Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Michael Moore knows Nothing about Military Strategy

Michael Moore - Wikimedia
Movie director Michael Moore has recently posted on Facebook and Twitter with disapproval about the movie American Sniper. He believes snipers are "cowards" and it seems his only justification is that a German sniper killed his uncle in World War II. He later posted that defending your home (I'm assuming with a sniper) makes you a hero because you are defending it from invaders. The socialist film maker eventually responded to "haters" by saying he has done a great deal of work for U.S. troops and opposed the Iraq War, but that doesn't change the fact that he called snipers cowards.

The point I want to make here is that Michael Moore, should on no means, be talking about war. He had an uncle that served in World War II. That's nice, I had a few relatives who served as well. I think most Americans have relatives or know people who have relatives that served in the war, but by no means does it give anyone credibility to talk about war, which is why Michael Moore's opinion is worthless. The big problem I have here is that he called snipers cowards and that they will shoot you in the back without their opponent getting a chance. It seems to me that Moore believes soldiers on both sides should have a fair fight by being able to see each other, thus giving both sides a chance to win. Snipers are cowards because they hide by cover or use camouflage so the enemy doesn't see them. They can then shoot troops at a distance without any danger.

To me, Moore's idea of what isn't cowardly makes me picture the days when generals wore wigs on their heads and whole armies were dressed in colored wool uniforms while marching in lines with flags waving and music playing. There's two reasons that kind of warfare doesn't exist anymore and they're called technology and strategy. Even during 18th century warfare, there were soldiers who did snipe enemies. In fact, sniping is one of the main reasons we won the American Revolutionary War. During the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, an American soldier in a tree snipped British Brigadier General Simon Frasier. His death in the battle caused the British forces to lose confidence and they retreated. This style of fighting was engineered at the battle by General Benedict Arnold, who eventually turned to the other side because many of his superiors discredited him.

Whatever your opinion is of him, Arnold was an innovator of battlefield tactics and knew that the best way to defeat the enemy was to give his men the best advantage by using camouflage and the wooded terrain to his advantage while conventional warfare at the time was simply line formations out in the open to exchange volley fire. The Battle of Saratoga was the turning point of the American Revolution because it encouraged France to join the war on our side. France was the only other power who could stand against Britain. They brought the war to a global scale by fighting the British in colonies across the world. French troops were also critical in the final defeat of the British at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. All of this happened from one American sniper.

During World War II, many Allied troops were killed or wounded by German snipers, but it was also the same way with snipers on our side. The Soviet Union was known for the expert snipers they had to fight the Germans. This was because they understood warfare was about winning, not if sniping was cowardly or dishonorable. Skilled Soviet snipers were a huge benefit to defeating Nazi Germany and they weren't cowards as they fought through the most dangerous battles of the war such as Stalingrad and Kursk. To address Moore's point of justifying snipers if they are defending their homeland, does that makes the snipers of the brutal Waffen SS heroes? Are terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan who fight to destroy western civilization heroes? Where does the cowardice stop? By Moore's logic, these are examples of cowardice:
  • General George Washington launched a surprise Christmas attack on Hessian mercenaries under British command at the Battle of Trenton. This saved his leadership, but it would be considered cowardice because he didn't give the Hessians a fair chance. 
  • Tanks, built to protect soldiers who could hide behind armor and at the same time decimate the enemy, were invented by the British in World War I. They helped the Allies win the war against Germany, but it would be cowardly because soldiers are hiding behind armor and aren't giving the Germans a fair chance to kill them. 
  • Allied night raids during World War II are cowardly because they had the advantage of being in the sky and in the darkness, even if they shortened the war by destroying Axis industry.
The Chinese military leader Sun Tzu wrote in his The Art of War, "Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt." Deceiving the enemy has always been a major military maxim. Snipers are in the darkness and cannot be seen, but when they attack they are as fast as lightning and very unsuspecting. War is about winning and words like honor, glory, and cowardice have no place in modern warfare.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why Obama is Wrong to Raise Capital Gains Taxes

Gary Varvel
President Obama has recently called for a capital gains tax increase of $320 billion to pay for new initiatives like tripling the childcare tax credit and free community college, which he spoke about in his State of the Union address. This is part of his new "middle class economics" which I guess is a new economic theory he just conjured up because it has never existed before. While making community college free would mean the federal government would have to subsidize rising costs in institutions where only 20 percent of students transfer to four-year schools, I would like to focus on the point of raising the capital gains tax rate all.

Last month, I published a post about supply-side economics and income tax reductions. One of the central ideas of this economic policy is the Laffer curve. The Laffer curve has become more of an economic law than theory because it has been proven to be real. Even before Arthur Laffer's time, other tax policies had been implemented with the concept that lower tax rates lead to more tax revenue because people will have incentives to do more work, businesses will have incentives to expand, and investors will have incentives to invest more capital into the economy. This is especially the case with capital gains taxes, which I would argue is the most reactive to a change in the tax rate because smart investors move their money fast in response to federal policy. In order to see what capital gains tax hikes and tax cuts would do, we must look at the history. Here's the data from the Tax Policy Center:

1981 Capital Gains Tax Cut

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed large tax cuts to revive the American economy. The capital gains tax rate was among one of the tax cuts in his bill. It was reduced from 28 percent to 20 percent. Here's a look at revenues directly from capital gains taxes before and after the tax cut:

1979: 11.8 billion
1980: 12.5 billion
1981: 12.9 billion
1982: 12.9 billion
1983: 18.7 billion

Two years before the capital gains tax cut went into effect, revenue was on a slow increase, but after that it really propelled forward thanks to experienced investors who want to make more money and new investors who now had the opportunity to invest.

