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Kuerner Farm, a frequent setting for Andrew Wyeth paintings (Photo by joanneleon. October, 2012)
"Money! It is money! Money! Money! Not ideas, nor principles, but money that reigns supreme in American politics."

- Sen. Robert C. Byrd (N.Y. Times, 3/20/97, at A26)

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News and Opinion

This Week in Dark Money: Nov. 2, 2012
Super PACs

As of November 05, 2012, 1,063 groups organized as Super PACs have reported total receipts of $661,201,367 and total independent expenditures of $628,942,928 in the 2012 cycle.

Restore Our Future $142,645,820    Conservative
American Crossroads $104,744,444    Conservative
Priorities USA Action $67,496,077    Liberal
Majority PAC $37,409,074    Liberal
House Majority PAC $30,711,963    Liberal
House Majority PAC $30,711,963    Liberal
Freedomworks for America $19,099,247    Conservative

Sandy's winds of uncertainty blow through presidential race

In a worst-case scenario, the storm disruption could cause Obama to lose the popular vote and still win re-election, stirring up vitriolic memories of the contested 2000 battle that allowed Republican George W. Bush to triumph over Democrat Al Gore.

Last-minute changes imposed by election officials also could further arm campaign lawyers looking to challenge the result.

At minimum, low turnout would add another wild card to an election projected to be among the closest in U.S. history. Voting could be an afterthought for hundreds of thousands of people still struggling with power outages, fuel shortages and plummeting temperatures.

"It's a possibility that we'll see significant drops in turnout in some of these densely populated areas," said George Mason University professor Michael MacDonald, a voter turnout expert.

"The effects could be quite dramatic in terms of the popular vote," he said.

New York, New Jersey Attempt to Expand Voting Options to Compensate for Hurricane Sandy’s Impact

In contrast to Florida and Ohio, two states suffering from the worst effects of Hurricane Sandy are working to ensure the maximum voter turnout tomorrow. Of course, both states suppress their voters by not holding early voting options. But New York and New Jersey, concerned about Election Day just one week after Superstorm Sandy, have made changes to their voting processes due to the storm.

New York’s efforts are more modest. In New York City, 60 polling locations have been moved to places with electricity. However, this may end up confusing rather than illuminating voters. There’s a state law to allow for an additional day of voting if under 25% of registered voters turn out, but it would be highly unlikely to see that triggered.

In New Jersey, they’re taking it a step further by allowing voting via email or fax.
The Northeast is the one region of the country without a large early voting or vote by mail architecture, and this storm should really serve as a wake-up call on that.

N.J., N.Y. make more voting changes due to Sandy

Any New Jersey voter displaced from their primary residence because of the storm will be considered an "overseas voter" and can apply for an absentee ballot by email or fax as late as 5 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 6. If the voter's county clerk approves their application, the voter will receive a "waiver of secrecy" and a ballot either by email or fax, which they must return by email or fax no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day.
New Jersey, a solidly blue state, has never had a voter turnout rate below 70 percent in a presidential election year, but turnout could be lower because of the storm, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reports. About two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the state saw fewer than 50 percent of voters turn out for a gubernatorial election -- a new low in the state's modern history.

In New York City, the board of elections early this morning listed the 60 polling places that will be relocated because of Sandy. Twenty-eight of them are in Queens and 24 are in Brooklyn. Three polling sites in Manhattan and three in the Bronx will be relocated, as will two on Staten Island.

In New York, if less than 25 percent of registered voters turn out on Election Day, state law allows for an extra day of voting.

Broken US System Needs Watching: International Election Observers Could Face Arrest

Tuesday’s national election in the US is shaping up to be a bruising affair, with both parties hiring armies of lawyers to fight over likely contentious battles over voter access to polling stations, dealing with long lines that could prevent people from voting after polls officially close, the counting of votes cast, and now, the right of international inspectors from the respected Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the process.

The OSCE, a 56-member international organization (including the U.S.) which routinely sends observers to monitor and oversee elections in countries around the world, has been monitoring US elections since the highly controversial presidential election of 2000, which ended up having the presidential race decided by a split 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. (The OECD was invited to start monitoring US elections in 2004 by none other than President George W. Bush, who was handed the presidency in 2000 by the Supreme Court.) Until this year, its monitors have had no problems doing their job, but this year hard-right officials in at least two states -- Texas and Iowa -- have threatened to have the international observers arrested and criminally charged if they attempt to monitor any polling places in those two states. Other states may join them.

