Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Obama and the Bubble

According to several news reports, President Elect Obama is having trouble adjusting to the "bubble", the press pool that accompanies him anytime he is in public. This is understandable. He is young and has never been in a position that needed round-the-clock protection. It is even more understandable when you know the reason for the press pool.

Its purpose is not to report on how many grains are in the presidential sandwich. It is really the presidential death watch.

Prior to 1981 the press only accompanied the president when he made major public appearances. Then, in the Spring of 1981, a lone gunman shot President Reagan. This was a major disaster for the press. They didn't have anyone on the scene.

It was decided that, after that, no public appearance by the President would be too small to cover. Just in case.

Ironically, that was also the last serious attempt at assassinating the president. The Secret Service took the incident as seriously as the press and tightened security a lot.

Myths About Israel and Gaza

Lorelei Kelly of the Huffington Post has an entry that is typical of the left's reaction to Israel's attack on the Gaza Strip.

Remember that the attack was provoked by constant missile attacks coming from Gaza and being fired into civilian areas of Israel. Also remember that Hamas fires these missiles from civilian areas specifically so that reprisals will hurt non-combatants.

Kelly says:
"Defense" doesn't mean the same thing when one antagonist is a state and the other a networked organization. It's like the US Army fighting the Salvation Army. It's like Bin Laden versus the USA. The same sets of policies and tools don't work anymore. They make things worse.
Hamas is not a networked organization. They are the elected government of Gaza. This is different from the terrorists firing missiles from Lebanon.

Why any of us ever believed that bombing terrified civilians would somehow inspire them to overthrow their horrid leaders is beyond me. And why any government thinks that killing lots of civilians on the side where the leaders use civilians as human shields will somehow be a dealbreaker has got to be the new definition of insanity.
From this you would think that Israel is indiscriminately firing missiles at Gaza. Actually, Israel has targeted their response about as precisely as is possible. At the same time, Israel is trying to convince the people of Gaza that their government got them into this mess. The people of Gaza elected a government that promised the destruction of Israel. You have to expect some sort of reprisal when they act on their promise.

It rings pretty hollow when those of us viewing can not only see who is doing the killing, but who is doing the dying. Policemen? Shoppers? University personnel? United Nations employees? Little kids? 3 Israelis vs. 300 Palestinians?
Like many on the left, Kelly seems to see all deaths as civilians. Current news reports indicate that only 60 of the 360 deaths so far are civilian. That means that more than 80% of those killed are combatants. Not bad when you remember that Hamas hides inside the civilian population.

In less than two decades, the measures of national security have gone from being rational, linear and technological, to random, chaotic and very human. Those who want to survive need to modernize their toolkit accordingly: More persuasion, less coercion. More prevention, less reaction. More participation, less exclusion. More people, less machines, More life strategies, less death strategies.
Kelly has totally lost it here. An organization that is dedicated to destroying Israel is attacking them regularly and she wants Israel to make nice in the hope that it will be reciprocated. In fact, Israel already tried making nice when it handed control of Gaza back to the Palistinians. This was going to be the showcase for how other occupied areas would be given back to the Palestinians. Instead it became a new front. It was seen as an act of weakness and an invitation for attacks. Now both sides are paying the price for that.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Who Did Condi Vote For?

There is a rumor that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice voted for Barack Obama. Just how likely is this?

Remember that Obama didn't run against John McCain. He ran against George W. Bush. McCain was dismissed as Bush's third term. Obama's complaints against Bush's foreign policy were not limited to the Iraq war. He often criticized other aspects of Bush's foreign policy including the policy of not visiting countries that we openly hostile to us. Keep in mind that, as Secretary of State, Rice influenced and implemented the policies that Obama ran against.

For Condi to vote for Obama then she would not only have to overlook what he said about foreign policy under her, she would have to support a completely different vision.

I'm sure that many Obama supporters would like this but it just isn't likely.

So why did the subject come up in the first place? She seemed happy that a black man won the presidency.

Then there is the reason that cannot be spoken - that, as a black woman, she would automatically vote for a black man regardless of his positions. This is a vile bit of racial stereotyping.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Obama and Gays

During the campaign Barack Obama made it clear that he did not support gay marriage but was open to civil partnerships. John McCain said pretty much the same thing with the exception that he felt that it should be up to the states to decide. During their debate, Biden and Palin said the same thing. In essence, gay marriage was a non-issue in the presidential election with all candidates agreeing that gay marriage is bad but civil partnerships are fine.

Despite this unanimity, gays overwhelmingly voted for Obama. Many were convinced that Obama was secretly more pro-gay than he let on or took positions without listening to what Obama actually said.

Enter the Reverend Rick Warren who was invited to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration. Gays are having a fit because of Warren's statements on gay marriage.

So what are Warren's actual beliefs on the subject? He said some rather strong things about gay marriage, lumping it in with other things that are banned from marriage (incest, child molesting, and polygamy). He has since apologised for the comparison. He has also said that he is in favor of universal rights and supports civil partnerships (although possibly not under that name). He is not anti-gay and has a history of support for people with AIDS.

In other words, Warren's views on gays and marriage are not very different than Obama's stated views. So what's the problem?

Two factors are going on. One is, as I said before, that many gays expected Obama to be a stealth-supporter of gay rights. The Instapundit pointed out in March that many of Obama's supporters were counting on him to be lying on the campaign trail. This is a side-effect of his cult of personality. He encouraged people to believe in him personally as opposed to his policies.

The other factor is an aversion to religion by the political left. A few years a go a woman was kidnapped but convinced her captor to release her by reading passages from Warren's best-seller, A Purpose Driven Life. The left made fun of her. Others have taken issue with his belief in creationism.

It would be interesting to see what Warren's critics said about the Reverend Wright, Obama's former pastor. Most Obama supporters were willing to give Obama a pass for listening to Wright for years. A common complaint was that critics were picking and choosing quotes from Wright's long career. How many of those people are now doing the same thing with Warren?

Obama has said that he wants to be president of all Americans. Warren has a wide following and his selection is seen as an offering to the religious right. Obama's critics seem to want him to only be the president of the progressive left. They are not doing and favors for either Obama or the country.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When was the Nativity?

Some astronomers announced that they calculated when Christ was born: June, 2 BC. This is based on a conjunction that would have produced a bright star in the sky. There are a lot of problems with this.

First, our image of the nativity comes from a combination of nativity scenes, songs, and centuries-old tradition. We imagine the three wise men arriving at the same time as the shepherds. After all, the nativity scenes show all of them together. At most, they arrived twelve nights after the birth (hence the Twelve Days of Christmas). Outside a star has lit the night as bright as daylight.

Here are some of the problems:

The bible doesn't say how old Jesus was when the wise men found him. Since Herod ordered all boys under two to be killed, it may have been months.

The bible doesn't say how many wise men there were, either. It lists three gifts relating to air (frankincense), water (myrrh), and earth (gold). Since there were three gifts and the ancient world was divided into three continents, that there were wise men from each continent, each one carrying a distinct gift and representing a different age. From that assumption, names and histories were added to the wise men but none of that is in the bible.

We think of the star as being bright but the wise men seemed to be the only ones who noticed it. In an age when everyone was familiar with the stars, it must have been pretty dim to have escaped notice. It is also unclear how the star could have been in the east. Except for polar stars (in the north and south), all stars rise in the east and set in the west. Or, more accurately, the earth's rotation makes them pass by a spot from the east to the west.

The twelve days come from the Roman calendar. They set aside a twelve day celebration called Saturnalia at the end of their year. Christmas replaced Saturnalia but kept some of the older secular traditions. Since this date had nothing to do with the actual birth of Christ, people have been speculating about the real date ever since. Which brings us in a circle.

One thing that we do know, Christ was born. The actual date was not considered important at the time so Christmas is as good a time as any to celebrate it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Caroline and Sarah

Some conservatives are complaining about the difference in treatment that Caroline Kennedy is getting compared to Sarah Palin. Caroline announced that she wanted Hillary Clinton's senate seat and has been given a kid glove treatment. Compare that with Sarah Palin who had every aspect of her life examined.

I don't think that there is much to this comparison. Some people examining the pair have pointed out that different offices are involved. There is something to this but I don't think that this is the real reason for the difference. A bigger factor is the circumstances of

Palin was running for office and Kennedy is hoping to be appointed. More important, Obama supporters hoped that they could use Palin's background as an issue against McCain. Because of the zeal of the Obama supporters, nothing was out-of-bounds. Any rumor, no matter how preposterous, was treated as legitimate.

In contrast, Kennedy has no opponent, just a few rivals. There is no organized campaign doing opposition research nor are there crazed bloggers at Kos or Huffington who are ready to pounce on every rumor.

There is the issue of qualifications. Palin is better qualified by any measure (except an ideological one) since she has actually held elected office. Kennedy has made little public splash.

Now, many candidates for the Senate have little qualification. John Edwards comes to mind. Under normal circumstances the candidate has to convince the voters that this does not matter. It may be possible that the voters of New York would agree that having two uncles in the Senate (plus a father in the Senate and the White House) is enough. After all, they agreed that being married to a president qualifies you to be a senator. But the voters are not being asked.

