Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.

Paulson Watch

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More troubling news on the bailout front:

U.S. banks getting more than $163 billion from the Treasury Department for new lending are on pace to pay more than half of that sum to their shareholders, with government permission, over the next three years…

Critics, including economists and members of Congress, question why banks should get government money if they already have enough money to pay dividends — or conversely, why banks that need government money are still spending so much on dividends.

“The whole purpose of the program is to increase lending and inject capital into Main Street. If the money is used for dividends, it defeats the purpose of the program,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has called for the government to require a suspension of dividend payments.

The Treasury plans to invest up to $250 billion in a wide swath of U.S. banks in return for ownership stakes, which the government will relinquish when it is repaid.

Among other restrictions, participating institutions cannot increase dividend payments without government permission. They also are barred from repurchasing stock, which increases the value of outstanding shares.

The 33 banks signed up so far plan to pay shareholders about $7 billion this quarter. Companies generally try to pay consistent dividends and, at the present pace, those dividends will consume 52 percent of the Treasury’s investment over the initial three-year term.

“The terms of our capital purchase program were set to encourage participation by a broad array of financial institutions so they strengthen their financial positions,” Treasury spokeswoman Michele Davis said.

The Treasury’s approach contrasts with decisions by foreign governments, including Britain and Germany, to require banks that accept public investments to suspend dividend payments until the government is repaid. The U.S. government similarly required Chrysler to suspend its dividend payments as a condition of the government’s 1979 bailout.

Heckuva job, Paulsie.

Written by Jasper

October 30, 2008 at 11:39 am

The Infomercial

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What did you think of it?

Personally, I found it unbelievably maudlin and boring — at least the five minutes I was able to sit through. But then again being a firm Obama supporter/contributor/voter, I’m probably not the intended audience. I did like the wheat fields and stirring music intro, however.

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October 30, 2008 at 11:17 am

Like a chicken with its head cut off

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I strongly suspect this situation directly flows from Bush-Paulson’s rudderless, schizophrenic approach to fnancial crisis strategy:

The bailout is now the hottest lobbying game in town.

Insurers, automakers and American subsidiaries of foreign banks all want the Treasury Department to cut them a piece of the largest government rescue in U.S. history.

The betting is that many with their hands out will be successful, especially with financial markets in a stomach-churning dive and predictions the economy is about to tumble into a deep recession.

These groups argue that the credit squeeze is so severe and the risks to the economy so dire that their industries need financial support as well.

The Treasury is considering requests from a variety of industries, but has not decided whether to expand the program, officials said Saturday.

Lobbying efforts are intensifying.

Sounds very unfocused, and rather depressing.

Written by Jasper

October 25, 2008 at 5:35 pm

Obama and Ottawa

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Commenting on John McCain’s enthusiastic pro-Nafta speech this week north of the border, John Ibbitson writes:

Mr. Obama,  on the other hand, is a NAFTA skeptic. “NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people,” his website declares. “Obama will work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to fix NAFTA so that it works for American workers.” When Austan Goolsbee, Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, reportedly told Canadian diplomats that Mr. Obama’s statements on NAFTA were mere campaign rhetoric, the ensuing controversy embarrassed both the candidate and the Canadian government. Mr. Obama does appear to be trying to distance himself from some of his earlier tough talk, telling Fortune magazine that some of his trade rhetoric was “overheated and amplified.” But his support for increased trade ties with Canada is lukewarm at best, and he could actually prove hostile to the bilateral trading relationship.

I think the significant majority of Canadians who feel Obama’s politics more closely match their own political ideals (and therefore are inclined to favor his candidacy over McCain’s) are right not to worry too much about the Illinois senator’s nods to the protectionists and anti-globalists in the Democratic party. Nearly all parties of the left in rich democracies count within their ranks substantial numbers of people opposed to the further integration of the global economy. And the thing is, a number of states Obama either badly wants to win (Ohio) or absolutely must win (Pennsylvania) are home to large number of culturally conservative unemployed/marginalized blue collar workers who may abandon the culturally liberal Obama if they perceive he’s an excessively enthusiastic fan of free trade.

I believe it’s clear Obama knows the path to securing the living standards of working people lies in strengthening the safety net and not in erecting barriers to trade.

This is simply American presidential politics 101. There’s no serious prospect of an Obama administration’s igniting a trade war between the US and Canada. And in the unlikely event that a President Obama were to broach the subject of labor standards and worker protections with Ottawa (over the Nafta issue), Canadians would have nothing to worry about, since any resulting action would mean it is the US that would be beefing up its standards to match the practices of the more Western European-style Canadians.

Written by Jasper

June 21, 2008 at 12:40 pm

Obama, McCain and the tax code.

