Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 12, 2008

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Polls

The talk of the political world today — aside from the headshaking effort to blame McCain and Palin for some people yelling in their crowds against Obama and asking McCain wild questions — is the interesting admission by the Gallup Organization that it is having great trouble understanding what is going on in this year’s election. Gallup acknowledged today that ithas criteria according to which a) Obama and McCain are separated by 4 points, b) they’re separated by 6 points, and c) they’re separated by 7 points.

What’s most interesting is that, according to the criteria Gallup would ordinarily use, the contest has a four-point spread, 50-46 in Obama’s favor:

Obama’s current advantage is slightly less when estimating the preferences of likely voters, which Gallup will begin reporting on a regular basis between now and the election. Gallup is providing two likely voter estimates to take into account different turnout scenarios.

The first likely voter model is based on Gallup’s traditional likely voter assumptions, which determine respondents’ likelihood to vote based on how they answer questions about their current voting intention and past voting behavior. According to this model, Obama’s advantage over McCain is 50% to 46% in Oct. 9-11 tracking data.

The second likely voter estimate is a variation on the traditional model, but is only based on respondents’ current voting intention. This model would take into account increased voter registration this year and possibly higher turnout among groups that are traditionally less likely to vote, such as young adults and racial minorities (Gallup will continue to monitor and report on turnout indicators by subgroup between now and the election). According to this second likely voter model, Obama has a 51% to 45% lead over McCain.

The 7 point spread, 50-43, is among American adults who are not asked whether or not they are likely to vote.

Other pollsters, Scott Rasmussen primarily, have bet on a very significant swing to Democrats between 2004 and 2008 among likely voters and are “weighting” their results to reflect it.

There are two presumptions at work in Gallup’s decision to offer two different “likely voter” scenarios. One is that the electorate in 2008 will act the way electorates have in the past, with very little exceptions. Republicans will come home to the GOP candidate; Democrats will vote for the Democrat; independents will break a little bit for one or the other, and will decide the election. Michael Barone, in 2004, said the conduct of independents had turned America from the 50-50 nation it was in the 2000 election to a 51-49 electorate that favored Republicans.

In 2006 — not exactly an election from which one can easily extrapolate, because it was a midterm and the electorate was far smaller than it will be this year — Republican voters stayed home, independents broke for the Democrats, and the overall partisan vote tally was a landslide 53-46 for the Democrats.

The second “likely voter” scenario suggests the 2006 election was a harbinger — brilliant get-out-the-vote efforts by Democrats, who had more money than Croesus, and independents deeply soured on the GOP because of the Iraq war and corruption. Those voters who went Democrat, especially the independents, will stay Democrat, according to this theory.

Add to this the common conviction that Obama will score northward of 95 percent of the black vote, which will turn out in record numbers. Then add to that the notion that Obama appeals to younger voters to such a degree that they will actually turn out on Election Day, which they largely don’t do even if they are registered. And what you get is an electorate very favorably disposed towards the Obama ticket.

The poll numbers universally agree that Obama is ahead. But the polls that suggest he has put the election away are relying on the notion of an electorate that is now tilted significantly to the Democratic side. What if that notion is overblown? After all, Obama spent the spring underperforming in polls against Hillary Clinton, demonstrating that his vast appeal to youth didn’t mean youth would actually bother to show up in sufficient numbers to let him finish her off.

The truth is, nobody knows. I think the last week of the election will offer hard evidence of whether McCain has lost the independents, and, therefore, the election. Until then, though, despite the conventional wisdom that it’s all over, McCain clearly has some kind of way to win this. Don’t ask me what it is, but even after this horrific week, Obama hasn’t yet closed the sale.

Or, at least, that’s what the polls say. Why should we listen to them? They’re all telling us they have no idea what the electorate looks like.

The talk of the political world today — aside from the headshaking effort to blame McCain and Palin for some people yelling in their crowds against Obama and asking McCain wild questions — is the interesting admission by the Gallup Organization that it is having great trouble understanding what is going on in this year’s election. Gallup acknowledged today that ithas criteria according to which a) Obama and McCain are separated by 4 points, b) they’re separated by 6 points, and c) they’re separated by 7 points.

What’s most interesting is that, according to the criteria Gallup would ordinarily use, the contest has a four-point spread, 50-46 in Obama’s favor:

Obama’s current advantage is slightly less when estimating the preferences of likely voters, which Gallup will begin reporting on a regular basis between now and the election. Gallup is providing two likely voter estimates to take into account different turnout scenarios.

The first likely voter model is based on Gallup’s traditional likely voter assumptions, which determine respondents’ likelihood to vote based on how they answer questions about their current voting intention and past voting behavior. According to this model, Obama’s advantage over McCain is 50% to 46% in Oct. 9-11 tracking data.

The second likely voter estimate is a variation on the traditional model, but is only based on respondents’ current voting intention. This model would take into account increased voter registration this year and possibly higher turnout among groups that are traditionally less likely to vote, such as young adults and racial minorities (Gallup will continue to monitor and report on turnout indicators by subgroup between now and the election). According to this second likely voter model, Obama has a 51% to 45% lead over McCain.

The 7 point spread, 50-43, is among American adults who are not asked whether or not they are likely to vote.

Other pollsters, Scott Rasmussen primarily, have bet on a very significant swing to Democrats between 2004 and 2008 among likely voters and are “weighting” their results to reflect it.

