Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Is Iran an Arab country?

Despite what many people may think, Iran is not an Arab country. Iran may share a religion and political and economic interests with Arab countries, but the people of Iran are primarily Persians and speak Farsi and other Persian languages, not Arabic. Iran is not a member of the Arab League and not considered an Arab state by the United Nations Development Programme.

Accoring to the Wikipedia, the Arab League has 22 member states:

    1. Algeria
    2. Bahrain
    3. Comoros
    4. Djibouti
    5. Egypt
    6. Iraq
    7. Jordan
    8. Kuwait
    9. Lebanon
    10. Libya
    11. Mauritania
    12. Morocco
    13. Oman
    14. Palestine
    15. Qatar
    16. Saudi Arabia
    17. Somalia
    18. Sudan
    19. Syria
    20. Tunisia
    21. United Arab Emirates
    22. Yemen

The UNDP says that "The Arab States region is home to some 320 million people living in 22 countries that stretch from Morocco and Algeria in the west to Yemen and Oman in the east."

Iran is not in either definition of an Arab state/country.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, December 29, 2008

Obama Palestine policy

It will be interesting to see Barack Obama's initial policy for Palestine. He will clearly "inherit" the current mini-crisis over Gaza, Hamas' rockets, and Israeli attempts to eradicate Hamas, but that is only the starting point. Clearly Hillary will have a major role in carrying out policy, but it is not clear how far she can go on her own and how Barack's "plans" might conflict with her own thoughts. Not to mention that Joe Biden and National Security Adviser James Jones will be in the mix as well. While we can expect some rollback of the Bush policy of total support for an aggressive and one-sided Israeli policy, we can also expect that both Barack and Hillary have to cater to substantial Jewish pro-Israel constituencies from the get-go. One might hope that the U.S. would essentially return to the policies in force at the end of the Clinton administration, but there are the simple facts that Clinton was not being terribly successful at the end and many facts have changed since then. I simply hope that we see some "fresh" thinking, otherwise we will simply continue with endless "talks" and endless recriminations. Barack's Web site says only the following:

The Obama-Biden foreign policy will ... seek a lasting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Obama and Biden will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority from day one. They will make a sustained push -- working with Israelis and Palestinians -- to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.

At a practical level, Barack and Hillary have three problems on Day One: 1) defusing the Gaza mini-crisis, 2) figuring out how to get Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israeli territory, and 3) whether to continue the policy of labeling Hamas a terrorist organization and siding with Israel on its eliminination or whether to consider it to be one of the political players and negotiate or at least have some form of talks with it. And there is the question of Iranian influence with both Hamas and Hezbollah.

Longer term, the biggest issue is to recognize that Iran is a major player and major part of the problem and that improved relations with the so-called "Arab World" and the rest of the Middle East, especially Iran, is just as essential to bringing peace to Palestine as peace in Palestine is to bringing stability and normalized relations to the rest of the Middle East.

Although the incoming administration says that it supports a two-state solution, the current problem is that there are really effectively three states, with Hamas in Gaza effectively a state on its own. And then there is the fact that Hezbollah in Lebanon is effectively another "state."

I do in fact look forward to Barack Obama bringing some fresh thinking to the problems in Palestine. He has a bunch of first-rate players on his team. It will be interesting to see how he leads that team. The big question right now is whether they start with some positive progress right out of the gate or stumble and blunder for a number of months before finally hitting their stride. I would suggest the former is most likely, but the latter is certainly possible.

Another issue is whether it is best to push for a lot of rapid initial progress or whether it is better to go slow and let  the region simmer for awhile but gradually dial down the heat. "Confidence building" may be a key part of the process, so the latter may be more likely. So, I would look to a lot of low-key talks behind the scenes rather than any public big push in the first six months.

-- Jack Krupansky

Friday, December 26, 2008

What will our relations with Iraq be like under Obama?

Other than removing U.S. combat troops within 16 months, I cannot recall hearing anything about the intentions of the incoming administration of Barack Obama on relations between the U.S. and Iraq. Ultimately the question is whether the intention is for fully "normalized" relations. And then that begs the question of whether the intention is for truly friendly relations. Even if the "details" of relations with Iraq are intentionally be left to Hillary to sort out, there needs to be some high-level intention by the incoming president. Or, maybe, he honestly does not know and it all depends on how the government of Iraq evolves as the U.S. removes combat forces.