That's where the real objection to Caroline comes in. She is asking to be admitted to the Senate on the basis of her family, not her own accomplishments. The voters might agree with this but they will not get a voice on the subject until 2010. In the meantime, a single politician gets to decide.

Political dynasties make me nervous. There are a lot of people who got a leg up in politics because of relatives. As with any hereditary system, the strengths of one generation do not always carry forward to the next. I can point to former Ohio governor Taft as an example.  Ten years ago when the office was open, there were two main candidates, Taft and Ken Blackwell. Both held elected office in Ohio - Taft was Secretary of State and Blackwell was Attorney General. Both had paid their dues. Further, people who actually knew Taft said that he was incompetent as Secretary of State (I know people who worked for Taft who confirmed this). But Taft got to be governor. How? The movers and shakers felt that they owed the Taft family.

That is the problem with Caroline. We don't know how competent she actually is and the people who are in a position to know might be willing to overlook her faults because of who her father was.

On the other hand, Sarah Palin rose on her own merits.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What's going on with the auto bailout

Last week the proposed bailout of the big 3 auto manufacturers died after an impasse was reached. The agreement called for the UAW (United Auto Workers) to reduce their compensation package to be competitive with foreign manufacturers who have plants in the US. The Senate wanted this to happen in 2009, the UAW refused to consider it before 2011. This has been spun several different ways.

Democrats are spinning it two different ways. The first is to blame the Republicans in general. This overlooks the fact that ten Republicans supported the agreement with the 2011 date. The Democrats could have passed it if all members were on board.

The other Democrat spin is to point out that senators from southern states with foreign car plants are against the bailout. This might be true but it does not follow that this is a cause and effect relationship. The implication is that these senators are trying to sabotage the big three on behalf of their clients (although no one has come out and stated it this way). I think that demographics have more to do with this. Most Republican senators are from the south and most foreign plants are in the south. The Republicans could just as easily be opposing the bailout on principle.

Further to the left, posters on Huffington have accused the Republicans of union-busting, perpetuating class warfare, and hoping for a depression. All of these either assume good-faith motives on the part of the UAW or figure that the issue is so important that the bailout must happen regardless.

We should keep a few things in mind about all of this. The first is that the UAW is in the wrong. The big three are hurting now. GM claims that they will be out of business by the end of the year without a bailout. The bailout will not solve their problems. Their problem is not that they are not making the cars that people want to buy. Their problem is that they can't make money by selling anything smaller than an SUV. The only reason that they make smaller cars is to meet CAFE standards. They have to give away four small cars in order to make a profit on an SUV. Take away the SUVs and they don't make any profit. The only way that they can make money on smaller cars is by cutting production costs and the UAW is a big part of that.

The UAW argues that labor costs are only around $1,800 per car. This may be true but labor costs are negotiable. Steel costs are not.

So what is really going on? First, the Democrats are beholden to the UAW. Unions have given them a lot of support over the years. Republicans don't owe unions anything. That means that Democrats have to support the UAW but Republicans are likely to be skeptical or even hostile to the union.

Second, the UAW is stalling because they are hoping to get out of their commitment to become competitive. They are hoping that by 2011, with a solid Democratic congressional majority they will be able to renege without penalty.

Third, after ignoring their principles in bailing out the financial markets, Republicans are regrouping. Many believe that the election was a sign that Republicans need to stand for something. Public opinion supports them on this, also. A lot of the electorate was upset about the $700 billion already allocated. Further revelations that the money has been spent differently than intended has made Congress and the electorate leery of other bailouts. A solid majority of the country backs the Republicans on this.

I suspect that Republican strategists are hoping to tarnish Obama's image with this issue. Bush has come forward with a bridge-loan from money already allocated for other purposes. This will run out early in 2009 dumping the problem in Obama's lap. This will put Obama in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between his union supporters and the general public.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Culture Wars 2008

The Holiday Gift Season started last week with Black Friday and will continue another three weeks until the Winter Holiday. Cities and states are lighting their holiday trees. Businesses are counting on retail sales to rebound from last year.

The most surprising thing this year is that some companies are using the term "Christmas" again. Starting a few years ago, most retailers scrubbed the word from their lexicon. Lowes had specials on their Holiday Trees. A search on other company's web sites for "christmas" was redirected to "holiday".

All of this was pretty silly. The only reason people are buying presents is to give them at Christmas. Hanuka and Kwanzaa represent a tiny fraction of the gift-giving public. According to legend, the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday because that is when companies' books go from the red (loss) to black (profit). Without Christmas sales, our retailers would be out of business.

That's why they start putting up decorations and playing music sometime in November. They want to put you in the mood to shop early. Studies have shown that people who shop early are more likely to buy extra last-minute gifts in late December.

But a few years ago retailers got it into their heads that shoppers might be offended by a reminder that there is a religious root to the holiday. So they rechristened (an ironic word in this context) Christmas into the Winter Holiday. They were following the lead of governments who had been hit with lawsuits to ether banish Christmas from public-owned spaces or to allow the inclusion of offensive images such as a KKK-sponsored white cross. The thing is that private enterprises are not under the same restrictions. They can wish you whatever greeting they want.

Things got so bad that many people felt self-conscious about wishing private individuals a "merry Christmas", opting instead to wish them a "happy holiday", even when they knew that they were talking to Christians.

Things are a bit different this year. As shown here, some retailers are now using "Christmas" outright or including it somewhere in their ads. Not all are, though. Banana Republic and Old Navy are still forbidding the word.

My suggestion is that people do their Christmas shopping at stores that use the "C" word. Stores that cater to those who are offended by the word can have all of the Hanuka and Kwanzaa shoppers. See if they stay in business.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Obama's Cabinet

A lot has been made of Obama's cabinet. The most common comparison is to Lincoln and his team of rivals. I'd like to point out a closer resemblance to a more recent president - George W. Bush.

Lincoln appointed four rival candidates to the presidency to his cabinet. Obama appointed Hillary Clinton. Bush appointed Colin Powell (who had seriously considered running for President). Neither Obama not Bush appointed more than a single rival and both appointed the rival as Secretary of State.

For the rest of his appointments, Bush chose a combination of Republican office-holders and people from his father's term. Obama has chosen several Democratic office-holders and people from the Clinton White House.

Choosing a cabinet is only part of the issue. The other issue is how you handle them.

Bush has an MBA from Harvard School of Business and used the Harvard model for successful corporate presidents. This consists of filling a room with smart people and allowing them to argue out an issue. The president may ask some questions but does not lead the discussion. Instead he thanks everyone then makes the decision on his own based on the input he received. When Bush said that he was the "decider" he was probably referring to this.

There are strengths and weaknesses with this approach. The downsides are that it leaves the president detached from the discussion. He is not supposed to take sides. Rather, he is to weigh the alternatives and pass judgment. It makes a president reluctant to reverse decisions. It is also nearly impossible for a president to avoid having favorites or giving more weight to the sides that he prefers. It also gives an advantage to the more eloquent advocate. All of these problems have come up at one time or another during the Bush administration. It also cultivates a culture of yes-men.

The alternative is for the president to take an active part in the policy arguments. The downside of this are that it diminished the president's authority and that the process of taking sides can alienate people on the losing side.

We have no idea how Obama will handle his new cabinet. His supporters probably assume that he will be more hand-on than Bush. He insists that he wants people who will disagree with him but he has no history to show that he pull this off.

Obama has also been compared to FDR. So far there is no indication that he is assembling his own brain trust.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hanging Chads 2008

During the 2000 Florida recount, voters were appalled to discover how many punched card ballots were regularly discarded. There was a groundswell movement to replace them with something better. The first reaction was to switch to voting machines. They offer several advantages. There are not overvotes (voting for two candidates) and they can warn about undervotes (not voting for all candidates). Counting is swift and accurate.

But as the 2004 election neared, some Democrats noticed that the voting machine manufacturers were Republicans and the head of one of them promised to "do whatever it takes to re-elect President Bush". They ignored the fact that he said this at a fund-raiser and assumed that he meant that his voting machines could be manipulated to steal the election. After Bush won the 2004 vote we saw several stories where someone found suspicious voting pattern that might indicate fraud. None of these stood up to scrutiny but the controversy still caused a change in voting machine requirements. They would have to print a log at the same time that the vote was recorded. The voter could check this to be sure that his vote had been recorded properly. If there was a question about the machine's accuracy, the log could be compared with the tabulated count.

This should have ended it but Democrats were still convinced that voting machines could not be trusted. They settled on optical mark ballots as being the best way to vote. Ohio Secretary of State Brunner even commissioned a study that proved that, given unlimited access to voting machines, it was possible to alter the results. The study did not evaluate optical mark ballots but Brunner still maintained that it proved that the paper ballots were better.

As envisioned by Brunner, the voter would fill out a ballot by filling in the circle next to the candidate's name. The voter would then feed the ballot into a scanner which would verify that there were not overcounts or undercounts. The ballots would then be collected and transferred to a central location where they would be counted.

So how did that work out? A judicial recount in Florida came up with conflicting results. After hand-counting the ballots the officials found that the optical mark readers were inconsistent. Some ballots would be approved even though the circle wasn't completely filled out. Others were rejected for no discernible reason.

