12/31/2008

Rejecting Burris: Democrats do battle over Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris to fill Obama's Senate seat

Adam Clayton Powell, member of the U.S. House ...Image via Wikipedia

FoxNews.com: Not So Fast? Campaign to Contain Blagojevich Hits Roadblocks

The question everyone in Washington and Chicago has on their minds this New Years Eve is whether or not the Senate Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have the authority under the Constitution to reject the appointment of Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's vacated seat by Illinois Governor Rod Blogojevich? 

I am of the opinion that Senator Reid and his fellow Democratic Senators would be well within their rights under Article 1, Section 5 of the US Constitution, which states each chamber "shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members", to reject Mr. Burris when Congress reconvenes after the first of the year.

There are several constitutional provisions which the Majority Leader can use to prevent Burris from being seated, but it is unclear which makes the most sense considering the extenuating circumstances of the federal investigation into the integrity of the appointment process and the pay-to-play politics practiced by the Blagojevich administration. In his defense, the Illinois Governor and Burris can cite recent precedent of the courts rejecting such measures by Congressional leaders to assert such authority.

Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (See photo on right)  was refused his seat in the chamber in 1967 over corruption allegations, but the Supreme Court overruled the House of Representatives, finding the lower house was in violation of its constitutional authority when refusing to seat a member elected and qualified to serve. Reid rightly argues the Powell case does not apply under the current circumstances because the candidate is himself not questioned, but rather the integrity of the process itself that was in question.  It seems clear that Blago chose a man well qualified and fit to serve as Illinois' junior senator, but Burris was not elected by the voters of Illinois.  Ultimately, the question will be the conduct of the governor, making this appointment now under a cloud of suspicion stemming from the highly publicized federal investigation into his corrupt way of conducting business.

It is unclear how the president-elect feels about the situation as Obama takes a much deserved vacation in Honolulu, but I would bet he will probably want to put this whole ordeal behind him and his administration as quickly as possible.  He and Burris are close political allies and Burris does not carry a lot of political bagage himself, so if the former-Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General can charm the brass on Capitol Hill, Barack may be able to give him the political leverage he needs to secure his place in the upper chamber of the legislative branch.

Meanwhile the Federal prosecutor has filed for a rare 90-day extension of the Blagojevich grand jury, so maybe the drama won't be so easily put behind the president-elect as he seeks to implement his agenda in the first 100 days of his administration. That said, he does already have a near filibuster-proof majority with or without Burris, so the newly inaugurated President Obama better take care of it fast if he hopes to keep it from becoming a convenient distraction as the Governor continues to drag Chicago politics to even lower lows.


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12/23/2008

Auto Industry Bailout: Fact Sheet and Reactions...

Below are the facts of the deal made by the Bush Administration with GM and Chrysler to lend them $17.4B to meet their obligations for the next three months, at which time the two companies must show they have restructured into "viable companies".

Fact Sheet: Financing Assistance to Facilitate the
Restructuring of Automobile Manufacturers to Attain Financial Viability
Purpose: The terms and conditions of the financing provided by the Treasury Department will facilitate restructuring of our domestic auto industry,prevent disorderly bankruptcies during a time of economic difficulty,and protect the taxpayer by ensuring that only financially viable firms receive financing.

Amount: Auto manufacturers will be provided with $13.4B in short-term financing from the TARP, with an additional $4B available in February, contingent upon drawing down the second tranche of TARP funds.

Viability Requirement: The firms must use these funds to become financially viable. Taxpayers will not be asked to provide financing for firms that do not become viable. If the firms have not attained viability by March 31, 2009, the loan will be called and all funds returned to the Treasury.

Definition of Viability: A firm will only be deemed viable if it has a positive net present value, taking into account all current and future costs, and can fully repay the government loan.

Binding Terms and Conditions: The binding terms and conditions established by the Treasury will mirror those that were voted favorably by a majority of both Houses of Congress, including:
  • Firms must provide warrants for non-voting stock.
  • Firms must accept limits on executive compensation and eliminate perks such as corporate jets.
  • Debt owed to the government would be senior to other debts, to the extent permitted by law.
  • Firms must allow the government to examine their books and records.
  • Firms must report and the government has the power to block any large transactions (> $100 M).
  • Firms must comply with applicable Federal fuel efficiency and emissions requirements.
  • Firms must not issue new dividends while they owe government debt.
Targets: The terms and conditions established by Treasury will include additional targets that were the subject of Congressional negotiations but did not come to a vote, including:
  • Reduce debts by 2/3 via a debt for equity exchange.
  • Make one-half of VEBA payments in the form of stock.
  • Eliminate the jobs bank.
  • Work rules that are competitive with transplant auto manufacturers by 12/31/09.
  • Wages that are competitive with those of transplant auto manufacturers by 12/31/09.
These terms and conditions would be non-binding in the sense that negotiations can deviate from the quantitative targets above, providing that the firm reports the reasons for these deviations and makes the business case to achieve long-term viability in spite of the deviations.