Part of the problem may be that the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby sees Iran as the deadlier concern and doesn't mind if Iraq sits there in a state of internal chaos for an extended period of time. That begs the question of intentions for relations with Iran, but we already know two things about intentions towards Iran: 1) there will be some form of "talks" after "preparations", and 2) absolutely no tolerance for advancement of Iran's so-called "nuclear ambitions", even as those ambitions continue to advance.

One thing we know about both Iraq and Iran is that both are experiencing severe pressure on their income from oil as the price of crude oil continues its steep decline. The impact on internal politics is going to be quite unpredictable.

Layering uncertain U.S. intentions on top of that internal uncertainty leaves the whole region a potential source for great volatility.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Has Detroit been rescued?

Although the so-called loans by the U.S. Treasury to the Detroit car companies are now a done deal, it is not clear what that means in terms of their long-term viability. Sure, they can pay their bills for a couple more months, but even if the economy steadies, they may be even worse off in a couple of months when they have exhausted the loan funds, and it is quite debatable whether they will have completed significant restructuring within a couple of months that will be sufficient to change their cost structure in a radical enough manner to be profitable in this weakened economy. Can it be done? Sure, it can. Is it likely to be done? That questioned will be answered by the auto workers and the holders of their debt.

I suspect what will happen is that they will make a few restructuring steps, enough to convince the Obama Treasury that they are at least on a plausible path, so that they can then be "loaned" more money.

I suspect that most of the original debt holders are long gone and that most of the debt is held by hedge funds and distressed debt specialists who have bought it at the current bankruptcy price levels or moderately higher. It may be simply a question of what level of profit these speculators want on their investments. Maybe if they are paid with government-guaranteed preferred stock they will be willing to sell the debt at a reasonable price.

The basic negotiating strategy will likely be that they will offer the auto workers and debt holders a deal with the caveat that if negotiations fail, full-blown banktuptcy is the next step.

In short, the car companies have been pointed in the direction of a rescue, but whether they will continue to progress down that path is unclear.

In any case, the deal was about as good a deal as we could have asked for given the overall situation. The message is quite clear, "restructure now or die."

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prepackaged bankruptcy would be better for Detroit, but...

Although it does look like a short-term "bridge" bailout for Detroit will in fact occur, it is true that a prepackaged bankruptcy would be a better deal, for the simple reason that it would allow Detroit to blow away debt and other obligations which are dragging down the companies. This would let Detroit move forward in a lean and more agile way. Unfortunately, arranging the details for a prepackaged bankruptcy of the complexity of GM and Chrysler is unlikely in the near-term.

Personally, I still believe that Detroit can in fact squeak by without either government aid or bankruptcy, but some amount of "backstop" aid will help to beat back the bears and hedge funds on Wall Street who amazingly think that it is actually okay to manipulate the markets and drive companies into the ground.

The good news is that radical restructuring is now virtually assured. I had been expecting it to take a couple more years, but it looks like the short-term bridge bailout will actually require that the companies come up with a plan to restructure sufficiently by March so that a "car czar" can determine whether they are viable enough to get further bailout aid.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bank of America agrees to pay extortion in Chicago

Although it still seems to remain true that Bank of America does not have any obligation to extend lending to a failed Chicago firm whose ex-workers are demanding severance and vacation pay -- from the bank, the bank did in fact decide to "loan" the company enough money to pay off the workers. Yes, the workers are owed the money by the failed company, but BofA does not have any legal oblogation here. The governor of Illinois threatened to withold future state business from the bank if they did not comply with his extortion demand. Curiously, this same governor was in fact arrested toay for... extortion, demanding that companies make donations to him in exchange for state business and possibly even appointment to be the replacement for Senator Barack Obama.

BofA had little choice in this matter. Sure, they could have fought it and even won, but that would have been a classic Pyhrric victory and a public relations black eye. By caving and agreeing to "loan" the extortion demands, they can come out of this looking like the "good" guy, or at least a "victim" of Chicago politics.

Worst case, two months severance pay and, say, a month of vacation pay for 300 workers earning, say, $50,000 per year, comes out to about $3.75 million. That is chump change for BofA. It is a bad precedent, but it probably is their best option, and maybe that is simply the cost of doing business in this economic climate.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, December 8, 2008

What does it mean to create or save 2.5 million new jobs?