1986 Capital Gains Tax Increase

Reagan's presidency involved a lot of negotiating and compromises with a Democratic House of Representatives and later a Democratic Senate as well (the roles have flipped today, but the difference now is that little gets done). Reagan liked cutting the income tax the most because it effected the most Americans, so the compromise for more income tax cuts he raised the capital gains tax rate back up to where it started when he entered office. Let's see what happened:

1984: $21.5 billion
1985: $26.5 billion
1986: $52.9 billion
1987: $33.7 billion
1988: $38.9 billion

The huge capital gains revenue boom slowed down after this capital gains tax increase. The federal government still saw more revenue than it did before Reagan became president overall because of income tax cuts, but capital gains revenue could have been higher had Reagan kept the rate low. While tax revenue was lower after the tax hike than before it, the compromise was necessary to lower income taxes and reform the tax code. As is typical with tax increases, there is a quick burst in revenue in the short term, which we can see from the first year the new tax rate was put into effect, but after that revenue slows down.

1990 Capital Gains Tax Increase

President George H.W. Bush declared at the 1988 convention that there would be "no new taxes." However, in order to compromise with the Democratic Congress, he decided to raise taxes while getting spending cuts. The result was less revenue:

1988: $38.9 billion
1989: $35.3 billion
1990: $27.8 billion
1991: $24.9 billion
1992: $29 billion

The tax increase, ticking the rate up from 28 percent to 29 percent, encouraged less investments again as the economy moved into a recession. Bush's election fortunes declined and he lost the 1992 election.

1997 Capital Gains Tax Cut

The capital gains tax rate barely changed until President Bill Clinton made a compromise with the Republican Congress (again, much better negotiating from both sides than today) in which he signed a capital gains tax cut changing the rate from 29 percent to 21 percent, a tax cut of identical size to Reagan's 1981 cut. Just like in 1981, tax revenue boomed from capital gains:

1995: $44.3 billion
1996: $66.4 billion
1997: $79.3 billion
1998: $89.1 billion
1999: $111.8 billion

This capital gains tax cut helped fuel huge economic growth in the internet and the economy continued to get better. This was the first time in the history of the United States that capital gains tax revenue exceeded $100 million. This was part of the Contract with America that the Republicans under Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich promoted.

2003 Capital Gains Tax Cut

The economic boom created a bubble in internet businesses, but as expected, it inevitably burst leading to a quick and simple market correction (9/11 also hit the economy). George W. Bush cut capital gains taxes from 21 percent to 16 percent in 2003 and added small trims over the next few years that brought it to 15 percent. Here's a look at the revenue:

2001: $65.7 billion
2002: $49.1 billion
2003: $51.3 billion
2004: $73.2 billion
2005: $102.2 billion

After this capital gains tax cut there was more tax revenue for the United States. Throughout Obama's presidency, the capital gains tax rate has been raised from 15 percent to 20 percent and then to 24 percent. Now he wants it back to 28 percent. We won't have an exact look at the result of those tax increases until the end of his tenure, but looking at the trend it is likely capital gains tax revenue is going to decrease or grow very little. Obama's rhetoric is no different than in any other speech. He believes there should be higher taxes on the wealthy to support others, but that hasn't been proven at all to close a wealth gap. As Alan D. Viard of the American Enterprise Institute writes:
Raising millionaires' taxes may seem fair - they can obviously afford to pay more. But, this policy has significant economic costs. Higher taxes will encourage millionaires to report less taxable income, limiting the revenue inflow. And, the higher rates will discourage saving by the group that finances much of the business investment on which economic growth and wages depend.
Fortunately, Obama's tax plan has little chance of getting passed.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Political Factions in the Democratic and Republican Parties

Both major political parties in the United States could be considered huge umbrellas where different factions unite together to support a nominee. The Republicans are a center-right political party, but different factions in the party put emphasis on different issues. This is the same for the center-left Democrats. When a candidate runs from either of these parties, it is best for he or she to appeal to most in order to get the nomination and have energized support on Election Day. In this post I will explain the factions in both political parties and what helps a candidate to get nominated. First, I'll start with the Republicans:

The Republican Party

Centrists (the center-right): Republicans who lean to the right of the political spectrum, but may have some liberal views and are more likely to compromise with the opposition. They usually put emphasis on fiscal issues and are willing to reduce the size of the government's social and entitlement programs or at least limit their growth. They typically favor tax cuts as well, but are willing to compromise if they need to do so on this issue (for example, a center-right Republican president might be inclined to increase or maintain tax rates in exchange for less domestic spending to balance the budget). Usually, the center-right of the GOP takes less notice on social issues and some are even liberal on them (2012 candidate Jon Huntsman is a good example). They are typically in favor of strong defense. Some possible candidates that fall under this faction are Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. Usually more established Republicans and donors support centrists, hence this faction is synonymous with the Republican establishment.

Conservatives (the right): Republicans who are conservative are usually in the Tea Party camp. Their emphasis is usually on economic and fiscal issues as well. They clearly want significantly less domestic spending from the federal government and strongly favor reducing government regulations and broad tax cuts to support a vast free market. While centrists and conservatives usually agree economically, negotiating can be different depending on what faction of the party the president falls under. Conservatives are not against negotiation, but are less likely to accept one if it gives too much to Democrats. They favor strong military budgets and are more willing to intervene against threats to the United States. They are more conservative on social issues, but usually don't put them before fiscal issues. Possible candidates like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson will look for Tea Party support.

Social Conservatives: The Republican Party endorses traditional values. Evangelical Christians have their own faction and lobby in the GOP. They are also supported by the Tea Party, although not necessarily the Tea Party favorite in a large primary. In 2012, the last candidate that became the Tea Party favorite (after all the other options had fallen apart) was Rick Santorum, who put an emphasis on social issues. This is the faction that's strongly pro-life and against gay marriage. They are often willing to compromise on fiscal issues to defend social issues. Possible candidates favored by this faction would be Santorum again and Mike Huckabee.

Militarists: Republicans who focus on the War on Terror and foreign policy. Typically, they hold a high respected for the armed forces and also believe the kind of approach Theodore Roosevelt favored: "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Militarists aren't going to immediately choose war in any foreign policy crisis, but they do believe in a more forceful foreign policy to stop terrorists and other enemies around the world. If they feel the military is needed, they will use it. Often, militarists will compromise on fiscal and social issues. They also endorse the need for more security in the United States when the country is fighting in a war. Possible candidates who will focus on foreign policy issues are Peter King and John Bolton.

