Date ►►► October 31, 2010
It’s Clobberin’ Time!
Two years ago my liberal friends, and to a degree my conservative ones, sniggered when I said I would trade four years of Obama for 12 or 16 years of Republicans. I said I was sure that the Democrats would overreach themselves and that we would probably see another 1994 election. Now they aren’t laughing so hard.
I was wrong about one thing, though. This isn’t 1994. This year is to ‘94 as Mount St. Helens is to a popping champagne bottle.
It is, as the Thing, Ben Grimm, says, clobberin’ time. Liberals: we know where you live and you won’t be living there much longer! It’s about now that I’ll start to needle my Democrat friends into making improvident wagers about the election. And they’ll take me up on the ridiculous odds that I’m offering. Democrats aren’t good gamblers -- except when it comes to their children and grandchildren’s money.
Why is this going to happen? Because Barack Obama engaged in the most blatant bait and switch of any politician in living memory -- at least my living memory, and my memory is augmented by reading many books on politics. The country voted for one thing and was stunned to find that what they elected was very different from what they thought they were voting for. Certainly they knew that they weren’t going to get a right wing agenda, but they certainly weren’t expecting to get the most blatantly liberal agenda since 1964.
Both parties, when they win large majorities, assume that the populace loves them. They overreach. Republicans assume that when they win an election that this gives them license to prepare a Christmas gift for the fundamentalists. They are able to get away with that more than the Democrats because there are now more than twice as many conservatives in America as there are liberals. But there are also LOTS of libertarian leaning voters, whose interests don’t include many of the goals of the religious right.
But when the Democrats overreach, oh brother!
As Patrick Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen pointed out in a Washington Post column on Saturday, the same candidate who pledged that the end had come to the divide between Red and Blue America was the same president who urged Hispanics to “punish” their “enemies” on Tuesday. Hardly the words of a post-partisan messiah! He is, in fact, the most divisive, partisan president of our time. Beware candidates who, like Richard Nixon in 1968, pledge to “bring us together.”
But we never should have expected anything like that anyway. Politics is not about bringing people together, it is about winning enough votes to push your programs through. But it is also about having the wisdom not to push through programs that are wildly unpopular with the majority of voters. Given that the Obama and his lieutenants, Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 100%) and Senate Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 95%), still maintain that their policies are not unpopular, merely not communicated well, it may well be that the Democrats won’t learn the lessons of this election in time to apply them to the next.
At least I hope so!
Date ►►► October 29, 2010
Lizardly Vindication: It's the Tumult of the Turnout!
We've been somewhat vindicated -- not in our initial pessimistic post about the California governor's race, but in our subsequent retraction of pessimism; our conclusion now seems even stronger: What's driving the polls now in California is turnout modeling, not any actual "surge" by former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Take a look at the polling in the open gubernatorial race just this last week; I reordered the polls into descending leads of Democrat Brown over Republican Meg Whitman:
|Pollster||Date range||Results||Brown lead|
|Field||10/14 - 10/26||B: 49 - W: 39||10|
|Fox News/POR-Rasmussen||10/23||B: 50 - W: 41||9|
|Suffolk||10/21 - 10/24||B: 50 - W: 42||8|
|SurveyUSA||10/21 - 10/25||B: 46 - W: 38||8|
|CNN/Time||10/20 - 10/26||B: 51 - W: 44||7|
|Rasmussen||10/27||B: 49 - W: 45||4|
These polls were all taken more or less the same time -- yet they range from a 10-point lead for Brown to a 4-point lead; that's a six-point spread, from "likely Democrat victory" to "toss up."
The senatorial polls in California show the same pattern; these are also sorted by descending leads of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA, 100%) over Republican challenger Carly Fiorina:
|Pollster||Date range||Results||Boxer lead|
|Suffolk||10/21 - 10/24||B: 52 - F: 43||9|
|Field||10/14 - 10/26||B: 49 - F: 41||8|
|SurveyUSA||10/21 - 10/25||B: 45 - F: 40||5|
|CNN/Time||10/20 - 10/26||B: 50 - F: 45||5|
|Fox News/POR-Rasmussen||10/23||B: 48 - F: 44||4|
|Rasmussen||10/27||B: 49 - F: 46||3|
These also range across a six-point spread, from Boxer + 9 ("likely Democratic victory") to Boxer + 3 ("toss up"), within the margin of error (or as Mark Steyn calls is, "the margin of lawyer").
In the gubernatorial race, there are four polls that show very large leads: Field, Fox News, Suffolk, and SurveyUSA; CNN/Time has a middling lead; and Rasmussen shows a very narrow lead. In the Senate race, Suffolk and Field still show the highest leads; SurveyUSA and CNN/Time show middling leads; and Fox News and Rasmussen show a very narrow lead. Note that the only poll that shows a marked difference in position between the two races is the Fox News poll; all others are fairly close... which points to something internal to these polls that causes them to spread so wide.
I believe that "something" is the turnout model used. Field and Suffolk clearly both use the model that assumes the Democrats' advantage in California this year will be just as big as (or even bigger than!) their 12-point advantage in the banner Democratic year of 2008. Equally clearly, Rasmussen uses a turnout model that looks more like 2006 and 2004, when the Democratic advantage was only 6 points, not 12. And I would guess that Suffolk and CNN/Time use something in between.
(I'm not sure why the Fox News poll was one point above the lowest poll in the senatorial race, but one point below the highest poll in the gubernatorial race. Maybe Bill O'Reilly conducted the former, while Juan Williams conducted the latter.)
More than ever, I am convinced that the polls in California are being driven more by disparate turnout models than by any other factor; and more than ever, I believe that the proper turnout model this year should give even less of an advantage to Democrats than their +6 in 2006 and 2004.
What's different this time than in those two earlier elections? Four major factors:
- Democrats are disspirited.
- Republicans are enthusiastic.
- A Republican tidal wave will begin in the East and move west towards California; as it looms, Republican victories will likely discourage Democrats from voting -- as happened in 1980, when media broadcasts called the election for Ronald Reagan and reported that Jimmy Carter had already prepared his concession speech, while the West-Coast polls were still open; and as happened in reverse in 2000, when Voter News Service falsely called Florida for Al Gore while the polls were still open in the heavily Republican Florida Panhandle.
- And polls consistently show the GOP poised for huge gains in the U.S. Congress -- R + 50-60 in the House and R + 8-10 in the Senate.
Under those circumstances, Republicans should have significantly better relative turnout than in 2006 and 2004, years in which the Republicans either lost seats (D + 31 in the House and D + 6 in the Senate in 2006), or made only slight gains (R + 3 in the House and R + 4 in the Senate in 2004).
I reject the implied claim that California, unique among all the states, is the only one where this is a Democratic wave election; the only thing that might produce such an outcome would be a terrible scandal involving the GOP; but since they've been out of power for basically decades, and since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn't done anything horrifying lately, there has been no recent scandal.
Therefore, the proper turnout model would probably have the Democrats' turnout advantage being more like +3 or +4, not +6, not +12, and most assuredly not +14! If we recalculated those polls using the most likely turnout model, Meg Whitman would be neck and neck with Jerry Brown (down by 2 points, maybe) in the governor's race -- and Carly Fiorina would be slightly ahead of Barbara Boxer in the Senate race.
It could just be my wishful thinking, but I doubt it; the polling in California has smelt like day-old sushi for weeks now.
Date ►►► October 28, 2010
Pro-Choice Lizard Applauds "Personhood" Vote
The good rednecks in Mississississississippippippi (I never know where to stop!) have an astonishing, utterly original idea that nobody seems ever to have thought of before: Rather than debate the extent of a woman's "right" to abort a zygote/embryo/foetus, they first want to settle whether that entity is a legal person:
A traditional-values group is jubilant at the renewed likelihood that Mississippi voters -- among the most pro-life in the nation -- will have a "personhood" measure on their 2011 ballots....
Measure 26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to say that "the term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."
I think the theory is that, at whatever point the entity becomes a legal person (fertilization or later, as the state initiative specifies), aborting it is killing a person and can only be justified on grounds that would justify killing someone who had already been born (perhaps only to save the life of the mother). One presumes a determination that the entity was a person would also turn an assault that led to miscarriage into a homicide.
The flip side, of course, is that before reaching the personhood-point, the entity is not a legal person; it does not have a "right" to life; and it can be legally aborted for much lesser cause, perhaps even for convenience.
Of course, Misisipi (is that too few?) notwithstanding, a "personhood" initiative need not specify fertilization as the point at which personhood obtains. A state initiative could specify some other point of gestation instead; some other, not quite so anti-abortion group could put a measure on the ballot to declare that personhood began at the beginning of the third trimester, or when it reached some particular developmental stage. (My personal preference is that the foetus becomes a person when the cerebral cortex activates, which should be detectable in each individual case, if absolutely necessary, via a PET scan.)
In Colorado, for example, abortion prohibitionists tried a similar initiative two years ago, Colorado Amendment 48; it was crushed at the polls by 46 points, 73 Nay to 27 Yea. But an initiative that set personhood to begin at some defined later point in the pregnancy might have a much better chance of passing in a less-conservative state like Colorado or California, Florida or Washington, New York or New Mexico. I suspect most folks are more comfortable defining personhood as occuring later than conception -- but long before the eighth or ninth month, possibly even before the third trimester.
My point for decades -- ever since Roe v. Wade, actually -- has been that both sides are fighting the abortion wars bass-ackwards; instead of pushing for laws banning abortion or court cases declaring abortion a sacrament, we should begin with first principles:
- You first must decide at what point of gestation, between conception to birth, the growing entity becomes a legal person.
- The personhood decision can only be made via a vote by the peoples' representatives in the legislature or by the people directly by referendum.
- The personhood point must be written into the state constitution, not merely the state code, to prevent state judges from simply throwing it out at whim.
- It must pass muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, so that local federal district and circus courts cannot throw it out, either.
- After which, abortion and every other related question will simply fall out without tears from the personhood determination.
But wait... If each state can pass its own personhood amendment setting a unique point where the entity becomes a legal person, and if some states can decline to pass any personhood initiative or bill at all, then won't a disparity exist from state to state on the legality of abortion? You might have a case where a girl could get a abortion in one state but not in another.
Why yes, Poindexter, it will; but that's a feature, not a bug: It's the essence of federalism. If somebody doesn't like the personhood declaration in his state and the abortion and assault laws it yields, then he can move. Just as he can move if he doesn't like the taxes in his state, or the way the state and local law-enforcement authorities handle drug cases, or the policy of his state on health insurance, energy, water, welfare, banking, business licences, or having to use a "jug handle" to make a bleeping left turn (hello, Garden Staters!)
There are no internal passports required; if you don't like your local laws, move to a different locality. And if you are a sexually active female under the age of consent, and you live in a state like Mxyzptlki that declares a zygote to be a legal person, thus banning abortion -- then perhaps you should rethink your social relationships, at least until you're old enough to move to Colorado, or somesuch.
So even though I would personally vote against Mrs. Hippie's Measure 26, since I don't believe one fertilized cell constitutes a legal person, I applaud the fact that the state is trying to define personhood first, before embarking on a campaign to end abortion. On one of the great moral arguments of our society, the rest of the United States should look to Mississippi. (There, see? We may veer back and forth; but we always comes our right in the end.)
Everything is back to norbal.
Cross-posted to Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
Date ►►► October 27, 2010
On the Other Hand...
I may have turned unduly pessimistic about the California gubernatorial vote too quickly. Clearly Republican Meg Whitman is running behind her cohort running for U.S. Senate, Carly Fiorina; but that doesn't necessarily mean Whitman should be out of the running, as the polling implies. There are several indicators that, as Elmer Fudd was wont to say, "there's something awfuwy scwewy going on heah!"
In the first place, let's take a step back from the trees to contemplate the forest for a moment. Why would the entire rest of the country be experiencing a Republican wave... but California be strongly surging to the Democrats? It's not completely impossible, but it does seem rather unlikely.
In those cases elsewhere in which the Republican is losing, it's nearly always because he has huge problems with money and with making crazy, radical statements; for example, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware. But the GOP candidates for governor (former eBay CEO Meg Whitman) and U.S. senator (former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina) are both (a) extremely well-heeled and self-financing, and (b) more center-right than Tea Party, which in a blue state like California should make them more attractive, not less.
I could see a situation where they were neck and neck instead of surging ahead, as in the rest of the country; but why would the retread Democrats they face -- former Gov. Jerry Brown and current incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA, 100%) -- be the ones surging ahead?
Now let's look at those polls more closely.
In an election, everything depends upon turnout; and the accuracy of the polling critically depends upon the turnout model used by the pollster.
Columnist Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics has a few words to say on that subject:
If you follow California Senate polling closely, you have to be feeling a little bit nauseated from the roller coaster ride you've been on. Some polls are showing Senator Barabara Boxer with a comfortable 9-point lead and above 50 percent, while others are showing a much closer race. One Republican pollster even shows Fiorina ahead.
What is going on here? The answer is something I've discussed before: Pollsters are having a devil of a time agreeing on what the electorate is going to look like.
Trende has a chart comparing the turnout models used by various polls from a week ago to the leads enjoyed by the Democrat in the Senate race, incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA, 100%). Not surprisingly, he finds a strong correlation between a turnout model that predicts a very high Democratic edge over Republicans in voting -- and a much larger lead by Boxer (duh).
But is more intriguing (and puzzling) to compare the turnout models to the actual results of two previous elections in California, the 2006 mid-term and the 2008 presidential election. 2006 was a big election year for Democrats: The party picked up six Senate seats and 31 House seats nationwide. In California, according to Trende's chart, exit polling showed that Democrats had a +6% edge over Republicans in turnout at the polls.
