Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why U.S. National Elections Are Almost Always Close

One favorite chestnut of the Left, is that if Bush was really supported by the people, he would enjoy better support than he does. Of course, since Bush’s first election enjoyed a higher share of the Popular Vote than Clinton’s first win, and Bush’s second win enjoyed a higher share than Clinton’s second win, this logically means that Bush is more legitimate than Clinton was, but never mind. Since Bush took a clear majority of the Popular Vote in 2004, the Left has to work hard to find a reason to discredit the win, even if it strains credulity.

Anyway, I was looking at the Popular Vote percentages in Presidential elections since 1948, and I noticed something about the share of the vote: Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have all given 51% of more of their Popular Vote to one candidate in at least the last three elections. Also, there are seven states plus D.C., which have given the losing candidate less than 40% of the Popular Vote for at least the last three elections straight. This means that there are some states which are pretty firmly Red or Blue, but it also means that there are thirty-one states which fluctuate from one election to another.

At first glance, this would appear to mean that those two facts are contradictory, but in actual practice, it means that each side, Republican and Democrat, has select states which they are almost certain to win or lose, before any specifics unique to the next election are considered. Next, the trend from recent elections and historical variances illuminates which of the so-called “battleground” states is truly up from grabs, and which carries a hidden loyalty. This characteristic, I must emphasize, is tied to party loyalty in greater measure than the charisma of an individual candidate.

As a result, each of the two major parties enters the General Election phase of their campaign with a solid expectation of its position, and that position is now almost always in the 45-55% Popular Vote range. The issues specific to a key state may make the difference in the election, and half a year before the ballots are cast, both sides know what will decide the election, if they have done their homework. Ironically, the best evidence indicates that the losing side miscalculated on that critical point.

What this means in summary, is not that the election does not matter, but that the mechanics of last-month tactics can be critically important to the outcome, provided the strategic decisions have understood the stress points which direct the outcome. Unless it’s a charismatic nominee running against a dull moron, it will always be close.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Hypocrisy Versus Integrity

One of the more insidious forms of subversion in the world today, is the practice of lying to people through propaganda and calling it “truth”. The classic example, of course, was the old Soviet newspaper “Pravda”, which simply took the regime’s doctrines and wrote stories to support them, ignoring all facts to the contrary. It failed in the end, but for decades many millions of people believed the lies told to them, because they thought they were receiving an independent and objective perspective on events and issues.

Liberalism was suborned by Socialism sometime in the Twentieth Century; it is difficult to pin down a specific date when the classic notions of human independence and right to free expression were rejected in favor of Leftist policies and Statism, because the process was gradual and concealed within false rhetoric – indeed, for many years the Socialists cloaked their agenda in the word “liberal”, knowing it held better support in the public eye – today of course “liberal” has been so sullied by the Socialists that now they call themselves new labels, like “progressive”, which word they will in time equally stain. Certainly by the 1930s, Socialism had reached a point where even freely elected governments were considering huge centralized government as the solution to all major problems, with the right to personal freedoms and expression harshly suppressed. By the 1960s, the strange amalgam of civil rights on the secular level with the abolition of rights to express faith was in full ascent, and by 1980 it was equally out-of-line to deny someone rights on the basis of their race or gender, or to expect that a person could express their faith publicly, especially traditional Christianity. The assault on Faith was managed on several levels, largely through manipulation of mass media and in the schools. The clear protection for faith in the First Amendment was perverted to apply only to protection from faith, and the deceitful phrase, ‘separation of church and state’ was repeated so often that many people today do not realize there is no such clause in the Constitution whatsoever, but that the phrase was a subjective interpretation adopted by anti-faith advocates.

Today faith lives on a battleground; anyone willing to express their faith in God is looked upon as odd, and any devout Christian is quickly cast as a social misfit and an enemy of the modern culture; schools today often ban Christian jewelry in the same class as gang paraphernalia, and any expression of faith is treated as “hate speech”. While many Christians have tried to fit in as best they can, many faith-expressing families have found it necessary to home school. Despite the clearly unconstitutional discrimination made by so many school districts on this point, few challenges have yet been made in court. Christians do not tend to sue, which works to the I.S.D.s’ advantage, even as they falsely accuse Christians as troublemakers.

