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Archive for October, 2012

When Seawater Occupies Wall Street

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

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A security guard walks through a flooded street in the financial district of Manhattan early on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters.

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Knee-deep thought of the day:

When seawater occupies Wall Street, perhaps Nature itself is telling Big Business and elected officials—and the public in general—to take climate change seriously, at last. 

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The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be “lost for ever,” according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure. 

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this “lock-in” effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world’s foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried—if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

Please keep reading at “IEA Sees ‘Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years’” (LNW 1/21/12).

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Recommended reading: Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (Bloomsbury, 2006).

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Gov. Cuomo cites “dramatic change in weather patterns”

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Sees Evidence of Climate Change, Need for Upgraded Infrastructure

In his 11:30 a.m. briefing the day after Hurricane Sandy, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a clear reference to climate change, or global warming, about 30 minutes into his remarks: “Anyone who thinks that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns is denying reality.”

There has been a series of extreme weather incidents. That’s not a political statement, that is a factual statement. Anyone who says that there is not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality. . . . I said to the president kiddingly the other day we have a one hundred year flood every two years now. So, this city doesn’t have experience with this type of weather pattern. . . . I think it’s something we’re going to have to take into consideration, and educate ourselves. And as we’re going through the reconstruction and rebuilding, we’re going to have to find ways to build this city back stronger and better than ever before. . . . We have a new reality when it comes to these weather patterns. We have an old infrastructure and old systems, and that is not a good combination. And that is one of the lessons I’m going to take away from this. That and the courage of New Yorkers and the spirit of community of New Yorkers . . .

Thank you, Governor Cuomo. We have been making the same point ourselves (see here and here), but it makes a much bigger impact when the governor of New York says that climate change is behind the “dramatic change in weather patterns”—especially when the presidential candidates dare not face the fact or call it by its name.

Gov. Cuomo covered many other important points as well. More about his remarks here (see 12:56 p.m., Oct. 30).

Al Gore: “Dirty Energy Makes Dirty Weather”

Another heavy hitter spoke out today where candidates fear to tread. Former vice president Al Gore contributed a “Statement on Hurricane Sandy”:

Scientists tell us that by continually dumping 90 million tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere every single day, we are altering the environment in which all storms develop. As the oceans and atmosphere continue to warm, storms are becoming more energetic and powerful. . . . 

Sandy was also affected by other symptoms of the climate crisis. As the hurricane approached the East Coast, it gathered strength from abnormally warm coastal waters. At the same time, Sandy’s storm surge was worsened by a century of sea level rise. Scientists tell us that if we do not reduce our emissions, these problems will only grow worse. 

Hurricane Sandy is a disturbing sign of things to come. We must heed this warning and act quickly to solve the climate crisis. Dirty energy makes dirty weather.

Al Gore, “Statement on Hurricane Sandy

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Hurricane Watch in New York City

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Extreme Weather Coming Soon to an Eastern Seaboard Near You

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“We have a tropical hurricane merging, or folding in, with a mid-latitude weather system, one of those low pressure systems that track across the country. The two systems’ dynamics are very different and when they occasionally fold together, they actually produce the worst characteristics of both. . . . This is the same thing that happened during the perfect storm of 1991 [as popularized by author Sebastian Junger], and at roughly the same time.” —Barry Keim, Louisiana State Climatologist, quoted by Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune

“Sandy also is different in its size, rivaling the largest cyclones ever recorded around the globe, Keim said, with hurricane-force winds extending outward 175 miles from its center and tropical storm-force winds extending out 485 miles.” —Mark Schleifstein, Times-Picayune

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Last year when Hurricane Irene was barreling down on the East Coast—on the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, as it happened—we were (ironically) safe from the storm, attending the Rising Tide conference in New Orleans. Irene, a Category 1 hurricane when it hit the East Coast, caused over $15 billion in damage and left many in the Northeast without power for a week or more. Now a bigger and badder storm, 900 miles across, is taking aim at the Atlantic Coast, from North Carolina to Connecticut, and low-lying areas around New Jersey and New York City and Long Island are being evacuated, with warnings of dangerously high sea water. Storm surge could reach 11 feet in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound.

