Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rob Hubler, The Submariner

“We sat there for 45 minutes knowing everyone we knew was dead.”

Rob Hubler is running for Congress in Western Iowa’s 5th Congressional District and this is one of the stories he sometimes tells about his Navy submarine experience in the 1960s. His nuclear submarine was in the middle of the ocean when the word came that the United States was at war with the Soviet Union. So the crew executed its orders, launched its missiles, and then had nothing left to do but ponder what they had just done, and what a nuclear war likely meant for their family and friends back home. Fortunately, it was just a drill, designed to test the crew’s readiness and response, and unknown to the crew the warheads were not armed or targeted.

Rob spent seven years in the Navy as a nuclear propulsion room supervisor and nuclear power plant operator and campaigns wearing his “Silent Service” cap. Rob spent some years in the 1970s as a political operative helping candidates get elected to the House and Senate. Once a heavy drinker (but then so were John McCain and George Bush), Rob had a turbulent period with alcoholism. Then Rob made a career as a Presbyterian Minister. His Christian beliefs define his world view. Rob often says his life revolves around the Four F’s: faith, family, friends, and fellowship. He also says, “We are our brother’s keeper.” Rob Hubler is a Democrat.

Rob has a hard job. He is running for Congress in a heavily Republican district where there are 3 registered Republicans for every 2 Democrats. There are more than enough independent voters for a candidate like Rob Hubler to have a good chance, but it’s not going to be a fair fight. His opponent won’t debate him. Word is that Rob has raised $220,000 and his opponent has raised $880,000.

Yes, there is a lot of dissatisfaction across the nation with President Bush, weariness with the Iraq War, and anger at the financial mess. But at the same time, the Red State, Blue State story flogged for the last 8 years by national media and the occasional Democratic candidate tells people in the places that vote Republican that they are stupid rednecks or worse - not exactly the best way to win friends and influence people. (And it’s actually the suburban Republican vote not the rural vote that has been costing Democrats elections.) The stories about Acorn tactics in registering voters dredge up long repressed fears of big city Democrats stuffing ballot boxes to disenfranchise voters in the countryside. And after all, your local Republican Congressman is a good guy who you like, who stands up for your values, so why not vote to reelect him.

The incumbent Republican Congressman that Ron is running against is Steve King. How Steve became a politician is an interesting story. Steve ran his own constructions company, and came before the state legislature in Des Moines to speak on some new proposal. Steve had spent some time and care writing and practicing his speech, but when he got before the legislative committee, he was peppered with questions and speeches posing as questions and could hardly get a word of his speech in. Steve was outraged that the legislators would rather talk at him then listen to what he had to say, so he went home and ran for election, and came back to Des Moines as a state senator. In 2002, he got elected to the U.S. Congress. Steve won by 62% to 38% in 2002, 63% to 37% in 2004, and 59% to 37% in 2006.

However, Steve King has become one of those politicians he used to hate, not really listening to others and taking a certain relish in making inflammatory comments. For example:

On conditions in Iraq: "My wife lives here with me, and I can tell you, she’s at far greater risk being a civilian in Washington, D.C., than an average civilian in Iraq."

On the U.S. military talking out al-Zarqawi: “There probably are not 72 virgins in the hell he's at, and if there are, they probably all look like Helen Thomas." (Helen Thomas is an 88-year-old American journalist and White House correspondent.)

On foreign spouse’s of U.S. soldiers: “A soldier, man or woman, could get drunk in Bangkok, wake up in the morning and be married, as will happen sometimes in places like Las Vegas or Bangkok, be killed the next day, and the spouse who was a product of the evening's celebration would have then a right to claim access to come to the United States on a green card.”

On the Supreme Court: “I pray that Justice Stevens and Justice Ginsberg fall madly in love with each other and elope to Cuba. That way President Bush can appoint two more Justices like Alito and Roberts.”

On Barack Obama: “I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror. … His middle name (Hussein) does matter. It matters because they read a meaning into that in the rest of the world. That has a special meaning to them. They will be dancing in the streets because of his middle name. They will be dancing in the streets because of who his father was."

On former Bush White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan: "Couldn't you have taken this to the grave with you and done this country a favor?"

On the Republican Party platform not supporting ethanol: “It wouldn’t be the first time someone included a phrase that was dumb in the GOP platform.”

I find Steve King entertaining, I must admit, but I don’t see him getting anything done, particularly in the new Democratic Congress where his influence will be zero if not negative. Rob Hubler has some entertaining stories too. Rob went off to Southern California, fell in with a band, played with them for 10 to 15 gigs, then quit because he just couldn’t get into the band’s style of music. The band’s frontman was Brian Wilson, which, if only he had felt the good vibrations, would have made Rob Hubler the eighth Beach Boy.

Bragging on a Night with The Watson Twins

Billy Bragg played the Somerville Theater last week. He channels folk great Woody Guthrie with a punk rock sensibility, and riffs on Johnny Clash (Johnny Cash meets the Clash). He dedicated his concert to the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. Billy Bragg is European and we don’t usually like foreigners lecturing us on their ideas of illegal wars, but his country Britain sent troops to Iraq so he’s allowed.

Bragg offered three principal criticisms of the United States:

(1) We got the red state, blue state thing wrong. Red is the color of Labour, blue is the color of the Conservatives.
(2) Football is a game that the rest of the world plays with a soccer ball.
(3) We are foolish not to have universal health care.