All this brings me, at length, to the focus of today’s article. The Internet has opened up a world of discovery for many people, and represents a clear threat to lies and distortion, as facts can be verified and false claims disproven. The problem in the matter of Faith, however, is that no court room or laboratory can prove or disprove matters of the spirit. So discussion sites are a useful way to explore discovery of moral truths and life lessons. The difficulty there, is that such sites tend to pick a position and treat it as the default opinion, demoting all others and treating them quite shabbily. I mean this not only in terms of those sites which reject Christianity, but also those Christian sites which are unwilling to test their own claims and assumptions. What is needed, is a site where conpeting opinions are treated equally in merit, and where serious discussions can progress. For a time, such a site was . Unfortunately, I must warn the reader that since being acquired by ABC, Beliefnet has chosen to promote the secular position and begun to censor and punish outwardly Christian positions, in violation of its own stated “Rules Of Conduct”. It is now a site of hypocrisy and intolerance.

Beliefnet is set up with a number of different boards for discussion, based on the faith focus. In the case of most faiths, deliberate insults and attacks against the faith is not allowed, and posts which attempt this are deleted, even in the “Debate” threads. For some reason, however, “Christianity Debate” not only allows deliberate lies and insults about Christianity, but seems to encourage them. Attempts by Christians to defend themselves are allowed, but only so long as they show deference to their attackers, and do not actually point out their lies and malice. I received emails from some Christians who gave up on the board, because they were sick and tired of the treatment, but I stayed for quite a while longer, hoping that the malice and hatred displayed by non-Christians could be remedied by discovering the truth from believers. Boy howdy, was I wrong!

I applied to become a Community Host, and was accepted. By and large, the Hosts at Beliefnet are hard-working and since they are volunteers, they do a lot of work for nothing but complaints from the offenders and people who dislike being told they cannot use profanity or threaten other folks. Unfortunately, the Hosts are required to abide by the site rules, which in some cases means a clear disconnect between the Rules of Conduct as stated, and what is actually enforced or supported. As near as I can tell, Beliefnet wants to encourage the Maltheists and Atheists, to such a point that the site regularly ignores ROC violations by these people, even as they discourage any expression of faith by Christians. In the beginning, it was sometimes necessary to address posts by extremist Christians, who used the board to preach at full voice and warn of impending hellfire for miscreants, but as the months passed the definition of ‘proselytizing’ changed and grew, so that it is never considered an offence for an Atheist to say insulting things about Christ, even when he clearly knows them to be false, or for a Buddhist to pitch her way as the only truly wise life, in deliberate condescension of the three traditional great faiths, yet for a Christian to explain the characteristics of Christianity, or to clarify the falsity of the many attacks against their faith, much less to openly observe hypocrisy and malice by non-Christians, is to risk immediate penalty. Christians are not only treated as inferior members of the site, they are expected to play by rules which clearly promote abhorrent moral values, especially the deliberate suppression of witnessing. Let me perfectly clear – in five years at the site, not once did I cross the ‘proselytizing’ line to claim that someone had to abandon their beliefs and adopt my own. I have been extremely careful on that point. Yet I have been regularly and very falsely pilloried simply for defending why I believe what I do, and for not accepting deliberate lies as truth. It is clear to me, therefore, that the board, like the site overall, has passed the point where a believer may hope to express or discuss their beliefs in a fair and open forum, and instead must endure a poisonous atmosphere which attempts to silence the Christian perspective, by design. To be sure, the site keeps a number of “Christian” boards open – but those boards are either kept isolated, as if Christians were a disease from which the other faiths must be protected, or else these boards deliberately target Christians for the sport of non-Christians; the right to respect for our faith is quite uniquely and intentionally abrogated there, and I strongly advise any Christian to stay away from Beliefnet – it is not a good place, nor an honest one anymore.

