Homo politicus


August 3rd, 20:30pm PST:

“NKorean media says Clinton arrives in Pyongyang” (Associated Press)

August 4th, 2009, 1:09 PM EDT:

“Clinton’s Unwise Trip to North Korea” – John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006, for the Washington Post.

August 4th, 2009, 4:07 p.m. EDT:

“North Korean media say leader Kim Jong Il has pardoned two American journalists and ordered their release during the visit of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.” (Associated Press)

* * * UPDATE

In late 1993, evidence of a North Korean clandestine nuclear weapons program came to public. Pyongyang then abruptly announced its intention to become the first nation ever to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, defying its earlier commitments to submit its nuclear activities to full international inspections, unleashing a potentially nuclear crisis. The whole story about the 1994 crisis is told in “Going Critical“, including how former President Jimmy Carter went to North Korea as a “private citizen”. In this book, Bill Clinton gave his view:

“Look, I knew I was going to take some heat for letting Carter go there,” Clinton recalled. “But I also knew I needed to give the North Koreans an escape hatch, some way to climb down without losing face. I figured if they could say to themselves that a former president had come to their country, it would allow them to do that.”

Deja-vu.

At this point everybody knows it: Arlen Specter, the longest-serving Senator in Pennsylvania history, will switch parties and join the Democrats.

Lots of blog posts are seeing this move as good for the Democrats. But nobody mentions the betrayal of 2,925,080 people who, in 2004, voted for a Republican Specter.

betrayal

How long will it last?

How long will it last?

Obama has approval ratings around 60%, comparable to the first 90 days of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. But Sean Trende is thinking of Republicans chances in 2010:

All honeymoons end, and with an economy on a shaky foundation, the ending of this honeymoon could prove to be particularly brutal for Democrats. [...] As the out-party in a midterm election, with the economy unlikely to recover fully by 2010 and with many Democrats in Republican-leaning districts, Republicans are poised to perform well in 2010.

The LA Times, who in 126 years had never endorsed a Democrat for president until doing it for Obama “without hesitation“, recently seemed disappointed for the bait-and-switch approach used in the stimulus package:

He says he wants to fix the financial crisis, but he’s focusing on selling his long-standing liberal agenda on healthcare, energy and education as the way to do it, even though his proposals have absolutely nothing to do with addressing the housing and toxic-debt problems that are the direct causes of our predicament.

Truth be told, the stimulus package was mostly a creation of House Democrats. But the notion of Obama as a double-talker pushing a partisan agenda while marketing “new politics” is spreading:

Obama thinks he can ignore these blatant inconsistencies. Like many smart people, he believes he can talk his way around problems. Maybe. He’s helped by much of the media, who seem so enthralled with him that they don’t see glaring contradictions. During the campaign, Obama said he would change Washington’s petty partisanship; he also advocated a highly partisan agenda. Both claims could not be true. The media barely noticed; the same obliviousness persists. But Obama still runs a risk: that his overworked rhetoric loses its power and boomerangs on him.

Even Newsweek, who all but eulogized the new Messiah, is reporting some disappointment from the establishment:

Luckily for Obama, the public still likes and trusts him, at least judging by the latest polls. But, in ways both large and small, what’s left of the American establishment is taking his measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lacking.

Is the honeymoon ending? Hard to tell. Obama supporters still believe in him, and a common subject is now how the new President inherited all these problems from eight years of right-wing policies. For these die-hard supporters, the honeymoon will last four years. For the remaining people, a tough 2009 and a not-easier 2010 will probably mean some Republican come-back in the House, although still keeping a Democrat majority. And in 2011, when the economy finally fixes itself as it had in the past, Obama will be able to reap the glories.

Jack Ohman, February 13, 2009

Jack Ohman, The Oregonian, February 13, 2009

Go ahead... Make my day...

Go ahead... Make my day...

Only seven states ban openly carrying handguns (this USA Today article forgot about Illinois). Now four of them are considering legislation to drop the ban: Texas, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arkansas would allow people to carry handguns openly in a holster, which is legal in most states.

While Vermont and Alaska allow adults to carry concealed weapons without a permit, and Wisconsin, Illinois and D.C. don’t allow them at all, most states have strict laws governing concealed weapons. But the story is different for open-carry. Historically, concealed weapons were seen as deceiving, while open-carry was honest. People should bear arms openly, according to gun-promoting group OpenCarry.org (“A Right Unexercised is a Right Lost!”). How bizarre.

3)

"We came in sight of Cyprus, and leaving it on our left we sailed on to Syria and landed at Tyre because the ship was to unload its cargo there." (Acts 21:3)

It’s a story that, amazingly, is finding very little coverage.  Yet again, Cyprus is positioned right in the center of the action. But in this case, it’s not a matter of Geography.