As you may guess the evening quickly devolved into a musical Obama rally with speeches from the artist as well as music. But if anything Billy Bragg tried to dampen enthusiasm. Think how amazing it is for a black to even get the nomination. Don’t give up hope if Barack doesn’t win. Don’t get cynical if he does win and it takes longer than eight years to accomplish everything that needs to be done. Boston, don’t take the World Series for granted.

The opening act was The Watson Twins. They have a quiet Louisville sound by way of the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Chandra did gush a little too long for her sister Leigh’s comfort about how great it was to tour with Billy Bragg. Or maybe it was Leigh that did the gushing and Chandra that did the hushing. Who can tell, they are identical twins.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Biden Doctrine

Speaking at a fundraiser in Seattle last weekend, Joe Biden told the audience to “gird your loins” and announced what I am calling the Biden Doctrine:

"Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.…

"And he's going to need help. And the kind of help he's going to need is, he's going to need you - not financially to help him - we're going to need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him. Because it's not going to be apparent initially, it's not going to be apparent that we're right."

Great, another Vice President who wants a blank check. Joe Biden also said, "I've forgotten more about foreign policy than most of my colleagues know, so I'm not being falsely humble with you.” I think the more important question is how much foreign policy he remembers, and most important is whether he has any foreign policy judgment. I’m not seeing it here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Plumb the Wealth

Here is the short version of the now famous exchange in Ohio between Barack Obama and Joe Wurzelbacher.

Joe: "Your new tax plan is going to tax me more. Isn't it?"

Barack: "It's not that I want to punish your success, I just want to make sure that everybody that is behind you, that they have a chance for success too. I think that when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

Actually this is an edited version of a much longer exchange. If you read or watch it all the way through, Barack does show off an impressive knowledge of the details of his tax plan and how his plan would affect small business. But Barack made three mistakes.

First, Barack assumed that Joe was saying he would be making more than $250,000 in his new business, but Joe was probably talking about “gross” and income taxes are imposed on “net.” And Joe, because he does not yet own the business and have to file its taxes, probably doesn't understand this distinction either. My quick calculation is that a plumber netting $125,000 would save aorund $1300 under the Obama tax cut plan versus $100 under the McCain plan.

Second, Barack talks about plumbers like Joe making $60,000 to $70,000 10 or 15 years ago when Joe was starting out, but the average plumber today makes around $45,000. It's quite possible that Joe doesn't even make $70,000 now. This is where Obama gets the reputation for being an elitist who doesn't know how to talk to middle America.

But the big mistake was Barack not just giving a simple answer to Joe, “Small businesses like yours will be getting bigger tax cuts under my plan that John McCain’s plan.” That's the message of the Obama tax plan, and it somehow got lost. As a result, Barack spent about ten minutes lecturing a highly skeptical guy why it's not unfair to raise his taxes when the guy is probably in line to get a tax cut.

Here’s how it went down:

Barack: “Yes sir, what’s your name?”

Joe: “My name’s Joe Wurzelbacher.”

Barack: “Good to see you, Joe.”

Joe: "I'm getting ready to buy a company that makes about 250, 270, 280 thousand dollars a year.”

Barack: “Alright.”

Joe: “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?"

Barack: "Well here’s what’s going to happen. If you’re a small business which you would qualify, first off, you would get a 50% tax credit so you'd get a tax cut for your healthcare costs. So you would get a tax cut on that front.”

Joe. “Uh hm.”

Barack: “If your revenue is above 250 – then from 250 down, your taxes are going to stay the same. It is true that for say 250 up – from 250 – 300 or so -“

Joe: “But here’s my question - “

Barack: “I just want to answer your question. “

Joe: “Ok.”

Barack: “So for that additional amount, you’d go from 36 to 39%, which is what it was under Bill Clinton.“

Joe: “Yeah.”

Barack: And the reason why we’re doing that is because 95% of small businesses make less than 250. So what I want to do is give them a tax cut. I want to give all these folks who are bus drivers, teachers, auto workers who make less, I want to give them a tax cut. And so what we’re doing is, we are saying that folks who make more than 250 that that marginal amount above 250 – they’re going to be taxed at a 39 instead of a 36% rate.”

Joe: "The reason I ask you about the American dream -"

Barack: “Right, right.”

Joe: “I mean I've worked hard. I'm a plumber.”

Barack: “We appreciate it.”

Joe: “I work 10-12 hours a day.”

Barack: “Absolutely.”

Joe: “And I'm, you know, buying this company and I'm going to continue working that way. Now if I buy another truck, “

Barack: “Right.”

Joe: “And add something else to it, and build the company.”

Barack: “Right”

Joe: “You know, I'm getting taxed more and more while fulfilling the American dream."

Barack: "But, well, here's a way of thinking about it. How long have you been a plumber? How long have you been working?”

Joe: “15 years.”

Barack: “Ok, over the last 15 years, when you weren’t making 250, you would have been given a tax cut from me, so you’d actually have more money, which means you would have saved more, which means you would have gotten to the point where you could build your small business quicker than under the current tax code. So there are two ways of looking at it – I mean one way of looking at it is, now that you’ve become more successful – “

Joe: “Through hard work.”

Barack: “Through hard work – you don’t want to be taxed as much.”

Joe: “Exactly."

Barack: “Which I understand. But another way of looking at it is 95% of folks who are making less than 250, they may be working hard too – “

Joe: “Yeah.”

Barack: “But they’re being taxed at a higher rate than they would be under mine. So what I’m doing is, put yourself back 10 years ago when you were only making whatever, 60 or 70. Under my tax plan you would be keeping more of your paycheck, you’d be paying lower taxes, which means you would have saved and gotten to the point where you are faster. Now look, nobody likes high taxes."

