Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. It is too early to say whether the talks will be successful, but it is a hopeful sign that the two parties are engaging in direct negotiations for the first time since 2008 and an attempt in 2010 which quickly fell apart.
Getting this far is a promising sign from John Kerry in just his first year as Secretary of State. Imagine how much better the world might be if things had turned out differently and he had won in 2004, completing his second term as president last year (with perhaps a Barack Obama with four additional years of Washington experience starting his first term this January). A few more voting booths in Democratic urban areas of Ohio might have made all the difference–something to keep in mind as Republicans increasingly turn to voter suppression as an election tactic.
Bloomberg looks at how the Republicans have kept control of the House despite more people voting for Democratic representatives:
More than two centuries later, the politics of redistricting still are shaping Congress.
A majority of Americans disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, yet the odds remain in the party’s favor that it will retain control of the House. One big reason the Republicans have this edge: their district boundaries are drawn so carefully that the only votes that often matter come from fellow Republicans.
The 2010 elections, in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation, gave the party the upper-hand in the process of redistricting, the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional seats. The advantage helped them design safer partisan districts and maintain their House majority in 2012 — even as they lost the presidential race by about 5 million votes. Also nationwide, Democratic House candidates combined to win about 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.
This is a rare event:
Still, it’s rare for one party to win more House seats while securing fewer votes than the other party. The last time it happened before 2012 was in 1996, when Democrats won the nationwide House vote by 43.6 million to 43.4 million as Republicans held their majority and Bill Clinton was re-elected president, according to the U.S. House Clerk’s office.
Redistricting is intended to ensure House members represent roughly equal size populations. Yet from the first Congress, party leaders began exploiting the map-making exercise by weakening the voting strength of some groups to gain partisan advantage, a practice known as gerrymandering.
The greater concentration of Democratic voters in cities also adds to the Republican advantage in House seats. Having more voters concentrated in smaller areas leads to having a smaller number of districts where your candidate will win by large majorities, while the other party might have narrow victories in many other districts. When this gerrymandering is added to this dynamic, the Republicans have had the opportunity to pick up significantly more seats than they would receive if Congressional delegations were strictly proportional to the vote.
The Founding Fathers did not want a pure democracy, but I wonder if they would be happy with this outcome. We have seen occasions such as 2000 a president was elected while losing the popular vote. (2000 also provided even more disturbing problems with the Supreme Court blocking a recount along partisan lines). The Senate is even more intentionally undemocratic, giving the Republicans an advantage by giving small states where they dominate as many Senators as states with much larger populations. Republicans have further exploited their advantage by using the filibuster in ways never intended to require sixty percent to pass virtually anything. Historically the House has provided a more democratic outcome, more representative of the voters, but this is no longer the case.
Michigan wound up with far right Republicans in control of state government during the GOP sweep of 2010. This has led to problems including passing a so-called “right to work” law, attempts to restrict reproductive rights, and state government attempting to ignore the will of the voters in legalization of medical marijuana. While most states have given up on the idea of trying to rig elections, many Michigan Republicans are still pushing for this:
Republicans handed Bobby Schostak another two-year term as state chairman Saturday and overwhelmingly endorsed a plan to change Michigan presidential electoral vote rules in a way opponents charge is intended to distort election results in favor of GOP candidates.
By a 1,370-132 margin at the party convention in Lansing, GOP members approved a resolution backing a proposal from Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, to divvy-up 14 of the state’s 16 electoral votes according to which candidate got the most votes in each congressional district. The other two would go to the state-wide vote total winner.
That switch from a winner-take-all formula that has been in effect 175 years could water down the dominance Democrats have had in Michigan in presidential elections for the last 24 years.
Critics say the plan would have given Mitt Romney nine of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes last year, although he lost by more than 500,00 votes to President Barack Obama state-wide. With the win, Obama captured all 16 Michigan electoral votes.
Lund introduced a bill to make the revision last year but it was unsuccessful. Hesaid he intends to reintroduce it in 2013, but leaders of the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers haven’t publicly announced a position on it.
The current winner take all system in effect in all but two states might sound undemocratic, but provides results far closer to the national popular vote than allocating electoral votes by Congressional district. Under the current system, the winner of the popular vote has won the vast majority of elections. The 2000 election provided a notable exception with Al Gore winning the popular vote but George Bush winning the electoral vote. Reviews of the results in Florida afterwards did show that Gore would have won Florida (and therefore the election) if there was a state-wide recount, but not in the more limited recounts sought by Gore which were ultimately shut down by the Supreme Court.
