Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, October 31, 2008

State of the race -- 4 days to go

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

No big movement in the race, which, with four days left to go, is good news for Barack Obama. RCP has now moved John McCain into a slight lead in Missouri, but it doesn't mean anything: that race is a pure toss-up at this point.

We might be starting to see the impact of the "infomercial" on the tracking polls, but with tracking polls, it might also just be noise. Gallup shows movement toward Obama of either +2 or +3 points, depending on which model you believe. Rasmussen, on the other hand, was stable.


Best Political Ad I've Seen All Year

This commercial from tne No on 8 campaign by Equality California is fantastic. For one thing, Samuel L. Jackson narrates it. The short ad quickly recounts the history of discrimination in California--from the Japanese internment camps, to bans against interracial marriage--and ties these to Prop. 8. The ad then shows photos of loving gay and lesbian families--with their happy kids!--and the narrator reminds us that we have an obligation to leave to our children a more tolerant and more "decent" society.

This ad gets an A+ in my book. The voiceover, the choice of images, the historical context, the firm call to moral duty... This is a complete package in thirty seconds. Best political ad I've seen all year, for any issue! Pass it around!


For RBR: A new ad campaign

I love freedom of speech. A group in the UK has started raising funds for a new ad Campaign to counter relgious advertisng. They are calling it the Atheist Bus Campaign . Apparently, they have gotten a lot of support. If they succeed, here is what the Athiest Bus would look like!

You gotta love the humor in that! How ironic on All Saints' Day!


Early Voting, the Mountain West and Virginia has a great report on early voting in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada.  There is also some discussion of Pennsylvania and Virginia.  LTG will love this story as it emphasizes the importance of the mountain west region.

Something to keep in mind while reading the report.  When they say that early voting has already turned out 40% or 50% of the vote, they're basing that on 2004 turnout.  Turnout this year is expected to be significantly higher mostly because a surge of new voters among the youth and racial minorities.  This means that the big turnout numbers by themselves are good news for Obama.  

One caveat:  The Democratic party has made a point of getting their voters to vote early and by absentee ballot.  The Republicans have not pushed this angle as hard with their supporters.  So it is possible that while Democrats lead in the early voting, they will lose on election day itself.  Consider my case.  I voted early (over a week ago).  But the Democratic party did not gain a vote by my doing so.  I was 100% sure to vote and vote for Democrats.  By voting early, I simply changed when my vote got counted not who it was counted for.  

But if the Democrats have succeeded in getting their softer supporters to vote early, it could negate some of the benefit to John McCain that the slight tightening we're seeing in the polls right now.


Leave the Nazis out of it. Really.

For anyone who still might think the "Yes on 8" folks are a reasonable bunch, I offer this astounding video taken at a "Yes on 8" rally on Tuesday, October 28. In this minute-long clip, you can hear Brad Dacus, President of the Pacific "Justice" Institute (my quotation marks) liken supporters of gay marriage to the Nazis. Specifically, Dacus says Christians in Nazi Germany failed to take a stand against Adolf Hitler, and "Christians" in California must not make the same mistake: they must do everything they can to pass Proposition 8.

It is hard to imagine a more twisted argument. If anyone here could possibly be said to be following in the tradition of Hitler, surely it would be a hatemonger like Dacus himself who would use the power of the state to define gays and lesbians as second-class citizens! If you absolutely must make an analogy to the Nazis about this--and really, you just shouldn't--then you had better at least take a look at the US National Holocaust Museum and learn what the Nazis (most of whom claimed to be Christian) actually did to homosexuals.

Unless the issue involves murdering thousands of people, just leave the Nazis out of it. Please.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Looking Ahead to 2012

This is a re-post from February 2008:

The basis of US representative democracy is the census, that apportions congressional representation and electoral votes. The 2010 census should show some dramatic changes for representation (to take effect after reapportionment by the 2012 election). At least one early projection shows that a dramatic shift to the South of 10 seats, with four going to Texas. California is also poised to lose a seat possibly for the first time in its history, as a middle class exodus slows the population growth to below national levels. Also, four seats should shift to the Mountain West. This changes the 2012 electoral calculus. Assuming the Solid South votes for the GOP nominee regardless, the GOP gets a natural 8-EV advantage for the 2012 elections. That is the equivalent of losing Oregon (which may be up to 8EV in 2012). This means that if the Democrat wins narrowly in 2008, the winning coalition will have to broaden in 2012 to include another medium-sized state. Put another way, if Kerry had won Ohio in 2004, he would have won the race. If a Democrat wins all the states Kerry did plus Ohio in 2012, it will not be enough.

The future of the Democratic party is in the Mountain West, in AZ, NM, CO, MT, and NV - the only "purple" states that are growing (I include Montana for a reason: it is projected to be within 10-20,000 people of getting a new seat in 2012, and that new seat could easily be Democratic depending on the gerrymander. Today, Montana has a Democratic governor, Democratic control of the Senate, and the House is split literally 50/50, so Dems may control the process. Of course, their legislature meets every other year, so it won't meet again till 2009 and 2011 respectively. Yes, I am so geeking out over this).

This is relevant to our discussion of a blue-state strategy or a 50-state strategy. Democrats cannot, I suggest, succeed without at least establishing themselves as a viable minority party with some Congressional representation in the Mountain West, Mississippi Valley, and South.

New Commentary

The basics of 2010 seem to be that another net 10 EV will migrate to Republican territory. This means that in 2010, the Dems have a higher burden than this year to hit 270. So the Obama strategy of targeting swing states is crucial.


Tar Heel Politics

North Carolina has now extended early voting hours too. That is a good sign for the Obama camp. Mike Easley is the outgoing Democratic governor of North Carolina. Republicans are trying not to grouse too publicly. Kay Hagan may also be the beneficiary.


State of the race -- 5 days to go [UPDATED]

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

Nothing really new today. If I had to classify these races, I'd say Colorado, Nevada and Virginia are "Likely Obama", Ohio and Florida "Lean Obama" and OhioNorth Carolina, Indiana, and Missouri "Toss-up". Is that reasonable?

I'm curious to see what (if any) the impact of Obama's infomercial will be. We might find out as soon as tomorrow.

Update: I was thinking about the race and what would happen if Obama wins the states I have as "likely Obama", splits the states I have "lean Obama", and loses all the toss-ups. Well, in that very reasonable scenario, he can even afford to lose Pennsylvania and still win the election.

(Just to reiterate, I don't think Obama is in any danger of losing Pennsylvania. 538 gives him a 99% chance of winning there and has Obama up by 8.7 points in the state.)

Update 2: Heck, he could even lose Ohio in that scenario (20 EV). Wow.


Ted Stevens

Ok, so Ted Stevens may have to do a little time in the Pokey. And I was surprised to hear that this wouldn't automatically disqualify him from the Senate. That is a sad state of things.

Then this morning, I heard that he may have to step down and they may have to have a special election. So what are the odds that Palin jumps on the chance?


Libertarian Revolt

Several weeks ago, I posted something suggesting that there was a brewing split within the Republican party involving the "libertarian" wing of the party.  I referenced the big Ron Paul support at the RNC (including some highly visible and vocal anti-war protesters) and Ron Paul's presence on the Montana ballot as evidence of this.  An anonymous poster jumped on me and said it was just wishful thinking on my part.  

Well, I saw on Daily Dish (see link to the right) that the bloggers over at Reason (a libertarian blog with the motto "Free Minds and Free Markets") just listed their writing staff's presidential picks.  Guess what, out of 18 writers, only 1 says he will vote for McCain.  3 said they will vote for Obama with another one saying "Barr, Obama if it's close."  Drew Carey says "Anyone but McCain/Palin."  5 are going to vote for Barr with another couple of them saying they might vote for Barr.  