The New York City subway and bus system (MTA) has been shut down as of 7:00 p.m. Sunday by order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with the Long Island Rail Road and Metro North Railroad. That’s 468 subway stations going dark, and officials warn that trains may not run again until Wednesday. (The MTA normally moves about 8.5 million passengers a day.) Schools and offices are closed in New York City and around the metropolitan area for Monday, and we’ll see about Tuesday. Evacuations have been ordered for the lowest-elevation areas shown in red on the map above. Workers are laying down plywood over subway air vents on city sidewalks to prevent or lessen flooding in the subway tunnels, many of which are below sea level—some far below.

Oct. 29 update: The New York Times reports that Amtrak has canceled most trains on the Eastern Seaboard. Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia mass transit systems and New Jersey Transit are also shutting down till the storm passes. • NYT live updates here. • Click here for a NOAA animation of satellite observations showing Hurricane Sandy in motion Oct. 26–29. • NASA images here.

2012’s Extreme Weather Triggered Decades Ago

It is often not possible to tie any given weather event directly to man-made climate change, so we cannot say at this point whether this oncoming storm is intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. But Hurricane Sandy is coming rather late in the hurricane season (June 1–Nov. 30), and it’s the second hurricane in 14 months to strike the East Coast in a big way. The point of climate change is not just “global warming,” but extreme weather, as in the frequent tornadoes that pummeled America’s midsection in the spring of 2011 (see “Wrath of God? : Global Warming and Extreme Weather”).

In this year that saw widespread drought and crop failures in the United States, with over a thousand counties in 26 states declared natural disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—the largest such designation ever—the two mainstream presidential candidates have avoided even uttering the word “environment,” unless in reference to “the business environment.” Climate change denial expands (see “Ides of March” below) even as the ice caps’ summer melts reach alarming new records.

[In a GOP primary debate, however, Mitt Romney said that emergency management should be handed over to the states. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction.” Including disaster relief? the moderator asked. “We cannot . . . afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.” Historical note: It was in response to persistent pleas from state governors that President Jimmy Carter established FEMA in 1979.]

During the peak of this summer’s heat blast, New Yorker environmental reporter Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out one of the most alarming facts about the extreme weather: As hot as it was this summer, the record-setting heat of 2012 was set in motion decades ago:

One of the most salient—but also, unfortunately, most counterintuitive—aspects of global warming is that it operates on what amounts to a time delay. Behind this summer’s heat are greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. Before many effects of today’s emissions are felt, it will be time for the Summer Olympics of 2048. (Scientists refer to this as the “commitment to warming.”) What’s at stake is where things go from there. It is quite possible that by the end of the century we could, without even really trying, engineer the return of the sort of climate that hasn’t been seen on earth since the Eocene, some fifty million years ago.

Along with the heat and the drought and the super derecho, the country this summer is also enduring a Presidential campaign. So far, the words “climate change” have barely been uttered. This is not an oversight. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen to remain silent on the issue, presumably because they see it as just too big a bummer.

And so, while farmers wait for rain and this season’s corn crop withers on the stalk, the familiar disconnect continues. There’s no discussion of what could be done to avert the worst effects of climate change, even as the insanity of doing nothing becomes increasingly obvious.

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Fun in Philly: Getting Out the Vote, Door to Door

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Volunteering Relieves Election Anxiety

[cross-posted at Daily Kos]

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Everyone knows the best cure for blues or worries is work. In the same way, the best antidote for election anxiety is volunteering and going door to door, making phone calls from a roomful of other volunteers. Yes-We-Can hope loves company. Above all, get out and do something. Action is empowering: too busy to worry, you feel less anxious. Working with others, you feel a part of something bigger: a good cause, the good fight.

And so, on Saturday morning on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan we boarded an Obama bus for Philadelphia, one of several carrying hundreds of Obama-Biden campaign volunteers from New York City into Pennsylvania. Our bus, with only one or two empty seats, brought about 25 of us to the Obama for America field office in the Ogontz neighborhood of northwest Philadelphia (staffed by friendly Lynn, above, among others) and the other 25 went to Cheltenham Township.

