March 29, 2012

Election 2012: Four Republican Vice-Presidential Possibilities

After the American Century

[We now know that Romeny has picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate, but this piece reminds us of the other alternatives he had, two of which could have helped him with women voters.]

Who will be Romney's running mate?  A common option, historically speaking, is to select one of the other candidates. This conceivably could happen, though I strongly doubt it because there were no women, no minorities, and no one even remotely young.Then there was all that negative advertising, souring relations. Therefore, I am going to assume that other candidates in the primary are out, and that shopping for a Republican VP is a matter of looking at governors and members of Congress. Here are some people that might get considered.

So many have mentioned Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie that I will just let their names stand, and anyone interested can find out more elsewhere. But I am guessing that Romney will look for someone a little unexpected, younger, and less typically Republican, i.e. a woman or a member of a minority group.

He could get both at once by picking Rikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina. She is young, only 39, and got into office with strong support from the Tea Party. She is from the South, which balances Romney's frigid Northern-ness. She has an Indian immigrant background, which would dispel the Romney Harvard old-boy image quite a bit. Since one effect of the primaries so far has been to alienate many women from the Republicans, this choice would help Romney win back female voters. Remember that without women voters Clinton and Obama would never have been elected. Had only men been voting, the Republicans would have held the presidency without a break since at least 1980.

Governor Rikki Haley

Then again, perhaps a young Latino is Romney's missing ingredient. In that case, the most exciting option might be Mark Rubio, Senator from Florida. He is of Cuban-American background, and one of the up-and-coming generation. This choice would also reach out to the Latino voters who have not been much drawn to the Republicans in recent elections. If nothing else, Rubio could deliver the largest swing state to the Romney column, freeing him to focus his campaign on other swing states. Rubio is a good public speaker, and will be a potential candidate for some time to come. He has just endorsed Romney.

Senator Mark Rubio

Yet another young face is New Mexico governor Susana Martinez, born in 1959. She is tough on crime and would appeal strongly to the Hispanics of Mexican background. Note, however, that New Mexico is a far less important swing state than Florida or Ohio, and she is not as well known as Rubio.

Gov. Susana Martinez

But thinking of swing states, Ohio Senator Rob Portman (below) might be just the man to deliver his state to the Romney camp. Portman, born in 1955, is a former White House budget chief under Bush II. However, I am guessing that two white men from Northern states, both focused on economics, is not the ideal team for the Republicans. To maximize the impact of their VP candidate, they need to show some sympathy with the Tea Party and/or the evangelicals and to show a more multicultural and youthful face.

Senator Rob Portman

These are four possibilities that each have something to offer the Romney campaign. For that matter three of them (but not Portman) would help Santorum, another white man from a Northern state, if he should manage to become the nominee. In the  unlikely event that Gingrich becomes the candidate, then a different slate of possible VPs would be needed.

Nevertheless, predicting the VP is generally a hopeless task. Who could have imagined that the first Bush would choose the maladroit Dan Quale? Or that Nixon would pick the obscure Spiro Agnew? Or that Obama would pick Joe Biden, for that matter.

These and other candidates considered likely possibilities have been discussed in the New York Times, whose list did not include any women.

March 21, 2012

Election 2012: Does Bishop Romney Have a Positive Message, or only a Negative Ad Campaign?

After the American Century

After a decisive victory in Illinois, Romney appears close to winning the Republican nomination. Notably, Gingrich's candidacy faded to fourth place, just behind Ron Paul. This leaves Santorum as his only real challenger, and Romney beat him by more than 10 percentage points. 

One can spin this somewhat differently, and point out that Romney still did not manage to get half the votes in Illinois. This means that despite outspending all of his rivals -- by a wide margin -- the Republicans as a group gave more votes to others than they did to him. There clearly remains a high level of dissatisfaction with him as a candidate.

But the mathematics of delegate counts suggests that after winning Puerto Rico and Illinois, he will be hard to stop. In terms of pledged delegates, Bishop Romney has more votes than his three rivals combined. 

(In case anyone wonders why I refer to him as Bishop, it is because Romney is a Bishop in the Mormon Church, and gives 10% of his income each year to it. This tithe, as well as his missionary work in France for the Mormon Church, shows that he is not a casual member of that church. He has also participated in posthumous baptism, a Mormon ritual  in which people who were never Mormons during their lives are "converted" post-facto. Among these are many of the founding fathers of the US and Anne Frank, who as a Jewish person was killed by the Nazis.)