P-E Barack Obama has promised an "Economic Recovery Plan that will create or save 2.5 million new jobs." I am still baffled by the inclusion of "or save" in that phrase. Sure, economic stimulus can "save" jobs, but why would you lump job creation and job "saving" in the same number? It renders the number meaningless. As it stands, if Obama were to claim that he had "saved" 2.5 million jobs over the next two years without creating even a single new job, he could still claim that he has fulfilled his promise. Most people, myself included, would like to presume that an Economic Recovery Plan will create a net of 2.5 million new jobs, even as it "saves" countless millions of existing jobs.

It is annoying that the media has not called him out and demanded clarification on what is being promised.

It is actually rather surprising that the media has not discussed this lack of distinction between creating and saving jobs.

I am all for saving jobs, but we need to put more energy into creating new jobs for the 2 million people who lost jobs over the past year.

-- Jack Krupansky

Does Bank of America owe the Chicago sit-in workers any money?

As far as I can tell, Bank of America does not have any obligation to extend lending to a failed Chicago firm whose ex-workers are demanding severance and vacation pay -- from the bank. Sure, BofA has gotten bailout money from the government which it is expected to lend, but the theory is that lending is supposed to be to creditworthy borrowers. There was never any intention that the bank bailout investments were to be used for charity handouts.

That said, the workers' situation is a classic political "third rail." No Democratic politician is going to stand up and play the role of Mr. Scrooge three weeks before Christmas. Even a lot of Republicans, who personally think such an obligation on BofA is preposterous and outrageous, are going to keep their mouths shut.

Given that the amount at stake may be peanuts compared to the degree of blackmail that the State of Illinois is proposing to exercise against BofA, it might in fact be best for BofA to simply go ahead and make the "loan" to the dead business and simply write it off as the cost of doing business, Chicago style. The real downside of doing so is that it would create a truly horrendous precedent. There may not be a better option.

Another alternative would be to simply return the $15 billion bailout investment to the government and then watch Congress squirm and try to figure out how to bailout the workers even as they struggle how to bailout Detroit.

Obama seems to be on the workers' side, but I suspect that he also sees the situation as a classic "third rail" to be avoided and is essentially sitting on the fence and letting BofA take the heat, for now. He obviously knows how to play politics, Chicago style.

Shame on him. And double shame for failing to realize that this is a great opportunity to introduce a new government social safety net program to provide cash grants to ex-workers whose jobs have been permanently eliminated at a time when re-employment is extremely difficult. Workers in such a situation should be able to apply to have the government pay their mortgage or rent for at least six months to a year or even two, in addition to normal, temporary unemployment insurance payments. That would cushion the impact of abrupt company shutdowns such as this case. The government should also have the right to go to the head of the line as a creditor of the failed company to recoup any payments from the proceeds of any liquidation of the company.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Editorial goof in The New York Times: centrifuges do not process uranium "ore"

An article in The New York Times by Warren Hoge and Elaine Sciolino entitled "Security Council Adds Sanctions Against Iran" has a technical mistake that the editorial staff should have detected -- if they knew what they were talking about. The fourth paragraph says:

It adds 13 names to the existing list of 5 individuals and 12 companies subject to travel and asset restrictions. The new names include people with direct responsibility for building fast-spinning centrifuges that enrich uranium ore and a brigadier general engaged in "efforts to get around the sanctions" in the two earlier resolutions.

The phrase "centrifuges that enrich uranium ore" is technically incorrect. Ore is simply rock. You can mine ore, your can mill ore, and you can refine ore, but the feedstock for enrichment or the separation of isotopes in centrifuges is distinctly not rock, but a gas (which is a crystal at room temperature), a long way and a significant number of processing steps from "ore."

Now, let's see if a correction is forthcoming.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Will the Democratic presidential primary really be over after Tuesday?

To hear some people, you would think that the Democratic presidential primary will all be over after Tuesday. The Obama camp thinks they deserve to win it all on Tuesday. The Clinton camp thinks they will prevail in Texas and Ohio on Tuesday. Good luck to all of them. The thing is, nobody is thinking about whether the Democratic voters will win on Tuesday.

Let's be clear, Tuesday is not about Barack or Hillary "winning", but about two large blocks of voters deciding what their interests are.

