Mostly rational politics, with occasional rants about how a few crazy Republicans are ruining the country.
Support The Jaker
Friday, April 29, 2005
Friday Prez Odds Update
Political Wire has a National Journal poll of congressional "insiders" ranking their choices for Presidential candidates. Here are their results (with my last week rank in parentheses): Dems: 1. Clinton (1) 2. Edwards (2) 3. Warner (10) 4. Bayh (5) 5. Kerry (6)
Based on this I'm gonna move Warner and Allen up a little in my odds. The rest was pretty unsurprising. Other developments:
Dems: - Momentum continues for Hill. I'm moving her from 4:1 to 5:2. - Sen. Evan Bayh (IN) has $6.8m and is raising more. He's definitely running. And he is very formidable. Same likeability factor as Edwards with lots more experience. It would absolutely not surprise me if Bayh was top of the ticket in Summer '08. - Interesting thoughts on Hillary's strategy - I'm taking Howard Dean down to 25:1. Increasingly sure he's not going to run.
GOP: - Mass Gov. Mitt Romney's approval rating has fallen to 43%. That doesn't do much for his presidential ambitions. Knocking him down a bit.
I didn't watch Bush's press conference last night, touted as a rollout of his "plan" on social security, but apparently he didn't say much. The only thing he came out with is that he'd like to cut the benefits of higher income people more than lower income.
The President has cited Robert Pozen's plan - which has adjusts wealthier people to benefits indexed to price increases instead of wage increases; keeps poorer people indexed to wage increases; and has a sliding scale for everyone in between. The problem with that plan is it really ends up cutting the benefits of the middle class very dramatically in the out years.
I still think personal accounts are going nowhere. Let's fix Medicare/Medicaid first.
I agree with this article from the NYTimes magazine. My own experience with challenging television is The West Wing, a current obsession of mine (I DVR 2-3 episodes a day, and 5-6 on Monday night marathons. I try to watch 2 every weekday). As mentioned in the article, sometimes the dialogue on West Wing is incredibly smart and fast-paced. I often find myself rewinding to keep up. The writing is also extremely well-informed; in a given episode the characters will be grapplying with 2-3 policy issues, and an argument will ensue in which the viewer gets exposed to the most cutting-edge thinking on each side of the issue, so it's really an incredibly good civics/politics lesson.
Al Gore seems to be having a love affair with MoveOn lately. He gives speeches sponsored by them quite frequently, including one at the end of last summer strongly denouncing the Iraq war, and another yesterday warning of the danger of ending judicial filibusters. While some on the right, and some in the center-left such as Peter Beinart of The New Republic, criticize the "MoveOn" wing of the Democratic party as too ideologically liberal and not pragmatic enough, Gore seems to have no problem cozying up to that segment.
Frankly, it makes me like him more... he has his beliefs, which are decidedly leftist for a guy from Tennessee, and he seems to really be articulating them freely these days. Perhaps that's a sign that he really will stay in the private sector the rest of his career, and I have him too high on my 2008 presidential nomination list, or perhaps he's decided that life, including politics, is not worth it unless you're going to be honest and say what you think.
She and her boss at the Institute for International Economics discuss one reason the dollar depreciation has not led to a closing of the trade deficit, as expected: the pass-through rate, or "the extent to which changes in the exchange rate induce changes in a country's import and export prices". Basically, import/export prices in the U.S. are sticky because of the size and competitiveness of the U.S. market; exporters accept temporarily lower profits.
As they argue in the article, this creates a market imbalance that prevents the trade gap from closing, meaning the U.S. goes further and further in debt to foreign investors. Barring some proactive fix, the dollar has to fall a lot farther to start to move the needle. Not good.
On Saturday, as part of the ongoing Tribeca Film Festival, I had the chance to see an absolutely fascinating movie about every-day life in North Korea. The film, A State of Mind, follows two young female gymnasts as they prepare to participate in North Korea's "Mass Games", a huge spectacle (on the order of the Olympic opening ceremony) that happens sometimes 2-3 times per year. Mass Games is meant to demonstrate the perfection of socialism - all individuals ceding their individuality for the good of the group.
