Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Handicapping Obama

The election is still a bit over nine months away. How are President Obama's chances of reelection?

Since World War II, only two incumbent presidents (Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush) have been defeated. In addition, Lyndon Johnson thought that his chances of reelection were poor and dropped out of the race.

The common factor in all three of these cases was the existence of a challenger in the primaries. This challenger captured at least 20% of the vote. This indicated a significant dissatisfaction for the incumbent within his own party. This looks good for Obama. He is unchallenged in the primaries.

Polls cannot be trusted this far out but they show Obama to be weak. Even if he polls slightly ahead of the Republican challengers, the Republican race has not ended yet. At this point there are supporters for each candidate who say that they would vote for Obama before they would vote for their candidate's rival. This happened four years ago - supposedly Hillary supporters would go for McCain over Obama. These people normally come back to the fold by election. that means that Obama's current numbers are weaker than they look.

The economy was a major factor in Carter's and Bush's loss (to say nothing of Herbert Hoover in 1932). Inflation was running 10% or higher in the Carter years and the country was entering a new recession. Carter seemed helpless to do anything about the economy. Bush was running at the tail end of a mild recession.

By itself, the economy is not the deciding factor. The important thing is the direction of the economy and the public perception of the President's role. Unemployment was high in 1984 but dropping and inflation was the lowest it had been in years. That let Reagan claim credit in his Morning in America ads. From the start, Reagan took ownership of the economy. It cost him in the 1982 mid-term when the country was in the grip of a double-dip recession but by 1984 things had improved. This allowed Reagan to win 49 states. Reagan's most effective line in 1980 and in 1984 was "Are you better off now then you were four years ago?"

In contrast, Bush seemed clueless about the economy in 1992 as was Carter in 1980.

This is a serious weak spot for Obama. By the election, the economy will have been in recovery for 3 1/2 years but it doesn't feel like it. This opens him to charges of mismanaging the recovery. It also hurts him that he continues to blame the Bush administration. After four years and trillions of dollars, the economy is Obama's.

Foreign affairs can hurt an incumbent. The Viet Nam war dragged down Johnson. Carter looked helpless after Iran held the American embassy staff hostage for more than a year.

Foreign affairs hurt Bush in different ways. He was a war president and nations have a tendency to retire war presidents during peace. There was also widespread anxiety about the trade deficit with Japan. This was made worse when Bush got sick at a state dinner and threw up in the Japanese president's lap.

Obama is a war president although he inherited his biggest wars. Iraq and Afghanistan will probably not be held against him unless conditions change. On the other hand, if the US-supported governments in Iraq or Afghanistan fail then Obama will be blamed for turning victory into defeat.

And that is not all of Obama's problems. There are numerous hot-spots that could erupt between now and the election. Obama has political capitol invested in the Arab Spring, especially Egypt and Libya. If either of them turns into an Islamic dictatorship then it will reflect badly on him. As it is, several US citizens who were in Egypt to promote democracy are under threat of arrest and conviction for interfering in Egypt's affairs.

Obama had chances to intercede in Iran and Syria and passed. Now Syria is in a civil war

Iran is a special case and could sink Obama all by itself. It has directly threatened the US Navy. It continues to develop nuclear weapons. It also has an interest in destabilizing Iraq.

A worst-case for Obama would be for Israel to attack Iran's uranium refining facilities. This could cause the Islamic world to insist that Obama choose sides between Israel and Islam. Egypt could well break off relations with the US after an Israeli strike.

Then there are gas prices. This was another factor in Carter's defeat. Obama has pointed out that he cannot affect gas prices. That is a poor defense after prominent Democrats attacked Bush over the same issue in 2008. Worse, he just cancelled a pipeline and his Secretary of Energy is on record suggesting that high gas prices are a good thing.

A final factor is the presence of a third party challenger. If one materializes, it will not happen until Summer. depending on which side they draw from, a third party challenger can deliver a margin of victory to the least similar candidate. This happened in the 1980 and 1992 elections. It also happened in the 1968 and 2000 elections when the sitting vice-president was defeated.

Despite his sense of inevitability in 2008, Obama came close to losing the election several times. He did not win enough delegates to give him the nomination outright. First Hillary Clinton had to concede and release her delegates. Obama was ahead of McCain all Summer but it was so close that it was usually within the margin of error (i.e. a poll with a 5% margin of error might show Obama ahead by 3%). The Republican convention and Sarah Palin put McCain ahead for several weeks until the banking collapse. Voters blamed the Republicans for the collapse and Obama finally took a decisive lead.

The candidate of 2012 is not the Obama of 2008. He can no longer run on a vague Hope and Change. He will run on his record against a challenger who can promise the moon. Obama's most significant accomplishments are either unknown or unpopular which does not give him much of a record to run on. He still has the advantages of incumbency but that could be overtaken at any time by events.

