Friday, June 7, 2013

Obama, Bush | Noah Daponte-Smith

Two days ago, Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian revealed that the Obama Administration, through the National Security Agency, has been seizing records from telephone companies and websites. Essentially, this is a continuation of the Bush Administration's NSA domestic spying, under which the NSA intercepted and eavesdropped upon American citizens' private calls. Under Obama, secret courts have ordered phone companies to hand over all records of calls, giving the government what it calls "metadata" - information regarding phone numbers, callers, and call length.

Obama, in the idealistic days of 2008, campaigned in favor of government transparency. He denounced Bush's spy programs, vowing that he, as President, would work to cut down on such programs and ensure that the government would be more open to the people whom it represents. He has utterly failed to make good on this promise. Instead, he has continued the Bush-era program he claimed to despise. By working to form a legal justification of the program - which has yet to be released or leaked - he has in fact strengthened the call-spying program's foundations. Obama bears more and more semblance to Bush as the days go on, especially in the foreign-policy sphere. Now, he even incorporates Bush's systematic violation of civil liberties, which inflamed liberals. Obama in turn risks angering the liberals who form his most solid base - he risks alienating the bedrock of the Democratic Party itself.

Bush's NSA domestic spy programs were a sort of Pandora's Box - once the possibility had been exposed, it could never be contained. Obama, though he may have campaigned against the NSA's spying, could not help but to give in to the tempting lure of the program. To an extent, this is understandable: He wishes to protect the nation from threats, both foreign and domestic, and he sees it fit to use all the faculties he has available to him.

Obama needs to take this NSA episode to heart, however, when he speaks about winding down the War on Terror and decreasing the usage of drones for lethal strikes. In less than four years, Obama will no longer be President, and a Republican may very well sit in the Oval Office. Obama's counterterrorism policies have awakened knowledge of the power of the drone to fight terrorists in the Yemeni desert with no loss of life on the American side. Obama, in his idealistic way, claims that he wishes to reduce the usage of drones, and he certainly make accomplish this during his term. But the next occupant of the White House, seeing the counterterrorism success his predecessor achieved with the usage of drones, may simply revert back to the old ways. Certainly, this is what has occurred with Obama - the Democrat, recognizing the merit of the Republican's strategies, has chosen to continue those policies, regardless of his previous rhetoric. Obama's drone program has given the United States a nudge towards a very slippery slope indeed, and one down which an unfortunate tumble is all too likely. For the precedent has been set, and this same scenario has played out once before, and we have seen how the successor cannot resist the temptation of the predecessor's policies.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Teenager in Yemen | Noah Daponte-Smith

The White House yesterday finally admitted that CIA drones have killed four American citizens in recent years - the Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in Yemen in 2011, being the biggest name in the group. The other three citizens killed are lesser-known, but the loss of their lives might be even more significant than was the loss of al-Awlaki's.

Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the son of Anwar, was one of the four American citizens killed. Liberals have assailed Obama for the termination and neutralization of Anwar, but the Administration has responded by saying that Anwar was a security risk, and that the CIA therefore was justified in his killing. Though I do not buy into this argument, there is certainly some ambiguity in Anwar's killing. His assassination was neither wholly evil nor wholly good. But the murder of his son in the same drone strike can be classified into such a black-and-white system. Abdulrahman was only sixteen years old when a CIA drone took his life. He was living with his father in Yemen, and had committed no crime. Indeed, the Administration itself has admitted that Abdulrahman's death was a mistake, and this is a truism which all parties can support. We must not condone the unwarranted, unjustifiable killing of teenagers, regardless of the alleged crimes of their fathers.

Obama's evident sadness over Abdulrahman's killing shows us that he believes the action was a mistake. But it is not enough simply to express remorse, to utter a curt apology and move on. The Administration has killed an innocent 16-year-old boy, an American citizen entitled to the coveted rights of due process and the freedom to live a long life, only because he lived with a father who may or may not have incited radical Islamist violence against the United States. Abdulrahman's killing amounts to nothing short of murder, and to condone for murder requires far more than an apology. Obama, essentially, in his outright support for and justification of the drone program, is culpable in the murder of an innocent teenager. Were a police officer to mortally wound a young bystander, that police officer would face legal repercussions. Obama has so far faced none, and it appears that this admonishable status quo will remain. But we must not allow this to be the case. Obama, the CIA, and the Administration bear the moral baggage that comes with the murder of an innocent teenager, and I would applaud a legal case - a prosecution for murder - brought against the Administration.

The War on Terror does not necessitate the killing of innocent bystanders. National security does not require the death of American citizens who have committed no crime. Obama is sworn to uphold the law of the United States, and constitutionally must do so. Obama must atone for his actions; we must allow no murder to go unprosecuted, no killing to go overlooked.

Update (around 6 pm): Obama, in his speech regarding the War on Terror today, said the following:
This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.
Well, Mr. Obama, you have violated your own dogma. Your government has, in fact, targeted and killed four U.S. citizens, three of whom as collateral damage, without due process. Your actions cannot be reconciled with your wars. So live up to your rhetoric, and face in full the consequences of your killing of Abdulrahman.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Impeach Eric Holder | Noah Daponte-Smith

The Obama Administration has found itself rocked by scandals in recent weeks. This is nothing new. The administration got off to a good start in 2009 and 2010, promising to close Guantanamo Bay and securing passage of the Affordable Care Act. But various terrorist plots forced the administration to renege upon its promise to close the prison, and from there the malaise spread. Obama has been vociferous in its prosecution of whistle-blowers, and the Justice Department has invoked the Espionage Act of 1917 more than any other President combined since Wilson. Today, numerous scandals later - Operation Fast and Furious, the drone strikes, the Benghazi debacle - two more scandals have arisen: the IRS' targeting of conservative groups for added scrutiny, and the Justice Department's secret seizure of the Associated Press' telephone records. The latter scandal should be considered serious reason for the impeachment of Eric Holder, the attorney general.

The freedom of the press is a right essential to the persistence of American democracy. Our Founders enshrined the press' autonomy in the First Amendment, but today Eric Holder has seen fit to violate that amendment and threaten the underpinnings of our democratic system. Glenn Greenwald's recent column in The Guardian is a particularly good summary of the AP scandal. In short, the AP in 2012 revealed the the CIA had thwarted a terrorist plot against the United States. This article contained leaked information, and the CIA, intent on locating the source of the leak, secretly seized the phone records of AP journalists. Whether the DOJ had a subpoena remains unclear. I'll let Greenwald explain the significance of the incident:
What makes the DOJ's actions so stunning here is its breadth. It's the opposite of a narrowly tailored and limited scope. It's a massive, sweeping, boundless invasion which enables the US government to learn the identity of every person whom multiple AP journalists and editors have called for a two-month period. 
The DOJ took possession, it seems, obtained the phone records - not just the office lines, but also home and cell phones - of AP journalists for a two-month span, possibly without any sort of judicial authorization. This sort of action evokes memories of Bush's wiretapping policy, universally maligned by liberals. The DOJ's actions are essentially no different, and they may actually be worse, since the press is among the entities most vital to the preservation of democracy, and ought to be provided with additional safeguards against violations such as this one.

