Tuesday, November 21, 2006

An Electoral College Tie at 269: Who Wins? Us!

One of my occasional hobbyhorses over the past few years is how close we came in 2004 to a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College (just a few thousand votes each in Nevada, New Mexico, and Iowa), how little good it would have done us, and my concern that it could happen for real in 2008.

You see, in event of neither candidate getting a majority of the Electoral College's 538 votes, the House of Representatives chooses the next President, and the Senate chooses the Veep. Obviously, in 2004, that would have done us no good at all: the House would have returned Bush to the White House, and the Senate would have continued Cheney's portfolio as Vice President.

But the House side of the equation isn't just a majority-rules situation - it's worse than that: if the Presidential election winds up in the House, per the 12th Amendment, each state delegation gets one vote, with a majority (26 states) required for a win. Since, in the current Congress, the GOP has the majority in 29 state delegations, the Dems in 18, and three tied, I didn't have much hope that that would change, even if the Dems won back the House.

It's changed. Not by quite enough to win outright, but enough not to lose.

As a result of the recent elections, the Dems went from a minority to a majority in the delegations of New Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Iowa, and Colorado. And they went from a tie to a majority of the Minnesota delegation, and from a minority in the Arizona delegation to a tie. So now the Dems have a majority of 25 House delegations, a minority of 22, and are tied in 3.

So what would happen in a tie election if it were held a year early? The election would go into the House, which (at first) wouldn't yield a majority for either candidate. But meanwhile, the Senate (51-49 Dem) would elect the Dem Veep candidate as Vice President, who would (per the 20th Amendment) act as President until the House settled on a candidate.

In a perfect world, that alone should suffice to convince a tied delegation to throw in the towel and vote the Dem candidate in as President. If not, the Veep/Acting President could officially appoint the Dem Presidential nominee as his advisor, and treat him like the President, giving him the Oval Office as his own, letting him live in the White House while the Veep/Acting President lived in the Vice Presidential residence on Observatory Circle, and so forth.

After a while of this, the Congressional opposition could either throw in the towel, or be irrelevant. Their choice.

Of course, if the 2008 election ends in an Electoral College tie, it'll be the Congress elected that year that decides the issue. But barring a reversal of fortune in 2008, we're far better situated to 'win' a 2008 tie now than we were a month ago.

We won! Cool. Now the real work begins.

If anyone's actually stopping by, my apologies for the lack of posts recently. Life's been busy, and the big things lately have been Iraq and the election, which you didn't need my help to follow.

The Dems won, which is of course a Good Thing. Just for the heck of it, here's the updated, consolidated scorecard:

House of Representatives: we picked up 29 formerly GOP-held seats, at last count, and lost none, with 5 GOP-held seats still being contested in one way or another. (I'll get back to that in a minute.) So the Dems will have, at a minimum, a 232-203 edge in the House in 2007.

Senate: As everyone knows, we picked up 6 GOP-held seats, and lost none. Webb, Tester, McCaskill, Sherrod Brown, Casey, and Whitehouse in VA, MT, MO, OH, PA, and RI, respectively.

Lieberman (CFL) beat Lamont (D) in CT, but he'll caucus with the Dems, despite veiled threats to do otherwise: the day after he goes over, he becomes irrelevant, and he knows it. All he's got is bullshit. Main thing is, he's in the Senate as a sorta Democrat, but as a marriage of convenience all around. He's not there by dint of the support of actual Democrat voters.

Governorships: picked up 6 and lost 0 here, too. Beebe, Ritter, O'Malley, Spitzer, Strickland, and Deval Patrick in AR, CO, MD, NY, OH, and MA, respectively.

State Legislatures: we picked up control of nine state legislative chambers, with control of two (MT House and PA House) still pending final results in local races. This gives us at least 56 of the 98 state legislative chambers. (Nebraska has a technically nonpartisan unicameral legislature, which is why only 98 rather than 100.)

This is almost as big a deal as everything else here, for several reasons: (1) it shows that people liked us better than the GOP at the state level, as well as this just being an anti-Bush, anti-Iraq protest vote; (2) it adds a whole bunch of potential Dem candidates for House seats and governorships; and (3) these are the folks who control redistricting, which the GOP has famously gone out of its way to game in their favor in the past few years. The more state legislatures where we control at least one house, the fewer states where the GOP can pull that sort of stuff.

Getting back to those still-pending House races:

There are two runoffs pending. One of them is between two Dems (LA-02, where William ($80K in the icebox) Jefferson is in a runoff with Karen Carter) so we hold that seat either way, but hopefully Carter will emerge victorious over one of the few genuinely sleazy Dems of note. The other is in TX-23, between GOP incumbent Bonilla and Dem challenger Ciro Rodriguez. Don't know what our prospects are, but apparently it ain't over, because the DCCC is putting money and staff into that one. So that's a chance for a pickup.