Libertarians: While libertarians have their own political party (which first reached over 1 million votes in the last presidential election), they have a voice in the GOP and half of Ron Paul's supporters often stay with the party's nominee (he won over 2 million in the 2012 primaries). Libertarians are rising in politics with their liberal views on social issues and conservative views on economic issues. On foreign policy, they are the opposite of the militarist faction and often want to withdraw from major issues in the world, cut military spending as well as domestic spending. Rand Paul is the only possible 2016 candidate that libertarians will support.

Neoconservatives (the hard-right): Think of this faction as one between the militarists and the center-right. Neoconservatives believe the government should assist big business in order to help the economy flourish. Corporations would receive assistance from the government through contracts or in times of economic stress. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been criticized for being part of this unpopular faction because of bailouts to large banks. At the same time, neoconservatives believe (in a similar view to militarists) that the United States must be strong and confront an enemy before the threat grows. Very few Republican candidates can actually be termed a neoconservative, mainly because it contradicts the party's economic views, but it is a small faction.

As we can see, there are six major factions in the Republican Party. You might have noticed that I've added more possible candidates. Based on the stories I have read, here is an updated list of possible Republicans candidates similar to what I posted before:

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida
Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin
Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey
Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky
Ben Carson, former director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital
Donald J. Trump, chairman and president of the Trump Organization
Rick Perry, former governor of Texas
Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania
Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas
Lindsey Graham, senator from South Carolina
Marco Rubio, senator from Florida
Ted Cruz, senator from Texas
John R. Bolton, former ambassador to the United Nations
Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana
Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts

As you can see, the field has grown wider, but I have dropped two possible candidates. Dennis Lynch, the businessman and film maker, looks like he's going to run as an independent. Representative Paul Ryan is saying that he will skip 2016. Since the field is so wide, candidates that enter early in the nomination race will benefit from gathering support with more time, but some candidates need to rely on a certain faction and should worry about threats that might take away their support. Keep in mind, some candidates won't really have a faction at all. Scott Walker overlaps most factions on issues (he is in the conservative camp, but both centrists and social conservatives would support him as another option), as does Marco Rubio (has some centrist tendencies and conservative ones). These candidates that seem to overlap are the best choices in uniting the party, but may not be the first to be looked at.

Now let's look at factions for the Democrats:

The Democratic Party

Centrists (the center-left): Just like Republican centrists, but they tend to lean left. They usually focus on economic and fiscal issues like minimum wage, welfare, and higher taxes on the rich. Some on the center-left that live in reliably conservative states will stand conservative on some issues. For example, the vote to open debate on the Keystone pipeline in the Senate was approved by some Democrats. They are more willing to compromise on fiscal and defense policy rather than social policy because a majority of the American populace has moved to a liberal stance on social issues, but some Democrats could stand conservative on these issues just like on economic issues depending on the state they are elected in. Hillary Clinton would be in this camp, as would Bob Schweitzer.

Liberals (the left): The conservative wing of the GOP would simply be called conservatives if they did not have a movement backing them (the Tea Party). Elements of the hardcore left-wing Occupy Wall Street group could have fit with some liberals, but it proved too disorganized. Liberals are strong interventionists on economic issues, arguing for a higher minimum wage than the center-left would and at the same going further on domestic spending. They believe the United States should only intervene militarily at the very last resort in order to avoid a war. If there is a military response, it will be as lightly as needed to damage the enemy while not committing massive troops or material. They will stand for abortion and gay marriage, but like the conservatives opposite to them, the economy and fiscal policy is put first. Elizabeth Warren is popular with this faction and it is generally the faction President Obama most aligns with.

Secularists: Secularists hold a firm belief that religion and the government should be apart from each other and that is why they argue there is no problem with contraception, banning prayer in public schools, gay marriage, and abortion. They will put these issues first, but like with the social conservatives are rarely picked as the nominee because voters care about the economy the most. They are more willing to compromise on economic and defense issues.

Humanists: Humanists put an emphasis on protecting human lives and will thus focus on foreign policy through a pacifist stance. War might not even be considered. Humanists strongly believe in saving human lives and won't risk them in battle, but not with environmental issues either (environmentalism could be a faction on its own, but usually links with humanism). They are overwhelmingly liberal on other issues, but will be willing to compromise on social and fiscal issues if it means protecting the environment and protecting war. While not exactly large, there is a generous lobby in Washington promoting environmentalist and humanist stances.

Democratic Socialists (the hard-left): Just like with neoconservatives in the Republican Party, this faction in the Democratic Party isn't particularly large because most Democrats don't stand for it, but there is a small faction in the party who favor a huge economic arm from the government onto the economy just like how neoconservatives are small faction in GOP. Part of the Occupy Wall Street movement also endorsed heavy economic intervention. They are liberal on social issues and foreign policy issues, but are willing to compromise with them while focusing on the economy, which in their belief must support workers. Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent who might become a Democrat (and already caucuses with the party in the Senate) to run for president, has strong support from this faction.

You likely noticed that I didn't note as many possible Democratic candidates in my list of factions in their party as I did for GOP. That's because so few are actually interested in running. My list from December 2014 adds few names and I will go into detail in a later post:

Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state
Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts
Joe Biden, U.S. vice president
Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia
Martin O'Malley, governor of Maryland
Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont
Brian Schweitzer, former governor of Montana
Bernie Sanders, independent senator from Vermont
Jerry Brown, governor of California
Joe Manchin, senator from West Virginia
Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania
Luis Gutiérrez, representative from Illinois

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Thanks for 1,000 Views!

In the short amount of time this blog has existed, it has been viewed for 1,000 times. I'm sure this will be the first thousand of many, but for those of you who have viewed my blog and taken time to read it, thank you! It means a lot to see that many people are interested in political and economic issues and that they would take some time to read my blog. The most stunning thing is that I have received so many views in a short amount of time. My first post was in November 2014 and in just three months I have received a quite a lot of views. Again, thank you!

