Vote No on Proposition 26: Supermajority to Pass Fees

This is the sixth part of a series of posts giving recommendations on California’s propositions. This post  recommends a “no” vote on Proposition 26, which requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to pass some fees.

Proposition 27 will be the subject of the next post and last in this series.

Trying to Understand What Proposition 26 Does

Proposition 26 is a complex and tricky piece of proposed legislation, with a number of subtleties. On its surface it sounds like a standard conservative proposal against higher taxes, and in a way Proposition 26 indeed fits this definition. But to just label Proposition 26 as a classic tax-cutting proposition is to somewhat misunderstand it’s purpose.

Proposition 26 has several parts, and each are quite complex. The first part deals with the difference between taxes and fees.

Part 1

In California, two methods by which the state raises revenues are through taxes, and through fees. While to the common person these sound like the same thing (indeed, they are) there is a distinct legal difference. Taxes, thanks to Proposition 13, require a two-thirds legislative supermajority to pass. Fees only require a simple majority.

Legally, taxes are defined as things are “used to pay for general public services.” Fees, on the other hand, “typically pay for a particular service or program benefiting individuals or businesses.”

The difference between these two categories can be murky at times, and there have been several court cases challenging a fee as actually a tax. It is confusing stuff.

In any case, conservatives have accused the legislature of raising taxes through the backdoor of increasing fees by a simple majority, rather than taxes (which require supermajority approval). This is probably true, and it is why Proposition 26 is being proposed. Here is the relevant summary by the legislative analyst:

  • Classifies as taxes some fees and charges that government currently may impose with a majority vote.
  • As a result, more state  revenue proposals would require approval by two-thirds of each house of  the Legislature and more local revenue proposals would require local  voter approval.

Most politically intelligent individuals think that Proposition 26 will require all fees to have a two-thirds majority to pass. In fact, this is not true. Proposition 26 will redefine some fees as “taxes” (thus requiring a supermajority to pass), and keep some fees as fees. Once again, this is headache-inducing stuff. The point is that Proposition 26 makes it harder for California to raise revenues.

Part 2

But that is not all. Proposition 26 also:

  • Requires a two-thirds  vote of each house of the Legislature to approve laws that increase  taxes on any taxpayer, even if the law’s overall fiscal effect does not  increase state revenues.

Again, this may sound confusing to people –  and, to be fair, it probably was written to be as confusing as possible. Don’t taxes already require two-thirds approval?

Well, actually, not all taxes do. Those taxes which increase “the amount of taxes charged to some taxpayers but offer an equal (or larger) reduction in taxes for other taxpayers” only require a majority approval.

These taxes are generally things most voters really, really like. They are usually taxes on business activities which pollute or harm society. One such tax imposes a fee on businesses that use or throw out hazardous waste. The revenues are used to clean this waste. Another tax is on alcohol retailers; the revenues are used for law enforcement and to reduce public nuisance problems associated with alcohol.

Currently, these taxes only require a simple majority to be approved. Proposition 26 changes this to require a supermajority for these taxes to become law, making their passage much more difficult.

Why to Vote Against Proposition 26

There are three good reasons to vote against Proposition 26.

The first involves ballot-box budgeting. In an ideal world, Proposition 26 would be left to the legislature to debate. It deals with subtle and complex concepts which even the most intelligent individuals have a hard time understanding.

Instead, it is being thrown to the ballot box in California’s broken proposition system. Proposition 26 is yet another example of an intentionally confusing proposition which almost nobody really understands (that includes this individual). Whether or not it is a good idea, it should be voted down and left to the legislature to decide.

The second reason to vote against Proposition 26 constitutes the deleterious effect that it will have on California’s budget. California is already famous for its late budgets (100 days late this year) as the legislature desperately squabbles to achieve the constitutionally-mandated supermajority. Much of California’s budget problems go back to restrictions on the legislature’s freedom to make decisions: two-thirds agreement is needed to pass a budget and two-thirds to pass taxes – a combination no other state has. Proposition 26 actually makes this problem worse, by restricting the legislature’s ability to do things even more. It goes down the wrong path in California.

Finally, one ought to vote against the proposition due to the restriction on taxes which do not increase state revenues. These taxes are not the types of taxes everybody loves to hate – income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, etc. Rather, they are generally levied on businesses, not people, whose activities result in societal damage. They are taxes on businesses that produce hazardous waste, or alcohol retailers, or polluters. A vital part of role of the government is to regulate these negative externalities. Mandating a two-thirds supermajority for California to create beneficial regulations like these would be most unwise.

These are three good reasons to vote against Proposition 26: because it is yet another example of ballot-box budgeting, because it does more damage to an already broken budget system, and because its tax restrictions are too strict.

That is why I recommend a “no” vote on Proposition 26.


