A MUST READ FROM THE NATION. THIS EXPLAINS THE ELECTION AND THE TWO UNDERLYING FACTORS THAT WILL DETERMINE IT'S POSSIBLE OUTCOMES BETTER THAN ANYTHING I'VE READ. Click on the red link below "In Their Hands". MARK
President Bush is nearing what may be a new distinction: an historic 45-point spread between the voters who give his performance a thumbs down and those who are still giving him a thumbs up.
Though this may be an arcane calculation, it's interesting to ponder.
At one moment in his presidency, Richard Nixon registered 66% disapproval rating from voters, against a 24% approval, for a 42-point differential.
Harry Truman, often derided by critics, experienced a range of 43 points between the disapproval and approval numbers.
Santi Tafarella, who blogs at Prometheus Unbound, looked at years of the numbers from the Gallup Poll and concluded that George W. Bush has passed Nixon and Truman to become the president with the widest spread. As is apparent from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research's chart above, at the moment, the president's disapproval ratings are at 70%, while only 25% gave him positive marks. Which would give him an historic margin of 45 points.
At the University of Connecticut, where Roper is headquartered, political scientists were unsure what to make of the finding. Howard Reiter, who has been tracking Bush's popularity ratings since he took office, marvels that "if you didn’t know anything that happened during the Bush administration" you could look at the chart and figure it out. There's a spike of approval after 9/11, a dip after Hurricane Katrina, and a steady downward trend ever since.
The Bush popularity chart also is a template for larger presidential trends, said Reiter, noting that "the longer presidents are in office, the more people they offend. People get tired of them." Especially after two terms.
Presidents at the end of two terms often get what he called "a nostalgia" effect, where voters forgive them their lapses and wish them well as they leave town. But given the financial crisis, Bush "is not even enjoying that now."
-- Johanna Neuman
The idea of Barack Obama winning North Carolina or perhaps Indiana, I think we have gotten accustomed to. But Obama winning ... West Virginia, a state where he got barely a quarter of the vote in the Democratic primary?
That's what American Research Group says; in fact, it gives Obama a rather large, 8-point lead in the Mountaineer State. I'd have to say that I'm very, very skeptical of this one until I see it confirmed by another polling agency; this is exactly the sort of quirky result that ARG is (in)famous for.
Nevertheless, if Obama has a double-digit lead in Pennsylvania -- and all of the polls seem to think that he does -- that means he's had to have made at least some progress in the "Pennsyltucky" region in the interior of the state. And if he's made progress in Pennsyltucky, that probably means he's made progress in West Virginia. West Virginia -- like Pennsylvania -- is also a place where the Democrats retain a substantial edge in party identification, and perhaps the economy has really brought Democrats home. Indeed, for the past week or so, just about every poll taken in a Kerry state has shown Obama with a double-digit lead, with the minor exception of Minnesota, where the polling has been erratic.
In any event, there might be some merit in Obama paying a visit to West Virginia -- not because it's quite moved to the point where it's a swing state but because I think the symbolism of all of it would get him a lot of earned media.
Here are the rest of the numbers:
Obama slightly improved his position in the tracking polls today -- incorporating one full day of interviewing after the Nashville debate -- although most of that is the Diageo/Hotline poll having snapped back to Obama +6 after showing him ahead by just 1 yesterday. (You should continue to give top priority the Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls as their large sample sizes make them less prone to this sort of result). We'll want to wait until the weekend before we can more fully evaluate the effects of the debate.
In 2004, America's malleable mainstream media allowed itself to be manipulated by artful Republican operatives into devoting weeks of broadcast attention and drums of ink to unfairly desecrating John Kerry's genuine Vietnam heroics while obligingly muzzling serious discussion of George W. Bush's shameful wartime record of evasion and cowardice.
Last week found the American media once again boarding Republican swift boats against this season's Democratic candidate armed with unfair and hypocritical attacks artfully designed by GOP strategists to distract attention from the cataclysmic outcomes of Republican governance. Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin has taken to faulting Senator Barack Obama for his casual acquaintance with a respected Illinois educator Bill Ayers, who forty years ago was a member of the Weathermen, a movement active when Obama was eight and which he has denounced as "detestable." Palin argues that the relationship proves that Obama sees "America as being so imperfect that he is palling around with terrorists who would target their own country."
The Times dedicated a page one article to Obama's relations with Ayers and CNN's Anderson Cooper obliged Palin by rewarding her reckless accusations about Obama's patriotism with a major investigative report. Fox, meanwhile, is still riveting its audience with wall to wall coverage of this pressing irrelevancy.