It's hard to describe the value of seeing this movie (which should be released at the Film Forum in NYC in the fall, and hopefully elsewhere around the country). First, the Mass Games are a site to behold - there is nothing like them in the world. Up to 100,000 performers will train 2 hours after school every day year-round, and 8 hours a day during the summer leading up to the performances. Of course, participation is basically compulsory. The games celebrate events like Kim Jong Il's and Kim Il Sung's birthdays, and Korean independence. You are expected to perform to show that you are a good communist.
It was also amazing to see footage of daily life in Korea - the absolute most impenetrable country in the world for outsiders and media. No one has ever been able to film daily North Korean life before. It is definitely one of hardship. Food is rationed. Electricity goes off at least a couple hours every night (meaning the 40 story Pyongyang towers' elevators don't work). There is one television channel, which again only works certain hours during the day, and is government-programmed with propaganda. Every kitchen has a radio that broadcasts government programming that can be turned down but never off.
There is also an amazing amount of built-in hostility to the American government. Air raid drills to practice for an American invasion are common . Even sitting around the living room eating dinner and watching a parade on TV, the grandmother of the family would say things, unprovoked, like "Look at our well-disciplined army. No wonder the U.S. imperialists tremble in fear at the sight of them."
With so much scorn for North Korea in the U.S., it's easy to forget that the country's people are just like anyone else - trying their best to have a good life. Near the end of the movie there was discussion of a "market" being built. None of the construction workers understood what it was that they were building - they have no concept of capitalism.
The Texas house just voted 101-29 for an amendment to their state Constitution that would outlaw BOTH same-sex marriages and civil unions. This is getting absurd. I can somewhat understand and respect, though disagree with, people who think marriage is a religious designation reserved in the history of their church for men and women. But when you outlaw civil unions as well, you are simply living in a world with your head in the sand, and putting yourself on record as opposing the progressive march of human history towards tolerance and acceptance. Two or three generations from now there will be 101 families trying their best to hide and run away from the fact that their grandfather or grandmother voted to restrict same sex couples' legal rights.
Richard Morrison, one of my favorite candidates, who probably would have beaten Tom DeLay in 2006, is dropping out of the race for financial reasons. This sucks. There should be some mechanism for non-rich people to run for high office in this country.
I often feel bad for old CEOs and politicians, and by old I'm talking 80+. Why are they still working when they should, in my opinion, be spending their final years enjoying their family and seeing the world?
But at least they choose their path. The pope doesn't get to do that, and that's why I feel sad whenI read that he prayed not to be elected. Articles often talked about the back-door politicking and campaigning surrounding the papal election. But it never occurred to me that some of these guys might actually NOT want the job. The nature of their relationship with God is that if you are chosen by your peers then God clearly wanted you to do it, and you have a duty to sacrifice for the Church. This man, who longed to go back home to Germany after 28 years working in Rome, will now live out the remainder of his life in one of the most high-profile positions on the planet. It's an awesome burden.
Former Mass governor William Weld, who famously lost a high profile Senate race to John Kerry in 1996 (why he wanted to go from a governor to a senator is anyone's guess), is in talks to run for Governor of New York, where he's lived for 5 years.
I don't know of any other time someone has attempted to govern two states. It's an interesting idea, and probably the GOP's best shot against Spitzer. But Weld's not an exceptionally likeable guy (at least he's not on tape I've seen of him from '96), and Spitzer has pretty solid support at least in New York City. But New York has shown somewhat of a willingness to give a platform to high-profile politicians from other states (a certain junior senator comes to mind).
It will be interesting to see where this goes.
Weld is currently a partner in Leeds Weld & Co., a private equity firm. For totally unnecessary full disclosure, I've had dinner a number of times with Gloria and Ira Leeds, whose son Jefferey Leeds is Weld's partner.