87% of PUMAs think Obama should be primaried in 2012

Alan Fram’s AP story, “Obama Primary Challenge? Nearly Half Of Dems Want 2010 Fight” has a catchy headline, and it’s no wonder that Jeffroby88 flagged it in a quick hit. But between the content of the story and and the topline results (pdf), it turns out there’s a lot there than meets the eye for anyone pushing a “dump Obama” agenda.  OTOH, there’s a lot more there for those trying to puzzle out what, if anything positive might come of the current Democratic discontent.

In the story itself, Fram writes the provocative lead:

Democratic voters are closely divided over whether President Barack Obama should be challenged within the party for a second term in 2012, an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks Poll finds.

Then later writes:

Among all 2008 voters, 51 percent say he deserves to be defeated in November 2012 while 47 percent support his re-election – essentially a tie.

Among Democrats, 47 percent say Obama should be challenged for the 2012 nomination and 51 percent say he should not be opposed. Those favoring a contest include most who backed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s unsuccessful faceoff against Obama for the 2008 nomination….

_Nearly 3 in 10, or 29 percent, of Democrats who said during the spring of 2008 that they were backing Obama for the Democratic nomination now say they want him to be challenged in 2012. Seven in 10 want him renominated.

_Sixty-one percent of Democrats who said in spring 2008 that they were backing Clinton now say Obama should face an opponent for the party’s nomination.

_More than 8 in 10 overall who on Election Day 2008 said they’d voted for Obama want to re-elect him, though 1 in 7 say he should be defeated.

So what gives?  47% of Dems say they want Obama challenged, but over 80% who voted for him want to re-elect him?  Where’s that extra 27%+ come from?  And, more generally, WTFs going on?

Well, it helps to take a look at the topline PDF, where we get this additional piece of information about Democrats, or Dem-leaning independents:

That 36% of Obama voters is still hard to reconcile with the “80% who voted for him want to re-elect him.” Are his GOP & independent supporters not aligned with the Dems actually more supportive of him than those in this subsample? It seems unlikely.  So the data itself has not been well-explained by AP.  But to the extent it has been shared, it seems that a lot of the discontent comes from folks who weren’t all that sold on Obama in the first place.  

What’s more, as for the blunt “Dump Obama!” approach, the poll found that just 3% of 2008 Obama voters had a “very unfavorable” view of him, while 7% had a “somewhat unfavorable” view, compared to 39% “somewhat favorable” view, and 48% “very favorable”.

Clearly a lot of those saying they favor a primary challenge have at least a “somewhat favorable” view of him.  That’s a pretty healthy sign for our democracy that so many folks can have at least a “somewhat favorable” view of a president, and yet still think that a serious primary challenge would be a good thing. But it’s not a very good sign for those pushing a hardline “Dump Obama” message.

Maybe we really could have a mostly-positive primary challenge…. If, that is, we could find a candidate.  Hillary, obviously, is not exactly readily available for that slot.  But I’m pleased, at least, to see the level of sophistication shown by such a significant chunk of the Democratic electorate.

Sometime after Tuesday we’ll be reevaluating our Government…

Sometime after Tuesday we’ll be reevaluating our Government and a new area of conflict will likely be established…

I am curious as to what the results of the Election 2010 will leave us with. It seems likely now that the Republicans will take control of the House, likely putting John Boehner (R-OH) into the Speaker’s chair. As to the Senate, the majority of pollsters have the Democrats keeping control by at least 1 seat… but there are odds that Harry Reid (D – NV) won’t be in one of them. This makes the Majority Leader position a “what if” situation… and it looks like Charles Schumer (D – NY) might get it.

As to Boehner, it is interesting that he is pushing candidates all over the place… the other day he supported Rich Iott, the Nazi Reenactor, in Ohio’s 9th District. TPM points out:


House Minority Leader John Boehner took on the conventional wisdom that it’s bad politics to associate with Nazi reenactors by campaigning recently with Ohio congressional candidate Rich Iott. That’s about the only public support Iott’s received from the GOP since his SS scandal broke.

   Returning the favor, Iott, who’s running in Ohio’s 9th congressional district, now won’t say whether he’d support Boehner for Speaker.

Interesting. Does Iott know something we don’t? Roll Call, which first published Iott’s “iffy” stand on Boehner’s Speakership, doesn’t think it matters:


Boehner isn’t likely to have Iott’s vote either way, since Kaptur (Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur) appears to be safe on Tuesday. CQ Politics rates this 9th district race Safe Democratic.

In the now close Senate race in Nevada, the Baltimore Sun doesn’t think it will be over on Tuesday:


In Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was battling “tea party” insurgent Sharron Angle, each side was bracing for a close finish that could extend the campaign – through lawsuits, a recount or both – well beyond Tuesday.