2008 was equally big for the Democrats: Democrats picked up eight Senate seats and 21 House seats. But in California, the partisan turnout edge for Democrats was double that of the 2006 election (and the 2004 election as well), a full 12%.
Note that this doesn't count early voting by mail-in balloting; but Republicans were pushing mail-in voting far more than Democrats in 2006, so Republican strength was likely underrepresented in that survey, compared to Democrats. However in 2008, Democrats had a huge and very successful mail-in voting drive, meaning they were even more undercounted in exit polls than Republicans had been two years earlier. That means the gain in partisan edge in California, from 6% to 12%, is probably understated: Democrats likely increased their lead in the Golden State by more than the 6% increase derived from the exit polling.
Now let's look at the correlation with the polling this year. Of the six pollsters who report the partisan breakdown of respondents in their polling (Rasmussen does not, for example), two (SurveyUSA and Reuters) show a Democratic edge of 6% - 7%. In other words, these two pollsters believe turnout in California is going to be pretty much like 2004 and 2006; and they show an average lead for Boxer over Fiorina of 1.5%. (Remember, this is according to the polling a week ago, the only polls for which we really have a good partisan cross-tab.)
But the other four -- Suffolk, PPP (a Democratic poll), the L.A. Times, and PPIC -- show a Democratic partisan edge of 12% - 14% in their turnout model. These four pollsters believe the partisan turnout in 2010 will mirror the turnout in 2008, that Democrats will have just as big or even bigger a turnout edge this year than the year Barack H. Obama ran for the presidency. Not surprisingly, they show a much higher average lead for Boxer over Fiorina of 7.8%.
They believe 2010 will just as big a Democratic wave election as 2008; does that make sense to anyone here?
The problem may well be the filtering question used to decide which respondents are "likely voters." Some pollsters use a very simple system: They ask respondents whether they voted in either of the last two elections, and whether they're sure they'll vote this time. Others have a more stringent likely voter test. But the loose test virtually quarantees that when the pollster picks the respondents to report as "likely voters," the turnout model will mirror 2008 -- because everyone who voted in 2008 (or thinks he did) becomes a "likely voter" for 2010.
It is, however, a very unlikely scenario in real life: This is not a huge Democratic wave election, as 2008 was; it's not even a wave election like 2006. In reality, it appears to be a massive Republican wave election, like 1994.
If anything, the Democratic edge over Republicans, even in California, should be lower than in 2006 and 2004. In all probability, even SurveyUSA and Reuters are overestimating the Democratic lead; and the other four pollsters are dramatically overestimating it. And if they're overestimating Democratic voters in the Senate race, they're simultaneously overestimating them on the governer's race, as well.
But what about the current SurveyUSA poll, released today, which shows Boxer jumping from a 2-point lead on the previous survey, October 19th, to a 5-point lead now; and for governor, Democrat Jerry Brown edging up from a 7-point lead on the 19th to an 8-point lead now? It turns out that SurveyUSA has its own special potential problem.
(To see the raw numers instead of percentages on these two SurveyUSA polls, click the drop-down on the left and select "Show Counts (Frequencies)" instead of "Show Percentages".)
First of all, the turnout model for the new survey -- that is, the partisan breakdown of respondents they choose to call likely voters -- jumped up from a 7.2% Democratic edge on the 19th to an 8.4% edge on the 26th, moving significantly closer to the 2008 model than a week earlier.
Then I began looking into the internals (and kudos to SurveyUSA for making them available to ordinary readers), and I noticed a curious phenomenon: In the previous poll, 7% of the "likely voters" (as determined by SurveyUSA) contacted by telephone only have cell phones, no landlines. But in the current poll, just one week later, that number lurches wildly upwards to 25% of the "likely voters," 3.6 times as high. Wow!
I find that very flakey; while a number of young adults only have cell phones, I suspect they are much less likely actually to vote (and SurveyUSA agrees); for one thing, it's very difficult for the parties to find those voters in order to talk to them face to face in a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort. In fact, we can't even know for sure whether they even reside in California and can vote here at all!
When you recalculate the current survey, using only those likely voters who have a landline (regardless of whether they were contacted by cell or landline), the numbers change dramatically.
First the Senate race:
|Candidate||Total #||Total %||Land #||Land %|
|Total||594||B-F = 4.5||443||B-F = 0.7|
In other words, with the cell-only respondents included, Carly Fiorina is down to Barbara Boxer by 4.5%; but looking only at those respondents who actually have a landline (even if they also have a cell phone), she is only down by 0.7%. That's one heck of a difference, moving from leaning towards Boxer to a complete toss-up!
Let's look at the governor's race:
|Candidate||Total #||Total %||Land #||Land %|
|Total||594||B-W = 8.4||443||B-W = 4.6|
We see exactly the same phenomenon in this case: With the cell-only respondents, Whitman is behind Brown by a powerful 8.4%; but looking only at respondents with landlines, she is only down by 4.6%, putting her solidly within striking range via a number of factors (GOTV; the wave effect -- voters in California get to see results back east before they vote, which could discourage Democrats from voting; a bad turnout model -- SurveyUSA gives an 8.4% edge to Democrats in their model, when they may only get a 6% or even lower in the actual election; and so forth).
So there still appears to be many severe problems with polling in California, problems that appear to be much worse than polling problems in other states. For that reason, I retract my prediction of doom for Meg Whitman in favor of no prediction at all. The polling is simply too wonky to trust.
Date ►►► October 26, 2010
This is just heartbreaking. The entire rest of the country is swinging to the right; the U.S. Senate race in California is swinging to the right. But in the midst of such positive news, GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman's campaign is collapsing... and it looks pretty clear that California voters are poised to elect Jerry Brown governor -- again.
Dubbed "Governor Moonbeam," Brown is widely derided as the worst governor of California in modern times. He is a radical leftist who, along with the solidly Democratic-Progressive state legislature, has virtually pledged to do to Californios exactly what Barack H. Obama and the solidly Democratic-Progressive Congress did to America... and Californians are on track to hand him a historic victory to speed him along!
Why? I'm completely at a loss to explain why Carly Fiorina, the Republican Senate candidate, is doing so well, but Whitman so badly: The latest Rasmussen poll (just out today) has Brown 9 points up, an increase of 4 points from the corresponding poll ten days ago. The RCP average now has Whitman losing by 7.4%, and that includes a Republican outlier poll that had Whitman up 1 point in mid-month... exactly one week before the election, with momentum moving against her and towards Jerry Brown.
I hate to sound like Sen. Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 95%), but at this point, I have to say this race is all but lost. Jerry Brown will once again be our governor -- at a time when the state is more than $20 billion in the red.
Another point: Brown, as the current state Attorney General, is one of the two officials who refused to defend Proposition 8 in court. Prop 8 is the voter-passed citizens'-initiative constitutional amendment that re-established the definition of marriage to one man plus one woman... overturning a decision of the California Supreme Court, which -- by the slim and unconvincing margin of 4 to 3 -- redefined marriage to include same-sex marriage. (The other official to refuse to defend Proposition 8 in court was... current RINO Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Brown was also the official (by himself, this time) who reluctantly accepted the initiative, titled "Limits on Marriage" -- and retitled it to be more neutral, unbiased, and non-argumentative.
He made it "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry," and that's how it appeared on the November 2008 ballot. Amazingly, it passed anyway.
So what can we expect with Gov. Brown and the hyper-liberal legislature? A number of lovely prospects present themselves:
- The California state income tax rate, already the second highest in the nation (after Hawaii), will surely leapfrog into the winner's circle. Most of us pay 8% to 9.3% with the break point about $47,000/year; I suspect over the next two years, this will skyrocket to 10% to 12%.
- Currently, we have a de facto mortgate interest deduction, because the California tax basis starts from the federal tax basis. But there are several other instances where a federal deduction is added back in for purposes of state tax... and I gloomily predict that the new government will add mortgage interest to that disreputable list. That will push the effective tax rate much higher.
Too, Democrats in this state have been desperate for years to overturn the 1978 Proposition 13, the "People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation." Prop 13 did the following:
- Rolled property assessments back to 1975 values
- Set the property tax rate at 1% of the assessed value
- Limited property-tax increases for continuing ownership to 2% per year
- Required a 2/3rds vote in each legislative house to raise taxes
- Required a 2/3rds vote for local governments to create or raise special taxes
It was enacted, over the vigorous opposition by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, by an overwhelming margin of 64.8% to 35.2%... because the California state and local governments had begun a wild series of property-tax increases that were literally forcing people (mostly retirees) out of the homes they had lived in for decades; and local districts were assessing special tax after special tax to pay for every liberal wish-list item that some lobbyist demanded. This immensely popular California initiative constitutional amendment sparked a tax revolt all across the United States.
That was then; this is now. In the last debate between Brown and Whitman, moderator Tom Brokaw asked both disputants about Prop 13; Whitman said she would defend it to the hilt, but Brown waffled, saying everything, including Proposition 13, was "on the table." I take that to mean that his intense opposition to protecting homeowners from the rapacious maw of the government has neither wavered nor waned.
And now that Jerry Brown has learnt that such initiatives can be overturned without a vote by a cunning trick -- get an ally to challenge it in court, then refuse, as governor, to defend it -- I suspect Prop 13 is going to be shredded... and the record number of foreclosures we have already seen in this state will go through the roof.
- Brown is a skinflint in his personal finances, but a typical left-liberal spendthrift when he's handling other people's money. During that debate, he passionately defended Obamacare, both stimuli, and the government takeovers of the automotive and banking industries. He added that Obama had done a "great job" in his first two years. I strongly suspect that Brown intends to saddle California with state socialism that mirrors the federal version... and will endure even when the Republican Congress and White House wipe it away in D.C.
Worse, Proposition 25, on the ballot this election, will give Jerry Brown the whip-hand on spending. Currently, legislators in Sacramento need a 2/3rds vote to pass the annual budget. The Democrat/Republican mix in the state Senate is 24 Democrats and 14 Republicans (plus two vacancies), or 63% to 37%; in the Assembly, it's 50 Democrats, 27 Republicans, and 1 "Independent" who caucuses with the Democrats (again plus two vacancies), or 65% to 35%.
In other words, under the current constitutional rules, Democrats do not have sufficient votes to pass a budget on their own in either chamber; they need at least two Republican votes in the Senate and one in the Assembly. And so far, the CA-GOP, against all expectation, has held firm, forcing concessions from the Left and preventing the progressive rampage we have seen in Washington D.C.
So what does Prop 25 do? It lowers the budget-vote requirement down to a simple majority. If it had been in place all this time, we would probably already have government-run health care, cap and trade, a massive increase in welfare and MediCal, public-employee union pensions that are even higher than the already stratospheric pensions we have now, and three or four times the current amount of make-work spending in the state. Instead of being $20 billion in debt, we would have $50-$60 billion in red ink.
As insane and left-partisan as this initiative is, it will probably pass... because its authors found another cunning trick: Included in the measure is a "punishment" for legislators who don't pass a budget on time... they lose their salary for every day the budget is overdue. "Yeah, let's punish those foot-draggers!" is the battle cry.
But of course, what's causing the impasse is that the two parties are lightyears apart on how to save the state's economy: Republicans want to restore fiscal sanity; Democrats want to redouble their Keynesian stimulus schemes. But if Prop 25 passes, I guarantee the budget will be on-time... because the majority Democrats won't even bother consulting with the Republican minority. They'll just enact any stupid, self-immolating, progressive idiocy that passes through their pinheads. Great solution, voters! You sure showed those profligate Democrats!
- The traditional definition of marriage will almost certainly be changed to include same-sex marriage, despite two separate majority votes of the citizenry to keep it as it has always been. Jerry and his pet legislators desperately want it, to pay off their gay-activist lobbyists.
Thank you, thank you, California voters. I've always wanted to live in a Zimbabwean failed state. Think of the wonderful experience I'll get, assuming I want someday to write a post-apocalyptic novel about the catastrophic collapse of a once-great civilization.
There are only three slim hopes for Ms. Whitman:
- The polling could be wildly off, if (for example) all the polls are using the same wrongheaded turnout model. If, for instance, fewer women than expected vote while more men do, that would make the actual vote much closer than the polling... possibly even put Whitman on top.
- The Republican "wave" effect could raise all boats, including the waterlogged and listing tugboat at the top of the ticket.
- If Whitman's ground game is ever so much better than Brown's, she could make up a lot of the deficit right there.
But let's not kid ourselves; none of those is all that likely... unlike in Carly Fiornia's case, where she can easily overcome her 3.7% deficit (not counting the Democratic PPP poll). Thus I must make the sad prediction that on Wednesday, November 3rd, we in the Golden State will most likely wake up to find it has become, overnight, the State of Brown.
Date ►►► October 25, 2010
Quietly, through backchannel discussions with the fourth branch of the Democratic Party -- the mainstream news, a.k.a., the Ministry of Truth -- President Barack H. Obama has let it be known that in the slim and unlikely possibility that Republicans pick up seats in the November election, Obama plans to refocus his agenda for the next two years; he will prioritize "deficit reduction":
Obama will try to make gains on deficit reduction, education and energy. He will enforce his health care and financial overhauls and try to protect them from repeal should Republicans win control of Capitol Hill. He will use executive authority when blocked by Congress, and steel for scrutiny and investigations if the GOP is in charge.
Now to a Democrat, there are two ways of reducing the deficit: Cutting spending and raising taxes. (To a progressive, there is only one, as the first is in-con-seev-able.) The president assures us he is mulling the mix; but I think we have an inkling which way the Obamic scales are tipping:
While trying to save money, Obama will have to decide whether to bend to Republican and growing Democratic pressure to extend Bush-era tax cuts, even for the wealthy, that expire at year's end. Obama wants to extend them for people making less than $200,000 and married couples making less than $250,000, but a broader extension is gaining favor with an increasing number of Democrats.