There are two problems with the Republican proposal to allocate electoral votes based upon Congressional districts. Republicans hold a larger number of Congressional districts than they should receive based upon numbers of votes for each party due to gerrymandering. Even if not for gerrymandering, the concentration of Democratic voters in cities compared to the more rural Republican voters would result in Democrats controlling a smaller number of Congressional districts–winning by larger margins in cities than Republicans would win in other areas.
While is is preferable that the winner of the popular vote becomes president, allocating electoral votes by state helps to level out these issues and provides a result far closer to the popular vote than the Republican proposal would. Of course the Republican proponents realize this and prefer rigging elections to providing a platform which more voters would support. Even many Republicans oppose this. Hopefully some oppose this in support of democracy. Other motivating factors for some Republicans is the hope that they can carry an entire state and receive all of its electoral votes in the future, and fear of their state becoming less meaningful to candidates and receiving less attention during elections.
Republicans spent four years obstructing economic recovery to promote their main goal of making Barack Obama a one-term president. Mitt Romney sold his soul to the radical right. Millions were donated by conservatives hoping to elect a candidate who would give them a slightly lower marginal tax rate, possibly costing some more than paying the taxes would. Not only was Obama reelected, Tuesday was a victory for liberalism over the authoritarian right with voters objecting to Republican policies of increased government intrusion in the private lives of individuals.
In 2004 Republicans might have defeated John Kerry by boosting turnout among social conservatives by placing votes on gay marriage on the ballot in several states. Since then the nation’s attitude has changed, but until yesterday legalization of same-sex marriage only came from the legislatures or courts. Yesterday voters turned out to pass measures supporting same-sex marriage in Maryland and Maine.
Some Republicans believed that a proposal to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota would bring out more evangelical voters than expected by the pollsters, tipping the state and ultimately the nation to Mitt Romney. Republican pundits and blogs have had multiple theories to promote their predictions that Romney would win and the polls were wrong. Instead facts prevailed with the polls, and those predicting based upon the polls such as Nate Silver, turning out to be right. If this was simply a matter of partisans being overly optimistic about their chances this might be understandable. The problem is that the conservative media promotes an alternate reality which ignores facts on a daily basis, ignoring the facts which should be considered when deciding policies on matters such as the economy, health care, and the environment.
One argument from Republicans was that the polls were wrong because they over-sampled Democrats. (Some Democrats made the same mistake in denying Obama’s temporary fall in the polls following the Denver debate). I was confident of an Obama victory as soon as the exit polls showed that the electorate closely resembled what was shown in the polls. Party identification is fluid, with voters supporting Obama being more likely to identify themselves as Democrats. This also must be considered when hearing reports that the polls showed a lead for Romney among independents. Large numbers of the independents who voted for Obama in 2008 now call themselves Democrats. The Republican name as become so toxic that many former Republicans now call themselves independents, making it likely that a substantial number of such independents would vote Republican. In the past centrists and independents had much more overlap than now. While independents now lean Republican, centrists voted Democratic in substantial numbers.
Republican strategy did not work because they did not realize how out of tune they were with the voters, or did not care. Once again, the Tea Party helped the Democrats pick up Senate seats and maintain control. Speaking out against abortion rights and contraception was a losing strategy. With Florida’s final results not yet in but appearing to go to Obama, supporting policies which would seriously damage both Medicare and Social Security also does not look like a winning strategy. Romney’s strategy of enormous ad spending, non-stop lying on the campaign trail, and voter suppression also turned out to be failing political strategies.
The extremism of the Republican Party makes it difficult to see how the Republicans can have much success in the future unless they change. William F. Buckley, Jr. was right when he fought to keep the equivalent of the Tea Party in his day out of the conservative movement. Barry Goldwater was right when he called himself a liberal in his later years in protest over the influence of the religious right on the GOP. If Republicans could not win this year, when it wasn’t difficult to place the blame for the Bush economic crash on the incumbent, how will they do in future years after the economy continues to recover? Republicans can no longer count on their Southern strategy for guaranteed electoral votes. Virginia and most-likely Florida went to Obama, and Obama looked like he might also win in North Carolina before the first debate. In future years the Republicans will have a tougher time holding on to North Carolina, Arizona, and possibly Georgia.
The Democrats retain control of the Senate, and appear likely to continue this despite the manner in which the Senate is tilted towards the smaller, often conservative states. They might hold onto the House for the next several years due to the advantages Republicans received from redistricting after the 2010 elections. We might need to wait until 2020 to reverse this.
The presidency is now far harder for Republicans to win. Changing demographics will make it even harder in the future for Republicans to win based upon their main base of voter support–poorly educated, low-information, white Christian males. Republicans need more support from minorities, but that also means abandoning their strategy of obtaining votes by promoting fear and hatred of minorities among their base.