This isn't a scientific study of libertarians but to the extent that this blog is indicative of where the activist core of libertarianism is, this suggests that my speculation about a split in the GOP involving these people was far from wishful thinking.  

This represents a real opportunity for Democrats.  There are elements of the standard Democratic party platform that appeal to a libertarian mindset and they should play those up.  The Democratic party has a chance to make a serious play for these votes and they should do so.  


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Citizens - Election Edition!

I thought I would dress up the blog a little for the elections. On November 4, 2008, perhaps as many as 130,000,000 Americans will go to the polls to select their next President, the entire House of Representatives, one third of the Senate, eleven state Governors, thousands of state and local officers, councilmen, and judges, and they will decide hundreds of referenda all around the nation. This is the big one, folks--so fasten your seat belts and pray for change! Six days and counting...!

To get into the spirit during this Halloween season, check out for a bumper crop of pro-Obama political pumpkins.


State of the race -- 6 days to go

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

The biggest movement today comes from Nevada, where three recent polls put Barack Obama at 50% with leads of 4%, 5% and 10%. But you should not be surprised when Obama leads in a Nevada poll. After all, excluding partisan polls and the Zogby Interactive polls, Obama hasn't trailed in any poll in the Silver State since September. Instead of considering Nevada a toss-up, you should be considering it a "Lean Obama" state now (as RCP, Pollster and 538 all do). The three states of the west (Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico) really do appear to be Obama's firewall.

Overall, Obama's numbers seem to keep improving at the state level, which is very impressive. But let me say that I mostly agree with the incisive polling analysis of Wyatt Cenac:



To add to RbR's post below regarding generational voting, here is a chart that shows the U.S. birth rate over the past sixty years, and indicates approximately where the "generations" lie. I lifted the graph from the National Center for Health Statistics final 2005 report (their most recent full report available online) but the coloring and labeling of generations is mine.

The Baby Boom and Baby Bust (Generation X) are the clearest demographic features, most evident in the absolute number of births. Generation "Jones" appears to be something of a refinement, capturing the era of declining birthrate between the boom and the bust.

The more recent echo-boom is evident in the absolute number of births, but it is worth noting that the birth rate is nearly flat, and the echo comes closer to thirty years after the boom than twenty. The CDC gives the mean age of the mother for her first birth to be 25 (the mean age for all births being a few years higher).

My main complaint about this scheme of "generations" is that they are long. Sometimes speaking in terms of decades is better. One last note, we are due for a new generation, the children of Generation X... Shall we call it Generation Z? The Echo-Xers? The post-9/11 generation? Maybe the Obama Years will replace the Reagan Years?

UPDATE #1: I made up a graph of Presidential "generations" and added some suggestive colored ovals of my own. The strongest feature I see is the most recent: the "Greatest" Generation (about 1901-1924) that accepted the torch in 1960 and held onto it until 1992. Note that picking either Obama (blue dot) or McCain (red dot) could represent a significant shift backward or forward.

UPDATE #2: I fixed the Presidential graph so the Blue<->Red dots are now correct.

UPDATE #3: I have adjusted the color bands on the generations graph slightly, in response to some comments.


Generational Voting

There is a fair amount of political science research on how generations have different political views.  Some of the most influential arguments have come from Ronald Inglehart. In his book Culture Shift he argued that generations' political views are shaped not only by the current political and economic conditions but by the conditions they grew up with.  Playing fast and loose with his work, this suggests that if you grew up during the depression you'll be more likely to be concerned about economic security and stability for the rest of your life.  On the flip side, if you grow up in times of economic security, you'll be more likely to be concerned with non-economic issues like the environment or peace or cultural values issues like abortion or marriage.  

There are some generational issues at play in the US election now.  Baby Boomers have dominated American politics for decades.  The Clintons, GW Bush and politicians of their generation are all Boomers.  They grew up in the economically flush 50s and early 60s and theirs is the politics of Culture War.  From the perspective of my Generation, Boomers have really messed up priorities.  Who cares about who gets married, when and how if you can't get a job!?

Some of the people on this blog are in Generation X (sometimes called the "Baby Bust" generation) - well, I am at least.  It depends where you put the cutoff years.  We grew up in the recession years of the 70s and 80s.  Our childhood and high school memories are of stagflation followed by the Reagan era economic adjustments and deindustrialization of the Rust Belt and high unemployment.  We were thrilled to hear Bill Clinton say "It's the economy, stupid!"  We tend to be fed up easily with cultural issues and have long since resigned ourselves to the fact that the Boomers will spend all the social security money before we get to retire.  Unfortunately there aren't very many of us.  So we'll never get to run the country.  Instead, we'll spend our lives being pushed around by self absorbed Baby Boomers and their spoiled children (see below).

But these days, all the attention is going to two different generational groups:  Generation Jones and the Millennials (or Generation Y or the Boomer Echo).  Generation Jones is a kind of transition generation between the Boomers and Gen X.  Obama is from this group.  They were born too late to get wrapped up in the Vietnam and counter culture stuff of the 60s.  They were in college during the worst of the late 70s and early 80s recession.  They don't have the baggage of the Boomers or the jaded cynicism of Gen Xers.  

The Millennials are the children of the Boomers and Generation Jones and some of the more precocious Gen Xers (Of course Gen Xers would call early parenthood reckless).  This generation is much larger than the Gen X group.  They grew up in the Clinton and Bush years. They're entire lives have been spent in the midst of a record setting economic boom.   They are more socially progressive than their parents were (the whole Hippie thing was always exaggerated) and they're more concerned about the environment than the economy obsessed Gen Xers.  But the current economic troubles are a rude shock to them.  It will be interesting to see how they react.  

Here is a youtube mini documentary about Generation Jones (about 5 minutes).  Here is a more political ad directed at the Millennials.  

One thing that is coming out of this election is that if Obama wins (and it looks like he will) it will mark the end (or at least the beginning of the end) of Boomer domination of this country.  And that is a good thing!


Some More Perspective

Hi Everyone,

I don't want to replace Bell Curve's great daily updates but I thought I'd point out some additional information that will just make his update all that more interesting.

Right now, Real Clear Politics is listing six states as "toss ups" (too close to call):  Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana and Montana.  To put this in perspective, George W. Bush won these states in 2000 by +.01, +3.5, +12.8, +3.3, +15.7 and +25 respectively.  That these states are all now in statistical dead heats really makes things look awful for McCain.  

Florida isn't a surprise.  That state is demographically and politically polarized.  They say that the further north you go in Florida, the further south you get.  Northern Florida is a lot like southern Georgia (I invite our frequent visitor Bert Q Slushbrow to elaborate).  The other states though are states Republicans typically like to count on as "in the bag."  That they are bogged down in a close fight there is why the Republicans are getting so shrill.  They're not really screeching at independents in an attempt to get them to swing their votes.  They're outraged at the perceived disloyalty of people they always assumed were behind them.  Their angry attacks on Obama and the Democrats aren't really motivated by a desire to convince, they're motivated by the rage the orthodox feel towards the apostate.  


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Where Does the Generosity End?

Today reports are that GM and Chrysler are going around, hats in hand, asking for a portion of the bailout/rescue. They want to merge and to win over $10 bil of the $700bil "bail out/rescue" package. And they are eligible by law because they, along with any retail chain that issues a credit card, are chartered as thrift holding companies, so they can establish banks to make loans nationwide. So now the Treasury Secretary is going be the one picking the "winners" and "losers" in the market?

Both of these companies are suffering GMAC is 49% owned by a capital management firm, Cerberus Capital Management. Its share price has dropped 78% so far this year. Chrysler was so useless, it was dumped by Daimler . They justifies there claim to some of the bailout, saying that thousands in Detroit would be put out of work, auto parts manufacturers and suppliers would default on debt, and pensions would be at stake, and the mandate that government has given them to make alternative energy vehicles would fail.

