Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Archive for February 2008

Because life’s too short for commercials

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I’ve been a big fan of TiVo since signing up four years ago. It’s hard to imagine sitting through TV commercials again. But I just did something that feels a bit like moving from a Mac to a PC — a move I was forced to make about eight years ago when I changed jobs after a decade of very contented Macintosh use — I just switched to Big Cable Company’s own DVR product and unsubscribed from TiVo.

The problem for me is TiVo’s reliance on third party technology for programming updates. Unlike with the cable company’s DVR service — which automatically provides the DVR with programming information — TiVo has to get the programming information it relies on via the use of either a phone line or an internet connection.

Now, I suspect plenty of the people in TiVo’s target market — youngish, technofilic, upmarket urbanites — also happen to be well represented among the growing throngs who don’t bother with landline telephone service. But this hasn’t presented most of them with a problem vis a vis TiVo programming downloads because the vast majority of such people also have internet access. And that includes me, too. Or at least it used to.

You see, Jasper recently acquired office space. And the office in question is very close to Jasper’s home (let’s put it this way, it can be ten degrees outside in the Boston winter and I sometimes don’t bother to wear an overcoat on my way to work). So, given the fact that I obviously need a broadband line for work, I decided to save the 500 bucks a year that maintaining a separate web connection for my apartment would cost me. Although I wouldn’t be shocked if I break down in a few months and re-order home internet service, for now I’d rather pocket the cash, and paying the extra $40 or $50 a month for a second (home) internet connection really seems like a waste — kind of like paying the extra cash for a separate line to a room upstairs when I’m already paying for it downstairs (yes, my office is almost that close to my home, but unfortunately not close enough for me to be able to pick up a wireless signal).

The only other alternative, of course, would be to try steal bandwidth from a neighbor for the two or three times a month required to keep my TiVo service up to date. But I can’t find an unencrypted signal bring myself to be such a dishonest neighbor.

So for now, I’m going with the product from the big, impersonal, evil, monopolistic provider. We’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE: Then I read this. Who knew?

UPDATE: Fuck. This has got me scared.

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Written by Jasper

February 20, 2008 at 8:05 pm

Posted in Technology, Television

February is the cruelest month

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The caucus format has obviously been a huge headache for the Hillary Clinton campaign. The problem for her is that you can’t manufacture victories in caucus states out of thin air. You need a strong ground organization. Hillary just didn’t put such an organization together (they pretty clearly were planning, early on, to have the nomination wrapped up by Super Tuesday), and so Obama simply crushed her in all the February caucuses (and what were there, like, ten of them)? A huge miscalculation by team Clinton. I’m pretty sure they realized their peril after Super Tuesday, but by then it was too late to salvage any strong showing in the remaining February caucuses, because it takes time to build a ground organization.So, they realized their only plausible remaining path to the nomination was strong wins in the those post-February primaries where the demographics look favorable to her.

Unfortunately for Clinton, salvaging residual delegates in the remaining February contests (a tempting strategy, no doubt, when you desperately need every delegate you can win) would have required doing some fairly serious campaigning, and that raises expectations. It may be in the end we’ll look back and all conclude that it was the Potomac contests that finally killed her, but they almost certainly would have killed her had her campaign gone in with guns blazing — giving media the opportunity to portray Virginia as a winnable state Clinton really needed to capture.

Fortunately for her, she probably can do well in Wisconsin. But already you can see the validity of the situation I outline above, because, now that she’s putting a lot of emphasis on Wisconsin, not winning there will be a much bigger deal

Written by Jasper

February 15, 2008 at 4:01 pm

It’s always 20/20

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Marc Ambinder wonders what type of advice would have been useful to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last autumn, had they been aware they were facing a very serious threat in the candidacy of Barack Obama. I would have advised as follows:

i) She should have gotten a complete makeover. Seriously. She looks and (especially) dresses in an absolutely ghastly fashion. Her wardrobe is unimaginably unflattering to her figure. It just looks sloppy and unprofessional. This may be a bit unfair — a man can get by in a suit no matter what — but life isn’t fair, either. And the reality is she’s up against a trim, elegant and attractive opponent. I think this costs her votes all around. It makes her look stale and frumpy, and reinforces the perception in the eyes of the voting public that she’s yesterday’s news. The woman is a millionaire. There’s no excuse.

