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22 June 2013

President Asterik

Political Cartoons by Bob Gorrell

By Peggy Noonan

One of the great questions about the 2012 campaign has been “Where was the tea party?” They were not the fierce force they’d been in the 2010 cycle, when Republicans took back the House. Some of us think the answer to the question is: “Targeted by the IRS, buried under paperwork and unable to raise money.”

The economist Stan Veuger, on the American Enterprise Institute‘s blog, takes the question a step further.

The Democrats had been badly shaken by the Republican comeback of 2010. They feared a repeat in 2012 that would lose them the White House.

Might targeting the tea-party groups—diverting them, keeping them from forming and operating—seem a shrewd campaign strategy in the years between 2010 and 2012? Sure. Underhanded and illegal, but potentially effective.

Veuger writes: “It is a well-known fact that the Tea Party movement dealt the president his famous “shellacking” in the 2010 midterm election. Less well-known is the actual number of votes this new movement delivered—and the continuing effects these votes could have had in 2012 had the movement not been demobilized by the IRS.”

The research paper Veurger and his colleagues have put out notes that, in Veuger’s words, “the Tea Party movement’s huge success [in 2010] was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise.”

More: “The bottom line is that the Tea Party movement, when properly activated, can generate a huge number of votes—more votes in 2010, in fact, than the vote advantage Obama held over Romney in 2012. The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5-8.5 million votes compared to Obama’s victory margin of 5 million.”

Think about the sheer political facts of the president’s 2012 victory. The first thing we learned, in the weeks after the voting, was that the Obama campaign was operating with a huge edge in its technological operation—its vast digital capability and sophistication. The second thing we learned, in the past month, is that while the campaign was on, the president’s fiercest foes, in the Tea Party, were being thwarted, diverted and stopped.

Technological savvy plus IRS corruption. The president’s victory now looks colder, more sordid, than it did. Which is why our editor, James Taranto, calls him “President Asterisk.”

NSA Surveillance May Be legal — But It’s Unconstitutional


By Laura K. Donohue


The National Security Agency’s recently revealed surveillance programs undermine the purpose of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was established to prevent this kind of overreach. They violate the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. And they underscore the dangers of growing executive power.

The intelligence community has a history of overreaching in the name of national security. In the mid-1970s, it came to light that, since the 1940s, the NSA had been collecting international telegraphic traffic from companies, in the process obtaining millions of Americans’ telegrams that were unrelated to foreign targets. From 1940 to 1973, the CIA and the FBI engaged in covert mail-opening programs that violated laws prohibiting the interception or opening of mail. The agencies also conducted warrantless “surreptitious entries,” breaking into targets’ offices and homes to photocopy or steal business records and personal documents. The Army Security Agency intercepted domestic radio communications. And the Army’s CONUS program placed more than 100,000 people under surveillance, including lawmakers and civil rights leaders.

After an extensive investigation of the agencies’ actions, Congress passed the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to limit sweeping collection of intelligence and create rigorous oversight. But 35 years later, the NSA is using this law and its subsequent amendments as legal grounds to run even more invasive programs than those that gave rise to the statute.

Qe’ve learned that in April, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ordered Verizon to provide information on calls made by each subscriber over a three-month period. Over the past seven years, similar orders have been served continuously on AT&T, Sprint and other telecommunications providers.

Another program, PRISM, disclosed by the Guardian and The Washington Post, allows the NSA and the FBI to obtain online data including e-mails, photographs, documents and connection logs. The information that can be assembled about any one person — much less organizations, social networks and entire communities — is staggering: What we do, think and believe.

The government defends the programs’ legality, saying they comply with FISA and its amendments. It may be right, but only because FISA has ceased to provide a meaningful constraint.

Under the traditional FISA, if the government wants to conduct electronic surveillance, it must make a classified application to a special court, identitying or describing the target. It must demonstrate probable cause that the target is a foreign power or an agent thereof, and that the facilities to be monitored will be used by the target.