Joe: "No, not at all."

Barack: "Of course not, but what’s happened is that we end up – we’ve cut taxes a lot for folks like me who make a lot more than 250. We haven’t given a break to folks who make less, and as a consequence, the average wage and income for ordinary folks, the vast majority of Americans, has actually gone down over the last eight years. So all I want to do is – I’ve got a tax cut. The only thing that changes, is I’m going to cut taxes a little bit more for the folks who are most in need and for the 5% of the folks who are doing very well - even though they’ve been working hard and I understand and I appreciate that – I just want to make sure they’re paying a little bit more in order to pay for those other tax cuts. Now, I respect the disagreement. I just want you to be clear – it’s not that I want to punish your success – I just want to make sure that everybody who is behind you – that they’ve got a chance at success too.”

Joe: “It seems like you would be open to a flat tax then.”

Barack: “You know, I would be open to it except here’s the problem with a flat tax is that if you actually put a flat tax together, in order for it to work and replace all the revenue that we’ve got, you’d probably end up having to make it like about a 40% sales tax. I mean that’s the value added, making it up. Now some people say 23 or 25, but in truth when you add up all the revenue that would need to be raised, you’d have to slap on a whole bunch of sales taxes on. And I do believe for folks like me who have worked hard, but frankly also been lucky –“

Joe: “Yeah.”

Barack: “I don’t mind paying just a little bit more than the waitress that I just met over there who’s things are slow and she can barely make the rent."

"My attitude is that if the economy’s good for folks from the bottom up, it’s going to be good for everybody. If you’ve got a plumbing business, you’re going to be better off. You’re going to be better off if you’ve got a whole bunch of customers who can afford to hire you, and right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody. And I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."

"But listen, I respect what you do and I respect your question, and even if I don’t get your vote-“

Joe: “He he he.”

Barack: “I’m still going to be working hard on your behalf, because small businesses are what create jobs in this country and I want to encourage it.”

Joe: “Well, that’s good.”

Barack: “One other thing I didn’t mention. For small business people, I’m going to eliminate the capital gains taxes. So what it means is if your business succeeds and you take it from a $250,000 business to a $500,000 business -“

Joe: “Yeah.”

Barack: “That capital gains that you get, we’re not going to tax you on it because I want you to grow more. I’d have to look at your particular business, but you might end up paying lower taxes under my plan and my approach than under John McCain’s plan. I can’t guarantee that because I’d have to take a look at it.

Joe: “Oh yeah, I know, I understand that.”

Barack: "Thanks for your question, I appreciate it. Alright guys, I have got to get out of here and go prepare for the debate, but that was pretty good practice right there.”

So are the Democrats out there telling people how much better off Joe will be if he votes for Barack Obama? No, the response of the Democrats and the liberal media has been typical and telling. They have dug up dirt on Joe that he isn't a licensed plumber and has about $1,000 in unpaid back taxes. The not so subtle message is that Democrats don't like guys like Joe and will find a way to tax them or regulate them. Joe has gone into the Fox News camp, has appeared on the Huckabee show, and some Republicans want to draft him to run for Congress. In the latest development, someone checked the computer logs and found that some agencies in Ohio state government have been going through Joe's motor vehicle records on the state computer system.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Squirrelly Season

The Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee sent me this video. According to Chris Matthews, "If you are a little bit squirrelly, this may put you over the edge."

Be warned that this goes on for about 15 minutes. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is a Republican from Minnesota who the DCCC would like to defeat in November. But here's what I don't get, why should this video make me more likely to oppose Michele Bachmann or support Barack Obama?

Bachmann accuses Barack Obama of hanging out with an anti-American crowd, which is true but not the whole story. Matthews tries to get Bachmann to say that all liberals are anti-American, which she doesn't do. She also declined to answer Chris Matthews request for the number of anti-Americans currently serving in Congress. He's asking her that so he can compare her with Joe McCarthy, whose concern in the 1950s was with how many communists were in the State Department.

But who should be offended, unless they are anti-American? Of course, the anti-American crowd may round up enough votes to get Obama elected and Bachmann defeated, because that's the American way. Will they then be the pro-Americans and Michele the anti-American?

John McCain Endorses Barack Obama

John McCain speaking on October 17, 2008:

My opponent is an impressive fellow in many ways. Political opponents can have a little trouble seeing the best in each other. But I've had a few glimpses of this man at his best and I admire his great skill, energy and determination. It's not for nothing that he's inspired so many folks in his own party and beyond.

Senator Obama talks about making history. And he's made quite a bit of it already. There was a time when the mere invitation of an African-American citizen to dine at the White House was taken as an outrage and an insult in many quarters. Today, it's a world away from the crude and prideful bigotry of that time. And good riddance. I can't wish my opponent luck, but I do wish him well.

Whatever the outcome next month, Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country and I congratulate him.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

25 Cynical Reasons to Vote for Barack Obama

I have watched all the debates, seen all the ads, read all the emails, and viewed all the YouTube videos and now I have all the reasons I need:

(1) John McCain said in the debate last night that he would end ethanol subsidies. He also said that in the debate last week, so that’s twice and I know he means it. That would be devastating to the farm economy and the new ethanol industry and send the wrong signal to others developing alternative energy sources. I’m selfishly thinking about the corn farmers I know in Southwest Iowa and workers at the new ethanol plants in Corning and Shenandoah.

(2) Barack Obama is offering the best tax cut. I checked the numbers myself. Joe the Plumber, you should talk to Mary the Tax Accountant. If the Democrats want to pander to me by offering tax cuts, that’s behavior I want to encourage.

