Monday, December 15, 2014

The Shores of Tripoli

You have probably heard the Marine Corps Hymn sung many times. Its first verse is...

From the Halls of Montezuma,To the Shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country's battles In the air, on land and sea;

First to fight for right and freedom And to keep our honor clean;

We are proud to claim the title of United States Marine.

Montezuma refers to the Marines storming into the castle at Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War. This was the same battle that a young Army officer named Ulysses S. Grant distinguished himself in war not long after he graduated from the United States Military Academy.

What about the Shores of Tripoli? What is that about?

Most Americans are unaware that over two hundred years ago we were also dealing with a threat from radical Islam. In fact, President Thomas Jefferson refused to sit back and let the Islamists threaten our interests. He sent our Navy and Marines to confront them and teach then a lesson they would not soon forget. These days it appears that we are not the only ones who have forgotten the history lesson.

Let's go back in time to learn a little history of the United States of America and our previous interactions with Muslim terrorists.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Muslim pirates were terrorizing large swaths of the Mediterranean Sea.

These Barbary Pirates (so named because they hailed from the Muslim nations of Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco and Algiers along the Barbary Coast) attacked every ship in sight and held the crews for exorbitant ransoms. The captured crews were held in barbaric conditions and sent letters home pleading that payments be sent for their release.

Before the United States won its independence Great Britain, and later France, provided protection to the American merchant ships sailing in the Mediterranean. Beginning in 1784 the United States was on its own as France stopped protecting U.S. ships from the Muslim pirates.

The initial strategy of the United States in dealing with the Muslim pirates was one of appeasement similar to what many European countries were doing at the time. It was deemed prudent to pay bribes to the Islamists rather than engaging them in war. After all, we had just finished a long war with the British and no one had much appetite to go to war again.

In July of 1785 two U.S schooners off the Barbary Coast were captured and the crews held for ransom. Other ships were soon also captured and Thomas Jefferson (the U.S. Minister to France) and John Adams (the U.S Minister to Great Britain) were dispatched in an attempt to negotiate with the Muslims.

Jefferson and Adams argued that the United States was not at war with Tripoli, or the other Barbary Coast nations, so in what way had the U.S provoked the Muslims?

This is how Jefferson explained the position of the Muslims in a letter to John Jay shortly after a meeting he had with the Ambassador of Tripoli.

"The Ambassador answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman [Muslim] who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise."

Despite this stunning statement about pre-meditated violence against non-Muslim nations, and against the counsel of both George Washington and Jefferson who believed that paying extortion would merely provoke demands for more money, the U.S. Congress agreed to pay "tribute" to the Muslim nations in order to keep the peace.

Over the next 15 years the United States paid the Muslims millions of dollars in bribes to secure safe passage for American ships or the release of American crews that had been captured.

By 1800, when Jefferson was elected President, the total amount of bribes and ransom being paid to the Muslim nations was as high as 20% of the U.S. budget according to some reports I have seen.

In 1801 President Thomas Jefferson was in no mood to continue with the status quo. Shortly after he was sworn in he had received a demand from Tripoli for an immediate payment of $225,000 and a continuing payment of $25,000 per year in perpetuity to keep U.S. ships safe. He refused the demand and made plans to "effect peace through the medium of war". His actions as President seemed to be consistent with what he wrote in a letter in 1786 to the President of Yale College on the best way to deal with the Muslim extortion.

"From what I learn from the temper of my countrymen and their tenaciousness of their money, it will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them."

Tripoli, Tunis, Morocco and Algiers soon declared war on the United States and Jefferson convinced Congress to fund a naval force to confront the Muslims.

The war against the Muslim nations (referred to today as the First Barbary War) lasted four years. The turning point of the war occurred in the Battle of Derna in April-May, 1805. This is how the battle is described in Wikipedia.

Ex-consul William Eaton, a former Army captain who used the title of "general", and US Marine Corps First Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon led a force of eight U.S. Marines, 500 mercenaries—Greeks from Crete, Arabs, and Berbers—on a march across the desert from Alexandria, Egypt to assault and to capture the Tripolitan city of Derna. This was the first time in history the United States flag was raised in victory on foreign soil. The action is memorialized in a line of the Marines' Hymn—"the shores of Tripoli"

Soon after that victory, Tripoli signed a peace treaty but the Barbary pirates once again resumed their attacks when the United States was preoccupied with the War of 1812. At the conclusion of that conflict the United States embarked on a Second Barbary War in 1815 that ended the threat for good for almost two hundred years.

You might also be interested to know that the Barbary Wars against the Muslims also gave rise to the Marines being called "Leathernecks." This is because Marines of that day fighting the Islamists wore a leather neck collar that improved their military bearing by forcing the chin high which also had the added benefit of protecting one's neck from sword blows by Muslim pirates.

As we see reports of ISIS beheadings, attacks on Canada's parliament, hostages behind held in a Sydney cafe and a man running down a NYC street with a hatchet in hand attacking a policeman, we ask what is going on?

We ask why are we seeing these barbaric actions?

We ask what has happened to civilized society?

We are asking the same questions that Thomas Jefferson asked.

Nothing much seems to have changed in 200 years.

"Those that don't know history are doomed to repeat it".
                                                                 -Edmund Burke

You now know history you may not have known before about the Shores of Tripoli.



If you have any doubts about the accuracy of these facts please refer to:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Barbary_War

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Barbary_War

http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/j/Jefferson-vs-Muslims.htm#.VJAZUmTF9Q0

http://freedomoutpost.com/2013/05/barbary-wars-how-thomas-jefferson-led-americas-first-war-on-terror/




Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Perception Misconceptions

I used to do some tax lobbying work in Washington, D.C.. Early in my exposure to the world of Washington the head of Government Relations for a Fortune 500 company, who previously had been a top House staffer, told me, "Facts don't matter. Logic doesn't matter. Perception is reality. You always need to remember that in this town".

Perception is reality. It is true in politics. It is true in almost everything else as well.

If the perception is based on real facts, this is not a problem. However, perceptions are often based on misconceptions. This is a problem as studies have shown that 90% of errors in thinking are due to errors in perceptions. The facts are far different than the perception.

Look no further than the events surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. The perception that the protestors have of that event are far, far different than the facts that came out of the grand jury proceedings. Facts and logic cannot compete with perception and emotion. That is simply the way the human brain operates.

Misalignment between facts and perceptions is also a recipe for bad public policy decisions. If people have the wrong perception they will often gravitate to the wrong policy prescription.

For example, I have little doubt that the increased momentum for gay marriage is driven by a perception that homosexuality is much more common than it is.  I have written about this before in my blog post, Where Is The Bias?

When asked what percentage of the United States population is homosexual, most people estimate 25%.

The actual number is 1%-2% according to most studies.