Moving to the fore will be a more serious focus on how to balance the federal budget and pay for the programs that keep sinking the country into debt.
So he hasn't budged on letting most of the Bush tax cuts expire. What else is on the president's "deficit-reduction" Christmas list?
Sacrosanct tax breaks, including deductions on mortgage interest, remain on the table just weeks before the deficit commission issues recommendations on policies to pare back with the aim of balancing the budget by 2015.
The tax benefits are hugely popular with the public but they have drawn the panel's focus, in part because the White House has said these and other breaks cost the government about $1 trillion a year....
At stake, in addition to the mortgage-interest deductions, are child tax credits and the ability of employees to pay their portion of their health-insurance tab with pretax dollars. Commission officials are expected to look at preserving these breaks but at a lower level, according to people familiar with the matter.
As the Obamacle says tax breaks for the rich, such as the mortgage-interest deduction, cost the government "about $1 trillion a year," I conclude that is the tax-increase target figure. But perhaps he'll compromise on an increase of only $500 billion per year.
The "deficit commission" referenced above is in fact the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which Obama created this year (by executive order 13531); it comprises eighteen members, evenly divided: Six appointed from the House, three from each party; six appointed from the Senate, three from each party -- and six tie-breakers appointed by the president.
Obama included "two" Republicans among his appointees: former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), who has a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 78% (but a 59% in 1995 and a 65% in 1996, his last two years in the Senate); and David M. Cote, CEO of Honeywell... who is listed as a Republican by the White House, but is listed as a lifelong Democrat and close friend of the One in his Wikipedia entry. Go figure.
Obama's other appointees are:
- Erskine Bowles, Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton (1996-1998)
- Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
- Alice Rivlin, Bill Clinton's director of Office of Management and Budget (1994-1996) and longtime member of the ultra-liberal Brookings Institution
- Ann M. Fudge, a Democrat who sits on the Harvard Board of Overseers, chairs the U.S. Programs Advisory Board of The Gates Foundation, and is a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation, Brookings Institution, and the Council on Foreign Relations
Eleven Democrats, six Republicans, and one RINO -- there's balance for you! I'm sure they'll soberly weigh the ratio of tax increases and spending cuts in a completely unbiased, down-the-middle manner when they make their deficit-reduction recommendations.
And rest assured, it's not all tax increases; Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform does indeed have a number of spending cuts in mind:
The officials are also looking at potential cuts to defense spending and a freeze on domestic discretionary spending.
See, if we could just declare defeat and go home from Iraq and Afghanistan, stop all that wasteful spending on building a security fence on our southern border, and close Gitmo, just think of all the fiscal responsibility!
I don't know about you all, but if the only alternative to huge deficits is to eviscerate our military, kill the mortgage-interest deduction, reinstate the death tax, and drag tax rates back to their former glory in the Jimmy Carter years (top rate -- 70%)... heck, I'd rather have the deficits.
At least until January 20th, 2013, when our national nightmare ends.
Date ►►► October 24, 2010
The United States and South Korea have been planning a joint naval exercise in the Yellow Sea for some time; its purpose was to warn North Korea not to engage in any further military action against South Korea... in particular, referencing the South Korean navy ship ROKS Cheonan, which North Korea sunk with a submarine-launched torpedo last March. We wanted to show the Democrat People's Republic of (North) Korea that neither we nor the Republic of (South) Korea can be intimidated by a gulag of Communist thugs.
But just a few days before the naval exercise, we abruptly called it off. Why? Because the People's Republic of China has angrily protested, and has threatened to "not stay in 'hands-off' mode" if we hold the exercise. In particular, China objects to the presence of the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, in what China calls its "regional waters"... which I reckon includes the entire Yellow Sea, up to and including South Korea's western beaches, resorts, and seaports.
So the exercise to warn the Communist thugs of North Korea that we cannot be intimidated -- has been canceled, due to the intimidation of the Communist thugs of Red China.
I suppose it's inevitable, considering how much we owe our worthy Chinese partners (monetarily, I mean) -- and considering how Barack H. Obama has already bowed deeply at the waist to a paper emperor and a suicide king -- that when push came to shove, our president would find occasion to kowtow to the Chinese, as well.
Say... isn't that whence the word originated in the first place?
The Godot We Know part Bet
As noted before, it's critical to all physical arguments for the existence of God to prove that the age of the universe is not only finite but young, in a relative sense. The reason for this is the heart of Father Spitzer's argument:
- Of all the imaginable sets of physical constants (such as the speed of light in a vacuum, the gravitational constant, Planck's constant, etc.) that define a universe, there are extraordinarily more sets that define a universe in which life as we know it is not possible, than there are sets that define a universe in which life is possible. That is, if you randomly define the physical constants, you'll almost certainly end up with a universe where life as we know it simply cannot exist.
It takes a very special set of constants for life even to be possible.
For example, if gravity decreased by the cube of the distance from matter, rather than the square of the distance (as it does in our universe), gravity probably wouldn't be strong enough to pull matter together into planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies. We would have a slurry of molecules permeating the universe, and we cannot really imagine life arising from such a uniform putty.
- So if we assume that physical constants randomly assume values around the time of a Big-Bang event, the odds of any one particular universe, defined by a random set of constants, being "life-friendly" (allowing life to arise) are vanishingly small. Pick a random universe and it almost certainly cannot give rise to life.
- Yet we know at least one universe allowed the existence of life, because, well, here we are!
- Now, if a literally infinite time is available for repeated universes to emerge, then every possible value for the physical constants will appear at some point; every possible combination of values will appear at some point; and that means that every possible life-friendly universe is certain to appear -- at some point. It won't happen often, but many, many life-friendly universes will eventually emerge.
- However, if there is only a limited, finite time available for emerging universes; and if that finite time is relatively small, compared to the odds against a life-friendly universe; then the odds are vanishingly small that any life-friendly universe would ever emerge, anywhere, anytime... there's just not enough time.
This is an important concept. If some event is very, very improbable -- a life-friendly universe created by a random arrangement of universal constants -- then it will only happen if you have an enormous number of attempts. If you flip a coin enough times, eventually it will land on its edge and balance there, landing neither heads nor tails. But you can only expect that if you flip an enormous number of coins.
Since a life-friendly universe is much less likely than a coin landing on edge, the number of times a (random) universe would have to emerge in order for even a single one of them to be life-friendly is so large, we humans would have a hard time distinguishing it from infinity. It's that big.
- Thus, if any such life-friendly universe emerges in a short length of time (see point 3), we should conclude the constants are not set randomly but are severely constrained, so as to favor those values that lead to a universe in which life can form, and subsequently evolve into intelligence and sentience.
If you flip a coin only four or five times, and it lands on edge, you'd have to conclude that there was something "funny," something non-random, about that particular coin. Same if you shuffled a deck -- and found all the cards arranged by suit and number, from the two of clubs up to the ace of spades. It must have been rigged somehow!
- Therefore, the life-friendly coherence and order we observe in our own universe implies a strong possibility, at least, that some intelligent being created, or at least designed our universe... if, that is, only a finite and relatively short period of time has been available for universes to emerge.
So to be able to conclude that our universe was tailor-made by a designer, there must be an anomaly: A short period of time in which universes can be created via Big Bang events, therefore only a small number of universes -- but we've already gotten one that can sustain life. That's so improbable, the only plausible explanation is that... something or somebody has been busy loading the dice!
That's why it's critical to Spitzer's argument to show that the past age of any collection of universes is both finite and fairly young: Because if the age of a collection of universes is infinite, or even very large compared to the odds against, then it's no surprise that we get the occasional life-friendly universe; sheer random probability can explain it, and there's no need to invoke an intelligent designer.
But we really ought to define what we're talking about. What constitutes "the universe?" What is a "collection of universes," how can there be more than one? And what does it mean to talk about a universe "emerging?"
There are several major competing cosmological conjectures; let's look first at the standard model, where there is only one universe (our own); then we'll look at alternative models that allow for many universes:
- Standard Big Bang Theory (SBBT): There is only one universe; it began with the (one and only) Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago (13.7 Ga), and has been expanding ever since. For a while, the rate of expansion was slowing down; but for the last several billion years, the rate has been increasing. This universe may "exist" forever, in a sense, even after the heat death (complete entropy) of all matter and energy; but it had a definite starting point (for space, time, matter, energy, and every other state or condition) not very long ago.
- Past-expanded BBT: So-called because such conjectures envision a multiplicity of universes, in sequence or parallel, making any conceivable creation event much longer ago than 13.7 billion years... which means there is more "past;" or to put it another way, these conjectures expand the available past, possibly infinitely far into the past.
It's easy to see how SBBT implies a starting point a finite number of years ago: Observation shows us that our universe is finite in size. And we can calculate the rate of expansion of our universe by observing the speed at which other galaxies are moving away from our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
Picture a balloon with little dots all over it. As you inflate the balloon, every dot gets farther away from every other dot. You can determine the rate you're inflating the balloon by picking one dot (call it Home), then measuing how quickly all the nearby dots are receding from Home.
Anyway, with those two parameters -- the current radius and the rate of expansion -- it's a simple mathematical exercise to "run the movie backwards," and see how long ago it is since the radius of the entire universe was zero. That, then, is how long ago the Big Bang occurred.
But what about these "past-expanded" BBTs? What kinds of universes do we have to imagine? Let's take the easiest one first.
I'll write more about the actual argument Father Spitzer makes in later posts. For right now, I just want to introduce the various conceptualizations of "past-expanded" Multiverses that cosmologists discuss. Starting with...
Picture a universe very much like ours; but in this universe, there is enough matter that eventually gravity will slow the expansion, slower and slower, until finally the universe stops expanding altogether -- and begins a slow and stately collapse. (As best astronomers can determine, this does not describe our own universe, where expansion is not slowing. Take this as a hypothetical.)
The collapse gets faster and faster, until finally all matter and energy, space and time come crashing together in what cosmologists call the Big Crunch. In the end, we are left with a point of zero-radius that contains the entire universe... which then, at some point, explodes outward with another Big Bang, starting the cycle all over again.
This occurs over and over for an indeterminate number of times, either a very, very large finite number of cycles, or else an infinite number of cycles. We must ask three questions about such a Multiverse in order to determine whether it implies a designer or creator:
- Is it possible for such a Multiverse to have already cycled an infinite number of times in the past?
If Yes, then out of that infinity of universes (one for each cycle), we should see plenty of life-friendly universes emerge through sheer, random chance. End of discussion; we cannot conclude that the existence of a life-friendly universe means anything at all, and certainly not a creator or designer. (If you deal an infinite number of poker hands, you'll necessarily get an infinite number of royal flushes... no stacking the deck required.)
- But even if an infinite past of cycles is not possible -- meaning there is a beginning point to this cyclic Multiverse -- is that start point be so long in the past, has enough time elapsed, have enough universes emerged, that it's still plausible that one of those universes could have randomly achieved life-friendly physical constants?
Sticking with our analogy, you don't need an infinite number of poker hands. The odds of dealing yourself a royal flush are about 1 out of 650,000; if you deal 50 million hands -- each time shuffling the deck, then dealing five cards off the top -- it's almost dead certain you'll get a royal flush... in fact many royal flushes. But as big as 50 million is, it's still a finite number.
Of course, it would take a very long time to deal that many hands; at five seconds per hand with no rest periods, it would take almost eight years. So how long for a random universe to emerge that is capable of supporting life? Physicists believe the time required would be much, much longer than the full expected lifespan of our universe, from its birth in the Big Bang to its heat death, when entropy is universal and complete. So much longer, in fact, that in comparison to the time required to randomly produce a mix of physical constants that would allow for life, the lifespan of our own single universe would be indistinguishable from zero.
That's a very, very long time... unreasonably long, as it turns out.
Here's a peek into a future post: The best physical estimates show that you cannot have that many Big Bangs. Each time you cycle, entropy increases; that is, more energy ends up in cosmic background radiation and less in stars and planets and such with each successive universe; every new universe is closer to heat death than its predecessors.
Long before you could "deal yourself" enough universes to get one that supports life, the entire cyclical Multiverse would have "bottomed out," reached the point of maximal entropy. And at that point, the universe no longer collapses.
Thus most cosmologists believe that a cyclic Multiverse cannot run long enough to produce a life-friendly universe by random chance; so if our own, observably life-friendly universe is part of such a chain of universes book-ended by successive Big Bangs and Big Crunches, the physical constants are not being generated by random chance: As above, something or somebody is stacking the emergence deck.
But we still cannot conclude that it's a "somebody," not a "something," because there is yet another possible explanation for the non-randomness of physical constants and the bias towards life-friendly universes:
- If the cyclic Multiverse sits within a larger "Metaverse," and if that Metaverse has its own rules and physical laws... do those external laws limit or constrain the possible values of the physical constants, so that it's much more probable that life-friendly universes will form than we have been imagining? In other words, is the emergence of life-friendliness driven by the physical laws of the Metaverse, such that the emergence of life-friendliness is not a random function?
In your hometown, you have probably noticed a curious phenomenon that appears not to be altogether random: Over a six-month period, temperatures tend to get warmer and warmer; but then, over the next six-month period, they tend to get cooler and cooler. Clearly this is not random; if temperatures changed entirely by random, you would expect periods of several years of hotness, followed perhaps by a cooling period of only six days, before things start to heat up again.
It's tempting to conclude that the Temperature Gods simply like to make the thermometer go up and down in a fairly regular fashion. But there is an alternative explanation: Your hometown sits within a larger system -- planet Earth, whose axis tilts with respect to its orbit around our sun, Sol.
