Thursday, May 15, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

Conventional Wisdom says that Bracak Obama will be the next president. He is a Democrat and we have had a Republican president with a very low approval rating for the last eight years. The electorate should be hungry for a change. In most elections following a two-term president, the White House changes parties.

So how accurate is conventional wisdom?

In 2004, conventional wisdom said that any credible challenger could beat Bush. Kerry was favored right up through the early exit polls.

Over the last 60 years, there have been five two-term presidents (counting LBJ who served part of JFK's term and one on his own). One of these (1952) was an open election. The opposite party won however the winning candidate was Ike who had been courted by both parties and would probably have won, regardless of party affiliation.

In 1960, 1968, 1988, and 2000, the current vice-president ran and lost in three of the four elections. Three of these were very close and could have gone either way, especially 1960 and 2000 which had disputed states). George H. W. Bush won a decisive victory in 1988 on the strength of Reagan's performance. Humphrey in 1968 and Gore in 2000 were running on the coat-tails of unpopular presidents (Clinton's approval ratings were pretty low by 2000) and still came close to capturing the presidency. From this we can conclude that the election following a two-term president does not always switch parties.

In every election that I can remember (starting in 1968) the candidate who had the most trouble securing the nomination lost. Humphrey didn't even run in the primaries. He was selected by the convention in 1968. McGovern won a tight victory at the convention in 1972. Support for Reagan over Ford in 1976 was so strong that it shut down the convention for around an hour while Reagan supporters cheered. In 1980 Ted Kennedy challenged President Carter. In 1984, Mondale had trouble defeating Gary Hart. Bush secured the nomination well before Dukakis in 1988. Bush was challenged internally in 1992 while Clinton quickly secured the nomination. No Democrat seriously challenged Clinton in 1996. In 2000, G. W. Bush secured the nomination before Gore did. In 2004 no one seriously challenged Bush. In all of these cases, disputes in the primaries signaled a lack of support in the general election.

Which brings us to 2008. Obama has the nomination but he is still losing primaries in Democratic stronghold states. McCain's last challenger conceded two months ago. This
says more about the voters than it does about Hillary. Edwards got 7% of the vote in West Virginia and he dropped out months ago.

It is impossible to say for certain because voters will not admit it to pollsters but I suspect that much of Hillary's support is actually the anti-Obama vote. Some of this is racially motivated. A recent Washington Post story told about Obama campaign workers encountering raw racism (among Democrats).

A recent poll showed that most people think that the country is moving in the wrong direction and trust the Democrats over the Republicans on all ten issues asked. While this implies that generic Democrats should beat generic Republicans, it overlooks people's actual views on issues. On most subjects such as raising taxes and expanding government, the respondents were closer to the Republicans than the Democrats. This implies that a conservative Democrat could win over a Republican.

Much has been made of the special election this week where a Democrat won in a district that was solidly Republican in previous elections. What is overlooked is that, as with many of the recent Democratic victories, the winning candidate was a conservative Democrat. Congressional Republicans have managed a working majority on many core issues by reaching out to these freshman conservative Democrats. If the party gets too aggressive about disciplining these renegades they may switch parties. This happened several times in the 1980s.

So the electorate is likely to look at individuals and issues as much or more than party affiliation. That is why McCain is doing so well in the polls. You would expect at this point for the Democratic challenger(s) to be burying the Republican.

What does all of this add up to? It is really too early to say except that the election isn't as wrapped up as conventional wisdom would have it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Cool on Warming

There are two poles of thought on climate. The one endorsed by Al Gore, James Hansen, most of the IPCC, and believe that atmospheric CO2 is the principal determinant in global climate and is the basis for the panic over global warming. There have been posts on RealClimate speculating on how ice ages were started and ended by variations of CO2.

The other side says that CO2 is a minor contributor along with ocean currents, solar variations, excentricities in the Earth's orbit and shifts in the Earth's axis. There are a lot of people somewhere in between these two extremes.

A new model published last week in Nature has a lot of ramifications for the CO2 crowd. This projects that changes in the Gulf Stream will cool the Earth over the next decade or so.

Climate scientists in Germany base the prediction on what they believe is an impending change in the Gulf Stream -- the conveyor belt that transports warm surface water from the tropical Atlantic to the northern Atlantic and returns cold water southwards at depth.

The Gulf Stream will temporarily weaken over the next decade, in line with what has happened regularly in the past, the researchers say.

This will lead to slightly cooler temperatures in the North Atlantic and in North America and Europe, and also help the temperatures in the tropical Pacific to remain stable, they suggest.

On one hand this takes the pressure off of the CO2 crowd. They don't have to explain why temperatures have stabilized the last decade and actually declined the last few months. This model says that this is expected but assures that global warming will eventually start up again (or that it will be there all along but masked by other fluctuations).

On the other hand, this means that Al Gore cannot keep saying that the planet "has a fever" and that all recent weather effects are caused by global warming. It also takes away a lot of the urgency. It is a lot easier to push through major changes in the global economy if you can tie it to current events instead of projected ones. (Hansen proved this 20 years ago when he testified about global warming before Congress during a heat wave in a room where the air conditioning turned off overnight.)