There are four GOP-held seats where the Election Day results are either still being tabulated or being contested. Larry Kissel in NC-08, Dr. Vicki Wulsin in OH-2, and Mary Jo Kilroy in OH-15 all trail, but by substantially less than the number of absentee and provisional ballots still to be counted. The odds are against any of these three becoming a pickup, but you never know.

And Christine Jennings in FL-13 is legally challenging a loss by only a few hundred votes on account of an astonishingly high number of voters in Sarasota County, where she won a majority of the voters, who failed to vote in the House race. Many people reported problems with the House race not appearing on the electronic ballot, and there were about 12% fewer votes in the House race in Sarasota County than in the Senate and Governor races, while the difference was more like 2% in the rest of the district. This one may be decided by the House of Representatives, which could either seat Jennings or keep the seat open pending a revote. So this one's very much in play.

Now that the scorecard's over, the reason why I'm not jumping up and down with joy is that this is only a first step. The point of winning these races is to actually do stuff. Iraq's gone from quagmire to disaster, we're still doing nothing about global warming, and average Americans still aren't sharing in the nation's economic gains.

But now we can at least try to start addressing these issues. When the GOP controlled Congress, we couldn't even get our legislation considered, let alone passed. So it's a big first step.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Military's Short On Equipment, Too

Britain's short on helicopters in Afghanistan, and we don't have any to lend them:
Britain is so short of helicopters in Afghanistan that military chiefs are being forced to scour the world for civilian aircraft to support its troops after the US rejected a plea to help plug the shortfall.

An ageing fleet of just eight Chinooks is working around the clock to supply and reinforce soldiers in remote outposts facing waves of Taliban attacks. The only Chinook in the Falklands was taken away for use in the campaign.
The Independent on Sunday can also reveal that reconnaissance and intelligence missions in Afghanistan are being affected by the lack of smaller and more flexible helicopters. But senior military officials said that when UK commanders asked for temporary deployment of US helicopters in Afghanistan, they were told there were none to spare.

Instead, the MoD has been forced to seek out commercial operators for non-combat operations, to free more military craft for use at the front line. So urgent is the need that Britain is understood to be asking other nations that have ordered Merlin helicopters from Westland to allow the MoD to requisition them.

While Afghanistan is much more a joint U.S.-NATO operation than Iraq, invading Afghanistan was still our idea, in response to an attack on our country. I'd think it would be our responsibility to make sure there's enough materiel for the allied troops to do the work of securing the country.

Oh yeah, and enough troops, too. But that isn't gonna happen; we don't have any of them to spare either.

Meanwhile, if we needed to go to war in Korea, we'd be doing it with a shortage of bombing guidance systems, surveillance aircraft, and unmanned drones, because they're tied up in Iraq:
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's top officer said Thursday that the Pentagon would have sufficient forces to win if called on to fight a war in North Korea, but the conflict would be more difficult without the intelligence and guidance systems devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pace said a conflict with North Korea, which both he and President Bush have said is highly unlikely, would rely heavily on the Navy and Air Force because of the significant deployment of land forces in Iraq. In addition, such an attack would not be "as clean as we would like," he said, because guidance systems used to aim bombs were in use in the Middle East.

"You wouldn't have the precision in combat going to a second theater of war that you would if you were only going to the first theater of war," Pace told a group of military reporters. "You end up dropping more bombs potentially to get the job done, and it would mean more brute force."

Although Pace did not name specific guidance and intelligence systems, Air Force officers have said they do not have surveillance aircraft such as Global Hawk and Predator reconnaissance drones available for East Asia because of their heavy use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unmanned aircraft are used to spy on enemy territory.

As Josh Marshall's weekend pinch-hitter DK over at TPM more or less said this morning, WTF are we doing, doing a lot of bombing in Iraq anyway? You can't beat an insurgency like that, because "collateral damage," i.e. people killed and wounded who had nothing to do with the insurgency, motivates a lot more people to join the insurgency.

But the Bush Administration has been oblivious to this throughout. No surprises here.
Pace said a war in Asia would further strain U.S. troop rotations.
No shit, Sherlock. We already don't have nearly enough troops for the war we're fighting, and Bush isn't planning to increase the size of the army. And (from the first link)
The Pentagon is planning to maintain US troop levels in Iraq at about 140,000 for at least four more years.

That'll strain troop rotations a bit, too.

If we haven't already evacuated the Green Zone by helicopter, that is.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bush: Dishonestly Avoiding a Draft by Destroying the Army

There's a certain political advantage to a President in being able to prosecute a war with an all-volunteer military. What it means for most Americans is that their kid (or their spouse, or parent) isn't at risk of being killed or wounded. And those that are undertaking that risk on our behalf, well, they signed up for it; they knew it came with the territory. The war can be at arms' length for most of us: something they report about, but that we're not connected to.

