Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Mattered This Week?

This week, I'll go with the affirmative action SCOTUS case.

As far as what didn't matter? The events in Libya mattered, but I don't really expect the "scandal" aspect of it to matter at all.

But what do you have? What do you think mattered this week?

38 comments:

  1. The election becoming a toss-up. Edge to Romney.

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    1. Is this something that "mattered?" or is it the "effect of things that mattered"?

      That is to say, does a shift in the polls become an event by itself aside from the factors that created the shift in the polls? It certainly seems as if, once the shift in polls became a driving media narrative, it did become sort of something that "mattered." It boosted conservative enthusiasm, which seemed to allow Romney to pretend to be a moderate more conspicuously. And it may have pulled a handful of undecideds or not-committed voters towards Romney.

      Interesting to see what happens next... as Nate Silver points out, there's a lot of signs suggesting a correction in the polls towards Obama.

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    2. So, Obama's falling in the polls because of the negative press caused by Obama falling in the polls?

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    3. No, it's more like this: Romney was due for a surge in the polls because the fundamentals of the race pointed to a toss-up. If we could see an alternative universe where the media didn't declare Romney the debate winner, I bet Romney's polling surge still would have happened... but it would have been gradual and not nearly as dramatic.
      Getting back to my broad point though, what I'm thinking is that it's hard to say that polling results "mattered" one week (especially since they're usually at least 3 to 7 days old by the time they reach us) but maybe the way that polling results are reported can "matter."

      I'd be willing to bet that the reason that Romney's surge was so large is because of the way it was reported: Democratic enthusiasm dipped, Republican enthusiasm surged. And it pulled a lot of uncommitted voters (who are still probably open to flipping and/or might just stay home on Nov. 6) into Romney's camp.

      Anyways, maybe this is just me debating semantics. The race is where political scientists said it would be six-months ago: a toss-up. Political scientists also predicted that Obama would be the slight favorite, so we'll see if that plays out in the next few days/weeks.

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  2. Consumer confidence numbers hitting 5-year high.

    Economic data continues to suggest Obama is a narrow favorite. I wonder if either Romney is outperforming the fundamentals (similar to how Obama was a few weeks ago, thus suggesting a correction in the polls away from Romney soon), OR if our economic data is incomplete and the economy is slow enough that Romney actually is the narrow favorite and we don't have data to show that yet.

    JB, is my reading of things correct? What do you think?

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  3. The attack on the Pakistani girl Malala has galvanized the populace - including conservative Islamic figures - against the Taliban. This incident may prove more effective at undermining the Taliban than anything the Pakistani military has done. And she's expected to recover.

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    1. We can only hope, Thomas. That little girl was quite a witness to atrocity.

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  4. Good point about the Libya stuff not mattering. The House being in session at this point is pretty rare right? Anyone know of a comparable? It strikes me as Issa trying to gin something up for the election, and also make up for how the whole "Fast and Furious" hearings collapsed into fiasco.

    The unemployment drop (in claims for unemployment) mattered. At the very least, who ever wins in November will probably be our "recovery President." Also I liked Martha Raddatz, but she was a good illustration of something that I think mattered. Mainly that our elites think that the biggest issues facing our country are 1. cutting government spending. 2. cutting entitlements 3. cutting tax rates for the very wealthy. 4. Iran. Every other aspect of foreign and domestic affairs is seen at best as irrelevant and at worst a distraction. That I think matters.

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  5. From the poll numbers, it looks like the first Presidential debate mattered.

    Libya: It was pretty clear a couple of days after the attacks that it wasn't really about a movie, but that's the line we continued to hear over and over from the President and his administration. #lazymendacity

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    1. http://eamb-ydrohoos.blogspot.gr/2012/02/world-war-iii.html

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    2. The intelligence community briefing sent to Susan Rice and every member of Congress said there was a demonstration and that extremists took advantage of it. Curiously, it appears that the CIA's al-Qaeda telephone intercepts also said they were taking advantage of a demonstration. Why, I can't imagine, except that terrorists also screw things up (and perhaps they lie to each other, too). But what confuses me is why the Republicans think this is so important, other than that they're grasping for things to complain about. What would be the advantage of lying about a minor detail that's going to come out eventually anyhow? Mind you, I'm not saying the Benghazi incident itself was insignificant. People were killed, and the ambassador had a "safe haven" that rapidly filled with smoke when the building was set on fire. But all the commotion about whether there was a demonstration or not. It just confounds me.

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    3. "What would be the advantage of lying about a minor detail that's going to come out eventually anyhow?"

      It’s a lot easier to fool people than you seem to think (How many people still think Saddam had a role in 9/11?). Even with Republican pursuing this, many people will continue to think this was a spontaneous response to a movie, not an al Qaeda attack.

      After the attack, all the administration talked about was the movie -- the President even went so far as to ask YouTube to remove it. The fact that it may have been a well-planned terrorist attack (which they had reason to believe at the time) wasn’t admitted until the next week. But in the days afterwards, the administration went with the ‘it was the movie’ narrative and claimed “we don't see at this point signs this was a coordinated plan, premeditated attack.” For most people, that’s the narrative that will stick.