I am sure that there are plenty of people (especially TV viewers sick to death of political ads) who wish the Democratic primary were over on Tuesday, but I do not think that the "winner's" margin will be large enough to "deliver a knockout blow" on either side.

And, don't forget that we still have the Pennsylvannia primary coming up as well. Don't their votes count? Evidently, the left-wing progressives and The Cult of Obama have already decided that the voters in Pennsylvannia can go screw themselves since The Cult will be declaring victory so matter what the results on Wednesday.

Even if Barack scores a "double knockout" on Tuesday, I still say we should let the good people of Pennsylvannia have their votes count before either candidate is chided into droping out.

Now, once we get past Pennsylvannia, things get interesting. If one candidate has at least a 30% delegate lead, then I think it makes sense for the laggard to drop out. But if the margin between the two is no more than 15% or 20%, I am not sure what the right answer is. Without a clear, overwhelming majoroty on the order of 2 to 1, neither candidate has a right to demand that the other drop out.

Camp Clinton has its share of deficiencies, but The Cult of Obama has a level of arrogance beyond the pale. Barack is no Jack Kennedy. He is no Bobbie Kennedy. He isn't even a Bill Clinton. He is simply a smooth-talking community organizer from Chicago. People should be embarrassed and ashamed that they allow his rhetoric and "charm" and "glamour" to sway their opinions. As I said, Hillary has her own issues, but in comparison, Barack indeed makes her actually look like a much stronger candidate and a more competent prospective president than she really is. And if she somehow does gain the nomination, the opposition to her by the left-wing progressives will only help her in the general election.

I would not count Hillary out yet, but I do have to admit that the odds are long against her.

As far as Tuesday, unless the results are really, really bad for Hillary (under 40% in both Texas and Ohio), the campaign will not be over until at least Pennsylvannia, and that will be a clear victory for the voters in Pennsylvannia who will be assured that their votes will count.

To repeat myself, this is not about either candidate declaring victory and winning, but about democracy and letting the democratic process play out. Let every vote count.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Will Hillary focus her campaign energy on the plight of the middle class and working class Americans?

One of the key factors that will determine whether Hillary does well in Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania is the degree to which her "message" is laser-focused on "the plight of the middle class" and "addressing the needs of working class Americans." The progressives can focus all they want on Iraq, changing Washington and reforming politics, hope, and change, but a very large chunk of voters are much more concerned with personal economic issues. The issue is not the overall economy or overall policies or radically reforming Washington or refashioning politics in general, but the aspects of government and impact of government that "touch" people in their daily lives.

If Hillary can stay disciplined and simply ignore Barack and stay absolutely laser-focused on "helping middle and working class Americans get back on their feet and stay on their feet", thenshe can do quite well.

In fact, if Hillary can avoid ever even using the words "hope" and "change" or "Iraq" or "Washington" or "politics" or even hinting that she has a Democratic opponent let alone naming him, then she can do quite well. Every speech should come across as a personal chat with the voters, filled with empathy and resolve and strength. People should feel that she is talking to them rather than about policies and plans. She needs to focus on 100% positive that listeners will associate with having her in the picture after the election. She needs to stay away from the negative and laser-focus on her resolve to be the leader for "overcoming challenges [and criticisms]" rather than feeling compelled to "respond" to every criticism hurled her way by her opponents. She really does have a "high road" that she can follow if she will only resolve to follow it.

In short, Hillary will be screwed unless she sincerely and impressively comes across as having sufficient empathy and resolve to be "the leader" most prepared to deal with the fact that:

  • The middle class needs to be "restored".
  • The needs of working class Americans need to be met.
  • Pathways and "bridges" out of poverty into mainstream America need to strengthened, rebuilt, renewed, and even created anew.

She most certainly has no need to be defensive or attempt to defend herself against "charges" that the work that she and Bill were focused on for eight is old or irrelevant or outdated or inappropriate. Rather, she should focus on the fact that she (and Bill) have already built a foundation upon which they can be expected to build even greater successes. The progressives can argue all they want that the Clinton foundation should be disdainfully tossed aside, but middle and working class Americans already deeply know that they want to see the past work continued and completed rather than to cavalierly trust vague "hope" and dubious "change" to successfully replace it.

-- Jack Krupansky

How to guarantee a Democratic presidential defeat in November

The presidential election is the Democrats' to lose. Nobody is taking the wobbly Republicans too seriously right now. But, it is still possible for the Democrats to sqaunder that advantage between now and November. How? By focusing attention on getting Al Gore to take sides in the Hillary/Barack batte.

