Thursday, January 31, 2008

Super Tuesday's Coming. Did You Bring Your Coat?

Oklahoma is one of the states that will be voting for both Democratic and Republican candidates for President of the United States on February 5, along with 21 other states and American Samoa. But unless you live in Oklahoma or you’ve memorized the whole list (or have ready access to a color-coded website), chances are that you didn’t know that. We are barely noticed in national press coverage even when there isn’t an impending election unless it’s because of one of our many weather-related natural disasters. So it comes as no surprise that we don’t register in the national political news coverage either.

Today on NPR's All Things Considered, one of the hosts was ruminating on why we hadn’t heard much from Bill Clinton lately. Well, we in Norman heard a lot since he headlined a rally at the OU Field House yesterday. The national news was covering Barack Obama’s rally, which was located in Denver. Barack Obama’s campaign announced today that they were able to raise $32 million in January alone, and that they could afford to put up TV ads in 20 of the 22 states voting on Tuesday. The two states left out were Illinois, who are quite familiar with Mr. Obama’s message, and Oklahoma, home to some of the cheapest television airtime rates in the nation. Is the Obama campaign conceding our state’s 38 pledged delegates?

OU president David Boren tried to make Oklahoma relevant by making a plea in late 2007 to any and all candidates to please come and speak at the University. The only candidate on the ballot to personally come to Norman so far has been a retired general named Jerry Curry. Jerry Curry announced his candidacy in Oklahoma because he knows about Oklahoma’s fetish with retired generals running for President. In 2004, Oklahoma was the only primary that retired general Wesley Clark won. Clark dropped out of the race less than a week later. You don’t get momentum from winning Oklahoma.

I completely understand not campaigning in Oklahoma during the general election. It’s a pretty safe bet that the winner of Oklahoma’s 7 electoral votes will be pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax, and especially no way is the winner going to be a black guy or a woman. But primary time is when politicians of both parties should come out pander to you, no matter how many general elections in a row your state has voted for the same party (in Oklahoma’s case, the last Democrat to win the state was LBJ 40 years ago).

But by no means is Oklahoma the only forgotten state. Wyoming had the second caucus in the nation for Republicans, and no press coverage was given at all to it. Even after it occurred, the pundits would say things like, “Now that Huckabee has won Iowa and McCain has won New Hampshire, it’s up to Romney to win his first state, so he’s focused on Michigan.” Now that’s what I call the shaft. Republicans treated Nevada the same way and are currently ignoring Maine’s primary (did you know it’s tomorrow?). So I guess it could be a lot worse, and there are a lot of states in this position, even some larger than us. I haven’t heard much pandering to Minnesotans or Tennessee’ers yet, two other Super Tuesday constituencies.

So I wonder what turnout's going to be like here in Oklahoma, just one state lost in the weeds along with so many other states. And I wonder will win. Judging by the number of yard signs in this college town, the winners will be Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Some Thoughts on Economic Topics

Okay, so I think I've been reluctantly convinced that increasing the national deficit for the sole purpose of a tax rebate for people might actually be a good thing for our nation's economy as a whole, maybe. As usual, reading documents from the Congressional Budget Office's website guided me to this hesitant conclusion.

The Republicans, who define themselves by cutting taxes, proposed a tax cut. The Democrats, who define themselves by increasing government services, proposed a tax cut. G'wa?

If the sole purpose of this economic stimulus plan is to, well, stimulusate the economicomy, why are we trying to include 1) rich people and 2) old people in this tax "rebate"? Poor people spend over 100% of their income, while middle- and upper-class folks actually do the unpatriotic thing and save at least a portion of their income, which does nothing to boost the economy.

Instead of giving $500 to everyone, we should give $1000 to the poorest 50%, or better yet, $2000 to the poorest 25%. A flat-screen for every trailer! Lobbyists and the AARP be damned!

Isn't this whole giving everyone a check for the same amount thing constituting a regressive taxation policy? Why are the Democrats for this?

President Bush is going to rail against earmarks and pork-barrel spending in his State of the Union address tonight. As someone who makes his living off of the construction of highways, I couldn't disagree more. But seriously, I do have problems with earmarks in that they fund specific projects deemed important by Senators rather than projects deemed most important by whichever oversight agency should be in charge. Need a bridge to nowhere in Alaska? Give the Federal Highway Administration more money and see if that's the number one project they'd like to see happen. Need $213,000 for olive fruit fly research? Sounds like an NSF grant to me rather than a congressional earmark.

Hey, The Fed, I'm looking to buy a house within the next 6 months. Could you possibly drastically slash interest rates several more times between now and June in response to panic from stock markets so's I can get a better interest rate on my mortgage? Thanks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Spare Some Change?