Dems: - At the California Democratic Convention last weekend, Wes Clark gave a very well-received speech, which included the following:
"Am I going to run again?" [LOTS OF APPLAUSE] "Well...I'll certainly have to take your advice about that."
Sounds like an announcement to me. Barring something dramatic, count Wes Clark in as one of the Final Five or so in 2008. He'll have more time to prepare and assemble a more experienced staff. Improving his odds from 11:1 to 8:1.
Republicans: - With Bill Frist taking some heat lately for the direction in which he's taking the Senate (and the Senate as a whole having very low approval ratings), I'm going to knock the Dr. down a notch from 4:1 to 5:1. - Which means that Chuck Hagel, Senator from Nebraska that few have heard of, becomes my favorite at the moment for the 2008 Republican Presidential Nomination, at 9:2. He's likeable, which Republicans think qualifies you to run the country, so that helps. Fundraising will be his big challenge.
It turns out that Republicans have used the judicial filibuster that they are now trying to scrap; even Sen. Frist supported it! Now it's convenient to kill it because the President's on their side. The worst kind of politics.
I'd never admit it to my fiance, because she's a Newsweek reader and I've always bragged that TIME's coverage is better, but I've been thinking about cancelling my TIME subscription for a little while now. Apparently Markos just did that exact thing. My reasoning is the same as his - they don't have a single liberal viewpoint consistently represented in the magazine, while they give moderate conservative columnists like Joe Klein and a few others plenty of column inches.
Right now, TIME is my to and from work subway reading every single day. Meanwhile, I have issues of the better-written and more inciteful The New Republic piling up on my mail table, and a pile of countless blog and news articles on my desk that I'd like to get to. So you can see why reading pseudo-conservative viewpoints irks me.
Likewise, CNN (which is owned by Time Warner) seems to have drifted a little right lately. Since Jon Stewart's condemnation of news coverage in general, they don't seem to have done anything to start a real political discourse rather than just reporting the easy stories.
The uproar with TIME this week is about John Cloud's cover story on Ann Coulter, a person whose propensity for hatred of all sorts of people unlike her truly saddens me.
What am I gonna do? Don't know yet. I guess I'm looking for a straw to break my back. Bush as person of the year twice almost did it.
For becoming the first state to pass Civil Unions legislation without being forced to do so by a court. And it was signed by a Republican governor. This a great and sensible step, and I'm glad to see it got bipartisan agreement in CT.
For those worried about the fact that Pope Benedict XVI is a 78yr old German, here's the story:
At 18 at the end of WWII, the law made it compulsory to be a member of the "Hitler Youth". When forced to man an anti-aircraft battery, Ratzinger defected (for which he could have been shot), and was in an American POW camp for about a month.
Friday was the worst day for the market in 3 years. If you've been reading consistently, you know that I'm currently a bear on the market, as this post from two weeks ago shows. At least it came back strong today. I continue to think the downside risk significantly outweighs the upside.
Continuing my following of Krugman, his column today warns of the possibility of stagflation - the nasty combo of inflation and high unemployment. In fact he says it may already be here. Is his column a big stock-market warning? I don't know. But today's rally has tempted me to sell a bit in advance of the next last Friday.
In the most recent installment of his healthcare column series, PK highlights the dichotomy of healthcare in the U.S.: we spend way more per person but don't have better health. Why? Two reasons. My doctor friends won't like it, but we pay doctors substantially more for the same service than they do in other countries. And our administration costs are way too high - too much bureaucracy.
I give John Kerry credit for talking about healthcare a lot lately - he recognizes that is the true crisis. But, John, if you're reading this, I still don't think you should run for President again.
12:06. Bells are ringing. There's a new pope on the 4th ballot. Given the quick decision, it's gotta be one of the two favorites: Ratzinger or Tettamanzi. Probably the first. Neither are favorites of mine.
