Saturday, September 22, 2012

2012 Election Prediction (and data!)

I've been a tad bit busy lately getting into the George Mason econ PhD program and all.  2 years between posts seems reasonable to me.

...anywhoo,

I was thinking about how many people (especially on the right) are saying that the polls are skewed by unrealistic party ID weighting, i.e. if the sample contains 10% more Democrats than Republicans, of course it'll show Obama ahead of Romney.

I did a little research which confirmed my suspicion that self reported party identification is the most reliable predictor of voting behavior.  It's better than race, age, income, anything.  So it occurred to me to compare past party ID to election results and extrapolate 2012 results from current (mid-Sept. '12) party ID data.  I'm just cutting and pasting from Excel so it may be ugly, but here's what I found:

  • In 2004, Republicans outperformed their party ID by 4.7%
  • In 2008, Republicans outperformed their party ID by 0.4%
  • Today, Republicans have a 4.3% advantage in party ID
  • If this party ID vs. vote pattern holds, there will be a Republican landslide in 2012 of between R+4.7% and R+9.0%










Saturday, December 11, 2010

Re: "Islamists Know a Western Civilization Secret: ‘Progress’ Makes Religion Decline"

At Pajamas Media, there was a discussion of the causes of terrorism (here).  My observation with one response were as follows:

"Religious reformations do not produce societal change. Societal change, specifically economic change, produces religious reformation. 

With sufficient economic freedom, men will be too busy making money to spend time at the mosque. Daughters will be sent to school because it will enable them to provide their parents with a comfortable retirement. Business will provide the sense of personal success that Islam promised, but didn’t deliver.

People who drive Mercedes and vacation in the south of France don’t dream of martyrdom."

JD Will - "Hmmm. Didn’t I see some photo’s of the Bin Laden family on vacation in Europe (Switzerland, I think)?"
 
"You are mistaking wealth for economic freedom.

Religious extremism fills a psychological need for a sense of meaning and pride. Wealth can not substitute to fill that void, but the achievement of wealth often can. If you feel that you are a failure in life and are ashamed, winning the lottery will not give you a sense of personal pride. Hard work that results in wealth can be a source of pride in accomplishment. 

This is why the oil wealth of the gulf has increased religious extremism. Riches fall from the sky, but it comes with no pride in accomplishment. Therefore attainment of wealth is discredited as an option for personal fulfillment and people turn to religious fundamentalism as the only remaining option.

As for the case of the Scottish doctors; this is the danger of a class centric society. When economic success is not rewarded with increased social standing, people will turn to other means. This is why Muslim Americans are less radical than European Muslims of equal wealth. In America, hard work is rewarded with increased social prestige.

The common theme is that it is not the wealth itself that inhibits religious extremism, but the psychological and social effects of attaining it that matter.

When you are proud of your accomplishments, and you have the admiration of your society, you will not need martyrdom. Economics is only a convenient arena for that success."

Re: "Pence & Hensarling: Time for a Spending Cap With Teeth"

At the blog LibertyPundits, there is a short article (here) about a proposed constitutional amendment to limit federal spending.  A brief quote:
"As with other constitutional amendments, Congress would be given the authority to enforce and implement it. But for the first time, the federal government would have a limit on its size and scope."
My comment there was:
"Congress can "enforce and implement" other amendments because they are enforced and implemented against others, not against itself. If Congress is left as its own watchdog, it will exhibit exactly the same amount of restraint that it would show in the absence of the amendment.
The Founders knew that only the balancing of powers against each other have the ability to restrain government. An amendment as described would be the equivalent of having Congress be the arbiter of the constitutionality of its own acts."

I thought it was an important enough criticism that it should be documented here.

Regulatory Taking

Under Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992), the Supreme Court established the total takings test. This means that if government regulation deprives an owner of all economically beneficial use, a taking has occurred and just compensation must be provided.

Justice Stevens in dissent argued against requiring compensation for such government action, but in doing so inadvertently made a persuasive argument in favor of requiring compensation for lesser restrictions of property rights.

"The new rule created by the court is arbitrary because a landowner whose property is diminished in value 95% recovers nothing while an owner whose property is diminished 100% recovers the land’s full value."

Justice Stevens was right in principle, if not in intent. When government substantially restricts the use of private property through regulation, it takes from the owner a portion of the value of that property and should be subject to just compensation under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment.

If this principle were to be applied through judicial construction or constitutional amendment, government regulations that have only incidental negative impact on property owners would not be affected. However, if government wanted to impose a regulation that did remove a substantial ownership interest, or imposed a substantial cost, it would be recognized as a partial taking and would require just compensation.

The practical effect would be that the EPA could restrict carbon dioxide emissions all it wanted, but only by purchasing the right to emit from property owners at fair market value. More broadly applied, it would be a powerful bulwark against expansion of the regulatory state by limiting economic regulation to those things the public was willing to pay for.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Are Textbooks So [EXPLETIVE DELETED] Expensive?

This is a very simple problem in economics. Textbooks are irrationally expensive and have a price inflation rate far above the general economy for the same reason American health care is absurdly and increasingly expensive. In both cases it's because the market is driven by people spending other people's money.

Professors decide what textbooks must be purchased, but students pay for them. Similarly, patients and doctors decide what care will be purchased, but insurance companies (and the government) pay the bills. When you are spending other people's money, there is an incentive for maximum consumption without any incentive to restrain costs.

The solution in the case of textbooks is simple. Colleges (who decide what textbooks to use) should also pay for them. If that happened, I guarantee that the many high quality open source (i.e. free) textbooks available online, would suddenly become very popular among college administrators. As a response, the price premium of textbooks over other types of books would vanish. A $29.95 textbook might be purchased, but one priced at $159.95 would not.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Hidden Cost of Obama Care

Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor and current Obama economic advisor Robert Reich wrote a June 12th Op-Ed on Salon.com (here) defending a “public option” in the upcoming health reform bill.

I trust that Mr. Reich is an intelligent man, but that only makes his argument more bewildering.

His core proposition is that the solution to the financial train wreck of federal health entitlements, is to create a larger federal health entitlement.

“A public option large enough to have bargaining leverage …[is] the only way to prevent Medicare and Medicaid from eating up future federal budgets.”

In 2009, Medicare and Medicaid will spend $775 billion, over one third of total national health spending and 5.5% percent of GDP.  If that massive “leverage” has been unable to control costs, what logic is there in asserting that an additional $150 billion per year will be able to?

He admits that “Medicare and Medicaid [will eat] up future federal budgets”, but then praises LBJ for “successfully take[ing] on the giant health care lobbies” to create those very programs.

Then he hopefully asks “The question now is how much LBJ is in Barack Obama.”

How can an intelligent man admit that LBJ’s health programs are a financial disaster, then hope our new President will replicate them?

There are only two possibilities.  Either 1.) My assessment of Mr. Reich is wrong, and he is not smart enough to see the contradiction, or 2.) He does see the contradiction, but wants to expand government health care so badly that he is willing to ignore it, even at the cost of national bankruptcy.

LBJ’s legacy is a Medicare unfunded liability of $34 Trillion, or two and a half times the annual output of the entire U.S. economy.  Mr. Reich thinks that’s a triumph and wants the program expanded.

I’m confidant that Mr. Reich does understand the economic cost of this policy, but not the full cost.

The hidden cost is having our grandchildren curse us for stealing their future.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why David Frum is wrong about Arlen Specter

On Tuesday, David Frum wrote a column at NewMajority criticizing Pat Toomey and the Club for Growth for pushing Sen. Arlen Specter out of the Republican party. This was my response.

Mr. Frum,

With respect, I think you’re wrong.

You are operating on the assumption that positioning on the ideological spectrum is the dominant factor in electoral sucess. If that were true then nominating a moderate conservative against a more extreme liberal would be an easy win for the GOP.

Yet Barack Obama is President.

Certainly, there are political extremes that are unacceptable to the vast majority of the electorate. Thankfully, neither David Duke nor William Ayres is electable. However, between those extremes I believe there is more ideological flexibility among voters than you realize.

