Friday, May 16, 2008

Primary votes for Florida and Michigan

The daily email from the Clinton campaign requested comments for the Democratic National Committee on the issue of the primary votes for Michigan and Florida. Here is the comment I submitted:

The national party organization can of course recommend what actions a state party organization SHOULD take, but state party organizations MUST have the FREEDOM to make their own decisions, including when to schedule their state primary elections.

Or if the national party organization feels it necessary to "punish" someone for deciding when to schedule a state primary, by all means go ahead and punish SOMEBODY, such as the state party leaders, but punishing the VOTERS by depriving of their right to vote is absolutely unacceptable, and downright UNAMERICAN. Even President Bush and VP Cheney have not stooped to this low a level of deprivation of the rights of common citizens.

Let the voters of Michigan and Florida have a say for who will be the next Democratic nominee for President of the United States!

-- Jack Krupansky, Independent

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Who is the largest exporter of oil to the U.S.?

Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of crude oil and petroleum products to the U.S., right? Nope. They are number 2. Canada is #1. Mexico is #3. Then Nigeria, Venezuela, and then Iraq. After that, the rest of the exporters each provide us with less than 20% of what Canada provides. As per the Department of Energy Energy Information Administration (EIA), the top 15 exporters of petroleum (both crude oil and refined products) for March were:

  1. CANADA exported 2.30 million barrels per day to the U.S. or  21.7% of U.S. imports
  2. SAUDI ARABIA exported 1.54 or 14.5%
  3. MEXICO exported 1.35 or 12.7%
  4. NIGERIA exported 1.16 or 10.9%
  5. VENEZUELA exported 1.02 or 9.6%
  6. IRAQ exported 0.77 or 7.3%
  7. ALGERIA exported 0.43 or 4.0%
  8. RUSSIA exported 0.39 or 3.7%
  9. ANGOLA exported 0.38 or 3.6%
  10. VIRGIN ISLANDS exported 0.29 or 2.7%
  11. ECUADOR exported 0.24 or 2.2%
  12. UNITED KINGDOM exported 0.22 or 2.1%
  13. BRAZIL exported 0.19 or 1.8%
  14. KUWAIT exported 0.18 or 1.7%
  15. COLOMBIA exported 0.15 or 1.4%

Exporters in North and South America accounted for over half or 52.2% of U.S. imports.

Top 15 exporters from the Middle East accounted for only 23.5% of U.S. imports.

Canada and Mexico constitute a full third or 34.4% of U.S. petroleum imports.

Total U.S. petroleum imports from the Top 15 exporters were 10.6 million barrels per day, which is down from the 2007 average of 11.3 million barrels per day and down from 11.7 million barrels per day in March 2007.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The power of the independents

Now that Barack is the "presumptive nominee" and people focus more on the match-up between him and McCain, the role of independents becomes a central focus. For the record, I am an independent, but "we" come in all colors and stripes and flavors across the entire political spectrum. There has been plenty of discussion of the role of independents in Barack's camapign, but they have been more of a left-wing liberal form of independence (aversion to a centrist Democratic party) that does not have any appeal for or to me. Nonetheless, "we" independents are going to get a lot of attention over the next six months. An article in the New York Times by Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny entitled "Already, Obama and McCain Map Fall Strategies" offers some perspective on the role of independents in the upcoming race. The two parties will be stumbling over each other to paint themselves as more accommodating of the aspirations of independents and painting their opponents as less accommodating of independent aspirations. The Times tells us that:

Historically, independent voters have responded to specific issues and concerns, in particular an emphasis on government reform and an aversion to overly bitter partisan wrangling. Accordingly, Mr. McCain's advisers said they would present him as a senator who frequently stepped across the aisle, while portraying Mr. Obama as a down-the-line Democratic voter who is ideologically out of touch with much of the country.


Mr. Obama's advisers, meanwhile, intend to present Mr. McCain as a product of Washington who moved closer to the Bush administration to win the Republican nomination.

The Times is accurately reporting the facts here, but I can tell you that neither approach appeals to me. I am not as offended by "Washington" as so many of Barack's "cult" member profess to be, nor do I believe that Barack himself is as far-left wing as so many of his "independent" supporters are and as McCain will be trying to paint him as being. I think that both politicians have been forced to paint themselves as further from center than they really are simply to capture their respective nominations. I am disheartened by the extent to which McCain has only renewed and sharpened his right-wing credentials in recent weeks despite the fact that he is effectively the Republican nominee, but he still has to deal with holding his party toegther through the convention, and then maybe he can focus on broadening his appeal for the general election. If he fails to broaden his appeal after the convention, then he will be in trouble. Barack has similar, parallel issues but on the left rather than the right. I really do think that Barack has the potential to be even more centrist than Hillary, but so far he has not done so. We we have to see if he shifts after his convention. Whoever shifts more is more likely to win in November.