But the bottom line is that Detroit has failed time and again to learn any lesson from the market. Foreign automakers , in particular Japanese and German manufacturers, have overtaken them at least different three times over the years because American Automakers never respond to the market, preferring to DIRECT it. They loose every time. They put all of their money into development of SUVs . They put next to nothing into smaller cars and trucks despite all the signs that rough timers were ahead. They fought CAFE standards.

I hate to tell them, but all the best hybrid vehicles are being produced by Honda and Toyota now. The $25 Bil promised by Congress to these companies to build alternative fuel vehicles is a protectionist waste.

A merger won't help. When you produce cars no one wants to buy, and you join up another company, that also produces cars people don't want, that isn't exactly a model for success. Workers will still be laid off. Pensions will still be cut or lost and these guys will be back in Washington in another 3 years asking for another handout.

We've bailed these guys out too many times. It's time to let them die. If we bail out Detroit, who's next? Where does it end? Mervyns? Nope. It's closing. Linen n' Things? Nope, they are liquidating. Time for Detroit to the same. And maybe some new start up companies with genuinely great ideas can come into being.


Early Voting Extended In Florida

I just saw a link on Daily Dish to a report that Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist has extended the hours for early voting from 8 hours a day to 12 hours a day!  The report quotes a Republican insider as saying this is a fatal blow their hopes for Florida.  

What does it say about your party when merely extending the time available to vote is seen as biasing the results against you?  


State of the race -- 7 days to go

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

The one thing that leaps out at you on today's table is that 538 now gives John McCain a slight edge in Indiana. It probably isn't anything new, however. This state appears to be a real toss-up and should give some real suspense on election day.

Otherwise, Barack Obama's position in Florida moves up a bit, after a Rasmussen poll gives him a 51-47 lead there. I, for one, hope that Florida is not close. I don't care in which direction it's not close, I just don't want a mess.

Also, most of us are considering Ohio as more or less a toss-up state. For instance, Marc Ambinder has it there in his recent post. But look at Obama's numbers there! Obama's actually been dominating the state recently. Ignoring polls that are marked with a (D) or an (R) on, and ignoring Zogby's internet polls (which are crap), here are Obama's margins in the last twenty polls of Ohio, as per (ordered most recent to least):

+4, +4, +5, +10, +12, +3, +4, +14, -2, +9, -1, (even), +5, +2, +5, +4, -2, +3, +3, -1

I picked twenty arbitrarily and not because the good news stops there for Obama. In fact, even if you go to thirty the news looks good. You have to consider Ohio as a lean-Obama state at this point. If anyone still considers it a toss-up, I'd like to hear why.


Monday, October 27, 2008

State of the race -- 8 days to go

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

Virginia has got to come off this list soon. Obama's numbers there are insane. The most conservative estimate for Obama's numbers there puts him at a 6.6 point lead. By comparison, George Bush won Virginia by 3 points (51-48) in 2004.

Al Giordano played this game with his readers and now I'd like to do it with you: construct a plausible scenario in which John McCain wins this election. Go ahead, it's fun! Play with the L.A. Times electoral vote map and try to build something that looks reasonable. Here's the best I could get:

I think if I had to, I could make a decent argument for this scenario. New Mexico and Colorado are fairly similar states, and if one starts tending in one direction, you'd expect the other might as well. As for New Hampshire, well, we all remember what happened to Obama in the primary season.

Anyway, construct your best map and give it a shot in the comments.


More good news

Just as I was starting to get worried about Mark Begich's chances in Alaska, I see this headline:

Stevens Found Guilty on All Counts

That's Ted Stevens, longtime senator from Alaska. Can Sarah Palin's coattails save him?


Sunday, October 26, 2008

State of the race -- 9 days to go

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

RCPPollster538538 Win %

Today's list is slightly different from the others because 538 has updated its polls relatively early today. As a result, all three sites are basically on the same page with their results.

Not much movement to report today. Both Virginia and Colorado are back to 95% Obama according to 538's projections, putting them again into the "can we really consider these swing states?" group. My guess is, if George Bush hadn't won these two in 2004, no one would be considering them swing states at this point.

As a side note, after these states and the states we consider "safe" Obama, guess which state has the highest chance of going for Obama, according to 538's projections? That would be Big Sky Country, Montana. Obama is helped there by the presence of Ron Paul on the ballot, who is hovering around 4% in the polls. Before you get too excited ... Obama has a 15% chance of winning there, according to 538. On the other hand, Intrade has him at 45%.


Anchorage Daily News Endorses Obama

I found this on the Daily Dish.  It's not really a surprise given how closely that paper has been reporting Palin's abuses of power as Governor.  Here is a sample of the endorsement...

Gov. Palin's nomination clearly alters the landscape for Alaskans as we survey this race for the presidency -- but it does not overwhelm all other judgment. The election, after all is said and done, is not about Sarah Palin, and our sober view is that her running mate, Sen. John McCain, is the wrong choice for president at this critical time for our nation.

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, brings far more promise to the office. In a time of grave economic crisis, he displays thoughtful analysis, enlists wise counsel and operates with a cool, steady hand. The same cannot be said of Sen. McCain.


An Argument For Unified Government

Hi Everyone,

The McCain-Palin campaign's latest argument for a McCain presidency is that if the Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, it will be a disaster.  They accompany this claim with the usual list of stories of Democrats robbing poor old Joe the Plumber blind to pay for "socialist" programs and frivolous pork.  They argue it will ruin the economy.  Making an appeal to American preferences for divided governments is smart politics.  But I believe that imposing divided government on this country at this time would be very bad policy.  

First, we must consider that the policies that brought us to this disastrous situation in foreign affairs, the economy and the sad state of our domestic civil liberties were all imposed by a unified Republican government (in which they controlled the House, Senate and Presidency).  The war in Iraq, the deregulation (and misregulation) of the financial sector, the de facto suspension of our constitution in their "war on terror" were all policies that Bush and the Republicans initiated and pushed very hard.

Second, we must also remember that these were not policies randomly arrived at.  Republican politicians implemented these disastrous policies in the service of their constituents, constituents they continue to serve today.  McCain's insistence that we stay in Iraq indefinitely (seemingly without regard to what the Iraqis want), his appointment of a strident religious populist as his running mate, and his foolish response to the recent financial crisis are all indications that a McCain presidency would not abandon the constituencies in whose service the Republicans set up all the disastrous policies that brought us to this sad state of affairs.

Third, if McCain would not abandon these constituents how might we expect him to use his veto (because that is exactly what the Republicans' divided government argument says he would use)?    We can presume that he would use his veto to preserve as much of the status quo as possible.  And any changes would be influenced, by him, to favor those constituencies who benefit most from a status quo that most of the people in this country and the world find onerous and obnoxious.  

If voters hope that this election will undo some of the pain we currently suffer, then they must recognize that a McCain presidency would serve only to prevent that as much as his power would allow.  If voters are concerned that the Democratic party would abuse its power as enthusiastically as the Republicans abuse theirs, I would only point to the fact that the Democrats are much more ideologically diverse bunch than the Republicans and that many of the Democrats' constituents are insistent upon preservation of civil liberties and others insist on fiscal moderation.  


Saturday, October 25, 2008

What to watch for on Election Night

Indiana polls (EDT) close at 3pm PDT.
Virginia, Georgia, Indiana (CDT - all) and Florida (EDT) close at 4pm PDT.
Ohio closes at 4:30pm PDT.

The Presidential race could be effectively over at 4pm PDT, if Obama is leading in VA and Indiana.


State of the race -- 10 days to go

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

A Rocky Mountain News poll puts Obama up by 12 in Colorado, so his RCP and Pollster numbers creep up a bit there. Otherwise, mostly stable.