There are two presumptions at work in Gallup’s decision to offer two different “likely voter” scenarios. One is that the electorate in 2008 will act the way electorates have in the past, with very little exceptions. Republicans will come home to the GOP candidate; Democrats will vote for the Democrat; independents will break a little bit for one or the other, and will decide the election. Michael Barone, in 2004, said the conduct of independents had turned America from the 50-50 nation it was in the 2000 election to a 51-49 electorate that favored Republicans.

In 2006 — not exactly an election from which one can easily extrapolate, because it was a midterm and the electorate was far smaller than it will be this year — Republican voters stayed home, independents broke for the Democrats, and the overall partisan vote tally was a landslide 53-46 for the Democrats.

The second “likely voter” scenario suggests the 2006 election was a harbinger — brilliant get-out-the-vote efforts by Democrats, who had more money than Croesus, and independents deeply soured on the GOP because of the Iraq war and corruption. Those voters who went Democrat, especially the independents, will stay Democrat, according to this theory.

Add to this the common conviction that Obama will score northward of 95 percent of the black vote, which will turn out in record numbers. Then add to that the notion that Obama appeals to younger voters to such a degree that they will actually turn out on Election Day, which they largely don’t do even if they are registered. And what you get is an electorate very favorably disposed towards the Obama ticket.

The poll numbers universally agree that Obama is ahead. But the polls that suggest he has put the election away are relying on the notion of an electorate that is now tilted significantly to the Democratic side. What if that notion is overblown? After all, Obama spent the spring underperforming in polls against Hillary Clinton, demonstrating that his vast appeal to youth didn’t mean youth would actually bother to show up in sufficient numbers to let him finish her off.

The truth is, nobody knows. I think the last week of the election will offer hard evidence of whether McCain has lost the independents, and, therefore, the election. Until then, though, despite the conventional wisdom that it’s all over, McCain clearly has some kind of way to win this. Don’t ask me what it is, but even after this horrific week, Obama hasn’t yet closed the sale.

Or, at least, that’s what the polls say. Why should we listen to them? They’re all telling us they have no idea what the electorate looks like.

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Is It The Senate?

For many elections, we have seen pundits recite the truism that Senators don’t fair well in presidential races. You have to go back to John Kennedy to find the last successful Senator to run for President. But the streak will be broken this time, right? Well, not really if Barack Obama prevails. Obama hardly carved a career in the Senate and began his run just a few years after arriving in that august body. He was barely touched by the Senate, or it by him. John McCain however spent his mature political life and most of his adult life there. And perhaps that is part of the problem.

What is it about the Senate that hampers presidential candidates? In some cases, it is the fondness for Senate-ese and the delight in hearing one’s own voice. In other cases it is the burden of explaining all those votes, some of which inevitably conflict with others. In McCain’s case it may account for the inability or unwillingness to drive a big picture agenda and to go for the jugular. Both have handicapped his effort and utterly frustrated his supporters.

McCain presents a biography and a set of value-laden phrases (e.g. “putting country first”) but not an all-encompassing agenda or vision for what he wants to do and where he wants to take the country. Many of the items he stresses are process-oriented — “bipartisanship.” But that’s not a goal, it’s a means to an end. What does all that bipartisanship going to get us? We don’t know.

As for his political instincts, perhaps McCain has absorbed the genial tone of the Senate and the lesson that one doesn’t burn bridges with opponents whose help you may someday need. In the context of a presidential run, McCain and his campaign have become a maddening bundle of contradictions. Sarah Palin can raise Reverend Wright, but McCain can’t. Bill Ayers and ACORN are fair game, but not in a debate. What rules is he playing by? No one can quite tell. More importantly, what is the public supposed to make of those issues when presented with such a tentative and scattershot approach? Voters soon conclude these issues must not matter all that much.

So aside from not running when your party is presiding over an economic debacle, perhaps the lesson for Republicans is this: if you select a nominee from the Senate make sure he doesn’t have the temperament and mindset of a Senator.

For many elections, we have seen pundits recite the truism that Senators don’t fair well in presidential races. You have to go back to John Kennedy to find the last successful Senator to run for President. But the streak will be broken this time, right? Well, not really if Barack Obama prevails. Obama hardly carved a career in the Senate and began his run just a few years after arriving in that august body. He was barely touched by the Senate, or it by him. John McCain however spent his mature political life and most of his adult life there. And perhaps that is part of the problem.

What is it about the Senate that hampers presidential candidates? In some cases, it is the fondness for Senate-ese and the delight in hearing one’s own voice. In other cases it is the burden of explaining all those votes, some of which inevitably conflict with others. In McCain’s case it may account for the inability or unwillingness to drive a big picture agenda and to go for the jugular. Both have handicapped his effort and utterly frustrated his supporters.

McCain presents a biography and a set of value-laden phrases (e.g. “putting country first”) but not an all-encompassing agenda or vision for what he wants to do and where he wants to take the country. Many of the items he stresses are process-oriented — “bipartisanship.” But that’s not a goal, it’s a means to an end. What does all that bipartisanship going to get us? We don’t know.

As for his political instincts, perhaps McCain has absorbed the genial tone of the Senate and the lesson that one doesn’t burn bridges with opponents whose help you may someday need. In the context of a presidential run, McCain and his campaign have become a maddening bundle of contradictions. Sarah Palin can raise Reverend Wright, but McCain can’t. Bill Ayers and ACORN are fair game, but not in a debate. What rules is he playing by? No one can quite tell. More importantly, what is the public supposed to make of those issues when presented with such a tentative and scattershot approach? Voters soon conclude these issues must not matter all that much.