Eric Holder presides over the Department of Justice. He is entrusted with the fair and just application of the law. And he has massively failed in his duties in this regard. The White House claims that it had nothing to do with the seizure and was unaware that it even happened. If this is true, then Holder must take full responsibility for the violation of civil liberties, and ought to resign, or else be justly impeached by the House and convincted by the Senate. Holder claims that he had little involvement with the seizure, since he recused himself from the investigation in the early stages. Even if this is true, he ought to resign or be impeached. He claims that it was a matter of national security, but this point bears little weight. Regardless of the gravity of the situation - and it is clear that the AP report was not horribly important, and would not have dramatically hurt the state's ability to keep secrets - the liberties of the press must be protected. And if it was indeed a matter of national security, then why was the Department of Justice the furthest extent of the matter - in short, why was the President not involved? After all, it is in him that we place our trust to protect the security and safety of our country.

Impeach Eric Holder. He and his department conducted a massive breach of democratic rights He violated the First Amendment's guarantee of the freedom of the press and infringed upon the civil liberties of private citizens. He should resign from his post, and if he does not do so, then the House should take it upon itself to impeach him, and the Senate should follow through with a conviction.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Death in Dhaka | Max Bloom

Who is Sohel Rana? Not many Americans could tell you. Even the very well-aware would have a hard time placing the name - Sana does not frequently appear in the New York Times (a few regional articles excepted nor is his name featured on CNN or Fox. His face does not grace the cover of TIME Magazine or The Atlantic - there would be scant enough grace in such a cover though, at least for those who have successfully linked Sana's face with mass murder. For 150 million Bangladeshis have heard of Rohel Sana.

Who is Sohel Rana? He is the owner of the Rana Plaza factory complex in the city of Savar, a suburb of Dhaka. With criminal connections, power, and money, Rana bullied and bribed politicians to permit cheap (and shoddy) construction of the building. Last week, cracks were discovered in the building and local authorities ordered its evacuation and closure.  But the owners of the garment factories within Rana Plaza balked at losing days of production. The collapse was predictable; 547 have been found dead and the number increases day by day.

We rely on desperately underpaid workers at complexes such as Rana Plaza for our T-shirts and blue jeans - after China, Bangladesh is the world's largest apparel exporter. Bangladesh relies on the same workers for its economic survival - textiles account for 80% of the nation's exports. The workers themselves need the factories: for the 40% of Bangladesh's industrial workforce producing textiles, the alternative is unemployment and unemployment in a nation such as Bangladesh frequently means starvation. If they demand higher wages or safer working conditions, factory managers can lay them off or move elsewhere. There is no such thing as international labor laws; collective bargaining in third world nations would only lead to unemployment as factories moved away.

All this insures that people continue to work in terrible conditions. The Rana Plaza collapse was the third deadly incident in six months for the labor force of Bangladesh. It will not be the last.

Characteristically, the European Union has threatened to penalize Bangladesh for weak enforcement of labor safety laws. Doing so, of course, would ensure greater tragedy for a nation too poor to adequately police its industry, too needy to flirt with unemployment. The key, of course, lies in the West. Western brands were responsible for calling in garment workers before the building collapsed. The fault lies with them - and, as Bangladesh knows - with Sohel Rana. Any equitable system of international policy would fault the powerful criminals and not the powerless victims. Brands could be fined for failing to adhere to basic safety laws; it might be sensible to extradite their leaders to face legal responsibility for criminal actions.

But, to be honest, I don't hold out much hope for any of these happening. There are many who benefit from the existing power structure; those who suffer don't have much of a voice with which to complain. Millions marched in Dhaka last week - did you hear them? And the West, hundreds of millions strong, with the conscience of the globe on its shoulders, stays silent.

Excess and Starvation | Noah Daponte-Smith

Theo's latest piece primarily discussed intervention in the Syrian Civil War, but one sentence stuck out to me - "This trend of disregard has permeated our culture." He's right. This disturbing trend has polluted our actions towards foreign nations, but such a pollution can be difficult to qualify. What is easily qualifiable, however, is how this trend has affected our own behavior. We can see the effects everywhere - in America's collective gluttony, compulsive hoarding of unnecessary goods, and fixation upon the attainment of material wealth.

America today grows more food than it has ever grown. Farming methods have reached a point of efficiency unmatched in previous human history. Yet millions of humans starve each day. In the recent Sahel famine hundreds of thousands of children died from hunger while in America we devoted an inordinate amount of attention to our expanding waistlines. The irony is self-evident. America, the land of plenty, refused to help the starving Sahel, even though our silos overflow with grain. Peter Singer would tell us we are implicated in the murder of these children, and he is correct.

America needs to correct its eating habits. They're murdering us, in the form of obesity and heart disease and the like, and they're murdering starving people across the world. While in my heart of hearts I support some rather radical measures (like year-round food rationing, with the surplus production going to famine-ridden countries) the steps we can take are simple and relatively low-suffering. First off, we can eat less, and save both ourselves and the starving. We must eat less meat - a disturbingly large quantity of our grain goes to feed animals that will later be killed, making meat production an enormously inefficient and flawed process. All excess should be donated to poor countries.

For many people, taking the steps of sending monetary aid and directly intervening in a country's domestic politics is an insurmountable barrier. But to send food is another matter altogether - remember, we sent grain to the Soviet Union, even at the height of the Cold War. And every side benefits from such an arrangement. America and the West can take a vital step towards solving their impending obesity crises, and the starving peoples of Africa and Asia can take a vital step towards solving the problems of malnutrition and starvation. It would require sacrifice on our part, but would relieve us of the moral burden of implicit involvement in what effectively amount to nothing less than murder.

Crime, Apathy, Inefficacy | Theodore Wuest

Early this morning, Israel bombed a shipment of missiles in Syria. These arms were being sent by Iran to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who is struggling to remain in power in his divided, war-torn country. For two years now, he has used conventional forces, artillery shelling, missile strikes, and (more recently) chemical weapons against his people to maintain his desperate despotism. Tens of thousands have died; an overwhelming majority of casualties were civilians.