But if McCarthy-era guilt-by-association is once again a valid political consideration, Palin, it would seem, has more to lose than Obama. Palin, it could be argued, following her own logic, thinks so little of America's perfection that she continues to "pal around" with a man--her husband, actually--who only recently terminated his seven-year membership in the Alaskan Independence Party. Putting plunder above patriotism, the members of this treasonous cabal aim to break our country into pieces and walk away with Alaska's rich federal oil fields and one-fifth of America's land base--an area three-fourths the size of the Civil War Confederacy.
AIP's charter commits the party "to the ultimate independence of Alaska," from the United States which it refers to as "the colonial bureaucracy in Washington." It proclaims Alaska's 1959 induction as a state "as illegal and in violation of the United Nations charter and international law."
AIP's creation was inspired by the rabidly violent anti-Americanism of its founding father Joe Vogler, "I'm an Alaskan, not an American," reads a favorite Vogler quote on AIP's current website, "I've got no use for America or her damned institutions." According to Vogler AIP's central purpose was to drive Alaska's secession from the United States. Alaska, says current Chairwoman Lynette Clark, "should be an independent nation."
Vogler was murdered in 1993 during an illegal sale of plastic explosives that went bad. The prior year, he had renounced his allegiance to the United States explaining that, "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government." He cursed the stars and stripes, promising, "I won't be buried under their damned flag...when Alaska is an independent nation they can bring my bones home." Palin has never denounced Vogler or his detestable anti-Americanism.
Palin's husband Todd remained an AIP party member from 1995 to 2002. Sarah can be described in McCarthy-era palaver as a "fellow traveler." While retaining her Republican registration, she attended the AIP's 1994 convention where the party called for a draft constitution to secede from the United States and create an independent nation of Alaska. The McCain Campaign has reluctantly acknowledged that she also attended AIP's 2000 Convention. She apparently found the experience so inspiring that she agreed to give a keynote address at the AIP's 2006 convention and she recorded a video greeting for this year's 2008 convention. In other words, this is not something that happened when she was eight!So when Palin accuses Barack of "not seeing the same America as you and me," maybe she is referring to an America without Alaska. In any case, isn't it time the media start giving equal time to Palin's buddy list of anti-American bombers and other radical associates?
Thanks to Politico's Ben Smith for sending this our way.
This is the most painful press engagement between a campaign spokesman and a "polite, but persistent" group of media I have ever seen.
Let's just hope that Al Franken buys all of his own suits.
As American Prospect executive editor Mark Schmitt just wrote in a note, the media between now and election day will just keep asking "who was paying for [Norm Coleman's] suits, his gas bill, his rent, his wife's salary, etc."
Adding to the fun, Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch shared with me, "Oh, how I wish Kofi Annan would travel to Minneapolis to demand Coleman's resignation." That is exactly what John Bolton's best friend in the Senate, Norm Coleman, did to Annan.
-- Steve Clemons
Wednesday 08 October 2008
by: Ian Urbina, The New York Times
(Illustration: Matt Mahurin / Rolling Stone)
Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law, according to a review of state records and Social Security data by The New York Times.
The actions do not seem to be coordinated by one party or the other, nor do they appear to be the result of election officials intentionally breaking rules, but are apparently the result of mistakes in the handling of the registrations and voter files as the states tried to comply with a 2002 federal law, intended to overhaul the way elections are run.
Still, because Democrats have been more aggressive at registering new voters this year, according to state election officials, any heightened screening of new applications may affect their party's supporters disproportionately. The screening and trimming of voter registration lists in the six states - Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina - could also result in problems at the polls on Election Day: people who have been removed from the rolls are likely to show up only to be challenged by political party officials or election workers, resulting in confusion, long lines and heated tempers.
Some states allow such voters to cast provisional ballots. But they are often not counted because they require added verification.
Although much attention this year has been focused on the millions of new voters being added to the rolls by the candidacy of Senator Barack Obama, there has been far less notice given to the number of voters being dropped from those same rolls.
States have been trying to follow the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and remove the names of voters who should no longer be listed; but for every voter added to the rolls in the past two months in some states, election officials have removed two, a review of the records shows.
The six states seem to be in violation of federal law in two ways. Some are removing voters from the rolls within 90 days of a federal election, which is not allowed except when voters die, notify the authorities that they have moved out of state, or have been declared unfit to vote.
Some of the states are improperly using Social Security data to verify registration applications for new voters.
In addition to the six swing states, three more states appear to be violating federal law. Alabama and Georgia seem to be improperly using Social Security information to screen registration applications from new voters. And Louisiana appears to have removed thousands of voters after the federal deadline for taking such action.