The problem, increasingly for Bishop Romney will be one of turning his almost entirely negative campaign into a more positive one telling Americans how he can make the country a better place. To date, he has used all his energy to attack others, including the President. His advertising money has been overwhelmingly used to send out negative messages. By one count he has had seven negative advertisements for every positve one. It seems doubtful that this strategy alone will put him in the White House. 

So as Romney moves to later primaries, it will be interesting to see if he has anything equivalent to Ronald Reagan's famous "Morning in America" campaign. What is he for? This is also a challenge for the Republican Party as a whole, which for four years has been a negative force, constantly on the attack, but almost never offering anything new or innovative as a solution to the nation's challenges.

In short, the question now becomes whether Bishop Romney's candidacy can renew the Republican Party, or whether it will remain mired in squabbles between its various factions. Can it articulate a common vision and look forward? Can the Republicans think positively? And will Bishop Romney's religion play a role in whatever does happen?

March 14, 2012

Election 2012: What Do Alabama Exit Polls Tell Us about the Republicans?

After the American Century

No one really "won" in Alabama. Rather, three candidates split the vote into almost equal segments, with Ron Paul getting only 5 percent. But exit polls also tell us more about how the electorate is divided. Alabama is more interesting than Mississippi here, because the latter is so rural and so poor that it is an extreme case.

So, here are the conclusions one can draw from exit polls. First of all, there are virtually no Black people in the Alabama version of the Republican Party, being less than 2% of the primary voters there, or about 4,000 people. Perhaps these are Black Mormons or Black millionaires? No less than 93% of the Republican voters were white, and of the three main candidates Romney finished last with just 28%.

In terms of gender, Gingrich is the most popular among men (34%), especially those who have never gone to college. Apparently, they are the most impressed by his repeated claims to be the smartest candidate. He was strongest in the suburbs, with 35% there, and fully 40% think he is the candidate best able to deal with an international crisis.  Otherwise, in most categories Gingrich comes in second or third.

Santorum is the most popular among women, especially working women, and he is also the most popular among college graduates. (Remember that college in Alabama is often primarily about football.)  Santorum is also the most popular among younger voters, especially those under 30, where he got 41% of the votes. Apparently his intense moralism appeals to them, as well as to that half the Alabama Republicans who think a candidate's religious beliefs matter a great deal, 48% of whom voted for him. He was the most popular candidate in both rural and urban (but not suburban) Alabama. However, even his supporters think he is the least well prepared to deal with an international crisis.

Romney is not particularly liked by the intensely religious, the rural, the young, men, or women.  The only groups where his attraction rises to above 35% are those over 65 and those who make more than $100,000 a year. The logic seems to be that Romney would win a massive victory among rich, dead people, as, like him, they do not drink and are pretty rigid.  This constituency has little gender left and are almost all over 65. Given Mormon theology, in which the dead can be posthumously made a member of the church, this would seem an incontrovertible result. 

Romney also got 35% of the voters who had studied beyond the BA level. He is clearly understood, even by the Republicans, to be aloof from  ordinary people. Only one in five voters thought Romney best understood the average American's problems. Why is he getting about a third of the support, then? Two factors keep Romney viable in this race. (1) Not less than 59% of the Republican voters perceive the economy as the most important issue (compared to 25% who think it is the federal budget deficit, the 9% who think abortion is, or the 3% who say it is illegal immigration). Romney is generally thought to be the man who can deal with the economy.  (2) Romney is also perceived as the man who can most likely defeat Obama.

There are some curiosities that may not apply elsewhere. For example, it seems surprising that Romney only polled 28% among the Independent voters,  while 33% of them voted for Santorum. To be an "Independent" in Alabama apparently often means that one is further to the Right than the Republican Party, as Ron Paul did twice as well with them (11%) as he did overall. Overall, in Alabama 72% of the Independent voters voted for Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul. This is in contrast to most of the nation, where Independents tend to be moderate, centrist voters.

37% of the Alabama voters made up their minds in the last days before the election, and Romney narrowly won among this thoughtful group who realized that the choice was difficult because quality is missing. In contrast, Santorum won among those who made up their minds during the last few weeks (when he began to surge), while Gingrich won among those who decided long ago. In other words, Romney's heavy spending and massive negative advertising did sway some of the undecided voters during the last days of the campaign. Nevertheless, as predicted several days ago, he was never going to do well in these Southern primaries. 

March 09, 2012

A Visit to BMW Welt, Munich

After the American Century

As part of the research for my forthcoming book on the assembly line (MIT Press, 2013), I have visited several factories. Here is my account of a visit to one of them.

