Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Going Negative for 2014?

Last month we saw something that is pretty extraordinary: A GOP candidate (Thad Chochran) beat Chris McDaniel by appealing directly to African Americans--specifically, appealing to them on the basis of a negative campaign against McDaniel. What does that mean?

A negative campaign is one where you are essentially campaigning against something--some other brand--rather than in favor of your own. Here, Graeme Newell, a customer loyalty expert, discusses the top four villains in traditional advertising (with examples):
  1. Co-workers: your co-workers are horrible and you hate your job! Time to change!--Career Builder!
  2. Wives and Girlfriends: A man is about to propose (holding a ring-box, out on a scenic pier ). His girlfriend gets his name wrong and won't get off her phone. He sees bubbles in his coffee and--hey! That's a good idea: he pitches the ring into the sea. Coffee!
  3. Bosses: They don't appreciate you. A boss asks what his employee did all weekend. His employee was working (Beer!)
  4. Doubters: Someone told Justin Bieber he'd never succeed. Wishful thinking.
For funny ad campaigns, using some 'common points of friction' can be a way to connect with your audience. In the world of state-level politics though, it's a lot more ... personal. The negative ads in this case charged that McDaniel:
  • Had KKK connections
  • Had a 'racist agenda'
  • That black Democrats could lose food stamps, housing assistance, student loans, early breakfast and lunch programs, and disaster assistance.
  • A flyer said in bold letter the Tea Party wanted to prevent blacks from voting
Did it work? Yes: it worked.

FiveThirtyEight shows that the change in votes from the original primary goes up as the black population increases by county.

What Does This Mean For 2014?

According to Princeton Election Consortium, the present state of play for the Senate balances on the knife edge:
The GOP has a .02% advantage. This means there is practically speaking a 50-50 shot of the GOP taking control of the Senate. For a year that some predicted a second 'wave election' in favor of the Republicans, this is ridiculously close (and, note, that while picking up six seats ain't nothing, it's, structurally speaking, a really, really good year for Republicans in general).

So the Omnivore's question is: does Thad Cochran's election tell us anything about black turnout for 2014? Let's not what FiveThirtyEight says of that election:
Keep in mind, though, that the pre-election polls had McDaniel ahead by around 8 points. It seems plausible that the reason they got the race wrong was because they were modeling an electorate that looked a lot more like the first round of the GOP primary instead of the runoff. That certainly makes sense given what I found. The analysis here suggests that Cochran may very well have won because he was able to get traditionally Democratic voters to cast their ballots for him.
Racial ads are "nothing new" if you look at the history--but ... erm ... what usually get called out for 'race-baiting' is nothing like what we saw in Mississippi. Here are some examples:

To be honest, none of these are anything like straight up accusations of a candidate being a Klansman or having a racist agenda. In terms of playing the race card (and dealing it, as must always be done, from the bottom of the deck) the stuff so far--from major players--is small-ball.

Oh, sure, it's annoying. Certainly there are a lot of individuals going around calling each other racist. Major figures have, at times, called certain statements racists or implied the other guy is subtly racist. Still, for prime-time advertising? The Omnivore hasn't see anything much like what happened in Mississippi.

Was, perhaps, what happened there more effective than the normal 'fire-from-a-safe-distance' kind of racial allegations that get called out? What if they were?

The Omnivore won't get into unskewing the PEC meta-margin here: the aggregate of pollsters across multiple races probably do know what they are doing and that tie-score probably does reflect the aggregate of multiple state races. On the other hand, though, the success of the Mississippi operation may well portend some pretty hair-raising negative ads as we get close to November.

Negative branding in common advertising works differently than in politics: you see Product-X (the one advertised) compared to "the leading brand" (usually). Only in a few cases (Coke vs. Pepsi) do we see a case where both brands are on the table. This is because you usually don't want to give your opposing brand air-time--even if you're claiming yours is better (this is not just about giving the competition air-time, it is also about being a perceived leader vs. a perceived runner-up).

On the other hand, in politics, we see a storm of comparative ads and, especially, often-vicious attack ads. Usually these don't, especially, move the needle--but part of the reason is that no one believes what the other side says about you. After all, they're as biased as biased can be (unlike conventional advertising, in politics there is generally one single 'buying decision'--the election--as opposed to a real brand-loyalty condition of many such decisions per year).

The Omnivore's question is this: was the black turn-out higher than (potentially) expected because the attacks were friendly fire (endorsed ... and paid for--although no one knew that then--by other Republicans)? Or were they especially motivational because they were more overt than normal? (Or some other reason? The rare option of making effective mischief?).

There's probably no way to say--The Omnivore thinks that, given the outcome in Mississippi, we may see more pointed specifically racial ads in the run-up to the 2014 election. This would not be a good thing--and if it happens, it would partially be because it is a lesson taught by Republicans.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What Disruption Looks Like: The Oculus Rift

Dark Enlightenment blog Outside In sees the Oculus Rift, the coming VR-headset, as the vanguard in the realization of the cyberpunk future the 80's envisioned but saw fizzle in the 90's and 00's:
There’s a wave of change coming. If we want to be realistic, we need to be ready for it — at least, as far as we are able to be. Anyone making plans for a future that won’t be there by the time it arrives is simply wasting everybody’s time, and first of all their own. ...