Under federal law, election officials are supposed to use the Social Security database to check a registration application only as a last resort, if no record of the applicant is found on state databases, like those for driver's licenses or identification cards.
The requirement exists because using the federal database is less reliable than the state lists, and is more likely to incorrectly flag applications as invalid. Many state officials seem to be using the Social Security lists first.
In the year ending Sept. 30, election officials in Nevada, for example, used the Social Security database more than 740,000 times to check voter files or registration applications and found more than 715,000 nonmatches, federal records show. Election officials in Georgia ran more than 1.9 million checks on voter files or voter registration applications and found more than 260,000 nonmatches.
Officials of the Social Security Administration, presented with those numbers, said they were far too high to be cases where names were not in state databases. They said the data seem to represent a violation of federal law and the contract the states signed with the agency to use the database.
Last week, after the inquiry by The Times, Michael J. Astrue, the commissioner of the Social Security Administration, alerted the Justice Department to the problem and sent letters to election officials in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. The letters, which express concern that voters will be blocked from voting because of the inappropriate use of Social Security information, ask the officials to ensure they are complying with federal law.
In three states - Colorado, Louisiana and Michigan - the number of people purged from the election rolls since Aug. 1 far exceeds the number who may have died or relocated during that period.
States may be improperly removing voters who have moved within the state, election experts said, or who are considered inactive because they have failed to vote in two consecutive federal elections. For example, major voter registration drives have been held this year in Colorado, which has also had a significant population increase since the last presidential election, but the state has recorded a net loss of nearly 100,000 voters from its rolls since 2004.
Asked about the appearance of voter law violations, Rosemary E. Rodriguez, the chairwoman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, which oversees elections, said they could present "extremely serious problems."
"The law is pretty clear about how states can use Social Security information to screen registrations and when states can purge their rolls," Ms. Rodriguez said.
Nevada officials said the large number of Social Security checks had resulted from county clerks entering Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers in the wrong fields before records were sent to the state. They could not estimate how many records might have been affected by the problem, but they said it was corrected several weeks ago.
Other states described similar problems in entering data.
Under the Help America Vote Act, all states were required to build statewide electronic voter registration lists to standardize and centralize voter records that had been kept on the local level. To prevent ineligible voters from casting a ballot, states were also required to clear the electronic lists of duplicates, people who had died or moved out of state, or who had become ineligible for other reasons.
Voting rights groups and federal election officials have raised concerns that the methods used to add or remove names vary by state and are conducted with little oversight or transparency. Many states are purging their lists for the first time and appear to be unfamiliar with the 2002 federal law.
"Just as voting machines were the major issue that came out of the 2000 presidential election and provisional ballots were the big issue from 2004, voter registration and these statewide lists will be the top concern this year," said Daniel P. Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University.
Voting rights groups have urged voters to check their registrations with local officials.
In Michigan, some 33,000 voters were removed from the rolls in August, a figure that is far higher than the number of deaths in the state during the same period - about 7,100 - or the number of people who moved out of the state - about 4,400, according to data from the Postal Service.
In Colorado, some 37,000 people were removed from the rolls in the three weeks after July 21. During that time, about 5,100 people moved out of the state and about 2,400 died, according to postal data and death records.
In Louisiana, at least 18,000 people were dropped from the rolls in the five weeks after July 23. Over the same period, at least 1,600 people moved out of state and at least 3,300 died.
The secretaries of state in Michigan and Colorado failed to respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Louisiana secretary of state said that about half of the numbers of the voters removed from the rolls were people who moved within the state or who died. The remaining 11,000 or so people seem to have been removed by local officials for other reasons that were not clear, the spokesman said.
The purge estimates were calculated using data from state election officials, who produce a snapshot every month or so of the voter rolls with details about each registered voter on record, making it possible to determine how many have been removed.
The Times's methodology for calculating the purge estimates was reviewed by two voting experts, Kimball Brace, the director of Election Data Services, a Washington consulting firm that tracks voting trends, and R. Michael Alvarez, a political science professor at the California Institute of Technology.
By using the Social Security database so extensively, states are flagging extra registrations and creating extra work for local officials who are already struggling to process all the registration applications by Election Day.
"I simply don't have the staff to keep up," said Ann McFall, the supervisor of elections in Volusia County, Fla.
It takes 10 minutes to process a normal registration and up to a week to deal with a flagged one, said Ms. McFall, a Republican, adding that she was receiving 100 or so flagged registrations a week.
Usually, when state election officials check a registration and find that it does not match a database entry, they alert local election officials to contact the voter and request further proof of identification. If that is not possible, most states flag the voter file and require identification from the voter at the polling place.
