Dec 10, 2012

Let it burn: Syria edition


Ok, that's it. I've been mulling Syria for as long as the civil war has been raging. The knee-jerk answer was that Assad has to go, and we should help him do it, through any means necessary. He started this by assaulting peaceful demonstrators over a year ago. Then, it was an easy thing to oppose.

Now that the "rebels" have either been transformed into or entirely replaced by radical jihadis, we should not and cannot support them in any way, even by the deposing of Assad. We should instead lend only humanitarian support to the people, not fighters, where necessary, and let the regime and jihadi forces kill as many of themselves as possible. Two vile, inhuman birds; one stone.

(Full disclosure: I did not actually watch the video linked above, nor do I intend to or suggest you do.)

Dec 8, 2012

Two things certain: Taxes and death, in that order

If Republicans agree to raise taxes to avoid the fiscal cliff, the 2014 elections will be a massacre. We should put our plan on the table, walk away, and let the chips fall where they may. Any surrender on the issue will result in a much worse outcome for the party in the next election.

Democrats (in the media) are giving us poll numbers in an attempt to convince us that the public wants taxes on the rich to go up as part of a deal. While this is true, they're not providing us this information for our own benefit. If Republicans agree to raise taxes this year, everyone who does so will be challenged by more conservative candidates in the 2014 GOP primary. Some of those challengers will win their primary, unseating longstanding and virtually unbeatable representatives. Some of those primary winners will turn around and lose the general election.

We need look no further than Richard Mourdock in the race this year for the Senate in Indiana to see how well that turns out. Sure, we occasionally get a Marco Rubio out of the deal, but at what cost? If poor candidates like Angle, O'Donnell, Buck, Akin, and Mourdock hadn't lost seats in the last two elections, Republicans would have at least a 50-50 tie in the Senate right now, if not a majority.

Caving on taxes ensures a 2014 GOP primary civil war, which is a strategic goldmine for Democrats, giving them a chance to get back a supermajority in the Senate and a majority in the House. We cannot let that happen, especially for the last two years of the Obama administration.

Dec 5, 2012

"Necessary" revenues?

In the ongoing "fiscal cliff" negotiations (read: public gamesmanship; there have been no actual negotiations yet) to avoid the expiring tax rates and automatic budget cuts previously enacted by Congress, the White House has created an arbitrary requirement for a certain amount of revenue that it says it must reach for any meaningful proposal. From a response to Jake Tapper in the White House press briefing today:
"[We] have not seen and no outside independent economist has seen a credible proposal that says you can achieve the kind of — the kind of revenues that are necessary for a balanced approach just by closing loopholes or capping deductions."
Who decided what amount of revenues are "necessary" for a "balanced approach"? One might think he means (and a good approach would be) the revenue necessary when combined with complimentary spending cuts to reduce the deficit to $0 and balance the budget. However, the total amounts we're talking about in any potential deal are literally fractions of the annual deficit. President Obama's proposal is $2 trillion, Speaker Boehner's proposal is $2.2 trillion, Bowles-Simpson is $4 trillion, but these are all spread over 10 years, where the deficit every year has been over $1 trillion for each of the last four years. So what is this unspecified target that the amount of new revenue must reach? Assuming the White House likes their own proposal and thinks it is itself "balanced" and meets the targets "necessary", this appears to be roughly 1/5 of the annual deficit. Why is that the proper goal? Why not 1/4 of the deficit? Why not 1/2? Why not the whole thing?

The Obama proposal includes $1.4 trillion in revenue from tax increases and $600 billion from spending cuts. Given the White House's reliance on the "balanced approach" trope, are we to assume that they think the numbers 1,400 and 600 are somehow balanced? Do they even know the meaning of the word? Actually, the House proposal of $800 billion in revenue (from deduction elimination, not rate increases) and $1.4 trillion in cuts is numerically more balanced than the White House proposal. However, in the real world neither of these proposals is actually balanced or even comes close to repairing the enormous fiscal damage done over the last six years.

UPDATE: During the budget/debt ceiling talks in 2011, President Obama suggested that $1.2 trillion in tax revenue could be raised by elimination deductions and credits without raising rates (or even with lowering them). Why isn't that possible anymore? And assuming he thought $1.2 trillion was a "balanced" amount of revenue then, why is $1.4 trillion balanced now and $800 billion not?


Nov 6, 2012

Recriminations 2012

It was a tough night. Much tougher than I expected. I was wrong, terribly, terribly wrong. Led astray by faulty premises and errant data. Gallup and Rasmussen found a country made up of either even numbers of Republicans and Democrats or more Republicans. I expected GOP enthusiasm to match that. It didn't. Final exit polls make the national electorate look like D+6, only one point down from the D+7 in 2008.

If the GOP can't do better than flipping two states (IN, NC) after four years of the most hated President in decades on the right, it's got a lot of soul searching to do. Go moderate? Go libertarian? Go more socially conservative? I obviously have a preference there, but we don't really know what the electorate will want in 4 years.