As a result of this entirely natural cause, half the year your hometown is tilting towards Sol, while the other half it's tilting away. This explains the phenomena of summer and winter, respectively... with no anthropomorphic, intelligent deity required.
So even if we conclude that life-friendly universes can only emerge from a cyclic Multiverse via non-random processes, that still doesn't mean we have found our proof of God: It's possible there are other, purely natural (not supernatural) causes of non-randomosity.
Review the key points of a physical argument for God:
- There are many more imaginable life-unfriendly universes than life-friendly universes.
- So the odds of any one, specific universe being life friendly are vanishingly small.
- But we know at least one has emerged, because we're sitting in it.
- With literally infinite time, all possible universes, including the life-friendly ones, will eventually emerge, even by random chance.
- Assume finite time, and a relatively short finite time at that; then the odds of any life-friendly universe ever emerging through random chance are also vanishingly small.
- Putting (3) and (5) together implies that our own universe (at least!) was initiated by non-random processes.
- And that non-randomness makes it plausible, at least, to argue that our universe was created or designed by an intelligent being. (To discharge our assumption in (5), we must add, If only a finite, relatively short period of time has been available for universes to emerge.)
(And remember likewise that commenter Nerys Ghemor is correct: These teleological debates are all versions of the "God of the gaps" argument: Science can't explain X at this moment, so X must have been ordained by God.
(However, these physical conjectures sit at a much more sophisticated level than, e.g., Michael Behe's "intelligent design" foolishness. The Spitzer conjectures invoke what appear to be universal physical constraints, such as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, Einstein's General Relativity, and the stochastic nature of quantum mechanics, rather than the "known unknown" (to use Donald Rumsfeld's wonderful phrase) of the exact mechanism of some otherwise plausible sequence of events, like the evolution of the eye or the bacterial flagella. If the Spitzer conjecture is to fail, it must do so due to unknown unknowns, not known unknowns.)
The next two types of Multiverse we'll poke around in are (a) a Multiverse like an ocean filled with bubbles, where each bubble is a separate universe; and (b) a Multiverse comprising many more dimensions than the four we can detect (three spatial dimensions, plus the dimension of time, or duration); each universe is a "membrane," or spatial cross-section of some smaller number of dimensions within the larger-dimension Multiverse.
This kind of Multiverse has many other membranes (which impatient physicists call "branes"), and they can flutter around in the Multiverse and bang into each other, with catastrophic results for inhabitants.
More later, as I become inspired (i.e., less lazy than usual).
Date ►►► October 23, 2010
Waiting for Godot in All the Wrong Places part Alef
This post inaugurates -- I was tempted to type "christens" -- an unbounded series of brief posts exploring the ideas presented in a book published this year titled New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, by Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D., a Jesuit priest and doctor of philosophy.
I have always been fascinated by the topic of teleology, the argument that observable coherence, coincidence, and order in the universe cannot be accidental; that the many coincidences are in fact synchronicities forming a design that implies a designer... in other words, a theistic deity. That is the overarching tack taken by Spitzer in this book; he uses contemporary physics to argue two essential points:
- The universe has a begining, which occurred a finite time ago.
- The sheer improbability that various physical constants of the universe would so arrange themselves, by random chance, as to make life of any kind possible implies instead a Master Designer creating the universe precisely to bring about life.
The teleological argument fascinates... and yet frustrates: The former because I am a true agnostic; I don't know whether God exists, but I accept that the question is fundamental to all ethics and morality; and the latter because every proof I have studied eventually flounders, and nearly all for the same reason. At some point, physics always gives way to metaphysics, accompanied by a glorious abandonment of all epistemology. In other words, at some point, every argument devolves into, "But of course that proves God exists, as any fool can see!"
Yes; any fool.
My problem is that I studied mathematics for many years, earning a B.A. and M.A. in the field... which means I have an intuitive grasp of the structure of mathematical syllogisms, lemmas, and theorems; when that structure is violated by some supposed proof, alarm bells go off inside my skull, and I begin writing circles and lines and paragraphs in the margins explaining why the putative "proof" has just gone phooey.
I just began reading, reaching page 25; as I peramulate and percolate through the book, I shall periodically drop a postcard into Big Lizards, giving my impressions of Spitzer's arguments. So far, all he has done is assert Point 1 above: That in the Standard Big Bang Model, the universe, including space and time, has a distinct beginning about 13.7 billion years ago (13.7 Ba or Ga, the nomenclature is in flux) -- which I certainly buy; that's what I was always taught it said. He also posits that in three different alternative Big Bang Models, the same Point 1 is also true; but I can say nothing so far, because I'm not familiar with these alternative models for the Big Bang, and we haven't journeyed far enough into the book for me to pass judgment.
We haven't yet gotten to Point 2, that the improbability of life-friendly physical constants implies a supernatural creator. That's the one I'm most interested in. (You can see how Point 2 depends critically upon Point 1: Time itself must be finite, because in infinite Time, any possibility, no matter how improbable, will occur.)
That's all for this post. Keep watching the skies, keep watching the skies!
Date ►►► October 21, 2010
Everything Inside the Party; Nothing Outside the Party; Nothing Against the Party
I have but one comment on NPR -- National Public Radio, a federal funding recipient -- firing Juan Williams; the regular aspects of the shameful episode have been well covered by both media and the blogosphere.
I do not believe Williams was fired for saying anything politically incorrect, because he did not say anything politically incorrect: There's nothing anti-PC about saying that when he sees Moslems board an airplane in full Moslem regalia, he feels nervous... not if he subsequently says (or even implies) that he feels bad that he feels that way, and he doesn't believe all Moslems, the entire class of followers of Islam, are to blame for the actions of radical Islamists.
So why was he fired? It wasn't what he said on Fox News Channel (FNC), it was the fact that he persisted in appearing on Fox News at all, and especially on Bill O'Reilly's show. Williams' appearances put the lie to the idea that FNC is exclusively "right wing," refute the idea that conservatives (or socially conservative economic populists, in O'Reilly's case) reject freedom of speech, and debunk the idea that Fox News is racist. Williams' frequent inclusions on panels, guesting, and even guest hosting on FNC humanize that cable channel and cause the liberal faithful to think more highly of it -- and conversely, to think the less of President Barack H. Obama for so viciously and remorselessly attacking it.
In other words, Juan Williams was fired for giving aid and comfort to "the enemy"... because NPR and other liberal bastions have always considered themselves at war with the Right. He violated the cardinal epistemic closure demanded by the Left: Williams treated the Right as human beings, and worse, as people.
The Right wants to argue the Left into agreement; the Left wants to bury the Right, by any means necessary. Thus became it necessary to throw Juan Williams under the bus: He had strayed off the reservation; and it fell to the Overseer, Vivian Schiller, the CEO of NPR, to teach the runaway a lesson. A good, hard lesson, pour le découragement des autres.
Date ►►► October 19, 2010
"Not Responsible for Advice Not Taken"
Credit where it's due: That phrase is one of Larry Niven's favorite sayings. (I don't know whether he made it up or heard it somewhere.)
The advice in this case comes from many economists, including Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, and I'm sure Milton Friedman and Henry Hazlitt had something to say about it: The real-world effect of minimum-wage laws is not to raise incomes -- but to depress employment, thus killing the incomes of the very people the Left purports to protect.
The classical theory is pretty clear: What you subsize, you get more of; what you tax, you get less of. Suppose you're an employer, and you need to hire some guys... for example, teenagers to work in your pizza joint. Taking into account your profit margin, your customer base, and your competition, you determine each employee is worth, say, $5 per hour. But then the Feds -- or more often, your state -- decides that in order to preserve the "dignity of labor," it must impose a minimum wage of, say, $8 per hour (California's rate).
The difference of $3 per hour constitutes the economic equivalent of a 60% tax on labor: By making each worker 60% more expensive than he otherwise would be, the minimum-wage law reduces employment: Where you planned to hire four employees for an extra $20 per hour total, now that same $20 will only buy you two and a half employees... which translates either to two employees instead of four, each stretched pretty thin; or else three employees, and your profit margin (never very high) goes out the window. In either case, you get a significant increase in unemployment, especially among teenaged workers, low-income workers, and low-skilled workers... the very people the law ostensibly is designed to protect and support.
(The labor costs even for higher-paid workers also increases, as many union contracts mandate salaries of all unionized employees at some fixed multiple of the minimum wage.)
That's the classical theory; but a handful of studies by more "progressive" economists in the Clinton 1990s purported to show that decades of classical theory were wrong... and in fact, minimum wage laws and increasing the minimum wage were either neutral on employment -- or actually increased employment! Wow, we could have our tax and eat it, too.
Authors studied several minimum-wage increases in this or that state, compared them to nearby states, and concluded that no evidence showed increased unemployment in the states whose minimum wage had risen, relative to those states whose minimum wage had remained the same.
But during this last decade of the oughts, grave doubt has been cast on these recent studies by even newer research. The basic criticism, I believe, is sound: The question about minimum-wage laws is not whether they exist, but whether a particular minimum is "effective" at raising wages significantly: If not, then employers can absorb the minor cost increase and make it up in other ways; but when it is, when the increase is too big to skirt, then classical theory kicks in and employment drops.
And of course, if a minimum wage increase is too small to significantly impact wages -- then what's the point, exactly?
Suppose you decide to hire those four employees at $5 per hour; but then the government imposes a minimum wage -- of $5.15 per hour, a 3% increase over what you expected to pay. That means instead of a direct labor increase of $20 per hour for your four new employees, you must pay $20.60.
But with a difference of only sixty cents per hour total, you can probably still hire all four employees; you'll just raise prices by 3% or so to make up for it, or you'll slightly decrease the hours your employees work, or some other substitution for not hiring.
But if the minimum wage is raised significantly more, then you can no longer pass the cost along to customers or just make everybody work less; there's not enough slack to stretch that far. Your only option is to cut back employment, which means cutting back services, which means a gigantic slowdown in the economy.
So why did research back in the 90s find what they found? Because, as it happens, states don't normally make drastic, overnight increases in the minimum wage; so the studies were looking at reasonably small increases over the prevailing wage -- which, not surprisingly, did not always cause statistically significant increases in unemployment. Still, it would be nice to have a case study proving what seems obvious in the classical theory: Make labor expensive enough, and business will significantly reduce employment.
What we really need in order to test the classical theory is to have a much more drastic wage increase mandated by government, then see whether that does or does not send the unemployment rate skyrocketing; but such an experiment could be so grotesquely destructive of the economy that nobody but a complete idiot or a madman would champion such a scheme.
Cue the Democratic Congress elected in 2006.
One of the first orders of business of the 110th United States Congress, which took office on January 3rd, 2007, was to raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour, a 40.8% increase, in three stages of 70 cents each: up to $5.85 in 2007, to $6.55 the next year, and the full $7.25 in 2009.
Coincidentally, the U.S. unemployment rate rose from 4.6% in January, 2007 to 4.9% one year later (an increase of 6.5%); then up to 7.6% by January, 2009 (an increase of 55%); then to 9.7% this last January (another 28% increase), where it has more or less stayed all year. The total increase in unemployment under the Democratic Congress has been 108.7%.
Obviously, you can't attribute the entire surge in unemployment on the drastic increase in the minimum wage; but circumstantial evidence certainly makes it seem likely that the policy must shoulder at least some of the blame. ("Not responsible for advice not taken.")
But the effect of minimum-wage laws can be seen even more transparently when minimum wages designed for the First-World United States are applied, willy-nilly, to its effectively Third-World territories. One of the other provisions of the Democrats' minimum-wage debacle in 2007 was to force the same rule to apply to American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
As Walter Williams notes, prior to the 110th Congress, the minimum wage in American Samoa was $3.26 per hour; thus the Democratic scheme to increase wages to a minimum of $7.25 per hour amounted to a 122.4% "raise" for all workers in that territory. Surprise, surprise, even though the law is being phased in at fifty cents per hour per year (slightly slower than in the United States) and hasn't gotten anywhere near the looming peak, the net result has been to devastate the Samoan economy, particularly the tuna canneries:
Chicken of the Sea International moved its operation from Samoa to a highly automated cannery plant in Lyon, Georgia. That resulted in roughly 2,000 jobs lost in Samoa and a gain of 200 jobs in Georgia.
Given Samoa's low cost of living, $3.26 provided Samoan workers a higher standard of living than some of their neighbors on other islands. Now these workers are unemployed. What's worse is that Starkist, Chicken of the Sea's competitor, might leave the island as well. If that happens, increases in the minimum wage will have cost more than 8,000 jobs in Samoa's canneries and related industries; that's nearly half of its labor force.
And now, the Democrat-induced extreme labor surplus in Samoa has become so glaringly obvious, even the Democratic Congress has (reluctantly) noticed and been forced (even more reluctantly) to undo its own "progressive" scheme:
Just three years after a Democrat-led Congress imposed the federal minimum wage on two U.S. territories in the Pacific, lawmakers last month halted the program in its tracks, acknowledging the move had sapped thousands of jobs from American Samoa and the commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The two-year delay in the case of American Samoa and one-year reprieve for the Northern Mariana Islands was imposed even as both parties have sparred over the effects of the minimum wage in the U.S. during the troubled economy.
"We said this increase would be harmful in 2007, and the Democrats did it anyway," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican. "It proves our point that the federal government setting wage rates is destructive to job creation, whether it's in American Samoa or western North Carolina."
