Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Will Lower Manhattan Need to Be Evacuated?

This crane dangling over Midtown Manhattan may be the iconic image of Hurricane Sandy hitting New York City. It has supposedly been secured to the building and another crane will be installed to remove the damaged one. But how long will that take?

How long will it take? is the question that hangs over Manhattan, with many residents especially in lower Manhattan without water and electricity for 48 hours. There were fights today as residents lined up for crowded city buses to get them off the island. Others walked out over the bridges.

New Yorkers are famously tough, and they can last a few days without water service. Most buildings have large water tanks on the roof. Standard practice is to fill the bathtubs to have water to flush the toilets. But at some point that runs out.

The subway system is supposed to reopen tomorrow, but what percentage of the system will be operating and in what neighborhoods? While large parts of the city may be up and running without problems, that doesn't necessarily help the neighborhoods that are still down.

With Long Island and New Jersey also in tatters we may have a very large problem looming if services across the city and region don't get put back to normal in the next day or two. In the meantime, it is Occupy Wall Street on a large scale.

Update 11/1: ConEd is saying they will have the power back on in lower Manhattan by Saturday but it could be out another week in other places. Mayor Bloomberg wants to go ahead with the New York City Marathon on Sunday. Organizers are probably counting on a majority of the usual 50,000 runners not showing up.

Update 11/2: Mayor Bloomberg has succumbed to climate change and cancelled the NYC Sandy Zombie Apocalypse Marathon that he was still planning to run on Sunday: "While holding the race would not require diverting resources from the recovery effort, it is clear that it has become the source of controversy and division." Politicians thrive on controversy and division, corporate sponsors not so much.

Update 11/2: Mayor Bloomberg also spoke today on the world's largest dangling metaphor:
"Concerning the crane on West 57th Street: Tomorrow, work on securing the crane will begin. It’s an approximately 36-hour operation, and the goal is to remove the vacate order and allow people in the vicinity to return to their homes and offices by Monday night.

We’ve just got to make sure that we do this where it doesn’t cost any more lives – or any lives – and we think we have a plan that’s been well studied by everybody, and we’ve been on the crane and with workers and we’ve photographed everything, and we’ve studied the blueprints, and we think we have a plan that will in 36 hours let us secure the boom to the building, and then over the next three or four weeks they’ll have to build another crane next to it to take down the pieces that are damaged."
You've got to admire the use of the word "we" by the world's newest expert on dangling metaphors.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Oh Sandy, What Will They Say?

The whole east coast is being left stranded at the drive in. No need to worry what they will say Monday at work here in Massachusetts, the governor has told all non-essential workers to stay home.

I brought in the porch furniture and roped the garbage cans to the chain link fence. I got out my flashlights, candles, and transistor radio. It looks like the center of the storm will make landfall in New Jersey and then hook back around through upstate New York. so Boston may not take a direct hit.

The crowd at the grocery store Sunday afternoon was fairly impressive, although Shaw's had full staff and the express line moved faster than it often does. Judging from which shelves were emptied, Cambridge will be living for the next few days on chips, crackers, and tuna fish.

Thursday last week, some neighbors down the street took down a big tree. Probably judged it better to take it down first than have the wind bring it down.

At 2am I got an email from the Obama campaign inviting me to a phone bank to make calls into New Hampshire Wednesday evening. I can see that as long as I keep getting the regular-as-clockwork ping from the Obamaspam machine I'll know the internet is still up and running.

It will be creepy-ironic if the power fails and people can't watch the Monday night episode of Revolution. Or, as I like to call it, the best advertisement for stockpiling guns and ammunition since the Alamo. OK, since Hurricane Katrina.


A friend's Camry took a direct hit from a tree limb.

Cambridge firefighters secure a stray line in the street below my window, probably phone or cable as no one in the neighborhood lost power.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

How to Steal the 2012 Election in Three Easy Steps

With the polls close, there is a lot of talk about stealing the election, Democrats running in dead people, felons, and illegal aliens, Republicans kicking legitimate voters off the rolls and turning away voters without ID. But the real danger may come from the Libertarian Party exploiting a few quirks in the 12th, 20th, and 23rd Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Here's how it would work:
(1) Tie up the electoral college.
(2) Elect or lure one elector.
(3) Put the pitchforks to Congress.
First, a small cadre of libertarian activists would orchestrate a 269 to 269 tie in the electoral college, the little understood institution that actually elects the President under the U.S. Constitution.

The number of electors in the electoral college was originally set to the number of representatives in the U.S. House, always an odd number, plus the number of U.S. Senators, always an even number. That would be a total of 535 electors, making a tie impossible with two candidates in a two-party system.

However, the 23rd Amendment gives the capitol city of Washington, DC the number of electors it would be entitled to as a state by population limited to the number allotted to the least populous state. That works out to 3 electors and brings the total to 538, which makes possible a 269 to 269 tie.

The 12th Amendment requires to elect the President a "majority of the whole number of Electors appointed" which is 270. In the event that no candidate gets 270 electoral votes, the selection of the new President goes to the U.S. House of Representatives. More on that later.

How would libertarian voters tie up the electoral college? As polling stands today, Romney victories in Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada would do the trick.

Now you are probably thinking that there is no way libertarians can organize enough people to influence the vote in those 3 states. But Ron Paul did just that with libertarian voters in the Republican primaries. He got 26,036 people out for the Iowa caucuses, 7,759 out for the Colorado caucuses, and 6,175 out for the Nevada caucuses. Only 537 votes made the difference in Florida in 2000.

The next step exploits another aspect of the 12th Amendment. In the event of failing to get a majority of the electors, the U.S. House chooses "from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President." Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be #1 and #2. Who will be #3?

Most states award their electors based on who wins the state. Nebraska and Maine, however, award their electors by Congressional districts. These are not swing states getting a lot of attention, so it would be possible for the plainsmen or woodsmen to sneak in one libertarian elector. A Republican elector might also be lured into defecting. That last happened in 1972, when Virginia Elector Roger MacBride switched his vote from Republican Richard Nixon to Libertarian candidate John Hospers. The Paulistas may well already have planted libertarian infiltrators on Romney's elector lists in any number of states.

This year the Libertarian Party candidate is Gary Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico. As such, Gary is uniquely qualified to be #3. No one has ever become U.S. President without first being Vice President, a victorious general, a cabinet secretary, a senator, or a state governor. Unlike recent past third party candidates Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, and John Anderson, Gary Johnson qualifies - all he has to do is get on the list as #3.

That brings us to the final step. For the presidential election tiebreaker, the U.S. House votes by state delegation. That's generally thought to favor the Republicans, because Democrats control most of the bigger states but Republicans control more states. House Speaker John Boehner would be expected, in the event of an electoral college tie, to save the day for Mitt Romney.

But factor in Joe Biden and Michele Bachmann. Under the 20th Amendment, "If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified."