A Cypriot-flagged container ship, going from Iran to Syria, is stopped by U.S. in the Red Sea, under suspicion of sending weapons to Gaza. The ship is searched and let go, followed by American officials urging it to be seized for breaching U.N. sanctions since Iran is not allowed to send arms abroad. The ship goes through the Suez Canal and stops at Cyprus, where Cypriot authorities quietly stop it, search it once, search it twice, and, still holding the ship, send a report to U.N..

Admiral Mike Mullen (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) said the vessel was stopped in the Red Sea carrying Iranian arms, “including propellant and other casings for artillery and tank rounds, as well as shell casings”. U.S. authorities suspect the shipment was ultimately bound for Gaza, but they were not authorized to seize the weapons or detain the ship. Even the search itself had to be under permission of the captain.

On Friday, Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias said the ship had violated U.N. resolutions. But on the next day Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said a first inspection of the Monchegorsk was complete. A second inspection took place two days later. A report on the cargo was given the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee. And now Cyprus is awaiting United Nations guidance on whether the ship’s cargo breached sanctions.

Cyprus authorities have been tight-lipped about the ship and its cargo, insisting that disclosing information about a “delicate and sensitive matter” would hamper their handling of the case. Of course they are concerned: with the fourth largest merchant navy in the world, shipping provides for 2% of the island’s GDP. Cyprus is in a tough position of trying to protect their interests and at the same time suffering international pressure about the dealings of its customers. In a sense, reminds of the role Swiss banks played during the Nazi regime.

* * *

UPDATE:
Cypriot authorities on Friday 13th began to unload the cargo, after a ruling by the UN sanctions committee that the cargo was in breach of a resolution against Iranian arms exports. There were more than 90 containers on the ship containing raw materials that could be used to manufacture ammunition.

Geithner stays

Geithner stays

Tim Geithner, now Treasury secretary, failed to pay $34,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes throughout three years. He paid the bill, apologized and characterized his incomplete payments as an innocent mistake. At that time, Obama stuck his neck out: “It is an innocent mistake. It is a mistake that’s commonly made for people who are working internationally or for international institutions. It has been corrected. He’s paid the penalties.”

Tom Daschle, tapped to lead the Department of Health and Human Services failed to pay about $140,000 in income taxes throughout three years. He filed an amended tax return, sent a check, apologized. Asked if he still stands by Daschle, Obama answered: “Absolutely“.

Daschle goes

Daschle goes

Now we know Geithner stayed, and Daschle withdrew his bid. Explaining Daschle’s withdrawal, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Obama and Daschle “both recognized that you can’t set an example of responsibility but accept a different standard in who serves.” Different standard?!

To NBC’s Brian Williams, Obama said: “I’ve got to own up to my mistake. Ultimately, it’s important for this administration to send a message that there aren’t two sets of rules — you know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.”

Yet one was confirmed and the other was shamed out of an appointment…

Robert Shiller at the WSJ thinks the stimulus “isn’t big enough to restore confidence“. Not enough… despite knowing that just one in seven dollars of a huge $18.5 billion investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs would be spent within a year and a half.

But just like there are no atheists in foxholes, everyone is a keynesian during a recession. Investing in infrastructure and public works is the keynesian way of creating demand and getting out of a recession, they say. Or is it?

“Organized public works, at home and abroad, may be the right cure for a chronic tendency to a deficiency of effective demand. But they are not capable of sufficiently rapid organisation (and above all cannot be reversed or undone at a later date), to be the most serviceable instrument for the prevention of the trade cycle.”

Keynes, Collected Writings, vol. XXVII, p.122

Not to mention how the Federal Reserve, knowing we have more homes for sale than buyers, will embark on a program to buy $500 billion of mortgage bonds in the first half of 2009. Instead of letting prices get to their own level, we will stimulate artificial housing demand. How keynesian.

Money

“Facts are stubborn things”.

A report by the Congressional Budget Office found that only about $136 billion of the $355 billion that House leaders want to allocate to infrastructure and other so-called discretionary programs would be spent by Oct. 1, 2010. The rest would come in future years, long after the CBO and other economists predict the recession will have ended.

Of $30 billion in highway spending, less than $4 billion would occur over the next two years. Of $18.5 billion proposed for renewable energy, less than $3 billion would be spent by 2011. And of $14 billion for school construction, less than $7 billion would be spent in the first two years.

Without any new stimulus spending, the annual deficit this year will hit $1.2 trillion dollar.

Even if we agree borrowing $3 billion for renewable energy will help the economy during recession, what about the other $15 billion that will fall outside the recession range? Or even assuming $4 billion for highways will help the economy now, what about the remainig $26 billion? Federal budgets already include provisions for transportation, although the last highway bill, from 2005, topped $280 billion and contained the famous “bridge to nowhere”.

Obama supporters are already twisting reality to fit. Dean Baker actually tries to convince us of the zero cost of the first-two-year spending, by smoothly putting out how these are “projects that might have been worth undertaking even in the absence of a downturn”. So much for fiscal responsibility.