By focusing so much attention on the importance of Mr. Gore, the Democrats would be inadvertently casting the election as a re-run of the 2000 election. Granted, the left-wing progressives really would prefer that impression, but the overall American electorate have already "seen that movie" and are unlikely to change their minds and now "vote" for Mr. Gore, notwithstanding eight years of President Bush. Remember, the American people reelected President Bush in 2004 despite the fact that Iraq was already going badly.

The too-ambitious progressives also need to cogitate on the fact that despite their labelling of Hillary as a "Bush-Democrat", middle of the road Americans are unlikely to mistake Hillary or even John McCain for President Bush. If anything, middle of the road Americans are more likely to think of Hillary as still a little bit too liberal rather than being right-leaning as the progressives suggest. That is why it is so urgent for Hillary to be more of a hard-core centrist and even be more than a little accommodating to moderate republicans.

Sure, Hillary is courting Gore's endorsement as well, but she does not need it (and certainly won't want it in the general election!) and simply seeks to keep a strong contender from getting it. The unfortunate truth is that as little as the left-wing progressives are needed to win the general election, they are still a force to reckon with during the primaries and going into the nominating convention. The real risk for Hillary is that any effort she makes to court the so-called progressives will cause a backlash and loss of popular appeal in the general election. Democrats everywhere need to think about that more carefully.

The ironic thing about this campaign is that the progressives are using the playbook of the neoconservatives with a take no prisoners, "we will ultimately win as long as we do not compromise!", scorched earth approach as opposed to a bipartison and nonpartisan appeal to all sides that is more characteristic of the centrism which reflects what the true majority of Americans really want. To be fair, Barack is not a true progressive, but he is close enough and has been too-willing to accept the support of progressives so that he becomes a de facto progressive. How strange... if he thinks that the progressive movement is so valid, why doesn't he stand up and proclaim that he is a progressive? Because he wants to win the general election.

In short, the progressives courting and touting of the public support of Al Gore would cause more damage to the Democratic prospects in November no matter how much short-term benefit it gives for winning the party nomination.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Barack's "sweep" of the Potomac

As expected by everyone, Barack won the primaries in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. I don't not think that was any surprise. His margins of victory were very solid and wide, but I am not sure one way or the other whether there is any new of different information there that will impact the upcoming battles.

As the media is now pointing out, Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvannia are "must wins" for Hillary. She does have a very good chance of capturing all three, but whether her margins of victory are sufficient to pull ahead of Barack on the non-super delegate count remains to be seen. It really could go one way or the other.

Public sentiment may now be on Barack's side, but the simple truth in politics is that in the privacy of the voting booth voter's are not necessarily guided 100% by public sentiment.

Some people make a big deal about Barack now "gaining momentum", but in politics it is never, ever so simple. Momentum in politics can change at a moment's notice. Barack may be turning Hillary into an underdog, but if the Clinton's have proved one thing over the past several decades, it is that underdog status is what incentivizes them to learn and change and dedouble their efforts. Underdog status gives them a second wind.

So, Barack's "Potomac surge" does put him in the lead for now and maybe the next three weeks, but by putting Hillary in an underdog position he needs to get ready for the consequences of Hillary and Bill's reaction to being dubbed "underdog."

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hillary as a commodity provider vs. Barack as an experience provider

An op-ed piece in The New York Times by David Brooks entitled "Questions for Dr. Retail" helps to explain some of the differences in appeal between Hillary and Barack. As Brooks puts it:

Hillary Clinton is a classic commodity provider. She caters to the less-educated, less-pretentious consumer. As Ron Brownstein of The National Journal pointed out on Wednesday, she won the non-college-educated voters by 22 points in California, 32 points in Massachusetts and 54 points in Arkansas. She offers voters no frills, just commodities: tax credits, federal subsidies and scholarships. She's got good programs at good prices.

Barack Obama is an experience provider. He attracts the educated consumer. In the last Pew Research national survey, he led among people with college degrees by 22 points. Educated people get all emotional when they shop and vote. They want an uplifting experience so they can persuade themselves that they're not engaging in a grubby self-interested transaction. They fall for all that zero-carbon footprint, locally grown, community-enhancing Third Place hype. They want cultural signifiers that enrich their lives with meaning.