(3) Today in Massachusetts our Democratic Governor Deval Patrick, who many say Barack Obama used as a model for his candidacy, announced $1 billion in state spending cuts in anticipation of falling state tax revenues due to the slowing economy. They can’t go back to the era of big government even if they want to, we just can’t afford it.

(4) I got an email today from the Republican Party saying that “responsible Republican policies of cutting taxes and reining in out-of-control pork-barrel spending are what our economy needs to spur growth and create jobs.” If the Democrats are going to cut taxes and cut spending, why do we need a Republican Party? The Blue Dogs will protect the true conservative values. Maybe Leonard Boswell will be the next House Speaker.

(5) If Barack Obama is elected, we can blame everything back to 2006 on Nancy Pelosi. And, yes, blame George Bush too. If the Democrats screw things up any worse we can always send the Republicans right back to Congress in 2010. Remember 1994? The Democrats have every incentive to do a good job to keep the Republican Party unnecessary.

(6) If John McCain were elected, he would be the designated fall guy for everything Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid do wrong. If he is not elected, John McCain can spend his golden years with his beautiful wife and family. He has served his country long and well. We should do right by John McCain.

(7) Sarah Palin truly is, as John McCain put it last night, a “bresh of freath air” but vice fall gal would be a career ender. Sarah can go home and get some foreign policy experience as President of the Alaska Independent Republic her husband wants her to declare. I’ll look forward to the Palin-Pretraeus ticket in 2012 and the Palin-Jindal ticket in 2016. After Barack Obama appoints 3 or 4 Supreme Court Justices, it will be safe to vote for Sarah Palin.

(8) The Sarah Palin show isn’t over until we see her in the same room as Tina Fey. Hey, say what you will about Sarah Palin, but she finally got the Not Ready for Prime Time Players from Saturday Night Live a slot in prime time. As the song says, the memory of all that, no they can’t take that away from me. If I want to see a Palin Obama debate, voting for Barack Obama is the only way.

(9) Forget Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Is it believable that Barack Obama sat there and listed to his sermons for 20 years without realizing the anti-American things he was saying? Yes it is, as anyone who has sat through a church sermon or two would know. Anyway, Barack Obama has gotten Wright to shut up, and he got Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Louis Farrakhan to shut up too.

(10) Forget the Weatherman Bill Ayers. If Richard Nixon couldn’t catch him and Ronald Reagan couldn’t be bothered to prosecute him, why should we care 40 years later? By the way, the “kill him” chants at the Republican rallies are directed at Ayers. That’s not right, but they’re welcome to spend the next 8 years picketing him at his place of work, the University of Illinois at Chicago. They can call in all the protesters from the abortion clinics around the country, settle in for the duration, and call it the “Years of Rage.” Get on it Sean and Rush.

(11) Forget Tony Resko. The average politician wanting to buy a house with an adjoining lot he couldn’t afford would have borrowed the extra money from a half-broke bank on the way to a taxpayer bailout. Barack Obama just got Tony to buy the lot next to his house on the guy’s own nickel. And now Tony Resko will likely be forced to sell to the Secret Service for at or below cost.

(12) If Barack Obama is going to win anyway, running up the score will erase Bill Clinton from the record books. And you can shame John Kerry and Al Gore too.

(13) If Barack Obama turns out to be a secret socialist mole, at least it will be Swedish we’ll be learning and not Russian or German. I am worried that the new housing commissar will commandeer my Cambridge condo for underutilization. My plan is to recruit a couple of Swedish au pairs to take the spare bedroom. All I’m looking for is a hedge against socialism and a little light housework. Worst case: I want to be able to pass the lie detector test so I don’t have to go to the reeducation camp.

(14) If, as Iowa Congressman Steve King suggests, the terrorists come out and celebrate in the streets, we can use the opportunity to pick them off with snipers.

(15) After we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan (in victory, don’t you dare say in defeat), the terrorists won’t follow us home any more than the Viet Cong followed us home from our victory in Vietnam (you thought we lost, they’re making our underwear). Al Qaeda will go to Europe and recruit among Europe’s disaffected Muslim minorities. Europe, you should have had our back in Iraq. Or you should have talked us into not going. Karma is funny that way. Ha ha ha ha ha.

(16) Electing Barack Obama will completely undercut what the French are trying to do in Africa. Vote for Obama and stick it to the French.

(17) Electing Barack Obama will really stick it to Putin too. The Soviets spent the whole Cold War trying to divide Western Europe and America, so the last thing Russia wants is for America and Europe to kiss and make up. Did you notice how Putin’s move on Georgia helped McCain?

(18) Barack Obama is not about to sell out Israel to Iran. Yes, he plans to sit down for tea with Ahmadinejad. But I have it on good authority that Obama’s secret plan is to poison the tea with iocane powder which Obama has spent the last several years building up an immunity to. We can’t afford another land war in Asia.

(19) When Barack Hussein Obama becomes President, all Islamic religious fatwas against American are retroactively revoked and the dead suicide attackers will all have to give back their 40 virgins. He doesn’t even have to be Muslim, all that matters is that his name contains Hussein. It’s in the Koran, I checked it myself.

(20) Thank you to Sarah Silverman for pointing out the need for a positive mental attitude: If it makes it easier, you don’t have to think about it as voting for a black guy. Just think of it as voting for a rich half-white guy. It’s OK to laugh, she has a show on Comedy Central.

(21) Would a national health plan really be so bad? Life is a preexisting condition.