ii) She could have tweaked her healthcare plan a bit and marketed it as “optional single payer.” This is kinda what Edwards was doing, and she basically stole his plan. As it happens, her plan already allows people to opt for a single payer-style government option if they want to. Why not take advantage of this feature for political purposes? Perhaps set a percentage of income cap on premiums — and use this feature to sidestep the mandates issue — and loudly market it as “single payer for anybody who wants it.” This would have helped undercut some of Obama’s early, surging support on the left.

iii) Also, the huge, early success of Obama’s fundraising should have alerted them to the possibility that he enjoys very robust, grass roots support, and they should have foreseen the possibility he’d therefore be able to run roughshod in caucuses. She should have developed a detailed “caucus action plan” specifically charged with making sure they didn’t get badly outgunned in that kind of environment (they obviously did fine in Nevada, they just didn’t get it done anywhere else) — and tapped a very seasoned operative to run it. I mean, whatever happened to labor unions? Couldn’t she have courted the support of at least some segments of organized labor to act as organizing shock troops in caucuses? Even taking one or two of those caucuses away from Obama might have made a huge difference.

iv) Finally she should have seized upon Obama’s national media buy (which insured spots were running in Florida markets) as an excuse to campaign there. In other words, do it in the open. Have a press conference and say something to the effect of:

Senator Obama has chosen to violate the spirit of the DNC agreement with respect to Michigan and Florida by running hundreds of television commercials reaching millions of Floridians, and I am therefore going to be campaigning there starting tomorrow. The votes of the nation’s fourth largest state are too important to exclude from the process. I invite Senator Obama to campaign there as well in person, since he has already started doing so electronically. Let’s have an open debate, and let the chips fall where they may regarding the delegates.

This would have put pressure on Obama’s campaign to respond in kind, and the results of Florida would have been legitimized, and it would be very difficult under such circumstances not to seat them (Michigan, of course, would be a different story given the fact that only Hillary’s name was on the ballot).

Written by Jasper

February 13, 2008 at 7:44 pm

Hillary’s chances

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They’re not great, obviously, at this juncture. Virginia really hurt. Wisconsin may end up hurting even more. Still, all’s not sunlight and roses for the Obama camp, either. The problem for Obama is that Hillary has amassed nearly 1,000 delegates. That’s too big a number for her to go quietly into the night, and indeed too big a number for there not to exist the possibility of a momentum change. And even Hillary-basher-in-chief Andrew Sullivan is mentioning a recent Ohio poll giving Hillary a nearly twenty point lead there. Also, the Democrats’ proportional representation system means that Clinton continues to pick up delegates, and this keeps Obama’s lead from widening overly rapidly. He’s simply not going to be able to run away with it unless her campaign completely collapses. Obama would need to win something like 80% of the post February delegates to clinch the nomination without the use of superdelegates. That looks mathematically improbable if Clinton is still contesting the election.

After Wisconsin, the reality is it will still be a fairly close race in total delegates, and most superdelegates (I suspect) will wait until after the March 4th contests before making further decisions. Superdelegates are professional politicians who want to win in November, after all, and waiting another couple of weeks to commit hardly hurts the eventual nominee’s chances. But rushing the process may hurt the party’s chances, if it creates irresistible momentum for the wrong (i.e, weaker in a general election) candidate. I’m not stating here that Obama is the weaker candidate against McCain, but taking our time with the process is one way to help insure we get it right.

Hillary will have two whole weeks after Wisconsin to mount a stand, and try to blunt Obama’s momentum. During that time there will be a debate or two. She’ll have an opportunity to sharpen her criticisms. Also, being (finally! at long last!) the undeniable underdog, it will make sense for her to throw a Hail Mary or two. She’s also made major campaign changes, and, while people rightly assume that’s a sign of trouble, they should also consider the possibility that such changes might indeed help her campaign (I mean, could it possibly perform any worse?).

There’s also the probability that the media will finally begin to scrutinize Obama’s record now that he’s on the verge of an historic nomination. There’s been very little coverage of issues, or reportage looking in a more in-depth fashion at what an Obama administration will actually look like. That’s bound to increase — even given the media’s understandable infatuation with the senator. After all, they like a fight, and an early wrap up deprives them of a very dramatic story. Momentum is a very fickle mistress.

If Hillary can use the two weeks between Wisconsin and Texas/Ohio to blunt his momentum, and she can pick up convincing wins that day (which means taking Rhode Island as well; I’m assuming Obama easily takes Vermont), the race will look a lot different. After that, there are at least five more states where the demographics may be more favorable to HRC (Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvannia), and where she can make up for February’s lost ground (again this is assuming a momentum shift driven by an HRC win in Ohio and Texas).