How can the perception be so far from the facts?  As I wrote before,

I think it derives from the heavy influence of Hollywood and the news. Consider the number of movies and television shows that have gay characters and the disproportionate number of news stories that focus on gay rights, gay marriage or other gay issues.  It is truly a situation where the loudest single person in a room of 50 gets all the attention.  You never even get to hear from the other 49.
It also derives from the inability of most people to use the analytical portion of their brain.  I call it the reflective side of the brain.  On this and many other issues the reflexive side of the brain simply overwhelms logic.  For example, if you really stop and think, do you really think that 1 in every 4 or 5 people you see in a day are gay?  The people you work with?  Your family members?  Your friends? Walk down the street.  1 in every 5?  No way. 
People reach the conclusion they do because of what is called "availability" bias.  In simple terms, we estimate frequencies or numbers based on the ease with which instances come to mind.  If retrieval from the brain is easy and straightforward we tend to judge the numbers in the category to be large. People see and hear a lot of stories about gays and gay rights, therefore, when asked to guess a percentage it is high.

I recently came across an international study involving 14 countries (including the U.S) in which people were asked to estimate basic facts about their population or social issues. This results of this study clearly shows the huge gap we often find between perception and reality.

A few examples from that study about the perceptions that Americans have compared to actual reality. The numbers below are the average guess to the question (perception) compared to the actual fact (reality).

What percentage of girls aged between 15 and 19 give birth each year?

Perception  24%        Reality  3%

What percentage of the population do you think are immigrants in your country?

Perception  32%        Reality  13%

What is the percentage of Muslims in your country?

Perception  15%        Reality  1%

What is the percentage of Christians in your country?

Perception  56%         Reality  78%

What percentage of people are over age 65?

Perception  36%         Reality  14%

What percentage of working people are unemployed and looking for work?

Perception  32%         Reality  6%


As an educated reader of BeeLine you are probably looking at these answers with the same disbelief than I did. How could people be so ignorant and so wrong? How could they be so far off base?

It becomes even more troubling when you consider that all of these people have a vote, just like you and I do. And these perceptions are their reality.

However, the reality is that you really can't blame people for having these perceptions. A lot of these perceptions (as is the same with the percent of gays) are driven by the media, movies and availability bias. How often do we hear about teen births? Immigration reform is constantly in the news. We seem to hear much more about the Koran than the Bible in the media. Social Security. Medicare. Unemployment. We hear about these things often. It is very available and it creates perceptions in people that are not based on facts.

People are not stupid despite what Dr. Jonathan Gruber may think. However, their perceptions and emotions can be manipulated when they get distorted information, biased media reports or facts that lack context.

You also begin to understand some of the misplaced priorities we see in our public policy that are based on false perceptions when you think about it.

Out of the 14 countries surveyed, the United States placed 2nd in the study's "Index of Ignorance". This means that our perceptions are the 2nd furthest from reality. The Italians are the only ones who are further removed from reality than we are. Thank goodness for that!




We cannot begin to solve our problems in this country until we can do a better job of matching perceptions with reality.

That is a big reason that I write BeeLine. The Shortest Route To What You Need To Know.

Keep passing it on.

We need fewer perception misconceptions in this country.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Constitutional Lawyer Who Ignores The Constitution

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

That is the oath of office of the President of the United States.

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states that the President,

"shall take Care that the Laws are faithfully executed."

It is also of note that the powers and duties of Congress are enumerated in Article I of the Constitution before those of the President in Article II.

It seems hard to believe that Barack Obama has even read the Constitution let alone taken an oath to "preserve, protect and defend it" when you view his actions as President. He is also considered by some to be a "Constitutional scholar" if you can believe that.

Consider the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" which he considers his most significant accomplishment as President.

Despite being given a period of time to implement the law that was longer than the time it took the United States to win World War II (from Pearl Harbor to VJ Day), the Obama administration was totally ill-prepared to implement the law. Chaos ensued and one statutory provision after another was ignored, delayed or manipulated to limit public outcry and political blowback.

The Galen Institute counts 24 significant changes have been made to the Obamacare statute by way of administrative action including delaying the individual mandate, the employer-mandate and the small business exchange. Obama also exempted unions from the reinsurance fee (which cost my employer almost $1 million) and provided subsidies to members of Congress and their staffs that the law does not provide.

The President's actions in failing to enforce the immigration laws are well known over the last six years. He has now gone even further in his lawlessness and is attempting to create laws on his own.

The President's rationale is that since the House of Representatives had not acted on the Senate-passed immigration reform bill that he was free to implement his own immigration fix. He further stated that if the House Republicans did not like his executive order they could pass legislation to rescind it.

Where is it in the Constitution that the President passes the law and the Congress has veto power? The President has it exactly backwards.

He later said to a crowd in Chicago, that included some immigration protestors who were heckling him because he hadn't gone even further in his "executive action",

“Now, you’re absolutely right that there have been significant numbers of deportations. That’s true. But what you are not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law.”

Unfortunately for President Obama, he does not have any such authority to do these kinds of things under the Constitution.

The constitutional lawyer himself admitted 22 times that he did not have the authority, before he did it anyway.

If you want to review the legal issues underpinning all of this I recommend you read this article by Jan Ting who teaches immigration and tax law at Temple University and was Assistant Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1990-1993. He knows something about what the Executive brand can and cannot do on immigration under the Constitution.

President Obama's "Deferred Action" Program for Illegal Aliens is Plainly Unconstitutional

Another troubling aspect of our President is his propensity to take sides on issues in the legal system, such as the Trayvon Martin case ("he could have been my son") or Ferguson, MO, when he should be a neutral party with no interest beyond seeking truth and justice for all.

Where does all of this lead us?

A very dangerous place.

Victor Davis Hanson writes what happens "When the Law Is a Drag".

Regarding Ferguson...

In the Ferguson disaster, the law was the greatest casualty. Civilization cannot long work if youths strong-arm shop owners and take what they want. Or walk down the middle of highways high on illicit drugs. Or attack police officers and seek to grab their weapons. Or fail to obey an officer’s command to halt. Or deliberately give false testimonies to authorities. Or riot, burn, and loot. Or, in the more abstract sense, simply ignore the legal findings of a grand jury; or, in critical legal theory fashion, seek to dismiss the authority of the law because it is not deemed useful to some preconceived theory of social justice. Do that and society crumbles.

Regarding executive actions on illegal immigration...

Nor can a government maintain legitimacy when it presides over lawlessness. The president of the United States on over 20 occasions insisted that it would be illegal, dictatorial, and unconstitutional to contravene federal immigration law — at least when to do so was politically inexpedient. When it was not, he did just that. Now we enter the Orwellian world of a videotaped president repeatedly warning that what he would soon do would be in fact illegal. Has a U.S. president ever so frequently and fervently warned the country about the likes of himself?
What is forgotten about amnesty is that entering the U.S. illegally is not the end, but often the beginning of lawlessness. Out here in rural central California we accept a world where thousands drive without insurance, licenses, and registration. Fleeing the scenes of traffic accidents earns snoozes. There is no such thing as the felony of providing false information on government affidavits or creating made-up Social Security numbers. Selling things without paying taxes and working off the books while on assistance are no longer illegal. The normative culture is lawlessness.

Regarding President Obama...

