat in the House during his time. But Steve Southerland is both a right-wing nut (worse than Connie Mack) and totally incompetent at the job. Al Lawson

State Attorney: For the second time in my life, I voted for a Republican. I don’t know much about Pete Williams, but I voted for him. The reason why is I know a lot about his opponent, Willie Meggs. Meggs is one of the key members of the Southern, redneck, racist, sexist, good old boy network around the capitol and his public pronouncements and policies have always been at odds with my values. There is also significant evidence that he, along with Sheriff Larry Campbell, are corrupt and frequently abuse the public trust. I have never voted for Meggs and I will never vote for him or his son, who seems to be following in his footsteps. Meggs has to go. Pete Williams

State Senator: My least favorite vote, but one I had to make. Bill Montford is a horrible senator and his policy choices are bad for Florida. But at the legislative level, even the worst Democrats tend to be light years ahead of the best Republicans, particularly in the Tallahassee area. Bill Montford

Sheriff: The other half of the local good-old-boy potential corruption network, Larry Campbell, has been in office way too long and has done a terrible job. I quit working for Lisa Sprague’s campaign against him over differences in how we saw the campaign’s direction (I advised against running NPA, for instance), but everybody in the county who isn’t named Campbell or Meggs will be much better off with Sprague as sheriff. Lisa Sprague

Superintendent of Schools: Jackie Pons has voted against me several times as part of his alliance with party sleazebag Jon Ausman, but Pons has done a great job of superintendent and since I don’t take things like this personally, I fully endorse him for another term. Jackie Pons

Supreme Court Justices: The only real reason I see to vote out appointed judges is if they are criminal or incompetent or are so ideologically-driven that it leads them to ignore the law. I don’t see that from any of the judges on the ballot that I have, at least not in my limited knowledge of them. Plus, one of them is named Ron Swanson, how can you go wrong with that?

County Commission: Mary Ann Lindley isn’t a bad person and would probably be a good commissioner, although I can say that some of her decisions at the Democrat have upset me (concerning endorsements and such). But Akin Akinyemi, who is a friend of mine, has done a good job and deserves to be re-elected. Akin Akinyemi

City Commission: I had some pretty significant problems with the way Scott Maddox ran the state party and I questioned his commitment to his statewide runs for office, but I was always very happy with his work in local politics. On top of that, Steve Stewart is literally the sleaziest politician in Tallahassee not named Rick Scott. Scott Maddox

Soil and Water Conservation Districts: These were the easiest votes for me in the local races. In one race, Ryan Terrell (who I sang karaoke with last night) is one of the smartest, politically sharp minds I’ve ever met, so it’s easy to pick him. In the other, Tabitha Frazier (whose husband has performed with me live on stage) is one of the hardest-working and most dedicated political activists I’ve ever met. These two are people I call friends and am very happy to vote for. Ryan Terrell, Tabitha Frazier

All of the constitutional amendments this year were put on the ballot by the legislature that is filled with Rick Scott’s puppets. Even if some of them sound good, keep in mind that this is one of the most dishonest legislative groups that has ever served in Florida, so you shouldn’t trust anything they say and you should vote “No” on all of them.

Constitutional Amendment 1: Nothing more than a thinly-veiled attack on Obamacare. No

Constitutional Amendment 2: This one sounds good on its face, but it doesn’t really provide any significant help to anyone and it would deprive local governments of much-needed revenue at a time when the economy is sputtering, mostly because state and local governments lack revenue and can’t hire people. As a constitutional amendment, this would also give us no flexibility if it was a failure. No

Constitutional Amendment 3: Nothing more than another attempt at a TABOR-style tax cap that would cripple both state and local governments so much that Florida would become the worst economy in the country. Keep in mind that the first state to enact one of these caps has already gotten rid of it because it was such a disaster. As a constitutional amendment, this would also give us no flexibility if it was a failure. No

Constitutional Amendment 4: This one sounds good on its face, but it doesn’t really provide any significant help to anyone and it would deprive local governments of much-needed revenue at a time when the economy is sputtering, mostly because state and local governments lack revenue and can’t hire people. As a constitutional amendment, this would also give us no flexibility if it was a failure. No

Constitutional Amendment 5: Nothing more than a power grab so conservatives can attack judges that don’t follow the conservative line. No

Constitutional Amendment 6: Another right-wing assault on women’s rights. No

Constitutional Amendment 8: A very tricky amendment, particularly in the way it is worded. This is not about religious freedom at all, it’s about using taxpayer money to fund religious institutions. Conservative religious institutions. No