Also, the Rezko trial gets under way early in March. And there’s still the unresolved issue of Florida and Michigan.

If HRC loses Texas and Ohio, it really is all over, and, the cynical prognostications of others aside, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hillary concedes not long thereafter. People say she’ll do whatever it takes to win, but she’s not an idiot, and if victory is a virtual impossibility, the smart move for her will be to get out with some dignity. She could still live to fight another day if Obama loses the general election, and heck, she might even have a shot at becoming Vice President this year (and in 2016 she’d be younger than McCain is now).

But if she does manage a solid win on March 4th, Hillary’s still in decent shape, and she could yet finish up with more popular votes than Obama, and with only a very narrow deficit in pledged delegates (I think coming out ahead of Obama in total pledged delegates is an impossibility for Hillary at this point absent some sort of major scandal erupting for her opponent; the best she can do, I reckon, is to make the difference statistically trivial, and attain a virtual tie).

At the end of the day, there’s nothing in the rule book requiring the party to give the nod to a candidate with, say, a net lead of only thirty pledged delegates, especially if he hasn’t won a majority of said delegates (John Edwards won a few, after all), and even more so if he’s lost the popular vote, and two major states haven’t been able to get their delegates seated.

Anyway, this summarizes my thoughts on the Hilary’s still feasible (if not overly likely) path to the nomination.

Written by Jasper

February 12, 2008 at 11:45 pm

Obama, Clinton, and The Electoral College

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I recently heard someone say that the Clinton’s campaign’s potential efforts to grab Florida delegates rested on a “weak argument,” because the state wasn’t contested. But I must say I don’t think that’s right at all. Florida saw about the same number of voters participate in its Democratic primary as New York — a slightly larger, significantly more Democratic state. Which strongly implies the vigorous surrogate campaigning (and Obama’s television advertising) did have an effect, because, proportionally, voter turnout in the Florida Democratic primary was heavier than in New York.

The pattern is clear. In large primaries where the electorate mirrors that of the nation as a whole, Hillary wins going away. Obama’s continues mostly to be a boutique, niche campaign, heavily dependent on flooding caucuses with liberal activists and college students. When there’s a more even playing field for moderate income voters — his campaign is far less impressive. For all the talk about electability, his candidacy looks very much like a Gary Hart or Bill Bradley insurgency, with a classic emphasis on left-wing Democratic voter cohorts and students. It is actually Hillary Clinton’s campaign that has demonstrated far greater strength with the purple state swing voters who will decide this election. In Missouri, for instance, Obama’s victory was put together in blue counties the Democrats typically win even in bad years (ie., metro Saint Louis and KC), whereas Hillary’s 49% of the vote came heavily in the redder rural and exurban counties in which the Democrats must show strength if they’re to take such purple states in November. Louisiana was similar. And Obama, of course, lost heavily in two other purple state primaries, Tennessee and Arkansas. (actually, make that “three” other if you include Florida).

Those who say Illinois and Massachusetts don’t tell us much about the general election are right. Deep blue states will remain so. But caucuses don’t tell us much about the general election, either. Because when you reduce voter participation to, say, 20% of what it would be in a primary (I’m thinking of Washington State vs. Massachusetts, for example), you naturally get a subset of the voting population that is better educated, more affluent, and, yes, more likely to be heavy with Obama supporters. There’s nothing “unfair” about Obama’s wins here. Rules are rules. But you’ve really gotta be drinking the Obama-aid to infer anything about his potential strength in the Electoral College from such contests.

When you analyze the returns from purple state primaries, it is abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton represents the country’s best chance at taking back the White House from the Republicans. Obama’s is a classic but under the radar, left-liberal insurgency candidacy. He may have been temporarily able to deflect media scrutiny of his ideology by eschewing discussion of issues. But that situation will not hold indefinitely. It also may be the case that 2008 will be such a good year for Democrats that we can get a guy like Obama elected — and that’s an exciting prospect. But Hillary is really the safer bet to prevail in November.

I urge Clinton supporters to stand firm, to fight tenaciously for her candidacy, and to go on to help her take Texas and (purple state) Ohio. I also urge the Clinton campaign to strongly resist any proposals to caucus Florida and Michigan. We need to get the most electable candidate nominated this summer.

And for you Obama supporters, think about three little words: The. Electoral. College.

