Thursday, October 2, 2008

"This woman hates women.…She is not a feminist. She is not the woman that's going to come behind Hillary Clinton and do anything that Hillary Clinton would've been capable of.... I can't imagine overturning Roe vs. Wade. She's not of this time. The woman terrifies me."

-- Pink to PopEater
“I think there’s a really good chance that Sarah Palin could be president, and I think that’s a really scary thing, 'cause I don’t know anything about her -- I don’t think in eight weeks I’m going to know anything about her. I know that she was a mayor of a really, really small town and she’s the governor for Alaska for less than two years. I just don’t understand. I think the pick was made for political purposes.... Do the actuary tables and there’s a 1 out of 3 chance, if not more, that [John] McCain doesn’t survive his first term and it’ll be President Palin…. It’s like a really bad Disney movie. The hockey mom, you know, ‘Oh, I’m just a hockey mom’… and she’s facing down President Putin [of Russia]…. It’s totally absurd …. It’s a really terrifying possibility.”

-- Matt Damon, Associated Press


The Almost-Done Deal, and the Era of Angry Populism

by: Robert Reich, Talking Points Memo

Economist Robert Reich. (Artwork: The Economist)

Editor's Note: The Senate passed the $700 billion economic bailout plan on Wednesday, while the House is expected to vote by Friday. -TO/ms

The Senate will vote tonight; the House is scheduled to vote tomorrow morning. Will the deal fly? Probably. Wall Street's gyrations since Monday have scared the hell out of a number of holdouts, notwithstanding all the negative emails and phone calls they continue to receive from constituents.

An important distinction here. While more Americans are coming around to "supporting" the bailout bill, the vast majority still hate the idea of bailing out Wall Street. They're for the bailout bill now only because they fear that a failure to pass it will have worse consequences -- drying up credit at a time when Main Street is struggling. But make no mistake: America is mad as hell. They resent what they perceive as extortion by the Masters of the Universe.

Angry populism has always been a potent force in American politics. And now, with wages dropping, jobs insecure, fuel and food and health-insurance costs soaring, and millions of homes in jeopardy -- and what's perceived to be a massive tax-payer bailout of some of the richest people in the land -- angry populism is about to explode. McCain has already tried to cast himself as an angry populist, even though he still wants to give the very rich a bigger tax cut than George W. gave them, and cut taxes on big corporations (oil companies alone would reap $1.2 billion a year under McCain's plan). Barack Obama, whose plans for middle-class tax relief and affordable health care will genuinely help America's middle and working classes, has been expressing more indignation lately on behalf of them. But anger doesn't come as easily to Obama as it does to McCain -- even though McCain seems quite ready to aim his anger anywhere and everywhere.

Democrats should be angry populists, given their traditional role of protecting and championing the underdogs in American politics, and especially considering the absurdly wide gap that's opened up between the rich and everyone else. But in recent years Democrats have ceded the mantle to Republicans, who now mimic the faux populism of Sean Hannity and other right-wing talk show demagogues. (The recent maneuvering in the House over the bailout bill is really over this. House Democrats are getting the same angry mail that House Republicans are receiving, and don't want to be seen as lending their support to this ugly bill without Republicans signing on.)

In fact, the bailout bill isn't really taxpayer supported. It will be funded by additional federal debt, issued mostly to foreign governments -- especially the Chinese and in the Middle East. And, strictly speaking, it's not even a bailout. The Treasury will buy and hold mortgage-backed securities whose value is now unknown because there's no market for them, until housing prices start rising again, by which time the securities should be worth something -- perhaps even more than the Treasury pays for them. (Note that there continues to be great confusion about the extent to which the Treasury will hold a reverse auction, paying banks the minimum price at which they're willing to sell the securities -- perhaps 20 cents on the dollar -- or whether the Treasury will buy the securities outright for their face values and take warrants or shares of stock in return.)

