Even Off-er Center ...


The political coverage of the upcoming election has been more dissatisfying than usual, perhaps because I remain under the spell of the authors of Off Center and, to a lesser extent, Tom Edsall. National polls never matter much, but they matter less than ever in an off-year election where districts are drawn to look like pretzels and money can either increase or depress turnout, whatever is needed. The Republican structural advantage is both categories is more powerful than the feelings of voters across the land, I fear. According to a Washington Post analysis, here: "Democrats spent more heavily over the summer and early autumn than their Republican rivals in pivotal House districts, leaving themselves at a disadvantage of more than 2 to 1 in money on hand. GOP candidates hold an average cash advantage of $450,000 in 25 of the most competitive districts."

(And this does not include the 527 money, which is largely Republican this year.)

Paul Krugman, here ($), picks up on the second point:

The key point is that African-Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, are highly concentrated in a few districts. This means that in close elections many Democratic votes are, as political analysts say, wasted -- they simply add to huge majorities in a small number of districts, while the more widely spread Republican vote allows the G.O.P. to win by narrower margins in a larger number of districts.

My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that because of this ''geographic gerrymander,'' even a substantial turnaround in total Congressional votes -- say, from the three-percentage-point Republican lead in 2004 to a five-point Democratic lead this year -- would leave the House narrowly in Republican hands. It looks as if the Democrats need as much as a seven-point lead in the overall vote to take control.

This is from Off Center and makes the larger point:

Bush had received the exact same vote share in 2004 that he received in 2000 (that is, 48 percent), he still would have managed to win in 239 of the nation's 435 House districts -- or almost 55 percent. He actually won 255 districts in 2004, or almost 59 percent, while winning around 51 percent of the vote (slightly higher if the calculation excludes Ralph Nader's 1 percent). In other words, House districts are now drawn so that an evenly divided country can produce surprisingly lopsided GOP victories. Indeed, the Republicans gained seats in the House in 2004 only because of Tom DeLay's redistricting scheme in Texas.

The mismatch between popular votes and electoral outcomes is even more striking in the Senate. Combining the last three Senate elections, Democrats have actually won two-and-a-half million more votes than Republicans. Yet they now hold only 44 seats in that 100-person chamber because Republicans dominate the less populous states that are so heavily over-represented in the Senate. As the journalist Hendrik Hertzberg notes, if one treats each senator as representing half that state's population, than the Senate's 55 Republicans currently represent 131 million people, while the 44 Democrats represent 161 million."

Remember, much of the fault here lies with the Congressional Black Caucus, who demand majorities so large they can't possibly be challenged. Seventy-percent victories are not enough for them, despite the pleading of their colleagues, they often demand 90 percent. As a result, these votes are wasted, and our system grows ever more unrepresentative and structurally tilted toward the Republicans.

Terry Eagleton, profiled here.

A YouTube moment: Shout it from the mountaintop and out from the sea.

From the Benton Foundation:

TV REALLY MIGHT CAUSE AUTISM [SOURCE: Slate, AUTHOR: Gregg Easterbrook] [Commentary]

Cornell University researchers are reporting what appears to be a statistically significant relationship between autism rates and television watching by children under the age of 3. The researchers studied autism incidence in California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. They found that as cable television became common in California and Pennsylvania beginning around 1980, childhood autism rose more in the counties that had cable than in the counties that did not. They further found that in all the Western states, the more time toddlers spent in front of the television, the more likely they were to exhibit symptoms of autism disorders. Because autism rates are increasing broadly across the country and across income and ethnic groups, it seems logical that the trigger is something to which children are broadly exposed. Vaccines were a leading suspect, but numerous studies have failed to show any definitive link between autism and vaccines, while the autism rise has continued since worrisome compounds in vaccines were banned. What if the malefactor is not a chemical? Studies suggest that American children now watch about four hours of television daily. Before 1980 -- the first kids-oriented channel, Nickelodeon, dates to 1979 -- the figure is believed to have been much lower.


Conservative radio hosts are breaking with the Republican leadership in ways not seen in at least a decade, and certainly not since Rush Limbaugh's forceful advocacy of the party in 1994 spawned a new generation of stars, said Michael Harrison, publisher of the industry's lead trade publication, Talkers. Disgruntlement can now be found not only among the more flamboyant radio voices, like Michael Savage, who raged against President Bush's proposals on immigration and other issues, but also among more mainstream hosts, like Laura Ingraham, who told her listeners in the wake of the scandal involving former Rep Mark Foley and under-age Congressional pages, "You have to ask yourself, the people who are in positions of power now in the Republican Party, are they able to credibly articulate the conservative agenda to the American people -- to rally the base, to rally the country?" Such questions, coming from such quarters, have created yet another challenge for the White House and the central party leadership as they work to steer Republicans to victory next month in the face of low approval ratings and dissatisfaction among the party faithful. Strategists on both sides agree that the party's greatest hope for holding control of Congress now rests with its ability to get core Republicans to vote, and that talk radio, which reaches millions of them, is crucial to the task.

From Free Press:

FCC Commissioners Headline New York Forum on Media Diversity

Oct. 19 event offers the public an opportunity to discuss media's treatment of people of color

WASHINGTON. -- Federal Communications Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps will attend a town hall meeting in New York City on Thursday, Oct. 19, to discuss diversity in the broadcast industry.

