Thursday, January 31, 2008

Let the mud-throwing begin

After months of cordial relations, Hillary and Obama have started throwing mud in earnest. In a recent debate Hillary accused Obama of working for a slum-lord and being a closet Reagan-lover. Obama hit back by reminding people that Hillary was on the Walmart board of directors.

All of these attacks are unfounded. Obama praised Reagan's ability to reshape American politics, not his policies. Both Bill and Hillary have given Reagan stronger praise. When Hillary was on the Walmart board they hated her for her social conscience. Obama had little personal contact with the slum lord and Hillary has closer contacts with more disreputable characters.

This week Obama suggested that Hillary votes with the Republicans too often to be trustworthy. This is a badly thought out attack for several reasons:

  • His book decries exactly this sort of attack. Hillary already released a statement pointing this out.
  • Hillary has already pointed out his long record of ducking controversial votes. She can point out that at least she is on the record on these issues while he is not. THis puts him back on the defensive.
  • It gives Republicans some strong ammunition to use if Obama gets the nomination. While Obama is identifying particular issues, his attack can be taken as an attack on Republicans and compromise in general. Obama has been running on a platform of hope and bipartisanship. This indicates that his idea of bipartisanship is for the other side to vote his way. Where Bill Clinton claimed to see all sides of an issue, Obama regularly insists that he has the only valid side. Contrast this with McCain who regularly votes with Democrats.
Obama started the campaign with a handicap. He talked a lot about rising above the bickering and personal attacks that have typified modern politics. Hillary embodies these traits. Obama either has to sink to her level which diminishes his appeal or he has to constantly stay on the defensive. Like G. W. Bush in debates, Hillary benefits from low expectations. She campaigns like a Clinton. We don't expect anything better from her.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Field Narrows

So far it has only the third-tier candidates who dropped out of the presidential race - people who never stood a chance and whose runs bordered on an exercise in vanity. Today the race lost its two second-tier candidates - people who seemed to stand a chance but were not winning primaries. I'll miss both of them but for different reasons.

I will miss Edwards for purely partisan reasons. The longer it takes for a party to establish a clear front-runner the worse it does in the November election. The shortened primary cycle was mainly designed to allow Hillary to wrap up the nomination quickly and get on with organizing her national campaign. As soon as she or Obama gets enough delegates to clinch the nomination the primary race is essentially over. The candidate can start solidifying support and move to the center. Edwards wasn't winning but he was taking delegates which slowed the eventual winner's progress.

It is no mystery why Edwards never got any traction. He came in a poor second to Kerry in 2004. At the time he seemed fresh and his "two Americas" theme resonated with many Democrats. Four years later he is no longer fresh. He has a new message but could not articulate it as well. Plus he has been tarnished by his association with Kerry. He would probably have done better to turn Kerry down in 2004.

On the other side, I will miss Rudy Giuliani. He had a lot of strengths as a candidate. He is a moderate, possibly even liberal, on some social issues but he has solid credentials as an administrator (New York City is larger than 41 states) and as a tax cutter. In 2006 Democrats ran as solid fiscal managers. He could have taken that issue back from them. He also ran well in traditional Democrat strongholds. He had a lot of personal baggage but, unlike Hillary, he didn't have his biggest piece of baggage campaigning for him.

Six months ago Rudy was the front-runner but that seems to have been largely based on name recognition. I saw one analysis that pointed out that the more voters saw of him the less they liked him. I suspect that most people find New Yorkers slightly grating and that this did him as much harm as anything. I wonder if Mayor Bloomberg has figured this out yet?

So where does that leave us? I suspect that Hillary's insider connections will eventually get her the nomination. Obama supporters will be outraged and stay home in November.

McCain seems to be on a roll. With Hillary (and Obama) so far to the left, he has the middle all to himself in a general election. I worry that he will move too far to the left. He has always been unpredictable. Given the choice, I prefer Romney although neither would be my first pick. Both should prove themselves electable in a general election against Hillary. Obama, on the other hand, has youth and charisma. With the newest set of endorsements he is evoking a president who was killed the year before Obama was born.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Defending Republicans

A list of "Things you have to believe to be a Republican" has been around for some time but Dennis Prager just wrote a column rebutting it. It got me to thinking. This is my version of a rebuttal.