There has been no intervention.

The US and the rest of NATO have watched as Assad's tanks rolled over red line after red line. They have watched as China, Iran, and Russia funneled weapons into Assad's open arms. They have watched as, day by day, the opposition has grown more radical and more impossible to support. They have watched bombs fall on frightened faces in Homs and sacred places in Damascus.

The Israeli strike was executed not in support of the opposition, but in apprehension of Hezbollah receiving the weapons next. Syrian refugees have been largely ignored by the West as they rioted over conditions and endured great hardship.

This is not an unprecedented apathy. During the atrocities that occurred with the breakup of Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda, Western governments were criminally slow to act, and probably only acted because of the media outcry spurring them on.

And coverage of the Syrian civil war has dwindled to almost naught in major media outlets, with the occasional exception of an equivocal statement or a huge action like that of Israel. Civilian casualties are no longer reported; the toppling of the minaret of the historic Umayyad mosque was hardly mentioned.

Crime and apathy are not unique to Syria. There are currently eighteen cases in the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Africa. Atrocities continue in Mali, in Uganda, in the DRC and the CAR. Our culture is complicit with our government in the apathy.

But why? Why are crimes against humanity ignored in our time? One could argue that cultural and geographical differences screen us from empathizing with oppressed groups half a world away. This argument weakens when one considers that fifteen years ago, huge activist movements on behalf of the Rwandan or Bosnian or Serbian people were able to prompt media coverage and government action. If anything, it should be easier for us to mobilize as a culture today, what with the development of the internet and social media. Causes can touch many more people with much less effort: the phenomena of Kony 2012, Occupy Wall Street, and the Steubenville rapists are proof of that. But we appear incapable of mustering 1990s-level movements in favor of Syrian or Malian intervention, or simple humanitarian aid for victims of the world's many war crimes. What has changed in fifteen years?

We have changed. We have become numb. And the global war on terror has been our sedative. The horror that was 9/11 had a radical effect on our perception of war crimes and international law. Osama bin Laden was guilty of a crime against humanity. If he had been pursued as such, the US could have invoked the universal ideals and conventions common to all countries against him. Instead, the Bush and Obama administrations have treated the Geneva Convention like a suggestion, the ICC like an anti-American conspiracy. Osama Bin Laden was not pursued as an international criminal, but rather as an unlawful combatant. Blatant disregard for international law was the trademark of the fight against insurgency in Iraq, with prisons in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib turned into horrid hellholes of human rights abuses. We continue to routinely assassinate without trial radical Islamists who pose no direct threat to our homeland, often with many civilian casualties.

This trend of disregard has permeated our culture. We cannot hold others to the standards of international law when we ourselves ignore it. We have seen and supported our government's violations of those laws; it would be naive to treat them as incorrigible ideals now.

The question we are now confronted with is one of empathy. Can we, as a culture, overcome apathy, overcome guilt, overcome our sluggish governments, with empathy for the victims of war crimes? The answer, so far, has been no.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Post Debate (Because You Care) | Theodore Wuest

After this wildly exciting, enthralling debate, which approximately six hundred Americans watched, we should reconsider the election, and, indeed, our own personal, political, and theological philosophies.


So what actually happened? I'll give a point by point summary, because the probability that you saw this debate is quite low.

Libya: Romney comes out of the gate with a criticism of the Administration's attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood. I'm sorry, to oppose the Brotherhood in Egypt is to oppose democracy, American principles, the principles of the French Revolution, the ideas of John Locke. Maybe it's not that sentimental, but still. The Brotherhood was elected democratically. Anyway, tangent over. New tangent: why is it a complete anathema to be against aggressive support of Israel? The Israeli government is belligerent and inflammatory. I'm not pro-Iran, but we should really be evaluating our continued tolerance of Bibi. Bowing to Israel is projecting just as weak of an image as bowing to any of our enemies.

Oh yeah, no one actually talked about Libya. That was strange.

Syria: Obama pats himself on the back for all of the insubstantial, insignificant, pathetic, and weak efforts made on behalf of the opposition. He is against military action, but still loves Israel. Romney agrees, and loves "leadership". Our lack of action is not the kind of leadership the Syrian people need.

Egypt: Obama is proud of things the US has done there. But he really just wants to talk about domestic issues. In the foreign policy debate. Romney demonstrates his really brilliant 20/20 hindsight, and criticizes Obama for being a pansy. About what, we're not sure.

America: Despite the United States sometimes seeming like a foreign country culturally, it's not. Which makes me wonder why we're talking about domestic issues in this foreign policy debate. Anyway, all of the points articulated in these sections were just reiterated with less ardor than they were last debate. Moving on. But before I do, I would like to mention that the focus on the number of naval ships in the military is really out of date and unnecessary. We are powerful. We are fine.

Israel and Iran: Well, Obama loves Israel. He, however, debunks rumors of a homo-erotic relationship between himself and Netanyahu. But, because he and Romney have very similar positions on this topic, he attempts to state all of Romney's points before Romney has a chance to. Romney repeats them anyway. Obama continues condescendingly for a minute or two, before he and Romney get into a relatively heated conversation about the perhaps fabricated apology tour. Then again, Finland is relatively heated compared to Svalbard. And this debate has been quite the Svalbard with respect to inter-candidate confrontation.

Anyway, Obama closes the section with stale points about Romney being a flip-flop wearer and Osama Bin-Laden being a corpse.

Afghanistan: Both of them have the exact same position on the withdrawal deadline, but Obama takes a much longer time saying it. While Romney not only smiles, but chuckles. He's really got to watch that. Sadly, the most interesting part of the debate came here, when Schieffer, the moderator (otherwise quite competent), talked about killing Obama bin-Laden. The country (rather, the 600 viewers), collectively groaned.

Pakistan: They have the same position.

Drones: They have the same position. However, Obama had an embarrassing moment in which, searching for a subject for a sentence in which the US did something presumably positive in the world, said, "This nation-- me-- my administration..." People think Romney's conceited?

China: Obama and Romney are strong men. They'll use tough words on China. Not expletives, but substitutes like "darn", "gosh", "golly", and "currency manipulator". Anyway, Romney had an amusing moment where he used hand gestures to describe how much "stuff" China sells to us and vice versa. Not a gaffe, but vaguely meme-worthy. Obama, needing to run off the clock, piled on the ad hominem attacks about Romney's investments, and Romney was duly offended. They disagree about Romney's position on the auto industry, at which point Romney coins a phrase I hope will be reused often: Obama's allegations are "the height of silliness."