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On the topic of the Obama’s and McCain’s views on taxation, Clive Crook writes:

With their fixation on the fate of the Bush tax cuts, both of them are missing the main point: comprehensive reform is needed–and needed so badly it may be unavoidable. The key is to broaden the income-tax base. Income-tax rates are moderate in the United States by international standards, but the income-tax base is narrow, so the total raised is less than you would expect. Raising significant amounts of additional revenue–which is going to be necessary, even if no new spending is undertaken–would push income-tax rates quite high. The country needs to broaden its tax base and simplify the rate structure, and much the best way to do this is as part of a thorough overhaul of the code. A lot of what should be done is neither liberal nor conservative. Ordinarily one thinks of a trade-off between equity and efficiency. At some point, those choices do have to be made, but the United States is not at that point. The current system is so inept, so complicated, and so replete with unintended consequences that it is easy to devise a win-win alternative–fairer and more conducive to growth at the same time. Yet neither Obama nor McCain gives any sign of embracing comprehensive reform. Quarreling over the fiscal legacy of the Bush administration is more to their liking. So much for post-partisan politics.

Although I couldn’t agree more that the country badly needs reform of the tax code, I strongly suspect neither Obama nor McCain is so much “missing” this point as avoiding it, for reasons of politics. Any reform of the tax code that is sufficiently radical to do any real good will require a bloody political fight.

I don’t see much prospect of any decent reform plan getting enacted under a McCain presidency, given the likely composition of the Congress (though you never know, and of course McCain has shown some proclivity for working with Democrats). I reckon Obama is the more plausible agent of change in this regard. If I were he I’d avoid getting into specifics with respect to tax reform ideas if such an agenda were part of my plans (one can only hope tax code reform is part of his plans). Obama displayed admirable unwillingness to pander to the electorate on gasoline taxes — an unwillingness that probably helped him finish off Hillary Clinton. But I don’t think he can count on a similarly happy outcome flowing from the effects of candor on the tax code in general, at least to the extent that any substantive reform cannot wholly ignore the mortgage interest deduction

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June 7, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Name change

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My several hundred thousand regular readers may have noticed I decided to tweak the blog with a name change. I was just getting tired of the old one, and it seemed rather lame to use the title of a song by a way past prime band. I mean, I’m not in college any more. Hell, I’m almost old enough to be a college president.

And yes, it’s a pseudonym.

Written by Jasper

June 7, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Miscellania

Helsinki as Hell

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McMegan ponders the sustainability of the Scandinavian welfare state:

It occurs to me that Scandinavia, with its homogeneous population, may have been spending down the accumulated social capital of its pre-welfare state society. Before the widespread welfare state, people who attempted to free ride by collecting benefit when they could be working faced both internal guilt and considerable external social pressure; the neighbors essentially functioned as the fraud police. But as the generations who grew up before the kribbe-to-grav safety net die off, and are replaced by a newer generation perfectly comfortable with broad public charity, this is clearly breaking down. Sweden’s rates of long term disability, sick leave, and so forth, are very high. The Scandinavians I know generally report that the once-famous work ethic is not really all that impressive any more, and there’s little stigma attached to malingering on long-term sick leave.

Yes, but is the Nordic system really “breaking down” just because people take advantage of its opportunities for leisure?

I was under the impression that these countries were really beginning to suffer from dismal growth and its attendant problems (worsening public sector finances, declining living standards, joblessness, etc.) in the 80s and early 90s. But I also thought that, over the last ten years or so, they had pretty much gotten their acts together, tweaked the incentives their systems create, and undertaken some non-trivial structural reforms — and that as a result they were all once again growing at a pretty decent clip. Am I wrong?

Relatedly, what I’ve often wondered is, wouldn’t the average Scandinavian who was gainfully employed enjoy a substantially higher standard of living than what who stayed home to live life on the dole? In other words, I would imagine you could structure a generous and expensive array of social programs and still have a society where nonetheless rational actors possess a strong incentive to achieve successful careers.

I think libertarian efforts to portray the Nordic countries as grim dystopian hells (not saying that’s what Megan’s doing here, by the bye) are comically handhanded. It’s plain to see these countries simply rock.

Written by Jasper

June 2, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Economics, Nordic, Sweden

Obama on the brink

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I see Yglesias has been pondering the delegate math along the same lines as yours truly:

If it’s really true, as many people are saying, that Barack Obama has a “bank” of 2-3 dozen superdelegates prepared to endorse him then wouldn’t this weekend be a good time to start making withdrawals? The literal impact of him getting a bunch of superdelegate endorsements today and tomorrow in order to ensure that the primaries on Tuesday and Wednesday put him over the finish line, and him getting a bunch of superdelegate endorsements that put him over the line on Thursday and Friday is identical, but on a symbolic plane it seems to me that you want to clinch things with an election result rather than an endorsement announcement.