If Romney had won, Republican economic ideas might have mistakenly received credit for the continued economic recovery which is likely to occur over the next four years. This was the last shot for Republicans to block Obamacare, which may soon become a permanent part of the country as Medicare and Social Security have become. Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney, may have a chance to appoint the next few justices to the Supreme Court, preventing the court from overturning Row v. Wade and possibly reversing Citizens United. Conservatives wanted this election badly as many realized this could have been their last chance prevent the United States from being part of the 21st century. They lost, and it is difficult to see where they go from here.
Doctor Who is rumored to be returning on September 1, with many of the cast and crew interviews are concentrating on an event to take place later in the season. In the video above, Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and producers Steven Moffat and Caroline Skinner discussed the Ponds leaving the show and the introduction of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character. While we still know little about Clara, Coleman’s character, there are unconfirmed reports that the character is going to be a computer expert.
Steven Moffat says he completely rewrote the final scenes with Amy and Rory:
Moffat told Digital Spy that he “completely” rewrote the pair’s last scenes in upcoming episode, ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’.
“I completely changed the ending as I was writing it, thinking ‘No, I’ve got it wrong… I’m on the wrong emphasis’ – but it’s a good one and it’s properly emotional,” he promised.
Of the final script, Who star Matt Smith said: “I was very moved, very moved indeed, because not only is it two characters that I love, it’s two actors that I love working with. To see them go – and I think go so beautifully… it’s moving.”
Karen Gillan – who plays Amy – added: “I instantly phoned Matt [when I read the episode] and I was crying and laughing hysterically… because it’s so good!”
“It was like getting the last chapter of the best book you’ve ever read and being really surprised by the ending… and really satisfied,” explained Rory actor Arthur Darvill. “It was pretty emotional.
“It’s Doctor Who – I’m so proud of being part of such a big show. The show is bigger than all of us and it will outlive all of us… I’m really proud to have been a part of it.”
“It’s definitely the most ambitious series yet,” says actor Colin Morgan, who plays the titular Merlin in BBC One’s medieval fantasy. “They’ve pushed our characters into manhood, and this is the Merlin I’ve been waiting for.”
At the end of series 4, the wizard dealt a fatal magical blow to Arthur’s villainous uncle, Agravaine de Bois, who was in league with Morgana. Things have altered dramatically since then, and when the show returns later this year, Camelot will have jumped forward three years. Arthur has settled into his new role as King of Camelot with Queen Guinevere at his side, and Merlin is continuing along his new path…
“We left Merlin at the end of the last season tipping over into a darker side, and I think that’s a reference for me for the rest of this season,” Morgan continues. “I think he is so confident in himself now, and in who he is and what he is destined to do. He has a resilience and power that drives him for this season. He gives as good as he gets.”
This, apparently, is going to lead us to some of the “most important scenes there has ever been in terms of Merlin’s magic.” Could this mean that the secret is finally coming out? Morgan teased: “Arthur is forced to confront magic a lot in this series, and that could change everything, for Merlin and for everyone.”
What do you think that means? Is the time right for Merlin to reveal his magical mojo?
Fringe returns September 28. Two different trailers which tease the season in different ways are above.
Homeland returns September 30–trailer above.
From time to time there has been talk of rebooting Alias. I never saw any point in this. The story ran its course. A new spy series would be better off going in its own direction rather than trying to recreate what was already done. I also had doubts that a reboot could compete with the original because of how great the cast was on the original. While I doubt this would ever happen, Jennifer Garner provides hope that if there ever is a reboot of Alias it might be with the original cast:
If Alias was ever rebooted, would you want to be a part of it?
I think J.J. Abrams has got his hands full. I don’t see him turning around and rebooting Alias anytime soon. If he was involved, I’m sure the rest of us would sign right up. We had a blast making that show and we’re all still superclose, so I’m sure you would find an eager group of participants right there.
David Simon, creator of The Wire, blasts Mitt Romney on his taxes:
Can we stand back and pause a short minute to take in the spectacle of a man who wants to be President of The United States, who wants us to seriously regard him as a paragon of the American civic ideal, declaiming proudly and in public that he has paid his taxes at a third of the rate normally associated with gentlemen of his economic benefit.
Am I supposed to congratulate this man? Thank him for his good citizenship? Compliment him for being clever enough to arm himself with enough tax lawyers so that he could legally minimize his obligations?
