Wednesday, January 30, 2008

America's Economic Stimulus Package: Banking On Your Stupidity

Yesterday, the House (not the Senate) passed a $146 billion economic stimulus package. You, if you're a taxpayer, can expect a rebate of $600 to $1200 once it clears Congress. (depending on whether you're filing separately or jointly, and your income level) There are also tax cuts for businesses, allowing them to write off loses over the past several years, thus encouraging more spending than they otherwise would be able to do. But as far at the personal rebates go, the idea is that Americans' will go out and spend that money, giving a boost to our retail-dependent economy.

Is spending that $600 or $1200 on a new HD flat screen TV really the most financially prudent decision during a possible recession? What individuals would be better off doing is saving that money, especially considering most Americans' savings are lacking. Congress's and the President's plan is banking on Americans' stupidity, hoping that they will do the irresponsible thing and spend it frivolously rather than save it. (saving would defeat the whole point of the stimulus) That's how much your government thinks of the average citizen, or should I say consumer. It would after all be fair, I think, to say that we starting to think less of ourselves as citizens and more as consumers. What's the most patriotic thing you can do right now according to your government, shop 'til you drop. Why don't we just send out gift cards, that way no one wastes their money on their 401(k)s.

If I had to guess, we're probably going to borrow this $146 billion from overseas. I question the wisdom of adding that much more to our national debt for a short-term stock market high. Seems like we would be better off trying to pay it off rather than keep maxing out our national credit card. (Fortunately for the US government, and the world economy, Congress can just raises the credit limit whenever we get near defaulting. Don't you wish you could do that with your card?)

On top of that, the Federal Reserves dropped interest rates again today, another 1/2 point down to 3%. It could just be me, but I seem to remember a certain sub-prime mortgage problem. Did we not have our economy come crashing down in part because money was so cheap and people were borrowing when they shouldn't have been because offers were too good to be true. How is this going to help prevent that situation from happening again?

That said, on behalf of my 401(k) I'm going to have to ask you to ignore everything I've said and go spend your rebate, and not on anything like groceries. It's the American thing to do, after all. If only we could forget about the alleged recession, spend like normal, then the high consumer confidence would drive up the stock market and pull us out of the recession, allowing us to afford the spending in the first place. Makes perfect sense, right?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Giuliani In Memoriam

Friday, January 25, 2008

Voter ID Laws: Preventing Fraud or Preventing Voting?

The Supreme Court is hearing a case about a law in Indiana requiring citizen's to show a photo ID (specifically one issued by the state or federal government) in order to vote. Advocates of the law say its to prevent voter fraud. If you're required to show a photo ID then you can't impersonate someone and vote, and thus protect the integrity of elections. Opponents say that it would disproportionately affect the poor, the elderly, and the minorities, those least likely to have a photo ID.

I would argue that the Constitution prevents no grounds for striking down such a law. Technically speaking, you have no right to vote for President. First off, we don't elect the president or vice president, we elect electors who elect the President. But the Constitution leaves the method of choosing electors in the hands of the States.

(from Article II, Section 1) Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

If a state wanted to, it could have all its potential electors play Twister until the number of electors a state is apportioned are left standing. Now I'm sure the people of such a state would have objections to that, and the Legislature that implemented that would be voted out, but that's not the point. Now, the Constitution has been amended several times, so let's look at some of the potentially relevant clauses.

(from Amendment XXIV, Section 1) The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.

(from Amendment XXVI, Section 1) The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

One might say that these clauses show a right to vote for President. No, I think to take this literally it says if one does have a primary for President, or an election for electors for President, that you can't deny them the right to vote because of a failure to pay a poll or other tax. Nor, in an election in a state (for any position, national or local) can the government of the United States or the state prohibit you (if you're 18 years or older) from voting because of age. So again, if they have an election for electors in the Electoral College, then you can't be denied the right to vote because of age. But you don't have right to have an election for electors of the President in which to vote.

So, states choose how the choose their electors for the President. If a state does have an election for those electors, then people 18 years of age or older have the right to vote and a poll tax can't be put in place. Requiring a photo ID is within the power of Indiana's legislature, according to the US Constitution.

That said, I think it is very reasonable for a state to require a photo ID to prove you are who you say you are when voting in order to prevent voter fraud. Some states require IDs with a signature. I quite frankly don't see how that stops voter fraud. It does about as much good as requiring a signature on a receipt when you pay using a credit card. If someone wanted to they could copy your signature. Others require a sworn affidavit that you are who you claim to be if you don't show an ID. That's even better, if I'm committing voter fraud having to lie about who I say I am is definitely going to stop me. Does someone have to break a law before you can try to prevent it from happening?