The FCC commissioners will hear from the public and a panel of experts about how television and radio stations serve the needs of people of color. The hearing will also focus on the impact of media consolidation on the communities of color.

WHAT: Town Hall Meeting on the Future of Diversity in the Nation's Media
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 19, 2006, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Hunter College, Kaye Playhouse, East 68th Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues)
WHO: FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, community leaders, media representatives and concerned citizens.

The town meeting is taking place as the FCC reviews federal rules on media ownership. The FCC has proposed changing how many television stations one company can own and allowing one company to own television stations, radio stations and major daily newspapers in the same market. The event will include an open microphone session for the public to offer testimony on media issues to Commissioners Copps and Adelstein.

Among the panelists scheduled to testify before the commissioners are Betty Ellen Berlamino, vice president/general manager, WPIX-TV; Arlene Davila, professor, New York University; Juan Gonzalez, columnist, Daily News; Mona Mangan , executive director, Writer's Guild of America East; Mark W. Mason, program director, 1010 WINS-AM; Anthony Riddle, executive director, Alliance for Community Media.

The town meeting is sponsored by the National Hispanic Media Coalition, National Latino Media Council, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Institute for Latino Policy and the R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop Coalition in partnership with Free Press, a national, nonpartisan media reform and policy group.

Commissioner Copps and Adelstein, media policy experts and local residents concerned about media consolidation are available for interviews prior to the event.

More here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: So-Called "Austin Mayor"
Hometown: Chicagoland

Dr. Alterman,

I must admit that I haven't read every story about Google's purchase of YouTube, but it seems to me that an aspect of the story has been overlooked: YouTube, as we know it, could not have been invented but for Net Neutrality.

Because Net Neutrality allowed the innovative project of a couple of goofs in a garage access to the internet in the same way as Sony, Comcast, Google and the Tribune Co., they were able to pit their new communications method against the inferior offerings of the telecom superpowers. As a result, the public was able to vote by clicking for YouTube, YouTube was allowed to grow and thrive -- and something that some of the smartest minds on the planet valued at $1.6 billion was created.

And all because Net Neutrality allowed them to compete on a level playing field.

If the corporate communication giants have their way, there won't ever be any more YouTubes.

Name: Barbara C.
Hometown: Boca Raton, FL

Dear Eric,

I watched most of the entire interview with George Soros on C-Span last week. What a patriot!

I feel privileged to have watched the man and also heard him later in the week with Bobby Kennedy Jr. on the radio.

We are truly blessed to have George Soros in our midst. He sure has a calming effect on me.

Name: Sandie
Hometown: Penna.

RE the local news coverage:

At least if you live in a big city you get some. I am in the-middle-of-nowhere, PA, halfway between two news markets, both of which ignore us. Well, unless there is a fire. They love to fly their helicopters over fires -- great video for the evening news.

Anyway, forget the local TV news coverage. So what about radio? The only politics on local radio stations comes from Limbaugh et al. Certainly no coverage of local races, not even one-sided coverage.

So, we get to the only source of local news -- a newspaper that one must read with a great deal of tolerance -- facts are often in the eye of the beholder. And as there's no competition, why bother? (I always thought they were biased toward Republicans, but the mother of one of our state reps insist it's the other way. So maybe they are doing okay. ;-} )

Example of local politics: someone asked me where do you get those campaign signs to put in the front yard. I told who I thought they should go to for each party. Then they proceeded to ask me who's running. They wanted signs for Democrats, but they had no idea who was running for what office, never mind what the issues might be. So, this Republican county will stay Republican. There is no hope.

And I have been filling in as Judge of Elections in a precinct not even my own because nobody in that precinct is even interested. And by the time 8:00 pm comes on election day, I have a pretty sore tongue from biting it all day. It's not that I ever mind how people vote, it is that it must be an informed vote, and that ain't happening. Not here, anyway.

Keep up the good work.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

The AP reports that John Warner and Chuck Hagel have joined a growing cadre of Republicans by calling for a new strategy in Iraq because the Bush plan is adrift. More America haters! I'd take heart in their change of heart except we won't see any change of policy from the White House until we can figure out how to get Laura and Barney on board.

On another matter, Krugman's column today says this is a one-letter election coming up. I agree, but why are the Democratic candidates' ads that I've seen omitting their party affiliation and emphasizing that they are independents who won't answer to any party. With the polling data showing the wind blowing towards D, it seems odd that Duckworth (one of the Democratic Iraq war vet candidates, and the recent Democratic respondent to the Bush radio address) and Bean (a Democratic incumbent) in particular would not make more of their party bona fides.

Do their strategists know something that Krugman and I don't?

Name: Colin Payne
Hometown: Norfolk, VA

Obviously Mr. Ransom of Carlisle PA doesn't read Andy's 'The Daily Dish' in which he pretends to be a rational human being on a daily basis and on the virtual pages of TIME, no less. He's still bleating about what a great idea it was to go into Iraq and is rawther unapologetic about that, never mind that there were other regimes more heinous than Saddam's. Not many, it's true, but still. Now he calls almost hourly (like the imam at the mosque, one assumes) for the head of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and Dubya, not that this is a particularly bad idea, but one wishes that he had seen the light a bit earlier. Like before invasion. Of course, all this is no longer the fault of conservatism (see his book which he is now almost begging us to buy and at 40% off no less), but the fault of the evil triumvirate. 'Tis a slippery slope from conservatism to what we have today.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.