Yes, there are hard core ideologues in both parties, but that does not describe the bulk of the electorate. For most voters ideology matters, but only to a limited degree. Voters also value a candidate (and a party) that rejects corruption, can competently govern, follows in office what was promised in campaigns, knows the principles it stands for and does not tolerate hypocrisy.

To demonstrate the relative importance of non-ideological factors in electoral success, as a thought experiment consider the following alternate history:

August 2003 - President Bush recognizes that his Iraq strategy is failing, fires Secretary Rumsfeld and embraces Gen. Patraeus’ counter insurgency strategy.

January 2004 - Congressional Republicans appoint a panel of retired Federal Judges to investigate allegations of corruption within the GOP and mercilessly reject any found guilty.

September 2004 - Republicans adopt a unilateral ban on earmarks.

January 2005 - Congressional Republicans are unified and use reconciliation to pass a voluntary alternative flat tax and free market health care reform.

September 2006 - Republicans cut wasteful spending and set the country on a path to a balanced budget.

If this, however unlikely, had been the history of the last 8 years, would the GOP be in total collapse today? I think the only fair answer is no. Yet none of these actions would have been ideological shifts.

Within a broad ideological range, voters will support candidates, and a party, that are seen as standing for honesty, integrity, competence and vision. Primary challenges may move the party to the right, but on a deeper level they are an attempt to force the party to be true to its core beliefs.

A left wing President and Congress were elected not because of their ideology, but because they were trusted. If Republicans ever hope to regain that trust, putting principles above politics is a necessary first step.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Geithner’s Smoke and Mirrors

I’m not an economist. I don’t even play one on TV, but I have some serious problems with Treasury Secretary Geithner’s new public/private toxic asset purchase plan. So I thought I’d throw them out there and see if I’m the only one.

My first problem with his plan is that there is no guarantee that banks will offer to sell.

There has been a lot of talk about mark to market. My understanding is that most (although not all) of the loans and asset backed securities (ABS) held on banks books have to be carried at the market price. That means they are worth (in accounting terms) only what they can be sold for.

It is common wisdom to say that mark to market isn’t working because the markets are “frozen”. But it is not true that the market for these securities is not functional. Banks can sell 100% of their ABS at any time they want to. The obvious truth of this can be demonstrated as follows:

I hereby offer to buy all of Citigroup ABS for $1. Anyone from Citi who is interested, just give me a call.

Why do I think my phone isn’t going to be ringing off the hook? Obviously, because Citi doesn’t want to sell them at that price. The same is true of a wide variety of investors who would be willing to purchase the securities, but the sellers want more than buyers are willing to pay.

Assuming that large banks and large institutional investors have roughly equivalent market knowledge, I can only assume that the banks have not fully marked down their assets to market price. If they had, then an asset they hold on their books at $100 could be converted into $100 cash and they would have no disincentive to sell.

Secretary Geithner said that his plan will use the market to induce “price discovery”. But the market already has discovered a price, the banks just don’t like it.

If sellers want more than buyers will pay, to make a transaction happen you need to either make a) the seller take less or b) the buyer pay more. If you choose a) then a bank holding an asset on its books at $100 sells at a lower price, say $60, and the bank would be replacing a $100 asset (securities) with a $60 asset (cash). Add eight or nine zeros to that transaction and the FDIC will send you a lovely card that says “Surprise! You’re insolvent” and the bank is taken into receivership.

So, for obvious reasons, Mr. Geithner chose option b. Treasury, the Fed and the FDIC will offer loans and a profit sharing arrangement to try and entice the buyers into paying more.

But what happens if the generous purchase terms are insufficient to produce a price higher than the banks book value of the assets? The banks either still won’t sell, in which case, the plan will have no effect, or they will sell but have to take additional write downs pushing them farther towards insolvency. This would make banks even more desperate to build up capital reserves and make the problem worse because banks would have even less money to lend.

And what happens if it does produce a price above book value? This is my second problem with the plan.

Boiled down, my understanding is that the plan works like this: An investment company puts up $1 then the government will loan them $6 more to buy bank assets. If there is a profit, the investor splits it 50/50 with the government. But if there is a loss, the loans are non-recourse. That means that the investor only looses his $1. He doesn’t have to pay back the other $6.

The investor gets 1/2 of the profits but only takes 1/7 of the losses. Put another way, the taxpayer gets 1/2 of any profits, but pays 6/7 of the losses.

That’s one hell of an incentive for investors, and may work. But this produces a contradiction. The more effective the incentives, the more investors will pay for the assets above what they believe they are really worth. But the more the investors pay above market price, the greater the chance that the securities really are worth less than was paid for them.

Stripping away the complexity, it seems to me that this plan is designed to bribe investors to pay the banks far more than anyone thinks these assets are worth so the banks will have more money to lend.

Maybe a miracle will happen and 5 years from now these assets will turn out to be worth even more than the inflated price paid for them. But if Mr. Geithner believed that, then why not cut out the middleman and have treasury buy the assets directly? We’re going to be on the hook for the vast majority of the losses either way. Why not get all the potential profits? Tim Geithner is not a stupid man, so why would he structure it that way?

I’m afraid the answer is politics.

If he went to the Congress and said “Please give me a trillion dollars so I can buy toxic assets that the market thinks are worth $600 billion”, or even more honestly “let’s just give the banks $400 billion so they can start lending again”, Congress would say No. Not to mention the taxpayers with pitchforks and torches waiting for him at the door.

But by structuring it as a public/private partnership with loan guarantees, he doesn’t have to ask Congress for a dime. Plus, the “private” part makes it sound like it’s not another government bailout.

Unfortunately, it is.

It’s a backhanded way to funnel extra cash into the banks by overpaying for their bad assets. And when it turns out that yes, we did pay more than they were worth, and there are losses (as is more likely than not given that we start from the assumption that we are paying more than the markets think they are worth), the FDIC will be drained dry to cover them. At that point, Congress will have no choice but to pay the costs, and bailing out the FDIC a few years from now won’t create the public backlash that bailing out the banks now would.

I would have been much happier if Mr. Geithner had been honest and said “Look, these assets are probably undervalued because the markets are scared. Banks can only sell them right now for $600 billion, but the hold to maturity value is probably around $1 trillion, so let’s buy them for $900 billion and take the gamble that we might loose some money. The banks will have more cash to lend, and who knows, we might even turn a profit.”

But I’m just an unemployed bookkeeper. I might be wrong.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Something Is Wrong

There's something odd happening in the national psyche. As we celebrate the inauguration of our 44th President, the mood of the country has taken on a bizarre schizophrenia.

On the one hand, pessimism about the state of the nation is everywhere. You can't turn on the TV, listen to the radio or read a newspaper without being assaulted with doom and gloom. But it goes beyond just the media. There is a sense in the American people that I can't describe as anything other than fear.

There is a cloud of fear, no... more than that, of dread. There is a vague sense of foreboding in the air. Part of that is understandable. The economy took quite a frightening shock with the collapse of the financial markets. Unemployment is going up, as are home foreclosures. It's appropriate that people would be concerned.

But what I'm sensing goes beyond that. It's as if something terrible has happened in our lives while we are just beginning to wake from a pleasant dream. At that moment of semi-consciousness where you can't quite tell which reality is real and which is the dream, you hope and cling to the dream because it is the more pleasant. Yet, as you move towards consciousness and begin to realize that the happy dream is false, for a moment you cling to it even more desperately.

Perhaps it's a fear that all our prosperity and success as Americans is not as secure as we once believed. Perhaps everything can be snatched away from us in an instant. Perhaps it's the suspicion that the strong foundation of our country is nothing more than sand.

To be fair, we have been under unusual psychological stress for the past few years. 9/11 destroyed our innocence that we were immune from harm. We tried to go on with our lives as usual, but somewhere beneath the surface, as hard as we tried not to think about it, we knew.

The sudden and dramatic crisis in our economy, showing that our prosperity is also fragile may have just been the triggering event to bring a more general level of anxiety to the surface.

Regardless of the source of our insecurity, contrast it with the growing glorification of Barack Obama. Obama is a charming and skilled politician. Placing a modest degree of “hope” in the new President is normal. What is not normal is the growing level of worship, approaching idolatry. There is a feverish quality to the praise being heaped upon him. His emulation of the trappings of Lincoln seems even humble by comparison to the image of him as messiah.