I am posting this article here, because some of my friends from Beliefnet sometimes read my work here, and I would like for them to understand my abrupt departure. I have asked management to release me from Host duties at all of the boards where I had served, and I do not intend to post again at Beliefnet. Seeing how people are treated when they say ‘farewell’ there, I do not intend to open myself up for the abuse, and in any case I do not see any reason to return just to see what was said about me. In a way, this is just as well; the fall semester is coming up and I will be more than busy with the existing responsibilities; wasting time at a ‘Mock the Christian’ site would be a poor investment indeed. To those friends from Beliefnet who read this, whether you are Christian or not, please understand it is not you I am leaving so much as it is necessary for me to choose honesty over supporting a fraudulent management. If I said more, I would be violating the agreement made when I became a Host. I have tried to leave off specifics of attacks for the same reason, and from a sense of honor – those who hate me are unlikely to read my personal blog, and so would not have a fair chance to defend themselves if I named individuals here.

I apologize to those who doubtless found this rant useless in information, but every so often this sort of thing has to be done – a statement reaffirming basic ideals, even if it makes for little interest to the public at large.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Enron – Repeating The Basics

My observation that the late Ken Lay was a real human being, whose family does not deserve the abuse heaped while he has yet to be buried, produced some very interesting reactions. The two most interesting categories have been the ‘Ken Lay Was A Crook Who Robbed People Blind’ canard and the ‘We have Sarbanes-Oxley Only Because Of Enron’ myth. Certainly, those claims and others like them go to show how little people actually learned about the Enron debacle and Lay’s part in it, and so a refresher is needed. Already.

Enron began in the 1980s as an energy trading company in Houston. Enron’s founder, Ken Lay, held a doctorate in Economics and intended to apply an aggressive theory of commodity speculation to the natural gas market. Texas is know for oil, but natural gas has become a fast-rising product in terms not only of price but also convenience – power plants, for instance, use natural gas for their fuel more often than any other source. Merging with Internorth in 1985, then-Houston Natural Gas gained access to pipelines and gas production facilities as the new company “Enron”. Four years later, Enron began trading natural gas as a commodities broker, quickly adding water, coal and steel to its portfolio.

I should stop here and remind the reader that Enron put a new spin into the Mergers & Acquisitions game. Where most players tried to take over whole companies, Enron sought out specific areas where the corporation could diversify and expand. As a concept, the plan was remarkably stable and well-thought-out. Most people today do not realize that for several years, Enron’s work was completely legitimate and its profits based on hard work and innovation. Unfortunately, pride and greed were about to take control.

Somewhere in the late 1990s, Enron began to change how it did business. Jeff Skilling was the President and Chief Operating Officer (COO), which is a critical point; in most corporations, the COO is the person who handles the cash flow directives and strategic operations. Skilling also had the most contact with Andrew Fastow, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) who was closely connected to Arthur Andersen, the accounting giant responsible for Enron’s audits and financial statements. That is, two men directly in control of Enron’s nominal operations and reporting, known to have made a lot of money selling stock when they knew the company was in trouble, were also in control of the information which reached the Board of Directors, SEC, and CEO Ken Lay.

At this time, it is important to review a list of names – Timoth Bolden, Richard Causey, Dave Delainey, John M. Forney, Ben Glisan Jr., Kevin Hannon, Joe Hirko, Kevin Howard, Mark Koenig, Michael Kopper, Lawrence Lawyer, Ken Rice, Jeffrey Richter, Paula Rieker, Rex Shelby, and F. Scott Yeager. What do these guys have in common? They are all Enron employees who either pled guilty to or were convicted of financial crimes related to the fall of Enron, in addition to Skilling, Fastow, and Lay. In other words, a lot of people were dirty in this company, and while any one of them may be blamed for their part, picking just one is not really reasonable.