It costs €8 to see the BMW plant in Munich, and it is necessary to sign up in advance. There is room for only two groups of 25 people each hour, one with an English guide. In contrast, the magnificent show room where the tours start, a vast building called “BMW Welt,” attracts much larger crowds. It is a temple where enthusiasts can see all the latest models, pose in the driver’s seat, look at exhibits about how (and of what materials) the car is made, sit on a BMW motorcycle, or go into the gift shop to purchase BMW T-shirts, mugs, jackets, key-chains, model cars, and much more. In the bookstore on the mezzanine level they can also buy books about automobiles, design, and the company history. The building is about consumption and pride of ownership. Its sinuous lines and the profusion of displays create the feeling that one is in a high-end shopping complex. A distinguished stream of customers constantly arrives, to be welcomed and ushered  into elevators to higher floors inaccessible to ordinary visitors. Most BMW buyers enjoy a fine lounge and restaurant where they await the arrival of their new car. A select few go to a more exclusive redoubt of luxury, so rarified that most of those who serve the thronging clientele have never seen it. Most tourists are not buyers. But if they ascend to the second level, seven meters about the ground floor, they can look across at the exclusive area where immaculate cars are driven in and delivered to new owners, who drive down a ramp that circles out into the city traffic. 

BMW Welt

The factory tour lasted two hours and covered three kilometers. Most of the time we walked on concrete floors and metal bridges, surfaces that punish the arches, the knees and the lower back. Fifty years ago such a factory tour would have been noisier and grittier, and one would have sympathized with the workers caught up in that environment every day. But today robots do much of the work. Looking a bit like giant orange insects, they move deliberately, pausing with some delicacy near the end of each maneuver, as sensors guide their pincers to just the right position. First, in the stamping plant they guide sheets of steel into a succession of enormous machines that crunch down over sheets of flat steel transforming it into the hood or roof or trunk, or perhaps a left or right door. In each case, before the die slams down on the smooth steel, the metal is sprayed with a mist of oil to lubricate the process. The massive first stamping creates the basic form, which is refined and completed in the smaller stampings that follow, as ends are trimmed or folded, small holes added, and further indentations made. In 1913 several workers were needed to feed blanks into stamping machines, take out the results, and send them on to the next machine. A century later all this work is done by machines, with only a few people keeping an eye on the process. Our guide declares this technological unemployment is just as well, for the work is boring and yet dangerous, given the tremendous force of the stamping machines. It is endlessly repetitive and also hard on the ears. Some skilled workers are needed because the dies in the machines must be changed at times to make spare parts for older models. A model is usually made for seven years, but after that BMW produces parts for another decade. 

The stamped parts are next transported, automatically, to the body assembly, where the left and right door frames are attached to the car’s floor. Then a roof is added, followed by smaller parts and then the doors. In many cases the stamped panels are first fixed in place with a fast-drying glue that also functions as a thin elastic layer that will cushion shocks and improve the car’s ride. The metal parts are then welded together, again by giant orange robots, eight of them working at once in an almost silent, rapid sequence that has been choreographed and fine-tuned. Hardly a worker has touched it yet, but the welded parts have become a car body, still without wheels, windows, seats, or drive train. 

Before these can be added, the bodies pass on to the paint building, where we trudged after our guide over steel bridges through strange smelling passageways. We had glimpses of machinery at times, and heard an occasional hiss or gurgling sound, until we emerged into a large white room with soft seats where we gladly sat for a five-minute lecture on the steps involved in painting a car. One might imagine that the process was like painting the outside of a house, with a primer and one or two coats of good paint, and indeed that is exactly what Ford did in 1913. Each coat then needed  hours to dry before the next one was applied.  But it was hardly so time-consuming in 2011, even though there are more layers. First, all the residual oil and any dirt are zealously washed off the bodies. Then they are baptized in a thick undercoat, through a total immersion of the whole body in a large pool of paint, which is then pulled up by a robot to drip off before passing through a heating shed, where it is first baked in infrared heat at 150 degrees C, driving off all the liquid in the paint, and then furiously blown over by artificial winds. 