But whatever it's called and however it's financed, it's still an outrage. America's foreign policy is made no more flexible by going into deeper hock to the Chinese and the Middle East. And the deal still subjects American taxpayers to some risk, especially if the housing market doesn't bounce back for many years. Worse, the bill can't help but prop up the earnings many Wall Street executives whose malfeasance, greed, and stupidity got us into this mess in the first place. And it does nothing for average Americans except avoid economic calamity. (The provision ostensibly helping distressed homeowners is to be used at the discretion of the Treasury Department, so it's mostly a sham.)

The larger economic outlook is not encouraging. All signs point to the economy worsening, bailout or no bailout. Unemployment will continue to rise. Median earnings will continue to drop, adjusted for inflation. More Americans will lose their health insurance.

The Era of Angry Populism has only just begun. Let's hope Obama wins, and is able to mobilize the anger into fierce pressure on Congress to get his agenda enacted, as well as reform Wall Street and Washington.



John McCain is notorious in the Senate for his prolific displays of anger. "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine," Mississippi Republican Senator Thad Cochran said in January. "He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

McCain has done his best, throughout the presidential campaign, to tamp that anger down. However, as he struggles in the polls, McCain is beginning to show some stress. First there was his combative and condescending debate performance against Obama, and now there's an interview from yesterday with the Des Moines Register editorial board where McCain is especially irritable and testy.

When asked about Sarah Palin's lack of experience, McCain goes on a memorable rant, comparing Palin's 20 month tenure as Governor of Alaska to Ronald Reagan (8 years as Governor of California) and Bill Clinton (10 years as Governor of Arkansas).

When asked about his campaign's increasingly dishonest tenor, McCain grew even testier.

Perhaps McCain was in a bad mood because polls in the Hawkeye state (which Bush narrowly won in 2004), show him losing to Barack Obama by double-digits. If he keeps up this kind of behavior, McCain may find himself losing by that much everywhere.

Posted by Mark from today's Nation


Study Finds States Purging Millions of Voters in Secret, Often Erroneously
Brennan Center Reveals Wild Inconsistencies in Maintenance of Voter Registration Lists
Issues Public Records Requests in 12 States with Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

NEW YORK - October 1 - Today the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released one of the first systematic examinations of voter purging, a practice-often controversial-of removing voters from registration lists in order to update state registration rolls-click here for report. After a detailed study of the purge practices of 12 states, Voter Purges reveals that election officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation. Upon the release of Voter Purges, today the Brennan Center and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law began filing public records requests with election officials in 12 states in order to expose the purges that happened this year.

"Purges can be an important way to ensure that voter rolls are dependable, accurate and up-to-date," said Myrna Pérez, counsel at the Brennan Center and the author of the report. "Far too frequently, however, eligible, registered citizens show up to vote and discover their names have been removed from the voter lists because election officials are maintaining their voter rolls with little accountability and wildly varying standards," Myrna Pérez stated.

According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, between 2004 and 2006, thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia reported purging more than 13 million voters from registration rolls. While the secret and inconsistent manner in which purges are conducted make it difficult to know exactly how many voters have been stricken from voting lists erroneously, Voter Purges finds four problematic practices with voter purges that continue to threaten voters in 2008: purges rely on error-ridden lists; voters are purged secretly and without notice; bad "matching" criteria mean that thousands of eligible voters will be caught up in purges; and insufficient oversight leaves voters vulnerable to erroneous or manipulated purges. The report reveals that purge practices vary dramatically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, that there is a lack of consistent protections for voters, and that there are often opportunities for mischief and mistakes in the purge process.

"The voter rolls are the gateway to voting, and a citizen typically cannot cast a vote that will count unless his or her name appears on the rolls. Purges remove names from the voter rolls, typically preventing wrongfully purged voters from having their votes counted. Given the close margins by which elections are won, the number of people wrongfully purged can make a difference. We should not tolerate purges that are conducted behind closed doors, without public scrutiny, and without adequate recourse for affected voters," said Wendy Weiser, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center.