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    4. Couves, I agree. But I also have to point out that there were, in fact, thousands of people demonstrating the movie throughout the region. I make no excuses for the Administrations forthrightness here; but there was plenty of context for Obama to condemn the movie as offensive; no matter the particulars of the attack. The building furor over the movie likely put other Americans in the area at increased risk.

      My dismay was that there was not enough early support for the notion that offensive material is sometimes the result when people have free speech.

      And I'd also like to point out there was some CIA involvement with the site, and a potential security violation by hearings held by Republicans in their effort to turn this political; another CIA cover blown.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dana-milbank-letting-us-in-on-a-secret/2012/10/10/ba3136ca-132b-11e2-ba83-a7a396e6b2a7_story.html

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    5. Zic, good points about the movie.

      On the last part, I don’t think anyone is surprised that the CIA was operating out of the Consulate (And certainly not to the terrorists who seized our papers and killed our agents there.). In any case, Congressional blunders are no excuse for not making more information public.

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    6. Actually, the CIA was operating out of "the Annex" two kilometers away from the consulate. The assailants may have known about the Annex, but they didn't attack it until the personnel from the consulate evacuated to that site and presumably the attackers followed them. After that, clearly, the site was known. According to the State Department, there were no classified documents in Benghazi. That may be an exaggeration, I don't know, but they say anything classified was put on a computer screen from Washington long enough for it to be read and then taken down. In the intelligence community, this sort of procedure--in which no notes or copies are allowed--is known as "eyes only."

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    7. Presumably, the State Department story about the handling of documents wouldn't cover any secret material that originated at the Annex.

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    8. Also, I agree about the gullibility of the public. The story will probably stick. What I don't see is the supposed advantage in making people believe it. Maybe I'm the gullible one, but when they intercept a phone call that says "we took advantage of a demonstration," they put it in the report. When the people from the scene finally arrived, they were unlikely to be shouting as they came in the door "whatever you do, don't tell people it happened during a demonstration." Rice never said it was a spontaneous attack, only that extremists attacked during a demonstration. So what's the difference?

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    9. Scott, we now know that the State Department never believed that there was a protest. The intelligence community also informed them very quickly that it was a terrorist attack. In both cases, this is exactly the opposite of what we were told.

      However you want to look at it, lying about major world events is a really big deal.

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    10. It's always a mistake to imagine that large bureaucracies "know" the facts about large, unexpected events in real or near-real time.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/10/how-critics-of-obamas-libya-response-profoundly-misunderstand-intelligence/263139/

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    11. Scott -- and yet they claimed to know what they did not:

      "WASHINGTON — The State Department said Tuesday it never concluded that the consulate attack in Libya stemmed from protests over an American-made video ridiculing Islam..."

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/libya-attack-protest-state-department_n_1953263.html

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    12. Couves, how many times have you heard from a bureaucracy like the State Dept. words to the effect of:"My goodness, we have no idea......"

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    13. ". . . one official said, "That was not our conclusion." He called it a question for "others" to answer, without specifying. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter, . . ."

      I love the part about not being authorized to speak publicly on the matter. This came from a conference call for the press organized by the State Department. A lot of the same things, often with the same phraseology and likely by the same people (the names were deleted from the official conference call transcript), were said the following day at the Congressional hearings. Anyhow, back to the point.

      In the transcript, after he says "That was not our conclusion," he went on to add "I'm not saying we had a conclusion, but we outlined what happened." When people in government talk vaguely about "others," they often mean the CIA or the intelligence community more broadly (ironically referred to as Other Government Agencies, or OGA). Regarding her source, Rice has said "I relied solely and squarely on the information the intelligence community provided to me and other senior U.S. officials." That may well have included information from the State Department as well (filtered through the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, INR), but the part about demonstrations may have been added from another agency's erroneous report, and if State didn't expressly say there was a demonstration, they probably didn't specify that there wasn't a demonstration either. Eventually, they figured out that it wasn't true and changed the story. That's not unusual. Initial reports are often wrong. There's a lot of contradictory relevant and irrelevant (but not always obviously irrelevant) information flying around events like these. It takes time to sort it out. Unfortunately, politicians and the press insist on authoritative-sounding statements immediately. It's not a lie, it's an error. Personally, I don't think the question of whether there was a video-inspired demonstration was such a big deal, and it would have come out eventually even if most of the public wasn't aware of it. And there was plenty of reason for Obama to distance the United States from the video apart from Benghazi, because real (as far as I know) video-inspired demonstrations were occurring from Tunisia to Indonesia. As for whether there was a "terrorist" attack, Rice said on "Face the Nation," on Sept. 16, "It's clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al-Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al-Qaeda itself, I think is one of the things we'll have to determine." That doesn't sound like denial or deception to me; it's a reference to information that's still being processed.

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    14. "Personally, I don't think the question of whether there was a video-inspired demonstration was such a big deal, and it would have come out eventually even if most of the public wasn't aware of it."

      Do you think there's any political liability in being hit by al Qaeda on the anniversary of 9/11? Does it matter that "it would have come out eventually" if most people continue to believe the initial falsehood?