Monday, January 19, 2015

How Candidates are Nominated

2012 Republican National Convention stage - Mr. Media Training
This post is simply to explain how election primaries and nominations work for those who aren't fully aware of how a candidate is nominated. There are four phases in the race for nomination. The first one, which we are in right now, is what I like to call the preparation phase. This phase is basically the time where candidates who want to run for president prepare their campaigns, gather some media attention, and raise funds. If they feel there is a chance that they will get nominated, then they will run. If not, then they won't.

The second phase can be called the candidacy phase, because this is when candidates officially announce they are running for president. This phase in the nomination race occurs usually in the summer for most candidates. At this time, voters no matter what party they are in will choose which candidate they want to support or will remain undecided. Candidates will attempt to become the front-runner by gathering support over time and familiarize themselves with voters in their party (Republicans aren't going to vote in Democratic primaries, Democrats aren't going to vote in
Republican primaries). Some early examples of where candidates can gain support is in straw polls. Straw polls are unofficial votes conducted by several states or movements to support candidates. The most well known of these is the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa hosted by the state's Republican Party. Televised debates will start to be held at this time.

The third phase begins in September. At this point, any candidates who haven't declared their candidacy yet will declare now. Campaigning will increase and more debates will be held in this period. Debates often start to get more intense at this time as candidates promote themselves or criticize others to get to the top of the polls. Voters in early primaries will watch these debates with a lot of interest and make up their minds over who to support. Usually television ads start around this period too.

The fourth and final phase will always begin in January of the next year. The Iowa Caucus (generally caucuses and primaries are the same in that people vote to send delegates to nominate a candidate of a party, but caucuses are different in that the person must be part of a party to vote in that party's caucus) the first caucus in the nation for both major political parties, will be coming fast and candidates will be campaigning strongly to win. Following this caucus, both parties will turn to the New Hampshire primary. After these two, the two parties have different schedules. Early primaries and caucuses are often picked based on their location. The Republican primary election is organized like this:
  • Iowa (battleground state, Midwest)
  • New Hampshire (battleground state, Northeast)
  • South Carolina (conservative state, Southeast)
  • Florida (battleground state, Southeast)
  • Nevada (battleground state, West)
Bear in mind that this schedule is from 2012 and is subject to change. These locations matter because they fairly represent states that Republicans can win in different parts of the country. The Republican candidate voters want in the Midwest might be different than the one voters want in New Hampshire. Usually, a Republican nominee can be decided if he wins Iowa and South Carolina because he has been able to satisfy both the centrists and conservatives. The Democratic Party follows a similar route. Depending on the primary, delegates will be given to candidates proportionally or in a winner-take-all style.

This phase will continue all the way to the convention. Conventions are held to nominate a candidate as well as promote the party's ideals. Parties usually hold their conventions  in battleground states in order to sway it their way on the day of the election. If a candidate has won a solid majority of delegates, then he or she will be the nominee. If not, then the convention is brokered and several ballots will have to be held to nominate a candidate. Political deals will be made at a convention until the delegates are satisfied with a candidate for nomination. That candidate then has to accept the nomination. The candidate is then ready to campaign nationally. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Scott Walker: The Perfect Hybrid Candidate for the GOP

Walker at the State of State address, 2014 - Post Crescent
With many possible Republican candidates on the move, it is clear that most are going to divide the center-right establishment faction and the conservative Tea Party faction of the GOP. Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are appealing to many moderates. Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee has quit his Fox News show and is corralling the support of evangelical Christians. Now retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson is creating a campaign staff in Iowa and intends to go grassroots. Both Huckabee and Carson will clearly be favored by conservatives at first. We can already see that different factions in the Republican Party are being divided between several candidates. The ideal candidate for the Republicans would be someone who could be supported by both the establishment and the Tea Party. In my opinion, Scott Walker can be that kind of candidate.

Walker has the special ability to be patient and calm in comparison to many of his counterparts. He hasn't flinched or gone into fundraising mode despite the vast media attention Bush and Romney are receiving. Obviously he has been doing some campaigning throughout the country, but it's very little when compared to the campaigning others are doing right now. In Wisconsin, he has been able to pass policies popular with both the center-right and the conservatives. Economically, he has become popular for his tax cuts and reform of collective bargaining rights. On social issues, Walker signed concealed-carry legislation and has made changes to education policy. His many policies and views can attract both the establishment and the Tea Party to his side because they appeal to every Republican no matter how conservative they are.

Some political analysis say he would be at a disadvantage because he did not complete his college education. This could actually be flipped to his advantage. With college as an institution becoming less and less popular as a result of expenses, free speech suppression, and a wide range of scandals there are many people who prefer someone that does not mingle with the academic elite. Walker's distinction of not finishing college resonates now when the popularity of universities is declining. It makes him connect to a large group of people and at the same time makes him look different from the political elite, who often have several college degrees (Bill and Hillary Clinton have four degrees together, George W. Bush and Barack Obama both received some education at Harvard). George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Harry S Truman are among the presidents who did not go to college.

Walker has recently stated that the Republicans need a candidate who can "promote bold ideas outside of Washington." Walker is probably the very candidate he is talking about. After winning three elections and implementing many conservative policies in a state hasn't voted for a Republican candidate on the presidential level in decades (despite being a battleground state), he is now ready for a national campaign. The Wisconsin governor can bring more support to the GOP from the midwest and campaign well in Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin in a presidential election. Right now, he is working on his political operation and the state of Wisconsin before he declares if he will run for president or not, but I think he would make the perfect candidate if he did.

