Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Blown Away by the NRA

Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Tuesday that gun control legislation in the Senate will emerge from committee disemboweled. The ban on assault weapons is dead, with no more than 40 Senators expressing support, and the ban on big ammunition clips is on life support. A “victory” at this point will be, at best, watered down background checks. And that is in the Senate. Mr. Boehner’s GOP controlled House will likely demolish background checks, too.

Flashback to the weeks after the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. We pledged to make a difference;  we vowed that it was different this time.  We posted article after article and meme after meme on Facebook. We shouted down NRA supporters in comment threads and in Washington, DC, we staged a little march on the NRA offices and held a candlelight vigil or two.

And then we lost focus.

We spend an awful lot of time crowing about our clever online organizing, but Internet activism has given us the attention span of fleas. We hang out on web sites where anyone can start a petition on any topic at any time. But political victories require real organization, real leadership and although it pains most of us to admit it, laser focus on a relatively small number of issues. While we flitted about signing a hundred Internet Petitions on dozens of topics, or engaged in useless cyber fisticuffs with Tea Party trolls in comment threads, the NRA was working. They shored up their votes in the Senate and lobbied their supporters online and offline.  The Tea Party joined the fray, coordinating meetings and informing supporters with fusillades of email alerts, including one with the astoundingly crass subject line "Bang Bang". But Bang Bang, they won. In the realpolitik of legislative advocacy the NRA was savvy and effective while our brave new online world was little more than sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Look back at your Facebook feed from Tuesday, the day Senator Reid announced the debacle. How many posts about gun violence did you see? How many appeals to mount a massive lobbying campaign to support the assault weapons ban in the Senate? Now, count how many shares you received about the clever folks that painted  gay pride colors on the house across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church. Post your counts in the comment feed below. On my Facebook page, it was Cool Colorful House 7, Gun Control 0. Yeah, the stunt with the house was worth sharing, but what is ultimately more important?

As I type tonight, police sirens are wailing, heading down Pennsylvania Avenue and racing south across the Anacostia River, where gun violence is as frequent as a sunset. If those sirens aren’t responding to a shooting tonight, they will be tomorrow. While we pat ourselves on the back for painting a house, kids are dying of gunshot wounds from DC to Denver to LA.

The NRA wins; we lose. It’s as common as the gunfire.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Binary Blinders

The binary system.  It’s all computers do. Everything is zero or one. From  “a” (binary 01100001) to "z" (binary 01111010) everything we look at or see on a computer boils down to a staggering number of zeros and ones zipping around on our motherboards. 

Binary Thinking is a great way to transfer data but a pretty ineffective way of thinking about politics. A nifty little piece in the Atlantic Monthly spells out why our partisan thinking makes us divide the world into polar opposites Our world is made of  ZERO ( evil and dumb) and ONE  (good and smart).  Republicans are ZEROS, Democrats are ONES.

On a more moral plane this makes us a rather unforgiving lot. We claim only to want the ZERO to become a ONE, but often we have a hard time abandoning the “once a ZERO, always a ZERO” way of thinking.

Consider the events of last week in Binary Thinking terms:

Senator Rob Portman (ZERO), an arch conservative (ZERO) from Ohio, “came out” in support of same sex marriage (ONE). His son, an undergraduate at Yale University(Yale=ONE, unless you are from Harvard, then ZERO), is gay (ONE). After some soul searching, Mr. Portman now agrees with us (ONE) that same sex marriage should be legal (ONE). Coming during the same week that saw the Conservative Political Action Congress ( a ZERO of epic proportions) in suburban (ZERO) Washington, DC (ONE) this should have been greeted by progressives (ONE) with a parade down the streets.

Curiously, my Facebook feed was cluttered by moral condemnations of Senator Portman from my friends (ONES). He (ZERO) did not, you see, come to our way of thinking (ONE) in a politically correct manner (ONE). To wit, he only came around because of his son.  I see the point; it would be nice if Mr. Portman could have thought about other people’s sons and supported gay marriage sooner, but he did not.