In addition, the firm will be required to conclude new agreements with its other major stakeholders, including dealers and suppliers, by March 31, 2009.

My Thoughts

I have not supported the bailout from the day it was proposed. The airlines have almost all gone out of business in the past and for the most part were able to achieve viability at a certain level after emerging from structured bankruptcy (competitiveness in an entirely different question). There are some circumstances that make the auto makers a unique situation, such as their highly interdependent network of suppliers, but that only makes me think that most of these unique circumstances are exacerbating the issue and cannot be allowed to exist independently or considered to be unaccountable for the situation we find ourselves in today. However,after seeing the final terms it has become more clear where Bush is coming from and why this is probably more out of respect for Obama and likely only even a consideration because of requests made by his transition team.

Essentially I read these terms to be a decision by Bush that if he has to do do something now to keep unemployment from rising above 10% on the last Friday in January (days after Obama's inauguration), he will be giving Obama and the Democrats a tremendous burden to bear when the auto companies fail to live up to the obligations under this agreement and people start to literally panic and confidence in the marketplace deteriorates even further. This may happen regardless, but it almost certainly would if GM and Chrysler are forced into Chapter 11 now, and that would seriously undermine the new president's ability to implement the stimulus he has boldly and correctly pledged.

There are several reasons why the auto companies are unlikely to achieve viability as it is defined; (1) the UAW is highly unlikely in my opinion to significantly renegotiate the terms of their labor agreements; (2) car sales have hit a saturation point in the US, with17m cars sold in 2001 down to about 10m in 2007; (3) emerging markets,which have been the sole bright spot for GM recently, are doomed to suffer badly as the recession in the US and Europe continues to worsen;(4) credit markets aren't going to begin recovering until confidence can be restored and an end-game can be seen on the horizon and as Obama keeps reminding us, it is only going to get worse before it gets better; (5) people are not going to start buying cars again anytime soon, and sales figures are likely to go down before they go up no matter what the Big Three do about it.

People are losing their jobs and companies are freezing wages because they really are unable to secure financing under current conditions, so unless GM and Chrysler have a secret plan up their sleeves there is little reason to believe that anything they do will change their destiny.

I admit I have no idea what the plan is exactly, but the "targets"listed in the attached document are ambitious considering the perfect storm of market failures and anomalies we are currently experiencing with such regularity. Most of the testimony given by Big 3 executives covered the urgency of the circumstances and the potential reverberations of the alternatives, but details on plans for restructuring and potential deals with competitors or the UAW were put off as only relevant if money was extended- which happens to be very true. If all the executives really need is three months and $17Billion to close deals with each other or a foreign competitor with an already "viable" business model.

Love to hear everyone's thoughts.




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11/04/2008

McCain on SNL in campaign's final hour...

10/27/2008

October Bombshell: Obama on NPR calling for "redistribution of wealth"...

Last week Obama came dangerously close to quoting Karl Marx, the father of Communism, when he told Joe the Plumber that he wanted to "spread the wealth around".  Luckily for Obama, he gets the benefit of the doubt from nearly every major media outlet, so nobody seriously challenged the Senator on the point and it was quickly swept under the rug. However, this morning the DrudgeReport is breaking big news, an interview from 2001 in which Obama not only derides the Supreme Court for not actively "redistributing wealth" during the civil rights era, but also discusses how he thinks such redistribution could be accomplished today through legislation rather than from the bench. Sounds suspiciously like an argument for reparations to me, anyone else think so?





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10/22/2008

Sarah Palin draws highest SNL ratings in 14 years...

Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin attracted the highest rated audience on Saturday Night Live in 14 years with her much anticipated appearance this past weekend.  Governor Palin's candidacy is has been the only thing more volatile than Wall Street this past month, with conservatives initially embracing her with open arms and more importantly, open checkbooks, before recent polls have shown her losing the confidence of voters as she criss-crosses the country on her first national campaign tour.

I was initially confused by McCain's choice of the freshman Governor from Alaska, but I have to admit that she is the only candidate on either ticket that represents anything that could be considered "change" from what we all consider to be a broken federal government.  The folks at SNL have sure had their fun with Governor Palin this fall, and all things considered she has been a pretty good sport, which is far more than can be said about another woman on the campaign trail this year- Michelle Obama.  

Patrick Buchanan raised a fair point in his article about Palin's portrayal in the media when he questioned why SNL has yet to parody the Senator from Illinois wife.  Pat, the answer is obvious- they have an agenda and to laugh at Michelle Obama would ruin the possibility of getting her soon-to-be president husband to host the show later this fall.  It is as simple and pathetic as that.