If Walker does run for president, his scenario would be quite simple. By working in the background rather than gathering the most attention, Walker can be a number two candidate if voters find their number one choice unsatisfying. In 2012, Governor Rick Perry of Texas rose high in polls right after entering the race, but his high numbers caused many Republicans to attack them and his poor debate performances brought his campaign to the ground. Walker won't want those high numbers immediately. Let the top candidates battle each other out and when voters find them unacceptable and flawed, they will turn to their next choice. That next choice would be Walker and he rises as the unscathed survivor of the brutal primary races.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Silly Opposition to the Keystone Pipeline

The Keystone Pipeline - Crooks and Liars
With the passage of the Keystone XL pipeline bill in the House of Representatives, the Senate has now approved to take up debate on the legislation. The vote was 63-32, which is a total of 95 senators. Five senators did not vote for whatever reason, which reinforces my belief that overruling the president if he does veto is workable with this bill. I posted in November last year about a possible overrule if the Republicans play their cards right and do some negotiation. It is very easy to understand why the Keystone pipeline needs to be passed and a clear majority of senators see that, but the opposition by President Obama and the rest of the Senate is ludicrous.

Oil pipelines are meant to transport oil at a faster and easier pace than by railroad, airplane, ship, or truck. The United States already has several pipelines, 2.5 million miles to be exact. An issue brief from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research found that pipelines are already the main transport for oil and natural gas anyway, but at the same time are the least dangerous. Petroleum incident rates for roads and railroads is much higher. From 2005 to 2009, road incidents were 19.95 per billion ton miles per year. With railway, that number was lower at 2.08 per billion ton miles per year. Natural gas pipeline incidents were only 0.89 per billion ton miles per year and hazardous liquid pipeline incidents were the lowest at 0.58 per billion ton miles per year. The research clearly shows that pipelines are safer than the alternative.

It is important to understand that most politicians and an overwhelming majority of the American people support the Keystone pipeline while only a small amount of people oppose it. Usually the people who don't support it are environmentalists in the Democratic Party who are able to lobby liberal senators. Moderate Democrats generally support the pipeline and Republicans are completely in favor of it. The argument made by Keystone opponents is simple: pipelines damage the environment and should not be built. However, I have already pointed out that pipelines cause the minimum amount of damage and the alternative to transporting oil through the United States is by truck or train, which are more dangerous.

Chris Coons, a Democratic senator from Delaware, said on Fox News Sunday, "Keystone means unlocking the Canadian tar sands, some of the dirtiest sources of energy on the planet, and allowing those tar sands to go across our American midwest and then reach the international market." This statement has been proven to be highly inaccurate. If the Keystone pipeline is built, it is likely that there will be no difference in tar sands extraction. It's a pipeline that is simply used for the transportation of oil. Canadian oil companies will decided how much they want to transport based on the U.S. economy, but the pipeline will have barely an effect. It is also crucial to know that construction of the pipeline is inevitable, which hurts the argument made by environmentalists altogether. TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, has the other option of rerouting the pipeline to China. With the pipeline's construction inevitable, I think it would be better to have it built here (where we have higher environmental standards and clean-up crews) than in China.

What about economic benefits to the United States? President Obama said, "It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. That doesn't have an impact on U.S. gas prices." This is another inaccurate statement. American refiners intend to buy crude oil from Canada, which is what the Keystone pipeline carries. TransCanada made it clear they have no problem selling oil to the United States. Any excess oil would then be shipped to other nations, but first and foremost American companies would get that oil. In addition to that, private contractors will be hired to create the pipeline, benefiting themselves as well as creating construction jobs. Permanently, there will be dozens of people needed to operate the Keystone pipeline. Again, that's job creation.

From all this research, it is clear that the Keystone XL pipeline should be built. Opponents of it make silly arguments that are easily debunked. This pipeline offers a lot of benefits to our nation as well as North America. It should be built. Finally, I would like to thank the new Senate for quickly examining and debating the bill efficiently, rather than the previous Senate which always blocked its passage.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Renominate Romney?

Mitt Romney - Politico
After running for president twice, it looks like Mitt Romney isn't done with presidential elections just yet. The former governor of Massachusetts and 2012 Republican nominee spoke at a New York City dinner with thirty powerful GOP donors on January 9 saying flat out: "I want to be president." After the dinner, the donors immediately spread the word out. Romney is now considering a third presidential run. He has now garnered massive media attention because he had previously stated he wasn't interesting in running anymore. The timing of his speech is important too, since Jeb Bush has formed a PAC to explore his own presidential bid. Bush looked like the favorite of the center-right establishment, but Romney's speech is strategically going to stop major donations to Bush's PAC. Many moderates in the Republican Party, from billionaire donors to simple voters, would be divided if both men ran for president.

Romney is obviously liked by the center-right, moderates, and the GOP establishment. He has no problem with funds and forming a good campaign. He has always been perceived to be an electable candidate. He also has his strong economic background, being CEO of the the Winter Olympic Games in 2002 and previously worked at the investment firm Bain Capital. A article from Politico has reported that if Romney is to run he is likely to campaign on reducing poverty, supporting the middle class, and strong foreign policy. This might be his campaign because while the economy still isn't in good shape, it is better than it was in 2012, but poverty is still high and median income growth is lacking. Foreign policy will have more attention from a Romney campaign than it did in 2012 because of the many international crises.

His weaknesses in 2016 would be no different than they were in 2012 or 2008. Romneycare (healthcare reform Romney implemented when he was governor of Massachusetts) is similar to President Obama's signature domestic policy: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare or ACA for short). During his time as governor of Massachusetts and unsuccessful Senate bid against Democratic incumbent Teddy Kennedy, his rhetoric was far too moderate (and seemed a bit leftist) on some policies. When he ran in 2008 though, many of his policy positions changed to more conservatives ones and he has been consistent ever since. Finally, 2012 and 2008 showed that Romney had a tendency to rely on attack ads while avoiding to respond to any attacks on himself. Someone who relies that heavily on them may not appear passionate, just bashing their opponents, but this strategy did get him nominated in 2012. The question now is what he would do differently in 2016.