What has he done to warrant this frenzied exaltation, other than to simply exist? He has a relatively brief history of public service, of no extraordinary note. He has proposed no revolutionary new policies, it's all fairly standard Democratic boilerplate. He was a leftist in the primaries, then a centrist in the general election, and throughout he studiously refused to take positions on most controversial issues at all. Do we even know him?

I think that may be the point. We don't know him. Obama is an enigma. Onto his blank canvas we are projecting our desperate need for... something. Perhaps a savior to banish all our fears and make that pleasant dream we cling to our reality.

As Americans, we used to believe in our country and in ourselves. Now we are placing our faith in a man. Not even a man, but the image of a man that we have created, but does not exist.

What this bodes for our nation and our future, I do not know. But it frightens me, because something is wrong.

Monday, October 6, 2008

McCain's Last Chance

In politics you have a choice.  you can either play offense or you can play defense.  Offense is better.

In August, McCain's campaign was widely seen as flailing.  He had no coherent message and was falling in the polls.  Then, on July 3rd came Steve Schmidt and message discipline.  He introduced two clear themes; one positive, that McCain puts country first, and one negative, that Obama is just a vapid celebrity.

The result was a steady improvements in polling for McCain.  According to Karl Rove's calculations, on July 1, McCain was trailing by 91 electoral votes.  By September 19 (two weeks after the conventions) McCain was leading by 11 electoral votes.  Without any intervening outside crisis, going on offense with clear consistent messaging created a 102 electoral vote swing.

Then came the intervening outside crisis.  Since the financial crisis began, McCain's numbers have fallen off a cliff.  Rove has McCain loosing 111 electoral votes in the past two weeks.

Conventional wisdom is that economic trouble favors the Democrats and there is some truth in that.  But in a crisis people also want strong, steady leadership.  McCain's fall was not due to the crisis itself.  He has fallen because his response was erratic.  He abandoned clear messaging, while Obama refused to be distracted from his game plan.

McCain is in a hole, but still has a month to dig his way out.  Given the 30 second news cycle, now that the bailout plan has passed the crisis atmosphere should rapidly dissipate.  This gives McCain an opportunity to regain his footing and get back to what worked.

Steve Schmidt's first task is to choose the message.  Celebrity won't work anymore, all the juice has been squeezed from that stone.  An effective attack message needs to build on a kernal of pre-existing doubt.  It's much easier (and more effective) to make voters focus on a negative thought they already believe than to persuade them to believe something they currently don't.  The obvious options are:

1) Obama is not honest - This could be used in commercials by split screening Obama's contradictory statements on at least a dozen issues.

2) Obama is too liberal -

3) Obama is too inexperienced - With the current level of disgust at our politicians, voters may think Washington experience is not something they want.  Plus, Hillary tried this and it didn't work.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Accountability vs Ideology

The key word in this election is accountability. Pollster Frank Luntz has found “accountability” to produce by far the largest positive reaction in his focus groups; far more than either “experience” or “change”.

People know that Washington has serious problems. Obama is trying to persuade people that the problem is ideology. We had government from the right and it didn’t work out too well. McCain is pushing the idea that the problem isn’t ideology, but rather accountability.

I’m going to suggest an inflammatory analogy.

In the 2006 Palestinian elections, voters rejected Fatah and elected Hamas. There were two competing narratives in the election. There was the ideological split between Hamas as the more radical, Islamist party and Fatah, which was more moderate and secular. The second narrative was corruption and competence. Fatah was seen as corrupt and not meeting the basic needs of the people, while Hamas was perceived as committed to clean efficient government.

The bulk of the Palestinian people, by comparison to Hamas, are not Islamic fundamentalists. Alcohol consumption, smoking, and women’s participation in civil society are fairly well established. As a result, it was widely assumed that voters would not embrace a Hamas ideology that conflicted with these ingrained cultural traditions.

As a result, when Hamas won 74 seats in the parliament compared to Fatah’s 45, many people were shocked. They should not have been. People who were surprised by the result failed to appreciate the level of dissatisfaction in the electorate with the incompetence and corruption of Fatah.

People were frustrated with the government’s failure to deliver improvements in quality of life and disgusted with Fatah placing its own corrupt interests above those of the people. Seen from this perspective, it should have come as no surprise that the people voted to Throw the Bums Out without regard for what would follow.

The lesson that we can take from the Palestinian elections is that most people are not ideologues. While voters do have ideological preferences, for most the highest priorities are simple competence and honesty. The average citizen just wants the trains to run on time.

If our upcoming Presidential election was decided by ideology alone, McCain would win in a landslide. We are still a center right country and he is the center right candidate. The challenge is when ideology and competence can not be separated, as was the case in the Palestinian election. American voters are being asked to choose between the record of an incompetent center right and the promise of a competent center left.

Given those two inseparable options, voters will choose competence over ideology every time. For Sen. McCain to win, he must disaggregate the choice. The election will turn on McCain’s ability to persuade voters that they can reject incompetence without sacrificing their preferred ideology.

In the 2007 French elections, Nicolas Sarkozy faced a similar challenge. He was Interior Minister under the unpopular Jacques Chirac and yet was able to persuade voters that he could bring change without moving left. If McCain can replicate Sarkozy’s strategy of credibly offering a change in accountability while retaining center right ideology, he can win. It’s a difficult needle to thread, but it’s his only chance.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

McCain, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu

Clausewitz said "war is the continuation of politics through other means".  If Sen. McCain wants to win, he should consider the reverse perspective and start applying lessons he learned at the Naval War College to his campaign.

The Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu taught that the commander who chooses the battlefield, will win the war.  As a student of military history, John McCain understands this principle. Yet, up to this point Sen. McCain is fighting the campaign on territory favorable to Barack Obama.

The terrain of the electorate is dominated by a call for "Change".  The public has concluded that their needs are not being met and they want to move beyond the failed politics of the past.  The voters want something different.

On a personal level Sen. Obama is very different.  He's black, he's young and he isn't a long time part of Washington.  Amplified by the megaphone of his flamboyant oratory, he is a living symbol of change.

If Sen. McCain tries to fight the campaign on that basis, he will loose.

Sen. Obama is fighting on the large, vague battlefield of change.  "Change you can believe in" and "We are the change we have been waiting for" are nearly meaningless generalities.  This is Sen. McCain's opportunity to define the specific kind of change we need and in doing so, choose the battlefield.

Sen. McCain has the opportunity to give a name the cause of our governments failures and launch a crusade against it.

That name is Partisanship.

When social security doesn't get fixed, it's because politicians care more about the next election than about the welfare of the American People.

When energy independence is talked about but never achieved, it's because politicians put their ideology ahead of the needs of the nation. 

When Congress is hopelessly gridlocked and unable to solve the most basic problems of the American people, it's because our leaders put the selfish interests of their parties above the good of our country.

Friday, June 20, 2008

McCain’s Oil Checkmate

Sen. John McCain has stumbled onto a winning issue. Oil. Although at first he was a bit squishy on the subject of drilling for oil …excuse me Mr. Luntz, I meant “exploring for energy”… he deserves credit for seeing the opportunity and jumping on it.

The voters are hopping mad about high gas prices and are screaming GIVE US CHEAP OIL!!! Sen. McCain is saying okey dokey, you want cheap oil, I’ll give you cheap oil. We’ll drill off the coasts, we’ll tap oil shale in the Rockies, we’ll build new refineries and throw in a couple dozen nuke plants to boot.

McCain has a Louisville Slugger named “Cheap Oil” and is going to whack Obama with it like a North Vietnamese prison guard.

Obama hasn’t left himself any maneuvering room to escape the pounding. He’s publicly staked out positions against off shore drilling, against fast tracking refinery permits, against oil shale development and he’s not so wild about nuclear power either. He has limited his energy policy to not much more than higher oil taxes and windmills, (as long as they aren’t near Ted Kennedy’s house.)

