Two unrelated stories about Batman

Just a quick post this morning before I head off to work, but I saw two stories yesterday that both made me shake my head and wonder when the meteor strike will hurry up and hit the reset button on life as we know it.

The first involves a film critic who committed the unspeakable act of… being a film critic.

Earlier this week, film critic Marshall Fine did something very common for a man of his profession: he wrote a negative review. Unfortunately, Fine wrote a negative review about “The Dark Knight Rises,” easily the most anticipated movie of the summer — and then the storm came.

The piece struck a nerve with fans and, in just six hours, received a whopping 460 comments on the movie site, some of which even called for the critic’s death.

Yes, that’s right. A film critic received death threats because people weren’t happy that he didn’t like a movie that they probably haven’t even seen yet. Now anonymous internet death threats aren’t usually anything to be taken seriously (I’ve received them) but still: over a movie? Really?

Why do people care so much about whether their opinion is validated by a film critic? It makes no sense. It reminds me of this little song:

It’s okay to not like things, or to like things. It’s okay for other people to like things, and to not like things. Mmmkay?

The second story is related only because it involves the same movie, The Dark Knight Rises. But the level of stupidity is even higher, if you can believe that. It seems that Rush Limbaugh is totally serious you guys about how far Hollywood will go to help Kenyan Socialist Mooslim Barack Hussein Obama retain the White House.

Have you heard this new movie, the Batman movie, what is it, The Dark Knight Lights Up or whatever the name is. That’s right, Dark Knight Rises. Lights Up, same thing. Do you know the name of the villain in this movie? Bane. The villain in The Dark Knight Rises is named Bane, B-a-n-e. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran and around which there’s now this make-believe controversy? Bain. The movie has been in the works for a long time. The release date’s been known, summer 2012 for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental that the name of the really vicious fire breathing four eyed whatever it is villain in this movie is named Bane?

No, I’m not making this up. Here’s the audio:

Of course the character of Bane was created in 1993, but Rush wouldn’t let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory. Now I don’t think Rush is stupid enough to believe this conspiracy theory. The real question is whether he thinks some portion of his audience is stupid enough to believe him. All my conservative friends who listen to Rush claim that he is almost always joking when he says something like this, and maybe he’s just joking here too. But I think he knows that there are listeners out there who believe this crap.

All of this is pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things, obviously. Anyone who is likely to believe Rush’s Bane/Bain theory was not going to be an Obama voter. No one listened to that theory and decided he or she could no longer support the re-election of Barack Obama.

But Rachel Maddow had an interesting story last night about Hillary Clinton’s motorcade getting pelted with tomatoes and shoes in Egypt. It seems the people of Egypt are under the impression that the American government helped the Muslim Brotherhood candidate win their recent presidential election. And the reason they believed it was because they heard it from our own right-wing nutjob media. People like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann and Frank Gaffney. These right-wing conspiracy theories are starting to leak out and actually make the job of diplomacy for our State Department harder.

Maybe the right wing should watch that video about not liking things.

Horse race coverage designed to make you hate all horses, plus racing

I almost took pity on my poor brain and didn’t write anything today, but then I decided that coddling my brain was the wrong approach. It needs a daily reminder of who’s in charge here. Take this, brain.

So Cory Booker said something sort of stupid on Sunday on Meet the Press. Go look it up if you want (you don’t) but the reaction to one sentence out of the about a hundred that he spoke on Sunday turned into a minor kerfuffle in the news cycle.

The president’s campaign was supposedly “very angry” with Booker for going “off message,” and by the end of Sunday he had “walked back” the rather harmless thing he said that morning. This prompted the GOP to launch a web ad that said, “We stand with Cory.” (They don’t.)

The liberal blogosphere (of which I still consider myself an observer, rather than a member, despite this being, well, a blog) was up in arms, with one diarist on The Daily Kos proclaiming that Cory Booker’s political career was over. Even the usually-more-sane Balloon-Juice had several posts on Booker’s gaffe, with John Cole linking Booker to Wall Street and suggesting that he is compromised as a Democrat.