The Vice President elect in an electoral vote tie will almost certainly be Joe Biden. Unlike the President, the choice of Vice President falls to the U.S. Senate and must be "from the two highest numbers on the list." That will be Joe Biden and Paul Ryan as #1 and #2. Democrats are expected to retain control of the U.S. Senate, and they won't pick Paul Ryan. Joe Biden will be waiting in the wings to become President if the U.S. House is unable to choose before noon January 20.

That gives Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann enormous leverage in her role as Chairwoman of the Tea Party Caucus, and she is just crazy enough to use it. The Tea Party Caucus currently has 61 members in the U.S. House, all ostensibly Republicans. Without the Tea Party Caucus votes, Republicans would only have 180 seats as compared to 191 for the Democrats. That's clout.

The state of Texas, for example, has 11 Tea Party Caucus members. That's enough to tip that state's delegation in the tiebreaker vote. The tea party vote can deprive Mitt Romney the win and that means Bachmann can go to Boehner and say, "It's my guy or Joe Biden."

Why would the tea party prefer Gary Johnson to Mitt Romney or Barack Obama? Both Romney and Obama plan to cut the federal deficit by raising taxes, albeit in different ways. Taxed Enough Already is the tea party motto, and they already scuttled the grand bargain on the deficit between Boehner and Obama because it would have raised taxes.

All this Constitutional coup d'etat needs is a slogan. Gary Johnson has five:
Be libertarian one time
Cast a protest vote that counts
Be the 5 percent that changes America
End the two-party system for good
Live free

There it is, the Libertarian Menace, and Hollywood may be behind it. Over the last couple of years, Hollywood opened the door to libertarian values with TV shows like The Walking Dead and Revenge. The hot new TV shows Revolution and Last Resort feature strong libertarians fighting against tyranny.

The Thursday night comedy 30 Rock will feature an episode on November 1 titled "There's No I in America" in which fans of Jenna Maroney (played by Jane Krakowski) under the catchphrase "Unwindulax" will determine the winner of the election. The Revolution episode "The Children's Crusade" will air on the Monday election eve before the Tuesday, November 6 election.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

If Winning the U.S. Senate Was Something God Intended to Happen ...

Would that the Republican Party not have picked these two morons to run for U.S. Senate:
Todd Akin of Missouri: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Richard Mourdock of Indiana: "I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." "
By this latter logic, God intends everything to happen, including saying stupid things that cost you an election.

Mourdock's statement is less stupid than Akin's, but it was made after Akin's caused enough stir that a smart man wouldn't have gone near the subject of rape and pregnancy, so that makes it more stupid.

Mourdock is still being given a good chance to win his race, but I suspect he will lose too. In both cases, they will lose because a number of voters in these two Republican-leaning states will blacken the Mitt Romney oval, then either vote for the Democrat for U.S. Senate or leave their ballot blank.

In the 2010 election, Republicans saw their U.S. Senate candidates Christine O'Donnell of Delaware and Sharon Angle of Nevada go off in their hands like grenades. A swing of 4 seats in the U.S. Senate would have given them control after this election, instead they've given it away.

Felix Baumgartner Takes a Big Fall for Mankind

Let's see. Strap on a pressurized space suit and a parachute, ascend in a hot air balloon to 128,000 feet (24.2 miles) above the earth's surface, take a step off the side, and freefall for 4 minutes and 20 seconds to reach a maximum speed of 833.9 mph (Mach 1.24). Says Felix Baumgartner just before he took that step on October 14:
"I know the whole world is watching right now and I wish the world could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are. ... I'm coming home now."
It's not the fall that kills you. The truly impressive fete is that he was able to slow that freefall down and land on his feet in the New Mexico desert. Otherwise, it's a Wile E. Coyote ending, and a man is not a cartoon character who can pick himself up from that.

One downside to going so fast, faster than the speed of sound, is that Felix missed setting the 1960 record for longest freefall by 17 seconds. That was set by Joseph Kittinger who jumped at a mere 102,800 feet. Colonel Kittinger was later shot down over North Vietnam and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war.

Felix will have to settle for the record highest manned balloon flight, highest sky-dive jump, farthest freefall, and fastest freefall speed. These records are subject to verification by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. If they are unable to verify, he'll just have to do it again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Last Presidential Debate Will Please Stand

You may have thought the last debate was on Monday but C-Span had a third party candidate debate moderated by Larry King on Tuesday.

Larry got a little confused and forgot to ask for the opening statements before asking the first question, so the opening statements start at the 24:00 mark.

David Letterman Calls Bullshit on President Obama

David Letterman tells Rachel Maddow he is a little discouraged in his support for President Obama:
"President Obama was not telling the truth about what was excerpted from that op-ed piece."
The subject is the auto bailout and the claim is that President Obama saved GM while Mitt Romney would have put GM out of business.

The now famous "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" editorial by Mitt Romney appeared on November 18, 2008. Of course, there are two types of bankruptcy, the "going out of business" bankruptcy and the "can't pay all the bills so the creditors have to accept less to keep the doors open" bankruptcy. Chrysler filed for bankruptcy on May 1, 2009 followed by General Motors on June 1, 2009.

So what happened in the six and a half months between November 18 and June 1? A lot of secret meetings were held in Detroit, NYC, and DC to determine which auto plants and dealerships around the country would be closed, which would stay open, and how much federal cash that would take.

I visited Detroit for a great uncle's funeral in April 2009. There was a feeling that times were tough but no feeling of impending doom. There was considerable scoffing at the notion that the U.S. government would be guaranteeing the warranties on GM cars, which had been announced at the end of March. GM will warranty its cars was the Detroit wisdom.

As for Chrysler, it had been owned by Germany's Daimler Motors and would end up owned by Italy's Fiat. If it had been liquidated, Form and GM might have been given the opportunity to buy its best brands, and they would have returned to American ownership.

The Ford family wanted to keep control of their company and Ford didn't take the bailout. They were able to avoid bankruptcy in no small part because they had proactively closed unprofitable auto plants and dealerships starting in 2006. Their reward was to watch their competitors have large portions of their debts forgiven and fill up on cheap government money.

One of Mitt's ideas in that op-ed has a distinctly populist ring:
"Get rid of the planes, the executive dining rooms — all the symbols that breed resentment among the hundreds of thousands who will also be sacrificing to keep the companies afloat."
Another of Mitt's ideas is exactly what eventually happened 4 to 6 months later:
"The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk."
Another one of Mitt Romney's prescriptions that took much longer to become true:
Management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries.
GM CEO Richard Wagoner was allowed to stay on until March 29, 2009, when he was replaced by longtime GM hand Fritz Henderson, who served as CEO until December 1, 2009. Eventually GM got around to hiring outsider Dan Akerson, a former telecom executive and private equity investor, as its CEO on September 1, 2010.

What then President-elect Obama should have done was immediately appoint Mitt Romney as his Car Czar. That would have sent a signal he was serious about the new era of bipartisanship he had promised. And the U.S. auto industry would have gotten where it needed to go a year or two earlier.

At the end of the day, I don't think U.S. taxpayers can complain too much about the auto bailout. It all went on the federal credit card, so it hasn't cost taxpayers anything out of pocket, yet. The U.S. might have to write off about $14 billion of the GM loan. That works out to about $45 person, or $122 per taxpayer. You can buy a share of GM today for $23.69. Some are agitating for the government to send them a share. Frankly, I don't want one.

