The Bradley Effect

September 24, 2008

There have been a few recent news items about white supremacists campaigning against Obama.  Obama’s racial identity will of course have an effect on the election, but it is unclear how much negative impact his race will have on the white vote.  This could be determinative in an election in which there is a large majority of white voters.  It was the strong preference for Bush among whites (58% to 41% for Kerry) that accounted for Bush’s second term.

While a surprising 20% of the people admit that race will play a part in their vote, most people do not admit racial bias of any sort, many I am sure are unaware of it.

In 1982 Tom Bradley, a popular Los Angeles mayor, ran for governor of California and led in all the polls.  When he lost a variety of explanations followed. There was a gap of seven percent between how people said they were going to vote and how they actually voted.  One explanation was that the polls could not accurately predict the voting habits of whites with respect to a black candidate.   This unexpected gap of seven percent between what all the polls predicted for Bradley and the number of votes that he actually got is sometimes called the “Bradley Effect” by those that attribute the gap to racial bias that is not uncovered by political opinion polls.

If there is a Bradley Effect, then Obama is not even with McCain until the polls show a lead of 7% (assuming standard deviation with the one 26 years ago).  My point is that this is not a time form Obama supporters to feel smug.

The primaries may suggest that the Bradley Effect is still strong facotr with many voting results not matching exit polls and uniformly favoring Clinton over Obama.

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The Economy: Pouring Gasoline on Fire?

September 18, 2008

The United States does not have enough money to sustain its own activities.  For reasons that I did not understand, nor apparently Alan Greenspan, rather than curb our country’s excesses we went into historic levels of indebtedness.  Our foreign debt has more than quadrupled and our total national debt is over three trillion dollars.

This previously unknown level of debt quite predictably caused the dollar to weaken.  As the dollar fell we have made a variety of efforts to prop it up but the weight of our debt has been too much for the interim measures we have undertaken.

While our leaders were focused on a war we entered into for reasons that have never been adequately explained by our leaders, they did not mind the store at home so that reckless lending practices were allowed to metastasize.  This certainly artificially sustained the economy for a while and just as certainly these practices were unsustainable over the long haul.  They were doomed to fail with fluctuations in the real estate market and like all houses of cards a tremor would be ruinous.

For reasons the Bush administration can best explain we were caught unprepared.   We have been forced to take measures that will be hard for our economy to endure if they are successful in stemming the current disaster.  At a time when we are borrowing money almost as fast as we can, the government is committing its resources to propping up its financial and insurance institutions.  This diversion of funds that are already inadequate to meet expenses will add to our sorry state of indebtedness.

The second measure that we are taking is to print more money.  Yesterday the Federal Reserve announced that it will be dumping $56 billion into the economy.  When you print the stuff that is pretty easy to do. This however will contribute to the downward spiral of the value of the dollar.

I have commented, after reading Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine,” that the United States really has been taking on the attributes of many South American countries.  It has a diminishing middle class; the polarization of wealth distribution is greater than it has been since the beginning of the industrial age, before the first timid implementation of the restraints complained of by Republicans.

Like our neighbors to the south we have promoted the power of the executive to a greatly heightened level. We have reduced oversight of private financial activity while loosening restraint on governmental activity with respect to its citizens.  Like South American countries we have gone deeply in debt and our financial institutions are not stable.  Similar to them our currency is falling.

The current measures to cure the crisis are not the smoke and mirrors approach that we have adopted in the past. At the same time if they avert disaster they will leave us with an economy in worst condition than we thought it was in before the crisis.  In short we will bring the crisis in the wings that we already knew about a few steps closer to center stage.


America’s Climate Security Act of 2007

May 28, 2008

For years the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works was the burial ground for legislation addressing among other things coal powered electricity generation. The U.S. has about a quarter of the world’s known supply of coal and coal is the primary source of electricity in this country. (Hydroelectric power is not as prominent elsewhere as in this region.) It is commonly said that reducing the emissions of coal used to generate electricity is vital to controlling greenhouse gas emissions here. Most seem to believe that this is the cornerstone to any effective policy. In December the committee, with a Democratic majority, passed America’s Climate Security Act of 2007 and it the bill will be debated in the Seante next week.

The Republicans are split on this bill. Larry Craig and other Republicans did all he could to prevent the bill from getting out of committee. The bill though is sponsored by Joe Lieberman and John Warner. (Warner is on the committee.)

The bill would impose emission limits on electric utility, transportation and manufacturing industries and includes financial incentives for reducing emissions, as well as assistance for zero and low carbon technologies. The bill creates carbon trading, the sort of thing that is talked about by Senator McCain in speeches. Senator McCain though has not endorsed the bill. When he was in the Northwest he talked vaguely about legislation that sounded kind of like this bill. Remember that a few years ago McCain had co-sponsored a bill with Lieberman on this topic. As 2008 approached though he seemed to fade from association with this legislation. Lieberman continued the fight and on the current bill Warner’s name appears in place of McCain.

