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Who Is Lying? The Torturers? Or John Yoo?

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 20:30

photo: Dyanna via Flickr

One of the potential bombshells in last week’s FOIA dump appears in a CIA discussion about a potential statement in response to NYT’s breaking of the torture tape story (PDF 86). The document notes that the videotapes would have shown the sheer number of times the torturers waterboarded Abu Zubaydah, and suggests that that may have presented legal problems. The document continues that someone (it appears to be the torturers) informed DOJ of the real number of times they waterboarded AZ, but CIA had no proof.

Jay Bybee’s 1 Aug 2002 memo to John Rizzo stated, in part, “Moreover, you have also informed us that although some of these techniques may be used with more than once, that repetition will not be substantial because the techniques generally lose their effectiveness after several repetitions.” (p. 2) and again, “You have indicated that these acts will not be used with substantial repetition, so that there is no possibility that severe physical pain could arise from such repetition.” (p.11). The OIG review determined that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to [redaction] waterboard sessions, consisting of at least 83 separate exposures [half line redacted] assured us that he gave regular updates to DoJ (i.e., John Yoo [few words redacted] at OLC) during this time frame, and DoJ was aware of the real numbers, but we were never able to verify this with DoJ, as INV management at the time elected not to interview witnesses outside the building. In addition to the disparity in numbers, the method of water application as recorded in the tapes was at odds with the Bybee opinion. [my emphasis]

That is, one problem with the videotapes is that, unless the torturers really did inform Yoo (and, I’m guessing, Jennifer Koester) about how and how many times they really used waterboarding then they would have been in violation of guidelines from DOJ.

The statement, by itself, is inflammatory enough. But particularly in light of what Yoo said to OPR in interviews conducted during the summer of 2005…

He told us during his interview: “I had actually thought that we prohibited waterboarding. I didn’t recollect that we had actually said that you could do it.” He added:

[T]he waterboarding as it’s described in that memo, is very different than the waterboarding that was described in the press. And when I read the description in the press of what waterboarding is, I was like, oh, well, obviously that would be prohibited by the statute.

Now, granted, Yoo is not addressing the number of repetitions of waterboardings. And he points to the depiction of waterboarding in the press, not the depictions of waterboarding that appeared in the CIA IG Report (which, as it happens, matches the descriptions in the press with regards to volume of water and forced ingestion of it). So Yoo, as is his wont, has left some wiggle room here.

But he seems to suggest surprise that he had actually authorized the use of waterboarding.

As implausible as that is, assuming he simply forgot the phone call he made to John Rizzo on July 26, 2002 personally authorizing waterboarding and then forgot reviewing the extensive descriptions Koester wrote into the Bybee Two memo, it strains credulity if Yoo was actually receiving updates from Thailand. Imagine how such an exchange might play out:

“Oh, by the way, John. We set a new record for ‘pours’ during one waterboard session! We drowned that motherfucker 27 times in today’s session!”

“Wha–What? I thought we told you not to use that medieval torture technique!”

John Yoo was playing (or actually was) dumb about the use of waterboarding in the months before CIA destroyed the torture tapes. Yet someone–perhaps Bruce Jessen or James Mitchell–claim they kept DOJ generally and Yoo specifically in the loop of what they were doing.

Someone is not telling the truth. Who is it?

Senate Dems will be taking on McConnell all week, demanding he reveal backroom conversation he had with Wall Street execs

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 20:26
This is very good. From what we understand, Democrats will be taking to the Senate floor all throughout the week, demanding that McConnell reveal what was discussed in his secret backroom meeting with Wall Street execs right before he came out against financial reform. From Reid's office:Spokesman for Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Jim Manley, released the following statement today calling on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and NRSC Chair Jon Cornyn to reveal what they discussed with bank executives in secret, backroom meetings related to Wall Street reform:

“Senators McConnell and Cornyn should immediately reveal what they discussed earlier this month during secret, closed-door meeting with Wall Street executives in New York City. Years of greed and excess on Wall Street cost 8 million jobs and trillions in wealth for middle-class families and small businesses. Since Republicans appear to be conducting backroom negotiations with these same people who took our economy to the brink of collapse, the public deserves to know what secret deals and carve-outs Republicans are offering Wall Street executives in exchange for their support.”

A Short Post On Health Information

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 20:13

I have noticed recently how very many headlines about health studies are on women's health: Teenage girls shouldn't drink because of later benign breast disease risk, women should walk more, drinking wine might keep women slimmer in later life and so on.

All this could be a sign of the medical industry trying to be fairer. After all, it has a rather dubious past of ignoring women in large trials (aspirin and heart health, for example) altogether or of seeing women as only a walking uterus when it comes to health. That may be a good thing, that recalibration.