Matt’s entirely correct, of course. Such an unfolding of events would undercut any potential plans on the part of Hillary to mount a last stand, because the heart of any potential ressentiment strategy rests on branding the process as undemocratic. Several dozen party hacks formalizing your opponent’s presumptive status looks undemocratic in a way getting the same thing from thousands of ordinary voters does not.

So, the non-existence of the much talked about “bank” (a big pool of unannounced Obama-supporting SDs) seems clear; the real question is why doesn’t this bank exist, given Obama’s strength, and the near certitude of his eventual nomination. One supposes this points to the residual strength of the Clinton brand in Democratic circles — kind of a last vestige of their once ironclad hold on the party.

I’ve grown weary of the near impossible task of trying to keep up with intricacies (and changes) of the delegate math, but, given Obama’s likely haul today and Tuesday, he would probably need, what, not much more than a dozen or so SDs to put him over the top (right? does that jive with anybody else’s understanding?). So, maybe we will hear of a mediumish clutch of new SDs pledging for Obama tonight, tomorrow and Tuesday morning.

UPDATE: AP is reporting that, if Obama and Clinton split the delegate haul from Tuesday’s contests, Obama will be about thirty shy of going over the top. I’m guesstimating he’ll get more than 50% on Tuesday, so that likely means he needs about two dozen superdelegates to become the presumptive nominee.

Written by Jasper

June 1, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Memo to Obama: Get them to commit NOW.

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Mark Ambinder writes:

Neither the Clinton nor the Obama campaign is clear what the DNC’s rules and bylaws committee will do on May 31; depending upon how or whether they re-allocate delegates, Obama could wind up within to 20 to 30 votes of the nomination — a situation rectifiable by a piddling performance in Puerto RIco, South Dakota and Montana — or more than 100 delegates short, requiring solid performances in those states plus a few dozen superdelegate endorsements to put him over the top. To prepare for that eventuality, the Obama campaign has, for the first time, really, begun to bank delegates. Sources close to the campaign estimate that as many as three dozen Democratic superdelegates have privately pledged to announce their support for Obama on June 4 or 5. The campaign is determined that Obama not end the first week in June without securing the support of delegates numbering 2026 — or 2210, as the case may be.

Um, okay, but, like, wouldn’t it be a lot better for Senator Obama were he to go over the top via a primary win? If one of your main goals is to convince the rest of the party (meaning the boatloads of Clintonistas) that you’re the legitimate nominee, and that the process has been eminently fair, it’s simply looks better if the networks are proclaiming you the nominee not as a result of a bunch of party officials coming out of the closet for you, but rather because thousands of Just Plain Folks in places like Billings and Sioux Falls pulled the lever for you.

In other words, Senator, get these superdelegates to pledge for you now, so that even modest victories in the June 3rd primaries will put you over the top.

Written by Jasper

May 27, 2008 at 10:48 am

UPS pretty much completely sucks

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Yes, I know a less trivial and self-absorbed post would be more appropriate to end a long blogging absence. But what prompts me to write at this moment is my total, complete and utterly hate-filled disdain for United Parcel Service.

Now, I’m pretty busy. And pretty lazy. And I suffer from “gotta have it now syndrome.” I guess you could say instant gratification is high on the list of Jasperesque personality attributes. And what this means is that I order a lot of shit online, for delivery. Often. Very often.

Anyway, I typically have UPS packages shipped to my office, to give them at least a fighting chance at arriving while I’m here, should a signature be necessary. But often I’m away from my office, and there’ll be no one else available to sign for me.

Wouldn’t it make sense for them to give you the option of simply having an email tell you when your delivery arrives at the nearest UPS office, in case you’d rather just go pick it up yourself? In other words, why not let customers save “Brown” the labor and extra fuel by allowing them to pick up deliveries directly from the local UPS office from the getgo and eschewing delivery if that’s what they prefer.

But no — instead you’ve got to play around with these dolgurn yellow and brown (side note, when my own small company makes the Fortune 500, please please shoot me if I’ve chosen the colors of shit and urine as the corporate hues) “info notices.” It’s fucking 2008, and and UPS is depending on paper notes to communicate. Nice.

Now, with my latest package incident, the aforementioned info notice got taped to my door during a particularly busy week. A productive week, mind you. A week during which a number of important professional tasks was accomplished. But nonetheless a week when picking up the phone to notify UPS that I’d like them to hold my delivery at their Watertown office was one call too many to get to in a timely fashion.