But a draft would be a whole 'nother thing. All of a sudden, the risk would be widely distributed. If it wasn't our friends and loved ones in Iraq before, it could be now. People would ratchet up the attention they paid to what's going on over there.

It's pretty clear that our military has exceeded its design specs some time ago in this war. There may or may not be actual military doctrine on the subject, but there's no question that there's a quantifiability to it somewhere: that our army is capable of providing X boots on the ground indefinitely in the context of a self-sustaining military. And whatever X is, we've exceeded it. We've typically had 138,000 troops in Iraq, plus another 20,000 or so in Afghanistan, and lesser commitments elsewhere. And it's tearing the army apart; we're having to do all sorts of tricks to keep up with it.

Tricks like this: we've made liberal use of stop-loss orders, routinely extended our troops' tours of duty, worn out the National Guard, sent our elite training unit to Iraq, called up the Individual Ready Reserve, we've shifted troops from South Korea to Iraq, we've put nearly 12,000 sailors from the Navy on the ground in Iraq, along with a lesser number of Air Force troops. Enlarging the volunteer army is out: we've allowed violent criminals, gangbangers, skinheads and neo-Nazis, high school dropouts and persons of low I.Q. into the Army, as well as raising the maximum age for enlistment from 35 to 42, just to keep our troop strength where it is. He wouldn't have to use these tricks if our military was big enough for the job. Which it clearly isn't: it still isn't enough troops to reduce the violence, lawlessness and chaos in Iraq, Afghanistan's slipping away, and every month, our army's stretched thinner and more worn-out than it was the previous month.

It's put-up-or-shut-up time: if we're serious about staying in Iraq, we need a bigger military, which means we need a draft. If we're not willing to institute a draft, it's time to stop fooling ourselves and work our way towards the exit.

Bush claims that Iraq is the central front in that great existential conflict, the War on Terror. He says we can't leave until the job's done, and we won't be leaving while he's President. And his term has another two years and three months to run.

If he means what he says, then he's got to institute a draft. He doesn't have enough troops there to accomplish his goals. If he doesn't institute a draft, then he's saying that he's unwilling to run the political risk of getting the troops he needs to win, but he insists on sending our troops off to die in an exercise in futility, presumably because he doesn't want to have to admit failure.

How many of our men and women in uniform should have to die because Bush is afraid to ask the country for enough troops to win, and is equally afraid of admitting defeat? There is only one morally right answer: none.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Bureaucrats Get Emails: "Constitution Day"

All Department of Commerce employees received this email on Friday, September 15:


In December 2004, the President established September 17 of each year as a day in which we take time to celebrate the framing of our Constitution. On September 17, 1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed and the course of our Nation's history was changed. This year, our celebration will occur on Monday, September 18, 2006.

When delegates of the Constitution Convention met behind closed doors during a hot Philadelphia summer, their goal was to establish a new form of government that ensured justice and protection of all citizens from internal strife and outside attack. The framers wanted to create a national government that was effective, but that did not infringe upon the rights of the individual or the states. After heated debate, on September 17, 1787, 39 signers ensured the successful future of our country.

History has proven that our Founding Fathers were successful. Our Constitution remains the oldest written national constitution still in effect. Unlike most national constitutions that define the rights of the people, our Constitution is a document in which "We the People" define the role and limits of the government. The powers not expressly given to the Federal Government are reserved for the people and the states.

Our 219 year-old Constitution continues to work well today, even though many signers had some doubt. While more than 11,000 amendments to the document have been proposed by Congress over the last two centuries, only 33 amendments have gone to the states to be ratified. To date, our Constitution has been amended only 27 times. And the first ten of these amendments became known as our "Bill of Rights." We continue to benefit from the far-seeing wisdom of the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, the access to our courts, our right to criticize, and our right to freely practice our religious beliefs.

With the recent marking of the tragedies that occurred on September 11, 2001 – this is a perfect time for us to stop and celebrate the precious freedoms that this document and this country provide all of us. To celebrate Constitution Day within the Department of Commerce, a broadcast e-mail will identify additional informational sources available to you regarding the history of our Constitution. Please take a moment of your time to review this information, become more familiar with this important document, and share this information with your co-workers, friends and family.

As Federal employees, we should set an example by being among the most knowledgeable individuals on the history of our Constitution. We should appreciate the role the Constitution has played in our history, providing us with the freedoms of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Through political change, social transformation, and economic challenge, this document is a reminder of the power of ideas, and how "We the People" can make a huge difference.

Bolding mine.

I agree with this email wholeheartedly. The importance of the Constitutional guarantees of our rights is more important than ever in the wake of the attacks on that clear blue Tuesday five years ago.