So 25% of the entire $850 billion stimulus package will not be used to stimulate the economy during the recession, that same crisis that Axelrod called “a national emergency when it comes to the economy and that will be our first order of business”.

Just like the Bush administration redefined “torture” to allow its otherwise illegal practices, now the Obama administration seems to redefine “stimulus package” to include provisions for pet projects and personal agendas.

Eight years

Eight years

Two incomplete wars and a deep recession can surely take a toll on you. George W Bush in 2000, taking office, was much more than eight years younger than the same George W Bush in 2008.

* * *
In December 2003, a gloatfull President Bush had his day: “Good riddance! the world is better off without you, Mr. Saddam Hussein.”

Five years later, a crowd bids their own good riddance.

* * *

Similarities abound between Bush’s first inaugural address in 2001 and Obama’s a few years later. All in all, it just means the speech was plain vanilla, as expected from any presidential inauguration. Here are some cherry-picked comparison points:

Bush: “While many of our citizens prosper, others doubt the promise, even the justice, of our own country.”

Obama: “This crisis has reminded us [...] that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous.”

Bush: “The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth.”

Obama: “Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many.”

Bush: “We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength. And to all nations, we will speak for the values that gave our nation birth.”

Obama: “For those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Just the beginning

Just the beginning

Why does it seem I’m the only one that sees a blatant contradiction in saying “Obama’s election represent a major stepping stone towards end of racism”? The very fact you are reminded of his skin color shows racism has gone nowhere.

Yet we were told the man “transcends” racial confinements, race, black-and-white issues, party lines, even politics. And you thought transcendentalism was two hundred years old… No, it’s alive and kicking.

* * *

First things first: www.WhiteHouse.gov got a facelift and now includes a blog, signed so far only by the Director of New Media. The blog doesn’t allow comments, of course, but promises “timely and in-depth content meant to keep everyone up-to-date”, to ensure this administration will be “the most open and transparent in history”.

If that is part of the road to recovery, it certainly is the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.

* * *

Meanwhile Dow Jones index flirted with 8,000 after dropping almost 3% during the day, with no signs of rally. So much for Obama Effect!

* * *

As Bush left to Texas, I’m sure there is an empty on lots of people’s hearts and brains right now. Bush was the perfect target for hate-practicing, mostly from his own. But he also provided jobs and material for thousands of people whose lives depended on having someone to bash or throw some shoes. Now it will be tough for them with Obama… the guy is just too right, too perfect, too handsome and too smart.

Jokes about Obama will be received with a deep “ooh” for a long time, much like we couldn’t joke about 9/11 until the other day (“What’s Al Qaida’s favorite football team? The New York Jets”). If the President is off-limits, I predict however his staff will take the blame for everything that goes wrong. Because some things *will* go wrong, of course.

Alan Greenspan, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, at a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee almost five years ago:

The government-sponsored enterprises’ special advantage arises because, despite the explicit statement on the prospectus to GSE debentures that they are not backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, most investors have apparently concluded that during a crisis the federal government will prevent the GSEs from defaulting on their debt.

[...]

Importantly, the scale itself has reinforced investors’ perceptions that, in the event of a crisis involving Fannie and Freddie, policymakers would have little alternative than to have the taxpayers explicitly stand behind the GSE debt.

[...]

It’s basically creating an abnormality, which the system cannot close around, and the potential of that is a systemic risk in — sometime in the future, if they continue to increase at the rate at which they are.”

greenspan

Larry Kudlow (the Economics editor for the National Review Online), while talking about Biden’s comments on the stimulus plan, awards us with a praisal for the riches that summarizes supply-side economics:

While I listened carefully, I never heard him say anything about rich people, or successful earners and investors. No mention of businesses. Irving Kristol taught us 3 decades ago that the top earners are the “economic activists”. They are the ones with the highest propensity to consume and invest. They’re the ones who purchase the yachts, which are subsequently constructed by blue-collar workers. And they’re the ones who run the small businesses and provide the capital for new entrepreneurial startups that are the lifeblood of this economy.

Whether you believe in the trickle-down effect or not, one things is certain: the top earners are paying more taxes, both in absolute and in relative terms, than ever.

Income Tax Share - from 1977 to 2006

Income Tax Share - from 1977 to 2006

Source: CBO report for 1977 and 1979 data, Tax Foundation for 1981-2006 data.

It is well-known that the American income tax system is progressive, placing a larger burden on the top earners. Both Republicans and “tax-and-spend” Democrats have reduced the tax share of 90% of tax payers, transferring to the top 10%. That includes those times of tax cuts as well, which leads us to some interesting conclusions. As Mark Perry puts it:

In 2002, before most of the “tax cuts” went into effect, the share of income taxes paid by the top 1% was below 34%, and by 2006 that share increased to almost 40%. If we assessed tax policies by the share of income taxes paid by “the rich” (i.e. top 1%), the “Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003″ wasn’t a tax cut, it was a tax increase, since it increased the tax burden on the top 1% to record levels (40%), and resulted in more tax revenue from the top 1% than the entire bottom 95% of taxpayers!