On the other hand, I suspect that those topics are picked because women are the major consumers of health news. If that's the case, we are short-changing men. After all, I'm pretty sure that drinking heavily while your body is developing cannot be good for boys, either, and it would be important to know what the dire consequences might be. Likewise, perhaps wine keeps men slim, too, and perhaps walking is great for them, too?

Why can't these types of studies look at both men and women?

Midday Open Thread

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 20:00
  • This is being billed as a face off between Vice President Joe Biden and Elizabeth Hasselbeck. My money is on Joe.
  • How scary is this?

    Some gun owners, saying that the National Rifle Association isn't battling hard enough for their rights, are taking the fight into their own hands.

  • It took the brain trust at the Pentagon more than eight years to realize that they're too dependent on private contractors.
  • Go figure:

    Views of the US around the world have improved sharply over the past year, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

    For the first time since the annual poll began in 2005, America’s influence in the world is now seen as more positive than negative.

  • Apparently there are two branches on the teabagger's family tree ... the libertarians and your standard issue right wing nutcase.
  • Mr. Noun, a verb and 9/11 basically calls Kentucky Republican senatorial candidate Rand Paul a terrorist sympathizer:

    Following a line of attack Grayson has used against Paul, Giuliani said Grayson "is not part of the ‘blame America first’ crowd that wants to bestow the rights of U.S. citizens on terrorists and point fingers at America for somehow causing 9/11."

  • John McCain, feeling the heat from J.D. Hayworth's primary challenge, is tacking to the right on immigration.
  • It seems as though the phrase, "you can't make this stuff up" is on the verge of being overused in today's political climate, but seriously, you can't make this stuff up. Here's Andrea Lafferty, from the Traditional Values Coalition, explaining what would happen if ENDA passes:

    What are those 'isms' and 'philias'? You can be aroused by stumps of amputees. And we brought that up during the hate crimes thing because what if you have an employee working at the VA and someone has just come back from Iraq and they have this orientation. You can't fire them. What about the family that's upset that they've been aroused by their family member? It's disgusting. And it's tragic for the victim.

    (h/t to Andrew Sullivan)

  • The latest installment in the high school webcam spying story:

    A webcam spying scandal at a suburban Philadelphia school district is broadening, with lawyers claiming the district secretly snapped thousands of webcam images of students using school-issued laptops without the pupils’ knowledge or consent.

    Some of the images included pictures of youths at home, in bed or even “partially dressed,” according to a Thursday filing in the case. Pupils’ online chats were also captured, as well as a record of the websites they visited.  [...]

    ... an IT administrator at the district “may be a voyeur.” Lawyers suing the district are urging a federal judge presiding over the case to grant a forensic examination of administrator’s personal computer.

    The lawsuit said the administrator, who has been placed on paid leave, “invokes the Fifth Amendment to every question asked of her, including a question asked as to whether she had ever downloading (sic) pictures to her own computer, including pictures of students who were naked while in their home.”

  • Speaking of high school students, how's this for a field trip gone bad?
  • Offered without comment:

    Call this the case of the applesauce assault. A court this week will look at an incident at Bob Hope Airport in which a woman is accused of hitting a federal security agent who allegedly tried to wrest away her 93-year-old mother's snacks before a flight.

    Prosecutors charged Nadine Kay Hays, 58, who was traveling to Nashville, Tenn., with her mother, with misdemeanor battery after the reported fight with the Transportation Security Administration agent last April.
    Hays denied striking the agent, arguing that she merely brought down her hand to keep agents from taking away her mother’s applesauce, cheese and milk.

Har De Har! Let's Repeal the 19th Amendment!

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 19:50

I have always wanted to name a blog post "har de har", because I think it would sound like someone throwing up a load of phlegm in a smoky saloon and it sounds like a very masculine thing to do. Thomas Mitchell probably laughs like that because he's a guy editor. Girl editors can only faintly guess on the awesomeness of har-de-har.

No, I haven't gone any crazier than usual. I'm writing about Thomas Mitchell's very funny blog post in which he advocates removing women's write to vote in elections on the grounds that gals simply are not unbiased and rational enough to vote:

Bias is not a good thing. Right? We all agree on that, don't we?

People and candidates for public office should be judged on the basis of their ideas, stance on the issues, character, experience and integrity, not on the basis of age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability.

Therefore, we must repeal the 19th Amendment. Yes, the one granting suffrage to women. Because? Well, women are biased.

Just look at the poll results in today's newspaper.

Men favored the attractive former beauty queen Sue Lowden over the graying Harry Reid by 22 points, while women shunned their gender mate, choosing Reid by a 2-point margin. Which proves women favor Democrats.

It's satire, see! Like Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal that the Irish eat their own children, and anyone who can't get that is biased, fickle and irrational. It's har-de-har satire!