(22) Sean Hannity will have to rename his Fox show, “Colmes and Hannity.” Remind me to forward this email to Alan Colmes.

(23) Barack’s nickname is Barry, and President Barry is just too funny, almost as good as President Dirk.

(24) Voting for Barack Obama for all the wrong reasons is turning out to be more fun than voting for John McCain for one or two right reasons.

(25) You can tell your grandkids you voted for Barack Obama in lieu of sending them Christmas presents. That works for nieces and nephews too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can John McCain Still Win?

We are coming up on the last debate with the polls slipping away from John McCain and Barack Obama gaining ground in the battleground states every day.

Question: Can John McCain still win?

Answer: Probably not.

Let’s look back. Over the Columbus Day weekend, Obama lead McCain 50% to 43% in the Gallup daily tracking poll. At this same point in 2004, John Kerry led George Bush 48% to 47%. In 2000, George Bush and Al Gore were tied 45% to 45%.

Let’s look at where the electoral votes are today. One electoral vote projection shows Obama winning 357 electoral votes to 181. Another shows Obama winning 369 to 169.

Of course, “probably not” also means “maybe.”

Question: What kind of last minute surge would McCain need to win?

Answer: McCain has his work cut out for him in the battleground states:

McCain can forget about Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New Mexico. I see no way for him to win in those states.

McCain has to turn things around in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. Bush won these states in 2000 and 2004 but McCain is now losing. However, winning all of them would only bring his total to 246 electoral votes, still 24 electoral votes short of the 270 he would need to win. If on election night you see Barack Obama winning in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, or Ohio, you can go to bed without waiting for the midwestern and western states to finish voting.

McCain has to pick up the western states of Colorado, North Dakota, Montana, and Nevada. Obama’s western states strategy is to deny McCain some or all of these electoral votes. Even if McCain wins them all, that would still leave him 7 electoral votes short. McCain can lose the election out west, but he can’t win it there.

So even if McCain does all of the above, he must also win at least one of the following states: Minnesota (10 electoral votes), Iowa (7 electoral votes), or Missouri (11 electoral votes). These 3 states are the first states west of the Mississippi River and north of the old South. Their combined population of 14,000,000 is roughly 4.5% of the U.S. population. This is where the industrial midwest ends and the red state Republican west begins. No candidate for President since 1852 has gotten elected without winning at least one of these three states.

I see no way Barack Obama can lose if he beats beat John McCain in Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri. There simply aren’t enough electoral votes for McCain without winning at least one of these 3 states.

Missouri is McCain’s best chance. But high turnout in the Democratic strongholds of Kansas City and St. Louis would seal the deal for Obama. Watch Missouri, it has been the bellwether for over 100 years.

Minnesota is McCain’s next best chance. However, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (what the Democrats call themselves in Minnesota) has 3 conservative promilitary, progun, prolife incumbent Congressmen running for reelection in the 3 big rural districts. They may provide rural voters the comfort level that their values will continue to be represented to deny McCain the big margins he would need in those rural districts to win Minnesota.

Iowa is McCain’s last chance. Obama is leading in the eastern part of Iowa that is closest to his home state of Illinois. The key to the Iowa Republican vote is the 5th Congressional District, which comprises 32 counties in the western third of the state. In 2000, Bush carried those 32 counties by 42,275 votes but lost the state to Gore by 4,130 votes. In 2004, Bush carried those 32 counties by 56,773 votes and won the state from Kerry by 10,059 votes. The extra 14,000 votes in western Iowa made the difference.

Western Iowa has started voting. Voters can get an absentee ballot at their county courthouse and cast their vote before leaving. I hear that lines at the courthouses this past Saturday were long. I guess these voters are not waiting for the last debate.

Question: Who will be watching those ballot boxes over the next 3 weeks between now and Election Day?

Answer: In Iowa that job falls on the County Auditor. These local elected officials are typically middle-aged Republican women with a few kids, a husband who likes to hunt and fish, and a sister who has been through a messy divorce.

Mine is Bigger than Yours

Barack Obama says his tax cut is 3 times bigger than John McCain's:

Friday, October 10, 2008

American Homeownership Resurgence Plan

John McCain has announced an American Homeownership Resurgence Plan that he says will get at the very root of the financial crisis, the failing housing market:

(1) Our current economic crisis largely brought on by corruption and greed at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Wall Street.

(2) America's families are bearing a heavy burden from falling housing prices, mortgage delinquencies, foreclosures, and a weak economy.

(3) The goal is to keep families in their homes, avoid foreclosures, save failing neighborhoods, stabilize the housing market, and attack the roots of our financial crisis so that families who have worked hard enough to finance homeownership should not have that dream crushed under the weight of the wrong mortgage.

(4) For those that cannot make inflated payments or their mortgage exceeds the value of their home, mortgages must be re-structured to put losses on the books, eliminate uncertainty over defaults, support the value of mortgage-backed derivatives and alleviate risks that are freezing financial markets.

(5) To qualify, mortgage holders would have to live in the home (primary residence only) and prove their creditworthiness at the time of the original loan (no falsifications and provided a down payment). The new mortgage would be an FHA-guaranteed fixed-rate mortgage at payment terms manageable for the homeowner.

(6) The direct cost of this plan would be roughly $300 billion because the purchase of mortgages would relieve homeowners of "negative equity" in some homes. This cost may be able to come out of the $700 billion fund recently approved by Congress but it may be necessary for Congress to raise the overall borrowing limit.