In Florida, Iowa, Louisiana and South Dakota, the problem is more serious because voters are not added to the rolls until the states remove the flags.
Ms. McFall said she was angry to learn from the state recently that it was her responsibility to contact each flagged voter to clear up the discrepancies before Election Day. "This situation with voter registrations is going to land us in court," she said.
In fact, it already has.
In Michigan and Florida, rights groups are suing state officials, accusing them of being too aggressive in purging voter rolls and of preventing people from registering.
In Georgia, the Justice Department is considering legal action against officials in Cobb and Cherokee Counties who sent letters to hundreds of voters stating that their voter registrations had been flagged and telling them they cannot vote until they clear up the discrepancy.
On Monday, the Ohio Republican Party filed a motion in federal court against the secretary of state to get the list of all names that have been flagged by the Social Security database since Jan. 1. The motion seeks to require that any voter who does not clear up a discrepancy be required to vote using a provisional ballot.
Republicans said in the motion that it is central to American democracy that nonqualified voters be forbidden from voting.
The Ohio secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, said in court papers that she believes the Republicans are seeking grounds to challenge voters and get them removed from the rolls.
Considering that in the past year the state received nearly 290,000 nonmatches, such a plan could have significant impact at the polls.
Proponents of the cut-off are not misogynists. They are honestly outraged by forced abortions in China. But why take it out on the most impoverished and voiceless people on earth? Mr. McCain seems to have supported Mr. Bush, mostly out of instinct, and when a reporter asked him this spring whether American aid should finance contraceptives to fight AIDS in Africa, he initially said, “I haven’t thought about it,” and later added, “You’ve stumped me.”
Retrograde decisions on reproductive health are reached in conference rooms in Washington, but I’ve seen how they play out in African villages. A young woman lies in a hut, bleeding to death or swollen by infection, as untrained midwives offer her water or herbs. Her husband and children wait anxiously outside the hut, their faces frozen and perspiring as her groans weaken.
When she dies, her body is bundled in an old blanket and buried in a shallow hole, with brush piled on top to keep wild animals away. Her children sob and shriek and in the ensuing months they often endure neglect and are far more likely to die of hunger or disease.
In some parts of Africa, a woman now has a 1-in-10 risk of dying in childbirth. The idea that U.S. policy may increase that toll is infuriating.
But the economic storm has sent the doodoo flying not only in the direction of McCain, but also in the direction of NRSC chairman Sen. John Ensign (R-NV). The chairman of the DSCC, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is now openly talking about getting close to 60 seats in the Senate, which would allow the Democrats to invoke cloture and pass legislation with the Republicans powerless to block it. While Schumer is quite good at counting (not to mention raising money), this is the first time he has dared talk so freely about getting 60 seats. In 2006, Schumer managed to pick up six seats (and control of the Senate) when nobody in his right mind thought that was possible. Among Republican insiders, holding their loss to five seats (New Hampshire, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, and Alaska) would be considered a huge victory. Now they are worried about losing Oregon, Minnesota, North Carolina, Mississippi-B, Georgia, and Kentucky as well. They see the handwriting on the wall and it appears to say: "Armageddon." CNN also has a story on the Senate.
Analyst Stu Rothenberg, who is not generally given to great enthusiasm for the Democrats, is now also talking about the possibility of close to 60 Senate seats for the Democrats. Furthermore, he is now predicting the Democrats will pick up at least 20-30 seats in the House, maybe even eclipsing their 31-seat pickup in 2006. He concludes with: "Republicans appear to be heading into a disastrous election that will usher in a very bleak period for the party." Our tally (on top of the page) is now a 247 to 187 breakdown (with 1 tie), but the reality is much worse for the Republicans because many close races that are probably going to go Democratic have not been polled. Our algorithm assumes that in the absence of any polling data, the incumbent party wins. While normally that is true 90% of the time, this year it may not be, especially due to the open seat issue. There are 47 seats in which the 2006 winner is not running. Ten of these were occupied by Democrats and nearly all of them are in overwhelmingly Democratic districts. The other 37 are occupied by Republicans and many of these are in swing districts. Here is the full list.
It may or may not reflect the internal state of the campaigns' thinking, but Obama has a large, well-staffed operation going on to prepare for the presidency. Groups are working to select potential cabinet officers and plan policy agendas. McCain has no such operation. All his manpower is going into a final push to win the election. If McCain wins, Obama will look arrogant for planning his administration before winning the election. If he does win, however, he will look mature, wise, and knowledgeable about the process of actually governing.
by: Nancy Trejos, The Washington Post
As the stock market continues to drop, $2 trillion of Americans' retirement savings has been lost. (Photo: CBS / AP)
The stock market's prolonged tumble has wiped out about $2 trillion in Americans' retirement savings in the past 15 months, a blow that could force workers to stay on the job longer than planned, rein in spending and possibly further stall an economy reliant on consumer dollars, Congress's top budget analyst said yesterday.