On a sunny, beautiful clear afternoon, we set out in teams of two each, with clipboards and maps and lists of Obama supporters or previous voters, with about 75 or more doorbells to ring and people to talk to. We were supplied with packets of Commit to Vote cards and small brochures about Obama-Biden’s commitment to a strong middle class—“building an economy from the middle class out”—and the importance of voting, with the date Nov. 6 prominent on the front.

Be Sure to Vote, and Please Volunteer If You Can

The objectives in this African-American neighborhood—as in every community in every state—were (1) to ask if President Obama can count on your support on November 6 (in this neighborhood, the answer was Yes He Can), and (2) to encourage supporters to get involved and volunteer a few hours or more for the campaign. Most everyone said they would be voting. We also asked the residents to tell their friends and family to be sure to get out and vote. Many yards and windows held Obama-Biden signs and even more for state representative Dwight Evans and Barack Obama (see below). We made sure they knew where the polling place was—they all knew where to go—and emphasized that it was not necessary to show an I.D. to vote. (The state supreme court recently ruled against the Pennsylvania state legislature’s recent law requiring voter I.D., but the court unhelpfully decided that polling place workers could ask to see an I.D. Most of the people we spoke with had been following the news and were aware that they did not need to bring an I.D., though more than a few said they would bring a driver’s license or other I.D. with them anyway.)

Because of the nice weather—and because more than a few people have to work on Saturdays—many were not at home. By our count, we knocked on 93 doors and spoke with about 40 voters, all of whom said they supported the president “strongly” and promised they would vote. Though a few were wary about opening the door, most were pleased to be visited and to be asked for their vote.

20th Street, Ogontz neighborhood, northwest Philadelphia

 

We kept noticing as we talked to people in this neighborhood the pride they feel in “our president,” and kept contrasting that with the attitude toward this community, if any at all, from the Republican party. This is a solidly middle-class neighborhood of mostly homeowners, well-kept gardens and neat front yards. How well will this community fare if yet another Republican administration cutting taxes on the wealthy and forcing austerity on everyone else takes power in the White House and drives its agenda through Congress? Does Mitt Romney even know these good people exist? They are all too aware of him and what he would mean for them and their families.

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On the way back to New York, one of the group leaders told us that the hundreds of volunteers on this one day alone reached tens of thousands of households, and that impact is magnified as the people contacted spread the word and urge friends and family to vote. He invited volunteers to step up to the wireless microphone and tell stories about their experiences. One said that she and her group stopped in for lunch at a neighborhood restaurant. They were the only white people in the place, but were welcome all the same. When the restaurant owner learned that they were Obama campaign volunteers, she refused to take their money. “You all are working for us; we just want to say thank you.” Another told of a college professor in her seventies who rolled down her car window and said, “Anything you can do to keep those [expletive deleted]’s out of the White House is just fine with me.”

We’ll be back on the beat in the coming weekends. The contact with voters is warming, affirming, makes you feel good.  You discover new parts of America and see with your own eyes what a difference an administration makes. Will there be investment and development in these communities, or neglect? Hope and pride, or something not so good?

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Our Barack Is Back—and We’ve Got His Back

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Clearly Obama

President Obama listens as the human Etch A Sketch changes positions yet again during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, Oct. 16, 2012.

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. . . when [Romney] said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility—think about who he was talking about: folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives, veterans who’ve sacrificed for this country, students . . . , soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now, people who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don’t make enough income. . . .  

And when my grandfather fought in World War II and he came back and he got a GI Bill and that allowed him to go to college, that wasn’t a handout. That was something that advanced the entire country, and I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That’s why I’m asking for your vote and that’s why I’m asking for another four years. —President Barack Obama, closing remarks of 2nd presidential debate, Oct. 16, 2012

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We’ll spare you from a detailed review of President Obama’s performance in Tuesday night’s debate, about which many others have written eloquently (see below), but we are more than delighted to see again the tough, focused fighter his supporters sorely missed in Round One. We’ll just say we loved the way the president skipped the niceties and went directly on the attack:

Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s been his philosophy in the private sector; that’s been his philosophy as govqernor; that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate. You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less. You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money. 

That’s exactly the philosophy that we’ve seen in place for the last decade. That’s what’s been squeezing middle-class families. And we have fought back for four years to get out of that mess, and the last thing we need to do is to go back to the very same policies that got us there.