Things are even worse in Minnesota. Look at the challenged ballots here and say that voter intent in always clear with optical mark ballots. Control of the Senate may hing on whether a ballot should be disqualified because the voter wrote "Lizard Man" as a write-in but actually voted for a regular candidate.

Optical mark is just as bad as punched card. While voting machines have their own problems, they are still the most reliable method of counting votes that we have available. That said, the voting machine companies should open their code to independent analysis.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Neo-Puritans

Bruce Wilson at the Huffington Post points out that for centuries the war of Christmas came from the protestant right. He is correct. First the dour Scots and then the humorless English puritans outlawed Christmas outright. As the name "Christ Mass" suggests, they found the holiday to be too Catholic with some pagan traditions thrown in.

The ban was not particularly successful in England and was repealed in the 1660. Still, the holiday became less and less important until Dickens revived it with a series of Christmas-themed books (A Christmas Carol was the first and most popular). In America the holiday was looked down on by sober authorities since it was mainly celebrated in the 18th century by wassailing. This consisted of going door to door asking for wassail (spiced beer) - sort of an adult trick or treat. The holiday was reinvented by Washington Irving and others as the event we think of.

While there are people on the far religious right who still object to Christmas, these are not the people who refer to "Winter Holiday Trees". In fact the Puritans had a lot in common with today's left. Where the typical Church of England member had a general live and let live attitude, the Puritans were all for making everyone live like Puritans. Some examples:

The Puritans outlawed foods such as mince meat (associated with Christmas). They were against gluttony and drunkenness.
The neo-Puritans are against foods such as trans-fat and fast food. They worry about an obesity crisis.

The Puritans outlawed plays (all plays) as being immoral.
The neo-Puritans want to outlaw talk radio.

The Puritans were strong believers in censorship.
The neo-Puritans have passed speech codes and hate-speech legislation.

The Puritans were against outward displays of wealth as being too worldly. They outlawed the fashionable slashes in clothing.
The neo-Puritans are against large houses (McMansions), large cars, and other signs of wealth.

The Puritans burnt people for blasphemy.
The neo-Puritans have proposed prosecuting global warming deniers for crimes against humanity.

All of this sounds a bit silly until you remember that today's New England liberals are the decedents of the Puritans. That old urge to repress is still there, it just morphed around a bit.

Sarah Palin and Gotcha Reporting

There has been a buzz the last couple of days because Sarah Palin did an interview at a turkey farm. During the interview, someone in the background slaughtered a couple of turkeys. This is being reported as yet another example of Palin's cluelessness. It is not. It is an example of "gotcha" reporting.

If you are interested, there is a link to the video here. This was no accident. The cameraman deliberately filmed this. You can tell this because of an important detail in the video - the framing. The camera is off to Palin's side. This could be because there are other cameras but Palin is off-center. If the camera had centered on her then the guy killing the turkey would have been cut off. What is more, during interviews the camera often drifts around a bit as the speaker moves. You would expect the turkeys to move in and out of frame. This doesn't happen.

So a cameraman realized that he was shooting compromising footage of Palin. He didn't try to minimize it or warn the governor that this was happening. Instead he shot it then notified the networks. MSNBC showed it as "breaking news". Would they have even covered Palin's interview otherwise? Of course not.

Equally noticeable is how this is presented. "She didn't notice what was happening behind her." What an idiot! Everyone else has eyes in the back of their head.

Palin first got a reputation as an airhead when Katie Couric asked her to name some Supreme Court cases that she disagreed with. This sounds reasonable until you think about it. Unless you are a constitutional scholar you think of the result of Supreme Court opinions, not the names. The names are seldom even reported. I'm sure that Couric knew this. Asking that question meant that Palin responses were likely to either be, "The one about property rights," and sound like an idiot or to simply draw a blank and sound like an idiot.

Notice that no one asked Barack Obama this question, even though he taught constitutional law. Instead he got an infinitely easier question about the justices themselves.

A reporter did the same thing to George Bush in 2000 - he was asked to name the presidents of several governments. When he could not it was reported that he was unprepared for international affairs. I saw one columnist who specialized in international affairs who admitted that he couldn't answer the questions, either.

This is one way that bias affects reporters. They will ask candidates that they want defeated questions that seem reasonable but are not. If the candidate fails to answer the question then other reporters quickly tell the world.

On the other hand, if their favored candidate says something like that there are 57 states then they make allowances and the story never escapes the blogosphere.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bailout and the Alternatives

The UAW has been making a PR blitz warning the consequences of not providing a multi-billion dollar bailout for the big three car makers. Among their points:

  • There will be a cascade effect as auto parts suppliers and dealers go out of business with up to three million unemployed.
  • Labor costs only make up 5%-8% of the cost of a car so the unions are not to blame. The real culprit is demand which has dropped by half.
  • The union has already made concessions that, when fully implemented, will make union labor competitive.
  • It is vital to preserve the country's manufacturing base.
These points are not as honest and straightforward as the UAW makes them seem. There are several flaws in their reasoning.

First, there are two types of bankruptcy: Chapter 11 and Chapter 13. Chapter 11 shelters a company from its creditors while it reorganizes. Often it renegotiates its debts and contracts at a discount. Chapter 11 is for companies that have a good chance of becoming successful given this shelter. Chapter 13 is for companies that have no chance at staying in business. A company in Chapter 13 is closed and its assets sold off. Chapter 13 mainly defines the order that its creditors will receive the funds gained by selling its assets.

The big three are currently talking Chapter 11, not Chapter 13. That means that some factories, suppliers, and dealers will be closed but not all. This also lets them renegotiate their union contracts. The UAW and the big three have argued that no one will buy a car from a company in Chapter 11 so it will eventually lead to Chapter 13. This is not a given.

What is more, people are still buying cars. If they stop buying from the big three then they will buy from Honda, Toyota, and other foreign competitors. This will give new markets to the parts suppliers and dealers.

The same thing is true for the American manufacturing base. Cars will still be made in America.

What has not been addressed is that the big three have been losing money on everything but the most profitable pick-ups and SUVs for years. The union has made some concessions on new employees but none on the current employees and retirees whose costs are killing the car companies.

There are other problems like an excess of dealers that can only be solved by Chapter 11. A bailout will just let the problems continue.

One irony in this is that Chrysler is included in the list of American car makers. Just a few months ago they were a German-owned company. Currently they are owned by an investment group which has international investors.

The real reason that Chrysler is included and that the bailout is being discussed at all is the UAW. The big three are one of the few bastions of unionization. The unions have been funding Democrats for years. Now they want a return on their investment.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Secretary of State Hillary?

Last Winter and Spring Hillary Clinton emphasized her international experience. In return, the Obama campaign pointed out that heavily scripted publicity events do not really equate to foreign policy experience. It also turned out that Hillary exaggerated her experience. She claimed to have been under threats from snipers at one airport but a rock star who accompanied her at the time denied this. She claimed to have been part of the Irish peace process but an examination of her schedule showed that her presence at the talks was a fifteen minute meet and greet meeting. Her foreign policy experience became fodder for late night stand-up routines.

So why is she now qualified for Secretary of State? I'd like to hear someone from the Obama transition team to at least admit the paradox.

One of the big failings of the Clinton presidency was his secretaries of state. Warren Christopher was generally ineffective and Madeline Albright was easily manipulated by Arafat and others. The Bush administration spent its first term at odds with its own state department (including the Plame leak). Obama needs someone who is better prepared for this position.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mandates vs a Chance

The Democrats are convinced that winning the last couple of elections means that they have a mandate to implement their agenda. That's not quite how elections work. As this post at Powerline points out:
Consider this year's election. The liberal Democrats did not return to power because of this or that domestic policy idea or because, more generally, they had conducted a sober reassessment of liberal dogma following prior setbacks. They returned to power, without having revised much of anything, because the electorate was sick of the Republican administration. This scenario is the rule in presidential politics, not the exception.
This is a generalization and I'm sure that many voters voted for some specific proposal that Obama made, especially the dollar amounts he promised. Never the less a lot of people who voted for Bush switched to Obama. It is silly to say that these swing voters suddenly went from center-right to hard left. They voted for the other side because the felt that the Republicans screwed things up.

That doesn't mean that the Democrats can't try changing things. That is their real mandate - change. Specifically, change that you can believe in.

The Democrats' mandate is to make the country run better. How they do it is left to them but the voters are watching. If they succeed and Obama is reelected then they have a mandate to continue. Reagan won in 1980 because things got worse under Carter. By 1984 things were noticeably better and Reagan won vindication in that election (plus his vice-president was elected by about the same margin the Obama got). The voters judged Reagan and voted in his favor.

All of this makes it east for Obama and the Democrats to overreach. They want to reshape society but their mandate is really a lot more specific - make things better. If they manage to bring peace and prosperity then they will be forgiven for anything else they do along the way.

They do have a shot at this. The economic news is scary enough to let them push through some drastic measures. Opportunities like this don't happen often. Economic disasters allowed FDR and Reagan chances to make major changes. LBJ used the shock of JFK's assassination to push through a radical agenda as a memorial to JFK.