10/10/2008

9/29/2008

Muckety Maps: Cool new tool for mapping social networks of major power players by disecting public information intelligently

Here is a sample Muckety Map I made upon seeing Andrew McKenna, Chairman of the Illinois GOP on the list of 100 Most Infuencial individuals in Chicago, along with his father Andrew McKenna Sr.  It becomes immediately obious why the McKenna name turns up associated with everything from the Cubs to McDonalds.  Andew's daughters were high school classmates of mine and he is still the CEO/President of Schwartz Paper, one of the 2-3 largest corporations based in my hometown of Morton Grove, IL, so few men are more influential in my neighborhood.  Check out the high-rollers in your neighborhoods.


Tech Tags:
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9/28/2008

Which world leader should the next president meet in the Oval Office first?

Much has been made by Republicans and many pundits about Barack Obama's willingness to have diplomatic-level conversations, and even personal policy discussions with leaders of countries that have been long-standing enemies such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. McCain blasted the freshman senator for this position during the first debate and earned the public defense of Henry Kissinger, perhaps the most established diplomat in modern history. The charges of naivety and poor judgement made against Senator Obama are fair when considered under the 20th century foreign policy paradigm; we live in the 21st century and paradigmatic disruptions are weekly occurances this day in age and in my opinion the end of the Cold War should have been the first sign that Kissinger's relevance was fleeting.

What I would ask both presidential candidates if given the opportunity to meet them in person, I would ask them which world leader they would meet first and what was their motivation for choosing that individual. The subtle signals that this seemingly random and unavoidable choice sends to the global community are immeasurable and can set the tone for global trade, security and development on a path which serves the incoming administration's goals during their first term. President Bush had his first major foreign summit at his Texas ranch with the newly inaugurated president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and the decision set a clear tone for his first four years. From that time forward it was considered exclusive to be invited to the Crawford ranch as the leader of a foreign government and Bush used these high-profile summits to establish his image with voters as a dude.

Now Prime Minister Putin wouldn't be a bad choice for the first face-to-face policy discussion the next president has in the White House, if for no other reason than to show the world that his puppetry of new Russion President Dmitri Medvedev and Russian oligarchs around the world is transparent. If Putin is going to be ruling Russia, which it seems clear he still is and will be for the indefinite future, he needs to be forced to ratify the Russian constitution and eliminate the term limitation of the Russian executive that were unnecessary twenty-five years ago when instituted. That is probably what I would do and perhaps something either candiate may decide, though I suspect Obama would be more likely to go through the charade with Putin's pawns to get at Putin personally.

Whom would you choose to meet with Senators McCain and Obama?
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Bill Clinton on Meet the Press: Obama not great like McCain, but could be one day...

In a very telling moment during an interview with Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press this morning, former-President Bill Clinton was put in the very awkward position of raising Senator Obama to the same level of political greatness as he has long praised Senator McCain for achieving in his decades of service.  Clinton gave perhaps the most honest and least partisan answer anyone could have anticipated when he stammered out a surprising "no sir, no yet".  Clinton correctly, in my opinion, asserted that even Barack Obama would say he has yet to achieve his counterpart's level of personal prestige, though admitted he has only just recently had his first conversation with Senator Obama and cleverly reserved the right to issue judgment at a later date while insisting that his wife was the first to turn him on to Obama's "limitless" potential.  
Watching Clinton, still so young and as articulate as ever, it leaves even this GOP-leaning pundit to curse the Twenty-Second Amendment which limits an American President's service to a maximum of two four-year terms, and the irresponsible politics of deception practiced by the FDR Administration which gave rise to the idea that great men cannot lead indefinitely as long as they have the confidence of the American people. Bill Clinton, like him or not, is a once in a generation politician who deserves to be more than a pundit during times such as these. 
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9/27/2008

New Google Books feature allows for embedding of publicly available text of digitized library




Google Books Search has recently launched a public API that has been used to build embeddable widgets of the content Google provides from its vast library of digitized books and historical documents from the world's most voluminous and well endowed libraries. Here is the limited preview of a book that every American needs to read following the recent resurgence of a new Russian "democracy" that is unfolding in radically unexpected ways.



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9/24/2008

Google gets political with new candidate fact checker "In Quotes"...

Google launched another new and exciting feature in its long dormant Labs section tonight with the release of In Quotes. The new service presents interested citizens with a split screen broken down vertically according to issue. Click on the button associated with a particular issue, get the candidate's view in their own words without the typical spin. Or so they claim!! Google has yet to earn my endorsement as a truly nonpartisan corporation, but this project will hopefully lead the gentle giant to let down its guard a bit as the election draws nearer.

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8/09/2008

Will drilling off-shore and in ANWR have tangible impact on price of gasoline? Depends what traders "feel" more than actual impact on supply/demand...

I agree that it is only in the best interests of everyone to have this bill pass before the end of the summer session, though without the support of the Speaker I find it hard to believe it will pass Conference in time to be signed by President Bush. As with all bills that determine government spending, the Energy Bill must originate in the House, though it is doubtful that the Senate would pass an identical version of the bill, which would send it to Conference Committee, in which it is expected that a hand-picked cadre of veteran lawmakers will expedite a compromise founded on the principles outlined in the original drafts passed by the House and Senate independent of each other.