Lots of people seem to be biased, fickle and irrational (I suspect women!), and so poor Mr. Mitchell had to write a follow-up post to explain how he gotcha! and how horrible people (I suspect women!) were to him:

Just as I had anticipated, and in fact spelled out in a veiled reference in the second paragraph, my posting was judged by almost every commenter and e-mailer, not on any merits or demerits of facts in evidence or syllogism used, but on the basis of my age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, weight, sartorial choices, facial hair, writing ability, mental capacity, sobriety, sanity, political leanings and perversity — the very appellations the politically correct find so jaw-droppingly offensive.


Without once addressing the fundamental postulate that men and women are delightfully different, I was called an idiot, an (expletive deleted) moron, an ignorant redneck male chauvinist, a racist, a sexist, a narrow minded and crude douchebag, unsophisticated, ignorant, a flat earther, a fool, a Neanderthal and a misogynist.

But maybe those were just satire, all those "redneck male chauvinist" thingies?

I have bolded the relevant words above, to point out that "delightfully different" doesn't sound exactly the same as

Men are consistent. Women are fickle and biased.

Har de har indeed.

Created Assignments And “Cloned” Officers Yield Fraudulent Foreclosures Across The Country

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 19:30

photo: Feathered Tar via Flickr

In courtrooms across the country, judges are foreclosing on homes based on improperly prepared documentation, some of which may even be fraudulent. At the heart of the problem are entities like Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS), which itself is owned by many of the largest financial institutions in the U.S. If MERS and other similar firms acting as foreclosing entity were required to show legal proof of mortgage assignment, the documentation offered could reveal a lack of capitalization that would make the bank bailout look like lunch money.

Imagine you are a judge in a state court mortgage foreclosure part, or maybe in a bankruptcy court.

Your experience and training tells you what is supposed to happen. An originator of a mortgage, with the actual wet ink documents in hand and full knowledge of the transaction, makes MERS the nominee for the holder of the mortgage and records the mortgage in MERS’s name and gives physical custody of the wet ink documents to MERS. The originator then assigns the mortgage and note to Bank. Bank, with full knowledge of the assignment transaction, may assign it further, perhaps into a trust to back up Residential Mortgage Backed Security (RMBS). All of this would be done with proper notice to MERS who would always be up to date on who is the most recent assignee of the mortgage. When the time comes to foreclose, MERS would release the wet ink documents to the lawyers for the last assignee, who would use those original documents to foreclose.

Now comes into your court, a party claiming to be the lender—or at least the lender’s successor in interest—saying that it has acquired the homeowner’s mortgage by assignment. The homeowner took out the mortgage 5 or 6 years ago from XYZ originator, but the loan was recorded at the county clerk’s office or local land office as being in the hands of MERS.. I have explained about MERS and other issues relating to sloppy mortgage document handling in prior posts.

Attached to the complaint is a document which, on its face, appears to be an assignment of the mortgage from MERS to plaintiff. It is signed by a person with an official looking title at MERS. So, would you be safe in assuming that the person who signed the assignment:

1) went and fetched this mortgage out of a file room at MERS;

2) checked it over to make sure it was properly assigned from the originator to MERS; and

3) that the party to which the assignment was about to made had paid for the right to own the mortgage, before executing the assignment?

No, you would not.

In the Aughts, during the rush to make loans and generate all those origination fees, front line lenders and mortgage brokers would zoom through paperwork and flip the mortgages immediately over to trusts and servicers. They didn’t always complete the paperwork to assign the mortgage over to either MERS or to the trust. The mortgage may have been filed with the county clerk as belonging to either MERS or to some mortgage back securities trust, but the actual assignment papers might never have been executed. And although money moved around from the servicers, originators and investors, paperwork indicating payment for the transfer of a particular mortgage was not always provided.

Nonetheless, servicers acted as if the loans had actually been paid for and properly assigned and sent out notices to homeowners saying that payments on a particular mortgage were now to be directed to this servicer. The homeowners paid the servicers who presumably forwarded on a net amount, less their servicing fees, to the investors in the Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (RMBS).

Then one day, the homeowner goes into default. The trustee for the trust that is supposed to be holding the mortgage for the benefit of the investors in the RMBS, springs into action and want s to foreclose. Well, actually, the servicer springs into action using the name and consent of the trustee — the servicer makes tons more in fees from foreclosure than it does from mortgage modification.

The servicer hires a law firm. The law firm will need an assignment document as proof that the trustee owns the note and has standing to foreclose. Where does the law firm get this assignment? Does the trustee contact MERS and ask for assignment? Does the trustee have to pay somebody to buy the note? Does MERS prepare the document and send it over?


In many instances, an employee of the servicer, or of a document mill executes hired by the servicer, creates and signs the assignment from the originator, indicating that he or she is an officer of the originator. Sometimes an employee of the law firm executes an assignment from MERS indicating that he or she is an officer of MERS.