Some other quick takeaways:
  • GOP holds the House (and even pick up a few seats), Democrats hold the Senate. Gridlock goes on.
  • Obamacare and Dodd-Frank are now permanent law.
  • Mitt Romney is a great man who deserved better than this. I wish him all the best.
  • President Obama ran a hell of a campaign. Democrats should be congratulated.
  • We still desperately need tax reform, entitlement reform, and immigration reform. Those are all much less likely to happen now.
  • No one should blame third party candidates like Gary Johnson, even if his total is bigger than the margin in places like Florida. We don't know where those votes would have gone, or if they would have shown up at all.
  • The 2016 GOP primary starts tomorrow.
  • The incredible WI-centrism of the GOP of the last two years (Priebus, Ryan, Johnson, Walker) was for naught.
  • Paul Ryan retains his House seat. Unclear if he retains his leadership within the party now.
  • Obama is the first candidate since FDR to win reelection with fewer electoral votes and states than his initial win.
  • I would say the auto bailout securing OH was the price we paid for Obama's reelection, but that doesn't explain FL, VA, IA, CO.
On to the next one...

Nov 1, 2012

Gutcast 2012

In the real world, polling is more art than science, otherwise we'd already know who was going to win the US Presidency next week. I've looked at lots of data over the last few months, seen ground reports, consulted my tea leaves and entrails, and here's what I think we'll see at the end of the day (or, god forbid, week or month):


I think the polls are seriously overestimating Democrat turnout in their models, by between 2-8 points per state. The GOP base is more motivated to vote than they've been in 25 years. While I don't think the map will look like it was back then (80, 84, 88) because of demographic changes, it damn well won't look like 2008 either. Then-Candidate Obama was blessed by a convergence of a handful of factors that led to his big win last time. But there are lots of disappointed and disaffected people who voted for him who won't again, and almost no one who didn't vote for him last time who has been so convinced by his political prowess that they will now. His 2008 victory is his absolute ceiling. The tide has turned. 2010 was either a foreshadowing or the high point.

On the off-chance that even I am underestimating GOP turnout, we could wake up to a massacre of this scale:


But back down to earth (or below it, depending on your perspective)... If the polls are actually, miraculously right (they can't all be, since they vary wildly), Obama will win, and it will look like this. A smaller margin than 2008 (ironic given most polls give his party a bigger share of the electorate), but still a decisive victory:


If some of the more mid-line polls are right, but GOP turnout still improves, Romney might eek it out with a painfully small margin (for both legal challenges and political capital post-inauguration).



I hope I'm right and we wake up on Wednesday to at least a 300 electoral vote win, so President Romney can get started in correcting our nation's course without controversy. Anything less and we're likely to see Florida 2000 in at least one state, probably more. The psychological damage to our republic would be more devastating than the last four years.


Oct 22, 2012

PPP vs party ID

One of the most contentious debates in this election cycle has been over party ID samples in polling.

Poll skeptics (mostly conservative) argue that the party ID sample of a poll should roughly reflect the likely party ID breakdown of the electorate on Election Day. If there are likely to be 33% Republicans, 33% Democrats, and 33% independents voting, then polls should reflect that in order to get an accurate picture of how they plan to vote. This is of course a very difficult thing to estimate in the first place. Many factors affect turnout, and it varies from year to year.

Poll purists (mostly liberals, media figures, and pollsters themselves) instead argue that the party ID sample of their polls is an organic finding of the electorate in a state or nationally at any given time, mostly reflective of voter enthusiasm (the more the electorate identifies with a party, the more they will identify with it in a poll). Purists also argue that they should leave the sample distribution as they find it, since estimating what the party ID sample should be and adjusting their numbers as necessary is presumptive at best, and completely distorts the data at worst.

The purist argument makes sense from a statistical perspective, but the pollsters' own data argues against it. In the last week, PPP, a private polling firm mostly hired by Democrat groups, conducted two different polls of Iowa voters. This turns out to be a perfect opportunity to test their own theory of party ID. PPP's 10/19/12 poll, conducted 10/17-19, found Romney up 1 point overall, with a party breakdown of R+2. Their 10/21/12 poll, conducted 10/18-19, found Obama up 1 point overall, with a party breakdown of D+7. Both cannot be true. If party ID sample in polls represents organic electorate composition and enthusiasm in a state or nationally, then two polls taken by the same firm at the same time in the same state should show the same party ID. But they don't.

So where does that leave us? Party ID is important on Election Day. Turnout wins. But it's not predictive in polling, it's determinant. As PPP's two Iowa polls show, shift the sample (intentionally or not), and you shift the result. That has been the biggest statistical story in this election cycle, I think. The polls haven't changed all that much in the actual inter-party result; Republicans are voting for Romney, Democrats are voting for Obama, and independents favor Romney by an average of 10ish points. The only thing that determines who wins is how many of each group answers the phone or turns out to vote.