The principal opponents of the bill seem to be the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Council for Capital Formation. Their opposition is adamant but their argument is tired and unimaginative, same old refrain that has proven to be false in the past. They say that jobs will be lost and that the price of electricity will soar. This is exactly what they said in opposition to legislation to curb acid rain but prices actually fell following the legislation without imposing hardship on the work force. They do not to offer a good explanation of why they were wrong then and right now.

A number of environmental groups oppose the bill because it is not as comprehensive as it could be and its standards are not terribly limiting. In fact part of the selling of this bill to industry was that if this isn’t passed something far more stringent might be imposed. Carbon trading is not universally embraced as an effective means of controlling the emissions and many groups balk at the support the bill will give the nuclear industry.In short it is a compromise designed to get through Congress. Senator Bernie Sanders tried mightily to amend the bill to give it more scope and spine but failed. The bill’s adovates say that the bill is a meaningful beginning to a pressing problem. It’s detractors say that it frames the issues for years to come in a manner favorable to industry.

Check out the Senate debate.

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Clinton Endorses McCain’s Experience over Obama’s

March 7, 2008

I would like someone to explain the the limits in campaigning for candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Surely the selection process is not intended to be the aggressive affair that national elections have become. Theoretically I suppose the limit is the point at which the campaigning starts to hurt the party, the point at which the party’s prospects for success in the election are diminished. I suppose that point is reached when the campaign either starts alienating voters from the eventual nominee or when or when the campaign takes on a tenor that pushes independents toward the other party.

The Washington Post and several other services have determined that Hillary Clinton is too far behind to win a majority of delegates from the primaries and caucuses. With her “big win” on Tuesday she gained no ground and because there are fewer delegates to win now, she actually lost ground. Conventional wisdom is that she will inevitably end up with fewer delegates than Obama, with a lower approval level than Obama. Her hopes for nomination rest with her ability to convince the super delegates to confer the nomination on her, rather than on Obama, the more popular choice.

This has prompted a very aggressive campaign by her, one fueled by false statements (it turns out that it was Clinton, not Obama who told the Canadian government that the campaign rhetoric about NAFTA meant nothing), innuendo (Clinton hedged when asked if Obama was Christian), fear mongering (the infamous telephone call at 3 a.m.). This is certainly divisive stuff but — at least in my mind — it is not clearly fraying the fabric of the party, although it’s moving in that direction.

It also creates a legitimate test for Obama. Will he wilt under unfair treatment? Will he stick his head in the sand like Kerry with swift boating? Or will he step forward like a leader and advocate for the truth?

Clinton has though adopted a tactic that at least on its face appears to unequivocally advance her personal interests over those of her party. Clinton claims that Obama is not in the same league as she and McCain! She says that she and McCain are qualified to serve as commander-in-chief and Obama is not. When she talked about the candidates getting together on the same ticket she apparently was referring to McCain and herself, not she and Obama.

Part of her campaign is that she is the more electable candidate, when the polls show that Obama compares better with McCain than she does. Is she trying to render him unelectable so that she will be the default candidate. To the degree that this approach has credence with people, it certainly promotes McCain’s candidacy. McCain apparently need not campaign at all while Clinton is contending with Obama for the Democratic nomination. This is surely beyond the line of legitimacy in campaigning for a party’s nomination.

This situation is reminiscent of the 1972 primary groundswell for McGovern. The party establishment fought him every step of the way. They tried to change the delegate rules, that time for California, not Florida and Michigan. He was so much castigated by the party elite that a Democrats for Nixon branch evolved. With a tattered party behind him McGovern, a truly great man, lost in a landslide to Nixon whose dirty tricks were exposed after his election (most notably the Watergate breakin), leading to Nixon’s resignation.

It was ten years after this that the Democratic primary system was revamped to include the huge number of super-delegates we now talk about. The main reason for this, as I understand it, was to avoid destructive primaries, such as the party experienced in 1972 and 1980. Ironically, it seems to be Clinton’s hope of winning the super-delegates that has inspired the mudslinging that the appointment of super-delegates was supposed to avoid.


Bush, Obama, Clinton and McCain on the Invasion of Ecuador

March 6, 2008

While people are running for the presidency it is interesting to see how they react to news items. I find this information often more telling than speeches. Last weekend for example we learned that Colombia had invaded Ecuador. It conducted a bombing mission and sent in ground troops to kill rebels who were apparently using Ecuador as a staging area. This was not the first such incursion by Colombia but it certainly is now the most notorious.

The administration reacted in its now formulaic manner by saying nothing while newspapers ran stories than fit nicely into the position it would later announce. Out of the blue we were told that FARC, the rebel group, was preparing to detonate dirty bombs. Another nuclear threat uncovered with a suddenness matched only by an utter lack of foundation. Other articles described nefarious doings of FARC, but there was surprisingly little coverage of the legality of one country bombing another country. (I guess the publishers assumed that we ought to have that down by now.)

Little attention was paid to Ecuador’s breaking off of diplomatic relations with Colombia. A great deal of attention was placed on Venezuela massing troops at its border with Colombia. Usually there is in the articles discussing Venezuela’s massing of troops mention that Ecuador is doing the same. Nothing however seemed to be written about treaties among the nations or any sort of context. Then our president makes a brief statement that did not even seem to be picked up by many services in this country. The U.K. news service at news.scottsman.com reports today:

“Mr Bush weighed into the crisis for the first time since Colombian forces provoked outrage [not here or with this administration] by entering Ecuador and killing a leading leftist rebel. He accused Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, of provocative manoeuvres and warned that he opposed any act of aggression in the region [except apparently the one that had just happened].”