Here's the list.
  1. Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you’re a conservative radio host. Then it’s an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.

  2. The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

  3. Government should relax regulation of Big Business and Big Money but crack down on individuals who use marijuana to relieve the pain of illness.

  4. “Standing Tall for America” means firing your workers and moving their jobs to India.

  5. A woman can’t be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

  6. Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.

  7. The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing veterans’ benefits and combat pay.

  8. Group sex and drug use are degenerate sins unless you someday run for governor of California as a Republican.

  9. If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won’t have sex.

  10. A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, then demand their cooperation and money.

  11. HMOs and insurance companies have the interest of the public at heart.

  12. Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy. Providing health care to all Americans is socialism.

  13. Global warming and tobacco’s link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

  14. Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush’s daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a “we can’t find Bin Laden” diversion.

  15. A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense. A president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.

  16. Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

  17. The public has a right to know about Hillary’s cattle trades, but George Bush’s driving record is none of our business.

  18. You support states’ rights, which means Attorney General John Ashcroft can tell states what local voter initiatives they have a right to adopt.

  19. What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the ’80s is irrelevant.

  20. Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.
The first point says more about the left than the right. Rush became accidentally addicted to a prescription painkiller that was not supposed to be addictive. Comparing that with recreational drug use is unfair.

Several of these points try to lump all conservative together. This is unfair. Just because someone on the far right believes something does not mean that all conservatives to. This is equivalent to attributing Cindy Sheehan's anti-American statements to Hillary. Numbers 2 and 6 are examples of this.

Numbers 3 and 5 are pairs of non sequiturs. Pro-business (and pro-employment) policies have nothing to do with drug or abortion policy. Also, no Republican has ever proposed removing all restraints on business.

No conservative has ever said number 4 although conservatives have pointed out that outsourcing tends to result in higher employment in the US.

Number 7 is another one that says a lot about the left. They characterize the troops as victims and/or killers then accuse the right of not supporting them.

Number 8 is a swipe at Governor Schwarzenegger's conduct in the early 1970s. This is a common trait among the left. Republicans who sinned decades ago are ever forgiven while Democrats who sinned in office are.

Number 9 is a legitimate point. Conservatives believe that high school kids are too young for sex and should not be encouraged. Liberals think that kids as young as 14 are old enough to have sex and should be given protection and encouragement.

An interesting thing about number 10 - the countries in question (France and Germany) both elected governments that are much more pro-America since this list was written.

For number 11, I've been watching the British government's recent cut-backs on medical coverage. They make HMOs seem warm and friendly.

Speaking of which, number 12 is fiction.

Number 13 is so wrong I could do a post on it all by itself. No Republican questions the link between tobacco and health hazards (although the link between second-hand smoke and health problems is questionable). Many Republicans do doubt that human-induced global warming requires gutting civilization. A completely different group of people believes in creationism. Many of this group are conservatives and many also doubt global warming but creationism is not part of the Republican platform.

Iraq and Iran have both been problems. The US has aided each against the other at different points depending on which country was the bigger menace at the time. With the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam took the prize as the most destabilizing element.

Number 15 has been repeated endlessly. Republicans believe that perjury, a felony, is impeachable. Republicans also believe that President Bush acted in good faith based on the intelligence estimates available. If Bush lied about Saddam having WMDs then President Clinton did, also.

Number 16 is a strange mish-mash. Republicans believe that the courts should not issue decisions that effectively amend the Constitution. That includes judges legalizing gay marriage in an end run around the legislatures. As for censoring the Internet - Democrats have been leaders in that as well as censoring video games (I'm thinking of Hillary here).

Number 17 tries to equate the likelihood that the Clinton's accepted a political payoff and used Hillary's one-time commodity trading to launder it with Bush's drunken driving record from the early 1970s. The first involves the possible cover-up of a crime. The second is a conviction record. Why would Democrats think that these are the same thing?