This is something worth thinking about.  If we had a better way to audit elections, maybe it would be a roadblock for some of the corruption.
A cure for America's corruptible voting system
Too many of us buy into the myth of US democracy. In fact, the 'secret ballot' could use of dose of daylight and transparency

We treat the black hole where our votes vanish as if we don't dare to validate them partly because the process is so highly mystified. One aspect of this mystification, which gatekeepers use effectively against us, is the glamour around the secret ballot. That noble "secrecy" is what keeps citizen groups from observing the vote count, demanding verification slips, and so on.

The secret vote was, in its time, a great idea. Before the secret ballot was popularized, it was standard practice to intimidate and threaten voters. But few know that America hasn't always had secret ballots. Indeed, the secret ballot didn't even originate in the US – the system we use is known, actually, as the "Australian ballot".

The majority of US states did not move to that system – in which publicly-provided, printed ballots with the names of the candidates are marked in secret – until after 1884. Until 1891, indeed, Kentucky still held an "oral ballot"; and it wasn't till the election of President Grover Cleveland in 1892 that the first US president was elected entirely via secret ballot.

I think they really should put Nate in the sports section.  That is what it has come to.
The Passion of Nate Silver (Sort Of)

A Nieman Lab defense of Silver by Jonathan Stray celebrates that "FiveThirtyEight has set a new standard for horse race coverage" of elections. That this can be represented as an unqualified good speaks to the power of puerility in the present epistemological culture. But we oughtn't consider better horse race coverage the ultimate aim of knowledge; somehow we have inadvertently landed ourselves back in the world of sports. An election is not, in the end, a game. Coverage should not be reducible to who will win? Here are some other questions: How will the next administration govern? How will the election affect my reproductive health? When will women see equal representation in Congress? How will the U.S. extricate itself from permanent war, or will it even try? These are questions with real ethical resonance. FiveThirtyEight knows better than to try to answer with statistics.** But we should still ask them, and try to answer them too.***

The Supersizing of American Politics

There’s a wonderful old American postcard tradition of gigantism, a mixture of (and gentle mocking of) a national, but especially Western, urge toward bravado, braggadocio, and pride when it comes to this country. The imagery on those cards once ranged from giant navel oranges on railroad flatcars to saddled jackalopes (rabbits with antlers) mounted by cowboy riders on the range.  Think of the 2012 election season as just such a postcard — without the charm.

Though no one’s bothered to say it, the most striking aspect of this election is its gigantism.  American politics is being supersized.  Everything – everything – is bigger. There are now scores of super PACs and “social welfare” organizations, hundreds of focus groups, thousands upon thousands of polls, hundreds of thousands of TV ads, copious multi-million dollar contributions to the dark side by the .001%, billions of ad dollars flooding the media, up to $3 billion pouring into the coffers of political consultants, and oh yes, though it’s seldom mentioned, trillions of words.

It’s as if no one can stop talking about what might otherwise be one of the least energizing elections in recent history: the most vulnerable president in memory versus a candidate who somehow threatens not to beat him, two men about as inspired as a couple of old beanbag chairs. And yet the words about the thrill of it all just keep on pouring out. They stagger (or perhaps stun) the imagination. They are almost all horse race- and performance-oriented. Who is ahead and why?  Who is preparing for what and how? Who has the most momentary of advantages and why?  Who looked better, talked tougher, or out-maneuvered whom?
The Jumbotron Election

It started earlier and lasted longer than any election in our history, and every number associated with it is bigger and better and more striking than the last. If you happen to have the TV on, every one of its moments is The Moment. I even heard one prime-time news anchor call the vice-presidential head-to-head “an epic generational debate.”
That blitz of money — more than $3 billion for TV ads alone — should stagger the imagination, as should the nearly billion dollars each that the Obama and Romney crews have already raised. Then there are the multimillions pouring into mainly Republican Super PACs; the $10 million that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam gave in June to the Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future, and the $24.2 million that has followed – with Adelson reportedly pledging another $65 million, if necessary, to get Obama out of the White House; and the multi-millions the billionaire Koch brothers have poured into Americans for Prosperity. That organization, in turn, is funneling $6 million into anti-Obama attack ads every two weeks and has even set up its own “ground game” — 200 permanent staff members in 32 states, and thousands of volunteers armed with “sophisticated online micro-targeting tools.”  All of this, of course, gives the phrase “money politics” new meaning.