Looking at the Nevada Senate campaign, we’re seeing some really dirty playing on both sides. Perhaps you didn’t see this piece by Michael Kinsley in Politico a couple of days ago:


The Republicans have chosen to make a major issue out of the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lives in an apartment in the Ritz-Carlton condominiums in Washington DC. It is a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor. Reid also owns two properties in Nevada, his home state. But presumably his apartment in Washington is where he stays when he’s here. Reid’s opponent, Sharron Angle, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have built a huge imaginary narrative on this fragile base in which Reid “lives large” in DC, partying with supermodels, while his constituents suffer.

   In my Politico column on Tuesday, I raised the question of where Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, who will become Majority Leader if the Republicans carry the day on November 2, lives when he’s in Washington. It turns out that he owns a three-bedroom house with a carriage house on Capitol Hill. Harry Reid’s apartment is worth $1,066,000 according to the real estate website Mitch McConnell’s house is worth $1,142,000. If Harry Reid is living large, Mitch McConnell is living larger. And the fact that Republicans apparently didn’t’ think about or didn’t bother to check out McConnell’s situation before piling on Reid shows how phony the whole “Harry Reid Lives at the Ritz” business really is.

The poll numbers go back and forth in Nevada each day (Angle has a 4 point lead this morning, but this will probably switch again this afternoon and go back the other way tomorrow. Adam Nagourney in the NY Times said this about Angle:


She has struggled to explain a number of past positions, including calling for the phasing out of Social Security, discussion of “second amendment remedies” to deal with an out of control Congress, and coming out against extension of unemployment benefits. Mr. Reid is highly unpopular in his home state and his strategy has been clear from the start: To present Ms. Angle as an unacceptable alternative even to someone that many voters don’t like. (Keep in mind: Nevada voters have the option of voting for “none of the above,” which can only help Mr. Reid.)

Hmmm. It doesn’t look good for Reid. Then I read Jon Ralston’s piece this morning in the Las Vegas Sun:


Atmospherics are terrible for Reid, but he will hold on

   Harry Reid or Sharron Angle is dead, last in an occasional series:

   It just feels as if Reid is going to lose.

   Forget the enthusiasm gap – that word is too mild. There is a passion gap in this race that is palpable. You don’t find many people shivering with excitement to vote for Reid. But the feverish animation of voters hot to oust Reid is unlike anything I have experienced in nearly 25 years of covering politics. And it seems to have been building since January, evidenced by Reid’s inability to move his highly elevated disapproval rating.

   It just feels as if he is going to lose.

   But I don’t think he will. Why?

   First, let me be clear on this tradition of predictions. It is not a wish list but a walking out on a limb, so I can either crow afterward or eat same. I base them on data I am privy to and my gut. I have had much success in the past – look it up. But if ever there were a year for my lifetime batting average to take a hit, this is the one.

   So take this for what it’s worth:

   Harry Reid is the most resilient figure in Nevada political history. He should not even be here. He lost a U.S. Senate race in 1974, embarrassed himself in a mayoral race in 1975 and should have lost his re-election bid in 1998. But he found a way to win 12 years ago, and he will again Tuesday.

   How? Let me count the ways:

   Considering they were dealing with a moribund politician, and one who was sure to make their job more difficult during the year with his spontaneous effusions, Reid’s handlers have run one of the most spectacular campaigns in history at all levels: The turnout machine is formidable. The TV has been pitch perfect. The strategy – to peel moderate Republicans and independents who might not like their guy away from Angle – has worked.

   And, perhaps equally important, Republicans managed to nominate the one person this year who could lose to Reid.

   Angle is a natural retail campaigner in small political subdivisions. But that’s not what a Senate race is about. And her campaign never could find a comfortable way to reconcile her past, controversial statements – they tried massage, change and deny – and she made plenty more during the campaign (Sharia law here, Canada’s terrorist conduit, Latinos-in-ads amnesia).

   In the end, if she loses, I believe the six weeks following the GOP nominee’s primary win – she had a double-digit lead in June polls – were pivotal. During that period, the Reid ad campaign defined her so starkly and turned enough people into Anglophobes to give him a chance.

   One more thing: Republicans do not have the huge turnout advantage in early voting they should in a wave election – under 4 points. And all the data I have seen tell me that unless Reid loses independents by 15 points or so, he will hold on.

   It’s possible none of this made any difference, that Reid has been dead all along and no amount of campaign brilliance or Angle exposure could resuscitate him. The hatred is palpable, the discontent bubbling over. But I think he finds a way to survive.

   The result: Reid, 47 percent; Angle, 45 percent; rest, 4 percent; none of the above, 4 percent.

So we have two days to watch these and other campaigns… I’m keeping a close eye on Manchin (D) vs. Raese (R) here in West Virginia, and that looks like a close one, too. We’ll see.


