How to Protect Your Vote

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 4:26 PM EDT


Groups across the country are taking steps to prevent vote problems from marring the vote next Tuesday. Every year, both sides of the aisle let fly with allegations of voter fraud, voting machine problems, and improperly purged voters. Because of technological developments, voters seeking to publicize problems and groups seeking to address them can do so quicker than ever before.

Crying foul in elections is an American tradition. Instances from recent presidential elections are obvious — belief that Katherine Harris stole Florida in 2000 and Diebold stole Ohio in 2004 persist to this day — but allegations of malfeasance can be found in gubernatorial, Senate, and other downticket races. This election season, like any other, has seen its share of vote-based accusations. The Democratic Party has a younger and poorer base than the GOP, meaning that vote suppression tactics that target transitory or low information voters often succeed as a partisan tactic. In Michigan, the state GOP has been accused of seeking to use foreclosure lists to purge newly homeless voters from the rolls. In Virginia, a phony flier instructed voters that due to heavy turnout Republicans would vote on Tuesday and Democrats would vote on Wednesday. In Florida, voters were informed by an unknown caller that they could vote by phone. In multiple states, college students are being told they cannot vote in the state of their academic institution if their parents claim them as dependents somewhere else. And of course the community organization ACORN may be, in John McCain's words, "on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history," due to its imperfect but wildly successful voter registration drives.

The good news is, voters can use technology to protect the vote. Unlike in any prior election, everyday citizens have the opportunity to report and research problems via hotline, Twitter, blogs, and wikis.

The most conventional way voters can report a problem is through a voter hotline, of which there are several. Several television networks host hotlines because they give the networks an early look at voting irregularities that may become major stories. CNN, for example, is operating 1-877-GOCNN-08, which offers to patch a caller through to his or her local voter registrar if necessary.

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Is it Delusion or Spin When McCain Camp Insists Palin Is No Drag?

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 3:59 PM EDT

One of the duties of a campaign manager is to spin--that is, not tell the truth. I remember that on Election Day 1992, Mary Matalin, a top aide for President George H.W. Bush's reelection campaign, went on television throughout the day and said that the campaign was going to win. But its internal polls showed Bush I was heading toward a loss to Bill Clinton.

On Friday, Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, offered a similar whistling-past-the-graveyard stretcher. In a conference call with reporters, he talked up Sarah Palin, claiming she was an asset to the GOP ticket. It was a tough day for doing so. The New York Times had front-paged a poll showing that 59 percent of voters believe that Palin is not prepared to be vice president--up 9 points since the beginning of October. A third of the voters polled said that her selection would be a major factor in picking a president--and those voters favored Obama. Can you say, "drag on the ticket"?

Davis couldn't. He told reporters:

Governor Palin's crowds are huge. In fact, she was in a location last night, the same general vicinity of Senator Biden. He had about 800 people at his event, she had 20,000. So, all the talk that we see on television and the newspapers about what a drag Governor Palin is on our ticket can't be further from the truth. She's electrifying crowds all across the battleground states, and we really appreciate the hard work she's putting in.

So Palin is helping McCain? Davis and the McCain crew seem to be alone among the politerati in believing this. No one should call the election before the votes are counted, but it does seem clear (assuming polls mean anything at all) that if McCain does manage to win it will be in spite of--not because of--Sarah Palin.

Friday Cat Blogging - 31 October 2008

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 2:58 PM EDT

FRIDAY CAT KITTEN BLOGGING.... Last week I complained darkly of technical problems and feline noncooperation. This week those problems have been overcome and both Inkblot and Domino are taking the week off as a result. Instead, this week's catblogging features Lily, my mother's newest addition to the family.

My friends, this is a kitten you can believe in.

She is, of course, too young to run for president in 2012. But in cat years she'll be perfectly positioned to run in 2016, and she's practicing for the campaign by taking an executive position in my mother's house, where she apparently managed to take over completely within a few hours of her arrival. Poor Lucy didn't know what hit her.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Be sure to keep your cats indoors tonight.