Sure that is oversimplified, but it seems to fit the profiles of both candidates remarkably well.

Then Brooks highlights the educational "class" divide between Hillary's target demographic and Barack's:

Did you hear the message of Clinton's speech Tuesday night? It's a rotten world out there. Regular folks are getting the shaft. They need someone who'll fight tougher, work harder and put loyalty over independence.

Then did you see the Hopemeister's speech? His schtick makes sense if you've got a basic level of security in your life, if you're looking up, not down. Meanwhile, Obama's people are so taken with their messiah that soon they'll be selling flowers at airports and arranging mass weddings. There's a "Yes We Can" video floating around YouTube in which a bunch of celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and the guy from the Black Eyed Peas are singing the words to an Obama speech in escalating states of righteousness and ecstasy. If that video doesn't creep out normal working-class voters, then nothing will.

Brooks says we can use that same educational demographic lens to forecast the results in upcoming Democratic primaries:

The next states on the primary calendar have tons of college-educated Obamaphile voters. Maryland is 5th among the 50 states, Virginia is 6th. But later on, we get the Hillary-friendly states. Ohio is 40th in college education. Pennsylvania is 32nd.

But it'll still be tied after all that. The superdelegates will pick the nominee — the party honchos, the deal-makers, the donors, the machine. Swinging those people takes a level of cynicism even Dr. Retail can't pretend to understand. That's Tammany Hall. That's the court at Versailles under Louis XIV.

He didn't mention Texas, but a 2005 list from the U.S. Census Bureau had Texas down at 28, which nominally is a positive for Hillary, but could also be a bit of a toss-up.

-- Jack Krupansky

Is Hillary doomed?

Right now, the Intrade Prediction Market indicates that Hillary has only a 30.5% chance of capturing the Democratic nomination while Barack has a 69.0% chance. That certainly looks gloomy for Hillary and very bright for Barack, but sentiment can change at a moment's notice.

Barack claimed the lion's share of votes and delegates this weekend, but it was expected that he would be the winner and that he will win in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. It was not expected that he would win by such wide margins. Since the Democratic primary rules allot delegates proportionally to votes, Hillary doesn't come out totally at a loss.

Certainly "momentum" is now in Barack's favor, but that can also change at a moment's notice. We all saw what happened going from Iowa to New Hampshire

The good news is that the pressure of being an underdog will push Hillary to carefully rethink her campaign strategy and style and refocus on what it takes to win. What such a re-shape of strategy might take remains to be seen. And whether such a re-shape of strategy can succeed remains to be seen.

If I were advising Hillary, I would advise her to campaign very heavily and publicly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas, skip the other states in between other than minor rallies with surrogates, go very light on ad spending, and rely on the heavy media coverage she will get by focusing on big rallies in the big states with plenty of criticism of Bush/McCain policies and the "impracticality" of Barack's hope/change-based campaign. Voters may even thank her for doing less advertising. She should focus almost 100% on middle class "woes" and health care issues, "taking care of the American people" and "restoring the middle class" that has been "gutted by the policies of Bush/McCain." As far as her "attitude" towards Barack, she should be moderately generous but modestly condescending: "He means well and is filled with youthful energy and charm and wit, but he just doesn't understand..." Every "Yes we can!" should be answered with "Well, maybe, but he hasn't convinced us that he has what it takes to go the distance in the real world..."

That said, I have to disclose that I do not have a dog in this fight. Even though there was a Democratic caucus here in Washington state yesterday, I am an independent, so I did not participate. I usually vote the Democratic party line, but if Barack wins the nomination and doesn't do a better job of speaking to me about his centrist credentials I may reluctantly be forced to consider McCain. I think that Barack could be a legitimate centrist, but his campaign rhetoric does not convince me.

It will be interesting to see what happens a month from now. Until the March 4th primaries in Texas and Ohio, Barack will own the nominal "lead" and Hillary will experience the underdog's pressure to outperform.

-- Jack Krupansky

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Barack's surge on Super Tuesday?

Huh... I thought Barack was supposed to "surge" in Massachusetts and California and even New York, but the results do not show that. Sure, he did okay in all three of those states, but he neither won nor blew Hillary away. So, what happened to the "surge"? Why did it peter out?