In 2008, Congress added section 702 to the statute, allowing the government to use electronic surveillance to collect foreign intelligence on non-U.S. persons it reasonably believes are abroad, without a court order for each target. A U.S. citizen may not intentionally be targeted.

To the extent that the FISC sanctioned PRISM, it may be consistent with the law. But it is disingenuous to suggest that millions of Americans’ e-mails, photographs and documents are “incidental” to an investigation targeting foreigners overseas.

The telephony metadata program raises similar concerns. FISA did not originally envision the government accessing records. Following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Congress allowed applications for obtaining records from certain kinds of businesses. In 2001, lawmakers further expanded FISA to give the government access to any business or personal records. Under section 215 of the Patriot Act, the government no longer has to prove that the target is a foreign power. It need only state that the records are sought as part of an investigation to protect against terrorism or clandestine intelligence.

This means that FISA can now be used to gather records concerning individuals who are neither the target of any investigation nor an agent of a foreign power. Entire databases — such as telephony metadata — can be obtained, as long as an authorized investigation exists.

Congress didn’t pass Section 215 to allow for the wholesale collection of information. As Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who helped draft the statute, wrote in the Guardian: “Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”

As a constitutional matter, the Supreme Court has long held that, where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, search and seizure may occur only once the government has obtained a warrant, supported by probable cause and issued by a judge. The warrant must specify the places to be searched and items to be seized.

There are exceptions to the warrant requirement. In 1979 the court held that the use of a pen register to record numbers dialed from someone’s home was not a search. The court suggested that people who disclose their communications to others assume the risk that law enforcement may obtain the information.

More than three decades later, digitization and the explosion of social-network technology have changed the calculus. In the ordinary course of life, third parties obtain massive amounts of information about us that, when analyzed, have much deeper implications for our privacy than before.

As for Section 702 of FISA, the Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment does not protect foreigners from searches conducted abroad. But it has never recognized a foreign intelligence exception to the warrant requirement when foreign-targeted searches result in the collection of vast stores of citizens’ communications.

Americans reasonably expect that their movements, communications and decisions will not be recorded and analyzed by the government. A majority of the Supreme Court seems to agree. Last year, the court considered a case involving 28-day GPS surveillance. Justice Samuel Alito suggested that in most criminal investigations, long-term monitoring “impinges on expectations of privacy.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor recognized that following a person’s movements “reflects a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.”

The FISC is supposed to operate as a check. But it is a secret court, notorious for its low rate of denial. From 1979 to 2002, it did not reject a single application. Over the past five years, out of nearly 8,600 applications, only two have been denied.

Congress has an opportunity to create more effective checks on executive power. It could withdraw Sections 215 and 702 and introduce new measures to regulate intelligence collection and analysis. There are many options.

James Madison put it best: “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

21 June 2013

The Case of the Missing White Voters, Revisited



By Sean Trende

With a cloture vote on the Senate’s immigration reform bill expected next week, countless commentators have expressed the view that if Republicans don’t sign on for reform, the party is doomed at the presidential level for a generation.

This is the first in a two-part series explaining why this conventional wisdom is incorrect. Signing on to a comprehensive immigration package is probably part of one way for Republicans to form a winning coalition at the presidential level, but it isn’t the only way (for more, I’ve written a book about this, as well as countless articles here at RCP). Today I’ll re-examine what was really the most salient demographic change in 2012: The drop-off in white voters. Next time, we’ll confront some of the assumptions embedded in the “GOP has to do this” argument head-on.

I should re-emphasize at the outset that I think that embracing some sort of immigration reform probably helps with Republicans’ outreach efforts to Hispanics, and the idea that there is a treasure-trove of votes to be had for Democrats here is almost certainly overstated. I should also re-emphasize that from a “pure policy” standpoint, I find quite a bit to like in the basic “Gang of Eight” framework. But regardless of whether Republicans could or should back the bill, it simply isn’t necessary for them to do so and remain a viable political force.