Constitutional Amendment 9: This one sounds good on its face, but it doesn’t really provide any significant help to anyone and it would deprive local governments of much-needed revenue at a time when the economy is sputtering, mostly because state and local governments lack revenue and can’t hire people. As a constitutional amendment, this would also give us no flexibility if it was a failure. No

Constitutional Amendment 10: This one sounds good on its face, but it doesn’t really provide any significant help to anyone and it would deprive local governments of much-needed revenue at a time when the economy is sputtering, mostly because state and local governments lack revenue and can’t hire people. As a constitutional amendment, this would also give us no flexibility if it was a failure. No

Constitutional Amendment 11: This one sounds good on its face, but it doesn’t really provide any significant help to anyone and it would deprive local governments of much-needed revenue at a time when the economy is sputtering, mostly because state and local governments lack revenue and can’t hire people. As a constitutional amendment, this would also give us no flexibility if it was a failure. No

Constitutional Amendment 12: Seems a lot like a shift of power away from students to unelected bureaucrats appointed by the governor. No

Local Referendum to Maintain .5 cent sales tax to fund education: This one is so obvious it’s hard to spend much time on it, but when the governor and his allies are doing everything they can to cut education funding, this helps offset at least some of those cuts so our children don’t get shortchanged. Yes

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Posted in 2012 Elections | 1 Comment
Aug 24

“Democratic Women Celebrate Equality”

Tallahassee, Florida – On Sunday, August 26th, women across Florida will celebrate “Women’s Equality Day”. Democratic Women’s Club of Florida President Janet Goen announced that, “Club members throughout the state are planning community celebrations of the anniversary of women’s suffrage.”

DWCF State Communications Chair Rachel Pienta, who is scheduled to speak at Women’s Equality Day festivities in Tallahassee, said, “In 2012, we’re seeing efforts to undermine women’s vote. We’re less than a decade from celebrating 100 years of the women’s vote but efforts to suppress voting make it more important than ever to be sure all women are registered and use their hard won right to vote in every election.”

Dr. Maureen McKenna, DWCF first vice president, explained the origins of Equality Day, “The amazing Bella Abzug, the congresswoman from New York, asked the U.S. Congress to designate August 26 as a national Women’s Equality Day to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.”
The observance of Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality.
Joint Resolution of Congress, 1971
Designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex; and
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights: and
WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26th of each year is designated as Women’s Equality Day, and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide
For more information about the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida, Inc. please visit http://www.democratic-women.org/ or on Facebook.

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Aug 20

Wakulla County is Getting Muddy…

The 2012 election season in Wakulla has been marked by high rainfall totals. However, the rain isn’t the only thing making it muddy here on the Gulf coast.

I recently wrote a letter to the editor of our local weekly about a 2012 county commission race in Wakulla. One candidate is an incumbent. Commissioner Mike Stewart was elected to the commission, sat out a term, and then was re-elected in 2008. The challenging candidate Howard Kessler is a former county commissioner who was defeated in 2010. Kessler has moved to a different district to run in 2012.

Recently, a Facebook page paid for by an ECO started slinging mud about issues related to gay marriage and family values. Wakulla can be fairly conservative. Our county’s neighbor to the north, Leon, is more liberal. It is a college town and a human rights ordinance was passed there a few years ago. A few miles south, down here on the coast, marriage equality is not yet on the radar. However, in a community where people may ask what church you attend when they first meet you, a conversation about conservative family values resonates with many citizens.

In 2008, the Florida Marriage Amendment, also known as Proposition 2 and The Marriage Protection Amendment, was a proposed initiated constitutional amendment to the Florida Constitution. It appeared on the November 4, 2008 ballot in Florida. In order to pass, the amendment required a 60% majority of those voting in the election.

The ballot language said, “This amendment protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

The measure passed statewide with a healthy margin:

Amendment 2 (2008)
Result Votes Percentage
Approved Yes 4,645,602 62.1%
No 2,833,052 37.9%

The amendment joined the following other marriage “protection” measures in Florida law:

Florida Statute 741.212(1) defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman and provides that the term “spouse” applies only to a member of such union (FL. Stat. 741.212(1),(3)).

Florida also adopted a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1997 which was codified as Florida Statute 741.212.

In 2008, in Wakulla, out of 14,066 cast, 9930 votes were cast in favor of Amendment 2. At the time, there were 18,566 registered voters in the county.

That said, it is interesting that someone would try to make marriage equality in this county commission race.