In neither case, is it likely that the person executing the assignment has ever clapped eyes on the mortgage documents. Rarely, if ever, does the signer have any direct knowledge of whether any money has actually changed hands to effectuate the purchase of this mortgage by the entity which will be receiving it and foreclosing upon it. In order for someone to acquire rights under a note, they must be a “purchaser for value”.

Let me say this again. People who are not actually employees or officers of the originator, sign as if they are. People who don’t actually know if a loan was ever paid for, are executing documents as if they do. They are purporting to transfer mortgages from the originator to either MERS, or to an entity called the “depositor” who deposits the mortgage into a RMBS trust, or directly to a RMBS trust. People who are not employees of MERS are executing documents purporting to transfer mortgages — which may or may not have actually been properly transferred into MERS — from MERS to RMBS trusts.


I am not accusing the people who sign these things of deliberately lying, in the sense that you tell a deliberate falsehood knowing it to be false. I’m sure they “hope” the documents are accurate; they just have no way of knowing.

Click here to read about a law firm that creates, and has its own employees sign, assignments from MERS that it uses as exhibits in the cases it brings. Click here to read about a group of people signing on behalf of many different originators simultaneously.

Having read these articles about created assignments and a “clone army” of officers signing documents, courts should pay attention to the fact that the signatories are pretending to work for the GRANTOR — the original lender or someone in the chain. However, they are really being paid by the GRANTEE — the mortgage servicer working on behalf of the trust. Talk about your conflict of interest.

The signers have no personal knowledge as to the accuracy of anything they are representing.

So, when you, the judge, are presented with this complaint and the documents which purports to effect various assignments, how do you know if any of it is real? You don’t.

Women Shouldn't Vote. Get It? Funny!

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 19:26


People and candidates for public office should be judged on the basis of their ideas, stance on the issues, character, experience and integrity, not on the basis of age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion or disability.

Therefore, we must repeal the 19th Amendment. Yes, the one granting suffrage to women. Because? Well, women are biased.

Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has concluded that women, being "fickle and biased," should be stripped of their right to vote. You know, for the good of democracy or something.

He cites as evidence poll results from his newspaper that the men of Nevada -- who obviously can't be biased, what with being men -- prefer the "attractive former beauty queen" and teabagger Sue Lowden over the "graying" Harry Reid. Who is a Democrat. And since women would rather vote for a male Democrat than a female Republican, this proves women are biased. And therefore should not vote. Or something.

But wait! There's more "proof." Because Mr. Mitchell includes a Gallup poll showing that 41 percent of women identify as Democrat (biased), while 40 percent of men identify as Republican (not biased).

But lest you think Mr. Mitchell is a total asshole, don't worry. He was just kidding.

I baited the hook and dropped it in the water. It was swallowed hook, line and sinker, rod and reel, up to the elbow, in a piranha-like feeding frenzy.

All I did was pen a bit of light extemporanea for this blog on the statistically demonstrable differences between the sexes when it comes to matters political. OK, I might’ve thrown a little chum in the water by flippantly suggesting the repeal of the 19th Amendment, the one granting suffrage to women. It was just a bit of free hyperbole.

Ohhhhh. It's not that Mr. Mitchell is a total douchebag. It's that his readers don't appreciate the subtlety of his nuanced and sophisticated wit. Why, he's the Mark Twain of his day!

And just as Mark Twain -- and Larry Summers -- were persecuted for the crime of being oh-so-fucking funny, so too has Mr. Mitchell been the victim of unfair criticism, just because he dared to point out the "delightful difference" between men and women (men, being totally unbiased, should be allowed to vote; women, being biased fickle and biased, should not). Get it? Ha ha ha ha!

Poor baby has even received criticism that is downright "bombastic."  Oh no!

Without once addressing the fundamental postulate that men and women are delightfully different, I was called an idiot, an (expletive deleted) moron, an ignorant redneck male chauvinist, a racist, a sexist, a narrow minded and crude douchebag, unsophisticated, ignorant, a flat earther, a fool, a Neanderthal and a misogynist.

Can't imagine why anyone would take issue with Mr. Mitchell's idiotic, moronic, ignorant redneck male chauvinist, narrow minded and crude douchebaggery Fundamental Postulate. Stupid readers fail to see that Mr. Mitchell is merely trying to protect the democratic process from Democrats women bias. Don't you get it, people? This is comedy gold!

Mr. Mitchell, here's a fundamental postulate for you:

How about a new Constitutional amendment to strip voting rights from hack newspaper editors who make pathetic attempts at comedy and then try to hide behind the excuse of "just kidding" while simultaneously climbing up on a cross to defend their hackery and comparing themselves to the great martyr Larry Summers?  

Just kidding!