Oct 19, 2012

Romney's flipped newspaper endorsements

The following is a (growing) list of US newspapers that have endorsed Mitt Romney for President, all of which endorsed Barack Obama (or didn't endorse anyone) in 2008:

Orlando Sentinel - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Nashville Tennessean - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
New York Observer - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Fort Worth Star-Telegram - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Houston Chronicle - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Reno Gazette-Journal - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Billings Gazette - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Columbian (WA) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Daily Tribune (MI) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Sentinel & Enterprise (MA) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
South Florida Sun-Sentinel - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Des Moines Register - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Quad-City Times (IA) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Casper Star-Tribune - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Bluefield Daily Telegraph - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Los Angeles Daily News - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Daily Herald (IL) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Lima News (OH) - N/A 2008 - Romney 2012
Lafayette Journal & Courier - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Yamhill Valley News-Register (OR) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Cape Cod Times - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
The Intelligencer (PA) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Naples Daily News - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Florida Today - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Pensacola News Journal - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
The Reporter (CA) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Joplin Globe - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Worcester Telegram & Gazette - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Galveston Daily News - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Nashua Telegraph - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Statesman Journal (OR) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Shreveport Times - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Sauk Valley Telegraph & Gazette - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
San Angelo Standard-Times - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Huntington Herald-Dispatch (WV) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Newsday (NY) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Norwich Bulletin - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
New York Daily News - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Wisconsin State Journal - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
The Daily Reflector (NC) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
Journal Star (IL) - Obama 2008 - Romney 2012
The Star Press (IN) - Obama 2012 - Romney 2012

For comparison, a total of 7 newspapers that endorsed McCain in 2008 have endorsed Obama this time. Yes, 7.

Oct 17, 2012

Forget the answers, it's all about the questions

Apart from the uneven speaking time, the errant live "fact-checking", the applause lines allowed for the President, the main problem last night was the questions. While some of them were surprisingly good for the typical undecided voter mental diarrhea, many of them were based on faulty or plainly liberal premises, which tells you a lot about who undecided voters are.

Some examples, from the Washington Post transcript:
"Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?"
The correct answer to this question is "nothing". Sure, a President can pursue policies that improve the economy and job market, and that's largely how both answered it, but in a free society no one should be able to tell another individual that they'll have a job after college.
"Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?"
Of course it shouldn't be the policy of the Energy Department to lower gas prices. It shouldn't be the policy of any government agency to control prices in any way. It shows how far we've gone from a truly free market when it's assumed that it should be the goal of the government to lower prices. The government should facilitate the market, not steer it.
"In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?"
There are inequalities in the workplace? But I thought President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which ended that. The premise of women making 72% less than men is even more wrong, as FactCheck.org explained recently. Women make less than men overall, not because of discrimination, but because women tend to work more part-time jobs, take more time off for pregnancy and other issues, and work less overtime. Both candidates of course used the opportunity to pander to women voters, but in a more mature political environment the question would never have been asked at all.
"Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I’m not that optimistic as I was in 2012. Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive."
More price control pandering.
"This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply (ph) in Minneola yesterday. We were sitting around, talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?"
Nothing wrong with this question...except that it wasn't answered.
"President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?"
What exactly is an "assault weapon"? Are there weapons that are used for things other than "assault"? The additional premise that we can realistically limit the use of certain kind of weapons is just as ridiculous. Criminals don't care about the law; that's what makes them criminals. Tell me how hard it is to get illegal drugs in any urban area in the country.
"The outsourcing of American jobs overseas has taken a toll on our economy. What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?"
Outsourcing has not "taken a toll on our economy", it has provided us with inexpensive consumer products, new markets for our own companies to expand, efficient industries, and is almost exclusively used to serve foreign markets not "ship jobs overseas" that would otherwise stay here. Naturally both candidates used the opportunity to pander to low information voters in manufacturing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania who trend protectionist anyway.
I suppose we shouldn't expect rational and well-sourced questions from people who three weeks before a year-long election still haven't decided who to support, but at least we should seek to have the moderator or organizers limit the questions to those that are based in reality so the candidates aren't debating on false premises.

Oct 16, 2012

Electoral priorities: Go for 270 or 337?

The great Jay Cost of the Weekly Standard raises a good point about prioritizing campaign dollars here:
Romney should not spend in MI either. Same reason. He wins MI after he gets beyond 300 EVs. Meaning it's gravy.
There are a LOT of swing states right now (11 within 5% according to RCP), especially after Romney's pre/post-debate surge. When the polls tighten in a state that you thought was previously out of reach, it's tempting to flood the state with ads and other money-hungry campaign activities. However, in terms of winnability, it makes more sense to go harder in the closer states that get you over the 270 electoral votes required to win. Sure, it would be great to win Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, but they're not necessary. Since there are so many other states closer to Romney's reach than those, enough to get him to 270, that's all he needs.

According to RCP averages, there are 3 states in which Obama leads by less than 2% right now: NH, VA, NV. If he gets those, he already has 267 electoral votes, with OH, IA, WI, MI, PA remaining, in order of accessibility (2-5% Obama leads in each). Sure it would be great to get all of those, but with just one, he crosses 270 and wins. So barring locally mitigating circumstances, it's much easier to get the one or two with the smaller margin (OH, IA) than to shoot for the moon and go for all of them or the big ones. Doing that means diluting resources in states that while leaning his direction could slip from his grasp if the campaign lets them.

Only when you're absolutely certain of victory (270) can you really let down your guard and go for the whole shebang (337).

Sep 21, 2012

Libertarians vs libertarians on Election Day

There is lots of confusion in the political arena of ideas about who libertarians are, who they vote for, and which party they belong to. There is, of course, a Libertarian Party, but with its electoral prospects dim as they are, most libertarians choose to align themselves instead with the two larger parties. This is my best estimation of where we end up on any given Election Day.