Unfortunately, the member tasked with making appointments to serve on Conference Committee is the Speaker of the House, and she is under no obligation to appoint any particular lawmakers, and in fact could intentionally appoint the most anti-drilling members of her conference that she can find, who will purposely debate the fine print of the Bill to death and prevent it from ever returning to the floor before the end of the 110th Congress. This would not be the first time ANWR drilling was killed in Conference, but it certainly would be the first time it died under $120/barrell oil and such an overwhelming majority of voters supporting the measure. We will have to wait and see what Pelosi does, but sadly she still holds all of the cards.

I disagree with the assertions that passing the ANWR and Offshore drilling measures will not have an impact on the price of gasoline in the next year, as I think it is very likely that it will in fact have such an impact and the reasoning behind this thought is very simple....

Oil is not a true supply/demand market, it never has been and never will be. The reaction of traders this Friday to the invasion of Georgia by the Russian military was met in the pits with a $4 decrease in the cost of oil, which is the opposite of what conventional wisdom would have led us to believe. In fact, I believe that Goldman Sachs even forecasts the price of oil to settle between $70-$80 dollars over the next 12-18 months, which makes sense if the market is able to digest the increasingly complex global distribution chain and identify the true drivers of demand on global markets. If oil settles and stablizes at $70/barrell by the end of next summer, it is certainly not unreasonable to expect gasoline prices to drop across the US as a result. Perhaps we are talking in terms of dimes or maybe a quarter/gallon, but anything is better than nothing and ANWR/Off-Shore drilling may just be the key to easing the anxiety of futures traders whose whims are the only real drivers of the cost/barrel of oil.

Does anyone think that oil is truly a supply/demand driven market? If so, how do you account for the radical spike in the price without any major hinderence to the global supply chain or sudden/unexpected surge in demand that was not accounted for in the pre-exuberant pricing of contracts? I think that what we are experiencing is a bunch of rich dudes behind computers shorting the welfare and standard of living of the middle class for the benefit of recovering their firm's massive losses in other highly speculative markets (i.e. sub-prime mortgages). The market, though imperfect and only losely worthy of the label "market", is going to level out once the traders have solidified their long positions and the speculative cycle starts all over again. Perhaps this logis is flawed, I do not claim to be an expert on any of these things, but I enjoy financial news and this is how I interpret the experts. What does everyone think?

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8/06/2008

Time Travel in Film...

I happened upon this fascinating post on time travel and how it has been used and abused by filmakers over the years with little regard for the "one-dimensional" assumption of quantum mechanics. The "one-dimensional" understanding of time never presents information as if something both is and is not the case at any one point in time.
 
This is the most basic level of analysis when determining the quantum mechanical honesty of the filmaker and clearly delineates the clever from the convoluted. The post is dated from 2003 and has attracted 45 comments that are all worth the time it takes to sift through the heady concepts being lobbed back and forth between the obviously intellectual readership of the blog. Author makes clear from outset that he is an academic and hopes to illicit comments and suggestions from readers, so I thought it not inappropriate to republish herein to inspire additional comments.
I’m teaching a freshman seminar on time travel at Brown this year, so I’ve been watching a lot of time travel movies as ‘preparation’. I always knew that many time travel movies don’t make a lot of sense on a bit of reflection. What surprised me on recent re-watchings was that some seemed unintelligible even on relatively generous assumptions.

Philosophers normally break time-travel stories into two categories: those that do make sense within a ‘one-dimensional’ view of time and those that don’t.
The ones that make sense on a ‘one-dimensional’ view never have it the case that at a particular time something both is and isn’t the case. They don’t require that the direction of causation always goes from past to future, that would stop them from being time travel stories after all, but they require that there be a single complete and coherent story that can be told of the history of the world. Some philosophers are known to reserve the label ‘consistent’ for these stories, but that’s probably a bit harsh.[1]

Some stories keep to this constraint, even when they are under a lot of pressure to break it. The first Terminator does, the second Terminator might (though it’s normally interpreted as violating it), and both 12 Monkeys and it’s inspiration _La Jetée_ display quite a bit of ingenuity in telling an involved time-travel story that has a coherent one-dimensional history.

But obviously this kind of constraint is not a universal norm among time-travel stories. For example, the whole point of the Back to the Future movies is that what time-travellers do can change the course of future history. (If you need, or even want, a refresher on what happens in the movie, one is available here, though be warned that site launches a very annoying MIDI file unless your browser is configured to block that kind of thing.)
In Back to the Future in 1985 the first time around George works for Biff, and the second time around, after Marty has changed the past, Biff works for George. So this is a violation of the one-dimensionality principle. I had always assumed that the movie could be made sense of on a ‘branching time’ model. Indeed in the second movie that’s exactly the kind of model they say they are using.