Former GOP congressman Tom Tancredo, who is not a racist, tells Teabaggers it's time to send Obama 'back to Kenya'

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 19:18
Seriously, he's not a racist. Just like he's not a draft dodger.

Just me, or did Tancredo's hair walk off the set a millisecond before the rest of him?

SCOTUS: GOP Wants to Continue HIR Debate

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 18:56

It looks like Sessions' brilliant strategy for fighting against health insurance reform in the SCOTUS confirmation hearings is a go. Lindsay Graham has already piped up, saying that he thinks it's a "good idea to inquire in," adding

Democrats shouldn't expect any cooperation from Republicans on confirmation of any of Obama's judicial nominees.

"We're not going to be lectured to by our Democratic colleagues about what to do here after health care," Graham said. "They're not going to tell us what we'll do, we'll decide on our own what to do."

It's certain to become a central issue now, though, because the GOP's puppet-masters want it to be.

There is agitation on the far-right to push these state lawsuits challenging health care reform as the next litmus test for a nominee, especially given the looming midterm elections that are likely to be fought over the sweeping health care overhaul Democrats passed this spring.

"This is the new blood for this public policy battle," Tom Fitton, president of the ultra-right-leaning group Judicial Watch, told me in a recent interview.

Fitton said he'll be appealing to tea party activists in an upcoming speech to make the lawsuits the core of their fight against whomever Obama nominates. He'll ask them to take the message to Republican senators that the confirmation vote will be "a vote as important as Obama care."

Since the Republicans are going to be in full warpath mode on this confirmation, no matter who Obama nominates, he should nominate a real liberal.

FL-Sen: What will Crist do?

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 18:30

Back in June 2009, I suggested Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist had a better chance of getting elected if he switched parties.

With 14 months until the Florida Republican Senate primary in 2010, popular Gov. Charlie Crist is riding high in the polls against his challenger, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio. But the current numbers are deceiving, and as counterintuitive as it might seem, Crist is likely the underdog.

You see, Crist is an anachronism in the modern GOP. He’s a moderate with a streak of social liberalism, which places him at odds with the conservative voters who will dominate the closed primary’s electorate. Crist’s strong support among Democrats and independents won’t help him with party regulars, while his centrist record will provide ample fodder for Rubio and his allies to decimate the governor’s standing with the right-wing base.

Crist fought his own party to expand the voting rights of convicted felons in Florida, and he ‘s been quoted as declaring, “Sometimes big business can be as bad as big government and become arrogant, sloth-like and detrimental,” flying directly in the face of his party’s business-can-do-no-wrong orthodoxy [...]

This is a war of attrition, and 14 months will be more than enough for the combined might of the conservative movement to grind Crist down. Republican primary voters aren’t interested in moderation or practicality, and Crist can’t deliver the ideological purity they demand. The poll numbers should tighten by the first quarter of 2010, and Crist seems likely to face the same dilemma that Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) wrestled with a short while ago — can he remain a Republican and win a primary?

The simple fact is that Crist would likely find a better home in the Democratic Party. In light of the May 2010 filing deadline, he still has some time to make an informed decision about which party best reflects his beliefs — and which party would best boost his electoral prospects.

Unfortunately for Crist, he didn't heed that advice. And now he's struggling to figure out what to do with the filing deadline approaching. Switching to the Democratic Party is pretty much a no-go. He's spent the last month trying to out-wingnut Rubio, and Crist has so damaged himself that he no longer runs stronger as a Democrat than existing Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek. Had he switched six months ago, we'd be talking a completely different game. Now? That door is shut.

So his two options are 1) switching to Independent, or 2) quitting altogether.

One more possibility: some rumors suggest Crist might bide his time for a 2012 run against Democrat Bill Nelson. That won't work. Crist will never run as a Republican again, especially after vetoing the a top GOP priority this year -- a bill to essentially kill the teachers union. Such talk is likely a smokescreen for an impending independent bid, or a way to try and save face if he quits this race.

One thing is for sure, something big is about to happen. Crist has pulled his ads from two major markets, pointing to a complete reassessment of his electoral strategy. Top Republicans in DC are writing Crist off. The NRSC has already been slowly backing away from Crist.

The GOP will be praying that Crist drops out altogether. While a Meek-Rubio race is competitive, the GOP will still have the upper hand. Rubio has come out for raising the retirement age and reducing social security benefits, which will give Democrats a fighting chance in retiree-rich Florida, but this is still a tough state for us to win.

On the other hand, a three-way race with Rubio, Meek and Crist makes this a real crapshoot of a race. And with Rubio the presumptive nominee, it'd be good to see both Crist and Meek pounding away at the Republican. And while we'd root for Meek, a Crist victory (presuming he caucuses with Democrats, which is what the rumors suggest), would be nice consolation.

So keep your fingers crossed for an independent bid.