An additional major weakness Romney has is quite simple: he already was the nominee and lost. Why should the Republicans nominate him again? Romney can possibly make a good point in an interview and debates by saying that "voters care about the future, not the past." However, Republicans might just be tired of him. Right now he wants to establish himself as the candidate the establishment wants, but unlike 2012 Jeb Bush is favored by them as well and there is another possible favorite in Chris Christie. Conservatives will reject him as they did before and many have started to do so. On the other hand, if Romney grows support over time and his opponents continuously attack him the same way they did in 2012, the attacks might just get tiring because the voters would have heard exactly the same thing in two previous elections. As of now, he will have to build strong support for a third run for president. Arguments are being made that he should run again. He is actually more favorable than other possible GOP candidates, whereas the seemingly inevitable Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is about the same as Romney.

Finally, I want to bring in some history. Some people say Romney would be like President Ronald Reagan, who won on his third try. This is a bit of a stretch because Reagan lost the 1968 nomination to Richard Nixon and the 1976 nomination to incumbent Gerald Ford. In 1980, he finally did win the nomination and won the general election. Romney is actually more similar to Nixon, the Republican nominee in both 1960 and 1968. The first election in which he was nominated ended in defeat, but he made a major comeback and won the presidency the second time. This final historical look brings me to an article I read at the end of 2011 by RealClearPolitics political analyst Sean Trende titled "Romney as Nixon?: 2012 Carries Unsettling Echoes for GOP." Trende gives the story of how Richard Nixon transformed himself during his time as Dwight D. Eisenhower's vice president from conservative to the more center-right establishment part of Republican Party. Trende writes:
By 1960, Nixon had shifted toward the moderate, establishment “Tom Dewey” wing of the GOP.  It reached a point where we can aptly describe the 1960 election as a sort of “Seinfeld election”: It was an election about nothing.  Nixon and Kennedy agreed on most issues, and Kennedy was actually to the right of Nixon on several foreign policy issues (remember, Kennedy was the only Democrat to miss the vote to censure Joe McCarthy; Bobby Kennedy served as McCarthy’s counsel for a brief time).
In 1968, Nixon reformed himself again for another election. Since 1960 Nixon wanted another chance at the White House and look closely and what the nation was doing (a good read on this is Nixonland:The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein). He wisely decided to not run in 1964 and instead picked 1968 to run again. The "New Nixon" was something between Barry Goldwater's 1964 candidacy and President Lyndon B. Johnson's policies. When he ran for the Republican nomination, no one knew for sure where Nixon's core lied. Just like 2012, there was no Republican candidate to acceptably unite the party, so the establishment favored Nixon and the rest of the party went for alternatives (just like in the 2012 Republican primaries to oppose Romney). First, the anti-Nixon was actually Governor George Romney of Michigan (Mitt's father), but his campaign collapsed when he said he was "brainwashed" into supporting the Vietnam War. Next was the more liberal Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, but as a late entrant he failed to catch steam. Finally, the anti-Nixon faction settled on the more conservative Governor Reagan of California. Reagan actually won the most votes in the primary elections (mainly because of Reagan's victory in his home state), but like Rockefeller he entered too late into the race.

1968 GOP Convention - Wikimedia
At the 1968 Republican convention in Miami Beach, Florida the Reagan and Rockefeller campaigns tried to unite to stop Nixon, but neither side could decide who would be the presidential candidate and who would be the VP candidate, so Nixon won the nomination. Going into the national election, it looked good for Republicans. The Democrats were fractured and the country was in chaos. However, Nixon was not far enough on the right to prevent third party candidate George Wallace to win 13.5 percent of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes. Nixon nearly lost the election when the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, moved further to the left. Humphrey's strategy actually moved him away from the center so people knew what he strongly stood for. With a candidate on his left and right, Nixon barely won the presidency taking 43.4 percent of the popular vote to Humphrey's 42.7 percent. The Electoral College swung more decisively for Nixon: 301 to 191, but that was because he won narrowly in most states. Rick Perlstein writes:
With George Wallace claiming that symbolically the victory belonged as much to him as to Nixon: "Mr. Nixon said the same thing we said," he declared. If he hadn't, was Wallace's point, Nixon wouldn't have won. And indeed, a few thousand more votes for Wallace in North Carolina and Tennessee, a shift of 1 percent of the vote in New Jersey or Ohio from Nixon to Humphrey, and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives, because Nixon wouldn't have won an electoral college majority. 
At the time, the House of Representatives was in the hands of the Democrats and Hubert Humphrey would have been president. This obviously didn't happen, but the election was so close that it could have happened because Nixon was often too centrist. For these reasons, 1968 was a lot like 2012. Romney was reluctantly accepted by moderates and the center-right to be their candidate, but he had to take on several Tea Party favorites. Many voters weren't certain where Romney's actual beliefs were. He blew what should have been an easy Republican victory (Obama and Harry S Truman are the only two presidents in modern times to win during a recession). Now Romney has another parallel to Nixon: redemption. He wants to run for president again and has to hope that voters will give him a second chance, but while Nixon was successful another Republican, Thomas Dewey, was not. Dewey was another center-right Republican who ran in both 1944 and 1948, but he lost both elections. If Mitt Romney runs for president will we see Nixon's narrow victory or Dewey's second defeat?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Main Problem with American Leadership

The response by Charlie Hebdo is brave and noble in the wake of the barbaric shooting on the satirical magazine. Putting a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad on the cover with him holding a sign that has "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie") written on it doesn't go out of line with the magazine's style. This is a nice defense for free speech, but it still doesn't end the problem of Islamist extremism. Actions, after all, speak louder than words and a bigger action is needed to prevent further terrorist attacks. In the Middle East, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has killed so many people in numerous brutal murder sprees that statisticians can't keep up and are abandoning efforts to verify the true number of civilians killed because the data is at a risk of being highly inaccurate. In Iraq and Syria, everyone no matter if they are in the military, law enforcement, or are simple civilians are doing what they can to survive the ISIS onslaught. What's left to verify battles, bombings, and shootouts are a handful of journalists. Iraq Body Count, an organization closely following deaths in Iraq, probably has the best numbers to show how many civilians have been killed in the country. I collected their statistics for the past three years here:

Iraq Body Count
In 2012, precisely 4,622 civilians were verified to have been killed and in 2013 it was 9,742. The total number of civilian deaths from their records in 2014 is 17,049. The efforts that both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations put into building Iraq as a democracy have been lost, but military expert Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters made an important point in the March 2015 issue of Armchair General, a military history and current affairs magazine that I highly recommend. Here it is:
As our national will weakened over the last half-century, a number of myths have arisen to cripple our application of force and comfort those who lack courage. From the fantasy that a handful of precision strikes will bring down a mighty opponent, to the insistence that monstrous enemies must be accorded the same legal rights as American citizens, a parade of follies has all but guaranteed that our halfhearted military efforts will end badly. 
Leaders in the United States today, both Republicans and Democrats, often fight wars not to the extent in which they need to be fought. Over thirty airstrikes were launched against ISIS at the end of December. Back in October, it was reported that since the airstrikes began in August, a total of 135 strikes were conducted by the United States. Back in the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. launched over 116,000 airstrikes on Iraqi forces in a matter of weeks. That was a war American leadership fought to win, but this one isn't and the result is a weak and feeble military response from the most powerful nation on Earth at the moment. Another example of the U.S. and its Allies using air power how it should be used is World War II. From 1943 to 1945, the United States Air Force and the British Royal Air Force bombed Germany constantly destroying military and economic targets while at the same time obliterating cities to the ground. This effort was significant in cutting Germany's production down (the Third Reich actually never fully mobilized for war until 1943).

The main problem with American leadership is that it is not fighting to win. Yes, U.S. leaders want to win wars when they are being fought, but there is a difference in wanting it and actually doing what needs to be done. What needs to be done is not getting done. The Obama administration wants to support so-called "moderates" in the Middle East to end ISIS and tyrannical regimes, but to do so requires U.S. intervention and significant allied support. That means European nations need to look at their own punitive military budgets and raise them rather than rely on the United States. There's a problem when leaders want to do the work, but don't want their own country to do it. The Roman Empire tried this by hiring mercenaries in the later years, but these mercenaries were the ones who brought military defeat to the empire. The British Empire had their own mercenaries, but the empire was successful in that they hired from ethnic groups who identified with the British military and its leaders (Gurkhas, for example, fought valiantly for Britain when they were needed). The United States isn't an empire.

The United States spent billions to turn Iraq into a nation similar to our own image and it was all for nothing. American leaders need to realize that many people in the Middle East don't want democracy, don't want constitutional rights, and don't want institutions that promote freedom. Iraq has a civil liberties record that is just as bad as Iran since the American troops left. The nature of ISIS isn't new and it has existed for centuries. Unlike World War II, where the populace of the Axis powers didn't revolt against Allied occupiers once their leaders surrender, the War on Terror addresses an enemy that grasps immortal religious figures and ideals. That's why it will take more than a handful of airstrikes to take down ISIS. The only solution to the problem is simple even if it is brutal: total war.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mike Huckabee Steps Closer to the GOP Presidential Stage

Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas - The Huffington Post
Mike Huckabee recently ended his show Huckabee since he is not ruling out a presidential run. Previously, Jeb Bush had risen in the Republican field after he announced the creation of a PAC. Now Republicans will be looking at Huckabee and decide whether to support him or not if he does run for the GOP nomination. The Fox News host, who previously served as the governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007, is likely to be popular among social conservatives concerned around the issues of abortion, contraceptives, and gay marriage.

If he does run for president, Huckabee will need to rally evangelical Christians to support him in early contests like the Iowa Caucus and South Carolina primary. Huckabee has usually had firm support from this part of the Republican Party because he was once a pastor. Unlike his previous candidacy in 2008, Huckabee needs to make sure that no other possible Republican candidates will draw social conservatives away from him. Huckabee will be in trouble if former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum runs for president, who has publicly expressed interest in 2016. Santorum was basically the Mike Huckabee of 2012, focusing on issues that resonated with social conservatives and evangelical Christians. If both men run, then a movement for social conservatives to take nomination would be precarious. When Huckabee ran in 2008 he won Iowa and in 2012 it was Santorum who won the state caucus. This shows the problem that social conservatives will have to deal with if they have to choose between either Huckabee or Santorum.

Fiscally, Huckabee has some significant weaknesses. In 2008, Huckabee won the Iowa Caucus with a surprising surge in the polls before the day of the vote. He was then embraced by many conservatives on the national level, but was attacked by other Republican candidates and the powerful Club for Growth for not being as fiscally conservative. When the South Carolina primary was held, a state with strong conservative roots, most voters went for the more moderate Senator John McCain and the win ultimately helped him take nomination as Huckabee was found to not be as fiscally conservative. Here's one of the many attack ads from the Club for Growth:

The Club for Growth, a political organization that focuses as promoting fiscal conservatives who argue for policies like tax cuts and deregulation, just recently announced that they will oppose Huckabee again. David McIntosh, the Club for Growth president, intends to look at other Republican presidential candidates who are fiscally conservative. What Huckabee has to do if he does run for president is establish that he is a fiscal conservative at speeches and debates by citing and refuting inaccurate criticisms of attacks on him that occurred back in 2008. In addition, he has to make sure no other candidates will take away support from his base. For these two reasons, Huckabee is actually in a weaker position than he was in 2008. Back in 2008 he was overlooked by many until surprising everyone at the last minute. Now the former Arkansas governor does have a name that is familiar with many Republicans and does have more support, but this makes him even more of a target.

This doesn't mean Huckabee doesn't have any significant strengths. He is considered by many to be a likable candidate with a good personality. In the 2008 debates, Huckabee was able to draw attention to himself with many one-liners and jokes, so he does think fast on his feet. His populist style will easily attract Tea Partiers (as long as conservative commentators like Glenn Beck aren't immediately there to tear him down). In Iowa, Huckabee already has some strong support. The RealClearPolitics average in Iowa as of now shows him ahead with 15.7 percent and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin at a distant second with 9.5 percent. He is ahead in three of the four polls, which have done surveys from from 7/7/2014 to 10/30/2014. The most recent poll, from Fox News, shows the former TV host in the lead by four points.