Number 18 concerns the differences between the Bush administration and other conservatives. While conservatives in general and Republicans specifically support Bush, they don't agree with everything his administration has done. Many libertarians support states rights to decriminalize Marijuana. The Bush administration disagreed with this. Different people, different opinions.

I'm not sure what number 19 is referring to. Maybe it is unproven accusations of Bush using cocaine and Clinton trying marijuana but not inhaling. The only people to accuse Bush of drug use are people with a political axe to grind. Clinton's drug use came up after a Bush nominee for the Supreme Court has to withdraw because he had tried marijuana in college. The two subjects have nothing to do with each other.

For number 20, I could point out that China and Viet Nam have changed governments and instituted reforms while Cuba has not. I could also point out that Clinton did not open trade with Cuba either. While these are true, the biggest reason that we have not opened trade with Cuba is that neither party wants to anger Florida's Cuban population.

Maybe I will write a set of things that Democrats believe. The problem is that my sense of fairness would keep me from writing such a one-sided, slanderous list so it would never become as widely-read as this list.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Voting Machine Follies

Ohio's Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, made national news after releasing a report in mid-December listing vulnerabilities in the voting machines that Ohio uses and recomending a complete overhaul of Ohio's voting process. Several other states are using Brunner's report as justification for getting rid of their own voting machines.

Is all of this (or any of it) justified? Not on the basis of Brunner's report. While I am not implying that there was any attempt to deceive on the part of the people who did the assessment, the report itself is highly misleading, mainly because of major omissions. One of the biggest omissions of the report is its failure to point out its own shortcomings. While everything about the methodology is documented, you have to dig to put the pieces together.

To examine this more closely:

The first problem is that the report is being treated as a general assessment on voting machines (called DREs in the report). It was not. It was an assessment of what vulnerabilities could be found in the machines using in Ohio when given total access. The difference is subtle but vital. By only focusing on DREs used in Ohio, the report gives the impression that there are no problems with any other forms of voting. In fact there are tremendous problems. In the 2000 election it became general knowledge that the punch card machines most often used rejected up to 10% of votes. The switch to DREs was a response to this. When the switch was made, it was felt that DREs were the method of voting most likely to capture all available votes.

The issue of total access vs realistic conditions is possibly the most misleading issue. The people doing the evaluations were given a voting machine to experiment with in an empty room. They not only checked for software vulnerabilities, they also evaluated physical security. To illustrate the difference, the report noted that all of the machines used standard locks and could be picked with lock picks.  While this is undoubtedly true, I doubt that anyone could pick the lock of a DRE and open it up in the middle of an election. Either voters or election officials would stop anyone from trying this.

The report found that it is possible to change the stored totals on some machines. This does not change the printed record. If an audit comparing the printed record and the totals came up with a discrepancy the resulting uproar would send an untold number of people to jail. It would be too risky to contemplate. The only way around this would be to infect the machines with specialized software that would display the vote one way but record it in both the totals and on the paper record differently. Even that would be risky since the paper record can be read by the voter. The evaluators did not address this possibility at all. Conspiracy mongers insist that this come built-in as an option that only Republicans and Hillary supporters know how to use.

Another lapse in the report is any suggestions for mitigating the vulnerabilities outside of keeping anti-virus software updated. This is a curious lapse. Security reports normally list vulnerabilities, how difficult they are to exploit in the real world, and ways that potential damage can be minimized.

The report then moves on to its recommendations. These include centralizing polling places, extending the polling period from a single Tuesday to a fifteen day period, and using optical mark cards that would be read at a central location. There is no discussion of the drawbacks of doing this. They present their own problems.

One problem is security. While I do not think that anyone would have enough access to pick the lock of a DRE during a crowded single-day election, there would be a lot more chances in a 15-day election. This includes questions about security at night. Someone who can pick locks could gain access to the optical mark cards and substitute different ones.

