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October 7, 2012

Obama’s argument

This is by Lucas Gray, a Simpson’s and Family Guy animator. (Hat tip to Gawker)


[Minutes later:] I came across this at Gawker as well.

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September 16, 2012

[2b2k] Decisions and character

I just read Michael Lewis’ tag-along look at President Obama. It shows aspects of Obama not readily on display. But mainly it’s about being the President as Decider.

The article makes it clear to me that the presidency is not a possible job. No one cannot be adequately prepared to deal with the range of issues the president faces, most of which have significant effects on very real people. The president therefore needs processes that enable him (so far it’s been hims, kids) to make good decisions, the personality that will let him embrace those processes, and the character to continue making decisions while fully appreciating the consequences of his actions.

Mothers, don’t let you kids grow up to be presidents. Holy cow.


September 7, 2012

Mitt Romney’s distrust of entrepreneurship

Mitt Romney is taking some flack for using some notoriously flaky science as his example of good science. But in the same passage he betrays a Big Corporate view of how innovation works that should cost him the support of every entrepeneurial startup in the country.

Here’s the passage from his Washington Examiner interview (with a hat tip to BoingBoing):

CARNEY: What role should government have in promoting certain industr

And keep in mind that Romney here is not talking about the auto industry specifically; rather, he is explaining why governments ought not to back entrepreneurial companies. It’s not just that governments are bad at picking winners, it’s that when the winners are startups — even when they’re way out of the prototypical garage — they’re unlikely to get past “delight.” So, wies or economic activities such as homeownership, or manufacturing, renewable energy or fossil fuel energy, eBig Corp xports, or just advanced technology? What sort of subsidies and incentives do you favor? You had some of these in Massachusetts, I know.

ROMNEY: Very limited — my answer Big Corp to your first question. I’m not an advocate of industrial policy being formed by a government. I do believe in the power of free markets, and when the government removes the extraordinary burdens that it puts on markets, why I think markets are more effective at guiding a prosperous economy than is the government.

So for instance, I would not be investing massive dollars in electric car companies in California. I think Tesla and Fisker are delightful-looking ve

And keep in mind that Romney here is nBig Corp ot talking about the auto industry specifically; rather, he is explaining why governments ought not to back entrepreneurial companies. It’s not just that governments are bad at picking winners, it’s that when the winners are startups — even when they’re way out of the prototypical garage — they’re unlikely to get past “delight.” So, whicles, but I somehow imagine that Toyota, Nissan, and even General Motors will produce a more cost-effective electric car than either Tesla or Fisker. I think it is bad policy for us to be investing hundreds of millions of dollars in specific companies and specific technologies, and developing those technologies.

I do believe in basic science. I believe in participating in space. I believe in analysis of new sources of energy. I believe in laboratories, looking at ways to conduct electricity with — with cold fusion, if we can come up with it. It was the University of Utah that solved that. We somehow can’t figure out how to duplicate it.

So, first the problem with his science remark. I understand that he’s boosting Utah. But the 1989 experiment by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann was famous not only because it could not be replicated, but because it was prematurely hyped by Pons and Fleischmann before it had gone through peer review or had been replicated. (As BoingBoing points out, the Wikipedia article is worth reading.) No matter what you think of the experiment, it is a terrible example to use as proof that one appreciates basic science…unless you’re citing the rejection of the Pons-Fleischmann results, which Romney explicitly was not. The issue is not merely that Romney continues to believe in a discredited claim. The real issue is that this suggests that Romney doesn’t understand that science is a methodology, not merely the results of that methodology. That’s scary both for a CEO and for a possible president.

I’m at least as bothered, however, by Romney’s casual dismissal of entrepreneurial startups as a source of innovation: “I think Tesla and Fisker are delightful-looking vehicles, but I somehow imagine that Toyota, Nissan, and even General Motors will produce a more cost-effective electric car than either Tesla or Fisker.” “Delightful” is a dismisive word in this context, as evidenced by the inevitability of the “but” that follows it. Romney, it seems, doesn’t believe that startups can get beyond delight all the way to the manly heavy lifting that makes innovation real. For that you need the established, massive corporations.

Wow. Could there be a more 20th century vision of how a 21st century entrepreneurial economy should work?


September 6, 2012

One way Obama’s speech might go

He can’t possibly top Bill Clinton’s speech, but here’s what I hope President Obama does tonight.

First, I hope he stays entirely on policy points, although I wouldn’t mind a little uplifting rhetoric. I certainly don’t need to be told again about Bain.