At this point, I would give Obama slightly better than a 50/50 chance of reelection. He does not have any challenges within his own party and none of the Republicans feel inevitable. He does not have any advantages like a strong economy and it is hard to imagine any foreign affairs triumphs in the near future. Several things could go wrong and take his presidency with them.

Rating the Candidates

My quick rating of the four Republicans still standing:

Romney - He's the frontrunner. The same qualities that worry conservatives are likely to attract moderate swing voters. He also has the best-organized campaign and is the only candidate left with actual executive experience. That gives him the best chance of beating President Obama. It is not a sure thing but it is a shot. He still says things that can be used against him. He is naturally friendly and open, more than people are used to which makes him seem a little strange.

Deep down conservatives know that Romney is no Reagan and he will break our hearts but he is still an improvement over Obama.

Gingrich - His campaign is fading fast. He finished Michigan behind Ron Paul. And conservatives with long memories remember that he already broke our hearts. He became made numerous promises when he became Speaker of the House. He was going to eliminate whole departments and de-fund PBS. He didn't accomplish many of his promises. Instead he led his party to higher-than expected losses in 1998 which led to his resignation.

Paul - He is the first to admit that he is not in the race to win. He just wants to keep the Libertarian wing from being forgotten.

Santorum - If Romney will break conservatives' hearts, Santorum will break the party. He appeals mainly to the most hard-core social conservatives and has no appeal to moderates or libertarians. Santorum could pull down the entire ticket and deliver the House back to the Democrats.

So, the best choice is to hold your nose and vote for Romney - advice that Clinton gave the Democrats in 1996 about his own candidacy.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Obama's Bubble

I've been reading The Obamas and one thing that strikes me is the extreme bubble that the President lives in. Looking back at what I know of Obama, I think that this has been a defining trait of his life.

His childhood must have been difficult. He started as the son of a white woman and an African at a time when mixed race couples were shot at in some states (it happened to a friend of mine). His father abandoned him and his mother moved to Indonesia and married again. Obama's childhood alternated between of being a foreigner and being a black man raised by whites. Where most blacks in America are descended from slaves, Obama was descended from slave owners.

According to Dreams From My Father, by high school, Obama found a Marxist mentor. In college he says that he didn't have time for anyone except Marxists and radical feminists.

Obama worked for for a private company for a short time and felt like an outsider. He felt like an infiltrator. This antipathy to for-profit employers continues to show up in his speeches.

He spent two years as a community organizer but ultimately was a failure at it. He got his law degree and ran for office. He eventually settled in as a part-time college teacher and state senator. He disliked the Illinois Senate.

After being elected to the US Senate, he discovered that he didn't care much for it either. Several times The Obamas mentions Obama's low regard for Congress and politics in general.

After being elected to the US Senate, the Obamas decided that they would not make any new friends. They worried that new acquaintances would be false friends who were actually advancing an an agenda. They continued this trend after Obama's election to the presidency, actually pulling back on the number of friends they were still in contact with.

So, where does this leave us? All of his adult life Obama has shunned people with conflicting opinions. He is dismissive of them as shown in his speech about bitter clingers.

Obama came to office convinced that any problem could be solved by getting intelligent, well-meaning people to talk to each other. Eventually they would come to a compromise. He was shocked to find that this does not happen. Even within his own cabinet, people will become more fixed on their opinion instead of open to compromise.

Since he was never exposed to dissenting views, Obama tends to see them in the worst possible light. Republican opposition is not based on principled views, it is a cynical attempt to ruin his presidency. Tea Party opposition must be racially motivated.

This has hobbled his Presidency. He fully expected that a well-meaning outreach to countries such as Russia and Iran could reset relations.

During the Gulf Oil Spill, Obama's distrust of executives meant that the spill was going on for weeks before he ever talked with the head of BP.

Other presidents regularly socialized with Congress. Bush invited Congressional leaders to the White House regularly. So did Clinton This served him well when dealing with then-Speaker Gingrich. Newt said that he always "melted" in Clinton's presence and took a couple of days to recover.

In contrast, Obama does not socialize with Congress. It was a front page story when he played golf with the new Republican Speaker. Once.

The result of this is that not even the Democratic leadership in DC really cares for Obama. Reid and Pelosi distrust him. The circle of advisers he trusts keeps getting smaller and smaller and the remaining ones are reluctant to tell him what he needs to hear.

Ironically, Michelle Obama once worked in the Chicago Mayor's Office but left in disgust because he relied on such a small circle of advisers. Now, years later, Michelle and her husband are in the same position.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Lorax and Message Movies

Lou Dobbs from Fox News accused the movies The Lorax and The Secret World of Arrietty or indoctrinating children. I think that Arrietty is a stretch but there is no doubt that the Lorax is a message movie. That's what Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) meant it to be. Most of Seuss's books are straightforward stories aimed at helping young children to read. Any message is minor (ex. Christmas is too commercial). But, Seuss did write some books that took sides on issues in a fairly strident way and the Lorax is at the top of the list. The message is that logging and manufacturing are evil and that nature should be left as untouched as possible. That trees were cut down in order to spread this anti-logging message is just ironic.

