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HOUSE DEMOCRATS....Did congressional Dems underperform this election compared to Barack Obama? Should they have won even more than 20 additional seats? Andrew Gelman cries foul:The only trouble with this theory is that it's not supported by the data. Obama won...

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 1:32 PM EST

HOUSE DEMOCRATS....Did congressional Dems underperform this election compared to Barack Obama? Should they have won even more than 20 additional seats? Andrew Gelman cries foul:

The only trouble with this theory is that it's not supported by the data. Obama won 53% of the two-party vote, congressional Democrats averaged 56%. The average swing of 5.7% from Democratic congressional candidates in 2004 to Dems in 2008 was actually greater than the popular vote swing of 4.5% from Kerry to Obama.

I think this is basically right, but I want to add something. Andrew compares the average district vote in each state, and for technical reasons he thinks this is the right measure. I, however, prefer something cruder: total congressional vote, which turns out to be a pretty good predictor of total House seats won by each party.

So how did Dems do? In 2004 they lost to Republicans by 2.2 percentage points. In 2006 they won by about 7.4 points, an astonishing swing of 9.6 points. This year they won by about 8.2 percentage points, an even more astonishing swing of 10.4 points since 2004 — and, as Andrew points out, bigger than the 8.7 point swing from Kerry to Obama.

So I guess my question to the skeptics is: Just how much do you think the Dems should have won by? Ten points is an enormous margin, far bigger than any party has enjoyed for the past two decades. If that's underperforming, I'll take it.

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Checking the Vote-Checking in Minnesota

Minnesota is in the middle of something called a "post-election audit." It is not the Franken/Coleman recount; that starts next...

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 1:04 PM EST

Minnesota is in the middle of something called a "post-election audit." It is not the Franken/Coleman recount; that starts next week. It is a check of the accuracy of Minnesota's optical scan voting machines, mandated by state law and performed after all statewide elections.

Election officials are hand-counting ballots from selected precincts and comparing the results to the machine-tabulated totals. Sounds like a recount, right? Except it operates on a much smaller scale — in 2006, the post-election audit reviewed ballots from just 5 percent of the state's precincts.

So how is it going so far? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which has not been friendly to Franken in this election, makes it sound like the post-election audit is slowly eliminating Franken's chances for making up the 206 vote deficit that is keeping him from unseating incumbent Republican Norm Coleman.

Twenty men and women settled in along tables at the Ramsey County elections office first thing Monday morning and began plowing through more than 7,700 ballots cast last Tuesday in the U.S. Senate race.
After nearly three hours of counting, Norm Coleman had lost exactly one net vote in five of the county's precincts. Al Franken had gained exactly one.

But that gives readers an impression that is badly wrong. As Senate Guru points out, this is good news for Franken:

The Car Tax

THE CAR TAX....The LA Times chimes in this morning to suggest that if Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to raise revenue, he should think about reimposing the old vehicle license fee, which he cut when he took office, rather than raising sales...

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 12:41 PM EST

THE CAR TAX....The LA Times chimes in this morning to suggest that if Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to raise revenue, he should think about reimposing the old vehicle license fee, which he cut when he took office, rather than raising sales taxes:

The car tax is a smarter choice than a sales tax for digging out of the current budget hole. Asking Californians to pitch in through their vehicle registration fees rather than at the cash register would have fewer negative effects on sales, which we can expect to be diminished too much already in the coming months.

Sales taxes are regressive: They take a higher percentage of household income from the poor than from the rich. A 1999 California Policy Research Center study found vehicle license fees to be nearly as regressive, but at least the proceeds are unrestricted and could be used to bail the state out of its mess. Because of voter fiat, sales taxes paid at the gas pump are off limits for any use but transportation. Local government also claims a share. Another advantage of car taxes: They are deductible from federal income tax. Try deducting your sales tax on your 1040 form and see how far you get.

I'll add another couple of related points. First, the California sales tax is already high, and local add-ons make it even higher. Schwarzenegger's proposal would hike it above 10% in most places, and most of the tax literature I've read suggests that 10% is an upper bound for an effective sales tax. Above that it has serious effects on sales revenue, promotes out-of-state purchasing, and produces compliance problems.

Second, sales taxes are regressive by nature and there's only a limited amount you can do about it (exempting food purchases is the most common approach to adding a bit of progressivity). Not so with the vehicle license fee. Right now the VLF is a flat rate on the assessed value of a vehicle, which is based on its purchase price and a fixed schedule of depreciation (basically 10% per year). It's true that if all you did was raise the VLF to its old rate of 2% it would remain about as regressive as a sales tax (see Table 5 here), but that's not the only way you can do it. Unlike a sales tax, which needs to be a flat rate for administrative reasons, the VLF could easily vary by assessed value. It could stay at its current rate of 0.65% up to, say, $10,000 in assessed value, increase to 2% for more expensive cars, and increase still further to 4% for top end cars. The average rate would still be about 2%, but the incidence of the tax would be more progressive.