In any case, the auto bailout was a bipartisan effort that started under President Bush and was completed under President Obama. But you'll never hear Barack Obama say, "President Bush and I saved the auto industry."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

All Over In a Fortnight, Unless ...

The 2012 election will be held in a fortnight - 2 weeks, 14 days, 336 hours - and it looks like it is going to be very close.

How close? RCP shows Mitt Romney leading Barack Obama in the national poll average 48% to 47.1%. Intrade puts the odds at 57% for Obama and 43% for Romney. That's because Mitt Romney, while narrowly leading in the national Gallup, Rasmussen, and ABC News/Washington Post polls, is narrowly trailing in several important battleground states.

If the election were to follow the RCP polls, Barack Obama would win 281 electoral votes to 257. In the battleground, that assumes Romney wins Colorado, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida but loses Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nevada.

But let's say that the last two states in the Obama list move over to Romney. Iowa and Nevada each have 6 electoral votes for a total of 12. That would bring the totals to 269 for Obama and 269 for Romney, a tie.

Update: I see Ann Althouse has noticed this same possibility. Under the 12th Amendment, the U.S. House voting by state has to pick the winner off list the candidates who got electoral votes:
"from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President"
Presumably Mitt Romney and Barack Obama would be #1 and #2. So who will be #3? The last time a third party party candidate got an electoral vote was 1972, when Virginia Elector Roger MacBride, pledged for Richard Nixon, cast his electoral votes for Libertarian candidate John Hospers.

The 2012 Libertarian Party candidate is Gary Johnson. He made this pitch in Tuesday's third party debate:
"Wasting your vote is voting for somebody that you don't believe in. That's wasting your vote. I'm asking everybody here, I'm asking everybody watching this nationwide to waste your vote on me."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Obama Beats Romney 9-0 in Final Debate

OK, 9-0 was the score of the baseball game. The San Francisco Giants from blue state California beat the St. Louis Cardinals from red state Missouri for the NL pennant to go to the World Series. There was a Presidential debate tonight too on the subject of America's place in the world, last in the series.

Boca Raton, Florida? What kind of place is that to hold a Presidential debate? Where next, Beverly Hills, California? Highland Park, Texas? Cherry Hills, Colorado? Glencoe, Illinois? Bloomfield Hills, Michigan? Brookline, Massachusetts? Scarsdale, New York? In 2016, we should hold the first debate in a Southwest Iowa sale barn.

Boca Raton means "mouth of the mouse" in Spanish. This debate was not the mouse that squealed or the mouse that roared. It was a debate where both candidates tried to mouth all the rights words.

I'd have to say that foreign policy is Barack Obama's best pitch (or perhaps Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta's). Mitt whiffed on Libya, Syria, and Iran. Then he hit a couple of fly balls on Israel, which Barack was able to easily catch. Mitt hit a few more fouls and tips, but mostly Barack threw strikes across the plate.

The problem I have with Mitt Romney is that he has such a long list of foreign nations where he says we haven't done enough and should do more. That's a lot of men to put on base, and once you get them there it's hard to bring them home.

"After a decade of war, it's time to do some nation-building at home," sounds like a great formulation to me. The Republican Party used to understand this principle. Where is Dwight Eisenhower when you need him?

China selling us goods too cheap is a tough competitive problem. But how are we going to punish China by labeling them a currency manipulator and making them raise their prices. So the "punishment" is that China is forced to make bigger profits on sales to the U.S. What am I missing? Am I an idiot?

The foreign policy question not asked was the one question I wanted to hear, what Clint Eastwood asked the empty chair:
"I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that's okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK. You know, I mean -- you thought that was something worth doing. We didn't check with the Russians to see how did it -- they did there for 10 years. But we did it, and it is something to be thought about, and I think that, when we get to maybe -- I think you've mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home. You gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question, you know, he says, 'Why are you giving the date out now? Why don't you just bring them home tomorrow morning?'"
Instead Bob Schieffer asked a question about whether Obama or Romney would stay past the 2014 target date if Afghanistan was still a mess.

I suppose there was commentary but I switched back to the ballgame, which ended in the rain. I missed the Detroit Tigers sweep of the New York Yankees to win the AL pennant in in 4 games, that should give them an advantage over these wet Giants. It should be a good World Series. I'll be rooting for the Tigers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern Catches the Last Plane

George McGovern, who passed away today at age 90, is one of three major party candidates for President that I have actually met. The other two are Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney, but in their cases I only got to shake their hands. I got to talk to George.

The decorated World War II bomber pilot, who flew 35 missions against the Germans, took on Navy vet Richard Nixon in the 1972 election. George would win only 37.5% of the vote and carry only the state of Massachusetts and DC. The only comparable loss on the Democratic side is 1984 when Walter Mondale won 40.6% of the vote.

When I first arrived in Massachusetts in 1980, you'd still see the occasional faded "Don't Blame Me, I'm from Massachusetts" bumper sticker left over from the Watergate scandal that forced Nixon to resign. Nonetheless, Massachusetts voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

Mondale and McGovern are the corner post and brace post of the Democratic Party. On the other side, Bob Dole (40.7% in 1996) and Barry Goldwater (38.5% in 1964) are the corner and brace for the Republican Party. American politics is the barbed wire fence strung between those two corners. You can get through a barbed wire fence only if you are willing to suffer a few snags.

I turned 10 in 1972 and that's the first Presidential election I can really remember. I was a Nixon boy in a largely Republican small Iowa farm town. I had a Cub Scout meeting on election night, and the Democrat father of the family sat in the next room watching the election returns come in on TV. After the short meeting, we joined him, and I remember feeling a little sheepish as the states came in one after another for Richard Nixon, 520 electoral votes to 17 didn't seem sporting.

I met George McGovern in May 1998. He was giving a graduation speech at the University of Montana in Missoula, and I was there with my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, and cousins because one of my cousins was graduating.

I'd arrived a couple of days earlier and we had all watched the final episode of Seinfeld. I may be confusing my Missoula trips, but I believe this trip was the first time I used a cell phone. My brother lent me his and I got a call from him on his wife's phone as I was driving down the main drag in Missoula. I pulled off to the side of the street to take the call. That seems a rather quaint practice now. Just yesterday I saw a girl on her bicycle chatting on her cell phone as she rode in city traffic.

George talked about his work at the U.N. This was the Clinton administration and he was the new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture. He also told a truly poignant story about his daughter Terry, who struggled for three decades with depression and alcoholism. On a cold night in December 1994, at age 45, she stumbled out of a Madison, Wisconsin bar and into an alley where she passed out and froze to death.

The historian Stephen Ambrose also spoke at the graduation. His best quote, which I remember being such a stark contrast to the Terry McGovern story:
"This is the American century. Our greatest gift to the 21st century, which you will be running, is freedom. ... America is the land of opportunity. Reach out and seize it."
Those kids who graduated that day would now be around age 36, so they are finally eligible to run for President and take on running this operation (next time, maybe). My cousin just announced on Facebook that he had bought a tarp and joined the local gun club. He is a teacher.