However a slightly different story comes from this data:

AIG Share x Average Tax Rate

AIG Share x Average Tax Rate

As real average tax rates were slowly reduced across the board, the participation of the top 10% on the overall national income has grown dramatically, from 33% to 47%. That translates into increased disparities between rich and poor, a condition common among third-world countries. Or one could argue the rich still have a lot of fat to cut.

After the House approved the auto bailout (or “rescue plan”) by 237-170, in the Senate it fell short of the 60 votes needed to even bring it up for consideration. The Senate voted 52 to 35 (in favor: 40 Democrats, 10 Republicans and 2 independents).

UAW accused GOP senators of “singling out” unionized workers.

A few of those GOP demands were reduction of pay-and-benefits to foreign-owned automakers levels; reduction of Big Three contributions to the retiree health care fund; and elimination of the infamous Jobs Bank and some supplemental unemployment benefits. In other words, matching the non-unionized automakers operating in the South.

Some say it’s an attempt to use the credit crisis to restructure labor in the auto industry, where unions have ruled for 60 years. Perhaps put one of them in bankruptcy, which would force labor renegotiations under new light. And, why not, perhaps even liquidate one of them: the field is just too crowded. Talks of a merge are not so quiet anymore.

But think of it the other way: this might be the last chance of a settlement on these terms. Starting February, a new, labor-friendly White House and Democratic majorities in House and Senate will certainly play a different tune. Obama already admitted he would pass the “card check” legislation, abolishing secret ballots in unions.

Then, next step for the UAW will be to visit those southern, non-unionized auto plants in Alabama and Tennessee.

Automakers might get covered with a TARP

Automakers might get covered with a TARP

In a reversal from previous announcements, White House now backs using the TARP (those $700 billion) for the automakers. Treasury Department promptly indicated that it would provide short-term relief.

Which brings us to the most interesting part of the story. Almost 500 elected legislators, representing the people, reject the automakers bailout through the normal legislative process. But 1 unelected bureaucrat, with $700 billion in hand and sweeping discretion to decide who gets it, how, and under which conditions.

From the New Yorker, an interesting link between the housing bubble and investment goals during the last 10 years:

Arguably, the failure to consider investment-led approaches to economic growth at this time contributed to the housing bubble, too. As Asia boomed, a glut of global savings emerged—in China, in other exporting countries, and later in oil exporting states. Because there was a dearth of government-backed, dollar-dominated investment vehicles, global savings poured into the dubious schemes of U.S. mortgage bundlers—prime, subprime, and otherwise. What if there had been a federally-chartered U.S. infrastructure bank or similar vehicle offering relatively safe investments with returns at least a little better than Treasuries, and what if the capital raised from such a bank had been invested into roads, broadband, and a renewable-energy-supporting-electricity grid? We might now be further down the road Obama now apparently wants to travel.

The argument goes on, signaling the need to redirect foreign investments into the national infrastructure rebuilding “by creating financing vehicles–a national infrastructure bank, for example—that could reward both Chinese investors and American productivity”.

Call me Neo-Keynesian, but investing in infrastructure seems to me a reasonable, win-win approach to boost the economy with lasting results. It directly creates high- and low-skilled jobs, creates a plethora of indirect jobs, and the final result, well, is something you will use for decades.

But a Washington Post editorial looks at Japan of the 1990’s for a word of caution:

Between 1992 and 2000, the Japanese launched 10 stimulus packages that included public works. The Land of the Rising Sun became the Construction State. [...] The spending yielded painfully little for the rest of the economy. The Nikkei stayed down. The country’s standard of living failed to keep pace with the rest of the world’s.

Change you can believe in

Change you can believe in

I mentioned this earlier: the new Cabinet is the old Cabinet without the 1990s hairstyle. So much for Change.

At campaign events, Obama drew applause when he vowed to tax the “windfall profits” of oil companies. Now, Obama says he won’t enact the tax.

During campaign, Obama pledged to “repeal” Bush’s tax cuts that “favored the wealthy”, and to redistribute that money to the middle class. Now he said he will let them expire as scheduled, at the end of 2010.

During campaign Obama promised to “begin to end the war” on his first day in office. Now Obama says that on his first day in office he will begin to “design a plan for a responsible drawdown”. His main national security positions will actually have Iraq war supporters: Hillary Clinton voted to authorize force in Iraq, and Robert Gates is currently overseeing the war as defense secretary.

Obviously these are responsible, pragmatic positions. But the point is not in judging these decisions, or understanding why a centrist point of view is more reasonable; it is on the disparity between what was promised then and what is promised now.