This is just the beginning, as four more layers will be applied, including one that is a bit rubbery, to make the surface more resistant to flying gravel or hailstones. The next to last layers are the paint proper that give the car its distinctive color. Ninety percent of all BMW buyers want their vehicle to be black, silver, or white. The other eleven colors are seldom used. New avatars of the same orange robots, made in Augsburg just an hour away from the plant, apply these layers. They spray the paint evenly, and digital cameras record the results. During each new round of coatings the car is given an electrical charge that attracts the tiny droplets to its surface. Not much paint sails wide of the mark, but any waste falls into a continuously rushing stream, a mini-Niagara under each painting station. The paint is extracted from the water, which is reused. Indeed, the water usage of the BMW plant has been reduced 90 percent in recent decades.

Once the BMW bodies have been repeatedly painted and baked, they pass into a room with six levels of shelves on each side where they are carefully stored. In the passageway between the shelves a machine that is both an elevator and a powerful robot lifts one body at a time, lowers it to ground level and sends it on its way to the final assembly plant. More than half of the shelf space is empty, for the factory makes only cars that have been ordered. It produces each body just in time for final assembly.

The guide next takes us to the other great tributary stream to the final assembly, the engine manufacturing plant. Most of the engines made here are powerful 4 cylinder 2.0 liter affairs that get 16 kilometers to the liter (or more than 30 mpg). Half the labor that goes into them is human, half robotic. The V8 engine for larger BMWs is 80% made by human beings, and the top of the line engine for the Rolls Royce is 100% man-made. (To be precise, 95% of the workers at the Munich BMW plant are men, and the few women are clustered in certain jobs.) In the motor plant the guide does not show us the casting of engine blocks or their precision drilling. Once the work of extremely skilled labor, this too has been progressively automated. Already in 1913 Ford had a purpose built machine that simultaneously drilled forty-five holes in an engine block, from four directions. A century later, the early stages of engine production have few workers. We see obviously skilled men building parts into these blocks as they pass down the line. Inspections also are continuous, until motors are complete and they can be harnessed to the drive train. 

At this point the two streams of work come together. The bodies meet the engine and drive trains they are destined to mate with, or “marry” as the workers put it. The bodies gently fall down as the engines rise up, with a brief pause before the last centimeters of drop and the two become one.  Final assembly can then begin. This part of automobile production still attracts the most public attention, as hundreds of parts and pre-assembled units like the dashboard are put in, typically with no more than a minute for each operation. Painting, by comparison, is repetitive and not as interesting to watch, and not even shown on many assembly line tours. Final assembly is much faster. One man unbundles and lays out a car’s electrical wiring and secures it in position, and a moment later another worker is covering the wires and the entire bottom of the car with a perfectly cut felt-like layer. Visitors walk much faster than the crawling line, and to them each task seems to take considerably less than a minute. One man with the help of a robot lifts and puts in the dashboard. The back and front seats, the emergency brake, the headlights and many small details are quickly and expertly installed. The windshield goes in. In half an hour one has traversed much of the line, and the cars are nearing completion. The doors, earlier removed to allow easier access to the interior, are reinstalled. At the end of the line some gasoline is pumped in, and each car is started, tested, and driven out of the factory. 

The BMW tour in Munich is by no means unusual. The industrial tourist can visit similar factories in all parts of the world. The newest are often designed as tourist sites. Visitors have been coming to see such marvels of assembly since Ford's managers first created the line in 1913. For a century, the public has remained enchanted. When I visited BMW the tours were sold out, but the factory's  “romance of production” was less central to the public than the “romance of consumption” in the showroom. In both places the car was treated as an almost enchanted “thing in itself,” an icon of modernity. For many it has become the ultimate consumer product, especially because now the assembly line can produce individualized automobiles, made to the consumer’s specifications. Henry Ford made his cars identical. But today, using the computer to keep track of the entire process from ordering to delivery, the assembly line produces individualized objects. Paradoxically, an assembly line with many robots and far fewer workers than in 1913 makes a more highly differentiated line of automobiles.

See also the blog on America's Assembly Line

March 06, 2012

Election 2012: Why Ohio is the Key Swing State

After the American Century

There is a certain justice to the fact that Ohio has become so important in elections, because in many ways it is a microcosm of the country. Ohio is an important agricultural state, but it also has three large cities (Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati). It has been an industrial powerhouse, but suffered a great deal from the outsourcing of factory jobs to Latin America and China. It has suffered greatly since the 2008 financial crisis, with large numbers of home foreclosures. But it has also been bouncing back economically, albeit slowly. It contains many minority groups, and a good cross section of the churches. It gets back from Washington almost precisely the same amount as it pays in federal taxes (unlike New York which gets back only 79 cents on the dollar, or Mississippi which gets back almost twice what it pays in.) Ohio can be seen as the end of the Eastern states and the beginning of the Middle West. Its southeastern region much resembles Appalachia, while its northeastern quarter seems an extension of industrial New York.  It has generally been a moderate state, politically. But while Ohio therefore is in many ways a good representative state, that is not why it has become so important in elections.