Astonishingly there is no mention of the invasion and Venezuela is blamed for provocative behavior. (There is nothing in this response to contradict the assertion that the United States was complicit in the invasion.) This is a good example of managing the news. We have seen plenty of this over the years, but how did the candidates react to this?

Like the administration, Mr. Obama expressed no outrage whatsoever about the invasion. He said that a response by the invaded nation would not be acceptable to us and urged the three countries to come together, give peace a chance or something to that effect. He said:

“The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region. The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors.”

While overlooking an act of war by Columbia, this response lacks the threats and saber rattling of the administration and certainly opens the door to meaningful discussion.

Hillary Clinton received more money from defense contractors than any other presidential aspirant, Republican or Democrat. Her response did not disappoint these contributors. Her response is in her words almost a xerox of Bush’s response:

“Hugo Chavez’s order yesterday to send ten battalions to the Colombian border is unwarranted and dangerous. The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. By praising and supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Chavez is openly siding with terrorists that threaten Colombian democracy and the peace and security of the region. Rather than criticizing Colombia’s actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups. After reviewing this situation, I am hopeful that the government of Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in closer cooperation with Colombia on this issue. Hugo Chavez must call a halt to this provocative action. As president, I will work with our partners in the region and the OAS to support democracy, promote an end to conflict, and to press Chavez to change course.”

She make Hugo Chavez the issue not the invasion of Ecuador. She makes Chavez into a terrorist, makes Columbia a model democracy and strongly suggests that Venezuela is not a democracy. Exactly where she wants Venezuela to chart its course is not clear but the strong inference is that it should be compliant with U.S. wishes. There is no mention (by Senator Clinton or in domestic reporting that I could find) of Ecuador’s contention that it was in the last stages of negotiating the freedom of the hostages that Senator Clinton and the administration used to justify the invasion. This is exactly the same news management and spin that the administration did.

From the response to this news item, it is impossible to separate the stance of the administration from that of Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama on the other hand is not bombastic and in fact did leave the door open to diplomacy.

It’s hard to discern what Mr. McCain said about the invasion. CBS News pieced together statements from a town meeting in Waco. It is safe to say that there is no clear position, and that Mr. McCain sounds almost like he is having difficulty assimilating the information. Despite his reputation as a hawk, the overall tone of his statements is less militant than Mr. Obama.

If I had to categorize these responses, I’d put Bush and Clinton on one side and McCain and Obama on the other.


February 9th

February 1, 2008

Isn’t it more fun to have our caucus in early February instead of May? Edwards’ departure seems to have had the effect of stirring up speculation, rather than toning things down. Why exactly did he withdraw less than a week before Super Tuesday? One thing for sure, it was not to consolidate the “anti-Hillary” vote. The idea that attitude toward Hillary Clinton defines this nomination process is silly; it belittles the candidates for the nomination, as well as the electorate. My sense is that on balance Edward’s (as well as Kucinich’s) withdrawal will favor Obama, shortening whatever popular lead Clinton may have, if any.

I think that the local press has greatly exaggerated the significance of Washington’s role in this process. If the candidates battle to a standoff next Tuesday, our caucus may fleetingly impart a sense of momentum to someone.

I don’t get the same sense of excitement on the Republican side of things. McCain has dropped his “bee in a jar” frenzy where he would seemingly trip over himself to embrace everything “Republican” no matter how inconsistent with previous statements. I was struck by his pious statements about opposing any form of torture, then you could almost see his head swivel around like a cartoon character when he saw that his party was standing off there somewhere to the right. Like a cartoon character, in one giant step he disappeared back into the crowd. It was fun to be astonished at Romney’s political self discovery as he tried to, not just distance himself from prior positions, but piously advocate the opposite position. But that’s old now and our only amusement is his corporate-style efforts to seem like a regular guy. Huckabe strikes me as the most authentic guy of the pack. Even his blunders when away from the teleprompter are kind of charming. Exactly how would president Huckabe mold the Constitution to conform with Christian principles? (Has anyone told him that the constitution isn’t presidential dictation?) Christians are increasingly coming out in favor of concepts actually advocated by Jesus, such as feeding the poor, helping the sick, and what was that about the accumulation of wealth? I looked and couldn’t find the Biblical part on preemptive strikes, but I’m sure there’s something supportive of causing hundreds of thousands of deaths as collateral damage in a war that seems to be sustained by nothing more than the fear of losing it. It would be interesting to see how president Huckabe’s Christian principles are defined, then how he would implement them as constitutional amendments while we are fighting against theocracy elsewhere. It’s funny to think that the “conservative” candidate Huckabe is actually by far the most radical in proposing to cast off the cornerstone of our democracy, the separation of church and state. Unless of course he meant something else . . . .

Nonetheless, isn’t it a lot more fun to prepare for the caucus now?