Posted tagged ‘Election 2012’

For a Good Time in Cambridge: Ta-Nehisi Coates/Chris Hayes/MIT Edition

November 12, 2012

Hey Boston-area Balloon Juice folk.  Tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m., Ta-Nehisi Coates will be talking with MSNBC host Chris Hayes, author of the highly recommended (by me!) Twilight of the Elites.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the event is titled “The 2012 Election and the Twilight of the Elites.”



It’ll all be happening at MIT’s Simmons Hall, W79 in TechSpeak, 7-8:30, free and open to the public. Simmons Hall is on Vassar Street in Cambridge, opposite the MIT playing fields.  Interactive map here.

Event description:

In his new book, Twilight Of The Elites, journalist and MSNBC host Chris Hayes poses a challenge with special resonance for the MIT community — Are the institutions which foster America’s leadership class working as intended? Hayes’ book covers ground as diverse as education, the financial sector, our political system and the Catholic church in an attempt to understand whether the American elite truly upholds the values of competition and meritocracy which it claims to espouse. His conclusions are troubling.

Join Chris Hayes in conversation with Atlantic Senior Editor and Dr. Martin Luther King Visiting Scholar Ta-Nehisi Coates on Tuesday November 13 at Simmons Hall for an election year discussion on the future of our country and an assessment of its institutions.

Should be fun.

Image: Cornelisz. van Haarlem, Fall of the Titans(alt: Fall of Satan), c. 1588


More Geekenfreude

November 9, 2012

Adding to the picture of the Obama tech-group’s cyber-campaign edge over Romney’s people, here are a few more details on the GOP’s Project ORCA  — you know, the GOTV system that failed more or less completely. From  Commentary:

The system had never been stress tested and couldn’t handle the crush of traffic all at once. Thousands of man-hours went into designing and implementing a program that was useful on one day and one day only, and on that day, it crashed. My source familiar with the campaign described it this way, “It was a giant [mess] because a political operative sold a broken product with no support or backup plan…”

Just to belabor the obvious.  Big data and robust software take a lot of time to get right…

…but the Romney side began only began to grasp the need for such a system well into the heat of the campaign [Powerline link]:

In the primary, we learned it was difficult to be working from Boston and really affect voter turnout in the states. It was disappointing to receive data later and realize if we had access to that data earlier, we could have done something differently and affected the outcome.

We have tweaked and improved Project ORCA throughout primary, so going into the general, we had several ideas and more time to incorporate those ideas into a system that would work nationally.

(Via Ars Technica, building ORCA took place over just seven months, leading up almost to the point of the general election)

By contrast, as the Michael Scherer’s piece I quoted yesterday describes, the Democratic cyber-team spent 18 months just to build the essential infrastructure of a usable meta-database and developing the software tools that would allow the Obama team to exploit that information for use in different settings throughout the active campaigning season.

And then there’s this, by Steve Lohron the NYT’s Bits Blog:

Another truly important change was in the technology itself. “Cloud computing barely existed in 2008,” Mr. Slaby said.

This time, the Obama campaign’s data center was mainly Amazon Web Services, the leading supplier of cloud services. The campaign’s engineers built about 200 different programs that ran on the Amazon service including Dashboard, the remote calling tool, the campaign Web site, donation processing and data analytics applications.

Using mainly open-source software and the Amazon service, the Obama campaign could inexpensively write and tailor its own programs instead of using off-the-shelf commercial software.

“It let us attack and engineer our own approach to problems, and build solutions for an environment that moves so rapidly you can’t plan,” Mr. Slaby said. “It made a huge difference this time.”

By contrast, the Romney development process, again, as reported by Ars Technica’s Sean Gallagher [h/t commenter dmislev]:

To build Orca, the Romney campaign turned to Microsoft and an unnamed application consulting firm..

[But there were] a series of deployment blunders and network and system failures. While the system was stress-tested using automated testing tools, users received little or no advance training on the system. Crucially, there was no dry run to test how Orca would perform over the public Internet.