So aside from not running when your party is presiding over an economic debacle, perhaps the lesson for Republicans is this: if you select a nominee from the Senate make sure he doesn’t have the temperament and mindset of a Senator.

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Laughing at the Bear

In Newsweek, Christohper Dickey, John Barry, and Owen Matthews have written a piece to let us know that Russia is not a formidable threat. The authors know this because of the following one-liner from State Department spokesman Sean McCormick:

Sneering at the weakness of Russia’s fleet en route to Venezuela, McCormack said, “We’ll see if they actually make it there. Somebody told me they had a tugboat accompanying them in case they break down along the way.”

Based on that point alone, we’re treated to three pages on how today’s Russia is more worthy of laughter than concern, and why, therefore, globally-minded “realists” in the State Department are winning the day with their laid-back approach to handling Moscow. The article closes on this cute note:

So the fleet led by the Kirov-class guided missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) continued toward Caracas. And so, by last report, did the tugboat.

Well, there are a few reports Newsweek has ignored. For starters, yesterday that fleet made a stop in Libya on its way to Caracas. What’s particularly interesting is that the chief realist at the State Department, Condoleezza Rice recently paid a friendly visit to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli that was hailed as a “a new chapter in U.S.-Libya bilateral relations,” by White House press secretary Dana Perino.” As Valdimir Puitn has signaled renewed interest in Russia’s old Cold War ally, we’ll just have to see what the next chapter brings.

Here’s another little report that just came out:

Russia test-fired long-range ballistic missiles Sunday as President Dmitri Medvedev pledged to build up the country’s armed capabilities.

[…]

The statement Sunday was the latest pledge by the Russian head of state to revive the might of the armed forces. Medvedev said Saturday that Russia would resume building aircraft carriers and last month announced that Russia would build more new submarines. The president also said that the country’s nuclear deterrent should be upgraded within 12 years.

Seeking to assert its power after a decade of oil-fueled economic growth, Russia announced that it would increase defense spending 26 percent to a post-Soviet record of 1.28 trillion rubles, or $48 billion, next year.

But we can stick to jokes about tugboats, if realists prefer.

In Newsweek, Christohper Dickey, John Barry, and Owen Matthews have written a piece to let us know that Russia is not a formidable threat. The authors know this because of the following one-liner from State Department spokesman Sean McCormick:

Sneering at the weakness of Russia’s fleet en route to Venezuela, McCormack said, “We’ll see if they actually make it there. Somebody told me they had a tugboat accompanying them in case they break down along the way.”

Based on that point alone, we’re treated to three pages on how today’s Russia is more worthy of laughter than concern, and why, therefore, globally-minded “realists” in the State Department are winning the day with their laid-back approach to handling Moscow. The article closes on this cute note:

So the fleet led by the Kirov-class guided missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) continued toward Caracas. And so, by last report, did the tugboat.

Well, there are a few reports Newsweek has ignored. For starters, yesterday that fleet made a stop in Libya on its way to Caracas. What’s particularly interesting is that the chief realist at the State Department, Condoleezza Rice recently paid a friendly visit to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in Tripoli that was hailed as a “a new chapter in U.S.-Libya bilateral relations,” by White House press secretary Dana Perino.” As Valdimir Puitn has signaled renewed interest in Russia’s old Cold War ally, we’ll just have to see what the next chapter brings.

Here’s another little report that just came out:

Russia test-fired long-range ballistic missiles Sunday as President Dmitri Medvedev pledged to build up the country’s armed capabilities.

[…]

The statement Sunday was the latest pledge by the Russian head of state to revive the might of the armed forces. Medvedev said Saturday that Russia would resume building aircraft carriers and last month announced that Russia would build more new submarines. The president also said that the country’s nuclear deterrent should be upgraded within 12 years.

Seeking to assert its power after a decade of oil-fueled economic growth, Russia announced that it would increase defense spending 26 percent to a post-Soviet record of 1.28 trillion rubles, or $48 billion, next year.

But we can stick to jokes about tugboats, if realists prefer.

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Begging the Chinese

On Thursday, Admiral Timothy Keating urged the Chinese not to break off military ties with the United States.  “We regret their so doing, we hope they will reconsider soon,” the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command said.  “I’m sorry it happened.”

I’m not.  Following the Bush administration’s October 3 decision to sell a stripped-down package of arms to Taiwan, Beijing threw a hissy fit.  As a part of their response, the Chinese pulled out of a disaster-relief exchange, cancelled a visit by one of their generals to the United States, “indefinitely” postponed meetings on stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and halted port calls by the Navy in China.

And we should be upset?  The Pentagon reveals our capabilities and technology and receives little in return through its program of regular contact with China.  So if Beijing wants to cancel the exchanges, we should shrug our shoulders, leave the Chinese a phone number, and tell them to call when they’re in a better mood.  Someone should remind the generals and admirals of the People’s Liberation Army that they need us more than we need them.  In fact, we don’t them at all.  All we need to do is to protect our own people and allies.

Of course, the Bush White House does not agree and feels it has to ask the Chinese to do something more in their interest than ours.  That’s because it has a fundamentally incorrect view of global politics in general and China in particular.  It’s time our leaders perceive the world more clearly and not beg the temper-tantrum-throwing Chinese.