The hype wave carrying us now has cyberpunk characteristics. Anticipated in the 1980s-90s, its delivery lag-time had drawn burnt-out excitement down to reflexive cynicism by the turn of the Millennium. The only thing preventing the first decade of the 21st Century being defined by broken promises was the intolerable embarrassment of having to admit that cyberpunk futurism had ever seemed credible at all. Social Media rushed in to paste an amnesiac banality over awkward recollections of the lost horizon.
Outside In, of course, sees a gleefully grim future (things aren't falling apart fast enough) but finds the VR Headset at least the harbinger--if not the enabler--of ominous things to come.
The Rift. Recently Purchased By Facebook
Is Oculus / VR The Big Change?

The concept of "Disruptive Technologies" is, simply put, that some technological innovation comes along and changes everything. Examples could be the electric light-bulb, the mass-produced automobile, and so on (note: there are distinctions between disruptive innovations which take common components and use them in a startling new way and disruptive technologies which, with their maturation, totally change the landscape--for purposes of this we aren't being that discerning).

Is The Oculus Rift really the herald of a new age--is it a truly disruptive technology that will change everything? Or is it just a TV you wear on your head?

A Quick Look At Disruption

The Outside In article doesn't use the term 'disruption'--and The Omnivore probably wouldn't either since it's been buzzworded into marketing-speak. On the other hand, it's handy and probably helps with SEO so there you go--we'll use it as a starting point.

Let's start with a look at a list of "disruptive technologies" that PC Magazine put together in 2008. The Omnivore was looking for some quaint, naive examples of people discussing real disruptions and, when he found the article (and its date) he was intrigued: would it be any good? The answer? Yes--these examples are all indicative of game-changers within their specific scope. They (mostly) didn't utterly change society (although The Web, yeah)--but they did certainly disrupt their specific activity (or create a new one) for their target area. Here's the list:
  1. DVR and Entertainment on Demand: Game-Changer. When The Omnivore watches TV at night it's all on-demand stuff. He doesn't even know what channels regular programming are on.
  2. YouTube and Cheap Digital Cameras (they said 'camcorders' in 2008): Game-Changer. We see YouTube-Only content and it's professionally produced by small operators. We see online educational resources (want to learn about Big Data Hadoop? Get thee to YouTube). It's a huge change.
  3. Open Source + Web Tools: Game-Changer. Private individuals can launch professional sites for no more than the server space and bandwidth. Owning a printing-press or a store-front has never been cheaper.
  4. MP3 and ... Uh ... Napster: Well ... The MP3 model, though, has changed things. Today it's streaming music (The Omnivore is listening to Spotify as he writes this)
  5. Blogs and Google Ads: Game Changer. Anyone can start their own newspaper and sell ad-space. Yeah, your blog isn't gonna make it--but it doesn't change the fact that it's an incentive to publish yourself in a way that simply was impossible to envision a couple decades ago.
  6. Cheap Storage + Portable Memory: Game-Changer. Storage is getting close to free. What needs to improve is the speed of storage and that's coming.
  7. Cloud Computing + Always On Devices: Game-Changer. Virtual applications are changing the way that companies think about their infrastructure. 
  8. Broadband + Wireless Networks: Game-Changer. The ability to get online is ever-expanding. Massive-scale wi-fi is a few years out but its coming.
  9. The Web + Graphical Browser: Game-Changer. Amazon? Google? Wikipedia?
  10. Cell Phones + Wireless Access: The spread of these devices should be proof enough of how they change things.
If you want to see how things are changing, you can pursue the Shift Index (Deloitte) or Accenture's 2014 Technology Vision. These are kind of bland (in a rah-rah consulting-style manner) assessments but they have some interesting points. Accenture: Drones by 2015--driverless cars by 2020. Deloitte finds that a company's life on the S&P 500 went from 61 years in 1958 to 18 years now. The 'topple rate' (where a company loses its high command) has increased 40% since 1965. Corporate Travel volumes have increased 58% since 1990 (The Omnivore can attest to this).

How does something like a virtual world device play in this space? How much is it like those examples above

The Answer: So THAT'S Why Facebook Bought It

Here is a 1-question quiz:
Q: How do you know an enterprise is significantly disruptive?
A: They legislate against it.
So Uber, Napster, and Aereo are all for-real disruptive. Oculus? Not yet (but wait for the privacy lawsuit ...).

Facebook bought Oculus Rift because it's their window into a valuable world of personal information on you that they otherwise won't have. This window is:

  • Behavior in virtual environments
  • Pornography
We know that people's behavior in online virtual worlds provides a look into their psychology that you just don't get anywhere else.

Facebook is interested in profiling you well enough to make you part with your money at every opportunity--this means penetrating the veil of your public persona and getting to your real self underneath. In order to do this, they want to get access to things you won't intentionally share. A lot of people understood this concern when Facebook purchased them.