Part of the issue was Orca’s architecture. While 11 backend database servers had been provisioned for the system—probably running on virtual machines—the “mobile” piece of Orca was a Web application supported by a single Web server and a single application server. Rather than a set of servers in the cloud, “I believe all the servers were in Boston at the Garden or a data center nearby…

Open source.  Build it yourself.  Don’t had over your wallet to a consultant and take (allegedly) turnkey delivery days or weeks before chequered flag goes down.

Lots of folks here have more experience with this kind of work than I ever will, but my friends in the open source camp always emphasize:  if you build the tool and know the tool, and do so in an environoment that’s easy for others to inspect, critique, and improve, you get good software.  You certainly can get fine software from conventional proprietary approaches — but not always, and you suffer most when you have a glitch:  fewer people know what’s going on, and the code itself can be much more opaque.  Commenters here can flesh that cartoon out with much more bitter experience, I’m sure — but I think we all know the eternal truth that you really, really don’t want to be testing critical new components on the night.

A last point:  One of the benefits of demanding extreme effort in our Presidential campaigns is so that they can serve as stress tests, a way to see how well each side handles pressure and complex tasks.  And here,  you can see a lot in the different approaches the two teams took to building technology intended to address essentially the same problem.  You get a sense of their respective management cultures, their analytical skills, their capacity to master their emotions and organize themselves against the specific tasks they face.

Or, as our friend John Hindrocket asked just a week ago,

Whom would you count on to organize anything, Mitt Romney or David Axelrod?


Image:  Titian, Allegory of Time Governed By Prudence, c. 1565.

Post Debate Punditing Without A License

October 4, 2012

I’m going to do something I very rarely wish to inflict on y’all.  Usually, I like to invoke at least a schmear of empirical evidence to drive an argument, but just this once I’m going to go all pundity…

….which means, I guess, that I gotta with a Penetrating Glimpse of the Obvious:

Last night’s debate was a poor showing for President Obama and those of us who see the prospect of a President Romney as a clear and present danger to the Republic and our kids’ future.

Which leads to the equally obvious (but true) pivot:

No campaign is a single event. Counting today there are 32 full days to go before the polls open on Tuesday, November 6.  Last night’s farrago will become part of the river of stories that flow towards that day — but it is the sum of those tales, not any single shiny moment, that will determine the outcome.

Already, some folks — partisans for now, to be sure — are trying to draw attention to what Romney actually said, and in doing so, identifying the significant vulnerabilities this debate exposed for the Republican cause.  For example, I agree with Mistermix that Romney’s signal mistake was to open himself up for a renewed assault on his Medicare position — and that link to Krugman shows it ain’t just us DFH’s paying attention.   I also think Romney’s tripling down on his tax plan will allow a lot of people, and not just wonks, to remind folks of the gap between arithmetic and all the BS Romney and Ryan have thrown out on this one.

As Josh Marshall says in that second link, this is the kind of thing that takes several news cycles to build.  But recall:  we were all enraged at the brazen embrace of easily refutable lies in the Ryan RNC Convention speech.  We didn’t have faith in either the MSM or the Obama campaign (Democrats after all!) to take on the deceit with anything like the attention needed to defuse such weaponized ruminant excrement.  But they did, and (with some help from the marathon man himself) Ryan has become at least a bit of punchline ever since.*

So:  President Obama missed many opportunities last night, perhaps most significantly in not drawing a sharp enough line between the “you’re on your own” Romney vision and the “we’re all in this together” music Obama has played to such great effect in the past (and I’m sure will again, soon).

But the real test of the Obama campaign will be what it does over the next week with the actual missteps Romney made last night.  How will they use his internal contradictions in the ads?  What will Obama and his surrogates say to local news folks?  How quickly can their operation drive the mainstream media to go to town on stories like this one? (Shorter: it took almost no time at all for a Romney aide to contradict Romney’s core claim about pre-existing conditions and Medicare.)  No guarantees exist, but I have to say I’ve been damn impressed with the side of the Obama campaign that pursues such ends.  (Note also that Fallows reminds us that (in his view) debating is the best campaign technique for Romney.  Obama’s operation has been superior to his rival’s in every other phase so far.)