On Thursday, Admiral Timothy Keating urged the Chinese not to break off military ties with the United States.  “We regret their so doing, we hope they will reconsider soon,” the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command said.  “I’m sorry it happened.”

I’m not.  Following the Bush administration’s October 3 decision to sell a stripped-down package of arms to Taiwan, Beijing threw a hissy fit.  As a part of their response, the Chinese pulled out of a disaster-relief exchange, cancelled a visit by one of their generals to the United States, “indefinitely” postponed meetings on stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and halted port calls by the Navy in China.

And we should be upset?  The Pentagon reveals our capabilities and technology and receives little in return through its program of regular contact with China.  So if Beijing wants to cancel the exchanges, we should shrug our shoulders, leave the Chinese a phone number, and tell them to call when they’re in a better mood.  Someone should remind the generals and admirals of the People’s Liberation Army that they need us more than we need them.  In fact, we don’t them at all.  All we need to do is to protect our own people and allies.

Of course, the Bush White House does not agree and feels it has to ask the Chinese to do something more in their interest than ours.  That’s because it has a fundamentally incorrect view of global politics in general and China in particular.  It’s time our leaders perceive the world more clearly and not beg the temper-tantrum-throwing Chinese.

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Skepticism Towards North Korea

On January 29, 2002, President George W. Bush delivered the annual State of the Union Address, famously stating: “North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” He went on to categorize this tyrannical regime as a member of the “axis of evil,” along with Iran and Iraq. The Bush Administration announced yesterday that North Korea no longer remains on the terror list.

The details of the statement agreed upon by American and North Korean officials are only beginning to emerge (even though Bush had previously suggested that such an agreement was in the works). The New York Times reports:

The Bush administration announced Saturday that it had removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism in a bid to salvage a fragile nuclear deal that seemed on the verge of collapse. Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said that the United States made the decision after North Korea agreed to resume disabling a plutonium plant and to allow some inspections to verify that it had halted its nuclear program as promised months earlier. The deal, which the Bush administration had portrayed as a major foreign policy achievement, began slipping away in recent weeks in a dispute over the verification program. Just days ago, North Korea barred international inspectors from the plant.

The North has agreed in principle to give up its nuclear material and any weapons, but that seems almost certain to be subject to negotiations with the next president. During the Bush administration, North Korea is believed to have produced enough bomb-grade plutonium for six or more nuclear weapons.

When the world’s greatest power (which presumably also means the country with the greatest bargaining power) does not ensure that enemies adhere to its demands, it should be cause for concern. Why is North Korea being de-listed before proving that it has given up its nuclear program?

Not surprisingly, Barack Obama has called Bush’s move an “appropriate response“:

North Korea’s agreement to these verification measures is a modest step forward in dismantling its nuclear weapons programs. President Bush’s decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is an appropriate response, as long as there is a clear understanding that if North Korea fails to follow through there will be immediate consequences.

Keep in mind, aside from a formal agreement, nothing has actually changed. American inspectors can now verify North Korea’s expected progression towards denuclearizing, but only in theory.

The removal of an enemy state from such a list should ordinarily be cause for joy. Not this time.

On January 29, 2002, President George W. Bush delivered the annual State of the Union Address, famously stating: “North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.” He went on to categorize this tyrannical regime as a member of the “axis of evil,” along with Iran and Iraq. The Bush Administration announced yesterday that North Korea no longer remains on the terror list.

The details of the statement agreed upon by American and North Korean officials are only beginning to emerge (even though Bush had previously suggested that such an agreement was in the works). The New York Times reports:

The Bush administration announced Saturday that it had removed North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism in a bid to salvage a fragile nuclear deal that seemed on the verge of collapse. Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said that the United States made the decision after North Korea agreed to resume disabling a plutonium plant and to allow some inspections to verify that it had halted its nuclear program as promised months earlier. The deal, which the Bush administration had portrayed as a major foreign policy achievement, began slipping away in recent weeks in a dispute over the verification program. Just days ago, North Korea barred international inspectors from the plant.

The North has agreed in principle to give up its nuclear material and any weapons, but that seems almost certain to be subject to negotiations with the next president. During the Bush administration, North Korea is believed to have produced enough bomb-grade plutonium for six or more nuclear weapons.

When the world’s greatest power (which presumably also means the country with the greatest bargaining power) does not ensure that enemies adhere to its demands, it should be cause for concern. Why is North Korea being de-listed before proving that it has given up its nuclear program?

Not surprisingly, Barack Obama has called Bush’s move an “appropriate response“:

North Korea’s agreement to these verification measures is a modest step forward in dismantling its nuclear weapons programs. President Bush’s decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is an appropriate response, as long as there is a clear understanding that if North Korea fails to follow through there will be immediate consequences.

Keep in mind, aside from a formal agreement, nothing has actually changed. American inspectors can now verify North Korea’s expected progression towards denuclearizing, but only in theory.

The removal of an enemy state from such a list should ordinarily be cause for joy. Not this time.

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Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

David Freddoso, who knows more about Barack Obama than not just anyone but everyone combined in the MSM, remarks that is it not just the fact of Obama’s associations with a cast of bizarre characters:

McCain must also point to Obama’s failures of leadership in connection with these associations, for this is far more important than the associations themselves.  .  .

As chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an educational reform project that Ayers founded, Obama presided over a waste of $160 million in donors’ money. The project, under his leadership, failed to improve student achievement in the 210 Chicago schools where it operated, according to the Annenberg Challenge’s final report. And to this day, that project is Obama’s only significant executive experience.