The fuel of lawlessness is untruth. What amazes about President Obama is not that he occasionally misstates facts — every president has done that — but that he so serially says things that are untrue and yet he must know are so easily exposed as untrue. When the president on over 20 occasions swears he cannot legally grant amnesty and then does so, or when he swears he cannot comment on an ongoing criminal case when he habitually has done just that, or when he insists that Obamacare will not result in higher premiums and deductibles or loss of doctors and health plans when it does precisely that, or when he asserts to the world that a mere demonstration over a video caused an attack on our consulate in Benghazi when he knew that it did not, or when he utters iron-clad red lines, deadlines, and step-over-lines that he knows are mythical or denies he has done just that — when he does all this, then almost everything he asserts must be doubted.


Regarding the "Redistribution of the Law"...

More disturbingly, we have engendered a strange culture of justifiable lawlessness: those who are deemed exploited in some ways are exempt from following the law; those without such victim status are subject even more to it. Executive authorities compensate for their impotence in not enforcing statutes for some by excessively enforcing them on others. 

What it all means...

For this administration, the law is a drag.
Indeed, the problem with the Obama administration is that the government’s own bureaucracies — the IRS, VA, Secret Service, GSA, EPA, Justice and State Departments — have so serially broken their own statutes and lied about their misconduct, that it is now almost impossible to reassure Americans that they, too, cannot do what their own government sees as some sort of birthright.
What separated the United States from a Peru or Nigeria or Mexico or Laos or Russia was the sanctity of the law, or the idea that from the highest elected officials to the least influential citizen, all were obligated to follow, according to their stations, the law. Under Obama, that sacred idea has been eroded. We live in a world of illegal immigration and amnesties, Ferguson mythologies, and alphabet government scandals, presided over by a president who not only does not tell the truth, but also seems to be saying to the public, “I say whatever I want, so get over it.”

All of this from a "Constitutional Lawyer"?

James Madison he is not.

Monday, December 1, 2014

EEOC vs. ACA

There is no better example of the insanity of government bureaucracy than the recent actions of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) in attempting to eviscerate workplace wellness programs.



Over the last decade thousands of employers have implemented worksite biometric screenings to provide their employees with better knowledge of their health status and to be more proactive in preventing serious health conditions from developing. The employee benefits from the convenience of the on-site screenings and the employer has an effective tool to better control group health care costs and to better understand the overall health issues confronting its employee population.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) encouraged these workplace wellness programs and even established safe harbor rules for employers who established incentives within their health plans in order to encourage employee participation. After all, it is an accepted fact that human beings often do not do those things that they should do. Therefore, incentives are often necessary to "nudge" people in the right direction.

Honeywell International, Inc. has implemented a program of biometric screenings in its wellness
programs as has become the norm for many employers today. In fact, it is estimated that as many as half of all employers with 200+ employees now have some type of screening programs in place as result of the provisions of the ACA which encourages the adoption of these wellness and prevention efforts.

This is how Honeywell describes its program as well as the incentive it provides to those employees who participate in the screenings.

Biometric testing provides valuable private information to each employee about potentially life threatening issues.  Honeywell wants its employees to be well informed about their health status not only because it promotes their wellbeing, but also because we don’t believe it’s fair to the employees who do work to lead healthier lifestyles to subsidize the healthcare premiums for those who do not. Biometric information will help all employees make healthier decisions.  Over 60% of Honeywell biometrics participants have reduced at least one health risk, and encouraging more participation is the right thing to do.  For employees with single coverage who voluntarily decide to take a biometric screening, their monthly premiums will be $125 lower than the employees who decide not to take a biometric screening.  Biometric results are strictly confidential and not shared with the Company.

You might ask how the EEOC could find any fault with this, especially since this program is in strict compliance with the law and regulations under both the "Affordable Care Act" and the "Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act" ("HIPAA")?

It seems that the EEOC has decided that the Honeywell wellness program (and by extension all other programs like it) is unlawful because it discriminates under the Americans With Disabilities Act since it "penalizes" employees who do not want to participate in the health screenings. 

You might ask how the EEOC can rule that a company is engaging in "unlawful" activity when it is in full compliance with Obamacare and HIPAA?

Because they can. That is what government bureaucracies do. It is because they say it is. It doesn't have to make sense.

The EEOC's actions have gained the attention of The Business Roundtable, a group of large company CEO's, which has a history of being more supportive of Obamacare than most business groups. This Reuters story by Sharon Begley indicates that the CEO's are as confused by the Obama administration's actions as you probably are as well. They don't seem happy with this nonsense.

Leading U.S. CEOs, angered by the Obama administration's challenge to certain "workplace wellness" programs, are threatening to side with anti-Obamacare forces unless the government backs off, according to people familiar with the matter.
Major U.S. corporations have broadly supported President Barack Obama's healthcare reform despite concerns over several of its elements, largely because it included provisions encouraging the wellness programs.
The programs aim to control healthcare costs by reducing smoking, obesity, hypertension and other risk factors that can lead to expensive illnesses. A bipartisan provision in the 2010 healthcare reform law allows employers to reward workers who participate and penalize those who don't.
But recent lawsuits filed by the administration's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), challenging the programs at Honeywell International and two smaller companies, have thrown the future of that part of Obamacare into doubt.

In that article Ms. Begley also has written a sentence that is undoubtedly the most inane statement that I have read during the entire year 2014. I am not certain whether this is the opinion of Ms. Begley or she is merely reporting on what someone from The White House told her. In either case, it is an exceedingly silly and stupid thing to say irrespective of the source, especially when placed into historical context with this President and this White House.


" It is also not clear if the White House can stop the EEOC from challenging wellness programs."



What? It is not clear if the White House can stop the EEOC from doing something?

This is a White House which unilaterally modified, delayed and deferred most of the key provisions of Obamacare from being implemented because it was more concerned about the politics of the issue than "faithfully executing the law". It implemented subsidies for health plans in the federal exchanges in clear contravention of the ACA statute as written. Further, President Obama just granted amnesty to 5 million illegal immigrants in direct violation of federal law.

And it is not clear that the White House can stop the EEOC from challenging wellness programs that are in full compliance with Obamacare and HIPAA?

Are we living in The Twilight Zone?

It actually is worse.

We are living in the Obama Zone.

Credit: www.sodahead.com

You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not of facts, truth and the rule of law but of contradictions, prevarications and executive orders. A journey into a wondrous land of political calculation, manipulation and intimidation. Next stop, the Obama Zone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful on Thanksgivng

I posted this blog post last year and it remains the third most viewed since I started writing BeeLine almost four years ago. It should be a reminder to be thankful for lessons learned and thoughtful about living our lives true to our Lord.

Pilgrims, Prosperity And Poverty
(originally posted November 28, 2013)

I am thankful for many things.  My family. My friends. My job. I could go on and on. The list is very long.

I am most thankful I was born in the United States of America.  A country founded on the concept of individual rights and freedom.  A country that has embraced the idea of economic freedom, property rights, and capitalism.

Of course, I was born at a different time than where we seem to be today in our attitudes about some of these ideals. Will our young people be as thankful as I am about their country of birth?  I certainly hope so.  However, it amazes me how we fail to accept the reality of the failings and foibles of the human condition throughout history. As a result, the same mistakes and missteps plague us no matter how many times the history lesson is taught.