In elections, states are not created equal. The American states are unequal in population, and this means that a few of them have an enormous impact in presidential elections, because all of their electoral votes will go to one candidate or the other. Obama can expect to win the largest state, California and its 55 electoral votes, and the Republican nominee can expect to win Texas, the second largest, with 38. The Democrats generally have won the third largest, New York State (29), too. But precisely because these states are somewhat predictable, the focus is on the "swing states" that are not reliably behind one party in national elections. Most important of all are swing states with a large number of electors, notably Florida (29), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), Virginia (13), Indiana (11), and Missouri (19). (Pennsylvania leans perhaps a bit too much to the Democrats to be a true swing state, but it is moderate.) The smaller swing states can also prove crucial, notably Colorado (9), New Mexico (5), Iowa (6), and New Hampshire (4).

Note that the swing states are not randomly distributed, but are largely in a band just above the middle of the country. They are all marked in yellow on the following map, and as a group they have 96 electoral votes. A candidate needs to win 270.

The Swing States

Here is a map of what well may happen in the 2012 election. It is a prognosis based on how the states voted in 2000, 2004, and 2008, plus my sense of what is going on in the various states, hunches, you might say.  It is based on the supposition that Obama fails to win Florida, North Carolina, New

Hypothetical map of 2012 election, with the electoral vote evenly split. Ohio and Indiana are in yellow.

Mexico, or Virginia. In terms of delegates, this map shows the red states with 254 electoral votes and the blue states with 255. The two yellow states are Indiana and Ohio. Indiana tends to go Republican, but its electoral votes are not enough. If either party gets Ohio's 18 electoral votes, it moves into the White House. (In this example, you could substitute for Indiana Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire or Virginia, and the result would be the same. None of these states has Ohio's electoral clout.

This is not a far-fetched scenario. In 2000, when Gore lost to Bush in a much disputed election, here is what the map looked like:

2000 Presidential election

The final tally in that election was 271 (Bush) to 267 (Gore). If Gore had won Ohio, he wold have won the election easily, without Florida. That particular election was so close that Gore could have won by taking any additional state, but it is the swing states that matter, and Ohio was close.

How about the next election, in 2004?  Here again Ohio proved crucial to Bush's victory:

2004 Presidential Election

If Kerry had won Ohio and Indiana (or Ohio + Iowa), he would have been elected president.

No Republican has become president without winning Ohio. That is why the state is so important.

Update. After Obama led in Ohio during September, Romney won back some of its voters and he is much closer to winning the state - primarily due to his strong performance in the presidential debates. By the last week of October, it seems that Obama is likely to win Nevada and Iowa, while Romney seems likely to win Florida and North Carolina, with Virginia a toss-up.  Current polls still suggest that Obama will win, but the difference is narrow. After the second debate Obama seemed to regain momentum again, but in the meantime he lost ground in several swing states. In short, Ohio once again looks like the key battleground. The candidate who wins there will almost certainly win it all.

See also posting on Oct 11, on the four crucial swing states in the 2012 election. "Can Romney Win: Four Swing States Hold the Key"

March 05, 2012

Election 2012: Super Tuesday Probably Will Not Settle the Normination

After the American Century

Once upon a time there were real party conventions, where the nomination was not a coronation that had been scripted in detail for television. There was, for example, the magnificent competition between seven Democrats for the 1960 nomination, which was not settled on the first ballot, as usually happens today. John F. Kennedy emerged as the candidate then. Almost as exciting have been the wide open primary battles, like that in 1992, when the at first unlikely Bill Clinton emerged as the candidate.

The question to be answered tomorrow is whether we might be in for a wide open convention, or whether the nomination is more likely to be wrapped up sooner. Super Tuesday, with its many simultaneous elections, is at the least intended to narrow down the field. In short, will Gingrich or Paul decide later in the week that they should step aside? Or will all four candidates continue to battle for delegates?

Right now, Santorum and Romney are in a dead heat in the all-important Ohio Primary. Each has almost exactly one third of the votes, with the other third divided between Gingrich and Paul. Romney and Santorum are also running neck and neck in Tennessee.  Santorum is further ahead in North Carolina, but I have not seen enough polls for that state yet.