Obama’s legislative leadership was similar, a case study in wasting other people’s money. In Springfield, Obama wrote letters from his public position to get Rezko $14 million for his slum-development enterprise. Obama co-sponsored several pieces of housing legislation favorable to Rezko and other slum-developers, giving them hundreds of millions in subsidies and other tax and regulatory advantages. They in turn funneled money to Obama’s campaigns and then let their buildings deteriorate, even turning off the heat on their tenants during the winter. By his own account, Obama never bothered to follow up on how the money was spent, but the record shows that he worked in every legislative session to provide more for his developer friends.

He then finds yet another conflict of interest involving a law client:

The client, Robert Blackwell, had just paid Obama $112,000 in his capacity as a private attorney for one of his corporations. State Senator Obama and [aide Dan] Shomon then helped Blackwell obtain $320,000 in state tourism grants to hold ping-pong tournaments.

It is not as if self-dealing, executive skills, and integrity aren’t issues in a presidential campaign. So it remains baffling why these were not front and center from the start of the general election. Perhaps the McCain camp underestimated the media’s unwillingness to bring some of this up on their own. Maybe the McCain team imagined it would do this all in the fall and unfortunately got swamped by the economic meltdown. Or they could have be lulled by their own success this summer in narrowing the gap in the polls through the “celebrity” attacks.

Still it remains a bit of a mystery and, in the end comes, down to McCain himself. One suspects he never had his heart in the effort that was needed: a systematic and sustained effort to reveal Obama as a Leftist and a craven product of machine politics.

David Freddoso, who knows more about Barack Obama than not just anyone but everyone combined in the MSM, remarks that is it not just the fact of Obama’s associations with a cast of bizarre characters:

McCain must also point to Obama’s failures of leadership in connection with these associations, for this is far more important than the associations themselves.  .  .

As chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an educational reform project that Ayers founded, Obama presided over a waste of $160 million in donors’ money. The project, under his leadership, failed to improve student achievement in the 210 Chicago schools where it operated, according to the Annenberg Challenge’s final report. And to this day, that project is Obama’s only significant executive experience.

Obama’s legislative leadership was similar, a case study in wasting other people’s money. In Springfield, Obama wrote letters from his public position to get Rezko $14 million for his slum-development enterprise. Obama co-sponsored several pieces of housing legislation favorable to Rezko and other slum-developers, giving them hundreds of millions in subsidies and other tax and regulatory advantages. They in turn funneled money to Obama’s campaigns and then let their buildings deteriorate, even turning off the heat on their tenants during the winter. By his own account, Obama never bothered to follow up on how the money was spent, but the record shows that he worked in every legislative session to provide more for his developer friends.

He then finds yet another conflict of interest involving a law client:

The client, Robert Blackwell, had just paid Obama $112,000 in his capacity as a private attorney for one of his corporations. State Senator Obama and [aide Dan] Shomon then helped Blackwell obtain $320,000 in state tourism grants to hold ping-pong tournaments.

It is not as if self-dealing, executive skills, and integrity aren’t issues in a presidential campaign. So it remains baffling why these were not front and center from the start of the general election. Perhaps the McCain camp underestimated the media’s unwillingness to bring some of this up on their own. Maybe the McCain team imagined it would do this all in the fall and unfortunately got swamped by the economic meltdown. Or they could have be lulled by their own success this summer in narrowing the gap in the polls through the “celebrity” attacks.

Still it remains a bit of a mystery and, in the end comes, down to McCain himself. One suspects he never had his heart in the effort that was needed: a systematic and sustained effort to reveal Obama as a Leftist and a craven product of machine politics.

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The Terrorism Effect

Are voters sensitive to terrorism? The Monkey Cage refers to the latest issue of the American Political Science Review in which a RAND Working Paper deals with the Israeli example.

The results consistently document, across different empirical specifications, that terrorism causes an increase on the relative support for the right bloc of parties.

It’s a detailed 40-page-long study, and the problem with it is, well, that it states the almost-obvious. Nevertheless, at this stage of the American political race, and with people starting to believe that only a major atmosphere-shifting event can propel John McCain into the White House, I think this article might attract some interest:

The particularities of the Israeli case notwithstanding, the revealed empirical evidence on the consequences of terror fatalities may describe similar patterns elsewhere. This case study may teach us general lessons based on over fifty years of dealing with terrorism. These lessons show that terror attacks affect the electorate, substantiating the hypothesis that democracies are especially susceptible to be targeted by terror organizations.

And what do we learn from the Israeli example?

the occurrence of a terror attack before an election (or the lack thereof) can clearly determine the electoral outcome… terrorism not only affected the composition of every Israeli parliament during the time period at issue, but it may had very well determined which party obtained a plurality in two of the elections analyzed. This appears to be the case for the elections of 1988 (where the Likud defeated Labor by one mandate) and the elections of 1996 (where Netanyahu defeated Peres by less than 30,000 votes). Moreover, note that an additional terror attack within 3 months of the 1992 elections could have shifted the majority of the parliament from the left to the right bloc of parties (the actual difference between the two blocs was 61 to 59 parliament members in favor of the left bloc).

This means that an additional terror attack in 1992 could have killed the Oslo process–which makes one think about the strange ways of terror, and the deranged ways in which it serves to destroy both victim and aggressor alike.

Are voters sensitive to terrorism? The Monkey Cage refers to the latest issue of the American Political Science Review in which a RAND Working Paper deals with the Israeli example.