I met George McGovern at the Missoula International Airport the next morning. It would be more precise to say that my grandfather met him. We were standing in line to check luggage on the Northwest Airlines flight to Minneapolis, from which we would get separate connecting flights. The line was long and the flight was delayed. And there was George McGovern in line right in front of us. My grandfather never missed an opportunity to extract someone's life story and introduce his family.

The airline sent us home and told us to come back in the late afternoon. They told us our plane had mechanical difficulties and had to bring another one up from Salt Lake City. I later read that the mechanics union was involved in some sort of work slowdown. So they stranded the Ambassador for nine hours, and us as well.

When we came back in the late afternoon, it was the same people waiting for the same plane out of Missoula (the International Airport designation being an artifact to some now-discontinued short hop flights to Canada). There was George McGovern again and we were his old friends from the morning. We had another long chat.

First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Professor of History and Political Science at Dakota Wesleyan University, U.S. Congressman, U.S. Senator, Democratic Presidential nominee, U.S. Ambassador. That's a great career and a great life of public service, even if it does have its bittersweet qualities. He reminds me of Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
"This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
George McGovern was a good-hearted populist. His 1972 campaign wasn't running a communist fifth column secretly negotiating to surrender Vietnam as Richard Nixon feared when he sent the Plumbers into the Watergate to bug his phones. And, of course, Nixon would ultimately dispatch Kissinger to do just exactly that.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mitt Romney's Pig in a Poke Tax Plan, Or Why Surrender Our Tax Deductions without a Fight?

Mitt Romney's tax plan is the centerpiece of his promise to create 12 million new jobs. He expects 7 million of those jobs to come from the benefits of the tax plan alone. So what's in that tax plan? It's a bit of a pig in the poke. He's got a sack, he says there is a delicious pig in it, but we can really only see the outline of the pig against the sack. It could just as easily be a cat.

On the individual tax side, here are the highlights to Mitt Romney's tax plan:

Make permanent, across-the-board 20 percent cut in marginal rates - The top tax rate would come down from 35% to 28%, but there's a catch - some taxpayers will have to give up tax deductions they currently get.

Maintain current tax rates on interest, dividends, and capital gains - This maintains the current 15% top rate, but due to the next provision that only applies to people who earn more than $200,000.

Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains - That means, for example, that someone with $10,000,000 could park it in U.S. Treasury debt, collect a $200,000 annual check from the federal government at current 2% interest rates, and pay $0 in federal income tax. Talk about expanding the 47%!

Eliminate the Death Tax - At Mitt Romney's $250,000,000 estimated net worth, this could save the five Romney sons up to $83,958,000 at current exemptions and rates or $137,154,200 at pre-Bush tax cut exemptions and rates scheduled to go back into effect in 2013. No wonder they are out campaigning for mom and dad.

Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) - You probably don't know about AMT tax if you don't have to pay it, but it's a 28% flat tax on a broader definition of ordinary income above certain thresholds. As we will see, Mitt Romney is not so much eliminating the much-hated AMT but folding it into the regular income tax. Won't that be fun for everyone.

Actually, that's not merely the highlights, that's the whole plan - the part in bold, I'm the one who filled in the few details and commentary. There is also a separate outline of a 4 point plan to reduce corporate taxes.

Now, this may not be a bad plan, my taxes would go down, at first appearance. Who can argue with lower taxes? Who can begrudge the Romney boys their full inheritance? But let's look a little more closely at something Mitt Romney has said about his tax plan in the first debate:
"We ought to bring the tax rates down, and I do, both for corporations and for individuals. But in order for us not to lose revenue, have the government run out of money, I also lower deductions and credits and exemptions so that we keep taking in the same money when you also account for growth."
I have listened to enough politicians to wonder, is this a stealth tax increase? Not lose revenue and keep taking in the same money sound to me like we end up paying in more taxes than we did before. That's how Mitt Romney summed it up himself:
"Get the rates down, lower deductions and exemptions to create more jobs, because there's nothing better for getting us to a balanced budget than having more people working, earning more money, paying more taxes. That's by far the most effective and efficient way to get this budget balanced."
Romney is even on record as saying that there would be no tax cut at all:
"And finally, with regards to that tax cut, look, I'm not looking to cut massive taxes and to reduce the revenues going to the government. My number one principle is there'll be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that — no tax cut that adds to the deficit."
Of course, President Obama has been going around until recently telling everyone Mitt Romney's plan is a $5 trillion tax cut. But of course you can't cut $5 trillion out of the tax revenue stream and remain revenue neutral. Barack Obama may be unwittingly helping to sell a stealth tax increase.

So what sort of deductions are we talking about losing? The two that have been most talked about are the charitable deduction and home mortgage interest deduction. However, Mitt Romney has never spelled out exactly what he has in mind to take away.

In fact, what he did list in the first debate was "deductions and credits and exemptions." That could include all of the following types of items:
(1) Charitable contributions
(2) Mortgage interest
(3) Personal exemptions
(4) Standard deduction
(5) State or local income taxes
(6) State or local property taxes
(7) Foreign taxes
(8) Interest on state or municipal bonds that is currently tax-exempt
(9) Miscellaneous itemized deductions over 2% of AGI
(10) Medical expenses not covered by insurance over 7% of AGU
(11) Health insurance contributions by you or your employer
(12) IRA, 401(k), and pension contributions by you or your employer
(13) Social security benefits
(14) Educator expenses
(15) Student loan interest deduction
(16) Tuition and fees
(17) Moving expenses
(18) Business travel expenses
(19) Depreciation on business assets
(20) Section 179 expense election for purchase of business assets
(21) Percentage depletion and intangible drilling costs
(22) Domestic product activities deduction
(23) Spread on incentive stock options
(24) Child dependent care expense credits
(25) Child tax credits
(26) Residential home energy credits
(27) Education credits
(28) First-time home buyer credits
(29) General business tax credits
(30) Ethanol and other biofuel tax credits
You see, once you start talking about adding deductions, credits and exemptions to taxable income, that could bring in a lot of items that are not subject to income tax now. You can pay a 20% lower tax rate on a 25% higher taxable income and end up writing the same check at the end of year to the IRS. If your taxable income is raised by more than 25%, you've just been hit with a tax increase.

I don't know exactly which items Mitt Romney means to add to the income tax base, he may not even know himself, intending to negotiate that with Congress when the time comes, but he absolutely means to add enough to offset the 20% tax rate cut. He said it, as clear as day.

Under the Romney tax plan, your taxable income goes up, but not your actual income, that's the insidious nature of taking away deductions, credits, and exemptions - $5 trillion worth according to Barack Obama. Mitt Romney hasn't given a number but it has to be a big one.

Is there a Republican constituency for the Romney tax plan, even if it is a stealth tax increase? Of course there is. "Elect our guy President and we'll cover the deficits," is a pretty simple political transaction. And then hope to make this tax change back on economic growth. Yes, this is another brand of hope and change.