It's worth noting that the Oculus Rift isn't new--here are six existing glasses with integrated displays for sale right now. The difference is going to be cost and maturity (the Oculus Rift will be echelons more mature than most of those except maybe Google Glass which will be a different thing altogether).

Facebook explicitly wants the Rift as the gateway to a billion player MMO. They don't want that because they love gamers--they want that because they want to data-mine it. A lot of discussion is happening there. People are dating and having virtual sex. People are plotting Jihad (you know, maybe). Job interviews, in the future, rather than disqualifying you based on whether or not you play MMOs may hinge on how well you do. Behavior in MMOs has been used to study, for example, plauge responses--where they mimicked unexpected behavior (curiosity in the game--watching diseased characters die--was mimicked by reporters entering plague-zones and then rushing back out).

Facebook, of course, wants all of this.

And then there's porn. What better mechanism in the history of humanity has there been for watching pornography than a private screen attached to your face--and that's without the interactive element!

Will Rift Be The End Of Humanity As We Know It?

So how disruptive will Oculus be? Even Outside In finds things like Bitcoin more important (and, yeah, probably so). The Rift isn't quite interactive enough to be the Holodeck-End-Of-Humanity. On the other hand, if it's a far, far better experience for virtual worlds we should expect to find more of us spending more and more time there. That's an evolutionary enhancement, not a revolutionary one.

Oculus itself isn't likely to do much of anything. The big changers up there are not the single inventions--note that in the top-10 list just about all of them have a '+' sign. That's because the change comes not from the new innovation itself (streaming video!) but rather from that and an additional enabler that together creates a new capability (everyone now carries a portable video camera!).

We don't know what the second half of the Oculus equation will be--or even if there will be one. We can bet, though, that if it really does represent the high-maturity level necessary to reach mass markets and huge user-bases that people will be trying all kinds of new things.

The odds are one of them will hit something somewhere.

You want a prediction? In the past, The Omnivore worked on a telephony switch that would give everyone their own phone number (madness!!). In the future? Everyone will have their own app!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Solution To Voter Id: Facial Recognition

The Representation Segment Is RACIST!
The left and right don't agree on Voter ID--and why not? The demographic of people who were born outside of hospitals in the 40's--and never acquired birth certificates are disproportionately black and Democratic. Everyone has skin in the game!

For Democrats, the picture is clear: Republicans want to make it harder for their partisan voters to take action at the polls. Why, with no proof whatsoever of widespread voter-fraud, what else could it be?

For Republicans, the picture is clear: Democrats get names of people on the voter-roles who are not coming to the polls and then send in operatives to vote in their names--several times. Now, this hasn't been caught ... but how could it be? Democrats oppose this because they rely on voter fraud.

The Solution

The Omnivore suspects that if the Republican theory were happening in significant numbers, it would be caught. There are certainly enough people looking for it and every person on the role who showed a vote would have to lie and say "Yes--I voted!" when asked (Which would make them complicit in fraud) for this to remain a secret.

However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't have some way of validating voters. Firstly, if there are people who have a hard time getting photo-ID, that's no reason specifically to deny them a vote--especially if we could make it safe.

Secondly, there's a cost effective way to handle a person voting multiple times at different locations: Facial Recognition.

Now, FR is a fairly expensive technology to deploy but it is not an expensive technology to feed. If every polling outfit is equipped with a digital camera (it doesn't have to be an especially good one) then any voter who cannot show ID (which should be a small percentage) can be photographed and the photo uploaded to the mothership where it will be checked by FR against the database of all other non-ID voters.

This shouldn't slow things down too much, only impacts a small number of voters who don't have ID, and should not be especially expensive: a single FR system could handle a whole state--maybe, given enough time--the whole nation.

The Politics of: Snowpiercer

The Korean-made English-language science fiction film starring Chris Evans (Captain America) has been unleashed on the rest of the world. The Omnivore caught it on at-home Pay-Per-View. The first part is a movie review (relatively non-spoilery). The second part talks politics and assumes you have seen it.


Snowpiercer is the titular super-train which, designed by train-super-genius Wilford (Ed Harris) is humanities' last ark--a rail-guided lifeboat, forever in motion, circling the globe after an attempt to fix global warming goes horribly wrong and, instead, freezes the planet. This super-train contains every stratum of humanity from the elite in the front to the wretched, huddled masses in the back.

It has been rattling along for seventeen years across an ice-covered lifeless landscape with the various indignities of a life of oppression being visited on those in the rear compartments. Now, as in the past (a few times), a new leader is emerging--Curtis (Evans) was 17 when he boarded the Snowpiercer and has lived half his life aboard it.

He is ready to rise up against the front--to lead his people (under the guidance of elder Gilliam, John Hurt) in a revolution. He is going to fight for the future of humanity.