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Republicans Against Medicare: A Long, Mean History

Monday, October 15th, 2012

“. . . let’s be brutally honest here. The Romney-Ryan position on health care is that many millions of Americans must be denied health insurance, and millions more deprived of the security Medicare now provides, in order to save money. At the same time, of course, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. So a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.” —Paul Krugman, “Death By Ideology” [our emphasis]

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Maybe You Know Someone Whose Life Depends on Medicare

In a column showing that Paul Ryan himself once used the term “voucher” to describe his plan to replace Medicare with something considerably less beneficial, Paul Krugman refutes Romney and Ryan’s claims that no one lacking money for health care will have to go without care. As the compassionate conservative George W. Bush similarly assured us, “[P]eople have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.” Before the Republicans decided that euphemisms like “guaranteed benefit” sound better, before the Democrats turned “voucher” into a pejorative, Paul Ryan used the term himself. Last week Romney said:

[Y]ou go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital. . . We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.

(By the way, can we just point out that the proper pronoun when referring to human beings is who, not that? It’s called a personal pronoun. Almost every time we hear that instead of who, it is in a context of less-than-kind-regard for the people being referred to. It’s a distancing term. Watch for it.)

In the vice presidential debate on Thursday night, Joe Biden looked into the camera and appealed to the American voter:

. . . these guys haven’t been big on Medicare from the beginning. Their party’s not been big on Medicare from the beginning. And they’ve always been about Social Security as little as you can do. Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this? A man who introduced a bill that would raise [seniors’ required contributions to Medicare] $6,400 a year, knowing it and passing it, and Romney saying he’d sign it? Or me and the president? . . . Folks, follow your instincts on this one. [full transcript here]

The vice president has a good point here: Shouldn’t we trust the party that designed and pushed for Medicare—and Social Security, not to mention the WPA, the minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and many other social safety net programs—to protect this life-saving program, rather than the party that has long fought against it? Look at how the Republicans in Congress voted for or against Medicare in 1965, compared with the Democrats—and consider that only 3 Republicans voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in 2009, and have voted 33 times to repeal it:

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Among the congressional Republicans who voted against the Medicare bill in 1965 were George H. W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater, and Strom Thurmond. And as early as 1961, then private citizen Ronald Reagan was speaking out against “socialized medicine.” His LP (shown above) was part of “Operation Coffee Cup,” a stealth campaign in the late 1950s and early ’60s sponsored by the American Medical Association to oppose the expansion of Social Security. Click here and here for a brief history of Republican efforts to cut or kill Medicare.

Republicans can call it “socialized medicine”—and they probably always will—but consider this:

Prior to Medicare, “about one-half of America’s seniors did not have hospital insurance,” “more than one in four elderly were estimated to go without medical care due to cost concerns,” and one in three seniors were living in poverty. Today, nearly all seniors have access to affordable health care and only about 14 percent of seniors are below the poverty line.

Don’t Cut Medicare—Expand It!

Further, a 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 53% of Americans “strongly” favor expanding Medicare coverage to those aged 55 to 64, and an additional 26% support it “somewhat.” (see page 4). This is an idea pitched by John Kerry when he was running for president in 2004. Kerry suggested enrolling children in Medicare and lowering the age for adults by 10 years, and incrementally moving the eligibility up for the young and downward in age for older Americans, and eventually meeting in the middle so that all Americans would be covered. We love this idea and have often written to members of Congress to support it. We urge you to join us. We should not only protect Medicare as it is, but go stronger and push for wider coverage and fuller funding.

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In closing, we would like to quote a governor of the great state of Massachusetts:

There ought to be enough money to help people get insurance because an insured individual has a better chance of having an excellent medical experience than the one who has not. An insured individual is more likely to go to a primary care physician or a clinic to get evaluated for their conditions and to get early treatment, to get pharmaceutical treatment, as opposed to showing up in the emergency room where the treatment is more expensive and less effective than if they got preventive and primary care.

—Gov. Mitt Romney, address to Chamber of Commerce, April 2006

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President Lyndon B. Johnson, with First Lady Lady Bird Johnson behind him (in blue), and former President Harry S Truman at his right, signs the Medicare bill into law, July 30, 1965.