Both candidates have a lot of potential for broad appeal, but they are both susceptible to the "need" to appeal to and coddle their party's "faithful." Appealing to independents who happen to be aligned with the party faithful will only take a candidate so far. It is the ability to appeal to independents who are not aligned with the party faithful that is the central issue for both parties and both candidates.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

When will Hillary drop out?

By my calculations, Hillary won in Indiana by only 1.46% and lost in North Carolina by 14.81% or essentially 15%. That was a fairly weak showing. She should have been able to do better in both. The only bright spot is that she actually could have done a lot worse in North Carolina and only by campaigning vigorously in recent weeks did she "gain" enough to lose by "only" 15%. My estimate had been that she would have to lose in Indiana by over 10% and lose in North Carolina by over 15% and she did somewhat better than that overall, so she is technically still in the race. Still, given that she was unable to spurt ahead of Barack, the question remains of what it is going to take to convince her to drop out.

Actually that is an easy question to answer... Hillary will drop out when the money runs out, but as long as people continue to throw enough money at her to mount a moderately strong campaign there is no reason for her to drop out. Sure, people will chant something about "unity", but that is not really a factor until after the convention.

Although the Clintons can self-finance Hillary's campaign, it is her success or lack thereof at fundraising that will persuade superdelegates and party officials to support her or abandon her.

The bottom line is that it ain't over until it is over. And it can't be over until Barack figures out how to "close the deal." Sure, a 15% margin of victory is very significant, but why isn't he able to push that up to 20%, 25%, 30% or more? It is not quite clear what he is missing, but he is missing something.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Would I vote for Barack or McCain?

Although I would prefer to vote for Hillary in November, my position has been that I will vote for whichever candidate is more centrist. I had expected both Barack and McCain to veer sharply to center after their respective primary campaigns were over, making it a real horse race as to who I would vote for, but so far I haven't see McCain move towards center at all, and he may in fact be moving a little further to the right. He still seems too happy with the U.S. being in Iraq. His daily emails have made appeals to conservatives and conservative values. The most recent email was a rant against "judicial activism" and calls for "judges who strictly interpret the Constitution." Another recent email referred to "conservative principles." I am sorry, but these are not efforts to reach toward the center where a lot of us are.

In short, if the election were held today, I would not be able to vote for John McCain. Sure, a lot can change between now and November, but he is currently still not even pointed in the "right" direction.

OTOH, his recent right-wing appeals may amount to simple pandering in an effort to raise campaign contributions. I suppose that if I were in his shoes, I actually would also focus on the conservatives right now since they will be much less likely to contribute later in the campaign when McCain does start taking a more centrist position in the actual campaign. We will see. For now, I would have to vote "No" for McCain.

That does not mean that Barack will get a free pass, but I think I already sense that he is a bit more centrist than his appeals to the left-wing of the Democratic party lets on.

-- Jack Krupansky

What will the margins of victory be?

As people have digested all of the late activity of the campaign and maybe picking up on whispering about how people voted, the Intrade Prediction Market is currently showing Barack with a 95% chance in North Carolina and Hillary with a 93% chance in Indiana. That is about what everyone has been expecting, but it tells us very little since it is the margins of victory (and defeat) that will determine whether today's results will be "decisive" in any way. Unless either candidate scores a "landslide" victory (extremely unlikely) or at least a dramatic margin of victory in both states, we will be left essentially right where we started after Pennsylvania, effectively a stalemate, with Barack still technically in the lead but still unable to "close the deal."

How is that for a universal bumper sticker: "Close the deal."

-- Jack Krupansky

Can Barack finally close the deal?

In less than 24 hours we shall finally get the answer to the question of whether Barack can finally close the deal. He needs to push ahead of Hillary in Indiana and really blow her away in North Carolina. Can he do it? Well of course he can, but the real question is whether he is going to focus and actually get his act together this time. Hillary even handed him a policy issue on a silver platter, her gas holiday "gimmick." If he can't turn that around and knock her out of the race, I am not sure what he is going to be able to do.