And finally, here's one more great reason for increasing the VLF. It's a truism that if you tax something, you get less of it. So ask yourself: which could California use less of? General consumption? Or cars? The question answers itself, doesn't it?

Stimulus Math

STIMULUS MATH....Goldman Sachs says we're about to suffer the deepest recession since World War II, with unemployment expected to top 8.5% next year and maybe inching a little higher in 2010. So how big should a stimulus package be given...

| Tue Nov. 11, 2008 2:11 AM EST

STIMULUS MATH....Goldman Sachs says we're about to suffer the deepest recession since World War II, with unemployment expected to top 8.5% next year and maybe inching a little higher in 2010. So how big should a stimulus package be given the size of the economic tsunami we're headed into? Paul Krugman tells us today that since Okun's Law suggests that every point of unemployment above 5% represents a 2% output gap, an 8.5% unemployment rate means that the economy is performing 7% under its potential:

So we need a fiscal stimulus big enough to close a 7% output gap. Remember, if the stimulus is too big, it does much less harm than if it's too small. What's the multiplier? Better, we hope, than on the early-2008 package. But you'd be hard pressed to argue for an overall multiplier as high as 2.

When I put all this together, I conclude that the stimulus package should be at least 4% of GDP, or $600 billion.

Given the likely length of this recession, we'll probably need nearly this much again in 2010. Call it an even trillion bucks when it's all said and done.

As recently as a few months ago that would have seemed unimaginably large to me. Today, not so much. Stimulate away, President Obama.

Mini Nuke Plants Will Power 20,000 Homes

They're the size of a hot tub. They're buried underground. They'll power 20,000 homes for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world, at a start-up cost of $2,500 a house. They're 5 years away from mass production. They're miniature nuclear reactors delivered to your hood by truck and guaranteed to be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts, and be...

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 9:49 PM EST

Susquehanna_steam_electric_station.jpg They're the size of a hot tub. They're buried underground. They'll power 20,000 homes for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world, at a start-up cost of $2,500 a house. They're 5 years away from mass production. They're miniature nuclear reactors delivered to your hood by truck and guaranteed to be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts, and be theft-proof because they'll will be encased in concrete and buried underground. And—get this—they'll be safe because they'll be guarded by a security detail.

Wow. I feel so much better already. TSA for garden nukes.

The Guardian reports the mini nuke plants were developed by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, daddies to the first atomic bomb. The US government has licensed the technology to the New Mexico company Hyperion, which said last week it's taken more than 100 firm orders, largely from the oil and electricity industries. Hyperion plans to start mass production within five years. They're also targeting (is that irony?) developing countries and isolated communities.

New Music: The Sea and Cake

I must admit that when I first heard that Chicago rockers The Sea and Cake had another new album out—just a year after their last one—I was suspicious. That kind of prolificacy is rare to say the least. I mean, who are these guys, Stephen King? I suspected they would have lost some stamina along the way. But I need not have worried, since...

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 6:53 PM EST

seaandcake150.jpgI must admit that when I first heard that Chicago rockers The Sea and Cake had another new album out—just a year after their last one—I was suspicious. That kind of prolificacy is rare to say the least. I mean, who are these guys, Stephen King? I suspected they would have lost some stamina along the way.

But I need not have worried, since this album, Car Alarm, is every bit as energetic and enthralling as the band's 2007 effort. A bit of background: At the height of Chicago's mid-'90s scene, members of legendary groups Tortoise, Shrimp Boat, and Coctails came together to form the Sea and Cake, which, since then, has evolved into a jazzed-up post-rock band. The quartet's eighth album finds the boys up to their old tricks, buzzing effortlessly from buoyant pop songs ("Aerial," "Window Sills") to dreamy steel-drum jams ("The Staircase"). This time, though, the buzz is subtle—think Sunday morning coffee, not nightclub. "Well I want inspiration/I keep it locked up, I want more," singer Sam Prekop whispers in "Down in the City." It's that sense of holding back—the energy just beneath Prekop's imperturbable cool—that gives this album its delicious tension. Contrary to its name, Car Alarm is anything but monotonous.

Read Stereogum's interview with the Sea and Cake guys here.

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Court Smacks Down Bush Administration in White House Emails Case

The Bush administration suffered a major legal defeat on Monday when a federal court denied the administration's motion to dismiss...

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 5:56 PM EST

The Bush administration suffered a major legal defeat on Monday when a federal court denied the administration's motion to dismiss a lawsuit that has arisen from the possible loss of several million White House emails. The ruling allows the plaintiffs in the case, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive (NSA), to move forward with their legal efforts to force the recovery of the missing emails and the adoption of a more reliable email archiving system.

Meredith Fuchs, the NSA's general counsel, says the White House's pending motion to dismiss had been a "hold up" that prevented anything else from happening in the case. "Now that roadblock is gone, so we have the opportunity now to try to take more aggressive action in the case," she says, adding that the litigation will probably "heat up" in the months to come.

The emails in question, which could number in the millions, are from between 2003 and 2005 and could include information about the runup to the war in Iraq and the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA officer. (Need to catch up? Read our full coverage of the missing White House emails story.)

