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Tom Toles
© Tom Toles

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Our favorite data-driven prognosticator of elections, Nate Silver, is predicting that the Republicans have a 62% chance of winning a majority in the Senate, while the Democrats have a 38% chance of keeping the majority. 538 Politics That’s a whopping 24 point spread. And over the last few weeks, the GOP chances have been increasing.

How is this happening? Simple, money.

More than $100 million has been spent on just one Senate race in North Carolina. That flood of money bought around 80,000 TV ads — at one point this month that means that there were three TV ads running every five minutes, and that’s just for a single race.

Campaign spending has exploded since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which opened the door to more money from corporations and labor unions. Critics say that gives wealthy donors a disproportionate voice.

“The most affluent donors are calling the shots,” says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “They’re picking races to target … that offer an opportunity to flip the Senate and therefore shift the balance of power in Washington.

And it isn’t 1% anymore. According to the NY Times, in the 2012 elections 1% of 1% of the US population accounted for 28% of all campaign contributions. And that’s just the money we know about. In the upcoming election we now have no way to know where the majority of the money is coming from:

More than half of broadcast advertising in the midterm elections has been paid for by groups that reveal little or nothing about their donors. Overwhelmingly, the main beneficiaries have been conservative organizations.

UPDATE: Just a day later and Nate Silver has now raised the GOP odds of taking over the Senate to 63.2%, increasing the point spread to 26.4.

UPDATE2: It hasn’t even been 24 hours since my update this morning, and now Nate Silver has raised the GOP odds of taking the Senate to 65.7% (and the point spread to 31.4%).


Late Night Political Humor

“Secret Service Director Julia Pierson stepped down after two major security breaches at the White House. It turns out Pierson’s first job was actually as a costumed character at Disney World. I’m guessing the character was Sleeping Beauty.” – Jimmy Fallon

“Julia Pierson hopped over the fence and turned in her resignation.” – David Letterman

“Pierson told her colleagues that the Secret Service actually needed to be more friendly and inviting like Disney World. I guess that’s why all White House intruders got a $30 photo of themselves hopping the fence.” – Jimmy Fallon

“Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has resigned, and in her closing statement she said, ‘I’m leaving, not because of the breaches in security, but I don’t think I can take the pressure of the upcoming trick-or-treaters.'” – David Letterman

“They’re doing everything they can to tighten security at the White House. Today, on the roof of the White House, they added one of those fake owls.” – David Letterman

“The Obamas celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary. It was a quiet late-night supper. It was just the Obamas and a couple of White House fence jumpers.” – David Letterman

“Scientists are suggesting that Pluto should be considered a planet again eight years after it was classified as a dwarf planet — and Americans are suggesting that scientists cut the crap about Pluto and figure out how to stop Ebola.” – Seth Meyers


Why Conservatives are Afraid of Ebola

Some Fear Ebola Outbreak Could Make Nation Turn to Science

by Andy Borowitz

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—There is a deep-seated fear among some Americans that an Ebola outbreak could make the country turn to science.

In interviews conducted across the nation, leading anti-science activists expressed their concern that the American people, wracked with anxiety over the possible spread of the virus, might desperately look to science to save the day.

“It’s a very human reaction,” said Harland Dorrinson, a prominent anti-science activist from Springfield, Missouri. “If you put them under enough stress, perfectly rational people will panic and start believing in science.”

Additionally, he worries about a “slippery slope” situation, “in which a belief in science leads to a belief in math, which in turn fosters a dangerous dependence on facts.”

At the end of the day, though, Dorrinson hopes that such a doomsday scenario will not come to pass. “Time and time again through history, Americans have been exposed to science and refused to accept it,” he said. “I pray that this time will be no different.”