The results consistently document, across different empirical specifications, that terrorism causes an increase on the relative support for the right bloc of parties.

It’s a detailed 40-page-long study, and the problem with it is, well, that it states the almost-obvious. Nevertheless, at this stage of the American political race, and with people starting to believe that only a major atmosphere-shifting event can propel John McCain into the White House, I think this article might attract some interest:

The particularities of the Israeli case notwithstanding, the revealed empirical evidence on the consequences of terror fatalities may describe similar patterns elsewhere. This case study may teach us general lessons based on over fifty years of dealing with terrorism. These lessons show that terror attacks affect the electorate, substantiating the hypothesis that democracies are especially susceptible to be targeted by terror organizations.

And what do we learn from the Israeli example?

the occurrence of a terror attack before an election (or the lack thereof) can clearly determine the electoral outcome… terrorism not only affected the composition of every Israeli parliament during the time period at issue, but it may had very well determined which party obtained a plurality in two of the elections analyzed. This appears to be the case for the elections of 1988 (where the Likud defeated Labor by one mandate) and the elections of 1996 (where Netanyahu defeated Peres by less than 30,000 votes). Moreover, note that an additional terror attack within 3 months of the 1992 elections could have shifted the majority of the parliament from the left to the right bloc of parties (the actual difference between the two blocs was 61 to 59 parliament members in favor of the left bloc).

This means that an additional terror attack in 1992 could have killed the Oslo process–which makes one think about the strange ways of terror, and the deranged ways in which it serves to destroy both victim and aggressor alike.

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Things Are So Bad. . .

It sounds like a David Letterman joke: Things are so bad for the McCain camp that they are citing the New York Times. Well, it’s true. The Times put out a minimalist account of Barack Obama’s ties to ACORN. The McCain camp put out this:

Just one week ago, the Obama campaign declared that ‘Barack Obama never organized with ACORN.’ According to today’s New York Times, that statement is simply not true. The paper quotes Barack Obama on his role as head of Project Vote and says the statement ‘linked his 1992 work to ACORN in a meeting with ACORN’s leaders in November.’ In fact, Barack Obama has a long relationship with ACORN, to which he and unrepentant terrorist William Ayers funneled nearly $200,000 from the Woods Foundation, and as recently as February of this year his campaign paid nearly $1 million to an ACORN affiliate for services related to get out the vote efforts. It is clear that Barack Obama is not being honest about his association with ACORN, just as he has not been honest about his association with unrepentant terrorist William Ayers. The media has an obligation to investigate the obvious contradictions between Barack Obama’s rhetoric and his record.

The issue of ACORN really is a microcosm of the race and its coverage. Obama’s past association with ACORN (like many other radical associations) was never fully vetted by the media or his opponents for two years. When McCain finally raises an aspect of his very recent past the Obama camp and the media scream, “Distraction!” Obama lies about the extent of that relationship. The McCain camp argues that it has become a credibility and judgment issue. The media refuses to question Obama directly or press for answers from the campaign.

Whether ACORN, or Tony Rezko, or Bill Ayers, the story is essentially the same. On one hand, it is a tale of media malpractice. On the other it is a baffling delinquency (or utter failure) first by Hillary Clinton and then by John McCain to make these defining issues before the economic meltdown swamped the news cycle. But ultimately it is an issue for voters and for Obama. Is he an opportunist or a closet Leftist? Is he a world class liar or simply a political opportunist, like many politicians? Does this suggest a disturbing failure of judgment in his choice of associates or an odd willingness to sublimate his own views in order to achieve larger goals?

Voters will have to decide for themselves. Ultimately they will need to make the judgment as to whether this is someone they ultimately trust in the most perilous of times. Granted the media and Obama’s opponents haven’t highlighted the dangers, but if voters do select Obama they won’t be able to later say that they weren’t warned.

It sounds like a David Letterman joke: Things are so bad for the McCain camp that they are citing the New York Times. Well, it’s true. The Times put out a minimalist account of Barack Obama’s ties to ACORN. The McCain camp put out this:

Just one week ago, the Obama campaign declared that ‘Barack Obama never organized with ACORN.’ According to today’s New York Times, that statement is simply not true. The paper quotes Barack Obama on his role as head of Project Vote and says the statement ‘linked his 1992 work to ACORN in a meeting with ACORN’s leaders in November.’ In fact, Barack Obama has a long relationship with ACORN, to which he and unrepentant terrorist William Ayers funneled nearly $200,000 from the Woods Foundation, and as recently as February of this year his campaign paid nearly $1 million to an ACORN affiliate for services related to get out the vote efforts. It is clear that Barack Obama is not being honest about his association with ACORN, just as he has not been honest about his association with unrepentant terrorist William Ayers. The media has an obligation to investigate the obvious contradictions between Barack Obama’s rhetoric and his record.

The issue of ACORN really is a microcosm of the race and its coverage. Obama’s past association with ACORN (like many other radical associations) was never fully vetted by the media or his opponents for two years. When McCain finally raises an aspect of his very recent past the Obama camp and the media scream, “Distraction!” Obama lies about the extent of that relationship. The McCain camp argues that it has become a credibility and judgment issue. The media refuses to question Obama directly or press for answers from the campaign.