Left Ed: Edu-Implications in the Upcoming Election

Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the national press and following the blogosphere, education is a critically important issue in Tuesday’s midterm election. Unfortunately, it’s important for reasons other than what it should be, as a referendum against the awful school reform policies inherited from George Bush and fortified by Arne Duncan.

Instead of mistaken reform policies, the overall foundational narrative for education among the candidates’ competing debates is the impact of the financial crisis on school funding. And while there are many insipid perspectives on education that both Democratic and Republican candidates generally share – that our system of public education is “broken,” teachers need to be held more accountable for test scores, charter schools will lead the way to dynamic new education practices that can be scaled up across the country, etc. – there are very clear and obvious themes that differentiate Dems from Repubs and gives good reason to vote Democratic if you care about public schools.

First off, one of the most divisive issues in the election is the worthiness of the stimulus funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that were injected into the economy by the Obama administration after the financial crisis hit. Quoted in this article from Education Week, Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding points out “there’s no question that for education, [cuts and layoffs] would have been demonstrably worse without the stimulus.” Republicans – even those who hypocritically accepted the funds – are generally critical of ARRA while Democratic candidates generally speak positively of the legislation even though, as Packer says, “generally, the stimulus has become a negative brand.”

Beyond the issue of stimulus funds, though, the differences between the education policies and provisions of Democratic and Republican candidates become more diverse but significant, nevertheless. Scanning across a map of the 2010 election relevant to education, on a race-by-race basis at the state level there are races in particular that have significant impact on the direction of education policy. For instance, Democratic candidates in many of these races – such as the gubernatorial races in Iowa and Texas – are pushing for increased attention and funding of early childhood education, which would be a huge improvement in the well being of children and families in those sates.

On the federal level, the overriding edu-issue at stake in the upcoming election is the role of the federal government in public schools. As Paul Rosenberg wrote about in this diary earlier this week on Open Left, “the spread of anti-federalist ideology in the realm of education” is a commonly alarming theme among the majority of Republican candidates, and many of these extremist candidates want to shut down the Department of Education altogether and abandon critically important federal policies such as ESEA.

While I’m no big fan of many of the interventions – such as Race to the Top and i3 competitive grants – being pushed by the Obama administration, the federal government has been responsible for many of the historic landmarks that have made education in this country more accessible and equal for minorities and the less-well-off. Preserving the federal government’s role in education is a priority that every progressive should feel motivated to fight for, even if the policies of the current administration are out of whack.

Now, I wouldn’t be upset to see a new Republican majority in Congress cease funding for Race to the Top, as some have predicted. But as Diane Ravitch explains, a Republican majority would also likely reinforce many of the really bad elements of the education reform movement:

“There will be more votes for the Billionaire Boys Club, who hope to take charge in city after city with noblesse oblige policies. There will be more support for naming and shaming teachers by publishing test scores, even though this approach produces high error rates and demoralizes teachers. There will be increased support for policies that ignore poverty while blaming teachers for low scores. And even greater demands to rely on testing of basic skills as the best and only way to measure quality.”

I’m not being na

Early voting in Nevada now favors Dems

The following charts are from a HuffPo article by Michael P. McDonald, Associate Professor, George Mason University, “A Late Democratic Early Voting Surge in Nevada”. Clark County is home to Las Vegas. Washoe is home to Reno:

There are no tallies of early voters since last weekend in Nevada. But Clark County represents about half the votes in Nevada, and Washoe is the second-largest county.  Consequently, McDonald notes:

As of last Saturday, the state reported more registered Republicans had voted early in-person. Unless something dramatic is happening in counties where we do not have early voter party registration numbers reported on a daily basis, when the state reports the final statewide partisan registration among early voters, more registered Democrats will have voted in-person early in Nevada.

This late up-tick may signal that Dems will turn out more strongly on election day as well, and assuming that likely voter models do not reflect this, Reid is likely to outperform his polling as well.  Whether this is so, and whether it’s characteristic of other races as well, we’ll only know after the election.  But it definitely makes things a lot harder to predict going into the last 48 hours before the election.

A few days ago, HousesofProgress in Quick Hits pointed to this by Nate Silver:

Our projection says that Republicans are favorites in 231 House races, which would reflect a net gain of 52 seats.

But suppose that our forecast is biased against the Democrats by one point across the country as a whole, perhaps because pollsters are overestimating the enthusiasm gap very slightly. Just one point. Well, there are 6 seats in which we have the Republican candidate projected to win by less than 1 full point (it might be a very long election night, by the way). If Democrats hold those 6 seats, the projected Republican gains would be down to 46.

Now suppose that the forecast understates Democratic support by 2 points. There are 8 seats in which we project the Republican candidate to win by a margin of between 1 and 2 points; now these would also be wiped off the board. Now the Republican gains would be reduced to just 38 seats – and the Democrats would hold the House, 218-217!

