Pay No Attention to Iran Nuclear Deal Polling

Iranian Reaction to Nuclear DealGreg Sargent tried to get to the bottom of an important political question, What Does the American Public Really Think of the Iran Deal? He took on two recent polls. One, by Quinnipiac, found that by a 57%-28% margin, Americans disagree with the Iran nuclear deal. But an NBC News poll came out the same day that found that by 35%-33% margin, Americans agree with the deal. Is one poll an outlier? Not really. As Sargent pointed out, in the NBC News poll, respondents were allowed a third choice: “don’t know enough.” Another 32% chose that option.

This goes along with an article that Zack Beauchamp wrote that I discussed last week, Public Opinion and the Iranian Nuclear Deal. In that case, the difference was priming. If respondents were give a little information about what the deal was, they were much more likely to support it. Conservatives have cried foul in both cases. They claim that Americans must be polled in their natural state of ignorance and must not be allowed to admit that they do not know enough.

I think that’s hooey. Polls are supposed to tell us something. Snapshots are all fine. But when one-third of the population is fine with admitting they don’t know enough to form an opinion, it tells us that it isn’t an issue that they care much about. Are we supposed to base our policy about what Americans think regarding a subject on which they will only give an opinion if forced? Clearly, the Iran deal is not going to be an issue in the presidential race for a third of the people. And I doubt it will an important issue for the other two-thirds.

No Nukes for IranLet’s face it: any deal with “Iran” in the title is going to sound bad to Americans. After the deal came out, my father told me that he did not like it. After a heavy sigh, I asked him why. He said, “I just don’t trust those people.” I immediately thought that American media had been completely successful in their propaganda campaign. My father had fully absorbed the idea that the Iranians were some kind of nefarious “other.” So I pointed out that we had made deals with the Soviet Union when we didn’t trust them. And that what is currently said about Iran — “They aren’t rational!” — was said about the Soviet Union.

The big argument against the Iran deal is based on a flat out lie. It took almost two years of intensive negotiations to make this deal. What do opponents think? That everyone was just enjoying the expense account? The P5+1 just came in and gave Iran everything it wanted and then they spent the rest of the time sipping drinks by the pool? The deal itself is actually rather clever, with a mechanism for automatically reinstating the sanctions. All any of the involved countries has to do is accuse Iran. Personally, I find it hard to believe that Iran accepted that. It shows an amazing amount of trust in the other countries.

I think Sargent sums up what is really going on regarding public opinion:

I think the most reasonable takeaway from the totality of the polling is that a very large percentage of Americans doesn’t know much about the Iran deal. Thus, in the polls that don’t describe it and only offer a binary choice, the answers reflect dislike of Iran. By contrast, the polls that hint at the possibility of actual success in limiting Iran’s nuclear program — and only offer a binary choice — register more public support. In the first batch, people are saying, “we distrust Iran.” In the second batch, people are choosing “the thing that seems to make a nuclear Iran less likely.”

And the poll (NBC) that describes the deal in somewhat neutral terms but also allows people to admit to not knowing enough about it get a breakdown roughly in thirds — largely along partisan lines.

I believe in democracy. But this is not democracy. Clearly, democracy is more than voting. But even just looking at voting, there is a lead up to the vote. People hear from both sides. And in this case, I believe the pro-deal side has a much more compelling argument. But there is also a question of why we have a republican and not a straight democracy. And that is because of issues like this. I know infinitely more about the Iran deal than most Americans. But I haven’t read it. I’m no expert. To a large extent, my support for it is based on broader issues: the fact that war mongers always claim that the enemy can’t be trusted; that we have a long history of these kinds of deals working out; and so on. But I think this deal deserves to be tried. And in a decade, no one will know what the big deal was.

The Ruling Class

Robert ReichAmerica has long had a ruling class but the public was willing to tolerate it during the three decades after World War II, when prosperity was widely shared and when the Soviet Union posed a palpable threat. Then, the ruling class seemed benevolent and wise.

Yet in the last three decades – when almost all the nation’s economic gains have gone to the top while the wages of most people have gone nowhere – the ruling class has seemed to pad its own pockets at the expense of the rest of America.

We’ve witnessed self-dealing on a monumental scale – starting with the junk-bond takeovers of the 1980s, followed by the Savings and Loan crisis, the corporate scandals of the early 2000s (Enron, Adelphia, Global Crossing, Tyco, Worldcom), and culminating in the near meltdown of Wall Street in 2008 and the taxpayer-financed bailout.

Along the way, millions of Americans lost their jobs their savings, and their homes.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates to big money in politics wider than ever. Taxes have been cut on top incomes, tax loopholes widened, government debt has grown, public services have been cut. And not a single Wall Street executive has gone to jail.