12.30. Still no announcement. MSNBC commentator says he thinks it will be a Latin American. Hummes? Rodriguez-Maradiaga?
12:45. Joseph. Ratzinger. taking the (surprising) name Benedict.
12.50. There he is. Doesn't know what to do with his hands.
12.58. He's gone back in. Say what you will about the Catholic Church (and I can say a lot), but it's an amazing and historical process. And an incredible burden to take on for any mortal man. Here's hoping Pope Benedict XVI promotes true Catholic values - peace and equality - throughout the world.
City Council speaker Gifford Miller, who I support for NYC Mayor, released his budget proposal last week. The plan centers on the following four proposals:
1. Reduce class sizes by 20% by capping the number of students. Under Miller's plan, there will be no more than 17 students in each Kindergarten through 3rd grade class, 20 students in grades 4 and 5, and 23 students in junior high classes.
2. Deliver tax cuts to the businesses that drive our economy. Miller's plan targets substantial tax cuts for small businesses, expands tax credits for businesses in the outer boroughs and delivers a smaller, across-the-board tax cut for all NYC businesses.
3. Hire 1,000 more police officers to focus on quality-of-life infractions. In the long run, these extra officers will save money by reducing overtime costs.
4. Help the neediest New Yorkers help themselves, by increasing the landmark Earned Income Tax Credit program that Miller created last year, as well as by funding workforce training, language programs and day care services.
A little plug for the blog of a friend of mine: Under a Neon Sign. Jared's a good guy to know - at his birthday party on Saturday a bunch of girls came up to me and asked me if he was a celebrity. I think that made his year.
Back to a regular schedule for the Friday Prez Odds Updates. Sorry for the last few weeks. A fair amount of updates this week.
Dems: - Could a surprising winner of the Governor's mansion in Montana actually claim the Democratic nomination for President? It's a longshot, but Brian Schweitzer enters the odds this week at 28:1, alongside my other favorite Red-state dark horse Phil Bredesen (Gov-TN). - I think I've been underestimating Evan Bayh. He's quiet at the moment, but I think he'll be 2008's John Edwards... the young good-looking candidate everyone likes, but no one's sure if they trust him to run the military. I'm moving him from 10:1 to 7:1. - Feingold's second divorce, announced this week, reduces his stock significantly. Dropping him from 13:2 to 13:1. - I'm moving John Edwards down slightly to 5:1 from 4:1. His poverty crusade at UNC hasn't gotten him much press so far. - I'm moving Bill Bradley up a bit, as he seems to have re-entered the political discussion somewhat, with a recent editorial in the NYTimes and news that he's starting a political radio show on XM-satellite radio. I'm a huge fan, so he's going from 25:1 to 16:1.
Repubs: - Frist stays in the lead as he continues to campaign in NH, but he's taking a risk this week by pushing to eliminate the judicial filibuster. If it fails, or the Dems bring the Senate to a halt, this could hurt the Dr.'s reputation. - I still think Hagel will be everyone's second favorite if he decides to run, and thus could sneak into the nomination when people pull away from controversial figures like Giuliani, Frist and McCain. - I'm also knocking down Schwarzenegger, because the amendment hasn't really gotten any momentum. Taking him down from 25:1 to 40:1.
In the last few days the momentum has shifted away from Tettamanzi of Milan toward Ratzinger of Germany. I'm not a huge fan of either, since they're both conservatives, but Ratzinger I think is the worse of the two. I'm hoping I don't hear his name.
I have my odds below which favor Europeans, but personally I'm rooting for a latin American - Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras or Claudio Hummes of Brazil. I'd also be happy with Chistoph Schonborn of Austria.
Angry Bear has more data making the argument that the U.S. healthcare system is really in need of some fresh thinking. If we were spending the most and getting a return that would be one thing, but we're spending the most and have worse health, as measured by almost any statistic, than virtually all comparable countries.
Plus the costs are eating up more and more of the country's revenue, and fewer companies every year are choosing to provide employees with health coverage.