Snowpiercer is director Bong Joon-ho's first English language film and is based on the French comicbook Le Transperceneige (from the Wikipedia entry, the movie and the comic have quite different stories beyond the basic humanity-on-a-train setting). The movie burns with star-power (Tilda Swinton plays Mason a sort of political officer for the elite and Ed Harris steals the scenes he is in as the engineer behind the miracle train).

American audiences may be familiar with Joon's former success, The Host, about a monster that grows in the wake of American and South Korean toxic waste dumping. Like The Host, Snowpiercer also has an embedded political message--in this case, about inequality and the using of the poor to maintain a society that benefits the rich (The Host was about the failure of Korean democracy and capitalism for many Koreans).

The movie's production design and feel has been compared to Terry Gilliam and that's apt. When the group moves from the gritty rear cars to the luxurious and hedonistic front-cars it adopts an entirely dream-like feel. The story itself doesn't make a whole lot of sense and wouldn't feel out of place in the 12 Monkeys universe.

Snowpiercer is interesting if, at times, slightly slow. One thing that's cool about a lot of non-American cinema is that it can be hard to pick up narrative pointers (the crush of American star-power was probably necessary to get a Korean English language movie based on a French comic book made in the first place). This results in always have a feeling that something terrible could happen to the main characters. Snowpiercer doesn't disappoint on that score: it has plenty of bloodshed and lots of main characters get killed off--not all of them at the very end or in slow-motion.

Given the accolades online, Snowpiercer could have been slightly grander--but in the end it holds together well enough on its own terms. It did eventually, answer all the questions it laid out. The movie really shines in a number of sets where we see the luxury of the train and, finally, the zen-like set design of the "miracle" engine itself.

It's a thoughtful piece of science fiction and has casting chops that, as no doubt intended, produce a draw for American audiences. If the idea of class-warefare on a post-apocalyptic super-train sounds good to you, check it out!

Let's do the politics ...

The Politics of Snowpiercer

It's fitting that The Omnivore watched Snowpiercer on Bastille Day. Surprisingly, it isn't about global warming or climate change at all. It's about economic / societal inequality.

Snowpiercer takes inequality and makes it as blunt and in-your-face as possible: the train needs the tail-ies because they produce children who are used to get down into the confined spaces of the holy-engine and, by dint of their five-year-old bodies, are able to keep it running by manual labor. This is a secret: Snowpiercer gives no idea for most of the movie why they were taking children from the tail and could not figure out why the tail-ies were kept on board anyway.

Furthermore, the engineer has determined that he must keep a level of fear and anxiety on the train in order to keep society stable. Wilford engineers revolutions every few years or so to cull the numbers of tailies and to keep the stability that fear and oppression provide (of course he's running low on bullets so it's not clear exactly how long that's gonna work).

Of course the reason why the last vestiges (what must be ... what? At best a couple thousand people--at best) of Humanity don't just band together and use their own children to maintain the engine is because the rich are busy partying on explosive drugs (which, yes, blow up like plastic explosive when you need them to). In other words: humanity is on the verge of extinction and what the ruling faction decides to do is create a society where, literally, the poor must eat babies (yes: the main character has, in his youth, eaten a baby in order to survive) so that they can party like it's 1999--forever.

Now, the exact society that they engineer is, of course, science fiction--but the messages are still very clear:
  1. Your life (assuming you are not the 1%) will not just be bad--it will be engineered to be bad (or, at least, worse than it has to be--the pain will not be remotely evenly shared).
  2. You will be kept alive--given just enough to keep going--so that the rich can use you. You're a resource.
  3. It isn't personal. The rich think badly of the poor (that they are dirty, uneducated, etc.)--but don't want to exterminate them or anything (most of the rich have no idea why things work the way they do).
This is a pretty #Occupy-centric view of inequality in general. Is it a realistic one? Let's look ...

Is 'The System' Theft Of Opportunity?

In the absolute-zero world of Snowpiercer there was absolutely no social mobility at all: the only way to get to the 'front of the train' was to be taken as a child and put to work in the engine (what happened to them when they got too big? The movie didn't say ... maybe they became security forces?). Is that in any way analogs to today's environments?

The Omnivore is not convinced that Bill Gates having "all the money" means "less money for him"--but is interested in the argument that the system is designed to funnel money upwards and therefore there is, structurally, less opportunity for him out there. This seems to be indicated by things like social mobility indexes and measures of child poverty. 

While the exact mechanics of available jobs having lower upsides and better jobs having ever-increasing entry requirements (one reason why there is an arms-race in the college degree space is that now just about any decent job will require a degree--and that's not a good job--just a decent one) may certainly feel like 'theft' to people caught in the engine.

The questions about whether this is 'fair' or not--or whether the inequality phenomena is a necessary outgrowth of western capitalism (Pickety-like) are hard to answer and, possibly, beside the point: if you feel like hard work won't get you ahead ... and the statistics show that's probably the case ... what are you going to do? Check out? Lead the resistance? Try to screw over your fellow man for a slim-chance at one of the top-spots? Settle?

The Omnivore doesn't know--but almost none of the likely answers seem especially good.