So it appears that classical economics theory is still valid; not even so eminent a liberal as the One We Had Supposedly Been Awaiting All This Time can repeal the basic relationship between marginal cost and supply and demand, of labor or any other commodity: By making labor more expensive, you reduce its demand and therefore increase unemployment. And the more expensive you make labor, the higher you drive unemployment (take a long look at Europe).
I believe the experience of the last few years of Democratic control of Congress and (after the 2008 election catastrophe) the White House should cause even ultra-liberal economists, such as Paul Krugman, to rethink their tendentious rejection of any linkage between (a) increasing the cost of doing business, and (b) decreasing the amount of business being done... and in particular their risible contention that increasing the cost of labor actually reduces unemployment.
But I would put the odds that even the hardest reality can penetrate the liberal-progressive-socialist body armor of faith-based ideology at somewhere south of zero. Perhaps instead of teaching college students the joys of Keynesian economics -- or worse, Alinskyism -- universities should make every student read and pass a comprehension test on the classic sociology book When Prophecy Fails, chronicling how true believers in a UFO cult react when their date for the end of the world comes and goes, but Earth abides.
(Study hint: A few cultists peeled off, but most not only remained they picked a newer, later date for world destruction -- and redoubled their efforts to proselytize for new members! Sound familiar?)
Date ►►► October 15, 2010
The Anti-Conservative Reader - UPDATED
See update below.
Most people who call themselves "libertarians" are actually were-liberals: They strut and preen about their devotion to small-L libertarianism; but every November of an even-numbered year, they step into the ballot booth and turn into Democrats.
This supermajority -- I would guess around 90% of putative "libertarians" -- are better called libertines... their "libertarianism" encompasses only their right to do anything they want, with no corresponding duty to bring about or defend the very institutions that preserve those rights for themselves and others.
To the were-liberal, his right to indulge himself floats on air, unsupported by any hard work or unpleasant responsibility for defending other rights for other people.
So what about the other 10% of self-dubbed libertarians, the ones who are not were-liberals? I might call them intellectual libertarians, but a less quotidian phrase might be "Spockian libertarians" -- which allows me to reintroduce my infamous neologisms, Spockian and Bonesian. They're named after the original Star Trek characters First Officer Spock, a Vulcan who believes in pure logic, and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, a human doctor who is as emotional as Aunt Bee, if a skosh craggier. Pure Spockians would be hyperrational, if they existed, immune to emotion. sentiment, and feelings of every sort; while pure Bonesians would be hyperemotional, unable to parse the simplest logical syllogism. In reality, everyone lands somewhere on the Spockian-Bonesian axis, but almost nobody is purely one or the other.
A Spockian libertarian derives his libertarianism primarily from rational argument based upon bedrock principles of liberty, individualism, property, and Capitalism, rather than personal indulgence or libertine desires... the mirror-mirror image of his counterpart on the Bonesian side, whom we have already described.
Fast forward to the issue of the day: California's Proposition 19, which would legalize (under state law) the possession, cultivation, and transportation of marijuana for personal use and allow the state to regulate and tax marijuana transactions. The were-liberal supports drug legalization not because of rational argument firmly grounded in a principle of liberty, but because he wants to smoke dope and party like it's (still) 1999. He could not care less about, e.g., our right to purchase painkillers without having to get a permission slip (a prescription) from the government... unless he was himself in pain; he would shrug off our right to purchase asthma medicine, unless he had asthma. I think you get the drift.
But I am a Spockian libertarian; so when I talk about drug legalization, I primarily mean getting rid of the entire statist apparatus of doling out permission to buy medicine through an elaborate system of drug controls, from "over the counter" (OTC) to "prescription required" to "controlled substance" to "banned substance;" as a sideshow, I would include so-called "recreational" drugs.
(The only exception I make is for antibiotics, the promiscuous overuse of which can evolve highly resistant superbacteria, leading to a pandemic that wipes out a huge portion of the population. It's the epidemiological equivalent of allowing people to store high explosives in apartments and condos: It creates an unreasonable risk to a population that has no control over it, indeed no way even to know the danger is present.)
So of course, I am voting yes on Prop 19; as limited and flawed as it is, it's a step rightwards.
Even if there were no practical argument in favor of drug legalization, I would still support it on grounds of personal liberty; if we own anything, we own our own bodies. If we have any right, we have the right to purchase the level of health care we can afford, without regard to whether the State approves. At its strongest, a "prescription" should be just what the word means: a suggestion from a doctor or pharmacist that a particular medicine would help your condition. As a free adult individual, the decision whether to use it should be expressed as a pure commercial transaction between you and the seller.
But as it happens, there are also practical arguments; for example, a new study by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center strongly supports the Spockian-libertarian position -- though you would never guess it by how it has been spun by the national news purveyors. Many on both Left and Right are caricaturing the study, for purely tendentious reasons, as showing the polar opposite of what it actually shows. In particular, nearly all conservatives want the government to control our drugs for exactly the same patronizing, nanny-state reason that liberals want the government to control our money: because they refuse to trust free individuals to make their own choices and abide by the consequences.
The Spockian-libertarian argument is made thus:
- Legalizing banned drugs would suck the air out of the black market in those drugs.
- That would remove the profit motive for criminal gangs to manufacture and distribute those drugs.
- That would defund criminal enterprises around the world, to some extent at least.
- To the extent of the illegal market loss, defunding criminal enterprises would decrease and limit their capacity to commit violence, terror, and robbery against the rest of us.
So what did the RAND study find? Results are mixed; but properly interpreted, they do support the thesis. Let's start with the media spin, which has been picked up by conservatives who otherwise reject nearly everything in the mainstream media out of hand:
Mexico's drug traffickers are likely to lose customers in America's largest pot consuming state if California legalizes marijuana, but they won't lose much money overall because California's residents already prefer to grow their own, according to a study released Tuesday.
That means the proposal on the state's November ballot to legalize marijuana also will do little to quell the drug gangs' violent and sophisticated organizations that generate billions of dollars a year, according to the study by the nonpartisan RAND Drug Policy Research Center.
Let's zoom in: The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Proposition 19 alone, by itself, will do little to impact the profits extracted by the Mexican drug cartels from worldwide drug distribution. This is an obvious but trivial finding; clearly legalizing drugs in one state while keeping them illegal in the other 49 isn't going to have much of an impact. Add to this the fact that California marijiana users, uniquely among the states in the southwestern region of the U.S., prefer either to grow their own or buy from marijuana farmers in the local area; thus California is the state least likely to be able to affect criminal profits by legalizing marijuana, for reasons having nothing to do with the efficacy of legalizing marijuana itself.
But that's not the point, is it? The question is not whether this one citizens' initiative can have a big impact on worldwide sales; the real conundrum is whether drug-cartel profits depend upon the drug in question being illegal. I say it does -- and the RAND report appears to agree; see the actual RAND study itself, on page 19 (page 35 of the PDF):
We believe that legalizing marijuana in California would effectively eliminate Mexican DTOs’ [Drug Trafficking Organizations] revenues from supplying Mexican-grown marijuana to the California market. As we elaborate in this chapter, even with taxes, legally produced marijuana would likely cost no more than would illegal marijuana from Mexico and would cost less than half as much per unit of THC (Kilmer, Caulkins, Pacula, et al., 2010). Thus, the needs of the California market would be supplied by the new legal industry. While, in theory, some DTO employees might choose to work in the legal marijuana industry, they would not be able to generate unusual profits, nor be able to draw on talents that are particular to a criminal organization.
We also believe that Mexican DTOs would eventually lose all revenue stemming from the selling of Mexican marijuana to underage users in California. When it becomes possible in California for anyone over the age of 21 to provide juveniles with marijuana that is cheaper, better, and subject to more quality control, Mexican DTOs will have no more competitive advantage than they would trying to sell alcohol and cigarettes to California youth today.
That is, by legalizing marijuana in California, we would "effectively eliminate" all the revenue the Mexican drug cartels reap from selling marijuana in California. While this isn't completely dispositive, it certainly suggests that legalizing marijuana throughout the United States (at both state and federal levels) would "effectively elminate" all DTO revenue from supplying Mexican-grown marijuana to the entire American market.
The California marijuana market is about 3% of the drug cartels' revenue; but RAND estimates the entire American marijuana market is closer to 20% of their revenue. And if you include all other currently illegal drugs, that should eliminate just about 100% of the revenue from illegal drug sales in the United States, by definition.
Clearly, legalizing marijuana in California would also eliminate drug revenue going to criminal gangs within California; by analogy, there is virtually no profit selling bootleg liquor when liquor is already legal and readily available in grocery stores and pharmacies.
This leads to our first reasonably strong conclusion: Legalizing marijuana throughout the United States would defund criminal gangs worldwide of whatever revenue they reap from illegal sales of marijuana in the United States.
And a once-removed conclusion that is still fairly strong, in light of the RAND study: Legalizing all currently banned drugs (drugs on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act) across the United States would virtually eliminate the profit from selling Schedule I drugs illegally in the United States.
This argument is not the end of the story, of course; it's logically possible that the downside of legalization could outweight the upside. But the RAND study strongly implies that there is an "upside," which many conservatives (and many non-radical liberals) have persistently denied, rejecting even the theory that legalizing a substance would gut the profit that criminal enterprises derive from illegal sales of that substance.
Now that it seems clear that there are at least two sides, it behooves us to ponder both and form a rational conclusion whether, as a purely practical matter without moral implications, legalizing drugs -- and returning prescriptions to the suggestions they were meant to be, not the restrictions they've metastasized into -- is on the whole good for our society or bad for it.
Coupled with the moral argument of individual liberty, I land on the side of near-complete legalization of all drugs on all schedules I through V and every other controlled substance... excepting only those pesky antibiotics.
Yet one more proof of what I have said ever since this blog began: I am not a conservative; I am an anti-liberal. And I can be an anti-conservative as well, when they elevate the conservation of social convention above our sacred principle of maximal human liberty consonant with the conservation of our society itself.
UPDATE: It was never my intent to exhaustively catalog all the practical arguments in favor of drug legalization; but commenter Mdgiles reminds me that I should at least mention one glaringly obvious one: The money we save because we don't have to spend tens of billions of dollars on special anti-drug police task forces, incarceration of whatever percent of prisoners are locked up solely because of violation of narcotics laws (not as high as many people think), and the cost of prosecution and investigation of such cases... all money pounded down the rathole of prohibition enforcement.
In addition, I should highlight a couple of other practical benefits:
- The tax base wil widen with the addition of an entire sub-industry that currently pays no taxes, as it is completely underground.
- And we can end many of the tyrannical law-enforcement tactics, such as:
- Asset forfeiture laws that seize property used to commit drug crimes, even when the owner of the property is completely innocent of those crimes (the State prosecutes the property itself, rather than the owner -- so it argues it's not a "taking" under the Constitution);
- Commando-style police raids that sometimes kill innocent people;
- Sentences that can be grossly disproportionate to the crime committed;
- And even laws that turn ordinary people into "drug criminals," because some bureaucrat has decided that a person with cancer, say, only needs this much painkiller, not that much.
On the other side of the ledger, some argue that costs of rehabilitation and hospitalization will increase; that productivity will drop at work; and that more children will be stoned at school. But each of these risks follows from the shaky assumption that if drugs are legalized, many more people (and many more children) will use them.
I find that argument very unpersuasive; drugs are already widely available to anyone who wants them and have been for decades, and there is no guarantee the cost of legalized Schedule I drugs will drop significantly. But even with lowered cost, if the market is already saturated, then drug use would not increase significantly: The idea that the only reason most people don't use heroin or cocaine is that it's illegal is colossally offensive to individual liberty... it's like saying the only reason most men aren't rapists is that they don't want to go to jail.
If a person truly believes that, he is a socialist; he believes that the government is the only source of morality. I categorically reject the socialist theory of citizens as infants who must be coddled, molded, and forever controlled by a centralized, totalitarian authority.
Date ►►► October 13, 2010
Meg Whitman vs. Jerry Brown - Steel-Cage Smackdown
In a wide-ranging, freewheeling debate last night between the two candidates for governor of California -- Attorney General and former Gov. Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown (Democrat) and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (Republican) -- each disputant made one major gaffe; but Brown's was worse than Whitman's, in my opinion.
Too, Whitman was overall more focused and on-message, more believable, and more coherent by a long shot. Brown by contrast rambled on like your crazy uncle who lives in the basement, hurling out incomprehensible numbers so rapidly that even I, who follow politics like a fiend, couldn't follow him. Half the time, I had no idea what the heck he was even talking about.
NBC anchor and ultra-liberal Democrat Tom Brokaw actually did a pretty good job of being even-handed this time; I have a feeling even he and his cohorts are rather skeptical of another term for Mr. Brown. But Brokaw lost control frequently, as each candidate ignored Brokaw's attempts to move on to the next question and instead persisted in responding to what his opponent said. I applaud this; I'm much more interested in follow-up As between the candidates than in listening to Brokaw's carefully stage-managed laundry list of Qs.
I cannot imagine that Jerry Brown did himself any good with this debate. For one thing, Whitman was the clear aggressor; she was on offence, leaving Brown to play defense. (Very defensively: Brown's shocked look, as he peered left and right whenever she attacked his record or his campaign proposals -- What... me? You're mean me? -- was simply priceless!)
But Whitman certainly regained the aura of leadership that she held before the first debate, which I didn't see (it wasn't broadcast, only webcast). Once polls finally start flowing here in the Golden State, I expect we'll see Whitman moving up at Brown's expense.
But let's get to the juicy stuff...