Look no further than Venezuela. What was once the one of the most prosperous South American countries now languishes under a socialist regime despite rich natural resources. Communist North Korea can't feed its own people while South Korea is giving a tablet computer to every school child.

Taiwan flourished in freedom while Red China floundered for decades before they embraced capitalist-based economic reforms. The same was true for East and West Germany.  In all of these cases there was no difference in the people.  They were literally blood brothers and sisters. It was the governmental system and economic philosophy that made the difference between prosperity and poverty for the nation's people.

Speaking of history, let's revisit the story of the Pilgrims and the origins of Thanksgiving Day. The story as I learned it in school was about a group of rugged individuals who set sail on The Mayflower in 1620 seeking religious freedom in America.  They encountered many hardships that first year but thanks to help from Indians and the Grace of God (I am sure this is no longer mentioned in the textbooks) they reaped a bountiful harvest in the following year and gave thanksgiving with a giant feast.

The First Thanksgiving At Plymouth, Jennie Augusta Brownscombe

The real story is much more enlightening.  It also shows that there is absolutely no question about which system works best to provide the most prosperity for the most people and limits poverty. There should be no debate and no question. It has been shown to be true over and over again.  However, over and over, we see those who think there is a better, more humane way, to best provide for people in a society.

The most definitive story of the Pilgrims was written by William Bradford who was the leader of the Plymouth Colony from 1621-1657.  He wrote "Of Plymouth Plantation" to chronicle the story of the Pilgrims and it is recognized today as the most complete authoritative source on the subject.




One of the best summaries I have read about the Pilgrim story was written by Dr. Judd W. Patton, "The Pilgrim Story: Vital Insights And Lessons For Today".

Let's start at the beginning. When the Pilgrims decided to set sail for America they had a problem not uncommon to many of us. They did not have enough money. They lacked the funds to sail to America, equip and establish their colony.  As a result, they got financial help from some investors who financed New World adventures in return for a share of what the colonists made through farming, fishing, trade and other working endeavors.
The contract between the Adventurers (Investors) and the Pilgrims consisted of ten points. The most critical of which stated, “That all such persons as are of this colony are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock and goods of the said colony.” 
Today we would call this a socialist commune. In other words, the Pilgrims accepted the socialist principle, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Each person was to place his production into the common warehouse and receive back, through the Governor, only what he needed for himself or his family. The surplus after seven years was to be divided equally, along with the houses, lands, and chattels, “betwixt the Adventurers and Planters.” 
The first year after they set sail for America was particularly difficult.  The voyage itself took sixty-six days. They landed first on Cape Cod even though they had intended to reach the mouth of the Hudson River.  They spent another month sailing the coast of Cape Cod until they finally decided to settle in Plymouth at the site of an old Indian village on December 21, 1620.

Within two months, half of their numbers died. Of the 24 families who had set sail, only four were untouched by death that first year. Four other families were wiped out completely. Those that made it to that first Thanksgiving were thankful.  However, it wasn't necessarily because of a bountiful harvest. They were just happy to have survived.
Contrary to legend the harvests were extremely poor in 1621 and 1622. It was normal to be hungry. Governor Bradford referred to 1621 as the “the small harvest” year.  Yet he notes that in “the summer there was no want.” Thankful for what God had given them, Governor Bradford declared a three-day feast for the purpose of prayer and celebration. We all know it as the first New England Thanksgiving – apparently observed in late summer.
Things were marginally better in 1622. The harvest was a little better but many Pilgrims held back and did not work as hard as others.  There was stealing and hoarding. Bradford and the other Pilgrim leaders recognized that this would continue unless they changed the system.  What could they do to prevent another poor harvest?

This is how Governor Bradford tells it in "Of Plymouth Plantation".
“So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land…This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise…The women now went willingly into the field, and took the little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”
The socialist system was discarded and replaced with a system that was built on individual property rights that put the trust in individual initiative to take care of the common good of the colony.

How did that work out?
In 1621, the Pilgrims planted only 26 acres. Sixty acres were planted in 1622.  But in 1623, spurred on by individual enterprise, 184 acres were planted!  Somehow those who alleged weakness and inability became healthy and strong. It’s amazing what incentive will do to improve bad attitudes!
However, the Pilgrims still had their challenges. The summer of 1623 was hot and dry. For almost two months there was no rain. Their crops were in jeopardy. Governor Bradford did not lose faith.
Governor Bradford then set a “solemn day of humiliation (fasting) to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer in this great distress.” Their prayers were answered. By evening it began to rain. It revived the corn and other fruits. Even the Indians were astonished. The soft showers continued along with beautiful fair weather. The result was a “fruitful and liberal harvest …for which mercy they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.”
By the fall of 1624, the colonists were able to export a full boat load of corn! And the Pilgrims settled with the Adventurers. They purchased the Adventurers stock in the colony and completed the transition to private property and free markets.

The rest is history.  The experience of the Pilgrims went a long way to forming the values and principles upon which our Founding Fathers created a new nation unlike anything the world had ever seen before.  It came to be the most prosperous and powerful country ever known to mankind. For that I am forever thankful to the Pilgrims and the others who endured numerous trials and tribulations to give me the life I have today.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving it is useful to remember the Pilgrims and what their experience can teach us. I think Dr. Patton summarizes the lessons pretty well.
The Pilgrim experience dating from 1623 was and is yet a prototype for the United States of America.  They learned the hard way that: (1) Socialism does not work; it diminishes individual initiative and enterprise; (2) Socialism is not a Godly economic system; and (3) Famine and drought can be used by God to humble a people and set them on a proper course.  The Pilgrims responded.  The real question today is:  Can Americans learn these vital insights from the Pilgrims or must we too face famine and drought in the coming years?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A 30-Year Cold Spell?

It was 9 degrees when I woke up yesterday morning in Cincinnati, Ohio. The official low was 12 degrees that ties a record low for November 18 dating back to 1880. It was 15 degrees starting out this morning. That is more than 20 degrees lower than the average for this date. We are seeing the same over most of the country this week.

We also got 4.8 inches of snow on Monday compared to an average of .4 inches that Cincinnati typically receives for the entire month of November. Some areas of Buffalo, NY got as much as 76 inches of snow in the last 24 hours!

New York Thruway near Buffalo, NY on 11/18/14
You think you had a bad commute this morning?


Climatologist John L. Casey believes we are in the beginning stages of a new weather pattern bringing much colder temperatures that may last for the next 30 years.

What about Al Gore and the global warming alarmists?

Casey argues that they have it completely wrong.
The earth, he says, is cooling, and cooling fast. 
And unless the scientific community and political leaders act soon, cold, dark days are ahead. 
Casey says the evidence is clear that the earth is rapidly growing colder because of diminished solar activity. 
He says trends indicate we could be headed for colder temperatures similar to those seen in the late 1700s and early 1800s when the sun went into a "solar minimum" — a phenomenon with significantly reduced solar activity, including solar flares and sunspots. 
Casey is a former NASA engineer who has also recently written a book, "Dark Winter: How the Sun Is Causing a 30-Year Cold Spell," in which he forecasts increasingly frigid temperatures and eventual food shortages caused by the colder climate. Colder weather will also affect the earth's crust which could lead to more volcanic and earthquake activity.