You gotta hand it to Bill Richardson. He's definitely a politician to the end. From his latest campaign trail email:

There's one last issue I still need your help on before I can officially end my presidential bid. Right now we still have an outstanding debt.

We spent that money in those last few frenzied weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire trying to capitalize on the fluid poll numbers. Given how high the stakes were, I'm sure we would do the same thing given the same situation again.

Will you please make one final contribution to my campaign so we can officially "zero out" that debt?

I recognize that it's a hard thing to do with the nomination no longer on the line. But I believe it is essential that the final act of our campaign is to meet every outstanding obligation.

And let me tell you one last time just how much your support has meant to me. Backing a presidential candidate is a serious, thoughtful act. And knowing that you considered all your options and chose me makes me very proud.

Thank you once again.

All the best,


Did I say politician? I meant something more along the lines of hobo, bum or homeless guy on the corner. Usually requests for charity are made with a specific goal in mind like medical research for breast cancer or giving food to African children. Is anyone actually going to give a politician money if that politician isn't running for anything? I've never heard of such a thing. Interesting gambit though. "Hey, I, uh, want some money. No no, I'm not running for anything. Just give me money." He's not even making any excuses, like he needs the money to get his campaign bus out of hock in New Hampshire.

Just for the record, I never actually supported Bill Richardson, I just answered a question on his website in his early days of campaigning and got automatically signed up for his campaign emails.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Why George W. Bush Shouldn't Disown the NIE Report

One of the few things about which I agree with both President Bush and my father: despite December's NIE report which stated with high confidence that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Iran remains a threat. According to a Newsweek article, President Bush told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the NIE's conclusions don't reflect his own views, but I think that there is plenty of evidence in the NIE report to support Bush's view that Iran is still a persistent threat.

The first sentence of the Key Judgments section of the NIE report reads as follows: "We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons." Everything before that semicolon is what we've all heard from the press; everything after the semicolon is what we hear from President Bush. In reality the President's assertion that Iran is still a threat despite halting a nuclear weapons program in 2003 is clearly laid out by the very document that Bush has "all but disowned".

Iran's actions prove that they have every intent on continuing to enrich fissile material. Iran continues to thwart the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and the United Nations by continuing to enrich uranium. They have opened at least one new enrichment facility in the past year, and they continue installing centrifuges at their facilities. Iran claims that the enrichment of uranium is only for peaceful nuclear power. This may be true or it may not be, but it certainly shouldn't matter to us. The difference between civilian-use enriched uranium and weapons-grade enriched uranium can be made up with a few more spins around the old centrifuge. Plus, also according to the NIE report, "Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so."

So the only reason why Iran can't develop a nuclear weapon right now is because it takes a really long time to separate out enough U-235 from the uranium ore to make enough fissile material to go to critical mass. There is a miniscule ratio of naturally occurring U-235 to U-238, and the weight difference is also miniscule, so it takes many chains of centrifuges and many years of spinning in order to get a small amount of the stuff. During WWII, the United States worked non-stop day-and-night from 1942 to 1945 on developing enough U-235 to create one bomb. After dropping our one uranium bomb and our one plutonium bomb on Japan, the threat was something like, "Surrender now, or there's more where those came from!" Complete bullshit of course, as it would have taken another couple of years just to get enough fissile material, but the threat worked and Japan finally surrendered. My point is that it's not a lack of technological knowledge that's keeping Iran from having a bomb right now, it's a lack of materials. And the soonest Iran could get enough U-235 would be about 2010, and the soonest Iran could get enough plutonium would be about 2015, according to the NIE report.

In addition to saying that the uranium enrichment is for civilian power facilities only, Iran has also declared that they never had a nuclear weapons program, which of course the NIE refutes. So, Iran tells the truth only when it wants to and closes its doors to the West. Even if Iran is telling the truth about their civilian enrichment program, there's no reason to believe them.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What's the Deal with Ron Paul and Young People?

No one has yet to give me a satisfactory explanation to the reason why young people like a grizzled old politician like Ron Paul so much.

It's been really amusing to look at the U.S. Politics application on Facebook, an application made by ABC News that has one or two opinion surveys daily, along with blogs and reports from the presidential campaigns and a tally of current support for each candidate according to the number of Facebook users listing their favorite candidate. Since 98% of Facebook users are under the age of 30 (I just made that number up, but it sounds reasonable, right?), the Facebook poll could be seen as a good indication of the opinion of politically active young people. Huge disparities exist on both the Democratic and Republican sides between the Facebook poll and the national polls. The leading Democratic Facebook candidate, Barack Obama, has 63% of all Democratic support, an overwhelming lead over second-place Hillary Clinton, at 19%. But in the other world of people with jobs, kids and land-line telephones, Clinton leads Obama 42% to 37%.