Ken Lay is an interesting case study. On the one hand, there is significant evidence to support the idea that he really did not know about the massive fraud going on at Enron, and that what he did get in trouble for, amounted to trying to keep the company in business in desperate conditions. On the other, of course, is the fact that as Chairman of the Board at Enron and first/final CEO, he had a moral responsibility for everything and everyone at the company. Speaking with admittedly limited experience with corporations crashing to the ground, I have had experience with employees who got into deep trouble and suddenly realized their predicament – to a man, they panic and try to pretend that a few tricks and concealment will buy them the time they need to make everything okay again. That is not really possible, of course, but it happens over and over again, and at the risk of over-simplifying the matter, I think that’s what happened with Lay. He had never before faced a disaster on the scale of Enron, and when he realized at last what was going on, he tried to save the company by lying about its condition in order to buy time. In doing so, he poured his money into the company, and lied to banks in order to get loans to keep making payroll. In the end, trying to save the company is what got him into real legal trouble. Morally of course, we are looking at a different picture – Lay should have pursued the worries and checked out the concerns, and he should have never forgotten the people he had made promises and commitments to, but he trusted Skilling and Fastow, and could not bring himself to accept that those closest to him had lied repeatedly to him. In the end, I think the shame and disgrace of what happened to his company, his family, and his future brought on the heart attack.

As for Skilling, boy howdy but he’s in for it. Fastow copped a ten-year sentence, which right now looks pretty light all things considered. Lay is dead, and whatever people want to say about that, it means that all eyes and anger will be directed at Jeff Skilling, who has been deserted by his friends and family alike. And the judge is likely to be shopping for an especially big gavel to ram home the sentence. Found guilty on nineteen counts, Skilling is probably looking at between fifty and two hundred years behind bars, to run consecutively. Zero fun, especially the kind of prison Skilling is going to get. Yes, Skilling appears to richly deserve a harsh punishment, but even so it’s a cruel person who looks at such a penalty and finds it amusing. Murderers and rapists get less, after all, but God help the man who faces a judge who plans to send a message.

But I was going to answer the claim that Lay lined his pockets, and that Enron is why we have Sarbanes-Oxley. Well, last question first. A lot of people forget Arthur Andersen’s role in the Enron collapse – if AA has just done it’s job, the financial reports would have made the conditions clear long before the company collapsed. And let’s not forget Worldcom or Adelphia, Xerox or Tyco; frankly there was a great need for better reports. And as annoying as it is to meet Sox standards, it does what it is supposed to do; gives investors and the public a clearer look at what is going on in major corporations, sp folks can have better confidence in those companies. And while some companies would rather leave the country than meet those standards, to my mind that speaks to the level of stability and transparency those companies maintain – I’d just as soon not invest there anyway, thanks.

Now to the investor’s woes –there were three groups who lost a lot in Enron, but the largest group never got any press. Yes, thousands of Enron employees lost their stock portfolios, but people have warned against putting all your savings in one place, especially a single stock, for decades. It’s harsh, but they should have known better. And yes, I have had a company I work for go belly-up. It’s no fun, but I got over it and moved on, learning lessons which have helped me avoid a similar mistake later. And yes, investors were lied to in 2001, but most investors poured their money in years before, when no one was lying to them and they could have sold their stock whenever they liked. Investment has risks, and again this is not a new caution but an old, old story – blaming other people for lying to you is one thing, but it doesn’t mean the investors had no responsibility to do their homework. It bothers me, because such people will trust someone else on no real knowledge about them, and so some of them will just get taken again, because they simply will not make sure about where they are putting their money. But the biggest victims have long been ignored; creditors to Enron who provided materials and services to the company lost $54 Billion in the reorganization, and those creditors suffered just like anybody else. Only the media had no sympathy for them. Those creditors, including my present employer, took the losses because thy had to, and moved on. I suggest everyone else do the same. Learn from Enron, but the bitterness and bumper sticker jingoism is just petty and stupid.

Enron Misdirected

Well, Ken Lay is dead and you know what that means: Time once again to blame the Republicans! Or at least bring up bizarre conspiracy theories and claims that dying was somehow not enough.

But even the Washington Post admits that “Ken Lay had the ear of top Democrats in the 1980s and 90s. He and his colleagues used that access to promote the company's interests with the Clinton administration and key congressional Democrats". And just before their bankruptcy, after the Bush Administration refused to bail out the company or even meet with them, Enron gave a pile of money it could ill-afford to spend to Democrat campaigns in hopes of buying friends on that side of the aisle.