New Jay-Z Track Celebrates Obama Win

Various web sites seem to be in disagreement about whether this new Jay-Z track was "officially" released or just leaked, but either way, it's on the internet and you can hear it. It's called "We Made History" and apparently celebrates Barack Obama's win on Tuesday with lyrics like "Where are you, victory? I need you desperately/Not just for the moment, to make history." The...

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 5:29 PM EST

mojo-photo-jayz.jpgVarious web sites seem to be in disagreement about whether this new Jay-Z track was "officially" released or just leaked, but either way, it's on the internet and you can hear it. It's called "We Made History" and apparently celebrates Barack Obama's win on Tuesday with lyrics like "Where are you, victory? I need you desperately/Not just for the moment, to make history." The track was produced by Kanye West (in his new, ultra-basic synth-y style) and features the vocals of singer Tony Williams. It's got an appropriate lighters-in-the-air tempo, but resembles nothing so much as a cross between The Cars' "Drive" and a Chinese love song, and I'm not sure I'm down with it. But then again I thought "Love Lockdown" was weird at first and now I think it's awesome, so maybe I should just trust Kanye.

Listen or download "We Made History" here.

Also: this is the Riff's 1,000th post. Hooray! There's cake in my office! Not really! Either way, thanks for putting up with me, MoJo staff and readers. Now if we could just get more of the Jonesians to post stuff over here, we could almost have a real blog...

Photo by Flickr user Kim Erlandsen used under a Creative Commons license.

Larry Summers

LARRY SUMMERS....Sheryl Sandberg defends Larry Summers:At the World Bank, he was a tireless advocate for girls' education. At Treasury, he fought for social security benefits for women working in their homes, better enforcement of child support obligations, and an expansion...

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 3:57 PM EST

LARRY SUMMERS....Sheryl Sandberg defends Larry Summers:

At the World Bank, he was a tireless advocate for girls' education. At Treasury, he fought for social security benefits for women working in their homes, better enforcement of child support obligations, and an expansion of child care tax credits.

....Larry has been attacked by some in the women's community for remarks he made about women's abilities. As he has acknowledged himself, this speech was a real mistake. What few seem to note is that it is remarkable that he was giving the speech in the first place — that he cared enough about women's careers and their trajectory in the fields of math and science to proactively analyze the issues and talk about what was going wrong. To conclude that he communicated poorly — and even insensitively — is fair. To conclude that he is opposed to progress for women overlooks the fact that improving this progress was precisely the subject he was addressing.

Jon Cohn defends him too:

On the issues I know best and over which the Treasury Secretary has sway, Summers is good. Very, very good. In the last few years, he has become a persistent critic of inequality and advocate for government action to redress it. He's a true believer in health care reform, both as a way to alleviate economic insecurity and to address the country's long-term fiscal crisis. He wants major action on climate change. And he has argued for aggressive action to stimulate the economy, despite high deficits.

And Brad DeLong:

Larry is — in Paul Krugman's words — a "a force of nature....You can bring him up to speed on anything in fifteen minutes....If you do a piece of something for him excellently — a link in a chain, say — he will do his damnedest to make sure that all other links in that chain are done equally excellently....If he thinks you know more about something than he does, he will listen to you very patiently and then trust and act on what you have told him....Very good people want to work for Larry because he will, if he thinks you can handle it, push you forward into the limelight and give you more responsibility than you thought you could handle.

The anti-anti-Summers backlash appears to be gathering steam.

David Plouffe For Democratic Party Chief?

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder reports that Plouffe sent him an email saying he won't be taking the DNC chair. But Plouffe...

| Mon Nov. 10, 2008 3:28 PM EST

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder reports that Plouffe sent him an email saying he won't be taking the DNC chair. But Plouffe wouldn't say what he might be doing post-election.

Howard Dean is stepping down as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. This is no surprise; it's been known for months he would be departing after the election. The question is, who's next?

HuffingtonPost reports one possibility is that Dean will be replaced by a duo: Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who would be the talk-show face of the party, and an operative who would do the operating (perhaps Steve Hildebrand, who was deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama's presidential bid).

But shouldn't the DNC job go to David Plouffe?

As the manager of Obama's campaign, Plouffe steered the best-run presidential campaign in years. He put together an effective campaign structure. He efficiently matched man, message, money, and machine. Developing his own version of Dean's 50-state strategy, Plouffe expanded the electoral map for Democrats. In public, he projected an image of calm, confidence, and competence. His public spin was always tethered to reality. He came across a master mechanic who believed in the mission, not an ideologue or a grandstander. And he beat the toughest, most experienced operation in politics: the Clintons.

It's no put-down of McCaskill to suggest Plouffe. Naming her DNC chief--with or without a partner--would have symbolic value. And she was an effective advocate for Obama, especially when he was locked in a fierce battle with Senator Hillary Clinton, though Obama appears to have lost her home state by 6000 votes. Perhaps if McCaskill becomes DNC head, that would help Obama and Dems narrow that narrow gap next time.