Finally, Huckabee will welcome a new advantage he did not have in 2008. The Republican Party organizations in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee are currently discussing if they should unite together for a "Super Southern Primary" that would be set for March 1, 2016. These five southern states would all likely give delegates to the Tea Party favorite at that moment, since Tea Party candidates often have the advantage in conservative southern states. If Huckabee is the favorite and manages to win all the primaries in the Super Southern Primary (if it actually becomes reality) then he would in a strong position for the nomination and no other Tea Party candidates would be a major threat any longer. As of now though, Huckabee has to decide if he will run for president with just as many weaknesses as he does advantages.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Scott Walker has the best PolitiFact Record

Governor Scott Walker at his second gubernatorial inauguration. - Madison
On January 5, Scott Walker was inaugurated to serve his second term as Wisconsin governor. After winning the gubernatorial election comfortably by 5.7 points back in November, Walker and the Republican state legislature have won a trifecta. It is easy to see why Walker won. Looking at all governors who have been fact-checked by PolitiFact, Walker has actually kept most of his promises in comparison to other governors who have served around the same time he has. Walker has kept 57 percent of his first term promises (37 kept), while breaking only 25 percent, and compromising 17 percent. PolitiFact has meters for five other governors (four Republicans and two Democrats). Let's see how the Wisconsin governor stands to the other six. These other six governors I'm showing have just recently ended their tenure or have been serving longer or around the same time Walker has. It would unfair for governors who have just won the job over the last few years to be compared to Walker. I collected this information yesterday night:

Rick Scott of Florida (Republican) - 42 percent of promises kept (24)
Nathan Deal of Georgia (Republican) - 16 percent of promises kept (6)
Rick Perry of Texas (Republican) - 46 percent of promises kept (16)
Lincoln D. Chafee of Rhode Island (Democrat) - 47 percent of promises kept (15)
Bob McDonnell of Virginia (Republican) - 52 percent of promises kept (25)
John Kitzhaber of Oregon (Democrat) - 38 percent of promises kept (13)

What about President Obama? As of the same time I looked at the promises from these six men, I looked at the president's and he has kept 45 percent of his promises (239 kept). Overall, Walker's record is the best record on PolitiFact. He has done a great job doing what he is saying, unlike most other politicians. This is no doubt one of the many reasons why he has been elected to a second term so he can keep reforming Wisconsin. Some of his second term promises include:
  • More tax cuts, specifically on property taxes
  • No increase in the state sales tax
  • Freeze tuition for two more years in the University of Wisconsin system
  • Increase funding for student grants
  • Create accountability measures for all schools to receive public funding
  • Provide incentives to school districts that share costs
  • Require public assistance recipients to receive drug tests and job training
  • Make investments to modernize and expand the dairy industry
  • Find new ways to pay for building roads
  • Continue to make the Department of Natural Resources more development-friendly
Let's hope he keeps all of these promises for his second term! You can see the governor's second inauguration here:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Three Cheers for Falling Gas Prices!

The end of 2014 marked huge economic news as gas prices continue to plummet. The falling prices affect everyone. Consumers are able to save more money now than they could over the last several years from gas prices. At the start of December, it was estimated that American households could potentially save up to $1,100 from lower prices and it's probably going to be more with prices continuing to fall. These lower prices are the equivalent of a $75 billion tax cut to the U.S. economy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has reported that 2015 savings if gas prices remain low will be $1,962 based on per-family expenditures on vehicle fuel. Think what your family can do with that kind of money. Here in Wisconsin, I'm starting to see gas prices under $2.00.

Why have gas prices decreased as far as they have? The answer is quite simple: supply is up and demand is down. In the case of demand, Europe is in an economic mess and consumers there don't have the money at the moment to spend much on gas. As for supply, the United States is enjoying an energy renaissance with production mainly being boosted by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling. The result is that America's production of natural gas has increased. Big oil states like Texas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma have seen their production double over the last six years. American companies moving to shale oil worked in a blitz to recover from the 2008 recession and have succeeded in making a comeback. In order to compete with the United States, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has decided to not tighten its own production resulting in lower oil prices. Basically, its a price war between U.S. shale oil companies and OPEC.

The biggest oil nation in OPEC, Saudi Arabia, is making a big risk. In an effort to compete with the United States, they have decided to lower their own prices and now Brent crude oil is falling to $54 a barrel. The Saudis believe they can holdout longer than other nations with major oil production. As Nathan Vardi of Forbes writes, this is a $750 billion bet for the Saudis. They aren't the only ones in trouble. Russia is too and President Vladimir Putin will be dealing with more economic heat than he already has for sending troops to control parts of Ukraine. The Russian economy increasingly depends on revenue from energy, oil, and gas. These three resources are 70 percent of the nation's export incomes. Russia is struggling to prop up its currency, the rouble, by raising interest rates from 10.5 percent to 17 percent. Now, with new competition abroad, Russia might be forced to give in. The country loses $2 billion in revenue for every dollar decrease in the oil price.

There are obviously several other nations that depend on oil and just to see how important oil is to them, here is a very telling graph:

More domestically, green energy is going to take a hit. President Obama once said back in April 2012, "Even if we drilled every square inch of this country right now, we'd still have to rely disproportionately on other countries for their oil." He couldn't have been more wrong. The U.S. is now enjoying a huge aid to its economic woes and oil production is growing steadily. The Institute for Energy Research has reported that domestic oil production has increased by 71 percent from 2008 to July 2014, with North Dakota and Texas providing half of American oil production. Consumers are now purchasing 17 percent more SUVs and pickup trucks rather than hybrids and electrics, which just grew by 5 percent this year. For the next few years, the economy looks good in the energy sector for the United States.