Thirteen percent. The last time I paid taxes at that rate, I believe I might still have been in college. If not, it was my first couple years as a newspaper reporter. Since then, the paychecks have been just fine, thanks, and I don’t see any reason not to pay at the rate appropriate to my earnings, given that I’m writing the check to the same government that provided the economic environment that allowed for such incomes.
I can’t get over the absurdity of this moment, honestly: Hey, I never paid less than thirteen percent. I swear. And no, you can’t examine my tax returns in any more detail. But I promise you all, my fellow American citizens, I never once slipped to single digits. I’m just not that kind of guy.
This republic is just about over, isn’t it?
George R.R. Smith knows about power plays as he portrays them on Game of Thrones. He commented on Republican voter suppression:
I am way too busy these days for long political rants.
But I would be remiss if I do not at least make passing mention of how depressed, disgusted, and, yes, angry I’ve become as I watch the ongoing attempts at voter suppression in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Iowa, and other states where Republicans and their Teabagger allies control key seats of power.
It is one thing to attempt to win elections. But trying to do so by denying the most basic and important right of any American citizen to hundreds and thousands of people, on entirely spurious grounds… that goes beyond reprehensible. That is despicable.
It would really be nice if there were still some Republicans of conscience out there who would stand up and loudly denounce these efforts, a few men of honor and integrity for whom “win the election” does not “win the election at any cost.” There were once many Republicans I admired, even I disagreed with them: men like Everett Dirksen, Clifford Case, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Scranton… yes, even Barry Goldwater, conservative as he is. I do not believe for a moment that Goldwater would have approved of this, any more than Robert A. Heinlein would have. They were conservatives, but they were not bigots, nor racists, nor corrupt. The Vote Suppressors have far more in common with Lester Maddox, George Wallace, John Stennis, and their ilk than they do with their distinguished GOP forebears.
The people behind these efforts at disenfranchising large groups of voters (the young, the old, the black, the brown) are not Republicans, since clearly they have scant regard for our republic or its values. They are oligarchs and racists clad in the skins of dead elephants.
And don’t tell me they are libertarians either. No true libertarians would ever support a culture where citizens must “show their papers” to vote or travel. That’s a hallmark of a police state, not a free country.
Finally this picture, with apologies to the Munster family:
Steve Stigall, a CIA cybersecurity expert, suggested that Hugo Chavez fixed a 2004 election recount. He also argued that most electronic voting isn’t secure:
Stigall said that voting equipment connected to the Internet could be hacked, and machines that weren’t connected could be compromised wirelessly. Eleven U.S. states have banned or limited wireless capability in voting equipment, but Stigall said that election officials didn’t always know it when wireless cards were embedded in their machines.
While Stigall said that he wasn’t speaking for the CIA and wouldn’t address U.S. voting systems, his presentation appeared to undercut calls by some U.S. politicians to shift to Internet balloting, at least for military personnel and other American citizens living overseas. Stigall said that most Web-based ballot systems had proved to be insecure.
There is no controversy over the fact that there are problems with voter registration efforts in which workers are paid to sign up people to vote. There are known cases, such as described in this report from CNN, in which people do put list fake names. While Republicans spin this to claim that Democrats are trying to steal the election, the motivation is actually monetary and carries little real threat of election fraud. While there might be fake names added to the voter roll, such fictitious people don’t usually turn up to vote. ACORN is legally obligated to turn in all the names collected by workers, but they have often flagged ones they consider fictitious. After reporting on a case of someone convicted for registering nonexistent people, the report places the problem in perspective.
University of Washington law professor Eric Schnapper says the idea of fake cards turning into real votes is a myth.
“There are no known instances of fictitious people actually voting,” Schnapper said. “You look at some of the names: Mickey Mouse. Dr. Seuss. Mickey Mouse only votes in Disneyland. He’s not going to show up at a critical precinct in West Virginia or North Carolina.”
Schnapper said that if anyone should be upset, it’s ACORN.
“The victims of this are the people who paid these workers $8 an hour to go out and find legitimate voters, and … they didn’t get their $8 worth; they put down phony names,” Schnapper said.
Schnapper said he’s worked on Republican and Democratic campaigns and has paid people to hand out leaflets or register voters. He said some of the workers do their jobs and some don’t.
ACORN said it has registered well more than 1 million voters, most of them Democrats. Though the group is under investigation in a number of swing states, such as Ohio and Nevada, amid accusations that it turned in fake voter registration cards, Schnapper said there’s no evidence that any worker intended to commit voter fraud and actually take those names, produce phony identification and vote on Election Day.
Threats of criminal prosecution may scare some groups into closing voter registration drives, according to Schnapper. It could scare actual voters away from the polls as well, he said, “and that really does affect the outcomes of the election.”