When assessing the current optical mark machines, the report mentions that there is no control to prevent extra cards from being fed into the machines. The recommendation is to use the same machines but the option for counting the cards on-site turned off. That would still allow extra votes to be cast.

Brunner's plan guarantees an undervote problem. The report calls for optical mark cards to be filled out and fed into a reader. The reader would show the recorded vote and reject over-votes. If the voter agreed that the card registered correctly then it would be put in a locked container and transported to the centralized vote. Since two different machines will be used, I can guarantee that not all cards will be counted the same. Worse, a high-speed machine will mangle some cards. We will be back to the issue of lost votes which the DREs was supposed to resolve. Several voting rights organizations have noticed this issue and filed complaints with Brunner. This surprised her since these came from left-leaning organizations.

The final problem is that the report recommended switching to machines that have not been tested for security problems of their own. The report even notes that only one machine has been certified that can do a central count with others coming. How can anyone seriously justify switching voting methods based on a security report that has not evaluated the alternatives.

Between the omissions and the unacknowledged problems with Brunner's alternative, it would appear that the proposal was prepared separately and the two documents joined.

Considering what is at stake - throwing out $100,000,000 in new equipment and buying $32,000,000 in new equipment, a closer look needs to be given to all alternatives. In the meantime, Brunner has shaken the nation's faith in the honesty of its elections. She has made public statements advising that she does not trust voting machines and will use a paper ballot herself. On what is fast becoming a partisan issue, she is making things much worse.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Obama and Reagan

A few days ago Obama Barack said some good things about President Reagan during a radio interview. Hillary attacked him over this during their next debate. This was unjustified but understandable.

What Obama did was to point out that Reagan was a transformative president in a way that few presidents have been. Bill Clinton was included in the group of non-transformative presidents.

He was absolutely right. Reagan left office 20 years ago but the part is still fighting over who can claim his heritage. Most of the presidential candidates are trying to run as the next Reagan. No one is running as the next Bush (although Huckabee qualifies by virtue of being a caring conservative). No one is running as the next Ford, Nixon, or Eisenhower, either.

On the other side, no one, not even Hillary, is running as the next Bill Clinton. Hillary talks about fiscal responsibility (while promising $150 billion is hand-outs) but she is running far to the left of her husband. None of the candidates are invoking Carter, Johnson, Kennedy, or Truman, either. The big question among Democrats is who can create a coalition to replace FDR's. FDR was the Democrats' last transformative president.

We expect presidential candidates to aspire to be a Reagan or Roosevelt. It's hard to win when you are promising to be mediocre. Hillary should understand this and not take it personally. After all, she is against NAFTA, one of her husband's major accomplishments.

Obama has also suggested that he will take up the mantle of Martin Luther King. Can he do this?

No. Obama is neither Reagan nor King. Reagan worked for years reshaping the party starting as governor of California. He embodied new economic principles and the radical idea that the government was not good at doing some things. Obama has nothing new to offer. He just packages a conventional Democratic platform. You could switch his platform with Hillary's or Edwards's and no one would notice.

The comparisons with King are even more of a stretch. King led a cause. Obama may have spent some time working as an activist but he wasn't a leader. At most he is the beneficiary of King's legacy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It's Cold Out

Most of the US is suffering the coldest January in years. It snowed in Baghdad last week for the first time in living memory. The rest of the Middle-East is having unusual cold with frost threatening crops in Jordan. Even Egypt is running colder than normal. China is having problems after unusually heavy snowfall. Greenland is having the sort of winter they used to have decades ago. All of the Arctic ice that was reported melted last Summer is back again.

So, what does this mean about global warming? Nothing. It's all within normal climate variations.

But - if this had been a warm year like last year then we would be hearing a constant stream of stories about global warming.

This is a big problem with the news media. Long-term climate changes are not noticeable but they are convinced that global warming is a big story. Big stories need to be constantly fed. The reporters need to see effects of global warming right now in terms that anyone would recognize. So, anytime there is a weather event of any kind, they hunt up an expert who assures them that it is caused by global warming.

I'm sure that somewhere out there a climatologist is insisting that the current cold winter is caused by global warming.