The game seems rigged – riddled with abuses of power, crony capitalism, and corporate welfare.

—Robert Reich
The Revolt Against the Ruling Class

The Meaning of the Debate I Didn’t Watch

2016 Republican Presidential DebateI guess the big news from last night’s debate is that there isn’t any big news. Ed Kilgore provided a great overview of the whole thing in six parts: one, two, three, four, five, and six. But at the end of the second part, he wrote, “Hard to believe there’s another hour of this!” That was just what I thought at the end of the first hour of the Monday forum. And you can see the effect. The later live blogging is less dense, because it all becomes so exhausting. The main thing that comes out of it is that nothing big happened. In fact, reading it, the most consequential moment seems to be one of the few things I saw in passing.

The only real question for the debate was whether Trump was going to do something that really damaged his standing. As I see it, that could have happened in two ways. He could have been caught flat footed and said something that was stupid even by the standards of the Republican Party base. Or he could have been too staid and non-Trump like. Well, he seemed to avoid that. What’s more, The Toronto Star reported, Donald Trump Hogs Airtime at GOP Debate. They noted that, “No clear winner in debate of top 10 Republican candidates for US presidential election, but front-runner Trump kept focus on himself.” Indeed. The Washington Post provided the times. Trump got ten and a half minutes. Bush got less than nine. And the rest all got less than seven — Rand Paul only five!

If you read this blog with any frequency, you cannot be surprised to learn that I think this is all hooey. Regardless of who the Republicans nominate, he will win the general election if the economy tanks. And regardless of who they nominate, he will lose if the economy stays strong. But that’s just an overview. The candidates do matter on the margins. And Democrats have a built in advantage. All else equal, they will win presidential elections. And the worse the Republican candidates, the better it is for the Democrats. So I am interested in what the Republicans are doing to themselves. And I think that it is great for the country — but awful for themselves.

Just after the debate, Brian Beutler wrote, The Republican Party Can’t Escape Its Past. In the article, he noted that the fundamental problem is that the Republican Party has not gotten over Romney’s infamous 47% video. That was where he said that 47% of the people took no responsibility for their lives. This was based upon the fact that they didn’t make enough money to pay federal income taxes. It was an extremely vile thing to say. The problem with it is that the Republican Party believes that it’s true: 47% of the country are “takers.”

This isn’t just the politicians or even the base. The conservative media is totally behind the idea. This is ironic given that the listenership of conservative media is mostly angry people on Social Security and disability. They are the biggest single part of the 47%, but they don’t see it that way. It’s basically just a racist dog whistle: “those people” get it and they don’t deserve it. So is it any wonder that Donald “I’m very rich” Trump is so popular with the base?

But the rest of the party has a hard time countering him, given that what he says in blunt ways is all that they say more carefully. They can’t say, “Donald Trump is wrong about immigration!” They have to say, “Donald Trump is wrong to talk about immigration in that way.” It isn’t the same. In fact, it sounds bad to base voters who think that the only thing wrong with politics is that politicians won’t “tell it like it is.” So it doesn’t look like the debate changed much of anything. And that’s great for the Democrats.

Sonoma County Fair and Republican Debate

Photo BoothI had a problem yesterday. I got over to the Sonoma County Fair. But I realized that the last bus gets to my house at around 7:00 pm. Stupid me for living in the suburbs. But that meant that no matter how lost I was in the arts and crafts of the fair, I was going to get home with much of the Republican presidential debate still going on. For those of you who want to know what I thought, scroll down to “The Evil No Good Debate” below. For the rest of you, let me wax a bit about the fair.

That photo up there shows something shocking: people standing in line to pay five bucks for four photographs from one of those photo booths. I love those things. But literally everyone has a phone with a camera in it. And there were about a dozen of these booths right there. So clearly, it is a thing. It makes me long for the days when people would go to the fair and the only photographs they would come home with were from these booths. But if people are reliving their childhoods, or just forcing their own kids to, that’s fine with me.

Poster PapersMy favorite part of the fair is looking at the arts and crafts done by local people. It really does make me optimistic about the world. People actually compete to see who is the best at canning food. How do you not love that? Every year there are all kinds of beautiful quilts and knitted and embroidered stuff — really gorgeous work. And then there is the art. I was particularly taken with the watercolors this year. It’s amazing, but subjects that I would find boring in oil, are compelling in watercolor. Or maybe that was just how I was feeling today. The photography was also great.

But there is a whole building with stuff done by children — much of it through school programs. There on the right is a picture of some of the poster papers that the kids put together. In the top right is far more than you would ever want to know about chicken anatomy. Below it is one on photography tips that explains just about everything you would get from taking a class. There were other things. Some of the kids made some amazing furniture. There were toys. There was also electrical wiring and joint welding. I really think the post-apocalypse is going to be okay.