Talking About Poverty With Greg Kaufmann</>

Theresa Riley: Last month’s numbers from the U.S. Census showed poverty numbers holding steady from 2010 to 2011. That’s not exactly good news since poverty levels are the worst they’ve been in 50 years. What should people be paying attention to in these numbers?

Greg Kaufmann: I think the biggest takeaways from the recent numbers are that only the top quintile saw its income rise in 2011; the bottom four-fifths all saw a decline. Also, only the bottom and the top saw growth in the number of full-time, year-round workers — which speaks to the proliferation of low-wage jobs and difficulty reaching the middle class. In short, I think the numbers speak to the fact that we need to stop looking at poverty as a separate phenomenon from the rest of the economy — an economy with a proliferation of low-wage jobs and a weak and inequitable recovery. Finally, the number of people living below twice the poverty line — less than about $36,000 for a family of three — rose from 103 million to 106 million Americans. That’s a better representation of who is struggling in this economy than the 46 million people below the poverty line. Even at two times the poverty level people are making impossible choices between food, housing and healthcare — and forget about savings for college, for example.

Why Seas Are Rising Ahead of Predictions
GSA Annual Meeting Presentation: Could Estimates of the Rate of Future Sea-Level Rise Be Too Low?

Boulder, Colorado, USA - Sea levels are rising faster than expected from global warming, and University of Colorado geologist Bill Hay has a good idea why. The last official IPCC report in 2007 projected a global sea level rise between 0.2 and 0.5 meters by the year 2100. But current sea-level rise measurements meet or exceed the high end of that range and suggest a rise of one meter or more by the end of the century.

"What's missing from the models used to forecast sea-level rise are critical feedbacks that speed everything up," says Hay. He will be presenting some of these feedbacks in a talk on Sunday, 4 Nov., at the meeting of The Geological Society of America in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.

One of those feedbacks involves Arctic sea ice, another the Greenland ice cap, and another soil moisture and groundwater mining.

Notes for a Manifesto

The enormity of last week's super-storm is just beginning to sink into political consciousness. Hurricane Sandy should transform what Americans expect from their government, and give the party of government activism new force.

As soon as the election is behind us, the country faces a major struggle over what the super-storm portends and requires. But that struggle will be as much within the Democratic Party as between Democrats and the right, because of the deadweight of austerity politics.
The economics of the proposition are insane. We can't depress our way to recovery. But the Obama Administration has drunken a lot of this Kool-Aid. Obama has pledged to cut the debt by $4 trillion over a decade. It was Obama who appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission, which helped create this pressure.

Friendly Democratic leaders are already being advised that the administration will offer a grand bargain of tax increases, budget cuts, and hits to Social Security and Medicare to head off the "fiscal cliff" created by the Republican refusal to bargain over the budget. This grand scheme is the long commended recipe of the ultimate Wall Street austerity Democrat, Robert Rubin, whose protégés litter the Obama Treasury and White House.
If the fix is in for a budget deal that precludes government's ability to spend serious money on climate remediation, flood protection, and a shift to a non-carbon economy, the United States of America is just plain screwed.

Few presidents get a do over. Let's see whether Obama grasps the challenge and the possibilities.

US Muslim placed on no-fly list is unable to see his ailing mother
Despite never having been charged with any crime, an Air Force veteran is effectively exiled from his own country

In April of this year, Saadiq Long, a 43-year-old African-American Muslim who now lives in Qatar, purchased a ticket on KLM Airlines to travel to Oklahoma, the state where he grew up. Long, a 10-year veteran of the US Air Force, had learned that the congestive heart failure from which his mother suffers had worsened, and she was eager to see her son. He had last seen his mother and siblings more than a decade ago, when he returned to the US in 2001, and spent months saving the money to purchase the ticket and arranging to be away from work.

The day before he was to travel, a KLM representative called Long and informed him that the airlines could not allow him to board the flight. That, she explained, was because the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had placed Long on its "no-fly list", which bars him from flying into his own country.

Long has now spent the last six months trying to find out why he was placed on this list and what he can do to get off of it. He has had no success, unable to obtain even the most basic information about what caused his own government to deprive him of this right to travel.