Says Tim Carpenter, of the Progressive Democrats of America:

He has confirmed what our suspicions were by surrounding himself with a centrist to right cabinet. But we do hope that before it’s all over we can get at least one authentic progressive appointment.

Obama continues to bring hope to people in America. For some, they now hope they will get at least one of the campaign promises fulfilled.

From the foothills, after Gateway Pundit, quotes St Louis Dispatch’s Dwight Billingsly (who refers to Bill Kristol):

Bill Kristol, writing in The Weekly Standard, reminded me that every 16 years we get a Democrat president with no experience in national security or international affairs who’s elected after Republican presidents have made and kept America safe: After Eisenhower, we got Kennedy; after Nixon/Ford, we got Carter; after Reagan/Bush, we got Clinton. And after Bush II, we get Barack Obama.

W Bush made America safe?

Have we forgotten how the Bush administration began by ignoring the Al-Qaeda threat, even after it was brought up in writing by National Security officials?

Counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke’s memo to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice on January 2001 requested an “immediate meeting of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee” to discuss “broad strategies for combating al-Qaeda”.

That was in January. There was no Principals Committee meeting on al-Qaeda until September 4, 2001.

Safe?

Safe?

Via Later One, I came to this psychological analysis (from a psychologist!) of Obama:

Obama, however, has impressed me as being pretty much free of the major flaws that most commonly afflict VIPs.

First, he seems not to have any out-of-control ego needs. Most people have pretty strong needs to either feed or defend their ego. Among public figures, Bill Clinton seemed to have a truly pathological need to be loved, admired, and worshipped by everyone at all times. This manifested itself in his sexual issues, obviously, and in other ways as well. George W. Bush, on the other hand, seems to have an overwhelming need to defend his ego against the possibility that his thoughts or actions could be in any way wrong. This inability to tolerate any feelings threatening to his self-esteem has caused an inability to ever correct his course or change his mind. Both these patterns have obviously damaged the nation.

Obama seems free of both of these problems. He doesn’t compulsively seek attention, sexual or otherwise, and he does seem to be quite able to self-reflect and admit error and change course when necessary. He obviously thinks highly of himself, since he ran for President, and feels confident he can handle difficult problems, but so far his faith in himself has proven to be rationally based and correct.

The analysis is obviously flawed: there just isn’t enough yet to allow an appropriate examination of Obama’s mind. His public past is short and sometimes parochial. As of now, much of what we know is either the carefully designed persona that every candidate creates for himself, or a mythological past, part of his very own bildungsroman.

The comparison with Clinton and George W Bush, both with eight years of spotlight, emphasizes the rather painful obviousity: we only know about their flaws after we had the opportunity of seeing them. So does it make any sense to compare to a man who we know next-to-nothing?

In fact it does, but for different reasons. A more interesting side of this story is not about what Obama is or isn’t. Instead, it’s about what we are: increasingly desperate. In times of despair, a Hero comes up to hold our hands and take us to a better place.

Heroes are not perfect but are able to counter the flaws we see now; that is how they are able to “fix things”, defeat the enemy and help us. So by noticing the flaws that plague us now, we seek a Hero with the diametrical features. If we don’t know enough about the potential Hero to find these features in him, then we just foresee them: a reverse hindsight, the capability of drawing conclusions now about what we will only find out later.

Achilles

Achilles

One of the most interesting contemporaneous myths we see is the idea that Joe Biden is a foreign policy expert. Somehow his many years in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made Joe Biden a specialist in diplomacy and foreign affairs:

[...] But remember, he provided another and probably more expert source of that wisdom when he picked Joe Biden, the veteran chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as his running mate.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden

“Wisdom”?!

Biden voted against the Gulf War in 1991, despite the obvious aggression, huge international support, a coalition including European nations like France and Germany, and a crystal clear U.N. resolution.

Eleven years later, Biden said Saddam Hussein was a threat to national security and to the world:

He’s a long term threat and a short term threat to our national security. We have no choice but to eliminate the threat. This is a guy who is an extreme danger to the world. He must be dislodged from his weapons or dislodged from power.

Granted, at this point many in US agreed with him. Even the anti-war activists’ approach was to give more time to Hans Blix, the famous U.N. weapons inspector. Yet, in a twist from the similar scenario of eleven years earlier, domestic and international support was slim to none, it was a preemptive move as opposed to a reaction move, and U.N. stalled in its resolutions showing no consensus.

When the war was right, he was against it; when it was wrong, he was for it.

But the greatest example of the “wisdom” came later, when Biden actively advocated dividing Iraq into a federation of three ethnic states, giving Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis their own regions. He actually got the Senate to pass a non-binding resolution on this bright idea. Then Iraq’s leaders denounced the resolution as a de facto partitioning of the country.

Not only it was dumb and insensitive, the feasibility of this plan gets close to impractical. It would only work for those that think people are just pieces in a giant “Risk” board.

the more they stay the same.