Incidentally, I haven't been considering Pennsylvania as a swing state for these posts. If you want to know why, well, this is why:


Palin Takes the Long View

CNN quotes sources in the McCain camp as being very frustrated with Palin for "going rogue," on them.

"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.

"Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

CNN quotes a Palin associate as say she is just trying to, "bust free," of what she considered a bad roll-out of her candidacy. But Democratic pollster Peter Hart summed the situation up this way: "She's no longer playing for 2008; she's playing 2012."


Friday, October 24, 2008

State of the race -- 11 days to go.

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

Dr. S mentions it in the comments, and I referred to this in my original post on this subject, but let's say it again: the "538" column gives the projected result of the election, based on a number of things, not just polls. I feel like including it because it gives a nice picture of where they expect the race to be on election day.

The big thing that first pops out at you when looking at these numbers is Indiana, where Barack Obama has been trailing since the beginning of this campaign, but now has (tiny) leads by all three measures. To get a sense of how amazing this is, check out the graph for Indiana:

Remember, Indiana's polls close early on election night (most of them at 6 PM Eastern time). If that race is too close to call (or goes Obama) we will get an early sense of how the night is going to go.

In other news, how far ahead does Obama have to be in a state before we get to stop calling it a swing state? According to 538's simulations, Obama is now a 95% favorite to win Virginia, and a 93% favorite to win Colorado. Contrast that to two states I feel are safe for Obama -- New Hampshire (95%) and New Mexico (94%). As of today, it is very hard to see John McCain winning this election.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Calling out 538 -- UPDATED

I love I think they're great, I love their analysis, all the rest. But I have to call them out today for this piece knocking a IPD/TIPP poll. The poll says that 18-24 year-olds are going for McCain 74%-22%, which is clearly ridiculous and needs to be mocked. But the math he uses to do it is pretty bad. Let's go over his assumptions. (I'm hiding it behind the fold for mathophobes.)

Suppose that the true distribution of the 18-24 year old vote is a 15-point edge for Obama. This is a very conservative estimate; most pollsters show a gap of anywhere from 20-35 points among this age range.
If he's assuming a 15-point edge for Obama, I take that to mean that the probability an 18-24 year-old will vote Obama is 0.575 and the probability he will vote McCain is 0.425. It looks like he's taking out undecided/other.
About 9.3 percent of the electorate was between age 18-24 in 2004. Let's assume that the percentage is also 9.3 percent this year. Again, this is a highly conservative estimate. The IBD/TIPP poll has a sample size of 1,060 likely voters, which would imply that about 98 of those voters are in the 18-24 age range.
This seems fair.
What are the odds, given the parameters above, that a random sampling of 98 voters aged 18-24would distribute themselves 74% to McCain and 22% to Obama?

Using a binomial distribution, the odds are 54,604,929,633-to-1 against. That is, about 55 billion to one.
This is where I object.

First of all, a binomial distribution can't give an outcome where you have 74% to McCain and 22% to Obama, because .74+.22=.96, not 1. You'd need to use a multinomial distribution, and try to figure out somehow what the fraction of "other" voters are in your sample.

So let's do it with a binomial distribution and try to figure out the probability of 74% McCain, 26% Obama, i.e. 73 McCain voters and 25 Obama voters. This comes out to 10 billion to 1. Not the number Nate gets, but still awfully long odds.

Okay, but I'm not done objecting. Why? Because the probability of any one outcome is pretty low. As an example, what is the probability that a random person is exactly 183.4 cm tall? Probably pretty low, even though a lot of people are approximately that height. A better probability to compute would be the probability that someone is between 180cm and 185cm tall.

So, a better number to give to show how ridiculous the poll is would be the odds that McCain beats 70% of the vote. This is best computed using the central limit theorem and (if my math is right) says that the odds McCain would get 70% or more of the vote in any given poll are about 150 to 1.
Update: Okay, this is wrong. I just plain computed the wrong probability here. Thanks to several commenters who pointed this out. Let's just do it directly since I have Mathematica handy.

Let X be the number of McCain voters in the sample. Then X is a binomial random variable with n=98 and p=0.425. We want to compute P(X>=69) which equals


Plugging this into Mathematica gives a probability of 2.12127x10-8, or odds of about 45.8 million to 1.

In the comments, Bob suggests not spotting the pollster 70%, but just starting at 74%. 74% of 98 is 72.5, so let's compute the probability of at least 72 McCain voters. Again using Mathematica, this gives a probability of 5.09459x10-10, or odds of about 1.96 billion to 1.

Further, anonymous suggests that Nate not assume that there are 98 18-24 year-olds in the sample, but that he should take into account all the possibilities. I've wasted enough company resources on this problem already, so I'll take his word for it on his math.

In any case, my original two points stand: you can't use a binomial distribution to compute the probability Nate said he did, and computing the probability of getting exactly the result the pollster did is misleading.

It's clear that this poll is an outlier. But don't tell me this was a 50 billion to 1 shot. 150 to 1 is more like it.


State of the race -- 12 days to go

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

By popular demand, I'm including Indiana in this sample. I suppose you have to consider it a swing state at this point, with all three groups pegging the race at within 2%, and with 538 giving Obama a 35% chance of winning there. One also suspects that if it's this close the last weekend before the election, that a flood of Obama volunteers from Illinois will cross the border to canvass and get out the vote. If it stays this close, it's definitely a state to keep an eye on.

LTG pointed out the discrepancy in some of the numbers yesterday. This is probably due to when the various websites incorporate certain polls into their numbers as much as anything. For instance, RCP and Pollster are both showing a higher Obama lead in Ohio than 538 -- this is in part because they have both included the new Big Ten Battleground poll which shows Obama up by 12 in the state. 538 will include that poll later on tonight.


Greenspan Rings Hollow

Alan Greenspan testified before Congress today. He is just shocked, shocked I say over this credit crisis! He had no idea that it would get THIS bad!

He admits that more regulation was necessary and it was an error on his part to have let things go unregulated for so long. Now I am not an expert on financial regulation, but if I recall, it was Mr. Greenspan who refused to raise interest rates.

He was surprised that banks did do more to protect their stockholders and then blamed over-eager investors for the current problems. Well, the first part of his argument showed a fundamental flaw of logic, the second part is probably a fair statement. We operate on a quarterly system and stockholders expect to see rising profits and values every quarter. The only way banks could do that was by making more loans and selling the securities. And the demand for securities was so high, that all sorts of crazy deals were done, as we now know. And so, to my friends in England and France who like to blame all of this on the US, your markets willingly bought these securities and contributed to the market hunger for them. No one held a gun to the head of HSBC and made him buy them. We are all in this together!

The truth is that Greenspan refused to raise interest rates and dampened one bust (tech bubble) by allowing another one to inflate, and then his policies sustained the inflation. He himself talked about "irrational exuberance". But that didn't move him to start regulating.

Another observation: every day we are hearing about another $150 bil here and there that is being spent to prop up the financial system. It is unclear to me if we are doling out the original $700 bil in $150 bil in increments or if this is like the Iraq war where we add one appropriation after another, but don't count it the overall budget. If the former is the case, I promise you all we are printing money. So wait about 3 years and that $4.00 gallon of milk will be costing you $7.00!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Domestic Partnership Benefits

I added my husband to my health plan last week, and I received a nasty little surprise on my paycheck. While employer-provided health care benefits for one's family are exempt from taxation by the federal government, health care benefits provided to domestic partners are fully taxed. [Update: the Human Resources Council has a thorough exposition of this particular tax law.]

Because the federal government does not recognize my marriage, my husband is treated as a third party--and moreover, because we cannot file jointly, all that extra "income" gets piled into my (higher) tax bracket. All told, that will cost us an extra $2000 in federal income tax each year. (By the way, McCain's plan would provide no tax credit for domestic partnership benefits.)