Frankly, I think it was the height of silliness to invest two hours watching and writing about this debate. I think Obama came out slightly on top with a closing statement that was sentimental enough to recall 2008's candidate, but overall, the debate was a tie. And with a tie, the man with the best hair wins. Romney 2012.

Update : Homework o' Clock | AG


Friday, October 19, 2012

Tidbit on Rove and Gibbs | Theodore Wuest

At a conference, one of my parents attained the signatures of Karl Rove and Robert Gibbs. Moral or political judgments aside, it's pretty cool.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cosmetics, Again | Theodore Wuest

As I sit before the screen, my eyes glaze over and my head sags, as the fatigue from the ten minutes of overtime debate sinks into my brain. The Autumnal Crush is the soundtrack for my late night melancholy.

Alright, it's not that melodramatic. Frankly, I'm enthused about everything that happened tonight, except those last ten minutes.

This started as the tightest debate this election. Both candidates were articulate, smooth-speaking, and well-dressed. Although it's really a systematic failure if they're not well-dressed. It continued like this until the crux, the climax, the pinnacle, the deciding moment of the debate. Benghazi. Obama. A Rose Garden. Misconstrued facts. That was one of the most embarrassing moments of the campaign. As the hall laughed at him, Romney became flustered and weak; he never recovered his charisma. Candy Crowley took the opportunity to begin letting Obama take over the stage, and he gladly obliged her. The last half hour was distinguished by Obama's exceedingly long orations and a failure on the part of the moderator to enforce debate rules. Obama ended up with the last word, and it was an inspirational one.

Still, he didn't come out untainted. Most notably with the question about his record as President, he was on the defensive for much of the debate. Romney won several points, especially those about the current state of the economy. But Obama didn't weather the criticism as poorly as last time. He stared calmly at Romney, instead of at his tie. And, altogether, he connected with those present in the room better, which in a town hall is the most important aspect.

Cosmetically, this was a big win for Mr. Obama. What impact it will have in the polls is unclear, but I conservatively predict a one point bounce for him based solely on appearance.

Postdebate | Max Bloom

I thought it as a pretty close debate, but Obama did seem to gain a slight advantage at the very end. I suspect that fewer people watched the debate than last time, and it seems much less likely to me that he will have convinced any substantial share of independent voters. So I predict that the stalemate will continue and I would be very surprised if the foreign policy debate - or anything else - broke it before the election.

10:40 | TW

Obama moves on from his misconceptions, and talks about the 47%. Anecdotes and platitudes.

And we are done!

10:38 | TW

God. Can they stop China-bashing and do closing statements already?

I'm not going to bother summarizing these things. Obama really loves Apples.

Thank goodness. Last question, from Barry Green. He thinks his question is hard. He's asking about the caricature of Romney, and why it exists. Romney is religious. Very religious. He's an Olympian. He helped education, and put in place a comprehensive progressive healthcare plan. But that was the old Romney, right?

Romney is very emotional about this.

10:35 | Max Bloom

We're talking about China.

Romney: There is a counterfeit Apple store in China. We need to be much harsher and stand up for ourselves! (The question was about low wages, not counterfeiting).

By the way, there are thousands of counterfeit Apple stores in your average commercial Chinese neighborhood. The situation is far worse than Romney suggests.

Obama: Doesn't say much.

10:31 | TW

Question about outsourcing. Romney thinks its "great". The question, that is, not outsourcing. Apparently, Obama has made Americans "unattractive". Romney will beautify Americans for the global economy. I do need a pedicure. Maybe he can help.

Uh oh. Romney's going to call China names. What a tough guy. But he also wants to make us "the most attractive" nation in the world. More attractive than Canada. That'll be tough. I really love the lumberjack aesthetic.

10:27 | TW

Candy's got a liberal bias. She just blatantly called Romney a flip-flopper. Romney, of course, removes himself from the legislation and talks about how nice the Republicans in MA are.

Obama is accusing Romney, in the realm of guns, of playing politics. It's not like anyone in Obama's profession would ever play politics. He moves on to education, which is more relevant and inspiring. But Candy's back in charge. Wait. She's letting Obama run all over her. This is hilarious. Obama owns this hall.

10:27 | Max Bloom

The moderator has decided that, damn it all, she's a Democrat and she'll ask Romney any number of incriminating questions. I, for one, am offended.

The conversation rages over the assault weapon ban, as Obama begins talking about education. This will be extremely important for reducing urban crime, but Obama just uses it as a way to start criticizing Romney. He has now spoken for four minutes more than Romney.

10:23 | TW

Romney doesn't want to restrict gun rights, but wants to change culture and enforce laws. Platitudes, anecdotes galore.

He's getting into the family stability thing. One step away from culture wars. Wait, no. He brings up Fast and Furious, back on topic. Obama isn't looking strong on gun laws now.

10:21 | TW

Oh, cool, Barack. You want to start a conversation. That should be productive. Conversation worked on the debt ceiling. It worked on the payroll tax cut. It worked on the ACA. Yeah. Conversation.

10:21 Max Bloom

Now we're talking about gun control, specifically on assault weapons.

Obama: I believe in the 2nd Amendment. But he's not sure whether assault weapons fall under the "right to bear arms". Anecdote Alert. Something about people being shot.

Okay, why are we talking about assault weapons? People carry handguns in the inner city, not assault rifles. Handguns kill tens of thousands of Americans, disproportionately African-Americans. So why are we suggesting that any progress has been made on the issue? And why is the issue suddenly assault weapons?

After a bit, Obama finally mentions that there's a fair bit of violence in Chicago, as everyone who has ever heard of Chicago knows, and that it's primarily commissioned by handguns. So what's Obama's comprehensive strategy? No assault weapons (like that matters). Stopping violent impulses before they occur. I have no idea what that even means.

10:19 | TW

Romney is moving on, blaming Obama for the "apology tour", Syria, Iran, and Israel.

Obama's turn. Candy asks about Clinton's acceptance of blame. Obama accepts responsibility; expect news articles about that. But Obama is also a leader, according to himself. He's offended by Romney's political insinuations.

Romney was just called out by Candy. That was embarrassing. Very embarrassing. Obama is sauntering up to the podium, interrupting Romney and asking for a new question. Obama is in control. The debate may have just been won.

Gun control? Please. Not to be a jerk, but there's no real way legislation is getting passed there. Moving on...

10:14 | TW

New question. It's about Benghazi.

You know what we should do? We should have a witch hunt for the mid-level operative who denied heightened security in the embassy. Tar and feathers and all.

Obama wants to go after terrorists. Obama attacks Romney for attacking Obama about attacking the embassy. No disgruntled employees have physically attacked Romney yet, though.