This kind of reminds me of summer of 2007 when Joe Biden was talking about Barack Obama and said he is “bright, articulate, and clean.” Markos Moulitsas, of the aforementioned Daily Kos, said it was the end of Biden’s political career, and good riddance. Yeah, um, not so much. How did we all get to be such idiots that we (and I’m not excusing myself here) blow up these stupid little incidents into things that they are clearly not?

Booker expressed an opinion that most Democrats don’t agree with. So what? He did it in a particularly clumsy way (although not as cringe-inducing as what Biden said 5 years ago) that helped to foster a false equivalence between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Again, so what? That Democrats are upset about it beyond perhaps a face palm is stupid. That Republicans would try to turn it into a web ad is even stupider.

I’ve linked to this story before, and here I am doing it again, because once again we are all acting like idiots. In the first of five ways to spot a B.S. political story, the writer talks about gaffes, and asks why we pay so much attention to them.

The answer is that many (if not most) people don’t follow politics in order to find out who to vote for as part of their duty as citizens living in a democracy. They follow it purely as a form of entertainment. They’re like sports fans, rooting for their “team” to win.

And as you’re going to find out, virtually all political news coverage is written to appeal to those people. They’re the most rabid “consumers” of news, and their traffic is the most reliable, so the news is tailored to appeal to them.

I’m pretty sure this is why most people (outside of weirdos like me) hate politics. Because the talking heads take really important issues like taxation, and government policy, and foreign policy, and education and they completely ignore the actual facts and analysis and focus rather on whether a candidate’s surrogate may have said something slightly off-message during a round panel discussion.

I like Cory Booker. I have no idea if he’s a good mayor, because I don’t live in Newark, New Jersey and I hope I never will. I’ve heard he’s a good mayor, from both Republicans and Democrats, so I guess I believe that he probably is. I’ve heard him speak on a number of topics and I think I’ve agreed with him on just about everything. I even agree with what he was trying to say about private equity not being a bad thing, and maybe we should be careful about criticizing it too broadly. I think he said it in a particularly stupid way that opened up the president to criticism, but that it was no worse than what any Romney surrogate has been saying over the last few months. (Rachel Maddow did a good job of pointing this out last night.)

Regardless, even if he said something I truly disagree with, I wouldn’t necessarily put him in the category of politicians who I would never support. I don’t expect every politician that I support to agree with me on every issue. That’s ridiculous. And, regardless, Cory Booker saying something I disagree with has absolutely no bearing on my choice for president in November, and I’d hope that is true for every voter.

I generally believe in market-based approaches to things, but it’s become pretty obvious that our market-based media has produced news coverage of politics that is empty and completely fails to educate the public on the issues and why they should matter. It also seems designed to convince the general public that no matter who wins, things will likely remain the same.

It’s like tuning into watch the Kentucky Derby and the sports announcer starts the coverage by saying, “Let’s meet the horses, all of whom are nasty, brutish creatures, who will be ridden by cynical mercenary jockeys in a race, of which the outcome will, let’s face it folks, have absolutely no effect whatsoever on your sorry lives unless you were mathematically challenged enough to wager your hard-earned money on a sport which is quite likely fixed.”

That’s actually kind of true about horse racing, but they would never ever say it. It’s not true about politics, but it’s all they ever imply.

Rachel Maddow commits journalism again

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to figure out how to embed the MSNBC player into this WordPress blog, so you’ll have to follow this link to see Rachel Maddow do something rather extraordinary in today’s journalism: she finds evidence of a person lying repeatedly and she then says that the person is lying repeatedly.

At one point she even mocked mainstream media talking heads by affecting a deep voice and saying, “Mr. Romney claims… others say.” Some Disagree! For those familiar with the About section of this blog, you’ll probably understand why this made me so happy last night. It’s almost as if Ms. Maddow thinks she is a Truth Vigilante or something, actually checking up on the (non-)factual statements of the people she covers.

It’s distressing that the most surprising part of this story is not that a presidential candidate is able to lie so easily and repeatedly and seemingly without any reservations. Instead, the surprising part is that someone within the media is actually willing to say that. The reason Mr. Romney feels so comfortable with lying repeatedly is that no one on ABC, CBS, or Fox will ever call him on it. And the fact that someone on MSNBC says that he is lying probably only helps his candidacy.