But more than being impressed with the kids — which I am — I’m impressed that they have these opportunities. They have schools and parents that support them. They are able to afford the costs of the projects. They have enough self-esteem to be willing to do it. It is clear that society is working for these kids. It bothers me very much that we don’t do the same for all kids — even in this location. But I know it’s possible. And very clearly, the children thrive when treated as they should be.

The Evil No Good Debate

And then I got home. I actually saw very little of the debate. It was on in the background, but I didn’t seek it out. I saw two parts — and they were not representative in the sense that they only involved two of the candidates. But they were very representative in being totally worthless. In the first one, Rand Paul and Chris Christie got into a very personal fight about NSA bulk collection of data. They’ve been on this for months. And bravo to Fox News for getting them to do it face to face. The thing is that Rand Paul is totally right. But he doesn’t make a good argument for it. And Chris Christie is able to demagogue the issue brilliantly.

The second bit also featured Rand Paul. He was explaining why he didn’t want to give aid to Israel. But he demagogued the issue. He said he didn’t want to continue to give foreign aid to “countries that hate us.” The crowd went wild. Of course, these the same people who think half the federal budget is foreign aid. (It’s actually about 1% — at that includes a lot of quid pro quo.) So that didn’t thrill me. But it is rare that I meet a conservative who doesn’t think we could balance the budget if we just stopped being so generous to other countries.

The Sonoma Country Fair is the sort of thing that the Republicans would claim to stand for. But they actually want to destroy everything that it is. Because ultimately, it is about community and caring for each other. And I understand that they would respond that it is all about the voluntary nature of it. Mike Huckabee is for feeding the poor, as long as the church does it and not the government. But he’s tipped his hand. He doesn’t think he should ever have to pay more than 10% of his millions — which just doesn’t work in a modern society.

What’s more, a lot of the stuff that I saw today was the result of our public education system. During Rick Perry’s “Oops!” moment in 2012, along with the departments of commerce and energy (which he couldn’t remember), he wanted to get rid of education. All the Republicans want to get rid of public education. As much as they may talk about “equality of opportunity,” it is the last thing they want. They want the rich to send their kids to the best schools in existence. Yet they don’t want the rich to be compelled to spare one Confederate nickel to provide poor children any kind of opportunity at all.

So there you go: during the day, I saw the best of what we are. And during the evening, I saw the worst of what we are. I understand why people have a hard time supporting the Democratic Party. It really is highly tainted. But I have no idea why anyone would ever vote Republican.

Morning Music: Yoga Is as Yoga Does

Easy Come Easy Go - ElvisIn Easy Come, Easy Go, Elvis an ex-navy frogman that now works as a professional diver by day and a — Wait for it! — singer by night. It includes a very nice Dolores Fuller tune, “I’ll Take Love.” But we’ve done her. Anyway, I think we may well reach the height of Elvis silliness this morning.

It still boggles my mind all the great actors that these films managed to attract. This film didn’t have the kind of cast that King Creole did. But it did have one of my favorites, Elsa Lanchester as Madame Neherina, a yoga teacher. You should know her from Bride of Frankenstein. Also, you should know her for that adorable little gap in her teeth. Anyway, she actually does a duet with Elvis, “Yoga Is as Yoga Does.” Also included is lots of yoga fun.

Anniversary Post: Love Canal

Love CanalOn this day in 1978, President Jimmy Carter declared a federal emergency in Love Canal. It’s an interesting case. The Hooker Chemical Company had buried a whole bunch of toxic waste. But the area was growing so the Niagara Falls City School District forced a land sell in 1953. The company did warn the school about the danger. But the school went ahead and built. The chemicals were released, polluting the local ground water. Housing developments were built without anyone knowing about previous toxic waste and the chemical company and the school district.

I don’t especially blame anyone in this whole thing. Instead, I see this as a good illustration of why we need environmental regulation. Libertarians usually argue that people should be able to pollute their own property, as long as it doesn’t effect anyone else. But the truth is that we don’t know what the future holds. By the time that the pollution is know, the polluter may be dead — or just broke. Things happen, and we know that we can’t just leave all this up to the free market (and eventually courts) to work out.

Regardless, the end result was that hundreds of houses had to be destroyed — thousands of people displaced — lots of health problems. Of course, libertarians specifically use Love Canal to push their screwed up views of property rights. “If only…” they claim. If only the school board had been held accountable… What? There would have been no release of toxic waste?! What about the externalities of Hooker Chemical disposing of waste in a way that didn’t take into account its actual cost? It’s a typical case of libertarians thinking shallowly, because thinking deeply wouldn’t produce the conclusions they desire.