What if a Democrat Wins?

It's the accepted wisdom that a Democrat will take the White House. The reasoning is that Democrats are united in their hatred of Bush and the Republicans, independents have turned on Republicans over the war, and the Reagan coalition has fractured.

So what if Hillary or Obama (or Edwards) wins?

Some sort of Health Care initiative will be introduced. It may or may not pass. After all, it seemed like health care's time had come when Bill and Hillary proposed it back in 1993.

After that... it's hard to say. There will certainly be some sort of attack on free trade and NAFTA. The Kyoto treaty will be sent to the Senate where it may or may not pass.

Then there's the war.

I predicted months ago that the Democrats would not actually vote to end the war. They want it as an issue. This backfired on them since the Surge is working. A Democratic president will have to explain why he is abandoning a winning strategy in favor of surrender and defeat.

The final thing that happens is that the current Democratic alliance will splinter. There are already signs of this happening. The net roots are really upset with the Democrats' performance in Congress. By now the war was supposed to have ended and Bush should have been impeached, thrown out of office, and be facing charges of treason (seriously, just look at Cindy Sheehan's public statements).

With Democrats controlling two of three branches of power, the net root will expect their progressive agenda to be implemented. It will not happen. Let's start with the war. Obama is promising to have everyone out within a year. This would be something between a retreat and a route. Assuming that Bush hasn't already signed a long-term commitment to protect Iraq, the next president will still find a military united against a fast pull-out. At various time, Hillary has talked about keeping up to 80,000 troops in Iraq long-term.

The rank and file will not accept it if we still have troops in Iraq January 1, 2009.

The candidates have been too loose in promises about trade, also. The unions will have a it over this one.

Then there's the environment. It's inevitable that some meaningless reforms will be enacted. These may not hae any real effect on CO2 emissions but they will still be painful. $3/gallon gas has hurt the economy. What will $5/gallon gas do? Or higher heating bills? Or rolling blackouts?

Regardless, there is no way to balance what is politically possible and what groups like Greenpeace are demanding.

Clinton managed to push the nation to the right within his first two years. He survived politically by moving to the right of his party. The net roots never forgave him for that but they weren't organized the way that they are now. The next Democrat president will not be able to triangulate. Four years from now we will find a Democratic party far more fractured than the Republicans are now.

Unless the Republicans win. Then we will find the Democrats biting off their own legs in frustration. But at least they will be united.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Race, Gender and the Election

Writing in the Huffington Post, Sally Kohn takes issue with Gloria Steinem about the election. Steinem is urging people to vote for Hillary because of her gender. She points out that if Obama was a woman he probably would not be where he is today. Kohn responds by pointing out that if Hillary was black then she probably wold not be a front-runner either.

What neither writer has noticed is that neither one would be there if he/she was a white man. In Hillary's case she achieved national prominence by being married to a president. She may be a competent senator but her real claim to fame and is her husband. A good bit of her campaign is based on her experience, meaning the time she spent at Bill's side while he did things. The husband of a female president could never run on such a platform (and a gay male president with a husband just will not happen in the foreseeable future).

Obama originally attracted national attention as an articulate black candidate who was comfortable talking about religion. His color gave him a pass on his religion, a subject the last several Democratic candidates for president were very uncomfortable with. While it is true that he is a good public speaker, that isn't enough to get a first-term senator taken seriously. John Edwards run in 2004 was as much as Obama could hope for - respectable enough to earn a place on the ticket but never a real threat to the front-runners.

The bottom line is that both candidates come from oppressed groups but neither can lay much claim to personal discrimination in this election.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Voter Confidence

There are two major issues affecting the public's confidence in modern elections. Republicans and Democrats are split on these issues.

The first is voting machines. After the problems with punch-card ballots in Florida's recount politicians promised to upgrade so that this would never happen again. Things get complicated from there.