I’m hardly saying that we should be hanging Enron on the Democrats. But it sure seems like the Left never learns – one recalls the peculiar reaction to a funeral in Minnesota, or at least the adults remember. This will either have no effect in the fall, or it will hurt the Democrats if they try again to play it into something it never was.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Goodbye, Ken Lay

Ken Lay, the founder of and recent scapegoat for the Enron company, died this morning from a massive heart attack.

Whatever one wants to say about his part in the collapse of Enron and the lies told to investors and employees, this is a sad day for his family. As is the habit in America, few people will mourn the man, even among those quick to claim friendship with him when it was to their advantage, and it has already been noted that civil suits seeking to destroy his family will continue, even where there was no guilt on their part; greed has outlived both the company and the man who founded it.

Ken Lay should be remembered as a man who earned degrees all the way up to his Doctorate in Economics, a man who served honorably in the Navy, who not only started a company but raised a family and grandchildren with constant dedication and love. Whatever his part in Enron, the whole of the man is greater and better than we shall likely hear in the press.

The Electoral College 2008

Al Gore is still out there, muttering in various degrees, or eliciting mutters from his supporters, to continue the petulant complaint that he somehow won the 2000 Presidential Election, only to see it “stolen” from him. Gore, of course, is a moron and an unprincipled boor, but since millions of Democrats still embrace that charade, it is important to understand the direction the 2008 Presidential election is likely to take because of this confusion.

Gore, as we know, based his moral argument for “winning” the election on the claim that he gained more Popular votes than then-Governor Bush. The unchallenged totals from the election certainly had Gore ahead on that count, and perhaps Gore would have remained ahead after reviews, should that factor have been judged significant enough to decide the race. Gore supporters constantly ignore the fact that had the Popular Vote been the deciding factor in the 2000 election, the difference of far less than one percent in the Popular Vote would justify a recount, by the same logic used by Democrats to demand recounts at lower levels. To presume Gore would have won the recount depends on a series of events happening a certain way, when in the actual even nothing of the sort ever came about. But of course all this speculation misses the way that Presidential elections always operate; the goal to claim an Electoral majority.

Back when the nation was being formed, the decision on whether to have an Executive, how he would be put into office, and how the rights of each state would be protected were vital discussions, so important that we would not have a Constitution at all were it not for the Electoral College. Just as some Democrats today want the President to be selected by the winner of a national Popular Vote, there was a similar push for such a thing in the Eighteenth Century, unsurprisingly by delegates from states like New York and Pennsylvania, whose candidates would gain an automatic and perhaps insurmountable advantage simply for coming from states with large urban populations. It’s not hard to see that if they had won out, today’s politics would focus only on the needs of the major cities and heavy population states; then as now, places like Vermont and Rhode Island would be ignored in such a plan, which is why there was a need for the Electoral College. This comprehension is also why no drive has begun to abolish the Electoral College – Gore and his like whine and curse, but even the Democratic Party understands that they must speak to the whole nation, in order to remain a national party. So for the foreseeable future, Presidential elections in the United States are a “Race to 270”, the needed Electoral Votes to claim a majority in the College. Understanding the Electoral College, therefore, can provide clues to the next winner, no matter what the field looks like now.

This is the first section of the discussion, and today I am addressing margins. The Presidential Elections can be examined in many ways, but it should be understood that elections have changed significantly over the years. Basically, you have elections before 1824, which may be discarded here for two reasons – the process of selecting Electors by direct popular election in a state did not begin until 1824. Also, the Democrats did not exist until then. Of course, the Republicans did not come into the contest until 1856, so that puts a blot on the 1824-1852 elections. But even then, for me the real race as we know it began in 1948, so that is my personal choice for a starting point. It gives us fifteen elections to consider, all of them generally comparable to the modern contest in form and process. Of course, it is interesting to note that there is a nine to six split between the Republicans and Democrats in election wins, though if you break it down to candidates over that time, it’s an even five to five in that span; only Clinton was able to claim a second term, while Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush have been able to do it for the Republicans.

Using the 2004 and 2008 Electoral values for states, there are seven states with twenty or more Electoral Votes. So for this article I simply want to look at the election margins of those states.