Voter Purges reviews the state statutes, regulatory materials, and news reports in 12 diverse states: Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. In five states-Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, and Washington-the Brennan Center study also draws on extensive interviews with state and local election officials charged with the maintenance of voter registration lists.

The list of states in which the Brennan Center and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law began filing public records requests for purge records today includes 12 states. They were chosen because they had flawed purges or voter registration practices in the past, they use problematic purge procedures with insufficient protections for voters, they recently conducted large-scale purges, or they have specific practices in place that warrant further examination.

"Every year, the Election Protection hotline receives calls from across the country from eligible voters whose names have been removed from the voter rolls. We need to take the lid off the secret process of voter purges so we can remedy any problems we discover and ensure that they don't recur in the future," said Jonah Goldman, Director of the National Campaign for Fair Elections at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which coordinates the national Election Protection program.

"Nearly every purge that has come to light has bumped eligible voters off the rolls. Because purges are done in secret on an ad hoc basis, the only way to find out what is actually happening and if eligible voters have been wrongfully purged in droves is through public records requests," said Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center.

Several examples of recent purges made public reveal that purge practices are in dire need of improvement:

* In Mississippi earlier this year, a local election official discovered that another official had wrongly purged 10,000 voters from her home computer just a week before the presidential primary.
* In Muscogee, Georgia this year, a county official purged 700 people from the voter lists, supposedly because they were ineligible to vote due to criminal convictions. The list included people who claimed to have never even received a parking ticket.
* In Louisiana, including areas hit hard by hurricanes, officials purged approximately 21,000 voters, ostensibly for registering to vote in another state, but did not provide adequate opportunity to contest the records.

Flawed purges are sometimes caused by erroneous government lists. For example, even though Hilde Stafford, a Wappingers Falls, New York, resident, was still alive and voting in 2006, the Social Security Administration's Death Master File-a database of 77 million deaths dating back to 1937-lists her date of death as June 15, 1997. Indeed, from January 2004 to September 2005, the Social Security Administration had to "resurrect" the records of 23,366 people wrongly added to its Death Master File.

Another cause of erroneous purges is flawed procedures for generating purge lists. In the infamous Florida purge of 2000-for which conservative estimates place the number of wrongfully purged voters close to 12,000-Florida registrants were purged from the rolls if 80 percent of the letters of their last names were the same as those of persons with criminal convictions. Those wrongly purged included Reverend Willie D. Whiting Jr., who, under the matching criteria, was considered the same person as Willie J. Whiting.

In 2004, Florida planned to remove 48,000 "suspected felons" from its voter rolls even though many of those identified were in fact eligible to vote. When the flawed process generated a list of 22,000 African Americans to be purged-and only 61 voters with Hispanic surnames, in spite of Florida's sizable Hispanic population-it took pressure from voting rights groups to stop Florida officials from using the purge list.

Voter Purges contains several recommendations to improve the transparency, accountability, and accuracy of purges, including notice to individual voters and the public, strict and uniform criteria for the development of purge lists, and "fail-safe" provisions to protect voters from erroneous purges. An overall fix is the establishment of a system of universal voter registration, with protections for voters erroneously left out.

"It is essential that we put in place standards for voter purges to ensure public accountability and protection for voters," said Myrna Pérez of the Brennan Center.

"There really are no effective national standards to govern voter purges, and the result is a chaotic, whimsical approach to the maintenance of voter rolls," said Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center. "The lack of consistent rules and procedures means that Americans across the country lack basic protections against erroneous purges. We encourage election officials, legislators, advocates and concerned members of the public to use this report to improve voter purge practices and ensure that the rights of eligible voters are not jeopardized," Waldman concluded.

A full copy of the Brennan Center's analysis of purge practices and recommendations is available here: The Brennan Center's website is

The website for the Election Protection program is, and for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is


Online100: Obama will win the election

It has been tumultuous week for the economy and the nation's focus has turned towards the fate of the $700 billion bailout bill. Now that both candidates voted to pass the Senate version of the bill, the Online100 has weighed in.

At this point, 87% of panelists believe Senator Barack Obama is most likely to win the Election.