Ten Most Awesome Presidential Mudslinging Moves Ever

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 2:45 PM EDT

Sure, this election's candidates have been called some names (lipsticked pig? terrorist? woman?). But however much we complain that this political campaign is sinking to a new low, it is, in fact, not even close to approaching old ones. The 2008 race's relatively unscurrilous insults would've had the 19th-century campaigners, and Karl Rove, calling even Ann Coulter—well, these days, it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word "pussy"…

Herewith, in the final ramp-up of negative ads, how far we have (or haven't) come in a couple hundred years of presidential contests:

Quote of the Day # 2 - 10.31.08

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 2:42 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY #2....From Brad DeLong, trying to figure out what the hell has happened to the economy:

"A 3% decline in aggregate asset values should not be a big problem for the macroeconomy. Yet it is."

To me, the answer appears to be related to derivative speculation. But that is probably too simpleminded. My own personal simplemindedness aside, however, it scares me that the world's most sophisticated economists don't seem to know what the answer is either.

On the other hand, as near as I can tell, we still don't know for sure what caused the Great Depression or even the Black Monday crash of 1987. So maybe we'll never really know with this one either.

Quote of the Day - 10.31.08

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 2:22 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Sarah Palin, unclear on the concept of freedom of speech:

"If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations, then I don't know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media."

The First Amendment protects politicians against attacks from the press? I guess Palin's not an originalist after all. She's an Orwellian.

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California Initiative Update

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 2:01 PM EDT

CALIFORNIA INITIATIVE UPDATE....The latest Field Poll shows that Proposition 8, the initiative to ban gay marriage in California, is losing by five points, 49%-44%. That's closer than it was last month, when Prop 8 was losing by 17 points (55%-38%), which means the anti-gay forces are gaining ground and this is probably going to be close. On the bright side, undecided voters have a tendency to vote No on controversial initiatives, so there's a good chance Prop 8 will lose in the end.

By the way, I saw a No on 8 ad last night that actually mentioned the words "same-sex marriage." Only barely, mind you, but it's still something.

In other California news, Field says that both Prop 2 (decent treatment for farm animals) and Prop 11 (redistricting reform) are leading heavily. No news on Prop 1A, the high-speed rail bond.

Income vs. Consumption

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 1:27 PM EDT

INCOME vs. CONSUMPTION....In recent years, as it finally became impossible to deny that income inequality had risen to unnerving levels, conservatives began trying out a new argument: it's not income inequality that matters, they said, it's consumption inequality. If middle class people were buying 50% as much stuff as rich people two decades ago, and they're buying 48% as much as rich people today — well that's not such a big deal, is it? Middle class lifestyles, contra liberal whining, are in pretty good shape.

This has always been a fairly desperate attempt to deny an obvious problem. At the low end of the income spectrum it mostly depended on the fact that government welfare programs boost the incomes of the poor, which, though true, is something that's happened only over many a dead conservative body. They never approved of most of these programs in the first place, but they were happy to use them as evidence that the economy was doing fine for poor people anyway.

In the middle part of the income spectrum, the consumption argument relied on — what? Well, it's obvious: if your income is flat or down, but your consumption is rising, that means you're borrowing. It means you're taking out home equity loans, or maxing out your Visa card, or paying usurious rates to your local payday loan outlet. And sure enough, broad statistics show that as median incomes stagnated over the past eight years, household debt exploded. Of the increase in consumer spending we've seen over that period, several trillion dollars of it has been fueled solely by increased borrowing. It turns out — surprise! — that income inequality mattered after all. This debt explosion couldn't keep up forever, which means that eventually middle class consumption was bound to plummet. And now it has.

As for what this means, Paul Krugman explains it all for you today:

The long-feared capitulation of American consumers has arrived. According to Thursday's G.D.P. report, real consumer spending fell at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter; real spending on durable goods (stuff like cars and TVs) fell at an annual rate of 14 percent.