Whether ACORN, or Tony Rezko, or Bill Ayers, the story is essentially the same. On one hand, it is a tale of media malpractice. On the other it is a baffling delinquency (or utter failure) first by Hillary Clinton and then by John McCain to make these defining issues before the economic meltdown swamped the news cycle. But ultimately it is an issue for voters and for Obama. Is he an opportunist or a closet Leftist? Is he a world class liar or simply a political opportunist, like many politicians? Does this suggest a disturbing failure of judgment in his choice of associates or an odd willingness to sublimate his own views in order to achieve larger goals?

Voters will have to decide for themselves. Ultimately they will need to make the judgment as to whether this is someone they ultimately trust in the most perilous of times. Granted the media and Obama’s opponents haven’t highlighted the dangers, but if voters do select Obama they won’t be able to later say that they weren’t warned.

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So Much for Lists

One thing we now know for certain: the American list of state sponsors of terrorism has no moral authority. It is merely a tool with which to pressure countries into accepting deals with the U.S. Case in point: North Korea is no less “sponsor of terrorism” today than it was two days ago. Still, the US has decided it will be removed from the list.

The new agreement between the U.S. and North Korea is a complicated one, and one can’t easily decide if it was the right call for the U.S. John McCain seems to be suspicious, Barack Obama more receptive–but this will not become a campaign issue because it really is too complicated. I tend to be on the wary side of this debate–maybe because I was recently briefed on the issue of North Korean involvement with dangerous regimes in the Middle East (Iran, Syria). Last week, Israel accused North Korea of providing weapons of mass destruction–or assisting in programs aimed at developing such weapons–to six countries in the Middle East.

But debate about the merit of the agreement aside, there’s also a problem with the eroding of the meaning of the “list.” There is a simple question one has to answer: Is North Korea still sponsoring terror? If it isn’t, why was the country still on the list last week? If it is, why will it not be there next week? Pyongyang was put on the U.S. list “based on the confession of a North Korean agent over the mid-air explosion of a South Korean passenger jet in 1987 which killed more than 100.” The nuclear deal has nothing to do with this case, it has nothing to do with the support of terror.

So, whatever one might think about the new understanding, one might conclude that the US is quite cynical when it comes to tagging countries as “sponsoring terror.” And since both presidential candidates tend to whine about the declining popularity of America and Americanism in the world, they both now consider supporting a measure that will only serve as yet further proof for American dishonesty.

And of course, only the most naïve still believe that the “list” is a moral cause rather than a political tool of diplomacy. Nevertheless, with North Korea, the moral case is stronger than in other cases and should be reclaimed. North Korea, as most experts will explain, is not going to gain a lot, practically speaking, from this move. Sanctions by the UN and by the U.S. will still be in place, and exporting from the U.S. to Pyongyang will not resume in the near future. It is true that for North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, even the smallest financial gain can be of some significance.

The North Koreans had been deeply upset that the U.S. had not dropped them from the terrorist list as a reward for their limited cooperation to date. U.S. officials emphasized that although North Korea’s excision from the list lifts a stigma, it will have little practical effect, because other U.S. laws still impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on the impoverished Stalinist regime.

So: it is lifting this stigma that makes it an important move, not the practical implications. That raises the question: was it a “stigma” or a fact-based categorization? And if it was fact-based, does it mean that the U.S. is now, bluntly speaking, just lying by deletion?

And by the way, this New York Times report on the North Korea issue is an illuminating example of a bad choice of words. Whether it has something to do with the political tendencies of the writer/editor I don’t know–but suspicions are justified. Look at the wording:

The 1994 accord collapsed in 2002 after the Bush administration accused North Korea of circumventing the agreement by pursuing a second path to a bomb, based on enriching uranium.

So: the Bush administration is the one responsible for the collapse of the Clinton agreement with North Korea? If you read the New York Times you’d be right to conclude that the agreement was not collapsing because North Korea pursued a bomb, secretly, but rather because the Bush administration has accused North Korea of pursuing a bomb.

One thing we now know for certain: the American list of state sponsors of terrorism has no moral authority. It is merely a tool with which to pressure countries into accepting deals with the U.S. Case in point: North Korea is no less “sponsor of terrorism” today than it was two days ago. Still, the US has decided it will be removed from the list.

The new agreement between the U.S. and North Korea is a complicated one, and one can’t easily decide if it was the right call for the U.S. John McCain seems to be suspicious, Barack Obama more receptive–but this will not become a campaign issue because it really is too complicated. I tend to be on the wary side of this debate–maybe because I was recently briefed on the issue of North Korean involvement with dangerous regimes in the Middle East (Iran, Syria). Last week, Israel accused North Korea of providing weapons of mass destruction–or assisting in programs aimed at developing such weapons–to six countries in the Middle East.

But debate about the merit of the agreement aside, there’s also a problem with the eroding of the meaning of the “list.” There is a simple question one has to answer: Is North Korea still sponsoring terror? If it isn’t, why was the country still on the list last week? If it is, why will it not be there next week? Pyongyang was put on the U.S. list “based on the confession of a North Korean agent over the mid-air explosion of a South Korean passenger jet in 1987 which killed more than 100.” The nuclear deal has nothing to do with this case, it has nothing to do with the support of terror.

So, whatever one might think about the new understanding, one might conclude that the US is quite cynical when it comes to tagging countries as “sponsoring terror.” And since both presidential candidates tend to whine about the declining popularity of America and Americanism in the world, they both now consider supporting a measure that will only serve as yet further proof for American dishonesty.