So, I just managed to call them now — at 11:15pm Thursday (the info notice was taped to my door Tuesday morning). I wasn’t really very concerned, because they’ll typically leave subsequent info notices for you, and the last of which will normally inform you of the date it will be shipped back to the sender, and I had yet to receive a second (or third or fourth) notice.

so get this — they tell me the delivery has already been sent back to the original sender. Nice.

UPS fucking blows dead lamas.

It would tickle me no end to wake up one morning to the news that UPS has been taken over by FedEx. Scratch that thought. I wouldn’t want to risk the horrible corporate culture of the former infecting the latter.

Written by Jasper

April 17, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Posted in Miscellania, Rants

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.

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

Antichrist watch

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Am I the only one who thinks the fundies must be in a froth over this? Indeed, he’s now a papist no less, which fits in better with the whole “Whore of Babylon” narrative.  You might wanna hold off on that next tattoo to save some skin for the one you’ll be getting courtesy of Tony Blair, and take care not to be riding in a limo with a fundie chauffeur (to say nothing of airplanes and fundie pilots — yikes!).

Written by Jasper

February 1, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Posted in Europe, Tony Blair

Pre Super Tuesday Thoughts

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Yes, I’m a shameless Hillary suck-up, but somebody’s gotta do it. Here are a few thoughts on why I see this race shaping up as Hillary’s to lose, despite Obama’s midas touch (and yes, I will eagerly support Barack if he’s the nominee, so there!).

1. Clinton and Obama have been close in national polls for a while now. This is nothing new.

2. Obama has yet to win the white vote in a single primary. Not a good sign. Also, one can’t rule out the influence of the Bradley effect. I’m not saying it’s as powerful as it may once have been, but I don’t think you can confidently state it doesn’t exist. Don’t be shocked if Obama underperforms relative to the polling on Tuesday.

3. Clinton is absolutely dominating the Latino vote, protestations by Obama surrogates to the contrary.

4. The worsening economy plays to Clinton’s strengths.

5.  Snubgate is hurting Obama with female voters. So, perhaps, may Teddy Kennedy’s endorsement.

6. Rezkogate is becoming a serious headache for Obama.

7. The seasoned Clinton campaign seems to have gotten the Bill eruptions under control. When he is under control, he’s a proven closer, as New Hampshire has shown.

8.  Obama is drawing huge crowds. But, in similar fashion to New Hampshire, people who can’t get away from their day jobs (much less shell out $500 checks to political campaigns) are more likely to show up and vote than college kids cutting class to attend rallies. Advantage: Clinton.

9. Obama has been sharpening his attacks. That’s a risky strategy, as it detracts from his pure-as-the-driven-snow image. Surely this shows their internal polling tells them they’re unlikely to emerge as the top delegate gainer on Tuesday. My guess is that John Edwards’s exit from the race has unsettled them.

10. John Edwards’s lack of an endorsement speaks volumes. Nobody expected him to endorse Clinton. But nobody expected him to refrain from endorsing Obama. I think we’ll be able to look back in a few months’ time and conclude Obama lost the nomination the day of his triumph in South Carolina. For by finishing third in the state of his birth, Edwards’s campaign came to an end, making it a two person race. And that, in turn, was a development hugely beneficial to Hillary.

11. McCain’s rapid emergence as the presumptive Republican nominee widens the experience gap between Clinton and Obama. Democrats are facing the sobering prospect of running against a titan of the foreign policy and defense establishment. Clinton is much better suited for such a race than Obama. Indeed, the “dual presidency” so many pundits have decried doesn’t look so bad when the extra constitutional portion of the presidency happens to be the country’s single most capable diplomat.

12. Contrary to Broderesque analysis, it’s not good enough for Obama to “keep it close” on Super Tuesday. He needs a win in the delegates sweepstakes. Why? Because it is the Obama campaign that has made momentum its calling card. Finishing second to Hillary Clinton will hurt that momentum — probably fatally so. Because, with the GOP settling on McCain, Democrats will understandably start to get antsy to settle on a candidate. If it is Hillary who has the momentum and delegate lead on February 6th, they’ll begin to close ranks behind her, just as the GOP is doing with McCain right now. By Valentine’s Day we should know what the November matchup looks like.

13.  Intrade still favors Hillary, and in fact has barely budged sensed South Carolina. The money, at least, is pretty skeptical of Obama’s chances.

Written by Jasper

January 31, 2008 at 6:25 pm

Jasper’s endorsement: Mike Gravel

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Well, not, not really. But I’m a tad weirded out that this is not the first time I’ve taken one of these political matchmaker test thingies, only to have the Alaskan’s name come up high on my list of political matches.

Anyway, it’s rather a fun test as these things go. It gave me Kucinich as my second choice, and Richardson as number three.

Written by Jasper

January 27, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Miscellania, Politics