Is 'The System' Intentionally Making Things Worse?

While Snowpiercer's society wasn't literally sadistic, the engineer did personally create uprisings to keep society controlled. The last thing the real world wants is an uprising--but might there be a more subtle form of abuse going on -- in order to keep things on a more 'even keel?'

Before you sneer, keep in mind that there is a real concern on the part of some groups (Heritage, for example) that the stigma attached to taking public assistance has decreased to the point where people are willing to just take it and stay on it (never mind that (a) that's a lot harder to do than it used to be (b) most people can't get the maximal public assistance that groups like Heritage postulate, and (c) studies show that being on public assistance is, even today, hazardous to your mental health).

The idea that a ruling class might actually find some value in a less-than-optimal society at the bottom of the class ranks isn't absurd. Consider the capitalist meritocracy tournament system. This is what's known around the office as promotion/pay-for-performance. If only a small number of workers can get a raise / promotion and these will go to the best performers, there is (a) incentive to work hard in general but also (b) incentive to do better than others.

So long as employees believe that they can get ahead through hard-work they will work hard. Risk-analysis in an environment where there is reasonable expectation of advancement works against things like checking out or sabotage. On the other hand, if that changes--if there is not sufficient advancement opportunity--management is still strongly incentiveized to make it appear there is

Part of this illusion is simply asymmetric information (employees in large corporations don't usually get insight into the closed-door promotions process, for example--and would likely be horrified if they did). Part of it, though, may be to create harsher conditions so that employees are simply afraid for their jobs or are positioned for failure in some respect (vague or unrealistic goals) so that during an annual review their performance, whatever it is, can be used against them.

To a degree we could see the before-the-ACA dependence on work for health-care as a way of ensuring that loss of a job would be much more catastrophic than it would otherwise be (The Omnivore doesn't believe this is why health-care was tied to employment--that was an outgrowth of fairly reasonable decisions made in the post WWII environment--but it sure was an advantage for management).

It might also be a reason to keep minimum wages down: if getting to a liveable wage (at the low end of the scale) takes years, job-mobility for low-end workers is curtailed. This is also an advantage to a system that innately lacks sufficient upwards mobility.

Is It Personal?

The big reveal at the end of Snowpiercer is supposed to be that rather than being evil, Wilford is just doing what he has to in order to keep the train running ... it's humanities last hope, no? (Well, no--temperatures have warmed enough so that people could survive outside, it turns out). In other words: stealing children? Not personal. Running doomed revolutions periodically? Not personal.

Of course not discussed is that a given constraint seems to be that the first-class passengers won't pay anything for their ride--the misery is all on the backs of the lower class (there's not, for example, a take-the-child lottery even though one would make sense--if there were no tail-ies, that's what they'd do rather than all die when the engine quit).

Politics makes everything personal to some degree once 'it' happens to 'you.' On the other hand, The Omnivore knows plenty of 1%-ers and none of them are invested in the system itself per se. No one The Omnivore knows is interested in creating employee strife or holding down minimum wages just to keep people unhappy or purely for their own advancement. Everyone The Omnivore knows would vote for a system that had a lot of head-room for advancement for everyone if it were put to a vote in the first place (and possible).

The vision of fat-cat criminal bankers trying to destroy the world economy is simply false. On the other hand, we certainly did have the 2008 melt-down and, certainly, very few people (or corporations, which are people too, my friends) paid the price for it (Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros, that's about it). 

Can Anything Be Done?

Almost everyone agrees that economic inequality is increasing--and fairly dramatically in some cases.  Is there a solution to it? Well, what they did in Snowpiercer was blow up the train and maybe kill almost everyone on it (save for two non-main characters who exit the train and see a polar bear which (a) proves life can exist again and then (b) probably ate them because they were helpless kids and it was a polar bear).

Could something be done that's less destructive than that?

Sure--it's just that no one agrees on what. Raising the minimum wage to $15/hr is being tried with Seattle. Whether it works or not, we don't need to be economic geniuses to realize that not all cities are Seattle. North Dakota has great job creation--on the backs of oil deposits which are hard to engineer in other localities.

Thomas Pickety suggests taxing accumulated wealth over income--who knows? That could work.  The Republican party thinks lowering taxes dramatically--especially on corporations--would spur the creation of good jobs.

The question is this: Are we going to try any of these things?

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Obama Lawsuit

“Middle class families can’t wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff. So sue me,” Obama said during a speech urging Congress to reach agreement on funding for highway and transit programs.
So Sue Me

Speaker Boehner is going to do exactly that: He's going to sue Obama. The specifics, now revealed, are this: Boehner is going to take Obama to court over Obama's decision to delay the Employer-Mandate in ObamaCare for businesses.

Obamacare requires that companies (of a specific size, anyway) provide coverage for their employees or pay a penalty (kind of the same way that individuals must buy insurance or pay a penalty). Obama unilaterally delayed that requirement until 2015--after the midterms. This was (as The Omnivore understands it) explicitly in contradiction of the passed law and was done without the consent of Congress.

