Journalistic query: Who got hurt in Ft. Lee?

Who got hurt when Chris Christie decided to gridlock Ft. Lee as political payback?

When a politician calls a scandal involving himself “sensationalized,” you know he’s in deep yoghurt. When he says “mistakes were made,” the passive voice is a tell for near-panic. When he starts firing subordinates, that means he knows he’s near the edge of the cliff. And when he says he wants to “turn the page,” it’s a good bet the story is far from over.

The New York Times story on the Chris Christie/Ft. Lee gridlock story includes all four of those markers of a major affair in the making.

[For those of you joining us late, the background is that the Mayor of Ft. Lee, NJ, a Democrat refused to endorse Gov. Soprano for re-election, and suddenly, without warning, two of the three lanes on the on-ramp from Ft. Lee to the George Washington Bridge were closed during the first four days of school in September, gridlocking the city for four days. Fortnately, the mayor doesn’t seem to own a horse. See the scorching email from the Executive Director of the Port Authority to his subordinates unearthed by the Wall Street Journal.]

The punchline is that the Governor wants to know whether Ft. Lee should permanently lose access to the bridge, which seems to be a not-too-subtle way of telling Ft. Lee officials that even worse things could happen to them if they get too friendly with investigators.

What the story lacks so far is the voices of the victims. You can’t tie up traffic for four days in a town of 35,000 people without someone getting really and truly hosed. It’s not very likely that anyone actually died in an ambulance, or waiting for one (the death rate in a town that size is somewhere short of one per day), but I strongly suspect that there was more dramatic harm than kids being late for school and parents late for work. If I were running a journalist enterprise - or the DNC - I’d want to put a bunch of effort into shoe-leather reporting.

If you’re wondering how much damage this sort of story, properly exploited, can do to a national candidate, ask President Dukakis about Willie Horton, or the water quality in Boston Harbor.

Footnote The backstory about the first Port Authority official to resign is that he’s an old friend of the Governor’s who ran an anonymous political blog back when Christie was U.S. Attorney. The blog was, the Times reports, “noted for scoops from the United States attorney’s office.” I wonder whether the Inspector General of the Justice Department, or the Office of Professional Responsibility, has scanned those “scoops” for violations of Rule 6(e), which forbids the release of grand jury information?

Credit where credit is due

Thanks to Pavlich, Gainor, Erickson, and NRO for reminding me to contribute to Wendy Davis’s campaign.

I’d like to thank Katie Pavlich (“infanticide”), Dan Gainor (“aspiring baby killer”), and Erick Erickson and the editors of NRO (“abortion Barbie”) for reminding me to contribute to Wendy Davis’s campaign for Governor of Texas. It’s not true that we love her (only) for the enemies that she has made - she has plenty of sterling qualities of her own - but the identity of those enemies, and their unspeakable viciousness, do add an extra reason to show her some love.

This is not an easy race to win. But it’s not hopeless, especially if anger over the shutdown and immigration politics makes the 2014 electorate look more like a Presidential-year electorate. And anything that can speed the pace at which Texas turns purple is worth trying.

From the Language Police Blotter: Vosotros

Although most people on the east coast (and many people here) haven’t realized it yet, Eric Garcetti was elected Mayor of Los Angeles on Tuesday.  I’m pleased. I voted for him, and despite the fiscal and governance difficulties that he faces, I think he will do a good job as much any Los Angeles mayor can.

Much of the media has been taken up with Garcetti’s status as the City’s first Jewish mayor.  In fact, he is quite the hybrid, much like the city itself: his Mom is Jewish, his Dad (former LA County DA Gil Garcetti) is of Italian descent, but the family lived in Mexico for a couple of generations, making him also something of a Latino.  Perfect for a Los Angeles politician.

But he is going to have to do better than this if he wants to get real credibility among the Latino population (which he carried in the election).  Addressing an east side audience, Garcetti declared:

Soy uno de vosotros.

That literally means, “I am one of you,” and the notion is standard politician fare.  Notice something?  For “you”, Garcetti used vosotros, a form that is perfectly grammatically correct, but is basically only used in Spain.  It supposedly means something like “you guys” in my understanding: it is the plural form of tu.  But I have never heard it used in Latin America or among Latinos in the United States.