Maybe some new framing is needed.  I don't know if this is the best approach but I think we need to try something new and this could be a good first step.
Learning to Bounce Back

FOR decades, people who concern themselves with the world’s “wicked problems” — interconnected issues like environmental degradation, poverty, food security and climate change — have marched together under the banner of “sustainability”: the idea that with the right mix of incentives, technology substitutions and social change, humanity might finally achieve a lasting equilibrium with our planet, and with one another.
Yet today, precisely because the world is so increasingly out of balance, the sustainability regime is being quietly challenged, not from without, but from within. Among a growing number of scientists, social innovators, community leaders, nongovernmental organizations, philanthropies, governments and corporations, a new dialogue is emerging around a new idea, resilience: how to help vulnerable people, organizations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.

Apology to the Occupy Movement by Mark Naison, the only white professor of African-American history hip enough to make a cameo on the Chappelle Show:

"I want to take this opportunity to apologize to my friends in the Occupy Movement to underestimating the movement’s resilience.

"I have said, both publicly and privately, that the Occupy Movement has transformed the discourse of contemporary American politics, and begun a process of reversing a thirty year trend toward greater inequality and concentration of wealth at the top, but I was skeptical that the Occupy Movement itself would be a vehicle of that transformation. Rather, I thought that its activists would spark and join forces with other movements for change at the neighborhood, city and national level, rather than being a primary instrument for those changes themselves. I saw Occupy as something that radicalized a generation- but not as something with organizational resilience in and of itself

"Well, Sisters and Brothers, you proved me wrong. The transformative role that Occupy activists have played in coordinating relief to the hardest hit victims of Hurricane Sandy has shown me that the Occupy networks that survived the evictions were much stronger than I realized. The movement to the neighborhoods which followed the evictions, apparently, did not dissolve the movement or change it into something entirely different. It made the movement more multiracial and connected it more closely to the lived realities of working class Americans without totally dissipating the original spirit or the networks that created the Occupations.

"In any case, America, Occupy is BACK. And this is a good thing given the complete absence of discussion in this election campaign of some of the most important issues that Occupy raised before its encampments were evicted

[Originally posted as "Apology to the Occupy Movement" by MARK NAISON at the blog named WITH A BROOKLYN ACCENT

Robert Bales, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Accused Of Killing 16 Afghans In Drunken Rampage, To Face Hearing

Bales will be present at the hearing but was not expected to answer questions. He was confined at a military prison in Kansas from March until he was moved in October to Lewis-McChord, where Bales' infantry regiment was based.

John Henry Browne, Bales' civilian lawyer, has suggested that Bales may not have acted alone and may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Browne told Reuters last month he and an Army prosecutor planned to question five to 15 Afghan villagers and military personnel as key witnesses from Kandahar Air Field.

Bales also has two military defense counselors, Major Gregory Malson and Captain Matthew Aeisi. Malson represented Army Sergeant William Kreutzer, who was sentenced to life in prison three years ago for killing an officer and wounding 18 U.S. soldiers in a 1995 shooting spree.

Separately, Bales is also subject to a review of his mental fitness to stand trial, often referred to as a "sanity board." The Army has not disclosed the status of that review.

Secrecy Lifts on General Charged With Sex Abuse

The first wave of details about Sinclair’s case began to emerge on Monday. Little has been revealed about Sinclair’s case besides the list of charges against him, including “wrongful sexual conduct,” forced sodomy, misusing official funds and more. But at the military version of a grand jury hearing on Monday morning, the Army disclosed that Sinclair’s alleged misconduct involved five women, four of them subordinate Army officers, in locations as varied as Fort Bragg and Afghanistan. The Fayetteville Observer reported from the hearing that Sinclair’s “encounters” with the women occurred “in a parking lot, in his office in Afghanistan with the door open, on an exposed balcony at a hotel and on a plane, where he allegedly groped a woman.” At least one of these encounters, the military contends, was forced.
Protecting general officers seems to be a recurring theme for the Army. It still employs a general, William “Kip” Ward, whom an inquiry found to have misused official funds, although it can’t explain what Ward does for his salary and benefits. Few officers get fired for battlefield errors, prompting author Tom Ricks to declare that American generalship resembles tenured professorship, where officers are insulated for all mistakes except embarrassing the institution. If Sinclair actually said that the stars on his shoulder allowed him to do “whatever the [expletive] I want,” that might help explain his attitude.

Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest

Steely Dan The Royal Scam


Remember when progressive debate was about our values and not about a "progressive" candidate? Remember when progressive websites championed progressive values and didn't tell progressives to shut up about values so that "progressive" candidates can get elected?

Come to where the debate is not constrained by oaths of fealty to persons or parties.

Come to where the pie is served in a variety of flavors.

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."  ~ Noam Chomsky

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