At this point, who do you think is more likely to win the Presidential election?

96% of left leaning panelists agree, losing previous concern about McCain from previous surveys. Most notably, 75% of right leaning panelists admit that Obama is most likely to win.

89% of center aligned panelists said that Obama will win; but none said that McCain would win.

The only group that picked McCain as likely to win was 25% of right leaning panelists, making McCain's a mere 8%.

5% of the panel said that they didn't know who was likely to win at this point.

This marks a dramatic change since we first asked this question on September 16 when the candidates were nearly tied as seen in the following graph

At this point, who do you think is more likely to win the Presidential election?


Posted from today's Opinion section of the LA Times

Abolish the vice presidency

The founders messed up. We should do away with the office.
By Bruce Ackerman
October 2, 2008
» Discuss Article
Sarah Palin is the product of a design flaw -- the unintended consequence of the founders' decision to create the vice presidency.

For two centuries, presidential nominees have used the office to balance the ticket by naming a running mate from a different region, or one who speaks with a different ideological accent to a specific constituency. This means that a president's death generates a double shock: The nation not only mourns a fallen leader, it must deal with a replacement who may push politics in a new direction.

Teddy Roosevelt -- who replaced William McKinley when he was assassinated in 1901 -- may have been a great progressive president, but he had been named as vice president by the arch-conservative McKinley simply to carry New York. The country elected a right-winger but ended up with something else entirely.

Similar perverse logic led Abraham Lincoln to choose Andrew Johnson as a running mate. Lincoln knew that Johnson was a racial conservative, but he was more interested in carrying Tennessee. This tragic blunder clouds Lincoln's claim to greatness. When Lincoln was killed, Johnson's bitter opposition to Reconstruction helped poison race relations for generations.

Recent elections have lulled us into a false sense of security. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush nominated like-minded, known-quantity running mates, as has Barack Obama this time around. But John McCain's surprising choice should lead us to think again. Mexico and France see no need for a vice president. We should designate the secretary of State to be in charge until a special election can be held to replace a president.

This isn't a question on which the founders deserve any deference. They designed their system for a very different political world.

Their electoral college aimed to give the power to choose the president to wealthy, important men in each state. But politics was emphatically local in the 18th century, and the founders feared that each state's electors would cast their ballots for a favorite son -- depriving the leading candidate of a majority.

To solve this problem, they hit upon an ingenious scheme. The original Constitution gave presidential electors two votes, not one, and provided that they could only vote for one nominee from their own state. The idea was that electors would use one vote to flatter a local favorite and the other to select a national leader like, say, George Washington, giving him a strong majority.

But alas, the two-vote system could be sabotaged. Electors could simply vote for their favorite Joe Schmoe and cast a blank second ballot, thereby maximizing Schmoe's chance for success. Enter the vice presidency, a consolation prize for favorite sons (or whoever polled second in the electoral college). It was meant to assure the election of a proper president; providing a replacement executive was a distinctly secondary objective.

This clever scheme did not survive the rise of political parties. By 1800, electors followed the instructions of the national Democratic-Republican and Federalist parties, generating a crisis. The Democratic-Republicans won the election, and their 73 electors all wrote the names of Thomas Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, on their ballots, without having the power to say that they wanted Jefferson to be president. This created a tie for the top spot, and Jefferson and Burr were obliged to compete for the presidency in what turned out to be a bitterly contested runoff in the House of Representatives.

After the smoke cleared, Congress and the states merely tinkered with the election system. Their 12th Amendment simply told electors to cast one ballot for president and one for vice president. This made a repeat of the Jefferson-Burr crisis impossible, but it paved the way for the vice presidential shocks that have redirected our national history.

If McCain wins the presidency, we can only wish him a long life. But however the race turns out, we should recognize that the founders didn't have the slightest idea that the vice presidency would episodically explode in our face, and it's about time we fixed it.

Bruce Ackerman is a professor of law and political science at Yale and the author of "The Failure of the Founding Fathers."