A colleague of mine learned how to speak Spanish in Spain, and then went to Argentina on an exchange.  He used vosotros, and, he says, “my hosts thought it was absolutely adorable, like speaking with an English accent.”  And that’s with Argentinians, who have their own series of strange words, and make every effort to dissociate themselves from the rest of Latin America.  (See Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter for more).  The closest comparison I could make would be something like, “Hey — I’m down with thee.”

In fact, this is such an obvious mistake I’m wondering whether it was reported correctly.  But I’ve now heard it from different places.  Anyone else have a different take — has anyone heard it used among Latinos in the United States?  We would love to hear from thee.

The message of the election: some good deeds go unpunished.

Steve Benen on why Obama’s win matters: it proves progressive government can be rewarded.

Standing out among the mainstream media’s determination to echo the standard Republican talking point that only GOP election victories actually count, Steve Benen nails the election’s real significance:

Had Obama come up short, the immediate threats to key public policies would have been significant, but the more sweeping consequence would have been the lasting damage to a progressive vision of governance.

It’s easy to imagine the recriminations this morning had the election gone the other way. The president’s 2008 victory would come to be seen as a faddish fluke, but more importantly, everything Obama fought for in his first term would be evidence of failure. For the foreseeable future, presidents would be told not to be ambitious, not to use government as a tool to make a material difference in the lives of working families, and not to rely on Keynesian economics to grow the economy through investments … or they too will end up as a one-term disappointment.

The 2012 election, then, can be seen as a referendum on Obama’s presidency — a test he passed yesterday in impressive fashion - and a referendum on the liberal experiment.

It’s what makes the president’s electoral success, not just significant in the short term, butimportant in the long term. Obama’s agenda has a new opportunity to make a meaningful, positive difference in the lives of America’s middle class, but it also establishes a precedent for history — presidents can pursue big, bold, consequential priorities, and be rewarded for it.

I’d only add that this is true even though Obama didn’t always explicitly defend activist government. Even if voters weren’t consciously voting for activist government, they were voting for the results of activist government. Thanks to the stimulus, a giant tribute to Keynes, the economy is doing just well enough that voters didn’t punish the incumbent party, in the Presidency or the Senate. No faith in government action to end recessions, no re-election.

Future presidents and Senate majorities, take note—and they will.

Why I take the N.C. election personally

This is a personal story.

I am a strong supporter of President Obama primarily because I agree with his policy views, and I think his re-election provides the best chance for the best policy going forward. However, my support of him does not explain why I have worked so hard on the grassroots “get out the vote” aspects of his campaigns in 2008 and again this year (I didn’t go door-to-door for President Clinton, or for VP Gore or Sen Kerry).

The reason is encapsulated in this television commercial, the so-called “Hands” ad that appeared in the 1990 North Carolina Senate race between Senator Jesse Helms and Harvey Gantt.

Continue reading “Why I take the N.C. election personally”

What’s happening all over? I’ll tell you what’s happening all over-*

Mark asked for an update on Iowa, but I’ve moved out of the field operation and into voter protection at national headquarters. We sit at telephones and computers and people call in from Nevada and North Carolina and Ohio-especially Ohio!-and Florida and Wisconsin and ask where they can vote early and whether they’re properly registered and what i.d. they need to vote and why their absentee ballot still hasn’t arrived; and tell us that someone came to their door claiming they needed their naturalization papers to vote or that someone came to their nursing home and distributed and then collected absentee ballots which were not the absentee ballot they’d asked to have mailed to their daughter; and we review pages of FAQs and statutes and Board of Elections regulations and say, “You can vote at the public library on Route 31-do you know where that is? Is that close to your house?” and if it’s not we connect them to the local Obama office for rides. And the people who call know all about the Republicans’ efforts to keep them from voting and are getting out to vote early to make sure they don’t get turned away on Election Day and are concerned and disappointed if their state doesn’t have early voting.

When I mentioned to the Latina grandmother confirming her registration that the California Board of Elections Website made it hard to do so, she instantly asked, “Do you think that’s part of voter suppression?” Is that a question you would know to ask in your second language?

Probably I’m just high from solving problems and occasionally seeing celebrities (the First Lady came in today and made some voter outreach calls); but it seems to me every effort to reduce Democratic turnout has only made Democrats more committed to get to the polls.

Start with a fugue, end with an anthem. “You can bend but never break me, and it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goals . . .”**

Quick, somebody cut off my supply of caffeine!
*Guys and Dolls
**I Am Woman.

How did Sheldon Adelson get his Macau casino license?