To repeat the cliché — holy hell, if I’m pretending to be a pundit I’ve got to hammer those too — but campaigns are marathons, not sprints.  Romney’s performance last night was like ripping off an 15 second 100 yard dash in mile 18th on the way to the Back Bay.**  Yup, he won that stretch of road.  Now comes the time to reel him in.

Which leads me to my last thought, the one I hope y’all take home: 32 days, peeps. It’s not just Obama and the grandees of the profession, the Axelrod’s and the Plouffe’s who can’t let themselves get too much sleep between now and then.  There’s the rest of us.  There’s me.

I have to confess — I’ve been less involved in a boots-on-the-ground kind of way in this election than the last, and by a good margin too.  My wife and I have been giving money on a regular basis, but I used to be a phone bank hero, and then got into door-to-door as my preferred mode of participation.  Haven’t done that this year; pretty much all I’ve done that requires me to upgrade from a bathrobe in front of a screen in my basement*** is to show up at a couple of Warren events.  That’s not enough — if there is one true lesson to be gained from the debate it is that nothing is in the bag, not the Presidency, not the Senate, surely not the House.

I’m not Tim F.  I can’t match his gift for catalyzing action.  But action is needed, so here’s my pledge.  I’m going to do something every week from now through Monday, 5 November.  I’ve got the day job and I’ve got the kid and there’s some real life stuff happening in my extended family, so I can’t do what I did when I was a mere pup, and just take off for New Hampshire for the last two weeks of the 1992 election.  But I’ll be heading that way to canvas this weekend and everyday I can liberate from my daily round between now and the 6th; I’ll be tossing more bucks in the pot today, and no doubt on days to come; I’ll keep looking for useful tasks that I can tackle.  I really don’t want to do this — I’m becoming more misanthropic and generally grumpy with each passing year, but that’s what’s required, so I’m just going to kick my ass out the door as much as I possibly can.


Update: Just to show it ain’t just my rose-colored monitor screens coloring my view, here’s a dispatch from the inner sanctum of the Village, NBC’s First Read:

*** Who wins the post-debate? If Romney won the instant reactions from last night’s debate, it is more than possible that the Obama camp can win the next 24 hours. Why? Because Romney said several things that could make life difficult for him today or in the next debate. First, Romney declared, “I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.” But in addition to supporting the extension of the Bush tax cuts, which are skewed heavily to the wealthy, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center says that Romney’s tax plan would give the Top 0.1% an average tax cut of more than $246,000. Next, he stated that “there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.” While he has said his plan will be paid for, he’s yet to lay out any SPECIFICS on how he’ll pay for it. Romney also said, “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.” But the Ryan budget plan, which Romney has said he’d sign into law, leads to long-term spending reductions in education. And Romney also didn’t disagree with the description that his Medicare plan would consist of “vouchers” for future retirees. Winning a “debate” is always a two-part deal — the night itself, and then the aftermath. This is now an opportunity for Team Obama and a challenge for Team Romney.

Update 2: And on cue, here’s an opening shot from Team Obama (via):

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None of this is to say all is well.

It isn’t.

This election is a month away and it really, truly ain’t in the bag yet.  So what I said above:  If the idea of waking up on November 7 to the words President-Elect Romney gives you the cold sweats, listen to the man — and don’t just vote, put mind, money and muscle behind the campaign to get your fri

*Via DeLong, a new game:  Where’s Waldo Paulie?

**Boston stuff — never mind.

***Not intended to be a factual statement.

Image:  Franz Marc, The Yellow Cow, 1911.

Hedges and the Monasteries, a Follow Up

August 1, 2012

In the Baloon Juice thread on Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, a few commenters complained of what they described as a misreading, or undervaluing of what Hedges really meant when he called for his readers to “turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for President…”

In the original post I highlighted what Hedges suggested as the proper course of action:  head to “a monastic retreat in which “we can retain and nurture the values being rapidly destroyed by the wider corporate culture and build the mechanisms of self-sufficiency that will allow us to survive.”