California has always been a big prize, and Conventional Wisdom has it firmly in Democrat hands. Certainly California has gone to the Democrat in every Presidential election since 1992, but since the end of World War 2 it’s been a GOP state eight times, against six for the Democrats (with an effective tie in 1960 – When the vote is less than three-quarters of a percent I am calling it a ‘push’) . The greatest margin for a Democrat was 18% in 1964. The greatest margin for a Republican was 17% in both 1980 and 1984. So for now it’s a Blue state for 2008, but a light-blue one. Worth 55 EV.

Texas has been long seen as a Republican stronghold, and the numbers bear it out, especially in recent history. Texas has gone for the Republican candidate in every Presidential election since 1980. In the span measured the state has gone GOP ten times, against five for the Democrats. The greatest margin for the Democrats was 42% in 1948, and the greatest Republican margin was 33% in 1972. Texas may reasonably be considered a pretty deep Red state for 2008. Worth 34 EV.

New York has been a key state for both Republicans and Democrats over the years, but it’s been Democrat in Presidential runs since 1988. In our span the Democrats enjoy a nine to six advantage. The greatest margin for a Democrat was 38% in 1964, while the strongest Republican result was 22% in 1956. When Bush failed to improve much in the 2004 election from his National Security stand, the strength of this deep Blue state was made evident. Worth 31 EV.

Florida has been a GOP state since 2000, with Republicans holding a nine to five edge in the examined span. The largest Democrat margin was 15% in 1948, while the largest Republican margin was 44% in 1972. Efforts by the Democrats put Florida in play for 2000, but in 2004 it was clearly headed back to the Right. Call this one a medium Red state. Worth 27 EV.

Illinois is thought of as an unshakeable Liberal bastion. Unions and old-school party loyalty swung the state for Kennedy in 1960, and have held down any serious focus on Republican candidates over recent years. Yet the Democrats have only held this state since 1992, and in the span it’s eight to six GOP. The largest margin for a Democrat in that time was 19 % in 1964, but the GOP won Illinois by 20% in 1956. This is a Blue state, but much weaker than it appears on the surface. Worth 21 EV.

Pennsylvania is a stronger Democratic state. Like Illinois, Pennsylvania has gone to the Democrats every time since 1992, but the Democrats own an eight to seven advantage since WW2. Also, the largest Democrat margin was 30% in 1964, against 20% for the Republicans in 1972. Deep Blue state. Worth 21 EV.

And finally, we come to Ohio. Ohio went for the Republicans the last two times around, and in the span the GOP owns a ten to four advantage. The best Democrat margin was 26% in 1964, while the Republicans managed a 22% margin in both 1956 and 1972. Basically, the Democrats either win by a bunch there, or – more often – the Republicans hold on and win the close ones. Deeper Red than you may think. Worth 20 EV.

In summary, what have we found? Well, one obvious reason that only Democrats want to can the Electoral College, is that they depend more on Big States, while Republicans get a lot of the smaller states, especially the heartland, lighter in population but much deeper in work ethic and common sense. But it’s also interesting to note that of the seven big states, while five are pretty secure, another two – worth 76 Electoral Votes – are showing cracks in their loyalty, and have a history which indicates they might listen to a charismatic Republican.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

1776 - Unstoppable!

Two hundred thirty years ago, the world was irrevocably changed. I thought about writing some maudlin piece about what we owe our veterans, but really – if you get that, you don’t really need a reminder, and if you don’t, you’re well past hopeless. Fortunately, that second group does not tend to read my work, so I will make the assumption that everyone here is a grateful American, or at least familiar with the contributions to the world made by Americans.

The obvious has been presented all over the place – no USA, a lot of places which now are free would instead be run either by monarchies or dictatorships. The Germans would have won World War 1, who knows who would have stopped Communism, and as for such things as women voting, and the concept of universal civil rights – without America we’d be wishing for them, but that’s it.

But the United States is important for a lot of other reasons. Sure, some parts of our culture are shallow and vain – not unlike many other places I could mention – but we invented free enterprise for all intents and purposes, we created the businesses that move people and material everywhere. No US, no FedEx, no UPS, and while other shipping companies would have done their best, it’s just not the same and everyone knows it.