Most libertarians vote Republican (~67% for McCain in 2008), fewer vote for Libertarian, and a handful even vote Democrat (~30% for Obama in 2008). I think with Mitt Romney's ongoing friendship with the Paul family, socially moderate history, and demographic trends on certain issues, plus a noted (though certainly overblown) Ayn Rand fan, Paul Ryan, on the ticket, libertarians have their best shot in decades of realistically pursuing their goals through the GOP, as I've explained before.


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Sep 20, 2012

Gary Johnson: Not really a third choice

Many Gary Johnson supporters are behind him because they refuse to sacrifice their principles in order to vote for the other two candidates, with whom they agree less (and often absurdly claim are virtually the same anyway). This is a noble theory, but there's one major problem with it - reality.

There are only three realistic outlooks for Johnson in this election:

1. He gets fewer votes than he expects, Romney's margin is larger than expected, so his few votes don't matter, Romney wins.

2. He gets about the number of votes polls show he might, or a few more, denies Romney enough votes to win a crucial swing state or two, Obama wins.

3. He gets far more votes than anyone expected, even wins a state or two (NM, NV, CO?), denies both Obama and Romney enough electoral votes to win, under the Constitution the election goes to the House, Romney wins.

That's it. There is no path to an actual victory for Johnson himself. The best he can hope for is to make a stand on issues and change the discussion and terms of the debate, as Perot did in 1992. That hasn't happened yet, and we have less than 50 days to go. In any scenario, one of the other candidates will win, either despite or because of his presence on the ballot. Johnson's supporters, while by definition ideologically, not politically focused, should understand that the vote they cast for him does have an effect, though it may not be the one they want. Whether they see a difference between Obama and Romney, there is. And whether they think they aren't choosing between them, their vote very well may make the difference in what has been so far the closest election in modern history.

Choose wisely Johnson supporters, for whether you want to or not, you may be choosing between the "lesser of two evils" for us.

NOTE: I supported Johnson in the GOP primary, but once he dropped out to run as a Libertarian, he lost me.

Sep 11, 2012

9/11/12: "Smart Diplomacy" Circus

On what has become a holy day in the United States of America, this 11th anniversary of 9/11/01 has seen a dizzying array of events in the political sphere that expose latent truths about who our leaders are.

First, the candidates' tweets were a study in contrasts this morning:


Later in the day, on the other side of the world, a protest broke out in Cairo, Egypt over a film. Radicals (by definition) stormed the US Embassy, spray-painted the walls with grafitti, and ripped down the American flag.
The US Embassy in Cairo immediately issued a press release condemning...wait for it...the filmmakers for the "hurt feelings" their free speech caused. Seriously. That happened:

U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement
September 11, 2012 
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.

Not to be outdone by its own State Department, the White House rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's request for a meeting with President Obama while Bibi is in New York at the UN in two weeks. The White House cited an innocent "scheduling conflict" that prevented the two from meeting, and Secretary Clinton will attend instead. But Netanyahu in his request made clear that, despite his short 2.5 day visit to the country, he would be willing to fly down to Washington, DC if it would facilitate the meeting.

And in a final, classy coup de grĂ¢ce, the Obama campaign violated the political "cease-fire" agreement between the two Presidential campaigns on 9/11 with a Florida rally by impeached former President Clinton on behalf of the Obama campaign.

I don't know about you, but I think we've had just about enough "smart" diplomacy. It's high time we had some strong diplomacy again.

UPDATE:  Apparently the film protests have spread from Egypt to Libya, where now one American employee of the US Consulate there has been killed by the violent, gun-wielding, arsonist mob. This is an outrage and should be condemned in the strongest terms. But I'm sure the State Department will issue another apology instead.

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Sep 7, 2012

One-term proposition: Confirmed.

On February 2, 2009, President Obama told Matt Lauer in an NBC interview that on repairing the economic damage of the Great Recession, “if I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” We've all heard it, we've all seen it, and we all know that the expiration date for that statement was seven months ago. So why hasn't he owned up to this failure? There's always an excuse.

The current excuse, as the administration has been using or a couple years now, but former President Clinton put so succinctly in his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention this week is, "No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage [to the economy] that he found in just four years." There are two main problems with this excuse.

First, I don't think the mainstream expectation is that the economy be fully recovered in four years. Everyone knows that the Great Recession was the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and the subsequent recovery would take that much longer. The problem now isn't that we haven't recovered fully, it's that we don't have a significant recovery at all. Normal post-recession recoveries grow GDP at a rate of 3-4%. For the last two years we have only been growing at an average of 2% per quarter.

Unemployment was also worse than we've seen in decades, peaking at 10% in October 2009, four months after the recession officially ended that June. Under normal circumstances it takes anywhere from 12-36 months to return to peak employment levels based on past recessions. Peak employment before the Great Recession was 4.4% unemployment in May 2007. We are now more than five years (63 months) past that point, yet we're still near double that unemployment rate (8.1% for August 2012). At the current rate of job creation (~100,000/month) it will literally take decades for us to return to the near-full employment we had in 2007. So no, we don't expect a full recovery in 4 years, but we expect some significant growth and progress toward that goal. The stagnation of the last three years is insufficient, and makes the President's "proposition" long overdue.