In the run-up to the 2004 election the president of Diebold expressed support for reelecting President Bush. Unfortunately he used the phrase "do whatever it takes". He meant financial support but liberals were convinced that he was announcing voting machine fraud. When Kerry lost after an early lead in exit polls, many in the left were convinced that it was because of voting machine fraud. This leaked over from far-left blogs to (sort-of) mainstream news when Keith Olberman started reporting on it. This distrust continues. When Hillary unexpectedly won New Hampshire the immediate reaction from the far left was that voting machine fraud must be involved. Dennis Kucinich has asked for a recount because of this.

Because of these allegations, requirements for voting machines keep changing. Purchase of new machines was put on hold for a time until paper audit trails could be added. Now these are being rejected because potentially a machine could be programmed to record a vote to one candidate while printing a different name. Ohio's Secretary of State proposed junking the State's brand new touch screen voting machines. Instead she wants voters to fill out optical mark cards. These would be read at the precinct and verified then sent to a central location for the official count. Details are not clear but the verification process might involve abandoning the secret ballot. As I wrote in my last couple of entries, this would help the Democrats. Many people are closet Republicans who vote Democrat if their vote was public.

Even with the touch screen machines, secret ballots are no longer secret in precincts with a single voting machine. All you have to do is match the order that people voted against the paper audit trail.

Despite all of the allegations, there are no proven cases of voter machine fraud. While it is possible to hack a voting machine, it is also possible to alter optical mark ballots. The solution is to establish controls so that no one has sufficient access to alter the vote.

The other big issue is voter identification. This time the right is sure that unauthorized people are being allowed to vote. Their solution is to demand identification. The left is having a fit over this, insisting that the ID requirement is nothing but an attempt to keep poor and elderly from voting. The fee for a state id card is characterized as a poll tax. Here is an example.

The left points out that there are very few documented cases of voter fraud. The right counters with the fact that no one is actively looking for it. Reports of a van full of people going from precinct to precinct where the occupants register and vote are never investigated. There is very little to keep illegal immigrants from voting and some activists insist that they should be allowed to.

Ironically, the star witness for the left turned into exhibit number one for the right. Faye Buis-Ewing was initially refused the right to vote in Indiana because her only picture ID was a Florida driver's license. She testified that it took her four hours to get an acceptable ID. The trouble is that she was not entitled to vote. She registered to vote in Florida when she got her driver's license which disqualified her from voting in Indiana.

While activists on both sides claim to take the moral high ground, there is some cynical calculation going on, also. For decades Democrats have figured that the way to win elections was to get as many non-voters to the polls as possible. While some Democrats believe in expanding democracy, most are more concerned with winning elections. Republicans worry about Democratic voter fraud of decades ago and see this push as a possible continuation of the same thing. They also wonder how anyone can legally exist in modern society without a picture ID.

I side with the Republicans on both issues. I have not heard any evidence of voting machine fraud. To the contrary, none of the claims are remotely credible. At the same time, it seems reasonable to be as diligent about identifying registered voters as for giving someone a library card (Ohio has similar requirements).

Bradley Effect?

In my last post talked about why the pollsters got New Hampshire wrong. There have been several columns written about this subject since then. Most referred to the "Bradley Effect". Named after an LA mayoral candidate who polled much higher than he scored in the election, this is a variation of what I was talking about. Depending on who you ask, the Bradley Effect is either caused by a voter hiding his racism by lying to pollsters or trying to prevent being perceived as a racist by the pollster by lying. This is an important distinction, one that escapes many liberals.

If you vote against Obama because he is black then you are racist (or prejudiced, a more accurate word which has fallen out of usage). If you voted against Obama because you thought Hillary would do a better job then you are blameless. Regardless of the reason for your vote, many people only look at the result - a black man not getting the vote - and assume prejudice. As this column points out, the New Hampshire primary was the perfect place for the Bradley Effect to happen. Obama was clearly the candidate that Democrats were supposed to prefer so a significant number said what they thought the pollsters wanted to hear.