Romney's turn. He goes straight for the throat, blaming the attack on Obama. He also cares for families. He thinks that it's symbolically significant that Obama woke up in Vegas the day after the attack.

10:14 | Max Bloom

Someone asks what happened at the Embassy in Benghazi.

Well, what actually happened: The Administration screwed up spectacularly, and failed to bring in additional security when it was desperately necessary. Somehow, I don't think Obama is going to say that.

Obama: Doesn't say above. Then brings up Romney's infamous press release.

Romney: Says above. Then notes Obama's bizarre inconsistency over whether demonstration was terrorist attack or spontaneous riot inspired by the YouTube video. Criticizes Obama for attending political events the day after the attack. Perhaps this is true, but John McCain as crucified for failing to campaign during the 2008 financial crisis.

Update 10:14 | AG

Someone had better start making some serious gaffes/insensitive comments/something cause I'm bored

EDIT: Obama is here

Or better, someone ask about legalizing weed.

All of Twitter "Mr. Me Too? lololol Clipse haha Pharrell #yolo @swaggy"

Romney on Middle East Policy: SORRY I'M NOT SORRY

10:08 | TW

Romney is framing self-deportation like it's a pro-choice issue.

Obama: Ih-ih-ih-ih...
Candy: Romney, you can talk.
Romney: Pensions?
Obama: You're a rich bastard.

10:05 | TW

Immigration time. Romney loves Mexicans and Welsh people, apparently. And intellectuals from China.

But he hates those illegal immigrants. He is not relating to this voter. He would prevent hiring, nullify magnets. This reminds me of the primaries. I miss those days.

Obama has a lot of trouble with Lorraine's name, too. Glorraine, Lorraina? It's not that difficult. Now, Obama gets his time to pontificate about the Dream Act. He's giving the answer that Lorraine (L-O-R-R-A-I-N-E) wants to hear.

He also ties Romney to the primary again.

10:03 | Max Bloom

On immigration reform:

Romney: Wants to facilitate system for legal immigration. "Those who come here illegally take their place". (For some reason, liberals don't like to talk about this point).

Obama: He wants to fix our broken immigration system, and he has "sought cooperation from Congress". Note to future presidents: Congress is never your friend. Evidently, Obama already has fixed illegal immigration by streamlining legal immigration, which is pretty much Romney's point. Also, more border control. If the first point was successful, the second point probably wouldn't be necessary.

10:02 | Noah Daponte-Smith

Question for Romney from a Latino: What would you do about people here without their green cards but are productive members of society? The first thing Romney mentions is how his dad was born in Mexico. That's awkward. He's trying to say that his dad's an immigrant, which would raise the question of why he was allowed to run for President in 1968. Romney wants the kids of illegal immigrants to be able to become permanent members of the United States.

9:59 | TW

Man, those poverty and growth statistics are depressing. Obama is being slammed right now. Oh, time for Reaganing. Romney is reaganing a lot. He says that Obama can't reagan as well as he can.

It would be hilarious if Obama started talking about how great Jimmy Carter was.

Candy isn't letting Romney leave for the bathroom.

9:59 | Noah Daponte-Smith

Obama attacks Romney for liking huge tax cuts, which Bush liked as well. Obama says there are differences between Romney and Bush - Bush was more liberal on social policy.

Question for Obama: Well, it didn't end in a question mark, so I'm not quite sure as to what it was. MSNBC is telling me that it's "What have you done to earn my vote in 2012?"

Obama uses this as an opportunity for a highlight reel. Wall Street regulation. Bin Laden dead. Job Creation. Auto bailout. Affordable Care Act. He's kept the commitments he's made, except for the ones that he hasn't kept, and that's not his fault. Romney, Obama says, will keep his promises, which would be great if his promises weren't all so bad.

Romney's turn. Obama's term has sucked, and the next four years will suck too if Obama is re-elected. Unemployment is 2.4% higher than Obama said it would be. Obamacare will raise taxes. "The middle class is being crushed under the policies of a President who doesn't understand what it takes to get the economy moving again." My dad is very annoyed by all of this. Romney's comparing this recession to the Reagan Recession. "Totally different," my dad says, "because it wasn't a financial crisis and the interest rates were still high." Probably not an apt comparison. Romney must be over time by this point.

9:57 | TW

New question. It's a completely insubstantial one. Time for rambling.

Obama insists that he almost fulfilled campaign promises. Wait. Obama is really in his groove. This is a level of enthusiasm I haven't seen in a while.

Never mind, he's back on the attack. Romney wants to go to the bathroom. But wait; it's time for him to speak.

Romney immediately connects with the voter, criticizing the past four years. No falsehoods so far, which means that he's really on point. He's definitely winning this question.

Update Late o' Clock | AG

  • Romney: I like girls too!!!1!
  • Romney: did I mention economy?
  • Obama: gets in on this
  • Questioner: Remember Bush?
  • America: *Collective Hiss*
  • Romney: No
  • Obama: Remember Bin Laden? hahahahahahaha

9:52 | TW

Obama is giving us the liberal history lesson of the Obama Administration about job growth. Then, he ties Romney to shadowy overseas investments. That could be significant. Obama is, apparently, tough on China.

Obama attacks Romney for being further right than Bush. Romney's got his pained, constipated smile on. This is very surreal.

9:52 | Max Bloom

Romney is asked about the differences between his plan and Bush's plan.

First, Romney wants to talk about the last question. Clearly, he has no idea what the precise structure of the debate is. I feel like the moderator is at fault for this, but it's pretty embarrassing for Romney. Then Romney gets to the meat of the question by, suggesting, obviously that he isn't George Bush.

Obama: "I came in during some pretty tough times". True, but so did FDR, and I for one am getting tired of this line. Then suggests that the "centerpiece" of Romney's economic plan is Bush-type tax cuts. Except that Obama already spent quite a bit of time suggesting that Romney's economic plan does not really involve tax breaks for the middle class. Then he suggests that Romney is much more conservative than Bush in terms of immigration reform, and Medicare reform. True, but Obama's more conservative than Bush in terms of immigration reform, and Obama's answer to Medicare reform was Obamacare.

9:49 | TW

The whole work equality thing is getting way too far into the weeds of ten or fifteen years ago.

New question though. Is Romney different from W?

Well, Romney is still disgruntled about his question time. He's got to just answer the question. "Governor, that's not true" is becoming Obama's mantra.

Romney is reiterating his five-point plan, attacking Bush harsher than Kerry did. This is surreal. Romney understands starting small businesses. I guess Bain counts. Naw, not really.