But it's still a two-candidate race for the Facebook Dems. On the Republican side, the top four candidates nationally, McCain, Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani, aren't within 15% of the Facebook G.O.P. leader, Dr. Ron Paul. Ron Paul has 35% support among Facebook users, close to double what Mike Huckabee has in second place at 20%. In the real world, Ron Paul polls at a national level of under 4%. He's getting 875% more support from young people than from the rest of America! Not only that, but in a recent informal survey on the ABC News Facebook application, the question was asked, "Are there any candidates from another party that you could support?" Facebook users, composed overwhelmingly of young Democrats, chose "There is exactly one candidate I could support" as the top answer. In the comments section, almost all of the comments listed Ron Paul as that one candidate. So not only does Ron Paul have the support of young Republicans, he would have the support of many young Democrats too if they weren't such partisans.

But why? He's got some interesting ways of advertising himself, but what is it about Ron Paul's message itself that speaks to my generation and those younger and less bald than me? He is pro-life, wants to end automatic citizenship to people born here, stresses the need to create more socially-awkward adults by strengthening home schooling, and, like any good Texan, loves loves loves him some guns. On any given issue, he will be on the side that would create a weaker and less-influential government, perfect for foreign negotiations with dangerous states. He's a libertarian in every sense of the word, and he's even run for president before as the Libertarian Party candidate. I must say I do have respect for some of his positions like war spending (he's against it), serious debt reduction (he's for it), and the Patriot Act (he's against it), but I'm not willing to give up on good government programs that help out those who aren't so fortunate economically speaking achieve some modicum of success in our society. Plus, it sounds as though he wants to blow up The Fed with a car bomb or something. The guy's nuts.

So why do young people dig this message? It could be because young people are taught (by our leftist teachers, of course) that our country is great because it allows so many individual freedoms like the right to free speech, expression of religion, etc. What we are not taught is how the economic policies of the government affect us. That stuff we have to learn for ourselves. So I guess some youths might be motivated by, I don't know, a burning hatred of the U.N. or NAFTA to become Libertarian-like and therefore vote for Ron Paul. But I'm not sure this accounts for the overwhelming difference between the Facebook vote and the national ... wait, what's that you say? Ron Paul is for the legalization of drugs? Oh, okay. That makes sense. Nevermind.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

13 Brief Points on Why the Fair Tax Sucks

If he were to become president, Mike Huckabee has proposed a national sales tax of 23% on all items. This flat sales tax would come with a fixed rebate said to cover "essential goods and services" that everyone would be allowed to have as a sort of way to rig some progressiveness into the tax. Huckabee also proposes to eliminate the IRS, and repeal the 16th Amendment, which states that Congress shall have the power to collect taxes from any source of income without the tax revenue having to be proportional to the population of the state from which it is derived. I think this is a terrible idea, and here's why:

1) Any sales tax is a regressive tax. Rich guy Gallant and middle class guy Goofus eat the same amount of food, drive the same amount of miles per day and use the same amount of medical care. The difference is after Goofus gets home for the week, he's got a couple hundred dollars of spending money, while Gallant has a couple tens of thousands. A sales tax on that food, gas and medical care means a much higher proportion of Goofus's money goes to taxes than does Gallant's money, which imposes a higher burden on Goofus than on Gallant. A progressive income tax attempts to impose a more equivalent financial burden on both Goofus and Gallant.

2) The figure "23%" is awfully misleading. The way our state and local sales taxes are described is a tax on top of the price of the good; i.e., if an item costs $100 and there's a 6% sales tax, the amount of money coming out of your wallet is $106. The 6% is a tax-exclusive description. So if an item costs $100, and you pay $129.87 for it, wouldn't it seem like you were having a 29.87% sales tax imposed upon you? Not according to Mike Huckabee and the proponents of the Fair Tax. The 23% sales tax described by is a tax-inclusive description as an attempt to compare it with an income tax. In reality, it's a 29.87% sales tax. But 30% sounds effing huge, so they play with the math in order to fool a bunch of people.

3) Most of us would end up paying higher taxes. For people living in poverty, the rebate would just about eliminate any of their tax burden thanks to the fixed rebate jiggered into the plan. For people making more than $200,000 a year, their personal tax burden would fall anywhere from 45% to 53%, while for people who earn between $15,000 and $50,000, the tax burden would increase as much as 7%, as I found out when I used 's own tax calculator. (Numbers from President's Advisory Panel for Federal Tax Reform)

4) The IRS couldn't possibly be eliminated. The government runs on revenue. It has to have an agency to collect it! You can call that agency whatever you'd like, but it would still be a massive government bureaucracy. In the case of the Fair Tax, you'd need two bureaucracies: one tax-collecting agency to collect sales taxes from businesses, and another tax-distributing agency to dole out those monthly rebates.