Casey even suggests that he thinks that Putin is interested in the Ukraine because of its more temperate climate and Russia's heavy reliance on its wheat crop from that region during cold weather times. A noted Russian astrophysicist believes that we are already entering a mini-ice age.

All of this reminded me of a blog post I wrote in February, 2011 in which I wrote about some of the same themes that Casey is talking about in his book.

If given a choice between global warming and cooling---I will take warming every time. I don't say that just because I prefer golf and the beach over skiing. There are very significant geopolitical and economic reasons to prefer a warmer over a cooler climate.

Human beings tend to get very angry and irritable when they are cold and hungry. They are much more content when they are warm and their stomachs are full. Read on about my thoughts on all of this from almost four years ago.


I'll Take Hot Rather Than Cold Any Day
(originally published February 10, 2011)

I am not a climatologist or meteorologist. However, I consider myself a practical thinker who makes decisions by looking at facts. I have also learned that it is always important to look beyond the "facts". How are the facts packaged and what is the motivation of the messenger?

Over the years, I have listened to the claims about human created global warming. Without even spending a lot of time on the science, these claims never seemed to make sense to me. The planet is known to have warmed and cooled over the years. Even if the data shows it is warming, how do we know it is caused by man when you look at past history? We know there was an ice age. We also know the ice melted. How did it ice up? How did the ice melt?

I can't help but be a little skeptical when I also see the changing explanations about the climate.  In fact, it does not even seem to be global warming we are worried about any more, it is climate change.

We heard a few years ago that we would see far less snow because of global warming.  When we got more snow, we were then told this was caused by the warming. It is all very confusing for something that is supposed to be so settled in science.

I also remember in the late 1970's and 1980's all of the talk from scientists was concern that the planet was cooling. What happened?  That was only a few short years ago- a speck of time in the history of the earth.

When you consider past history you also quickly realize that God dwarfs anything that man can do. For example, the year 1816 was considered "The Year Without a Summer" after Mount Tambora erupted and the ash seemed to veil the sky across large swaths of earth.  Crops failed around the world and famine followed.  Riots and political unrest were not far behind.  People tend to get really angry when they are hungry. How much did the average global temperature fall that year? - only about 1 degree!

That story has always made me much more concerned about global cooling than warming. A rise in temperatures is actually beneficial for food production. It can extend the growing season further north. Cooler temperatures do the exact opposite.  Given a choice there is little doubt where I come down.

Our friends at Powerline are right on the mark again with "Scientists Set The Alarmists Straight".  If you want to get yourself grounded in the facts on the issue check it out.  Powerline's own view is summed up as follows:
"The global warming hoax survives only because most people do not take the trouble to learn the facts for themselves."
There are several links listed where you can research the facts and science yourself.  Make up your own mind. However, this looks more like a political agenda than science to me.  But if climate change is real then give me warming rather than cooling. I do better when I am warm and have food than when I am cold and hungry. How about you?

Full disclosure- I wrote this when it was 7 degrees so that may have affected my objectivity on the subject. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Face To Face With GruberGate

It seems that every day brings another video of Dr. Jonathan Gruber of MIT providing perspectives on the tricks, twisted tactics and tall tales that went into the drafting of the "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."


Jonathan Gruber
Credit: MIT Economics Department


I met Dr. Gruber in late October, 2009 at a private meeting in Boston with a small group of other individuals from Fortune 500 companies who were responsible for the employer-sponsored health plans for their employees. This was at a critical time in the timeline for the bill as it was only a couple of weeks before it was voted on in the House of Representatives (the House voted on its version of the bill on November 7, 2009).

We were invited to the meeting by one of the nation's leading health insurers who facilitated the meeting so that some of its large corporate customers would have a better perspective on how the federal government was attempting to reshape the health care and insurance marketplace.

One of the things that stood out to me in the meeting was Gruber's arrogance and seeming need to promote his self-importance. Both of these traits have come through pretty clearly in the resulting videos that have surfaced recently involving Obamacare.

For example, Gruber made it a point at the beginning of the meeting to pull out his cellphone and put it on the table in front of him and state that he might have to excuse himself during the meeting as he was in "constant contact with the White House on final negotiations on the bill." In fact, he did excuse himself at least once during the meeting to take a call that was supposedly from the White House.

Therefore, any attempt by Democrats to distance themselves from Dr. Gruber on his involvement in the process is revisionist history. There is little question that Dr. Gruber had a very key role in the architecture of what became known as Obamacare.

The other thing that stood out to me during the meeting was how firmly Gruber believed in his view of the world. I might add that his view of the world was that of someone who had little experience in the real world. His view was clearly an academic of theoretical view of the world.

This came through during a discussion we had about the effects that Obamacare might have on employers ceasing to provide health care coverage for employees (or for their dependents). Gruber rejected that argument and he stated that he had fully considered that possibility and was confident that would not occur.

A number of large companies pushed back on Gruber and argued that given a workable individual health care insurance marketplace, they would gladly drop employer-sponsored healthcare. It was far more preferable to provide employees with a flat dollar amount in its place and let the federal government take on the health care cost risk they now held as self-insured health care providers. To this Gruber said, "You are blowing my mind. If that is right all of our assumptions are wrong in this bill."

Gruber also got a lot of push back during the meeting about what the "Affordable Care Act" was going to do about controlling costs. Everyone in the meeting was very concerned about costs increasing due to its combination of expanded access, mandated benefits and the like.

Every time this was brought up Gruber quickly stated that he agreed with us. He stated that the bill was not intended to do anything about controlling costs. It was intended only to provide increased access. They believed they needed to expand access first before doing anything else. They were planning to to introduce a second bill at a later date to control costs.

Therefore, Gruber admitted during the meeting that the "Affordable Care Act" had nothing to do with making health care more affordable. That was going to come in a second bill (a bill that has never been introduced). Of course, this is another little item that no one in the public was ever told about. I guess it was just another "inconvenient truth" that would have prevented the bill from becoming law.



After the passage of the bill we have also found that the "Patient Protection" portion of the title was also highly questionable. Millions lost health care coverage they were happy with. Millions lost doctors they were pleased with. Millions of others are paying thousands of dollars in extra premiums for coverage they do not need.

In effect, the correct name for Obamacare should have rightfully been "The Patient Disturbance and Unaffordable Care Act" in that it has contributed untold disturbance and anxiety to our country while also making expensive health care costs even more unaffordable.

Jonathan Gruber is not a bad guy. Like most academics, he thinks he has all the answers and is smarter than everyone else. Like most human beings, he has an ego and he wants people to think he is important. Like most liberals, he is well-meaning.

However, over the years I have found that most liberal ideas are well meaning and well intentioned. In a theoretical laboratory these ideas make a lot of sense. I think that is why so many academics are liberals. The ideas make such great sense in the classroom or a textbook. Unfortunately, in the real world these ideas must face reality. A reality where human beings make decisions based on incentives or disincentives relative to their own self-interest. A reality where unintended consequences often have much greater effects than the intended consequences.