In contrast, some states are walkovers. Santorum seems certain to win by a wide margin in Oklahoma. Gingrich seems certain to win his home state of Georgia, with none of the other candidates coming within 20 points of his c. 44%.  Romney seems equally certain to run away with a victory in Massachusetts, his home state. Romney will also win Virginia in a walk because neither Gingrich nor Santorum  got on the ballot.

There are other states involved too, but the pattern seems clear. Right now it looks as though both Romney and Santorum will win some states, while Gingrich will only take Georgia. Ron Paul will not win any states at all, but he will pick up some delegates nevertheless. When the dust settles on Wednesday morning, it seems unlikely that Romney will suddenly be in a commanding position, though he will probably remain in the lead in terms of convention delegates.

If something like this is the result, then Super Tuesday will not decide anything. Romney will remain determined to grind down his opponents through superior organization and negative advertising. It has defeated all the challengers so far.  Santorum can say, "Well, of course Romney won his home state, and he won Virginia, where I was not on the ballot, but take that away and we ran about even." And Gingrich can say to himself, "Let Romney and Santorum keep hammering each other, and I will emerge as the least bloodied, most experienced candidate." And Paul? He does not seem to be in this contest to win it, but to have influence at the Convention. The less decisive Tuesday is, the better for him.

It looks like Romney will have to slug it out with Santorum for quite a while yet, and the longer it takes, the less excited the Republicans are likely to be about either of them, or about their chances in the fall. (Unless, of course, they become more civil and centrist, an unlikely development.) 

George Will, the usually level-headed and reasonable conservative columnist has already given up on the possibility of retaking the White House. He has just put out a column saying that the Republicans should focus on winning seats in Congress, instead.

March 04, 2012

What can be done about Syrian Atrocities?

After the American Century

Paul Conroy, a British photographer covered recent events in Syria. He says, "I'm an ex-artillery gunner so I can kind of follow the patterns - they are systematically moving through neighborhoods with munitions that are used for battlefields. It's not a war, it's a massacre, an indiscriminate massacre of men, woman and children."

For weeks the Syrian government has been slaughtering, imprisoning, and torturing its own citizens. At least 5000 people have been killed. For weeks China and Russia have blocked the UN from taking any action. For weeks we have seen the Syrian people suffer, as their dictatorship refuses to allow the Red Cross to evacuate women, children, the aged and the wounded. This is one of the most scandalous abuses of state power in recent memory.

In today's paper (Politiken, Denmark) I see that people are going to raise money for the victims. This is close to being pathetic nonsense. We watch while the Syrian government slaughters its own citizens. It has used artillery and it has posted snipers on rooftops to kill anyone moving around in Homs and some of its other cities. We watch their barbaric acts on YouTube, and hear the voices of the victims calling for help. And now we are asked to give money, to help people whose government for weeks would not allow the Red Cross access to them. 

The fund-raisers are well intentioned, but they are confused. They have made a category mistake. This is not a natural disaster, like the earthquake in Haiti. It is not like a drought in Africa. The catastrophe is the Syrian dictatorship itself. There is no point in raising and sending money when the government blocks the aid. Sending aid presupposes a government that is glad to get it and cooperative in getting the air distributed.

Instead, all efforts should be focused on removing the Syrian Asad government, and on pressuring the Chinese and the Russians to stop supporting that government. Raising aid money for victims in this situation is not going to help. Why send money to a place where the government will try to steal it, subvert its use, or prevent the aid from reaching those who need it? No fund raising is gong to help in this situation, unless it is for refugees from Syrian who have fled to other nations.

What would help? 
(1) Petitions to the Russian and Chinese governments would help. 
(2) Boycotts of Chinese and Russian goods would help. 
(3) Refusals to take vacations or attend conferences in China and Russia would help. So long as these two members of the UN Security Council keep supporting the ruthless Syrian regime, no amount of aid is going to make any difference.
(4) Taking the Syrian government's leaders and its generals to court for crimes against humanity will help. These shameless leaders must be held accountable, and the case against them must be prepared in detail.
(5) Protests outside Syrian embassies would help.
(6) Freezing of all Syrian assets in European and American banks, pending resolution of the crisis, would help.

This is not a complete list, but it suggests the kinds of actions that need to be taken. Raising money for the victims is not going to help very much, because there will continue to be more victims as long as the Syrians are ruled by a vicious regime.

Politiken is right about one thing. We are not helpless. But it is wrong to tell people that giving money to the victims is the solution, As if we had any access to the victims. The considerable danger is that the Syrian state itself will get that aid or prevent it from ever reaching those who need it.