My earlier point is that this does not just happen when minorities are on the ballot. It is human nature to want people to think well of oneself, even when it only involves an autonomous poll-taker on the phone. Accordingly, some voters give the answers that they think will make them look better. This is more pronounced when a minority member is on the ballot but it happens other times. In 2004, Democrats were beside themselves in hatred for President Bush. I worried a bit about putting a Bush yard sign up for fear of inviting vandalism (with some reason since my sign was stolen). If an exit pollster had approached me on election day I was not going to announce my vote. A lot of others felt the same way. No minorities were involved but it still threw off the polls.

So, tell the pollsters what ever you want and vote your heart. That's why we have a secret ballot. (More on that later.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hillary and New Hampshire

This time yesterday I figured that Hillary was finished. Polls showed her way behind Obama. Instead she won by a few percent. What does this mean?

This is really bad news for Obama. He got a lot of momentum after Iowa. For the last few days he seemed like the unstoppable candidate for change. Now, he's been slowed. At least a few more people in New Hampshire prefer Hillary.

How did this happen and can Hillary count on it happening again? There are a few possibilities. One is her little break-down Monday. She came close to crying in front of national TV. I'm not thrilled with a president who cries when things get tough but it was the most authentic moment in her 16 years of national attention. That may have won some voters.

The Democratic Underground has a different theory. They are sure that the evil Republicans used their diabolical Diebold voting machines to throw the election to Hillary. There are several links here. The proof? The election results were different than polls and Hillary is more likely the establishment candidate. Besides, the Republican vote turned out pretty close to the polls so something must have happened to the Democrat count. The obvious problems (why would the Republicans only change the Democratic count, etc.) don't even register. Jonah Goldberg predicted that Obama's supporters could become easily unhinged if he lost. He was immediately branded a racist (on the assumption that he was only talking about Obama's black supporters) but this vindicates him.

So, what's the real reason that Hillary did better than the polls? My theory is that she got the same boost that Republicans get from a secret ballot. When a pollster calls, many people are ashamed to give their real preference. Bill Clinton never did as well in the election as in the polls. Reagan always did better than the polls showed. In this case, Hillary may be the beneficiary of the closet voter. If so then she will continue to do better in the actual primaries than the polls indicate. This will drive the Democratic Underground nuts. It will also hurt her in the general election. A lot of people will lie to pollsters rather than admit that they will vote against a Democrat who is also the first woman candidate. The same thing will happen if Obama gets the nomination.

The way to tell how big a factor this will be is to compare polls done by live people versus ones done by machine. People are more honest with a machine which will not judge them. If there is a big difference then
discount the polls by live callers. In 2004 the polls with live callers predicted a very close election, possible putting Kerry ahead. The machine-generated polls were much closer to the actual vote.

Friday, January 04, 2008


There's no doubt who the big loser was in the Iowa caucus - Hillary. Given three candidates with interchangeable platforms, the voters went for the freshest face with Ms Experience coming in 3rd. Obama came out of it a winner, having established that he can win a contested race in a very white state. Edwards proved that he can still place second, something he did four years ago. This time it may not be enough to get him the #2 slot on the ballot.

It's a lot harder to say what it means for the Republicans. Iowa's Republicans are Huckabee's most sympathetic voters. A big percentage of them are evangelicals. Huckabee doesn't have much money and there is no time to raise more before the next round of primaries.

Also, the biggest dog in the fight wasn't there. Rudy gave Iowa a pass, preferring to concentrate on bigger states. This has never worked before but the rules have changed significantly. Everything is bunched up now. The old strategy was that the winner of the first couple of minor races could use his momentum to raise enough money to compete in the later, larger primaries. With a big cluster of primaries coming up in the next month, there isn't enough time to properly campaign in all of these states to say nothing of fund raising.

Also, Rudy's campaign has pointed out that voting in Florida has already begun. Many states now allow up to ten days for voting. A candidate who waits until just before the polls close will miss a lot of voters who already cast their ballots. Rudy is the only one going after the early voters.

Had Rudy shown up in Iowa he would likely have done poorly (slick New Yorker among the hicks and all that) and the pundits would be pronouncing his candidacy in as much trouble as Hillary's . By skipping Iowa, Rudy relieved himself of that headache. Instead of saying that he is in trouble, the pundits are wondering if his strategy will work. His strategy is risky but probably the soundest given the new realities of this year's primary schedule.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Who to vote against?