The Lorax is just the most recent in a long line of ecological message movies and TV shows. Around 20 years ago Ted Turner produced Captain Planet and the Planeteers. This featured a multinational group of teenagers who controlled the "five elements". One of the Planeteers was an American and he was a proxy for all Americans as the other four showed him the error of his ways. They fought against evil, sub-humans whose goal was to produce pollution.

Around the same time Ferngully came out in which a young man was shown the evils of deforestation by some supernatural creatures. He eventually went native and helped fight the evil loggers and their heavy equipment. This plot was recycled for Avatar.

These movies are different from movies like Cars 2 or the recent Muppet Movie. Both of those featured big oil as the villain but that was a side-note to the actual plot. The plot needed a villain and big oil was used but the point of the movie was not to sell a message. Cars in particular had a mixed message. The cars were entered in a race to prove that a new alternative fuel was safe while the villains tried to discredit the fuel. It eventually turned out that there was no alternative fuel. It was all a plot to discredit the idea of alternate fuels. But all of this was just a plot device for a buddy movie. The Muppet Movie was written during the Gulf oil spill and oil companies were at the top of the unpopular list at the time. What was needed was someone who wanted to tear down the Muppet Theater. Motivations were secondary.

I always hate message movies. They make me feel used. This is in contrast with movies where the message is secondary. The Iron Giant is an anti-gun movie but that message is pretty well hidden and the message can easily be interpreted to mean that guns are not evil by themselves. Cars 2 can be interpreted as an attack on the alternate energy industry. But there is no way to reinterpret Captain Planet. Polluters are evil pig-creatures and Americans are ignorant.

This comes down to parental responsibility. If you take your child to a movie you should know ahead of time if it is selling a message you disapprove of. If you take your child anyway then you should be prepared to discuss the message. Modern logging includes reseeding and sustainability (and did in 1971 when the book was written) but the story collapses if you include this bit of reality.

It is distressing that so many message movies are presenting messages from the left. This is changing. Many of the superhero movies have a conservative message hidden deep inside. In the meantime, there have been a string of message movie flops. Happy Feet 2 and the many movies about the Iraq war all lost money. Maybe Hollywood will get the idea.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Peal Oil

A few years ago the theory of Peak Oil was popular, especially on the Left. Peak Oil is hit when most of the easily recoverable oil from an oilfield has been pumped. After that, production declines quickly. According to this theory, the formula for figuring production from an oilfield is valid for an entire nation or even the entire world. The originator of this theory, M. King Hubbert, correctly predicted that the US would hit peak production between 1965 and 1970. Because of this success it was assumed that his prediction for the world would also be true. According to this, we passed peak production almost a decade ago in 2004.

The Left, especially the eco-wing has been cheering this on. They figured that Peak Oil would solve all of the world's problems. Once oil production starts to fall rapidly we will see major changes to civilization. As gas becomes more expensive, people will travel less. Eventually food production will start to decline. Governments will change. There will be a major reduction in population due to starvation. Eventually humanity will emerge with a smaller, sustainable population based on green energy (because there will be no alternatives).

But Peak Oil hasn't happened. In fact, the US is producing more oil than ever even though we were supposed to have passed Peak Oil 40 years ago. So what happened?

Economics. What Peak Oil was actually measuring was production of easily recoverable reserves, known as conventional oil. The assumption was that unconventional oil was either too scarce or too difficult to recover to make a difference.

Let me make an analogy with fruit. Conventional oil is the low-hanging fruit. Someone finds a new orchard and starts picking fruit. Others join in and production climbs. But eventually more than half of the low-hanging fruit has been picked. It becomes harder to find a tree that has not been picked. Some additional fruit can be recovered by jumping up but it is not significant. Most of the fruit pickers move onto an other orchard. Eventually most of the orchards have been stripped of low-hanging fruit. Does that mean an end to fruit gathering? Not at all. Someone goes out and buys a ladder. Some others pool their resources and buy a cherry picker (there is a reason these things have that name). Suddenly the fruit reserves have grown enormously. The amount of fruit that is recoverable with cherry pickers dwarfs what can be recovered from the ground. There is more overhead, the cost of the cherry picker is passed along, but it is offset by the increase in supply.

That is what we are seeing now with unconventional oil. Some of it comes from tar sands. Some of it comes from hydraulic fracturing. It costs more to recover but there is a lot of it - a lot more than conventional oil. There is more on the subject here.

But what about that group that was cheering for Peak Oil to solve the Earth's problems? What will they do? Or, more accurately, what are they doing?