The Human Resources department at my company assured me that the benefits provided to domestic partners were the same as those provided to spouses, but they neglected to mention the effective cost would end up being more than double. I am of course still grateful that my company offers any domestic partnership benefits at all--most employers do not--and it is still cheaper to insure my husband through my employer than for him to find coverage on his own. But forgive me for not cheering right now.


State of the race -- 13 days to go

This is a daily feature of this blog. For further detail, please see this post.

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

Overall, a little tightening in the race since yesterday, but nothing extreme.


November 5th

Let us imagine that the election results in two weeks look similar to what they do today. For the oddly superstitious atheists on this blog, please be advised that this thought experiment isn't going to "jinx" anything. Let us imagine that Obama is President, Biden is Vice President, the Democrats have at least 57 Senate seats and about a larger margin in the House (say 245-190). Who will control the legislative agenda? How will priorities be made? Will Pelosi, Reid, and Obama sit down and make a 100-day plan like Pelosi did (by herself) in 2006? Simple deference to Barack Obama'a priorities is highly unlikely. Note how much harder that is now that the plan is likely to, um, succeed. Just like Gingrich's "Contract With America" in 1994 that was nicely organized, but required no participation from other branches of government and had no chance of passing intact anyway. I suspect you will see very strong internal politicking. And people like HRC and Pelosi, who owe nothing to Obama, will not be eager to follow his lead. I hope they can all meet together and hash out a program. But I am worried. And the failure to put together a coherent program, coupled with continued economic malaise, could cause a GOP resurgence in 2010 and doom any other progress. In other words, if the Democrats win on 11/4, the clock starts ticking on 11/5.

This is why a massive landslide for Obama is so important, if he can pull it off. And this is why he is working to get states like West Virginia. If he comes in there with a big mandate, he will have much more leverage within his own party. He must be able to say to Reid and Pelosi the following: I brought you this election.

Note that Obama's skill and desire to "work across the aisle" becomes almost meaningless on November 5th if the Dem majorities are so big. All you need is a handful of GOP senators to block a filibuster, and you can ignore the House altogether. A big mandate also will cow those few "moderate" GOP senators. Remember, you get Collins, Snowe, and Specter at least. This is also why it was brilliant for Obama to pick Joe Biden as VP, a man who knows the Senate almost as well as anyone alive. The real negotiations after November 5th will be intra-party, not across party lines. Party loyalty will also be crucial. Democrats will have to choose, in the Senate, whether and how much to punish Lieberman. It may be necessary to crush him just to prove to other Democrats in the Senate how they will be treated if they sell out too. But playing that game with Senators can be dicey too. I'm still not sure which way to go on this. Losing Lieberman's vote could still hurt the party.

I am reminded of the apocryphal story of Democrat Sam Rayburn, House Speaker for very long time in mid-20th century. Supposedly said in advice to some freshmen House members, "remember who the enemy is." The response was, "The Republicans?" He said, "No, the Senate."


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

State of the race

Okay, we have a lengthy discussion in the comments below about polls and the state of the race (Is McCain surging? Is Obama holding steady? etc.) I thought I'd start a new post devoted to the horse race in the final two weeks. If people like, I can make this a daily feature.

First of all, here's a map that I consider to be the baseline for both candidates. Maybe you have quibbles about this. Maybe you think, for instance, that Indiana should be a toss-up or that Missouri should be for McCain, but I think these are reasonable. (The map, BTW, is taken from the LA Times electoral vote map)

I think this is a reasonable baseline. Obama wins all the Kerry states plus Iowa and New Mexico, where he has essentially never trailed (at least not since March). So the election comes down to seven states -- and Obama only needs to win one of them. (Nevada would result in a tie, but a tie goes to Obama for reasons we have previously discussed). So all that matters are the results in those seven states. As of today, according to the various trusted websites, here are the numbers:

StateRCPPollster538538 Win %

The "538" column refers to the projection, and the "538 %" column refers to 538's estimated percentage that Obama wins that state.

In any case, you can see what I'm getting at here. If you believe my assumptions, then McCain needs to win all of these seven states; Obama just needs to win one. And as of now, by any decent metric, Obama is leading in all seven of those states, in some cases by considerable margins.

Should I do this again tomorrow? Is this a helpful thing to look at?


Huh, that's weird

In case anyone still has doubts about whether "Family Guy" is right-wing or left-wing: Brian and Stewie visit 1939 Berlin.


Monday, October 20, 2008

How The McCain Health Plan Would Affect Me

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would share with you how the McCain health care plan would affect me.  I make an above average salary but I'm not in the top 5% or anything.  I think I can safely consider myself "middle class" (as opposed to many people who think of themselves as "middle class" despite having incomes in the top 25% or bottom 25%).  

According to my pay stubs, my health care benefits through my employer are worth about $6000.  That's the dollar amount of the contributions to my health care as listed on my pay stubs.  I've been told that the market value of an individual health insurance policy of equal coverage would be far higher (more than double by some accounts).  But for the sake of this argument lets err on the side of making John McCain's plan look good.  According to my estimations, I normally owe about $15,000 in taxes before I figure in deductions.  McCain's plan would tax the value of my health benefits as if they were income.  That would increase my basic tax bill from just under $15,000 to just under $17,000 (a roughly 13% tax increase!!!).  But wait, you say, John McCain's plan offers a $2500 credit to every individual to pay for health care (this is often erroneously reported as $5000 but that figure only applies to families so if you are single like me you only get $2500 - I have no idea if you get more than $5000 if you have kids, I doubt it).  Anyway, isn't that $2500 more than the $2000 tax hike?  So aren't you $500 ahead? 

Ah, but there are some problems with the $2500.  First, you don't see the $2500 yourself.  It can only be paid directly to the insurance company you hire.  So if you keep your existing employer based health insurance, you won't get a penny.  Second, assuming I, as an individual bargaining alone in the market, can replace my $6000 worth of employer provided coverage for the same price (a big assumption, I'd probably have to pay more), I would still be $3500 in the hole even after I got McCain's health care credit.  

McCain's "choice" for me:  Either I keep my existing health care package and pay an additional $2000 year in taxes OR I dump my employer provided health care and go looking for a replacement on the market and pay AT LEAST an additional $3500 in health care premiums.  At best, I end up paying a lot more for the same coverage I get now (either through higher premiums or higher taxes).  At worst I could find myself not being able to replace my current coverage at all even with the $2500 a year credit.

If John McCain's health care plan were implemented I would be subjected to a significant financial hardship.  I urge all voters to consider this when they decide who to vote for.  Get out your pay stubs and figure it out.  This plan speaks volumes about who John McCain sees as his constituents and it ain't you and me folks!  Don't just take what these bozos say at face value.  Get out your pay stubs and look it up!

Also, in the context of McCain's assertion that Obama's tax plan is a socialist because it redistributes wealth, it is clear that this plan does exactly the same thing.  The only difference is that Obama would distribute more of the wealth to people like us and McCain wants to distribute it to the health care companies.


McCain Throwing the Election?

I have already commented on my belief that McCain threw this election a long time ago. If we needed any more proof that McCain is throwing this election, Palin's appearance on SNL should be enough.

There is something I noticed here. For starters, she said, "I just don't think that is a good depiction of how my press conferences WOULDDA gone." (My emphasis added). And she just seemed way too comfortable in her SNL role. She actually did a good job. But I wondered if she caught the whole rap thing. Seems to me that they were really making a lot of fun of her (and yes, McCain's smile is creepy!), and the Alaska map earnings and what I think was an Alaska flag pin. Hey! Where's the American flag pin? How come she doesn't have to wear one?

I would post the video here, but I am not sure how to do that from Hulu and I can't access YouTube from this workstation. But you can see the rap here and you can see the "back stage here .