There is a bigger problem for the CO2 crowd. The IPCC report says that this should not happen. Figure SPM4 of the assessment report for policy makers shows observed temperatures along with plots allowing for natural forcings and anthropogenic forcings. It clearly shows that, according to the IPCC models, natural forcings are having minimal effect on the climate.

So now we have a new model that shows natural forcings having a greater effect than anthropogenic ones. This raises questions about the validity of the previous models. Is it possible that the warming that the IPCC attributed to humans was actually natural?

I checked RealClimate to see what they made of this but they have not posted since the article was announced.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Just a regular guy

Barack Obama is running as two different people. On the one hand, there is the exotic, internationalist who understands foreign relations because of his life experience. On the other hand, he and his wife insist that they are just regular people who couldn't possibly be elitists or out of touch with other regular folk. A closer look at Obama's biography shows how pitiful this characterization is. His life to this point has been anything but ordinary.

Obama describes his mother as a Christian woman from Kansas. This is ingenuous and ignores most of her life.

Obama's mother was an early 60s radical and "the original feminist". She married a Muslim from Africa (against both families' wishes) at a time when people in a mixed marriage were shot at. That she married a second Muslim implies that her marriages were as much a political statement as the product of true love. She was also twice-divorced at a time that this was very rare.

Obama's mother pretty much abandoned her native country. She became an anthropologist and spent most of her adult life overseas. Obama had to move in with his grandparents in order to attend high school in America (they were kind enough to pull up stakes and move to Hawaii for him).

Obama admits to using a lot of drugs in high school and college. His college experience was ivy-league.

After college, he took a corporate job but felt very uncomfortable - "like a mole". As soon as possible he quit to go work as a community organizer.

This is a loaded term. Obama claims that he could not have told his fellow corporate workers what it meant, that it was up to him to define it. This is incorrect. The term community organizer has a well-understood meaning. The radical, Saul Alinsky, appropriated the term as a way for socialists to push for change without admitting to being socialists.

One thing that Obama did as a community organizer was to work as a trainer for ACORN. This is exactly the sort of organization that Alinsky described. Among their causes, they have endorsed confiscating vacant houses and giving them to the poor. They have been champions of increasing minimum wage except when applied to their own organization. They have also been involved in voter registration drives, sometimes increasing the voter rolls through election fraud.

Of course, for more than a decade, Obama has been a career politician.

So what part of this gives him insights into regular people's lives?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Obama and MAD

A few days ago Hillary said that her response to a nuclear Iran would be to stress to them that if they bombed Israel then we would obliterate them. She suggested that the way to prevent Iran's neighbors from pursuing nukes would be to sign similar pacts with them.

This is a variation of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). The reason that the US and the USSR kept the peace so long was the knowledge that neither side would survive a conflict. In this version Iran would be constrained from ever using its nuclear arsenal (once it creates one) by the knowledge that we would retaliate for any first strikes that they make.

This is the best way to preserve peace - make war too expensive.

NATO existed largely for this reason and it has been the policy of the US for both parties since the USSR exploded its first atomic bomb.

So why if Obama denouncing it? In a statement he said:
It's not the language we need right now, and I think it's language reflective of George Bush" akin to "bluster and saber rattling.
This comes pretty close to saying that Obama would not retaliate if Israel was attacked. Does he really mean to declare open season on Israel?

Once again, Obama's desire for a "new way" in politics threatens to undermine US policy.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Temper Temper

The Democrats are trying to dig up dirt on McCain but they aren't coming up with much. So far no one has met slipped Mary Mapes a secret memo at a rodeo. The best they can come up with are some instances of his temper. They came up with one involving a near fist-fight in Congress that has been denied by all involved parties.

In the newest one, which took place years ago, McCain's wife ruffled his hair and made a comment about him going bald in public. He replied with a couple of choice profanities that would give a movie an R rating but would be familiar to anyone in the armed services.

The Democrats are so desperate that they insist that this makes McCain ineligible for the presidency. Recently an Obama supported and long-time Democratic operative named Marty Parrish asked McCain about the incident at a town hall meeting. Of course, he didn't bother to volunteer his background.

This amounts to a double standard. The evidence this incident is purely hearsay. I have it on at least as good authority that Hillary got mad enough to throw things at Bill while they were in the White House. Which is worse?

Then there is Bill Clinton and his purple-faced rages. These were legendary. They were also common enough that some were caught on camera. Are Democrats willing to admit that neither Bill Clinton wasn't qualified to be president? Did any of them speak up about his rages, possibly suggesting anger management therapy? Of course not. This is a fake issue that they invented.

This is an issue that could backfire. He's managed to keep it out of the news for the last year but there were rumors that Obama has a bad temper back when he announced his candidacy. Then there was the near-scuffle between Obama and an autograph-seeker just a month ago.

If the Democrats focus too much on McCain's temper and Obama has an outburst then he will look all the worse for it.