Barack is still sulking after being accused of being an elitist, while Hillary has been busy recasting herself as the proverbial working-class hero. Yes, that gas holiday may only be 30 cents a day, but that is no excuse for Barack to be so condescending to the trials and tribulations of working-class voters, for whom 30 cents is better than nothing and at least shows that somebody acts as though they really care.

In any case, I do wish him luck. No need to wish Hillary luck since she is having way to much fun to notice how steep a hill she has to climb.

My estimate is that Hillary will lose in North Carolina by 4% to 10% and that she will prevail in Indiana by 2% to 8%.

My estimate is that Hillary will only be "knocked out" if she loses in North Carolina by more than 15% and loses in Indiana by more than 10%. If she loses in North Carolina by only 10% and loses in Indiana by only 5%, she can probably continue to limp along.

My estimate is that the only thing that can really shift momentum into Hillary's favor would be an outright win in North Carolina and a win by 10% in Indiana. That would really take the wind of Barack's sails even if he does retain a pledged delegate lead.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, May 05, 2008

Fighting elitism - the master at work

When it comes to avoiding elitism, Barack is about as clueless as they come. What he desperately needs to do is take lessons from the master: Bill Clinton. Bill can spend hours on end talking to and about people in small towns without talking down to them or about them. He really does feel their pain, in a way that Barack and his supporters probably never will. There was an article in the Washington Post by Eli Saslow entitled "In Small Towns, Bill Clinton Finds A Campaign Niche" that vividly portrays how in-touch Bill is with average, working-class Americans. There are plenty of things about Bill Clinton that people can dislike or even hate, but when it comes to relating to average, working-class Americans in small-town America, he is clearly the master and maybe always will be. He may be a dying breed, but he is still a national treasure.

Maybe if Barack and crew would do a little less sneering at the Clintons he could learn something from them.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Clinton sets her sights on energy traders

Finally, a leading politician has acknowledge the open secret of why oil and gasoline prices are so high. It is the energy traders. An article in the Washington Post by  Dan Balz and Peter Slevin entitled "Democrats Step Up Debate on Gas Tax - Both Candidates Focusing on Economy" informs us that:

Going after the oil companies was only part of Clinton's energy message. She accused energy traders of manipulating oil prices and called for the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate. "It is a fact they are manipulating the oil and gas market," she said.

Whether anything will come of this remains to be seen, but at least there is some public and high-profile acknowledgement of the problem.

Technically, I am not so sure that it is market "manipulation" per se, but simply the fact that in-house proprietary trading desks at the major banks, financial institutions, and hedge funds are simply swamping the real market for energy commodities. There is simply way too much financial speculation in commodities in general and energy in particular. I do not know of any illegalities, per se, but the markets are out of control and harming average consumers. Sure, the commodities markets are functioning properly in a technical sense that orders are being processed, just as the markets for mortgage securities and auction-rate securities were working just fine, but there needs to some government hand on the throttle to recognize when consumers are being seriously harmed and that it is time to place limits on financial competition in commodities markets by non-producers and non-consumers. Futures markets were designed to smooth out market conditions for both producers and consumers of commodities with plenty of room for traders and speculators to help add some additional liquidity, but the amount of money being thrown into commodity markets is now interfering with the normal price discovery process.

Exactly what machinations would be discovered remains to be seen, but certainly investigations are clearly called for. In fact, somebody needs to investigate the extent to which changes in Federal Reserve banking regulations a few years ago may have enabled the participation of banks and financial institutions in speculation in commodities in ways that are not in alignment with running a bank.

Put simply, the major banks, financial institutions, and hedge funds are abusing the commodities markets and are clearly harming consumers.

-- Jack Krupansky

Barack continues to struggle against the elitist label that sticks to him all too well

Barack continues to try to run and hide from his elitist leanings, but the more he struggles, the more the label sticks. From the Washington Post:

"I do think one of the ironies of the past two or three weeks is this idea that Michelle and I are elitist, pointy-headed intellectual types," said Obama, whose young mother became a single parent by the time he was 2. "The fact is, our lives more closely approximate the lives of the average voter than any of the other candidates."

Obama has made millions recently from his best-selling memoirs. His wife, Michelle, is a hospital executive whose salary climbed to $275,000 in the year before the presidential run. But when Obama moved to Chicago after college in the mid-1980s, he earned $1,000 a month as a community organizer.