There was nothing wrong with the basic concept behind health care reform in attempting to expand the number of individuals insured and to insure that individuals could obtain coverage even if they had pre-existing health conditions. However, there were much easier (and less expensive) ways to accomplish this under the law.

My biggest problem with Obamacare from the beginning was its total lack of transparency. Especially on the question of taxes. To do what they were trying clearly required some type of broad-based tax to fund the expansion of coverage. Obama chose to play a shell game with the American people instead. He simply chose to not tell the truth from the very beginning of his campaign on this issue. Just as he lied about the need for an individual mandate in his debates with Hillary Clinton. To do what he wanted to do, it was necessary. There was no other way around it and he knew it.

There is a legitimate policy argument that providing health care coverage is a fundamental function of the federal government under its duties "to promote the general welfare". However, under this "social model" concept, it has traditionally followed that general broad-based taxes should be used to fund this government spending. This is the model on which Medicare and Social Security are based. It is also the model that has always been used for local schools, police and fire protection etc.

However, in Obamacare they paid for the extension of "general welfare" coverage by putting the entire tax cost on a few taxpayers in yet another redistributive income scheme and in penalizing many others who had health coverage they already liked to help a few others who did not have any coverage.

Obama, Gruber, Reid and Pelosi knew it was unlikely that this bill could be passed if people were told the truth. Instead, they played tricks with the numbers and put nice comforting words like Patient Protection and Affordable Care in the bill thinking it would be enough to the pull the wool over the people's eyes.

In the end, Obama and Gruber are a lot like Col. Nathan Jessep (played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film, "A Few Good Men") and his dialogue with Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise) in the climatic courtroom scene in the movie.


Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men"
Credit: mxdwn.com

Col. Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to.

Col. Jessep: *You want answers?*

Kaffee: *I want the truth!*

Col. Jessep: *You can't handle the truth!*

We could use a few good men about now. Obama.  Gruber. Where are they?

In the meantime, GruberGate is starting to feel a little like Watergate with Gruber playing the role of Deep Throat.

However, if you follow the money here, it seems that a lot of money went right into the pocket of Jonathan Gruber for his consulting services on the law to the federal government and various states.

It is hard to handle that truth!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

All About Atmospherics


"All show and no go."
My mother used to say this after she had sized up someone and determined that their substance did not match their style.


"Beware the Articulate Incompetent."

The smartest boss I ever had used to say this to me when we ran across people that sounded and looked great but when you considered what they really said or did, there was nothing there. In the corporate world these people could quickly impress others and be persuasive in their presentation, but it ended there. They added nothing. In fact, they usually resulted in a net subtraction to the organization because they had people doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

Who do you think of first when I say, "All show and no go" or "Articulate Incompetent"?

Barack Obama immediately comes to my mind.

Obama and the Greek Columns
Credit: UK Daily Telegraph

Our President seems to care most about perception, politics and presentation. Substance and sense rarely make his list.

You need to look no further than yesterday's announcement about the climate deal he "negotiated' with China on carbon-reduction emissions.

Granted, the headline looks good and President Obama knows that very few people will ever get beyond that. This is how the headline read in yesterday's New York Times.


U.S. and China Reach Climate Accord After Months of Talks


Under the "deal", the United States will cut carbon emissions by 26% to 28% (using 2005 as the base year) by the year 2025. For those counting, that is just ten years away.

To meet this goal there will be more restrictions and regulations of coal and other fossil fuels. The result will be higher electricity and energy costs that businesses and consumers in this country will have to pay.

What is China going to do in return?

Nothing. Until the year 2030. At that time China would cap its growing carbon emissions.

You might think that does not look right at first glance. However, it you thought about it for a minute or two longer you might conclude that it would make sense if China is "catching up" to the U.S. in carbon emissions as its economy is growing.

However, the fact is that China is not catching up to the United States in carbon emissions. It is already spewing out far, far more than the U.S.

This chart, using USEIA data, shows that China's total carbon emissions in 2012 were 8.5 billion metric tons annually (and growing) compared to 5.3 billion in the United States (and declining).




For reference, U.S. carbon emissions in 2005 were 5.1 billion metric tons. That means the U.S. carbon emissions target in 2025 under this deal will be between 3.7 and 3.8 billion metric tons. Assuming China continues the same growth in carbon emissions as it has had since 2005 (5.1% per year), China's cap would be about 21 billion metric tons in 2030---more than 5 times the U.S. target!

Even if you adjust these numbers for population and compare the numbers on a per capita basis (China currently has about 4x the population of the U.S), the United States will be a loser.

The biggest loser in this country will be Americans looking for good-paying jobs. That is a certainty.

The next biggest loser will be planet earth if you believe the global warming alarmists. Under this agreement China can continue bringing a coal-fired power plant online every 10 days (as they are currently doing now) carte blanche compliments of our President.

This should alarm the alarmists. They continually are warning of a looming climate catastrophe but most of their attention is focused on the United States which is a relatively small piece of the puzzle.

Liberals will argue that it is better to have some "agreement" with the Chinese than no agreement. However, I think that thinking is misguided. First of all, this is not a binding agreement on the Chinese. They can do as they please. There are no consequences if they do not live up to the agreement. At the same time, Obama has effectively given China a blank check to do whatever they want for the next 16 years. This "deal" insulates them from any criticism or condemnation in the interim. China can simply point to their "agreement' with Obama. It is nothing but theatrics but it protects the Chinese from any attacks from the global warming crowd.

Since 2005, the U.S. has reduced energy-related CO2 emissions by one billion tons but China has increased emissions by over two billion tons. Guess what? If you are concerned about CO2 emissions and you are on planet earth, you are losing.  And it is not because of anything that the United States is doing. If China is not cooperating (and India and others) the problem will not be solved.

The irony is that as we shut down our coal powered generating plants, China and India are building hundreds of them.  In fact, a recent study indicated that over 1,000 coal-fired plants are planned around the world with 75% of them in India (455) and China (363).

And in 16 years, even with China "cooperating" under this agreement, carbon emissions will be 11 billion metric tons higher than they are today even if the United States reduces its emissions by the targeted 1.5 billion metric tons.

In other words, it is "all show and no go" as my mother used to say.

Or to put it another way...


Only in the mind of an articulate incompetent does it make sense to...


shut down your most cost-effective energy generating source, 


shut-off your most abundant energy resource, 


raise electricity costs on all Americans,


and risk losing hundreds of thousand of jobs in the process.


In an attempt to solve a problem... 


that we are not even sure we have, 


and if we do, we are not sure we can do anything about it, 


because of natural or external forces that we cannot control, 


that may overwhelm anything we do anyway,


that ultimately works to the advantage of your biggest trade partner, 


that will undoubtedly result in more job losses for Americans over the longer term.



In the end, it is all about atmospherics with Barack Obama. And I am not talking about carbon emissions in the air.



Postscript:

I thought it was interesting that while writing this blog post I saw this headline about China hacking into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently.

Chinese hack U.S. weather systems, satellite network

Hackers from China breached the federal weather network recently, forcing cybersecurity teams to seal off data vital to disaster planning, aviation, shipping and scores of other crucial uses, officials said.