At the same time, the measures that Obama and the Democrats are planning are likely to hurt the economy. If the economy fails to improve then the Republicans will have a mandate - to reverse Obamanomics.

Unfortunately, this means that Republicans are not in control of their own future. They need to have something to offer but they will not have the chance until the Democrats stumble.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I didn't blog about the bank bailouts because I didn't know what to make of it. As presented it didn't sound too bad. The government would buy up bad debtors (mainly mortgages) and hold the loan for a while. Eventually the property would sell and the government would recoup some or all of the investment. Now it turns out that this wasn't fast enough. Instead the government is buying equity stakes in banks. Instead of becoming a mortgage holder, we are becoming partners with the large banks. The banks insist that this let them release credit faster and that the money cannot be used for dividends or golden parachutes. I'm not so sure about this nor do I like that fact that they had to add "sweeteners" (big earmarks) into the original legislation. I have reservations but I accept that this affects the entire country's financial system.

The same case cannot be made for the big three automotive manufacturers.

Around 30 years ago, Chrysler for into trouble. They had a large inventory of big, low-mileage cars. They asked for and received loan guarantees from the government. They used these to redesign their fleet, first with the K-car and later inventing the minivan.

That's not what is happening now. All three companies want direct loans and/or grants. There is little talk about where the money will go. What talk I have heard is from activists who want it to be targeted at green technology. None of this helps the American auto industry.

First, this crisis has been coming for a long time. Detroit has long admitted that it cannot compete in the automotive market. Their profits have rested completely on high-margin SUVs. The main reason that they continued to sell smaller cars was to increase their average fleet mileage. Their costs per car were too high. They pay around 50% more per hour for labor than other car companies. And by "other" car companies, I mean non-unionized auto makers.

Giving the auto makers a handout without gaining major concessions from the unions is a waste of time. We are just supporting them for a while in the hope that the SUV market picks up again.

Giving them money with the stipulation that they only be allowed to build green cars is worse. It leaves the current problems in place and forces them to make cars that may not sell.

Take the just-announced Volt as an example. This is a great piece of technology. It has an all-electric drive-train. You can plug it in to charge. It also has a gas-driven generator on-board which will charge the batteries on the fly. This is what hybrid cars should be. But it will cost $40,000. I can't afford one, not even with gas $5 a gallon. If this is the only thing they sell then they are out of business.

Two special-interest groups are pushing the bailout. The pro-labor group wants bailouts with no strings attached. The greens want to force them to build green cars that may not sell. Both groups are pushing ideology above long-term viability.

Here is the Republicans' first chance at rehabilitation. They should oppose this bail-out unless it includes huge union concessions and allows the car companies enough flexibility to adapt to the market (i.e. build cars that people want to drive).

There are no votes for the Republicans in supporting the bailout. The Democrats will get all of the credit and the groups most affected - mainly unions - are the core support of the Democrats.

The big lesson of Bush's compassionate conservatism is that Republicans cannot compete with Democrats on handing out money. The Democrats will not give them any credit for it and it makes them indistinguishable from the opposition. In 2006 the Democrats ran as the party of fiscal restraint. It is time for the Republicans to reclaim that title (especially since the Democrats have abandoned it so that they will not handicap Obama). A lot of conservative and moderate voters are disenchanted with big-government Republicans and voted Democratic in the last couple of elections.

Early in his administration, Bush and Karl Rove decided that there are no votes in small-government. They would jettison the Libertarian wing and count on evangelicals to win elections. This is a chance for the Republicans in Congress to distance themselves from a lame-dusk president and invite the Libertarians back to the table.

Even if the table is set in the wilderness.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Looking Forward to the Midterm Elections

It's pretty much an iron rule of politics - the longer a new president's coattails the worse his losses will be in his first mid-term election. This is even more true when economic conditions are bad.

Let's look at the last three two-term presidents. Reagan was elected after years of high inflation and unemployment. The country was just slipping into a recession in 1980 and the economy was still in bad shape in 1982. Republicans took a beating in the election.

In 1992 Clinton was elected during a recession. His margin or victory and his majority in Congress were nearly identical to Obama's. In the 1994 election he lost both houses of Congress.

George W. Bush is the exception. He actually made a slight gain in 2002. There were a few mitigating factors here. He was elected without coattails in 2000 and the country was at war in 2002. Bush's post 9/11 approval rating was still high.

This history is important for Republicans trying to chart a new path. They are being told that Reaganism has run its course and they need to find new ideals or risk a long time in the wilderness. History says that this is not so. The same thing was said about Reaganism in 1992 but limited government Republicans were able to take Congress back in 1994.

Obama himself is proof that you don't need new ideas. He ran on the New Deal. If he can repackage FDR 76 years later then Republicans can resurrect Reagan. It's not like Bush was a Reagan believer. He was a believer in big government solutions to everything. He called it compassionate conservatism. This was a problem for him when government inevitably failed (Katrina).

Republicans can spend the next two years distancing themselves from Bush's domestic policies.

In the meantime, it is unlikely that Obama will magically fix the economy. Economic recovery takes time even under a mild recession. If Obama listens to his supporters, especially unions, then he will make the recession much worse, guaranteeing a Republican sweep in two years.

Of course, history also has Reagan and Clinton recovering from their mid-term losses and being reelected during an economic boom. On the other hand, Carter had back to back recessions and lost. George H. W. Bush also lost in a recession.

History's final lesson - even talented charismatic presidents get low approval ratings during an extended recession. This happened to both Reagan and Clinton. If Obama manages to screw the economy up badly enough then the country will throw him out.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why McCain Lost

Barrack Obama won the election, John McCain lost. That was always expected. The surprise is that McCain did as well as he did. Examining this is important for figuring out how to win future elections.

First, Obama had lost of advantages. He has a golden tongue. He also had the golden touch for fund raising. He raised several times as much as the federal funds that McCain used. In addition, the public is sick of President Bush. Finally, Obama's race helped him. I'm tired of hearing that Obama won in spite of his race. He gained a lot of votes from blacks and hispanics who voted on the basis of his race. He also gave whites the chance to feel virtuous by voting for someone with dark skin.

McCain never came up with a convincing narative. He had a great rapid-response team but little long-term message.

Despite all of this, the election was not a blow-out. Obama led in the polls for most of the Summer but his lead was within the margin of error. McCain pulled ahead after the conventions only to fall behind in mid-September. Had things gone differently he might very well have kept his lead and won the election.

So what happened?

One thing that didn't happen was Sarah Palin. It is true that the left piled so much muck on her that some stuck. Regardless, the people who think that she was a mistake overlook the alternative. Palin added a lot of excitement to the election. If McCain had gone with a conventional approach like Mit Romney the electorate would have gone to sleep.

Really, three things happened that cost McCain a shot at the White House.

The first was the war in Iraq. It went from unwinnable to victory. This happened too soon for McCain to take advantage of. Yes, he was right about the surge and Obama was wrong but the war had fallen out of the news cycle by mid-August. By the election it was low of voters' priorities.

The same thing happened with gas prices. McCain was for increasing domestic oil production. This might not produce results for years but Obama's renewable energy proposals will not produce for decades. As long as gas was above $4/gallon McCain had a winning issue. With gas back to $2/gallon, no one cared.

These were McCain's strong points. If they were still relevant at the election he stood a good chance of winning. Instead, we had the third event, the economy.

Obama never announced a plan to fix the economy beyond some more government stimulous checks and bail-outs. He didn't need to. All he had to do was to run ads linking Bush, McCain, and the economy. McCain had lots of plans - too many - and as a Congressman he couldn't distance himself from failing institutions.

So what can we learn from this? The economy gave Obama the presidency, not his progressive agenda. Voters want change but Obama was vague enough during the campaign that his idea of change is probably radically different from the voters'. His main promise was for tax cuts for nearly everyone (paid for by the remainder). He also promised to fix the economy. He didn't talk about the rest of his platform much.

This gives Obama a very clear and specific mandate - fix the economy and hand out money. Fixing the economy is beyond a president's powers and he is already backtracking on the tax cuts.

The rest of Obama's adenda is outside his mandate. He might get some form of health care passed. This will be tricky since it affects so many people. If he get it wrong he will lose the electorate.

A lot of Obama's primary promises will hurt the economy in general even if they help targeted portions (unions). Unless the economy is booming in 2010 Republicans will be hitting him hard on anything that hurts the economy.

All of this gives Republicans a shot at retaking Congress in 2010 without doing anything on their own. They can build on this but they have to take the right path. Bush-style big government Republicans will not have a message to use against big government Democrats. They have to go back to being the party of limited government. In 2008 limited government sounded outdated. It will make a comeback after Obama expands (or tries to expand) the government.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Things to take consolation from

Now that the election is over and Obama and the democrats won, there are still some things that Republicans can take solace from. Some of them are pretty meager but you take what you can get.

First there is the big one - the Democrats didn't win as big as they could have. There are still enough Republicans in the Senate to filibuster. Likewise, Obama won convincingly but his margin of victory was typical - somewhere between Bush jr's win in 2004 and Bush sr's win in 1988 or Clinton in 1992 and 1996. It was way short of Reagan's win in 1984.