Idiot Wind

Picking idiots is so much fun!  Why not join in yourself?

The standard we aspire to here is set by the recent example of bystander’s nomination of Phyllis Schlafly:

Phyllis Schlafly
“Unmarried women, 70% of unmarried women, voted for Obama, and this is because when you kick your husband out, you’ve got to have big brother government to be your provider,” said Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum and infamous for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.

So 70% of unmarried women are on welfare?  That’s Archie Bunkeresque.

via TPM

Last week’s winner was TravisDisaster’s nomination of John Burns:

John Burns…

Julian Assange moves like a hunted man. . . . He demands that his dwindling number of loyalists use expensive encrypted cellphones and swaps his own as other men change shirts. He checks into hotels under false names, dyes his hair, sleeps on sofas and floors, and uses cash instead of credit cards, often borrowed from friends. . . .

Now it is not just governments that denounce him: some of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior, and a nearly delusional grandeur unmatched by an awareness that the digital secrets he reveals can have a price in flesh and blood. . . .

Effectively, as Mr. Assange pursues his fugitive’s life, his leadership is enforced over the Internet. Even remotely, his style is imperious. . . .

When Herbert Snorrason, a 25-year-old political activist in Iceland, questioned Mr. Assange’s judgment over a number of issues in an online exchange last month, Mr. Assange was uncompromising. “I don’t like your tone,” he said, according to a transcript. “If it continues, you’re out.” . . . In an interview about the exchange, Mr. Snorrason’s conclusion was stark. “He is not in his right mind,” he said.

Mr. Assange’s detractors also accuse him of pursuing a vendetta against the United States. In London, Mr. Assange said America was an increasingly militarized society and a threat to democracy. Moreover, he said, “we have been attacked by the United States, so we are forced into a position where we must defend ourselves.”

Also why isn’t this being discussed here at OL?

(As I explained in response:


It’s not being discussed because of timing.  I had a conference to cover Friday & Saturday, & normally post very lightly on weekends. You’ll see something tomorrow.


Rules on the flip.

The Rules:

(A) We’re looking for conservative idiocy here, folks.  Unlike the “Chatty Cathies”, these are the “Archie Bunkers.”  Last week’s winner is the ultimate example of what we’re looking for.

(B) You may nominate anyone you want.  Heck, if Joe the Plumber could be elevated to near sainthood, any rightwing bozo is fair game. Nominations should include the name of the person nominated (preferably in the subject line), the outlet and date, an exact quote of what they said or wrote, and a link to where it can be found-original, transcript, or first-hand report (such as Media Matters).

(C) You may submit as many nominations as you want, but each must be in a separate comment.

(D) People vote for each nomination by giving recommendations.  There is no limit on how many recommendations you can give.  

Turning the tide against the GOP

I have been thinking about and looking for a way that would unite the nation and turn the tide against the right. I think there are three things to focus on, build a message around them and then start hitting that message home until it sticks. That’s what they do to us. Lets use the tactic and see where it goes! It just might work.

What are the problems we face as a nation? We the common people?  Simply stated, our issues are good jobs (including a wide range of middle and upper income jobs and lower wage jobs that pay at least a “living” wage), upward mobility (the American dream), and economic security.

So focusing on Jobs, the American Dream, and our Economic Security, what is driving the right to destroy these fundamental national priorities? It’s their insatiable appetite for power and wealth. Theirs of coarse, not yours or mine.  Everything they do is designed around and stems from their maniacal greed.

So what does the right focus on and what did they do? They have systematically worked to destroy our government, its regulations and the safety nets we used to enjoy.

From the time of Regan and his imbecilic calls for smaller government they have worked to dismantle the government protections (put in place to protect people and the environment people must survive in) in everyway possible at all levels including Federal, State, and Local. Pick a catastrophe and Greed is behind it. The root cause. Problems with tainted meat? Problems with salmonella poising? Problems with toxic waste? Problems with oil spills off our coasts? Problems with, you name it. It goes back to greed.

They also have worked to destroy our education systems because the wealthy have an alternative. But we don’t. We need good public school education systems. With teachers earning wages representative of the importance their position should imply.  Their goal of financially starving the public education system needs to be recognized for what it is. To cripple the lower and middle classes of our society.

Because greed is so pervasive, they got regulations taxing corporations changed over time so that the major portion of tax burden for running the country was first shifted from corporations to the people. Then they crafted changes in tax law over time to shift the major burden of for running the country from the wealthy to the middle class and the poor. The wealthy make 90% of the money and pay only a few percent of the taxes!