Americans Want More Diversity in Their Political Choices

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 18:30

This is it? This is the best we can do? (photo: cathro via Flickr)

With both major political parties having significantly net unfavorable rating it is no surprise that Americans desire increased diversity in our political choices. 46% of Americans agree the country needs a third party to compete with the Democrats and Republicans. Given the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, one might wonder why we are stuck with basically only two choices in our elections. It’s not for a lack of desire for alternative choices, nor is it that our society is inherently an evenly divided country which naturally creates a two-party system. It’s our electoral laws which have evenly divided us.

Our politics are defined by mainly single position election with plurality voting (or first past the post). Whether voting for governor, senator, congress, president, etc., our elections can produce only one winner and the winner is whoever gets a plurality of votes. This inherently discourages political parties that may have significantly less support than the two dominant parties — say 25% of voters. Since they can rarely gain a plurality in any one election they can’t secure many elected positions. In other systems which use proportional representation this is not the case. A party with 25% of the vote would often end up with around 25% of the seats in the legislature.

What this kind of election system produces is a spoiler effect. Picture a single position winner-takes- all election with two legitimate right-leaning candidates and only one left-leaning candidate or vice versa. Even with a very conservative electorate the left-leaning candidate could easily win with a very small plurality. A divide center-right hands victory to united left-leaning choice and a divided center-left will hand victory to a united right-wing choice.Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District special election offers an example of this dynamic at work, where a Republican could win an overwhelmingly Democratic district with just over a third of the vote due to a divided left. Without proportional representation, instant run-off voting, or even very quick run-off elections, voters would constantly run up against the spoiler effect, inhibiting the emergence of new parties.

The current election cycle in the United Kingdom provides an interesting case. The traditional third-party Liberal Democrats are surging because of much unhappiness with the two major parties, Labour and Conservatives. But since they use a similar system of single member districts with plurality winners, the Liberal Democrats could get more votes nationwide than either the Labour or Conservative parties but still end up with few seats in parliament than both.

Compounding our American challenge, we have a national election for the presidency. Without this particular election in its current format, we could see the emergence of regional parties (for example Bloc Quebecois in Canada), or third parties that compete in the few districts which are much more conservative/liberal than average. But having a national presidential election produces the spoiler effect nationwide. We are driven further into a two-party paradigm since third parties could not run viable president candidates; in our system the president is generally viewed as a leader of their respective political party.

The U.S. is not an inherently divided country split between two ideologies. Nor do American voters actually want a two-party system; they don’t believe this offers a sufficient set of choices. This dichotomy is a result of our election system’s structure and will not change until are election laws are changed. It also means that we are doomed to experience zero sum political campaigns and policy fights, because the system prevents the emergence of third parties that could equally punish Republicans and Democrats when they both behave in a way that disappoints the electorate.

Instead the two parties will continue to see value in trying to tear each other down. In a two-party zero sum political system it does not matter how far you lower your own standing as long as you bring the other party down even farther. If Americans want more choices and less zero sum politics they will need to push for changes to election laws which make this possible.

Palin rejects notion that God is separate from the state

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 18:20
Steven Benen at Political Animal:THE THEOCRATIC WING OF THE GOP.... A certain former half-term governor appears to be drifting even further away from the American mainstream. Over the weekend, appearing at evangelical Christian women's conference in Louisville, Sarah Palin rejected the very idea of separation of church and state, a bedrock principle of American democracy.She asked for the women -- who greeted her with an enthusiastic standing ovation -- to provide a "prayer shield" to strengthen her against what she said was "deception" in the media.

She denounced this week's Wisconsin federal court ruling that government observance of a National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional -- which the crowd joined in booing. She asserted that America needs to get back to its Christian roots and rejected any notion that "God should be separated from the state."Palin added that she was outraged when President Obama said that "America isn't a Christian nation."[F]ar less amusing is the fact that Palin and others of her radical ilk reject any notion that "God should be separated from the state." It's the 21st century, for crying out loud. There are some countries that endorse Palin's worldview and intermix God and government -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind -- but they're generally not countries the United States tries to emulate.

The separation of church and state has long been a concept that all Americans could embrace, and has served as a model for nations around the world to follow. For Palin to publicly denounce this bedrock American principle suggests she might actually be getting worse.

Palin Advocates for a Theocracy

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 18:10

The former half-term governor from Alaska continues to inspire the wingnuttia:

She asked for the women -- who greeted her with an enthusiastic standing ovation -- to provide a "prayer shield" to strengthen her against what she said was "deception" in the media.

She denounced this week's Wisconsin federal court ruling that government observance of a National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional -- which the crowd joined in booing. She asserted that America needs to get back to its Christian roots and rejected any notion that "God should be separated from the state."

That would be the media that regurgitates her every word as gospel.

As for the idea that God shouldn't be separated from the state? Presumably that would be her God.  

