Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards impact on the presidential political equation

With John Edwards being the "progressive" candidate, I personally would have estimated that his dropping out of the campaign would instantly accrue much more to Barack than Hillary. I would have guessed that people see Barack as at least a little more progressive than Hillary. But, a quick check on the Intrade Prediction Market shows that Hillary is still sitting at a 62.5% chance of winning the nomination and Barack is still back at a 38.1% chance.

OTOH, Intrade "punters" do not necessarily have any magical insight into how real people behave when "changing horses."

On the other other hand, punters may have assumed all along that Edwards was going to drop out eventually and factored that into past "betting" about a Hillary versus Barack race.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ethnic violence in Kenya

After the bloodshed in Rwanda there was a widespread belief that "we" should have actually done something to intervene and stop the violence. Know, we seem to be seeing almost a replay of the violence in Kenya, but nobody has any significant response. Essentially, we did not really learn anything from Rwanda. Or, maybe we learned that offering a few public statements and diplomatic encouragements was about all that makes sense and that otherwise we should simply stay out of the way.

Jumping into the middle of things and urging compromise doesn't seem to be accomplishing very much. According to Associated Press:

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, the Illinois senator whose father was Kenyan, urged both sides to compromise.

"President Kibaki must permit the opposition meaningful participation in the government," Obama said in a statement. And Odinga "must seek a peaceful resolution and reject violent protest and disorder."

Strangely, we do not even hear much about Kenya from the presidential candidates, but maybe that is because Kenya is not even on the radar for the average American. After the economy, Iraq, health care, the election, apparently Kenya ranks somewhere below Britney.

I am not sure what to make of all this.

-- Jack Krupansky

What do the results from South Carolina tell us?

The margin of victory for Barack in South Carolina was extremely impressive, better than 2 to 1, but it is less obvious what conclusions to draw from the demographics of that spread. The New York Times tells us that:

Mr. Obama, who built an extensive grass-roots network across the state over the last year, received the support of about 80 percent of black voters, the exit polls showed. He also received about one-quarter of the white vote, with Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards splitting the remainder.

In particular, Mr. Obama was helped by strong support from black women, who made up 35 percent of the voters. Mrs. Clinton, with the help of her husband, had competed vigorously for black women voters, but Mr. Obama received about 80 percent of their support, according to the exit polls, conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool of television networks and The Associated Press.

The demographics of South Carolina appear to be rather different from the rest of the country.

The good news from South Carolina is that whoever wins the Democratic nomination should do well in the state in the general election.

The Intrade Prediction Market is still indicating that Hillary has a 64% chance of capturing the nomination and Barack a 37% chance. In other words, South Carolina was a big win for him, but people are skeptical about extrapolating a win in South Carolina to the national level. We'll see what really happens.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Any surprises in store in South Carolina?

The Democratic primary polls are closing right about now in South Carolina. The Intrade Prediction Market is currently indicating that Barack has a 98% chance of winning and Hillary has a 2.5% chance of winning. We'll see what really happens.

The important thing is the margin of victory. Will Hillary lose (or win) by only a modest margin, or will Barack win by a landslide and actually build up some momentum? It is unfortunate that Intrade does not have a market for the "spread."

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Does Iran really threaten global security?

There certainly plenty of concerns about virtually every country in the Middle East, but do the concerns about Iran really rise to the level of a threat to global security? From all that I have read and heard, I would have to say that the answer is: No.

An Associated Press article entitled "Bush: Iran threatens global security - President says Arab allies must confront danger 'before it's too late'" tells us that:

President Bush said Sunday that Iran is threatening the security of the world, and that the United States and Arab allies must join together to confront the danger "before it's too late."

Bush said Iran funds terrorist extremists, undermines peace in Lebanon, sends arms to the Taliban, seeks to intimidate its neighbors with alarming rhetoric, defies the United Nations and destabilizes the entire region by refusing to be open about its nuclear program.

"Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terror," Bush said in a speech he delivered about mid-way through his eight-day Mideast trip...

I am sure that the Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby are quite concerned about Iran, but that simply does not raise Iran to the level of being a threat to global security. In fact, I would say that Iran is not even the largest threat to regional security. It is in fact the U.S. and its heavy-handed intervention into regional affairs and its one-sided support for Israel that is the largest security threat in the Middle East. Take the U.S. out of the Middle East and stop treating Israel as if it were a colony or 51st state of the U.S., and much of the tensions in the Middle East would quickly dissipate.

To be sure, there are plenty of tensions in the region that do not involve the U.S., but the U.S. would be more successful as an agent for conciliation and negotiation and accommodation rather than taking sides and trying to bend regional affairs to the will and whim of American and Pro-Israel Lobby politics.

To be crystal clear, I personally feel more threatened by President Bush and the policies of the Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby than even a nuclear-armed Iran. It is a shame that any American would have to feel this way, but that simply highlights the horror of our policies.

The U.S. should endeavor to lead by example. Our policies do not need to be black and white choices between threats and begging. We have more than enough tools available to us to permit us to focus on offering "attractive" propositions. And, sometimes, simple patience is what is called for. Maybe then people around the world would see the merit of our political, economic, and social systems.

To be clear, Iran does not need to be "confronted" in a threatening manner; that is simply a strategic approach that has been selected by misguided policymakers. Yes, we need to find creative ways to deal with all aspects of the Middle East, but I am confident that threatening "confrontation" is not a very useful or productive approach for the U.S. to take.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Is the death penalty finally on the way out?

I have always been opposed to the death penalty, but it has been interesting to see how obsessed so many people are with it as an important tool of law enforcement and "justice." Although a few states are heading down the path to eliminating this barbaric relic, in the rest there is this odd lack of willingness to admit that it is a very poor and ineffective tool for public safety.