Their greed has shifted our jobs overseas. Here we have labor laws and laws that protected children from working and a minimum wage. Here we also had corporate business obligations that required companies to pay corporate income taxes. But greed drove changes in tax laws and allows a corporation to set up house in foreign countries and take advantage of their lack of labor laws using slave labor.  The systematic changes to laws and regulations have allowed them to make obscene profits and pay little or nothing in federal, state and local taxes.

The situation we are in right now should be squarely placed on the shoulders of the right. Day in and day out we should be shouting out that the republicans did this! The misery caused by the economic meltdown is unfathomable. Yet somehow we have allowed them to escape the blame.

I think that the new Move-On Republicorp ads and concepts are the way to bring the message. Somehow we need to keep driving these points home.

State-run Iranian media beats the NY Times on WikiLeaks reporting

(We haven’t had enough time/space in the last week to give this the attention it deserves – promoted by Paul Rosenberg)

One of the biggest stories of the year is being virtually ignored by one of the most influential media outlets in America.  Meanwhile, Iran’s government news outlet engages in journalism.

The latest document dump from WikiLeaks would seem to be one of those massive, stop the presses, drop everything and throw all available resources at it stories that dominates news cycles for weeks on end.  One of the first revelations was of Frago 242 (a Guardian story describes a frago as “a ‘fragmentary order’ which summarises a complex requirement”), which directed soldiers not to investigate war crimes that did not directly involve members of the coalition.  There are reports that US soldiers may have engaged in war crimes themselves.  There are hundreds of thousands of documents and they will take a long time to digest.

The New York Times featured it Saturday.  On Sunday it did so again; this time with an accompanying character assassination of Julian Assange, which Glenn Greenwald promptly took apart.  While Greenwald focuses on the author of the smear – London Bureau Chief John Burns – in a sense it is a somewhat narrow critique.

It seems similar to how some activists focused their ire on Rahm Emanuel when initiatives appeared to get frustrated by the White House.  After all, the hard charging, abrasive chief of staff who draws fire (conveniently) away from the president is a stock character in Washington.  Emanuel was hardly novel.  More importantly, he was not calling the shots.  Anyone put off by him should focus at least as much on his employer.

The same goes for Burns.  Whatever journalistic sins and malfeasance can be hung on him (and Greenwald catalogs them brilliantly) the fact is, his employers give him the platform.  We should spare some scrutiny for them.  For instance, look at the front pages of the Times on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  There is nothing about the new documents at all.

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

One of the reasons Watergate became huge was because there was a drip, drip, drip of revelations splashed on the front page over an extended period of time.  It kept the issue before the public, allowed it to get knowledgeable and engaged, and gave the story enough momentum to survive the hostile reaction of the political establishment.

Obviously there are differences with WikiLeaks, the most salient of which may be professional jealousy.  Media outlets love to get the scoop and hate being scooped.  The Washington Post had its own reporters digging away at Watergate, so it reflected well on the paper to have their work played up.  Times editors may not be as fired up about trumpeting someone else’s revelations.

Still, it takes some kid of extraordinary lapse in editorial judgment to allow such a phenomenally important story to be given such short shrift.  Iran’s state media outlet, PressTV, has shown how to cover a story like this without letting institutional vanity get in the way.

It has simply assigned people (identified only by initials – apparently no one gets the star treatment there) to go through the documents and write up what they find.  And what they are finding is jaw dropping: assassination, torture, a variety of abuse (some of it stunning), rape, the list goes on.  It is news – relevant, compelling news because it paints a far grimmer picture of what is happening there than the government has been willing to acknowledge.  The Times fancies itself the newspaper of record; if its editors believe that, why can’t they swallow their pride, have a couple reporters roll up their sleeves and dig in?

Even if it is considered common drudgery (though it is also the sort of thing newsrooms used to romanticize as shoe leather reporting) why not try to connect some dots?  See what implications there for what we already know, or how it might change what had previously been reported.  That kind of deep analytic work is ideally suited for a company with deep resources and archives.  The Times could advance the story and put their imprint on it.

For whatever reason, they have decided not to pursue it.  The front page scans above give a reasonably good picture of what they currently consider most newsworthy, and there is a gigantic hole right in the middle.  Since they also help set the tone for American news coverage, a horrible deficiency like this does not exist in a vacuum.

Happily, we live in an era when news sources from around the world are available.  It is now possible to consult faraway outlets, even those that are derided as government propaganda organs.  As in cases like this, sometimes they will be superior to American media.  Engaged citizens can usefully mix in a few minutes with a Press TV or an al Jazeera on a regular basis.  Perhaps they can improve their understanding of the world by catching up on the news that US outlets have concluded is not fit to print.

Legislative Situational Awareness With VisibleVote

  I’ve been talking about Legislative Situational Awareness the last couple of days. Previously we covered:

Legislative Situational Awareness With Progressive Congress News

Legislative Situational Awareness With TweetDeck

Progressive Congress News & You

 Today’s topic is VisibleVote, a powerful mobile platform that will work in conjunction with Progressive Congress News to improve the connection between legislators and their constituents.