Some people have objected saying that people in Indiana can mail in an absentee ballot without showing an ID, so why the ID rule when you show up in person. If you're going to commit fraud you would be stupid to show up in person and risk being caught, instead you would just cast an absentee ballot. OK then, get rid of absentee ballots and require if you're going to vote you have to show up in person. Case closed.

Some have objected that there are not cases of this voter fraud taking place. Well, if you don't need a photo ID to vote then how would you know someone is an impostor, and how would you get statistics on voter fraud? The Presidential election in 2000 and 2004 were both close in many states. A few fraudulent votes could tip the balance to another candidate. We need to be able to trust the results of our elections if our democracy is to function. Just take a look at a place like Kenya where the election result was disputed.

Now as far as not having an ID is somehow a tax. A state can set a deadline for voting sometime before an election; you don't have a right to show up on the day of an election and vote without having registered to vote. This implies that a state can require persons to have some intent of voting before an election. Now if you have to take time to register in advance, I think it is not unreasonable to take the time to get a photo ID if you want to vote. Voting is a sacred privilege, and should be taken seriously. If you care enough to vote you should care enough to get a photo ID. These "voting right advocates" are really doing a disservice to minority, elderly, and poor voters by giving them a false hope that they won't need a photo ID. By the time the Supreme Court rules, they will have even less time to get a photo ID before the next election. I read about someone who was born at home and not in a hospital, and may not even have a birth certificate, or at the very least it would cost $50 to get a certified copy in order to get an ID. That's their problem. If $5o in order to vote for the rest of your life isn't worth it, then you don't deserve to vote. Freedom isn't free. I'd have to agree with Justice Kennedy, "You want us to invalidate a statute on the ground that it's a minor inconvenience to a small percentage of voters?"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Prime Time Self-Destruction On The Way For Republicans?

So far we have two caucuses and one primary down for the Republicans. Huckabee won Iowa, Romney got Wyoming (not that anyone but him really cares about that), and McCain won New Hampshire to die another day. The Republican field is in chaos. There is no front runner. Romney could win Michigan, his home state, which would definitely keep him going. Huckabee is poised to take South Carolina through the evangelical vote. Giuliani is waiting in Florida, the chaos definitely a plus for him if he is to have a chance. Then we have Super Tuesday on February 5th, who knows will happen there. It is quite possible those states will be split up throughout the field. Perhaps Huckabee gets the states with a large evangelical population, McCain the states with primaries open to independents, and Romney and Giuliani split large, closed states.

What if no one gets a majority of delegates? That possibility may seem far fetch, but I feel its becoming more and more real. I haven't heard the media talking about it yet, but its not without the realm of possibility. (Which is why I'm saying it now, so I can beat the media to it and say I told you so if it happens. Not too mention the media wasn't right about New Hampshire.) If that happens then the Republican Party won't have a nominee going into the Republican National Convention. How would we get a nominee there? The delegates keep casting ballots until someone has a nominee. So candidates would be trying to steal each other's delegates and cut deals; a massive barbecue of the party with a lot of pork being offered from all sides. If that happens there goes the well-oiled, unified Republican machine in a flame of prime time self-destruction with a record number of viewers. Makes for good TV, but for a lousy chance of winning in November.

To makes matters worse, the convention isn't until Labor Day, leaving barely two months for the eventual nominee to run. The Convention is later this year since the Democrats are holding their convention later to avoid a conflict with the Olympics. The advantage this gives them probably an accident but if not, one of their most brilliant political moves, if this doomsday (if you're a Republican) scenario takes place.

Hopefully, if no one has a majority the candidates will be able to work something out so that we can have a nominee before September, and avoid four nights of political WWF. Some candidate would hopefully offer their support to another in exchange for a vice presidency. Although if Romney is in the lead I don't know if he can offer a vice presidency to the other candidates after the beating they have given him. But who knows if this will even happen, we still have to get past Michigan next week.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Handicapping Politics: The Presidential Election Mapped Out

Today, I'm going to take some time to write out my predictions for the presidential race. (so that on the rare chance I'm right I can have proof.)