I love the smell of pretty charts in the morning

Rachel Maddow pointed out on her show last night that Mitt Romney seems to owe his primary victories so far to one particular demographic group: rich (well, upper middle class) people. Romney is winning with large margins with people making over $100,000 per year, and that demographic is turning out in larger quantities than usual.

We had seen this before with our charts for South Carolina and Florida, so I decided to look at crosstabs data for Ohio, focusing on Income. Rachel was discussing information from NBC exit polls, but I am using CNN exit polls because they are, well, easy to find. Here are the actual crosstabs by Income for Ohio Tuesday night.

I’ve combined Gingrich and Paul into Other for simplicity. Also, it should be noted that the raw data for the CNN crosstabs seems to have Romney and Santorum almost tied at about 37% each.

As Rachel noted, people making over $100,000 made up a rather large portion of the GOP primary voters. I think she said it was 33% in the NBC crosstabs, and it is 30% in the CNN ones here. In 2008, if I remember correctly, she said it was 22%. Mitt Romney seems to be very inspiring to people making more than $100,000 per year.

So, if we adjust our crosstabs graph to make people earning over $100,000 to 20%, and increase the other two income demographics accordingly, it looks like this:

So if voting numbers by income were more similar to 2008, Santorum would have turned a 1% loss into about a 3% victory.

Then again, I should also note that if my aunt were a man, she’d be my uncle. Some disagree.

I’m really not sure if this is a story or not. It might be, I guess. Overall, about 10% of Americans make over $100,000 per year (depending on how you count double income households) so if Romney really is much weaker with voters making less than $100,000 then maybe this is significant. I would never expect lower income Republicans who voted for Not Romney in the primary to vote for Obama in the General, and so it is hard to extrapolate how this would play out with Independents or non-Primary voters.

Did the stimulus work?

The Center for American Progress made this short video about whether the stimulus worked, and I thought it was worth sharing.

This isn’t new information for those of us in the fact-based community who have been following the politics, the economy, and the politics of the economy for the last four years.  It was Rachel Maddow who first described this graph as the bikini graph:

The bikini graph

This description, of course, prompted a great amount of interest in, er, stimulus.

Don't blame me, blame Rachel

A great amount of interest.

Anyway, back to the stimulus.  The Recovery Act, I mean.  Did it work?  Well, I mean, yes of course it did. You can’t look at those numbers (the numbers, look at the numbers) and draw any conclusion other than stimulus spending by the government had a profound impact on the economy.  Some disagree?  Well, they’re wrong then.  Or more likely, they are lying because very few people are really that stupid.

In order to argue that the stimulus didn’t work, you need to argue that the Obama administration is incompetent — no, very very incompetent — at fiscal policy, but that they are also incredibly, absurdly lucky in that they managed to time their completely ineffective stimulus package at the precise moment that the economy took a rather remarkable turn for the better.  There are probably people who would make that argument.  These are not serious people, and we shouldn’t pretend they are.

There is an argument to be made, however, that the stimulus was the wrong policy, or that it should have been fundamentally different than the one signed into law by President Obama. And that argument has been made nearly as much on the Left, by people like Paul Krugman, as it has by people on the Right.

One of the problems that President Obama had in 2010 when the Republicans were able to take back the House by capitalizing on (justifiable) anger about the economy, is that he was basically stuck arguing a counterfactual case. The Obama argument for his performance so far was to say that things were bad, but that they would have been much, much worse without the Recovery Act.  Republicans laughed and pointed at the 10% unemployment and they won the House back.

Now that things may be improving (and again, I urge caution about getting too cocky about recent good news), it is the Republicans that might be forced to argue the counterfactual. Sure, they’ll argue, the president signed the Recovery Act and things are improving, but things could have been much, much better if people had listed to the Republicans instead. As we found in 2010, that is a much harder argument to win with, and I don’t envy them, nor sympathize at all.