They are trying to stop unconventional oil, of course. Suddenly fracking is dangerous. It contaminates the water supply. Tar sand is unacceptable. There are thousands of oil pipelines criss-crossing the country but adding this one more will be an environmental disaster.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Obama's Corporate Tax Plan

At 35%, the US has one of the world's highest corporate tax rates. We also have tax laws riddled with loopholes. The effective tax rate is closer to 25%. Some companies pay more, some pay less. Even that average is higher than the world average. Conservatives have been wanting to lower corporate taxes for some time. President Obama's deficit reduction panel also recommended lowering the tax rate and eliminating loopholes.

Today the White House rolled out a new tax proposal. Most loopholes would be eliminated and the corporate tax rate would be reduced to 28% except for manufacturers which would pay less and for oil and gas companies which would pay more. Where does this leave us?


The current effective rate is 25%. Obama wants to eliminate loopholes and reduce the tax rates, all in a revenue-neutral way. How did he come up with 28%? The quick answer is that he is not eliminating all loopholes. A couple of the biggest deductions would remain. Plus, he proposes some new loopholes. Manufacturers will pay a lower rate. Rick Santorum proposed something similar and fiscal conservatives had a fit.

By the way, the US is still the world's biggest manufacturer by a wide margin. Manufacturing jobs have been decreasing because the cost of labor was greater than the cost of automation.

President Obama wants to punish oil and gas companies. This might be a popular move since gas prices are up but these companies' earnings are not out of line. Their profits are around 6% of their sales. They sell a lot of gas and oil so they make a lot of money but Obama has more influence over the price of oil than they do. The current spike was caused by hostilities with Iran which were triggered by sanctions the Obama administration pushed through. Compare this with Apple which counts nearly 30% of its income as profit. Outside of populism, why tax one company higher than another?

Isn't it a little hypocritical for Obama to propose removing loopholes then make exceptions for industries that he does and does not approve of? It might even count as scary.

Apple takes its own hit. It currently has billions in earnings in foreign accounts. They cannot move these profits to the US without paying taxes on them. Obama wants to change this and tax money earned abroad. This would be unique for the industrialized world.

Obama's proposal has little chance of being considered this year which makes it nothing but a campaign document.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oil and the Economy

Gas is the highest it has ever been at this time of year. It is forecast to set new record prices this Summer. This is bad news because gas and oil prices can have major and unexpected influences on the economy. I never see anyone mention it but the last round of gas price hikes triggered the Great Recession.

Here's what happened.

People were constantly refinancing their homes based on inflated prices. They were taking out variable rate mortgages which were running at record lows. This was because the Fed had been keeping interest rates down in order to stimulate the economy (through low mortgage rates). This is also how a single mother could afford a half-million dollar house.

This demand for housing caused by low-interest mortgages was the driving force behind the real estate bubble. Because there was such a demand for houses and because the value of houses kept going up (and because of Federal action to increase minority home ownership), the standards for getting a loan had been relaxed almost to non-existence. After all, if someone got in financial trouble they could always sell the house for a profit. Because of this, the default rate on mortgages, even sub-prime ones, was low which gave rise to the infamous financial instruments.

Then oil prices started going up. This not only affects the cost of driving. It affects the cost of shipping. It also affects the price of goods created from petroleum including plastic and fertilizers. Directly or indirectly the cost of everything was affected and we started seeing inflation. In order to head this off, the Fed made a minor adjustment in the prime rate.

That minor change showed up in variable interest rates. Suddenly a lot of people could not afford their houses. People began to default. Banks put their foreclosed houses on the market at bargain rates so they could recover their money. That was enough to burst the housing bubble. Housing prices started dropping and people suddenly found themselves underwater. This was amplified because the old requirement of a large down-payment had been dropped. In previous decades, a house could lose 10% of its value and still be worth more than the mortgage but this was no longer the case in the days of no-money-down mortgages.

Big financial institutions started failing. Some, like County Savings, were direct casualties of falling real estate prices. Others were taken down by the sub-prime-backed financial instruments.

The fall was inevitable. Too much debt was loose in the system and it was going to collapse eventually. The point is that it was the jump in oil that did it. It stressed the system enough to break it.

Could that happen again? There are not any obvious major bubbles but the economy is not in any shape to take new stresses. When gas prices go up, people start cutting back. Even if it does not cause a new recession, it could slow the recovery to a crawl (or a slower crawl).

There is a bright side to higher oil prices. The US has vast reserves of oil that are only recoverable at a high price. This includes deep-water wells and shale oil recovered through fracking. That can potentially create thousands of jobs. Will this be enough to offset job losses caused by high oil costs? And will an administration that is sold on clean energy support jobs from oil?

Monday, February 20, 2012

John Glenn 50 years later

I barely remember John Glenn's historic flight. I was only seven when it happened. I was certainly aware of the aftermath. Glenn was suddenly our nation's greatest hero.