The idea is that the history we are familiar with is only one branch of the tree of time. This isn’t a wholly unknown picture. I’ve been told that Aristotle believed something similar, and (if you believe everything you read on the web) a few quantum mechanics specialists also hold a similar view. (Personally I think it’s about as plausible as the world-rests-on-a-giant-turtle theory, but the history of philosophers making speculations about physics is not great, so I’ll be a little restrained here.) On this picture the other branches exist, and the only thing that’s special about our branch is that we’re in it. Before a branch point it isn’t determined which branch we will end up on. The full story of the world includes a whole array of things totally unlike anything we know – our history is the story of a particular climb up the tree of time, a climb that could have turned out very very differently to how it actually did.

It should be easy to fit Back to the Future style time travel into this picture. When Marty goes back into 1955 it isn’t pre-determined whether he will stay in the branch from whence he came. And he changes his world enough that he more or less has to move into another branch – ultimately a branch in which his parents are much more successful than they actually are. (Or were. Or something. Ordinary tense words don’t handle this kind of situation very well, as Douglas Adams pointed out somewhere.)
So far so good. Now obviously one part of the movie isn’t compatible with this picture. If Marty is safely and soundly in his new branch, there’s no reason to think he will ‘fade away’ if in that branch his parents don’t meet and marry and conceive etc. He’s there and that’s all there is to it. So a major plot line of the movie becomes a little incomprehensible. But apart from that, I thought it was going to be possible to make sense of it all.
What surprised me on re-watching the movie [2] was that even granting them a branching time universe, and ignoring the lack of reason for Marty to ‘fade away’, the story in the movie still didn’t make sense. Here’s why. In the new branch that Marty moves onto, his parents meet, he is conceived, born and grows up in a successful family, rather unlike the family he remembers growing up in. Marty also travels forward in time in that branch from 1955 to 1985. The Marty that got to new 1985 by time travel is around at the end of the movie – we see his surprise at how different new 1985 is. But the Marty that was born, raised etc is not. On the branching time model, there should be two Martys around now, but the movie only gives us one.
Maybe the movie could make sense on an even stranger metaphysics than regular branching time. What we need is a metaphysics with not only branching time, but also some cross-branch relations that determine who (in one branch) is the same person as whom (in a different branch). And we need those relations to have enough causal force that when a person is in a branch they shouldn’t be in, or are too often in a branch they shouldn’t be that often in, the relations somehow make the world fix things. But even this doesn’t explain why new 1985 Marty should not remember growing up in a successful household. It’s really all a mess, even granting a really wild metaphysical picture. What amazes me is how it seems to work under its own logic while one is watching it. Some enterprising grad student should work out just what that logic is – they could probably justify anything whatsoever using it.
[1]There are several interesting aesthetics questions related to this distinction. For instance, is it a vice in a time-travel story that it does not make sense on a one-dimensional view of time? I used to think the answer was yes, then I decided that was much too snobby. But after my recent bout of time travel movieing, I’m drifting back to my former position. At the very least, it’s a virtue of those stories that do keep to one-dimensional time, just because one-dimensional time-travel stories are so pretty when done well. The plot devices in the last two Harry Potter stories may have been fairly awful, but the time travel story at the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban is rather good for just this reason. That story gets bonus degree of difficulty points for having the characters interact with themselves (admittedly at a distance) in a more-or-less psychologically plausible way.

I think that stories that violate this constraint too frequently rely on our assumption that causality always moves forward in movie (or book) time. I’d be surprised if someone could tell a decent time-travel story in a movie where the order of scenes didn’t match up with what happened in real time or in any character’s personal time. (Think Pulp Fiction meets Back to the Future.) I imagine that the result would be incomprehensible. I’ve seen some people argue that the final scenes of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes should be understood this way, but since those scenes are incomprehensible, that doesn’t really hurt my point. On the other hand, I imagine that with some ingenuity one could chop up a good ‘one-dimensional’ movie like 12 Monkeys into all kinds of rearranged scenes and it still be tolerably coherent.

[2]Well, not the only thing. As has been noted here previously, the 80s were a really strange time. The ‘fashions’ are … well the less said the better. But the thing I’d totally blacked out was that in the movie they try and make Marty look cool by having him play in a Huey Lewis cover band. It’s hard to comprehend what they were thinking. I was rather shocked to hear a Huey Lewis song on a ‘classical rock’ station in Seattle, but the idea that at one time associating with his music was a way to impress pretty 17 year olds is just wild.

On the other hand, I shouldn’t play up the fact that I remember much of this time at all. Many of the students in my course won’t have been born when Back to the Future was released. Hopefully that means they won’t ask too many hard questions about why the plot doesn’t seem incomprehensible on first viewing.

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8/02/2008

Neighborhood Politics: Party Politics, Oil Markets and Iraq...