5) A President can set an agenda, but a President cannot change the Constitution alone. As we all recall from Government class, it takes 2/3rds of Congress plus 3/4ths of the states to ratify a new constitutional amendment. So in the years that it would take to officially eliminate Congresses ability to collect individual income taxes, we'd get all kinds of new sales taxes, resulting in potential double taxation. Yippee!

Okay, I'm running out of time, so the next points will be short.

6) Don't you notice taxes a lot more when you see a price and you have to pay an amount that is substantially higher than that price, rather than when you see a check with your name on it?

7) There are doubts as to whether or not the Fair Tax will even be revenue neutral at 30%, especially whether or not it will be in the future.

8) Oh yeah, all those state sales and income taxes that we currently have would of course still be on the books. So for states with income taxes, you'd still have to file a return every year, and you'd still have to pay an additional 5-8% for any goods and services purchased. And this is supposed to be a tax reduction?

9) The rebates do vary by number of children, but a single mother would have to have three children to equal the rebate given to a childless couple. Awesome for me, but seems anything but Fair.

10) Retirees have had their income taxed all their lives, and now that they've developed a nest egg, it will now be taxed when they try to spend it. Seems a little unFair, no?

11) High income earners are able to save much more than low income earners. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest quintile of earners spends 198% of their income, while the highest quintile spends only 61%. Therefore, any sales tax would penalize low incomes much more than high incomes. While the Fair Tax would encourage saving money and not going beyond one's limits (something this country apparently needs), it's just not possible for a lot of people to save money, especially when you're just starting out in life.

12) Fair Tax people promise that the price of goods and services will fall once the income tax is eliminated. I'm not an economist, but don't wages also have to fall in order for that to happen?

13) In order for it to be revenue-neutral, the 23% rate assumes that no fraud, evasion, or EBaying exists.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I'm an American citizen who reads about issues and votes in municipal elections, but I'm a little bit flummoxed as to the method by which we select the next President of our nation, a method we have all come to accept.

1) Why don't we all go to primaries on the same day? The piecemeal mishmash of primaries and caucuses favors voters who happen to live in certain states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina) and punishes voters who happen to live in other states (Montana, Oregon and North Carolina, for example). If the influence the press has on the outcome of an election is important enough to avoid declaring a winner before polls close on a particular election day, why is it okay to declare a winner in a party's presidential nomination before millions of voters in other states have had their say?

2) What the hell is the point of non-binding caucus? Much like a congressional non-binding resolution ordering the President to remove troops from Iraq, why should anyone care what anything non-binding has to say about who should be our next President...ial nominee?

3) Why do so many caucuses involve several layers of needless representation? For instance in Iowa precinct delegates are selected based proportionally on the votes from individuals in that precinct, and those delegates go to county conventions, where they select delegates to go to district conventions, who then select delegates to go to the state convention, who aren't actually bound by anything that the precincts say. What if all the state convention delegates just happened to drink Ron Paul's kool-aid?

4) Why are Iowa and New Hampshire allowed to go first, but states like Michigan and Florida get punished if they try to horn in on those northern white-bread states? Are those two states ordained by God to be the sole defenders of democracy?

5) Why don't we care at all how many actual delegates are bound by these primaries? According to, New Hampshire's democrats will send 9 delegates for Obama, 9 delegates for Clinton, 4 delegates for Edwards, and reserve 5 delegates for later. So in this Shocking Victory for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, in terms of the only metrics that actually matter, she only tied Obama.

6) Super-delegates: kind of suspicious, no? About 20% of the vote at the Democratic convention will be from super-delegates who don't have to vote in any particular way. So if the number of delegates for Obama and Clinton, say, obtained before the convention are pretty close, these super-delegates, who do not represent the will of the people and could very well represent the will of special interests, could collaborate and select whichever candidate they feel would be most friendly to, say, seal-clubbing. Why do we allow this?

7) Why aren't convention delegates bound by law or party registration or something to select who the voters voted for?

And this list is just for the primaries. The general election has its own anti-democratic process, but it's constitutionally ordained and way less shadowy than the ways in which the political parties go about their business.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Slate's Primary Prediction Competition

Okay, so I've got Edwards and Huckabee in the pool for tonight caucus in Iowa, with Obama and Romney to place and Clinton and McCain to show.