The Politifact Pitch

Last night on her show, Rachel Maddow once again took the knuckleheads at Politifact to task for their subpar fact checking.  (Well, okay, their fact checking is probably best described as “horrendous” rather than “subpar.” Sadly, horrendous is par nowadays.)

(Stupidly unembeddable video here.)

Yesterday, in talking about the budget that Obama released I linked to a nearly identical  ruling by Politifact on a Buddy Roemer statement.  Roemer said that Obama had never submitted a budget, but Politifact found that no, Obama had submitted a budget every single year, and so they rated Roemer’s statement… half-true.

And then there was the Politifact stupidity over the president’s statements in the State of the Union.  That was when I decided to finally award Politifact the Half Pulitzer they so deserve.

They've really earned it.

It’s pretty obvious by now that Politifact is engaging in this kind of behavior purposefully.  They clearly believe that providing a false balance is more profitable than providing objective analysis. There’s an old saying among bad journalists (and certain centrist politicians) that, “we must be doing something right because both sides are angry with us.” This statement makes me want to neck-punch toddlers.

It is only a virtue to make “both sides” angry if what you are doing is right or what you are saying is true.

From a purely nihilistic, bottom-line point of view, you have to give Politifact credit for their strategy here.  By finding this mythical point of balance where both sides are equally culpable in making untrue statements, they are able to appeal to a large group of people who seem to really want to believe that both sides suck.

I think it taps into a psychological need that many people have to not be a part of a large group, to consider themselves as independent of (and more importantly, above) party or ideological identification. But it can be hard to maintain this illusion if it starts to become clear that one side is constantly lying or doing awful things. The self-identified independent might find him- or herself leaning one way or the other, and that’s much less attractive than being above it all.  Politifact gives these rugged individuals the balance they require to maintain their rogue non partisanship. (Just like everyone else.)

I don’t know.  Just spitballing.

What the contraception mandate is not

First, some facts about the new health care regulation about contraception:

  • 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used birth control.
  •  The new federal regulations mandate that employers who provide health coverage for their employees must cover contraception.
  • All churches are exempt from this mandate.  Yes, that’s right.  No church must provide contraception to its employees.
  • Church-owned businesses such as hospitals or universities are not exempt.  If the business provides a service that is not religious, then it is not exempt.
  • No person will ever be forced to take contraception because of this mandate.  If a woman doesn’t wish to take contraception, she doesn’t have to take contraception.
  • No religious hospital or doctor will ever be forced to prescribe contraception because of this mandate.
  • DePaul, the largest Catholic university in the United States, already provides contraception coverage to its employees.
  • The State of Georgia requires all employers to cover contraception, including Catholic hospitals Saint Joseph’s in Atlanta and Saint Mary’s in Athens.
  • Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, upheld and enforced a law that mandated Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception.
  • Republican lawmakers in more than a dozen states have introduced laws to ban Sharia Law, an assertion from the state of legal dominion over religious customs and practices of a religion.
  • The Supreme Court has already ruled that conscience does not trump the law in Employment Division v. Smith.  Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion.
  • The best way to prevent abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Any discussion of the recent controversy over the contraception mandate should recognize all of those facts, and if any of those facts make your particular argument weaker, then that says more about your argument than the mandate.

It is perfectly valid to believe that the government should not impose this mandate, but calling this rather modest mandate an “unprecedented attack on religious liberties” is beyond ridiculous.  Newt Gingrich is now saying that it is “the most outrageous assault on religious freedom in American history.”  Seriously, he said that.

The conventional wisdom in Washington seems to be that the Obama administration has blundered again, picking a fight with people who care strongly about religious freedom.

The debate is stealing attention from where Obama wants it, on the improving economy, and could alienate moderate voters.

I hope it surprises absolutely no one that I completely disagree with the conventional wisdom here.  Rachel Maddow talked about this with Chris Hayes last night on her show.  That video provides the best analysis of this issue that I have seen so far.

Griswold was 47 years ago.  People are pretty comfortable with contraception as a good thing now.

If the Republicans want to make the issue of contraception coverage into a campaign issue (and clearly Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich really really do) then I am frankly delighted.