So, the country has not made a dramatic shift to the left. Republicans still have a shot at the White House and Congress, especially when they are not weighed down by an unpopular president.

That brings me to the second point - the Democrats are now in charge. They cannot blame the Republicans for anything. I know that they will try. They will insist that they inherited unsolvable problems brought on by Bush. The public will cut them some slack for a year or two but they were elected to solve problems. If they don't come up with results quickly then they get the blame.

Which brings me to the fun part. It can be frustrating to be on the outside of government looking in but it is also easier. Just ask Rush Limbaugh. When your side is in power then you end up carrying a lot of water for them. This works for the other side, as well. Back in the late 1990s the opening monologues of shows like Politically Incorrect and the Daily Show came straight from the Democratic Message of the Day. Did these comedians really enjoy saying that lying under oath is the same as telling stories in a locker room? Come January, they are going to be stuck making excuses for the Obama administration. No more cheap applause lines ("When Bush and Cheney get together they kill puppies."). Now the right gets to make cheap shots.

Let's face it, a McCain administration wasn't going to be good for the Republicans. By the end of the campaign he was promising more federal bailouts and budget deficits than Obama. It's hard to be the party of fiscal restraint when your top guy is in a bidding war with the Democrats. The economy has been getting worse but so far it hasn't affected everyday people much. This will change over the next year or two and no one can stop it. If McCain was in the White House then Republicans would get the blame in the 2010 election. With Obama as president then Democrats will probably lose some seats and the Republicans can start rebuilding.

This segues into my next point - it's time to rebuild a conservative coalition and that could not be done with Bush of McCain in the White House. Bush and Rove wrecked the Reagan coalition of social conservatives and fiscal conservative. They figured that there are no votes in cutting government so they expanded it. A lot. By every measure, government is bigger than it was when Clinton left office. It was so bad that the Democrats ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility in 2006 (this was quietly dropped for 2008). Since he didn't appeal to a wide coalition, Bush barely won his elections. McCain appealed to pretty much the same crowd but couldn't pull in the same numbers.

With tax and spend Democrats in charge, Republicans need to reassert themselves as the party that keeps government off your back. This means turning their back on No Child Left Behind and some other accomplishments of the Bush administration. These didn't help Bush's popularity so they should be little loss.

One final consolation. As of this writing, Al Frankin lost the most expensive senate race in history by a narrow vote.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Obama and the Media

You already knew it but a couple of articles appeared about Obama and the Media. Surprise - they favor him over McCain by an overwhelming percentage.

Here is an anonymous writer confessing on behalf of his profession.
Forbes readers may scoff at Barack Obama as the messiah, but we don't. Give him eight years in the Oval Office, and the man with the most liberal voting record in the Senate will move the whole country our way. The One will make us "mainstream" once again. He might even make us profitable once again.
Here are the results of the bias.

Comments made by sources, voters, reporters and anchors that aired on ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts over the past two months reflected positively on Obama in 65 percent of cases, compared to 31 percent of cases with regards to McCain, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
{...} "For whatever reason, the media are portraying Barack Obama as a better choice for president than John McCain," said Robert Lichter, a George Mason University professor and head of the center. "If you watch the evening news, you'd think you should vote for Obama."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Life Under Obama

Liberals love to talk about how the Bush presidency has shredded the Constitution and eroded civil liberties. They never admit that none of this directly affects the average American or that most of their complaints are about the treatment of prisoners of an undeclared war who never set foot on American soil.

Obama is supposed to make it all better. Given the actions of his campaign and his supporters as well as the Left in general, we have a lot to worry about.

First, there is the Fairness Doctrine. This requires equal time for opposing viewpoints on public airwaves. It was instituted when radio was the only broadcast medium and later extended to TV. The reasoning was that A) these were public airwaves and should not be used for partisan purposes, and B) there were so few broadcasters that the government needed to ensure multiple viewpoints. The Fairness Doctrine was used by both parties against political enemies until the Reagan administration killed it.

The Left wants to revive this, but only for AM radio. Since AM radio is, at best, a niche market these days, the original reasoning no longer applies. In fact, the Left is quite open about the fact that this is a political move aimed at silencing conservative radio shows such as Rush Limbaugh. This is political abuse at its worst.

Obama has been active in silencing others. After complaints from his campaign, there were threats of arrest and criminal charges for stations airing an anti-Obama ad produced by the NRA. When McCain complained about ACORN and fraudulent voter registration, Obama's campaign requested that McCain be investigated by the special prosecutor looking into the firing of federal attorneys.

Obama is also promising increased enforcement of laws against discrimination. When everything can be twisted into racism (remember when calling Obama "thin" was racist?) this could turn into an easy way of silencing the opposition.

According to statements he made during the campaign, we can expect other intrusions into everyday life. He plans income redistribution but is vague on whose income will be redistributed. Until recently he consistently used the figure $250,000. Biden recently amended this to $150,000 and Obama's half-hour special split the difference at $200,000. Where will he draw the line once he is in office?

Then there is his energy policy. He is sort of for limited off-shore drilling under certain conditions. He will heavily subsidize alternate fuels. Increased ethanol production already led to a world-wide rise in food cost. Last Summer he made a statement about Americans not being able to eat as much as they want, set their thermostats to 72, and drive SUVs. Will this translate into legislation? Any legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions will increase the price of energy. We saw how that affects the economy during the Summer and $4/gallon for gas was no where near enough to meet greenhouse emissions targets. If this is added to an already shaky economy then we will see a second Great Depression. The Green activists who make up a significant portion of Obama's support actually want this.

Then there is the general irritation that government regulation causes. This will be added to the current irritation of dealing with insurance companies as Obama takes over the nation's health care industry.

So, that's what we have to look forward to - an erosion of liberites and living standards that will affect day to day life.

On the bright side, it will not take long to rehabiliate Bush. A couple of years from now he can hit the talk show circuit (on TV since it will be gone on radio) talking about the golden years under his administration. It worked for Clinton.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Corporations, Republicans and Democrats

Newsweek asks why corporations still love Republicans? The author, Daniel Gross, examines some articles from the Wall Street Journal and comes away convinced that corporations don't know what's good for them.

He starts with unions.

Big retailers such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and Target, the Journal reports, are freaked out that Obama and a Democratic Congress would pass the Employee Free Choice Act, "which would do away with secret balloting and allow unions to form if a majority of employees sign cards favoring unionization.

and goes on to describe all of the problems facing these corporations besides unions. All of his points may be true, but unions seldom help large corporations. Look at the automotive industry. The unionized American companies are failing. The non-unionized foreign companies are still solvent. GM has not been able to compete for years because of the overhead of union pensions. When you buy a car from GM, a greater percentage goes to the union pension than to pay for the steel in the car.

Later Gross tosses out this statement:
Once again, the past 16 years provide a great controlled experiment: eight years of a Democratic regime that was comparatively pro-labor, higher tax, pro-regulation and anti-free trade, followed by eight years of a Republican regime that was comparatively anti-labor, decidedly low tax and anti-regulation, and pro-free trade.

I have serious problems with this assertion, especially the part about trade. Clinton went against his party to pass the pro-trade NAFTA. His main flirtation with higher taxes was during his first two years. Once the Republicans took over after the election of 1994, Clinton practiced "triangulation". He moderated his policies. He also signed a major bank deregulation bill.

This is, in fact, a major problem with Gross's argument. He equates Clinton and Obama as having the same policies because they are Democrats. In fact, Clinton was much closer to Bush on most economic policies.

Obama is running an anti-trade and anti-corporate campaign. He promises to raise taxes on corporations and capitol gains (the rise in the value of your stock). He promises to tax excess profits (decided by him) and "return them to the people". He is against globalism in general.

But that's only Obama. consider the Democrats in general. Big box stores in general and Walmart in particular are hated by a large number of people, all of them on the left. There have been several local initiatives that would outlaw big box stores in specific cities. There have been attempts at putting them at a competitive disadvantage. There have been numerous boycotts.

Why would these corporations ever trust a party that hates them?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Redistribution of Wealth Experiment

Bluey Blog forwards an email on redistribution of wealth.

In a local restaurant my server had on a "Obama 08″ tie, again I laughed as he had given away his political preference�just imagine the coincidence.

When the bill came I decided not to tip the server and explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution of wealth concept. He stood there in disbelief while I told him that I was going to redistribute his tip to someone who I deemed more in need�the homeless guy outside. The server angrily stormed from my sight.

I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to thank the server inside as I've decided he could use the money more. The homeless guy was grateful.

At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment I realized the homeless guy was grateful for the money he did not earn, but the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money he did earn even though the actual recipient deserved money more.

I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in concept than in practical application.

Actually, this is totally expected. People are usually in favor of redistributing other people's wealth. It's only when its their own wealth being redistributed that they object. That's why Obama continually points out that he will only be taking wealth from the top 5% and distributing it to the rest of us. In other elections this would be called buying votes.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

America can't afford Obama

A week ago I suggested that it might be better for Republicans if Obama won. My thinking was that Obama would discredit the left while Republicans recovered their conservative roots. I've changed my mind in the last week. I've decided that Obama will cause so much damage that he should never get near the White House.