The gaffes - Whitman flubs the whore shot
Brokaw brought up the "whore" incident... and I expect I must explain exactly what that was:
Background: Both Brown and Whitman had been seeking the support of police and fire-fighter unions, but Whitman got all but one of them. In particular, both campaigns went after the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
Whitman is pushing for reform of public-employee union pensions, which are bankrupting California (and many other states); she wants to switch those pensions from defined benefit funds -- where a specific, dollar-amount monthly pension is awarded after retirement -- to defined contribution funds, where the state contributes a specific amount to a 401K plan, to which the employee also contributes. The former leads to economic catastrophe, as the pensions rise and rise without limit, eventually eating up the entire state budget; but the latter are more manageable, with the state contribution being strictly limited.
So Whitman wants to switch to defined contribution for future hires; but she makes an exception for police and firefighters (about 25% of public retirees) -- on grounds, she says, that they put their lives on the line every day for Californios.
About a week or so ago, Brown called up the LAPPL, hoping for an endorsement; he got voicemail and left his pitch. But either he or a staffer inexpertly hung up the phone, and an ensuing lively conversation among Brown and his campaign workers was recorded for posterity on the LAPPL's answering machine.
In the course of that discussion, some still unknown (or at least unrevealed) person suggested calling Meg Whitman a "whore" because she had agreed to support a "defined benefit" pension fund for police and fire pensions. One presumes the caller meant the term in the sense of "will change her position for money;" but the word certainly has a very nasty connotation when applied to a particular woman.
Since the Police Protective League had already decided to endorse Meg Whitman instead, because she would crack down harder on crime and criminals, they decided to share the unintended recording with various newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly.
So as I said, Tom Brokaw asked about the "whore" comment, which he called the "hundred thousand pound gorilla in the room," during the debate. Specifically, Brokaw asked Brown whether the word "whore," applied to a woman, was as bad as the N-word applied to a black person. After a half-apology, Brown dismissed the comparison -- eliciting loud moans throughout the audience; at that point, the crowd was thoroughly on Whitman's side, and she could have hammered the point home.
But then Brown turned the tables, demanding to know whether Whitman had reprimanded her campaign chairman, former Gov. Pete Wilson, for calling Congress generally a passle of whores. Evidently caught off guard, Whitman responded very lamely: "Now you know that's a completely different thing," she said (to the best of my recollection).
This immediately flipped the audience against her; they hooted derisively. In the end, I think it became a neutral issue, rather than hurting Brown.
What should she had said? I have a much better answer... and had she been prepared for the countercharge, I suspect she would have thought of this as well. I would have advised her to say the following:
Because it really is different, of course, to talk about a parliament of whores than it is to point at a particular woman and call her, personally a whore. If you're interested (and even if you aren't!), here is the 1995 Pete Wilson comment in context, followed by the Brown campaign worker's comment in full:
After learning that a federal judge had ruled California might be liable for up to $500 million in damages over its issuance of IOUs during a budget crisis in 1992, [Gov. Pete] Wilson lashed out at Congress for having approved the Depression-era Fair Labor Practices Act.
"I don't blame the judge; he is interpreting the law," Wilson said during a speech before the National Association of Wholesalers Wednesday. "I blame the Congress for being such whores to public employees unions that they would pass that kind of legislation."
And the Brown campaigner:
In the call recorded by the Los Angeles Police Protective League (which sent the audio to the Weekly and other outlets), Brown seems frustrated by pressure to vow to protect law enforcement pensions at a time when such benefits are under scrutiny for the heavy burden they place on taxpayers.
" ... I have been warned if I crack down on pensions ... they'll go to Whitman, and that's where they'll go because they know Whitman will give 'em ... a deal, but I won't," Brown said.
His associate then says, "What about saying she's a whore?"
Brown declines the offer to colorfully portray Whitman in television as a patsy to the police unions.
The gaffes - Brown's Homer-Simpson moment
Jerry Brown performed his own interpretation of one of those scenes where Homer is thinking the truth and telling a fib, but he gets mixed up and accidentally thinks the fib and tells the truth instead.
Whitman had hit Brown several times with the fact that the police and firefighter unions were all supporting her, while the other, less savory public-employee unions were all financing Jerry Brown's campaign -- and incidentally paying for the "independent" attack ads against Whitman.
Brown objected strenuously, trotting out his endorsement by the California Police Chiefs Association. Now bear in mind, police chiefs are not the same as police officers; in fact, police chiefs (or police commissioners) often aren't even police officers at all, and may never have served for a single day on the streets. They are politicians appointed by other politicians (mayors, city councils) to supply civilian control to the police department.
Even when the police chief is an actual cop, he has generally long since ceased doing real police work, becoming an administrator instead; and he is never picked for his policing ability but rather for purely political reasons. So it's no surprise that the CPCA and the LAPPL are often at odds with each other... for example, when the Los Angeles Police Department's Chief of Police throws rank-and-file officers under the bus over an excessive-force accusation, rather than defending the cops.
Anyway, Jerry Brown objected to Whitman saying she had the support of police and firefighters; he wanted to say he has the backing of the chiefs of police, but it didn't quite come out that way:
Brown, meaning to say “I’ve got the police chiefs’ backing,” instead started “I’ve got the police chiefs in my back [...]” before pausing to correct himself. Whitman interrupted, laughing as she said, “I think he said he’s got the police chiefs in his back pocket.”
While I don't think such minor gaffes generally make much of a difference in a race (there are exceptions, such as President Gerald Ford misspeaking in a debate, saying that Poland wasn't dominated by the Soviet Union), I nevertheless believe that Brown's gaffe was much worse than Whitman's: She only said that calling a group of people "whores" was not the same thing as calling a specific individual woman a whore; this is true, even if it sounds a little trite, in the absence of explanation.
But Brown inadvertently blurted out a deep truth: He has the police chiefs, and indeed the non-security-related public-employee unions, in his back pocket... and more sinisterly, they have him in theirs.
This plays directly into one of Whitman's campaign themes, that Brown is beholden to all the various left-liberal money machines who paid for his campaign; and he will do their bidding if he gets back into the governor's mansion. By contrast, Whitman's self-funded campaign leaves her independent of the special interests, owing nothing to anybody but the California voters.
Democratic partisans swear that Brown delivered a "TKO" to Whitman in this debate; Republicans say she mopped the floor with him. But bottom line, as best I can call it, folks who are actually deciding who to vote for on the basis of this debate are much more likely to swing to Meg "Glam With a Plan" Whitman than to Jerry "Crazy Uncle" Brown.
I suspect that isn't very many people... but in a race this close -- Brown is ahead by 5.33% in the RCP average -- even a small number of people landing on Whitman's side can give her the victory. But we really can't tell much; inexplicably, there hasn't been a poll released in either this race or the California U.S. Senate race in nine days, just 20 days out from the election.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
Date ►►► October 12, 2010
(The title uses the portmanteau neologism "moggled," which I take to mean a combination of muddled and boggled. But should I know? It's not like I just made it up, you know.)
Two stories related to the Middle Kingdom, a.k.a. the Country at the Center of the World, a.k.a. the People's Republic of China: We roll the stories side by side in a split-screen, and it gives us the perfect metaphor of the waning days of the American Left in full geshrei.
First we have this:
China on Monday blocked European officials from meeting with the wife of the jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner, cut off her phone communication and canceled meetings with Norwegian officials -- acting on its fury over the award.
As China retaliated, U.N. human rights experts called on Beijing to free imprisoned democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo, who was permitted a brief, tearful meeting with his wife Sunday.
Mr. Liu dedicated the award to the "lost souls" of the 1989 military crackdown on student demonstrators.
That last line refers to the Tiananmen Square Massacre, of course. For those too young to remember -- it shocks the memory to realize that butchery was 21 years ago -- here's a recap:
- Beginning on April 14th, 1989, students and others began crowding Tiananmen Square in Beijing, initially only to mourn the death (heart attack) of Hu Yaobang, who was both Chairman and Secretary General of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China, second only to PRC leader Deng Xiaoping. Hu was a "reformer," like Deng; but Deng and other officials thought he went too far to help those who had been persecuted and tortured during the so-called Cultural Revolution; he was too sympathetic to Tibetan independence; and he went too easy on students who had protested in 1986 for greater intellectual freedom... hence Hu was a hero of the Chinese student intelligensia. Hu was forced to resign in 1987 and died two years later.
- The funeral gathering in Tiananmen Square turned into a demonstration for liberty; ultimately 100,000 students crowded into the city square; they spilled over into the surrounding streets of Beijing, and other students held demonstrations and protests in many other Chinese cities.
- For seven weeks, the PRC allowed the demonstrations to continue -- one group even sculpted a makeshift imitation of the Statue of Liberty, which they called the Goddess of Democracy -- and many around the globe thought that China had finally turned a corner, as the Soviet Union had (though Russia seems to have turned three more corners and ended up back on Oppression Avenue). But then on May 20th, Deng declared martial law.
- However, demonstrators blocked the People's Liberation Army from entering the square; amazingly, the PLA refused to use military force to push their way in and withdrew four days later.
- The demonstrations continued. Subsequently, more army units were called in, many from outlying provinces, as the Politburo thought the PLA soldiers from the Beijing area were too sympathetic to the students.
- From June 1st-5th, demonstrators clashed with the army again, setting up barricades and hurling Molotov cocktails at the military vehicles. This time, the PLA responded by opening fire upon the crowd, ultimately killing between 800 and several thousand protesters, as well as many ordinary residents killed by wild shots striking nearby residential buildings. The complete death toll is unknown to this day.
- In case you're interested, the name Tian-an-Men translates to "the Gate of Heavenly Peace."
In one bizarre and amazing incident, an unknown man with a shopping bag stood in front of a column of tanks, blocking their entry into the square; when they tried to deviate around him, he scampered back in front of the column. Eventually he was grabbed by soldiers and hustled offstage, but not before creating one of the three most iconic news videos of the 1980s:
Man blocks tank column's entry into Tiananmen Square, June 5th 1989
(The other two are East and West Germans swarming over the Berlin wall with pickaxes in November of 1989, tearing it down chunk by chunk; and the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28th, 1986.)
Following the massacre, President George H.W. Bush signed the 1990 Foreign Relations Act that banned exports to China of military equipment, including the famed C-130 transport, which China wanted in order to transport troops around the far-flung countryside of the PRC, brute force to hold together the Chinese Communist empire. That ban has remained in effect through four U.S. presidential administrations.
Until today, that is; and that brings us to the second story in our Chinese finger-puzzle:
President Obama issued a waiver loosening Tiananmen arms sanctions for C-130 military transports for China a day after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to an imprisoned Chinese dissident who dedicated the prize this past weekend to the victims of the 1989 crackdown.
Chinese state-run news media on Monday hailed the White House waiver announcement as a sign Washington is moving to lift the 11-year-old arms embargo.
Well! The administration of President Barack H. Obama moved quickly to split hairs:
However, White House National Security Council spokesman Michael Hammer said the waiver issued on Saturday will not allow C-130s sales. "Under this announcement, we are not selling any aircraft to anyone," he stated in an e-mail.
I'm sure Mr. Hammer is correct: The sales won't take place until after the next announcement... probably after the November 2nd elections. But the message abides, even if it has yet to be translated into more concrete support for Chinese national and international oppression:
John Tkacik, a former State Department China affairs specialist, said the C-130 waiver and China's response appeared linked to Mr. Gates' visit to the region.
"It sends the wrong message to the Southeast Asians, its send the wrong message to the Chinese," Mr. Tkacik said. "We should not be encouraging the Chinese to have long-range air-lift capabilities for their military."
Regardless, the suspicious timing makes plain that lifting the C-130 ban was one of two things:
- Either the announcement was a deliberate attempt to support China in its "fury" at the Swedish Academy showing some spine for once and awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo -- who co-authored Charter 08 in December 2008, calling for democracy in the People's Republic of China, and was sentenced a year later to 11 years in prison and two years deprivation of political rights for "inciting subversion of state power" -- and who yesterday dedicated his award to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre...
- Or else it was another example of the colossal incompetence, kow-towing, and naïveté of this administration -- just a series of unfortunate events and meaningless coincidences!
The spectacle of this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner being slapped in the face by last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner -- and doesn't Obama's "victory" in 2009 look petty and ill-conceived now! -- is a perfect lead-in to the November elections. This is not your Grandma's Democratic Party; this is a Democratic Party so smitten by either internationalist socialism or anti-colonialism (take your pick) that it does everything in its power to diminish and disfigure the United States, transforming us into a vile lickspittle to every thuggish, totalitarian nation in the world... and at the same time, an international laughingstock. How proud we must all feel, now that our nation's leader has made a point of lifting his leg all over Liu Xiaobo.
Oh, my mistake; I'm afraid I talked about President Obama like he was a dog.
Date ►►► October 7, 2010
Portrait of Obama as a Kenyan Anti-Colonialist
This piece is a collaboration between Sachiko Yamada and Dafydd ab Hugh.
On September 18th, Forbes Magazine published a fascinating and very controversial article by Dinesh D'Souza: "Obama's Problem With Business." The subhead is a little more specific: "The President isn't exactly a socialist. So what's driving his hostility to private enterprise?"
The thesis -- that President Barack H. Obama is not a socialist but an anti-colonialist -- is startling; but the more one thinks about it, the more it seems to explain:
From a very young age and through his formative years Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.
For Obama, the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West. And here is where our anticolonial understanding of Obama really takes off, because it provides a vital key to explaining not only his major policy actions but also the little details that no other theory can adequately account for.
The White House tore into the D'Souzan article, but even more so into Forbes itself for daring to publish it, according to Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post (moving soon to the Daily Beast):
Dinesh D'Souza has drawn a torrent of criticism with a Forbes cover story that accuses President Obama of adopting "the cause of anti-colonialism" from his Kenyan father....
"It's a stunning thing, to see a publication you would see in a dentist's office, so lacking in truth and fact," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says in an interview. "I think it represents a new low."