Basically, you go hunting, bring back some animals for yourself and a few other animals, which are appraised at outrageously high prices, and you then "donate" these to a "museum" set up exactly for this purpose. Then you write off your donation.
Bush loves to say that the U.S. has the best healthcare system in the world, but it's a woefully inaccurate statement. Angry Bear, a well-written liberal-leaning economics site, will be covering the healthcare crisis this week, and he starts with the following chart, which shows that the U.S. spends way more than everyone else, and yet has much worse health metrics.
Since this one provides a quicker return than the 2008 Presidential Election, and has quite a bit (if not nearly the same) impact on the course of world events, I thought I'd take a shot at handicapping the papal election as well. Here are my preliminary odds, to be updated somewhat between now and when the conclave starts a week from today:
Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi - 2:1 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger - 5:1 Claudio Cardinal Hummes - 7:1 Angelo Cardinal Scola - 8:1 Godfried Cardinal Daneels - 9:1 Oscar Andres Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga - 9:1 Norberto Cardinal Rivera Carrera - 10:1 Camillo Cardinal Ruini - 11:1 Francis Cardinal Arinze - 12:1 Christoph Cardinal Schoborn - 20:1 Tarciso Cardinal Bertone - 25:1 Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini - 30:1
Would also be fun to try to predict what name the pope will take. I'm going with John XXIV if it's an Italian/German, or Paul VII if it's a non-EU pope.
As an addendum, Nick Kristof of the NYTimes thinks the next pope will allow priests to marry / have children. What a good step that would be. He also notes a few things I didn't know - that St. Peter (the first pope) was married, as were most up until the 11th century, when conservatism kicked in and celibacy rules were adopted.
The Miss America compeitition may turn into a more familiar reality-show format, like American Idol or Survivor. The best quote from the NYTimes article:
"I'll tell you one thing, I am not going to have my contestants eating bugs," said Joe P. Sanders 3rd, president of the Miss South Carolina Organization. "That's just not something that's going to happen in this state."
According to this story, the Alabama House has voted to move up its primary to the first Saturday after New Hampshire, which, as MyDD says, would give the south a more prominent role in the early selection of the candidate from both parties.
It's not done yet - Senate and Gov have to sign - but it's a significant development in the election of the president.
The whole primary system, especially for the Democrats, is bust if you ask me. The two states with the most influence - Iowa and NH - are exceedingly rural and white, not reflecting the majority of Democratic voters, who are urban and minorities. Gov Rendell was supposed to be heading a commission to look into adjusting the Democratic primaries, but I haven't heard any results.
A lot of good plans have been thrown out - including a rotating system that maintains the "retail politics" effect that everyone loves about small states up front, but gives other states and more diverse populations the chance to be among that key early voting group.
Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, has released a statement to the IRA, praising members/ancestors for their role to date in the "struggle" for "freedom" in Ireland, but saying that the struggle should now be taken up by other avenues.
Not sure what will come of this, but his attempt to praise the group's history while calling for it to disband is likely to be controversial on both sides.
Here are some excerpts:
For over thirty years the IRA showed that the British government could not rule Ireland on its own terms... Your determination, selflessness and courage have brought the freedom struggle towards its fulfillment.... That struggle can now be taken forward by other means.
In the past I have defended the right of the IRA to engage in armed struggle. I did so because there was no alternative for those who would not bend the knee, or turn a blind eye to oppression, or for those who wanted a national republic. Now there is an alternative. I have clearly set out my view of what that alternative is. The way forward is by building political support for republican and democratic objectives across Ireland and by winning support for these goals internationally.
This guy is imploding. He can't stop the flow of scandal after scandal. Trips paid for by foreign lobbyists. Using improper judicial force for political purposes. Now it comes out that his PAC paid $500k each to his wife and daughter for basically nothing.
He'll either be convicted of something, or he'll lose to Richard Morrison in '06.