During the primaries Obama and Hillary got into a bidding war against NAFTA. At the same time, one of Obama's advisors assured Canada that this was just campaign talk. An article in my local paper indicated that Obama is still talking about changes to NAFTA. This will not only hurt trade which affects the economy, it will hurt America's image abroad.

Gas is selling for less than it cost a year ago. It was about 50% higher just a month ago. Obama has never been explicit about his policies on gas prices but he has dropped hints. He, along with the rest of the Democrats, has been against domestic oil production. He modified his position slightly to say that he might consider off-shore drilling as part of a broader solution. Most telling was a comment that he made last Summer. He said that the problem was that the prices rose so fast that people didn't have time to adjust.

Obama is a supporter of CO2 restrictions. That means higher gas prices. A lot higher. In Italy gas reached $10/gallon and people still kept driving. In order to get the reductions that Obama wants, we will see gas go that high or higher.

The military is stretched in Iraq. Obama reminds of this costantly. The reason for this is that the military was reduced under Clinton. We just don't have the troops we really need to occupy a country. Obama wants to escalate Afghanistan. In addition, Barney Frank let slip that the Democrats plan on cutting the military 25%.

Obama promises health care for everyone at no cost. He says that he will reduce waste and cut overall costs through preventative care. He's dreaming. Niether will work and preventative care is very expensive, partly because of the number of false positives in modern tests. Canada and Britian have tried universal coverage. The quality of their health care has gone down and they are having major problems controlling costs.

The centerpiece of Obama's candidacy is his tax plan. He describes it as raising taxes on the top 5% and giving a cut to the other 95%. Since 1/3 of workers don't pay income tax, he is going beyond regular income tax cuts. In order to cover his entire 95%, Obama is playing with the Social Security tax. The lowest earners will get a cut in Social Security. The highest earners will have an increase in the income tax with the extra going into Social Security. This is a fundamental change in how Social Security works. It breaks FDR's bargain that it be self-supporting (I won't get into the problems with the trust fund here).

In addition to all of this, there is Biden's prediction of the country being tested under Obama.

The bottom line is that much of what Obama proposes to do will never be undone, even if the Republicans retake the White House and Congress in 2012.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The "Real" America

What is the Real America? Governor Palin recently told a crowd that they were the best of America. This angered Keith Olbermann enough to do a special report on divisive politics. He quotes Palin:

"We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington D.C.," you told a fund-raiser in North Carolina last Thursday, to kick off this orgy of condescending elitism.

"We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation."

Olbermann goes on:

Governor, your prejudice is overwhelming. It is not just "pockets" of this country that are "pro-America" Governor. America is "pro-America. "And the "Real America" of yours, Governor, is where people at your rallies shout threats of violence, against other Americans, and you say  nothing about them or to them.

He also quotes McCain spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhauer:

"I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia," she said. "But the rest of the state, 'real Virginia,' if you will, I think will be very responsive to Sen. McCain's message."
Again, a toxic message. The parts of the country that agree with Nancy Pfotenhauer are real; the others, not. Ms. Pfotenhauer, why not go the distance on this one? It was Sen. McCain's own  brother who called that part of Virginia nearest Washington "communist country."

Once again, Olbermann is practicing selective outrage.

First, Olbermann's threats of violence didn't happen. According to the Secret Service, no one shouted "kill Obama" at a Palin rally. Olbermann is repeating a lie, or possibly obfuscating it since he is referring to it in general terms instead of the specifics he used in a previous special report.

But, more to the point, we are becoming a very divided nation and the two halves don't think much of each other. A map of the 2004 election breaking down votes by precinct showed islands of populous blue cities surrounded by a sea of red. The people in those cities, especially the coastal ones look down on the rest of the country. They use derogatory terms like "flyover country". And that's the polite ones.

John Murtha recently called his district in western Pennsylvania racist. Barack Obama referred to them as bitter and clinging. And of course, Olbermann thinks that they are a violent mob. There is no question that the residents of the DC metro area have different political beliefs than the rest of the state.

The terms "inside the beltway" and "outside the beltway" have been part of the political lexicon for years. They refer to how people who live within the beltway surrounding Washington DC seem to be disconnected from everyday reality. Why should it be so offensive for a McCain official to use those terms?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Does Joe Know?

Joe Biden

"And here's the point I want to make. Mark my words. Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. And he's gonna have to make some really tough - I don't know what the decision's gonna be, but I promise you it will occur. As a student of history and having served with seven presidents, I guarantee you it's gonna happen. I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate. And he's gonna need help. And the kind of help he's gonna need is, he's gonna need you, not financially to help him, we're gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not gonna be apparent initially, it's not gonna be apparent that we're right. Because all these decisions, all these decisions, once they're made if they work, then they weren't viewed as a crisis. If they don't work, it's viewed as you didn't make the right decision, a little bit like how we hesitated so long dealing with Bosnia and dealing with Kosovo, and consequently 200,000 people lost their lives that maybe didn't have to lose lives. It's how we made a mistake in Iraq. We made a mistake in Somalia. So there's gonna be some tough decisions. They may emanate from the Middle East. They may emanate from the sub-continent. They may emanate from Russia's newly-emboldened position because they're floating in a sea of oil."

After again touting Cantwell's judgment, Biden told the crowd to "gird your loins."

"Only thing I'm asking you is, you know, gird your loins. We're gonna win with your help, God willing, we're gonna win, but this is not gonna be an easy ride. This president, the next president, is gonna be left with the most significant task. It's like cleaning the Aegean stables, man. This is more than just, this is more than - think about it, literally, think about it - this is more than just a capital crisis, this is more than just markets, this is a systemic problem we have with this economy."

So, just what did he mean? Obama dismissed this as a rhetorical flourish.
Joe sometimes engages in rhetorical flourishes, but i think his core point was that the next administration is going to be tested, regardless of who it is," he said at the Richmond, Va., event.

I don't think so. Here's what I think Biden was talking about.

First, Biden's strength is international relations. That's why he is on the ticket. Obama said that he will have Biden at his shoulder when he is making hard choices. Obama has other foreign policy advisers, too. Some of them are fairly sharp.

I'm guessing that they had a security briefing and the advisers told Obama that world leaders think that he is a Carter-style dove. They expect something to happen, maybe several somethings. Possibly Russia is going to annex someone. Or an Arab country is planning a strike against Israel. Or both. Maybe some other things, too. Biden talked about four or five scenarios. Maybe they are expecting a cascade.

But that's not all of it. Obama must have told his advisers how he plans to react to these events. It isn't going to be good.

That's what Biden is really warning us of. Something will happen and Obama's response is going to seem really, really bad.

There are two possibilities here. One is that Obama actually is a Carter dove and hopes to solve the world's problems through intensive diplomacy. The other possibility is that Obama is secretly a hawk.

Biden's references to Bosnia, Kosovo, and Somalia almost sound like Obama is planning on invading someone. Maybe he's going to get us into a quagmire (not counting the troop escalation in Afghanistan).

Either way, Biden is warning us that Obama's foreign policy is going to look terrible for at least a couple of years but, if we preserver then everything will turn out alright. This sounds surprisingly like Bush's Iraq policy for the last four years.

I don't like the sound of this either way. Diplomacy only works if each side has something that the other wants. If you take the threat of war off of the table then we might not have enough to bargain with. Somolia and Iraq proved how difficult it is to build a nation out of warring factions. The country is not ready for a new Iraq.

It would be nice to know exactly what Biden was referring to. Obama seems to be worried about this since he pulled Joe from the campaign trail yesterday.

McCain is already exploiting Biden's slip. With Wall Street calming down some, this could tip the election.

What's going on with the polls?

First, who is winning the presidential race? We don't know. Some polls show the race closing to within the margin of error. Others show Obama's lead widening. What's going on?

First, all of these results are within the margin of error, especially if you assume that McCain is slightly behind. But polling gets complicated quickly.

If you just call 500 people then you will get a result but it might be a bad one. A lot of people don't vote so you have to identify the likely voters. Your sample group is likely to be too small to really represent a cross-section of America so you have to do some weighting. This is the toughest part.

Lets assume that Democrats and Republicans make up 30% of the population each with the remaining 40% uncommitted. If your poll of 500 people was a good cross-section then you would have 150 for each party with the rest uncommitted. If your group actually had 200 Democrats and 100 Republicans then you have a problem. Your sample group is going to lean for Obama.

What the pollsters do is to estimate the proportion of voters in each party then weight the sample to match that. With the example I gave above, they would multiple the Republicans' answers by 150% and the Democrats' answers by 75%.

But, party identification has been fluid the last couple of years. In 2004 the parties were closer to parity. Republicans defected to the Democrats in 2006. It appears that this trend increased during the primaries this year but this may not be accurate. McCain clinched the primary early on. Many Republicans switched parties in order to be part of the Obama/Hillary contest. They may come home to McCain. No one knows.

Then there are "undecideds" who always vote for the same party but refuse to register with a party. In the last few elections the number of swing votes has been less than 20% of the electorate. It is hard to identify this group.