  VisibleVote is a system that permits a citizen with a Facebook account, a Blackberry, an iPhone, or an Android phone to track legislation and interact with their representatives.

  Users sign up, provide enough geographic information so the system knows which House district they are in, and then they can begin interacting.

 The system providers a comparison between the views of the user’s representatives and their own, news feeds, on demand video, an area to cast their own ‘vote’ on each bill in the system, and there is a polling area.

 One of the most exciting functions of this system are the virtual town halls. Users be informed and advise their representatives as to their views, then they can be activated in a much more engaging way for key votes.

   I think the VisibleVote Facebook app is the right place to start if you want to investigate today. I spoke with them earlier this week and they tell me there is a major upgrade in the works for all three smartphone platforms. Their part of the update is done and they’re just waiting for the carriers to release it. They believe this will happen some time next week.

 The Facebook interface is going to be key for those who wish to organize broadly. I’m just starting to get into this but I see some of the structure and process management stuff that just can’t be built atop the typical blog platforms. I’ll admit to being very frustrated with the Facebook development environment, but we might just be seeing the right tool for such things emerging in the efforts that VisibleVote is making there.

Obama’s Power to Produce Progressive Legislation May Increase Dramatically Tuesday

Crossposted from Antemedius

It now appears that in all likelihood republicans will win a congressional majority this coming Tuesday. Nate Silver’s projections of Friday October 29…

…found Republicans gaining an average of 53 seats, which would bring them to 232 total. Democrats are given a 16 percent chance of holding the House, down slightly from 17 percent on Wednesday.

Increasingly, there seems to be something of a consensus among various forecasting methods around a projected Republican figure somewhere in the 50-60 seat range.

Several of the expert forecasters that FiveThirtyEight’s model uses, like the Cook Political Report, the Rothenberg Political Report, and Larry Sabato, have stated that they expect the Republicans’ overall total to fall roughly in this range. A straw poll of political insiders for Hotline on Call found an average expectation of a 50-seat gain. And some political science models have been forecasting gains somewhere in this range for some time.

The forecast also seems consistent with the average of generic ballot polling. Our model projects that Republicans will win the average Congressional district by between 3 and 4 points.

The modeling also suggests that there is a 90% chance that after Tuesday Democrats will control at least 50 seats in the Senate, but that there is a 0% chance that Democrats will control at least 60 seats.

It’s not looking good by any stretch of the imagination.  

Nate’s modeling is also supported by other polling. For instance “Gallup’s recent tracking of the generic ballot for Congress has shown the Republicans with substantial leads over the Democrats among likely voters, in part because the underlying registered voter population leans Republican in its vote choice. Compared with previous elections, that tilt is an extraordinary positioning for the Republicans, who typically do no better than tie the Democrats among registered voters. The GOP’s position is further enhanced by the generally strong proclivity of Republicans to turn out to vote, which appears to be even greater than usual this year.”

Gallup also reported on Thursday that “the lower proportion of swing voters this year, coupled with Republican leads in current 2010 voting preferences, is another good sign for the GOP’s chances of a strong showing on Election Day. The potential for change among swing voters may not be all that great. Past Gallup analysis using pre- and post-election panel data found that swing voters usually follow through on their initial voting preference.”

Is there a way this apparently likely seeming debacle can be turned into a positive for Democrats, and more importantly for all Americans, if it happens?

Is there going to be any way that Democrats can get progressive legislation passed in the next two years, or will Obama become another lame duck president?

For the past year and a half Obama, to put it mildly, has had a hell of a time producing anything remotely approaching good progressive results, whether he wanted to or not.

Now it looks as though it will be even less likely that Congress, after the midterms, will be able to put good progressive legislation that helps the people of the country on Obama’s desk for him to sign, without some strong political force applied to motivate them to do so.

Republicans are known for their corporatist and anti “little guy” leanings, and it is not likely they will produce any progressive legislation to send to the president for his signature at all on their own initiative.

So, where can this needed motivation for a republican controlled congress to send good progressive legislation that helps the people of the country to Obama for signing into law come from?

There is an old maxim that says every cloud has a silver lining, and another that says the best roses grow in shit.

Friday Joan McCarter posted a story about $100 million spent to fight health reform after it passed, linking in her story to a Think Progress/Wonk Room piece highlighting in it’s first paragraph that “after several Republicans suggested that the GOP would only repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, Republican senators sought to reassure their conservative constituency of the purity of their intent by reiterating their opposition to the entire health care law.”

So republicans are making noises about repealing HCR, to drum up support among their teabagger supporters. No surprise that they would use whatever they can to wind up their base, of course.

The question it raises however, is an interesting one.