Written by Jasper

February 11, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Caucuses Schmaucuses

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I’ve heard various Obama supporters make the argument that caucuses are “very democratic.” But I can’t agree.  Now, it’s true that Hillary has no cause to complain about the caucuses. She knew the rules going into this thing, and if she neglected to organize as carefully as Obama did, or couldn’t raise the kind of money he did, then too bad for her. Still, it’s pretty hard to say that caucuses are “very democratic.” The fact is they’re extremely exclusionary because of their limited hours and the limited availability of caucus places.

Washington State is illustrative: the Seattle PI  is reporting that a “record” number of people are expected to have participated in Washington’s Democratic caucuses (around 200,000). In Massachusetts something like 1.8 million people participated in the state’s primary last week. Let’s charitably give the GOP 40% of that participation. That would mean over one million voters turned out for Massachusetts’s Democratic primary against 200,000 for Washington state’s “record” Democratic caucuses. The two state’s populations are virtually identical as of early 2008. To put it another way, each Washington State voter will end up possessing several times the nominating power of each Massachusetts voter.

Make no mistake about it: Obama has brilliantly maximized his advantages, and his campaign has very savvily exploited the caucus format. But also make no mistake that it is a decidedly less inclusionary and less democratic way to choose delegates. And this less democratic style of contest is at the core of Obama’s strategy to win the nomination.

His strategy so far seems to pretty clearly be: win African-American-centric primaries; win big in his home state; win caucuses; and hang on for dear life every place else. It may be enough to get him over the hump, especially if the successes he seems likely to get in February’s post Super Tuesday contests generate enough momentum to increase his reach in March (and he then goes on to win big in some primaries). But if not — if he can’t create a Hillary collapse (and I’d say that’s less likely now that she seems to be getting her fundraising in order) — then there’s a non-trivial chance Obama could wind up with a plurality of pledged delegates, and behind Clinton in the popular vote. Not that this is in and of itself necessarily problematic. Rules are rules, after all, and it is delegates — not the popular vote — who choose the nominee. But such a scenario would make it a lot more difficult to fight Clintonian attempts to seat Florida’s delegates, or to complain if she ends up securing the nomination via the use of superdelegates

Written by Jasper

February 9, 2008 at 11:01 pm

Predictions for Tuesday

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Some discussion over at Matt’s place about Super Tuesday. On the subject of California Matt writes:

The latest polling has things very close in California with some even showing a lead for Barack Obama. Exciting stuff. It is worth noting that given the vagaries of the delegate allocation process, the odds overwhelmingly favor the February 5 outcome being fairly indecisive.

I really doubt Tuesday will fail to be decisive. Half the fucking country is voting. I reckon the media really will begin to focus on the delegate total, since that’s what ultimately wins you the nomination (not the popular vote) and since, finally, truly meaningful numbers of delegates are up for grabs. That said, I think if Obama comes in behind Clinton in the delegate tally from Tuesday’s haul, but it really is close (say, 47-44, especially with a win for him in California), he’s probably got the momentum — as well as a slim overall lead in pledged (but not super) delegates, headed into an Obama-friendly schedule in February. Remember, Clinton already has a delegate deficit she needs to make up (if you don’t count superdelegates). Obviously if Obama wins outright on Tuesday, the scenario is set for him to begin to pull away and rapidly consolidate toward the nomination. Democrats, after all, will at some point want to coalesce around a strong candidate, so as not to give John McCain too much of a head start in defining the race. And the rest of February indeed looks quite favorable for Obama.

On the other hand, if Clinton pulls out a win on Tuesday, and it’s at least arguably a strongish victory (better than, say, five points or so in front of Obama in popular vote and/or delegate haul), the momentum probably shifts back toward her. One problem with running on momentum is that it’s not as solid or as consistent or as dependable as a long track record or high name recognition. Momentum is an incredibly powerful force in politics, but it can be fickle. I don’t see how Obama maintains it if his opponent manages a reasonably convincing victory on Tuesday.

For these reasons I suspect the winner in popular vote and delegate count (I realize the two don’t necessarily have to be the same, but they almost certainly will be) from Tuesday’s contests will go on to become the nominee. How’s that for going out on a limb?

UPDATE: I realize I didn’t offer much of a prediction with my words above, so, here goes: Clinton wins California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and seventeen states total to Obama’s five, and manages a solid, if not overwhelming victory in the popular vote, gaining 50% to Obama’s 44%, with, six percent of the vote going to dropouts. She’ll get slightly more than 50% of the delegates.

Written by Jasper

February 3, 2008 at 2:41 pm