The only piece missing in McCain’s energy trifecta is ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Sen. McCain has said that he won’t drill in ANWR because it’s “a pristine wilderness”. You know, just like Yellowstone National Park - if you dropped the temperature 100 degrees, bulldozed the trees, covered it in frozen mud and added mosquitoes the size of small children. Other than that, it’s just the same.

Obama can defend himself by saying that Sen. McCain isn’t really that hot on providing cheap oil either because he won’t drill in ANWR. To take full advantage of the issue, that hole has to be closed. But our Green Republican (who ironically makes Republicans green) has promised to protect the God forsaken, frozen moonscape as a matter of principle. And we all know what that means. It would be easier to get people to vacation there than for him to change his mind.

It would be a shame to miss this opportunity to nail our New Messiah to his cross of oil. But how can this be done without Sen. McCain abandoning his promise to protect the precious 3 toed arctic mole rat?

I’m here to tell you kids, there is a way.

ANWR is over 30,000 square miles. Extracting the oil would need about 3 square miles. Sen. McCain should go back to the Senate and introduce a bill to exchange 3 square miles for drilling, for 300 square miles added to the refuge elsewhere. He would have the best of both worlds. Oil for the voters now, and hundreds of additional square miles of frozen wasteland preserved for our great grandchildren to ignore.

With a 100 to 1 land for oil swap, Sen. McCain could keep doing his Teddy Roosevelt of the Arctic routine and force Sen. Obama to vote against giving the voters cheaper oil.

Even the mole rats would be happy.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Racial Catch 22

At the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960's, the challenge was persuading white America to accept the vision of a post racial society. 40 years later, that same desire for a post racial America is preventing us from confronting a new racial problem.

When Reverend Jeremiah Wright's offensive sermons came to light, they were generally viewed through a political lens. Cable news and talk radio gorged themselves on debate about how it would affect the presidential campaign. Reverend Wright was labeled as either a serious political liability, or as an aberration that could be dismissed as just one of those inexplicable storms that pass in an election year.

What was missing was a serious discussion of what it told us about ourselves.

More recently at the Trinity United Church of Christ, Father Michael Pfleger preached a sermon just as racially offensive as those given by Reverend Wright. And just as with Reverend Wright, the media focused on the man in the pulpit and not on the congregation that rose to its feet and cheered his message.

What we all saw in those videos was not simply a cultural difference. The vast majority of Americans were shocked, not by an unfamiliar style or tradition of worship. We were shocked because we saw the kind of open bigotry and racial animus that we believed had been consigned to our past. We were slapped in the face with the harsh reality that our post racial image of America was wrong.

The original American sin of racism that so many of us believed was largely wiped clean, was only in hiding, pushed into corners of our society where most of us never looked. The video revolution became our eyes and looked into that corner for us. We should be grateful that we saw the truth.

Accepting this revelation will be difficult. Changing our core assumptions about what kind of nation we are, especially when it is in such a negative way, will encounter understandable resistance. We have become comfortable thinking of ourselves as having put the worst of racial conflict behind us, with just a few loose ends to tidy up when we have time.

As if this was not difficult enough, coming to terms with it has been made immeasurably more difficult by its partisan political implications. The groups most likely to support Senator Obama are progressives, the young and African Americans. These are the same groups who once led the civil rights movement. They fought to persuade America to face its racism so that we could overcome it. Now they are caught in a gut wrenching contradiction.

Electing the first African American President would be a beautiful gift to the American soul. It would be an affirmation of all that we think we have achieved in overcoming our painful past. But to receive that gloriously self affirming gift, it is politically necessary to define Trinity United as a church that is not racist. Pointing out the deep racial hostility at Trinity United has been variously described as a distraction from real issues, dirty politics or a lack of understanding of the black church tradition.

The new generation that should be leading the fight against racism, has been forced to choose between the conflicting goals of electing an African American President, or confronting the reality of racism that still exists. They have chosen the more pleasing path and forgotten where that path was supposed to lead.

We can stop and congratulate ourselves for the racial progress we have made, or we can continue the struggle. We cannot do both.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

An Open Letter to my Liberal Friends

I have something to say to my liberal friends. You know I respect and admire you despite all our disagreements, but when someone I care about is doing something very wrong, I believe I have an obligation to tell them.

You are are making a terrible mistake.

With the revelation of yet another horribly racist rant at Barack Obama’s church, it is time for you, my liberal friends, to accept something that is very painful. In 2004 when Senator Obama was asked by the Chicago Sun-Times who his spiritual mentors were, he named Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger. When Reverend Wright’s offensive sermons came to light, it was easy to think of him as an aberration. He could be dismissed as just one of those crazy things that happens in a presidential campaign.

But this past week at the Trinity United Church of Christ, Father Pfleger preached a sermon just as hate filled and racist as those given by Reverend Wright. The rants of one man could be written off as an aberration, but not both.

It is time for you to put aside your denial and face the truth. Trinity United is a church thoroughly infused with the most vile type of hatred. The man you’re about to nominate as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President, has for 20 years belonged to that church and he has proudly embraced two horrifyingly racist men as his role models.

If you saw this pattern in a white candidate, you would be the first to label him as unfit for office and demand that he immediately exit the race and resign from the Senate. But when it occurs with Senator Obama, you say it’s a distraction from real issues, you say it’s dirty politics, you go through amazing mental gymnastics to find ways to excuse it.

If you continue to condone, excuse, deny and refuse to see the ugly face of racism just because this time it’s within your own party, you are turning your backs on the struggle for racial equality that you once led. You are denying Dr. King’s dream of an America free of racial hatred. You are betraying everything you stand for. If you are truly a liberal, you cannot do this.

You can ignore racism when it is politically convenient, or you can be faithful to the principles that have guided you from Selma to Montgomery to Birmingham. You can not do both.

You are my friends and it would be a shame to see you lose your souls.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why Scientists Sometimes Lie

The problem with the “scientific consensus” on global warming is that participants in the debate are not objective.

In other areas of science, it is assumed without question that researchers will follow the evidence wherever it leads with an open mind that is neutral as to the outcome. That is not the case with global warming. Unlike other scientific questions, the answer to whether humans are causing dangerous global warming has massive political implications for economic and social policy.

Scientists are human beings with political and ideological preferences just like the rest of us. If a scientist has a strong preference for a certain political ideology, and that ideology will either be advanced or inhibited based on the results of his research, it is reasonable to view his interpretation of the data with an increased level of skepticism.

If anthropogenic global warming is accepted as real, it will produce wide ranging political and economic changes that have been long advocated by the political left. There will be massive tax increases and much stricter regulation of business.

It should therefore be no surprise that almost all non-scientists who are on the political left insist that global warming is real and use it as an indictment of free market capitalism and the traditional American lifestyle based on consumerism. In the same way, almost all non-scientists who are on the political right insist that global warming is nothing more than liberal hysteria.

On both sides, their conclusions are not based on an impartial evaluation of the data. Neither Al Gore nor Rush Limbaugh are competent to assess the accuracy of a sophisticated computer climate model. Yet they both believe with absolute certainty.

Flawed human beings will always tend to interpret information in such a way that it reinforces our pre-existing ideological preferences or self interest. Given the huge amounts of funding involved, professional standing in academia and personal political preferences, it would be foolish to assume that scientists are not subject to the same failing.

I do not claim that scientists who support anthropogenic global warming are wrong, merely that it is unwise to massively reorder our society based on interpretations of extraordinarily complex data conducted by people who are not neutral as to the result.

When scientists who believe in global warming stop calling colleagues who disagree with them “Flat Earthers” and “Neanderthals”, or insist that “the debate is over” and therefore it is illegitimate to question them, then I may be willing to listen to their arguments. Not until then.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Rebound Vote

I was listening to exit poll results from Kentucky and Oregon; (I still don’t know how you conduct an exit poll in a state where everyone votes by mail, but I digress). A major topic for the talking heads was the breakdown of the women’s vote. In the middle of the conversation, it dawned on me. I know why women over 40 will not vote for Barack Obama. He’s the “Other Woman”.

I know at first it’s jarring to the psyche to think of him in that role, so I’ll try to be gentle.