August 20, 2012

Dear Editor,

I planned to wait a bit after the primary election to write another political letter but recent events have prompted me to cut the wait short. A few weeks ago I noticed that electioneering communication focused on the County Commission Seat 3 race had started to appear. Print ads, Facebook pages, and websites had appeared – some focused on the candidacy of former County Commissioner Howard Kessler and others focused on current Commissioner Mike Stewart.

As of now, the Wakulla Democratic Party has not endorsed a candidate in this race. We may not do so at all since there is no Democratic candidate in the race. However, as a voting citizen of this county, I personally have an interest in the outcome of this race. Previously, I have voted for both Mike Stewart and Howard Kessler – albeit for different races. I have never had to choose between them on a ballot before. Their campaigns in this cycle will influence how I cast my vote this November.

Over the weekend, I saw an electioneering site on Facebook take a very negative turn. Previously, the Facebook page and the website http://www.tellthetruthmikestewart.com/ critiqued Commissioner Stewart’s record in office. However, on Saturday, a post from the Facebook page administrator posed questions about Commissioner Stewart’s ties to a group called Floridians for Accountability engaged in electioneering communication against Dr. Howard Kessler. The posting suggested that the group supported marriage equality, but referred to the issue as “gay marriage” and questioned Commissioner Stewart’s family values.

I was disturbed by this negative turn. No human rights ordinance has been proposed in Wakulla County. There has been no referendum on marriage of any kind in this community. Why say this and why attack someone’s family values for something that would be a state or federal issue rather than a county commission issue?

Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be a link between Commissioner Stewart and this electioneering communications organization.

On my own Facebook page, I linked to the electioneering page and spoke out against negative campaigning. I also called for Dr. Kessler to take a stand against the page. Both Commissioner Stewart and Dr. Kessler responded to my posts. Other community members participated in the thread as well.

The Facebook page has since been taken down or perhaps I have been blocked from viewing it but the address and name were https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tell-the-Truth-Mike-Stewart/372675729469564?ref=ts. The thread on my own Facebook page disappeared with it. The page still shows up in search engines but can no longer be accessed.

Tell the Truth, Mike Stewart – Résumé | Facebook

www.facebook.com/pages/Tell-the-Truth-Mike-Stewart/3726…
Tell the Truth, Mike Stewart. 11 likes • 1 talking about this.

I felt compelled to write this letter because Dr. Kessler stated that he did not approve of negative campaigning and that he had no connection to the Facebook page or to the website http://www.tellthetruthmikestewart.com/. Both sites were listed as paid electioneering communication paid for by FLQOL, 3019 Spirea Street, Sarasota, FL 34231. This group is the Florida Quality of Life Council, Inc. It is a registered electioneering communications organization. The only source of income for this group are a series of inkind donations for accounting made by the BATTLEGROUND GROUP, INC.

An inquiry into the actual IP address of the website http://www.tellthetruthmikestewart.com/ shows that it is registered to Republican political strategist Chris Akins – see the screen shot attached to this letter. Mr. Akins lists Dr. Kessler as a client and also refers to their professional association in a June Facebook post – see the screen shot attached to this letter. However, there doesn’t seem to be a record of payment to Chris Akins or Akins Campaign Strategy listed on Dr. Kessler’s campaign finance reports filed with the Wakulla Supervisor of Elections. If Mr. Akins is donating his services, shouldn’t that be listed as an inkind contribution to Dr. Kessler’s campaign?

I believe there is a place in politics for electioneering communication. However, I think such groups need to stick to actual issues that are relevant to the race. I think it is important that candidates are honest with citizens about efforts undertaken on their behalf. To say, “this is terrible and I didn’t authorize it nor do I condone it” is one thing. Candidates can’t always control what their supporters do. However, in this instance, the connecting lines between Dr. Kessler, Chris Akins, FQOL, the Battleground Group, and the negative electioneering communication sites beg for scrutiny.

I’m calling for a clean, honest race for County Commission Seat 3 in which the candidates stick to the issues and campaign on their own merits. Candidates, please keep it clean.

Rachel Sutz Pienta
Chair, Wakulla Democratic Party

NOTE: I have not included attachments with this blog post but I am happy to provide them on request.

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Aug 08

Updates

So for those who didn’t know, I quit my job at Crooks and Liars a while back to be the Communications Director for Darcy Burner’s congressional campaign in Washington state. Our primary was yesterday and, while we fought a valiant fight and did a lot of good work, we didn’t prevail. I haven’t decided what my next step is yet, but in the next day I’ll start the process for the promised 2012 Florida Netroots Awards…

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