Also, this change moves in the direction of a flat tax, long a goal in Republican Presidential politics from Steve Forbes to Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan. A big problem is how the country would transition from the current progressive tax rates to the flat tax. Mitt Romney's plan, with its deceptively simple complexity, is essentially a transition plan.

We have long had a flat tax here in liberal Massachusetts. It's 5.3% against some exemptions and very few deductions (12% on certain capital gains). I will tell you that not having the usual deductions, credits, and exemptions is brutal. However, the Massachusetts state constitution does have some protections:
"Article XLIV. Full power and authority are hereby given and granted to the general court to impose and levy a tax on income in the manner hereinafter provided. Such tax may be at different rates upon income derived from different classes of property, but shall be levied at a uniform rate throughout the commonwealth upon incomes derived from the same class of property. The general court may tax income not derived from property at a lower rate than income derived from property, and may grant reasonable exemptions and abatements."
Income from labor can be taxed at a lesser rate than income from property under the Massachusetts state constitution. Curiously, the opposite is true under Mitt Romney's tax plan. It's hard to see how taxing work more than investments creates jobs.

Another protection is the ballot question process. In 2000 a ballot question passed 59% to 41% to reduce the tax rate from 5.95% to 5.6% in 2001, 5.3% in 2002, and 5% in 2003 and thereafter. When the legislature refused to let the tax rate go below 5.3%, a question was put on the 2002 ballot to repeal the tax outright, which was defeated by only 55% to 45%. A 2008 ballot question to repeal the tax was defeated by 70% to 30%.

The Massachusetts flat tax allows direct negotiation at the ballot box between the taxpaying-public and the legislature, and the public has shown that it will exercise its rights to rein in the legislature responsibly.

That brings us back to the Romney tax plan. The flat taxers will be glad to give up their deductions, credits, and exemptions, but should the rest of us surrender without a fight?

Mitt Romney tries to make it easy for voters to say yes. Here's how he explained it in the second debate:
"Now, how about deductions? Because I'm going to bring rates down across the board for everybody, but I'm going to limit deductions and exemptions and credits, particularly for people at the high end, because I am not going to have people at the high end pay less than they're paying now. The top 5 percent of taxpayers will continue to pay 60 percent of the income tax the nation collects. So that'll stay the same. Middle-income people are going to get a tax break.

And so in terms of bringing down deductions, one way of doing that would be to say everybody gets — I'll pick a number — $25,000 of deductions and credits. And you can decide which ones to use, your home mortgage interest deduction, charity, child tax credit and so forth. You can use those as part of filling that bucket, if you will, of deductions. But your rate comes down."
Your tax rate comes down, but not necessarily your tax amount. Here's the kicker:
"The burden also comes down on you for one more reason. And that is every middle-income taxpayer no longer will pay any tax on interest, dividends or capital gains, no tax on your savings.

That makes life a lot easier. If you're getting interest from a bank, if you're getting a statement from a mutual fund or any other kind of investments you have, you don't have to worry about filing taxes on that, because there will be no taxes for anybody making $200,000 a year and less on your interest, dividends and capital gains."
That just sounds like an all-around good deal for a large segment of the middle class myself included. You can work your whole life and build up a nest egg, and you don't have to pay any more taxes on the income that your nest egg generates. But, again, you have to remember that this bit of tax generosity is coming out of your hide during your working life.

Let's go back to that $25,000 number Mitt Romney picked as "one way of doing that." That sounds like a lot. Most people don't have that many deductions. But of course you have to remember to include your credits and exemptions too. More importantly, it's the precedent.

Yes, the cap on deductions, credits, and exemptions may start at $25,000 and the list of deductions, credits, and exemptions to be capped may be short, to begin with. But once it is there, the cap can be lowered to $20,000 to $10,000 to $0. Likewise, the list of items to be capped can get longer and longer.

I'm letting the cat of the bag. This is it. Once we give up our deductions, credits, and exemptions, they are gone for good. This is a transition to a flat tax, and the first step in the transition is not the final one.

What protection do we get? Deductions, credits, and exemptions have provided some measure of protection against high income tax rates for as long as the U.S. has had an income tax. If we give up that protection, what's left? We know that Congress is not a good brake on reckless borrowing, spending, or tax increases. We have 16 trillion reasons not to trust Congress, with another trillion reasons being added every year.

I believe that a Constitutional amendment requiring submission of major borrowing, spending and tax decisions to popular vote by the people is the only way to protect ourselves adequately.

How would that work? If the target is to limit federal spending to 20% of GDP, Congress should have to submit any proposal to spend more to a popular vote. Likewise, increases to the U.S. debt ceiling beyond a similar ratio should also go to a popular vote. Finally, we need the initiative petition, so that overreaching tax laws can be revised by the people at the ballot box. If it's going to be a flat tax, we first need a Flat Tax Amendment.

If we can't get that Flat Tax Amendment first, we should keep our tax deductions and not surrender to the flat tax increase.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Was a Free Range Kid

I was a free range kid of the 1970s, and look how badly I turned out. Hat tip to Reason.

Win the Debate Point, Lose the Ad Buy

The Libya question did not come across well for Mitt Romney in the debate Tuesday, particularly after moderator Candy Crowley jumped in. Now she's starring with President Obama in a Republican attack ad.

The Obama administration still doesn't have an answer that puts this issue behind them, and the last debate next week is on foreign policy, so it will be sure to come up again.

Notice that President Obama never actually acknowledges in the debate that he called the Libya deaths an "act of terror" in the Rose Garden on the day after. "Please proceed, Governor" was his actual response. But it came across as just such an acknowledgment after Candy Crowley jumped in to "help" the President.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Has Glacier Romney Reached Its High Water Mark?

By most accounts last night's debate was a narrow win for President Obama. Barack Obama still has the lead, but Mitt Romney has had the momentum. You can see Romney whittling away at Obama's lead in the battleground states over the last 80 days, with a big setback in September when his 47% comment was publicized, offset by a big bounce coming out of the first debate.

Battleground States: Electoral Votes 2008 Margin 7/29
Pennsylvania 20 10.5% 5.8% 6.6% 7.7% 8.3% 5.0%
Michigan 16 16.7% 4.2% 7.7% 2.4% 8.6% 4.4%
Iowa 6 9.7% 1.3% 1.0% 0.2% 4.7% 2.3%
Wisconsin 10 14.1% 6.0% 3.5% 1.4% 7.8% 2.3%
Ohio 18 4.7% 5.0% 1.8% 0.7% 5.2% 2.2%
Nevada 6 12.8% 5.3% 5.0% 3.3% 4.2% 1.6%
Virginia 13 6.4% 1.2% 1.0% 0.6% 4.5% 0.8%
New Hampshire 4 9.7% 3.0% 3.5% 3.5% 1.0% 0.5%
Colorado 9 9.1% 3.0% 1.0% 2.3% 2.5% -0.7%
Florida 29 2.8% 0.6% 1.0% 0.6% 3.1% -2.5%
North Carolina 15 0.3% -0.4% -1.0% -2.0% 1.0% -4.7%
Missouri 10 -0.1% -6.0% -6.3% -6.0% -7.3% -7.7%
Battleground Average 156 7.2% 2.4% 2.1% 1.2% 3.6% 0.3%

Nonetheless, it's been a very slow glacier-like advance for Romney, and he now trails by just .3% in the battleground states.