For many Americans, pensions and 401(k) plans are their only form of savings. The dwindling of these assets - about a 20 percent decline overall - is another setback just as many people are grappling with higher gas and food prices, more credit card debt, declining home values and less access to loans.
"Unlike Wall Street executives, American families don't have a golden parachute to fall back on," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor. "It's clear that Americans' retirement security may be one of the greatest casualties of this financial crisis."
Even traditional pension plans, which are formally known as defined-benefit plans and are widely considered more stable, have been hit hard by the stock market's volatility, losing 15 percent of their assets over the past year, Peter R. Orszag, director of the Congressional Budget Office, told the House panel.
Despite the losses, companies will still be obligated to pay out the same pensions promised to employees but will have to recoup the extra costs in other ways, Orszag said. "When pension assets decline in 401(k) plans, the burden is on the workers," he said. "When pension plan assets decline in defined-benefit plans, the burden is on the firm to make up the difference. The firm will have to pass those costs on to their workers, to their shareholders or to consumers."
Defined-benefit plans are company-sponsored programs that provide retirement payouts based on an employee's salary and tenure. The company shoulders the bulk of the investment decisions and risk. Defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, turn those tasks over to the worker and are subject to the whims of the stock market.
Increasingly, employers have switched workers into defined-contribution plans. The federal government has also pushed 401(k) plans heavily, approving a law late last year that makes it easier for employers to automatically enroll their employees in them and other similar retirement plans.
Defined-contribution plans tend to be more heavily weighted in stocks, either through individual holdings or mutual funds. As a result, said Orszag, "the value of assets in defined-contribution plans may have declined by slightly more than that of assets in defined-benefit plans."
Through September, the percentage loss for the year in average account balances among 401(k) participants was between 7.2 and 11.2 percent, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute's analysis of more than 2 million plans.
Employees between the ages of 56 and 65 who had the fewest years on the job were the least affected, while those 36 to 45 years old with the longest tenures suffered the steepest declines, said Jack L. VanDerhei, research director for the D.C.-based institute. Younger workers tend to have more stocks in their portfolios while older employees move toward safer investments such as bonds, VanDerhei said.
The findings exacerbate a complaint among many workers and academics about 401(k) and similar plans that are heavily tied to the stock market. Are they really the best retirement vehicles for workers?
"The loss of retirement security is a reversal of fortune and the result of very specific flawed governmental policies that have been biased toward 401(k) plans, rather than the result of technological change or the logical consequences of global economic trends," Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research, testified before the committee.
Other academics and analysts say 401(k) plans allow employees to take control of their retirements.
Jerry Bramlett, president of consulting firm BenefitStreet, said 401(k) participants should resist the urge to pull money out of stocks because that would lock in their losses.
"Markets do go up and down, and 401(k) participants must try to remember to think long-term," he said.
Many investors have been buying low-yield Treasury bills in recent months because they are considered less volatile. Bramlett cautioned against that because it would leave them vulnerable to inflation.
That said, 401(k) participants should evaluate their portfolios to make sure their money is spread among stock and fixed-income investments. They should also make sure they do not have too much of their own company's stock.
Public pensions also have suffered. The assets held by state and local governments' pension plans declined by more than $300 billion between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2008, according to the Federal Reserve. About 60 percent of public pension funds are invested in stocks, 30 percent in domestic fixed-income securities, 5 percent in real estate, and the remaining 5 percent in other products.
Miller called the findings "very cataclysmic for middle-class families."
Several analysts who testified at the hearing said the most vulnerable workers are those nearing retirement, who have large balances in their retirement plans that are now shrinking. Tighter household budgets are also crimping workers' retirement savings. According to a survey released yesterday by AARP, 20 percent of baby boomers stopped contributing to their retirement plans in the past year because they have had trouble making ends meet.
Already, more and more workers are delaying retirement, a trend that analysts and economists expect to accelerate because of the distressed economy. The people age 55 and older who work full time grew from about 22 percent in 1990 to nearly 30 percent in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
By 2016, the bureau predicts, the number of workers age 65 and over will soar by more than 80 percent, and they will make up 6.1 percent of the labor force. In 2006, they accounted for 3.6 percent of active workers.