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No Core Beliefs: “The Most Dangerous Opponent”

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

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“His legendary flip-flops aren’t the lies of a bumbling opportunist—they’re the confident prevarications of a man untroubled by misleading the nonbeliever in pursuit of a single, all-consuming goal. Romney has a vision, and he’s trying for something big: We’ve just been too slow to sort out what it is, just as we’ve been slow to grasp the roots of the radical economic changes that have swept the country in the last generation.” —Matt Taibbi, “Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital”

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Shape-Shifting as a Business Strategy

To paraphrase what Mary McCarthy once said about Lillian Hellman, every word out of Mitt Romney’s mouth is a lie, “including and and the.”

We’ve been meaning for some time to draw attention to Matt Taibbi’s excellent piece on the audacity of Romney’s mendacity for Rolling Stone titled “Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital.” Soon we will go into the business practices side of the article, and the seriously horrifying implications for American workers and the U.S. economy—at least for the 99%. But for now we want to point to Taibbi’s remarks on Romney’s casual readiness to say whatever it takes to whomever he’s addressing, regardless of previous statements, promises, or policies. Read the article and pass it on to anyone and everyone who might be considering voting for Romney, or who wants to make sure Romney gets not one more vote than can be avoided.

Mitt Romney, it turns out, is the perfect frontman for Wall Street’s greed revolution. . . . He’s Gordon Gekko, but a new and improved version, with better PR—and a bigger goal. A takeover artist all his life, Romney is now trying to take over America itself. And if his own history is any guide, we’ll all end up paying for the acquisition. . . . 

[Romney’s] infamous changes of stance are not little wispy ideological alterations of a few degrees here or there—they are perfect and absolute mathematical reversals, as in “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country” and “I am firmly pro-life.” Yet unlike other politicians, who at least recognize that saying completely contradictory things presents a political problem, Romney seems genuinely puzzled by the public’s insistence that he be consistent. “I’m not going to apologize for having changed my mind,” he likes to say.

A member of Romney’s campaign famously remarked—at an RNC breakfast sponsored by ABC News and Yahoo News, no less—“We’re not going let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Romney’s first debate performance, in which he surprised the president by pretending to be a sunny moderate, after a year of insisting he was “extremely conservative,” was cheerfully free of facts or regard for his previous utterances. How could he possibly remember all the positions he has held on any given topic? Steve Benen’s “Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity” is up to volume XXXVII as of Oct. 5.

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Reserved Professor Obama Misses Opportunities, and Slippery Romney Takes ’Em

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Is President Overconfident? (He Shouldn’t Be.)

We want to put down a few first impressions about last night’s first presidential debate before we look at what anyone else has said.

Mitt Romney performed with more energy and desire to win than did President Obama. Romney dissembled, evaded, distorted, and denied truths, as we would expect, but he showed admirable aggressiveness—fire in the belly. He cavalierly blew through the time limits like a rich glutton who feels entitled to eat all the food in a restaurant just because he can afford it all, and to hell with the other customers. But he was there to win, and, setting aside accuracy, honesty, and specificity, maybe he deserved to (last night—not on November 6!).

Skipping many opportunities to attack Romney, the president acted as though he’s above going on the offensive. He failed to point out Romney’s dismal job-creation record as governor of Massachusetts and his impressive job-destruction record at Bain Capital. Unbelievably, Obama neglected to charge that a candidate who has written off 47 percent of the American public cannot care too much about creating jobs and improving opportunities for the American people. The president was far too slow to bring up the name Paul Ryan, who embodies the harshness of G.O.P. budget priorities—a huge missed opportunity. He never once mentioned the 100% obstruction of the Republicans in Congress, not even when Romney faulted him for pushing through a health care reform bill that had no G.O.P. support. How could Obama not say this? When they talked about the budget and taxes, he was too courteous to mention that super-rich Romney has hidden his own tax payments from the public (and possibly from the U.S. Treasury) like no candidate in recent memory.

We sure hope President Obama doesn’t think he’s got this election in the bag, after seeing all the favorable polls in recent weeks.

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