And as Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly points out:

There are some countries that endorse Palin's worldview and intermix God and government -- Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind -- but they're generally not countries the United States tries to emulate.

MA-09: Lynch To Be Primaried After All?

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 17:40

Well, it looks like organized labor might have been serious about getting after apostate Democrats on the health care issue, after all:

The Phoenix's David Bernstein tweets that SEIU's New England political director Mac D'Alessandro will challenge US Rep. Steve Lynch in the Democratic primary. Lynch's old rival Phil Dunkelbarger is already in the race.

As everyone here likely knows, Lynch was slow in coming around to supporting the public option, and then voted against health care reform, providing a series of utterly incoherent justifications for that.

Of all 34 Democrats who sided with the Republicans on last month's HIR vote, Lynch was perhaps the most perplexing. There was no obvious district imperative, and the only explanation that made any sense was that he wanted to shore up moderate/conservative bonafides in advance of a possible 2012 Senate run against the newly-elected Scott Brown.

When Harmony Wu decided not to run for Congress two weeks ago, it looked like Lynch might avoid a primary, given that Dunkelberger is, according to his campaign website, planning an Independent bid.

The apparent entrance of D'Alessandro provides all kinds of potential peril for Lynch. As a regional political director for SEIU, one has to imagine that he has both solid electoral chops and a fair-sized Rolodex, to boot.

Assuming D'Alessandro is a go, he also has plenty of time to mount a competitive campaign--Massachusetts is at the end of the line, practically, in terms of the primary schedule. The primary for the Bay State is not until September 14th.

New Pew Poll: Republicans Only Skeptical of Government When Democrats are in Charge

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 17:30

Lots of chatter today about the new Pew Poll that shows the public’s growing dissatisfaction with government. An interesting finding is that Democrats and Independents are pretty consistently skeptical of government no matter who’s in the White House — but Republicans trust government far more than any other group when Republicans are in charge.

Trust in government is typically higher among members of the party that controls the White House than among members of the “out” party. However, Republicans’ views of government change more dramatically, depending on which party holds power, than do Democrats’. Republicans are more trusting of government when the GOP holds power than Democrats are when the Democrats are in charge.

Look at those numbers. Democrats are about as trusting of Barack Obama’s administration (33%) than they were of Ronald Reagan’s (34%). Compare that to Republicans, who are supposedly wary of government, out of principle. Nope. When there’s a guy with an “R” next to his name at 1600 Pennsylvania, they just completely toss that out the window.

What’s going on here?

One, Republicans are simply more authoritarian than Democrats. For all their talk about individual liberty and personal freedom, they’re ready and eager to goose-step behind whatever Republican Daddy figure that comes along. Think back at the cottage industry of sickeningly fawning books about Bush during his first term and you get the picture. This is why right-wingers saw black helicopters in the skies when Clinton was President, but cheered on every egregious executive overreach — from domestic spying to torture — when Bush was at the helm.

Paraphrasing Truman, Republicans have leaders and Democrats have bosses.

It’s also pretty self-evident from these results that a Democratic President trying to appeal to Republican (or Teabagger) voters is completely wasting his time. So Barack Obama can escalate in Afghanistan and cut taxes and he’s still considered a communist pacifist by the right.

Finally, look at the steady decline of trust in government among Independents. That’s the result of 30+ years of “government is the problem” Reaganism. The Democrats and Barack Obama must make an affirmative case for government or this trend will continue.

The party of “government sucks — vote for us” is still winning the messaging war.

Financial Reform Concessions Don't Net Republican Support

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 17:08

After a long week of tough talk from the Dems on financial reform, the weekend started on an off note, with the administration offering a key concession to Republicans.

The Obama administration is telling Senate Democrats to ditch a measure in their financial reform bill that would create a $50 billion liquidation fund by assessing a fee on big financial institutions. The fund is intended to be used to cover the cost of winding down large firms, when they fail. According to the Associated Press, the administration would like the financial industry to cover the cost of liquidation after an institution has been dismantled.

Perhaps not coincidentally, this is a measure Republicans oppose, on the grounds, they say, that the mere existence of the fund will incentivize risk taking, and lead to more bailouts.

That's also the provision Mitch McConnell and other Republicans used the Luntz "permanent bailout" rhertoric, the talking points Senate Dems, the DNC, and the White House launched a "tough" campaign against. It's reminiscent of the Republicans calling the end-of-life care provisions "death panels" and allowing undocumented workers to purchase insurance with their own money "illegal immigrants getting our health care," lies which the White House and Dems loudly denounced, but then conceded to by removing the provisions.

Predictably, the results are about the same as with the health reform concessions.

Senate Republicans say they're prepared to work constructively with Democrats on a consensus financial reform bill. But this weekend, after the White House offered up a key substantive concession, they swatted President Obama's hand away in a fashion that was all too reminiscent of their strategy of opposition to health care reform.