Am I the only one who sees the irony in the fact that our President is celebrating a "climate change breakthrough" with a country who at the same time is hacking our oceanic and atmospheric weather information systems? Pretty soon we will not know what to believe about those global warming statistics!

It really is all about atmospherics with both President Obama and China!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Bonfire of The Vanities

Tom Wolfe wrote the novel, "The Bonfire of the Vanities", which was published in 1987. It is a story of ambition, elitism, racism, social division and greed in New York City in the 1980's. The same themes could just as easily apply to Washington, DC over the last six years.




The lead character in the novel is Sherman McCoy who is a high-powered Wall Street bond trader who went to all the right schools and is married to a "social x-ray" wife (her life is centered around lunch with her socially connected friends and maintaining a rail thin figure) and lives in an expensive Manhattan co-op. McCoy is so taken with his life of success that he refers to himself as the "Master of the Universe".

It all starts to come unglued for Sherman while returning to Manhattan after picking up his mistress at JFK and making the wrong turn on a dark, rainy night. He ends up in the Bronx and a world that is not in his universe. One thing leads to another and Sherman McCoy slowly sees all of his vanities going up in a bonfire. In the end, there was not much there to begin with. The status, success and society that surrounded him was built on little substance. Does that sound familiar?

As I look at Barack Obama and I see what is transpiring around him I can't help but see the same story unfolding.

We are witnessing "The Bonfire of the Vanities" insofar as Barack Obama is concerned.

The flames are engulfing most everything around him but he appears not to notice any of it.

This is a man who also thought of himself as the "Master of the Universe".  Here is how Obama described himself to others when he was assembling his campaign team for his Presidential run.

I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it. I think I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.

How has all of that worked out? The self-described "Master of the Universe" seems to have been most successful in administering over the undoing of the Democrat party.

When Barack Obama took office in 2009 there were 256 Democrats in the U.S. House of
Representatives.




When the 114th Congress convenes in January, 2015, Democrats will have less than 190---a loss of almost 70 seats.

2015 U.S. House of Representatives
Red=GOP, Blue=Dem, Green=Undecided as of 11/10/14

In 2009 the Democrats held as many as 58 Senate seats and 2 Independents also caucused with them. There were only 40 Republican Senators.

When the Senate meets in January there will likely be 54 Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

This is the map of Governorships in 2009 when only 22 Republicans held office.




This is the map after the 2014 elections with Alaska and Vermont still undecided. 31 of 50 states are now in the hands of Republicans.



Credit: Jim Dalrymple, BuzzFeed.com

Most significantly, liberal blue states Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland turned red. Consider the Obama margins in these three states in 2012---Illinois +17, Massachusetts +23, Maryland +26.

The following graphic shows how "swing state" Ohio has swung in the last three gubernatorial races in the state from Democrat blue to Republican red.


Credit: The Dayton Daily News

If we look at state legislatures, Democrats held 62 of the 99 (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature) when Obama took office. They now control just 30 of 99 according to an analysis by David Freddoso of The Washington Examiner.


Credit: David Freddoso, Washington Examiner

Blue has turned to red everywhere you look around Barack Obama. It has to be "The Bonfire of his Vanity" deep down somewhere in his soul.

The losses that the Democrats have taken at the polls as a result of their blind allegiance to Barack Obama may also cause further problems down the road.

Alexander Burns of Politico.com surveys the damage to Democrats looking forward.
As Democrats take stock of their grievous losses in the 2014 elections, party leaders are confronting a challenge perhaps even more daunting than their defeats in the House and Senate: the virtual wipeout of the Democratic talent pool across the country.
After the Republican waves of 2010 and 2014, the party is depleted not just in its major-league talent, but also in its triple-A recruitment prospects. It amounts to a setback, Democrats say, that will almost certainly require more than one election cycle to repair.
At the start of the 2014 campaign, Democrats envisioned an election that would produce new national stars for the party in at least a few tough states – Georgia Sen. Michelle Nunn or Kentucky Sen. Alison Lundergan Grimes, for instance, or maybe even Texas Gov. Wendy Davis. Even if the party fell short in those “reach” states, Democrats hoped to produce new heavyweight blue-state Democrats – Maryland Gov. Anthony Brown, the country’s only black state executive; or Maine Gov. Mike Michaud, who would have been the first openly gay candidate elected governor.
Any of them could have landed on a vice presidential short list in 2016.
Instead, all of them lost.

You begin to appreciate the talent dearth of the Democrats if you try to put together list of possible Presidential contenders that go beyond Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden? Elizabeth Warren? Martin O'Malley? Mark Warner? It was a short list to begin with. It got shorter after last Tuesday.

Contrast that with the Republican list of possible contenders. Chris Christie. Scott Walker. Rand Paul. Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush. Paul Ryan. Bobby Jindal. Marco Rubio. John Kasich. Rick Santorum. Ben Carson. Rick Perry. Mike Huckabee. Mike Pence. Mitt Romney?

Not all of these potential GOP candidates will enter the race but there are a lot of names to draw from. The Democrats will likely end up with Hillary or a fresh, new face similar to 2008 without much experience or track record.

We will soon see how the cast of characters for 2016 starts to take shape.

After all, the cast is always critical to a good movie. And that brings us back to "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

The resounding success of Wolfe's novel made the film rights to the book a hot commodity in Hollywood. Brian DePalma agreed to be the Director of the movie and a high-powered cast was put together to star in the film. The only problem was that the actors cast in the movie did not seem to fit the characters in the book in any respect.

The likeable Tom Hanks was cast as the tough to like Sherman McCoy. A young Kim Cattrall played Sherman's "social x-ray" wife. Melanie Griffith was cast as McCoy's mistress, who was a sultry Hispanic girl in the book, but ended up in the movie as something altogether different. Bruce Willis starred as the newspaper reporter, Peter Fallow, who was English in the book. A Jewish judge in the book turned into Morgan Freeman as an African-American in the film.




The resulting movie, despite a $47 million budget (in 1990 dollars) and a lot of star power, grossed only $15 million at the box office. It was considered both a critical and commercial flop. The cast chosen for the movie just did not fit the needs of the film.

So it is with Barack Obama. He might have been the perfect candidate from central casting but he was ill-suited from the beginning to deal with the problems of the country or to lead the Democrat party. Yes, Hollywood got that one wrong as well.

Barack Obama promised hope and change. However, the hope and change he has delivered seems to have principally inured to the benefit of the Republican Party.

"The Bonfire of the Vanities" plays out once again.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mid-Term Musings

I don't typically like to comment on political races until I have had a chance to take a in-depth look at the detailed election results and exit polls. After all, I am a data guy. I look for answers and insights in the data to try to put everything in context.

However, I know there is a lot of interest from my readers on my thoughts on the mid-term election results so I will share a few musings about the mid-terms based on what I watched last night on the cable tv channels and the limited data I have reviewed so far.

Senate Races

The Senate races pretty much followed the themes that I laid out in my blog post, "Sensing the Senate Races-2014" that I published on the eve of the election.