Buy Order at Zero

I put in a buy order today with my online broker to buy everything when the stock market hits zero. I'll cash in my 50 states commemorative quarter collection (actually 49 states, still waiting for Hawaii) to pay the $12.25 online brokerage fee.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One Unanswered Question

Barack Obama looked calm and in command. John McCain looked both restless and weary. But only 63 million people tuned in, compared to 70 million for last week’s VP debate. And there was one unanswered question in last night’s debate. It came from Teresa Finch:

"How can we trust either of you with our money when both parties got us into this global economic crisis?"

The networks won’t tell you this, but I suspect Finch is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. And what did our two candidates have to say?

Obama: "Well, look, I understand your frustration and your cynicism, because while you've been carrying out your responsibilities -- most of the people here, you've got a family budget. If less money is coming in, you end up making cuts. Maybe you don't go out to dinner as much. Maybe you put off buying a new car."

How about those going without dinner or losing their homes? Barack, you’re just not feeling the pain.

McCain: "Well, Theresa, thank you. And I can see why you feel that cynicism and mistrust, because the system in Washington is broken. And I have been a consistent reformer."

But you’re just not an effective reformer, John, judging by recent events. Not by how long it is taking to get to "victory" in Iraq. Not by how the economy is going.

And what kind of an answer is it from both of you to lecture us about cynicism. My dictionary says cynicism is an ancient Greek philosophy which holds that virtue is the only good and its essence is self-control and independence. So call me a cynic.

Why Some Women Hate Sarah Palin

Time Magazine has an interesting article on why some women seem to hate Sarah Palin:

She's too pretty - pretty girls tend to be liked only by other pretty girls.

She's too confident - women have self-esteem issues and other-women's-esteem issues.

She could embarrass the sisterhood - women fear people will think she got the job just because she's a woman.

That translates into some recent poll numbers that Sarah is less popular among women than among men:


I have a simpler explanation. Some women hate Sarah Palin because they are Democrats and she is not.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

President Bush Should Resign Immediately!

Have you seen the stock market today? The Dow closed at 9,447.11, down from 14,164.53 less than a year ago on October 9, 2007. That’s down 33%. Other indexes are down more. The last time we had a drop this large was from January 11, 1973 to December 6, 1974, when the Dow was down 45%. Someone needs to step up and take some responsibility. George W. Bush, follow Richard Nixon’s lead.

President Bush should resign immediately!

No, wait, that would make Vice President Dick Cheney the new President of the United States. He’s reckless, he shot that guy in the face.

President Bush and Dick Cheney should resign immediately!

No, wait, that would make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the new President of the United States. She’s been pretty much useless in her two years as Speaker.

President Bush, Dick Cheney, and Nancy Pelosi should resign immediately!

No, wait, that would make the Senate President pro tempore Robert Byrd the new President of the United States. He was in the Klan.

President Bush, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, and Robert Byrd should resign immediately!

No, wait, that would make Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice the new President of the United States. She hasn't been able to make peace with anybody.

President Bush, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Robert Byrd, and Condaleeza Rice should resign immediately!

No, wait, that would make Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson the new President of the United States. His job performance just cost us $700 billion in taxpayer money and uncounted trillions in lost private wealth.

President Bush, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Robert Byrd, Condaleeza Rice, and Henry Paulson should resign immediately!

No, wait, that would make Secretary of Defense Robert Gates the new President of the United States. His surge strategy in Iraq spent us into the poor house at $10 billion per month.

President Bush, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Robert Byrd, Condaleeza Rice, Henry Paulson, and Robert Gates should resign immediately!

No, wait, that would make Attorney General Michael Mukasey the new President of the United States. He hasn’t prosecuted anybody for creating this financial mess.

President Bush, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Robert Byrd, Condaleeza Rice, Henry Paulson, Robert Gates, and Michael Mukasey should resign immediately!

That would make Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne the new President of the United States. President Dirk, that has a nice ring. He would only have to serve until January.

Capitalists Vote with Their Feet

Well the stock market was down big time again today, with the Dow closing below 10,000 for the first time since 2004. And why shouldn't it be down? The election polls taken over the weekend show the United States electing its first socialist President. Take the $700 billion and run I'm sure all the capitalists are saying as they run for the exits.

Here's the thing. The $700 billion was to bail out the banks, not the stock market per se. So there is no reason for stocks not to continue down until they find a level where investors are comfortable buying again.

And if an Obama win drives down the stock market, well I'm sure they would say that's a small price to pay.

Who Wants to Go to Nebraska?

Sarah Palin spoke to a rally of 5,000 people in Omaha, Nebraska last night:

"The pundits were saying, 'Check out where she's going. She's going to Nebraska.' The pundits were saying, 'The only reason she would be going there is because they're scared. They have to shore up votes.' I so wanted to reach into that TV and say 'no.' I'm going to Nebraska because I want to go to Nebraska."

Here's what a sales guy from Omaha in the audience had to say:

"She talks to us. She's one of us. She doesn't talk down to us like an Ivy League, Harvard person."

LBOTC: We know the real reason Sarah went to Nebraska, and it wasn't to shore up votes in Omaha for a potential tiebreaker in the electoral college like the pundit wonks on TV have been fed. It was to win votes in western Iowa. Omaha is just across the river and the de factor capitol of western Iowa. We noticed that U.S. Congressman Steve King from Iowa's 5th congressional district was in attendance.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Second Thoughts about Sarah Palin

I remember when I was first introduced to Sarah Palin. I had just watched Barack Obama’s convention acceptance speech tuned to Fox on my parent’s TV while visiting in Southwest Iowa. “He’s clearly very well educated, where did he go to school?” my father asked. Looking at the words on all the Obama signs in the Denver stadium crowd, my mother remarked, “That’s a lot of change.” Then John McCain came on, congratulated Barack, and said he had a surprise for us.