"We ought to go back to the drawing board," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CNN Sunday morning.

Likewise, moderate Republican Scott Brown (R-MA), once considered a swing vote on regulatory reform, explicitly threatened to vote to block the bill from even being debated. Asked by CBS' Bob Schieffer if he'd filibuster the bill rather than let it come to the Senate floor, Brown was unequivocal: "In this particular instance, yes," he said.

And in a move that just feels all too familiar, Geithner will meet with Collins this afternoon.

PA-12: Democrat Mark Critz Doesn’t Think a Democrat Can Win His Election

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 16:45

National Democrats are concerned that Mark Critz will lose the special election to replace Jack Murtha in the 12th Congressional District in Pennsylvania. They’re already on the air for the May 18 special election, and they’re getting ready to pump over $800,000 more in advertising between now and Election Day.

Democrats gave that money. They expected it to be used to help Democrats win. But Mark Critz, in his first TV ad, is basically telling voters that Democrats aren’t to be trusted and they shouldn’t hold the seat. He contrasts an ad put up by Republicans saying that Critz would vote the “liberal agenda” in Congress by saying “That ad’s not true. I opposed the health care bill. And I’m pro-life, and pro-gun. That’s not liberal.”

I’m sure DCCC donors, particularly pro-choice and pro-gun control ones, are thrilled to know that Mark Critz plans to vote against every single one of their beliefs, and that they helped put him in office.

The truth is that Critz is favored in this special election for a variety of reasons. The main one is that the May 18 special election will be held on the same day as the Pennsylvania primaries, and there are simply more interesting primary races on the Democratic side. Second, the primary and the general election for the seat will be held on the same day, And while Critz is running unopposed in the primary, Tim Burns has competition, which will sow confusion.

But after this ad, I don’t know why one Democrat in the district or not would give a damn if Mark Critz got elected.

And also, we keep hearing about how labor is so furious at anyone and everyone who voted against the Democratic health care bill that they plan to run kamikaze missions against them. The SEIU, for example, is forming a third party in North Carolina designed to dump three Democrats who voted against health care. Just to reiterate how much I think this accountability from labor is nothing but talk, consider this: Critz, saying in his ads that he opposed health care reform, has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

Poll: Americans more skeptical of Washington than ever

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 16:41
I'm not surprised. Republicans have been launching withering attacks on the Congress, the White House, and the entire notion of the American system of government, and Democrats haven't been providing an awful lot of defense (or offense, for that matter). So people end up thinking that the government under Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid has somehow illegally taken over all health care, shamefully bailed out their "friends" on Wall Street, and passed a pork-ladened stimulus bill that wasted nearly 1 trillion dollars while not creating one job. All of that is a lie. But it's a lie that becomes truth when it's not fought against nearly enough.

And now the Republicans are claiming that the Democrats' Wall Street Reform legislation is actually a massive bailout for Wall Street. Again, it's a lie. But Democrats are afraid to call it a lie. And so the downward spiral continues.A desire for smaller government is particularly evident since Barack Obama took office. In four surveys over the past year, about half have consistently said they would rather have a smaller government with fewer services, while about 40% have consistently preferred a bigger government providing more services. In October 2008, shortly before the presidential election, the public was evenly split on this question.

The public is now divided over whether it is a good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy than it has in recent years. Just 40% say this is a good idea, while a 51% majority says it is not. Last March, by 54% to 37%, more people said it was a good idea for the government to exert more control over the economy. The exception here is the undiminished support for the government to more strictly regulate the way major financial companies do business. This is favored by a 61% to 31% margin.

Record discontent with Congress and dim views of elected officials generally have poisoned the well for trust in the federal government. Public opinion about elected officials in Washington is relentlessly negative. Favorable ratings for the Democratic Party have fallen by 21 points—to 38% from 59%—over the past year and now stand at their lowest point in Pew Research surveys. The Republican Party's ratings, which increased to 46% in February from 40% last August, have fallen back to 37%.

Nonetheless, antigovernment sentiment appears to be a more significant driver of possible turnout among Republicans and independents than among Democrats. Perhaps most troubling for Democrats, independent voters who are highly frustrated with government are also highly committed to casting a ballot this year, and they favor the Republican candidates in their districts by an overwhelming 66% to 13% margin.

Tom Tancredo wants to send the President "back" to Kenya

Mon, 04/19/2010 - 16:36

Another day, another teabagger rally filled with regular folks concerned about their taxes and whatnot. Oh, and the main message from their keynote speaker, former congressman Tom Tancredo, who said:

... Americans have reached the point where "we're going to have to pray that we can hold on to this country" ... "If his wife says Kenya is his homeland, why don't we just send him back?"

But don't be too hard on old Tom ... this isn't the first time he's suffered a meltdown in public.