Let's note that the mandate was pretty unpopular with employers.

The mandate was very unpopular with Republicans.

So Why Are They Suing Obama?

The irony of Boehner suing Obama to enforce a law that the Republicans never wanted passed in the first place is lost on exactly no one. The arguments for it are as follows:
  1. There should be a penalty for a president behaving lawlessly. The delay was lawless--it's probably not enough to impeach him over--but it's very bad and there should be consequences.
  2. If the law hurt people it would be more unpopular and therefore more easily repealed. Delaying the pain until after midterms is uncool and political.
  3. The base wants Obama impeached but the GOPe thinks that's a terrible political move because (a) the votes in the Senate don't exist to find Obama guilty and (b) it really, really backfired when they tried it on Clinton. Suing Obama is kinda like Impeachment. It's throwing the base a bone.

Will It Work?

What does that actually mean? Will what work? 

#1 Will The Lawsuit Curb a Lawless President?
Probably not: The suit seems to lack the teeth to have much of an impact on a never-again elected Obama. It's weaksauce compared to impeachment and everyone, including noted RINO Erick Erickson, knows it. It might actually embolden future presidents who will realize that they can act, get sued, retract, and ... so what?

#2 Make Obamacare Unpopular
Probably Not: If this had been done early on, perhaps yes. As it stands, the 2015 date may well come to pass before the lawsuit is resolved. In any event, it'll be close. The disposition of the ACA at this point really comes down to the 2016 presidential elections (if even that) so it's unclear if this is too little, too late.

#3 Satisfy The Base
Probably Not: If it's not satisfying Erick Erickson, it probably won't satisfy the base overmuch. Impeachment is a serious rebuke--even if the Senate did not convict (and you need 67 votes there--even a 2010 Wave election that gives the majority in the Senate back to the GOP probably won't close that gap). That said, at least it's something.

There's a somewhat more interesting argument here though: is it legal to sue? Andrew Prokop Voxsplains that, historically, in order to sue the president you have to be able to demonstrate harm to you. That is, in order for the court to hear the case from Boehner (or 'The House'), a judge would have to decide that Boehner himself was injured by the president's decision. That's a high bar to clear--how'd it hurt him?

How'd it hurt anyone (is not paying a government fine being hurt?). The way around it is a carefully crafted set of arguments (in that link) which boil down to the idea that Congress ought to have the right to expect the President to obey the law. Vox holds that this is iffy--it doesn't seem especially iffy to The Omnivore ... The Omnivore thinks they have a case.

But The Omnivore also thinks they shouldn't have to even go that far. Boehner already has a pretty clear-cut case as far as The Omnivore sees it ...

The Omnivore's Case For Suit Against POTUS
Suppose someone signed a contract with you that was going to make you the proverbial shit-ton of money and then backed out? You'd sue, right? Well those laws are a contract with America, aren't they? And when Obama backed out he cost the GOP a ton of money ... didn't he? 


Well, Obamacare is a big fund-raiser for them and the more unpopular it is, the more money it rakes in. That unpopularity has a window though: the longer it lasts, the less it's worth as the zeal to kill it dims. We're seeing that happen now:
What was more surprising is that people who got the new coverage were generally happy with the product. Overall, 73 percent of people who bought health plans and 87 percent of those who signed up for Medicaid said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their new health insurance. Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans liked their plans. Even 77 percent of people who had insurance before — including members of the much-publicized group whose plans got canceled last year — were happy with their new coverage.
This is a disaster for Republican fund-raising. It appears that, adding insult to injury, the blue-states where the most money was spent on anti-Obamacare ads were the places where enrollment was higher:
In a state-by-state look at spending on ads attacking the Affordable Care Act, Brookings found that increased ad spending per capita was tied to declining enrollment in red states but linked with increasing enrollment in blue states.
Cruz alone made millions off it ... Instead of trying to reinstate the mandate, which Republicans don't want anyway, Boehner should sue for like a billion dollars of 2016 fund-raising and make the Obamas pay it personally!

The Problem: Monetized Politics

Being more serious, the real problem here isn't exactly the imperial presidency or, even at this point, repealing Obamacare. The Omnivore isn't even sure it's about scoring points in the upcoming elections. It's about getting what you paid for--if you are a GOP voter--especially a lower information one.

Wait, wait--hear me out: wanting to repeal Obamacare is perfectly fine. Wanting a Benghazi investigation is perfectly fine (there have been several). This is all good stuff--but if you are a person who donates in outrage (watching Fox News will do that to you) and expects value for your money then you will not be happy until you get what you paid for.