The next morning on Fox, the news was all about a plane from Alaska that had landed the previous night in Ohio, where John McCain was to announce his running mate. So we met Sarah. And then we went to visit my 96-year-old grandmother. She had been watching Fox on her new wide-screen TV. “I don’t know,” she said. “It looks like the political parties are going to fool around and get a woman in as President. I don’t think I like that. I can’t explain why.”

70 million people tuned in last Thursday to watch the VP candidate debate between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, and they didn’t tune in to watch Joe. The debate audience was second only to the 80 million who tuned in back in 1980 to watch Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter debate. That was back when the debates were on all the channels, and you couldn’t switch to watch a movie on AMC. Just 52 million tuned in to watch John McCain and Barack Obama debate the week before last. So, for now at least, Sarah seems to be the star of the show.

Who won the debate? David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register says that Sarah failed to prove her qualifications and shed her image as a lightweight. But he said the same thing about Barack Obama in the first debate. I don’t agree. Here’s how I scored it:

First, I give Sarah and Joe 5 points each for substance. That’s what these debates are supposed to be about, right?

Sarah proved she could handle the pressure. If you tuned in expecting Joe Biden to make her cry, you were disappointed. Well, Joe did choke up at one point, when talking about the car accident that put his two boys in the hospital and took the lives of his daughter and first wife. So does that count as Sarah making Joe cry? Not quite, but I still have to take a point away from Joe.

CNN calculated that Joe was talking at an 8th grade level, while Sarah was talking at a 10th grade level. Note to Obama: you can’t talk much higher than that and expect to get elected in this country, but don’t talk down to us or the country won’t elect you either. In any case, that’s a point for Sarah.

The regional accent, syntax, and vocabulary of Sarah’s sentences would make your high school English teacher dizzy and the Queen of England cringe. Hey, this is America and it’s not the Queen’s English anymore. We Americans are revolutionaries and innovators. That’s another point for Sarah.

For using 10th grade words like “heck” and “doggone” I’ll give Sarah another point.

For telling the African-American moderator Gwen Ifill that she wasn’t going to answer her questions without that sounding the least bit racist or otherwise condescending (see how far we’ve come, I’m guessing that how racist that was never even occurred to you), Sarah gets another point.

Sarah gets a point for best delivery of a pre-planned zinger. At the very beginning of the debate, Sarah turned to Senator Biden and asked, “Hey, can I call you Joe?” And so how many times did she call him Joe? Exactly once, about an hour later, when she turned to Biden and said: “Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again.”

Joe loses a point for beating the drum too hard on John McCain’s statement two weeks ago that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy are strong. Joe, we’re in a banking crisis, you can’t be badmouthing the broader economy. The foreign investors are listening.

Sarah gets a point for most emphatic statement on the financial mess:

“I think we need to band together and say never again. Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those who are managing our money and loaning us these dollars. We need to make sure that we demand from the federal government strict oversight of those entities in charge of our investments and our savings and we need also to not get ourselves in debt. Let's do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card. Don't live outside of our means.”

I don’t have the credit cards records, but I’m guessing I may now know why Sarah had to change colleges so many times:

Hawaii Pacific University, Honolulu, Hawaii – one semester
North Idaho College, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho - two semesters
University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho - two semesters
Matanuska-Susitna College, Palmer, Alaska - one semester
University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho - three semesters

Actually, here’s what I suspect: Sarah enrolled in a private school in Hawaii she couldn’t afford and had to drop out, then moved in with her grandparents or some aunt or uncle in Idaho to establish state residency and get cheap credits at the nearby community college (best educational value in America), transferred to the flagship state university in Idaho on the in-state tuition plan (that was the plan when she started the community college), went home to Alaska for a another semester of cheap community college credits and to keep her high school boyfriend Todd on the hook, and then went back to Idaho to finish her BS degree in communications-journalism at the big university.

But I digress. For not even being asked to explain her college career and putting her BS degree to good use, I give Sarah another point.

On the question about same-sex marriages, Joe uttered the word “same-sex” 4 times while Sarah avoided saying it at all. That’s another point for Sarah, and Joe loses a point.

Overuse of the word maverick? According to the official transcript, Sarah said the word maverick 6 times but Joe said it 9 times. OK, maybe he said “not maverick”. Still, we have to take the point away from Joe.

Joe also loses a point for getting confused about the U.S. Constitution. Joe, the executive branch is defined in Article II not Article I and the Vice President gets to preside over the Senate all the time, not just when there is a tie.

Joe Biden smiled a lot, but he didn’t have the best smile, so Sarah gets the point for flirting without getting caught. Ok, maybe she did get caught winking at us, but I’m giving her the point anyway. I know she was really winking at me. Heck, make that a doggone two points.

Final score: 15 points for Sarah and 0 points for Joe. SNL is moving to primetime on Thursdays and I have suspected from the beginning that Tina Fey is rooting for Sarah. Too bad for the Republicans she’s only running for Vice President. I’m coming to the conclusion that win or lose in 2008 we’ll see her again at the top of the ticket in 2012 and 2016.

Meanwhile, the financial crisis has sunken John McCain’s chances. He trails 7 points in nationwide polls and even further in electoral vote counts. One projection shows McCain losing to Obama 164 to 364. Another projection shows him losing 194 to 329 with North Carolina tied.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

An American Carol Alert

The movie An American Carol opened this weekend. And, because we would never admit we saw it ourselves, we will report that we heard from a friend who heard from a guy he knows that this is one of the worst movies ever made.