To me, this rejection of either choice in the acknowledged messiness of electoral politics is, frankly, disastrous.

But there were objections, and they weren’t frivolous…so consider this the point of warning:  What follows is ~1,000 words extending the argument.  If you have a better things to do, do them.

So — to kick us off here’s one dissent from what I argued: commenter Oliver’s Neck writes, that what I read as a call for retreat is anything but:

The construction of communities that no longer depend upon corrupt powers is an historically recurrent and powerful act of non-violent revolution. It takes great courage and will and is not the act of a defeatist or a moon-eyed ideologue, but that of a pragmatic realist.

The other main complaint that came up in the thread is that I’ve simply read Hedges wrong, and that he’s not actually suggesting he or anyone else should withdraw from the fray.  In this argument, I’ve construed “monastic” too narrowly and don’t grasp just how active Hedges thinks his monks should be. Here’s Matryoshka writing in this vein:

My read was that Hedges doesn’t have much faith in any system that exists now, and that it will be a long time before we have one that works in our favor, so until then, we need to do what we can to preserve the values of humane values and environmental stewardship. At no point in the book does anything else point to a “fuck it, go off the grid and shewt yer own skwurrels” conclusion.

The “us” in “build the mechanisms of self-sufficiency that allow us to survive” means all of us (humanity), not just a few isolated survivalists. Context makes a difference. Read the book. It will give you insight into the place we’re all going under the current arrangement.

I think there is some merit in both objections, but ultimately, they each miss what seems to me to be the vital point.

Oliver’s Neck urges us to see Hedges as a pragmatic realist.  He’s not. That’s by his own account. That link takes you to an extended interview Bill Moyers conducted with Hedges on this book (Oliver’s Neck referenced this in his comments as well). That interview is long enough to allow Hedge’s account of what he’s about to come through loud and clear.  He like Moyers is a former seminarian; his is the duty to recognize sin, to abstain from it, and to act to challenge the evil that is thus done with a call for right action.  He wants to be able to live with himself; everything he does, including blowing up his New York Times career flows from that need.

Even so, you might say that Hedges is a pragmatist — but only in one special sense:  he writes, he speaks, he commits civil disobedience in ways that connect clearly and logically to his goal:  to act with firmness in the right as his sight, his memory and his conscience  give him to see the right.  He wants to effect change as well, and all that he does aims at that ambition, but as he tells Moyers repeatedly, the prime mover in his work is what he sees as his obligation to do good, regardless of likely impact.

As Oliver’s Neck argues and I agree, this is a courageous stance.  It is not, in my view sufficient to our current circumstances.  Hedges is a holy fool, I think, and I mean that as high praise, and not even a little criticism.

But as the Bush years show us, deep and lasting harm can take hold unbelievably quickly. While we wait for the long run in which a growing community of “this far and no farther”-niks finally reach the scale to address all our pathologies, we may — we will, I believe — have lost too much and too many to ignore the question of what we need to do right now.  Hence, in my view, the need to work and vote and press in this election, 2012, Obama vs. Romney and all the undercards.

But what of Matryoshka’s claim that I miss in Hedges demand for electoral conscientious objection his actual call to action?  It’s there, of course — just as St. Francis’s was (to name one in the tradition in which I think Hedges falls).  He does want us to resist the institutions that undermine society and community.

Here’s Hedges’ call to action:

All conventional forms of dissent, from electoral politics to open debates, have been denied us.  We cannot rely on the institutions that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible.  The only route left is to disconnect as thoroughly as possible from consumer society and engage in acts of civil disobedience. (Hedges and Sacco, p. 266)

I flatly disagree with Hedges’ first sentence.  There is great difficulty in making those forms of dissent powerful, but they are not closed to us — you see that in Sherrod Brown’s campaign; in Elizabeth Warren’s; increasingly in President Obama’s…not to mention here, in communities like this one, and much else besides.