1. The most salient demographic change from 2008 to 2012 was the drop in white voters.

Let’s start with the basics: Just what were the demographic changes in that four-year span? I did some preliminary work in November 2012 suggesting that the largest change came from white voters dropping out. Now, with more complete data, we can re-assess this in a more precise manner.

Using the most commonly accepted exit-poll numbers about the 2008 electorate*, we can roughly calculate the number of voters of each racial group who cast ballots that year. Using census estimates, we can also conclude that all of these categories should have increased naturally from 2008 to 2012, due to population growth.

From mid-2008 to mid-2012, the census estimates that the number of whites of voting age increased by 3 million. If we assume that these “new” voters would vote at a 55 percent rate, we calculate that the total number of white votes cast should have increased by about 1.6 million between 2008 and 2012.

The following table summarizes these estimates for all racial groups, and compares the results to actual turnout.

Now, the raw exit-poll data haven’t come out yet, so we can’t calculate the 2012 data to tenths: The white vote for 2012 could have been anywhere between 71.5 percent of the vote or 72.4 percent (with 26,000 respondents, analysis to tenths is very meaningful). So the final answer is that there were 6.1 million fewer white voters in 2012 than we’d have expected, give or take a million.**

The Current Population Survey data roughly confirm this. As I noted earlier, if you correct the CPS data to account for over-response bias, it shows there were likely 5 million fewer whites in 2012 than in 2008. When you account for expected growth, we’d find 6.5 million fewer whites than a population projection would anticipate.

This is the real ballgame regarding demographic change in 2012. If these white voters had decided to vote, the racial breakdown of the electorate would have been 73.6 percent white, 12.5 percent black, 9.5 percent Hispanic and 2.4 percent Asian -- almost identical to the 2008 numbers.

2. These voters were largely downscale, Northern, rural whites. In other words, H. Ross Perot voters.

Those totals are a bit more precise and certain (and lower) than my estimates from November of last year. With more complete data, we can now get a better handle regarding just who these missing white voters were.

Below is a map of change in turnout by county, from 2008 to 2012. Each shade of blue means that turnout was progressively lower in a county, although I stopped coding at -10 percent. Similarly, every shade of red means that turnout was progressively higher, to a maximum of +10 percent. 

The drop in turnout occurs in a rough diagonal, stretching from northern Maine, across upstate New York (perhaps surprisingly, turnout in post-Sandy New York City dropped off relatively little), and down into New Mexico. Michigan and the non-swing state, non-Mormon Mountain West also stand out. Note also that turnout is surprisingly stable in the Deep South; Romney’s problem was not with the Republican base or evangelicals (who constituted a larger share of the electorate than they did in 2004).

For those with long memories, this stands out as the heart of the “Perot coalition.” That coalition was strongest with secular, blue-collar, often rural voters who were turned off by Bill Clinton’s perceived liberalism and George H.W. Bush’s elitism. They were largely concentrated in the North and Mountain West: Perot’s worst 10 national showings occurred in Southern and border states. His best showings? Maine, Alaska, Utah, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Minnesota.

We can flesh this out a bit more by running a regression analysis, which enables us to isolate the effects of particular variables while holding other variables constant.*** We’ll use county-level data, which is granular enough that we can feel more comfortable that we avoided ecological fallacy problems. You can see the overall results here. Almost all of the variables are significant; only the population density variable is of no value.****

For those who didn’t click over to the chart, we’re pretty confident that the voters were more likely to stay home if they resided in states that were hit by Hurricane Sandy, that were targeted by a campaign in 2008, that had higher foreign-born populations, and that had more Hispanic residents. The latter result probably suggests a drop-off in rural Hispanic voters, who are overrepresented in an analysis such as this one.

We’re also pretty confident that the voters were more likely to turn out if they resided in counties with higher median household incomes, high population growth, a competitive Senate race in 2012, or that were a target state in 2012. Counties with higher populations of Mormons, African-Americans, and older voters also had higher turnout, all other things being equal. None of this is all that surprising.