We're going into the New Hampshire primary Tuesday. On the Republican side, either McCain or Romney are out after it. McCain is definitely out if he loses, Romney might keep throwing money at his dying campaign though if he loses, but is still ultimately done. My guess is McCain, he won the state in 2000 and there are a lot of independents (assuming enough vote in the Republican primary.)

On the Democratic side, Clinton will be out if she doesn't pull of a win. Edwards is out if he can't pull of second place. All in all, I'm betting on Obama again because of the independents and his momentum from Iowa. Huckabee needs McCain to win to get rid of Romney. (politics makes strange bedfellows) If Obama does lose New Hampshire, a state he should get, to Clinton, he might be done with. Clinton will be able to claim she's the "comeback kid." He won't drop out yet though. I think Edwards will come in third and be eliminated since he has an anti-corporation message that won't carry in New Hampshire, a state that is more adapted to globalization than Iowa and thus depended upon globalization.

So on the Republican side it will be Huckabee versus McCain as we go into Michigan and South Carolina. (or Romney if he wins NH) Giuliani is holding off until Florida. I personally don't feel his strategy of ignoring the first few states and waiting until the big states and Super Tuesday is going to work. (If it did and he won the nomination, Iowa and New Hampshire wouldn't forgive him for ignoring them.) Giuliani right now needs Huckabee to do well, so he'll take votes away from McCain in Michigan and South Carolina. McCain is screwed in South Carolina, he lost there in 2000, the large evangelical population will deliver Huckabee a win there. That will probably eliminate McCain, although if he wins Michigan he might be able to keep going. (Michigan a must win for McCain. If Huckabee were to lose South Carolina he's out, that's a must win for him.) That means Huckabee (possibly McCain as well but probably not) versus Giuliani (which Giuliani wants) in Florida and on Super Tuesday. (It would probably aid Huckabee more if McCain did campaign in Florida before he gives up.) After Super Tuesday we have a nominee. I'm betting and hoping on Huckabee. It should be pointed out the traditional Republican establishment is against Huckabee, so he is fighting that.

On the Democratic side, Clinton will have been knocked out effectively in New Hampshire, although she probably won't drop out, she's got the Clinton legacy riding on her. Edwards needs Clinton gone to have a shot. I think Obama though wins against Edwards or even Clinton is she stays in. The black vote will go for Obama in South Carolina. Definitely by Super Tuesday, although my guess is before that Obama has the nomination effectively sealed.

This brings us to the general election, Obama versus Huckabee. (I'm more willing to bet on Obama getting the Democratic nomination than Huckabee the Republican, for the record.) To be honest, the Republicans have an uphill battle no matter the nominees. I think Obama wins against any one the Republicans throw at him. On the other hand, if I'm wrong and Clinton won, its more up in the air, she's a polarizing figure. As a Republican I hope she gets the Democratic nomination. I don't think Edwards wins the Democratic nomination, but it would be easier for the Republicans if he won over Obama as well. McCain might have a better shot at the general than Huckabee, if he could get the nomination. He would certainly stress his foreign policy credentials, obviously not important in a time of war. However, a Republican president got us into it, and so the electorate might not trust any Republican to get us out.

The last time a sitting senator was elected president was 1960, JFK. Its immensely hard for a senator to win because they have a voting record. I think the clamor for change could probably outweigh that factor. Whatever Republican wins the nomination is going to have the make the case that they are a candidate of change. I think Huckabee could make that case. What worries me about Huckabee, even though I support him, is that he could be perceived as the evangelical candidate. He won 46% of the evangelical vote, but only 14% of the non-evangelical vote in Iowa. Obviously a large part of the Republican party is evangelical, which helps him get the nomination, but could hurt him in the general. He will have to overcome that perception, allowing him to keep the evangelical vote and motivate them to come to the polls, but not let that define his candidacy so he can grab moderates. He is not the typical Republican, so he'll have to work to grab the economic conservatives. He is very articulate, so I think he a good shot of doing that. As David Gregory of NBC News said on a panel, he hears Huckabee talking about his faith in a way that is not exclusive and is how many people see their faith and is thus appealing. That's a good thing if he's going to win.

So if I were betting, Obama wins, but I want and hope Huckabee wins.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

How the heck does the Iowa Caucus work anyways?

If you don't live in Iowa, chances are you probably have no idea how the Iowa Caucus's actually work. Here's a video from CBS News that does a pretty good job of explaining it. (it even has animations) I suppose I could have written an explanation of the process, but why reinvent the wheel?