Barack's own words amply illustrate how out of touch he is. The issue with elitism is not what your own background and financial situation is, but what values you project in your words and actions. Barack is wrong when he suggests that being "intellectual types" defines elitists. You could an intellect of the highest order and still be humble and look at the plight of the common man with empathy rather than condescension.

Technically, Barack and his wife may be financially less well-off than Hillary and McCain, but that is not the point. The point is not whether a politician's own personal life is "closer" financially to an average, working-class voter, but the attitude and values that the politician projects. Barack does a much better job of appealing to the interests and needs of elitists than to the interests and needs of average, working-class Americans.

Maybe some day he will get this right, but for now he does not seem to fathom the nature of his problem.

-- Jack Krupansky

Hillary refuses to pander to elitist economists

Hillary is sure getting a lot of mileage out of this anti-elitist stance and continuing to paint Barack as an elitist. I just saw a Reuters article by Andy Sullivan entitled "Clinton dismisses 'elite' economists on gas tax plan" informs us that:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Sunday dismissed the "elite opinion" of economists who criticized her gas tax proposal, using a term that has dogged rival Barack Obama in recent weeks.

Yes, Barack is technically correct that the gasoline tax holiday is technically "a classic Washington gimmick" and technically "You're gonna save about 25, 30 dollars, or half a tank of gas", but this is precisely how an elitist would look at a "pocketbook" problem of average, working-class Americans and of what to do in the short-term and fails to address the dynamics of addressing so-called "pocketbook isues" of average, working-class Americans.This demonstrates how out of touch Barack is with average, working-class Americans and how impecable his elitist credentials really are.

Further it clearly demonstrates that he is a lot more comfortable playing "old politics" and trying to smear his opponent with a negative attack rather than remain "positive" and promote his own policies on their own merit. He does in fact have his own policies, but he painfully aware that his policies appeal more to his fellow elitists rather than average, working-class Americans.

The article goes on:

Clinton raised questions about Obama's ability to connect with working-class Americans while dismissing economists who have said her plan to suspend gas taxes over the summer would do little good.

"I'm not going to put my lot in with economists," Clinton said when asked to name an economist who backed her proposal.

"We've got to get out of this mind-set where somehow elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans," said Clinton, a former first lady who would be the first woman president.

Critics have painted Obama as elitist for a comment he made about job losses causing some small-town Americans to become bitter and to cling to guns and religion.

That perception hurt the Illinois senator in the big blue-collar state of Pennsylvania, where Clinton won a crucial victory last month in the protracted Democratic contest.

Now, the big question is whether Barack is going to recognize his problem and compensate for it. So far, he has shown no sign of remorse for his hard-core elitist leanings. That offers Hillary an excellent opening that she will continue to exploit.

-- Jack Krupansky

How much change is enough and how much is too much?

Yes, Barack is top dog in the race to visibly and loudly lobby for change. But that is not to say that Hillary does not by her very essence represent a very fierce agent of change. The simple truth is that both candidates are serious agents of change. I would argue that Hillary is more likely to be successful at achieving a significant measure of change, although that is obviously a matter of great debate. I would also suggest that while Barack and his supporters, The Cult of Obama, really do want a lot more change than even Hillary wants or can deliver, it is likely that their ravenous appetite for change far exceeds the ability of the American people to stomach and tolerate such excessive change. The phrase "throwing out the baby with the bath water" comes to mind. Sure, there is plenty of pork and fat and grissle in Washington and Barack et al, and Hillary, are right to want to rock the boat and change the system, a complete, total, and 100% revolution in the form of government in Washington is unlikely to be palatable to more than a very small niche of hard-core activists. Even if people want certain forms of change, they may not be prepared to accept the consequences of those changes. The key is that it is all a balancing act, which Hillary deeply understands while Barack, et al are either unable or unwilling to comprehend, accept, or acknowledge.

The decision facing primary voters is whether Hillary does in fact represent enough change and more credible and palatable change or whether Barack is at serious risk of rushing headlong into too much change which may risk unpalatable consequences.

It is simply impractical to change everything in Washington overnight (or in four or eight years), but Barack foolishly and misguidedly insists that... "Yes we can!" How credible is that?

On Tuesday the primary voters (not all of whom will be true Democrats) in Indiana and North Carolina will have their opportunity to pass judgment on whether Hillary represents enough change and whether Barack may be seeking too much or too unrealistic change.