You gotta love England - where the Prime Minister can announce that an election will happen in one month. At least that way the media doesn't go crazy for almost a year like we have here. Even though almost everyone suspected even the exact date of the elections (May 5), the media can't get too excited until it's official.
So Great Britain will choose on 5/5 whether to return Labour for an unprecedented 3rd term, or turn right to the Tories. Labour has been hurt by Blair's alliance with Bush in Iraq, and those who vote on that issue will go Liberal Democrat. In the multi-party system of England, that reduces Labour's hold and could end up turning the majority to the Tories, exactly what Liberal Dems would not want.
The Good: Poverty: "a tireless champion of closing the gap between rich and poor". "joined forces with the political activist and front man of the Irish band U2, Bono, for Jubilee 2000, a campaign for debt relief in Africa" and got the debts of 23 countries cancelled. Religious Tolerance: first pope in Rome's synagogue; first pope ever in a Mosque. Formally apologized in 1998 for failure of Catholics to help Holocaust victims. Called anti-Semitism "a sin against God and man" Proponent of Peace: Spoke out against war. Sought "a serene and resolute commitment to shared human values" Communism: Madeline Albright said: "If there's one single person who can be credited with change in Central and Eastern Europe, it's the pope."
The Bad: Contraception: Failed to change, and in fact reiterated, the church's stance against use of condoms. A change could have helped Africa's AIDS problem. Conservatism in the Church: Failure to allow women or married men to be priests probably fueled the pedophilia scandal.
In my continuing efforts to catch up on reading from my vacation, I came across this editorial from Saturday's NYTimes. I hate to be a somewhat consistent poster of economic bad news, but I strongly agree with the sentiment of the editorial - that the combination of policies employed by the Republican government has put the economy in a precarious position of heavy dependence on foreign investment, which has many drivers - some of which are linked with American interests, and some of which are not. As Jubak and others have advised, I'm managing my investments cautiously at the moment because of the chance of a huge market-impacting event in the world economy.
The administration expects foreigners, mainly Asian central bankers, to keep plugging the trade gap because buying American securities increases their exports. It is also assuming that foreign central banks won't risk the losses in their dollar reserves that would occur if they started shunning dollar-based investments. In brief, the United States is betting that it's too big - in other countries' eyes - to fail.
Because I haven't done one in two weeks, here's the latest update on the 2008 Presidential Odds, always found in the column at the right of this page.
Republicans: - Some movement on the Cheney front. I still take this guy at face value that he's not going to run, therefore I'm not updating his odds. - Giuliani did Leno and has been smiling a lot lately. I'm going to move him up to 11:2 from 6:1, but I still think he has problems winning over the religous right. - Brownback is apparently thinking about it, probably in light of the influence Christians are having over the party these days. I'm keeping him at 15:1.
Dems: - Feingold has been out financing and meeting people. I'm going to up him a little to 13:2 from 7:1. - Haven't heard much of Bill Richardson lately. Might knock him down on Friday. - Bill Bradley wrote an editorial, but I still don't think he wants back in. Keeping him at a somewhat optimistic (because I like him) 25:1. - I met Senator Bingamon's son John at a Hillary Clinton even two weeks ago - really nice, very unassuming guy, but I don't think that qualifies his father any more for the presidency. Keeping Sen. Bingamon at 45:1.
I know I'm a little late to this article (back now from a week's vacation), but when Bill Bradley speaks, I listen. The should-have-been-President makes a good point about the backwardness of the Democratic party.
The next pope could potentially have a lot of influence over a lot of things. If the Catholic church became a leader, rather than a stifling force, of progressive thinking, a whole generation could grow up believing in a more perfect future world rather than seeking to go back to ways of the past.
I'm a believer that the next Conclave of Cardinals will choose a transitional pope, someone very like JPII, someone like Cardinal Tettamanzi of Milan, so as not to rock the boat too much after 27 years of stability. So perhaps my hope is more that the pope after the next pope will usher in a new era. But it will be interesting to watch.