This is the second open letter I have circulated among friends and family, wanted to invite everyone to comment freely. E-mail is an awful way to really debate. I invite people in the Skompton Political circle to publish openly and open each of their thoughts individually to comments to publish here, because it is much easier to parse each person's argument openly and even attract an outside perspective on our interesting local dynamic.


First of all, thanks for allowing me to participate in this debate, it is fascinating to learn more about each of you and incredibly entertaining to read Mr D and Mr M strangle each other via e-mail. I have many points to make, each directed at specific arguments (assumptions) articulated in a previous participants argument. However let me preface with some general comments and facts that all of us would be well served to have readily available so we can maintain factual consistency. Following each indisputable fact, I will apply the wisdom found within the realities of that fact to our ongoing debate.

Facts:

1. The Great Depression in 1929 that occurred under Republican President Herbert Hoover and the Republican Congress set the stage for a more liberal government; the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives nearly uninterrupted from 1931 until 1995 and won most presidential elections until 1968. Since 1968, the GOP has dominated presidential elections, with Jimmy Carter being the ONLY Democrat to win 50% of the electorate (Bill Clinton interestingly won two consecutive elections with just 42% and 46% in 1992 and 1996 respectfully). Republicans in fact did not have control of Congress from the beginning of the FDR Administration until Newt Gingrich's Contract with America in 1994, though GOP majority only lasted 12 years and only half o. So Mr. Dammrich's assumption about congressional control was both correct and faulty, though I think that in terms of laws on the books, the vast majority passed in the 20th century were written, debated and voted on by a Democratically controlled legislature.

George W. was in fact the first President in modern history to see his party gain seats in both mid-term elections during his two term presidency. Having worked for Speaker Hastert in Washington, I think that this is a historical anomaly because when a president and a speaker have too close of a working relationship, the institutional dichotomy that is supposed to exist between those two offices disappears and each just assumes the other is doing the right thing rather than guaranteeing it through tough deal making and political posturing (ala Newt and Bubba). Bottomline, it is not ever good to have a monopoly on power, so if Barack cannot lose the White House as many seem to think, we better hope that Harry and Nancy take a nose-dive; which isn't an unrealistic possibility.

Here is the much more interesting part of my argument this evening...

2. Gasoline is far from the only by-product of a barrel of oil. By definition, each "barrel" of oil contains 42 gallons of "black gold". According to the Texas Oil and Gas Association, each barrel produces 19.2 gallons of gasoline; 9.2 gal of distillate fuel oil (home heating and diesel fuel); 4.1 gal kerosene; 2.3 gal residual fuel oil; 1.9 gal liquefied refinery gases; 1.9 gal still gas; 1.8 gal "coke"; 1.3 gal asphalt road oil; 1.2 gal petro-chemical feed stocks; 0.5 gal lubricants; 0.2 gal kerosene; 0.3 gal for other non-specific use. Extra 2.2 gallons represents "processing gain". (These numbers are based on 1995 usage)

One tragic mistake made by politicians who pander on the rising cost of a barrel of oil is that they assume the only tangible effect that cost increase has on the everyday lives of Americans is at the gas pump. In fact, the numbers above, while providing greater perspective on the use of oil and its importance as more than just the source of gasoline, don't even begin to show the "ripple" effects of the price increase on the international market.

The best example I have yet heard came from Jim Cramer, host of CNBC's Mad Money. Kimberly-Clark, the US conglomerate that produces everything from Huggies, Kleenex, Depends, Kotex, Scott Products and many other "poly"-based and paper products. Despite increasing prices each of the last several quarters to keep up with the rising cost of production, specifically the cost of oil which is the base from which almost all of its non-paper products are created, quarterly earnings are expected to drop 10% in Q3. Essentially, for each dollar increase in the price of oil, K-C realizes one-penny drop in quarterly earnings. That may sound negligible, but this is one of the 5 largest consumer products companies in the world, so pennies/share are a major factor considered by potential investors. K-C's year-end stock price has been consistently above $60 for the last five years (2007-$69.34; 2006-$67.95; 2005-$59.95; 2004-$65.81; 2003- $58.10), though as of this week the price had dipped as low as $55/share.

This is the impact of rising oil prices that is NEVER mentioned by politicians, but I think I just mentioned three different types of Americans that are directly affected by our foreign dependence on oil in a way totally unrelated to driving. 1) Shareholders in K-C have seen a dramatic loss of value since oil prices have increased; 2) Employees at K-C are working for a company with margins that are tumbling, which cannot be good for job security; 3) Consumers that buy Kleenex, Scott Towels and Huggies are going to see prices go up to compensate for increasing costs of manufacturing until K-C can be confident they have covered their loses.