And let’s not forget innovation. The overwhelming majority of practical patents are produced by American inventors, including almost every major pharmaceutical drug commonly in use today. Sure, someone else might have found the vaccine for Polio, or perfected the heart transplant, or developed life-saving trauma procedures at hospitals, but it would have been later, and in any case have you noticed how many charities set up hospitals in the United States? Without a USA, these hospitals would simply never have happened, since they required a government tolerant of the free disposition of personal wealth.

And then there’s the little matter of American politics. Oh sure, it’s weird some times, seeing what Al Gore and John Kerry have become, but it’s a good thing, that even the wildest and most bizarre guy out there is free to run on whatever platform he likes – judicial restraint or activism, a War on Terror or a War on Taxpayers, equal rights or special “fairness” agendas, it all gets to be considered and the people vote. And more than a hundred countries found our system so workable, that they took it and made it work in their nation. That started here.

.. and it just wouldn’t be the Fourth of July, without reminding everyone about American cuisine. Sure, fast food is heavy on carbs and calories, and a lot of people remark about the gaucheness of McDonald’s and KFC restaurants everywhere, but if you pay attention, you will notice that those restaurants do great business. A LOT of business, to natives as well as tourists. Call it what you want to, but American food sells.

So Mister Ahmadinejad and Kim Il Stooopid may hold visions of eradicating America and its influence, but frankly they are too late. Over two centuries too late.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Senor Presidente

Roberto Madrazo

Manuel Lopez Obrador

Felipe Calderon

Why should any American care about these names? If I explained that these are the major candidates to replace Vicente Fox as President of Mexico, it would not be likely to excite most voters. Yet the results of Mexico’s Presidential election will have real and lasting effects on the United States, and will play a role in the upcoming Midterm elections in the United States this fall.

Roberto Madrazo is the candidate from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which held power in Mexico essentially unchallenged for seven decades. When Fox won the Presidency in 2000, it was considered a stunning upset. Unfortunately for Fox, the National Action Party has not enjoyed substantive control of the legislature, and Fox was forced to take stands more palatable to the liberal Mexican populace. The PRI has been pushing to reclaim power ever since “Toallagate”, but has been largely rejected by the voters, who appear hungry for more productive alternatives. The available information suggests that Madrazo has claimed third place in the voting, well out of contention, but the other two candidates are still waiting for the final call in a very, very close race.

Manuel Lopez Obrador, the PRD candidate, is essentially a Socialist. The Washington Post compared him to FDR, but in essence he intends to redistribute wealth – one of his most popular slogans is “the poor first” – especially by heavy taxes and restrictive controls on corporations and industry in Mexico. In the short term, this would probably help Obrador solidify his support, but in the long term such actions would only worsen the Economy, especially failing to create jobs. One interesting promise made by Obrador, however, is that he wants “Mexicans to stay in their home country”, which indicates the possibility that Bush might be better able to work out a border treaty with Obrador than he has seen with Fox.

Felipe Calderon, the National Action Party (PAN) candidate, hopes to improve on Vicente Fox’s start to eradicate corruption in Mexico and build Mexico’s economy through cooperation between government and native Mexicans. He is strongly opposed to denationalizing PEMEX or working to attract foreign investment. One thing in his clear favor is that the Washington Post does not appear to like him.

With regard to the border issue, Calderon also seems interested in working with President Bush, rather than against him. In a recent campaign stop, Calderon asserted "How many of you have family in the United States?" Calderón asks a crowd of thousands Saturday evening. Nearly every hand goes up. "I have a cousin and brother-in-law there too," admits Calderón. "Our fathers, sons, sisters ... we need to bring them back here," he says.

But Calderon also expects the U.S. to help Mexico’s infrastructure, saying "I will remain firm in demanding fair rights for Mexicans in the US," stresses Calderón. "If we build one kilometer of road here it will be better than 10 kilometers of a fence along the border."