According to the NYT, working groups reviewing national security, economic and energy issues will be headed by:
– James Steinberg, Clinton’s Deputy National Security Advisor,
– Carol Browner, Clinton’s EPA administrator,
– Dan Tarullo, Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State and Deputy Assistant for Economic Policy,
– Susan Rice, Clinton’s National Security Council and Assistant Secretary of State.

Some other names appointed, examined or rumoured to be part of the Obama administration:

National Economic Council: Jacob Lew, Clinton’s Director of the United States Office of Management and Budget.

Chief of Staff: Rahm Emanuel, Clinton’s Assistant to the President for Political Affairs, then Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy.

White House Staff Secretary: Lisa Brown, former Al Gore’s counsel.

Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff: Ron Klain, former Chief of Staff of Vice President Al Gore.

Chief Counsel: Greg Craig, Clinton’s Assistant to the President and Special Counsel, 1998 (directed the team defending against impeachment)

Attorney General: Eric Holder, Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno.

Secretary of Health and Human Services: former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, in the Senate for 18 years.

Secretary of Treasury: maybe Lawrence Summers again?

Secretary of State: maybe Hillary Clinton?

That’s change you can believe in.

Change...

Change...

The “How Obama Got Elected” website has a very upsetting video, interviewing Obama voters displaying their bias.

Some are taking this video as proof of how ignorant Obama voters are. But I wonder what kind of answers we would get from a sample of McCain voters, since it’s well-known how learning is a biased process. We tend to better remember what we agreed with, and ignore what we disagreed, a process known as confirmation bias. Given that, it’s easy to assume Republican voters should remember the negative stories about Obama and Biden more than Democrat voters would.

But in this case the answers seem to point to a lack of information gathering more than filtering. In some instances the answers were incorrect instead of just not knowing. The website concludes the media filtered out some information from the public.

The sample in the video is small, but a Zogby poll of 512 Obama voters (97.1% high school graduate or higher, 55% college graduates) reached similar conclusions:

  • 81.8% could not say which candidate quit a previous campaign because of plagiarism.
  • 82.6% could not say which candidate won his first election by getting opponents kicked off the ballot.
  • Only 6.2% failed to identify which candidate has a pregnant teenage daughter.
  • 86.9% mistakenly attributed to Palin the quote “could see Russia from her house”, even though that was Tina Fey’s skit.
  • My impression is that the questionnaire was skewed. Some questions relied on confirmation bias (Obama’s first election in Chicago), while others relied on universally covered news pieces (Palin’s pregnant daughter) that wouldn’t have been missed by anyone alive in the last few months. The bias, indeed, started in the research itself.

    against itself cannot stand.

    A Vermont group advocates the secession of Vermont from the union after 217 years of statehood. The “empire” has served its purpose, they argue. Smaller is better; villages are green and golden; Vermont can lead the way. Says Thomas Naylor, Duke economist and one of the founders of the group:

    “Vermont wants out. We have two objectives. One: The peaceful secession of Vermont from the empire. Two: The peaceful dissolution of the empire itself. This is much bigger than a bunch of guys talking about secession. America needs a new metaphor; Vermont stands ready to provide it.”

    The separation would mean Vermonters could “disengage from the Wall Street global economy” and cease contributing tax dollars to the federal government’s $700 billion bailout and its military operations.

    * * *

    Meanwhile, the League of South, who held its 15th Annual National Conference with the theme of the conference was “Surviving The Empire’s Collapse”, has received increased interest.

    The group is much more tame in their independence plans: they say they are not looking for an 1860-style secession but, rather, a model like the one Spain is moving toward, in which there’s “a great deal of autonomy for constituent regions”.

    As an American Conservative article puts it,

    “the idea of political separatism is as American as America. From the 13 colonies declaring their independence from the British Crown in 1776, to the rash of state-splittings that took place during the early years of the Republic, to Norman Mailer’s secessionist 1969 campaign for mayor of New York City, the aura of divisibility has long been a part of the American tradition.”

    a satire from the first Secession War

    Secession Explored: a satire from the first Secession War

    Clinton & Obama

    Clinton & Obama: together at last?

    News media is ablaze with reports that Obama is considering Hillary Clinton, who was in Chicago Thursday in a “private business”, for Secretary of State:

    When asked earlier this week if she would take a position in the Obama administration, Clinton said that she was happy being in the U.S. Senate, but said she wants to be “a good partner” to the new president.

    Until Thursday, the frontrunners for the position were thought to be John Kerry and Bill Richardson. A third contender would be Chuck Hagel.

    Sadly, these are all poor choices. Neither of the three has the international presence that Hillary Clinton does, although Bill Richardson at least has been there (as US Ambassador to the UN). Kerry and Hagel enjoy a fairly good domestic reputation, but nothing that goes beyond the border. Richardson is keeping quiet, which could also mean the deal is closed and he has the position in the bag.