Apparently by successfully lobbying Tom DeLay to block a House bill that might have derailed Beijing’s Olympic bid (on human-rights grounds).

Now maybe that bill was a bad idea. But there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that Mitt Romney’s biggest donor is carrying water for the Chinese tyranny, and that his influence means that Chinese money is flowing in American politics, just as John McCain said.

All of this worries me a lot more that Adelson’s apparent violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, just because corruption in Washington bothers me more than corruption in Macau. As to Adelson’s dealings with the triads, they don’t threaten my future nearly as much as his dealings with the Chinese politboro.

Yes, this is one more reason to overturn Citizens United, which we now know presents a substantial threat to the national security. But it’s also one more question for Mitt Romney to answer, after he tells us why we can’t see his tax returns.


An attack ad using President Obama’s voice doesn’t “clearly identify” any candidate and therefore isn’t an “electioneering message” covered by disclosure rules. So say all three of the Republicans on the FEC.

Yes, it’s true: all three Republicans on the Federal Elections Commission voted to rule that political TV spots referring to “the White House” or “the Administration” or using Barack Obama’s voice don’t “clearly identify” any candidate for federal office and therefore don’t qualify as “electioneering messages.” That obviously absurd interpretation would allow the people paying for the attacks to continue to cower in anonymity behind the veil of a super-PAC.

Those who believe - or profess to believe - absurdities will inevitably commit atrocities.

Republicans’ willingness to lie, cheat, and steal will remain a strategic advantage unless and until the press starts calling them out for it.

I’m not holding my breath.

The dog that caught the car

OWS is losing public support, [correction: polling numbers ungarbled 16/XI] to  33 for-45 opposed  from 35F-36O a month ago.  The project is suffering from a variety of problems mostly related to the lack of focus and leadership that appeared to its adherents as a virtue when it began.  This doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have happened, but it might be time for advocates of more income and wealth equality, and fixing the economy so ordinary people can make a living in it, to move to new tactics. Napoleon lacked a plan for the occupation of Moscow and found, as Bush did in Iraq, that a successful invasion is to a wedding as the occupation is to a marriage.

A core problem is the mismatch of tactics to realistic goals.  An occupation or a hunger strike (in contrast to a self-immolation) is understood to be a process that will go on until demands are met.  This means the demands have to be within the capacity of someone or something, but (for example), the demonstrators at Berkeley are targeting the university regents and administration for not reducing tuition, as though they had a significant sum of money with which to cut student fees.  There is some small change around the edges, maybe from excessive administration salaries, but not enough to matter: the problem is that UC money from the legislature is being throttled back by Republicans who are down to one idea and one fake fact about the world.  Similarly, the time scale of public attention to outdoor camping demonstrations and the real national process of tax law changes, not to mention financial sector regulation, do not match.  Serious advocates of big change need to be planning their next move, as the occupations are becoming old news.  We know from psychology and the dog-bites-man rule, also from information theory, that the strength of a stimulus is proportional to the logarithm of the change in its level.  The change, not the level.

One reason to confront authority in cases like this is to provoke a response (that’s a classic example of a change in stimulus) that demonstrates moral deficiency or viciousness in the authority, so public opinion will change its mind.  Cops clearing the campsites, and brutalizing transparently harmless and peacable students and occupiers, may be such a response, and the bad press he’s been getting at Cal has certainly changed the tone of our chancellor’s attempts at leadership lately (and, so far, the behavior of the police).  But moving tents back after that PR victory looks to me like a real failure of imagination; even if its successful, it will just add a piece of static scenery to the campus daily theater.   Occupy, good symbolism (but better tactics with sharper demands and goals).  Get kicked out forcibly, good symbolism.  Keep occupying against “concessions” no-one can really grant, not so good.

As to my students, I wish they had asked some of us faculty fossils who made a lot of these mistakes back in the day, and learned from them, for help and advice: this wheel does not need to be reinvented (of course it needs to be adapted and updated). [Update 16/XI : I’m not sure I correctly interpret the tone of some of the comments, but to clarify: my generation failed at a lot of the reforms we tried to achieve, partly because we made mistakes I identify below.  I didn’t at all mean we did everything right and the current generation isn’t up to our standard, I meant we learned some bitter lessons from failure that might be appropriated this time.]  Some tips I’ve picked up chatting with colleagues and organizers, no charge: Continue reading “The dog that caught the car”