Glenn was from New Concord, Ohio which is close to my native Zanesville. It is so close that I remember a local private airport having the plane that Glenn learned to fly in. It was in the back of a hanger.

That Summer Glenn returned home for one of many parades. My mother took me and some friends to see him. It was so crowded that we barely got a glimpse.

By order of JFK, Glenn was grounded. Kennedy felt that Glenn was too important to risk in a future flight. He was eventually cleared for spaceflight late in his life and flew a shuttle mission as the oldest astronaut.

In order to understand why Glenn's flight was so important you have to understand the Cold War and the Space Race. The US and the USSR were competing for the hearts and minds of the rest of the world. A huge portion of the world was communist or socialist at the time. This was not the socialist-light that you find in modern Europe. This was the real thing and it was hostile to the US and Western Europe.

Each side was trying to show that it could produce the best results and the USSR had a big head start. At the end of World War II, Germany had most of the world's knowledge on rocketry. We gathered up the top scientists and brought them to the US to work on our rocketry program but we left a lot of talent behind. The USSR took these and gave them more resources to work with. They launched Sputnik, the first satellite and a few years began launching manned spacecraft into orbit. Prior to Glenn's flight we had only launched two sub-orbital shots. Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. For the first time we were in the race.

Kennedy was advised that we could never catch up with the USSR in near-Earth space. The only way to win the Space Race was to propose something so different that the Soviets had to start from scratch. This was the moon program. It was a gamble but Kennedy was sure that with an even start we could get to the moon before the USSR. He was correct.

While the moon shot took a lot of money, it had immeasurable benefits. It was the biggest peacetime research and development project ever. Technology developed for the space program was spu off into entire industries. In winning the Space Race, we also won the ideological race. American industry grew while the USSR stagnated. In the end the USSR simply fell apart. The Space Race was part of this victory. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

The last anti-Romney standing

Newt is fading and Rick Santorum is rising as the final "anyone but Mitt" candidate. The fact that he is the last person in the race who has not achieved this distinction says a lot about his qualifications. He is a former senator with no executive experience. He is also a fierce social conservative.

Personally, I think that Santorum would be a disaster for the Republican party. His views on sex and marriage mirror those from the first half of the 20th century. In his book, It Takes a Family, he makes his positions clear. He is against premarital sex, contraceptives for married couples, divorce and women working outside of the home. His position on gay marriage earned him a Google-bombing. While it is perfectly acceptable for someone to hold these opinions, he has implied that the government should enforce them. That puts him at odds with most of the country. He is just plain unelectable.

He has also hurt the Republican Party. They scored some points against Obamacare forcing religious institutions to pay for services that they do not agree with but now Santorum has changed the conversation away from religion to birth control with his opinion that birth control is harmful to women.

Between them, my wife and daughter have violated about everything that Santorum believes about women should behave. I can't support a candidate who would disapprove of my family and I expect that most of the country agrees with me on this.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pipeline Hysterics

This week has seen an hysterical effort to bury the Keystone pipeline (pun intended). Its opponents are insisting that a) the oil from tar sands is so dirty that it will push us past a tipping point and b) the pipeline itself is a threat to a major aquifer. Neither of these is the real reason for the push.

The tar sands will be turned into oil regardless of the pipeline. Some of it already is being transported and refined in the US. Canada has made it clear that they will build a pipeline to the coast and send the oil to China to refine if we will not take it. The oil itself is only 5% "dirtier" than lighter oils. Further, the US is already criss-crossed with oil pipelines. There is nothing special about this one.

So why the push? Environmentalists are trying to draw line in the (tar) sand. They do not want any new sources of oil developed regardless of other considerations. Jobs? Reduced reliance on foreign oil? These are inconsequential. On Monday the leader of the push, Bill McKibben, went on the Colbert Report and said that he is trying to get everyone into clean plug-in hybrids. This is a $39,000 car, after subsidies. A comparable gasoline-powered car would be the Chevy Cruz which starts at $16,800. So, Bill McKibben is trying to entice you into a $22,000 upgrade.

All of this is to stop global warming.

Funny thing about that - it seems to have stopped on its own. The news reports for 2011 were scary - it was the 11th hottest year on record and hotter than every year in the 20th century except 1998. Put another way, 2011 was the second coolest year of the 21st century.

In the meantime, oil continues to be vital to modern civilization. We power our cars with it. Much of modern life is based on petroleum-based plastics. It is even used to make some of our medicines. Cutting ourselves off from this without a replacement because of the possibility of global warming would be, at best, wrenching.

But the activists don't care. Their convictions are stronger than science or reason.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Obama Paradox

President Obama presents a paradox. He does not actually like being president. He hates politics. He and his wife hate Washington DC. Obama has complained for years about his inability to accomplish his goals. He essentially quit governing mid-Summer and went into campaign mode where it is more important to score political points and please constituent groups than to actually accomplish anything.