On top of that, an increasing number of people no longer have land lines and pollsters do not call cell phones.

Then there are people who say that they will vote for Obama because they worry about being labeled a racists.

Put it all together and the actual margin of error is probably higher than the pollsters are admitting.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beating the Drum for Obama

After every election there is always some group on the losing side who complains that their man would have won if the news media had just gotten out their message. I always shake my head at this. The MSM is not there to carry water for either side. It is up to the candidate to get out his own message. This year is different. The MSM seems to be going out of their way to help Obama and hurt McCain. I have examples.

ACORN. The press has covered the massive number of fraudulent registrations that ACORN presented. In a normal election, they would also be going into detail about ACORN's long association with Obama. Not this year. Instead I have seen several articles on ACORN. They always seek to sooth the reader. They point out that ACORN practices voter registration fraud, not vote fraud. The two are separate crimes and the one that ACORN has committed thousands of times in multiple states is only a misdemenor. We are also assured that ACORN is itself a victim of unscrupulous workers and that the odds of actual voter fraud happening are less than of being struck by lightening. The fact that specific phrases like the one about lightening are in multiple articles makes me believe that these are being copied from a talking points memo from ACORN or Obama.

Joe the Plumber. The story here was that a regular working guy confronted Obama about having his taxes raised and Obama said that spreading around the wealth was the "right" thing to do. That got buried in stories about Joe himself. Reporters are falling all over themselves in an effort to discredit Joe and bury the real story which was Obama's response.

Violence at McCain rallies. It was widely reported that someone yelled "Kill Obama" at a Palin rally. The Secret Service later said that they had been monitoring the rally and that no one shouted that. This is one of the under-reported stories of the month. If the MSM picked up the story they buried it so deep that no one will actually see it. Where is the zeal that reporters showed in digging up Joe the Plumber's tax records? Keith Olbermann is still insisting it happened.

This is a troubling double-standard. Stories that hurt Obama are being discredited, even when they are true. Stories that hurt McCain are allowed to stand, even when they are false.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Do we want to win?

Obama continues to hold his lead in the polls. It is possible that McCain could still pull ahead but a little voice in the back of my head asks, "Do we really want this?"

It is not that I think that Obama will be a better president. I think that he will be a disaster. This thing is that I suspect that whoever is president will be presiding over a disaster for the next couple of years, at the least. The party in charge will get the blame. If McCain is the president then the Democrats will almost certainly increase their majority in 2010. The best thing that can happen to the Republicans is for the Democrats to be in charge (and vice-versa).

If Obama had been elected a year or two ago then he would have had no trouble implementing his progressive agenda. Times were good (at least better) and people were willing to support progressive programs like raising the minimum wage. Obama will face significant obstacles in 2009 that were not there before. These are:

The Democratic Congress of 2007-2008 failed to deliver on its promises. They did not bring fiscal reform. They did not end corruption. They did not end the war. They sure didn't lower the price of gasoline. About the only thing they accomplished was raising the minimum wage. Until now the Democrats could blame President Bush. With a democrat in the White House, they will have to deliver.

The economy and the bail-out will put severe limits on new programs. The psychological pressure against piling up more national debt will be strong. There will also be pressure for automotive and airline bail-outs. This will cause pressure to balance the budget instead of piling up massive new debt.

If Obama can push his tax plan through it will probably hurt the economy. Bush's stimulus failed because people banked most of it. The same will probably happen to Obama's proposed second stimulus.

The nation was about as primed for national health care in 1992 as it will ever be but the Clintons' plan didn't even come to vote in Congress. Obama will have a lot of work trying to sell his plan.

Democrats have defined themselves as the party of peace for the last several years but Obama now owns Afghanistan. A major part of his campaign was that Iraq was the wrong war and Afghanistan was the right one (echoing John Kerry and Howard Dean). Add in an unstable Pakistan and Obama faces a quagmire. Obama will be expected to make quick progress. He might get lucky and negotiate a treaty with the Taliban that includes an expulsion of al Qeada. Unless this includes bin Laden's head on a pole, it will not be enough.

The peace movement will have a tough choice. Will they support a Democrat who doesn't not meet their standards or will they turn on him? Cindy Sheehan already turned on Pelosi. Will she start camping out in Chicago?

International relations are going to be tough. Obama has already given our opponents the impression that he is a naive push-over. countries that were wary of Bush will push him to see what they can get away with.

Obama ran on an anti-trade platform. If he lives up to this then he will hurt the American economy and our international image. At worst he could start a new era of protectionism that will have world-wide repercussions. On the other hand, if this was all campaign talk then the unions will be upset.

Getting Kyoto passed was always a problem. Pressure will be on Obama for much stronger measures. These might have wide-spread support as long as Obama is talking about new green jobs but the suport will evaporate when people find out that it means $10/gallon for gas.

The Reagan Revolution could only happen because of 4 years of Democratic misrule under Carter. Two years of Democrat control under Clinton was enough to give Republicans control of Congress for 12 years - longer than they have held it since the 1920s. An Obama presidency will force the Republicans to reinvent themselves. The Republicans have not been the party of smaller government since 1989. George W Bush and Karl Rove decided that there were no votes in cutting government so they had no compunctions about expanding government. Post-Reagan Republicans were happy to follow Bush's lead (or to run ahead). They need the contrast of a big-government Democrat to recover their core principals.

On the other hand, if McCain wins then he will either spend his term fighting with Congress and angering everyone or compromising with them and angering the Republican base.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama and the Plumber

It's unanimous, Joe the Plumber son the 3rd debate. This could be bad news for Obama.

Joe, (full name Joe Wurzelbacher) originally made the news after being filmed asking Obama about his tax plans. Joe has been working for Newell Plumbing and Heating (which only has the two employees). At an Obama rally he stated that he hopes to buy the plumbing company which makes more than $250,000. "Your plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?"

Obama's answer is much longer and more nuanced than what is usually reported. A bit part of it is the supposition that, if Obama's tax plan been enacted ten years ago, Joe would have made more money so he shouldn't object to paying more now.

A couple choice quotes:

It's not that I want to punish your success. It's just that I want to be sure that those folks behind you, that they've got a chance at success, too."

I believe that when you spread the wealth around to everybody, it's good for everybody.

Watch the full exchange here.

Along the way, Obama states that 95% of small businesses make less than $250,000. I'm pretty dubious about that claim since it matches his claim that 95% of wage earners make less than $250,000. The government has standards on what qualifies as a small business. A plumbing contractor can make up to $14,000,000 and still be a small business. That's 56 time bigger than Joe but Obama is going to raise taxes on those businesses in order to spread the wealth around.

McCain jumped on Obama about this, mentioning Joe and small businesses 21 times. This is probably McCain's last chance. Obama was tied or slightly behind before the financial crisis hit. His message that the current problems were caused by the Bush administration are winning him votes (even if they are not true). McCain's only chance is to show that he supports the American worker more than Obama.

Most Americans have a different definition of fairness than Obama. Most people think that it is fair to let someone who works hard for his money keep it. Obama feels that fairness requires the government to spread it around to other people who may or may not be working as hard.

Until now Obama talked about taxing "the rich" and people assumed that he meant guys in costly suits and expensive cars who work for banks or oil companies. Joe put a different face on "the rich" - a middle-aged buy with a shaved head and a gut who works 10-12 hours a day. Joe doesn't look rich. He looks like the rest of us but Obama wants to raise his taxes.

So, will this resound with the voters? Maybe. In between Joe the Plumber references McCain pointed out that Obama wants to raise taxes and trade barriers during a recession. "The last president who did that was Herbert Hoover."

If the economy stops being the lead story then McCain might be able to make his case that Obama would be bad for the long-tern economy. There is a lot of meat to work with - Obama's desire to raise taxes on corporations, his reluctance to embrace off-shore drilling or nuclear energy. These are a lot more relevant than his association with unrepentant terrorists.

On the other hand, if the Dow continues to drop or something else happens then McCain will never get a chance to get his message out.

Update: True to form, the media is out to get Joe. A Google News search comes up with literally hundreds of stories that Joe is not actually a licenses plumber, that he may not be registered to vote, and that he doesn't actually have a plan to buy out his boss. With 15 minutes of fame comes 15 hours of “gotcha” scrutiny. Strangely, none of these stories link to the original clip that brought Joe to the media attention in the first place. I'm guessing that this is because the clip damages Obama.

None of this matters. Joe didn't plan on becoming a symbol and he couldn't have known what Obama's response would be. It was the symbolism of Obama telling a hard-working blue-collar worker that he made too much money and he needs the government to spread some of his money around for him that struck a chord.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Olbermann and the Truth

I got a comment on the last piece I wrote about Olbermann saying that he speaks the truth, unlike Fox and others. Well, there is the truth, there is "truthiness", and there are half-truths. Since Olbermann just posted a new special report calling on John McCain to concede the election, let's see just how close to the truth Olbermann is.

Olbermann begins by recounting how someone at a McCain rally that Sarah Palin was speaking at called out "kill Obamma" during the warm-up. While Olbermann admits that Palin probably didn't hear the cry, he is incensed that she didn't denounce it anyway. Apparantly McCain and Palin are now expected to start each rally by denouncing any negative comments that their supporters may have said.