This Administration would further erode the Fourth Amendment's "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects" with its attendant requirement that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Not being satisfied with the FISA law that gives it the authority to wait until after the wiretapping has been done before obtaining the warrant, it has defended what it regards as its authority to abandon warrants entirely. It seeks laws that would give it "program warrants" to authorize such surveillance for an entire program at once, with no 'particular description' of what it is looking for, and where.

It has long since abandoned any pretense of honoring the Sixth Amendment's protection of the right to a speedy trial, and has done its best to hide trials of suspected terrorists from public view, to deny the defendants access to the evidence against them, and so forth.

And we know how this Administration feels about cruel and unusual punishment.

And rather than defending the idea that "unlike most national constitutions that define the rights of the people, our Constitution is a document in which 'We the People' define the role and limits of the government," this Administration clearly believes that the Executive Branch can do pretty much what it wants, running roughshod over even the specifically enumerated rights of the people.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Ho Hum, Redux

"Another terrorism speech by the president is sort of like reruns of Seinfeld. It's on every night and we've memorized most of the lines."
---Congressional Quarterly's Craig Crawford on Countdown
(h/t DailyKos' Bill in Portland Maine)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lieberman's Blog: "Help, help, I'm being repressed! Come see the violence inherent in the system!!

We're talking serious whining, crybabying, and pre-emptive victim-card playing here.

And the blog's only five posts old.

The highlight is their commentary on this letter by Lamont's communications director. They say its writer is clearly "blinded by her angry partisanship." Here's the letter:
Dear Senator Lieberman,

We were pleased to learn you are interested in a debate. Ned has long been willing to engage in an in-person discussion of the issues, and in fact we have been accepting invitations since August 9.

Live exchanges between the candidates are crucial to the Democratic process. In addition to traditional debates between the two major parties, we believe minor parties, such as Connecticut for Lieberman, should participate as well, and we will fight for your inclusion.

Please urge Sherry Brown to contact Tom Swan, our Campaign Manager, at (203) 634-6601 to ensure that you, and other minor party candidates, can be part of the debate.


Liz Dupont Diehl
Communications Director

Can't you just feel the anger? I tell ya, if they think this is "angry," these guys should check into a room where there are no loud noises, and nobody ever raises their voice. Because they aren't ready for everyday life, let alone the rough-and-tumble of politics.

Of course, their real goal is to make people think Lamont's a practitioner of the politics of anger and polarization. Politically speaking, Lamont comes across as a James Stewart-type innocent, a genuine Mr. Nice Guy, and as far as I can tell, he doesn't do attack ads. It's going to be a hard stunt to pull.

In addition, in the very first post on the blog, Dan Gerstein, Lieberman's campaign chief, says this:
we are going to use our free speech to point out any of the blatant lies or crude insults the Lamonsters post [in this blog] to call attention to the kind of negative, destructive politics that Ned and his followers like to practice.

Don't you just love it? They're playing the victim card over purely hypothetical attacks - potential attacks that couldn't have even happened yet at the time of that post, and might never happen. But they're calling these nonexistent attacks "blatant lies," "crude insults," and "negative, destructive politics."

That's our Joe: the voice of civility.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

So, when are we going to invade Pakistan?

As everyone knows, Bush has repeatedly said things like:
I made it clear that if you harbor a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorist, and you're an enemy of the United States, and you will be held to account. The Taliban didn't take our word seriously. And thanks to a fantastic United States military, along with allies, we removed the Taliban.
Now we find out:
Osama bin Laden, America's most wanted man, will not face capture in Pakistan if he agrees to lead a "peaceful life," Pakistani officials tell ABC News.

The surprising announcement comes as Pakistani army officials announced they were pulling their troops out of the North Waziristan region as part of a "peace deal" with the Taliban.

If he is in Pakistan, bin Laden "would not be taken into custody," Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan told ABC News in a telephone interview, "as long as one is being like a peaceful citizen."

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border, but U.S. officials say his precise location is unknown.

In addition to the pullout of Pakistani troops, the "peace agreement" between Pakistan and the Taliban also provides for the Pakistani army to return captured Taliban weapons and prisoners.

"What this means is that the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership have effectively carved out a sanctuary inside Pakistan," said ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, the former White House counter-terrorism director.

The agreement was signed on the same day President Bush said the United States was working with its allies "to deny terrorists the enclaves they seek to establish in ungoverned areas across the world."

Actually, the U.S. government has known for quite some time that Pakistan was less than enthusiastic about bringing bin Laden to justice. It's been reported in the press, usually buried on page A17 if it appears in an American paper. But this is the truth of it: Osama bin Laden, the killer of 3000 Americans, is comfortably hiding in Pakistan, and as long as he doesn't cause any trouble in Pakistan, he is completely safe. Bush isn't going to demand to Pakistan that they let our troops in to capture Osama, and he isn't going to apply any sanctions to them because they've cozied up to bin Laden and the Taliban.

But Bush is the one who's tough on terror...