President Obama is still on track to win reelection, particular if the town hall debate slows Romney's momentum, but with the polls so close that could easily change over the remaining 20 days. Obama is defending and Mitt Romney is challenging, which gives Romney the advantage of picking the battleground state strategy for his final attack.

Romney starts with 181 electoral votes in states he is expected to easily win. Adding the states of Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, and Missouri where he is currently leading would bring him to 244 electoral votes, just 26 short of the 270 needed to win. Let's assume he can do that. What are his strategies?

Go Short - Winning Ohio and Virginia would bring Romney to 275. This looks like the easiest path to win. Republicans know how to win these states. It's the shortest way to the White House, but likely well-guarded, so Mitt Romney might be advised not to get bogged down on this path.

Go Home - Winning Michigan and Wisconsin, the home states of Mitt Romney and his VP pick Paul Ryan, brings Romney to 270. That may have been the whole point of the VP pick but, as the saying goes and the polls currently show, you can't always go home again.

Go to Gettysburg - Winning Pennsylvania plus any other state except New Hampshire puts Romney above 270. The Gettysburg strategy is the boldest. On the one hand, Republicans haven't won Pennsylvania since 1988, 24 years ago. On the other hand, the Obama campaign likely wouldn't see it coming. But it's very risky - remember Pickett's Charge.

Go Small - Winning Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada, and New Hampshire also brings Romney to 270. All things considered, this may be Romney's best chance. Romney can lose any one of the small states so long as he offsets the loss with a win in a bigger state. So winning Virginia would offset losing Wisconsin.

If I'm Obama, I assign someone to keep an eye on my lead in Pennsylvania and Michigan, and counterattack in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa. There are other ways to defend, but these states would seal 271 electoral votes for the win.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Candy Question at the CNN Town Hall Debate

Candy Crowley on her role as moderator in advance of Tuesday’s Presidential town hall style debate:
“I understand that I’m there. I’m not a fly on the wall. We don’t want the candidates to spout talking points. That doesn’t help voters … I’m going to react organically to what’s happening.”
Candy Crowley: We’ve had a lot of great questions tonight on the economy, women’s rights, and foreign policy. Our next question comes from Charles, a blogger from Massachusetts.

Charles: I’m worse off than I was 4 years ago. My favorite candy is Dark Chocolate M&Ms, you know, the ones that come in the purple package. They came out in 2005, at the height of the boom.

Candy Crowley: Those are OK, I really love the Coconut M&Ms in the silvery-white package.

Governor Romney: I can’t eat chocolate, because it has caffeine. But I want you to know that I’m prochoice when it comes to chocolate. I mean prolife. Yes, I’m definitely prolife, I support the value of life when it comes to chocolate for those not in the 47%. I mean 100%, of Americans citizens that is, no chocolates for you illegal aliens, unless you self-deport, or mow my lawn.

President Obama: Candy, you’re my favorite candy. (winks)

Candy Crowley: (giggles like a schoolgirl, then turns suddenly serious) … So, Governor Romney, would you ban chocolate if you are elected President? Would you require chocolate purchasers to show their photo IDs and birth certificates?

Governor Romney: There's no legislation with regards to chocolate that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda. Certainly I would sign a Constitutional amendment banning all caffeine products if one happened across my desk, if my signature were required for such amendments, which it isn’t. My campaign will have a clarifying statement tomorrow morning.

Candy Crowley: Can we get back to Charles, I think he might have more to his question coming, and it better not contain the words, “sausage or pepperoni?”

Charles: Thanks. It’s now 4 or 5 years into the great recession, and I can’t find Dark Chocolate M&Ms anywhere. C’est Bon, CVS, Tommy’s Lunch, The Market, the closed 7-Eleven, Shaw’s, Gourmet Express, the defunct White Hen Pantry, Sarah’s Market - all no longer carry Dark Chocolate M&Ms.

Candy Crowley: (interrupts) Did you see what I did there? I win the free Pizza Hut pizzas for life. Just thinking about that makes me hungry. Governor?

Governor Romney: This is a failure of President Obama’s foreign policy. President Obama’s apologetic diplomacy in Côte d'Ivoire led to 40% of the world’s cocoa crop falling into the hands of Al Qaeda and they are selling this essential ingredient for making chocolate to Iran in violation of President Obama’s unexceptional sanctions policy. This would never have happened if I had been President, or Hillary.

President Obama: (rolling eyes Joe Biden style) I just want to remind you that the recession is not so great as it would have been and it began during the term of my predecessor who must not be named.

Charles: Yes, he was a Dark Lord, but then I could buy Dark Chocolate M&Ms whenever I wanted. Mr. President, you promised that under your plan I could keep my current candy?

President Obama: You should try the Raspberry M&Ms or the Coconut M&Ms that were introduced in June after review by Elizabeth Warren’s Candy Factory Prevention Bureau and approval by First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy food stamps initiative.

Governor Romney: That’s the problem, you try to pick winners and losers, but you only pick losers, the bad candy that trick-or-treaters sort out when forced to share with their little brothers. Why, I have seen Anderson Cooper’s repeated reports on CNN about a veterans group that was donated a truckload of excess Coconut M&Ms that it could find no use for.

Candy Crowley: (muttering) Anderson Cooper, must eat Coconut M&Ms. (runs off stage)

Anderson Cooper: (offstage) Candy, what? Agh. Agh.

Piers Morgan: (offstage) No, Candy, No. Anderson Cooper is not a silvery-white package of Coconut M&Ms. Erin, where’d you come from? No, no no …

Monday, October 15, 2012

Uncle Obama Owns the Banana-Eating Swing Vote

If you think this is in any way racist, I got it from Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast by way of Ann Althouse. You can buy this on iTtunes.

Sister Deborah hails from the African nation of Ghana, which raises the interesting legal question of whether this video constitutes an illegal campaign contribution from a foreigner. And to whose campaign? I guess we could burn down their embassy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Arlen Specter Returns to the Grassy Knoll

The man who knew where all the bodies were buried, and who buried them, will himself be buried Tuesday.

Longtime U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Arlen Specter died at age 82 Sunday from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Or at least that's the official story.

Unofficially, Arlen Specter is the man credited with the single-bullet theory in the Warren Commission's report on the JFK assassination. The 50th anniversary of JFK's death is coming up in a year and promises to shake loose some as yet unreleased government documents, which Specter will now be unable to comment upon. Specter will be missed by conspiracy theorists everywhere.

Arlen Specter was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980, part of the Reagan revolution that gained Republicans control the U.S. Senate for the first time since 1954. He left the Republican Party in 2009, in order to support President Obama and Obamacare.