9:50 | Noah Daponte-Smith

Crowley asks Romney: What if the numbers don't add up. Romney: Of course the numbers will add up! Perish the thought! Didn't you know I'm a demigod? He says Obama's policies put us on the road to Greece. Weird. I thought all roads led to Rome. Not that that's any better, of course.

A three-way shouting match, now. Nobody wins. Next question is for Obama. It's about women's pay equality in the workplace. Basically, it's about his position on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Obama starts with a charming anecdote about his family. Then he talks about the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Then something about Pell Grants. How did he get to Pell Grants? I have no idea. He wants to make sure that we don't tolerate discrimination.

Romney's turn. This could be fun. "Well, Candy, I like women. I even like you!" Unfortunately, he didn't actually say that. Instead, he starts with an anecdote that involves his looking for women to be in his Cabinet. (If not for the capital "C," that sentence would be really weird.) He had a nice flexibility policy when he was governor. The best thing to improve pay equality would be a strong economy. Note: All roads lead to the economy. Or, in Romney's case, Greece, and sometimes Spain.

Okay, now Obama's talking about women's healthcare. Romney would cut Planned Parenthood, which would make contraception and mammograms and other women's health things less affordable. These aren't just women's issues, Obama says. They're family issues. He wants his daughters to have equality with men.

Question for Romney: What are the differences between your policies and Bush's policies? What is the biggest difference between you and Bush? This isn't going to be easy. Romney thinks that it's still time for him to respond to the women's health question, so he's going to get out of the Bush question by responding to the earlier one. That was smooth. "President Bush and I are different people." Good to know. Apparently the prime difference between him and Bush is that Romney won't have to get oil from those darn Arabs. He'll crack down on China and balance the budget. Bush was a bad, bad fiscal conservative. And, lastly, Romney will champion small business, whereas Bush only liked big businesses.

9:45 | Max Bloom

How should candidates reduce gender inequality in the workforce?

Obama: I have female relatives! Some of my friends are women! Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act!

Romney: This is an "important topic". When Romney was Governor, he met women, so he knows what they're like. Seriously, Romney had the most gender-diverse staff of any Governor when he ruled Massachusetts. Notes that 580,000 women have lost their jobs in the last five years, which is quite a lot, but I'm not sure it's disproportionate.

Obama: Romney didn't support the Lily Ledbetter Act. Case closed. Also, healthcare. Case really closed.

Except not really. Like most of the exchanges today, each candidate is competent and rehearsed enough to make him nearly invulnerable from attack. So each candidate boasts about their own successes, which isn't going to convince very many undecideds.

9:43 | TW

Romney's turn on pay equity. He also has experience because he put women in a cabinet. Sorry, women in his gubernatorial cabinet. His chief of staff was a woman, and she used to cook food. Wait. What are his policies on pay equality? Right...

But it's all okay because he's a businessman.

9:40 | TW

Candy intervenes again. Romney wants to talk, though. New question anyway. A young woman asks about income equality.

Obama had a mother and a grandma. That's one more relative than Joe Biden. Anyway, he has personal experience about this, though. Lots of anecdotes. This isn't harmful, though. It's not like Romney's winning the female vote with his medieval birth control positions.

9:37 | TW

Obama wants to save Big Bird, but Candy wants to get away from wonkishness. Romney's full swing into his condescension smile. And he can't get away with it like Biden can.

Romney cuts off Candy by saying his numbers work because Olympics. Doesn't actually explain his numbers, but moves on to the attack about debt. This debate hasn't been light on the aggressive behavior.

9:38 | Max Bloom

We're talking about jobs at present. 

Newsflash: Romney spent his life in the private sector!

Then Romney licks his mouth like a pit viper, which was both a fascinating and a horrifying moment.

Obama gives one of his famous long-winded answers which no one can really keep up with. Then he gets back in track: lower taxes will not address our problems with the deficit. Romney's real plan to decrease the deficit? He wants to tax the middle class.

Romney responds by defending his record of balancing budgets and the moderator politely suggests that he has run out of time. Then both Obama and Romney speak over each other in the remaining 0.2 seconds of time until the next question.

Obama Yelling | AG

that's the post

9:35 | Noah Daponte-Smith

Romney and Crowley get in a bit of shouting match, which Romney wins. Crowley tries to interrupt, but then Romney stops, and Obama wants to speak.

Next question: What is your position on taxes, basically? To Romney. "I want to bring the rates down," which he demonstrates using hand gestures. Lots of hand gestures. He starts pontificating about the plight of the middle class. Apparently all the prices are going up. Romney is going to eliminate deductions and credits for people at the high end. Middle-class will get a tax break. This is very complicated, and, like all discussions on taxes, it's probably going to go over people's heads. Wait, Romney's going to eliminate the capital gains taxes for middle-income families? What? My dad says this is brand-new. Romney will not, under any circumstances, reduce the share paid by the 1% (but their rates can still fall). Obama really needs to nail him on this.

Obama: I want to give middle-class families some relief, since the middle-class has been hit hard recently. He wants to reduce the deficit, which menas that we're going to have to make tough spending cuts and ask the wealthy to pay a bit more. He says that Romney thinks it's fair for a high-earning person to pay a lower tax rate than a bus driver or janitor. This makes Romney seem a bit mean. Obama  makes it clear that he and Romney have fundamentally different views on growing the economy, which really demonstrates why this election matters so much. Two radically different economic views are being presented to the American people.

Romney's using lots of hand gestures again. Obama's craning his neck out, which makes him look absolutely bizarre. Obama's Intrade odds are slipping fast.

Obama says that Romney's tax cuts will cost around $5 trillion. All in all, Romney's tax and spending program will cost around $8 trillion. Obama says that Romney can't tell you how he's going to make this all revenue-neutral and not add to the deficit. Says that Romney's plan is a "sketchy deal" and the "math doesn't add up." Two things are at stake: blowing up the deficit, or, alternatively, a tax hike (that is, loss of deductions) on the middle class.

9:35 | TW

Obama just let out an almost Biden-like grin there. He's got to watch out. Candy is blatantly asking Obama about the rich-people tax. Obama gets into Ryan's math, and confuses everyone besides himself.

9:32 | TW

So far, the only difference between Romney and Obama is the color of their tie and the insular set of facts that each use. No one seems better.

Although Romney's insistence that he won't cut taxes for the rich is quite annoying.

9:31 | Max Bloom

This debate is already shaping up to be a tie, with competent performances by both debaters. Both are also lying through their teeth, so that makes things interesting as well.

Has Obama lowered taxes on the middle class?
Obama hasn't really done anything on taxes, due to Republican filibusters of any Democratic legislation; middle-class tax breaks have come, of course, through Obama's extension of Bush-era tax cuts.