Gibbs is meeting with Thursday afternoon with Forbes's Washington bureau chief, Brian Wingfield, to discuss his objections. "Did they not fact-check this at all, or did they fact-check it and just willfully ignore it?" he asks.
To which Forbes had a canny response:
The magazine would not make Editor-in-Chief Steve Forbes, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000, available for comment, or any other editor. The biweekly did issue a statement: "Dinesh D'Souza's cover story was presented as an analysis of how the president thinks. No facts are in contention. Forbes stands by the story."
Kurtz turns smuggish by proxy, concluding his hit piece with this:
Columbia Journalism Review this week called the D'Souza article "a fact-twisting, error-laden piece of paranoia" and "the worst kind of smear journalism--a singularly disgusting work."
But Ryan Chittum's piece at the CJR, which includes the indictment that D'Souza's article is "fact-twisting" and "error-laden," astonishingly cites not a single factual error. Not one! The entire rant (it's too much an adolescent whine to qualify as analysis or even critique) is pure invective and remarkably fact free. Truly it must be read to be believed, though the reader may come away with a diminished respect for the Columbia Journalism Review, and indeed the entire Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. No, really.
The closest Chittum comes to finding error is this:
The atrociousness isn’t limited to the smears. This, for instance, has to be one of the stupidest paragraphs ever written in Forbes (emphasis [Chittum's]):
The President’s actions are so bizarre that they mystify his critics and supporters alike. Consider this headline from the Aug. 18, 2009 issue of the Wall Street Journal: “Obama Underwrites Offshore Drilling.” Did you read that correctly? You did. The Administration supports offshore drilling -- but drilling off the shores of Brazil. With Obama’s backing, the U.S. Export-Import Bank offered $2 billion in loans and guarantees to Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras to finance exploration in the Santos Basin near Rio de Janeiro -- not so the oil ends up in the U.S. He is funding Brazilian exploration so that the oil can stay in Brazil.
Get that? The oil that Petrobras pumps will only go to Brazil because it’s owned by Brazil. So Hugo Chavez will sell us his Citgo gas, but Lula won’t? And even if it somehow did (it should be noted that Petrobras has an American affiliate), that would mean Brazil would need less oil from elsewhere, which means more for us. Supply and demand, dude. Oil is fungible. Gah.
Yes, we "got that": D'Souza concludes that Barack Obama supports Brazillian oil exploration: It's wonderfully anti-colonialist if third-world Brazil controls its own vital resources! But he opposes American oil exploration anywhere and everywhere in the United States (say -- that's a fact!): American resource independence would be dreadful... the colonial American empire must be kept in continual check; and one way to do that is to drain our resources buying oil from our rivals (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait) and our enemies (Iran, Venezuela).
One may disagree with the analysis, but the paragraph should be comprehensible.
With admirable economy of rhetoric, D'Souza chose not to belabor the point in Chittum-level words (as we were compelled to do above). Instead, D'Souza clung to the hope that readers would have a comprehension level somewhere north of high school.
In this assumption, D'Souza evidently erred; but then, perhaps his target audience was a skosh more elevated than the staff of the Columbia Journalism Review... say, at least the level of a legal secretary, or a sci-fi fan, or a pajama-clad blogger, any of whom should have had no difficulty parsing "one of the stupidest paragraphs ever written in Forbes."
Kathleen Parker, also at the Post is beside herself, melding the vitriol of Ann Coulter with the snidery of R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.; she is, if anything, even more fact-free (if one's factual content can possibly be less than zero):
Of course I knew it all along. President Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist and that's why he doesn't get us. He's a ticked-off African.
So goes the latest in Obama-theory, originated by the usually rational conservative thinker Dinesh D'Souza and endorsed by none other than Newt Gingrich, Republican anarchist and onetime speaker of the House of Representatives.
Cue soundtrack to "Twilight Zone." Or "Psycho." Or, I dunno, Tarzan summoning an elephant stampede to quash yet another pestilential imperial invasion.
Powerful stuff! Who could argue with any of it?
So, what does D’Souza actually say? He says Obama's anti-business domestic policy and anti-American foreign policy do not come from Marxism or even European style socialism. D’Souza writes, "The real problem with Obama is worse -- much worse.” The president's anti-Americanism comes from his deep-seated anti-colonialism, which he "inherited" (via "dreams") from his biological father. And who was Barack Obama, Sr.?
- A man who grew up in Kenya, studied at Harvard, had a family in Hawaii -- then abandoned his wife and infant son Barry to return to Kenya.
- A polygamist and habitual drunkard who finally killed himself in a drunk-driving accident.
- A scholar and economist who in 1965 published an article in the East Africa Journal, "Problems Facing Our Socialism," on colonialism and its supposed continuing legacy.
What exactly is anticolonialism anyway? D'Souza explains:
Anticolonialism is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America....
Anticolonialists hold that even when countries secure political independence they remain economically dependent on their former captors. This dependence is called neocolonialism, a term defined by the African statesman Kwame Nkrumah (1909--72) in his book Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, writes that poor countries may be nominally free, but they continue to be manipulated from abroad by powerful corporate and plutocratic elites. These forces of neocolonialism oppress not only Third World people but also citizens in their own countries. Obviously the solution is to overthrow the oppressors. This was the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. and many in his generation, including many of my own relatives in India.
Is this truly what Obama believes? D'Souza lists some of the oddities of Obama; at first blush, they do seem only explicable as examples of anti-colonialism. And let's begin with Ryan Chittum's all-time favorite D'Souzan point:
- Obama applauds Brazillian domestic oil exploration but deplores American domestic oil exploration. D'Souza: "Why support oil drilling off the coast of Brazil but not in America? Obama believes that the West uses a disproportionate share of the world's energy resources, so he wants neocolonial America to have less and the former colonized countries to have more."
- Obama's "carbon tax" proposal is the same policy writ larger.
- He doesn't seek to nationalize the banks but to "decolonize" them -- to bring them under government control. "Obama retains the right to refuse bailout paybacks [to] maintain his control."
- "For Obama, health insurance companies on their own are oppressive racketeers, but once they submitted to federal oversight he was happy to do business with them."
- Anti-colonialism also explains Obama's tax and spending policies: He is redistributing income -- spreading the wealth around, as Obama himself put it -- to return plundered loot to its rightful owners.
- He applauds the "Ground Zero Mosque" because (a) the 9/11 attacks were the catalyst that "unleashed the American bogey and pushed us into Iraq and Afghanistan," and (b) because he believes that some radical Islamists and terrorists are simply resisting American imperialism. (Oddly, a number of American libertarians suffer from this same delusion, which may explain why so many of them voted for Obama in 2008.)
- And of course, the rest of Barack Obama's foreign policy and national-security strategy seems tailor-made to deplete American independence and shatter our superpower status in favor of a powerful, international body run primarily by third-world countries -- a body that would have actual sovereign power over the United States, Europe, and other colonial oppressors.
None of this makes any sense, D'Souza argues, unless Obama believes as his father believed:
As [Barack Obama, Sr.] put it, "We need to eliminate power structures that have been built through excessive accumulation so that not only a few individuals shall control a vast magnitude of resources as is the case now."
One might object that Obama couldn't possibly believe America, of all countries, was a "colonial power": We've never invaded other nations for the purpose of incorporating them into a putative American "empire;" or plundered a native population of their natural resources; or forced them to buy crappy, cheaply manufactured products for exorbitant prices; or inflicted a separate-and-unequal legal system upon a foreign population; or any other hallmark of the colonialism of Spain, Portugal, France, or Belgium, the truly horrific colonialism of the Moslem countries, or even the much more benign English model. (The crimes of the English in India fade to a whiter shade of pale compared to the nightmare of the Belgian Congo or the African nations conquered by Arab Moslems.)
Of course, America certainly did oppress blacks and other racial minorities for nearly 190 years; but racism -- which most nations practiced as bad as or worse than the U.S. did -- does not constitute "colonialism." Both are evil, but they are distinct evils.
However, to a glib anti-colonialist, lack of colonial history is no impediment to a charge of neo-colonialism:
Today's neocolonial leader is not Europe but America. As the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said -- who was one of Obama's teachers at Columbia University -- wrote in Culture and Imperialism, "The United States has replaced the earlier great empires and is the dominant outside force."
From the anticolonial perspective, American imperialism is on a rampage. For a while, U.S. power was checked by the Soviet Union, but since the end of the Cold War America has been the sole superpower. Moreover, 9/11 provided the occasion for America to invade and occupy two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, and also to seek political and economic domination in the same way the French and the British empires once did. So in the anticolonial view, America is now the rogue elephant that subjugates and tramples the people of the world.
(As Alexander Meiklejohn said, some crimes are so heinous, not even innocence is a defense.)
Reckon you can rationalize anything if you're clever enough -- and if you've unfettered yourself from the shackles of fact, drinking deep from the fountains of fancy.
Does "anti-colonialism" explain all the odd behaviors of the One We Unfortunately Have? Hard to say, but we are inclined to believe it explains a great deal. At least we should all agree on one point: Obama does not like the America he knows. He does not believe in traditional American values, American exceptionalism, the Pax Americana, or the unique and wonderful quality of our country. Does this come from his father's colonial-ectomy? Who can say?
Whatever the reason, President Barack Hussein Obama does not represent the America we love; in fact, he wants to recreate it according to his own dream (or his father's). That alone is reason enough to say that we the people must terminate his agenda, before he and his acolytes succeed in implementing the dreams from his father.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery.
Date ►►► October 6, 2010
Civilian Terrorism Trials... What Could Go Wrong?
Another mortal reminder from the Speaks for Itself category:
Minutes before a major terrorism trial was about to begin, a federal judge barred prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday from using a key witness.
The government had acknowledged it learned about the witness from the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, while he was being interrogated and held in a secret overseas jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The ruling by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan would seem to be a setback for the Obama administration’s goal of trying former detainees in civilian courts, because it would limit the kinds of evidence that prosecutors could introduce. Mr. Ghailani became the first former detainee to be moved into the civilian court system for trial.
You know what? Almost certainly, the judge made the correct ruling: In an ordinary civilian criminal trial, prosecutors obviously cannot use evidence obtained using enhanced interrogation techniques, while the accused was held without a lawyer, without the right to remain silent, and with no protection against self-incrimination.
But that, of course, is why we should not try terrorists captured on the battlefield in ordinary criminal courts. That's why we have the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. Unlawful enemy combatants held "for the duration" in executive, Article II detention should not be subject to ordinary judicial rules, just as enemy soldiers in wartime have no "right to life."
But heck, who knew that if we tried Ghailani in an ordinary criminal court, the judge might treat him as an ordinary criminal defendant? It was a bolt from the blue!
Shocked Democrats Discover - Hispanics Are Americans!
A report released yesterday by the Pew Hispanic Center has bewitched Democrats for two reasons:
- It shows that Hispanic registered voters are much less enthusiastic about voting on November 2nd than are registered voters in general; this "enthusiasm gap" almost certainly means they will end up voting in much lower numbers than they did in 2008, when Hispanic voters helped propel Barack H. Obama into the White House and a huge gaggle of Dems into Congress.
- But the same report also indicates that Hispanic registered Republicans are significantly more enthusiastic about voting. Which equally implies that the percent of Hispanics voting Republican will be far higher than in 2008, as Republican Hispanics vote while Democratic Hispanics sulk at home.
What bothers liberals, like a thorn in the heel, is that Hispanics in the United States appear to react much the same as other Americans: Those on the left are demoralized, those on the right happily anticipate the elections. Quelle dommage!
According to the PHC report, 50% of registered voters in general have given the upcoming elections "quite a lot" of thought, but only 32% of Latino registered voters; similarly, 70% of registered voters generally say they are "certain" to vote, but only 51% of Latino registered voters. However, among Latino registered Republicans, 44% have given the election "quite a lot" of thought. (Alas, Pew didn't tell us the gap between Latino Democrats and Latino Republicans on how certain they are to vote, so we must use the first question as a proxy for the second.)
But there is another result in this poll that will truly bewilder the Left. As the Washington Times discovers:
Pew interviewed 618 registered Hispanic voters in August and September. One surprising finding was that immigration does not top the list of concerns of Hispanic voters.
"Rather, they rank education, jobs and health care as their top three issues of concern for this year's congressional campaign. Immigration ranks as the fifth most important issue for Latino registered voters," said Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the center and the report's author. [The deficit ranked number four. -- DaH]
That finding surprised Clarrisa Martinez De Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns at the National Council of La Raza, who said fights over issues such as Arizona's immigration law play an "energizing role" for turning out Hispanic voters.
Thankfully for the country, the Democrats' dogma may bite them right in their aspirations. The Democratic Party and Latino groups such as La Raza and MEChA are shackled to their ideological premises, one of which is that Hispanics care first and foremost about immigration; consequently, that is the one issue through which they traditionally appeal to Latinos -- as Senate Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 95%) attempted to do in the last regular session of the 111th Congress:
Democratic lawmakers seeking re-election are hoping immigration is a motivating factor.
Just before Congress adjourned for the campaign season, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to force a debate on a bill to legalize illegal immigrant students, known as the Dream Act. He tried to have that debate as part of the annual defense policy debate, but it was blocked by Republicans who said that was the wrong forum for considering immigration.
Mr. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, is counting on a large turnout of Hispanics to boost him in his re-election bid against Republican challenger Sharron Angle.
But Republicans, Tea Party activists, and conservatives can approach Hispanics on issues of education, jobs, health care, and the deficit, which are not only the top four concerns of Hispanic voters but are also top Republican strengths -- along with taxes, spending, small businesses, and of course national security, all of which should resonate very strongly with Hispanics. So Democrats have "no hand and no draw," as they say in Texas Hold 'Em.