In truth, voters are torn, not having great confidence as to what minimum degree of change is needed and how much change and consequences they can actually chew and swallow and stomach. In some states it is almost an even 50/50 split, but at worst at least 35% to 45% of voters seriously disagree with the majority view on how much change is wise.

Of course, that is why we will have another election in four years, to give voters the opportunity to change their minds if they feel that they have made a big mistake.

One final caution to partisan Democrats: What appeals most to hard-core Democrats will not necessarily be what appeals to a majority of Aeericans. The election in November is for a president for all of the people, not just for Democrats or a niche of activists within the Democratic party. Think for one moment what degree of change willl be acceptable to the vast majority of American voters. Not just 50.001% or 52%, but at least 75% of Americans. Let us indeed have change, but change that most people can willingly accept and be proud of.

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Barack does not have a problem with phrasing

I'll admit that phrasing is an important aspect of effective communication, but I strongly disagree with Barack that poor phrasing is the root of some of his recent problems. Rather than accept personal responsibility for his beliefs and values, he implicitly blames other people and how they react to his so-called "phrasing." Today we had yet another round on his "bitter" comments. As recounted in a Reuters article by Caren Bohan entitled "Obama fights perception he is elitist":

Obama, talking to NBC's "Today" show, was yet again explaining his month of bad news led by Wright's inflammatory comments and Obama's own remarks at a San Francisco fundraiser that small-town voters are "bitter."

"The comments I made in San Francisco at the end of a very long day were very poorly phrased," Obama said. "I should have said 'angry and frustrated' instead of 'bitter.' I should have said, people 'rely on' their religious faith during these times of trouble, instead of 'cling to.'"

Sorry Barack, but there was nothing wrong with your phrasing at all and your suggested rewording does not change the underlying sentiment and your beliefs one iota. The phrasing was never the issue. Changing "bitter" to "angry and frustrating" and "cling to" to "rely on" does not change the underlying meaning in any significant manner. His beliefs were the issue, and he still has not changed or withdrawn his elitist, condescending beliefs. I guess I can't blame Barack for once again trying to change or "steer" the topic (from his beliefs to his phrasing), but we certainly should ding him for his elitist leanings.

His argument that he couldn't possibly be elitist since he grew up with less privilege than others is complete nonsense. Privilege is about the environment that you came from, while elitism is all about who you are now, regardless of where you came from. Once again, he is struggling to artfully "steer" the conversation away from his shortcomings onto different topic. Elitists love to do that, just to prove to everyone how clever and skilled they are.

-- Jack Krupansky

Going positive

It is one thing to be besieged by "distractions", but it is wholly another thing entirely to act distracted. Being a politician and being in the lead means inviting distractions. That is just the nature of the political process. They key issue is not whether there are distractions, but how a politician responds to those distractions. So far, he has been quite uneven and veered from one extreme to the other, either trying to use ridicule and blaming the messenger, or getting angry and upset and leading us to conclude that he feels that he is special and entitled to be free from distractions. A lot of this inconsistent behavior can simply be chalked up to inexperience and a learning experience. Now, the question is whether and what he actually is learning from this experience and whether he can truly begin to transcend the distractions and actually be positive about it all. I am sure that he can do it, but so far he has not shown a will to do it. His Philadelphia speech on race relations was an interesting attempt, maybe his best so far, but once again he was inconsistent in his follow-through, resulting in people feeling that they must be missing something and wondering when he will finish the story. He talks a lot about a "new politics", so the big question now is whether his advisers push him to go more positive and stay more positive or whether he falls back and aloows them to convince him to resort to more of the "old politics" negativity that we saw at the end in Pennsylvania. I hear him doing a lot of blaming of other people, but that is not the kind of positive that we need. Sure, his poll and financial numbers remain high, but that seems more a function of the hope of his supporters rather than his own reality.

The issue is not how to put distractions behind us, but how to realistically acknowledge them and figure out creative ways to accommodate them without yielding on our values. Only through transcendence can anything really appear to finally be "behind" us. Even Hillary seems to have figured that out, although she does not practice it consistently either.

Regardless of what tactics Hillary and McCain may have in store for us in the coming days, it will be interesting to see is Barack chooses to transcend it all and live up to his promises of not participating in the "same old game" of politics in Washington, played out "in a (political) theater near you."

The spotlight is now brightly upon him. He can do it. Let's see what he acutally does.

Meanwhile, Hillary has been on a rare positive streak. Let's see if she can keep that up without reverting to form.

-- Jack Krupansky