A report from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School supports his claim. Researchers reviewed voter fraud claims across the country and found that most were caused by technical glitches, clerical errors or mistakes made by voters. One other finding: A person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate another voter at the polls.
ACORN has recently released a video on the Internet called “Fight Back: The Truth About ACORN.” It uses a mix of interviews and video to fight what the group calls Republican efforts to suppress voter turnout.
CNN asked Clifton Mitchell whether he and his team, at any point, got together to try to rig the election.
“When I did it, when my team did it, it wasn’t to steal any election,” Mitchell said. “They’re just trying to keep a job. But understand, I blame myself. I can only blame myself.”
It certainly might be argued that changes need to be made to address the problems of fictitious names being collected at all, but this does not represent voter fraud, and is not a problem such as we have seen with actual efforts by Republicans at voter suppression.
While Republicans make a lot of noise about ACORN, all we have to do is follow the warrants to find out which party is the one really committing voter fraud. The most notable case in recent years, the New Hampshire phone jamming scheme, led all the way to the Bush White House. Now we have had another arrest of a Republican. The Los Angeles Times reports:
The owner of a firm that the California Republican Party hired to register tens of thousands of voters this year was arrested in Ontario over the weekend on suspicion of voter registration fraud.
State and local investigators allege that Mark Jacoby fraudulently registered himself to vote at a childhood California address where he no longer lives so he would appear to meet the legal requirement that all signature gatherers be eligible to vote in California. His firm, Young Political Majors, or YPM, collects petition signatures and registers voters in California and other states.
Jacoby’s arrest by state investigators and the Ontario Police Department late Saturday came after dozens of voters said they were duped into registering as Republicans by people employed by YPM. The voters said YPM workers tricked them by saying they were signing a petition to toughen penalties against child molesters.
The firm was paid $7 to $12 for every Californian it registered as a member of the GOP.
This practice of paying to register people to vote leads to problems on both sides. People working for ACORN have signed up Mickey Mouse, the roster of the Dallas Cowboys, and other phony names in order to easily make a few bucks. These are cases of fraud against ACORN, not cases of ACORN or any Democrats trying to steal the election as the Republicans claim. It is one thing to register Mickey Mouse to vote. It would be an entirely different thing if Mickey Mouse were to show up to vote for Obama. Nobody expects that to happen. ACORN legally is required to turn in all the names which workers register, but they have also flagged many names which they were suspicious of. That hardly suggests ACORN is trying to sign up people to taper with election results.
Vacation Blogging intersects with political blogging: I don’t know if it is available on line, but while reading the Miami Herald this morning while having a cup of coffee earlier down on South Beach I came across a rather significant item. There is a proposal in Florida to call for automatically recounting all votes by hand in the case of a close election following the controversy in 2000. If such a proposal had been law in 2000, Al Gore would have been elected president.
It looks like irregularities in the New York primary might have denied Obama some votes. The New York Times reports:
Black voters are heavily represented in the 94th Election District in Harlem’s 70th Assembly District. Yet according to the unofficial results from the New York Democratic primary last week, not a single vote in the district was cast for Senator Barack Obama.
That anomaly was not unique. In fact, a review by The New York Times of the unofficial results reported on primary night found about 80 election districts among the city’s 6,106 where Mr. Obama supposedly did not receive even one vote, including cases where he ran a respectable race in a nearby district.
City election officials this week said that their formal review of the results, which will not be completed for weeks, had confirmed some major discrepancies between the vote totals reported publicly — and unofficially — on primary night and the actual tally on hundreds of voting machines across the city.
In the Harlem district, for instance, where the primary night returns suggested a 141 to 0 sweep by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the vote now stands at 261 to 136. In an even more heavily black district in Brooklyn — where the vote on primary night was recorded as 118 to 0 for Mrs. Clinton — she now barely leads, 118 to 116.
The history of New York elections has been punctuated by episodes of confusion, incompetence and even occasional corruption. And election officials and lawyers for both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton agree that it is not uncommon for mistakes to be made by weary inspectors rushing on election night to transcribe columns of numbers that are delivered first to the police and then to the news media.
That said, in a presidential campaign in which every vote at the Democratic National Convention may count, a swing of even a couple of hundred votes in New York might help Mr. Obama gain a few additional delegates.
City election officials said they were convinced that there was nothing sinister to account for the inaccurate initial counts, and The Times’s review found a handful of election districts in the city where Mrs. Clinton received zero votes in the initial results.
While this very well could be a result of human error rather than anything intentional, the results could have an impact on the nomination race.