    But what does the Secretary of State do anyway? Besides heading the department concerned with foreign affairs and being in charge of all diplomatic efforts, the Secretary is fourth in line to succeed the President (after the VP, Speaker of the House, the temporary President of the Senate).

    Oh, and yes, the Secretary of State accepts the notice of the president’s resignation:

    Nixon resignation letter, 1974

    Nixon resignation letter, 1974

    Eight years after Cheney said he was a “pretty angry father”, conservatives are now remorsefully angry with the missed opportunity to rule the country, an opportunity that started with Reagan’s shining city upon a hill and passed by the Rove’s “Permanent Majority” dream.

    For some, conservatives had the chance of molding the country on their terms, but blew it:

    Where is this land of freedom and responsibility, knowledge, opportunity, accomplishment, honor, truth, trust, and one boring hour each week spent in itchy clothes at church, synagogue, or mosque? It lies in ruins at our feet, as well it might, since we ourselves kicked the shining city upon a hill into dust and rubble. The progeny of the Reagan Revolution will live instead in the universe that revolves around Hyde Park.

    Bad mood, similar to liberals during the first months after Gore’s debacle and the Kerry meltdown. I wonder how long it will take for conservatives to regroup and refocus.

    A lot of people got carried away with the (mis)interpretation of this map.

    Voting shift 2004 x 2008

    Voting shift 2004 x 2008

    It only shows the growth/reduction of each party’s participation, not the actual final share.

    Given that, it is clear the same trend of previous elections persists: urban areas are predominately Democrat, even in red states such as Texas or Utah; Republican’s strongholds are the farmlands and thinly populated areas, even in blue states like Oregon or Washington.

    Elections 2008 by county

    Elections 2008 by county

    In 2000 and 2004 Republicans famously grabbed a larger share of the exurbs, the smaller up-and-coming towns on the fringes of the big cities. But still, it’s a party limited to rural areas. With the urbanization trend, this pattern is an obvious problem for Republican officials.

    Another interesting point comes out of the comparison between 2008 and 2004:

    Elections 2004 by county

    Elections 2004 by county

    Here it becomes very clear that saying “Obama captured nine states carried by Bush in 2004″ is inaccurate: it leads into thinking that Obama actually reversed the results in many counties. But the comparison shows very little county-flipping (with the honorable exception of good old Michigan). And the numbers reflected what the maps described.

    The main advantage of the Obama campaign in 2008 was not switching minds, but a mixture of increased turnout among Democrats and reduced turnout among Republicans. As a rule of thumb, Obama got Kerry voters and those who would have voted for Kerry but didn’t.

    In fact, an analysis of turnout has revealed the overall numbers were not record-breaking as advertised, another evidence that for every blue voter out of the closet there was a red voter that just gave up and stayed home.

    BTW: purple maps created by Mark Newman, Univ. of Michigan.

    From the Contrarian Chronicles, a good warning for the “mandate-carriers”:

    The Democrats might want to be careful now that they have the hot potato, as I believe the economic landscape is liable to be nothing short of disastrous. They may be able to blame a fair amount of it on Bush for a while. But that might be difficult to do four years from now. Thus it’s entirely possible that the pendulum which has now swung in their direction could reverse course.

    He also mentions two policies that I believe are extremely important for America’s near future: federal investment in infrastructure projects and nuclear energy. Both are going to create low- and high-end jobs in the immediate time frame, with long lasting consequences for the economy.

    It’s about time US takes nuclear energy seriously, stepping out of this provincial approach with coal-dollars induced fear and blissful ignorance. With half of electricity generated by burning coal, and another quarter from natural gas, it’s understandable that Peabody, CONSOL and Arch Coal aren’t going to advertise the positives of nuclear power.

    But there are numerous examples of nations using nuclear as their main electricity generator. France actually exports electricity.

    Democrats’ surge wasn’t contained to the traditionally blue states. Not only Obama kept Kerry states and added nine more, Democrats increased their share of votes in counties throughtout the nation.

    As the NYT map shows, vast expanses in the northern plains, black South and Midwest saw huge increase in Democrat votes.

    Voting shift 2004 x 2008

    Voting shift 2004 x 2008

    The odd exception was on the area extending from the west of the Great Appalachian Valley, part of the Allegheny Plateau and the Ozarks. On that area, Republicans actually increased their voting participation. It’s the so called “McCain Belt”.

    But Politico reader was the first to notice this coincidence: this McCain Belt matches with pretty good accuracy the areas where people self-report their ancestries as simply “American”.

    Largest ancestry group by county (2000)

    Largest ancestry group by county (2000)

    In that area,

    the most common response to the U.S. Census question on ancestry or ethnic origin is simply “American” or “United States.” The region had very low levels of immigration for nearly 200 years.