Sometimes you have a candidate who you dislike so much that your support goes to "anyone but...". For 2004, many Democrats supported "ABB" (Anyone But Bush). As they approached the primaries four years ago there was a strong Anyone But Dean movement.

As far as I'm concerned, there are several candidates on both sides who could qualify for this. And that's not counting people like Ron Paul who have no chance.

I don't like any of the three Democrat front-runners. They all made a giant step to the left and I think that they would hurt the country in several ways.

For much of the election Obama was my anyone but candidate. Every time he makes a statement on foreign policy it causes an international incident. The most recent one was when he implied that he would ban the import of toys from China. Both China and the toy manufacturers (it would take them years to move production elsewhere and they would be bankrupt before then) objected and Obama had to retract his statement.

Recently, Edwards started making a special effort. If you are a believer in economics then you have to view his entire campaign as a run against American prosperity. Thirty years ago economists thought that it was impossible to keep unemployment and inflation below 5% but it has been like that most of the last decade. A lot of this comes from foreign trade and American exports are rising fast - over 15% annually. Edwards would like to kick off a new round of trade wars. While he's at it, he wants to punish anyone (except trial lawyers) who have high earnings. All of this sounds great to unions but will hurt the rest of us.

On top of that, today he started a bidding war on how many troops he would withdraw from Iraq and how fast. His newest bid is that he would pull everyone except an embassy guard. He doesn't even want to continue training Iraqi troops.(His wife added that he might be willing to have them trained in some other country.)

Over on the Republican side, I'm torn between McCain and Huckabee. McCain scares me. He is on record as saying that campaign finance reform is more important than free speech and has tried to implement the Kyoto treaty unilaterally several times.

On the other hand, the more I see of Huckabee the less I like him. He is a compassionate conservative which is pretty close to a big-government Democrat who is anti-abortion. His main appeal is that he is a better Christian than Romney. I hate having a religious test for candidates. This will doom Republicans to permanent minority status.

Plus, Huckabee is outright mean. His ads are mean. He made a big deal of pulling his newest, meanest ads from TV but he still showed them to reporters while surrounded by anti-Romney posters.

I've seen some complaints from social conservatives saying that they are tired of waiting their turn. This puzzles me since Bush's credentials as a social conservative still seem to be in order. He certainly wasn't a fiscal conservative.

I'm sure that as the campaign progresses other candidates will give me reason to vote against them but that's the pair at the top of my list right now.

Global Warming 2008-style

Right now it is 16 degrees outside in Central Ohio. That's 40-50 degrees colder than last year. Many cities across the country got more snow in December than in all of last year. Some places set new records. That's how weather works. Sometimes its above average, other times its below.

But, last year some columnists were convinced that the warm spell was because of global warming and was how things would be from now on. Thomas Friedman quoted his wife as saying that she needed a global warming wardrobe - winter colors in spring weight fabric. I wonder how she's doing with that this year?

The trouble is that people (especially reporters) don't really understand what global warming means.  The world has warmed something like a degree in the last century. That's too small to notice. You have to look at the records to see it.

But global warming is a big story. Reporters want to be part of it. They want to be able to point at something and say that it is part of global warming. So they attribute anything unusual to global warming.

It's warm in December and January. The arctic has record low ice. Glaciers have retreated. It must all be due to global warming. Don't even look for other explanations. If someone suggests that there is an El Nino, that an ocean current periodically reverses and that this causes arctic melting or that glaciers have been retreating since the 18th century they are ignored since this message doesn't sell global warming.

Prophets of doom such as Al Gore are only too happy to encourage bad science reporting. They realized years ago that the reality of global warming wasn't very scary and that exaggeration was the only way to sell the public on extreme measure.

All of this becomes part of an information cascade. Global warming has become the accepted paradigm. Any warm weather is attributed to global warming while cold spells are just that.

Keep this in mind when you hear the weather forecast.