So why is he trying so hard to keep his job?

Obama's 2013 budget is an example. To quote Dana Milbank

The White House's budget for fiscal 2013 begins with a broken promise, adds some phony policy assumptions, throws in a few rosy forecasts and omits all kinds of painful decisions. Even then, the proposal would add $1 trillion more to the national debt than Obama contemplated a few months ago — and it is a non-starter on Capitol Hill, where even Senate Democrats have no plans to take it up. It is, in other words, exactly what it was supposed to be: a campaign document.


As such, the rollout couldn't have been more purely political if it had included a balloon drop.

And this is from one of the Washington Post's stable of left-leaning columnists.

Like Obama's proposed stimulus package last Fall, this was never meant to be a serious budget. It is a campaign platform. It raises taxes on the rich, cuts payments to doctors, and rewards heavily unionized groups (construction and teachers).

So, Obama neglects his duties as President to produce a real budget and instead issues a budget that he knows will never be considered to make his case for reelection to a job that he his dislikes and is not very good at.

Hence the paradox.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Religion and Dirty Tricks

During George W. Bush's presidency the left ran articles warning that his Middle East policies were influenced by his being an evangelical Christian. Supposedly Bush's support for Israel was nothing more than an attempt to satisfy the preconditions for the End Times. People who actually knew Bush said that this was ridiculous but the accusations still received wide play.

I am seeing the same sort of thing about Mitt Romney - that he is trying to fulfill some Mormon prophesy. The source of this and other rumors against Romney is probably the Obama campaign.

The Clintons assembled an efficient dirty tricks squad. It was used effectively to deflect revelations about Bill's many affairs. Hillary used it in her run for president four years ago. The rumor that Barrack Obama is a secret Muslim was traced back to her campaign. Obama inherited the squad and used it against McCain and Palin. Their attacks on McCain never went beyond "He's old" but their attacks on Palin were spectacularly effective. She was introduced as McCain's running mate just before the Republican convention and by the end of the convention she was denying that she had faked her pregnancy.

Last Summer the Obama campaign let it be known that they considered Romney their most dangerous opponent. Their counter-strategy was to define Romney as "different" and "strange" meaning Mormon.

And here we are, months later with stories circulating about how strange the Mormons are. Granted, Mormons do have some strange beliefs, but by that standard then so do Gingrich and Santorum. Since both are practicing Catholics then both believe that an old German in Rome with connections to the Nazis has a direct line to God.

All of this is incredibly un-American. The Founders were so against a religious test for holding office that they put it in the main body of the Constitution instead of the Bill of Rights.

That is what the whisper campaign against Romney amounts to - a religious test. And it is exactly what the Obama campaign said they would do.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Obama and Birth Control

After days of controversy, President Obama announced a change in policy on mandatory insurance coverage. There is no change in what is covered but somehow it will be the insurance companies' responsibility to cover it instead of religious institutions. Presumably the insurance companies will raise everyone else's rates a bit to make up the difference. This satisfies Planned Parenthood and similar groups. No word yet on how the Catholic Church will react.

This entire controversy is typical of the Progressives. I complained yesterday about people who insist that Obama is a pragmatic centrist but this roots of this lie in the Progressive world view.

To put it simply, the Progressives believe that they are the smartest people who ever lived and the recipients of special knowledge. Because of this, they know better than the rest of us what choices we should make. Their goal is to keep expanding government power so that they can force us to do what is right. This includes such things as what car we drive, what light bulbs we use, down to what foods we eat. There can be no argument to this because they are acting in our best interests and just don't understand.

If you don't care for a massive intrusion by the government into every aspect of your life then you are not a Progressive.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Obama the Centrist?

Four years ago many Obama supporters insisted that he was really a pragmatic centrist who was playing to the left. They insisted that as soon as he got into office he would settle down. Some people still insist on this but it is getting harder.

Obamacare is an example where he moved from a centrist position to a more extreme one as soon as he took office. During the campaign he mocked Hillary Clinton's plan because it contained an individual mandate then proceeded to ram through a plan based on this.

The Keystone pipeline is a more recent example. It passed environmental review and the State Department had deemed it as vital to US interests but it was opposed by environmentalists who see the development of tar sand-based oil in apocalyptic terms. Since the pipeline was supported by unions whose money Obama needs for his election campaign, the President tried to put the decision off until after the election by proposing an alternate route. When the Republicans forced his hand, he cancelled the pipeline although he threw the unions a crumb with the promise to reconsider if a new application was submitted. Some Obama supporters are still convinced that he would have eventually approved the pipeline if only the nasty Republicans hadn't interfered.