Hedges’ second sentence demands attention.  I’ve noted a couple of times the really striking tone of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.  You can’t get more centrist, more conventional wisdom than these two.  Mann, a Brookings Institute bloke, and Ornstein, from the American Enterprise Institute (sic!), document the failure of Congress as a political institution (props to Hedges) and indict the Republican Party as the perp who is murdering that body (a problem for Hedges).  With that as just the latest high profile reminder, no one can deny that our institutions — and not just the overtly political ones — are in deep trouble.  We cannot rely on them.  But we can use them, if and as we find ways to penetrate them.  Mann and Ornstein discuss both short term and longer timeline choices we can make if we choose to do so.  And to belabor the obvious:  we won’t get anywhere institutionally if we don’t engage in, among much else, the act of voting.

The third sentence in Hedge’s passage speaks directly to the complaints Oliver’s Neck and Matryoshka offer up.  Hedges does not simply call for escape.  He urges civil disobedience.  He wants us to act, and in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, he holds up the Occupy movement as an example of the kind of non-violent revolt that he had almost given up hope of seeing over the last few years.

But neither that call to resistance, nor any recognition of the power of Hedges’ moral stance alter the real danger inherent in his call for a monastic retreat from American consumerism.

Why not?

Because despite Hedges’ disgust for what he’s seen from either party, there remain (as we’ve talked through many times here) major differences between the parties, distinctions that have real consequences within the lives of every American (and many others as well, to be sure).  So, to my mind, the real question is how much are you willing to risk to further, perhaps, that day when the resistance fractures the power structure sufficiently to erect a better place in its stead?  How deeply do you believe in the “sharpen the contradiction” approach to political transformation?

If you’re asking me? When we have a choice as clear as that of the ghoulish Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama?

Not much.  Not much at all.

One more thing:  It seems to me obvious that Hedges offers a false choice here.  This post is long enough, so for now I’ll just say that one can act on two lines at once:  vote, engage, demand the best out of what the system we have; and also pursue longer-term reformation:  Occupy, civilly disobey, non-violently resist what needs to be resisted.  It may be that I’ve spent too long studying Weimar and its sequel to take any great comfort from the relief from misery that may ultimately come.  Germany did ultimately become a social democracy.  But what transpired between 1933 and 1945 was a hell of a price.  As the historian Peter Gay wrote, (I paraphrase) if only Weimar’s friends had roused themselves to act in support of Weimar, how much sorrow might have been avoided.

Images:  William Hogarth, Soliciting Votes (from the series, “The Humours of an Election,”) 1754.

Unknown artist (formerly attributed to Giotto) St. Francis Preaching before  Honarius III, betw. 1297 and 1300.



Still Not Ready For Prime Time

June 16, 2011

Mistermix already today brought up Mitt Romney’s gift for odd, awkward delusional gaffes.  It’s a kind of community-access-cable talent for saying something that’s not merely weird or wrong, but that actually makes the listener wonder if the speaker isn’t really dropping in from Planet Ten, if  you know what I mean.*

Now we’ve got this, in which the ridiculously wealthy Romney attempts to persuade the common clay that he is just like the least among us:

“I should tell my story,” Romney told a group of unemployed people in Florida. “I’m also unemployed.” (via TPM)


This, from a guy who dropped in the neighborhood of $45 million of his own cash on his last campaign, which still left him with a fortune estimated at around $200 mill.

Best of all, as the TPM snark points out, Romney made this startling confession in the middle of a speech trying to persuade his unemployed audience that he gets their plight better than Obama, whose “bump in the road” malapropism Romney sought to exploit.

Ah, eloquence, thy name is Romney .  As is “sociopathic levels of self obsession,” though that’s a little harder to say when you want to get little Mittens back in the house for dinner.

Image:  Michaelangelo Caravaggio, Narcissus, 1594-1596.

[Update] *I tried to post the linked video here, but it broke the site.  So now you have to head off to Youtube for one of John Lithgow’s finer moments, if you dare.