Friday, October 17, 2008

Fargo: Polling North Dakota

According to RCP, McCain is ahead by 4 points in North Dakota. Pretty rough given how ruby red that state is. But it's worse than that. The only reason it's got a McCain lead at all is that RCP is including a poll from September 8 - the height of McCain's popularity and excluding a recent poll by a partisan pollster. The two non-partisan polls from the last week show Obama up by +2 and tied with McCain respectively.

North Dakota, "my friends," is now a swing state.


Famous undecided voters ... and some help for undecided voters.

Who are the best-known undecided voters still out there? Well, there's Joe the Plumber, famous for a bit over 24 hours now, who claims to be an undecided voter, but who thinks the Iraq war was a good idea whether or not we found WMDs, says social security is a joke and compared Barack Obama to Sammy Davis, Jr. So I think we can guess which way he'll vote.

Next in line as far as famous undecided voters is Colin Powell. But we might know his decision soon ... he's scheduled to appear on Meet the Press this weekend and it's believed he will endorse a candidate at that time.

Other than those two, the highest-profile undecided voter I can think of is ... wait for it ... Jenna Bush. That story is from April and I haven't seen anything recently to convince me that she's decided. I wonder if she'll vote at all.

Let me give some advice for undecided voters who might be reading this. There are several resources out there to help you decide who to vote for. Try, for instance:

1. USA Today's Candidate Match Game (it's fun, too!)

2. has an interface that's not quite as fun, but more in-depth. Very well-done.

Please check these out if you haven't decided yet. If both candidates are fairly close on these issues, it probably doesn't matter who you vote for.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

What a Candidate With No Substance Looks Like

Hi Everyone,

Back in the spring and summer, a lot of Hillary Clinton supporters liked to make the charge that Obama was a candidate totally lacking in detail or substance.  But interestingly, they rarely could back up the charge with specifics of their own (details where they could say that Obama's positions were less substantive than Clinton's or McCain's).  But now we are getting a great chance to see what a campaign based on a lack of substance actually looks like.  And it's not the Obama campaign, it's the McCain campaign.  

McCain's campaign has nothing left in the bag except attacks on Obama's character (or more accurately, the character of his neighbors). On substantive issues like the economy, McCain's campaign seems to cycle through positions like a slot machine, repeatedly pulling the arm until one pops up that pays off.  He doesn't even talk about his own biography that much anymore.

My motive here is only partly to tweek the noses of the Clinton supporters who were so critical earlier this year.  Really I want to point out that when a campaign really lacks substance it gets to be pretty obvious.  It's not something reasonable people would seriously disagree about.  It gets obvious to voters and they start to say things like "all McCain does is run negative attacks" and they turn away.  That's exactly what we've seen in the last few weeks.  McCain's lack of substance and credible detail seems to have fatally damaged his campaign.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A No-Brainer

To me, McCain came off in the debate looking angrier and meaner than ever. Meanwhile, Obama was calm and collected. I seriously doubt McCain helped himself tonight. A few comments.
- McCain couldn't stop talking about Joe the Plumber. So much for the women's vote.
- Free trade with Colombia? Sure, but Colombia is NOT the largest importer of American agricultural products, as McCain bizarrely said. It's the reverse. And that's a big, big problem.
- McCain attacking Obama for having never been "south of the border" is funny. Palin never left the country at all until about a year ago. Obama lived abroad for years.
- I was the only person in America who liked Obama's discussion of abortion, but I did like it.
- Obama didn't seem particularly eloquent to me, no matter how often McCain said it.
- McCain struck me as someone who I would hate to have to have dinner with.
- I really don't get what McCain was going for by sounding like Newt Gingrich.


West Virginia?

Last week, SurveyUSA released a poll showing Obama up by +8 in West Virginia. Nobody was sure what to do with this, since it had been 3 weeks or so since the last poll. Another poll by InsiderAdvantage released today shows McCain up by 2 points (49-47). Taken together, we see that West Virginia is now a tossup state, whereas it was ruby red ever since June. The memories of the 2008 Primary have finally faded. The Clintonites are finally turning to support Obama. Obama never had an "Appalachian" problem. He had a Hillary Clinton problem. If Obama can outpoll McCain in West Virginia after losing to Clinton by a wide margin, it tells you that West Virginians have their preferences down straight after all.


John McCain Made The Cover of Rolling Stone

Here is a link to a great article on John McCain that's on the cover of Rolling Stone.

The best quotation is this:

Dramesi, who went on to serve as chief war planner for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and commander of a wing of the Strategic Air Command, was not surprised. "McCain says his life changed while he was in Vietnam, and he is now a different man," Dramesi says today. "But he's still the undisciplined, spoiled brat that he was when he went in."
You can't buy publicity like that!


A New Republican Party

I have a quick thought. And before I start, I knock on wood that Obama will win.

We were talking last night, and the following question came up: In the future, is there any chance that the Republican Party can win an election without the Moral majority or the far right? I think it may well be a long time before we see a resurgent Republican party. But I am not sure that the Party can win without what has become its base- at least since Reagan.

So I wonder aloud, if I were a moderate Republican, wouldn't I be better off starting my own moderate party? Since the Republicans aren't in a winning position, and won't be for awhile, wouldn't I be smarter to start a 3rd party now to challenge the conservative base? This would increase the moderate voice, might even win over some Blue Dog Democrats and Log Cabin Republicans and have a change to get some roots and growth so that by say 2016, I'd have something strong enough to either challenge the traditional Republican Party or at least be absorbed by it and thus, change it.


The Bradley Effect

There has been a fair amount of talk about the Bradley Effect lately.  This is the idea that black candidates look like they're ahead and then lose or win by considerably less than polls would indicate.  The mechanism is that racist voters are unwilling to admit to being so and will say they are "undecided" when really they have already decided to vote against the black candidate. Note:  They typically say they are undecided. They aren't presumed to be saying, "Oh sure, I'm for the black guy," when they really aren't. has a nice little discussion of whether and where the Bradley Effect has really been a factor against Obama in this election cycle.  They come to the conclusion that it doesn't exist. But let's be pessimistic.  Let's assume it does exist. What then?

The Bradley Effect tends to be lurking in the undecideds. If we had a situation where Obama was ahead 44% to 36% with 20% undecided that would be a very bad sign. It could suggest that large numbers of respondents who were afraid of being thought racist for supporting McCain were instead saying they were undecided. Shy racists typically say they are "undecided" not that they will actually support the black guy. So what do the polls say now? and Real Clear Politics both have Obama at about 50%. That suggests that the undecideds are not a big factor in the national numbers. RCP has Obama at 49.9% and McCain at 42.4% with 7.7% undecided and Obama with a 7.4% lead. If you take the difference between what Obama has and 50% and divide that by the undecideds it shows that McCain would need 98.7% of the undecideds to win. If Obama gets just 1.3% of the undecideds, he’s over 50% in the popular vote. I figure that any state that shows Obama consistently at or above 50% is a cast iron lock.  That includes, amazingly, Virginia! Any state with Obama having a lead that is as big or bigger than the number of undecideds is very likely to be an Obama win. Anything else requires some worry.

For example, in Ohio RCP has Obama with 48.9% and McCain with 45.5% and 5.6% undecided. I figure that if Obama gets just 19.7% of the undecideds he’ll get over 50% and win Ohio. The conventional wisdom is that undecideds will break about 50-50. The Bradley effect says that they will break overwhelmingly against the black guy. But to put Ohio in the McCain column, it would have be more than an 80-20 break in McCain’s favor. The situation looks even better for Obama in Florida. North Carolina could be dicey however.  There Obama has 47.9% to McCain's 46.7% with 5.4% undecided. So Obama needs 38.8% of the undecideds to vote for him if he is going to win North Carolina. That could be a tall order in a state in the "Deep South."

But the bottom line is that even if there is a Bradley Effect at work here, Obama is very likely to win the election because his leads in states like Florida and Virginia may be insurmountable.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Worst. Mailer. Ever.