The Keystone pipeline is one of many examples where Obama has put his environmental agenda ahead of the common good. Another example is the new millage standards for cars. Previously these were passed by Congress but they were not as aggressive as the Obama administration desired so he took matters into his own hands. The standards are now determined by the EPA. The administration insists that they are forcing us to drive more efficient cars for our own good but the end result will be smaller cars that cost a great deal more and the total elimination of the low-end car market.

If this sounds familiar, it is the same justification the administration uses when defending the incandescent light bulb ban. This was passed by the Democratic Congress during the Bush administration but has strong support from the Obama administration.

When bailing out GM and Chrysler in 2009, Obama side-stepped bankruptcy laws, giving preference to unions over secured creditors. He publicly denounced anyone who objected as greedy.  

The most recent example is the ruling that church-based hospitals and schools have to carry coverage that includes birth control and abortions regardless of the supporting institution's beliefs.

This was a major blow to the many Catholics who supported Obama and insisted that, as a pragmatic centrist, he would never trample on their 1st Amendment rights.

The administration has begun a counter-attack saying that access to birth control is too important to be left to the churches' control. Considering the Constitutional implications, this is a very scary precedent.

For a former instructor of Constitutional law, Obama seems surprised at the separation of powers in our government. As recently as this week he complained about the system making it hard for him to institute major changes. His record reflects this since, as I showed, he has implemented major policies without regard for Congress or the Constitution.

These are not the actions of a pragmatic centrist. They are the actions of a frustrated ideologue.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Morning in Detroit

The Superbowl ad, Half-time in America, has caused some controversy and with good reason. The ad compliments President Obama's State of the Union speech where he took credit for Chrysler's resurgence and for an increase in manufacturing in America. The ad is also reminiscent of President Reagan's 1984 reelection ad, Morning in America. The big difference of course, is that the Reagan campaign paid for Morning in America but Chrysler paid for Half-time in America (with money lent to them by the US government).

Obama's opponents are dismayed at seeing an ad that helps Obama be paid for by a corporation.

The ad is also more than a little misleading. Like the other Chrysler ads run over the last year, it implies that this is an American company making cars in Detroit. The Obama administration sold Chrysler to Fiat, an Italian company and they have plants in Canada and Mexico as well as in the US.

It is also relevant that some of Obama's advisers wanted to see Chrysler closed in order to give more business to GM. Chrysler is the smaller of the two companies and had been losing money for years before the downturn. We still do not know if Fiat can make a long-term go of Chrysler.

And let's not forget that without President Bush's bailout, Chrysler would have been out of business before Obama came to office.

One final point - Ford produced some ads trumpeting that they recovered without government assistance. The White House made them pull these ads. If we are going to have car companies running ads giving the country pep talks based on government assistance then their competitors should be free to run ads trumpeting that they did not need a bailout.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Obama and the Recovery

Between now and November we are going to hear a lot about the economy. President Obama's supporters will say that he prevented the recession from deepening into a depression. This is nonsense. The real crisis came in the Fall of 2008 when several large banks threatened to go bankrupt, taking the world economy with them. The Bush administration dealt with this and kept GM and Chrysler afloat until they could go through bankruptcy (which the Obama administration handled).

When it was making its case for the stimulus, the White House projected that the recession would end during the Summer of 2009. The purpose of the stimulus was to help with the recovery, especially since unemployment always trails recovery. Sure enough, the recession officially ended June, 2009 but the recovery since then has been so weak that many people feel that we are still in recession.

So the big question is Did Obama botch the recovery?

The first round of fact-checkers points to the stimulus and the jobs that it created/saved as calculated through Keynesian economics. But there is a lot more to managing a recovery than throwing money at it.

Recent White House memos indicate that the $800 billion figure was the biggest amount that the White House figured it could get through Congress. A big chunk of that was meant to implement the President's agenda. Another third provided a two-year bail-out for the states. The administration couldn't think of anything else to spend money on so the final third of the stimulus was in the form of tax cuts.

Less noticed is the Obama administration's handling of banks and monetary policy. According to the book Confidence Men, Obama had two choices for his economic team. Team A was led by Paul Volcker. They believed that we needed to purge the system of toxic mortgages and get the banks out of the business of selling debt. This would cause short-term pain would allow finances to bottom out and begin growing again.

Instead, Obama went with Team B led by Larry Summers. They believed that the system was too delicate for big changes. Instead the government needed to prop up the existing systems until they regained confidence. This had the political advantage of being less disruptive.

The result of Obama's various policies are still being felt. The stimulus may have saved jobs but only for two years. States that were bailed out in 2009 and 2010 finally had to make cuts in 2011 which resulted in a drag on the recovery.

Another significant drag is house prices. They are continuing to drop for the 4th year. New housing accounts for a large portion of the economy but people are reluctant to build houses when they might lose value before they are completed.