Imagine you are a young liberal woman. You see Obama as a handsome, charming, exciting young man. You are strangely attracted to him. I don’t mean in a crudely sexual way, rather in a sweep me off my feet, vaguely romantic, way. Hillary is like your mother telling you that he’s bad for you. It’s no geat surprise that any self respecting young woman is going to ignore her mother and fall for the exciting guy.

Now imagine you are a middle aged to older Democratic woman. It’s probable you have been married, and if you haven’t been divorced, you certainly have many friends who have. You strongly identified with Hillary Clinton when the party chose her as their nominee two years ago. Everyone knew she was the one and it was all settled. Hillary and the party were going to sail off into the sunset together and it was going to be beautiful. And then HE shows up.

This young, gorgeous newcomer says “hello baby”, flashes a dazzling smile and before you can blink twice, the party dumps it’s middle aged fiancĂ©e at the alter and runs off with this charming piece of fluff. Maybe Hillary isn’t as young as she used to be, and maybe she has put a few extra pounds in her pants suit, but Hillary and the party were so GOOD together. He’s no good for the party. He’ll loose in the fall and THEN who’ll you come crawling back to?? Doesn’t the party understand ANYTHING about commitment???

Hillary is a good woman in a committed, long term relationship who after all these years of waiting, gets kicked to the curb at the last minute just because the party couldn’t keep it’s ballots in it’s pants the first time a younger, prettier face walks by. In their minds, women over 40 are Hillary Clinton and they can’t stand Obama because he is the other woman.

John McCain should send flowers. Rebound votes still count.

Does Obama want war with Iran?

It might come as a surprise to the Democratic party faithful, but Barack Obama wants to start a war with Iran.

We know this is true because he has made a central argument of his candidacy that, despite his complete lack of any experience, he has superior judgment in foreign policy. If we accept Sen. Obama’s word without question (as he demands we always do), then we must assume that he fully understands and intends the consequences of his policies.

Sen. Obama must know that the strategy employed by the West to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program is to increase its economic and diplomatic isolation until the cost in domestic opposition begins to threaten the stability of the regieme, and therefore becomes too high a price to pay.

Sen. Obama must know that when, in the first year of his presidency, he meets without preconditions with the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it will prove to the Iranian people that Iran is not, in fact, isolated at all. It will discredit the opposition within Iran that wants to abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons so that they may rejoin the community of nations.

Sen. Obama must know that with internal dissent silenced, the Iranian government will be able to continue to develop nuclear weapons without fear for the stability of the regime. Without leverage, negotiations will fail and then with the nuclear program nearing completion, the United States will have no choice but to launch military strikes.

Sen. Obama is following a path that leads to war. He must know this and want war, because otherwise we would have to conclude that Barack Obama just doesn’t have enough experience to know what he’s doing.

And we all know that can’t be true, because he told us so.

New Labor’s Lessons for the GOP

In the 1980’s, Britain’s Labor party was in a sorry state. Margaret Thatcher’s election was a profound rejection of Labor, which was seen as simply not capable of running the country. Labor acquired a reputation (and rightly so) of pandering to powerful interest groups while ignoring the best interests of the country.

The success of the Conservative party was not caused by the people of Britain waking up one morning and deciding that they didn’t want to be center left anymore. Conservatives won because Labor was thoroughly discredited. Yet, by 1997 Labor had won a new landslide victory and has been in power ever since.

The Republican party is facing a similar situation to Labor in the 1980’s. America is still a center right country, but the party that represents that part of the political spectrum has become discredited. If the GOP is looking for a game plan to restore it’s political fortunes, it could do worse than study the resurrection of the Labor party.

Starting in 1994, Labor began a deliberate plan to repair it’s image. The party changed it’s policy focus from vain attempts to buy votes from interest groups (primarily trade unions) and adopted policies that appealed to the electorate as a whole. Labor publicized this change under the banner of “New Labor”.

Given that Britain had not abandoned it’s general left of center leanings, the public enthusiastically embraced this New Labor that could both fit the majority of the electorate ideologically and represent their interests in policy.

In American politics, you hear the same yearning for a New Republican party. The majority of American voters still want a party that will represent their core moderate conservative principles. Most people want a small effective government that can solve problems of health care, energy, education and national defense without wasteful spending, tax increases or political corruption.

As in the creation of New Labor, a New Republican party will need new leadership. John McCain must lead, but he cannot do it alone. Sen. McCain must join forces with as many like minded Republican candidates as possible to create a united movement of New Republicans. Those who are unwilling to join must be left behind.

This will inevitably create a division within the party. The division is necessary.

Republicans in Congress believe that they can survive if they distance themselves from the President, but the 2006 Democratic landslide was not caused by the President. It was caused by Republicans in Congress. Wasteful spending, outrageous earmarks, toleration of corruption, rejecting accountability, and putting the preservation of power above the good of the Country; this is what Republicans in Congress gave us, and this is what the American people rejected.

Republicans in Congress who have abandoned their principles are a cancer within the party and the cancer must be excised.

Like New Labor, New Republicans must reject the voices of stagnation within their ranks and chart a new course. Ending all earmarks, energy independence in 10 years, throwing out our absurd tax code and throwing politicians with ethical problems out of the party; the specifics are not important. What’s important is that the agenda be bold. A new generation of Republicans committed to a bold agenda for change that rejects the old politics as usual can regain the trust of the voters. Nothing less bold will.

It took the Labor party 15 years to fully accept the need for fundamental change, but when it did, it took less than two years to be voted back into office.

Like an alcoholic, sometimes a party needs to hit rock bottom. Republicans can wait and loose a few more elections, or they can embrace bold change now. Whenever they do, the voters will be there.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The British Failure in Iraq

The current spasm of violence in the southern Iraqi city of Basra will undoubtedly be used by opponents of the war as proof that the surge has failed and therefore we should exit Iraq. A more thoughtful analysis shows the exact opposite it true.

During the Rumsfeld era, the United States pursued a light footprint strategy based on the assumption that foreign forces were more a cause of violence than an answer to it. The British in southern Iraq were held up as a model of this strategy. The media was full of praise for British competence in being non-confrontational and letting the Iraqis work things out for themselves. If the strategy that appeared to be working for the British was not working for the Americans, it was only because American troops were still being too aggressive.

As the Rumsfeld strategy became an obvious failure, the United States decided to change course and employ the “surge”, abandoning the light footprint and imposing order by force, to give legitimate institutions and civil society an opportunity to take root. The stunning success of the surge raises the question, how could a British strategy so diametrically opposed also work? As events of the past week have shown us, it did not.

As we can now see, the British strategy of an extreme light footprint and essential pacifism in southern Iraq failed. By allowing local militias to take control of the southern provinces unopposed, the British produced the temporary illusion of security that is the inevitable outcome of allowing the enemy to consolidate control of territory. The “peace” produced was the peace of the warlord. The stability of the mafia dominated neighborhood. This type of peace endures only so long as the thugs in charge are not opposed in their reign of terror.

When the Iraqi government with American support began to attempt to rein in the Shia militias and Iranian backed “special groups”, the city exploded with the violence that the British had never defused. Now the task of pacifying the province is made far more difficult, because the militias have had so much time to organize and integrate themselves into the apparatus of local government. The evidence of this is that Iraqi army units brought in from other parts of the country are fighting well, but the local police, being a wholly owned subsidiary of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and/or Iran are are deserting en mass.

The solution to the chaos in Basra is the same as it was in Baghdad. The Iraqi national army, with coalition support must retake the city by force, crush the Shia militias and stay to maintain order while legitimate institutions take root. If this strategy is followed in the south, it will have the same success as it did in other areas of Iraq, only this time with the blood of Iraqi troops, rather than British.

The lesson to be learned from the British failure in Basra is that appeasement does produce peace… but only for a time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Failure of Courage

Today Barack Obama gave his much anticipated speech about his relationship with his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and more generally, about race relations in America. It was a beautiful speech, both eloquent and inspiring. It was also a profoundly dispiriting revelation of moral failure.

Regarding Rev. Wright, Sen. Obama said “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother…they are a part of America.”

Many things are a part of America. Racism, hatred, greed are all a part of America. The question for Sen. Obama was not if there are still things deeply wrong in our country, but whether each of us will have the moral courage to recognize them, stand up and say No.