Reagan and AIDS


Late Night Political Humor

“After all the recent security breaches at the White House, Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service, resigned today. She said she’ll miss being in the White House, but knowing the Secret Service, she should be able to come back any time she wants. The door is always open … literally.” – Jimmy Fallon

“It was reported today that the recent security breaches at the White House could cost the director of the Secret Service her job. Luckily, after she’s escorted out of the building, it should be pretty easy for her to get back in.” – Seth Meyers

“Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has resigned. She hopped the fence and thanked President Obama.” – David Letterman

“Today the Secret Service director submitted her resignation. Actually she jumped the White House fence, ran across the lawn, dove through a window, and handed it to the president.” – Conan O’Brien

“We’re having a special night. Everybody here in the balcony is a White House fence jumper.” – David Letterman

“Today the director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, resigned. She’s being replaced by the White House’s new state-of-the-art security system – a scarecrow.” – Seth Meyers

“The Secret Service maintains they can use lethal force to stop someone from entering the White House. After hearing this, President Obama invited tea party leaders over for lunch.” – Conan O’Brien

“Autumn is a beautiful time of year. At the White House, squirrels are rounding up nuts on the lawn, which is more than the Secret Service is doing.” – David Letterman

“Julia Pierson resigned but she remained in good spirits on her way out. She even politely held the door for some weird guy who was coming in.” – Seth Meyers

“The Secret Service let an armed ex-convict ride on the same elevator as President Obama. No word yet on which NFL player it was.” – Conan O’Brien

“A few weeks ago President Obama was riding in an elevator, and it turns out a guy on the elevator had a gun. This is pretty scary stuff. Not as scary as riding in an elevator with Ray Rice, but still scary.” – David Letterman

“This week a reporter asked Mitt Romney if he would run again for president in 2016, and Romney said, ‘We’ll see what happens’. Incidentally, that’s also what he says anytime his wife asks him to dance.” – Jimmy Fallon

“In a new interview, Mitt Romney referred to Hillary Clinton as an ‘enabler’ of the president’s foreign policy. Which would be a big deal if that wasn’t the definition of being secretary of state.” – Jimmy Fallon

“The gay rights group GLAAD has released its annual report on TV. The History Channel got a very poor grade from GLAAD, which is why today the History Channel announced its new show, ‘Gay Hitler.'” – Conan O’Brien

“In California yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown signed the first state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores. I think it’s very interesting that a guy named Brown is forcing us to buy paper bags.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“Scientists in northern California and Oregon found that marijuana gardens are threatening the salmon population. I don’t see the problem, really. Everyone loves baked salmon.” – Seth Meyers


Another Casualty of the War on Drugs

The casualties are the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to our Constitution.

The 4th says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,[a] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” The 5th says “… nor shall any person … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Seems pretty clear, right? And yet we have this thing called “civil asset forfeiture” that allows police to seize billions of dollars, cars, and other property even without charging you with a crime. Even worse, it turns our system of justice upside down, forcing you to prove that your property has not been used in any crime in order to get it back (and how do you prove a negative?)

How bad is it? A store owner had his bank account seized because he made cash deposits of his daily receipts in the bank across the street every night. He was never charged with any crime. A man was going to buy a used car and got pulled over by the police. When they discovered the $8,500 in cash he had with him to purchase the car, they seized it. Another man was driving with $28,500 that belonged to a church where he served as secretary, and was going to pay for a parcel of land where his church was planning to build. A cop pulled him over because he looked Mexican (he is from El Salvador). They never even issued him a traffic ticket, but they seized his church’s money.

Actual reasons used by police to justify stopping someone before they seized their property include tinted windows, air fresheners, trash in the car, “a profusion of energy drinks”, “a driver who is too talkative or too quiet”, signs of nervousness, driving over the speed limit, and (my favorite) drivers who were obeying the speed limit were suspect because their desire to avoid being stopped made them stand out.

Two of the main people who established civil forfeiture and ran the federal Asset Forfeiture Office published an editorial recently saying that it has gotten so bad that it can’t be reformed, and should be abolished.

The big problem is that it has become a big money maker for police departments, especially in this era of shrinking local and state budgets. The police have a huge incentive to concentrate on crimes where there is a chance they can seize lots of money or other assets and keep them. And of course, statistics show it happens disproportionately to minorities.