I am not excusing anyone for advocating violence against Obama. This should be unacceptable behaviour but it has been tolerated by the left for so long that it was inevitable that it would spread to the right. Prominent people have been calling for and fantasizing about the assassination of President Bush for years. They have written movies, TV shows, plays, and songs about it. They have prayed for it. For some reason this never upset Olbermann or the rest of the left. He never did a special report on this. He never even named them the Worst Person in the World. I guess that calls for violence are ok sometimes.

Then there is Congressman Lewis who compared McCain to George Wallace. McCain called on Obama to repudiate these remarks. Olbermann responds,
Obviously, Senator, you haven't heard your own speeches, and Gov. Palin's, and what people shout during them.

I would love for Olbermann to point to a McCain of Palin speech that advocates violence.

Olbermann continues
And you haven't heard your state GOP Chair in Virginia, Jeffrey Frederick, giving talking points to 30 of your field-operatives heading out to canvass voters in Gainesville, Virginia. With a reporter present, telling them to try to forge a connection between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden to emphasize bombings and terrorism. And you haven't heard those volunteers, your volunteers Sen. McCain, shout back "and he won't salute the flag" and "we don't even know where Sen. Obama was really born."

McCain has already repudiated Jeff Frederick just as he has any of his supporters who crossed the line (real or not) but he doesn't get credit for this. Also, Frederick's statement ("What do Osama and Obama have in common? Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon.") is more firmly rooted in fact than Lewis's rhetoric.

Something else that Olbermann fails to acknowledge, the origin of most of the rumors about Obama. Most of those came from a whisper campaign dating back to when McCain was running 4th in the Republican primary. Hillary Clinton's staff is usually assumed to be the ones who started many of the false Obama stories.

So McCain is supposed to suspend his campaign because his supporters are repeating rumors started by the one-time Democrat front-runner.

Olbermann adds:
Sen. McCain, these people are speaking for you! And how dare you try to claim Congressman Lewis was linking you to Gov. George Wallace's segregation. He was linking you, aptly, to Gov. George Wallace's lynch-mob mentality.

If you read Lewis's remarks, he was doing both.

Sen. McCain, your supporters, at your events, are calling Obama a terrorist and traitor and are calling for him to be killed. And yet you keep bringing back these same rabid Right Wing nuts to deliberately stir these crowds into frenzies. And then you take offense when somebody who remembers the violence in our political past, calls you on it. You, sir, are responsible for a phalanx of individuals who are shouting fire in a crowded theatre. There are some things to respect and honor about you, Sen. McCain.

This is clever. No one has ever suggested that the scattered shouts for violence from the audience were from anyone connected with the campaign but Olbermann lumps them together with the now-repudiated campaign official and makes it seem that the McCain campaign buses people in to shout these things. Where, sir, is your proof?

Several times during the campaign McCain has apologised for things that campaign members said. Olbermann does not give him any credit for this and refuses to allow McCain to demand the same behaviour from the Obama campaign. Nor does Olbermann notice things like the "Sarah Palin is a c***" T-shirts. In support of Obama, the left has suggested that McCain was not really tortured in North Viet Nam but instead was a well-treated collaborator. They insisted that his story of a Christian guard showing him some mercy actually happened to someone else. They made up a preposterous story about Sarah Palin faking her pregnancy. None of this aroused Olbermann's wrath.

So this is Olbermann's version of the truth. He practices selective outrage. He leaves out important details. He picks and chooses. He distorts. And he presents it as news. This isn't a "special commentary" with a disclaimer after that says that the opinions are his alone. He is not a news anchor, he is a cheerleader for the left, repackaging their talking points and giving them respectability.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Community Organizing for Fun and Profit

During the Republican National Convention, McCain's supporters pointed out that while their VP candidate was getting executive experience as the mayor of a (small) city, the guy at the top of the Democrat's ticket was a community organizer. This line of attack left many democrats puzzled. How could Republicans imply that being a community organizer was something less than ennobling? I saw one person equate it with social work. Just today, Jacob Heilbrunn of the Huffington Post seemed to think that Obama's days as a community organizer somehow gives him inside knowledge on economics.*

Others have pointed out that Obama doesn't really want people to look too closely at what it meant to be a community organizer. The concept was created by leftist Saul Alinsky. The idea is for organizers to use self-interest to band the poor together into a movement which can be exploited to further a progressive agenda. The organizers themselves are to use the cause rather than individual charisma to recruit people.

Obama was not at all successful. He spent two years as an organizer. For the first year he tried to use jobs as an inducement to get people to join the movement. the problem was that there weren't any jobs. By the second year he was reduced to orginizing people in order to demand repairs to the housing projects. He wasn't very successful at this either. After two years he gave up and went back to college to become a lawyer with the intention of going into politics. He decided that Alinsky had gotten it wrong. What was needed was charismatic leaders.

Obama never gave up his ties from those days. ACORN engages in the same sort of community organization that Obama did. He has had a close relationship with them for years although he has tried to hide it recently. In the 1990s Obama did legal work and taught classes for them. More recently his campaign employed them. He has also steered a lot of money their way over the years.

All of this puts Obama way to the left of his image.

What saves Obama is that very few people actually understand what a community organizer is. When someone explains that he was working with hard-core unemployed they accept it. They don't realize that getting jobs for the unemployed wasn't a goal, it was just a first step. The McCain campaign has never bothered to explain exactly what Obama did. If they had then Obama's associations with ACORN, Ayers, etc. would be hurting him a lot more.

* The reasoning is that Obama saw poverty first-hand. Obama used the same line of reasoning himself earlier this year when he said that having been raised in a foreign country made him an expert on foreign affairs. In both cases, the argument seems to be that you can substitute empathy for experience. Using this reasoning, then Palin's assertion that you can see Russia from Alaska does count as foreign policy experience.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

More on Olbermann

I got a comment from Matthew Montgomery on my last post which was about Keith Olbermann.

You've lost the plot, evidently. Colbert, an unmistakable satirist, is making a joke about the perceived bias of Olbermann, not about actual bias &mdash grouping him with the New York Times speaks to this.

The same goes for the Get Fuzzy comment.
Yes, Colbert is a satirist but the comment in question was satirizing Seymour Hersh at the time. Hersh was predicting (one of many such predictions) that we already had a timetable for bombing Iran. He referred to this as "Dick Cheney's pipe dream". Colbert said that Hersh got it wrong, that Cheney's pipe dream was to drive a bulldozer into the New York Times while drinking light sweet crude from Keith Olbermann's skull. While Colbert is talented, I don't think that he is so multi-layered that he would try to satirize Olbermann in the middle of a dig at Hersh. Instead, he was referring to Olbermann's well-known bias. The same is true for Get Fuzzy. Olbermann's name was dropped the same way that Rush Limbaugh's is when referring to the right. The difference is that Limbaugh is not anchoring a newscast nor has he been paired with broadcast anchors to cover the election.

Matthew also pointed out that there are people a lot further to the left than Olbermann. I agree. However, none of the regular diarists on Kos anchor a news broadcast. What's more, Olbermann reads these guys and believes at least some of what they say.

I first became aware of Olbermann in 2004 when MSNBC had their anchors post blogs on Olbermann was an infrequent poster until the election. The kids at Kos and the Democratic Underground were onvinced that their candidate couldn't have lost in an honest election. They were sure that Deibold voting machines had been tampered with to throw the election. For the next few weeks they came up with numerous instances where the vote couldn't have been what the machines said. These claims were made without any proof by people who were nowhere near the machines in question. There was no cross-checking to see if the counties in question even used the suspect Diebold machines (they didn't). Olbermann was a true believer. He suddenly started updating his blog regularly, sometimes twice a day. He believed every theory and repeated them without bothering to verify the story.

My point is that Olbermann is not fit to be a news anchor. Newsmen are supposed to relate what happened, not judge it. Olbermann can't do this. MSNBC tried using Olbermann and Chris Matthews to cover the conventions and quickly pulled them.

NBC anchors Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams have complained that Olbermann's and MSNBC's biases hurt NBC's news operation.

Brian Williams recently told David Letterman that the McCain camp is punishing him by not allowing him to interview Sarah Palin because the McCain camp is mad at MSNBC's extreme leftism as evinced by Chris "Thrill up my leg" Matthews and Keith Olbermann.
Olbermann is hurting NBC News so he should go. It's as simple as that.

Matthew also commented
As far as Olbermann's comment last night, the one paragraph you included was the only personal attack of the set of comments, and it wasn't entirely inaccurate.
I only included a bit of Olbermann's remarks. I'll quote a couple more.

McCain is up to his neck in toxic campaign waste of his own creation.

But though McCain's tone seemed to be vaguely reminiscent of his own campaign's weekend of descent into the muck, there was not a mention of any of the subjects or people about whom Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin obsessed.

You would also be hard pressed to find any candidate who said of Social Security, "We are not going to be able to provide the same benefit for present-day workers... that present day retirees have today."
This one wasn't an attack, it just wasn't accurate. Bush raised the same issue in one of his debates with Gore in 2000. Olbermann should remember that but he was too busy trying to find fault with McCain.