Second, while Clinton did a superb job explaining what’s wrong with the Republican argument, there’s still work to do. So, I hope tonight President Obama reminds us of all that he has done, for his achievements are epic. But I hope he does so in a way that neatly folds and stacks each item on that laundry list.

For example, he might remind us of how bad the circumstances were, and then show us the method by which he addressed those problems. First, you stimulate the economy: what was the money spent on, and what were the results. Second, you take care of the most vulnerable: here’s what we did, and here are the results. Third, you make investments for the future: here’s what we invested in and here’s why it matters. Fourth, you do this while you also deal with the developments and opportunities the world presents: here’s what happened, and here’s how we responded. Fifth, from Ledbetter to ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, you try to make life more fair for all our citizens.

That’s my idea for conveying the methodological competency with which the Administration has dealt with the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. But, I’m looking forward to hearing the speech tonight and thinking, “Man, that’s waaay better!”


September 4, 2012

Couchsnarking: I’ll be tweeting the DNC

Just a warning: I’m going to be watching the Democratic National Convention this week, and undoubtedly will be unable to keep my finger off the tweet button. When I tweeted Romney’s speech at the RNC, I was unable to control the pace of my tweeting, although I expect not to be as provoked during the DNC. (Spoiler: I am a Democrat.)

If you want to follow me — or mute me — my twitter handle is @dweinberger.

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September 2, 2012

The electoral map looks better for Obama than you think

Vtgenie at DailyKos has an interesting analysis of Nate Silver‘s latest state-by-state polling numbers. (Nate Silver is, of course, the Eric Clapton of poll analysts.)

Here’s VTgenie’s explanation:

…starting with states that each candidate is guarranteed to win, work your way down the probabilities adding electoral votes as you go. So for example, Obama currently is given a 100% chance of winning nine states (go Vermont!) and Maine, district 1, followed by 11 states between 90 and 100%, ending at Pennsylvania with 91%. Assuming Obama will win all of these, we proceed through the next four states, all between 70 and 80%, ending with Ohio at 71% for a total of 275 electoral votes.

Notice that to get to 270, using only Obama’s highest probability states, we never had to use a state with lower than 70%. On the other hand, doing the same process for Romney, using only his highest probability states, he has to use states for which he has a less than 50% chance of winning– in some cases, much less. Put another way, the easiest path to 270 for Romney– in terms of current probabilities– runs through three states between 30 and 40%, ending with Ohio, at only a 29% chance of winning. That’s gotta hurt.

But wait! There’s more…

While Romney has no path to victory using states where his chance of winning is greater than 50%, Obama has not just one but many such paths.

I can’t make it any clearer than that.

VTgenie notes that of course this depends on the accuracy of Nate Silver’s numbers, and things may change, etc. But it seemed trenchant to me. Of course, my math skills do not allow me to have an opinion. Is VTgenie’s analysis right?

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August 31, 2012

How Mitt made himself the Invisible Man

[Note: I am Democrat and an enthusiastic Obama supporter. Surprise surprise!]

It took the tweetstream (Ana Marie Cox, for example. Baratunde for another) to get me to watch Mitt Romney’s speech last night. I get too wound up, so I was planning on first reading about the speech and then watching it the next morning (= today). But the tweetstream provided the distance I needed, so I turned on the TV. And then, inevitably, not only did I start tweeting, I couldn’t stop.

I came out of the speech feeling even better about President Obama’s chances. I think Mitt turned himself into Clint’s empty chair last night.

Mitt’s speech was poorly crafted. Oh, I got verklempt when he talked about waking up to a pile of children; that concrete detail did indeed remind me of that ineffably full phase of my life. But like bad fiction where you see the writer’s intention too clearly, it was too apparent that Mitt was telling us these stories in order to get us to see him as a warm human who has shared the elemental moments of life. I do not doubt at all that Mitt loves his family, but the fact that he felt that he had to convince us of that emphasized that the Party feels there’s a question about Mitt’s shared humanity.

Put this next to Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance art piece, and I think the two elements will quickly merge in America’s mind: An empty chair will symbolize not President Obama, but Mitt as a man who is worried about being perceived as empty. After all, the empty chair trope is usually reserved for a candidate who skips a debate out of fear, which makes no sense in the context of the Republic convention. So, it had to be a way of making the emptiness of character into an issue. And that’s not a winning issue for Romney.

Then add to this the fact that the Net broke the old record for Speed of Satire. Eastwooding became an instant meme. Someone took the Twitter handle “InvisibleObama“and got 22,000 followers by the end of the speech (44,411 right now). Then check the headlines about last night. “Invisible” has become the word of the night.