Unfortunately, 'what you paid for' is probably snake-oil if you are watching Fox News and only half-way paying attention--or following smaller more credulous blogs / conspiracy emails that show up in your inbox. Political marketing machines run on liquid outrage--both of them--but the Republicans have recently gone a step further down the rabbit hole by essentially 'making promises' that they can't keep. These promises are things like:
  • Obama is behaving in a way that is so clearly unconstitutional that any sane congress would instantly impeach him--he might be removed by the military at any time anyway. He is, literally, behaving as a tyrannical dictator.
  • Benghazi has been proven a conspiratorial cover-up where Hillary issued a stand-down order that resulted in the death of Americans in order to conceal illegal arms transfers to Al Qaeda in Syria.
  • Obama has been caught orchestrating illegal activities such as the IRS investigations of the Tea Party and running guns to Mexico.
The expectations around Republican action have been set extraordinarily high and people have paid to see those expectations met. Things like the ridiculous list of Obama's Illegal Actions which evaporate upon research are pervasive enough that it's hard to blame people for (a) giving money and then (b) feeling cheated when nothing comes of it.

From the John Boenher perspective there's nowhere to go but forward: he can't admit that while Obama may be expanding presidential power in ways that are probably illegal, he doesn't come near the level of dictatorial-tyrant. He can't even admit that the military testified there was no stand-down order ... the news can report it--but Boehner can't declare the matter (on that even) settled. He has to keep riding the tiger if that doesn't mean potentially suicidal impeachment it, at least, means an angry lawsuit that might satisfy someone (specifically, his home-state voters who, hopefully, won't 'Cantor' him).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Brand Damage At The Border

The Immigration Crisis

In case you have somehow missed it, right now record numbers of children are streaming across our southern border and it's a big-ass complicated problem. Apparently, due to some Bush-era law, Obama is not just able to load the four-year-olds into a catapult and fire them back to 'Mehico.' It's troubling.

The Omnivore was surprised to see an article on Hot Air (a great conservative blog) by Noah Rothman titled thusly:
Glenn Beck, the border crisis, and the Republican Party’s empathy gap
The first rule of 'Empathy Gap' is you do not talk about 'Empathy Gap.'

Beck's plan is to ask for charitable donations, fill trailers with food, water, blankets, and toys, and take them to the children. Noah Rothman writes:
It is a small step, but a welcome one. The conservative movement needs a bigger tent, and addressing the perception that conservatives are hard-hearted will be a step in that direction. The good news is that this condition is merely perceived, not real, and it only takes a few gestures like the one Beck has embraced in order to bury it.
Let's go to the comments:
There is a thing as to much empathy.
sorrowen on July 9, 2014 at 10:44 AM
This is garbage. Empathy is useless without teaching responsibility. Having empathy without reason paralyzes the individual and makes them unable to act. 
We are being invaded and our government refuses to do anything about it because of optics. Invasion is an act of war. Reality will intrude upon your life whether you want it to or not.  
njrob on July 9, 2014 at 10:57 AM
So the HotGas amnesty shills are opening their homes to illegal invaders, correct? Out of empathy, correct? For the children, correct?
Jedditelol on July 9, 2014 at 11:08 AM
Illegals steal resources that should be used for American children.Flange on July 9, 2014 at 11:20 AM
And so on ... This is just the first page. There are hundreds more. A few posters do agree with Beck (and Noah)--the vast majority do not.

Maybe it's just Hot Air--let's check out's comments on the same story:
wlrpaul12 minutes ago
brain dead mongrel is what he is. ef this didactic psycho two faced dry drunk.
Janet Munro Hilltex11 minutes ago
Never listened to him that much anyway. I never knew what he was going to come up with next. Never did forgive him for ridiculing birthers. Then he went soft on gays. Now this. He is toast.
Glenda Price31 minutes ago
I am done with Glen Beck. These people came here to get free stuff, that is their sole purpose. They are welfare breeding criminal invaders and should be treated as such. Now he is giving free them free stuff right away, makes no sense. They should be shot on sight at our border. I canceled his newsletters and will never again hear him on radio.
And so on--Nope: It's not just Hot Air.

The Branding Problem: Policing
The Omnivore is pretty sure that what guys like Noah and many black conservatives tell themselves when confronted with 'the comments section' is something like this: "Oh, it's just a tiny if vocal minority of Internet trolls ... probably mostly actually Democrats or, at very least, a totally non-representational subset of the party itself."

Then they go get another drink because, well, they read the comments section.

The fact is that we don't have shared definitions of what 'heartless' or even 'racist' means outside of an extremely narrow dead-center-of-the-bellcurve circumstance (just ask Rick Perry who called people heartless in the 2012 presidential primary). We can certainly argue about whether those comments up there are 'heartless' or not all day long (uh, sure we can).

We can also argue about whether or not those comments represent .00001% of the GOP, 1% of the GOP, the 18% hard-core base of the GOP--or what? Without solid polling we don't know--and the positions, if polled, are still different from the language use anyway.

What we can't argue about, though, is the brand damage.

What is that? Well, consider this: the movie Toy Story was mostly able to use every toy they asked for except, notably, one: GI Joe. As the action figure was going to get blown up by the evil kid next door, Hasbro said "No Joe" and Pixar created 'Combat Carl.'

This was savvy on Hasbro's part: Even if it would have been a good move to get a Toy Story boost in their sales, the fact is that on their watch? GI Joe don't get blown up. They know that--they live it. Every word that comes out of a spokes-character's mouth has to be approved by its owner and anything that isn't 100% positive? That's brand-damage.