To appreciate the significance of these numbers, you need to know that American consumers almost never cut spending. Consumer demand kept rising right through the 2001 recession; the last time it fell even for a single quarter was in 1991, and there hasn't been a decline this steep since 1980, when the economy was suffering from a severe recession combined with double-digit inflation.

....It's true that American consumers have long been living beyond their means....Sooner or later, then, consumers were going to have to pull in their belts. But the timing of the new sobriety is deeply unfortunate. One is tempted to echo St. Augustine's plea: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." For consumers are cutting back just as the U.S. economy has fallen into a liquidity trap — a situation in which the Federal Reserve has lost its grip on the economy.

....The capitulation of the American consumer, then, is coming at a particularly bad time. But it's no use whining. What we need is a policy response.

The ongoing efforts to bail out the financial system, even if they work, won't do more than slightly mitigate the problem. Maybe some consumers will be able to keep their credit cards, but as we've seen, Americans were overextended even before banks started cutting them off.

No, what the economy needs now is something to take the place of retrenching consumers. That means a major fiscal stimulus. And this time the stimulus should take the form of actual government spending rather than rebate checks that consumers probably wouldn't spend.

Let's hope, then, that Congress gets to work on a package to rescue the economy as soon as the election is behind us. And let's also hope that the lame-duck Bush administration doesn't get in the way.

The Obama Tapes***

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 11:48 AM EDT

THE OBAMA TAPES....In an update on Michael Malone's General Theory of Media Tankiness for Barack Obama, John Derbyshire offers a Special Theory of Media Tankiness for Barack Obama that applies only to the LA Times. Sam Zell and Hank Paulson are involved. And a unicorn.

For those of you with the good sense not to have followed this story, it's about a piece the Times ran a few months ago describing a testimonial dinner in Chicago for Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies now at Columbia University. The Times has a videotape of Barack Obama's speech at the event, and wingers everywhere are demanding that they release it so that Fox News can put it on a 24/7 loop over the weekend. The Times says it can't release the tape because they promised their source they wouldn't, but conservoland unanimously agrees that only fools and knaves believe this transparently ridiculous story. The Times is really holding it back because Khalidi shouted "Death to Israel" on the tape while Bill Ayers lit an Israeli flag on fire, and Barack Obama laughed and clapped while all this was going on.

It's unclear, of course, why the Times even revealed the existence of this testimonial dinner in the first place if they were so in the tank for Obama, but I'm sure the wingers have an explanation for that. Conspiracy theorists always do. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I don't actually know anything about Khalidi myself, but it's worth noting that he's a perfectly respectable scholar with mildly pro-Palestinian views that the McCain campaign is trying to use in one of their usual cackhanded efforts to convince the rubes that Obama is a radical/Muslim/Jew-hating/terrorist sympathizer. Hell, even Marty Peretz is standing up for Khalidi. Jo-Ann Mort has more here.

Only four more days until this vile swill finally comes to an end.

Putting the Democrats' Impending Congressional Victory in Historical Context

| Fri Oct. 31, 2008 10:05 AM EDT

In 2006, the Democrats picked up 30 House seats. This year, they are slated to pick up anywhere from 15 to 30. Those numbers hold some pretty historic potential. Here's CQ:

The last time a party made a net gain of 15 House seats in consecutive elections was when the Republicans did it in 1978 (15 seat gain) and 1980 (34 seat gain). No party has made a net gain of 20 House seats in consecutive elections since the Republicans accomplished the feat in 1950 (28 seat gain) and 1952 (22 seat gain).

In the Senate, Democrats are poised to pick up anywhere from five to 10 seats. The last time the Senate saw movement like that was 1980, when Republicans picked up 12 seats and Ronald Reagan took the White House. CQ notes that the 19th century saw far more volatility in both chambers, but particularly the House. "It's less common today to see huge seat swings because of demographic shifts and a surgical precision in redrawing congressional district lines to create politically "safe" seats for both parties." Can you imagine what next Tuesday would look like if politicians couldn't gerrymander their way into near lifetime appointments?