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    15. Couves, I firmly believe making too big a deal about anything al Qaeda does is a victory for al Qaeda. They want us to be afraid, to overreach.

      Perhaps there's some savvy political strategy in minimizing what they do; certainly getting all het up over it, kicking the war machine into gear over it is the worst possible response.

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    16. zic, Are you suggesting that the President is deceiving the people so that they don't demand that he take us to war? I think that's quite a stretch.

      Do you think that saying there are murderous anti-American mobs in Libya will encourage the American public to be less fearful and militaristic? Frankly, I feel really bad for the Libyans -- in American public opinion, they've regained their status as just another Muslim stereotype.

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    17. Couves, you seem to believe that if there was a mention of the video, then there must have been an intent to create an impression that al-Qaeda was uninvolved. That's the Republican spin, but Rice said on TV that al-Qaeda may have been involved, by name. Where is the deception?

      Now this morning, I heard Andrea Mitchell say that there was a live video feed from the consulate Tactical Operations Center to Washington during the attack. The context suggested that she thought this meant Washington obviously knew there was no demonstration because they were watching events live. Again, apart from the fact that the existence of a demonstration is irrelevant, the first sign of attack was when security personnel at the consulate heard noise, shooting, and an explosion. They then checked their video monitors and saw armed men running in where the gate used to be. They then called the embassy in Tripoli and the State Department in Washington and turned on the live video feed to State. If there had been a demonstration, does anyone really think the demonstrators would still be hanging around demonstrating at that point? For that matter, do we really know there wasn't a demonstration? All we know is that the consulate hadn't noticed one, but then they hadn't noticed the attackers coming either.

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    18. "Couves, you seem to believe that if there was a mention of the video, then there must have been an intent to create an impression that al-Qaeda was uninvolved."

      I'm not making a deduction, I'm making an observation, which is that we were told that X happened and Y didn't happen. Yes, they hedged their bets, but they made it pretty clear that they thought it was a correct narrative that they were selling.

      As for the rest, no unicorns were seen either. So by your logic, you must be ready to accept the potential involvement of unicorns.

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    19. No, I only assume that that explains the lack of mention of unicorns.

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    20. But do we really know there wasn't a unicorn? All we know is that the consulate hadn't noticed one.

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    21. I'll entertain the evidence if it comes along.

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    22. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/15/reuters-libya-attack_n_1967494.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

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  6. Well, I'll say what no one else will--Joe Biden mattered this week, if only because he got Dems out of the doldrums, and road tested attacks and defenses that are likely to be heard and seen again.

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    1. Yeah. He gave democrats a reason to be happy. But you never want to be in a position to tell Joe to be aggressive; he doesn't come off well that way.

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  7. Libya, like the debates, matter in how the affect the big picture. Obama has campaigned on Romney being a poor alternative. The first debate made Romney look more "in charge" or more presidential than Obama. That's a direct hit to the Obama campaign pitch. Libya matters way more because it adds deeper color to the argument that Romney is up to the job and Obama might be ready for the dugout. Obama's number one job right now is to show why he's up for this for four more years, how we are on a good path, and that Mitt Romney isn't proposing something better.

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    1. libya as a campaign issue doesn't matter. there's no consensus on whether or not the O Admin did something wrong and therefore the average person looking at the issue is going to be prone to see whatever they already think of the O Admin reflected back... a Dem is going to think that he did fine in the situation and that there's too many details we don't know yet. a Republican is going to think he badly screwed up the situation and that it's more evidence that he's incompetent. The average voter isn't going to think anything about it because foreign policy is almost always a muddle and unless the media tells them what to think, they don't have much of an opinion.
      Your other point about the debate, I have to take issue with: The reason that Romney had a polling surge afterwards is because the fundamentals of the race said that it was going to be a toss-up. Even before the debate, the race was beginning to tighten... the debate was the excuse a lot of people (whom political scientists already knew were going to be prone to supporting the challenging candidate) needed to support Romney. The media likes to create a storyline around campaigns "Romney did well in the debate and derailed the Obama presidency!" sounds better than "The economic recovery has not been strong enough to give Obama a un-breakable winning coalition of voters."
      Political scientists also predict that enough voters are, in the end, going to support Obama to give him that winning coalition. That's based on fundamentals of the race: historical information, economic indicators, etc. Maybe those models are wrong: we have imperfect information about all of those fundamental factors. And we don't have a huge amount of data about elections... there's only been 8 Pres elections in the past 30 years.
      Basically, assuming that the fundamental models are correct, I think that Obama could do roughly the same in the next two debates (not make any mistakes, but not really inspire) and still see a 50.5 percent versus 49.5 percent Obama victory on Nov. 6.

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    2. Sorry, but I think history shows that politics is more complex than what you imply and that emotional responses to events and actors are at least somewhat flexible and can be outcome determantive.

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  8. One thing that also "mattered." the news cycle since the veep debate has been pretty tame. It sets up a great opportunity for Obama on Tuesday. But the town hall format is a tough format in which to go after someone as slippery as Mitt Romney. Those "last word" are going to happen in some unsettled places in the discussion. Again, first debate = mess.

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