And of course, only the most naïve still believe that the “list” is a moral cause rather than a political tool of diplomacy. Nevertheless, with North Korea, the moral case is stronger than in other cases and should be reclaimed. North Korea, as most experts will explain, is not going to gain a lot, practically speaking, from this move. Sanctions by the UN and by the U.S. will still be in place, and exporting from the U.S. to Pyongyang will not resume in the near future. It is true that for North Korea, one of the poorest countries in the world, even the smallest financial gain can be of some significance.

The North Koreans had been deeply upset that the U.S. had not dropped them from the terrorist list as a reward for their limited cooperation to date. U.S. officials emphasized that although North Korea’s excision from the list lifts a stigma, it will have little practical effect, because other U.S. laws still impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on the impoverished Stalinist regime.

So: it is lifting this stigma that makes it an important move, not the practical implications. That raises the question: was it a “stigma” or a fact-based categorization? And if it was fact-based, does it mean that the U.S. is now, bluntly speaking, just lying by deletion?

And by the way, this New York Times report on the North Korea issue is an illuminating example of a bad choice of words. Whether it has something to do with the political tendencies of the writer/editor I don’t know–but suspicions are justified. Look at the wording:

The 1994 accord collapsed in 2002 after the Bush administration accused North Korea of circumventing the agreement by pursuing a second path to a bomb, based on enriching uranium.

So: the Bush administration is the one responsible for the collapse of the Clinton agreement with North Korea? If you read the New York Times you’d be right to conclude that the agreement was not collapsing because North Korea pursued a bomb, secretly, but rather because the Bush administration has accused North Korea of pursuing a bomb.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Barack Obama was booed for commending John McCain’s efforts to calm his crowd at an earlier rally — for which he was booed. Perhaps we could have a national “boo” moment and get it all out of our systems. Suffice it to say we have not reached post-partisan nirvana.

If you didn’t have enough things to worry about, Michael Barone warns: “In this campaign, we have seen the coming of the Obama thugocracy, suppressing free speech, and we may see its flourishing in the four or eight years ahead.”

Glenn Reynolds puts the “angry Right” in context: “The Angry Left has gotten away with all sorts of beyond-the-pale behavior throughout the Bush Administration. The double standards involved — particularly on the part of the press — are what are feeding this anger.”

Maxine Waters lies about receiving campaign donations from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Congressional hearings would be a edifying for many people.

Only in this election would Sarah Palin feel compelled to say: “Please, it is not negative and it’s not mean-spirited to talk about his record.” And she’s about the only one talking about Obama’s Illinois state senate record — which is alarming if you are hoping for moderation on abortion or the Second Amendment.

Yes, some of the polls‘ methodology is suspect, but it’s probably close enough, which after all is what “margin of error” is all about.

McCain criticizes the Bush administration for removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terror. Finally something conservatives can heartily agree on. This is sheer capitulation, but should make for an easy transition if Obama is elected. Just think of it as a preview of things to come: there are simply no consequences for bad behavior and no real pressure applied to rogue states.

Better late than never? “As part of a plan to reinvigorate his flagging campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is considering additional economic measures aimed directly at the middle class that are likely to be rolled out this week, campaign officials said. Among the measures being considered are tax cuts – perhaps temporary – for capital gains and dividends, the officials said.”

Jack Kelly provides a handy guide to Obama’s “fishy” associations but correctly concludes that ” if Mr. McCain is unwilling to confront Mr. Obama about his radical associations, then the issue will have no traction, because you can be sure few journalists will report on them independently. He has one more chance, on Wednesday.”

Barack Obama was booed for commending John McCain’s efforts to calm his crowd at an earlier rally — for which he was booed. Perhaps we could have a national “boo” moment and get it all out of our systems. Suffice it to say we have not reached post-partisan nirvana.

If you didn’t have enough things to worry about, Michael Barone warns: “In this campaign, we have seen the coming of the Obama thugocracy, suppressing free speech, and we may see its flourishing in the four or eight years ahead.”

Glenn Reynolds puts the “angry Right” in context: “The Angry Left has gotten away with all sorts of beyond-the-pale behavior throughout the Bush Administration. The double standards involved — particularly on the part of the press — are what are feeding this anger.”

Maxine Waters lies about receiving campaign donations from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Congressional hearings would be a edifying for many people.

Only in this election would Sarah Palin feel compelled to say: “Please, it is not negative and it’s not mean-spirited to talk about his record.” And she’s about the only one talking about Obama’s Illinois state senate record — which is alarming if you are hoping for moderation on abortion or the Second Amendment.

Yes, some of the polls‘ methodology is suspect, but it’s probably close enough, which after all is what “margin of error” is all about.

McCain criticizes the Bush administration for removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terror. Finally something conservatives can heartily agree on. This is sheer capitulation, but should make for an easy transition if Obama is elected. Just think of it as a preview of things to come: there are simply no consequences for bad behavior and no real pressure applied to rogue states.

Better late than never? “As part of a plan to reinvigorate his flagging campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is considering additional economic measures aimed directly at the middle class that are likely to be rolled out this week, campaign officials said. Among the measures being considered are tax cuts – perhaps temporary – for capital gains and dividends, the officials said.”

Jack Kelly provides a handy guide to Obama’s “fishy” associations but correctly concludes that ” if Mr. McCain is unwilling to confront Mr. Obama about his radical associations, then the issue will have no traction, because you can be sure few journalists will report on them independently. He has one more chance, on Wednesday.”

Read Less




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