The second reason the Clinton excuse falls flat is the timing of the various economic indicators. The recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. We were already on the way out by the time President Obama took office in January 2009. Unemployment spiked from mid-2008 to the end of 2009, but in terms of job losses, the worst ended just as Obama took office, as Democrats so giddily like to point out in this chart (more accurate version here).

So in terms of both GDP and job losses, we had already hit bottom by the time Obama took office. He took office and proceeded to reassure us over the next year that we would be on the road to recovery soon (the fact that we've had two more summers since the first "Summer of Recovery" exposes that lie). The very fact that he said that he would have it fixed in three years after two weeks in office shows he thought he could, and he already had the information necessary to come to that conclusion.

What they're really saying is that it will take more than 4 years to recover from their errors. The Clinton excuse could be more accurately summed up as, "We didn't know how terribly we'd do." Sorry, that's not how it works, especially when we have no evidence that they've learned from the mistakes of the past 4 years and will take a different approach to fix it now. We have elections every 2, 4, and 6 years so that we the people can decide if you get another shot. On November 6, we'll make that decision for them.

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Sep 5, 2012

Real Clear Politics national poll average: TIE



NOTE: Half of the polls included in this average were taken BEFORE the Republican National Convention last week.

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Aug 13, 2012

What Obama has ended "as we know it"

The most prominent and concise attack against Mitt Romney's new running mate, Paul Ryan, is that his budget plan "ends Medicare as we know it". Let's take a look at some other things that have been ended "as we know it" recently, except these by President Obama:

  • Private health insurance
  • General Motors
  • Chrysler
  • United Auto Workers
  • Medicaid
  • Immigration
  • Student loans
  • Defense of Marriage Act
  • Don't Ask Don't Tell
  • No Child Left Behind
  • Libya
  • Egypt
  • Gulf oil drilling
  • Cuban embargo
  • Hate crime law
  • NASA
  • Financial regulation
  • Supreme Court
  • Payroll taxes
  • Food stamps
  • Welfare

Ending something "as we know it" is also called "reform" when it's favorable. Since when did liberals become the champions of the status quo? Why are Medicare and Social Security the only things the federal government does that aren't up for debate or reform?


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Aug 11, 2012

Romney/Ryan 2012: Our time is now.

If you haven't turned on an electronic device since last night, Mitt Romney will be announcing his Vice Presidential nominee this morning, and it will be Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. I've been hoping it would be Ryan for months, and I could not be more excited that I was right. Paul Ryan is a cheerful, brilliant, positive, inspiring reformer. He is exactly who we need to truly focus this campaign on what good, pro-growth, free market policies and smart, limited government can do to reverse our current progressive malaise. This choice also sets up Paul Ryan to run for President himself after 8 successful years in the White House. Our future is brighter this morning, America, and in November it will be blinding.

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Aug 7, 2012

Not Four More Years, but a Fresh Start.

By now it should be obvious that I'm not objective observer of politics. I actively support electing Mitt Romney and making Barack Obama a one-term President. He had his chance in 2009 & 2010 with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress to get our economy moving again (assuming you believe his policies would do that). Instead, he spent nearly $1 trillion on public sector union bailouts and boondoggle cronyism passed off as economic "stimulus". Instead, he nationalized health insurance regulation, created new entitlements and federal bureaucracies to mandate things that Congress and the executive have no authority to oversee, arguing it was a life and death matter, but phasing it in over 7 years. Instead, he put chains and irons on small business and community banks with national financial regulation that hasn't even been fully implemented almost two years later.

The people saw this vision of "change" for what it was, and in November 2010 they took back as much of the government as they could (dozens of state legislatures, governorships, and the US House of Representatives). This November we have the chance to take back the rest. We must win back the US Senate, and we must win back the White House. If we don't, Obamacare becomes permanent, we get 2-4 more liberal Supreme Court justices, and 8% unemployment, $3 gas, spiraling debt, and $1 trillion deficits become the new normal. Our nation cannot survive that.

Mitt Romney has the vision and experience necessary to wake us from this national nightmare of malaise and dependence. As a business manager and owner he turned around failing companies, created jobs, and evolved industries by eliminating failed business models and creating new, successful ones. As the savior of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, he took the organization from corruption and deficits to a budget surplus and an inspirational and successful international games. As governor he consistently fought for lower spending, lowered taxes, and balanced the state budget, all with the help of the 80% Democratic state legislature.

Barack Obama's pre-election experience went from navel-gazing in the faculty lounge to rabble-rousing and divide-and-conquer on the streets of Chicago. No wonder he got not a single Republican vote in the House on his signature "achievements" of the stimulus and Obamacare. Mitt Romney's experience over the last forty years in businesses, community, and government is the picture of principled leadership.

We need Mitt Romney in the White House, and he needs your support to get there.
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Jul 17, 2012

You didn't build that, King Barack did!

At a campaign event over the weekend in Roanoke, Virginia, President Obama echoed Elizabeth Warren, candidate for US Senate from Massacusetts, saying:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the GI Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president — because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.”
On its face this is true in a sense, but also an absurd argument for a President to make, as if anyone actually believes that an individual is 100% responsible for everything that happens in their life, especially their business. Par for the course in what has been the President's reelection campaign against his challenger, also from Massachusetts, Mitt Straw-man.