Obviously with an imaginary character you have total control. With a political party of millions of people, though, it isn't that simple: how do you control what gets said in the comments section? The answer is "Policing." Right now there is a comparatively tiny amount of push-back against 'the comments section.' Beck isn't a meaningless voice--and he'll be joined by Louie Gohmert who is also significant--but these people are not calling out the folks saying the kids are illegal invaders--they're just talking up their own personal charity.

Positive talk is well and good--but it isn't push back. There is no major voice--much less a set of major voices in the Republican party speaking against the description of these kids as parasites. That's the lever that would need to be pulled to start changing the public perception of the GOP.

So here's the question: Why don't they (the GOP Establishment) pull it?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why Does The CIA Have A Twitter Account?

The Central Intelligence Agency lit up Twitter and drew both applause and fire with its most recent tweet in its short Twitter career:
The most galling part of this might be that everyone, as New York's Stefan Becket points out, knows where Tupac is: he's dead. Either this line was written by someone who did not actually understand who Tupac is, and assumed that he was interchangeable with, say, Amelia Earhart or the Roswell alien, or it was written by someone who could not reason through the logical steps of a one-step joke. Either way, not a feather in the cap of our national intelligence organization.
What is going on? What does the CIA even have a Twitter account? And why are they tweeting jokes?

The Answer: Tech Recruitment

It's no mystery that the CIA is looking to hire. There have been headlines since that effect since 2005 and they're still looking to 'diversify' as of 2011. Furthermore, the 'recruitment process' doesn't just happen in America and it isn't just for action-adventure style James Bond types (no, MI:6 is the one that hires the action-adventure style James Bond types--keep up).

For example, the National Resources division of the CIA hires "locally" (in other countries) by recruiting young people who will simply go to work for it:
A few years ago, an American company placed a want ad for an aerospace engineering consultant in an Asian newspaper. It quickly drew a flurry of applicants - one of whom was just the kind of person the company was looking for: someone who worked in that country's missile program, someone who was a little sleazy, someone looking to make a little cash on the side.
This was a CIA front operation, and soon that eager applicant was supplying the spy agency with details on his country's ballistic missile program.
As the article notes, it isn't just people out of the country who get romanced by the spy agency: major economic players do to--and they like it:
JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sach's Lloyd Blankfein, one former CIA executive recalls, loved to get visitors from Langley. 
And the CIA loves them back, not just for their patriotic cooperation with the spy agency, sources say, but for the influence they have on Capitol Hill, where the intelligence budgets are hashed out.
So, good--but why the egregious Tupac Tweet?

Well, Slate, no one has ever accused The Omnivore of being hip--in fact, he isn't even especially fly (for a white guy)--but he does know this: Tupac Theories #4 and 5 involve him not bein' dead:
4) Tupac is alive in New ZealandIf Tupac’s life did in fact revolve around spiritual numbers and Christ-like references, it is perhaps only fitting that he was spotted this year in little ol’ ‘Godzone’, aka New Zealand, last month.
5) Witness protectionAnd lastly, despite Tupac’s many derogatory lyrics aimed at the boys in blue - the “po-leece” - the final popular theory in our list is that Tupac is in fact under witness protection by the FBI.
So, uh, get it straight, Slate it's ... kinda like Elvis, eh? He's dead too--so far as The Omnivore knows--but he's still shows up a lot ... if you know what I mean.

So, uh, the CIA's trying to recruit guys who are into the Hip-Hop conspiracy scene? No. If The Omnivore were to guess it would be that the CIA is re-branding to compete with the NSA for young tech-talent. For that? It needs to be hip. What young tech-savvy expert wants to work at a company (or even The Company) that doesn't have a Twitter presence?

You can read here how Palantir Software (a tech outfit that works with the CIA) recruits people with creepy stalker emails and leverages their name with the entire Middle Earth connotations to persuade people to join in the "fight against evil." This is reasonably good branding: who doesn't want to take a piece out of Mordor?

This is also a good piece of maneuvering: if they are competing with the NSA it's a heck of a challenge: Go Ahead And Try That, No Such Agency!

There's one more element as well: Trolling.

The Internet Battlefront

The Middle East is active on Twitter and this is seen as both a good way to harvest data and a powerful destabilizing force (recall that USAID clandestinely launched a Cuban text-message based cell phone 'twitter'). For the CIA, opening a public Twitter feed is the chess equivalent of moving your king-pawn two squares out: it opens the game with a presence right in the middle of the board.

The Omnivore suspects there will be some data-mining and surveillance around who engages, follows, and responds to the CIA's messaging. The tweets are a kind of provocation and responses could yield things like IP addresses, levels of cultural affinity respondents have, and insight into language skills. There probably isn't a lot here that couldn't be gained from a general survey of the Internet but The Omnivore suspects that the CIA's targets "can't help themselves" when it comes to an increased heat-level in the face of actual CIA readers.

That and, hey, trolling.