Perhaps most intriguingly, even after all of these controls are in place, the county’s vote for Ross Perot in 1992 comes back statistically significant, and suggests that a higher vote for Perot in a county did, in fact, correlate with a drop-off in voter turnout in 2012.

What does that tell us about these voters? As I noted, they tended to be downscale, blue-collar whites. They weren’t evangelicals; Ross Perot was pro-choice, in favor of gay rights, and in favor of some gun control. You probably didn’t know that, though, and neither did most voters, because that’s not what his campaign was about.

His campaign was focused on his fiercely populist stance on economics. He was a deficit hawk, favoring tax hikes on the rich to help balance the budget. He was staunchly opposed to illegal immigration as well as to free trade (and especially the North American Free Trade Agreement). He advocated more spending on education, and even Medicare-for-all. Given the overall demographic and political orientation of these voters, one can see why they would stay home rather than vote for an urban liberal like President Obama or a severely pro-business venture capitalist like Mitt Romney.

3. These voters were not enough to cost Romney the election, standing alone.

But while this was the most salient demographic change, it was probably not, standing alone, enough to swing the election to Obama. After all, he won the election by almost exactly 5 million votes. If we assume there were 6.5 million “missing” white voters, than means that Romney would have had to win almost 90 percent of their votes to win the election.

Give that whites overall broke roughly 60-40 for Romney, this seems unlikely. In fact, if these voters had shown up and voted like whites overall voted, the president’s margin would have shrunk, but he still would have won by a healthy 2.7 percent margin.

At the same time, if you buy the analysis above, it’s likely that these voters weren’t a representative subsample of white voters. There were probably very few outright liberal voters (though there were certainly some), and they were probably less favorably disposed toward Obama than whites as a whole. Given that people who disapprove of the president rarely vote for him (Obama’s vote share exceeded his favorable ratings in only four states in 2012), my sense is that, if these voters were somehow forced to show up and vote, they’d have broken more along the lines of 70-30 for Romney.

This still only shrinks the president’s margin to 1.8 percent, but now we’re in the ballpark of being able to see a GOP path to victory (we’re also more in line with what the national polls were showing). In fact, if the African-American share of the electorate drops back to its recent average of 11 percent of the electorate and the GOP wins 10 percent of the black vote rather than 6 percent (there are good arguments both for and against this occurring; I am agnostic on the question), the next Republican would win narrowly if he or she can motivate these “missing whites,” even without moving the Hispanic (or Asian) vote.

4. The GOP faces a tough choice.

Of course, it isn’t that easy. Obama won’t be on the ticket in 2016, and the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, could have a greater appeal to these voters (current polling suggests that she does). But there are always tradeoffs, and Clinton’s greater appeal to blue-collar whites, to the extent it holds through 2016, could be offset by a less visceral attachment with young voters, college-educated whites and to nonwhites than the president enjoys.

But the GOP still has something of a choice to make. One option is to go after these downscale whites. As I’ll show in Part 2, it can probably build a fairly strong coalition this way. Doing so would likely mean nominating a candidate who is more Bush-like in personality, and to some degree on policy. This doesn’t mean embracing “big government” economics or redistribution full bore; suspicion of government is a strain in American populism dating back at least to Andrew Jackson. It means abandoning some of its more pro-corporate stances. This GOP would have to be more "America first" on trade, immigration and foreign policy; less pro-Wall Street and big business in its rhetoric; more Main Street/populist on economics.

For now, the GOP seems to be taking a different route, trying to appeal to Hispanics through immigration reform and to upscale whites by relaxing its stance on some social issues. I think this is a tricky road to travel, and the GOP has rarely been successful at the national level with this approach. It certainly has to do more than Mitt Romney did, who at times seemed to think that he could win the election just by corralling the small business vote. That said, with the right candidate it could be doable. It’s certainly the route that most pundits and journalists are encouraging the GOP to travel, although that might tell us more about the socioeconomic standing and background of pundits and journalists than anything else.