But then today I heard the audio, saw the video, adding another sense to the text, and it made me viscerally angry.  Have we ever had such an arrogant, condescending, entitled, resentful man in the White House? Just wow.

Now that I've gotten all that out of my system, on to some actual points regarding what he said.

1. It's a straw man. As usual. Mr President, there are no solipsists. No man is an island. It takes a village. Etc etc. The President isn't running against an Anarchist for his office, but a Republican, and not even a radical libertarian one (I wish). Everyone knows we use public infrastructure, other peoples' research, shared ideas, years of education, and an interconnected society of consumers and producers to make business and the economy work. No one is arguing we don't. We're only arguing the level, not the fact, of government influence.

2. The line "You didn't build that" could be referring to the previously mentioned roads and bridges rather than the business itself. Fine. Who (besides John Stossel) is arguing we shouldn't fund roads and bridges? Local, state, and federal taxes pay for roads and bridges. Individuals and businesses pay those taxes, so yes, Mr President, the businesses in a community do build the roads and bridges in that community, in the fiscal sense. And in many places, the state or municipality actually hires businesses to do the construction itself!

3. Yes, government research (in the Defense Department that the President wants to cut, as do I) led to the internet, but the private sector made it the revolutionary, world changing communications and business tool it is today. DARPA may have created the internet, but they didn't create AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, Google, Yahoo, Apple, or Amazon. Entrepreneurs did, and yes, using tools built by others (more often tools built by other entrepreneurs than tools built by government, though).

The President is supposed to lead and inspire, not divide and denigrate. These kind of comments do not promote enterprise, growth, or entrepreneurship, they promote resentment, entitlement, and envy. President Obama thinks it's more important for us to be "in this together" than to actually grow the economy in the ways that actually work. It's been said so many times, but not enough, the contrast in this election could not be any clearer.

Jul 11, 2012

No, the House has NOT voted 33 times to repeal Obamacare

Literally every media outlet reporting on the House vote today to repeal Obamacare is saying that it's the 33rd time they've done so. This is a lie. The House has voted only twice to repeal the bill in full.

One of the first acts the 112th Congress took on January 19, 2011 was to vote to repeal Obamacare. It passed 245-184 (3 Democrats, 0 Republicans defecting). The vote today was also to repeal Obamacare. It passed 244-185 (5 Democrats, 0 Republicans defecting). Reminder: Obamacare itself passed 219-212 with 34 Democrats, 0 Republicans defecting.

Of the alleged 33 votes, only #1 and #33 were to repeal the full bill. Votes 2-32 were not votes to repeal. Some were votes to defund portions of the implementation, some votes were to repeal specific portions of the bill, some votes were on general appropriations bills that affected the funding of certain programs from the bill (without defunding them completely), among others. Only one of the 31 other votes would have repealed Obamacare, and only indirectly as part of the Paul Ryan budget proposal; it still was not a direct vote to repeal the law.

Some of the 33 were passed, some failed, some died in the Democrat-controlled Senate, some were passed by the Senate, and some were even signed into law by the President. Would the President have signed a bill to repeal Obamacare? No. Then it's a lie to say that all those votes did so.

Jul 9, 2012

Who's Radical Now?

There's a very common idea out there that the Republican Party is more radical than it's ever been, and that if only we could have Republicans like we used to have, we could get things done. It's an easy concept to swallow whole without chewing. It gets digested and enters the deliberative bloodstream where it then affects every other idea in the body politic.


There are several problems with this idea, of course, the first of which is that it's recursive. Jonah Goldberg takes this aspect head on in a recent column. Simply, Democrats and the media have always complained that Republicans were too radical and used to be better. If they ever admit that current Republicans are reasonable, they neuter their arguments for their own policies.


Another problem is that it assumes radicalism on the part of only one side. This simple bias was portrayed perfectly on this week's episode of Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin's new series about a cable news production set in the recent past. In preparing coverage for the November 2010 election and Tea Party takeover of Congress, the anchor, Will McAvoy, says "Can you imagine Humphrey or Kennedy standing for a photo-op with Bernardine Dohrn or Allen Ginsburg?" To respond directly, no, probably not. However, fifty years later, Barack Obama launched his presidential campaign in the home of the exact same Bernardine Dohrn (and her husband, Bill Ayers, formerly of the domestic terrorist organization, Weather Underground).


Why is it again that radicalism is only accused of one side?

Jun 28, 2012

Obamacare survives...to whose benefit?

As everyone currently awake knows, the Supreme Court has upheld the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). At first glance this is obviously a huge win for President Obama. His signature piece of legislation has stood up to constitutional muster and can continue being implemented. However, the ruling itself and the implications of it are much less clear, and may not be so terrible for several reasons:

Commerce Clause vs Tax Power
The government argued before the court that Congress had the power to implement the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, because the failure to carry health insurance affects the overall healthcare market and thus interstate commerce. This argument actually LOST in the court's opinion. Chief Justice Roberts strongly rebuked the use of the Commerce Clause to expand the government's power in this way. Instead, he said that Congress did have the power to levy the "penalty" for not carrying insurance as a tax. While this still allows the government to technically mandate things under its taxing power, it potentially allows the court to revisit more broad Commerce Clause cases in the future and reign it back in to what was intended.
Taxes Aren't Popular, Are Easier to Repeal
The individual mandate is now a tax (or it's unconstitutional). Taxes aren't popular. President Obama ran for office saying he would never raise taxes on families making under $250,000 a year. That promise has already been broken, of course, with the tanning salon tax at the very least, but now it's completely impossible to hold up. As we already know, Obamacare already raises taxes over a dozen different ways (most of which just haven't kicked in yet). Now that the linchpin aspect of the bill is itself a massive tax, and a tax levied exclusively on the uninsured. That's going to be much harder to sell now.
Taxes are also much easier to repeal. Normal bills in the US Senate are subject to minority filibuster, which requires 60 votes to override. However, tax bills (required to be originated in the House) cannot be filibustered. Even if the full bill could not be repealed with this kind of procedure, at the very least the mandate itself could be invalidated (as a tax cut?) with only 51 votes. All it would take to accomplish this is a Romney win and three new Republican senators in November (with ~23 Senate seats held by Democrats up for reelection this year, that's a distinct possibility).
Re-inspired Opposition
In sports, you lose at the end of a match, and it's over. In politics, you lose in the middle, and the match never ends. In this match, we've lost a big one, but it has motivated conservatives and libertarians like a win might not have done, and we get to hit back now. As of only five hours after the Supreme Court ruling, the Mitt Romney campaign and Victory Fund had received over 13,500 donations, totaling over $1.5 million, an average of just over $100 per contribution. There was no moneybomb, no advertised fundraising drive. People heard about the ruling and donated organically. Even people who have been strident critics of Romney as the Republican nominee have been motivated by this ruling to contribute. If we can keep that enthusiasm up for just four more months, there's no way we'll lose.
Don't get me wrong. I think the ruling itself is terrible, potentially more terrible than the bill itself if the expansive tax power precedent can be abused in the future. But there are subtle and potential silver linings here that could make it all work out next year. I don't think Chief Justice Roberts is cynical enough to have considered all these secondary consequences when making his game-changing vote, but I'll take what I can get.


Stay calm and VOTE.

Jun 26, 2012

Collusion?

Contraception:
January 2, 2012 - Jake Tapper asks Rick Santorum about a 2006 statement about contraception.
January 7, 2012 - George Stephanopoulos asks GOP Presidential primary debate candidates their position on contraception.
January 20, 2012 - Obama administration announces national mandate that insurance plans cover contraception at no charge.

Gay Marriage:
May 7, 2012 - Washington Post reports gay donors aren't enthusiastic about Obama and are reluctant to contribute to his campaign.
May 9, 2012 - Obama announces his support for gay marriage (at the state level).
May 10, 2012 - Washington Post reports huge donation surge to Obama from previously hesitant gay donors.

Illegal Immigration:
June 14, 2012 - Time cover story "We Are Americans" about illegal immigrants.
June 15, 2012 - Obama administration announces executive action to give temporary legal status to certain young illegal immigrants.

Outsourcing:
June 21, 2012 - Washington Post reports Romney's former company, Bain Capital, did lots of offshoring.
June 24, 2012 - Obama campaign debuts new TV ads labeling Romney "Outsourcer-in-Chief".

At what point does this pattern stop being a coincidence and become evidence of media-campaign collusion?

At the very least, it appears that President Obama is governing (read: campaigning through executive action) in reaction to media coverage. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Jun 25, 2012

Opposing Obamacare Doesn't Make You Heartless

The Supreme Court has strung us along for weeks now. Their decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") was made earlier this year, allegedly the day after the oral arguments were concluded, but their ruling and full opinion will not be announced until Thursday, June 28 at 10 am Eastern. There are already countless pieces published and many more being written in preparation for the ruling, either to temper expectations, to anticipate the policy consequences, or to massage the potential political fallout, especially for the Presidential election. This is not quite one of those, but it is an effort to dispel the notion that opponents of this particular legislation are greedy, radical libertarians who are ok with people dying in the streets.

Obamacare is a massive hulk of a bill. It took a year to work its way through Congress, was read by almost no one (at least in Congress) before passage, and it regulates everything from what kind of hospitals can exist to personal insurance coverage. There are innumerable ways to improve the healthcare system. This bill is one particular attempt at it, so opposition to this particular bill as a whole does not by extension imply that its opponents are either against improving healthcare, or even against certain specific provisions of this bill.

One false premise used in arguing for this type of reform is that we even have a national healthcare system at all. Before Obamacare, we did not. After it, if it survives the Court, we do. Health insurance has always been regulated by state insurance boards. With very few exceptions, care itself is also state-regulated. I don't believe there are any states that simply do not have such oversight and regulation, so I fail to see why this had to be upgraded to a federal issue. We can clearly see that certain states have better performance on health issues than others, so why was the effort for reform instead not contained within those particular poorly performing states rather than subjecting everyone to the same one-size-fits-all standards? Vermont has an effectively universal healthcare system, Massachusetts has an individual mandate to own private insurance, Utah reformed its system significantly under Governor Huntsman, and there are states with very little regulation. Why doesn't this work? Why does federalism (allowing states to decide) work for so many other things (car insurance, voting, education, employment, contracts, criminal law), but it can't be allowed to work for healthcare?