Standing up and saying “No, this is wrong” is easy when you risk nothing, when you are speaking to strangers who hold no sway over your life. Saying it to our own community, our own friends, our own family is not as easy. Saying No when we may pay a price requires a strength of character that too few of us possess.

Sen. John McCain faced a test of moral courage as a prisoner in Hanoi when he was offered early release in violation of the military code of honor. He said No. He chose the harder path and paid for it with five additional years of torture.

Sen. Obama faced a test of moral courage to stand up to his pastor, his church, his community and say “No, this is wrong.” He chose the easier path. He chose to remain silent.

We have a right to expect our President to stand up for what is right not just when it is easy, but when it is hard. Sen. Obama has shown us, that standard is beyond his reach.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama’s Church Problem

With the recent revelation of horribly offensive, racist and anti-American sermons by Barack Obama’s pastor, the natural question is how much will this hurt the Obama campaign? The statements by Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright are seen as beyond offensive by the vast majority of Americans and made worse by the fact that they are preserved on video. As a result, Senator Obama has been distancing himself from his pastor as rapidly as possible.

The Senator claims that with one or two minor exceptions, “None of these statements were ones I had heard myself personally in the pews.” That is a politically defensible position …as far as it goes.

His greater problem is that by saying he was unaware of those specific statements, Senator Obama is implying that he was unaware that the man he has claimed as his spiritual guide was a rabid anti-American racist.

Senator Obama has been a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for 20 years. Rev. Wright married him, baptized his children, has been “like an uncle” and yet Senator Obama had absolutely no idea that the man harbored any of these horribly offensive views?

Is that plausible?

Even if Senator Obama was absent from church every time Rev. Wright gave one of his racist, anti-American or anti-semitic sermons, we are being asked to believe that in the course of 20 years, no other member of the church ever mentioned them, and Rev. Wright never gave the slightest hint that he held these obscene views, even though he was, in Obama’s words “like a member of the family.”

Our common sense understanding of human nature tells us that this is not true. Whether Senator Obama heard the specific comments in question or not, he knew this man and he knew, at least in general terms, what he believed and still chose to claim him as his mentor.

No one should be held to account for the words or views of another. But whom we choose to proclaim as our moral guide, does give insight into our character. In Senator Obama’s case, that insight is of a man who is not instinctively repelled by that which America finds vile.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Karl Rove Wannabe Gives Advice to Hillary

I love politics. I really do. I’ve been watching the races on both sides and it’s like heroin. I can’t get enough of it. I fancy myself an amateur Karl Rove, always thinking of diabolical ways for one candidate to get an advantage over another. In that spirit, I’m going to give some advice to Hillary. God knows she needs it.

She seems like such a smart person (corrupt, pandering, etc.), but smart. And yet from the get go, her campaign strategy has been a mess. She started off with inevitability. That didn’t work because people don’t like being told who they have to vote for. Then she moved to the theme of experience. If that motivated voters, we would have had President Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd as Veep. Next she unleashed Bill, which painted her as the candidate who likes to pull the wings off butterflies. Yes! a tired old puppy kicker who you have no choice but to vote for. Now that’ll get the voters excited! I mean really, how many millions has she payed to the morons running her campaign? Okay, enough with trashing the woman. I don’t want to be a pit bull kicker.

What her Million Dollar Brain Trust has failed to focus on is simply that a lot of people can’t stand Hillary and everyone loves Obama, and because they have ignored that basic truth they have been unable to ask the simple question “how can we make people like her, and not like him?” So here’s my take on what Hillary should do. Let’s break this into two parts. First, why does everyone hate her? And second, why does everybody love Obama?

I have heard people on her campaign staff, people from the Clinton White House, people in the media, and even Republican politicians, say that in person she is friendly, genuine, funny. She’s charming! But when she’s on stage she’s shrill, fake, unlikable, and yet at the same time somehow manages to be boring. Quite a feat, if I do say so myself. So how do we fix this? First of all, look at what’s different between the two settings. The charming Hillary is talking to people one on one, without a script or talking points. The un-charming Hillary is talking to large crowds from a script trying to squeeze in as many talking points as possible. Solution: get rid of the crowds, scripts and talking points.

From this point forward, every Clinton campaign rally should consist of the following: Hillary will walk out on stage and say “I’m here, so we can get to know each other.” She’ll then bring a randomly chosen member of the audience (no plants, please) up on stage to sit down with her and the two of them will have a conversation. For a full half hour she will listen to anything the voter wants to say, she will answer the voters questions. They’ll talk. And she will do it from the heart, one on one without a script and without talking points. If it devolves into questions like “why do you always wear pants suits?”, or even “why did you stay with your husband after he did all that stuff?”, so much the better. It will make her human.

Every voter in that room and by extension, every voter watching on TV will vicariously be sitting in that chair, talking to the charming Hillary that people know in private. Here’s an added twist for authenticity (something else she desperately needs). Rather than have the voter selected by campaign staff, ask the news media to pick an average voter out of the crowd for her. You can’t get more open and authentic than that. If she started doing this, first of all she would get all the media attention in the world, because it’s such an unconventional, and more to the point un-Hillary thing to do. The media would eat it up like free scotch on the press plane. (Yes, I know you don’t eat scotch, but what the hell, you get the point.)

Now that we’ve made people like Hillary, we have to flip to the other side of the coin and make people not like Obama. To do this we first have to understand why they do like him. Last year he was ranked as the most liberal member of the United States Senate. More liberal than John Kerry, more liberal than Ted Kennedy, more liberal than Bernie Sanders of Vermont who proudly describes himself as a socialist. He is a left wing extremist, even by the standards of Democratic primary voters, so we know it’s not his policy positions that are attracting so many people. We know it’s not his competence and experience because, well, he doesn’t have any. Is it his sterling character? He may be cleaner than she is, but he ain’t squeaky. So what is it? What’s his secret weapon that makes young girls swoon and tough men cry? Answer: he knows how to give a speech.

Actually, that’s one hell of an understatement. Saying that Barack Obama knows how to give a speech is like saying that Muhammad Ali knew how to throw a punch. He’s probably the most gifted American political orator of the past half-century. Reagan, Kennedy, FDR, he may be better than all of them. That’s one hell of a political weapon, but it’s his only one. Without his amazing speaking ability he would still be an obscure state Senator tangled up with a shady developer. If you could take his one weapon away from him, he’d fold like an empty cheap suit. The question is how? Answer: turn his eloquence into a liability.

Hillary needs to start a media campaign pushing one message, that Obama’s ability to give an amazing speech is hiding the fact that he’s not competent to be president. It has to be done gently (remember, no puppy kicking) but it must be clear, and it must be consistent. The goal is to create an association in the voters’ minds between his soaring rhetoric and a complete lack of substance. If this message can be driven home, every time a voter hears Obama give an inspirational stemwinder, it will trigger the secondary thought “Wow, he really can give a speech. It’s too bad he can’t do anything else.”

This attack won’t work with everybody. Too many people have already joined his cult and won’t listen to any criticism of their new Messiah, but it will work with some people. It will work with uncommitted voters, and more importantly, it will work with the media because deep down they already know it’s true. They just need someone to give them permission to say that the emperor has no clothes.

So that’s my advice to Hillary. Be charming in public and convince voters that Obama is an idiot with a great voice. I can’t guarantee it will be enough to turn things around this late in the game, but it’s the best chance she’s got. Or she can just give up and join us in welcoming our new ObaMaster.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Florida Doesn’t Matter

The Republican nomination for President has already been decided, and no one seems to notice.

The conventional wisdom is that if John McCain wins Florida his momentum going into super Tuesday on February 5 will be unstoppable and he will roll to the nomination, but if McCain loses Florida, the race will be thrown into chaos. The conventional wisdom is wrong and it’s easy to see why if you stop and look carefully at the various possibilities that lie ahead.

Right now, the average of the Florida polls show McCain ahead of Romney by a slim 1 point with both of them going up. Giuliani is five points back in third place and dropping like a rock. In the absence of an electoral earthquake, there are only two possible outcomes for Florida. Either McCain will beat Romney by a few points with Giuliani in a disappointing third place finish, or Romney will beat McCain by a few points with Giuliani in third.