Would Romney lower taxes on the middle class?
No reason to suggest he would.

9:29 | TW

Obama has both raised and cut taxes for all of those people he said he cut taxes for. I predict a headbutting on facts there, where both are correct.

And that socialist bastard is proposing tax increases for rich people.

9:28 | TW

A well-spoken woman asks about loopholes and deductions to pay for Romney's tax plan. Romney talks about: A) Middle class buried, B) Are you better off? He promises that he will not lower taxes for the top five percent, which, while true, is not accurate. Corporate and capital gains tax cuts will give free money to that five percent much more than any other income group. Although those lower middle class rural workers will really feel substantial benefits from paying less on their stock income. Yeah.

9:27 | Max Bloom

Obama on why gas was so cheap when he took office? We were in a recession. If you vote Romney, you might get lower gas prices again.

This is an excellent, cutting rebuke that would work much better if Americans weren't currently outraged over high gas prices. They might just take Obama up on his offer.

A Mary Eileen Follano does what the entire Democratic Party has failed to do so far, and asks Romney exactly which "loopholes and deductions" he wants to cut. Thank you!

Romney doesn't answer, but his non-answer sounds nice. 1. He wants relief for middle-income families. Fair enough. 2. He wants to eliminate deductions for the upper class. No word on what these are.

Mitt Romney's tax plan, since the first debate: Tax breaks for the middle class, no more deductions for the upper class.

Barack Obama's tax plan, since the first debate: Tax breaks for the middle class, no more deductions for the upper class.

Then Romney makes a clear distinction by articulating exactly the same policies that liberals have been pushing for for quite a while. I don't think Obama's done that yet.

Update 9:26 Oh Man Things Getting Real | AG

  • Lightsaber mic duel
  • Sassy Mitt
  • More Sassy/Interrupting Mitt
  • Question from Rapunzel; Should I or should I not let down my hair?
Disclaimer: I literally could not be more biased in this debate but whatever I'm on that John Stewart #Swag

9:25 | TW

We're almost at fisticuffs. This is getting heated. Well, that was a bad joke. Sorry.

I don't understand how Romney hasn't talked about gas prices and Solyndra yet.

Obama's point about the $1.87 gas prices isn't really valid. The recession was in full swing; Bush is pretty much irrelevant. Candy shuts Romney down on debate format. But she pinky-promises that he will speak eventually. Before shutting him up.

Obama interrupts Candy to say that he gets interrupted a lot, which brings back terrible memories of the last debate.

9:23 | Noah Daponte-Smith

Question for Obama about gas prices. Obama responds by saying he wants to control our own energy. Under his reign, he's increased coal, oil, and natural gas production. Correct. He also wants to invest in future energy, which is why he's doubled green energy (although he calls it "clean energy") production and increased mileage standards on cars. He's all for exploiting our natural gas resources, but he also wants to invest in efficient energy. Obama says that Romney would let the oil companies write his energy policies, which would be great if we didn't have to think about the future. My dad thinks that was a great answer. He's pumping his fist next to me. (Obama's Intrade odds have gone up about a point so far.)

And Romney says that oil production has been decreased on federal land this year. Which I think is right. Obama is preventing us from exploiting our natural resources. "People grab my arms and say 'Please, save my job!'" is a rather weird anecdote from Romney about his experiences in coal country (that is, West Virginia).

Both candidates appear to have forgotten that the question was about the price of gas. The moderator reminds Obama of this, and then Obama promptly forgets again, and starts talking about his administration's record on oil production. Then accuses Romney of lying. While Romney speaks, Obama interrupts him, saying that Romney is lying.  Probably he's taking a page from Biden's book.  Now they're both standing and facing each other. I'm ready for a boxing match. That would be fun. It's a back-and-forth now, a he said-she said. You're lying! No I'm not! Yes you are!

Romney still doesn't recognize that the gas market is a worldwide market, and that the President really can't do much to affect gas prices. Obama just rhymed! The worst recession since the Great Depression. The audience just laughed. I presume that they'll all be politely asked to leave now. Obama also doesn't recognize that the price of gas in America is affected by worldwide demand. This was a stupid question.

9:21 | TW

Candy realizes that Romney forgot about gas prices, so she hits Obama on it instead. Obama ignores her and attacks Romney for lying and flopping. We're on to coal for some reason. This has nothing to do with gas prices.

This is hilarious; they are both standing, face to face, talking about permits. Romney's back to his contemptuous smile. Production is both down and up, if we are to believe both respectable gentlemen.

9:20 | Max Bloom

We've been talking about fuel for quite a bit, until Romney and Obama get into a heated exchange over how many licenses and permits Obama has cut. Obama evades the question three times - and Romney repeats the question three times - until admitting that he cut licenses and permits, but for the legitimate reason that oil companies weren't drilling on public land. So why the evasiveness? It opens him to an easy attack from Romney. The two are circling each other like sharks.

9:18 | TW

Candy made Romney sit down and shut up. Impressive.

A heavily accented man asks about energy policy. This one isn't as relevant, but it gives Romney a chance to slam Obama on gas prices and Solyndra. Obama talks about innovation, clean energy, etc. Not sure if independents actually care about the environment. No offense to the Green Partiers, of course.

Romney is going in with facts on this one. The first fact, of course, is the contentious one about drilling in state parks. It's not like anyone cares about birds anyway, according to Romney.

People used to grab Romney's arm back in coal-country. Not sure what that means about his plan. Romney promises energy independence, but his only plans are environmentally unsound.

Update 9:14 | AG

  • Mitt and Barack switched ties
  • Mitt starts out with some anecdotes definitely don't have enough of those
  • Obama can count on his fingers
  • Awkward walking
  • Obama is awake. Return of Interrupting Romney
  • wow some of these people are really nervous I feel kind of bad...

9:12 | TW

Candy asks further about long-term unemployees. Romney cites the misleading fact about unemployment growing during Obama's reign; not sure if anyone believes that. Five point plant, of course.

Obama isn't frowning into his tie. He is looking serenely, like a cherub, into the stagelights.

Obama and Romney are fact-clashing over Detroit. Obama's basically right.

9:12 | Max Bloom

Now, what would the candidates do for the long-term unemployed.

Romney would create a lot more jobs. How? By creating more jobs. Then talks about "taking into bankruptcy", but I'm not familiar with the term.

Obama: Counters on the "bankruptcy" issue, which I still don't understand. Also, Romney has a one-point plan, which is to make the upper class a special group of people. This seems improbable. Romney has at least three other points. It's an attack, and the unscientific, entirely uninformative graph on CNN suggests that it's not too popular with undecided voters.