Democrats are only capable of seeing "special interest" groups like Hispanics as one-note ponies: The Left demands that Hispanics care about immigration (in this case, code for "amnesty") above everything, just as they demand that blacks care about nothing but affirmative action, that gays care only about same-sex marriage, and that union members care about nothing but higher wages and pensions.
The idea that members of any of these groups might care more about the bread-and-butter issues that affect all Americans than about their liberal-selected, parochial, identity-politics issues... well, that thought simply doesn't cross the liberal consciousness. And when circumstances (actual votes) forcibly bring such dissent to their attention, liberals denounce dissenters as "inauthentic" (fill in the blanks). (How galling it must be for a Hispanic conservative to be told he's not authentically Hispanic... by an ivory-white "progressive" like Pinky Reid.)
And that might very well explain the enthusiasm gap between liberal and conservative Hispanics... as well as liberal and conservative blacks, gays, and union members. What we're really seeing is an ideology gap.
Date ►►► October 4, 2010
The Loudest Minute Defended
Commenter MikeR asked in comments to the first installation of this mini-series of posts, the Loudest Minute, whether I had seen the related posts at the New York Times blog FiveThirtyEight, written by former Daily Kos blogger and statistician Nate Silver... posts that (not surprisingly) extolled the accuracy of polling.
I seem to have misunderstood MikeR's point, which was merely to draw the posts to my attention. See, at first glance, the FiveThirtyEight posts appear to contradict my back-of-the-pants analysis of races in which the well-known incumbent is unable to rise into a comfortable majority in the polls, despite being up against a much more obscure opponent. Thus I mistakenly thought MikeR wanted me to "square" my analysis with that of FiveThirtyEight, when he was only curious whether I'd seen them.
But since squaring that circle makes a more compelling post than simply writing, "No, I hadn't read them until now," I shall continue hence as originally posted.
It's easy to square my analysis with that of FiveThirtyEight because we're not in conflict: Not even Nate Silver says polls are always accurate... just that they're generally accurate.
Let's look at his table of accuracy, the one he introduces in The Uncanny Accuracy of Polling Averages*, Part II (I'll only look at Senate races, for illustrative purposes).
His database includes all elections that took place on normal November election dates since 1998, in which multiple pollsters produced polls about thirty days out from the election; in this case, we're looking at 76 Senate elections:
|Polling lead||Number of races||Won - lost||Win percent|
|0 - 3 points||15||8 - 7||53%|
|3 - 6 points||12||9 - 3||75%|
|6 - 9 points||7||7 - 0||100%|
|9 - 12 points||9||9 - 0||100%|
|12 - 15 points||8||8 - 0||100%|
|15+ points||42||42 - 0||100%|
(Note that the percentages in my table differ from those in Silver's, because I'm only looking at Senate races.)
Let's look at the three races I cited as examples where the candidate currently behind will likely win, because the better-known candidate has a small lead, but remains mired below or right at 50% (thus is "unable to close the deal" with voters).
- Senate Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 95%), currently ahead by 1.4 points in the RCP average.
- Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA, 95%), currently ahead by 3.3 points in the RCP average.
- Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA, 100%), currently ahead by 6.2 points in the RCP average.
According to Silver's own chart, Nevada (Reid) is in the category where 53% of leading candidates won their races; Washington state (Murray) is in the category where 75% of leading candidates won; and California (Boxer) is in the category where 100% of leading candidates won.
Let's leave the California race for last. In the first two, the lead does not create a particularly daunting challenge: Silver himself would say that the Nevada and Washington races were reasonably likely to go to the challenger, because historically, a reasonably large number did just that. Therefore, in two of my three examples, the "null hypothesis" is not ruled out; there is no discrepency between what I wrote and what Nate Silver wrote, therefore nothing to explain, justify, or square.
So let's turn to the one exception, the California race between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiornina. In that race, Boxer is 6.2% ahead in the RCP average, landing in the category that has a 100% reelection rate since 1998. Does that mean Boxer is destined to hang onto her seat?
No, because it's not as simple as that. Admittedly, the California election is dicier than the other two; but let's turn to Mr. Silver again:
Mr. Toomey, for instance, is regarded as a 92 percent favorite by our model, which corresponds quite nicely to the 89 percent winning percentage that I described above. His winning percentage is a tiny bit higher than it might be for another candidate with a similar lead in the polls, because some of the other factors we account for in our model. For instance, there are an especially large number of polls in Pennsylvania, and they are all quite consistent with one another, which speaks toward his lead being slightly more robust than usual. In other cases -- if the polling is sparse or inconsistent, or if an unusually large number of undecided voters remain in the race -- the model will increase the uncertainty it attaches to a forecast.
In the Boxer-Fiorina race, the incumbent is 6.2 points up; but there is a relatively large 11.2% undecided, nearly double Boxer's lead. Fiorina can win the race by capturing 78% of the undecided vote, without having to flip a single Boxer supporter.
Too, the polls in the California race are not "consistent with one another;" the polls in the month of September range from Fiorina up 2 to Boxer up 9, an 11-point variance. By contrast, in the Pat Toomey race in Pennsylvania (which Silver cites as an example and stepping-off point for his post), the September polls range from Toomey up 3 to Toomey up 9, only a six-point variance, just over half that of the California race.
The most recent CNN/Time poll in California came in very high for Boxer; it's the highest lead any non-partisan poll has given her since May, and it's likely an outlier. By contrast, the most recent poll, SurveyUSA, gives Boxer a lead of only one-third the CNN poll.
If the next CNN poll comes out with Boxer up 4 instead of 9 (which is what the previous CNN in early September found), then Boxer would only be ahead by an RCP average of 5.3 points -- which would put the race in the same category as the Washington state Senate race. In that category, three out of 12 elections in Silver's database went to the underdog in the poll. Only a single poll -- a likely outlier at that -- puts the California race into the "6 to 9 point" category... so I give it less credence.
In any event, we'll see fairly soon; I stand by my prediction that all three Republicans will win.
What Next in California's "FireGate?"
Jerry Brown's catspaw, Gloria Allred, still refuses to say in what legal action she "represents" Nicandra "Nicky" Diaz Santillan, erstwhile housekeeper for Brown's opponent in the California gubernatorial race, Meg Whitman. One can only assume Allred intends to file a lawsuit against Whitman for -- what, rightful termination?
Allred (and Santillan) appear to be charging our next governor with waiting until good evidence of Santillan's illegality appeared before Whitman fired her, rather than seizing the opportunity to fire her years earlier on the basis of flimsy inuendo.
Then in the English-language debate held between Brown and Whitman, Jerry Brown -- the state Attorney General -- accused her of violating federal immigration and Social-Security laws, state disclosure law, and perjuring herself.
Once the absurdity of the charge is manifest, any slight advantage it affords candidate Brown dissipates. Then what to do, what to do?
There is only one course open, when the present alarums and excursions go pfft, like a snuffed candle: Jerry Brown, acting in his capacity as the chief law-enforcement official of the Sovereign State of California, will have to indict his electoral opponent for not having fired Santillan in 2003:
- Brown can argue that any reasonable person would have inferred from the letter sent by the Social Security Agency -- the letter which included the admonition, "Moreover, this letter makes no statement about your employee's immigration status" -- that Santillan was an illegal alien.
- Brown can cite legal cases, "points and authorities," to the effect that the phrase "Any employer that uses the information in this letter to justify taking adverse action against an employee may violate state or federal law and be subject to legal consequences" requires the employer to take adverse action against an employee using the information in that letter.
- And he can conclude that by obeying the law, Whitman has proven herself a menace to society who should be locked up.
Besides, think how much an October-surprise indictment will damage Meg Whitman's campaign -- and by an amazing coincidence, propel AG Brown into the governor's mansion!
Snidery and sarcasm aside, in reality, I believe indicting Whitman would be the most politically foolhardy move of all of 2010... and that's saying quite a lot, since it competes with Rep. Loretta Sanchez's (D-CA, 90%) heartfelt cri de coeur:
The Vietnamese and the Republicans are, with an intensity, trying to take this seat from which we have done so much for our community -- to take this seat and give it to this Van Tran, who is very anti-immigrant and very anti-Hispanic.
...As well as Rep. Alan Grayson's (D-FL, 100%) attack on his Republican opponent, Daniel Webster, as a draft dodger, as blatantly unpatriotic, as a man who does not love America, and as "Taliban Dan Webster."
...And who can forget the third nominee in the category of self-immolating campaign buffoonery below and beneath the call of duty: Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC, 95%), in a drunken stupor, physically assaulting a student journalist for daring to ask Etheridge, "do you fully support the Obama agenda?"
...Heck, it would even beat out every exaggeration, every puffery, every weirdity, and each and every nuttery utterance of Republican congressional nominee Christine O'Donnell!
It's hard to think of anything that would backfire quicker than Jerry Brown indicting his own Republican opponent for governor. And the truly creepy element is that we're seriously discussing such a banana-republic gambit... from a former two-term governor of California.
I am unalterably convinced that if Brown were to push for an indictment or arrest of Whitman on this bogus charge, Meg Whitman would win the race in a landslide -- even from a jail cell. But even if Brown can control himself for the next four weeks, the fact that he appears to have focused his entire final push on snapping Ms. Whitman with a wet towel named Nicky Santillan tells me that he is utterly desperate.
My guess is that Brown's campaign mangler showed him the campaign's own internal polling... and ordered Brown to pull a rabbit from his hat immediately. Alas for the Democrats, the only rodent that Brown could find in his Sordid Hat was a gerbil.
Date ►►► October 1, 2010
Anent the story which the California (and national!) media have siezed upon to try to derail Meg Whitman's campaign for governor in California...
Four facts appear undisputed:
- In 2000, Whitman used an employment agency to hire a housekeeper, Nicandra "Nicky" Diaz Santillan, at $23 per hour.
- Santillan had earlier presented the agency with a California driver's license and Social Security card, copies of which the agency provided Whitman.
- Those documents were in fact fraudulent -- they belonged to one of Santilan's sisters who lived in San Francisco.
- In 2009, Santillan disclosed to Whitman that she was an illegal immigrant and that the papers she had shown to Whitman were fraudulent; at that point, Whitman let her go, as the law requires.
A couple of days ago, grandstanding liberal activist attorney Gloria Allred -- who has donated money to Jerry Brown, Whitman's opponent in the gubernatorial race and an ancient relic of an earlier, loonier time in California history -- called a press conference to announce that she was representing Santillan (in what action?), whom she calls her "client." She triumphantly announced all of the above points, including that Santillan was in the country illegally and had used fraudulent documentation to get herself hired by Whitman. (I'm not sure how this helps her client, unless her real client is Jerry Brown.)
Allred also produced a 2003 letter to Whitman and her husband, Griffith Rutherford Harsh IV, from the Social Security Administration... not from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as it was called then. The letter "raised discrepancies" about Santillan's documents, which even AP says was only "a possible tip-off that she could be in the U.S. illegally."
In fact, as Whizbang reports, the Social Security letter was about retirement and disability insurance... and the only reference it made to immigration was to forcefully note that nothing in the letter should be used to infer Santillan's immigration status!
The letter is posted in its entirety at TZM Documents, and it includes this paragraph:
This letter does not imply that you or your employee intentionally provided incorrect information about the employee's name or SSN. It is not a basis, in and of itself, for you to take any adverse action against the employee, such as laying off, suspending, firing, or discriminating against the individual. Any employer that uses the information in this letter to justify taking adverse action against an employee may violate state or federal law and be subject to legal consequences. Moreover, this letter makes no statement about your employee's immigration status.
Allred argues that the letter constituted absolute evidence that Santillan was in the country illegally... and that Whitman must somehow have known about it and realized she was employing an illegal all the way back in 2003.
My problem with this hit job is simple: Can somebody please tell me exactly what charge Gloria Allred is leveling at Whitman? I know this can't be right, but it seems for all the world as if Allred -- liberal activist, immigration activist, and feminist activist -- accuses Whitman of failing to harm Allred's client in a timely manner.
Whitman didn't fire Santillan in 2003 on the basis of a simple inquiry letter from the SSA -- a letter which threatens "legal consequences" against anyone using that letter as the basis of "laying off, suspending, firing, or discriminating against the individual." Instead, she waited until Santillan actually informed her she was illegal. Only then did Whitman reluctantly fire her longtime friend and housekeeper, as the law requires.
Am I misunderstanding this? Is Allred's attack on Whitman really that the gubernatorial candidate failed to jump to conclusions, failed to violate state and federal law, and failed to fire the woman at the first conceivable opportunity, only doing so when she had actual proof that Nicky Diaz Santillan had defrauded her and was breaking the law?
(And suppose Whitman had fired Santillan back in 2003; would that, then, form the basis of Allred's attack... that Whitman broke the law by discriminating against her friend and employee without any solid evidence of illegality?)
One of the state's largest public employee unions immediately released a Spanish-language attack ad accusing Whitman of a double standard on illegal immigration.
You mean... one standard for businesses, which requires them actually to investigate the residency status of their employees -- and another standard for individuals, which requires only that they not knowingly hire illegals? That's the "double standard" that outrages the Hispanic community in California?
What would they prefer? A mandate that even private individuals hiring maids, nannies, and housekeepers launch full-scale investigations and background checks to determine who is here legally? I suspect the natural response to such a draconian requirement would be not to hire anyone at all, but simply to make do without.
Somehow I'm not getting the point of this entire hit piece. It appears that an ultra-liberal Jerry Brown surrogate, Gloria Allred, is charging Meg Whitman with failing to racially discriminate against Santillan.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
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