The party switch did not work out well. Specter ran for reelection as a Democrat in 2010 but lost his new party's nomination to Joe Sestak, who then lost the general election to Republican Pat Toomey. While Specter's switch helped provide the 60 votes to break the Republican filibuster of Obamacare in the Senate, it also deprived Obamacare of the aura of bipartisanship it would have had if he had remained a Republican.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bad Campaign Slogans, Just Shoot Me Edition

If that's not bad enough, you can always put some profanity in the mouth of your favorite children's television character.

The problem is, even Big Bird is still a little bit undecided. 99% for Obama still leaves 1% of Big Bird thinking of voting for for Mitt Romney.

You can buy these at DemStore.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Laughin' Joe Biden Serves Up the Malarkey

Joe Biden was in a no win situation going into last night's VP debate. If he lost, that could have been fatal to the Obama reelection campaign. If he won, that would have made President Obama look bad by comparison.

Surprisingly, Joe managed the almost perfect result by eking out a tie. Well, CNN called it a tie, but with an instant reaction survey showing 48% for Ryan and 44% for Biden, most of us would call that a 4% loss for Biden.

What was less than perfect was Joe's malarkey of extensive eye-rolling, grimacing, and laughing in reaction to almost every Paul Ryan answer and even some Martha Raddatz questions during the first half of the debate. It was like Joe drunk-blogged it. He did sober up a bit towards the end of the debate. True, there have been worse Biden debacles.

The angry white man act is getting a little old for a man who is Vice President of the United States, assistant leader of the free world, not a back-bencher for the opposition party. Paul Ryan, on the other hand, successfully avoided getting painted as the extremist he is played as on MSNBC.

Update: When you've lost Tom Brokaw ...

Update: Joe Biden says what he means:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ann Marie Begins to Realize I May Not Be In

I got this email from the Obama campaign yesterday:
This week, we need to make some of the last, tough choices about what the final push of this grassroots organization will look like -- where we can compete and how fiercely.

It's a close race, and you hold the power here. According to our records associated with this exact email address:

-- Your supporter ID is: XXXXXXX
-- Your most recent donation was: $Z
-- On this date: September 10, 2009

It looks like you gave in 2008, but haven't given yet in 2012. That may be because you gave using a different email address -- if we've got this wrong, I apologize.



Ann Marie

Ann Marie Habershaw
Chief Operating Officer
Obama for America
Ann Marie, I don't think that letting me know I have been assigned a supporter ID with which you have been tracking me for over 3 years now was the best approach for winning over a libertarian, even a progressive one.

But Ann Marie does raise an interesting question. What exactly was I thinking on September 10, 2009? The nub of it was in the speech on health care reform President Obama had just delivered to a joint session of Congress.
"To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage available for those without it. The public option -- the public option is only a means to that end -- and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have."
Both of those points spoke directly to me, a progressive libertarian. Of course, I regarded the public option as wild talk that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton had campaigned for, and I thought we should have a serious discussion of utilization review without the death panel nonsense.

RomneyCare had been working reasonably well here in Massachusetts, although ominously the small company where I work had just changed health care plans to put in higher deductibles due to rising premium costs. I had also just returned from a vacation trip to Europe where, contrary to the single payer picture of Europe so often painted, I had learned the individual mandate approach has worked well in countries like the Netherlands. It turns out, European Union notwithstanding, that not every country in Europe has the same health care plan.

I was also expecting President Obama and the Democrats in Congress to repeal the Bush tax cuts or at least let them expire while also implementing spending cuts that would bring the federal budget back into balance. The Bowles-Simpson deficit commission was still in the future and their report had not yet been consigned to the round filing cabinet.

Finally, I was expecting a target date for drawing down our troops in Afghanistan a whole lot sooner than 2014. I agree with Clint Eastwood, they should be home today.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Glacier Romney Reaches the Tipping Point

It's just 28 days to the election. An avalanche of new poll data shows Mitt Romney leading by .7% in the RCP average, on the strength of new polls from Pew (+4%), Gallup (+2%), IBD/TIPP (+2%) and Rasmussen (tie). Rasmussen is the Republican pollster.

But President Obama doesn't have 28 days to retake the lost ground, he has exactly 13 days between now and the last Presidential debate on October 22. That debate will be on foreign policy. Tonight CNN is reporting that there was no protest outside the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on the night our Ambassador to Libya was killed there. That going to be tough to answer, as the Obama Administration blamed the deaths on demonstrations against an inflammatory film in its initial public statements.

Before that comes the VP debate on Thursday night, a no-win situation for the Obama campaign. If Joe Biden loses, the avalanche continues. If he wins, that raises the question of whether President Obama is a worse debater than Joe Biden. It's hard to see how Obama doesn't get snowed in Thursday.

Update: The Huffington Post now has the election as a tie at 46.8% each.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Honk! the Harvard Square Oktoberfest 2012

Honk! Festival met Oktoberfest in Harvard Square Sunday. The annual Columbus Day weekend street fair in Harvard Square (33 years) has effectively merged with the more recent Honk Fest! in Somerville's Davis Square (7 years).

The Honk! bands spend Friday night and Saturday in Davis, then at noon Sunday march from Davis Square to Harvard Square.

This year the Honk! parade took almost an hour and a half to pass Cambridge Common and enter Harvard Square.

The parade bands disperse to play at various spots around the Square.

This year the more traditional Club Passim stage didn't even set up, perhaps scared off by threat of rain, but it wasn't all brass bands. Here is Miller's English on Church Street:

But highlight of the day was the big soap bubbles.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Department of Subliminal Truth, Campaign Ad Edition

If you watch this "Dishonest" Obama for American campaign ad with the sound turned off, it appears to be saying that Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi are raising taxes on the middle class.

Jon Stewart and Bill Maher Turn on President Obama

We'll give the award for post-debate beat-down to Bill Maher:
"He sucked. He looked tired, he had trouble getting his answers out," he said. "It looks like he took my million and spent it all on weed."
You seen, Boob Twat Bill Maher gave an Obama SuperPac $1 million, and now he thinks he owns him. The joke is on Bill Maher.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Wishful Thinking Email Machine Continues to Churn

Mitt Romney came off the ropes tonight. President Barack Obama never hit the canvas, but he looked dazed and confused as he stumbled off to the locker room to send out this email:
From: Barack Obama []
Sent: Wednesday, October 03, 2012 10:57 PM
Subject: Hey

I hope I made you proud out there explaining the vision we share for this country.

Now we need to go win this election -- the most important thing that will happen tonight is what you do (or don't do) to help in the little time we have left:

Thank you,

I don't think the President knew what hit him. I have been watching Mitt Romney debate since his Senate race against Ted Kennedy in 1994. He's lost a couple of races but I don't know that I would say he has ever lost a debate on either style or points.

Now the October 11 debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan has become a high stakes affair. Putting Glass Jaw Joe up against a pit bull without lipstick or heels does not bode well for the Obama-Biden campaign.

Then it's a town hall style debate to be moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley on October 16. Candy will try to help the President, and that is likely going to come off looking very, very bad for him. Because a President of the United States does not require rescue by a middle-aged vegetarian transcendental meditationist.