Where the pundits get it wrong is in their understanding of the consequences of a McCain loss. Yes, if McCain wins Florida he is unstoppable, but if McCain loses Florida he is guaranteed the nomination just the same.

Let’s assume that Romney wins Florida, with McCain in second place, and Giuliani in third. On first glance, a bad night for John McCain. In reality, it gives him the nomination. Giuliani has said repeatedly that he will win Florida, and his advisers have admitted privately that if he does not win or come in a very close second he’s out of the race. With either a McCain or Romney victory in Florida, Giuliani will either officially drop out or become a zombie, (i.e. everybody will know he’s dead except him), and the bulk of Giuliani’s voters will move to their second choice, John McCain.

Look at the big super Tuesday states. In California McCain leads Romney by 9 points. In New York he leads by 10, in New Jersey by 15, in Pennsylvania by 23, and in every one of those states Giuliani has more support than Romney. Even assuming that the gap between McCain and Romney narrows by a few points after being edged out in Florida, the votes McCain will pick up from former Giuliani supporters will more than make up the difference.

John McCain becoming the nominee does not depend on his winning Florida, it depends on Giuliani losing and being forced out of the race. The minute that happens, the GOP race is over.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Racism in New Hampshire

The New Hampshire results are in, and the big loser is the American pollster. The polls consistently predicted an Obama victory over Clinton by 8 points. Clinton won by 3. How do you explain all the major polls being wrong by 11 points?

I was just watching Hardball with Chris Matthews and the consensus opinion was that it was the Bradley effect. For those of you that don’t know, the Bradley effect is named for Tom Bradley, African-American former Mayor of Los Angeles. In the 1982 race for California governor, a large number of white voters who did not want to vote for Bradley because he was black, were embarrassed to tell pollsters for fear that they would be thought of as racist.

The round table discussion on Hardball focused on why the polls were wrong about Obama and how race might be involved. You’d think that people who make the Big Pundit Money would actually look at the numbers. Evidently they were too busy filing their expense reports, so how about we take a peek? Below are the RealClearPolitics.com final poll average, the actual vote and the difference between the two.

______________RCP Avg.______Votes______Poll Error

Obama________38.3%_________36.4%_____-1.9%

Clinton________30.0%_________39.0%______9.0%

Edwards_______18.3%_________16.9%_____-1.4%

Richardson______5.7%__________4.6%_____-1.1%

It doesn’t take Karl Rove to see that the polls were reasonably accurate for Obama, Edwards and Richardson. To a reasonable degree of accuracy, voters who told pollsters they were going to vote for the African-American, the Hispanic or the Rich White Male, were telling the truth. The error was in the polling for Hillary Clinton.

There was no Bradley effect. Lily white New Hampshire is no more racist than lily white Iowa was when it gave Barack Obama a huge victory. But I suppose that when your liberal angst compels you to believe that America is still a racist country and that nothing has changed in the past quarter century, looking objectively at the numbers may be a bit much to ask.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

1 Person, 1 Hour

A Better Social Security

- Pay scheduled benefits for current retirees and previously earned benefits for current workers

- Workers would put 3% of income into a Federal Thrift Savings Plan style program with a 100% government match up to $1,000

- Workers would not accumulate additional social security credits

- Federal guaranteed minimum benefit

- Peg future payroll tax rate to levels needed to pay current retirees benefits, previously earned benefits, minimum guaranteed benefit and savings match

Advantages: As people retire with decreasing claims on the old system, the payroll tax rate required would drop by roughly half. Workers would retire with more money. The poor would accumulate capital, reducing wealth inequality. The system would be permanently solvent

Disadvantages: Politicians would lose Social Security as a political weapon.

A Better Medicare

- Replace Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP with one new program

- Retain current Medicare benefits for everyone currently 55 and over

- People currently under 55 would use the new system permanently

- Provide individual health insurance tax deduction

- Phase out employer health insurance tax deduction

- Create dedicated refundable health insurance tax credit (health insurance voucher) on a sliding scale for the low income

- Institute adjusted community rating and guaranteed issue

- Persons choosing not to take the health insurance deduction/credit would have that money placed in a health insurance pool

- The health insurance pool would be used to purchase private insurance for the uninsured

- Insurance for the uninsured would be purchased from several companies based on who could provide the best coverage for the amount in the health insurance pool

Advantages: Every American would have health insurance. The current $60 Trillion Medicare unfunded liability would be avoided. No one would loose their insurance when they loose their job. Every American would be able to choose the free market insurance product that fits their life best.

Disadvantages: Politicians would loose the ability to buy votes by adding benefits.

A Better Tax Code

- Individuals and corporations would have the choice of using the current tax code or a new flat tax

- The flat tax rate would be revenue neutral by static analysis (approx. 19%)

- Flat tax deductions for individual health insurance and retirement contributions only

- Exemptions of $15,000 per adult and $5,000 per dependent

- Eliminate capital gains tax

Advantages: The economic distortions of the tax code would be eliminated. Economic growth would increase, producing greater tax receipts at a lower rate

Disadvantages: Politicians would not be able to sell tax loopholes to the highest bidder.

My point is not that these are the best solutions, but that they took 1 person 1 hour. Congress has been unable to solve any of these problems for decades. The problem is not policy, it’s politicians and it’s our fault for electing them.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Our Next President - Naughty or Nice?

A number of media stories have cropped up lately that are very critical of Rudy Giuliani. The attacks have taken a variety of forms, but there has been a unifying theme; that Giuliani as Mayor was a mean son of a bitch. Since the New York media leans hard left, I understand why they would be pushing this stuff.

I don’t know if it’s true. I wasn’t there when he was Mayor. I only know the image he is presenting now on the campaign trail, a down to earth guy with a self depreciating sense of humor. But maybe it’s all true. Maybe Giuliani was willing to throw elbows, play hardball and run roughshod over people to get things done.

In the fat, lazy 1990’s, that wasn’t what we wanted. We wanted a happy President who felt our pain, but the 1990’s are gone. Now we’re in a global war with radical Islamic terrorists who are willing to blow up their own children if that’s what it takes to come here and kill us.

In this new age where our survival hangs in the balance, I want my President to be tough as nails with the determination of a pit bull.

The New York Times says that Rudy is really a son of a bitch. I hope they’re right.

Friday, August 17, 2007

It’s Time to Choose

I write editorials fairly frequently. I enjoy writing and it’s nice to see them published. I usually try to write something witty and insightful. But not today.

Today, I’m writing because I’m scared. America, the country that I love, is headed for disaster and no one seems to care.

Medicare is going to bankrupt my country. Yeah, I know. “Medicare? That’s sooo boring! I want to read about something exiting and emotional like Iraq or illegal immigration.” Today, quite frankly, I don’t care what you want to hear. Today, I’m writing to tell you what you need to hear.

We have written into law promises that we can not pay. Medicare is facing a deficit of 60 Trillion dollars. In case that number is too big to have any meaning for you, that’s five times the value of everything America produces in a year, all goods, all services, everything.

We have hard choices to make and we need to start with the basics. Why was Medicare created? It was created because some elderly American’s couldn’t afford decent health care. Instead of focusing on that limited problem, we have created a system that promises to pay all the medical bills of everyone over 65 and in doing so, we have insulated American health care from the normal market forces that enforce financial discipline in every other sector of our economy.

This has happened not because it’s good for the country, but because it’s good for politicians. Every politician knows that they can get votes by promising more benefits to voters. The fact that they are destroying the country in the process is irrelevant. They know that when the bill comes due, they will be long gone. If you try to take a benefit away, voters will take your job away. If you try to save future generations from disaster, well, the young usually don’t vote and generations unborn aren’t in your district.

I know this sounds cynical. It’s very hard to believe that our leaders would care more about their jobs than about their country. Is it really possible that they want a partisan political weapon more than to see future generations prosper?

I’m very sorry to tell you this, but the answer is yes.

Don’t believe me? There is an easy test to find out for yourself. If you ever have the opportunity to ask your congressman a question, ask this: “Do you think someone making $20,000/year should pay Bill Gates medical bills when he turns 65?” They will dance around the question and make a variety of convoluted excuses, but the basic answer will be Yes.