Obama has hurt other sectors of the economy, also. He has discouraged domestic oil production (yes, it is up but only because increases on private land were bigger than reductions on federally owned land). New EPA regulations are raising the cost of electricity. The Affordable Care Act (health care reform) will make it more expensive for small businesses to hire people.

Currently the unemployment rate is the dropping but this is misleading because it only counts people actively looking for work. Today's workforce is 5 million smaller than at its peak. If these people decide to start looking for work then the unemployment rate will jump.

While the official inflation rate is still low, prices are rising and consumers know it. This is especially true in food and energy prices. Wages are not rising so this slows the recovery even more.

Obama has a strong ideology and, when forced to choose between ideology and the common good, always goes for ideology. Accordingly, in numerous small ways he has hurt the recovery.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


Slate has run a surprising number of articles on polygamy but probably their harshest criticism of it came on Jan. 30, 2012. Entitled The problem with polygamy, the article tells us Polygamy may actually exacerbate inequities in wealth and gender that hurt societies, even if the institution itself appears neutral.

One example given is that it leads to feral males - men who with no wives or children to domesticate them who run wild and turn to crime.

So why bring this up?

These are boom times for memoirs about growing up in, marrying into or escaping from polygamous families. Sister wives appear as minor celebrities in the pages of People, piggybacking on their popular reality TV show. And oh yes, we have a presidential candidate whose great-grandfather was an actual bona fide polygamist.
Slate has written about the TV shows before so I suspect that the real reason for bringing it up is the unnamed presidential candidate. This is a chance to remind us how strange and different Romney's background is. Is this a valid topic or a hit piece?

One argument in favor of it being a hit piece is the great-grandfather reference. You have four great-grandfathers and most people never met their great-grandparents. Did this particular great-grandfather have any influence on the current candidate?

Next, let's consider the studies. Polygamy is only legal in a limited part of the world, mainly Muslim areas. Any studies of legal polygamy are going to be irrelevant to 19th century Mormons or the few polygamous families currently in the US. The part about unmarried men has absolutely nothing to do with the Mormons. They had the opposite problem. They attracted many more women than men and polygamy was a way of providing for the excess female population. Excess men being unable to find women was the least of their problems.

But this is a problem in the Muslim world which is the main place that polygamy is practiced.

This leads to a huge question - the grandfather of Barack Obama was a polygamist. His Kenyan "grandmother" was one of his grandfather's younger wives. What is more, Obama's father was legally a polygamist. He was still legally married to his first Kenyan wife when he married Obama's mother. Why is Romney's great-grandfather a matter of interest but Obama's grandfather is not?

Sounds like a hit piece to me.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Evolution of the Occupiers

When the Occupy Wall Street movement began last October it was very peaceful and sometimes joyous. This got it a lot of good press. How can you say harsh things about protestors with drums and giant puppets.

But when the movement started it had the collusion of many big-city mayors and other officials. They didn't enforce laws about sleeping in public parks or having demonstrations without a permit.

The encampments stayed and started showing signs of becoming permanent. Several sites began construction of wooden buildings with the intention of spending the Winter and beyond. Sanitation became a problem. The homeless mixed in with the protestors. Drug abuse became common and violent incidents began. The movement lost its luster.

Suddenly the officials decided to start enforcing the laws. This led to violent confrontations. It became obvious that the only way to evict an occupation was to give them a deadline but hold off enforcing it until the dead of night two or three days later.

Most camps were broken up and the movement fragmented. It also turned angry.

Last weekend the Occupiers descended on Oakland (again). They broke into City Hall and vandalized it. Someone grabbed a flag and, at the urgings of the others, set it on fire. The mayor of Oakland who had been an enabler last Fall now wants them to go somewhere else.

Back in New York, a videographer who had been a hero for his live feeds from Zuccotti Park is now considered an enemy of the movement for continuing to show the Occupiers now that they have turned violent.

I probably will get severely injured in these next coming months," he said. "...I pretty much expect to wind up in the hospital. The threats I'm hearing, with words like 'protection' in them, sound awfully Mafioso.

This evolution was probably inevitable. OWS refused to make any serious, unified demands. What did come out of the camps tended to focus on major, disruptive change to society or forgiveness for college debts. With nothing to show for weeks of effort, the protestors are getting impatient that their unstated demands have not been met.

At the same time, the movement has attracted the anarchist elements that trashed Seattle in 1999. The movement has never made a serious effort to discourage violence which encourages its violent element. This will continue to cost it public support.

This is bad news for President Obama's reelection. He adopted several OWS elements in his State of the Union speech including a threat to take action against colleges if tuition keeps rising. The President did not get a bounce in the polls after his speech which shows that its OWS elements do not resonate with the electorate.

Contrast this with the evolution of the Tea Party. It went from orderly demonstrations to political action and managed to co-opt the Republican Party.

If OWS continues on its current path then we could see a repeat of the 1968 election where a riot broke out outside the Democratic convention and probably cost the Democrats the White House.