So how did this happen? Well, the police got tired of drug dealers hiring expensive lawyers and beating their convictions, so they decided that the solution was to take away all the money that even looked like it was the proceeds from drug sales before the person was convicted, so they couldn’t hire those expensive lawyers during their trial. To nobody’s surprise, the people who most looked like drug dealers were minorities who had lots of cash on them (no matter what the reason). After all, it is far less suspicious when a white person has lots of money, right?

How did they get away with it? The confiscation of money was done under civil law (hence “civil asset forfeiture”) rather than criminal law (which has far stronger safeguards). Civil law is the law normally used when one private party sues another one, like when you sue for divorce, sue to determine a property line, or sue to obtain compensation for injury. To make it even more confusing, the thing being sued in civil asset forfeiture is the property itself, so there doesn’t even have to be a criminal conviction. And it up to the owner of the property to prove where the money came from (prove that none of it came from potentially illegal activities). Even if they can do that, it is very expensive and time consuming, and recall that the person whose money was seized no longer has anything to pay a lawyer.

According to a judge, civil asset forfeiture is “institutional corruption“. It must be abolished before it makes an even bigger mockery of our legal system.

UPDATE: John Oliver is magnificent showing the absurdity of civil asset forfeiture:


Late Night Political Humor

“Congratulations to Chelsea Clinton, who gave birth to a baby girl named Charlotte on Friday. Or as Hillary described the baby, ‘Third in line to the throne’.” – Jimmy Fallon

“Congratulations to Chelsea Clinton. Over the weekend, she gave birth to a baby girl. The baby girl will not confirm or deny whether she’s running in 2056.” – David Letterman

“Chelsea Clinton gave birth to a baby girl. And get this, she’s already said her first word: ‘Iowa’.” – Jimmy Fallon

“Chelsea Clinton gave birth to a daughter named Charlotte this weekend. Hillary Clinton was really excited until she remembered that you have to be 18 to vote.” – Seth Meyers

“North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has not appeared in public for weeks. There are rumors he’s sick due to too much cheese, fried chicken, and beer. Sounds like someone is applying for American citizenship.” – Conan O’Brien

“Evil dictator Kim Jong Un has not been seen in three weeks. I hate it when a recluse disappears, don’t you?” – David Letterman

“Kim Jong Un didn’t even show up at Clooney’s wedding.” – David Letterman


What would you answer?

Anna Redi
© Anna Redi

And don’t tell me that we should just stop all flights from Africa to the US. That would make things worse (as pointed out by Jon Stewart and others). Besides, it wouldn’t stop anyone who really wanted to fly to the US, because they could just fly somewhere else, then fly to the US.

The truth is that we should have helped Africa prevent this outbreak in the first place. In fact, one of the few things that Dubya did that I applaud wholeheartedly was his work helping Africa.


Late Night Political Humor

“The Department of Defense unveiled a new policy that will let undocumented immigrants serve in the military. Is it me, or does that just sound like a sneaky way to get rid of immigrants?” – Jimmy Fallon

“Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that he is resigning after five years with the administration. Obama said, ‘Wait, you can do that?'” – Jimmy Fallon

“Attorney General Eric Holder said today that he will resign after five years in office. When he heard about this, President Obama said, ‘Oh, he’s my ride. I gotta go.'” – Seth Meyers

“They’ve had security problems at the White House. Last weekend a couple of guys hopped the fence and ran in. One guy got all the way in and made himself a sandwich.” – David Letterman

“White House security problems won’t happen anymore. They’ve decided that at night — it doesn’t make any difference what’s going on – they’re locking that front door.” – David Letterman

“Security is so tight now that they’ve asked members of Congress to circle the White House – because that way nothing will get past.” – David Letterman

“Political reporters are complaining that the White House has been asking them to edit some of their stories to make the president look better. The White House said that’s not true, and those reporters should please change what they said.” – Jimmy Fallon