Substitute the Fourth of July for Christmas and left wing filmmaker Michael Moore for Scrooge and you have the plot. It’s being billed as the first right wing comedy. There may not be a second.

It was written, directed, and produced by David Zucker, who did Airplane!, the Naked Gun series, and the Scary Movie series. There were (we are told) a few funny gags, although you’ve probably seen them all in the previews and ads. And the cast list showed such promise:

Kevin Farley as Michael Malone – Chris Farley’s brother is dead on as documentary filmmaker Michael Moore but do you want to watch that for 90 minutes?
Kelsey Grammer as General George S. Patton –You’ll want to slap him.
Jon Voight as General George Washington – Suspect for this atrocity Angelina Jolie won’t be letting him see his grandkids at Thanksgiving.
Trace Adkins as Himself/The Spirit of Christmas Future aka The Angel of Death – the country folk aren’t going to forgive shelling out their money to see this.
James Woods as Michael's Agent – Wasn’t he in Oliver Stone’s Nixon? We smell a conspiracy.
Paris Hilton as Herself - What is she doing in this movie? Wasn’t McCain just slamming her? We smell a rat.
Simon Rex as Himself – This is what comes from hanging out with Pairs Hilton.
Kevin Sorbo as George Mulrooney - Hercules spoofs George Clooney.
Dennis Hopper as The Judge – He shoots zombie ACLU lawyers with a shotgun. This is a long way from Easy Rider.
Chriss Anglin as John F. Kennedy – Turns out he was a warmonger in this history.
Robert Davi as Aziz - He was great in the series The Profiler but remember he was also in Showgirls.
Leslie Nielsen as Himself / Grampa - Collects his pension check here.
Jillian Murray as Heather – Not pretty enough to be this movie’s only redeeming quality.
Bill O'Reilly as Himself – He’s funnier on his TV show.
Gary Coleman as Slave - He must owe somebody money.
David Alan Grier as Slave – He is better than this, he must owe somebody a lot of money.
Benton Jennings as Hitler – Yet another singing Hitler.

When You Die, You'll Regret the Things You Didn't Do

We screened the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross at the office on Friday afternoon (how cool is that?).

It's odd seeing an office without computers, sales leads typed on index cards, and pay telephones. And what a deal, 6 lots in an Arizona development for $82,000. Do you have any idea what that would be worth today?

The Office Poll

We took a poll at our office in Harvard Square this Friday. Here are the results.

14 Obama
10 McCain
1 Nader

Although the support for McCain seems surprisingly strong for Cambridge, Massachusetts, these are roughly in line with the current poll results for Massachusetts.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Seeing John Malkovich

I got by hair cut Friday at the Custom Barbership, which is located in a little half-width space on Brattle Street. After paying, I stepped out of the tiny door and almost ran into a passerby, a balding man in his 50s wearing a jean jacket. He gave me an angry look that stopped me in my tracks and was so piercing you could see the world through his eyes. He looked familiar, and as he walked away I realized it was John Malkovich.

Who is John Malkovich? Just one of the great American actors of the 20th century. He was in that jewel thief movie, for example. And that one set in France with Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer, that Jenry James novel one with Nicole Kidman and Barara Hershey, that disturbing self-referential one with Cameron Diaz, and that one last year with Angelina Jolie and Robin Wright Penn. But my favorite is Making Mr. Right with Ann Magnuson, Glenne Headley, and Laurie Metcalf.

From Being John Malkovich: There is truth, and there are lies, and art always tells the truth, even when it's lying.

Battle of the Petulant All-Stars

Bill O'Reilly asks Representative Barney Franks (D-Mass) to take a little responsibility for the bailout mess:

For better quality video, you can also watch this on Fox News.

Barney Frank does have an inconvenient history of supporting Fannie and Freddie, the two government sponsored companies whose financial failure is at the center the of the home mortgage lending crisis.

Barney Frank at House Financial Services Committee hearing, Sept. 10, 2003:

“The more people, in my judgment, exaggerate a threat of safety and soundness, the more people conjure up the possibility of serious financial losses to the Treasury, which I do not see. I think we see entities that are fundamentally sound financially and withstand some of the disaster scenarios.”

Barney Frank at House Financial Services Committee hearing, Sept. 25, 2003:

“I do think I do not want the same kind of focus on safety and soundness that we have in OCC [Office of the Comptroller of the Currency] and OTS [Office of Thrift Supervision]. I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing.”

Barney Frank at House Financial Services Committee hearing, Sept. 25, 2003:

Frank: Let me ask [George] Gould and [Franklin] Raines on behalf of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, do you feel that over the past years you have been substantially under-regulated?

Mr. Raines?

Raines: No, sir.

Frank: Mr. Gould?

Gould: No, sir. . . .

Frank: OK. Then I am not entirely sure why we are here. . . .I believe there has been more alarm raised about potential unsafety and unsoundness than, in fact, exists.

Barney Frank was interviewed on CNBC about Freddie and Fannie on July 14, 2008:

“I think this is a case where Fannie and Freddie are fundamentally sound, that they are not in danger of going under. They're not the best investments these days from the long-term standpoint going back. I think they are in good shape going forward. They're in a housing market. I do think their prospects going forward are very solid. And in fact, we're going to do some things that are going to improve them.”

Fannie and Freddie were seized by the federal government on September 8, 2008.