9:12 | Noah Daponte-Smith

Allons-y! Sorry for the lack of an introductory post; I was busy cleaning the kitchen. Also, I had a brief prayer session for Obama.

Candy Crowley is the moderator. Except she won't be asking the questions. The audience will be. (Their mics will be cut off immediately after they finish.) 2 minutes per candidate, and no talking from the audience.

Now they're shaking hands. And apparently they're going to be sitting on stools, which is a bit weird. Well, it's a town hall debate, a casual affair. Romney gets asked the first question. How would he ensure that college students can get jobs?

Romney wastes at least twenty seconds by thanking everyone in his room. And then he's off to his first anecdote, about a struggling college graduate in Philadelphia. Romney wants to make college affordable, via the Pell Grants (one more thing he won't cut), and he wants to ensure that graduates can get jobs. He's a business guy. He knows how to make jobs. Except that he doesn't say how. Seems likes he's running down the clock, which is now flashing red 0:00, and he doesn't stop for a while.

Obama time. At a very preliminary glance, he looks to be much more on his game than last time. He wants to rebuild a manufacturing jobs base, and immediately mentions Romney's opposition to the auto bailout. (That's one thing off the checklist.) He wants America to have the best schools in the world, and that everyone can get a good education. Also, control over our own energy. Does that count as energy independence? I guess it does. He wants to support green energy and reduce the deficit, and spend war monies on American infrastructure. And that's the Obama plan. That was a good answer.

Romney gets a question about the long-term unemployed. Obama apparently hasn't put Americans back to work. (He's wrong.) Some stuff about people dropping out of the workforce. He's technically right, but he's being misleading. Romney thinks that "to take bankrupt" is a phrase that people say in the English language. He ends up sounding weird.

Obama to respond. Disputing Romney's claims about his sort-of opposition to the auto bailout. (For the record, Romney was right. He wanted to have a managed bankruptcy for Detroit.) Obama doesn't want to return to the Bush-era policies that got us into this whole mess. Not a good answer, but not bad, either.

9:09 | TW

Mitt Romney is thankful and has anecdotes. He plans to alleviate college costs and improve employment. And not really the college costs thing. That was weird. That was like de ja vu. He repeated himself twice, and repeated Joe Biden (middle class buried) once.

Obama's up. Obama wants to keep creating jobs like he says he has been doing. Detroit, of course, is cited. The rest of his answer is predictable.

Obama is comfortable up there. Very confident.

9:08 | Max Bloom

And we start things off!

A college student queries Romney about the terrible jobs market for college graduates. Romney answers warmly, suggesting that we should keep the Pell Program going and the student-loan program. So no change to the status quo there. Then he suggests that he can get the economy going, and it sounds as ludicrous out of his mouth as Obama's. As usual, no details. Then he laughs awkwardly.

Obama: "Your future is bright". That should be news to Jeremy, who seems very depressed about his predicament. Now Obama's plan: 1. Jeremy can find a manufacturing job! You know what's a great occupation for college students? Factories in Detroit! Yeah! 2. We should have the best education system in the world. There should be more college students, and more community colleges. This would make it much harder for current college students to find employment. 3. We should invest in the energy of the future. How this has any impact on the jobs market for college graduates escapese me entirely.

9:05 | TW

Candy Crowley is looking fabulous as usual tonight. And she's optimistic enough to hope that Obama will be concise. I remember before I was a cynical grouch...

The candidates enter the stage. No short-sleeve blazer for Obama. He does have the rakish half-on-stool pose, though. Class, friends, class.

First question from an insecure college kid about, of course, unemployment.

Predebate | Max Bloom

We should have a pretty exciting debate tonight with the town hall forum. These tend to be pretty interesting, but I wouldn't bet in a clear victory. Both candidates are well prepared and quite competent, and there seems to be some evidence that Obama's terrible defeat in the first debate has returned everything to a fair bit of a stalemate. It will take something decisive to break the stalemate, but even a minor lead at this point might well turn into an Electoral College victory.

Things Soon to Be Useless, or, Predebate Analysis | Theodore Wuest

After the premonitory earthquake tremor today, felt throughout New England, we can safely say that this is a divinely significant night. Perhaps this is the beginning of a two-month-long prelude to the apocalypse in December. But most likely, the big man upstairs was just trying to get us to sit down, shut up, and watch the second presidential debate.

Tonight will be a town-hall format debate, which mostly just means that disgruntled former employees of Mr. Romney will have a better shot of accosting him on national television than usual. But in all seriousness, the format will really exhibit the candidates' level of comfort with relating to voters. And although a month ago, I would have ridiculed anyone who said this, it is not clear who has the advantage there. The general media narrative over the past couple weeks has been this: although Obama is traditionally a charismatic, preacher-like character, his aloof intellectualism has led him to become a preoccupied mess under pressure. And the tin man Romney has finally found his heart, speaking comfortably and confidently and connecting with voters on the ground (although perhaps not with the same intimacy that Joe Biden is known to employ).

Tonight will not follow that narrative. Obama, shaken awake by last debate's terrible performance, should be ready to try to make up the lost ground. We should expect him to be on form tonight; it's not his anniversary, so he doesn't have any excuse for wanting to be somewhere else. He will try to harness the Clinton-esque relatability of which he is reputed. We will see the short-sleeve, campaigning Obama, not the suited, presidential Obama. Do expect him to wear a suit, though. That was merely a descriptive metaphor. Although it would be brilliant if he went all out with a short-sleeve blazer. Don't quote me on that; it's unlikely.

What to expect from Romney? Hopefully, the same Romney we saw in the first debate. He was confident and assertive and will try to be so again tonight. He should try to drop the condescending smiles, though. They do not please the worried voters in the town hall.

The real variable tonight will be the questioning populace. But since the issues in this election are so well-defined, I think we can predict the subjects of the questions. Expect heart-rending stories about unemployment and healthcare, mostly. If Obama is lucky, a Hispanic with a question about education will give him a softball.

Unfortunately, violence and sex scandals are not in the forecast for the debate. Wait four years. Gingrich 2016: one can always dream.

Oh Right, a Debate | AG

Oh man I totally forgot this was even happening straight up so let's see what wisdom I have lying around...

Mitt Romney has I guess? Basically don't screw up, Mittens.

Now Barack, oh boy you've got some work to do. This is what happens when you fall asleep in class: you end up having to copy Joe Biden's notes on top of your already assigned work.

For real, last debate was pretty damn solid, but if the actual candidates can't even have a good, square Q&A session where Obama obliterates Romney issues are discussed, already wavering independents might just give up and stay home.