For all the passion law and order types have for the death penalty, it now appears that few of them are really as passionate about it as they publicly profess. Sure, being pro-death penalty has been a surefire path to votes in many states, but from a practicality perspective the tedious process of actually getting somebody executed with all of the long appeals renders it a somewhat unattractive option for politicians who are usually more results-oriented and want to see results now rather than years or decades down the road.

It is almost ironic that the debate over pain and lethal injections may in fact lead to the de facto abolition of the death penalty, for good. If the U.S. Supreme Court finds that the process is unnecessarily painful and that states (and the U.S. government itself) must come up with a painless process, that may lead to a gridlocked search where states finally grumble and throw up their hands and admit that it simply isn't worth it.

Although few states or politicians will voluntarily and willingly give up the death penalty as a way to garner votes, the certainty that truly painless execution will be enforced by the U.S. Supreme Court will take the wind out of their sails and they will find it attractive to redirect their law enforcement energies elsewhere.

-- Jack Krupansky

Policy? Who cares about policy when the goal is winning?

I found it interesting how the quotes in an article in The New York Times by Adam Nagourney entitled "Sharp Clashes in Hectic Days Before Primary" highlight the difference in emphasis between Barack and Hillary: his focus on winning the popularity contest in contrast with her insistence on getting policy right.

The Times quotes Barack as focusing on the contest, but with little emphasis on the policy "changes" that he would bring about:

Mr. Obama on Saturday morning found a crowd of 2,500 people waiting for him inside -- and outside -- a gymnasium at North High School in Nashua, where he warned about the danger of partisanship in Washington and urged voters here to follow up on what Iowa caucusgoers began.

"We started something on Thursday, but it was just the start. It was just the beginning," Mr. Obama said, speaking over waves of applause. "The assumption is that the American people will succumb to fear and doubt and will not trust their instincts and will not follow up what we can do."

He continued, "What we saw during this past week was the American people rising up and saying to each other that we are on the cusp of creating a new majority, a majority that will help us win this nomination, a majority that will help us win an election in November."

"But more importantly," he said, "a majority that will help us govern in the way that we have not governed in a long time, a majority that will actually deliver on the promises of health care."

The simple fact is that Barack has not offered up any substantial argument for how he is going to magically accomplish so much more than Hillary. This "new majority" is a fiction on his part. It is Hillary who in fact has the better shot at organizing a governing coalition in Washington. Barack is trying to play it both ways, claiming he is an outsider (even though he serves in the Senate in Washington) and simultaneously that he could work much better with the rest of Washington. He talks a great story, but it is not very credible.

Meanwhile, The Times offers a Hillary sound-bite that is 100% policy:

Mrs. Clinton drew a contrast with Mr. Obama in her morning appearance in Penacook to discuss health care. "This is one of the issues in this campaign," Mrs. Clinton said. "One of my leading opponents proposed a plan that doesn't cover everybody. It's a mistake on the merits for a Democrat to propose a plan that doesn't cover everybody, and it's a mistake politically because it cedes to the Republicans that we can't do it."

Hillary chose to focus on an urgent point of policy, but this illustrates her priority on policy rather than simply trying to win the popularity contest.

The ironic thing is that if Barack wins all the way, it is Hillary in the Senate who will have a better shot of shaping and crafting health care reform. He will be relegated to being a rubber stamp to sign it.

-- Jack Krupansky

Changing the messenger

Clearly "change" is a theme that resonates strongly with a lot of people. What is not so clear is whether it is a change of messenger that really excites people or the nitty-gritty details of policy changes that ultimately matter. Clearly a lot of people see Hillary as more of an agent for the status quo than a true break from the past. I personally think that is an unfair charactization of everything that she stands for, but the reality is that a lot of people have come to see her as "part" of the "problem" rather than a clean break from the past.

So, the big question that primary voters in New Hampshire will be answering for us on Tuesday is who they see as more representative of "change", however they may individually think about what "change" means to them.

One of the reasons that I am an independent is that I abhor all of the "cult of personality" that serves as the foundation for most of what we call "politics." To my mind, we should focus on what policies we wish to put into place and only then ask the question of who stands the best chance of pursuing those policies. Instead, we have a political system built around the question of who can win a popularity contest. Who has the best sound bites. Who has the best red-meat lines. Who makes us feel good.

And, maybe that is also a key to why Hillary does not resonate positively enough with voters and resonates negatively with too many voters: she spends too much time obesssing over policy and how to achieve it rather than spending enough time polishing up her image to be the most popular person in the room. That is in fact unfortunate. Popularity is a poor indicator or substitute for ability to succeed at securing real and durable change.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Change and Iraq

Barack Obama's win in Iowa seemed to come down to a matter of change and Iraq. Hillary has the Iraq albatross around her neck of having gone along with authorizing Bush's invasion of Iraq, and people seem to want a bigger change than simply the difference between the Clintons and the Republicans.

Of course this was Iowa and it is always dangerous to extrapolate from Iowa to the rest of the country, but it is also dangerous to underestimate the American people when they get fed up with the status quo and want a more dramatic break with the past.

I personally do not blame Hillary for "going along" on Iraq and I do think that she really is a significant agent of change and would likely be able to accomplish more change than all the other candidates put together, but I also have been too close to Washington over the past ten years and I can sympathize with the difficulties that average citizens have when trying to make sense out of Washington and trying to discriminate between apparent differences and real differences.

Now let us see what the people of New Hampshire think. I have lived in New Hampshire several times in the past three decades, but I was not a "native." I always loved the "Live Free or Die" slogan.

-- Jack Krupansky