That brings us to the final debate on October 22, to be hosted by CBS's Bob Schieffer and cover foreign policy, which is President Obama's strong suit or was before the events of the last few weeks. I wouldn't want that as my firewall.

Barack Obama went into this first debate with about half the lead he beat John McCain with in 2008. That lead is now going to erode, how much, we will have to see.

Update: Nate Silver at has a long article on the insignificance of debate instant-reaction polls but ultimately concludes that President Obama may lose half his 4% lead:
"But for what it's worth, the historical data would project a gain of 2.2 percentage points for Mr. Romney in the head-to-head polls by this time next week."
Meanwhile, I got an email today from Erin Gorman of the Democratic Governors Association titled "far from over" stating "debates don't win the election" and another one from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, admitting that "Mitt Romney may have impressed the pundits" but asserting "Romney repeatedly and blatantly lied."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Miss Elizabeth Deserves an Affirmative Action Pass

I have revised my opinion of Elizabeth Warren, the U.S. Senate candidate challenging Scott Brown here in Massachusetts. I have thought she was a phony. Now I have decided that she is an eccentric Southern Belle with a racial inferiority complex.

The light-bulb moment was during the second debate when she insisted on being called Miss Elizabeth rather than Professor Warren. What phony business was that about, I first thought. And then I realized it all made sense after all.

A little background. Miss Elizabeth was born in 1949, earlier than you probably thought because she is older than she looks. She grew up in Oklahoma, in conditions she describes as the ragged edge of the middle class.

I always think of Oklahoma as the Midwestern/Southwestern border state that connects Missouri to New Mexico. But it is also by virtue of its borders with Texas and Arkansas a Southern state, a state that permitted slavery when it was an Indian Territory up through the Civil War, a place where the conditions of servitude continued for quite a bit afterwards.

To be born of reputed mixed-race parentage in Oklahoma five years before Brown v. Board of Education and a decade or so before the civil rights marches of the 1960s is to be born into a different world than we live in here in Massachusetts today. Here's how Miss Elizabeth explains it:

"As a kid I never asked my mom for documentation when she talked about her Native American heritage. What kid would? But I knew my father's family didn't like that she was part Cherokee and part Delaware. So my parents had to elope."
That sounded a little melodramatic at first hearing. And what kind of person paints their grandparents as racists in order to get elected?

But hers was the childhood of The Searchers, where John Wayne spends years tracking his captured niece who he would would rather see dead than living as an Indian (in the end he relents and lets her live). Hers was the era of the aristocratic Stella Dubois debasing herself in marrying the pollack Stanley Kowalski.

Her own life resembles a Carson McCullers novel - father forced to cut back his janitor work hours after a heart attack left him with a stack of medical bills, mother working in the catalog-order department at Sears, Miss Elizabeth waitressing as a teenager to help the family make ends meet, the family car going back to the bank when the ends finally didn't meet.

That brings us to Miss Elizabeth's Southern Belle eccentricities: the proud way she speaks of her bothers' military service, the porch swing she installed in her office to talk to students as a young law prof, the well-appointed plantation atmosphere of her Cambridge home in many of her video ads, the schoolmarmish manner. She's a bit odd but she's all right.

Now it's being alleged that her progressive pedigree is not so pure either. It turns out that as a lawyer she didn't just play the victim card on behalf of public interest group clients. She also represented some real companies including banks, insurance companies, and chemical companies. Is that hypocritical, or good to hear?

Let's cut to the chase here. Affirmative action in academic hiring is a politically correct joke. The colleges and universities hire who they want to hire, then send out their PR flacks to talk up whatever diversity they are able to divine from the faculty directories. And who can blame them, with the permanent agitation corps always on their flanks. Can Miss Elizabeth be called completely undeserving just because she gets her blue eyes from her father and her blonde hair from a bottle?

I don't blame Scott Brown for not seeing this. No one, including Miss Elizabeth, has bothered to explain it to him. Scott was born here in Massachusetts a decade later in 1959, a different place and time. His parents divorced when he was one and he grew up on an even more ragged edge, featuring physical abuse from stepfathers, sexual abuse from summer camp counselors, and teenage delinquency tending toward petty theft. He probably deserved affirmative action too.

That leaves open the question of who would be the best champion for Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate. Scott Brown did well not to tie himself to the national tea party movement, who very much wanted him as their hero. Miss Elizabeth would likewise do well to set aside the national progressive hero worship to focus on what she can do for the state. Because Massachusetts should come first, party and ideology a second and third.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Swing Voter Rules for 2012

What is a self-respecting centrist swing voter to do? While the pundits argue over whether it is worse to be a capitalist or a socialist, Swing Vote America seems to be asking my favorite political question, "What is wrong with the status quo?"

What we have right now is a divided government, with neither the Democrats nor Republicans able to move forward or backward without the other. It appears increasingly likely that will not change after the 2012 election.

In the last 5 months on Intrade, the 62% chance of various combinations of divided government has gone up to 72.7%. The chance of a Republican sweep has dropped from 23% to 8.7% but the chance of a Democratic sweep has gone up only slightly from 15% to 18.6%.

President Senate House
59.9% 27.0% Obama Democratic Republican
18.6% 15.0% Obama Democratic Democratic
8.7% 23.0% Romney Republican Republican
5.4% 17.5% Obama Republican Republican
3.7% 8.9% Romney Democratic Republican
0.8% 7.9% Obama Republican Democratic
0.1% 3.9% Romney Republican Democratic
0.1% 2.7% Romney Democratic Democratic
5.0% 1.5% Other President-Congress Combination

Ordinarily, supporting the status quo means you like where the country is and where it is headed. But what if you don't like where we are but don't trust either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party? The only sensible choice in our two-party system is to vote for some of each.

No one trusts a return of Nancy Pelosi to the House speakership, so that means you have to vote Republican in the House races. The Senate races are still too close to call. That means supporters of status quo divided government have to vote for Barack Obama.

In fact, if that 18.6% chance of a Democratic sweep makes you nervous, you better vote Republican in the Senate races too. Or, if you are afraid of frivolous impeachment charges circa 1998, better vote Democratic. But what's that other 5% about? Well, if independent Angus King of Maine joins socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Senators who don't call themselves Democrats or Republicans club, than neither the Republicans or the Democrats will have an outright majority in the Senate. A 49-49-1-1 split would be perfect.

We still have the debates. Mitt Romney could convince Swing Vote America that he will govern as the independent moderate that would have made the father he idolizes proud, and not as the severe conservative he claimed to be in the primaries.

That 47% comment? We know Mitt Romney was just saying he would pander to us swing voters rather than to Democratic voters who were never going to vote for him anyway. That's great, but can we trust him? The 2012 election swings in the balance of that question.

Update 10/5: The 18.6% chance of a Democratic sweep has dropped to a safe 6.4% while the chance of a Republican sweep has grown to an uncomfortable 20.5%. If that holds, a revision of the swing voter rule for Senate races may be needed.