“Today Russia announced that it will join America’s fight with the terror group ISIS. Then Putin said, ‘But I did not say which side.'” – Jimmy Fallon

“Bill Clinton said that riding wild horses in Mongolia and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro are on his bucket list. When asked what was on her bucket list, Hillary said, ‘Come on. Don’t make me say it. You know what it is.'” – Jimmy Fallon


Greed and Entitlement

Maurice Greenberg, the former CEO (and major shareholder) of AIG, the insurance giant that was on the brink of bankruptcy before being bailed out by the government in 2008, is suing the government, demanding billions of dollars in compensation.

Why? Greenberg claims that “the government ripped him and other stockholders off by failing to negotiate more generous terms when it took nearly 80 percent equity in the firm, diluting their stakes”.

Greenberg’s suit ignores the fact that if the firm had gone bankrupt, his shares would have been worth nothing (or close to it). It also ignores the fact that the whole reason AIG was in trouble was because of its own risky and irresponsible behavior. AIG extended their guarantee to securities backed by sketchy subprime mortgages, which famously blew up, bankrupting a number of banks (including Lehman Brothers). The government stepped in because AIG was “too big to fail” — its collapse would have imperiled the world economy.

If you ever wanted an example of what’s wrong with our financial sector, this is it. Capitalism is a dance between risk and reward. The higher the potential reward, the higher the risk of losing your money. But the banking industry isn’t actually taking any risks because they expect to get bailed out. This means that there is no incentive to act responsibly with our money and our economy.

And this lawsuit takes it one hypocritical step further. Not only do they expect to get bailed out, but they have the chutzpah to demand more money.

There is only one solution. We need to break up every financial institution that is “too big to fail”. That way we can let them fail when they make stupid and irresponsible decisions.

The GOP claims to be the party of personal responsibility. They oppose a social safety net because they claim that it provides a disincentive to work. Where are they on this issue?


Ebola on the Rebound?

Once again, it is a comedy show that gives us the most reliable news. Meanwhile, the regular media is continuing to spread fear and stupidity:


How the Media Changed Politics

Fascinating interview with Matt Bai, who accuses his own profession of making politics just that much worse. Watch it:


Late Night Political Humor

“President Obama is facing criticism over an incident yesterday where he was holding a cup of coffee in his hand, and then used that same hand to salute a Marine. Though with all that’s going on in the world, I’m surprised he didn’t salute with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and a cigarette in the other.” – Jimmy Fallon

“There’s a picture of President Obama getting off his helicopter and he’s got a cup of coffee in his hand, and he salutes the Marine guards with the cup of coffee. It’s all part of the new Jerry Seinfeld series, ‘Presidents in Helicopters Getting Coffee’.” – David Letterman

“President Obama is being criticized for saluting a soldier while holding a pumpkin spice latte. Today he sincerely apologized while eating a maple glazed doughnut.” – Conan O’Brien

“The White House posted a video that got people upset. The president saluted two Marines with a cup of coffee in his hand. It’s not the first time Obama’s done something like this. Remember that time he said The Pledge of Allegiance while holding a Hot Pocket? Or when he visited an aircraft carrier with a $5 footlong? The man never learns.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“The Secret Service is considering several new measures to keep people from trying to get into the White House. The first thing they’re going to do to keep people out is put up a sign that says ‘Blockbuster Video’.” – Conan O’Brien

“President Obama addressed the U.N. today. Coincidentally, on the same day Chris Christie addressed the International House of Pancakes.” – David Letterman

“President Obama said that over 40 countries have offered to help the U.S. fight ISIS. Of course they said it the same way your friends do when they promise to help you move. ‘Yeah just call me, you know, if I’m around. It’ll be fun.'” – Jimmy Fallon

“It’s quite a responsibility for the president to address the U.N. Yesterday he spoke on climate change. Today he spoke on terrorism. And tomorrow he talks about how to buy real estate with no money down.” – David Letterman