I just received the most poorly-designed, poorly-conceived political mailer I have ever seen. The image below is a scan of part of the envelope. This mailer is from the folks who support same-sex marriage! My husband handed this to me, shaking his head, and said, "This is not good."

Is this some kind of secret campaign by the "Yes on 8" forces? (I am ashamed to think that a mailer exhibiting such a lack of taste and style could have been designed by a gay man.) The phone numbers and addresses inside check out, though, so I have to assume for now that it is legitimate. The message inside is equally crappy, angry exhortations about fear and hate. Here is a sample line:

It is by dehumanizing LGBT people--by comparing us to corpses and animals--that the opposition hopes to convince a majority of California voters to eliminate the equal right to marry.

(Oh, perfect. Now they have raised the specter of necrophilia as well. Nicely done, guys!) Actually, the campaign by the anti-gay forces is much more devious. The "Yes on 8" material shows heartwarming pictures of vulnerable children and their worried parents, a visual collage hinting oh-so-subtly at fears of pedophilia. So what absolute moron decided it would help to mail out envelopes with "Man + Animal?" in big bold letters on the cover?

Those who want to defend our right to marry should show all the pictures of the happy couples, surrounded by supportive family and friends. The message should be positive and welcoming. Now is not the time for anger and indignation, however righteous and heartfelt. I saw this ugly mailer and thought, "I hope to God this really was narrowly targeted to previous donors, as it appears to be. Otherwise this could cost us dearly."


Comments on the Modern Corporation

Capitalism is a system built around private property. Market forces in this system include the risk/reward system. The limited liability corporation, however, is a state-created institution of the mid-late nineteenth century. It is intended to increase rewards and reduce personal risks. Prior to the period of general incorporation laws, chartered corporations that sheltered investors from the consequences of their actions were rare and only created by special legislative acts. Lloyd's of London, dating to an earlier era, for example, is a private mutual association without such limited liability. The limited liability feature is a primary source of moral hazard in modern capitalism, because the owners and managers of a modern corporate enterprise bear no personal responsibility for the actions of the institution beyond the amount of their investment (if any). Banks may require the owners of small corporations and sole proprietorships to put their personal assets on the line for loans, but not so with larger institutions.

It is fair to say that much of corporate regulation over the past century and a half has been a history of the problem of corporate structure creating some unhealthy incentives. The first major expansion of regulation was the antitrust regulation. The need to combat monopolies and trusts is now so widely accepted that even some libertarians think it is "natural." In the 1930s, another set of failures led to the creation of the SEC. A major problem that led to the SEC was stock price manipulation and forms of insider trading, and when the market finally crashd it was dizzying, with a total loss of confidence of investors in the marketplace. The SEC was intended to provide real information to investors in order to permit investors to make informed choices without having to invest additional time and money in acquiring information. This expanded the pool of available investors. What developed, however, in the SEC and in counterparts around the world, was largely a system of self-reporting that relied on third party auditors.

This system is now falling apart before our eyes. I expect the only sensible response will be a dramatic change in the SEC from occasional enforcement of self-reporting violations to aggressive inspection and auditing. The basic problem, as I see it, is that nobody wanted the costly enforcement role in the system. That costly enforcement role would cut the enforcers out of the massive profit potential of corporate capialism.

In the wake of the Enron scandal, Sarbanes-Oxley tried to turn attorneys into the whistleblowers. Unfortunately, that solution is unworkable because it is wholly incompatible with the lawyerly profession. Auditor as whistleblower also failed, because - among other things - big auditing firms simply got too invested in their relationships. I have read most of the deposition testimony from a major corporate scandal (all confidential, so I will not say which - like Enron but not Enron) which shows just how intent the corporation was in manipulating the accountants, and how a handful of well-placed partners at a major accounting firm could use their connections with the client to advance within the auditing firm (gaining praise, reputation, and wealth) in exchange for protecting the client's secrets. That's not what an auditor is supposed to do, of course.

But accountants didn't want that role of enforcer either. I have gotten the sense from work I've done in accounting defense that the accounting profession developed over time a set of deniability rules that made their work less useful for spotting harm. Gradually, it seems to me that accounting profession developed the habit of saying "the numbers add up right, but I can't take responsibility for where the numbers come from." This is a natural evolution of the profession which did not want the enforcement function. The result today is that nobody has that enforcement function in the corporate system.


Monday, October 13, 2008

The Conscience of a Conservative Committee?

Paul Krugman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics today. I was so happy to hear that--I have really enjoyed reading his illuminating columns for quite a while. Congratulations to Krugman on a well-deserved honor.

This is the first Economics prize given to someone of a prominent liberal bent that I can remember. Krugman wrote a year ago that "conservative ideology" had "blinded" regulators to the danger of the subprime lending crisis--and he pinned a lot of blame on Alan Greenspan and the like. Maybe the recent financial debacle has given the Nobel committee some cause for shame?

I will never forget when the professor of an economics class I took at Berkeley recommended that we all read "Capitalism and Freedom" by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman. She wanted us all to read the short book because it straightforward, well-written, and most of all because, "It is important to understand the enemy."


Obama's Fund Raising Advantage

This LA Times article does a good job of explaining Obama's significant advantage in fund raising.  In the article they point out that Obama is out spending McCain by huge margins in a number of swing states and states that conventional wisdom says are no-hopers for Democrats (but are currently leaning towards going for Obama).  I'm talking about states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana (all of which went for Bush in both 2000 and 2004 and 4 of which currently have Obama ahead in the polls).  This forces McCain to focus his campaign on shoring up eroding support among Republicans and in Republican states instead of contesting independents and swing states or Democratic states that were close losses for Bush (like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Michigan).  

While this isn't actually a 50 state strategy, it's close enough.  Obama is using his fund raising advantage to be more aggressive and he's got the McCain camp back on their heals.  They're responding with increasingly shrill attacks lacking in any meaningful substance or basis in reality.  Furthermore, the calls for yet another massive campaign staff shake up are starting to emerge again.  Conservative columnist Bill Kristol is calling for McCain to fire his entire staff.  But that would just feed the Obama message that McCain is erratic and unstable.  This would also be the third major staff shake up McCain has undertaken.  One would be forgiven for wondering if he's already hired and fired every available Republican strategist with any experience at the national level.  It is also worth pointing out that McCain's current staff is dominated by proteges of Karl Rove (who has retired to giving commentary at Faux News).  These Rove proteges are supposed to the best the Republicans have on their team.  If they aren't flailing around incoherently, it's a bad bad sign for McCain's chances.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

John McCain Tries To Put Hate Mongering Toothpaste Back In the Tube

Since the last debate the McCain-Palin campaign has embarked on the lowest, most incendiary round of negative attacks I've ever seen.  Palin in particular has been stoking the fires of race hatred and extremism at her rallies.  Her baseless accusations that Barack Hussein Obama is a terrorist or that he thinks it's OK to "attack the pentagon" because he had some nominal connections to a former member of the Weather Underground (a member who far from being an "unrepentant terrorist" turned himself in and encouraged his wife and friends in the group to do so as well).  McCain supporters are turning into angry mobs like this one and this one (this one is like a time warp to the street conflicts between hard hats and hippies in the sixties) and members of crowd shout back to either Palin or McCain that Obama was a traitor or a terrorist or shouting "kill him!"  There have been calls from senior moderate Republicans like former Michigan governor Miliken, for McCain to get a hold of the situation and calm people down before violence breaks out - yes people were serious worried about violence (there are rumors that reporters at McCain-Palin events had been physically threatened by angry crowd members).  Yesterday, McCain finally tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube.  As far as these latest efforts go, good for McCain.  But he incited this national riot in the first place.  He needs to do more than a simple one line response.  Especially when his campaign continues with the incendiary attacks.  Perhaps his motives for backing off the attacks partially is due to with this.  The attacks aren't working.