I agree that offshore drilling is neither a long-term, nor a short-term solution, and the only real way to solve the energy crisis is to find another way to transport ourselves that doesn't require ever-increasing oil production. This will probably have to be in the form of transnational high speed railways that connect major metropolitan areas and lessen our dependence on highways. This is a strategy already being employed by the EU, China, Japan and many others. The by-product of such an energy strategy would be less carbon emissions and lower dependence on OPEC oil, which should be a guiding principle underlying all legislation written and passed by the US Congress. However, we live in a world driven by oil (no pun intended), so why buy it from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria and Iraq (which is now one of the five largest oil producers in the world), which are the 5 largest oil producing nations, when we could produce it domestically and both increase global supply (thus driving down prices for everyone) and become truly unreliant on foreign producers.

One very positive result of the US invasion of Iraq is in fact the oil it is now producing for the global market, which was previously reserved for corrupt UN officials and states that recognized the Saddam Hussein regime. UN sanctions (though now largely believed to have been a joke) kept Iraqi oil out of the international marketplace. Today, largely because of the stability (both political and civil) provided by the US-led coalition, Iraq is producing oil at pre-war levels and making deals with the world's largest companies in the Western world for the first time in a quarter-century. How often do you hear this from the candidates? It certainly undermines Obama's only remaining legitimate point against the success of the "surge", which is that the political process has failed to formulate under more peaceful conditions. If that is so, who is pumping the oil and signing the deals with BP, Exxon and other major oil companies? I suspect not the clerics, but I am not sure, someone please enlighten me.

I have already spent much more time elaborating on these two basic facts than I had planned, but sometimes I get carried away. I may have contradicted myself, but I doubt it and I am not going to proof read so please forgive typos and anything that seems out of place or more relevant to another topic. I am sorry if I rambled, but trust me it could be and might get worse. I will continue my discussion of the facts surrounding this debate tomorrow after some much needed rest, enjoy...

Tomorrow I will focus more Iraq, specifically the merits of invasion and the long-term benefits of our permanent presence in the Middle East...

7/28/2008

Neighborhood Politics (Skompton Style)...




I have recently been lured into an e-mail debate with long-time friends from my family's neighborhood in north suburban Chicago (specifically Skokie and Morton Grove, hence the roots of the term "Skompton" in the title). I have decided to air my arguments here to get some more widespread feedback. Here is my first installment and the core of my argument against the prevailing notions of who Barack Obama is and what he is all about....






First of all, thanks for inviting me to the debate, I look forward to filling in the gaps in Mr. D's and Mr. H's arguments by providing specific examples for JM to think about and maybe we can save him from his naivety (though it sounds like he has already consumed several gallons of the "Obamania" Kool-Aid, so he may be a lost cause).





First, speaking to the issue of substance, let me draw a comparison to another truly substantive Democratic politician. Nobody will argue (I think) that Bill Clinton is a brilliant and captivating politician. Barack Obama is definitely captivating, but he has not at any point proven himself a great political mind, period. The primary difference between Barack Obama and Bill Clinton is that the stuff Barack says is almost entirely read from a teleprompter (and probably written by David Axelrod, the true political genius behind Obama) while everything Bill Clinton says is coming straight out of his head or off a pad of paper which he spent the last 5 hours scribbling his thoughts on in preparation. Barack is much more like George Bush (though much more captivating) than he is like Bill Clinton, at least in terms of his approach to campaigning and political presentation, just replace Axelrod with Rove. I do not think this is disputable. There are several elements that go into what determines "substance" and I will address the others in future e-mails when I have more time, but this is a good start.






Secondly, anyone who watched the Democratic debates knows that Barack didn't win a single one of them, and in fact got his ass handed to him over and over by Hillary Clinton, as well as John Edwards and Joe Biden when they were still considered viable challengers. I do not need to cite an specifics on this, but would happily do so if anyone would like me to. I look forward to his inevitable ass-whooping from Sen. McCain, who has already challenged Obama to TEN Townhall style debates, which Sen. Obama refused and counter-offered ONE over the 4th of July holiday, just long enough from election day that it probably wouldn't kill his candidacy before it started.






Third, Obama's strategy has essentially been to pretend he has been John McCain, "working across the aisle to get things done". What a joke!! I challenge you Joe to give me one significant thing Barack Obama has ever done on a bi-partisan basis. Trust me, it will take awhile, so I won't expect your response anytime soon. Contrast this lack of substance with John McCain's truly credible claim to have done exactly that, work across the aisle to get things done. It is unlikely that any other Republican Senator would put their name at the top of a bill next to Ted Kennedy or Russ Feingold, yet two of the most newsworthy bills to be proposed in the Senate this decade are in fact the McCain-Kennedy Immigration Bill and the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Bill. Interestingly, Barack Obama supported both of these bills, until it became inconvenient to his political ambition that is. You could argue correctly that McCain also withdrew his support for the Immigration Reform Bill, but that was in response to his GOP colleagues butchering with so many caveats and ridiculous amendments that he had no choice but to abandon it, as it hardly even resemble the original bill he proposed.