Irony of ironies is that while Obamacare takes the regulation of health insurance to the national level, it doesn't do the one thing that could improve the market for it, which is taking the sale of insurance to the national level. One reform that has been proposed by many for years is the ability to sell insurance across state lines. All this nationalization of insurance mandates and coverage, and they didn't even bother to do the one thing that would actually produce a national market for health insurance and give their national regulation of it some legitimacy. They instead plan to setup state insurance exchanges (starting in 2014-what do the uninsured do until then, if it was such a national emergency?), with national regulation of them. An almost universally terrible idea.

A lot of the criticism of Obamacare comes down to the individual mandate. Quite simply, does Congress  have the authority to force every person in the country to purchase a product from a private company? The vast majority (72%) of the country says no. We'll find out how many of the current Supreme Court justices agree on Thursday, which is all that really matters. But if the bill as a whole comes down to the individual mandate, this sweeping new power alone is reason enough to strike it down. There are ways to improve health and health insurance without an unconstitutional mandate that everyone buy something that costs thousands of dollars a year or face fines or jail.

So when you hear people say that opponents of Obamacare want people to die if they don't have insurance, are social Darwinists, or don't care about the "30 million uninsured", don't step in the trap. Opposition to one particular attempt at health care reform does not make one opposed to health care reform in general.

Jun 20, 2012

The Party of Liberty?

We libertarians already have our own party, but we are more often shoehorned into the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party (the shared standard of the Gadsden flag conflates the issue). But for years we have been marginalized and ignored by the same party that assumes our allegiance. Should we stop working with Republicans and unite behind the Libertarian Party? Should we give Democrats a chance? As libertarians we allow each individual to make that decision for himself, of course, but perhaps some guidance can be helpful.

Like its progressive and conservative next of kin, libertarianism is a diverse an ideology, with many internal disagreements about topics as fundamental as federalism, foreign policy, and abortion. So I’ll be making several assumptions about the general size of the tent for the sake of discussion.

We might begin (and for some, end) with the simple question: Why should there be any question about libertarian party identification when there is already an official Libertarian Party? With Gary Johnson, a popular two-term Republican governor of an overwhelming Democratic state, as the Libertarian Party nominee for President this year, and voter willingness to entertain third party options according to polls, it would seem like now is the best chance the LP has ever had to make a presence on the national stage. However, as fancifully ideological as most of us are, we’re also more realistic than that. Johnson polls in the single digits, as all third party candidates have since Ross Perot in 1992, would be lucky to get into the general election debates, and would almost certainly serve as nothing more than a spoiler to siphon votes from the Republican nominee, guaranteeing President Obama’s reelection. The Presidential election is not the only one that matters, of course, but with no prominent Libertarian Party candidates likely to be competitive in any other races, what real hope is there to make an impact? If libertarians abandon the two major parties and consistently lose races to them, our voice is silenced altogether. So to be frank, we’re stuck with Republicans vs Democrats. Where to turn?

As a starting point, one can assume libertarians agree with each major party on a large segment of  issues, most commonly referred to as social vs fiscal issues. We agree more closely with Republicans on economic and fiscal issues, while we agree with Democrats generally on social issues. Therefore one might expect to find relative numbers of libertarians in each party, with individuals preferring the party that matches the issues on which they are most strongly aligned.  A 2008 study found that about 70% of self-identified libertarians polled had voted for Republican candidates in the House, Senate, and Presidential elections that year. Therefore most libertarians seem to have settled already, at least tenuously, on the GOP. This could be because there are far more fiscal issues than social ones, or at least more relevant ones, tilting the balance to the GOP’s favor. Is this a viable alliance, or should we keep looking?

Back to the issue split, we agree with Democrats on social issues and with Republicans on fiscal issues. Where are these issues likely to lead in the future? With debt, deficits, spending, and taxes as far as the eye can see under any mainstream candidate’s proposals, fiscal issues are going to be front and center for as long as any of us are likely to live. Social issues, however, are a trickier egg to crack, as they are quickly becoming purely generational issues. Poll respondents are increasingly split less by party and more by age on things like gay marriage and drug legalization. Huge majorities of young voters approve of gay marriage, for example, regardless of party affiliation. This could be actually due to libertarians’ already growing influence within the GOP, where there is more room for movement on those issues, or it could be a purely evolutionary phenomenon across the board. Either way it might be the perfect opportunity for libertarians to begin to exert more influence within a party rather than from the outside. If this trend holds (and it has been solidifying for about a decade now), the culture wars will become increasingly marginal, and a new pax libertine will form in their place. That would mean that the issues on which libertarians agree with Democrats are no longer relevant, and the only remaining issues of contention are fiscal ones, on which we disagree completely. It also creates an opportunity for libertarians and conservatives to unite around the core focus of the Republican Party, which is standing firm on the limited role of government to protect the rights of individuals and the states.

It seems to me that looking at the existing party alliances, the issues both now and in the future, and libertarian goals, the only real chance we have is to work within the Republican Party to affect change and promote true liberty in all arenas. It also doesn’t hurt that the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, is (in)famously malleable, has at least in the past been more moderate on social issues, and is already cordial with libertarian standard-bearers like Ron and Rand Paul. There’s lots of room to work here, and we should take advantage of it. As Donald Rumsfeld said, “you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”