How, exactly, would a republican controlled congress be able to repeal HCR?

Repealing it, as with repealing any legislation, would require passing a bill to repeal it. To do that they would need passage by the House and by the Senate. Perhaps, if Nate Silver’s projections turn out to be reality, republicans could ram such a repealing bill through the House.

But Nate also projects a 90% probability of the Democrats holding on to at least 50 seats in the Senate.

So maybe republicans could pass an HCR repealing bill in the House, but could they get it through the Senate?

Only with help from Democrats. And therein lies the silver lining.

Only with help from the Democrats will republicans be able to put ANY legislation on Obama’s desk for him to sign, for the next two years.

In case you wondered why I have capitalized Democrats throughout this piece, but left republicans uncapitalized, it is because republicans, if they win Congress Tuesday by the margins projected by Nate Silver and by Gallup, will be helpless for the next two years without bipartisan help from Democrats to advance any of their agenda.

Let’s assume for a minute that there are enough Democrats to help the republicans get legislation like that through the Senate as well.

What then?

For the next two years any bill passed by the House and by the Senate then goes to Barack Obama for signing into law.

The same is true for all bills, and will remain true for all legislation the republicans try to develop over the next two years.

If they can even get a bill to his desk, the republicans will need Barack Obama to sign their legislation into law.

A presidential veto is the rejection of a bill passed by the majority votes of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. While Congress can vote to override a presidential veto, causing the bill to become law without the president’s approval, this is rarely done. More often than not, the threat of presidential veto is sufficient motivation for Congress to modify the bill prior to its final passage. This article provides a brief overview of procedures involved in vetoing a bill and the ways Congress can respond to a presidential veto.

The Veto Process

When a bill is passed by both the House and Senate, it is sent to the president for his signature. All bills and joint resolutions, except those proposing amendments to the Constitution, must be signed by the president before they become law. Amendments to the Constitution, which require a two-thirds vote of approval in each chamber, are sent directly to the states for ratification. When presented with legislation passed by both houses of Congress, the president is constitutionally required to act on it in one of four ways: sign it into law within the 10-day period prescribed in the Constitution, issue a regular veto, let the bill become law without his signature or issue a “pocket” veto.

Regular veto

When Congress is in session, the president may, within the 10-day period, exercise a regular veto by sending the unsigned bill back to the chamber of Congress from which it originated along with a veto message stating his reasons for rejecting it. Currently, the president must veto the bill in its entirety. He may not veto individual provisions of the bill while approving others. Rejecting individual provisions of a bill is called a “line-item” veto. In 1996, Congress passed a law granting President Clinton the power to issue line-item vetoes, only to have the Supreme Court declare it unconstitutional in 1998.

Bill becomes law without president’s signature

When Congress is not adjourned, and the president fails to either sign or veto a bill sent to him by the end of the 10-day period, it becomes law without his signature.

The pocket veto

When Congress is adjourned, the president can reject a bill by simply refusing to sign it. This action is known as a “pocket veto,” coming from the analogy of the president simply putting the bill in his pocket and forgetting about it. Unlike a regular veto, Congress has neither the opportunity or constitutional authority to override a pocket veto.

How Congress responds to a veto

When the President returns a bill to the chamber of Congress from which it came, along with his objections in the form of a veto message, that chamber is constitutionally required to “reconsider” the bill. The Constitution is silent, however, on the meaning of “reconsideration.” According to the Congressional Research Service, procedure and tradition govern the treatment of vetoed bills. “On receipt of the vetoed bill, the President’s veto message is read into the journal of the receiving house. After entering the message into the journal, the House of Representatives or the Senate complies with the constitutional requirement to ‘reconsider’ by laying the measure on the table (essentially stopping further action on it), referring the bill to committee, postponing consideration to a certain day, or immediately voting on reconsideration (vote on override).”

Overriding a veto

Action by both the House and the Senate is required to override a presidential veto. A two-thirds majority vote of the Members present is required to override a presidential veto. If one house fails to override a veto, the other house does not attempt to override, even if the votes are present to succeed. The House and Senate may attempt to override a veto anytime during the Congress in which the veto is issued. Should both houses of Congress successfully vote to override a presidential veto, the bill becomes law. According the the Congressional Research service, from 1789 through 2004, only 106 of 1,484 regular presidential vetoes were overridden by Congress.

If Mr. Obama will stand up now, and make it as clear as a club on the head to republicans that he fully intends for the next two years to sign into law only progressive bills that are good for all Americans and that the bipartisanship with batshit crazy republicans is a thing of the past that they can no longer expect, then he can demand only progressive legislation.

If the republicans, as is projected, win control of Congress Tuesday, Obama’s power to produce progressive legislation will increase dramatically.

Whether or not he’ll use it is another question altogether, of course.