Friday, October 10, 2008

"I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich"

Well, it's official. The Special Prosecutor, appointed by the Republican legislature in Alaska, found Gov. Sarah Palin abused her office to pursue a personal vendetta against her ex-brother-in-law, a state police trooper. She tried repeatedly to get the Commissioner to fire him, and when he refused, she fired the Commissioner. The report was released Friday, October 10, 2008. From page 8, see Finding #1:

I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110 (a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. Alaska Statute 39.52.110 (a) provides: "The legislature reaffirms that each public officer holds office as a public trust, and any effort to benefit a personal or financial interest through official action is a violation of that trust."

It seems the nastiness Palin has brought to the campaign trail is not an act. Time for Americans to start seriously asking, "Who is Sarah Palin?" The answer may be the same as former first lady Barbara Bush gave when she described the first female Vice-Presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro. (For those of you who may not remember, it is the title of this post.)


Song for Our Times

Johny Cash singing about how he ain't got none.  Play it as you open your 401k report.


Prop 8 Alert!

Hi Everyone,

I've been hearing a lot lately about how the tide may be turning in favor of passing Prop 8,  the anti-equality proposition out in California.  The left may be getting too comfortable and complacent out there.  Apparently not content to run Utah like a theocracy, the Mormon Church is pouring money into California to get Prop 8 passed.  The LDS has also issued a Fatwah or whatever the Mormon version of that is urging Mormons in California to campaign for Prop 8.  

You  can donate to the No On 8 campaign here.  With the Mormon Church throwing its considerable weight behind this, right thinking Californians will need our help!

What do the Mormons have against Gay marriage anyway.  What do they care if there are few planet-gods who are gay and have gay planets??


Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Little Levity

This is an article from that a friend shared with me . It is a cute little ditty about diagramming the sentences of Sarah Palin.


Unemployment Benefits Programs In Trouble

Hi Everyone,

CNN is reporting that unemployment insurance programs in 10 states are in danger of becoming insolvent because of high demand.  The 10 states are: California, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky and Arkansas.  Missouri, Indiana and Ohio are states that voted for Bush in 2000 but are currently "in play."  Wisconsin and Michigan had been "in play" until very recently and Obama currently has substantial leads in those states.  So far, bad economic news has resulted in drops in the polls for Republicans across the board - including McCain.  


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Senior Moments

OK, remember when McCain got confused about whether he was talking about Spain or Mexico?  Well, he's had another senior moment.  This time he addressed a crowd as "My Fellow Prisoners."  Oops.  Sarah Palin was behind him and gave look like he just farted but tries not to show any reaction.  

John McCain's age is about to become an issue in the campaign at exactly the wrong moment for him.  Is this a symptom of the stress of a long campaign dragging him down?  Given how much a stay in the White House ages its occupants, can McCain survive a victory on November 4?  Can we survive a Palin Presidency?


Make Yom Kippur a National Holiday

The secular, practical reason for Christmas to be a national holiday for is that, if it were not, large numbers of people would be taking it off anyway. The same justification has been offered and accepted by Courts for states that make Good Friday a state holiday (note: Hawaii offered only the afternoon off specifically so people could go to church, and the courts said that was too much entanglement with religion). In many big cities across America, Yom Kippur is like this. I think that for good practical reasons, it is time to make Yom Kippur a federal holiday and a holiday in a good many states. As a lawyer, I can tell you that courts often shut down, and many extensions/continuances have to be granted. Not just to avoid appearing in court, but to avoid having to file documents or meet other deadlines imposed by law. The general rule is that if a deadline falls on any weekend day or holiday, the litigant or lawyer has until the next business day to perform that act. Why not Yom Kippur? Why should ad hoc extensions have to be granted every year? At universities, there routine struggles between professors that want to give midterm exams on Yom Kippur and students who object. Private universities often have policies - why not state universities?

Also, Jewish people have to take off a personal day or a vacation day on one of the most sacred days in the Jewish calendar. They don't get time-and-a-half for working that day, if they aren't allowed to take it off. That seems unfair too.

I believe there is a difference between the government accomodating religion and endorsing or furthering religion. When a religious practice is significantly widespread as is the observance of Yom Kippur (I have gone to downtown LA from Santa Monica in 15 minutes at rush hour that day, so light is the traffic) in many areas, accomodation seems to make sense.

I believe this is a different discussion from whether state-sponsored Christmas or other religious (or quasi-religious) celebrations are appropriate. I'm not talking about having a national day of fasting or anything, or a big Torah Scroll on the grounds of the capitol or a gefilte fish hunt on the lawn of the White House.

When I was a kid in a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut, we had Yom Kippur as a school holiday. It just made sense. Otherwise, about 5%-10% of the schoolkids would have to make up lessons and everyone, including the teachers, would be inconvenienced. Given the regular occurence of snow days that invariably pushed the end of the school year back a few days, an extra planned holiday hardly mattered.


South Africa and Democratic Development

If you study young democracies, one of the consistent patterns is a tendency for one-party rule to develop for a period of time. Sometimes it is said that it is easy to have one free election, but the subsequent election is rarer and harder. Even where subsequent elections take place, a period of one-party rule can take emerge. This does not always happen, of course, with primary exceptions being seen in former British settler colonies (Canada, Australia, NZ) where "independence" took place peacefully after much internal political development.

In the USA, we had such a period called the "era of good feelings" and resulted in almost uncontested control by what was then the Democratic-Republican party for about 20 years (roughly 1815-1835) including most notably Monroe's presidency where his vote in the electoral college was not unanimous only for the decision by one elector to ensure that honor was reserved to Washington alone. In fact, this understates it. After the Federalists won the first 3 presidential elections (1788-1796), the D-R party won in 1800 and did not lose again until 1841. The Democratic-Republican party ultimately was renamed the "Democratic Party" by Andrew Jackson, and it began to factionalize. Those factions within the party were the only real democratic processes at the federal level until the Whig party made some headway in the 1840s, then the Republican party was founded in 1856 to revive Whiggism and combat the extension of slavery into the western territories.

We can look at Austria and Japan as countries with similar models (both ruled by more or less the same party or coalition since Democracy was established after WWII). India was ruled by the Congress party for half a century. Israel was ruled by its Labor party from 1949-1977, only then did the problems emerge of tiny right-wing religious parties holding the balance of power in coalitions. RBR can probably name other examples. Many former East Bloc or former Soviet states are either dominated by one party or still have a pro-communist/anti-communist political divide.

In a broad sense, this pattern emerges for two reasons. First, a new democracy is often a result of a political struggle against a pre-existing order. The initial party setup is the "pro-democracy" and "anti-democracy" forces, and that pro-democracy coalition can be dominant for a while after its victory. Second, democracy can begin as a result of a stable coalition or consensus after a period of political unrest, then that coalition remains dominant for a while.

In the USA, as described above, the situation was somewhat different, but really you have to count that the date of "democracy" to understand. Universal (white) manhood suffrage was only haltingly established during the 1800-1830 period (before then, many states had property requirements for voting). Where it existed, universal (white male) suffrage favored the D-R party, and soon gave the D-R party a monopoly on power for 20-40 years.

(This is, by the way, part of why I am hopeful about Russia's current status. I know I am totally alone in this, and I don't want to start a "thing." We can at least agree that a period of dramatic one-party control in a new democracy is not, by itself, evidence of undemocratic tendencies. The argument really is that much more is going on in Russia. And, indeed, more is.)

So here's to South Africa: South Africa's ruling ANC may finally be splitting over ideological issues, and this may lead to real multiparty Democracy in South Africa for the first time. The ANC rule under Winnie Mandela and Thabo Mbeki (Mr. Aids is Caused by Poverty, not HIV) has not been a model of democratic participation. Real contested elections may be on their way there.