“In an interview, Kim Cattrall said there could be another ‘Sex in the City’ movie. An hour later, ISIS surrendered – there’s only so much they can take.” – Conan O’Brien

“The federal government is starting to plan for climate change by making extended forecasts that can help people plan for extreme weather — because what can go wrong when you combine the efficiency of government with the accuracy of weathermen?” – Jimmy Fallon

“The federal prison population has dropped by almost 5,000 people. It’s expected to go back up once the NFL season ends.” – Conan O’Brien

“Today an Indian spacecraft reached the orbit of Mars. Not only did India succeed on their first attempt, they did it on a very modest budget — $74 million for the mission. Which happens to be, truly, $26 million less than it cost to make the movie ‘Gravity’.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“Congratulations to India. They were able to keep the mission’s costs down by outsourcing all of the work to themselves. And who knows, if it keeps going, in a few years, maybe we’ll have the first call center on Mars.” – Jimmy Kimmel


Happy Columbus Day!

Columbus Day

“Old World” diseases had a devastating effect on the native inhabitants of the new world. There were no accurate counts at the time, but it is estimated that between 80 and 95% of native americans died from Smallpox alone. In absolute terms, this was more deaths than caused by all wars and even the Black Death. In some areas, such as the island of Cuba, the entire indigenous population died out.


Social Media Citizen Corps

Tom Tomorrow
© Tom Tomorrow

I suppose social media, like all public opinion, is important. After all, it was largely public opinion that ended the Vietnam War. But unfortunately, social media can be used for evil as well.


Late Night Political Humor

“The White House has been having big security issues lately, after an intruder actually managed to jump the fence and make it inside. The White House actually said they will start locking the doors. When asked if he wanted a key, Biden said, ‘I’m fine just using the doggie door’.” – Jimmy Fallon

“It’s bad enough when you’re president, but now there are guys hopping the fence. They beefed up security at the White House. Isn’t it about time? People were waiting in line to hop the fence.” – David Letterman

“People are still talking about this guy who hopped the fence and ran into the White House. President Obama is calling for a security crackdown. In fact, today he announced a new punishment for anyone who breaks into the White House: Now you have to be president.” – Conan O’Brien

“This guy gets all the way to the front porch of the White House. So they beefed it up. The security people added to the front door one of the sliding chain things.” – David Letterman

“This guy hopped the fence, ran across the White House lawn, and almost got inside the White House. And the Republicans said, ‘Well, let’s nominate this guy’.” – David Letterman

“House Speaker John Boehner is facing criticism over a recent speech where he suggested that unemployed people are lazy. Boehner would clarify his statements, but he was on his second two-week break of the month.” – Jimmy Fallon

“According to a new estimate, Congress has had a full work week just 14 percent of the time since 1978. Congress said they planned to address the report next week because it’s already Tuesday.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“The United States has launched airstrikes against ISIS. It’s being called ‘Operation Approval Ratings.'” – David Letterman

“In an interview, Bill Clinton hinted that his daughter Chelsea’s baby is due in early October. Though it got weird when reporters asked if it’s a boy or a girl, and Hillary said, ‘I haven’t decided yet’.” – Jimmy Fallon

“Many of the leaders and assistants to the leaders from around the world were in attendance at the U.N. Climate Summit. They say this was arguably the most high-profile, significant meeting that will in no way change anything whatsoever.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“Unfortunately, the leaders of two of the world’s biggest polluters, China and India, did not show up for the summit. That’s like Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep not showing up for the Oscars.” – Jimmy Kimmel

“Next week the Supreme Court returns to work and is expected to decide if statements made on social media should be enough to put someone in jail. And if your mom is on Facebook, you know the answer is yes. Something has to stop her behavior.” – Seth Meyers

“According to a new report, Nigeria owes New York City over $500,000 in unpaid parking tickets for its foreign diplomats. Nigeria apologized and said they’ll pay the fines right away if they we send them our bank account number, our PIN, and our mother’s maiden name.” – Jimmy Kimmel