I think that this is plenty of ammunition for Joe to shoot back a nice long retort, which I am eager to read. I have a whole lot more to say about this, as I am a true C-SPAN junkie. That said, one thing I do not know that I would love to be enlightened on, is exactly what the ratio is of campaign speeches to Senate floor speeches Obama has delivered since his (LUCKY) election to the Senate in 2004. Perhaps this will be the subject of my next e-mail.



Best Regards,



BTE



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7/12/2008

Former Bush Administration Point-Man Tony Snow Dies at 53...

The political world has lost its third heavyweight in nearly as many weeks today with the passing of Tony Snow, recent Press Secretary for President Bush as well as longtime Fox News Commentator and talk radio host.  He was a source of great inspiration in the most fundamental stages of my personal political development and should always serve as a model to any aspiring pundit or public servant. 

7/10/2008

So who is gonna lead the moral crusade against Reverend Jackson?

Reverend Jesse Jackson made some "hot-mike" remarks on Fox Chicago last evening that deserve everyone's attention, considering the Reverend's penchant for launching moral crusades against celebrities and news personalities that use words he deems racially motivated or inappropriate. So what did he say?  See for yourself.

6/24/2008

Loss of second political genius in a fortnight (not George Carlin, but sadly he died too)

The video below is a a brief tribute from Slate for Tony Schwartz, the political ad genius who made over 2000 ads during his brilliant career. Such a shame to loss two great men at such a historic political time. It seems as if everyone is passing recently, both in news and in the lives of some of my dearest friends. I guess bad things do happen in bunches.


The video is sourced from one of the best blogs on the future and The World We'll Inherit, Tilzy.tv. I offer the same question to readers of this page that Jamison Tilsner posses to his readers at Tilzy.tv, "Does the now commonplace mudslinging of presidential politicking downgrade the national debate, or does it force accountability?" (I will follow up with my answer after a bit of contemplation). Oh yeah, George Carlin RIP.

6/14/2008

Goodbye Mr. Russert, We Will Miss You...

Russert's last book, Wisdom of Our FathersImage via Wikipedia
Tim Russert passed away Friday while taping the introduction to his weekly broadcast of Meet The Press, unquestionably the most watched and respected hour in all of political television every Sunday morning. He was a tremendous personality and a great lover of all things political, a passion I certainly understand as well as anyone.

One of my high school English professors at Loyola Academy, Father Robert Ytsen S.J., was a college roommate of Tim's at John Carroll in Cleveland, OH. The stories he shared with us were among the greatest college stories I have ever heard. According to Father Bob, he and Tim invented the drive thru one evening when they drove through the front window of a local White Castle to place their order, which is a story I doubt many people have heard.

Sadly, but perhaps appropriately, this Sunday is Father's Day and nobody has done more to remind America of the importance of fathers than Tim. It has been a few years since I have seen Father Bob, but the last time we had lunch together he recommended that I read Big Russ and Me, Tim's renowned and touching book about his father. I went straight from lunch to Barnes and Noble to buy myself a copy of the book, but it ended up getting lost among my piles of political biographies, weekly magazines and daily sections of the Financial Times. I went back and found the book last night and moved it straight to the top of my reading list.

Below I have included three videos from Hulu, the first is an excerpt from Friday evening's Late Show with Conan O'Brien during which he gives his own tribute to the lighter side of Tim Russert. The others are full episodes of Meet The Press featuring Tim Russert at his best with the 42nd and 43rd Presidents of the United States.

Goodbye Tim, America will miss you.







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6/03/2008

Obama clinches nomination but hits self-destruct button during victory dance...

US Senator Barack Obama campaigning in New Ham...Image via Wikipedia
Senator Barack Obama has finally clinched the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, defeating the once unbeatable Senator Hillary Clinton on the night of the 50th (not including US territories) and final primary contest. Interestingly, the party decided that despite the fact that Senator Clinton won nearly every state that will matter in November and received the most total votes in the history of American political primaries with over 18 million.

For the life of me I cannot figure out why the Democratic Party would choose a first-term Senator from Illinois whose legislative record is basically non-existent in an election against perhaps the most qualified, popular and well-known Republican politician in America, Senator John McCain. Nothing in his background, with the exception of his Ivy League education, suggests Sen. Obama has the skills and experience that would typically prepare a politician for the pressures of the most powerful job in the world. Essentially, the only reason Obama managed to eek out his primary victory against a surging Clinton campaign, which clearly won the last three months of this six month battle, was the fact that they were able to convince enough super-delegates that he "deserved" to win and the media seemed all too willing to go along with that overriding assumption.

If the Clinton campaign was truly honest, or could afford the consequences of telling it like it really is, there is not a chance in hell Barack Obama would have made it passed the trouncing he was dealt in Ohio (where he lost 55/57 counties). The real Barack Obama has yet to be seen in public during this campaign because Democrats couldn't afford to be honest about their presumptive nominee and set the table for the "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" to eat away at his many glaring weaknesses.

Much more to come..... Let Race Begin!!!




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