So, I think Mitt’s speech has set the subtextual agenda: The Invisible Man versus Barack Obama’s character and substance. Even if you don’t much like Obama’s policy proposals, Obama doesn’t have to convince us that he is real, and that his policy comes from his substance as a person.

As early evidence of this, check the response — brilliant, I think — from the official “BarackObama tweetstream:

Obama sitting in a chair

Personally, I think Obama should and will win on the basis of the content of his policies. I would prefer that the campaign be about the policies that matter. But the Republican Party made its choice last night, for example, reducing the peril of climate change to a shameful punch line, and issuing a “five-part plan” that stated zero plans. Too bad for all of us, but especially for them. You don’t make “healing the family” your capstone if your acceptance speech plays like a rejected audition tape for Ward Cleaver’s role in “Leave it to Beaver.” The Republicans will lose because last night they made their fears about Mitt the center of the election: He’s just a man in a suit who’s looking for his next promotion.

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July 25, 2012

The Anglo-Saxon president

Wow. An adviser has explained to the Brits that Romney better understands and appreciates the UK because Romney is Anglo-Saxon:

We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

This is as close to a casually racist remark as we’re likely to get, at least I hope. I’m finding it hard how to take it otherwise. So, maybe the adviser thought he (she?) was making a positive statement about shared heritage, the way President Clinton might have talked about feeling a special bond with Ireland because of his Irish heritage. But I think this goes beyond tone deafness. This is not a statement of warm feeling, but a negative statement that without that shared heritage, you can’t really understand the UK. It is (to me) very clearly an attempt to boost Romney while declaring Obama to be Other: Obama can’t understand America because he’s not really one of us, where the “us” means Anglo Saxons. If there’s a more charitable way of taking this and its implications, let me know.

I only wish that the first stop had been Germany so that the adviser could have talked about how to fully appreciate the shared history we have with that country, we need an Aryan president.


[A couple of hours later:] The Romney campaign has officially denied it. His press secretary said:

“‘It’s not true. If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign,’ she told in an email. Saul did not comment on what specifically was not true.”


July 4, 2011

Obama admin backs Berlusconi’s unfettered “anti-piracy” regs

Luca de Biase explains a new power about to be claimed by AGCOM, the Italian telecommunications regulatory agency, that would permit it to “remove content from Italian websites or to block access to foreign websites accused by copyright holders to break their rights.” The proposed powers implement a requirement from the Italian government that the agency take action to prevent piracy. The decision about the proposed AGCOM powers is due on July 6.

The Obama administration is backing the law, and perhaps the specific implementation. Writes Luca:

FIMI (association of music publishers) has circulated a mail about Obama’s administration support to AGCOM, quoting this US document: “The United States encourages Italy to ensure that the AGCOM regulations are swiftly promulgated and implemented, that these regulations create an effective mechanism against copyright piracy over the Internet, and that they address all types of piracy that takes place online.”

The quote comes from an April 2011 global roundup from the U.S. Trade Representative. Here’s the paragraph on Italy:

Italy remains on the Watch List with an Out-of-Cycle review to be conducted this year. Italy continued to make progress in improving its IPR protection and enforcement in 2010, including by increased cooperation among law enforcement officials and improved enforcement actions against certain types of IPR violations. The United States remains concerned that, overall enforcement against copyright piracy continues to be inadequate and that piracy over the Internet continues to grow, severely damaging the legitimate market for distribution of copyrighted works. The United States welcomes recent efforts to address piracy over the Internet, and looks forward to measures to help ameliorate this problem. Specifically, proposed regulations by the Italian Communications Authority (AGCOM) could provide rights holders with an avenue to curb IPR violations online in an effective manner. The United States encourages Italy to ensure that the AGCOM regulations are swiftly promulgated and implemented, that these regulations create an effective mechanism against copyright piracy over the Internet, and that they address all types of piracy that takes place online. The United States also encourages Italy to address other IPR issues, including a troubling Data Protection Agency ruling prohibiting the monitoring of peer-to-peer networks. While rights holders report good efforts by the Finance Police and the Customs Police, few cases reach final sentencing and courts still fail to impose deterrent level sentences. The United States will continue to work with Italy to address these and other matters.

It’s not clear that this an endorsement of what seems like over-reaching by AGCOM, but it ain’t pretty.


May 2, 2011

Here for your comparative purposes are the routines by Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent Dinners of 2011 and 2006 respectively. (By the way, you will be comparing not just the comedians, but also the presidents.)

And then, just to show how upset they were with Colbert’s display of gigantic cojones, here’s who they brought in the following year:

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