On the face then, it would appear that whoever wins the Presidency in Mexico will at least be willing to hear Bush officials make their case, but either man will expect a deal of some sort. In terms of American politics, therefore, the public statements made between now and November can affect the support for Border Control initiatives; the Republicans will either look principled and determined, or stubborn and unreasonable, and a number of close races could turn on that impression.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Separate Powers

The strange and damaging decision released by the U.S. Supreme Court this week has a lot of people shaking their heads, but from one perspective it is a natural and predictable action. Ironically, most of the people involved mean well, but simply do not stop to consider the greater effect of their actions.

Let’s go back to that SCOTUS decision. The United States Supreme Court Justices who voted down the use of military tribunals at Guantanamo were not trying to aid Al Qaeda deliberately, nor were they opposed to the Guantanamo campo per se; they saw a situation in which they believed the United States needed to comply with international standards, specifically the Geneva Accords (although the high court ignored a number of specific articles of those same accords), even though this meant not only opposing the Bush Administration’s intentions, but also ignoring a recent law passed by Congress which specifically authorized military tribunals; it is telling that the Supreme Court did not even address this law, as if it were ignorant of it.

What is happening is a new initiative by some members of the High Court; the distinction to be understood here is not “Conservative” versus “Liberal”, nor even “pro-Bush” versus “anti-Bush”, though some Justices have clearly demonstrated such an emotional bias, but “Activist” versus “Restraint”. You see, even conservative judges sometimes feel a strong desire to change the law, to make things right, and this is very strong in the case of SCOTUS Justices; after all, they are the top of the law chain and so they feel that nothing will be done if they decide to stand still. In this case, the combination was of Liberal Activist Justices who opposed the precedent of military tribunals in wartime, matched with some Libertarian Activist Justices who believed that the Law exists on its own authority, and so the military should not be deciding the fate of non-military types.

It is obvious to the average American, that terrorists are not civilians by any reasonable definition. It is obvious to Americans that Al Qaeda is a group of individuals who obey the law of no nation, no people, and no faith. Islam, for example, does not condone the use of violence against other Muslims, against children or women, and especially not against known innocents. The claims made by Al Qaeda, therefore, constitute unacceptable acts by any standard. They pursue neither a valid military campaign nor actions in the jurisdiction of common law. This is by intent, preventing police and the military from nominal responses. As a result, any effective actions taken to oppose Al Qaeda would by definition be unique and anomalous from the normal doctrine. However, that does not make the actions illegal, unless they violate a specific restraint in the Constitution or in legislated acts by the Congress. The gist of the SCOTUS ruling, as some analysts have already observed, is that while damage has been done to the effort in the War on Terror, the President and Republicans will gain public support, as people will be reminded that not everyone is working for their interests and safety.

This raises the obvious question of why the Democrats would cheer the SCOTUS ruling, and it is answered by the sad confirmation that the Left would rather hurt America than see Bush gain approval. What started as a calculated means to weaken support for the President, has become a compulsive obsession even for Democratic leadership, so that anyone seeking high office as a Democrat finds themselves required to demonstrate a breach with both civility and rational evaluation. Democrats fool themselves by considering only selected Job Approval numbers, despite the relative inaccuracy of such numbers to historical success, and without consideration of the significant difference between Job Approval and personal appreciation. To put it another way, Democrats continue to act as if Bush were running for office, and as if he were an unknown quantity to be labeled for the public. In this error, Democrats not only spend energy unwisely on a man they cannot expect to diminish, but also display a pettiness which does not sit well with non-extremists. No Democrat yet has seriously evaluated the causes of Kerry’s defeat in 2004, nor any of the series of setbacks rendered by George W. Bush. Instead, the Democrats react emotionally and superficially, preferring a moment of angry petulance to more substantial gains which must be deferred to be had. In the matter of the Hamden decision, Democrats have taken a knife to their own hamstrings for future security considerations, just so they can enjoy needling President Bush. So, where the Supreme Court has acted in hopes of increasing their personal power, the Democrats have discovered a new variant – the SCOTUS seeks a rebalance in the separation of powers to its advantage, while Democrats seem willing to accept a more permanent separation from power, in order to pursue their vendetta against a select number of Republicans.