One answer may be that the economy, or rather weakness in the economy, has "surged" as a dominant issue for voters and even more so for those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. And, it just so happens that Hillary has a lot of strength among those "less fortunate." Meanwhile, as The Washington Post quotes former-Edwards adviser Joe Trippi as putting it, Barack's "appeal has always been to upscale, better educated Democrats." That sounds about right and does explain the failure of the Barack "surge" to carry the day. Barack may have accumulated a lot of "star power" with Hollywood and the Kennedys lavishing him with praise and "young people" oozing a passion for "hope" and radical "change", but all those working-class and poor and otherwise down and out "stiffs" entering the polling booths are simply not motivated by all of the hype and are simply looking for someone committed to offering them a helping hand.

This also explains why Hillary probably picked up a a good number of former Edwards supporters: John Edwards was the champion of the poor and downtrodden.

Here is an open question: Is Iraq (and Iran) and foreign policy in general now a non-issue as far as choosing the Democratic nominee? In other words, is it finally true that Hillary's fate is no longer tied to her now-infamous "Iraq" vote? It seems as if that might be the case. If so, Barack will increasingly lose traction with a campaign strategy that The Post describes as:

In his remarks last night in Chicago, Obama signaled he would try even more aggressively to draw a contrast with Clinton over who is the true agent for change.

"If I am your nominee," he said, "my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq, because I didn't. Or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, because I haven't. Or that I support the Bush-Cheney doctrine of not talking to leaders we don't like, because I profoundly disagree with that approach."

Sure, all Democrats want "change", but trying to cast Hillary as a villian opposed to change is a non-starter. Most Democrats are not advocating radical change, but change that helps them in their lives and communities. Last night a lot of voters indicated that they are not completely buying Barack's "true agent for change" argument and reaffirmed that Hillary offers them enough of the kind of change they are seeking.

It will be truely interesting to see how the rest of the campaign unfolds. The voters have their own minds. They are not necessarily up for a "change" of their core beliefs that they had before Barack "surged" onto the scene.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Progessives and centrists vie for the soul of the Democratic Party

With so many Kennedys endorsing Barack, it raises the question of the nature of the Democratic ideology.

Back in the 1960's, clearly the Democrats represented "liberalism." Carter and Clinton challenged that status quo and ushered in a more centrist ideology that did not abandon liberalism, but noted a need to give a nod to the center of American ideology.

Now, the progressives have have brought back liberalism under a new name. It was only natural for the Kennedys to associate with this ideology.

The current Democratic primary camapign is less about the personalities or their gender or their race, but has everything to do with centrist versus liberal/progressive ideology.

Personally, I would not cast Hillary as a truly diehard centrist, but as more or a pragmatic liberal. In fact, Barack is a bit of a pragmatic liberal as well, but somewhat light on the pragmatic, while Hillary is solid on core liberal but solid on pragmatic as well.

It is rather misleading to cast Hillary or centrists in general as "Bush Democrats", but that is life in politics where labels are free and easy and usually innacurate. Nonetheless, the progressives do in fact see hard-core pragmatism and centrism as "the enemy" and just as much an enemy as Bush, Cheney, and the Neo-conservatives.

Democratic voters will have to decide for themselves whether they want to go light on pragmatism or heavier on centrism. It is a close call which way they will lean.

I think that Americans overall are pragmatists, but I don't know what fraction of American voters in general or of pragmatists in particular register as Democrats.

Maybe Super Tuesday will tell us.

-- Jack Krupansky

Super Tuesday

Good luck to all of the presidential candidates on Super Tuesday.

It will be interesting to see what happens in California as far as a surge for Barack. Right now, the Intrade Prediction Market indicates a 40% chance for Hillary and a 42.1% chance for Barack, but the current range is 46.9% to 60.1% for Hillary and 42.1% to 44.2% for Barack. In summary, nobody has any great confidence. Barack could stage another surge, or Haillary could stage another bounceback.

Overall, Intrade indicates Hillary has a 61.1% chance of capturing the Democratic nomination and Barack a 43% chance.

McCain has really bounced back. Intrade indicates him as having an 87.1% chance of capturing the Republican nomination, with Romney at a skimpy 8.8% chance.

For the general election, Intrade indicates Hillary having a 37.5% chance, McCain a 35.7 chance, and Barack a 24.1% chance. Romney is way back at a 3% chance.

It will be truly interesting to see how these numbers hold up after Tuesday.

-- Jack Krupansky