Of course, the most successful Republican politicians have been those who can thread a needle between these stances: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and (to a lesser degree) Bush 43 have all been able to talk about conservative economic stances without horrifying downscale voters. These politicians are rarities, however, and the GOP will most likely have to make a choice the next few cycles about which road it wants to travel.


* Ruy Teixeira has mostly convinced me that the correct final exit numbers for 2008 were 74.3 percent white, 12.6 percent black, 8.5 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian and 2.6 percent “other.”

**I also note that Hispanic participation probably exceeded projections when you consider that a disproportionate chunk of the Latino population growth consists of non-citizens who are therefore ineligible to vote. Also note the disproportionately large drop-off in “other”; I suspect this is mostly a function of the “rounding issue” I describe above.

***As my independent variable, I used the percentage change in turnout in each county from 2008 to 2012. Since we have over 3,000 observations using this technique, we can run a large number of variables. I went with 13. Five of them were meant to control for basic external effects: population growth, whether the county was in a state targeted in 2008 or 2012, whether it was in a state affected by Hurricane Sandy, whether there was a competitive Senate race in 2012 (the states that had competitive Senate races in 2008 were almost all swing states).

I ran a variety of demographic controls: the percentage of the county that was above age 65, that was African-American, that was foreign-born, and that was Mormon. I also included population density and median household income.

Finally, I included the percentage of the vote cast for Ross Perot in 1992.

**** The r-square is a bit low at 0.3, but we’re trying to explain a vast amount of data that probably relied on thousands of variables (local weather, differing amounts of money spent, other statewide contests). Moreover, a lot of these counties are so small that “quantum effects” -- random individual decisions -- can start to skew things. An extended family afflicted with food poisoning at Sunday dinner can materially affect turnout in some counties in western Kansas. If you exclude the 29 worst outliers (in geek speak, the ones whose standardized residuals exceed 3), the r-square jumps to 0.4. 

Axie's Dreams And Nightmares I

Obama’s Melting Wings

By Mark Steyn

Descending from the heavens for the G8 summit at beautiful Lough Erne this week, President Obama caused some amusement to his British hosts. The chancellor of the exchequer had been invited to give a presentation to the assembled heads of government on the matter of tax avoidance (one of the big items on the agenda, for those of you who think what the IRS could really use right now is even more enforcement powers). The president evidently enjoyed it. Thrice, he piped up to say how much he agreed with Jeffrey, eventually concluding the presentation with the words, “Thank you, Jeffrey.” Unfortunately, the chancellor of the exchequer is a bloke called George Osborne, not Jeffrey Osborne. President Obama subsequently apologized for confusing George with Jeffrey, who was a popular vocal artiste back in the Eighties when Obama was dating his composite girlfriend and making composite whoopee to the composite remix of Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 smoocheroo, “On the Wings of Love.”

I suppose it might have been worse. When Angela Merkel proposed a toast to a strong West, he could have assumed that was the name of Kim and Kanye’s new baby. At any rate, President Obama’s mishap had faint echoes of a famous social faux pas during the Second World War. Irving Berlin, the celebrated composer of “White Christmas,” was invited to lunch at 10 Downing Street and was surprised to find that Churchill, instead of asking what’s that Bing Crosby really like, badgered him with complex moral and strategic questions and requests for estimates of U.S. war production. It turned out the prime minister had confused Irving Berlin with the philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, then under secondment to the British embassy in Washington, and thought it was the latter he’d invited to Number Ten. In the Obama era, any confusion is the other way around. It would be a terrible thing for the president to invite the eminent rapper Jay-Z to lunch only to find himself stuck next to the turgid British philosopher Professor Sir Jay Zed. Although Obama’s confusion went largely unreported in America, the BBC’s enterprising Eddie Mair got Jeffrey Osborne on the line and inveigled him into singing George Osborne’s best-known words — “Tax cuts should be for life, not just Christmastime” — to Jeffrey’s best-known tune.
The following day Mangue Obama — whoops, my mistake, Mangue Obama was the prime minister of Equatorial Guinea from 2006 to 2008, and has a way smaller and less incompetent entourage — Barack Obama departed for Berlin (the German city, not the American songwriter or British philosopher). Five years ago at the Brandenburg Gate, he thrilled a crowd of 200,000 with his stirring clarion call to himself, “Ich bin ein Baracker.” This time, he spoke to an audience barely a fiftieth of that size — 4,500, most of whom were bored out of their lederhosen. As I wrote of Obama’s Massachusetts yawnfest in 2010, he went to the trouble of flying in to phone it in. If the BBC’s mash-up of Jeffrey Osborne’s 1982 Billboard hit and Chancellor Osborne’s recent speech at the Mansion House in London was something of an awkward fit, you could slip large slabs of “On the Wings of Love” into Obama’s telepromptered pap and none of the 27 Germans still awake would have noticed the difference:

Peace with justice means extending a hand to those who reach for freedom, wherever they live. Come take my hand and together we will rise, on the wings of love, up and above the clouds, the only way to fly . . .

Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons — no matter how distant that dream may be, just smile for me and let the day begin. You are the sunshine that lights my heat within, and we can reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking, because we are angels in disguise, we live and breathe each other, inseparable . . . 

The effort to slow climate change requires bold action. For the grim alternative affects all nations — more severe storms, more famine and floods . . . coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise, you look at me and I begin to melt, just like the snow when a ray of sun is felt. . . . This is the future we must avert. This is the global threat of our time. . . . That is our task. We have to get to work. We’re flowing like a stream, running free, flowing on the wings of love . . . 

The wings of love don’t seem to carry Obama as far as they used to. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews blamed the lackluster performance on the sun’s glare affecting his ability to read the text. That’s how bad it is: Global warming melted his prompter. But the speech itself was barely distinguishable in its cobwebbed utopian pabulum from the video for a nuclear-free world just released by Michael Douglas and other celebrities. And Mr. Douglas, who recently gave a fascinating interview to the Guardian in which he blamed his cancerous walnut-sized tongue tumor upon his addiction to oral sex, at least has a better excuse as to why his silvery tongue doesn’t work its magic quite the way it used to. Der Spiegel, which is the very definition of mainstream media in Germany, described the president’s Berlin stop as a visit by “the head of the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance system ever invented” — and under the headline “Obama’s Soft Totalitarianism.”

Obama isn’t a “soft” totalitarian so much as a slapdash one. His apparatchiks monitor the e-mails of both Jeffrey and George Osborne, but he still can’t tell one from the other. Likewise, in Syria as in Libya, “the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance system ever invented” can’t tell a plucky freedom fighter itching to build Massachusetts in the sands of Araby from your neighborhood al-Qaeda subsidiary whose health-care plan only covers clitoridectomies. 

His G8 colleagues have begun to figure out that America no longer matters. To be sure, the trappings of the presidency are a lagging indicator: He still flies in with more limos and Secret Service agents than everybody else, combined. Then again, the other American story to catch the fancy of the Fleet Street tabloids in recent days is that of the unfortunate Las Vegas man with the world’s biggest scrotum, weighing 140 pounds, yet unable to perform. Of his talks with Vladimir Putin, the president said, “With respect to Syria, we do have differing perspectives on the problem, but we share an interest in reducing the violence.” Putin aims to reduce the violence by getting his boy Assad to kill everyone he needs to. Obama aims to reduce the violence by giving a speech about the “intolerance that fuels extremism” — or is it the other way round? The world understands that Putin means it and Obama doesn’t — just as in Afghanistan everyone knows the Taliban means it and the fainthearted superpower doesn’t.

Thanks to the stork delivering his bundle to Miss Kardashian (see above), Americans seem not to have noticed that the U.S. has just lost yet another war. But in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, they noticed, and they will act accordingly. On the wings of love, up and above the clouds, Obama wafts ever higher on his own gaseous uplift. Down on solid ground, the rest of the world must occasionally wonder if they haven’t confused the U.S. delegation with the world’s most empty-headed boy band.