I profiled 13 states where I thought the Republicans had a path to majority control. They appear to have won 11 of the 13 with Louisiana still likely to be added to their majority in the December run-off. The only state on my list of the first tier list of targets that they were not able to win was New Hampshire. However, I had assessed a win in New Hampshire to involve very long odds.

I had Virginia as a secondary target based on the polls in the state, however, I was on right on target when I stated, "when I look at the 4 point Obama margin ( in 2012) and the fact that minority and young voters will not likely turn out like they did two years ago, it seems Gillespie could make this a race in the end." He certainly did.

Governor Races

This was the most under-reported story of the night as the networks were so focused on the Senate races. It is almost hard to believe that the Republicans won gubernatorial races in red states like Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.  Consider the Obama margins in these three states in 2012---Illinois +17, Massachusetts +23, Maryland +26.

In addition, Republicans won these other states which are all blue or swing states---Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio and only lost in deep blue Connecticut by 3 points and Rhode Island by 4 points.

All in all, Democrats now hold only 18 out of 50 governor offices. To put that in perspective, there are now more states where gay marriage is legal than there are Democrat governors!

Wave or Not?

I try never to get caught up with the emotion and hype in the aftermath of elections. We are hearing this election called a wave but we heard similar descriptions when the Democrats won in 2008 and 2012. Or the GOP in 2010.

In the aftermath of the 2012 election there were many political commentators who were flooding the
flooding the airwaves with opinions that the Republican Party had to fundamentally overhaul their positions on the issues to be successful in the future.  They argue that there had been a fundamental seismic shift in the voting demographics that is younger, less White and more liberal.

I disagreed and this is what I wrote three days after the 2012 election after reviewing the exit poll data on that election.

There clearly was a solid group of voters who would vote for Barack Obama.  That was proven in 2008 and 2012.  It is just not clear to me that this voting bloc is sustainable or repeatable.  Obama is not going to be on the ballot again.  The symbol will be gone and all that will be left is the substance of the Democrat positions that are not exactly wildly popular.  Republicans should take heart and not be too quick to alter their core positions.  This comes through in the exit polling for 2012 even considering the demographic advantage that the Democrats had in voters this year.

I have not analyzed any exit polls in detail this year but I suspect that Democrats lost big in this election cycle primarily because black voters did not turn out as they did in 2008 and 2012 for Obama and young voters stayed home having lost their love affair with Obama.

I did look at some limited exit poll data on North Carolina which seems to confirm my thoughts. Black voters made up about 28% of the total vote in 2012. This year they made up 21%.  That is a 7% swing of voters who voted for Hagan 96% of the time. That is the election right there. Tillis won by 2%.

During the campaign, President Obama made a hand scratching statement to a rally of supporters in Maryland when he said, "You've got to get that cousin Pookie sitting at home on the couch" to get out and vote. Guess what? Cousin Pookie never got off the couch. There is now a GOP Governor in a state that Obama won by 26 points two years ago.

The bigger question is why do the Democrats have a problem in turning out voters in non-Presidential years?

Mercenaries and Patriots

Democrats seems to have a problem turning out voters in mid-term elections because, first of all, they have more low interest voters than Republicans. Poll after poll shows that they don't pay as much attention and are less informed as a general rule than are Republican voters.

They seem to only get engaged in Presidential years when it is hard to ignore politics and and you can't go anywhere without hearing about it.

It also seems to be the case that many Democrat voters are engaged primarily by what the political process means to them personally. It is mostly about what the government does for them in dollars and cents. In that respect they are very similar to mercenaries in an army. The party's voters are primarily composed of special interest blocks of voters who depend on government. They are primarily interested in furthering their individual interest through government.

I think this is the fundamental flaw in the Democrat party model right now. They can only expand their numbers by recruiting more mercenaries to their army. Whether it is expanding government benefits, opening the border to future voters or providing government special subsidies to  "the right" businesses, their base largely is dependent on government.

Republicans, on the other hand, are more interested in what government does generally as well as what government could do to them. Republicans don't vote as mercenaries to serve their own interests, but for the interests of the country. Therefore, Republicans can more generally be counted on to go to the polls year in and year out and the numbers seem to bear that out.

Over the years many countries who have relied on mercenary armies have learned that they are inherently unreliable. I don't think it is any different in politics. People motivated by beliefs will beat people motivated by bucks in the end.

This is why the Democrats had such a hard time understanding the Tea Party movement when it started out of nowhere. They just could not understand how so many people could get so ginned up when they weren't getting anything out of it individually. It was totally foreign to the way they understood the psychology of voters. Remember when Nancy Pelosi derided the grassroots Tea Party and called them "astroturf"? She thought it was fake because she just could not believe that people would show up without getting paid to do it.

Interesting Insights
  • Democrats and the mainstream media like to refer to "racist" and "anti-immigration" Republicans but has anyone looked at the election results in South Carolina? Tim Scott, the black Senator who had been appointed by Governor Nikki Haley last year, and was running for the remainder of the full term, got 85% of the votes of white men in the election. He only got 16% of the vote of black men!  By the way, Scott also got almost 100,000 more votes than white Senator Lindsay Graham who was running for re-election. Nikki Haley (the daughter of Indian immigrants) was re-elected 56%-41%. 
  • Speaker John Boehner lives near me and was re-elected in the 8th Congressional District of Ohio.  However, I found it interesting that Boehner only captured 65% of the vote in his home county.  That is about 7 points below what John Kasich drew in the county. Boehner also had a lower percentage vote than all the other state officeholders on the ballot. The last few years have definitely taken a toll of Boehner's popularity with the hometown folks.
  • In Ohio, generally all local tax increases have to go before a vote if it means the property tax millage will go up. This includes school, police, fire and other issues. Starting in the late 1970's these issues started to have increased difficulty in passing. People started to get fed up with high taxes. This has been a continuing theme for the last several decades. What I found interesting in looking at the results of Tuesday's election in Hamilton County (my home) was that most tax levy issues passed with rather comfortable margins. This included a 1/4 cent increase in the local sales tax in the country to pay for repairs and refurbishment of Cincinnati's Union Terminal, the iconic art-deco railroad terminal built in the 1930's, which is now  a museum center. In fact, the vote wasn't even close with a 65%-35% margin despite the fact that household budgets are being squeezed by the economy.  I think this is a potentially interesting development.  Does it signal increased interest in government actually doing the things government is supposed to do and a willingness to support these efforts? We will see.
  • The margin of the Cory Gardner win in Colorado was surprising to me coming in a state that voted for Obama twice and which also just two years ago passed the most liberal pot laws in the country. That win seems to have been driven by Gardner's ability to win the suburbs of Denver that Obama had won in the previous elections. It appears that a number of Obama's "soccer moms" have become "security moms".  For example, by a 63%-25% margin, Colorado voters were in favor of U.S. military action against ISIS.  At the same time, 61% thought abortion should be always legal (28%) or mostly legal (33%). In the end, Gardner won married women by 49%-47%. Does this indicate that one's head is more valuable than one's uterus? It appears so.
More on the mid-terms later when I have more time to analyze the results in detail.