    In the census of 1870, less than 2% of the southern population was foreign-born, contrasting with 20% for the remaining states. This area hasn’t seen the big increase in european and latino immigration from the last two centuries. For almost eight generations there has been little influence of other cultures, with a stagnant population in a land that time forgot.

    It was on that culture that Republicans had their largest inroads. What does it say about the state of the party?

    Heavy turnout has become the biggest news in this election. CNN reports expected turnouts of 76% for Missouri, 75% for Virginia, 78% for Kansas, 80% for Ohio, and 68% for Texas. However, these numbers are both deflated and inflated.

    Inflated, because record primary voting, increased vote registrations, more small campaign donors and unrealistic hope are rampant among voting officials this year, creating the false expectation of a massive turnout.

    Deflated, because they consider the “voting-age population”, consisting of everyone age 18 and older residing in the United States. This includes persons ineligible to vote, mainly non-citizens and ineligible felons, and excludes overseas eligible voters. Since early 1970s, these three factors have changed the profile of the american population: more americans live overseas, prison population doubled, and immigrant, non-citizen population has quadrupled.

    The United States Elections Project recalculated turnouts taking in consideration the “voting-eligible population”, and found that recent turnouts are in line with those from 1970s and 80s.

    VEP x VAP turnout

    VEP x VAP turnout

    Still, even considering the eligible voters, the numbers are expected to be huge this time. Nationwide, it was predicted a turnout reaching about 64% of the eligible voters, a number that

    would roughly match the 63.8 percent turnout in the 1960 race between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon and rank just below the 65.7 percent turnout of the 1908 presidential contest between William Howard Taft and William Jennings Bryan, he said.

    But it would not come close to attaining the astonishing 81.3 percent turnout recorded in the Civil War era contest between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in 1860.

    Politico had announced the election of the century:

    Undoubtedly, more people will vote than the 60 percent who turned out four years ago, which was the highest rate since 1968. The question is, how many more? If participation tops the 1960 level of 64 percent, then we must go all the way back to 1908 — literally a century of American politics — to find the next highest rate: 66 percent.

    Indeed:

    Turnout by eligible voters

    Turnout by eligible voters

    [Source: Dr. Michael McDonald, with pre-1948 turnout rates from Walter Dean Burnham, Professor Emeritus at University of Texas, Austin.]

    McDonald already has some estimates for turnouts across states, with numbers peaking at 79% for Oregon and 77% for Minnesota, down to 54% at Utah and Texas and 50% for District of Columbia. Far from the expectations of local officials. For national level, the estimate turnout among eligible voters is reaching 62.6%, although the number could go up since it doesn’t include all absentee ballots.

    At last, the campaign is over. We have a new president. All, hail to the Chief!

    Even better: now we don’t have to worry about putting gas on our cars, or paying our mortgages.

    This is it.

    This is it.

    Time to track down what happens around the country.

    CNN has been one of the major sources for years, with fast updating and good coverage of presidential election results, including a nice roll-up of exit polls.

    Associated Press’ “Big Issue: Election Results” begins streaming starting at 7 p.m. EST through thousands of newspapers and broadcasters.

    Google’s “Elections Gallery” is an election tracker in the form of a mashup, with real time results on the state and county level, including those crucial-yet-forgotten Congressional seats up for grabs.

    Finally, Yahoo has a nicely improved Dashboard with a lot of information. A few years ago they had issues with updating, hopefully that has been resolved.

    The Swing State Project keeps a map of poll closing times. The earliest poll closing times of 7 PM EST are key battleground states: Indiana, Georgia, Virginia, and Kentucky.

    Polls closing times

    Polls closing times

    The United States Elections Project keeps a comprehensive page full with early voting statistics, including some breakdowns by party affiliation, gender and race for some states. Early voters are traditionally older folks. Still, the share of young early voters has been increasing, specially in Florida. An early voting analysis at the WP concludes that

    Obama supporters do tend to be voting early more than McCain supporters, which is showing up in the polls and the partisan registration numbers. The other interesting group that is participating at really unprecedented levels are African Americans. If these numbers hold through Election Day, their turnout percentage could exceed that of white voters. The share of African American early voters is running about 8 percentage points greater than in the 2004 electorate.

    With so many battleground states in the East Coast, it’s possible we will find out the winner early this evening, way before the closing at Texas or California. If Obama is winning heavily in Florida, Virginia and Pennsylvania (McCain cannot win without these three), we could be calling the race sometime between 8 and 9 EST. Paul Friedman from CBS News said

    We could know Virginia at 7. We could know Indiana before 8. We could know Florida at 8. We could know Pennsylvania at 8. We could know the whole story of the election with those results. We can’t be in this position of hiding our heads in the sand when the story is obvious.

    If you still need information about ballots, where to vote, etc, Google tries to give the answer with a gadget map full of little pieces of information. It doesn’t work very well though. And seriously, if at this point you don’t have your stuff together yet, you shouldn’t be voting anyway.

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