In political terms, rejecting Senator Portman as an ally is short-sighted.  The Senator routinely talks to very powerful people in Ohio who reject same sex marriage. He has access to the ZEROS. If we use our rational brains and ally with him, we might help Senator Portman convert  a few more ONES. We’ll need bipartisan support if we expect to overturn Ohio’s State Constitutional ban on same sex marriage.  Rejecting Senator Portman sends a breathtakingly bad signal to other conservatives who have a gay or lesbian relative they love and who are struggling to muster the courage to publicly support same sex marriage.  Our message needs to be one of acceptance not derision. 

Let’s make same sex marriage legal across the land. The leaders of the Civil Rights movement should be our guides;  they accepted all conversions from  ZERO to ONE regardless of their reasoning. We should embrace Senator Portman as an ally and keep our eyes on the prize.

You can receive notices about new posts on the Data Driven Beltway on Twitter @MichaelAgosta1

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Gridlock 1 Berkley NONE

The first of a number of periodic posts examining last November’s election from the  “Data Driven” perspective.
Last summer, a gaggle of Nevada Republicans filed suit (Townley v. Miller) to drop the option of voting for “None of these Candidates” on the Nevada ballot, apparently in the belief that “None of These” votes hurt GOP hopefuls. In September, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the GOP case was likely groundless and granted a stay: “Plaintiff’s arguments offer no colorable basis for this court to conclude that Nevada’s 37-year-old statute providing for “None of These Candidates” ballots is contrary to the Constitution or to any federal statute.”

Ironically, None of These Candidates remained an option for Nevada voters, but much to the detriment of the Democrats!

 None of These Candidates played a significant role in Shelley Berkley’s 12,000 vote defeat to arch-Conservative Dean Heller in her run for the US Senate. Yes, Ms. Berkley ran a terrible campaign, and she was dragged down by ethics allegations, although even the conservative Las Vegas Review-Journal  (think Manchester Guardian with demonstrably lower journalistic standards) had to admit the ethics allegations were trumped up:

“In the end, the [House Ethics]  committee dismissed substantive allegations against her while finding her in violation of a conflict- of-interest rule the panel said could be clearer.”

To win Nevada, a Democrat must carry metropolitan Las Vegas (Clark County) by a solid margin. Reno (Washoe County) tends to break even, but Democrats get clobbered in the states 15 rural counties.

In evaluating the impact of the None of These Candidates on the 2012 ballot, it is instructive to examine the state’s most heavily Democratic precincts in Clark County, those which President Obama carried 75% or more of the vote. In these 104 precincts, None of These votes totaled 3,922 in the Senate race, compared to just 314 in the Presidential contest. Undervotes in the Senate race accounted for an additional 2,152 votes (cases in which a voter cast a ballot for President but did not select a choice in the Senate race). In spite of the fears about the role of the None of These votes playing against Republicans, GOP voters held solid. Mitt Romney garnered 10,269 votes in these precincts, and Dean Heller captured 10,147. Meanwhile, Democratic voters abandoned Berkley in droves. President Obama captured 54,879 votes to Berkley’s 47,407. Mr. Obama’s big margins in these precincts helped him turn Nevada blue, but Berkley fell short. Undervotes and “None of These” just in these highly Democrat precincts account for comfortably over 50% of Berkley’s deficit in the 2012 Senate race.

President Obama garnered over 50,000 more votes than  Berkley in Clark County, while Romney outpaced Heller by a mere 12,000. Countywide, there were 3,447 None of These votes in the Presidential contest, compared to a staggering 30,675 in the Senate race.  Shelley Berkley would be in the Senate if None of These Candidates had not appeared on the ballot.

Presidential campaigns are seductive, especially in the swing states. While it is far more fun to canvass for President Obama than a flawed Senate candidate, progressives do a lousy job of encouraging down ballot voting—voting for Democrats NOT running for President. 

But by sending Mr. Obama to the White House and Mr. Heller to the Senate, Nevada voted for continued gridlock in Washington, as Dr. Michael Green pointed out in his post election analysis for Vegas Seven.:

In Senate races across the country last November, Democratic women won;  None of These Candidates ensured that was not the case in Nevada. Every time the GOP plays the filibuster card this year, remember the curse of None.