For the future of our country, this is insane. For politics, it makes perfect sense.

You have a choice. You can rise up and threaten candidates with your vote. You can demand they put the good of the nation ahead of their partisan political self interest. Or you can ignore a problem that seems so abstract, so far off, and let the disaster come.

Choose now.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Politics 101 - How to Make Everyone Hate You

Welcome class.

Today we will discuss how to alienate voters in a political campaign. Please open your textbooks to Chapter 12 - John McCain.

At the top of page 85, it lists the cardinal rule of politics: Know Your Target Voter. Let’s examine how McCain selected his target voters.

In the 2000 campaign, McCain targeted Republican and Independent voters who rejected the religious right and politics as usual. He appealed to this audience in a speech in February 2000:

“Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.”

His target was the “Reform Voter”. In a general election, this would have been a winning strategy, but was not quite enough to overcome the influence of traditional conservatives in the primaries.

Approaching the 2008 race, McCain shifted to target the traditional conservative base. He embraced Jerry Falwell and tried to portray himself as the establishment candidate. He thought he could add this voter block to the reform voters he attracted in 2000.

Does anyone in class know why this was destined to fail? Anyone? …No Mr. Spicoli, it’s not lunch time, put your hand down.

The answer is that in politics, as in life, you can make an enemy much faster than you can make a friend. By abandoning his maverick image and embracing the establishment right, he immediately lost the support of reform voters, but could not attract traditional Republican base voters, who still remembered their opposition to him from 2000.

Is everyone following me? I still see some confused faces, so I’ll give you an example.

Let’s say you meet two strangers. You give the first one a candy bar, and you punch the second one in the face. You now have one friend and one enemy. Ten minutes later, you punch the first one in the face and give the second one a candy bar. Do you still have one friend and one enemy, just with the rolls reversed? No, you now have two people who are angry at you, and don’t trust you.

McCain compounded this dual alienation by shifting again in the middle of the campaign to lead the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Instead of a punch in the face for the traditional base, this was a kick to the groin.

By not remaining focused on his target voters, McCain lost both the reform voters he attracted in 2000, and traditional base voters in 2008.

I see we’re about out of time for class today. For next Thursday, please write a 10 page paper contrasting McCain’s voter targeting with the Giulani campaign’s consistent targeting of defense/fiscal conservatives and social moderates.

Class dismissed.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Great Education Experiment

Of the 50 largest public school systems in the country, 14 give their students less than a 50-50 chance of graduating in 4 years. Across the nation, 1/3 of all high school students don’t graduate on time.

Without functional schools, the next generation of Americans will not succeed and America will fail with them.

Our schools are crying out for reform, yet our public officials refuse to take action. The usual pattern is for special interest groups to claim any specific reform will hurt the children, when the truth is it will hurt them. School boards, unions and politicians protect their jobs while the children are forgotten.

We won’t have bold education reform until we prove what works in the real world …so let’s find out.

Detroit has by far the worst large school system in the country. Only 22% of it’s 9th graders graduate after 4 years. The next worst is Baltimore with a 38% graduation rate. If ever there were two school systems ripe for experimentation, these are it.

I propose using these two cities to conduct a grand experiment. One randomly chosen city would turn its school system over to the Heritage Foundation, a highly respected, conservative think tank, to run for 7 years. The city would continue to provide the current level of funding, but give Heritage absolute authority to implement cutting edge conservative educational reforms. The other city would turn its public schools over to the Brookings Institution, an equally respected liberal think tank, for similar experimentation with liberal reforms.

An obvious question is, why would these two cities agree to give up control over their schools? The altruistic answer is that they have proven themselves incompetent to educate their children. But if these schools are failing specifically because administrators and politicians care more about their own power than the education of our children, they will need additional motivation.

The irresistible incentive would be a 4 year college scholarship for every graduating senior in both cities. $20,000 per graduate would be sufficient to pay tuition and fees for a 50/50 mix of community college and lower cost state universities. Even if graduation rates skyrocket (which is the goal, after all), the total cost of the experiment would be under $1 billion. Congress thought it was a brilliant idea to spend $320 million to build a bridge in Alaska to an island of 50 people. With respect to our wise representatives, this would be a better way to spend our money.

The results of this grand experiment would be able to guide us in restoring our educational system for a generation. We wouldn’t have to argue and speculate about what to do. We would know.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Brief Window of Opportunity

Every generation or so, a brief window opens when it is possible to get something big done.

A large part of the outrage against the Republican 109th Congress was over irresponsible spending. Every American has now heard of “earmarks” and the infamous “bridge to nowhere”. That outrage has developed into a consensus that pork barrel spending is out of control.

The line item veto has been requested by every President in the last generation and has been accepted by both parties as an effective measure to control wasteful spending, yet a constitutional amendment to give the President the line item veto has never passed.

The problem is that members of Congress don’t want to give a President of the other party increased power over spending. That’s why the next few months are an unusual opportunity.

A line item veto amendment would not be ratified by the states before the next President takes office and right now, no one knows which party will have the White House in 2009. There is no incumbent President or Vice President on the ballot and opinion polls don’t show a significant advantage for either party.

Republicans have an incentive to pass the amendment to reclaim their image of fiscal responsibility. Democrats have an incentive to pass it to show that they are better stewards of the public’s money than Republicans were.

All that’s needed now is a nudge. That’s where Presidential primary politics comes into play.

Both parties have a front runner that needs to solidify their position. Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton could conspire …sorry, I meant rise above partisan politics, to jointly ask Congress to give the line item veto to the next President.

This would benefit them both. They would have more control over the budget if elected, they would be seen as rising above partisanship (which the public loves), and they would solidify themselves as presumptive nominees by showing that they are taking action to solve America’s problems even before they step foot into the oval office.

This window of opportunity opened when the two candidates became front runners and gained an incentive to work together to solidify their positions. It will close when they are assured of the nominations and start running against each other.

In politics, opportunities are everywhere. They lay on the ground like leaves in the fall. I will never cease to be amazed that millions are spent on consultants who can’t see them.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Battlefield Congress

Politics is an inseparable part of war. It is a front that must be defended. If you don’t, the enemy can win as surely as if they destroyed your army in the field. In the Iraq war, this front is undefended.

Eventually, Democrats, joined by an increasing number of Republicans will impose a schedule for withdrawal from Iraq. If the President fails to develop a plan to fight that political aspect of the conflict, he will loose the war.

Think of it in classical military terms. You are fighting a war on multiple fronts. You are making slow progress that could lead to victory with enough time, but on one front the enemy is massing an overwhelming force that can not be stopped. Any first year West Point cadet will tell you that the appropriate tactic is a delaying action.

DOD defines a delaying action as “An operation in which a force under pressure trades space for time by slowing down the enemy’s momentum.”

In other words, retreat slowly in one place, to buy time for your other forces to win the war.

After Gen. Petraeus gives his report in September, it will be too late. Pressure in Congress to impose an immediate withdrawal will become irresistible. Only before that point does the President have the option of announcing a time table for withdrawal that is long enough and flexible enough to leave open the possibility of victory.

Just prior to the September report, the President should announce:

“The Baghdad security plan has improved the situation on the ground sufficiently to begin the transfer of primary security responsibility for all of Iraq’s provinces to Iraqi forces. Therefore, consistent with military realities on the ground, we set a goal of transitioning from our current 155,000 man combat force to a 75,000 man training, advisory and counter terrorism role to begin within 6 months and to be completed within 18 months.”

With this announcement, the President would de-fang critics who are demanding immediate withdrawal. Any who complain that it isn’t fast enough or that the President leaves himself too much wiggle room in “consistent with military realities on the ground” would look like extremists who will accept nothing less than immediate defeat.

It would dramatically increase the support of the American people, who at heart, just want to be reassured that the war isn’t going to go on forever, and most importantly, it would buy the President additional time to produce a positive result in Iraq.

Embracing a time line of his own design would give the President a free hand in the conduct of the war until nearly the end of his Presidency. Failure to recognize the imperative of defending the political front deprives the President of that advantage.